And The First Commandment?


I can’t get the ongoing discussion prompted by Pastor John MacArthur’s Social Justice and the Gospel statement out of my head. What the discussion has reminded me of is a question I’ve asked myself from time to time

You see, I’ve heard any number of great messages about the second command, as Jesus labeled it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” These are excellent, Biblical, needed.

What I don’t recall hearing much are sermons about the first command:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.” (Matt. 22:36-38)

My thought is, if this is indeed the greatest command, shouldn’t we hear sermon after sermon about how we can actually love God with all of who we are?

Maybe that’s embedded in particular messages.

For instance, I heard one pastor whose sermons are on the radio, preach about abiding in Christ. Just recently I heard a message about being filled with the Holy Spirit, and a different pastor preached about the need for revival, in the Church but in our hearts first.

I’m not sure those are the same thing as the First Commandment. Isn’t loving God with our heart, with our soul, with our mind something we should do intentionally along with abiding in Christ and being filled with the Spirit?

Maybe having our relationship with God revived would address how, or to what extent, we love God. I’m not sure. The pastor made a good point that revival is for believers. You don’t revive dead people, and unbelievers are spiritually dead. We the Church need revival. The rest of the world needs to hear the gospel and respond for the very first time.

I’m thinking now that perhaps the angelic addresses to the seven churches in the book of Revelation were calls to revival. And to one of them the angel said, You have left your first love. In other words, you don’t love God with all your heart, soul, and mind any more.

Makes me think of what the prophet Joel said to the people of Judah:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil. (Joel 2:12-13)

The chapter goes on to describe what can only be stated as sorrow for sins. Repentance.

So one part of loving God, I think, would have to include keeping short accounts with Him. Short and shorter. And when we sin, instead of just making it right with the person we have sinned against, perhaps above all we should make it right with God.

Not that our sins are somehow undoing our salvation. But they harm our fellowship. I don’t know how it works. God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west. Not just past sins, but all sins. Then how can they harm our fellowship with God? I don’t know. Maybe because we remember them, because we need to bring them to the cross to know that yes, that too, God has forgiven. All I really know is, repentance restores my soul. It simply does. It’s not a psychological thing. Not a trick of the mind. When my sins are removed, the are removed! And it’s something that only other Christians understand.

What else does loving God with heart, soul, and mind entail? Jesus said we love Him if we keep His commandments. That’s kind of interesting. Usually we think of keeping commandments to be a physical thing: do this good deed, make this sacrifice, give up this thing, stop doing that thing. But the command to love God with our heart, soul, and mind, would seem to be saying that loving God starts inside. So extrapolating on that, keeping Christ’s commandments starts first in our hearts, souls, minds.

Now I know that the First Command is recorded in other gospel accounts, like Luke 10:27, which add “strength.” So yes, we’d have to say there is a physical component in loving God.

That makes me think of the parable that Jesus told about the King, after He separated the sheep from the goats, said for those on His right to come into His kingdom. Why? because they had fed him, give Him a drink, clothed Him, visited Him when He was a prisoner, taken Him in when He was a stranger, came to Him when He was sick. When did we do that, the people asked. The King answered, “‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” (Matt. 25:40b).

And therein lies social justice, I think. It’s tucked inside our love for God. We care for the lest, the lost, the left out, because we love God.

But we can’t leave out our heart, our soul, our mind. Loving God starts inside. It doesn’t start by what we do. Nor is what we do, the sum of our love for God.

Loving God isn’t measured by how high someone lifts their hands in worship, and it isn’t measured by how much food they provide for the homeless ministry. There’s more. And I want to learn what all that is.

Years ago, Christians talked about “practicing the presence” of God. I never really understood what that meant. Just like I’m not sure what it means to abide in Christ or be filled with the Holy Spirit.

In all this rhetoric, I keep thinking, it shouldn’t be that hard. I just want to be with God, to cling to Him, to depend on Him, to please Him, to rejoice in Him, to celebrate Him. I don’t want to fight Him or ignore Him or stray from Him. I don’t know that these things come naturally, so I wouldn’t mind hearing a sermon or two on the First Commandment.

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Treasonous Prayer


“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” How many people have memorized that line from Matthew 6, along with the rest of Jesus’s prayer, and recited it routinely without grasping the traitorous implications? I’m one.

