God’s Not The Problem


Peter008I read in Acts recently about Peter and John getting tossed into prison over night because they healed a man in Jesus’s name.

Their response?

Peter preached to those in authority. When they warned them to stop preaching and healing in Jesus’s name, they answered with a clear, bold statement:

But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

True to their word, they continued to preach Christ and Him crucified. They continued to heal. In fact all the apostles did. Powerful things were happening, and the church was increasing in numbers, to the point that the Jewish leaders became jealous and decided to throw them into prison again.

After consulting, with one another, they decided they’d flog them into obedience.

Of course, they had to re-arrest the apostles because an angel had set them free! But they didn’t go into hiding or leave town. They went right back to the temple and started preaching again.

So once more the Jews hauled them in front of the authorities and confronted them:

“We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

Well, yeah! To be expected since Peter told them they had to obey God rather than men. He repeated it since they apparently hadn’t got it the first time:

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

After more consultation, the Jewish leaders decided to beat them into obedience. And here’s the point of this post. Steadily the hostility toward the apostles was turning into persecution. And how did they respond?

So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (This and the previous two quotes from Acts 5)

Rejoicing.

Continuing to teach and to preach Jesus as the Christ.

I find their reaction to be in such stark contrast to Christianity in the West. When we face soft discrimination, we’ve started playing the persecution card, as if there aren’t actual martyrs in the world today, dying because they believe in Jesus as their Lord, their Savior. We’ve begun to take the mantle of victim, and as a result we’re pulling back from opportunities to boldly speak the truth in love—the truth that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.

Look at the balance of what Peter said to those standing in judgment over the apostles:

The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

He could have left out the “whom you had put to death” part in order to be less confrontational, but the truth is, part of their job was to expose sin. That’s what Peter did when Ananias and Sapphira pretended to present the church with the entire amount of money from the sale of their land. In truth, they were lying—to the Holy Spirit, Peter said. He called them out, declared their sin publicly, and in that instance, these pretenders paid with their lives on the spot.

Things are different today. Christians, myself included, are very conscious that preaching Christ might offend someone. We don’t even like preaching in church very much any more.

And should we experience ill treatment because of our faith, we’re much more likely to sue than we are to rejoice because we’ve been found worthy to suffer for His name.

What’s more, we’re more likely to say, Why, God, when I’ve been serving you so faithfully? Why are you letting all this suffering happen to me? That’s the approach of the people of Israel when they were leaving Egypt. They didn’t rejoice in the power of God. They didn’t look forward to the promised land. They looked back to the familiar comforts of Egypt and treated God’s prophet and by extension, God Himself, as if He was the One harming them.

News flash! God is not the problem. Suffering is a result of sin. So why are we so quick to blame God, to suggest that we could do a better job running things—from our health and finances to the Presidential elections and dealing with terrorism. We have lost sight of God’s sovereignty and His power.

When we pray, James warns us about asking with wrong motives, more interested in our own pleasures. Jesus said we are to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. Is that what we’re praying for? Or are we praying for peace and comfort in our time, so that we will be safe and can do what we do in peace?

I don’t know about others. I only know my own heart, and I confess, I’m a long way from the response the apostles exhibited. I can say, my heart is willing, but there’s that problem with the flesh! Maybe by the time I have to face some actual persecution, God, by His grace, will have shored up that weakness!

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Two Issues That Keep People From Truth


Jesus_the_Teacher031I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. Jesus plainly told a group of unbelievers why they were chasing falsehoods, but somehow I’d missed it. I hadn’t extrapolated what Jesus said to those He was addressing to all others who also held firmly to error.

Toward the end of Jesus’s life, the power brokers of His day—the Jewish leaders who controlled who was considered “clean” and therefore had access to the temple or, in places outside Jerusalem, to the synagogue—grilled Him about all kinds of things. Their motive was to trap Him so they could accuse Him of breaking the Law.

They asked Him what was the most important Law, whether it was right for Jews to pay taxes to Rome, how an adulterous woman should be punished, where His authority came from, and more.

Finally the Sadducees, the sect which didn’t believe in supernatural events like miracles and life after death or supernatural beings like angels, came up with what they thought was a fool-proof trap.

They told Jesus a story about a married woman whose husband, one of seven brothers, died. She had no children, so according to Jewish law, the brother was to marry her and produce an heir. First one brother married her, then he died. The next brother stepped up and married her, then he died, and so on until all seven brothers had married her. At last, she died as well.

The Jewish legalists trying to trip Jesus up had the stage set. So, they asked, in the after life [which they didn’t believe in], whose wife will she be since all seven men had her.

First, I’m a little shocked they told this story. It seems to me that any sensible man, after watching two, three, four of his brothers die after marrying that woman would realize she was a black widow and run the other way!

But apart from that, what hypocrites! Did they ever ask their polygamist men what wife would they have in the after life since they’d had all of those women? Of course not. It was fine for David to have hundreds of wives, for Solomon to have hundreds and hundreds of wives, but horrors if a wife had more then one husband, even if she only had one at a time.

Those unbelieving priests could just as easily have asked Jesus which wife would David have in the after life, but apparently in their cultural framework, multiple wives didn’t need to be explained. Only multiple husbands!

