Living With Guilt


Convict_Chain_GangThere’s a perception among many that Christians are the most tortured, guilt-ridden people on the planet. After all, our God has all these rules, and He judges everyone and is probably just waiting to zap whoever he catches breaking one of his commandments.

That picture is a sad caricature of what a true Christian is like. Don’t get me wrong. I know there are people in a number of arms of the Church that have the perception that their salvation rests on the works they do. But that’s a misconception of the truth.

In reality, Christians are wonderfully freed from guilt, sin, the law. We freely acknowledge that we’re failures. No matter how we might like to live in obedience to God’s mandates, we admit we can’t—not a hundred percent of the time. We’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we become so engrossed in our own lives and projects and comfort and well-being, we sometimes don’t even know who our neighbors are.

We know we’re supposed to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but sometimes it’s just so hard to get out of bed in the morning to have that time reading the Bible and praying that we know will bring us closer to Him. And doesn’t the church already have enough Sunday School teachers?

I could go on about pride and grumbling and judging and greed and gossip and selfishness and hatred in our hearts—you know, the kind Jesus says is as bad as murder. We Christians are a bunch of sinners, like all the rest of the world. But there’s this important distinction. We don’t bear the burden of our sin any longer.

No guilt.

No shame.

No secret desire to sneak into a tiny monastery cell and engage in self-flagellation.

We’re also not boasting about the sins we’re chalking up. We aren’t bragging about getting out of a speeding ticket by lying to the cop or planning how we can cheat the IRS when we file our taxes.

The truth about Christians and sin is this: Jesus Christ paid the debt we owe for all our sins—past, present, and future. The guilt that we were rightly bearing is off our shoulders.

yokeWhat we know now is God’s love and mercy and grace and forgiveness. Out of hearts filled with gratitude, we want to love God better, obey Him more perfectly, follow Him where He takes us. We simply owe Him our lives and we don’t want to let Him out of our sight.

Happily, we don’t have to!

And that’s such great news, we don’t want to keep it to ourselves. We want to let other people know how Jesus will also take the burden of guilt they’re lugging around off their shoulders.

I can hear people now: What guilt? I don’t have any guilt. That only comes from crazy religious people with their lists of do’s and don’ts. That whole sin thing is a religious construct to force people into their churches.

Well, actually, it’s not. First we have these natures in us bent to glorify ourselves instead of glorifying God and serving ourselves instead of serving others. In other words, our bent is to reject God’s authority and to live for ourselves. Some people deal with this by saying God doesn’t exist and we have to learn empathy. But the fact is, we never learn it perfectly. So even if we set aside our rejection of God and just looked at how we treat others, we can see that bent nature in us all.

Most people are quite aware they aren’t perfect. However, they have allowed society to talk them out of recognizing that not-perfect state as sin. It’s kind of like these criminals caught on security cameras in the act of stealing the packages or dog-napping the puppy or passing the note to the bank teller, then standing up in court after they’ve been arrested and pleading not guilty.

Well, of course they’re guilty! What they’re hoping for is to escape punishment by some technicality.

I don’t know if people who say they don’t sin are angling for the same escape or not. But I will say, if they don’t own their guilt now, they will one day.

The ONLY people who are living without guilt are those who have accepted the grace of God poured out on us as His gift through His Son Jesus who took our sins on Himself and paid the penalty we deserved.

Simply put, we’ve been forgiven.

I’ll add that we also have a virulent enemy who tries to make us feel guilty even though we’ve been forgiven. He throws our past in our faces and tries to shame us by our failures. He loves to discourage us so we don’t face each day remembering how accepted and loved we are by God.

We’re in a battle, but not against people who don’t believe like us or against a certain political slant or law. The battle we are waging is “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12b).

These are the forces that hate God and don’t want us to lift up His name, who want to see us stumbling under guilt we’ve imagined still belongs to us. These forces would love to see us fall into sin and besmirch the name of Christ by which we are known.

Sometimes we fall, but God is the One Who holds our hand. He won’t let us pitch headlong out of His loving care. He’ll bring us back into His arms and carry us if that’s what it takes.

It’s God’s amazing love that drives us forward. Now, instead of hating on God, we want to do His will. We don’t have a list we need to check off because it’s in our heart to pay attention to what pleases Him.