I listened to part of a radio message some years back from Pastor Philip De Courcy in which he made the point that this line from Jesus’s prayer is a radical, traitorous plea.

In His day, Rome’s kingdom ruled and Caesar’s will was to be done. For a good reason, the Jewish council stood before Pilate accusing Jesus of opposing Caesar (John 19:12).

Paul says in Philippians 3 that the believer’s citizenship is in Heaven. Meaning, if we think about it, that we are little more than guest workers here in the US or wherever else we might live.

Of course, we quickly explain, we actually have dual citizenship because God’s kingdom is spiritual. Jesus Himself said as much when He was answering Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36).

But how does dual citizenship work? In our spirits we obey God, but in our bodies we obey the government? We might draw that conclusion from Jesus’s answer to the question about paying taxes: “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).

Yet there’s that prayer—“Thy kingdom come.” It’s a plea for God to put an end to the machinations of Man and for Him to take His rightful place as Sovereign.

It’s also a statement of loyalty—I want You to prevail, Your kingdom to be triumphant, even over the kingdom in which I presently live.

I guess the biggest question is whether or not I mean the words I say when I’m quoting Jesus’s prayer. Is it His will I want? Am I passionate about His kingdom coming or would I prefer a cleaned up version of the one we have right here and now?

Honestly, it’s sobering to think what those words from the Lord’s prayer mean. I even thought about whether or not it was wise to title a post “Treasonous Prayer.” After all, the way the world is starting to look at Christians, we could well be accused of working against the “good of mankind,” and do I really want a written record about praying something treasonous?

Yes, actually I do because the real revolution that I am praying for must occur first in my heart, where I step off the throne and allow God to rule, to have His will prevail. How could I pray for His kingdom to come and then resist His takeover in me?

This article first appeared here in September, 2011.

Published in: on September 12, 2018 at 5:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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When There’s No Water


July officially started the new rainy season, though for SoCal, that is kind of like saying, each year we start with two months of 0 inches just so we can put down figures for 12 months. This kind of “dry spell” is actually normal. The problem manifests itself if November comes and goes and we still have not had significant rain. Or if January, February, and March don’t give us some meaningful moisture.

A good year for us is around 33 inches. Compare that to the Carolinas which likely received 33 inches in this last storm.

All this to say, I know what it’s like to live in a place with no water. Except, we have technology now that allows us to bring water in from places that have more than they’re using. Not everyone is happy with this arrangement. But that’s not the point of this post.

The real subject is waking up and realizing there is not enough water to, you know, live. Because water is one of those commodities that we actually can not do without.

The descendants of Jacob, the Hebrews newly escaped from Egypt, came to a place where there was no water. And they were well over 600,000 people. The men of the age to fight number 600,000, so add in the elderly, the women, and the children, and there are probably twice as many people, conservatively speaking—all without water. And don’t forget the animals. These folks were shepherds. They had their flocks and their cattle to take care of, too.

So when they’d been on the road for a while and they didn’t come upon any water, they were concerned. Rightly so. This was not a minor issue, a little inconvenience. This was a life-and-death matter.

So what did they do? You’d think they would cried out to God. What else could you do? I mean, He’s omniscient—He’d know where they could get water. And He’s omnipotent—He could bring rain at the drop of a hat. Crying out to God would seem like a wise, intelligent thing to do.

But the Hebrews? They decided to grumble against Moses instead. You should have left us in Egypt, they said. We told you this journey was not a good idea, they said. We want to choose another ruler, someone who will take us back to Egypt, they said.

Remember. Egypt was a mess. Dead army, dead firstborn sons, dead or diseased cattle, devastated crops, people who were afraid of Moses and had driven the people of Israel from their land.

Remember also. The Hebrews had cried to God because of the harsh treatment they were receiving. The Egyptians had ordered their baby boys to be killed. Not just the first born. All of them. For how long? We don’t know for sure, but obviously long enough that the people of Israel would no longer outnumber the Egyptians. They wanted zero population growth, at a minimum.

And most of all, remember that God had promised to take them out of Egypt, so clearly that Joseph charged his descendants with taking his bones, his mummified carcass, along with them when they went.

