God Or Satan?


Without trying to be too dramatic, and yet wading into controversial waters, I think it’s accurate to say we are in the midst of a pandemic. Most of the countries in the world are reporting verified cases of The Virus, along with a percentage of deaths. The number is growing exponentially, which is why the US has a “shelter in place” policy and some counties have shut down places like the beach or hiking trails. It’s all with the intention of keeping people from infecting each other.

The natural question is, why? Is God bringing this pestilence upon the world? Is Satan using this virus and the near panic that spurred the hoarding we’ve seen in order to close down churches and prepare the world for the anti-christ? Or is this just a result of the laws of nature and the inevitable mutation of the virus, of humans living in close proximity to disease-carrying animals?

I think the answer is, Yes.

Yes, I believe God works in and through things like earthquakes and wars and pestilence. We see this in Scripture. The first occurrence of God saying that He would do something cataclysmic that would cause devastation is in Exodus when God lays out His plan to free His people from slavery in Egypt: “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.” (Exo. 7:5; emphasis mine) This phrase is repeated throughout the period of the plagues, either to Pharaoh or to Moses or to the people of Israel.

At other times, of course, God told Israel that they were delivered from an enemy so that they would know He is Lord, or that they received needed food or care, and even His choice of them as His people, the apple of His eye.

But when we reach the books of prophecy, God begins to declare His judgment upon His people, and upon other nations, all with the purpose of letting them know Him. Take this passage in Ezekiel:

“Behold, I Myself am going to bring a sword on you, and I will destroy your high places. So your altars will become desolate and your incense altars will be smashed; and I will make your slain fall in front of your idols. I will also lay the dead bodies of the sons of Israel in front of their idols; and I will scatter your bones around your altars. In all your dwellings, cities will become waste and the high places will be desolate, that your altars may become waste and desolate, your idols may be broken and brought to an end, your incense altars may be cut down, and your works may be blotted out. The slain will fall among you, and you will know that I am the LORD.” (Eze. 6:3-7; emphasis mine)

There are many other such passages throughout the book and in other books of prophecy. Besides these explicit statements, we have an example when God brings judgment to Israel because of David’s sin. God actually gave him a choice between a period of famine, war, or pestilence. David chose pestilence because he said he wanted to be in God’s hand. Yes, in God’s hand:

Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the LORD for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”

So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the appointed time, and seventy thousand men of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. (2 Sam 24:14-15)

Because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, I think it’s safe to say that God can send pestilence.

But what about Satan? Well, the most obvious example of this from the Bible is Job. First Satan destroyed his belongings, then he killed his servants and his kids, and finally he gave him an illness—something horrible like boils spreading all over his body.

Satan’s plan was to bring Job to the place his wife tempted him to go: “Curse God and die.” He wanted Job to be an example of a person who only worshiped God when things were going well. As soon as life was unbearable, Satan reasoned, Job would turn against God.

I dare say, the majority of people today don’t think either God or Satan has anything to do with the rapid spread of a mutated virus. Rather, it’s just the natural course of things, and all we need to do is “flatten the curve,” which we can do with social distancing.

Of course there is some truth to that way of thinking. We can and should be careful and wise, but in no way can we bypass God’s plans. Satan’s? He may mean evil for us believers, but God means good.

This was the case when God put Joseph in place to deal with a seven year famine.

I can’t help but think God has put each Christ-follower in place for “such a time as this.”

Bottom line: God is a righteous Judge. He may well be bringing judgment on the world—not in flood proportions, but in a way that we will know He is God. All the plans we had—for March Madness or attending conferences or even graduating from school or buying toilet paper in the grocery store—are as nothing. All are changed, and we are foolish if we don’t understand that God’s hand is behind it.

He actually may use Satan’s schemes, or the work of evil men, such as Joseph’s brothers; He may even use the natural way things work—the way viruses mutate and spread. But be clear: God is at work in the world. He wants us to see Him and to know Him.

It’s almost become a politically incorrect thing among Christians to say that God is a Judge, that He exercises justice against people. A pandemic gives us the opportunity to recognize God and His role as a just Judge, that His justice is real, just as His love and mercy is.

Featured image by Our World in Data, dated March 19, 2020.

This article is a reprint of one I wrote at Speculative Faith this past Monday.