So for the Christian, living with guilt has been changed into living for the delight of pleasing God. The Chris Tomlin song “Amazing Love” says it well:

Amazing love,
How can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?
Amazing love,
I know it’s true.
It’s my joy to honor You,
In all I do, I honor You.

This post is a re-print of one that appeared here in February, 2015.

Does God Really Love?


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Atheists accuse God of being hateful. “Progressive Christians” claim the Bible simply isn’t an authority or true because it has all those stories about God bringing judgment down on people . . . and they died. Others say God’s not the problem: His followers are the hateful ones because they preach hell and sin; in contrast Jesus “hung out with sinners.”

The last position implies that Christians who believe all the Bible aren’t actually following Christ. They’d say, I suppose, that God is loving, but somehow He failed to communicate to His followers what love was supposed to look like.

The whole idea is another way of rejecting Jesus.

God could not have been more clear: [I] love the world so much [I] sent my Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Nothing tricky there. Just God telling us straight out that He loves all of us. That His love caused Him to make a monumental sacrifice, one that Jesus (being God) voluntarily carried out by stepping into time and space, living on earth away from His heavenly home, and dying unjustly in order that we who believe might live.

There’s more.

From the beginning God loved. He loved Adam so much He didn’t leave him alone. He created Eve. He loved the two of them so much He warned them away from the one tree that would bring them death.

When Adam willfully ate from the tree anyway, God didn’t stop loving them. He set in motion the way of escape by giving a promise or a prophecy, whichever way you prefer to look at it: Death was now a fact of life, but one day, the Son of Man would crush death.

History unfolded with God giving pictures of this rescue that He planned, for all who believed: Isaac, rescued by a substitute lamb; Israel freed from slavery; Daniel, delivered from the lions; Jonah, given a second chance to obey God. So many more.

God also sent prophets who warned of sin, even as God Himself had done for Adam. Besides the warnings, these prophets told of the coming redemption. For all who believed.

At the right time, God sent His Son as that One to rescue those who believe from the dominion of darkness.

God’s work in the world has always been about love.

That’s one reason He refers to the Church—those of us from every tongue and nation and ethnicity who believe in Jesus—as the bride of Christ. Because clearly, bridegrooms love their brides.

If God didn’t love, He more than likely would have let us wallow in the mess of our own making. Those who turn their backs on Him often do. So do those who pretend to know Him but actually don’t. They say they’re his, but they act from their own evil desires. These could be people in the church or outside the church. Jesus made it clear that one day they will come to Him and He will tell them He never knew them. He said that some would come to the wedding feast too late or not properly dressed. They simply won’t be ready.

But doesn’t love make accommodation for those who aren’t ready? Sure. By warning them to get ready. That’s what God has asked His followers to do. We’re the ones He put in charge of getting the word out that anyone who wants to attend the wedding feast has to get ready.

“Getting ready,” He also makes clear, is something He has provided for as a free gift we simply accept by faith.

Pretty easy, right? We who follow Jesus just have to tell people they have a free gift waiting at the will-call window. They just need to pick it up.

“Yeah, but that’s out of my way,” some may say. Or, “I don’t think I need the gift.” Some might say, “I need to go to this other party first,” or “I can’t show up looking like this; they’d never give me the gift if I didn’t first dress up a little.”

Of course there’s the crowd that says, “Faith! Faith? You’re talking about wishful thinking because we all know, if it’s too good to be true, it’s probably not true. A free gift of love? No. Accepted on faith? Hahahah!! You’re not going to find me falling for that one. Show me this banquet and this bridegroom first and them I might consider showing up at the will-call window. But probably not. Because anything can be fake news or photo-shopped.”

All the while, God is patiently waiting with arms outstretched, holes in the palm of His hands, to bring us to the feast He has prepared for us, out of His love.

Published in: on May 8, 2019 at 5:32 pm  Comments Off on Does God Really Love?  
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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.

The Issue Of Identity


Setting aside the upheaval that the gender identity crisis has created, especially among the young, I realize we’ve been having an identity crisis of a different sort for years, even decades.