Not only did God give them this promise, but remember He gave them His protection. When darkness fell over Egypt, it did not fall in Goshen where the Hebrews lived. When hail wiped out two crops and killed the livestock left in the field, it didn’t fall in Goshen. When the locust came, when disease attacked the Egyptian animals, when their first born sons were taken, the Hebrews escaped unscathed. They saw God’s power first hand, and they experienced His protection.

I could go on. They were receiving manna every day, they had quail to eat when they asked for meat, they’d been without water before and God surprised them by giving them miraculously and then leading them to a place of abundance.

But none of it was enough.

When is enough evidence of God’s direction, provision, protection, ever enough? Sometimes the people who cry the loudest have the most evidence in front of their faces, but they simply choose to ignore it. Instead, they decide they want to go their own way, choose their own leader, deal with their own problems.

Seems silly to me, because if they had turned around at that point, they would have continued for days without water before they arrived at that place where God had taken them before. How many of them would have survived?

But God is so merciful. Despite their grumbling and complaining, God gave them what they needed. He did so miraculously and symbolically so that centuries later we could see the Rock who is Jesus, struck to provide Living Water to a wayward people.

God had a reason for testing the Hebrews. He had an example to paint for generations who would come after them. He wanted them to see His power and trust Him, but He also wants us to see His power and trust Him.

Their need for water was real and serious. Their reliance on their own “solutions” was foolish. But our God isn’t limited by weak people who keep on doing the wrong thing. Peter could deny Jesus three times, but God was able to turn him into a pillar of the Church. Paul could chase down Christians to persecute them, but God was able to turn him into a vibrant evangelist.

In fact, none of Christ’s followers can ever boast that we have life figured out, that we’re on the road to heave because we are clever enough or strong enough or good enough to make it on our own. Rather, we are the army of second chances. God saved us because we need to be saved. We are out of water, and we can’t make it on empty. So He does the impossible. He provides Living Water so that we will never thirst again.

Published in: on September 11, 2018 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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God Is Able


I wrote this piece six years ago for my church, but I don’t remember the occasion. Thing is, I feel more strongly about this subject now than when I wrote it.

I’ve seen God answer prayer in ways that surprise me. Even when I believe. Even when I know He is able.

When He shows Himself faithful, it’s just pure delight. Kind of like knowing the roller coaster ride is going to be a thrill, but then actually going on the ride and being thrilled!

Anyway, this article fits with my desire to grow in my prayer life. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. There are too many things to pray for. Sometimes I feel bored. There are too many things I’ve already prayed for. Sometimes I lack compassion and sometimes I get so emotional it’s draining. Sometimes I’m praying for people I will not ever know, this side of heaven, and have no way of learning how God has answered prayer.

But all this simply shows me how weak I am when it comes to prayer. So I’m posting this article as a reminder to me.

Ephesians 2:20 makes a bold statement about God—He is able: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think . . .”

I can’t help but notice that this description of God comes without limits. It doesn’t say, God is able when the economy is sound or God is able when you’re young and healthy or God is able when the right people are in government.

Despite the fact that we know intellectually God is able, when difficult times bare their poison-filled fangs, we may be tempted to depend on our own strategies rather than on God. Too often the philosophy that appeals in the midst of tough circumstances is, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Actually, like most false teaching, there is a fragment of truth embedded in that maxim. We are to be responsible and obedient. We are to do the job or ministry God has called us to do. But a self-help worldview obliterates the lines between our responsibility and our dependence on God.

In contrast, Abraham illustrates an uncomplicated trust in God. Genesis 12:1-9 records that God told Abraham to leave home and go to a new land. His response? I’m on my way. He did not wrest control from God and say, “Okay, God, I’ll move when my family situation is stable, when I’ve sent ahead to find a good plot of land we can buy, when I can afford this move or have figured out the safest route.” No. Scripture says, “He went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb. 11:8b).

That kind of obedience was possible because Abraham believed God was able. He could lead him, protect him, give him a miracle son, raise that boy from the dead if necessary, and make Abraham the Father of nations.

God is able, beyond what we ask or think. Of course, if we never ask . . .

Published in: on September 10, 2018 at 4:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Is The Lord’s Power Limited?


quail-2-703602-mI suspect if Christians were asked if God’s power is limited, most of us who believe the Bible would say, No, of course not.

Some who identify as Christians but think Peter walking on water was symbolic and Daniel’s friends surviving a fiery furnace was myth, probably have some reservation about God’s power.