Jesus went straight to the heart of the problem, which wasn’t their inerrant cultural view of women. Their problem was that they didn’t believe in the supernatural.

I have to wonder what they thought about the blind men who could see after an encounter with Jesus. Or the lame man who got up and picked up his pallet when Jesus told him to. How about the lepers who were instantaneously clean? Or the dead boy raised to life? How did they account for these miracles if there was no supernatural power to intervene and change the course of nature?

They couldn’t explain any of it, so they teamed up with the leaders of the other Jewish sects to try and do away with Jesus. That’s all they had.

Jesus handled their question with aplomb. He didn’t beat around the bush, but gave them a straightforward answer that revealed their two problems—the same two problems all unbelieving people have:

    1. You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures
    2. You are mistaken, not understanding the power of God

Jesus then gave them a little Bible lesson:

“But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22:32)

In one short answer, He gave them understanding of Scripture and of God.

First, He illustrated God’s power by reminding them that the words they knew from Scripture came to them from God. The line He quoted was what God told Moses at the burning bush—that would be the bush that burned but was not consumed. The miraculous bush from which God spoke. The bush on holy ground.

Jesus not only reminded them of God’s supernatural power but also of the truth of Scripture—every single word. After all, His argument hinged on the tense of the verb AM. God said, I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not, I was their God. The only conclusion to draw is that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are living beings.

But the sect that didn’t believe in miracles or the after life or angels couldn’t get it. They read past the truth clearly stated in Scripture, and they didn’t believe God had the power to do these supernatural things.

They wanted a nice, neat, manageable God that they could manipulate for their own purposes. In fact, they didn’t even want a Messiah, though they professed to be waiting for Him to come. They tipped their hand when the joined the mob railing against Pilate for his “not guilty” ruling at Jesus’s final trial. You’re no friend of Caesar, the crowd cried. They topped that by answering Pilate’s question, What shall I do with the King of the Jews, by shouting back, We have no king but Caesar.

Ah, they really didn’t understand Scripture. And they really didn’t understand the power of God.

Published in: on June 14, 2016 at 6:54 pm  Comments (5)  
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We’re Number One


_World_Series_pregame_eventsFrom Little League to professional teams, those involved in sports—and their fans—are playing so they can be number one. In fact, throughout the season and on into the play-offs crowds have been known to break into a chant: “We’re number one! We’re number one! We’re number one!”

Except, the team they’re supporting is number one of what?

The league my middle school team belonged to when I was coaching, consisted of eight teams from private Christian schools scattered around western LA County. So yes, some seasons, we finished as number one, but one of eight! In a relatively small area of SoCal. Among Christian schools. With students aged 11 to 14.

How easy it is to lose sight of the big picture in our rush to declare our number one status. Nobody is thinking about all those high school teams that could wipe the floor with us. Or the college teams that would undoubtedly be tempted to pat us on the head and tell us how cute it was that we were trying to play.

When we’re talking about young people and sports, it’s not a big deal that we set aside the comparisons and allow winning teams to celebrate. Unfortunately this we’re-number-one mentality seems to be more and more pervasive in all of life, including our spiritual lives. Some set their hearts on being number one, to the point that they push the Only True Number One aside and claim the position for themselves.

The truth is, there can only be one Number One. That’s true in sports and in life. When all is said and done, one team will surface that is better on a given day than all other amateur and professional teams in that sport. If we add a qualifier—the number one college team, for instance—we are immediately acknowledging that the ranking is not universal. Not even for that one season.

So too spiritually. We as individuals or humankind as “a team” cannot be number one if God is number one. And yet time and again, we shove God aside and go our own way, do what we think is best, believe what seems right to us regardless of what God has said. I’ve read more times than I like words people have written stating that “if God is like that [whatever “that” is in the particular discussion], I want no part of him.”

Whenever a person reserves the right to believe in God only if He fits into his mold of “what God ought to be like,” then that person might as well break into the I’m-number-one chant.

Sadly, and almost unfathomably, there are people who name the name of Christ and hold this kind of position: If God’s going to condemn homosexuals who truly love each other, then I want no part of him. If God expects a woman to give up control of her body, I want no part of him. If God doesn’t want women to be leaders in his church, I want no part of him.

Some even reach the point of believing they want no part of God because he didn’t heal them or give them a better job or a bigger house. They don’t want any part of God because his people are hypocrites or greedy or mean spirited or abusive. In other words, God didn’t step in and create an environment that makes them safe and happy and fulfilled from the day they were born until the day they die.

I ran across (on the internet) still another group that claim to be Christians (I think), but who misuse Scripture so they can loudly proclaim, We’re number one!

There have been any number of others—false teachers, peddling a different gospel, such as the “agnostic Christians” or trinitarians or universalists or progressives or emergents. Some of these have said outlandish things—are we nicer than God? for instance—and their errors are not that hard to spot.

This latest false teaching simply twists what God’s word has to say about men and women. I don’t know if this group is large or small, organized or haphazard, but some are vocal, pushing their ideas in the “manosphere” (yes, they really use that term). And what are these ideas? They are essentially pushing back against feminism. They claim that God put men in charge, to exert “power and control.” You see, they say they believe in headship.

