Deadly Lies


Photo by Eduardo Braga from Pexels

Hananiah was the son of a prophet. Maybe he’d always wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Maybe he wanted his fifteen minutes of fame. Whatever his reason, he decided one day to stand up against Jeremiah.

This quirky prophet enacted at God’s command a series of object lessons to bring a dire message to His people: Because Judah had forsaken God, He was sending Babylon against them and they would go into captivity.

God replaced the wooden yoke with one of iron

On this particular occasion, Jeremiah was walking around with a wooden yoke on his neck—the kind that oxen wear, or that people hauling water might use. The yoke was a sign of servitude.

Hananiah faced him down in the temple and said, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.’ ” He went on to say that those who had been taken captive earlier and the valuables removed from the temple by the Babylonians, would be returned in two years.

I wish that was true, Jeremiah said, but it’s not. The prophets who came before me have prophesied that God will send judgment on His people. Besides, “The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the LORD has truly sent.”

At that, Hananiah took the yoke off Jeremiah’s neck and broke it.

I wonder what kind of a crowd they had by this time. Did some people turn away, muttering about how these crazy prophets hadn’t learned how to get along? After all, there was enough conflict with the Babylonians camped outside the walls. Why did they have to bring hate inside the city?

Or maybe there was another set cheering Hananiah on. After all, they’d had years of Jeremiah’s gloom-and-doom predictions. It was about time someone stood up and gave a message of hope.

But God told Jeremiah how to respond. First he declared that Hananiah might have broken the wooden yoke, but that would be replaced by one of iron, Furthermore

Jeremiah the prophet said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie.”
– Jeremiah 28:15 [emphasis mine]

As a result, Jeremiah continued, Hananiah would die because he counseled rebellion against the Lord. True to this word from God, Hananiah died in July of that year.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only false prophet of the day. Lies in God’s name were prevalent and had a deadly effect. To the people who were already in exile, Jeremiah sent word saying

Thus says the LORD concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite, “Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, although I did not send him, and he has made you trust in a lie;” therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am about to punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his descendants
– Jeremiah 29:31-32a [emphasis mine]

To another false prophet Jeremiah encountered:

“And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into captivity; and you will enter Babylon, and there you will die and there you will be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have falsely prophesied.” [emphasis mine]

And another time

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.
Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all;
They did not even know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
At the time that I punish them,
They shall be cast down,” says the LORD.
– Jeremiah 6:15

Today the issue facing Christians is whether or not God’s word means what it says—is God really going to punish people who do not name the name of Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior?

Universalists are crying peace, peace. “Good people,” or all people eventually, will have peace with God no matter what they believe about Jesus.

Because their claims contradict the Bible, we can know as surely as Jeremiah did, that the message is false.

Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.
– Jeremiah 14:14

Sadly, today’s lies may not be as easy to spot. I mean, we don’t have prophets standing on street corners. Rather, the lies come from false teaching that might even use the Bible. Certainly it sounds good. Often it satisfies a hope we have: I hope I get rich; I hope my uncle will go to heaven; I hope my neighbor can walk again.

Over and over I’ve read rants against God because “He commits genocide.” The truth is, many people—actually, all people—die, because the wages of sin is death. However, God is not responsible for these deaths.

1) He warned against sin, and if Adam had obeyed, death would not reign.
2) God is a just judge, a righteous judge, knowing what we will say before a word is on our tongue. He knows each and every thought and intent of the heart. He makes no mistakes in judgment. We can’t fool Him into thinking we’re OK when we’re not.
3) He reconciles humans to Himself, “while we were yet sinners,” if only we accept that reconciliation by believing in Jesus.

Many lies, from those who do not believe God exists and from those who say He exists but who want to make Him conform to their party line.

God will not be mocked. He will not be toyed with. He will not be manipulated. Best plan? Cling to the truth in face of the lies.

About two-thirds of this article is a re-post of one that appeared here in March, 2011.

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Christmas And The Hope Of Heaven – Reprise


christmas-family-07-674069-mChristmas can be hard for some people because of who they so recently lost. A husband died of brain cancer this year. This will be his wife’s first Christmas without him. Another wife lost her husband of 62 years right when she thought he was on the mend and would be home soon. A sister’s older brother died. A friend’s aunt passed away.

I remember facing Christmas for the first time after my dad died. The holiday just didn’t seem right without him. Would Christmas ever be merry again, I wondered.

The thing is, too often the merry-making associated with Christmas is of a superficial nature. We’re merry because we have a party to look forward to or presents to buy and wrap and another whole set to get. We have once-a-year music that brings back fond memories. We have food to prepare and stockings to stuff, trees to decorate, lights to string.

There’s lots to do, places to go, people to see. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but a merry whirlwind that comes only once a year, so we love it and embrace it and enjoy Christmas because it’s so special.

And it is.