The thing is, whether we say God’s power is without limit or if we hedge the question, we mostly live as if we don’t think God is all powerful. Not a surprise really. Even Moses wasn’t so sure about God’s power.

This would be Moses who saw a burning bush that wasn’t consumed, who had his staff turn into a snake at God’s word, who initiated the plagues of Egypt, who parted the Red Sea, who met with God to receive the Ten Commandments.

Yes, that Moses wasn’t so sure about God’s unlimited power.

The situation was this: after more than a year of manna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the people of Israel started to complain. Seriously complain. There was a Back-to-Egypt faction, and a Down-with-Moses faction. Already the Hebrews were looking back at their old life with nostalgia. Things were better in Egypt. They could get good food for free. Never mind that they’d been slaves, so nothing from the Egyptians was free. Still, their complaints mounted.

Finally Moses brought the matter to God. The people were too much for him. He couldn’t handle the pressure alone.

In answer, God gave him a group of elders to share the burden, but still there was the matter of food. The people specifically wanted meat.

God, as He so often does, said, Fine. They want meat, I’ll give them meat. In fact, I’ll give them so much meat they’ll be sick of it:

Therefore the LORD will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” (Num. 11:18b-20)

Excuse me, God, Moses answered. You may be forgetting something. We’re talking about 600,000 people, and You’re saying You’re going to give them meat for an entire month? Actually it was Moses who was forgetting something. The rounded off number of 600,000 was the men listed in the census as warriors and did not count women and children. The total could easily have been a million and a half.

But even underestimating the number of people who needed meat, Moses didn’t see any way God could do what He said He’d do. No way, Moses said. If we killed off all our livestock, there wouldn’t be enough meat to satisfy the demand for a month. Even if we over-fished the sea we’re camped beside, there wouldn’t be enough for the whole company.

Here was an odd situation: God said it; Moses didn’t believe it.

Somehow, because Moses questioned the limitless power of God, I feel a little better about the times I question God’s ability to do what He says He’ll do. I shouldn’t feel better. My excuse is that Moses had the advantage over me. But did he?

He got to see God turn water to blood and cause darkness to fall on the land for three straight days and to send locusts to eat up Egyptian crops and hail to strike any living thing left in the fields. He saw the angel of God pass over Israel and strike down the first born of Egypt. Of course he should have believed God could do the impossible. He’d already seen it. Advantage Moses.

Except, I have the advantage of the cross and the risen, resurrected Lord Jesus. I have God’s written revelation chronicling fulfilled prophecy. I have His Holy Spirit living in my life, guiding me into all truth, acting as my Advocate with the Father.

Advantage Becky.

The point is, Moses didn’t really have a more sure way of knowing that God would fulfill His word. He had to trust, and I have to trust.

Moses, quite frankly, thought God couldn’t pull it off. But to his credit, he didn’t start painting “Return To Egypt Or Bust” signs. His questions went straight to God.

You’re kidding! Six hundred thousand people? Meat? For a month?

God simplified things:

The LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’S power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not.”

Somehow, miraculously, God sent quail up from the sea. The birds surrounded the camp within a day’s walk. There were so many of them they stacked up a yard deep.

summertime-wild-flower-meadow-2-1354217-mIs the Lord’s power limited? Clearly, that would be NO.

If He wants to send quail to teach a lesson to His people about craving more than what He’s given, then He can send an impossible number of quail. So, too, today. If God says He will not fail or forsake His people, we His people can know He won’t fail or forsake us.

His word is sure, settled in Heaven, and unlike the flower of the grass that withers, it will stand forever.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in September, 2014.

Published in: on September 7, 2018 at 4:35 pm  Comments (5)  
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A New Commandment


First I have to say how blessed I am because my church has an abundance of Bible-believing pastors who love God’s word and can communicate its truth.

So Sunday our executive pastor preached from a verse in John:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.(John 13:34)

He starts out by asking, Since Jesus said this was a new commandment, what was the old commandment?

That made me think. When someone asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment, He said, Love God, and a close second is love your neighbor as yourself.

We can logically conclude that since the New Commandment has to do with relationships on the horizontal plane—a human being with other human beings—the Old Commandment would have been the “love your neighbor as yourself” part.

