Missing A Year


Since March of last year, I have felt sorry for high school and college students, especially those who were seniors.

It started when the NCAA—the governing body of college sports, canceled “March Madness,” the basketball tournament any number of players had worked hard all season to reach. If fact, some of those players had counted on performing well in the tournament in order to get a toe-hold into playing professional basketball. After all, how else did a player from a smaller school have a chance to be noticed by NBA scouts?

Of course, March Madness wasn’t the extent of what kids lost. Graduation would be another big zero, though kids had worked four long years in order to walk across a stage and receive their diploma, either as a high school graduate or a college graduate. I don’t know about elsewhere, but here in SoCal, there was no graduation. In fairness, the schools tried. At least some did. The one near me hung a big Congratulations banner across the street leading to the school. They held some sort of car ceremony, which I think gave the kids their diplomas. Later they had a students only graduation in their large football stadium. Not, I imagine, what these kids had dreamed about.

Well, actually, I don’t “imagine.” I know. The summer before I was to enter my senior year of high school, my family moved to Tanzania, East Africa. The school system was based on the British system, not American, with the various subjects I needed to graduate, and more so, to meet the requirements for entrance into college; and all the classes were in Swahili. There was no way I could finish high school there unless I took correspondence courses. This method of instruction from a distance was a lot like homeschooling, which had not yet become a thing, and a bit like remote learning, except I didn’t have a computer, which was also not yet a thing—at least not the home computers we know today.

Picture by Michael Jacobson

I had one advantage—my parents were both educators, so I had people I could ask if I needed help. But I didn’t have classmates, football games to attend, school clubs to be a part of, senior days or ditch days or graduation. I know what it feels like to look forward to something for years—I mean, I’d gone to my brother’s graduation, my sister’s graduation. and I had imagined my own. Which I never participated in.

For me, there was so much more that I gained, however. I mean, I was living in a different culture, experiencing a whole different world. I can’t begin to explain what all I learned, how my whole worldview changed because of that “not in school” year.

I hope the students of today will some time in their future look back and say that the Corid year was actually a good thing for them.

Here in California, if nothing else, it has removed them from the pressure of curriculum that many don’t subscribe to. The whole “critical race theory” instruction that is taking over schools is one example

Parents are also more aware of the course work their kids are being exposed to. They are more involved with their children and their learning. Families are closer and have shared experiences. I’ve heard of families instituting game nights when once they all scattered in their many different directions. In other words, the “missing year” doesn’t actually have to be missing. There might be a lot more benefits that we just haven’t uncovered yet. And one thing seems apparent: we probably aren’t going to take “going to school” for granted for some time. And that’s a good thing.

God has a way of turning tough things into purposeful things that can accomplish much.

Sort of like the events leading up to the first Easter. Things looked pretty dark for the people who believed Jesus was their Messiah. I mean, can it get any darker than to see the man you believe would save your nation, dying as a criminal on a Roman cross? Maybe they were thinking they had lost, not just a year, but three years, and all their hopes and dreams. But then Easter. And the days that followed. God took what seemed to be a tragedy and turned it into triumph. He has a way of doing that.

Published in: on March 26, 2021 at 4:57 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

Take Courage. Fear Not.


I’ve discovered in the last ten years or so just how relevant the various books of prophecy are. Some of them seem as if they could have been written about contemporary America. So I was not surprised when I came upon a verse that speaks to many in today’s climate of . . . worry.

I don’t know how else to say it, but there are small businesses that have had to close their doors; people who have lost their jobs; others who are worried about finding the paper products they need, when they need them; people who are concerned about getting sick or wearing masks or getting a vaccine or not getting a vaccine.

Isaiah comes along in chapter 35 and says

Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.
Say to those with anxious heart,
“Take courage, fear not. (vv 3-4a)

Interestingly, the passage starts out by announcing a reason for nature to be glad and to rejoice: “They will see the glory of the LORD/The majesty of our God.”

Essentially Isaiah is describing how things will be when Messiah comes again. He will set things right—bring His vengeance on those who deserve vengeance, save those who trust in Him, provide a “Highway of Holiness” to the redeemed, to enable gladness and joy to the ransomed of the LORD, to chase away sorrow and sighing.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it a relief, refreshing, to hear good news. Not only that, this passage reinforces the fact that God is in control, even when circumstances seem so far from what we imagined or hoped for.