But if that’s all it is, then it’s easy for the loss of a loved one to shatter the fictive Christmas dream. This special holiday will never again be perfect because this dear person or that, is no longer here.

Of course, the reality is that the “perfect Christmas” is an ideal few of us ever live. But a greater reality is, there’s a more perfect Christmas waiting for us.

The reality is that Christmas is abundantly more than presents and decorations and food and family. Yes, it’s about Jesus coming in the flesh, stooping to take the form of Man, but it’s even more than that.

If Jesus only came and then went away, what would we have? An example to follow, perhaps, though who can live a sinless life the way God in the flesh did? In truth, Jesus came to earth as a baby in order that He might come to each one of us as Savior.

The whole Christmas story includes God descending in order that He might ascend again and take us with Him.

The loss of a loved one runs deep, there’s no doubt. And it’s right and appropriate to mourn. Christmas trappings may lose their glitter in the process, but the significance of Christmas can actually grow. What other holiday is more hopeful than Christmas? Only Easter and the two really are different sides of the same celebration.

Christmas celebrates God sending His Son. Easter celebrates God receiving His Son. What Jesus accomplished in the between space makes all the difference.

Now we have the hope of heaven to go along with the hope for a merry Christmas. We can hope to get along with our family on December 25, but we can also hope to spend eternity with them. We can enjoy the Christmas parties and feasts, but we can look forward to the banquet supper of the Lamb. We can bask in the music of the season, but we can anticipate the praises of God’s people as they worship at His throne.

In other words, what we have at Christmas is a foretaste of what we will enjoy in Heaven, without limit. The beauty, the love, the laughter, the generosity, the creativity, the activity–none of the elements of Christmas we love so much can hold a candle to what awaits us when we join Christ.

Paul himself said it in Philippians: to be with Christ is gain. It’s not an abandonment of what we love here; it’s what we love and more.

One piece of that “more” is an end to the losses, to the goodbyes. And that is great good news in its own right and definitely a cause for hope. Yes, some may mourn at Christmas time, but for those who embrace Christ as more than a baby born in a manger, for those who cling to Him as Savior and Lord, our mourning is turned to gladness at the promise of Christmas.

We of all people have the joy of looking forward, beyond the temporary merryness of the season, to an eternity of God’s peace and good will.

This article first appeared here in December 2013.

Published in: on December 6, 2017 at 3:52 pm  Comments Off on Christmas And The Hope Of Heaven – Reprise  
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Death Is A Vacation


cell phone2Recently a friend told me he’d taken a “stacation,” meaning he wasn’t working but didn’t go anywhere. It’s kind of a strange language invention, a neologism that may or may not catch on, but the term got me to thinking about vacation and its root.

The word came from late Middle English, according to the Oxford American Dictionary, and its root is either Old French or Latin “vacatio(n-), from vacare ‘be unoccupied’ (see vacate).” It’s the translation of those root languages I noticed: unoccupied. So when we go on vacation, our homes are unoccupied.

And then it hit me. The same is true when a person dies. Their house is no longer occupied. Scripture refers to our physical bodies as “earthen vessels”: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.” (2 Cor. 4:7)

Both Isaiah and Jeremiah referred to we humans as clay vessels. Pots. Our bodies are designed to hold something, then. But they are somewhat fragile, quite common. And temporary. They don’t last. At some point, that which the vessels hold will leave. Our bodies will be vacated because we’re all going on vacation.

But death is not an end. People who think it’s an end apparently think our bodies are not vessels at all, that our bodies are not made to contain something but are something on their own.

Well, they are part of something—the outer layer, if you will, the visible representation, much the way the case of a cell phone houses the internal computer elements that allow for texting and phone calls and hundreds of apps. The case itself is the phone, and when we’re looking for it, we aren’t looking for the internal elements. We’re looking for the physical representation of all that our phone can do.

So the vessel is and it isn’t the thing. It’s not really part of the thing—the case isn’t the source of picture-taking or music or phone conversations or text messages. It actually contains the thing, but the thing needs a place where it can be housed. And if we’re smart, we take care of the case. We protect the screen. We’re careful not to drop it.

Why? Because we think the case is so perfect? So beautiful? No. We care about the case because of what’s inside it.

Sadly, when it comes to us humans, we’ve gotten our thinking skewed. We want to take care of and preserve our vessel because we think that’s all we’ve got. We don’t get that the clay pot is the house, and that one day, we who occupy it will go on vacation.

But just like vacations in the here and now, there will be a coming home which the Bible refers to as resurrection. The cool thing is, while we’re on vacation, our houses will receive a make-over. When we return, the mortal will have taken on immortality, the flawed and frail will be clothed in newness of life.

Imagine going on vacation as those people who were on the show Home Make-over used to do, only to come back to a mansion. Their gorgeous new homes were on the same tract of ground as the old one. They still had the same address, the lot was still the same size, their neighbors still lived on either side of them and across the street. But the new buildings were state of the art, rebuilt models. Beautiful, stocked with brand new appliances and furniture and techno-gadgets.