As it stands, loving our neighbor as we love ourselves is a pretty demanding commandment. I mean we quite naturally take care of ourselves from birth. How many babies decide they’ll wait for breakfast until morning so their mom can get a good night of sleep? None! They are hungry, so they want to be fed.

Even the Yale baby studies reported on 60 Minutes some five years ago, admit to our natural love for us over others:

The youngest kids in the study will routinely choose to get fewer prizes for themselves just to get more than the other kid.

In other words, the Old Commandment was an admonition to bring others up to our status, to love them with the same kind of care that we provide for ourselves. Do we want to be first in line? Then we should also want our neighbor to be first in line. But what if there’s only one line, and we both need to be in it?

That’s where the New Commandment comes in: Jesus said we are to love other believers, not the way we love ourselves, but the way HE loves them. That would of necessity be self-sacrificially. In other words, I am willing to give up my place at the head of the line so that you can be first.

Well, that’s a bit shocking. But Jesus went on to say that this kind of sacrifice-love will set us apart from others, so much so that when this kind of sacrifice-love is observed, people will know: Yep, they are Christians.

One more cool thing from the message. In Colossians 3 Paul listed things Christians should “put on.” Seven of them:

put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other (vv 12b-13a)

Then Paul adds one more:

Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (v 14)

The ESV says it this way

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

That word for “binds” or “bond” also refers to ligaments. You know, the things that hold our bones together. So Pastor Jeff gave the illustration of a professional athlete who does these amazing things with his body—until he injures his ACL. Even the smallest tear in that ligament can shut down the athlete.

So Paul was saying that all the things the Christian should “wear” in his new life in Christ, is held in place by love. Kindness and humility and gentleness and forgiveness—all of it. Love holds them all together, helps them move in concert, as the ACL helps the parts of a knee function together.

And it is this love that will make Christians exhibit the New Commandment love Jesus was talking about.

One more vital thing. This kind of love doesn’t come from trying harder. It comes from the Holy Spirit. We need to allow Him to empower us, fill us, guide us. So if we want to love like Jesus told us to, we can’t accomplish that by deciding to do better. It actually comes from intentionally entering into a closer relationship with God. The more we know His heart, the less we will want to go our own way. Why should we hold a grudge against someone Jesus Christ loves so much He laid down His life to save him?

Christ died for him, but I’m going to remain angry because he was late and didn’t call? And is always late and never calls. As James says, “The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (1:20)”

It seems unjust. He’s getting away with being a jerk! And all I’m supposed to do is love him?

Yes, love him, which means you are willing to confront someone if they need to learn ways to relate to others that would glorify God. Confronting people is uncomfortable. Loving people is complicated. It’s not all smiles and flowers. A lot of times it’s forgiving people while they’re yet sinners.

But that’s the New Commandment, the one that will let others know we are Christians.

Published in: on September 5, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Is Salvation A “Loophole”?


At the Facebook atheist/theist group in which I participate, one of the atheists has said on more than one occasion, “god sacrificed himself, to himself, in order to have a loophole for the rules he created.” Is salvation a loophole?

The Oxford-American Dictionary defines loophole as “an ambiguity or inadequacy in the law or a set of rule.” In order for salvation to be a loophole, then God’s law would have to be ambiguous or inadequate.

Except sin entered into the world when there was just one commandment: don’t eat from this fruit or you’ll die. Nothing ambiguous there. Is it inadequate? Inadequate for what? What was the purpose of that commandment?

I have to admit, I’ve never really thought this out before. The fruit was of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but I wonder if it could have been any old fruit. Clearly eating what God had prohibited did open Adam and Eve’s eyes, but to what? The first indication Scripture gives is their awareness that they were naked. And they wanted to cover up. They hadn’t cared that they were naked before. So something changed. Their sense of morality was altered.

But Adam’s sin had already occurred. Knowing full well that he was doing what God told him not to do, Adam ate of the forbidden fruit.

I think there’s really only one explanation for this action. Adam decided he would do what he wanted to do, not what God told him to do. In short, Adam placed himself as a higher authority than God. And that’s the thing that separates humans from God to this day.

The issue, then, isn’t actually a particular rule and certainly not a set of laws, but the question, Who’s in charge?

When God told Adam and Eve what they could and could not enjoy in the garden, He also revealed to them the consequences of going their own way. They would die.