I don’t have the exact timeline, but at least for two decades according to one blog article I read, kids have been receiving participation trophies for involvement in youth sports. One article in the Baltimore Sun ties the proliferation of trophies to the push for self-esteem. “In the 1980s, self-esteem building became an educational priority really kicked off by the state of California.”

Apparently there is some debate about how healthy receiving these awards have been. I mean I read articles in the Washington Post and New York Times that discussed the subject, and the one above is reporting on a league that has decided not to give them out any more. Then there are bloggers defending Millennials who have been called The Participation Trophy Generation.

The argument seems to be entitlement and learning from not coming out on top versus low self-esteem.

All this has much more far-reaching affects than what anyone may have realized when they first came up with the idea that it would be cool to give all the kids a trophy—win or lose. For instance, some of this “everyone wins” thinking may explain why socialism seems appealing to a certain age demographic. But I have something even more serious in mind.

I wonder if there aren’t serious spiritual ramifications, not just from participation trophies, but from the entire self-esteem push. I wonder if we aren’t training kids to lie to themselves.

I’ve heard more than once, contestants on some “reality” TV game show, like Survivor—people who did something mean or really, really foolish that caused them to get kicked out of the game—say that no, they didn’t regret how they played; they were actually quite proud of themselves for their involvement. At the time, I was confused. I thought, You made such horrible mistakes and you don’t regret even one of them?

But now I’m thinking that’s what we are teaching our kids, and the adults who grew up with this self-esteem emphasis.

What’s also interesting is that teaching our kids to love themselves and that they all deserve a trophy for being on the team doesn’t seem to be producing happier people. Teen suicide hasn’t gone away. According to the CDC, teen suicide has increased in the US by 30% since the year 2000.

Mental Health America, in an undated article, reports,

Adolescent depression is increasing at an alarming rate. Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression.

Science Daily reported a year ago that “More than 1 in 20 US children and teens have anxiety or depression.” We’re talking kids aged 6-17. Six!

Off hand, I’d say, the push for higher self-esteem isn’t working. I mean, what I see is closer to people feeling bad about themselves but unable to deal with the cause because they’re supposed to be winners.

I realize that’s an oversimplification. Like any problem, it undoubtedly has multiple contributing factors. But I don’t think we should ignore the fact that we are living in a culture that tells kids they aren’t sinners, that they do deserve . . . pretty much whatever they want. The word deserve continues to be advertisers’ favorite, I think.

But here’s the truth about each and every one of us. We are made in the image of God, though marred by sin. Not the individual acts of sin we do—those are results, not causes. The sin that we inherited from Adam makes us wonderful image bearers who walk away from the One who created us. We are, in essence, kind of schizophrenic.

But for the grace of God.

He was not content to let us turn our backs on Him without putting into motion a rescue plan. A plan that declares how loved we are, how forgiven, how washed, how renewed, made alive.

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14)

We are the princess, saved by the knight in shining armor. We are the citizens of Metropolis rescued from destruction by the Superhero who saved the day. We are the servant girl pursued by Prince Charming.

The point is, our identity comes because of our relationship with God.

Some years ago I attended a Dodger baseball game with some friends, and our seats were one level up, right behind home plate. They were the very best seats. But I only sat there because my friends had company tickets. I was ushered into the primo section of the stadium, not because of my standing, not because I was someone special. I got there because of who I was with.

That’s an incomplete picture, to be sure, but spiritually speaking, I am not in relationship with God because of my merit. I’m in relationship with God because I am in Christ. I’m with Him.

And where is He? Seated “at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Heb. 1:3)” And I’m with Him.

That’s actually a transforming identity. No longer dead in my trespasses and sins, but alive, living in freedom from sin and guilt and the Law.

Funny how I could never enjoy this identity if I didn’t first admit that I can’t get there on my own.

Are We Over-complicating Life?



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I’ve heard of oh, so many people who are stressed out, and any number of new books are hitting the shelves about managing our anxiety. I’ve even written blog posts on the subject (such as this one or this one).

Worse, the suicide rate among teens is on the rise, and there’s apparently so much pressure on kids to get good grades, to get into the right universities, that some people have simply thrown away the book on right and wrong.

What’s the matter with us? Our technology is supposed to make life easier, but teens are now getting killed because they allow their screens to dictate their lives. They get lured into places by dangerous people, they text while they drive, they tarnish their reputation by foolish pictures or comments or arguments.

