What It Means To Love


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on November 10, 2020 at 5:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Humming Birds And Parakeets


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A couple important things come from these passages:

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

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

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

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

There’s another point:

3) God’s plan is to care for us.

He said that in the Matthew 6 passage:

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

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

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

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

– – – – –

Hummingbird photo by Harrison Haines from Pexels

Paraleet photo by Roshan Kamath from Pexels

Published in: on July 29, 2020 at 5:29 pm  Comments (1)  
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Who Will Separate Us From The Love Of Christ?


Many Christians love the last portion of Romans 8, starting with verse 28. There just seem to be so many quotables in that passage.

Verse 28 itself is one of the all-time favorites, though too many people misquote it or misunderstand it. At one point the prevailing notion was, “All things work for good for people who love God.”

What the verse actually says is, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” In other words, there might be some “not very good things” that God causes to work together for good to those called by Him, chosen by Him, committed to Him, obedient to Him.

I think of big things like a death in the family, a disability, an unrighteous or unfair action by those in authority or anyone else who has power over us. Like Joseph experienced when his brothers ganged up on him and sold him into slavery. His conclusion: “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good to bring about this present result . . .” (Gen. 50:20)

Back to Romans 8, other verses in the passage may also be misunderstood or taken out of context, but most people familiar with this section of scripture get the intent of verse 35 and following, when Paul writes, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”

The magnificent crescendo of the passage is that no, none of that, or any thing else we might imagine can divide us from the love of God in Christ:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv 38-39)

It’s a wonderful, comforting conclusion. Heartwarming.

But the Bible is much more than a book of feel-good statements or tee shirt slogans or greeting card text. The Bible is intended to reveal who God is and how He has, does, and will work throughout history.

Paul was convinced that a comprehensive NOTHING could stand between us and God’s love, and believers today give a hearty amen!

Suddenly, amid the routine of life—the fairly comfortable and trouble free routine of life most of us in western society seem to enjoy—true disruption inserts itself in the form of a pandemic. People are dying, losing their jobs. People have succumbed to fear, maybe even a little panic. Maybe some frustration, and now boredom.

But have we been separated from the love of Christ?

I’ve heard some oft repeated phrases meant to encourage people, things like, we’re all in this together or this will all pass or we’ve got this. One phrase I haven’t heard is, this virus can’t separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus.

That’s really the only thing that matters. We might be in distress because a loved one is on a ventilator. We might be in peril because of the spate of tornadoes bearing down on our community or the earthquake that jolts the very ground under our feet.

God’s love reaches through all those temporal events. His love reaches past the discouragement or doubt Satan and his forces try to bring to bear on our lives.

Of course, it’s easy to say or read these verses. But putting our faith in God’s love is a lot harder when we can’t see the end of a trial or the good that can come out of it. Yet maybe, just maybe we should be thinking about trials as sign posts of God’s love, saying in essence, This thing is just one more thing that cannot separate you from God’s love.

Why is this hard? Because we are so dependent upon ourselves and our senses. If what we see is financial distress, fear, danger, illness, and death, we can’t see the way God is working all that stuff out for our good. We think of good as healthy, comfortable, at ease, surrounded by those who love us and who we love.

God has a higher standard for good. He tells us in v 29 that He’s working things together to conform us to the image of His Son. His ultimate plan is to fit us for an eternity with Him. That’s a kind of good we may have a hard time imagining.

But here is where faith comes into the equation: God has told us in His word that nothing separates us from His love. Do we believe it? Do we live in light of the love He pours on us or do we live in the fear, the uncertainty, the disappointment of the moment?

If God’s word is only providing heartwarming memes to post on Facebook or Instagram, the reality of His love will not actually be a comfort, I don’t think. But if we use His word to preach the truth to ourselves every day, maybe all through the day, then God’s word will be life changing.

Because the truth is, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Published in: on April 22, 2020 at 5:14 pm  Comments (6)  
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If I Don’t Have Love


Love is an action, or so many Christians believe. Atheists? Not so much. In a discussion on the topic in the atheist FB group some years ago, the distinction was clear.

The difference shocked me. Apparently quite a bit separates the thinking of atheists and theist, far more than what we believe about the existence of God.