In much the same way, our resurrected bodies will get the much needed make-over.

We only have Jesus as a model to know what resurrection looks like. No one before or since has gone on vacation and come back home. Oh, sure, we have examples of people who did stacations. They stopped working for a while, but then took up right where they left off, in their same body, without the make-over. Lazarus is probably the most famous example of this.

But Jesus received His new body, His glorified body. He still ate and drank, still had recognizable features (when he wanted) such as the nail prints in his hands. But His new body didn’t have to obey the laws of physics we know. He could vanish from sight, could appear in a locked room, could ascend to Heaven.

That’s the kind of body those of us who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ have to look forward to.

Honestly I don’t know what those who reject Christ or who deny God have to look forward to. We don’t have a model to look at so that we can know with any clarity what they’ll face. What we do know is that they’ll face judgment.

God, being just and fair, won’t cheat anyone out of anything they deserve. In reality, what we all deserve is death and death and death—of our body, soul, and spirit.

What God offers is life and life and life, so that death becomes a vacation. So that we return to new mansions stocked with more good things than we can imagine and which will allow us to do what we’ve always wanted to do. In the center of our desires will be our joy at seeing and knowing and praising our God eternal who we’ll know with more clarity than we’ve ever known Him before.

It’ll be a great homecoming.

Published in: on November 4, 2015 at 6:31 pm  Comments (3)  
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Grieving, With Hope


charleston_service0741434744851One of the things that sets Christians apart from people of other religions or of no religion is the hope we have of life after this life. Because of God’s grace extended through the work of Jesus Christ at the cross, those who believe in Him have life. Though we die, yet shall we live.

Of course there are people who believe in an afterlife besides Christians. Some think we will be reincarnated, but they don’t know for sure in what form they will be re-born, and of course they have no assurance that they’ll remember anything of their past life. So, in essence, they will be lost, swallowed up by a new life, one that may be better or may be worse. They simply do not know.

Religious Jews and Muslims both believe that there is life after this life, but they can’t be sure how they’ll be received. Both believe their rewards and punishments depend on what they did or did not do in this life. They have no assurance that the good they did outweighs the bad.

Only Christians can answer with any assurance about our destination when we leave this life. To be absent from the body means to be present with the Lord:

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:6-8, emphasis mine)

Elsewhere Paul calls death “gain” because it means departing and being with Christ (see Phil. 1:21-23).

Furthermore Psalm 116 tells us

Precious in the sight of the LORD
Is the death of His godly ones. (v 15)

I immediately think of the Good Shepherd off hunting for the lost sheep, or the father watching for his prodigal son to return, then running to him, embracing him, and preparing a feast for him.

Death for the Christian is bitter-sweet. It means leaving what we know, saying goodbye, however temporarily, to those we love, but beginning an adventure with God—in His presence, with the veil pulled back so that we will know even as He now knows us.

It’s a sadness and a celebration.

Consequently, I honestly don’t know how to react to the shooting deaths of those believers gathered together for a weekday prayer service. Maybe because Elisabeth Elliot so recently died, I can’t help but compare the nine Christian martyrs in South Carolina to the five men who died all those years ago in Ecuador at the hand of men who feared and hated.

The deaths seem so senseless, the violence so heinous, the grief so palpable. These were loved mothers and fathers serving God, as those missionaries were husbands and fathers serving God. The only difference I see is that one group chose to go to another part of the world and the other group chose to stay as witnesses to their own community.

The loved ones of both groups grieve. Children did or will grow up without a parent. They lost much, and yet because they have the hope of heaven and the love of Christ, like Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint who went to the Ecuadorian tribe and told them about Jesus, family members of the nine South Carolina martyrs extended forgiveness to the man who killed their loved ones.

In an emotional courtroom encounter here, a mother and daughter, a sister and grandson, among others, spoke directly to Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old charged Friday with nine counts of murder. He appeared for the bond hearing from jail through closed-circuit television.

. . . some said they forgave him, and, recalling the spirit of the venue where he staged his attack, pledged to pray for his soul. (“From victims’ families, forgiveness,” Washington Post

Only because Christians know our future is sure, that this life’s tragedies are not the end, that death has been defeated, can this kind of forgiveness take place. I am so proud of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I am so sad for their loss. They must now play the hard part, but their loved ones will not have died in vain because of their testimony of God’s grace and forgiveness.

I can’t get over the fact that the hateful young man who wanted to start a race war went to a church. Not to a gang hang out. Not to the inner city streets. To a church, where people gathered to pray. How ignorant of him, to think that Christians everywhere who believe as Paul wrote, that there aren’t distinctions between Greek and Jew, religious law abiders and those who ignore the religious Jewish law, between people from one part of the world and another, between people of one economic class and another, would not rally behind our brothers and sisters. Because Christ is all and in all. You prick one, we all bleed.

