Job And Our Organic God


My church started a short sermon series in the book of Habakkuk this month. This fairly obscure prophet wrote at the end the Judean Kingdom. He saw idol worship and all kinds of evil things, and he took his concerns to God. Sort of a, “Aren’t You going to do something about this” question. God answered by saying, in part, “Yes, I’m sending the wicked, violent Chaldeans against Judah.”

Habakkuk’s response was so much like any of us might have given: Really? You’re sending a nation that is more wicked to punish a wicked one? How does that work?

God, as our pastor pointed out, reserves the right to do surprising things. Actions we can’t always get our heads around. He made the comparison with what Job experienced.

I found this post, that is an expanded and revised version of an earlier one, that addresses the issue.

– – – – –

One of the things writers talk about is creating stories organically. The alternative is to force a story to become what you want it to become by reducing it to a formula. Organic stories are the ones that seem real, that last long after you’ve closed the book, that affect you rather than merely entertaining you.

There is no one key to writing organic stories, but they must have characters that seem like real people with believable motivations, realistic emotional patterns and true-to-life psychological mechanisms for handling problems.

The formulaic characters are little more than place holders. In a formulaic romance, for example, insert heroine on page 1, the opening paragraph; slot in romantic lead in chapter 2. Almost it doesn’t matter who these people are. They will have some problem that keeps them apart for a third of the book, then they will begin to draw close, only to run into a wedge that drives them further apart for another third. When all seems hopeless, after the heroine experiences the black night of the soul, the two resolve the conflict and come together. Or something like that. You get the gist. There’s a pattern, one that romance writers are taught in writing workshops to follow.

I’m not trying to pick on romances. I think westerns can be just as formulaic and so can mysteries. Character X discovers crime Y with suspects A, B, and C. With a little detecting, he uncovers clues 1, 2, and 3. A formula.

I don’t know enough about any of these genres to say whether there is a way to write them organically—to make them come alive and therefore to separate them from the pack. I do know that readers of formulaic books have a hard time remembering if they’ve already read Busted, Bashed, or Butchered. (I just made up those titles, but that kind of title connection in a series is another part of the formula). Even by reading the back cover, readers can draw a blank. Is this the book they read? It sounds vaguely familiar, but so do the other two.

What does all this have to do with God and the book of Job?

Job’s friends saw God as a formulaic figure. He was as good as programmed, in their minds, and had to act in manner y if person A did action x. In other words, they were not seeing God as organic—alive and relational. They were talking about Him as if He were an it, a force, a thing they could predict. Perhaps a thing they could manipulate.

While Job was wrong to complain against God and to accuse Him of wrong doing (which is why he repented in the end), he nevertheless got it right that God is a free and independent person, transcendent, able to act however He wants to act. He’s organic. He’s more than that, of course, because He’s sovereign.

In the past some professing Christians have accused traditional, Biblical Christianity of putting God in a box. Let him be organic, in other words, by which they mean, let him bend with the culture—change to fit the changing times.

Well, funny thing. The most organic thing a person can do is reveal who he is. “You want to know me? Let me tell you about myself so that you’re not reading your own thoughts or feelings or motives into my actions.”

This, God chose to do.

However, instead of embracing His story about Himself and His relationship with humankind, many people, even “religious” ones, decide they get to say who God is and what He is like. What these people are doing is “re-imaging” Him into the formula they’ve created.

That is what Job’s friends did.

They determined that God dealt with people in a formulaic, foreseeable way. He punished sin by bringing suffering down on the sinner. He rewarded those who lived righteously by giving them prosperity and long life.

Consequently, they left no room for God to do anything else with an unrighteous man other than bring disaster down on his head. And since disaster hit Job five fold, he was clearly, according to their formula, an unrighteous man.

People today do essentially the same thing: God is loving and kind and forgiving and tolerant and an advocate for peace. Therefore he would never send people to hell, order the death of . . . well, anyone but most certainly not a whole nation, though He said they were people who lived in debauchery. Above all, the loving and kind and tolerant God would never punish the entire human race because one person ate a bite of forbidden fruit. That’s not God, they say. (I mean, it’s just fruit!)

Maybe punishing sin is not the formulaic God these progressive Christians have concocted, but the organic God who is sovereign, just, and good, can do, and does do, all the things He revealed in His word. And more.

He’s not bound by a formula. He can, and did, take the form of a mam. He can, and did, live a sin-free life. He can, and did, sacrifice Himself to pay for the sins of the world. Why? Not because we did a satisfactory quota of good deeds, certainly. He, being living and self-existent, chooses to do what He chooses to do.