For instance, I grew up in the era which taught that the US is a melting pot. We all have one thing in common: we have come from somewhere else, whether recently or in the distant past, and we have come together, blending our identities into Americans. It’s a wonderful ideal.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would see the day when students are taught “Critical Race Theory,” such that they had to identify which racial, religious, economic, gender, sexual preference oppressed group they belonged to. Those who could not, were part of the oppressors. In other words, these ideas are Marxist and they are the antithesis of the American ideal based on the creed that all people are created equal.

That idea is clearly one embedded in the Bible. God loves the whole world, for instance, and promised a blessing through Abraham for all the world. Paul specifically said all the divisions of ethnicity, gender, economics melted away at the foot of the cross. In the Church, made up of those who are reconciled to God through the sacrifice, the payment for sin, which Jesus provided, there are no distinctions.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:21-24–emphasis mine)

So in the face of the many difficulties in 2020, our hope does not lie in a change in the calendar. I know a lot of people are talking about how they can’t wait to be done with 2020, as if the covid virus will disappear at midnight New Year’s Eve. Or jobs will suddenly come back and restaurants will miraculously open or racial tension will vanish or any number of other problems this year has uncovered, will suddenly be solved.

The change of calendar is not the answer, but the knowledge that Jesus, our Savior, will indeed come to reign as our King eternal, heaping gladness and joy on our heads and driving sorrow and sighing away, gives us a reason to take courage, to fear not.

God will handle the problems. He will set things right. It’s in the bank, a done deal. And we have His word on it.

In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:17-18)

So now we can ask—are we in the company of those who have taken refuge in the promise of God? If so, Scripture gives us strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. Which means we can take courage. We can fear not.

Published in: on December 29, 2020 at 5:24 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , ,

God Is In Control. Really, He Is


I just listened to a video from various citizens of Georgia who were witnessing to problems in the 2020 election. Despite so many people who have come forward, despite clear violations of state election laws, despite numerical impossibilities, despite verified anomalies such as more votes than registered voters in some counties, any number of court cases in the “contested states” have been thrown out for one reason or another. Though any number of state representatives seem convinced that there is “something to see” in regards to election fraud, so far no one with the authority to make a difference seems interested in a real study of what happened and how to make it right.

There have been hearings before legislative committees in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, too, all with the same result—some state legislators seem convinced, some people who listen to the testimony, as I have, are convinced that something happened. But no legal body with the authority to do anything has looked at the evidence.

That’s just the election, the latest of the twists and turns in 2020. Of course an ongoing issue in many states is the mandated “lock down” which state governors have implemented because of the increased number of people contracting the Chinese Communist Party Corona Virus.

The fight has become all about whether or not a governor can make these “temporary” mandates that last for nearly a year. The latest in California is that restaurants, which had been allowed to host outdoor dining by following a variety of protocols which required the businesses to buy appropriate equipment, such as outdoor lighting, tents, tables, all located at least six feet apart, suddenly, and without explanation, were no longer allowed outdoor dining. Couple this action with the restrictions on churches, which have now been declared unconstitutional, and government “servants” time and again being exposed as law-breakers of these very onerous laws.

Take, for instance, the incident in November when California Governor Newsom urged us on a Friday to avoid air travel, and if we did so, to self-quarantine. Then the following Monday, he and a dozen or so legislators boarded a plane and flew to Hawaii for a conference. “Rules for thee, and not for me,” is the way one YouTube critic puts it.

And of course all rules about mask wearing and social distancing were out the window during the Black Lives Matter protests and riots. Rules for thee if you don’t agree with me, I guess that one could be called.

But of course, the racial tensions of the summer are just one more area of 2020 madness. People robbing and looting and burning, all in the name of Black Lives Matter? And then the disparaging remarks and even threats against anyone saying all lives matter—as if black lives aren’t included in “all lives.” On the tail of these protests came the “de-fund the police” movement, and in cities that did so, an immediate and steep rise in crime.

But apparently, the message was really “black lives matter more.” That certainly seems to be the message of the critical race theory which seems to have found a foothold in some educational institutions. To the point that a high school boy in Nevada is suing a “tax-payer funded charter school” for “coercive, ideological indoctrination” in regard to this Marxist way of looking at people as either members of the oppressor group or the oppressed group.

And yet, I say, God is in control?

Aren’t the lists of things that tore society apart this year proof that God is NOT in control? It can feel that way. Especially when so many people were dying from the virus early on, when people who are hospitalized or are in a nursing home can have no visitors. Surely God is not behind all this.