So now, we grieve, but with hope. May the impact of the nine South Carolina martyrs have the same impact on this generation as did the deaths of the five missionaries in Ecuador on earlier generations.

Published in: on June 22, 2015 at 6:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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Death Is Never OK


wheat-1431691-mWhere was God when terrorists gunned down Christians in Kenya? Where was God when a sex trafficker snatched a pre-teen? Where was God when a drug dealer started selling product at the middle school or the frat guys gang raped a co-ed or a career criminal opened fire on the cop who pulled him over. Where was God when a three-year-old was diagnosed with cancer?

Atheists would have us believe that evil things happen with no purpose and purely for random, unplanned reasons. A good many others blame God, either for causing evil or for doing nothing to stop it.

The thing we rarely take into account is that, short of creating humans without the freedom to make up our own minds, God did put up the stop sign to evil here on earth. Humankind simply ran through it.

God said, Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or you will die. Adam essentially said, If I die, I die, and he ate. The result was similar to uncorking a deadly airborne pathogen in a sterile room. Once it’s uncorked, there’s no calling it back into the vial it came from.

But God didn’t create humans for death. He made us for life. Consequently, death, no matter when it comes, seems wrong.

We might think a person who has lived a long, fruitful life is ready to go. But why? If their life is fruitful, why should it be limited? Why should someone who has gained a life-time of knowledge and experience not be able to capitalize on all that learning and wisdom?

Is it right for a fifty-year-old mom to die of cancer instead of the three-year-old toddler? Wouldn’t it be better for her to live and mentor her children through their own marriages and child-bearing years?

How about the thirteen-year-old who’s killed in an accident on the way to school? Is it better for him to die than for that three-year-old cancer victim? Or maybe the three-year-old should live but the thirty-something school teacher with cancer should die instead.

The point is, it’s never “right” to die—except that God has our times in His hands.

I don’t know what that means exactly, except that God looks at the big picture. His perspective takes into consideration eternity, not just the few temporal years we live on earth.

Most of us focus on this life and bemoan a life taken “prematurely.” We think about the high school prom she’ll never attend or the promotion he’ll never receive, the wedding they’ll never have, the first steps of their children they’ll never get to see. In other words, we think in terms of the good things in this life that they’ll miss out on.

But I think our perspective is too small. Part of this, of course, is that we don’t know what life after this life will be like—not really. We’ve been fed a lot of false images—people turning into angels with wings, walking around in a fog (when they’re not sitting on a cloud), all dressed in white, talking to Peter a lot or playing a harp. Frankly, those are undesirable snapshots. I can’t think of very many people who would think, Oh, boy, I get to trade in this life for that one.

But that’s the falseness of it. The bit we do know from Scripture lets us know that life after this life will be exceedingly better. For one we’ll trade in the “corruptible” for the “incorruptible.” We will no longer face the limitations of illness or aging because we won’t be fight off death any more. We won’t deal with suffering and sorrow—gone will be the injustices and the wickedness that infiltrate this life.

For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:53-57)

Scripture uses the image of a seed and the plant that comes from it as a metaphor to explain life after this life. This body is the seed that “dies” only to produce a lush, fruitful plant. So the body and the life we know here and now are the equivalent of a seed. The body and the life we will know for eternity are the equivalent of a flowering plant. So we’re comparing a single grain to a stalk of wheat.

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” . . . It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Cor. 15:35. 42b-44)

If we could choose, who would say, But I really, really prefer the single grain. It’s so satisfying, so filling. I’d rather have it than a full shock of wheat that produces an unending amount of grain.

Clearly that’s a foolish position, but that’s precisely what we do. We are so in love with this life that we can’t imagine what life will be like beyond what we see here and know today.

typewriter-2-334983-mI remember when I got my first electric typewriter. I could not imagine personal computers, email, the Internet, smart phones, or tablets. I was content with what I had because I didn’t know about what would be. If you’d told me you were going to take away my typewriter, I would have balked. I can’t do my work without my typewriter, I would have said. Wrong. That view was simply shortsighted, based on my limited perspective.

So too with life after life. We certainly weren’t created to die, but death is not the end of all good things.

When we rail against God for allowing death, we have it wrong. God has given us life, at the cost of His own suffering and sacrifice.

Leaving this life doesn’t mean the end of all good things. In fact, leaving this life for those who accept the work of Jesus Christ, who believe in Him, is the beginning of life that is life indeed!

Published in: on April 7, 2015 at 6:31 pm  Comments (10)  
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Hateful, Mean Christians


Anti-Christian_sign_in_Federal_Plaza_ChicagoMore than once I’ve read the charge that Christians are hateful and mean. It goes along with the idea that God is a wrathful tyrant. The concept started with the idea that He is, and therefore we are, a kill-joy. But it’s gone far beyond that notion.