The point is, God isn’t limited by our expectations. He can forgive the repentant, even someone like King Manasseh who had instituted child sacrifice. Undoubtedly Job’s three friends would have demanded that God strike the wicked king down in the midst of his wickedness.

But God, who is merciful and all-knowing and just, forgave that man instead.

God can be trusted to do what is right with the lives and souls of the people He created. He doesn’t have to fit the formula Job’s friends created—in fact, He doesn’t. Theirs was a works theology—do the right things and God has to bless. Stray from His demands, and He will rain suffering down.

They didn’t understand what it meant to believe God to be sovereign, to trust Him to do what is right, even when His action is surprising and unexpected and even sometimes painful. They didn’t know Him and love Him. They more nearly knew about Him and used Him—in Job’s case, to chastise a man suffering horrific loss. But that’s what happens when someone believes God must follow their formula.

Published in: on January 14, 2020 at 4:42 pm  Comments (4)  
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Tornadoes, Drought, Fire, And Death


Some years ago, a handful of Christians infamously claimed that hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on New Orleans, or later that the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti was His judgment on the culture of voodoo and the occult practiced there in times passed.

But what about events in Mid-America such as violent tornadoes? That would be the area of the US famously known as the Bible Belt. A number of years ago, spring tornadoes, numbering more than a hundred strong, tore through Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, over to Nebraska and Missouri, and up into Indiana, killing and destroying.

Not to be outdone, wildfires devastated Colorado, and drought consumed crops throughout the Great Plains and over to the Appalachians. In fact, the USA Today reported that 64% of the US was experiencing drought conditions.

And of course there are the shootings that have become all to common in all parts of the US.

All this, of course, comes to mind because of the horrific fires currently devastating Australia.

In the after-math of the natural disasters, news cameras often catch survivors picking through the ruins, thankful that they lived and vowing to keep going. Some way. Some how.

After shootings, there’s talk of the gun culture and insane people trying to grab the spotlight so that the world will look at them for a few fleeting days. Undoubtedly gun legislation again comes under discussion.

All of it is white noise to the real issues that we need to talk about. God works in the world today, as He has throughout history. Because we understand and can predict weather patterns does not mean God has no part in them. Because a psychotic killer picked up a gun and attacked a theater full of people does not mean God is indifferent or uninvolved.

These events remind me so much of the things Job experienced, all engineered by Satan, but permitted by God, used by God. Why do we think He has changed?

No, He did not cause shooters to open fire on unsuspecting victims. That’s an act of evil, and God doesn’t tempt anyone to do evil (see James 1:13). But He works His will in and through these circumstances. And He does so in order that we will look to Him rather than to our own supposed strength and goodness.

God allows fires and floods and wind and drought so that we can see we are weak, not strong. He allows evil men to kill and steal and destroy so that we will see, Mankind is not good.

Only God is strong. Only God is good.

When will we look to Him instead of looking to ourselves for answers?

We are so much like Israel of old. They were a religious people, keeping their feast days, offering sacrifices in their holy cities, and God said, I’m not interested. Instead He brought war and famine so that they would turn to Him.

Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened,
And proclaim freewill offerings, make them known.
For so you love to do, you sons of Israel,”
Declares the Lord GOD.

“But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities
And lack of bread in all your places,
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“Furthermore, I withheld the rain from you
While there were still three months until harvest.
Then I would send rain on one city
And on another city I would not send rain;
One part would be rained on,
While the part not rained on would dry up.
So two or three cities would stagger to another city to drink water,
But would not be satisfied;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“I smote you with scorching wind and mildew;
And the caterpillar was devouring
Your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt;
I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses,
And I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“I overthrew you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
And you were like a firebrand snatched from a blaze;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD. (Amos 4:5-11 – emphasis mine)

Are we somehow beyond God’s reach, that He would not be at our shoulder, calling to us, telling us we need to return to Him? Are we so oblivious to our egregious behavior, putting to death thousands and thousands of unborn babies year after year; calling evil good and good, evil; giving credence to false prophets who lie about God and His character, that we think God is pleased with us and will continue to bless us as a nation?

What will it take for us to realize, God might be trying to get our attention because He wants us to look at Him, listen to Him, bow before Him, and recognize that He is God and we are not.

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in July, 2012.

Meeting Expectations


In case I haven’t mentioned it recently, I’m a big sports fan. The problem with being a fan is that more often than not, an expectation exists to win, and the truth is, most teams lose a good percent of their games.

Sure, there are the teams like the Alabama University football team that can reel off a good streak, but when they lose the “big game,” the expectations of the fans are dashed. Or how about the Dodgers’ baseball? They held something like a 20 game lead in their division, clinched a playoff spot before any other team, and still didn’t even make it to the World Series.