God did, in fact, make a husband the head of his wife, but He specifically used Jesus Christ as the example of what that headship looked like. Think about Jesus for a moment: He washed His disciples’ feet, the night of His arrest and trial. He came to earth as a sacrifice, that by His death we who believe in Him might be healed. Add in what we learn in Philippians—that Christ humbled Himself, emptied Himself, learned obedience to the point of death on the cross.

So where, I ask, does the idea of power and control come from in regard to headship? It certainly isn’t from Jesus.

Certainly God is sovereign, so He is in control, and He does have power—all power, in fact. But in His treatment of us, He exercises His love, mercy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience in order to bring us to Himself.

Furthermore, He tells us that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. In other words, He doesn’t force us to go against our will. If we choose to reject Him, He lets us go—though He’s made it clear there will be eternal consequences for rejecting Him.

The point is, God doesn’t use His power and control to bully us into submission. He loves us and asks us to love Him back by yielding to Him—not the same thing as making us bow the knee.

So here are these men claiming to be Christians who ignore the example Jesus Christ set for husbands and their responsibility to be the head of their homes. Love and service and sacrifice? Certainly not, they say. Headship means power and control!

Well, no. Only in their manosphere where they’re gathered to chant, “We’re number one!” God’s definition of headship doesn’t look anything like the bullying and even abuse these men dispense. They apparently are so fixated on their own need for power and control that they can’t see how they are pushing Jesus aside and telling Him He didn’t do headship the right way.

Reprise: Have We Neutered God?


Aerial_view_of_damage_to_Kirikiri,_Otsuchi,_a_week_after_a_9.0_magnitude_earthquake_and_subsequent_tsunamiThe day after the 2011 earthquake in Japan, a couple Christians started taking bets on when the first Christian “leader” (the qualification is theirs) would say something about God’s judgment on this Buddhist nation. Undoubtedly they had in mind what Pat Robertson said after the Haitian quake in January 2010.

As reports came in about the tsunami that same day, every TV station seemed to have a segment of their earthquake coverage devoted to a geophysicist with a diagram of the Pacific Ring of Fire and a second diagram of two tectonic plates under the ocean moving toward one another with one slipping under the other (subduction). The resulting movement, one expert said, displaces water, sending waves surging to shore.

On one hand, a good scientific explanation from the media about what causes an earthquake and a tsunami.

On the other, a backhanded repudiation from Christians that God would “send” the earthquake against Japan.

That’s it then. We’ve moved God aside to let Nature take its course. Nature, we understand. After all, the experts have studied these tectonic plates. They’ve created devices to measure the energy an earthquake releases. They can pinpoint where the epicenter is, and the hypocenter, and how deep within the earth’s crust the event occurred.

God? We can’t study Him. Don’t know what He might be thinking or why He would choose Japan over, say, Libya, or, for that matter, the U. S. Besides, God just wouldn’t do something so randomly devastating. I mean, good people undoubtedly died in the quake and its aftermath. How could we possibly believe this event was something He sent? It would be unjust, cruel, not something a loving God would do.

Or so we think as we peer through our world-colored glasses.

For the moment, set aside the fact that Scripture records God using a natural disaster to wipe out the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, expressly because of the extent of their wickedness. Instead, ask this question. Supposing the geophysicists are right and the quake happened because one tectonic plate slipped under the edge of another, what caused the slip?

Subducting tectonic plates

Scientists have a number of theories. One idea is that the variation in topography and density of the crust result in differences in gravitational forces that drive the seafloor away from the spreading ridge which combines with drag (think, water drag against a speedboat) and downward suction.

A second explanation is that different forces generated by the rotation of the Globe and tidal forces of the Sun and the Moon create movement.

A third idea suggests that mantle convection (“the slow creeping motion of Earth’s rocky mantle caused by convection currents carrying heat from the interior of the Earth to the surface” Wikipedia) is tied to the movement of the plates.

Behind these possible explanations, however, is the question, what causes the convection currents or the tidal forces or the drag or the downward suction or the variation of the topography or the thinner oceanic crust? In other words, in a cause-effect scientific study, what is the first cause?

Ultimately, those of us who believe in God will answer, He is that first cause.

But are we saying that He, in watchmaker-like fashion, started the processes and has since, stepped back and is looking on to see what will happen next?

Or do we believe He who created the world and understands all its make up and function, who set down in Scripture the fact that the earth divided (something corroborated by the continental drift theory now widely held), and who has prophesied an increase in seismic activity as the day of the Lord draws nearer and nearer, is intimately involved in this world?

Sadly, throughout time man has declared that God is dead or irrelevant or nonexistent. But perhaps worst of all is this Christian version of this theme—that He is, but He is not powerful. He might have something to say about spiritual things (and then, only if it’s related to love and forgiveness), but the physical is beyond His reach.

This view, of course, contradicts Scripture. First is the clear revelation of His nature—He is omnipotent. He demonstrated this by His act of creation:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
– Gen 1:1

Since then, He has sustained what He made:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
– Col 1:16-17 [emphasis mine]

How He holds things together is coincidentally similar to how He created the world in the first place:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.
– Heb 1:1-3 [emphasis mine]

And yet we are to believe He is standing by, wringing His hands, grieving over the uncontrollable events foisted on the human race by nature?