The natural order of things broke when Adam sinned. God, who upholds all things by the word of His power, was now cut off from the people He had made. They had cut themselves off. Just as surely as they wanted to cover their bodies with leaves, they also wanted to hide themselves from His presence.

In addition, they faced death—something that came about as God said it would. But not only their own death. The death of people they loved, too. Children and animals, which I suspect they became fond of as any of us do with our pets. They now died, too.

Obviously being cut off from friendship with God was the greatest penalty they could pay. When did they realize how bad it would be? When Cain became a law unto himself and killed his brother? When God kicked them out of the garden? When work became hard? When they no longer enjoyed regular personal conversations with God? I don’t know.

The bottom line is that God is the only One wise enough, good enough, strong enough, to make the decisions, to direct the world, to keep the universe in place. It’s nothing but hubris for humans to say, No, we don’t need God. But in one act of disobedience, that’s exactly what Adam said.

But back to salvation. Did God come up with a loophole to fix a flaw in His plan? No, He didn’t. Scripture makes it clear that Christ was part of the plan all along.

For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:20-21)

He was the free gift God intended from eternity past to give to us as a demonstration of His love.

Of course there is some truth in what the atheist guy says; God did sacrifice Himself to Himself. But that’s not a negative.

I remember when I was a kid, my dad would give us money to buy Christmas presents. His money, to buy him (and others) presents. Did that make the gifts meaningless? Not at all. The money came from him and the money went to him, in the form of the presents. Why would he do this? Because he loved us, wanted to teach us, wanted us to experience the joy of giving, and because we in turn had the opportunity to express our love for him and the others in our family.

God isn’t selfishly wanting sacrifice, nor is He trying to fix a broken plan. I know sometimes we believers when explaining it, because we’re limited to our linear, finite thinking, can make it sound as if that’s the case, but in truth God knew what was best, what would be the best way for people made in His image, and therefore with free will, to actually come to Him and submit to Him. That’s what makes for the best relationships. When I say, God, You’re in charge and I am not, He showers me with His love.

So, no, salvation is not a loophole!

Published in: on August 30, 2018 at 6:00 pm  Comments (8)  
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Walking With A Limp


I’ve walked with a limp from time to time. I injured a tendon when I was in Guatemala years ago, and walked with crutches. Before that I sprained an ankle playing basketball, and could hardly walk the next day. And after my stroke I didn’t exactly limp. More like lurched and then staggered, tottered, weaved, always moving closer to walking without any noticeable difficulty.

On the other hand, Jacob limped, for life.

Jacob, Isaac’s son. Isaac’s youngest son who duped his older brother out of his birthright and deceived his father into giving him the blessing that didn’t belong to him. He didn’t limp back in those early years, and he didn’t limp when he made the trek to his mother’s home town to search for a wife.

Irony of ironies, after he worked for seven years to marry the women he wanted, his uncle deceived him into marrying her sister. The uncle then offered him the right girl, too, if he’d work seven more years for her. After he completed that service, his uncle squeezed six additional years of labor from him, changing his wages ten different times. In other words, the deceiver met his match.

But still he wasn’t limping.

The limp didn’t come until Jacob headed home after the twenty-year hiatus with his uncle. He’d gained a fortune, two wives, two concubines, eleven sons, but he could tell his uncle and cousins were not as friendly as they had been. And what’s more, God told him to go. Not directly. He had a dream in which God said, leave. So he headed back home.

As he, his family, his servants, his livestock, got close to his destination, he had to solve one more problem: his angry brother had said he was going to kill him. Remember, the birthright issue, and the blessing issue.

But that was twenty years ago. Would his brother really carry a grudge that long? Jacob apparently thought he would. He did what he could to protect his family and his stuff, and he basically sent his apology to his brother in the form of a substantial gift. The night before he was to encounter his brother, he was alone.

Until an angel confronted him. Or as some scholars think, he encountered the pre-incarnate Christ. I have to admit, I have been confused about this event for many, many years. The angel, or Christ, didn’t sit down and have a nice talk with Jacob. He engaged him physically—got into a wrestling match with him.

Apparently they struggled together through the night, and Jacob was winning! How can that be? I haven’t understood how God could strive with a human and not win. Well, Jacob’s apparent victory was short lived. With one touch the angel/Christ threw his hip joint out of place and disabled him, so that he walked with a limp.