Now Christians are considered hateful because we who adhere to the Bible’s clear teaching, oppose same-sex marriage. How unkind to deny people a meaningful, loving relationship that everyone else gets to enjoy simply because of their sexual orientation.

Christians are also haters because they want to deny women the right to choose for themselves what they do with their own bodies when it comes to pregnancy. This language is, of course, euphemistic speech for the right to have an abortion.

Christians are haters because they send people to hell for the smallest things, like telling little white lies or drinking too much at the New Year’s Eve party. In fact, they assign people to hell if they don’t believe in their Jesus as if there’s only their way or the way to hell. How hateful can they get?

The thing that people who take these views don’t realize is that Christians don’t send anyone to hell. God Himself doesn’t send anyone to hell. Rather, hell—or death, not just physical but spiritual and relational—is the consequence of the sin God warned Adam against.

Furthermore, God put into motion His plan of redemption to rescue us from hell. But telling people about this bailout, this merciful deliverance from the destiny we’re heading toward, is considered hateful.

It makes no sense. Would a good neighbor see a fire across the street and do nothing? Would a good parent watch his child drink bleach from the cleaning supplies and not intervene? Would a good citizen watch a kidnapper force a young girl into his car and not at lease call 9-1-1?

In all these circumstances, the minimum action a person would take is likely to raise the alarm. And if possible, the person might even step in to stop the harm that’s underway. Parents are even expected to do this and would be considered negligent if they didn’t prevent a child from ingesting that which is harmful.

But when it comes to raising the spiritual alert, Christians are considered hateful. It makes no sense.

Western society has gotten to this place in part because we’ve moved from instructive action to preventative action when it comes to the next generation. By that I mean, we are less likely to show young people why and how than we are to pass rules against.

For instance, when it comes to abortion, we’re quick to preach abstinence until marriage and to reinforce the fact that the product of conception is life and therefore should not be killed. These are preventative measures.

But how good are we at coming along side unwed pregnant women and helping them financially or emotionally? What kind of counseling are we giving to the scared and confused teen caught in her own sin? Are our actions and attitudes the equivalent of picking up stones in judgment of the sinner?

Except, in that situation the one who dies is the baby, not the mother whose sin resulted in the little life she thinks she has to terminate.

The Church should come along side sinners and offer the same grace that has been offered and is being offered to us. And the next generation should be involved in the process. This kind of modeling is instructive.

Yes, we should talk about purity, but a healthy marriage will instruct young people in a far more effective way than telling them when to start dating and how much or little sexual activity is OK.

Christians should not stop shouting warnings to a world sliding away from God. Life without Him is dark and riddled with instability and insecurity. It’s meaningless and fraught with conflict. We most certainly should charge across the street and shout fire or rip bleach bottles out of little hands or scream for someone to stop the kidnapper as we lay hold of the young woman to wrestle her out of his control.

We see the danger awaiting our friends and family and neighbors. We know what they need in order to move from darkness to light. Why would we stay silent, even though any number of bystanders may misunderstand and mis-characterize us as haters?

Which is worse, to be misunderstood and slandered or to do nothing to point others to Jesus Christ? When we tell others about who Jesus is, we are doing the most loving thing possible. But in this day when evil is called good, and good, evil, it’s no wonder that our loving actions are misunderstood as hateful.

Of course pretenders who claim the name of Christ, but who live as legalists, don’t make things easier. They accumulate negative press while the thousands upon thousands of Christians who go about serving their neighbor, loving them as Christ would, receive very little recognition.

We don’t put legs to our faith in order to gain accolades or to create good photo-ops. But perhaps we should be more vocal—giving God praise for what He does through His Church. In the Old Testament, the recurring motive for what Israel did was so that the people would know that the Lord is God.

Maybe that needs to be the motive behind what we Christians do—not on the sly, but openly, boldly. “I’m spending time at the homeless shelter, not because I’m a nice guy, but because Jesus is Lord, and I wanted the opportunity to tell you that”—that sort of thing.

Hateful? Christians ought not be hateful. It’s a test, in fact, according to John, a measure of who is a Christian. How can we say we love God and hate our brother? The two are mutually exclusive.

But maybe we’ve forgotten how to show our love. Then again, maybe our love will look like hate in the eyes of those who have rejected Jesus. The first, we need to fix, the last we need to let go.

Cold Is In The Eye Of The Beholder


winter-1419055-mSunday when I arrived at church around 7:45, there were still ice crystals clinging to some of the poinsettias planted out front. That was cold for sunny California.

Montreal, Canada, recently had an ice storm and they have more cold weather coming. The forecast low for next Tuesday is -10°F.

I got word from friends on Facebook that during the recent cold snap the temperature where they live dropped to -19°F. Water freezes at 32°, so we’re talking serious cold.

Except . . . I remember reading a story by Jack London called “To Build A Fire.” If I recall correctly, the story was set in the Yukon during an especially cold spell. The temperature dropped to -75°F. That’s the kind of cold that kills people.