Published in: on March 24, 2020 at 5:00 pm  Comments (23)  
Tags: , , ,

Assassination


In honor of Abraham Lincoln’s actual birthday, I’m reprising this article that is a lot about him, but also about authority and . . . (gulp) race.

Some years ago I read a biography by Eric Metaxas: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, martyr, prophet, spy. You may know that Bonhoeffer was one of the Germans involved in the unsuccessful plot to assassinate Hitler.

Everything I’d heard about Bonhoeffer was positive. Specifically people refer to his strong Christian beliefs. I have a copy of his book The Cost of Discipleship, though I’ve never read it. You see, I have this problem with plotting an assassination.

Granted, Hitler was an evil man, but so were the Roman Caesars under which the early church came into being. Yet Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said to be subject to rulers and Peter echoed the concept:

Submit yourselves to every human institution, whether to the king as the one in authority or to governors as sent by him . . . (1 Peter 2:13-14a)

So I’ve always had a problem thinking of Bonhoeffer as a hero of the Christian faith or even of the human race. Is it ever right to do wrong?

Our times are troubled, too. When the 2016 political conventions drew near, the news referred to the tightening of security and the barriers and the buffer zone those tasked with keeping the candidates safe had to erect. Of course they replayed footage of a crazed spectator at one of Donald Trump’s rallies jumping onto the stage, and another clip of the police leading away a man who said he came to shoot Mr. Trump.

Shortly thereafter assassinations of the five Dallas policemen (and the wounding of more officers and a few civilians) made the news.

I thought back to the assassination of President Kennedy (yes, I can remember it). He’d been elected by the slimmest of margins, but the whole nation mourned his death. I suspect if there were to be such a tragedy today involving our President or any of the candidates, we would not pull together. We might actually see a deepening of the bitterness and hatred that has been seething in our country.

All this brought to mind another assassination—perhaps the worst crime in America—that by John Wilkes Booth of President Abraham Lincoln. I say “the worst crime” because I believe, apart from slavery itself, the period after the Civil War is most responsible for the roots of racism and poverty and injustice we see in America today.

President Lincoln had a plan for reconstruction of the South. Had he continued to serve as President until the end of his term, I suspect there would not have been Carpetbaggers or Shanty Towns or Ku Klux Klans or Jim Crow laws or black voter disenfranchisement or segregation.

Change would not have been easy but there were already allies President Lincoln could have called on to implement his ideas for reconstruction—hundreds of white abolitionists who had taken up the call to eliminate slavery and an untold number of heroic white station masters and conductors in the Underground Railroad.

Before the war was over, President Lincoln had begun to put into place piece of a reconstruction plan that would address the new societal realities—Southern plantation owners without a work force, and often with homes and outbuildings burned to the ground; and freed slaves without jobs, uneducated, and homeless.

He established temporary military governorships that would administrate the Southern states. He established The Freedmen’s Bureau which helped

African Americans find family members from whom they had become separated during the war. It arranged to teach them to read and write, considered critical by the freedmen themselves as well as the government. Bureau agents also served as legal advocates for African Americans in both local and national courts, mostly in cases dealing with family issues. The Bureau encouraged former major planters to rebuild their plantations, urged freed Blacks to gain employment above all, kept an eye on contracts between the newly free labor and planters, and pushed both whites and blacks to work together as employers and employees rather than as masters and as slaves. (Wikipedia)

The Bill that set up the Freedmen’s Bureau expired in a year. Congress voted to extend it, but the new President, Andrew Johnson, vetoed it.

How might history have been changed if President Lincoln had lived! It’s impossible to know.

Considering the possibilities, though, I’m mindful of the influence of one life, one life on an entire nation.

How might the world be different if President Lincoln had lived? How might the world be different if Hitler had died?

Above all the machinations of leaders and rebels and assassins stands our sovereign God. No, He wasn’t pulling strings like a puppet master, but He superintends all that is His—which is everything. So the struggle in our society today isn’t off track any more than the struggle the first Christians endured at the hand of Caligula, Claudius, and Nero.

Humanly speaking we can look at causes and effects. We can play the “what if” game or the “if only” game. But God does more with less, and brings life out of ashes. He restores and redeems.

I wish He had seen fit to heal the racial divide in our country right out of the starting blocks, before the ink was dry on the surrender Robert E. Lee signed.