If God is God, that idea is absurd. And if God is God, we had better start paying attention to what He’s said in His word, because acts of God are not accidents of God. He has a purpose, and it would be wise of us to start talking in an intelligent way, informed by Scripture, about what that purpose might be.

With some minor changes this article is a reprint of one that appeared in March 2011.

In The Blue Corner, Jacob, Son Of Isaac


305px-Figures_Jacob_Wrestles_AngelI’ve never really understood the wrestling match Jacob had with God on his way back to his homeland. He’d sent word to his twin brother, Esau, who he’d run from, that he was returning. His servant-messengers brought word that Esau was coming to meet him . . . with four hundred men.

First Jacob panicked. He scrambled around dividing everything and everyone into two groups. If Esau went after Group A, he figured, at least Group B would survive.

Then he prayed. It’s a beautiful prayer, and honestly I’d completely forgotten it. If you’d asked me if the Bible recorded any prayer by Jacob, I would have smirked. That deceiver? No-o-o. But I’d have been dead wrong. Here’s his prayer:

Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.’”

It’s a great prayer. First he acknowledges who God is and what He’d told Jacob to do. Then he confesses his own standing before God—one who is unworthy, God’s servant, a recipient of His provision. Only then does he finally petition God for deliverance. He admits he’s afraid for himself and for his family, but ultimately he trusts in God’s word to him—the covenant which He’d passed on to Jacob twenty years earlier.

After he prayed, he didn’t “let go and let God,” though. I wonder if he should have. Probably not. Because next he sent herds and herds of his animals—we’re talking hundreds of goats and rams, cows and donkeys and camels—as gifts to his brother. My take is that this was Jacob’s way of saying he was sorry, and honestly, it was right for him to make restitution for the wrong he had done.

But that still doesn’t get us to the wrestling match. If Jacob and Esau had faced off against each other, I would have understood it more. But as it happened, Jacob sent everyone ahead of him, across the stream, and he stayed back.

Without prologue, Scripture says

Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

What? A man? Why? Who? In the next verses, some of this becomes clear:

He [the man] said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”

Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there.

So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” (vv 28-30)

The best answer for “who” would seem to be that the man was the pre-incarnate Christ. But where did He come from and why?

Was this match one to determine Jacob’s future, and he prevailed? But how could he prevail over God? There’s this other little incident tucked in here—his opponent “touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.” End of fight, except Jacob apparently had a vise-like grip on Him and wouldn’t let go until He blessed him.

That’s when he received his new name.

All this seems sort of to lead nowhere, except Jacob was changed. Now, he limped to the head of his clan and faced Esau himself, not hiding behind his wives and his children as it appeared he had intended to do.

And when he met Esau, he bowed before him, pledged himself as his servant, and insisted he accept the gifts he’d sent.

So what was that wrestling match all about? Was it an actual, physical confrontation? Was it symbolizing the spiritual battle going on in Jacob’s life? I’d think so, but then I’d expect God to prevail, not Jacob.

Mostly the Christian life is about surrender—denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily and following Jesus. It’s about giving God the control in our lives, not controlling Him so we can get what we want.

So is Jacob’s wrestling with God, which seemed to end with God’s blessing him—which He’d already done—a contradiction? Is it an illustration of how we are to wrestle in prayer with God—sort of holding Him hostage until He gives us what we want?

That doesn’t fit the circumstances—Jacob was asking for a blessing, but He’d already received it, so was he asking for assurance? Was he trying to find out if the blessing had been rescinded?

In addition, as one commentary points out, when God caused Jacob to go lame by merely touching his hip and dislocating it, He demonstrated that Jacob only appeared to be winning the match. At any point, God could use His omnipotence to reduce Jacob to a state of weakness.

In the end, Jacob the manipulator, the deceiver, could not manipulate God. When His opponent asked him his name, he answered truthfully that he was Jacob—as opposed to his answer to his blind father those twenty years ago when he asked, “Who are you, my son?” That time he lied, but now he admits who he is: Jacob, the usurper.

For some reason, the pre-incarnate God said Jacob had prevailed, but I’m not sure how. He left limping, in a humbled state, and we have no other recorded instant of him deceiving or manipulating others. (In fact, years later he bore the brunt of His sons’ deception). In so many ways, it seems as if God won, or at least had His own way, which He is wont to do.

But God Himself said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”

The first meaning of the original word is “to be able, be able to gain or accomplish, be able to endure, be able to reach” (Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon). Of course the next is the more commonly understood meaning here: “to prevail, prevail over or against, overcome, be victor.”

In what way was Jacob a victor in his match against God? Only, as far as I can see, in that God declared him the victor.

In that he serves as a type of Christ, the true Victor, who died to win but also as a type of all believers who win only because God declares it.

Published in: on August 6, 2015 at 6:47 pm  Comments Off on In The Blue Corner, Jacob, Son Of Isaac  
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God And His Promises


_estes_parkI’ve been thinking a lot about God and His promises of late. Some are unconditional and some are contingent upon the response of the people to whom He made the promise. I think a lot of misunderstanding comes from not recognizing 1) to whom God made the promise and 2) which kind of promise He made.