Or is He?

Another way to ask the question is this: Is God sovereign? In other words, is He really the supreme ruler, the One ultimately in charge, the final authority? And if not God, then who? Satan? Would we ever say Satan has more authority than God? How about Mankind? You know, free will and all. But do we not have free will only because God gave it to us?

In fact, did He not say to Adam, eat whatever you want, just not this one thing which I’ve determined is not good for you. Because if it was good for him, God would surely have given it. So God, in his infinite wisdom and all knowing power, put one small restriction on Adam’s free will. Meaning, God was and is the ultimate authority, the Sovereign Who is in charge.

The patriarch Job struggled with the idea that God was in charge while terrible things happened to him and his family. Joseph may have struggled in the same way, though we have no record of it. What we do have is his great declaration that though his brothers had truly planned evil against him, and had carried it out, God took their actions and used them as a means to preserve and protect Joseph’s whole family.

James, the writer of the New Testament letter, addresses the issue, saying right from the start that believers should rejoice in trials because something greater than the trial itself would result.

Paul sums up the point in Romans, in a misunderstood verse:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren(8:28-29)

God causes. All things. Covid, riots, election fraud. For good.

The part that too many people miss is that the good God is doing in and through all things is to bring those of us who love Him into conformity to the image of His Son.

In other words, to refine gold, to shape it into a valuable ring, there’s a lot of heat and melting and separating out the impurities and hammering and pressing into the mold so that the ring will be just right.

God does that for us as individuals and He does it for His Church. I know He did so for Israel and other nations in the past, and since He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, I suspect He still works with nations today in the same way.

Published in: on December 28, 2020 at 5:04 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

What It Means To Love


The Bible gives us the greatest example of love that exists: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

God gave His only Son because He loved the very people that were spitting in His face. Not literally at first, but eventually that happened too.

The thing is, the Bible also gives pictures of this love throughout the Bible. The one perhaps best known is Abraham willing to offer his son as a sacrifice, not for another person but in obedience to God as an evidence of his love for Him.

Interestingly, there’s a kind of reverse illustration, too. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob actually had twelve sons, but he loved one more than all the others. The jealous brothers kidnapped him and sold him into slavery, then lied to their dad to make him think the teen had been killed by a wild animal.

Years later a famine hit the land, so ten of Jacob’s sons traveled to Egypt to purchase grain because they heard in all the region hit by the famine, Egypt still had a supply of grain available.

When they arrived, they came face to face with the brother they’d sold into slavery. He recognized them, but they did not recognize him. After all, he was dressed like an Egyptian, was obviously in charge of the grain selling operation, and communicated with them through a translator.

Long story short, Joseph, the despised and forsaken brother who became a ruler, challenged his brothers—if you want to buy and sell in Egypt, bring me your other brother, the one who stayed home with his dad. That was Benjamin, Joseph’s full-blood brother.

Not sure what Joseph’s intentions were. Maybe he wanted to see if the ten had become as hateful toward Benjamin as they had been toward him. In that case, he could actually rescue Benjamin from them. Or perhaps he wanted to know if they had repented of their evil and were changed men. In which case, he’d have the chance to include his family in his life again. There is the possibility that he was toying with the idea of revenge against the ten. The point is, Scripture doesn’t tell us what he was thinking.

What we do know is that Joseph’s brothers, all except one he kept on condition of their return with the younger brother, went back to their dad, with food but without one of their number. Jacob was distraught. He’d never gotten over losing Joseph, and now one of his older boys was held captive in Egypt, and would not be released unless Benjamin went with the guys on their next trip.

So he delayed. And delayed. At some point things were becoming desperate. The famine continued and the food ran out. His sons needed to go back to Egypt to get food.

But Jacob said, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.”

At that point Jacob didn’t love anyone but himself. He was not willing to sacrifice his son.

But he didn’t stay in that state of mind. After time, he came to realize the severity of their situation, and he gave permission for Benjamin to go.

The story ends with Joseph revealing his identity to his brothers and telling them to bring their father and their entire households to Egypt to live because there were still years left of the famine. They did, and he was reunited with his father.

Of course Jacob was not sacrificing his only son, and he wasn’t even sacrificing him. More like risking him. Sort of an “all in” decision. But I think that might be part of love. Going all in. It certainly was the way in which God showed His love for the world.