And parents aren’t far behind. They work so hard to accomplish so much and then face their empty nest without a relationship with the kids they thought they were doing all their frantic activity for.

I didn’t mean to get started on the negative stuff. The fact is, even if we’re not living it, we rub shoulders with those who are.

But we ought to live differently. God put all people on this earth that He might enter into a friendship with each of us, that we can enjoy Him, that we can shine a spotlight on Him to show others how great He is.

Isn’t that what we do with our family? Pull out the phone and show pictures of the new baby or post the graduation shots on social media? We want people to know how great our kids are. How cute, how accomplished, how hard working. We want everyone to know what we know about them.

So, why shouldn’t we want to do the same about our Father? Our Heavenly Father? It’s a normal, natural family reaction—hold up the picture so everyone can see Him. Tell others how great He is.

Of course we can’t tell people about what we don’t know, so we need to wrap ourselves in this relationship and learn all we can about the God who made us, who loves us, with whom we will spend eternity.

Instead, we scurry and storm about trying to accomplish all the things the world tells us are important. We need to earn, accomplish, move up the corporate ladder.

But why?

If we were made for one thing, just one thing, why do we trouble ourselves with doing so many other things?

Jesus put it this way to His friend Martha:

But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42; emphasis mine)

What had Mary chosen? To sit at Jesus’s feet and learn from Him. Enter into relationship with Him. Spend time with Him.

I don’t know how that would look for others living in western society in the 21st century. Each person has to decide that for himself or herself, but I’m pretty sure we all think there’s more than one thing that “is necessary.”

Jesus said, No. Only one is necessary.

The rest? We put them into places of importance, sometimes even crowding out the necessary to work on our other stuff.

Ironic. I recently heard a pastor preach on knowing God’s will. He gave something like eight questions that he asks to know what God wants for him—the ones he suggests everyone else asks in order to figure out God’s will. In the back of my mind I thought, Really? Jesus put two things before us: love God and love our neighbor. That’s what God’s will is. I don’t need to over complicate this issue. To Martha, He narrowed that down to one thing: the necessary thing.

We love God by sitting at His feet until we desire what He desires, until we do what He directs us to do. We love our neighbors by putting the needs of those who cross our paths before our own needs. I could give examples, but really it’s not up to me to define what this means for other people. I have to know what God is saying by His Holy Spirit, to me.

But it’s not complicated. Not really.

“Vengeance Is Mine, Not God’s”



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Some years ago I wrote an article entitled God’s judgment. Though the post didn’t generate any conversation, it did receive some negative feedback—some one or two stars. I’m not surprised because we live in a day when people calling themselves Christians pooh-pooh the idea that God will actually be sending anyone to hell. At the same time others question whether or not they might be nicer than the Almighty. I wonder if they’d prefer a different name for Him—the All Tolerant One, perhaps. But I jest, and this really isn’t a matter for levity.

The fact is, we humans find it easy to label others as bigots or hate-mongers or hypocrites. We have no problem criticizing each other—online, to our faces, behind our backs. We can even yell at God and tell Him how disappointed or angry we are at Him. But far be it that God could do the same thing in return. No, no. He’s supposed to stand meekly by and love.

But that idea is nonsense. We get angry at the things we perceive to be wrong. Why shouldn’t God, in whose image we’re made?

Someone may counter that God can get angry, no problem, but it’s unthinkable for Him to give sinners consequences, especially ultimate consequences.

That position, of course, strips God of His power. So He’s a loving God who can get angry when a child is molested, but He can’t punish the evildoer.

How then is He loving? Real love, as author and speaker Gary Chapman (The Five Love Languages) said when he visited my church, is expressed in God’s anger toward sin and toward the wicked. Let me invert that statement to reinforce it: God’s anger toward sin and toward the wicked expresses His love.

Psalm 136 illustrates this point. That poem recounts God’s divine intervention against Egypt and other nations standing against Israel, as an evidence of His lovingkindness.

To Him who smote the Egyptians in their firstborn,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,…
He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting…
To Him who smote great kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And slew mighty kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And Og, king of Bashan,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting (vv 10-20)

In order to stand for Israel, God had to stand against those who wanted to destroy them.