More so, I wish slavery had never become an American institution.

But I imagine many Germans wish Hitler had never happened, or that East Germany had never happened.

It’s the old story of evil and evil men seeming to flourish while the righteous helplessly cry out to God to be their refuge.

So I wonder. Does it take the progression of evil to make the righteous cry out to God? I don’t know. But I think we’re at the place where crying out to God to be our refuge makes perfect sense. In reality, no matter what our circumstances, crying out to God makes sense. But in times like these, we need an anchor.

Job And Our Organic God


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

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

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

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

– – – – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This, God chose to do.

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

That is what Job’s friends did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on January 14, 2020 at 4:42 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Tornadoes, Drought, Fire, And Death


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only God is strong. Only God is good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting Expectations


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on December 2, 2019 at 5:14 pm  Comments (94)  
Tags: , ,

I’m Thankful For Rain


I read a post this morning that started by saying good things about the sun and how the short days of winter are not inline with enjoying lots of sun. I love the sun, too. It’s easier for me to wake up when day breaks rather than when night has a couple more hours to go.

But here in SoCal, we don’t see much rain, so I treasure those days. Unless I’m driving in it. Not my favorite thing.

And, you guessed it, this Thanksgiving Day, we are expecting rain. The storm is due to hit tomorrow morning in the wee hours, so it might have been raining for a couple hours before I wake up. Then, as is typical of SoCal storms, we will have rain throughout the day. There may be a short break here or there, but for the next two days, the weather people are predicting rain.

I’m thankful for the rain. I have to keep reminding myself as I anticipate a drive in the rain on Thursday.

Sometimes our blessings—and rain certainly is a blessing—have mixed consequences, the same way the things we dread or don’t like, do. I mean, there isn’t much that happens in this world that doesn’t have a flip side. Whatever happens might be horrible, but from the ashes something good comes. Or something great happens, but there’s a downside no one saw coming.

Let’s say, for example, a ball team wins the ultimate championship in their sport, and as part of the celebration, their “fans” riot in the streets after the game.

Some things do seem like they are headed nowhere, that the outcome is hopeless, that all is lost and no one is coming to save the day, or to bring first aid, or even a cup of water. That can happen. It does happen.

But for the Christian, all is not lost. All is never lost. Because our King is Jesus, and He has already conquered sin and guilt and death and sickness and sadness and abuse and persecution and any other thing we can imagine that could come against us.

The flip side of suffering, is God’s glory, His comfort through His Holy Spirit, His home that we can anticipate. Peter said it like this:

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:13-15; I added the italicized font for emphasis; the all caps indicate a quotation from the Old Testament)

Peter actually talked to those first century Christians a lot about suffering, and it all applies to us as well. In Chapter 4 he says

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (vv 12-14)

Did you catch that? As in the first quote, he says here in this second, that we are blessed if we “share the sufferings of Christ.” He follows this with a warning that no one is to suffer as “a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or troublesome meddler.” That covers a lot of territory!

But what if we suffer just because we live in a world in which bad things happen? I can’t explain really, but as Christians who trust God, we can trust Him in the bad things, too. We can. And we can bless His name. We can do what Jesus did: “He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” (1 Peter 2:23b)

Because God is righteous, because Jesus is already the Victor, as Corrie ten Boom liked to say, we can do what James says: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” (James 1:3).

Then of course there’s David who said in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You are with me.”

I think the key is God’s presence. For the Christian He is with us, in us, never absent, slumbering, or inattentive. He knows.

So Daniel’s friends experienced God’s presence right there in the fiery furnace, and they lived to walk out of it, but Stephen experienced God’s presence through His angelic servants, and he died. The outcome isn’t really the point. The “entrusting ourselves to Him who judges righteously” is everything.

So rain or sun—God sends both because we need both, most of all for our spiritual strengthening and growth and well-being.