Still Jacob held onto his opponent, saying he wouldn’t let go until he received a blessing. Another odd thing. His father had blessed him twenty years earlier, and God had given him a blessing—the covenantal, Messianic blessing—when he left home. So why was he fighting for another blessing? Perhaps the blessing he wanted here was nothing more than that he would live, since his brother and 400 of his men were heading his way.

What’s interesting here is that the angel/Christ asked him his name. Years ago, when he stole his brother’s blessing, his father had asked him his name and he’d lied. He pretended to be his brother. But now, twenty years later, the same question—what’s your name?—and he answers truthfully. He’s Jacob.

But not for long. The angel/Christ told him he would now be Israel, he who strives with God.

It’s not a great name, I don’t think. It’s not like, father of nations, or beloved of the Lord, or any of the other cool names he could have been given.

And what’s the point? He wrestled God, and came out of it with a new name and a limp.

The limp, I think, is more important than I realized. One commentator pointed out that Jacob appeared to be winning in his fight against God, but with a simple touch, he was incapacitated, to the point that he limped, likely forever after.

That limp is a reminder who is really in charge. Too often we humans think we have God wrestled into a “manageable” Sovereign. But the truth is, all He has to do is bring one finger to bear on our lives, and we are at His mercy.

We really are at His mercy at all times, but we just don’t know it. We are deluded. We think we know, but we don’t know. We think we’re winning, but we aren’t because God is still working with us, renaming us, remaking our walk.

In the end, I have to ask, what does Jacob teach me here? Is striving with God a good thing? In one sense it is. Up to this point, Jacob’s encounters with God had been in dreams. Not so his grandfather Abraham. He had personal conversations, even an argument of sorts (though a really polite, respectful one), and that as part of a personal visit. So Jacob wrestling with the angel/Christ was a more intimate encounter with God, though a painful one, than any he’d had to date. I’d have to say, I’d take an intimate encounter with God any day.

Well, I have. I did. I do. As a believer I really do have the advantage Jesus said we’d have—the Holy Spirit with me and in me, reminding me of my new life in Christ.

My hope is, though, that I don’t wrestle with Him. Instead I want to be quick to say yes. That was Abraham. Quick to listen, quick to obey. And I don’t think he every limped.

God And His Mysterious Ways


Some people try to define God’s work, and therefore to define God—sort of like trying to photograph a double rainbow that stretches across the sky. If you could just snap the picture, then you’d have the rainbow for always.

God doesn’t operate in such a way that we can ever capture Him. Yet—and here’s one of the most mysterious of His Ways—He voluntarily, willfully declares my heart His home.

As far as “mysterious ways” is concerned, I think of Joseph resisting the sexual temptations Potiphar’s wife threw at him day after day, only to end up in prison. Well, not “end up” because he moved from the outhouse to the penthouse in a mere thirteen years. Thirteen years that undoubtedly had Joseph thinking nothing would ever change, that his life was going to continue on and on and on in the dungeon. But it didn’t. God had big things in store for Joseph.

I think of the little slave girl, an Israelite captive torn from her home, probably from her family, refusing to be bitter or to seek revenge but reaching out to bless the man she worked for by telling him of the prophet of God who could cure him of his leprosy. As a result, the mighty Aramean officer ended up declaring, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:20).

Then there is Samson. What an amazing thing that God used that philanderer. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have chosen him. He was supposed to be a Nazarene from birth, but he broke the parameters more than once that defined that special relationship with God. He seemed self-absorbed and more inclined to use God than serve Him. But God was pleased to include him as a judge of Israel, pleased to make him a means to free His people from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

Or how about the beauty pageant that ended up sparing the lives of hundreds of Jews? I remember when I first heard about Esther, I was horrified that Mordecai didn’t try to sequester her away or make a run for the hills. Instead, he truly seemed to be encouraging her, and she seemed to want to win the role as queen. Except, unlike the fairy tales, this was no monogamous happy-together-ever-after story. No! Esther got to be part of the kings harem (think of all the women he slept with before he slept with her and finally decided she was queen material). And yet, God used her in that place to save hundreds, maybe thousands.

What about in contemporary times? God used the death of five young husbands, some also fathers, to save a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, at the same time turning the hearts of countless believers to become involved in missions.