Other passages in Scripture declare God’s acts of judgment to be the very way in which He showed Himself so that the nations would know Him, turn from their sin, and come to Him. In those instances His intention was to correct those who were forsaking Him in order to bring them back:

O LORD, do not Your eyes look for truth?
You have smitten them,
But they did not weaken;
You have consumed them,
But they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
They have refused to repent. (Jeremiah 5:3)

When rejection is complete, when the wicked are oppressing the poor and the needy, the orphan and the widow, God acts on behalf of those who are suffering abuse:

So their houses are full of deceit;
Therefore they have become great and rich.
‘They are fat, they are sleek,
They also excel in deeds of wickedness;
They do not plead the cause,
The cause of the orphan, that they may prosper;
And they do not defend the rights of the poor.
‘Shall I not punish these people?’ declares the LORD,
‘On a nation such as this
Shall I not avenge Myself?’

“An appalling and horrible thing
Has happened in the land:
The prophets prophesy falsely,
And the priests rule on their own authority;
And My people love it so! (Jeremiah 5:27-31a – emphasis mine)

An appalling thing, God says, when we spurn His authority and take it for ourselves. Such is the false teaching of our day.

Clearly, God’s judgment is righteous.

But ours?

Here are a few comments, apparently made by Christians, to a couple controversial articles.

are all of you out there so naive and stupid not to see the propaganda

Or there’s this one:

As a Chrisitian, I do not want to come under the same umbrella as those that hate, undermine, are haughty and proud, and who cause millions of people to avoid even looking at Christianity as an option because of the behavior of many christians in their hate-mongering, their pride, their ‘holier-than-thou-attitude’.

Then there’s this one:

What rock are you living under?

I’ve seen worse, and I’m sure you have too.

Yes, people who claim to be Christians, say mean and judgmental things. I don’t know if those same people all claim God doesn’t have the right to judge. It’s quite clear, though, that they believe they DO have the right to judge.

In truth, God is rightfully angry at sin and wickedness. What are we Christians angry about (and I’m talking to myself, here)? Bottom line, are we—am I—taking it upon ourselves to reap vengeance with our words?

This article is a revised version of one that appeared here in March, 2012.

Published in: on February 21, 2019 at 5:09 pm  Comments (6)  
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Angst And Worry


Western culture seems to revolve around angst and worry, to the point that we do everything in our power to deal with it. Except the one thing that is needed.

More and more we are diagnosing teens and preteens with anxiety disorder. We wring our hands because the suicide rate of young people is on the rise. At first this fact was laid at the feet of “homophobia,” but with the spreading acceptance of the LGBTQ lifestyle, that excuse no longer seems accurate.

The fact is, kids worry. Adults worry. Everybody worries. Or tries to escape worry. Drug addiction seems to be unchecked, including prescription drugs given to “calm” these anxious teens down. And no one talks about the use of alcohol, unless it’s coupled with driving or abuse. So an untold number of adults are fleeing their worries inside a bottle. There are even jokes about following a stressful event by finding a potent drink. Because clearly we can’t deal with worry in any other way. We simply must numb it or forget it.

The problem is, when the drugs wear off, when the hangover is all that’s left of the drink, the cause of stress, worry, anxiety remains.

Trouble at work? Chances are, that trouble will still be there in the morning when the “calm” wears off. Relationship problems? Drugs and alcohol don’t see to actually repair relationships. How about financial woes? No, substance abuse definitely doesn’t make money problems better. Probably the opposite is true.

Of course not everyone who feels stressed out or distressed about their marriage or their job or about their wayward kid or health concern runs to some addictive beverage or pharmaceutical. There are other ways of escaping stress. We can live for thrill; we can bury ourselves in entertainment; we can become workaholics. Anything to take our minds off that which causes us to worry.

But none of those things makes the thing behind our worry better. None of them. When we get back from the ski trip, the problems at work will still be there. After we finish bing-watching Lord of the Rings the money problems will be no different. We can go to Disneyland every day, and we won’t change the medical diagnosis of the person we love so much.

In truth, there is only one solution to angst. The Bible gives it to us clearly in 1 Peter 5:7—“casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

God wants to take our worry off our hands.

The problem is, we either think He can’t or He won’t fix whatever is troubling us. So we have to do what we can’t trust Him to do.