I’ll start with the one that gets thrown in the faces of Christians quite often by those who wish to call into question God’s existence: Mark 11:23-24.

Truly I say to you, “Whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore, I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.”

Sure, people who don’t believe in the power of God, will say, mountains cast into the sea! Happens every day.

A few scholars address this issue, first by saying what the passage is not, then giving their views on what the passage is, based primarily on the context. First, what the passage is not:

This passage has been “fodder” for many sermons on “Mountain-Moving Faith.” I have heard sermons on “a mountain of debt,” “a mountain of worry,” “a mountain of problems,” “ a mountain of sickness,” on and on ad nauseam. Time and again this passage [Matt, 21:21-22], along with Mark 11:23-24, becomes the “launching pad” for a “faith rocket” aimed in any direction we want it to go. This is a clear example of “a text taken out of context becoming a pretext for just about anything.” (“The Mountain Cast Into The Sea”)

Next, what those of this mindset believe the passage is:

In the context of the passages, Jesus has been interacting with the scribes and chief priests (Matthew 21:11-15; Mark 11:9-18). They are critical of him because he is receiving the praise of children, who call him the Son of David and the Prophet of Nazareth. It seems that Jesus and his disciples are visiting the temple on essentially a daily basis, returning at night to Bethany.

In both passages we are told as well about a fig tree. From the passages we learn that Jesus came on the way from Bethany to Jerusalem and found a fig tree that had leaves but no fruit, and he cursed it. On the following day, returning along the same path, the disciples noted that the cursed tree had completely withered, and they marveled.

It is upon this occasion, the marveling at the withering of the fig tree, that Jesus [answered] . . .

Notice a word that is frequently overlooked. Jesus does not say simply, “say unto a mountain,” but “say unto this mountain.” What mountain is he speaking of? There is the possibility that it is any mountain between Bethany and Jerusalem, but in the context of both accounts, the very next thing that Jesus does is to enter into Jerusalem and specifically the temple (Matthew 21:23; Mark 11:27).

Thus, it is reasonable to view Jesus’ remarks as being directed toward the mountain to which they were approaching, namely Jerusalem, and especially the temple mountain. With this in mind, what Jesus is speaking of is of the destruction of Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem, and especially the temple mount was complete. (“Mountain Cast Into Sea”)

Jerusalem_(22)All well and good. Except for the “therefore” part of the Mark 11:23-24 passage: “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.”

The verse seems to say, in the same way that you can ask for the mountain to be cast into the sea, you can ask whatever else.

But praying and asking is something that a number of different passages in Scripture address. Jesus said to ask in His name (John 16:23), to pray in secret (Matt. 6:6), to persevere in prayer (Luke 11:8-9), to pray according to God’s will (Luke 22:42), in agreement with two or three others (Matt. 18:19-20), upon abiding in God’s word (John 15:7); Paul says we are to pray in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18) and without wrath or dissension (1 Tim. 2:8); James says we are to ask, but if we ask with wrong motives we won’t receive (James 4:1-4), that the prayer offered in faith will restore (James 5:15), and that the prayer of a righteous individual can accomplish much (James 5:16); Jude says we are to pray in the Holy Spirit; John says we have what we ask for if we keep God’s commandments (1 John 3:22).

Quite a list, but I suspect there is more. The point here is this: there’s no one thing that we can do to insure that God will—in fact, has to—answer our prayers.

I knew this even as an early teen. I read the verse about casting the mountain into the sea and thought I’d try it out to see if “it worked.” Well, I quickly recognized that by running my own little test on that verse, I was already not without doubt. In fact, I did doubt.

Then there’s the issue of God’s will. Is it His will that this mountain, or any mountain, be cast into the sea? Am I going to find two or three other Christians to agree with me on that? And is my motive right? Am I asking in Jesus’s name—not just the ritual add on we conclude our prayers with, but in the name of the Almighty who has the power over wind and waves, demons and disease, life and death—am I praying in His name?

Trying to sort through all the “prayer requirements” can get pretty complicated. How do I know if I’m abiding in God’s word or living in obedience, particularly regarding the command to love my neighbor as myself? How do I know if my motives are pure? And if I have even faith that’s at least as big as a mustard seed?

There’s a passage in Romans that I’m finding helpful with all this:

yet, with respect to the promise of God, he [Abraham] did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. (Rom. 4:20-21)

I admit, at times I want God to spell out His promises to me just as clearly as He did to Abraham. But of course, I have the Bible—I have the benefit of knowing what Abraham went through and much, much more.

The part that catches my attention is that Abraham was fully assured that God was able. Combine that with what God had promised. I’m fully assured that God is able to cast a mountain or this mountain into the sea. I’m also confident He didn’t promise such a thing just because.

So what has God promised that I am fully assured of? Everlasting life for those who believe in Jesus, for starters. There are others, but this post is already too long. Suffice it to say, the mountain into the sea reminds me of God’s power, and it serves as a check on whether or not I’m fully assured that He will perform what He’s promised.

Can He? Yes, absolutely. Will He? That’s the question.

Giving Thanks For The Fleas


pumpkins-912529-mIn a comment to my post decrying President Obama’s decision to create law through an executive order, my nephew reminded me to give thanks for the fleas. The line alludes to a true story Corrie ten Boom told in her book The Hiding Place.