He used a spinster lady in the latter end of middle-aged through to her “golden years” to teach a generation what forgiveness really means, to spread the gospel of God’s incredible power over death and destruction and hatred and evil.

He is using the humble submission of an athletic teenage girl who suffered a catastrophic, debilitating accident, who has lived life for forty-five years as a quadriplegic and continues to tell of her love for her Lord.

I would have done things differently, I’m sure. Look how talented Joni Eareckson Tada is—as an artist, a writer, a speaker. How much more could she do if she weren’t in a wheelchair? What a silly person I am. Who would have heard of Joni if she hadn’t been the girl who drew holding her pen in her mouth? And what would she be talking about now or who would listen? Isn’t it her willing submission in the face of her adversity that makes her life so winsome?

God knows these things. He knows what it takes. But to us, because we don’t know what it takes, His ways will always appear mysterious.

God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
– by William Cowper

– – – – –

This article is a reprint of one originally posted May 2011 and reprised in October 2014.

A Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing


From time to time in discussions I have with atheists they will claim some false idea as if it represents Christian thought. They usually back this up with a Bible verse, taken out of context.

This kind of thinking distresses me because ultimately it defames the name of Jesus Christ.

The other day I ran across someone in the FB atheist/theist group who took the atheist stand one step farther. He actually knows a lot about the Bible. His main point was not, the Bible is a myth. He still reached a position of disbelief, however, and he did it by twisting Scriptures.

What’s really sad is that he parroted the line of thinking typical of those I categorize as “health-and-wealthers.” Others call them word of faith and still others, proponents of the Prosperity Gospel. With the backing of Scripture the line goes something like this: God promises to defend, protect and heal. Jesus said, by His stripes we are healed. People who think God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, will depend on God to do for us today what He did for people in the Bible.

He concludes these beliefs lead them to choose God instead of medical science. As a result, bad things happen. Consequently, people should not fall for the idea that God actually can be trusted and depended upon.

What’s so off here is that this atheist, someone who identifies as a former pastor, is examining a false teaching, finding it in error, and concluding that Christianity is unreliable, that God is untrue.

I have to admit, this is a new one for me. But it fits with all other error. It comes from A LITTLE knowledge. This Atheist Pastor (or AP) has more Bible knowledge than do most atheists, but he is still far from the truth. He apparently has gone no deeper into Scripture than have the false teachers he echoes.

Otherwise he would know that Job’s friends who spent days with him, essentially accusing him of wrong doing because he was suffering, were the ones who were wrong. Surely, God would not allow suffering if you haven’t sinned, they said. Well, surprise. Not true. And when God showed up in person, He accepted Job because he repented. The friends needed Job to intercede for them. I’ve wondered if that didn’t come with a bit of instruction on his part, explaining what he’d learned about God: that He is sovereign, that He won’t be manipulated, that He isn’t dependent upon us in the tiniest way.

Of course the AP and the false teachers he was critiquing also ignore what Peter says about suffering:

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.(1 Peter 3:13-17; emphases here and in the following passages, mine)

But there’s more:

For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God (v 2:20).

Peter’s not done yet:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (4:12-16)

Of course these are by no means the only passages that deal with suffering in a way that demonstrates the falsehood of the health-and-wealth position.

The point is, this AP and the false teachers he critiqued have some knowledge. Yes, the verses they quote are in Scripture. But instead of wrestling with how they can exist side by side with verses such as Peter wrote, or with what James said when he told believers to call suffering, joy, they ignore the parts of the Bible that don’t fit in with the paradigm they have created. The one ignores them as a way to manipulate God. The other ignores them as a way to accuse God. Both are wrong because they depend only on the little knowledge they have.

I’ve believed for a very long time that Christians need to read the Bible. But this encounter has left me more fully convinced than ever.

People can disbelieve the Bible completely and leave it alone. They can believe what someone has told them about the Bible and discount it, distort it, or accept it, based on who they actually are trusting. Lots of Christians do this latter. They listen to a pastor or a family member or a teacher who tells them what the Bible says. And they believe what they’ve been told. But what happens when those tenets are challenged? What happens when someone with compelling arguments against their beliefs comes along?

No, the way to handle the Bible is not second hand. We ought all to be reading it for ourselves, from cover to cover, taking the whole counsel of God and wrestling with what we find there.