Published in: on November 26, 2019 at 5:24 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,

We’re No Longer Saving Daylight


I enjoyed an extra hour of sleep Saturday night, but I have to admit, each year I find this clock changing nonsense connected with Daylight Savings Time to be annoying. For one thing, I can never figure out which change of the clock shifts us into Daylight Savings Time and which shifts us out (in this one we did the “fall back” thing, but is that taking us out of or into Day Light Savings Time? I can never remember. For today I know we are on “regular” time, but I won’t guarantee I’ll know that in a month. 😉 )

Actually I find the whole time change concept to be ludicrous. I mean, who’s kidding whom, that we’re actually saving daylight by shifting our clocks an hour? For me it’s a matter of whether or not it’s dark when you get up in the morning or when you finish work at night. One end or the other, it’s dark, and as the days get shorter, it’s actually dark on both ends.

So we’re clearly not saving any daylight. No matter what we do with our clocks, the sun ignores us and rises and sets at God’s command, according to the pattern He established years ago when He put the greater light in the heavens to rule the day.

It’s really quite a reflection of Mankind’s attitude, I think—us saying we’re saving daylight.

God saved daylight once. He stopped the sun in its tracks extending the day so His people could experience a great victory in battle.

We don’t save daylight like that, and never will. But we sound so powerful, so in control by saying we’re saving daylight. We don’t want the sun to go down when it actually does, so we’ll save daylight.

That’s the old carnival huckster’s trick, selling the public a bit of swamp land based on sleight of hand. Look at how much light we have in the evening, they say, in hopes we won’t notice how much less light we have in the morning.

So now we’re done with it. For a few months, at least. Not that I think those who believe Mankind is able to manipulate time see us as any less in control now than before. I suspect they believe we are capable of pulling our planet out of climate change. If only Man had been around when the Ice Age first showed signs of becoming a thing! I mean, what aren’t we capable of doing?

Such a sad perspective.

I’ve stood on “solid” ground, with the earth bucking and quaking beneath me. I’ve been in the ocean with one wave after another towering over me so that I knew I wouldn’t have the strength to evade one more. I’ve been in the snowy mountains in the winter as the sun goes down and realized the fine line between being warm and dry and freezing to death.

Who is Man that we think we can save daylight? In truth, there’s not much we can do about God’s creation, though we like to think we can. But every hurricane and tornado and earthquake we experience should wake us up to the fact that we aren’t in charge.

Ironically, God assigned Adam the job of cultivating and caring for the earth. He was the steward, I guess you’d say. But post-fall, we want more, we want more. Now we want to manipulate what God made, for our own ends.

For instance, we develop antibiotics and believe we will eradicate disease, only to discover that in the process we’ve created a strain of germs that are resistant to our drugs. Pandemics aren’t a thing of the past at all but a thing of the future. And so is famine and a variety of other “natural” disasters.

Funny how we can save daylight but make no dent in all the blizzards and floods and tidal waves this world throws at us.

If only we’d come to our senses and run back to our sovereign Father, the Creator and Maker of heaven and earth, and admit that we have been trying to usurp His authority. The world is His, we are the mere caretakers. He gives us the good gifts we enjoy—the rain that brings the food we need, the sun that warms us, the land that produces the rocks and trees to provide us with material for shelter, the very air we breath.

Saving daylight? We might as well say we are dismissing gravity.

Light is God’s realm. He describes Himself as Light, after all. If nothing else, maybe starting or ending Daylight Savings Time can remind us who the true and eternal Light is. And that He is the One who saves.

This article is a revision of one that appeared here in November, 2013.

Where Is God In The Mess?


One of the hardest things to explain to someone who doesn’t believe in God, is where He is when horrible things happen. Why doesn’t He make things better? Is He uncaring or simply too unaware or too weak to do something about things like the spread of abortion and the evil of men who traffic young girls or boys, who sell drugs and make their fortunes by creating hardships for others. After all, if God is sovereign, shouldn’t He do something about moral collapse?

I understand. Life would be so much better if God stopped the murders, the lies, the greed, the selfishness.

But the fact is, God didn’t make us little puppets. He didn’t make us beings He would manipulate and move around on the earth as if we are nothing more than chess pieces for His amusement. He actually made us in His image, to resemble Him. That means He gave us the ability to go our own way. Going our own way can mean following Him or ignoring Him; obeying Him or defying Him; submitting to Him or rebelling against Him.

Because, like it or not, despite the fact that we have the ability to go our own way, God is still the King. He sets the rules.

I know some people who really, really don’t like His rules. They don’t like the fact that someone else tells them what to do. They want the final say on what they can do cannot do. No surprise, then, that some people, using the freedom God created them to enjoy, walk away from Him.