Published in: on November 10, 2020 at 5:03 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags:

Turning To God


If it’s true that the problems the US faces today are not going to be fixed by government, that they actually need a spiritual answer, that such an answer starts with turning to God, what does that mean? What does it look like?

I’ve talked to a number of atheists over the years, and clearly their belief (although they say they don’t believe anything) is that there’s no evidence for God. What they are actually saying is a refutation of Romans 1, and an agreement.

Paul says in the first chapter of this letter that “that which is known about God is evident within them because God made it evident to them.” This, he explains, has been so since the creation of the world, in which God’s invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature have been clearly seen through what He made.

So the atheist starts by denying creation.

Paul addressed that, too, saying that though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God. So we refer to “Mother Nature,” not God. Maybe Mother Nature will give us a break in the weather so the fires will be brought under control.

In the same breath, many of the same people declare that humans are in control of that which has been made. So everything will be fine if we just don’t screw it up. All the climate warming and the resulting floods and hurricanes and fires, are our fault because we aren’t doing a good enough job.

So, on one hand, Mother Nature is in charge and we’re just along for the ride, but on the other hand humans are in charge of not making a mess of “our home.” How this Earth became our home, doesn’t ever seem to cross their minds.

But the bottom line is this: those who do not believe in God claim there is no evidence for His existence, then distort that very evidence, suggesting instead that this world and our place in it happened randomly and yet in an orderly progression of random events that can’t be replicated. But it was random. Not a result of an intelligent mind or a loving Father who chose to bring the world into existence and chose to put us humans in charge of it.

Interestingly, I had one atheist tell me she kept the Ten Commandments. Clearly she didn’t really know what they say, because they start with “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Mother =Nature is another god. And so are we humans, if we credit ourselves with what only God does.

I don’t want to get too far from the point. If we are to turn to God, we first have to acknowledge that He is. The writer of the book of Hebrews says that: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

So the first part of turning to God, I think, is to live what we say we believe. If we believe God is, then we need to trust Him, even when things don’t go the way we want. We need to trust that He sees the end from the beginning, that He knows what’s right.

I remember playing as a kid that I was a pirate looking through a telescope (usually the cardboard tube after all the Christmas wrapping had been used up). The problem with looking through a narrow cylinder is that you don’t get the panorama. You only see one small portion, and sometimes that is so close up it seems as if it is everything, or at least all that is important.

Unlike that kind of limited perspective, God sees and knows what we need, today, ten years from today, what our neighbor needs and our nephew we see at Thanksgiving. God can be trusted, if He is God. And if believers want to lead the way for our nation to return to Him, we need to trust Him, even when we don’t understand what He’s doing.

The prophet Habakkuk had the same issue. He wanted the nation Israel to turn back to God. God told him He was about to send a far more wicked nation to put them into captivity. That made no sense to Habakkuk. Until God told him about the remnant and the Messiah which was part of this overall plan.

So, too, for us, we don’t know what God’s plans are for the world or even for us individually. But we can count on His promises and we can turn to Him as our shield, our refuge, our safety net.

Published in: on October 1, 2020 at 5:12 pm  Comments (9)  
Tags: , , , ,

A Revolution In Culture


From time to time I have listed the various inventions in my life time. Once I listed the things I knew about that had come into existence and went extinct. You know, things like cassettes and VCRs.

What I haven’t thought about before are the many cultural changes. For instance, when I was growing up, grocery stores weren’t open on Sunday. They also didn’t sell liquor. That seems a little shocking, I know, because it’s so far from what we know today.

Here’s another one. When I was young we had one person come to our door and ask for a handout. We lived next to a building that had once been a church, and possibly this man though this was where the parish priest lived. Today, I routinely see homeless people when I’m on my walk. I mean, pretty much every day.

There are lots of other things. For instance, gambling was against the law. Now various states encourage it with their state-run lotteries. Colorado has approved sports betting. And any number of states have casinos.

Maybe the biggest change has been in church. When I grew up, most churches had a Sunday morning service, Sunday school, a Sunday evening service, and a midweek service, usually on Wednesday. Now very few churches have a Sunday evening service (I’m speaking Pre-Pandemic), and the only midweek services are small groups that meet in homes (if that).

When I went to “middle school” which we called “junior high,” the girls wore dresses to school. “Transgender” was not a teenage issue yet and “homosexual” still appeared in the college psychology books under deviant behavior.