She and her sister Betsy had been moved in the concentration camp to a room that was crawling with fleas. Their circumstances were bad enough, but the fleas made life almost unbearable.

Because of a passage they studied in the Bible, Betsy had been saying they needed to thank God for everything. Corrie could hardly believe her ears, but then she thought about it and thanked God that she and Betsy were together, that they had a Bible, that they had a sweater and a bottle of vitamins. Maybe a few other things.

After she prayed, Betsy said, You must also thank Him for the fleas. This seemed like too much, but Corrie wanted to be obedient to God, so she prayed again, this time thanking Him for the fleas.

Soon Corrie and Betsy began to share passages of Scripture with the other prisoners in their room after they came in from their work assignments. At first they were cautious, not wanting a guard to walk in and confiscate their Bible. But as days wore on, no guards came in the evening.

The number of women drinking in God’s word increased. Because they did not all speak the same language, Corrie would read the passage from her Dutch Bible, then someone would translate into Germany, Polish, or whatever other language was needed. This went on for weeks.

At some point Corrie had a chance to find out why the guards never came into the room to check on them. The fleas! she was told. None of the guards wanted to go into that room because of the fleas!

So, yes, God works even in circumstances we think are all wrong, when stuff happens and it makes life hard. In ways we don’t see immediately, or perhaps ever in this life, God works.

He sends a storm to stop a prophet from going the wrong way and a big fish to bring him to his knees and send him in the right way.

He takes a boy in prison because his brother betrayed him and his master’s wife lied about him, and uses him to save the lives of his entire family—God’s chosen people.

God uses an eight-year-old king to bring revival to Israel.

He takes an exiled Israelite boy and uses him to proclaim His name before Babylonian and Persian kings.

He assigns a virgin to birth the Messiah. He uses a carpenter to save the newborn child’s life from a power-hungry, paranoid king.

God sends an earthquake that opens prison doors.

I could go on and on. The Bible is replete with examples of “fleas” which looked so bad, no one if left to himself would be thankful. Thank God because you’re in prison? Exiled to a foreign land? Pregnant and not married? On the run to a far away place with the king trying to kill your family? On your knees in rubble after an earthquake broke apart your prison? In the belly of a big fish?

You have got to be kidding me!

These are not the things we trot out at Thanksgiving time to put on the list we write into our journals or hang on the refrigerator or pray over during our quiet time. These are generally the things we ask God to change, not the things we thank Him for giving.

The truth is, we’re short sighted and don’t realize what God is doing because of those fleas—not in spite of. Because of!

Our measure of what’s good is off. We’re using the wrong gauge. We think all is right when we’re comfortable, at ease, upwardly mobile, winning at work, and free to do whatever we want during our off hours.

Of course life is not centered on us and our wants, so we are at many, if not most, times aware that we have “fleas.” We want them gone. We rail at God for not removing them, for allowing them into our lives in the first place, and we dig our heels in and refuse to thank Him for sending us things that make our lives so much harder.

Such a perspective means we’re not trusting God. Do we think the “fleas” surprised Him, that He didn’t realize that particular room was crawling with them? Do we think He forgot about us or doesn’t care? Do we think He doesn’t hear or answer our prayers or that He’s not strong enough to do so even if he wanted to?

None of those things is true about God. But our lack of thankful hearts when the fleas are raising itchy welts all over our bodies, is a passive aggressive way of questioning God’s sovereignty, love, omniscience, compassion, faithfulness, and omnipotence.

Pretty much we’re saying with our complaints that we’d do it better than God. We’d get those fleas out. In fact, we’d never have let the guards put us in that room in the first place. Or better yet, if we were God, we’d never have been captured and sent to a concentration camp.

And then, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people in many lands, down through the generations, would not have heard about God’s love and forgiveness and power to save. They would not have learned that Jesus is the Victor, and that there is no pit so deep that God is deeper still.

Thankfully God is God, and people have heard the powerful message Corrie delivered after her release.

All because of fleas. Thank God for the fleas!

Ambiguity, Thy Real Name Is Doubt


solid_rock_1751729Clearly I should have written this post before yesterday’s “Ambiguity, Thy Cousin Is Relativism” article, but when I started, I hadn’t realized what all I wanted to say about the topic. The more I think about it, the bigger the subject gets.

Here’s the bottom line: Satan wants to call into question what God has said. He wants us uncertain.

God, on the other hand, wants us to trust what He says. He wants us confident.

That’s why God’s word is compared in Scripture to a rock, why over and over passages in both Old and New Testament say God’s word is sure, tried, and everlasting.

Why, then, do Christians buy into “ambiguity”? Why opt for the sinking sand when a sure foundation is there for the taking?

Here are my best guesses.

* Today’s Christians, though we have access to excellent Bible translations in our own language, are ignorant of much of Scripture. We’ve fallen into the trap of letting the “professionals” do our Bible study for us. So we listen in church and maybe even read a devotion online, but we aren’t digging into Scripture for ourselves.