Cold in SoCal doesn’t seem all that cold any more. Except it still feels cold. Everybody Sunday was wearing layers and putting on jackets and knitted caps. Some even donned gloves. The snow level during our last (mini) storm fell as low as 2000 feet.

That meant anyone going to the mountains had to have chains for their car, and Interstate 5, one of the main roads north, was closed for a few hours through an area called the Grapevine because of snow.

We’re all better now. Tuesday we warmed well past our seasonal average, and yesterday the high in LA was reported to be 85°. That short heat spell is gone and we’re closer to normal today—a perfect 70° though it’s getting a little chilly as evening draws near.

Yes, cold is in the eye of the beholder. This evening feels cold compared to yesterday’s high, but Denver is far colder, as is Atlanta, Waco, TX, Chicago, Green Bay, and pretty much anywhere else in the US.

When it comes to cold, there is no definitive standard. Cold comes on a sliding scale, understood by different people to mean different things. Beauty is understood by many to be the same—a quality that varies from person to person.

The problem today is that things which have definitive, measurable standards are viewed as if they too are on a sliding scale.

Sin is a behavior that many understand to be on this sliding scale. Swearing, gossip, lying, jealousy hardly make a blip in the ranking. Taking office supplies from work is on the low end too, cheating on income taxes, a little higher. Further up still might be yelling racial slurs at someone, then domestic violence followed by breaking into someone’s home to steal jewelry or electronics. Going into a fast food restaurant and robbing the service staff at knife point is another notch up. Eventually we get to the really horrible things like selling drugs, rape, sex trafficking, murder, terrorist activity.

Of course, a rape victim might put that crime closer to the top of the scale, and someone who has been physically abused by a spouse might slide that crime higher. Crime, sin in general, is in the eye of the beholder.

Or is it?

Certainly different sins have different consequences meted out by society, but what does God think of sin? Are some sins not so bad and therefore He turns a blind eye or winks at what we do as long as we promise to try harder next time?

From what Paul says in Galatians, it doesn’t seem as if God ignores the “minor” sins. If fact, He puts the ones we consider minor onto the same list as the biggies:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

So jealous people are just as bad off as sorcerers, dissenters as far from God’s kingdom as idolaters. That nice socially acceptable sliding scale of sin seems to crumple under God’s scrutiny.

He has a definitive standard for behavior—righteousness, purity, holiness. In other words, the definition of good is never mostly____, fill in the blank. Mostly kind. Mostly sweet tempered. Mostly peace loving. Mostly God-fearing.

Neither evil nor good are a moving target, and consequently sin isn’t on a sliding scale. We know from our own experience that we don’t hit “good” a hundred percent of the time.

As Scripture states it, someone who breaks the law is a law breaker, a trespasser, a sinner.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (James 2:10-11).

What’s the point? God told Adam there would be consequence if he fell short of the glory of God. That transgression would result in his death. When he did sin, his death meant a change in his relationship with God, his wife, his environment, and ultimately a change in himself.

Death.

Spiritual death, relational death, environmental death, physical death.

Not surprisingly, people today don’t like this death sentence. Some ignore it; many turn to a belief system that tries to undue it (reincarnation, for example, or universalism) or at least some part of it (annihilation).

Some rail at God because according to the sliding scale they use to measure sin, death is too harsh a consequence for every sinner.

The problem in each of these instances is that people want to take God’s place. He’s the Judge. Not only is that His role, He fulfills it perfectly:

And He will judge the world in righteousness;
He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity. (Ps. 9:8)

Trusting that God is right, He’ll make no mistakes, should take away any doubt or fear about what comes after this life. It should stop the vain attempts of humans to pick up the gavel and play judge.

We often talk about the need to let God be on the throne of our lives, but I think there’s an equal need to let God be in the judges box.

Published in: on January 8, 2015 at 6:36 pm  Comments (3)  
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What The Media Had To Say About Robin Williams


Born 1951 - Died 2014

Born 1951 – Died 2014

Like so many others in America, I was stunned to learn about Robin Williams’s death, doubly so when I understood that he had committed suicide. I can only express my deep sadness.

When a person takes his own life, it’s the kind of sadness that feels hopeless and regretful at the same time. If only someone had realized, if only someone had reached him, if only . . .

But in Robin Williams’s case, I am not only saddened, I’m mystified by the treatment the media gave his death. The overwhelming response seemed to be to shower him with accolades—except, of course, he was no longer here to appreciate all the nice things people said.

People set up little shrines on his Hollywood star and at his home. The theater where six of his movies debuted darkened their lights in his honor. ABC’s 20-20 pushed aside their planned programming to do a special honoring Williams.

One picture shown over and over was of a comedy theater putting up a sign: Rest in peace, Robin Williams. We miss you. Make God laugh. (This may not the exact quote).

But what I didn’t hear was, what made him do it?