Were there problems with drugs? The use of hallucinogens took hold during the hippie era and the Viet Nam War, so people might think there has been no change there. But wait. There are prescription drugs that are in common use now that no one had even heard of. So many more people, adults and children, take drugs of one sort or the other. Reminds me of the dystopian novel that had the whole society taking drugs, which kept them under control.

When I was a kid, people would whisper about someone who grew up with divorced parents. Now divorce is common, and so is living together and not marrying.

Have I mentioned abortion? Well, yes, there were whispered “back alley” abortions. But all that changed in 1973 (in the name of “choice”) when the flood gates opened for the abortion of thousands upon thousands of babies.

Of course, the problem was that many of the cultural mores of those days were not based on anything more than tradition. There was not a particular reason grocery stores didn’t open on Sunday. Once there had been a reason—Sunday was the Lord’s day, not a day for commerce. But when Sunday changed from being the Lord’s day to being a day off work, there was no more motivation to keeping grocery stores closed for business. (Which, of course, meant that more and more people began to work on Sunday. And not go to church.)

There was not a reason for people to refrain from divorce, or to stay celibate until their wedding night, or even to get married.

The point is simple. As we see racial tension grow and riots and hatred fanned in various cities across the US, so many people have said, I just want my country back. But we aren’t “getting our country back” until the heart of our country changes.

Here’s one woman who gave her thoughts on the matter.

I admit, I stopped listening when she got to the part about the guns, but I went back to it, and I’m glad I did because she got to the crux of the issue: prayer.

Well, actually, God.

We have left our first love. We Christians have adopted many of the same attitudes and beliefs that our secular neighbors hold. We are listening more to athletes and stars than we are to Scripture.

The Bible says the beginning of wisdom, and of knowledge, is the fear of the LORD.

I can’t say there’s much fear—awesome respect and reverence—for God these days. In fact as the elements of our society march us toward anarchy, there’s seemingly a disregard for all forms of authority.

While God is a loving heavenly Father, He is still the ultimate authority. He is the One True Judge who, James says, is able to save and to destroy.

When we return to the fear of the LORD, when we bow before Him and admit our sin, maybe then we can have our nation back.

There’s actually something better. Maranatha. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Published in: on September 25, 2020 at 6:03 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , ,

What’s It Going To Take?


Political upheaval in the form of an impeachment hearing back in January, and finally resolved in February, in time for the various state caucuses and primary elections to take place, started all the 2020 craziness.

Also in early February a spate of tornadoes took place. “Across the three-day outbreak, 37 tornadoes were confirmed, including several that were strong and long-tracked. In the pre-dawn hours of February 6, an EF1 tornado near Demopolis, Alabama killed one person. Total economic losses from the event exceeded $925 million” (Wikipedia)

A month later a pandemic that spread faster than anyone expected, reached the US and caused overcrowding in some hospitals, a shortage of ventilators, and a shocking number of deaths.

Panic buying followed. Sanitizer, rubber gloves, masks, bleach and other sterilizing agents, water and, for some unknown reason, toilet paper, all disappeared from store shelves. For about a week, so did canned foods and meat and cheese and fresh fruits.

No shortages, we were reassured, but because of high demand, the distribution grid was overloaded. Thankfully goods came back, but closures started. Schools, all but essential businesses, churches, restaurants and bars.

In March, the much anticipated college basketball tournament, fondly called March Madness, was cancelled. Soon after, professional sports came to a screeching halt.

Social distancing became the watch word, and incrementally the death rate of those contracting the deadly Covid virus, dropped, from 19 percent of those infected in the US, to the current rate of 5 percent.

In April, more Tornado events took place, the Easter storms lasting 2 days and hitting the southeastern part of the US. At the end of the month another collection of tornadoes hit parts of Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana.

May came and an African American died while being arrested by police. His mistreatment is caught on camera and caused nationwide protests, even some in other countries. Many protests in the US quickly turned into riots. In Seattle a group of people took over a six-block area they declared to be a police-free zone. The city allowed the group to continue for weeks, breaking into businesses, looting, leaving waste and graffiti everywhere. Until there were several shooting incidents and a march on the mayor’s home.

As part of the riots, a number of statues were either defaced or torn down most of historical figures the rioters did not approve of, but also including one statue paid for by freed slaves to memorialize their freedom and one of abolitionist Hans Christian Heg.