What’s really sad is, the rest of us are subject to the residual effect of these people going their own way. So, if a dad decides he wants an affair with a woman at work, if he ends up leaving his family to fulfill his own perceptions of what will make him happy, he leaves in his wake heartbroken kids and a single parent mom in a tight financial situation, or with court battles and angry fights.

If another guy decides he can get rich by stealing from his clients, he leaves aging people without a retirement fund. If someone else wants to get rich by trafficking children, he creates emotional trauma and steals safety and a promising future that those kids will never have back.

I could go on and on, but the point is, these evils come from the heart of people walking away from God. They might even come from someone pretending to walk with God, who is actually lying about that most important relationship. Because lying is certainly one of the favorite behaviors of those rebelling against God.

So where is God?

He’s with every one of us who choose to follow Him.

Not that He fixes our situations so that nothing bad happens to us. We know that’s not the way things work. Bad people do things that affect God’s followers, too. So Corrie ten Boom and her family end up in a concentration camp during World War II.

But because God is with His followers, He uses us even in the darkness. That’s His promise. A common phrase today in some churches (to the point that it is becoming cliche) is that Christians are the hands and feet of Jesus.

There’s truth in that line, which is why it’s repeated so much. God is in this world, working through us. Instead of a miracle, He puts on the hearts of hundreds of His followers to feed the poor or rescue sex slaves or stand against abortion. He’s not violating the free will He gave humans, but He’s also not helpless. He empowers us, His disciples, to give or go or speak or share.

It’s like the old joke: Some guy is trapped on his roof during a flood. He cries out to God for help. Over and over he cries out, but the water steadily creeps higher and higher until he succumbs to the flood. As he’s being carried away to heaven, he asks, God, why didn’t you save me? God answers, What do you mean? I sent you at least 5 rescue boats, but you sent them all away.

We are God’s answer to needy people, if all we can do is point them to Him. That’s probably the most important thing we can do. That and pray. James tells us we don’t have because we don’t ask. And when we do ask, we do so with wrong motives.

But most of us can more besides. We don’t have a God who doesn’t care. That’s why He leaves us in the world.

And speaking of being left in the world, this time of living in “mixed company” with people who are fighting the rightful King, isn’t going to last forever. God has told us what is good: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him. That creates a light that will show the way to the people floundering without an understanding of what God has done for them. But one day He will bring the struggle to an end, either for us individually, or for the world collectively.

Those tied to the world system, God has “given over” to the desires of their heart, to their passions, and to the false way they look at things. That’s why societies experience moral collapse. But we don’t look forward to an eternal struggle. One day God’s followers will serve together, without the heartache and distractions of sin. God’s giving us a future and a hope.

Though He originally said those words to the Jewish nation in the face of their exile, He says that to us today, not about today, but about the day we have to look forward to when we will see Him in all His glory. That’s a day that can give us courage, no matter what we’re facing here and now.

Published in: on October 22, 2019 at 5:22 pm  Comments (17)  
Tags:

God’s Work, Now And In The Pre-Flood World


Some years ago the movie Noah, turned the spotlight, though not particularly brightly, on events recorded in the Bible. Like Exodus that followed it months later, the movie deviated from the historical account—understandable since most atheists such as the film maker don’t look at the Bible as history and would have a hard time showing God as the Bible reveals Him.

I didn’t see the movie, but I saw trailers and clips. One of the more memorable had a mob of people clamoring to get on board the ark, only to have Noah hold them off at gun point under threat of violence.

Interesting since the small amount of information we have about the pre-flood world mentions violence as one cause for God’s judgment. Of course there was the whole Sons-of-God-copulating-with-the-daughters-of-men issue. Nobody really understands what that was all about, of course. Some scholars insist the “sons of God” refer to angels, but then there’s not a good explanation why God would judge Mankind for what angels were clearly responsible for.

Be that as it may, we can put down as fact that something immoral, of a sexual nature, was taking place. My theory, which I may have shared in this space before, is that Adam and Eve had children before they sinned. These would have been “sons of God” in the sense that they didn’t have a sin nature. Daughters of men would have been born in Adam’s likeness, with a sin nature.

But that’s a theory.