Part of that thinking is actually right: God might not fix our problems the way we think they should be fixed. Our loved one might not recover from cancer, our wayward child might walk away from us, our church might split, our boss might promote someone else instead of us, our washing machine might need to be replaced, our baby might have Down Syndrome.

But in and through all the hard things of life, God walks with us. He “fixes” our problems in ways we could not imagine before hand. Chances are, the “fixes” are spiritual and occur because of the difficulties. If I had not lost my spouse, I would never have learned to depend on God instead. If I had not had the accident, I would not have had the opportunity to witness to that nurse. If I had not lost my job, I would not have had the courage to start the ministry God has led me into.

Above all, when we do not cast our cares on God, we remain ignorant of how much He cares for us. Oh, sure, we might say, God loves me. I mean, He loves the world, right, so that includes me.

But actually, God’s love is much more personal. If there were no other people on earth, Jesus Christ would have died for my sins. Because His love is not some sort of generic thing that He’ll withdraw if there aren’t enough people involved. Really, He loves me.

His caring for the things we hand over to Him, is one way we can come to understand how personal His love is for us. He’s not too busy or too preoccupied or too overwhelmed to pay attention to the cares and worries I lay at His feet.

The thing that is perhaps the best here is that this caring that I can see so clearly as I give God my problems, creates a relationship that overshadows any of the problems I’ve been so concerned about. The love and peace and comfort and mercy and forgiveness and wisdom and joy that comes from a caring God, dwarfs the stuff that would drag us to the pit of despair.

Why? Because we’ve put the problem in hands more capable than our own. We’ve called in the Good Physician, the omniscient and omnipotent God who “upholds all things by the word of His power.” How can I not trust Him to know what’s best in my circumstance?

Published in: on January 15, 2019 at 5:33 pm  Comments (7)  
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The Christmas Love Of God


Isaiah 7:14
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.”

Isaiah 9:6
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

A child born, not a son born. The Son is preexistent, the I AM, and did not come into being that day when Mary gave birth. God gave us His Son. He left heaven, emptied Himself, took the form of a bondservant, and was found in the likeness of Man.

He who fashioned Man in His image, took the likeness of the one He had fashioned. And as a child, He was born—the humble relinquishing of His place at the right hand of the Father in order to secure for us a place at His heavenly banquet table.

I can’t conceive of a greater example of love. The Father giving His beloved Son. The Son obeying the Father and leaving His heavenly home to come to earth. The Triune God expressed His love for us in giving Jesus and in His coming in the form of Man.

In that one act God showed His generosity, His self-sacrifice. But He also showed what His love means: it’s not sentimentality or warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s not tit for tat or “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” It has no limits and is freely given. Further, God’s love “has legs”—it’s not just an emotional expression but it has action to back it up.

God’s love is not about God spoiling us. He doesn’t treat us like a sugar daddy. His love has our best in mind—a spiritual and eternal best. Consequently, God doesn’t hesitate to correct us as part of His love for us. He will not withhold discipline for fear that we might not like Him as well any more. He’s also not concerned about people concluding that they might be nicer than He is. He knows the truth and His love doesn’t compromise the truth.

In fact, God’s love is an extension of His character. He can no more stop loving than He can stop being God.

What did it mean for Immanuel, God with us, to take up residence outside of glory? He was subject to all the stuff of Mankind—the passions and joys and hopes and successes, but also the dreams cut short, the sadnesses, the temptations.

Indeed, the temptations. Scripture says He was tempted in every way we are, yet without sin:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15)

Impossible, some may think. How could He be tempted to OD on computer games or look at dirty pictures?

We know He lived life among us for over thirty years. At different junctures during His public ministry, the religious leaders laid traps for Him, trying to trip Him up so they could catch Him in an offense they could prosecute by law.

But what about those years before He began preaching and healing? Isn’t it likely that the strains of His blended family created temptations? Perhaps He also faced noisy neighbors during those years or the abuse of a bully. Because of the wedding in Cana, we know He had to deal with the expectations of His mother. Perhaps He also dealt with jealous brothers.

Later He may have had to deal with the temptation to abandon His life work to fit in with the role His family likely expected Him to fill—that of elder brother, settling down, marrying, and caring for their widowed mother.