* We start with false presuppositions. One such idea is that God’s inspiration of Scripture didn’t mean the Bible is actually His Word. Rather, humans wrote it and copied it and interpreted it, so undoubtedly it’s changed over time and isn’t really an accurate reflection today of God’s heart (it has nasty things in it such as God’s wrath and judgment). Of course, that view completely hangs on the idea that God didn’t miraculously transmit His word to us. It requires a small view of God.

A careful study of Scripture uncovers the position which the Church has held down through the centuries—God spoke through His prophets and those to whom He gave His word in the first century, He has preserved and protected it, and His Holy Spirit continues to guide us into all truth. In short, the Bible is a miracle. This view requires an expansive view of God.

God wants us to know Him and chose, therefore, to reveal Himself to us. Otherwise, we could know about Him through what He has made, but we wouldn’t know Him since the finite cannot reach the infinite. Therefore to know God requires His initiative, His miraculous intervention.

* A third possibility is that we’ve heard people yank a verse of Scripture out of context and parade it before the world as “a sure thing,” only to end up disappointed. This kind of treatment of Scripture has happened for centuries, so it’s not new, but perhaps because of our technology, the claims of these charlatan’s or misguided teachers have reached a wider audience. The kinds of promises range from a date set for Christ’s return to miraculous healing to untold wealth to sinless perfection.

When someone believes they’re going to get a new car, like the evangelist tells them, and they trust with all their heart, but no new car comes their way, what do they do with those dashed expectations?

Even promises of a happy life if you remain sexually pure, marry, submit to your husband, might be dashed by a drunk driver plowing into your van on the way to the church retreat. Where’s the happy life now?

The problem isn’t God or His Word; it’s the false expectations created by someone reading a passage of Scripture and not plugging it in with the entire message of the Bible.

Those who have suffered know God is true though all men be liars. That’s right—those who have suffered. Suffering is often the dividing line. Some suffer, then curse God and die, as Job’s wife urged him to do. Others turn their eyes to heaven and ask God to forgive those tormenting them as Stephen did when he was stoned to death.

What’s the difference? Those who suffer and turn to God understand they don’t have to know why and their rescue doesn’t have to be now. They embrace the One who embraces them and allow Him to carry them through the valley of the shadow of death.

Those who shake their fists at God and turn from Him in anger want to rest in their happiness or their stuff or their healthy bodies, not in the arms of Him Who rescues from the dominion of darkness.

They want to walk on water, not because they want to come to Jesus, but because they want those in the boat to admire them for their ability to do what’s remarkable. Relationship? How cliche, they say. God isn’t knowable like that. He’s to be found by looking within and experiencing Him through the mystical meditation of contemplation.

Which is another way of saying, I don’t believe God is actually a person—he’s too other, too out there.

Well, yes, and no. God is Other, but because He is so much more than what we can imagine, He is also simultaneously Imminent. He is out there, but He is also near, even in our hearts. Which does not mean He is some kind of impersonal panentheistic deity.

Rather, He is very personal which we know because He came into the world as a person—a baby who grew to manhood, lived, loved, cried, died. And even in His resurrected body, He demonstrated His personhood—the marks in His body from His suffering, His repeat miracle of multiplying fish for Peter and his crew, the meals He shared, the bread He blessed.

So here’s the fact: if God sent Jesus, and if Jesus rose from the dead, then God is powerful enough to do anything and good enough to trust. Where’s the ambiguity in that? If I need to see the why or understand the wherefore, then God will show that to me. But if not, I still can trust.

And yes, trust can be scary at first. I think it gets easier the longer you go, snugged to the chest of the Good Shepherd who is gathering His sheep.

– – – – –
Photograph by Rudi Winter via Wikimedia

God’s Not Good Enough


ÍndiosIt’s a bizarre statement—God’s not good enough—and yet that’s precisely what some people believe. Before he passed away, atheist Christopher Hitchens said if the Christian God did in fact exist, he would want no part of such a tyrant. Today I read a comment stating we are better off outside Eden [away from God].

Why would anyone hold such an opinion of God? Why would people like the sometimes commenter from a number of years ago, Mike Morrel, say he thought he might be nicer than God? Why would others claiming to be Christians say the God of the Old Testament is murderous?

Last I checked, murder was a sin, as is wielding authority in a cruel way, and not being as “nice” as the creatures He created. So, apparently, God is under indictment while others simply want nothing to do with Him.

And yet, there’s a sizable group who proclaim Humankind’s innocence. God might be a monster and society is seriously messed up, but humans are innocent bystanders who get caught up in the craziness.

That thinking is so flawed, it’s hard for me to grasp. Society is made up of people. The only way society could become messed up is if people are messed up.

And God is perfect—perfectly good, kind, loving, just, omniscient, powerful, merciful, sovereign, infinite, wise, and more.

Humans are imperfect. We all know it about ourselves and about every person we’ve ever met. We make mistakes, get things wrong, forget, become confused, lie. And yet, we think humans see things correctly and God does not?

Especially spiritual things.

So when God says, all have sinned, there is none righteous, humans counter with, “What about the innocent who have never heard?”

Apparently, all have sinned, none are righteous now refers only to people in western culture because we are the people who are privileged. No longer are people groups who kill their enemies and ritualistically eat their bodies considered sinful. They are the innocent who have been deprived of knowledge about the One who can save.