Apparently a Christian’s faith in God (I can’t speak for other theists), is the bedrock for a host of other beliefs: that love should be something we live out and offer to our neighbors, our enemies, our brothers and sisters in the faith; that the life of every human has value, no matter what the size of the body or the intellect; that sin is part of our DNA, part of being human; that judgment awaits; that there is life after life; and many more.

That exchange about love, though, stuck with me. Some time ago, a fledgling writer, in the process of describing her current project, said, No one today knows what love is.

She’s right. Our culture has bought into the lie that love is nothing more than an emotion, not a commitment, not an action.

I could end this post at this point, except there’s a line in 1 Corinthians 13, often referred to as the Love Chapter, that got me to thinking. It’s verse 3: “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

So what about loving being an action? I’d assume that giving everything I own to needy people meant I did love them. And surely surrendering my body to be burned . . . who would do that if someone they loved weren’t benefiting?

I tried to imagine what it would look like for someone to do those sacrificial things and not love. I’m assuming there would be some other motive in play—perhaps self-righteous action intended to impress God or perhaps a church or whoever else might be watching. So even though the person would be giving up possessions, in their mind, they’d be gaining something they value more. It would be a deal, then, a trade off: I’ll do this good thing for these other people I don’t care about so that in turn I’ll get something of value from a higher power.

I think our culture is pushing us into do-gooder mentality. We’re supposed to let refugees into the US or send money toward the earthquake relief effort, not because we love the people in need.

Our do-gooder mentality is all about us looking like we’re tolerant. Or not tolerant. It’s OK to hate the bigots, and the child molesters and wife beaters and cops who shoot innocent people.

God simply does not think like a do-gooder. He loves while we are yet sinners. Nobody has to clean up their act in order to be good enough for God to save them, and in fact, none of us could pull that off. God also doesn’t have a list of acceptable sins—these are the ones He’ll save you from, those others mean you’re too far gone and beyond His reach.

A number of years ago, I heard a great story on the news. An African-American in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Jameel McGee, went to jail for something he didn’t do. Drug possession or selling drugs, I think. Some years later Andrew Collins, the white ex-cop who arrested him, admitted he’d falsified the report. He went to jail for his crimes, but got out and ended up working in the same faith-based employment agency as Jameel who he had wronged.

Jameel said when he got out of prison, he initially wanted to hurt the ex-cop. But that didn’t happen. When they started working together, Andrew said he was wrong and sorry and asked for forgiveness. And that’s precisely what Jameel did because he’s a Christian man: he forgave the formerly corrupt cop. Now here’s the clincher: they have become friends and do speaking engagements together about forgiveness.

Surprising, isn’t it. Forgiving our enemies sounds good when the enemy is at least locked behind bars. But here was a man who loved his enemy—the man standing right in front of him who had “cost him everything.”

There’s love in action.

And the world doesn’t understand it.

Here are a few of the comments to this video (not all taken from the same site):

* This man must not love and respect himself.

* Sadly it’s just a sad case of lack of self worth uncle tom syndrome on the part of jameel mcgee.

* we’d be enemies for life

* Forgiveness is one thing. But forgiving someone who did sh@@ like that and then becoming FRIENDS???? H### no. Not happening.

* Well you can keep that kind of peace and love

* Individuals like this are NOT leaders, THEY are FOLLOWERS. Weak minded without a spine.

The list goes on and on. But why?

Jesus Christ is the dividing line. People who believe in Him can then love like Him. Love is not a gooey feeling or a pie-in-the-sky wish for unknown people or even cash thrown at a problem in an attempt to make it better. All that stuff comes from “noisy gongs or clanging cymbals.”

True love, the kind that Jesus said was the same as His love for us (John 13:34), will find the wounded stranger, who might actually be an enemy, and put him on our own donkey and take him where he’ll get help, even pay extra if necessary. True love forgives shooters who sit in your church service before gunning down your friends and family in the name of racial hatred. True love grasps the hand of the former concentration camp guard in friendship and forgiveness. True love prays for the kidnappers who were responsible for the death of your husband.

True love is not a product of the do-good society. It is the product of God’s true love being replicated in His children.

This post is a revised version of one posted in April, 2016.

Published in: on April 15, 2020 at 4:54 pm  Comments (3)  
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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?


Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi from Pexels

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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