Reports began to come in that rioters were paid participants, moving from city to city to foment unrest.

Meanwhile, the US economy pretty much tanked, a number of essential workers walked off the job because of unsafe conditions, and grocery stores and pharmacies all began requiring masks (at least in some states).

June saw more of the same. Then in July, the National Football League opened training camps all around the nation and Major League Baseball resumed, the pro basketball league began to hold their playoffs, in a bubble.

At the same time, the first of the California fires started, and a less reported fire in Colorado swept through several counties and soon became the largest in Colorado history.

Intermingled with all the rest have been the hurricanes. “So far, it [hurricane season] has featured a total of 24 tropical or subtropical cyclones, 23 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes. With 23 named storms, it is the second most active Atlantic hurricane season on record” (Wikipedia).

In August, more shootings, riots, and fires. And now in September one of the Supreme Court Justices passed away. The fires in Oregon, Washington, and California continue. A protest that lasted for weeks in Portland finally ended. And the political animosity builds as we draw closer to the November election.

Believe it or not, these are only the high spots. The year 2020 has been . . . pick your adjective. Crazy, horrible, abnormal, abysmal, unprecedented.

The divisions in our nation are only becoming greater. There is the Cancel Culture movement and the dispute over wearing masks or not wearing masks, and the far left push for anarchy and socialism seems to have gained a foothold in the universities.

There is a #WalkAway movement that reports people walking away from the Democratic Party, often because they come to realize they have been lied to all along (Republicans are evil, hateful, bigots, racist, and so on, they have been told. And then they actually have occasion to talk to some Republicans).

Why have I taken so long to point out all the problems of 2020?

I want to make the point that what we are experiencing is not just like any other . . . sweeping illness or storm season or violence or fires or political unrest. For one thing, all these have happened all at the same time, within one calendar year.

The people who want to dismiss any or all of these as just something that happens, are wrong.

God moves through storms and riots and illness. Often these kinds of events, whether rooted in the sinfulness of humans or in natural events, comes for the very purpose of giving us a warning. Here’s what Jesus said about this exact situation:

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

No, Jesus said, those who died didn’t “deserve it.” But their deaths are a warning that all who do not repent will suffer the same fate. The clear point is, REPENT.

I’m not sure why American Christians seem to be slow to see God’s warning. It feels as if He’s writing it in the smoke that hovers over our land, in the storms that crash onto our shores and rip apart our buildings. And of course in the social distancing and the funerals which result from the illness that still takes its toll on people.

Now is the time for repentance. Now is the time for the US, for the world, to turn back to God. His message through it all, is, at a minimum, this: I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

Published in: on September 22, 2020 at 5:48 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , , ,

What’s Behind Mistaken Beliefs


Jesus was pretty clear about the reasons for the very religious Jews of His day getting their theology off the track of truth.

In the days leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion, both Pharisees and Sadducees worked overtime to trip Jesus up. He faced question after question that was designed to paint Him into a corner, either with the Romans or with the Jews.

While Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, the Pharisees had brought up a point of Law—Mosaic Law. I suspect this was their “gray area” question, bound to get one group or another upset, no matter how Jesus answered.

Using flawless logic, coupled with knowledge of Scripture Jesus squelched their plan. The question: is it right to divorce? After all, Moses made provision for it in the Law.

Jesus’s answer: Sure he did because of the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning, that was not God’s plan. He then laid out one of His, “But I say to you” statements as He did in the Sermon on the Mount: “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. (Matt. 19:9)” In other words, he breaks God’s Law.

When He reached Jerusalem, the questions continued: Where did you get your authority? Did they have in mind Jesus’s “But I say to you” statements? Or did this question refer to Jesus taking it on Himself to kick all the money changers out of the temple? No matter which motivated them, the question was another way of asking, Who do you think you are? Because clearly Jesus was taking authority the Chief Priests and the scribes had not taken.

Jesus sidestepped that authority question. In fact, He answered with a counter trap: Where did John get his authority. They wouldn’t answer, so Jesus declined to give their question an answer.

Then came the question designed to get Him in trouble with Rome: should we pay taxes to Caesar? Here Jesus again used impeccable logic: since Caesar’s picture was on every coin, the money belonged to him, but then give to God the things that belong to Him.

Rome certainly couldn’t accuse Him of rebellion from that answer. And the Jews couldn’t accuse Him of turning His back on God.