I don’t understand. I truly don’t understand. Romans 2 spells out that those not blessed with the written word of God, the Law, are responsible before Him for the law written on their consciences, so that “all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law” (Rom. 2″12a).

The only way, then, for a person to be considered innocent is for him to live a perfect life. And only one individual in all time has done this.

Yet there’s still this idea that God would be unfair to judge those who have walked away from Him, who live in rebellion to Him, who rape and abuse and worship idols, because they haven’t been given “explicit knowledge” of Jesus, the Messiah.

Does God need to see them spit on Jesus to know they have rejected His Son? No! He is omniscient. Why is it we twenty-first century Christians have such a hard time believing that God actually knows what He’s doing? Or that He’s powerful enough to reach down among the “unreached,” and proclaim the gospel to them?

He found a way to turn the Apostle Paul 180 degrees, from a murderer to an evangelist. He found a way to bring Paul to the people on the island of Malta. He sent Philip to an Ethiopian and created an earthquake that lead to the salvation of a jailer in Thyatira. What can’t God do to bring His gospel to all the world?

We act as His judge. We declare Him unfair, because we don’t know. There might be someone out there who wants to repent, we say, and it would be unfair for God to judge them without giving them a chance to know Him.

So we think God does NOT know whose hearts are His? That somehow His knowledge stops with western civilization?

The two greatest evils in our society are these: we think so little of God and we think so much of ourselves.

But isn’t that really what the prophet Jeremiah said centuries ago (he in a more poetic way, to be sure):

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

When we think we know better than God, we have forsaken Him. When we think what He’s told us in His word is unfair and do a tap dance around it to get to a more user friendly position, we are digging our own leaky wells. We will not come up with the water we need.

The fact is, we are smaller than we think, and God is greater than we imagine.

Language And Thought


talkin-about-revolution-700582-mThe debate is not new: does language shape thought or does thought give rise to language? In some ways, a companion argument exists: does popular culture reflect society or is society shaped by pop culture?

In both, the question seems to be, does giving expression to thoughts influence others to think the same way or does it merely reflect the way people are already thinking?

My answer generally is, yes.

I believe the Bible gives us reason to believe that thought precedes language. Romans 1, for example, makes it clear that before Scripture was written, before prophets prophesied or apostles preached, humankind knew God through creation:

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Rom 1:19-20)

Thought, then, pre-exists language. They saw God’s attributes, eternal power, and divine nature in what He made, not because of what He said. They understood without a verbal lesson.

And yet clearly God values language. Jesus is named the Word; God inspired the writing of Scripture; the Father Himself wrote His commandments in stone; and through His angel, He commissioned those who believe in Jesus to make disciples, baptizing and teaching.

Over and over, Scripture itself verifies the importance and veracity of Scripture. That may seem a little odd until you remember that the all-knowing God is the author. Who is positioned better to make a judgment about His Word? The idea that finite humans can pass judgment on what an infinite God said is laughable.

So from Scripture we learn, for example that God’s word is tried (tested) (Ps. 18) and stands firm (Ps. 119), that it endures forever (Is. 40 and 1 Peter 1), that it is righteous and faithful and upright and pure (Ps. 119), that it gives understanding (Ps. 119).

Here’s the key to understanding God’s Word:

The sum of Your word is truth,
And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.

Taken together, God’s Word is true. Taken one by one, each of His decrees will last forever. The sum and the parts, then, are vital in identifying what God chose to communicate.

There’s another interesting aspect to language, however. Satan introduced lies. From the beginning of this fallen angel’s interaction with humankind, he has called into question God’s truthfulness, proving himself to be the liar.

But Eve fell for his game: Did God really say . . . ? And people today continue to be swayed by Satan’s words–an evidence, then, that language has the ability to persuade. God made His existence evident to people, and yet many have been persuaded away from what they once knew.

The same happens among people claiming the name of Christ but denying His word. Essentially they asked the question, Did God really say . . . ? And many of them have concluded, No, he did not.

Why? Because they have evidence to the contrary? No. They simply have determined in their hearts that “their god” wouldn’t say such a thing or do such a thing. Or they’ve undermined the idea that He actually inspired writers and communicated to us His purpose, work, person, and plan. No, they say, language has no static meaning. What certain words meant two thousand years ago to a people living in a different culture, speaking a different language, can’t possible retain the same meaning for an audience today.

In so saying, God’s power is also called into question. The God who said, with Him all things were possible and proved it by the Incarnation of Jesus, born of a virgin, now, according to those who deny the Bible’s authority, cannot govern language to the degree that what He wrote millennia ago retains its meaning today. So much for an all powerful God.

So here’s the conclusion: thought gives rise to language (God’s thought, communicated to the people He created, first by making us in His image–thinkers who communicate). But language can also shape thought.

Sometimes, for instance, giving voice to ideas, either verbally or in written form, clarifies what a person believes, even to himself. In turn, those thoughts given concrete expression can influence the thinking of others. Isn’t that the general point of communication?

More to say about how praise and thanksgiving fit into this, but I’ll save those thoughts (and words 😉 ) for another time.

Published in: on February 6, 2014 at 7:30 pm  Comments (8)  
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