Now if someone else had shot him, I’m confident we would have had many news reports delving into the mind of the perpetrator. Why would anyone want to kill a talented, much loved actor like Robin Williams?

So my question is, why didn’t the media ask that same question when they learned he had taken his own life? Clearly Williams was successful. He had done what few actors can successfully do—he’d crossed over from comedy to drama and back again. As the news ran through the number of movies he was in, I couldn’t help but wonder how he’d managed to be in so many hits. Did he make the movie or did he just have a good eye for the scripts that would be successful?

In addition, one standup comedian attributed to Williams a complete revolution in comedy. Essentially he was saying Williams was to comedy what the Beatles were to music. High praise. Clearly he was respected in his profession.

In all this, however, there was little recognition of Williams as a human being. Yes, one report mentioned that he’d been married three times, that he had a daughter and two sons, that he’d had a drug and alcohol problem but received treatment some twenty years ago. Only recently he’d sought help again and planned to check himself back into rehab.

Today there’s a spate of articles about the “national health problem” which suicide has become. The Huffington post put out an article about the relationship of suicide with sleep problems. Others deliver caution about how the young are most at risk when it comes to suicide.

The UK publication Mirror published an article specific to the causes of Williams’s suicide, the chief being money issues and depression about having to work in TV again and take parts in movies he didn’t want. Add to that the fact that The Crazy One, the CBS comedy in which he starred, was cancelled after one season.

None of which answers the question: why? Other people have money problems and setbacks in their career. He was certainly not homeless or penniless.

I don’t think there are easy answers here. When someone who identifies as gay commits suicide, the media is quick to accuse society for bullying and rejecting and isolating gays.

But Robin Williams was loved and talented and successful.

Mental illness is another part of the suicide discussion. And drugs have been blamed for other actors who have taken their own life.

But Williams doesn’t seem to have a history of mental illness. He’d been off drugs for twenty years before seeking help for problems with alcohol.

Then why?

What media pundits are unlikely to discuss in regard to his suicide is Williams’s spiritual condition. I’m not suggesting that our relationship with God eliminates depression or the potential for suicide.

Too many pastors have transparently admitted to their own struggle with depression, including my own pastor, Mike Erre. Too many other believers have lost someone close to them because of suicide.

Nevertheless, we humans are not just bodies, minds, and emotions. We have a spiritual dimension, and we’d be foolish if we looked at the physical factors such as sleep problems, and the mental and emotional factors such as money worries and career disappointments, without also looking at spiritual issues.

For one thing, Williams was 63. It seems clear the boomer generation has been trying to deal with impending death one way or another. Of course you don’t conclude that someone who committed suicide was afraid of death, but he well may have been afraid of life.

Could it be possible that his love of humor in part shielded him from thinking about grave issues he didn’t want to face?

More importantly, could it be that his worldview lulled him into thinking he could bring an end to the unhappiness of his life, not realizing that this life is not the end?

My hope is Christians will step forward and let the world know that God belongs in this discussion, that a person who is hurting for any number of reasons, needs the complete picture.

God is a God of grace and mercy, a God who gives second chances and plans for our eternity. He is the only one who will be with us when we leave this life for the next. Why would we think a person’s attitude about God won’t make a difference?

What we believe about God is not a magic antidepressant. But neither is He indifferent to our problems. God matters, and we as believers need to let other people know that He offers hope and help and healing for the lost and lonely and discouraged, yes, and for the depressed.

Published in: on August 13, 2014 at 6:13 pm  Comments (3)  
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Finishing Strong


US_men's_soccer_team_trains_in_NJ_2010-05-20When I coached, especially basketball, I often talked to my team about finishing. It’s great to jump out to a big league, but if you let down, if you start to go easy, your lead can evaporate and you end up in a close contest which you can easily lose. I’ve had teams lose by any manner of lucky shots, such as the three-pointer which ricocheted off the backboard and into the net.

Even more certain that lucky shots can win games is a sport like soccer or hockey. Ask the Anaheim Ducks who lost to the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the LA Kings. They gave up a goal in the closing seconds of regulation and eventually lost in overtime.

Or ask the US World Cup soccer team who just yesterday gave up a goal in the closing seconds of extra time—time added on because of delays during regulation. After 94 minutes and 30 seconds, playing in the heat and humidity of the Amazon jungle, the US led 2-1. After 95 minutes, they were tied.

Some players, to be sure, were playing to finish, but others appeared to be going through the motions. The ESPN radio announcers accused Portugal of going through the motions. In fact, he said they already had their bags packed. Yikes, I thought. I didn’t see it that way. They were still playing hard, still challenging for the ball in midfield, and winning it far too often. All the US had to do was possess the ball for one minute. All they had to do was play keep-away. All they had to do was finish.

How like life games are. I’ve thought of that many, many times, even calling sports a microcosm in which much of the human experience is played out: success and failure, team work, integrity, discipline, attitudes toward authority, toward an opponent, jealousy, contentment, hard work, trust, obedience, humility. And finishing.