Never mind all the mid-tier teams that probably have no realistic shot of even making the playoffs. Like my Denver Broncos in the NFL. When the season started, I expected them to be pretty good. And they are. But they have lost 4 games in the final minute of play, once by not scoring and 3 times by allowing the other teams to score. Four loses in football are highly significant. A team that is 8-4 in December has a legitimate chance at a playoff spot. But the Broncos are languishing at 4-8 instead. My expectations for the team aren’t being fulfilled.

But that’s really life. There aren’t a lot of times that our expectations in life are all met. Something tends to gum up the works. It might be a transfer from a comfortable location to one that is far from family. It might be a promotion that went to someone else, or a love interest that did not reciprocate the feelings. It might be a leaky pipe that requires hours of plumber work. It could be as disastrous as a tornado or blizzard or wild fire. I’ve heard people who lost their homes saying things like, Yes, this was our dream home and now it’s gone.

Or how about illness or injury? Or a son or daughter who doesn’t like the same stuff you love. You want to share your passion with them, but they just don’t care. Then there are new pastors who don’t handle the job the way we thought a pastor would, or should.

What about the program you worked hours and hours on, practicing, preparing, and the night of the big performance, the mic doesn’t work properly and no one can hear what the performers say.

I could go on and on. I probably have too long already. I think it’s pretty clear that all of us, in whatever walk of life, are acquainted with unmet expectations.

I can only think of one instance in which we are never let down. That’s spiritually. Jesus Christ never lets us down.

Oh, sure, people might expect the wrong things from Him. They might expect that He answer their prayer the way they want and according to their timetable. Well, in that case, they can just put “answered prayer” in the column of unmet expectation. God doesn’t operate according to our dictates. He doesn’t take orders from us, because quite clearly He’s the one in charge. And He works stuff out for our spiritual good.

Our spiritual good is not necessarily the same as our physical good. I think of the Christians who left such strong witnesses by their suffering and even their deaths, and I know that the “momentary, light affliction” of this life is in no way comparable to the eternal weight of glory we will experience through God’s work in our lives.

It’s like putting temporary on one side of the scales and eternal on the other side and seeing which weighs more. Yeah, not even close. The scales tip so drastically toward the eternal, that it’s not even a contest.

So when something in the temporary doesn’t meet expectations, but all things in the eternal always meet expectations, how are we to react?

Honestly, if we were looking at the whole picture, we’d see how silly frustration or disappointment over the temporary actually is. It’s a lot like not doing well in practice. We might try hard, but if we come up short, what have we lost? Maybe a start in the big game, maybe even a chance to play at all. But what have we actually lost? Our poor play in practice did not hurt the team, and it might have actually taught me what I need to know for the game. It might actually be for my good.

Shocking, I know. But that’s actually how God works with us in life. We might face failed expectations and have to endure suffering or hardship. But the experience will never be wasted. God will use it to prep us for eternity. He might even use it in the here and now: like He did for Corrie ten Boom or Elisabeth Elliot or Joni Eareckson Tada. Suffering and hardship in the here and now, but astounding accomplishment and success in the here and now, also.

But even that success is spiritual. I mean, any number of lives have turned to Christ because of the witness of people like these three, or like Greg Laurie who lost his son, but not his faith in the goodness of God.

So in among all the disappointed expectations, we will never see our faithful God fail us or forsake us. But who is “us”? Any and all who believe in the name of His Son, the promised Messiah, the Christ, who takes away the sins of the world. We can go to the spiritual bank with the capital of His shed blood, and we will be spiritual millionaires.

Published in: on December 2, 2019 at 5:14 pm  Comments (68)  
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Learning From Leviticus


Leviticus might be the least read book of the Bible.

Almost exclusively, the book lists out laws God gave to the people of Israel who were just coming out of slavery. They didn’t have a national identity apart from their history and their servitude. They didn’t have a command structure and barely had a culture—their language was undoubtedly mixed with the Egyptian tongue; their tastes in food, Egyptian; even their religious beliefs, heavily influenced by Egypt.

In fact, when they faced difficulty, what did they want to do? Go back to Egypt. That generation of Hebrews only knew Egypt as their home. Undoubtedly they wanted the abuse to stop: they didn’t want to be forced to expose their male babies so that they died; they didn’t want to be forced to reach an impossible work quota; they didn’t want to be beaten in punishment for not doing what they were told; they didn’t want to be kept against their will. But their will often was to stay in Egypt.

God changed that. He not only freed them, but He gave the nation structure. He gave them their own government. He gave them their own religious ceremonies and celebrations. And He gave them a new home. Not new really. They were going back to the land Abraham had bought, the land God had promised to give to his descendants. To them.