Pivoting from trying to catch Jesus saying something against Rome, the Pharisees gave way to the Sadducees. These guys didn’t believe in the supernatural. Not sure what they actually thought about God, but they denied the existence of angels and didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead.

In answer to these false teachers, Jesus gave the answer that fits all false teachers, down through time. His statement was really simple. Basic even. But profound. Of course He went on to apply His answer to their specific question about marriage in heaven, but here’s the principle:

But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God (Matt. 22:29).”

Their false ideas, the very foundation of their sect and what they taught, developed because they did not understand Scripture, and because they did not understand the power of God.

I can think of any number of cults that have gone astray for one or both of those reasons. They don’t understand what the Bible says about Jesus. So Mormons think He was a created being who worked his way up until he became a god, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t think He was God at all.

Other people don’t understand the power of God, so they deny that He created the world out of nothing by the words He spoke. They deny the miracles of Scripture. No worldwide flood, no path through the Red Sea, no walking on water, or stopping a storm with His word, no healing of the lame and blind, no resurrection from the dead. Those things couldn’t happen, they say, because look around you: they don’t happen.

Ah, but you are mistaken because you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God.

What a load of dung, they may answer in return. Your Bible is full of errors and no one knows what the originals actually said.

Well, that’s not true, but at the heart of your statement, you are mistaken because you do not understand the power of God. The Word God inspired, He can also preserve and protect. Many facts support the idea the Bible we have today, even in various translations, has been preserved and does faithfully reflect what God said about who He is, what His plan for and His work in the world is.

So yes, people who don’t understand the Scriptures or who deny the power of God, are going to get swallowed up by false teaching of one kind or the other.

It’s Not A Good Year


Back in January my thoughts were on things like making New Year’s Resolutions and surviving the New Year’s Eve night of fireworks. Shortly after, there was the impeachment trial of our President, which I followed pretty closely. When that was resolved, folks started talking about the November election and the upcoming primaries.

But the news was quickly hijacked by the Covid-19 virus beginning to spread around the world. Italy seemed the hardest hit . . . until the US was. But truthfully, nations in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Scandinavia, Africa, all over Europe have all had to deal with this disease.

The US economy has tanked, and I think other countries are experiencing the same problem. People have lost jobs, businesses have turned belly-up. And of course, people are dying.

For whatever reason, the US can’t seem to get a handle on the disease, and it continues to spread. So, in places like Texas and Arizona, which once had very few cases, there are thousands of new cases every day, and up to a hundred new deaths. Of course, world wide there are hundreds of thousands of new cases and thousands of new deaths, so I suppose we should keep all the info in perspective.

But alas, like everything else that takes place today, the response to Covid has become controversial. No to masks—they actually hurt more than they help. Yes to masks because they will help contain the spread. No to Chloroquine because there might be side affects. Yes to Chloroquine because it might save lives. No to social distancing and closing churches because it’s all a government conspiracy. Yes to distancing measures so we can get over this pandemic more quickly (and have sports).

And on it goes. The debates are endless and, I might add, pointless, because this is our new year, our happy new year that is kicking off the 2020’s.

I could go on about the social unrest and the “cancel culture” culture, about extremists who eat their own because the canceled individuals haven’t gone far enough into the ideological abyss. Or what about cities that refuse to police things like destruction or theft of private property. How about the demolition of Federal property? But then there’s the controversy over whether the President should or should not send in troops to do what the local police can’t do or haven’t been ordered to do.

The atmosphere is toxic in 2020.

Some people—even some Christians—are throwing our elderly and infirmed under the bus. Stop the measures to contain the virus (usually this comes from conspiracy theorists) and let nature take its course. Because the spread of this virus, and the number of people dying, aren’t that bad.

I suspect that approach is sort of like the mayor of Seattle saying to leave the rebels in her city alone—until they marched on her house. When riots and looting and mobs come close to home, it’s time to do something. So, too, when Covid puts a loved one into the hospital, it’s time to take more serious measures.

In the midst of a thoroughly forgettable year that likely most people will never forget, God has not changed.

He’s still God. He’s still sovereign. He still asks the same of His people—that we rejoice always, that we glorify His name, that we tell people about Jesus.

God has not gone away, His plans for the world have not changed, His purpose for His people has not become something different.

Rather, God asks us to be joyful, in the midst of the difficulties the things in our society are causing. He asks us to still love our neighbors even as we face accusations that we can’t do that if we are a certain skin color.