The bottom line is that humankind didn’t just sin occasionally:

the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5)

A few verses down, God references their violence:

Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. (v 11)

We don’t have details here, but we know that Cain killed his brother—2nd degree murder, or premeditated murder, we don’t know for sure. Either way, God didn’t respond with capital punishment. Instead he protected Cain from those who might want to kill him by branding him with a special mark. This was not a curse as some have suggested or a mark he passed on to his descendents as others have said.

There’s no indication it was anything more than a way people could identify Cain as a man under God’s protection. God’s promise was that if anyone killed Cain, they’d pay sevenfold.

Perhaps the people of the day took this to be a license to kill. We know in fact that one of Cain’s descendants, Lamech, also committed murder. In fact he confessed to two murders:

For I have killed a man for wounding me;
And a boy for striking me (4:23b)

Lamech then claimed the right of seventy-sevenfold retribution against anyone who would seek to kill him.

One more thing Lamech is famous for: he’s also the first recorded bigamist.

Apparently he was a trend-setter because few men from that point on until the first century were monogamous.

So here are the facts: God said to Adam and Eve, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Their descendants were killing each other.

God established marriage as a one man-one woman union that made them one flesh. Adam and Eve’s descendants were partnering inappropriately—in the wrong way (multiple partners), with the wrong people (sons of God with daughters of men).

So apparently humankind was 0 for 2—they failed to obey the only two commandments God had given them. And things were only getting worse:

God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.

As we know from Romans, humankind’s corruption affected the rest of creation.

The point I want to make here is that God judged Lamech and his sons and their sons, not because they were good people and God just had a temper tantrum. He judged them because they were mass murderers and rapists and adulterers and bigamists. They rejected God’s right to rule their lives in the simplest, most basic aspects.

Noah alone was righteous.

And still, after God passed judgment, after He gave Noah the command to build the ark, it took a hundred years to get it finished.

Yes, these were the days when humans still lived long lives. Scripture intimates in a number of places that humans didn’t lose their faculties as they aged at the same rate we do today. So at 75, for example, Sarai, Abram’s wife, is still referred to as very beautiful—not a typical description of a senior citizen.

But to the point, God didn’t strike down all the corrupt of the earth in a fit of anger. And Noah wasn’t off in some corner happily preparing his escape from the coming judgment while other “good people” were unaware of the coming catastrophe.

Scripture refers to Noah as “a preacher of righteousness,” suggesting that he was splitting his time between building the ark and telling everyone else about God, His expectations, and His righteous judgment.

The people who died in the flood were “ungodly” according to 2 Peter. They’re listed along with the angels God judged and the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which God also judged and destroyed.

God does not whack innocent people like some gangland kingpin who’s having a bad day and wants to take it out on whoever is in his way.

God is a righteous judge.

He’s sovereign, but He’s good; his judgments are pure and right, every one of them.

I’m convinced we don’t have to fret over the people who died in the flood. God says He takes no delight in the death of the wicked, and yet He carries out the judgment against them. I have no doubt that he made the right call. Am I happy many people died? Of course not. But God knew each one of those people by name. I’m confident He wanted more than I ever could, for them to do an about-face so that He didn’t have to carry out the judgment upon them.

How do I know this? Because of the prophets and the ways God worked to spare Israel and Judah—the extent He went to in the effort to induce His people to turn back to Him. Because of His warning to and forgiveness of Nineveh, And ultimately, because He Himself went to a cross to die for the sins of the world.

Would a God who loves that much, have done less to win and woo the pre-flood people? It’s not consistent with His character to think He was uncaring in His judgment. But His judgment is a fact and a warning to us that God’s patience is long-suffering but not endless. There is a day of judgment for our world that is also coming.

Would that people today will learn the lesson the pre-flood people failed to grasp.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in July, 2015.

Believing The Whole Bible Is True



Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I understand why atheists have trouble with the Bible. To be honest, it’s not an easy book. Some passages have led people to believe that God has handpicked who will be a Christian while other verses make it clear that His offer of salvation is open to the world. So which is it? Or can we chalk up these contradictions to the fact that the Bible isn’t reliable.

There are other issues—people use verses from 1 John to “prove” that Christians don’t sin (“No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him” 1 John 3:6) whereas James tells the brethren that they are to confess their sins to one another. Peter tells Christians they are blessed if they suffer according to God’s will, but John wishes for his friend Gaius health and prosperity. The Old Testament is full of God’s judgment on Israel’s enemies (and on Israel), but Jesus commanded us to love our enemies.

Along with the apparent internal problems, there’s also the matter about the Bible and science. Many people look at the data scientists put out about the origin of the universe and compare that with what the Bible says—creation, spoken into being, in six days. Then there are the problems of miracles—seas parting, a donkey that talked, water pouring from a rock, the dead raised to life, a few loaves and fishes feeding thousands and thousands of people, blind men able to see, and a virgin birthing a Son. In other words, the Bible claims impossible things happened.

So there are apparent internal contradictions and apparent contradictions with reality as we know it. How then are we to handle the Bible?

It seems to me we have three positions we can take:
1) we can throw out the whole Bible as unreliable
2) we can pick and choose which verses we want to believe
3) we can believe the whole Bible is true, even the parts that seem impossible to resolve with one another or with history or science

People unwilling to accept the challenge of the Bible will be most tempted to opt for the “throw the whole thing out” option. I mean, why look deeper when on the surface the contradictions are so apparent? Why strive to resolve something that looks irresolvable?

In some ways that’s like saying let’s throw out all fruit because I can’t resolve how an avocado is like a watermelon or how a tomato is like a grape. Or, let’s take a couple fruit that everyone knows are fruit. How can we say a peach is like a banana? “There’s no such thing as fruit,” someone might say. “They are all contradictory. You can’s say they have anything in common.”

Except, of course they do—it’s just not readily apparent. You have to think about it, have the definition of fruit explained. So, too, with the Bible.

The second position—the potluck approach—might appeal to those who think faith is a good idea or who think god is a good idea. Their tendency, then, is to construct their faith and their god in the image of their own desires: Peace would be good for mankind, so my god will be for peace. I want a god of love, so all the information about god loving the world can stay but all the verses about wrath and vengeance have to go.

I’ve painted that position in a rather simplistic way. I doubt few people would admit they are shaping god to be what they want him to be. They can give all kinds of reasons from higher criticism for dismissing certain passages of Scripture, or explain how understanding stories as myth can symbolically represent the truth, or whatever other academic gymnastics they wish to employ. The truth is, they have chosen something else to believe as a higher authority than the Bible.

For those ignoring passages that seem contradictory to other passages in order to support a particular theological position, ultimately the person is choosing which they wish to believe, since both are in the Bible. They can’t say one is less Scriptural than the other. They can only try to explain away the verses that stand against their chosen position.

The third choice, accepting the entire Bible, isn’t as satisfactory as the other two positions because there may always be unanswered questions. However, the goal is to let the Bible interpret the Bible. This approach means the Bible is the focus of constant study. For example, to understand Jesus, we have to understand the prophecies He quoted and fulfilled.

We may even have to live with tension between two seemingly impossible truths, much as Abraham did when God promised He’d make a great nation from his descendant—his one descendant, Isaac—and told him to offer that very boy as a sacrifice. How could God’s statements both be true?

Abraham didn’t debate the issue. He simply believed. In his mind, Scripture tells us, he arrived at the idea that God would raise the boy back to life. He knew God was capable of doing the impossible, so he simply believed.

As it turned out, God’s way of resolving the apparent conflict was much simpler, though not any less miraculous. He provided a ram for Abraham to use, a substitution that would become the picture of His own substitution on our behalf thousands of years later when Jesus gave His life to redeem all who believe in Him.

Believing the Bible even though I may not understand how all the apparent internal and external contradictions resolve isn’t really that hard. I don’t understand how the internet works, but that doesn’t keep me from using it. I only have a vague notion how my car works, but that doesn’t keep me from driving it. Why would I think it necessary to understand all the difficult parts about God and about His Word and world (as if my finite mind can grasp all the intricacies of who He is) before believing in Him?

How does salvation work? I’m still grappling with that one after all these years of being saved. I know I am saved. I don’t completely understand how it “works.” I think I understand more today than I did last year or ten years ago. That’s the great thing about believing the whole Bible—there’s always more to learn.

This post originally appeared here in April, 2013, and six years later, there’s still more to learn about the Bible.

%d bloggers like this: