Faith And The Rock


I am mystified when people who don’t believe in God refer to Christians as people who don’t think. Their argument seems to be, Since God is invisible, you are only imagining anything spiritual or supernatural. You have no proof—by which they mean, scientific evidence—so you simply believe a lie or a myth or something in your imagination.

It doesn’t matter how many times a clear demonstration is offered that “belief” is not blind, those opposed to God insist it is. And yet the Bible says just the opposite.

As one illustration of what the Bible says about faith (I couldn’t possibly enumerate every instance in which we learn more about faith—there are too many), Jesus told a story about a wise man who built his house upon the rock. When the wind and rain buffeted the house, it stood firm. However, another man, a foolish man, built his house upon the sand. The winds came and the rain, and the house fell.

Jesus had prefaced the story by saying that the wise man was the one who heard His words and acted on them. In contrast, everyone who hear His words and doesn’t act on them is like the foolish man.

The point is simple, “belief in Jesus,” the faith that undergirds a Christian, is reliant upon God’s word.

Oh sure, some false teachers have invented “other gospels” and some have twisted Scripture to say what it does not say, but in the end, the one who takes God at His word is building his house on the rock.

Romans spells out what God’s word is which leads to salvation:

the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (10:8b-9)

Pretty simple really. Jesus is Lord, Jesus rose from the dead.

Of course how can we KNOW those things? Romans gives us that piece of information, too.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”

However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (10:14-17; emphasis mine)

Clearly faith is not dreaming up something and hoping, hoping, hoping that it will come true. I could do that. I could imagine a billionaire philanthropist who wants to give away his millions, and he pulls my name out of the hat. He’ll come tomorrow with a check that will make me rich beyond my wildest dreams. Now that is pie-in-the-sky imagination.

Believing in God is nothing like that. To begin with, I don’t tell Him what He’s like. He tells me. I listen, is all. “Faith comes from hearing.”

Another important aspect of faith comes from Hebrews 11—“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (v. 1). Assurance, not guess work; conviction, not irresolution or doubt.

How can a person possibly be sure of what you hope for?

Well, the assurance comes completely from the One in whom you put your trust.

For instance, if I want to know about basketball, I need to listen to someone who knows the sport, someone who has played the sport. I would not ask someone to explain the game whose credentials say he’s seen a game once, played between two elementary teams. “But I know baseball,” he adds. “I was a minor league pitcher for five years. So I can tell you want ever you want to know about basketball.”

Uh, sorry, but basketball and baseball are two different sports. If I want to know basketball, I have to talk to someone who is informed, who knows the game, who can answer my questions. Because I will have questions, undoubtedly. So I need someone to help me who I trust.

Faith is nothing more than taking someone at his word. And for the Christian, that someone is Jesus Christ.

Atheists take scientists at their word all the time. They do not observe space phenomena or record data or run experiences that lead them to believe in a big bang theory of the origin of the universe. Instead, they let someone else study and form opinions and postulate hypotheses, and they simply put their trust in what these individuals conclude.

Here’s the thing that is difficult for me to understand. These scientists, with their list of qualifications and all, admit they are fallible. Atheists admit that science has been wrong and is bound to be wrong again. But regardless, they trust the process, the results (which will be wrong in some unknowable way).

God, on the other hand, is infallible. He isn’t wrong about what He says. And yet His word is suspect and unreliable and can’t be trusted—because it requires faith.

That would be the assurance of things hoped for. The assurance. Why can there be assurance in an unsure world? Only if Someone trustworthy, reliable gives you His word. You know, a word that is rock solid.

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Published in: on November 13, 2017 at 6:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Guilt/Innocence Or Shame/Honor


Just last week, a man here in the LA area who served 32 years in prison was released from custody because of a wrongful conviction. How will this man be perceived in society? The answer to that question can be easily determined by the kind of society from which he comes.

Anthropologists study humankind, including the way culture works. One such scientist, Franz Boas, and his student Ruth Benedict, first identified differences in cultural patterns, claiming that Eastern cultures follow an honor/shame arrangement and Western cultures, a guilt/innocence mode.

Benedict endorsed and popularized what some called “Boasian conceptual kernel” of US anthropology:

Human behavior is patterned. There exist within historically specific populations recurrences in both thought and behavior that are not contingent but structurally conditioned and that are, in turn, structuring.

Those patterns are learned. Recurrences cannot be tied to a natural world within or outside the human body, but rather to constant interaction within specific populations. Structuration occurs through social transmission and symbolic coding with some degree of human consciousness.

If I understand the first point correctly, the idea is that people groups behave and think in identifiably similar ways, because the people have been conditioned to do so. In turn they teach others to also be structured in the same way.

The structure of those in Eastern cultures is based on honor/shame, which largely identifies the way a culture “manages” its citizens. Individuals care a great deal about their standing in the community, so they don’t want to do something that would cost them respect or high standing.

What the community deems deplorable, then, takes presidency over individual desires or beliefs of right and wrong. I assume the community values are also somewhat fluid. If a society softens its position against a certain behavior, presumably an individual would no longer bear shame for engaging in it.

A guilt/innocence society follows a different paradigm. Rather than conforming to the community based on their praise or condemnation, a guilt/innocence outlook is more concerned about the individual’s adherence to law. The idea of innocent until proven guilty emphasizes the difference in the two approaches.

In the shame/honor culture, an accusation brings shame. In a guilt/innocence culture, an accusation needs to be proved.

A third cultural outlook is the fear/power model. Tribal cultures and totalitarian regimes and perhaps gangs operate on the fear of a group and their desire for power to counter it.

The general knowledge about these ways of grouping cultures, has simplified them as Eastern or Western. Little mention is made of fear/power, and Eastern cultures are believed to be shame/honor driven, while Western societies operate according to the guilt/innocence model.

One aspect of cultures adhering to the guilt/innocence model is that they are more concerned with the individual, whereas shame/honor groups care more for the community. As a result, some clear differences have emerged:

Individualistic cultures, primarily located in the West, appeal more to legal notions of right and wrong to govern social behavior. Morality is internalized, so people experience guilt for misdeeds. Guilty persons become innocent when they are forgiven or justice is served. (“Honor and Shame Societies,” the Zwemer Center)

Consequently, the man I mentioned at the outset, who was wrongly convicted of murder, has no shame because he spent half his life in prison. He was innocent.

What I find fascinating about the study of these cultural differences, is that I can see elements of both in the Bible. The Old Testament deals primarily with Hebrew culture, and there is much of the shame/honor culture apparent in the story of the Jewish nation, but at the same time God is the one who departs from the norm and tells the people that a man’s family is no longer to be considered guilty just because the man is guilty. In other words, no more guilt by association. A guilty person was to die for his own crimes, but his sons were to go free.

The New Testament with its teaching about sin and the forgiveness bought by the blood of Christ further built the guilt/innocence culture that took hold in the Greek and Roman societies where Paul ministered.

As I view Christianity, I see the perfect marriage of both shame/honor and guilt/innocence. What I don’t see is fear/power, unless it involves Satan and what he wants to accomplish.

All this to say, I wonder if through globalization and perhaps through the devaluation of Christianity, Western culture is sliding more and more into the shame/honor camp. I mean, all the politically correct approach to life is little more than putting pressure on an individual by the group to get people to conform to a societal norm, regardless of Law.

What’s particularly interesting is that bullying is taboo, but group bullying is the means by which we attempt to put an end to individual bullying.

In this climate, everyone is easily offended, every position expresses hate or abuse, no one is innocent any more as long as they hold beliefs that contradict the “group.” As yet, the “group” is not society at large, but certainly it’s growing in numbers.

As I see it, this kind of shame/honor approach is divorced from reality. Someone who gets away with a crime has no shame because he has not reflected badly on his community. Never mind that he might be hurting the less fortunate. Never mind that he makes his money on the backs of the weak.

The real problem with the shame/honor approach is the loss of the sense of personal sin. In light of the fact that Christianity alone offers mercy and forgiveness, I wonder if the concept of a Savior might be lost if our culture slides more and more toward shame/honor.

Of course, there is great emphasis in the Old Testament about God’s people upholding the honor of His name. One reason that God didn’t do away with the complaining people of Israel after the Exodus was precisely because of what the people around them would think about God. In fact, the point of a nation entering into a covenant relationship with God was to show the other nations the blessings God wanted to shower upon them as well.

Israel as a community was to be God’s ambassador to the world. Today we believers have that role. Individually, but collectively as the Church. We are to love one another in such a way that the world notices.

But we receive forgiveness for sins, not as a collective community, but as individuals, foreknown, predestined, called, justified, glorified by God because we as individuals believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world, that He was raised on the third day, that He is now at God’s right hand interceding for us.

Shame. Guilt. Fear. Jesus Christ dealt with all of it. He is the most cross-cultural person who ever lived. But that is what I’d expect from the Savior of the world. No wonder the gospel penetrates the Amazon jungle and the Russian steppes equally.

False Teaching/False Teachers


offerings to idolsI’ve been thinking a lot about the people of Israel and their propensity to copy the nations around them. God warned them time and time again to refrain from aping their behavior and traditions, particularly their worship of false gods. But the people God had chosen to be His representative among the nations simply didn’t like being “a peculiar people.” They wanted to fit in, to be like everyone else.

I think that same tendency infects the church in America, too. We don’t like being on the outs with our culture. I think our propensity to be accepted, often in the name of “reaching the lost,” leads to or opens us up to false teaching.

Any one who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If any one comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting …
– II John 9, 10 (NASB)

I’m glad the verse mentioned “the teaching of Christ” because surely Christians of various denominations, and even within the same denomination, disagree over doctrine. It would be easy to conclude that this verse means we have a green light to pick the one or two people we find who agree with us on every doctrine and disengage from every other Christian.

That in itself is a false teaching.

Once again, I am mindful that Scripture needs to be taken in its totality. There is not one verse or one principle that can become our focus to the exclusion of others without leading to error.

That being said, I do see an increase of false teaching and false teachers—teaching and teachers that do not comply with the message of Christ, whether uttered by Him directly or explained by the apostles, illustrated by Biblical types, or prophesied by the prophets.

Like, for instance? I’m glad you asked. 😀

  • Universal salvation.
  • Christ said He was the way, the truth, the life and no one comes to the Father except by Him. Throughout Scripture, that message is illustrated—from the Passover Lamb to the serpent lifted up in the wilderness to save those who looked on it, and lots, lots more.

  • God wants all His children to be healthy and wealthy.
  • Christ said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt. 6:24, NASB) Again, the principle is throughout the Bible, the biggest evidence being Christ’s clear teaching that His kingdom is an eternal one. Paul teaches that he has learned to be content in plenty or in want, that contentment with godliness is great gain. Granted, the people of Israel enjoyed conditional physical blessings, but their relationship with God pointed to the Savior. You could think of their journey as a type and the promised blessings the reward we have waiting in Heaven. Or you could think of their conditional physical blessings something unique to the Israelites. But to think of them as a pattern God wants to employ in His dealing with individual Christians is to ignore the New Testament.

  • If a person ever in his lifetime prayed a prayer of repentance, no matter if he returns to the sin and ignores God the rest of his days, he is a Christian.
  • This is nothing but a unique twist on a works gospel, the work being a prayer. People will counter this by saying that, no, it isn’t the prayer, it is the person’s faith that saves him. James says that faith without works is dead, so an unchanged life gives no evidence of the existence of faith. And doing anything doesn’t save us.

  • The Bible plus something else tells us what we need to know about God.
  • This “something else” could be the Book of Mormon, some creed, or tradition passed down through the ages. This is the very center of this topic. As early as John’s writing and also Paul’s these apostles warned about false teachers, people coming in and preaching a “different gospel.” In some cases, it was outward, like Peter not associating with the Gentiles because they weren’t circumcised and didn’t follow Jewish law (actually because he didn’t want to be censored by other Jews who looked down on Gentiles for those reasons). In some cases it was theological like the group claiming the second coming had already occurred. The point is, error comes in when human voices supersede Scripture.

  • Christ is coming back on [fill in the day/time].
  • More typically this distraction with future events has to do with figuring out who the Anti-christ is or when the tribulation will be or whether or not there will be a rapture. Oddly enough, Christ said He Himself didn’t know the day or the hour of His return. Never did He instruct His disciples to figure out these things. Rather, in parables He taught them to be ready—for the bridegroom to come, the landlord to return. Not, study to figure out when you think this will happen, but rather, do what you’re supposed to do while you wait. The only thing we are supposed to study are our times (check out Luke 12:54-57), so we can see … well, false teaching.Battleofthesexes

  • Women should be pastors too/should not be subjugated by the idea that they are to submit to their husbands.
  • The verses in Scripture that make a clear distinction between women’s and men’s roles are thrown on the heap of cultural application with no contemporary equivalent. Or they’re explained away. To fit our culture. In other words, we have to make God see things our way, rather than us seeing things God’s way. His way makes us look misogynist, so our culture tells us. And we care so very much about the opinions of the “learned.”

  • God couldn’t have created the universe(s) in seven days. Just for mankind. Hence we must adapt our beliefs about the origin of things to the science of the day.
  • I’m all for asking questions and I don’t think we should ignore science. But if science says one thing and the Bible says something else, such that the two cannot be resolved, then the Bible must be the authority we cling to. Fortunately, there are several theories that can resolve the differences. We can allow the Bible to interpret science for us, rather than the other way around.

    I’m sure if someone else were compiling this list they’d add other things, and maybe leave some of these off. In no way do I intend this to be an offense. But error is creeping into the Church. Too often we buy our cultural line that the highest value is tolerance. Coupled with the fact that the Bible clearly teaches unity, and we fall silent when someone stands up and preaches a different gospel.

    Perhaps instead we should reason together so that we are clear about the teaching of Christ; then we can stick to that.

    This post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in May 2007.

    Published in: on December 29, 2016 at 6:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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    Why Bells At Christmas


    golden_christmas_bellsI love the trappings of Christmas. I love the light displays, the decorated trees, the candles and stockings hanging off the mantelpiece, I love wreaths and gingerbread cookies (or the idea of them, at least), and I love Christmas carols and candy canes and bells.

    But why bells? How did they make their way into Christmas?

    I’ve not really researched the issue, but I can speculate based on some of the carols we have. When Christmas was primarily a religious holiday, churches undoubtedly rang their bells, whether for a special service or simply in celebration. “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” a carol based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, contains these lines:

    I heard the bells on Christmas Day
    Their old, familiar carols play,

    and wild and sweet
    The words repeat

    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And thought how, as the day had come,
    The belfries of all Christendom

    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song

    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Ah, yes, all those church belfries.

    christmas_bells_in_the_snowIn winter climates, during the horse-and-buggy era, sleighs provided a means of transportation during the Christmas season, and apparently bells were part of the adornment. We learn this from a number of Christmas songs that have become classics: “Silver Bells,” “Winter Wonderland,” and of course, “Jingle Bells”:

    Bells on bobtail ring’
    Making spirits bright
    What fun it is to ride and sing
    A sleighing song tonight!

    Jingle bells, jingle bells,
    Jingle all the way.
    Oh! what fun it is to ride
    In a one-horse open sleigh.

    Then there are the songs like “White Christmas,” and “The Carol of Christmas” that indicate bells were nothing more than instruments of joyful celebration:

    Hark how the bells
    Sweet silver bells
    All seem to say
    Throw cares away

    Christmas is here
    Bringing good cheer
    To young and old
    Meek and the bold
    Ding dong ding
    That is their song
    With joyful ring
    All caroling

    One carol that seems to come closest to capturing all these facets of bells at Christmas is “Ding Dong Merrily On High.” Apparently the music was originally a French dance tune. The lyrics were first published early in the twentieth century. Today we are most familiar with the first verse and the chorus, but here are all three verses:

    Ding dong merrily on high,
    In heav’n the bells are ringing:
    Ding dong! verily the sky
    Is riv’n with angel singing.
    Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

    E’en so here below, below,
    Let steeple bells be swungen,
    And “Io, io, io!”
    By priest and people sungen.
    Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

    Pray you, dutifully prime
    Your matin chime, ye ringers;
    May you beautifully rime
    Your evetime song, ye singers.
    Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

    Clearly in this song the bells are a means of celebration, whether on high or here below, and the note they sound is that of glory accompanying the cry of Hosanna. This is worship.

    Besides all we learn from the holiday music, I can’t help but think of bells as a means to ask for people’s attention. The Salvation Army bell ringers do this. I imagine town criers of old going along the streets, ringing bells and shouting, “Hear ye, hear ye.”

    That use of bells, of course, would fit for the Christian about to proclaim good news—which really is what Christmas is all about. Perhaps, then, bells are one of the most fitting accouterments of Christmas.

    This post, minus the embedded video, is one that first appeared here in December 2012.

    Published in: on December 14, 2016 at 6:09 pm  Comments (4)  
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    By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone


    martin_luther_lucas_cranach_1526I admit, I’ve been spoiled. I’ve grown up with so many great gifts—loving parents and siblings, an opportunity for a sound education, attendance in church from infancy on, a middle class existence that ensured I had three square meals a day and a warm place to live and many changes of clothes in my closet. I had a secure and happy childhood, though we moved many times.

    Part of my growing up included my spiritual education, so I understood early on that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. I understood that I could not do enough good things to make up for the bad. And I understood that no one could help me because they had their own sin problem. No one, except Jesus. His being the only sinless person who ever lived qualified Him to be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world for those who believed.

    So nothing I did or could do would merit me to be acceptable to God. Only Jesus, standing in my place, taking the punishment I deserved, solved my sin issue.

    Because I understood the basics of salvation at an early age, I have never grasped what it would be like to live any other way.

    I’ve heard Jews and Catholics and Greek Orthodox joke in a knowing way about the guilt instilled in them by their religion, or more specifically, by someone who was holding them to a strict adherence to their religion—a parent, a priest, a teacher. I’ve also heard people refer to Christians as bound by guilt.

    Those seem odd to me. I don’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt guilt-driven.

    So I’ve been spoiled because I’ve believed from my youth that I’m forgiven because of God’s grace.

    Christians haven’t always had this understanding. There was a period of time when grace took a back seat to doing good works as the Church defined them. No doubt those who were saved, gained that standing with God because of His grace, but they were perhaps less aware of it.

    All that changed four hundred and ninety-nine years ago when Martin Luther went public with the results of his own doubts, questions, and struggles to understand God. On October 31, 1517, Luther sent a paper he’d written to his bishop: “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This document became known simply as the Ninety-five Theses. Whether Luther ever attached a copy of the document to the door of the church at Wittenberg is a matter of contention, as was the document itself, when it first appeared.

    But from the thoughts, question, and issues Luther looked at, grew the bedrock of Protestantism and a reformation (though more slowly, it would seem) of the Catholic Church. Luther challenged the practice of selling indulgences, by which the priests grew richer because of the desire of the poor to do what they could to insure the salvation of their loved ones.

    Luther contended that salvation depended on God, not on humans:

    The most important [truth of Christianity] for Luther was the doctrine of justification – God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous – by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah.[43] “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.”[44] (see “Theology of Martin Luther,” Wikipedia)

    Luther had much Scripture to support his position, not the least of which is Ephesians 2:8-9—“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

    The work is God’s, Luther proclaimed. A worker giving his copper to the church would not save the soul of his dead brother.

    When I was growing up, I’d never heard about indulgences or even doing something to help a dead person reach heaven. The works I knew about were the kinds of things people did to make themselves acceptable to God. And these works included good things: going to church, reading the Bible, giving money to the poor, going on a short term mission trip, and so on. Good things.

    But just like Paul’s list of good Jewish things recorded in Philippians, this Christian list of good things amounts to rubbish if its considered the means to a relationship with God. Paul’s birth status, circumcision, religious affiliation, and even his personal righteousness, were nothing in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3).

    Essentially Martin Luther discovered and proclaimed what Paul had learned through his own quest. The two men were similar. They both wanted to please God, and they both went about it by trying to be good enough for Him based on the good things they did. Both eventually realized that there weren’t enough good things in the entire earth to make them good enough, but that God had given right standing with Him as a free gift through Christ Jesus.

    That’s grace.

    Nothing earned here.

    A free gift.

    Undeserved.

    I know that rankles American minds—perhaps the minds of others, too. But here we have two competing philosophies—an independent, “earn your own way” mentality and an entitlement, “you deserve it” belief. God’s free gift is an affront to both of those positions. We humans don’t get to take credit for salvation, no matter how you look at it. We didn’t earn it, and we aren’t so wonderful that it ought to have been handed to us based on our incredible merit.

    Luther did the hard work of sussing out from Scripture this truth, and I’m incredibly grateful.

    Thanks be to God for His free gift of salvation, and thanks be to Him for teaching this truth to Martin Luther so that he could make it widely known.

    Love That Tells The Truth


    U_Wash_Quad__04Years ago when I was in college, a friend of mine was up for election. They posted the results on the window of the dining commons when I was in line for dinner. Inside, my friend sat at a table watching those of us on the outside cluster around to see the results. My friend didn’t win, and I made the fatal decision to go in and tell her. The problem was, she thought I was kidding. I mean, who in their right mind would go up to their friend and say, Sorry but you lost. I had to say it with some vehemence because she really thought I was yanking her chain.

    I thought at the time I would have been better off to pretend I didn’t see her. At least that way I wouldn’t have been the bearer of bad news. “Don’t shoot the messenger” has become a cliché for a reason. People are apt to turn on the one who tells the sad tale even though they had no hand in creating the event that caused the sadness.

    It’s awkward to tell the truth when you know what you say is unpleasant or hurtful. Telling the truth can put a relationship in jeopardy.

    What’s more, we live in a society that is confused about the truth. The relativistic principle now ruling the majority of Millennials, says truth is whatever you want it to be. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, watch this short video.

    These college students seem to be intelligent, yet they are unwilling to stand up and tell someone the truth—no, you’re not 6’5″, you’re not Asian, you’re not a woman, you’re not seven.

    The truth is, the DMV will not go along with a ten year old claiming she’s eighteen. Movie theaters aren’t going to let a thirteen year old into an R-rated film, voting registrants still need to be over eighteen as do those who volunteer for the military. States still have a legal age for someone to drink—twenty-one in most places.

    As to height, no NBA team will look at a 5’9″ man as a potential center for their team just because he is 7’1″ on the inside. Amusement rides aren’t going to change height requirements for young children just because they feel as if they are as tall as their daddy.

    In other words, facts remain facts, and the truth matters. Those who love, tell the truth.

    It is not loving to let someone think one way, only for them to discover that what they had believed, was not true. It is not loving to let someone turn onto a street in front of a bus simply because they thought the way was clear: “Well, I didn’t want to offend her by telling her she needed to stop.” What friend would say that?

    Apparently a good number, because young people who are doing themselves harm are regularly allowed to do so by their friends. The excuse so often is, She’ll never speak to me again if I tell her to stop drinking, stop taking drugs, stop sleeping around, stop wasting so much time watching TV, or whatever the unhealthy behavior might be. We are more concerned that we keep status than that we tell the truth.

    That fact extends to the truth about our spiritual condition.

    I know there’s a bit of a fine line. No one likes to be bossed around or made to feel like a little kid who can’t get it together. People often push back against those who tell them the truth: Who are you to tell me what to do? Look at your own life. You don’t have it all together.

    Which is why it is important that we who tell the truth, first tell the truth about ourselves.

    So here’s the truth that the Millennials need to hear, that Gen-X needs to hear, that the Me Generation needs to hear, that the Greatest Generation, that the latest generation (yet to be named) needs to hear: I am a sinner. I fall short of God’s standard of holiness. And so do you. We all fall short. We are not all winners in God’s eyes. We are lost children who have run away from home. That’s who we are.

    And it is the most loving thing I can do to tell this truth far and wide. If someone doesn’t know he’s a sinner, why would he want to be saved? If someone doesn’t know he’s far from home, why would he want to return to the loving arms of his father?

    I can say until I’m blue in the face that God loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you. But if you don’t believe you are in jeopardy, that statement sounds like nonsense. Why would someone die for me? I’m doing just fine, thank you very much.

    At some point, if people are to believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life, they must realize they are lost, can’t figure out what is true, and are destined to die.

    Christians should love in a way that is countercultural. But that love should be more than feeding the homeless, planting churches among the urban poor, translating the Bible into a tribal language, or giving shoes to poor children. True love also must say the hard things: if you continue in sin, you’ll separate yourself from God for eternity. Going your own way is sin. You need to repent, turn back, and accept God as your Lord—as do we all. I simply love you too much not to tell you the truth.

    Published in: on April 26, 2016 at 6:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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    God’s Kingdom?


    voting boothsI believe Christians should be responsible and vote. I believe, if possible, Christians should vote for Christians who are qualified for the office they want to hold. But if all went well, and a Christian managed to become President, if many Christians took office in Congress, the US would not become God’s kingdom, or God’s democracy.

    Jesus made it very clear to Pilate just before He was sent to the cross: His kingdom is not of this world. It simply isn’t—not then and not now.

    So why make a big thing about the presidential primaries and voting and politics and government? Shouldn’t we just hunker down and wait for the coming kingdom, and not trouble ourselves about the earthly one we live in?

    No! God gave us a job to do, and honestly, it’s easier to make disciples of those at home and those abroad if we’re operating in a democratic society with strong Christian values. So it’s right to do our part to create such a place.

    It’s right as long as we remember what we’re working for.

    First, what we are not working for: we are not working to make this country heaven on earth. It can’t happen and it won’t happen; if we’re working for that, we’re working in vain. We’re also not working so that we can have a nicer home than everybody else (and keep all Those Other People out!!) That kind of selfishness is not something consistent with God’s call on the Christian.

    We aren’t working for a place that will put few temptations in front of us and give us many rewards, as nice as both those would be. Temptation is something Jesus faced, so there is no avoiding it here on earth. And rewards or blessings come to those who suffer as much as to those who live in prosperity.

    So what should we be working for?

      * freedom of religion so that we can continue to worship God openly and preach the word of God without restriction.
      * life. God created. Our times are in His hands. He condemns murder and makes no exceptions: don’t murder, unless the person you kill is really, really young. Our leaders have a lot of influence in creating a culture of life or not.
      * to preserve the Constitution that declares our rights to be endowed upon us by our Creator. We have slid ever closer to dictatorship. We can vote for those who will uphold the rule of law or who will ignore it in favor of their own way of achieving their own ends.

    It reminds me eerily of the choice Adam faced back in the Garden: to do things God’s way, or to do what he wanted to do? Law or desire? God’s way or Man’s way?

    That list includes good things, but they will not create God’s kingdom here on earth. His kingdom will only come when Jesus Christ returns and takes the throne.

    Until then, Christians are to be on the alert, to be prepared, to work and serve with that day in mind. We are to invest our time and our talent and our money in the things of God. We are to love Him in a sold-out way. We are to love other Christians and our neighbors and our enemies.

    The best way to show love is not by giving people stuff to use here and now. That’s a common fallacy lots of people proclaim. We have this idea that we must feed the hungry and clothe the poor, and then when they ask why we’re doing it, we can tell them about the love of God.

    Well, the problem is, that’s not what the Bible says. Yes, we are to give to the needy, but what’s with the “waiting until they ask” business? The Bible says, Make disciples. It doesn’t say, Make disciples when they ask why you’re being so nice or sacrificial or helpful or whatever it might be. There should be an unashamed proclamation of the gospel.

    Look at Peter and John in Acts 3, when the lame beggar approached them for a handout:

    But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” (v 6)

    What Peter offered was more than a handout, more than giving him money to feed and clothe himself. No, I’m not saying we should start healing people. I’m saying we should boldly give what we have, which is the gospel.

    As a result of this miracle, Peter and John were arrested, not once but twice. They were threatened both times, and then eventually they were flogged. Their answer? Shouldn’t we be doing what God tells us rather than what people tell us?

    And what was it God had told them? To preach the truth:

    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 3:19-20)

    What was it that they had heard and seen?

    The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.

    “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. Acts 3:13-21)

    The kingdom is not now, but we Christians have kingdom work to do. Part of our responsibility is to keep the gospel light burning—hopefully in a free society that allows us to reach out to people in other places. But if God, who is in charge of rulers and authorities, sees fit to change the freedoms we now enjoy, we’ll be tasked to work in a rocky field with greater obstacles. But work we must.

    In what kind of an environment may be determined by our next election.

    Published in: on February 29, 2016 at 5:51 pm  Comments (3)  
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    The Unprofessional Prophet


    The book of Amos in the Old Testament is one of the smaller prophecies. Hence, Amos is considered a minor prophet. In truth, he wasn’t a prophet at all.

    Amos was a farmer. He grew figs and herded sheep, and yet he ended up delivering some scathing prophecy to Israel. At one point the priest for the idol Israel set up at Bethel tried to kick him out of the city, claiming that he was conspiring against the king and saying he should take his prophecies to Judah.

    With an open invitation to hightail it to safe territory, Amos stood his ground. He wasn’t a professional prophet. The king didn’t have him on retainer and no one had hired him to do freelance prophecies a la Balaam. Rather, God took him from his day job and said, Go, prophesy. So that’s what he did.

    I love his unwavering obedience. I also love his amateur status. It reminds me that God essentially takes believers in Jesus Christ out of our day jobs and tells us to go make disciples. That appointment is for fig growers and doctors and electricians and social workers and teachers and carpenters and writers. And yes, for some professional preachers and missionaries and evangelists, too.

    The other thing I’m mindful of is that Amos was commissioned to deliver bad news—Israel was to be judged and they were destined for exile. The Christian, however, gets to deliver good news—the way of escape from judgment, new life in Christ, and the hope of an eternal, heavenly home.

    Amos didn’t mince words. He got right to it, telling Israel that God loathed their arrogance, that those most at risk were the ones comfortably rich who closed their eyes to the need for repentance. They cheated the poor, accepted bribes, and hated reproof.

    To Amos’s credit, he interceded for Israel and twice God relented of the judgment He had disclosed to Amos through a vision. But the third time, He said, enough.

    Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer.” (Amos 8:2b)

    Still, Amos went to the people and pleaded with them to repent.

    Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
    And thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you,
    Just as you have said!
    Hate evil, love good,
    And establish justice in the gate!
    Perhaps the LORD God of hosts
    May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-15)

    They did not, and judgment came. But perhaps the harshest part was the famine God proclaimed:

    “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD,
    “When I will send a famine on the land,
    Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,
    But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.
    People will stagger from sea to sea
    And from the north even to the east;
    They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD,
    But they will not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12)

    That passage reminds me of Romans 1 where God says He gives man over to his sin because he rejects God, choosing instead to worship the creature instead of the Creator (vv 24 ff).

    It’s not a happy picture, but that’s the one Amos the unprofessional prophet was assigned to deliver.

    How much better is our assignment today! The unprofessional Christian gets to say, Guess what? The One you rejected is the One who loves you and who died to redeem you from your sins, if you will but believe.

    I’d say we have the better part, so I wonder why it seems so hard to tell the good news.

    This post, with some minor edits, first appeared here in May 2012.

    Published in: on April 16, 2015 at 6:08 pm  Comments (9)  
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    When Christ Shall Come


    sunburst-in-cloudy-sky-1395122-mI realized when I was writing posts about inclusivism some weeks ago that the position of the Christian today is not so different from that of the Old Testament saints. They waited for the coming of Messiah and we wait for the return of Messiah.

    They had God’s promises, given to His prophets, assuring them that their Redeemer King and that their Suffering Servant would come. We have God’s sure written word telling us of the arrival of our Suffering Servant Savior and the promise of His return as King eternal.

    So we wait today, much as Daniel and Micah and Joel did.

    The cool thing is, as the people of Israel looked back to how God rescued them from Egypt, we now look back to how Christ rescued us from sin and death. They looked forward to Messiah coming to establish His kingdom, and we look forward to His coming again in power and glory to reign supreme.

    One of the best loved hymns, certainly of the twentieth century, “How Great Thou Art,” captures the jubilation of Christ’s return in the fourth stanza.

    When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
    And take me home—what joy shall fill my heart!
    Then I shall bow in humble adoration
    And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art!

    I wonder if Christ’s return will be similar to the really big earthquakes which you hear at the same time you feel them. Maybe those shouts of acclimation will rend the heavens as we see Christ with His entourage of angels.

    As an aside, this particular hymn, was written by Stuart K. Hine, an English missionary to Ukraine. From time to time something would occur which inspired him to write another stanza. Here’s the story behind the third stanza:

    It was typical of the Hines to inquire as to the existence of any Christians in the villages they visited. In one case, they found out that the only Christians that their host knew about were a man named Dmitri and his wife Lyudmila. Dmitri’s wife knew how to read — evidently a fairly rare thing at that time and in that place. She taught herself how to read because a Russian soldier had left a Bible behind several years earlier, and she started slowly learning by reading that Bible. When the Hines arrived in the village and approached Dmitri’s house, they heard a strange and wonderful sound: Dmitri’s wife was reading from the gospel of John about the crucifixion of Christ to a houseful of guests, and those visitors were in the very act of repenting. In Ukraine (as I know first hand!), this act of repenting is done very much out loud. So the Hines heard people calling out to God, saying how unbelievable it was that Christ would die for their own sins, and praising Him for His love and mercy. They just couldn’t barge in and disrupt this obvious work of the Holy Spirit, so they stayed outside and listened. Stuart wrote down the phrases he heard the Repenters use, and (even though this was all in Russian), it became the third verse that we know today: “And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.” (“How Great Thou Art”)

    But back to Christ’s return, of course we don’t know the day or hour, but we do know a few things about it. For one, He’ll come to rule. That’s the great and ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and the New Testament promise.

    But there’s more:

    Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might,
    With His arm ruling for Him.
    Behold, His reward is with Him
    And His recompense before Him. (Isaiah 40:10)

    He’s coming to give His reward. Hard to imagine what that will be like. Jesus used the analogy of a banquet. David also talked about our Shepherd preparing a table for us. The idea here is lavish abundance, provision beyond our means. This is fare fit for the King of Kings, yet He seats us at His table.

    Without a doubt, Christ’s return is going to be the pivotal moment in all of history. Again from Isaiah 40:

    Let every valley be lifted up,
    And every mountain and hill be made low;
    And let the rough ground become a plain,
    And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
    Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
    And all flesh will see it together;
    For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

    The event will be worldwide, it will be dramatic, even cataclysmic, but mostly it will reveal God’s glory. This is the Shekinah glory which Moses experienced in a secondary way at the giving of the Ten Commandments and which the people of Israel experienced as a pillar of fire at night. This is the glory Paul likely saw and wrote of in 2 Corinthians that outshines what those in the Old Testament experienced:

    But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. (3:7-11, emphasis added)

    OK, here’s the real shock, at least to me. I don’t know what this will look like:

    When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Col. 3:4)

    It just dawned on me that this may be why God wants to involve us in His work. I’ve wondered why He bothers giving us fallible, weak humans the important task of preaching His word and proclaiming His truth and even of loving our neighbor when obviously God could miraculously care for each one in a far better way than we can. But repeatedly He has given us work to do. Maybe that’s because, in His love for us, He wants to shower us in glory. What a concept! What a God!

    Maranatha, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!

    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.