Unfortunately we too often reduce Jesus’s temptations to three—the notorious ones recorded in the gospels for us where Satan entices Him to made bread from stones, to swap worship for power, and to test God’s promise. Lots of people have lots to say about these temptations—the kinds, the depth, the significance. Meanwhile, we’re overlooking a little clause in Mark 1:13.

And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him. (Emphasis mine)

So on top of the thirty years of temptations Jesus encountered by living life among us, he also had an intense forty days of Satan throwing whatever he could at Jesus. Whatever we face today, Jesus faced a comparable temptation.

But His coming among us served two greater purposes than offering us an understanding heart to turn to when temptations crowd in upon us.

First, He showed us God. If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father, He told His disciples. Paul said, “He is the image of the invisible God,” and “In Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form.” We look at Jesus, we see God—which makes sense, of course, because He IS God.

However, without the second reason, His coming would have amounted to cruel taunting. Here’s God, a-ha-ha-ha-hah, you can see but you can’t approach. Jesus came precisely for the reason that we needed what only a perfect man could give—His blood, for the remission of sins. Not for His own sins, because He had none. He poured out His life’s blood so that our sins could be forgiven.

In so doing, He opened up the way for us to be reconciled to God:

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. (John 3:16, emphasis added)

A Child come and a Son given as an expression of God’s love!

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in December, 2014.

Published in: on December 18, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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A New Commandment


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Paul adds one more:

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

The ESV says it this way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on September 5, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Comments Off on A New Commandment  
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Who Is the Christian to Love?


A few years ago I had the embarrassing experience of getting kicked off someone’s blog. The irony was, I was trying to make the case that a Christian is to behave the way Christ called us to behave.

Sadly this was not my first experience of getting kicked off a blog for trying to convince the proprietor it was wrong to malign others. My error was to react by speaking the truth without love.

And yet the main thrust of my argument became this: God’s guiding principle for our relationships is love.

Yep, I who wanted to be faithful to Scripture did not follow Scripture in defending it.

I hope I don’t have to get kicked off any more blogs or withstand rancorous name-calling mockery before this lesson stays home.

Who is the Christian to love?

I’ll answer with another question. Who did Christ love?

  • “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son …” (Jn 3:16a)
  • “Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end (Jn 13:1).
  • “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35).
  • “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (Jn 14:21).
  • “but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me” (Jn14:31a).
  • “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love” (Jn 15:9)
  • “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:12-13).

If I did the same kind of study in the other gospels, I’d find Jesus’s instructions about loving our neighbor and loving our enemies, even those who persecute and mistreat us. I’d find stories that illustrate loving the lost, the wayward, the prodigal. I’d find Jesus’s own example of forgiving those who crucified Him.

Some people point to Jesus’s harsh words to the Pharisees as evidence that we are therefore allowed to speak harshly to false teachers. However, Jesus was concerned about the Pharisees’ spiritual state. He never spoke harshly to them because he didn’t like the color of their robes. He didn’t speak harshly to them because they had leprosy or were short or gave taxes to Caesar.

He reserved His wrathful actions and statements for their open disobedience to the Law (buying and selling in the temple), their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Jesus cast out demons by Satan’s power), and their hypocrisy (coming to be baptized without “bear[ing] fruit in keeping with repentance”).

I’m sure that’s not an exhaustive list, but here’s the point. Jesus was bold in calling sin, sin when it came to the people who thought they were without sin. But He lived a life of servanthood.

He gave the time of day to people who were pushed aside and disrespected by most of society. He also sought out the rich and powerful whose hearts were hungry for the Bread of Life. He wasn’t a respecter of persons.

He didn’t hesitate to tell Peter off when he was blowing it (Get behind me, Satan), but He didn’t stop loving him, didn’t stop serving him.

Who, then, is the Christian to love? I’m pretty convinced I’m to love whoever God brings across my path—in my physical world and in cyberspace. In real life the consensus seems to be that it is harder to love those we know best. In cyberspace it might be harder to love those faceless strangers with whom we disagree.

This post is an updated version of one that appeared here in August, 2010.

Published in: on August 7, 2018 at 5:23 pm  Comments Off on Who Is the Christian to Love?  
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