But what does Leviticus have to say to Christians? We are not, Christ said, a worldly kingdom. Israel was. Our citizenship is in heaven. Theirs was on earth. God governs our hearts. But for Israel, God governed. His word was the law of their land. And the law as they traveled to that land. Leviticus is that law.

It lays out things the people were to do involving health, safety, worship, celebrations, treatment of one another, and more.

So what can Christians learn from a book whose purpose isn’t for us? I think there’s a couple things, at least.

First, God shows that He cares about daily stuff. Not just how or when to do worship, but how to deal with poop, too. Yeah, I know. It’s not something we really are particularly interested in reading—what did those Israelite traveler do about human waste? But if God cares about something so . . . human, so ordinary, so un-glamorous, clearly He cares about all of our lives.

Also, God is in charge. He made it clear He gave the laws, and He didn’t share His authority with other pretenders.

Third, God gave the people hope. He constantly referred to things that were future by saying things like, when this or that happens to your house. They didn’t have houses. They lived the nomadic life of travelers, in tents. They didn’t farm, but God told them to have a celebration at harvest time. They didn’t have cities, but God told them about refuge cities. So much of what God laid out for them had to do with the future. This forward looking dovetails with the forward looking God has given Christians. Life is now and not yet. We are looking for the return of the King. We are looking for our heavenly home. And one thing that gives us confidence in God’s promises is that He fulfilled His promises to Israel.

Another thing we can learn about God is His justice but also His mercy. More than once when the people disobeyed and worshiped and served other gods, He could have abandoned them, broken the covenant—the agreement, the pact—He’d made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After all, the people had said they would follow Him, worship Him, and they weren’t. God didn’t let the wrong go unpunished, but He also didn’t forsake them.

In comparison to these bigger issues, this next thing seems kind of trivial, but it does reveal God’s nature: He is a God of order. In reading about the various sacrifices, I’ve noticed that some were to be performed in one place in relation to the altar and others in a different place. Bulls, for instance, were to be dealt with in one place, but lambs in a different place. I can think of some practical reasons behind this, but the Bible doesn’t tell us why. It just shows us that the details mattered. The little things mattered. The where and the how mattered. Those things come from an orderly mind.

Part of Leviticus describes the process of constructing the portable worship center—the tabernacle. In those chapters, more than once God says the particular items were to be made for beauty as well as for whatever function they had. He also named the main artisan and his main helper who were in charge of crafting the utensils used in worship, the alter, the table for incense, the ark, the basin used for washing, the curtains that made up the tent, the clothing the priests were to wear—all of it. For beauty as well as for function. That says a lot about God, too. Beauty is His idea. He made beauty and He wants us to make beauty.

This list is not exhaustive, by any means, but it serves to illustrate a point: even in the parts of the Bible where we least expect to find something important, lo and behold, important truths are there. Makes me aware of just how amazing God’s word is.

Published in: on October 30, 2019 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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God And Senseless Shootings



Photo by Specna Arms from Pexels

Recently, when I was looking through the archives, I saw this post, but I assumed it was too dated to run again. Sadly, as it turns out, with the new rash of shootings (and one stabbing here in SoCal), it seems as relevant as the day I wrote it in response to a shooting in Arizona some eight years ago. So without revision here is the article that I ran in January, 2011.

When something tragic happens—man’s willful, wanton violence on man—such as happened a few days ago in Tucson, Arizona, I can’t help but wonder why everyone doesn’t believe in a God of justice.

Atheists make sense in a situation like that, their reasoning being that if God existed, He wouldn’t allow such horrific events. They, at least, accept the idea that God should be just.

But there is a group of people who claim to believe in God, even claim to believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, but who reject the idea that God is just. These people seem out of touch with reality when someone opens fire on a crowd, killing a nine-year-old, a number of senior citizens and others, and sending more than a dozen people to the hospital.

How can someone think God will overlook this?

No, these false teachers who reject God’s right to serve as Judge of the world He created, might say, God doesn’t overlook such acts. Jesus came to show a better way, and we’re simply slow learners. I’m not sure how this position helps the victims, or the criminals. Some might even say Jesus came to bear the penalty for all Mankind, so the nihilistic, chaos-seeking mass murderer is forgiven like everyone else.

The latter view overlooks the conditional aspects of forgiveness in Scripture. There is the belief requirement:

    • “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” – Acts 16:30b-31

 

    • that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved – Rom. 10:9 [emphasis added]

 

    • But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. – Gal. 3:22

 

    • This precious value, then, is for you who believe – I Peter 2:7a

 

    • But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name – John 1:12

 

  • He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. – John 3:18

There is also the forgiveness requirement:

    • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Matt. 6:12

 

    • For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. – Matt. 6:14

 

  • And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart. – Matt. 18:34-35

In other words, a forgiven person forgives. He doesn’t go out and gun down a bunch of strangers.

Non-Christians understand and require justice, though their human efforts often turn into vengeance instead.

Finally, Christ’s death on the cross only makes sense in light of God’s justice. Unless the sinless Messiah was paying for the sins of those under condemnation of death, then He died senselessly. He would be a tragic figure—a great teacher cut down in his prime, a noble example turned victim, a caring mentor taken from those he discipled. The best anyone could say about him would be, He died well.

But the truth is that Jesus became the sin bearer who satisfied God’s just wrath. He is the substitute for everyone who believes.

Those who don’t—those who reject God’s sovereign right to rule and to judge—will stand before Him one day and receive justice. Think of them as perpetrators of cold cases that will assuredly be solved.

Holiness: An Unpopular Topic


Photo by Narcis DRAGOI from FreeImages

I think it’s understandable that people who don’t believe in God or who have a theism based on some false religion or false teaching, don’t value holiness. After all, they don’t have a true model for what holiness looks like. Further, so many are focused on doing in order to gain: gain the highest heaven, gain happiness, gain salvation, gain Nirvana, gain acceptance—you name it.

But God calls Christians to be holy because He is holy. No other reason than that we are to be like Him. Reminds me of who God created us to be. Primarily God put Adam into the garden He prepared to act as His agent—to superintend what God had made. He was, after all, created in His image.

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:27-28)

In essence, our holiness is the way God wants us to live out this agency today, given that we now have a fallen nature and live in a world far from God. But is that possible?

Yes, and no. Clearly, when we come to God by embracing His Son and His work at the cross on our behalf, we receive new life, though we still grapple with an old nature (see Romans 7). The process of becoming like Christ is just that—a process, one theology calls sanctification. What it practically means is believers walking in obedience.

Romans 7 is helpful:

But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

We’re not bound by Law. But we still serve. We still do what God wants us to do, but only in the “newness of the Spirit.” Essentially, learning to say no to the old self with its sinful and selfish ways, and to say yes to the indwelling Holy Spirit, is a process. A life-long process.

The Bible says a lot about how we are to live. In fact, that last day Jesus spent with His men, He said, If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 17). God wants us to obey Him, though our salvation doesn’t depend on our working to earn His favor.

He wants us to obey, I submit, the same way a parent wants a child to obey: it’s good for the little rug rat. 😉 Seriously, God’s commands are good for us, and not only for us as individuals but for the church and for our witness in the world.

Take this ONE command, for example, something probably most of us blow off as insignificant:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing (Phil 2:14).

Imagine living without grumbling. Imagine life without disputes. Yes, obedience to that one simple command would have a profound impact. Paul doesn’t leave it to our imagination. He tells us what would result:

[Don’t argue or complain] so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (Phil. 2:15)

Imagine! Blameless and innocent, shining as lights in the world. Well, isn’t that what Christ said we were to be, back in His Sermon on the Mount? Lights shining before men so that they see our good works and glorify our Father.

The point is, our heart attitude can’t stay inside. It can’t be our little secret. We can’t be undercover Christians. At some point, our relationship with God through Christ must spill out of our lives and splash onto our neighbors.

That’s pretty much what the whole book of James is about. Our faith—our inner spiritual life, our relationship with God—is real only if it gets up and walks.

Writers talk about cardboard characters versus the desirable kind—three dimensional ones that seem alive. Faith is like that, without the “seem.” Real faith is alive and therefore will show signs of life. James names three chief areas.

First we’ll be doers of the word, not merely hearers. In short, we’ll be obedient to God’s word. Second, we’ll bridle our tongues rather than deceiving our hearts. And third, we’ll be slow to anger, which means we won’t judge, quarrel with or complain about our “brother”—a term he uses consistently to refer to fellow Christians.

The first point alone can be overwhelming. If I read the Bible asking one thing—what in this passage must I obey—I can become paralyzed into inactivity because there’s too much. I’m not selfless enough to handle the one command from Philippians about not grumbling or complaining, let alone the ones about being a cheerful giver or being anxious for nothing or dwelling on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and of good repute.

When I realize this, I am pressed back into God where I must learn to stay. It is His strength that makes it possible for me to obey. It is the prompting of His Holy Spirit that makes me want to.

In short, obedience which leads to holiness is not a thing I can achieve apart from God, but if I love Him, I’m heading for the heights, one shaky step at a time, holding onto Him as tight as if my life depended on Him. Which it does.

This post includes a large, revised and edited, portion of a 2011 article entitled Holiness In Practice. Others in series are
“Holiness Is Not A Dirty Word”
“Holiness Means What Again?”
“Inside Out – The Way Of Holiness”

Published in: on July 25, 2019 at 5:34 pm  Comments (51)  
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The Inexplicable Sacrifice


With Easter behind us and Christmas too far away to think about yet, it is nevertheless appropriate for us to consider Jesus. After all, He didn’t come to earth to look all cute and cuddly in a manger, or to have icons constructed of Him hanging on a cross. He came to earth for one primary purpose: to give His life as a ransom for us all.

Many years ago, when I taught missionary children in Guatemala, we sang a chorus each day before our prayer for the noon meal. One I learned from those kids came to mind some time ago:

For there is one God and one Mediator
Between God and man.
For there is one God and one Mediator,
The Ma-a-a-an, Christ Jesus,
Who gave Himself, a ransom for us all,
Who gave Himself, a ransom for us all,
Who gave Himself, a ransom for us all,
Oh, what a wonderful Sa-a-vior!

The thing is, that chorus is straight from Scripture:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Tim. 2:3-6)

So I began to think about this “giving Himself” in conjunction with John 3:16: “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” (emphasis mine). God gave the person He loved most to redeem dying sinners. But because in Christ all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form, God was just as surely giving Himself for our ransom.

The idea then came clear—Jesus, the Mediator, the bridge between God and man—is the bridge to Himself. I know this bothers some atheists but in actuality, it is the ultimate picture of God stooping to reach humans—we who are incapable of reaching God because our sin created a separation.

Jesus, however, had no sin. He, being God, has perfect access to God. He being man could die the substitutionary death His justice as God required.

I did mention that this sacrifice is inexplicable, didn’t I? 😉 I mean, really. He’s the sacrifice He Himself required?

Why not simply do away with the requirement?

That’s basically saying, why not make green, red? Calling sin, not sin, doesn’t change the fact that sin is antithetical to God. God’s character doesn’t give any quarter to sin. He is just and holy. To pardon sin, with no penalty paid would be mercy without justice.

I suppose most of us would like mercy instead of justice, as long as God offered that to us and not to rapists or murderers … or even to the guy at work who is constantly taking advantage of others. Him, we’d like to see God give justice to, not mercy.

In truth, we don’t want criminals getting away with harming others and we don’t want selfish people getting away with using people. We long for a just world. Why else would there be protest movements such as the Occupy Wall Street movement of some years back. Those protestors lived in a land of great plenty and generous people, yet they didn’t think it’s fair for some to get rich at the expense of the many.

Over a hundred years ago, anti-trust laws were passed in the US for the same reason. Railroads held the exclusive means by which ranchers could get their cattle to market, and they took full advantage of their monopoly to get rich and richer. Other businesses did likewise, and the people cried for justice. Not to God, but to the government.

The truth is, the government—any government, led by whatever ruler—isn’t able to provide perfect justice. Only God can, but that doesn’t bring us comfort because the severity of sin means I too must face His justice—if it weren’t for His great kindness and mercy that led Him to stoop, to bridge the gap, to mediate, to ransom, to give His Son, to give Himself.

But in truth, He did come. He did give his life as a ransom for us all! How great is our God! Oh, what a wonderful Savior!

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here under this same title in November, 2011.

The God Who Involves His People


Today is the National Day of Prayer here in the US. Consequently, in honor of that occasion, I’m posting this edited version of an article that appeared here ten years ago.

For whatever reason, God has chosen to involve us in His work.

People today like to talk about the “mystery of God,” as if there’s some kind of veil over His face or some kind of secret we have no hope of learning. Never mind that Jesus came to show us the Father. Never mind that the Holy Spirit lives inside us. Never mind that Jesus said the Spirit would guide us into truth. Never mind that He explained the things concerning Himself from the Law and the Prophets.

But here’s what I do find a mystery—perfect, omnipotent, all knowing God, Creator of the universe, wants to involve me in His work. Somehow, my being a part, rather than Him snapping His fingers or speaking a word, or even unleashing the Heavenly Host, brings glory to His name.

Here’s one of the ways that the skeptic can know that Christianity wasn’t thought up by some human—there are so many improbabilities, so many apparent contradictions. If a person was to invent an all powerful, sovereign god, it would be most logical to have that all powerful, sovereign god take it upon himself to do what he knows is best. Cut out the middleman, so to speak. Do it himself because then he would be sure it would get done right.

But that’s not the way the God of the Bible has chosen to operate. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. Then He commissioned those who believe in Him to make disciples. He commands us to love one another and to love our enemies. And He tells us to pray for our pastors and teachers and fellow Christians and rulers and authorities. In short, He gives His church the responsibility of representing Him to the world.

Why would He do that? We do it so imperfectly. Inevitably we invite hangers on and pretenders.

But it’s His plan, and remember, He is sovereign and all-knowing as well as all powerful.

Rather than exploring all the reasons why people no longer like church or can’t stand Christians, perhaps we should simply go about the business of being the Body Christ which God intended us to be. Will some people still scoff? Sure. Will some still be offended? Undoubtedly.

But the scoffing won’t be because we’re doing something scoff-worthy. The offense will be the gospel and not the contentious way we conduct ourselves.

And the thing is, child-like faith in a great God who invites us to ask anything according to His will, brings us to His throne of grace.

Published in: on May 2, 2019 at 5:09 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Good Man, Or God?


One of the remarkable facts about Christianity is the deity of Jesus. Well, that and His humanity. I’m sure Jesus’s dual (and yet not divided) nature is one of those issues that causes thinking people to do a double-take. After all, nothing else we know of is all one thing and at the same time all another. It would be like a caterpillar being a butterfly simultaneously.

We’re familiar with mixtures. Brass is an alloy consisting of copper and zinc. Mules are a cross between donkeys and horses. We have hybrid cars, hybrid roses, hybrid breeds of dogs. The tendency, then, is to think of Jesus as a kind of hybrid between God and Man, but that’s not what the Bible says.

That He was a man seems like a given. He walked and talked, ate and drank, lived and died. Rather, the sticking point for people today seems to be the idea that Jesus, while being a Man, was also and equally so, God. In the flesh.

Paul spelled it out a several times in his letter to the Colossians:

  • “He is the image of the invisible God” (1:15a – English Standard Version)
  • “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (1:19 – ESV)
  • “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9 – ESV)

This is a hard one for many people to swallow. Since there are extra-Biblical records authenticating Jesus’s life, it’s pretty hard to deny that He existed, but to believe He is God? That’s where a lot of rational people draw the line. This idea of His deity, they say, was an invention of His followers. He Himself never claimed such a thing.

Really?

More than once He did just that. More than once the gospel of John records Jesus claiming to be the I AM–the very name of God which He revealed to Moses and which was recorded in Exodus. One of the clearest statements comes in John 8 when Jesus says to a group of Jewish religious leaders “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”

Not only did He use the name the Jews considered holy, but He also said He predated their ancestor. Clearly, they understood precisely what Jesus was saying because they picked up stones to stone Him–the penalty for blaspheme.

Besides referring to Himself as I AM, Jesus also called Himself the Son of God. Some people have claimed that this is simply a Jewish reference to God being the Father of all Mankind, that Jesus was in no way claiming any special relationship to God.

But that isn’t consistent with the times Jesus expressly referred to God as His Father. For example, when He was twelve, He was in the temple schooling the religious leaders. When His parents came looking for Him, He said He had to be about His Father’s business. Not Joseph’s carpentry, clearly. He referred to God and the business was that of explaining the Scriptures.

He also said, at his last meal with His followers, that He and the Father were one. Clearly, this was a reference to God, not to Joseph, who may have died years earlier.

Then too, Jesus answered Philip’s request to show His disciples the Father, with this: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9b).

In addition to Jesus’s own clear statements, several times, God witnessed directly about Jesus’s identity. When He was baptized, for example, “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'”(Matt. 3:17).

In the Jewish culture, a fact needed two or three witnesses to be established. Besides the testimony of the Father, Jesus said His works testified about who He was. I think these are often neglected. Jesus acted in ways that were consistent to the attributes of God revealed in the Old Testament.

For example, God the Father is omnipotent and Jesus showed Himself to be the same:

    • He raised a dead man back to life
    • He healed a blind man so that he could see
    • He multiplied five loaves of bread and a few fish so that they fed five thousand men and an untold number of women and children
    • He walked on water
    • He stopped a storm with a word

    At other times He demonstrated His power over the spirit world, casting out demons from various people. He also forgave sins.

    He showed that He was also omniscient, knowing at different times what those who judged Him were thinking, knowing that He would be handed over to godless men and crucified, also that He would raise from the dead on the third day, knowing all about the Samaritan woman’s past when He met her at the well, knowing who would betray Him and that Peter would deny Him three times.

    These instances are not exhaustive, but the key is this: while God made Man in His image, there are certain attributes that are termed incommunicable because God didn’t transmit those qualities to us–He reserved them for Himself. And yet, Jesus clearly demonstrates those traits time and time again.

    Besides His own word, His Father’s word, His works, Jesus had two other witnesses. One was John, a prophet of God, the forerunner of the Messiah. The other is Scripture. Jesus spelled this out: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39).

    In fact, the Old Testament is full of allusion and direct prophecy that reveals Jesus to be God. Interestingly, Jesus spent forty days here on earth after His resurrection. We know from the gospels that one of the things He did was explain Scripture to His disciples. So when Peter preached about Jesus in his first sermon, he peppered it with Scripture, quoting from the prophet Joel and from various Psalms. In his second sermon he quoted from Moses, from the book of Genesis, and again from one of the Psalms.

    Peter, remember, was a fisherman, not a rabbinical priest. He’d never been trained as a scholar, yet here he was laying open Scripture, explaining to others what undoubtedly Jesus had explained to him.

    The evidence is far from circumstantial. To disbelieve that Jesus is God, one would have to come to the question with the foregone conclusion that such a thing isn’t possible; that, in fact, there is no God; or that the documentation of the evidence is unreliable. The good news is, there is a God; Jesus is His Son, God incarnate; and the Scriptures that reveal His identity are reliable.

    This post originally appeared here in April, 2013.

Who’s Fault Was It?


Easter has become a somewhat divisive time of year. Some people simply ignore it as a “religious holiday” and they don’t do religion. Others enjoy it as a commemoration of New Beginnings—the start of spring and a time when children can do Easter egg hunts and receive Easter baskets filled with Easter candy. Sort of a light-side Trick or Treat.

Of course others will be in church rejoicing and celebrating and worshiping the risen King of Kings—Jesus.

But even for those of us who believe Jesus died to bring life, there’s some division. Some Christians, apparently, blame the Jews for crucifying Jesus, and they hold a grudge even to this day. Some blame the Father—He killed His Son to satisfy His wrath.

While Scripture is clear that God rightly and justly responded to sin with wrath, there’s a way in which this concept can be twisted to make God look as if He’s the bad guy.

In case anyone’s in doubt about God’s wrath, Scripture makes the point clear. Here’s what Paul said in Romans 5:

Much more then, having now been justified [fn]by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (v 9)

The writer of Hebrews stressed the same point in chapter 3:

Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says,
“TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE,
DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME,
AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS,
WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED Me BY TESTING Me,
AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS.
“THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION,
AND SAID, ‘THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART,
AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS’;
AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH,
‘THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.’” (vv 7-11)

I quoted the whole passage because I wanted to show that it says this is from the Holy Spirit. The New Testament writer was actually quoting from Psalm 95, and clearly, throughout the New Testament the various individuals referred to the Psalms and the prophets as direct words from God. They referred to them as Scripture. And here he says the Holy Spirit said it. Which makes since because Peter tells us all the Scriptures were God-breathed, that they didn’t come from an act of human will, but God gave them through His Holy Spirit.

So essentially, from the mouth of God, we know of His wrath.

But did Jesus die because God was angry and vengeful?

Not in the least. First, God did not act in a fit of rage. Scripture tells us that Christ’s coming was “foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20). Nothing spur of the moment. Not something that God did because He flew off the handle. His plan all along was to love us to death—His death.

Secondly, God acted because He is just. Sin deserves punishment. He told Adam and Eve that from the beginning. He told each of the patriarchs that when He gave them His promise of blessing. They’d prosper if the obeyed and they’d fall under a curse if they disobeyed. He told Moses and the people of Israel the same thing.

So, guess what? When they hardened their hearts and basically told God they were determined to go their own way, not His, God said, essentially, Your actions triggered (or provoked) the curse I told you about.

So who’s fault was Jesus’s death on the cross?

Ours, and only ours. We are the ones who went astray, creating the need for redemption.

Christ, on the other hand, willingly gave Himself as a ransom for us all. He said, in fact, that it was the joy of thinking about us that got Him through the horrors of crucifixion.

The ironic thing that those who want to claim that God the Father turned His wrath on His Son, seem to forget is that God is One. We do not have three gods. Somehow in the beauty of the triune existence of God, He exhibits three persons, but they are all Him. All One. So the idea that God was angry at Jesus is just another way of saying that God was angry at God.

It’s kind of a nonsensical idea.

But it doesn’t change the facts. When we sinned, God’s righteous justice demanded His wrath. Jesus dying in our place satisfied that wrath.

We must not soften any of those truths, but we also must not impugn the lovely character of our good God. He has only and always treated us according to His character. He passes judgment upon us because He is just, but in love He redeems us, sacrifices for us, dies for us. Even if there were only one of us, He’d give Himself up in order that the one might be saved.

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