I hadn’t thought about finishing until yesterday’s tie. But how interesting to realize that sports teams don’t reach the end of a game and retire the way chess players do. A team losing badly still needs to play. A team winning big still needs to play. Those ahead in the score can’t assume they know what the final score will be simply because they’re up big at half time.

Painfully I recall my Denver Broncos being up big against the Indianapolis Colts at half time, then losing that game.

Those losing can’t assume they have no chance.

Just this hockey season, the Kings were down 0 games to 3 in a best-of-seven series. The San Jose Sharks couldn’t finish. The Kings took the next four games and advanced to the second round. In their game seven against Chicago, they fell behind by two goals, but they didn’t stop playing. They finished. And their efforts put them into the Stanley Cup finals.

So why does our society say people reaching sixty-five should pack it in and go on an extended vacation? Why should people who have gained wisdom and understanding and knowledge and experience not be expected to finish and to finish well?

To those who have been given much, much will be required—except apparently not of older folk. But why not?

Oh, sure, the hockey player will one day need to step aside from the game he loves and has excelled in. And so shall all retired folk. The day will come, apart from the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we will all step aside from this life. But up until that moment, ought we not to be giving life our all?

“Our all” might be little more than serving as a prayer warrior for others on the front line of our faith, but that’s a significant role and ought not be disparaged. I would love to see every retired person more involved in prayer than in daytime TV.

We can finish and we can finish well. And the difference between going all out and easing up as the seconds tick toward the final whistle just might be significant.

Published in: on June 23, 2014 at 4:00 pm  Comments Off on Finishing Strong  
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Christmas And The Hope Of Heaven


christmas-family-07-674069-mChristmas can be hard for some people because of who they so recently lost. A husband died of brain cancer this year. This will be his wife’s first Christmas without him. Another wife lost her husband of 62 years right when she thought he was on the mend and would be home soon. A sister’s older brother died. A friend’s aunt passed away.

I remember facing Christmas for the first time after my dad died. The holiday just didn’t seem right without him. Would Christmas ever be merry again, I wondered.

The thing is, too often the merry-making associated with Christmas is of a superficial nature. We’re merry because we have a party to look forward to or presents to buy and wrap and another whole set to get. We have once-a-year music that brings back fond memories. We have food to prepare and stockings to stuff, trees to decorate, lights to string.

There’s lots to do, places to go, people to see. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but a merry whirlwind that comes only once a year, so we love it and embrace it and enjoy Christmas because it’s so special.

And it is.

But if that’s all it is, then it’s easy for the loss of a loved one to shatter the fictive Christmas dream. This special holiday will never again be perfect because this dear person or that, is no longer here.

Of course, the reality is that the “perfect Christmas” is an ideal few of us ever live. But a greater reality is, there’s a more perfect Christmas waiting for us.

The reality is that Christmas is abundantly more than presents and decorations and food and family. Yes, it’s about Jesus coming in the flesh, stooping to take the form of Man, but it’s even more than that.

If Jesus only came and then went away, what would we have? An example to follow, perhaps, though who can live a sinless life the way God in the flesh did? In truth, Jesus came to earth as a baby in order that He might come to each one of us as Savior.

The whole Christmas story includes God descending in order that He might ascend again and take us with Him.

The loss of a loved one runs deep, there’s no doubt. And it’s right and appropriate to mourn. Christmas trappings may lose their glitter in the process, but the significance of Christmas can actually grow. What other holiday is more hopeful than Christmas? Only Easter and the two really are different sides of the same celebration.

Christmas celebrates God sending His Son. Easter celebrates God receiving His Son. What Jesus accomplished in the between space makes all the difference.

Now we have the hope of heaven to go along with the hope for a merry Christmas. We can hope to get along with our family on December 25, but we can also hope to spend eternity with them. We can enjoy the Christmas parties and feasts, but we can look forward to the banquet supper of the Lamb. We can bask in the music of the season, but we can anticipate the praises of God’s people as they worship at His throne.

In other words, what we have at Christmas is a foretaste of what we will enjoy in Heaven, without limit. The beauty, the love, the laughter, the generosity, the creativity, the activity–none of the elements of Christmas we love so much can hold a candle to what awaits us when we join Christ.

Paul himself said it in Philippians: to be with Christ is gain. It’s not an abandonment of what we love here; it’s what we love and more.

One piece of that “more” is an end to the losses, to the goodbyes. And that is great good news in its own right and definitely a cause for hope. Yes, some may mourn at Christmas time, but for those who embrace Christ as more than a baby born in a manger, for those who cling to Him as Savior and Lord, our mourning is turned to gladness at the promise of Christmas.

We of all people have the joy of looking forward, beyond the temporary merryness of the season, to an eternity of God’s peace and good will.

Published in: on December 11, 2013 at 7:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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