God still wants us to be the body of Christ, loving our brothers and sisters around the globe, praying for the challenges suffering saints face that might be greater or more disruptive than those we face.

Even if we are at the heart of the worst of what’s going on in 2020, our mandate from God has not changed. It’s not suddenly OK to speak against our brothers or judge our brothers. That what James says in chapter 4, and then reiterates in chapter 5. He’s talking to Christians who were being persecuted, and he holds ho punches:

Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? (4:11-12)

Above all God wants us to remember that He is still in charge. The Covid virus didn’t somehow slip past his attention. The riots in Chicago or Portland or Atlanta haven’t happened when He had His back turned.

Because He knows the end from the beginning. He has an amazing way of working through human agents. In fact that’s His preferred method today. He wants the Church to be His hands and feet, caring for widows and orphans and strangers and the oppressed.

At the same time, He brings people who are opposed to Him, who reject Him, along our path in order to refine, correct, or warn.

I’m of the mindset that the greatest need in the midst of the pandemic and the unrest and the economic fallout, is for us as a world, to bow before God and recognize that He is LORD, that He will do justly. That we who fear Him can know that He will keep us, even as His word promises.

Will He keep us now or in the life to come? Yes.

Published in: on July 30, 2020 at 5:12 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

Humming Birds And Parakeets


So this morning a couple hummingbirds that live in the tree next door got into a fight at my neighbor’s bird feeder.

I love hummingbirds. They have always fascinated me. One was a frequent visitor at my mom’s place years ago, and I remember sitting on the porch and trying to hold very, very still in order to keep from scaring our little guest away.

But this morning the hummingbirds were irritated with each other. They didn’t come to blows (clearly—since they don’t have hands!), but they squabbled. It seems that one of the birds was taking too much time at the feeder and the other one wanted in.

Apparently hummingbirds don’t operate under the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. They certainly aren’t prioritizing their neighbors (or family members) as more important than themselves, as God through the apostle Paul tells us humans to do.

Unfortunately, a segment of our society looks more like squabbling hummingbirds than people abiding by the council of God’s word.

As my neighbor and I were talking about the hummingbirds, she mentioned that one of her relatives who had a pair of parakeets accidentally left the door of the cage open and the male escaped.

So like us humans, leaving God’s provision and protection and abundant care to . . . what? Explore for ourselves?

I wonder if the little parakeet wanted a quick flight, only to lose his way and not be able to get home. Or maybe a cat found him perched on a tree limb. Or perhaps a hawk swooped him from the sky. Maybe he’s still out there, searching for food, fighting off the sparrows and crows for his share of the edibles he comes across.

God’s word does talk about birds in a number of places. In one specific instance Jesus made the comparison with birds and his disciples:

Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. (Matt. 10:29-31)

In another place Jesus makes the point that God cares for the birds—feeds them and provides “clothing” for the flowers.

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! (Matt. 6:26-30)

A couple important things come from these passages:

1) God considers people as more important than birds. More valuable. Worth more than they.

I think that’s significant in this day when evolutionists are telling us that birds, cows, cats, people—all part of a continuum, not really different. From that belief comes the idea that abortion is not really wrong if eating a hamburger isn’t really wrong. But that bleeds into the next point.

2) God cares about the birds, has their life span planned. Arguing from the lesser to the greater, He makes the point that if He cares about what happens to them, He certainly cares about what happens to us.

In other words, there are no throw-away humans. In truth, what sets us apart from the birds, what makes us more valuable than they is the image of God stamped on every single person. Every. Single. Person. Without exception. Animals, insects, birds, reptiles, fish—not so much. God didn’t fashion them in His image.

There’s another point:

3) God’s plan is to care for us.

He said that in the Matthew 6 passage:

Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (vv 32-33)

If you think about it, that’s exactly what God did for Adam and Eve in the Garden. All the food they could eat, and when they were in need of clothing, God gave it to them.

Today, of course, God uses a whole lot of ways to provide for us. Could be the sweat of our brow, could be the kindness of strangers, could be the kindness of friends.

The significant thing here is that God wants to provide. Alas, too many of us are like the little parakeet who flew away from his home. We decide to make it on our own, and then we wonder why things are hard.

– – – – –

Hummingbird photo by Harrison Haines from Pexels

Paraleet photo by Roshan Kamath from Pexels

Published in: on July 29, 2020 at 5:29 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,
%d bloggers like this: