Who Is Jesus?


I recently heard a speaker recount a situation in which a young adult was asked, Who is Jesus? The responder started some nebulous answer, then stalled out altogether. Simply, he didn’t have a clear answer. Was Jesus a religious figure, the founder of some new religion? Was He a good teacher who pointed people to a more loving way to live? Maybe He was nothing more than a cute baby that came into the world a long time ago so we could all have Christmas.

Just exactly who is Jesus? It’s an important question and one each person needs to be able to answer. Of course there are the answers skeptics give—a fairly unimportant first century Jewish rabbi whose followers turned into a cult figure people started to worship. Something along that line. It’s hard to deny that he did in fact live, though some atheists go so far as to ignore Biblical and extra-Biblical evidence to the contrary.

The people of His day actually struggle with the question, too. Who is this man? Some said He was a prophet, maybe Elijah. Herod wondered if He was John the Baptist come back to life. More than one person, though, thought He just might be the Messiah, the Christ of God.

After all, the Jews had been waiting and looking for this Promised King. They believed the Messiah would free them from pagan rule. The current pagan rule was Rome, though the Jews had been conquered and enslaved by various other nations. But at the time that Jesus came on the scene, it was the Romans they hoped He would defeat.

But to be honest, “they” didn’t all hope Jesus was the Messiah. In fact the contemporary Jewish leaders contended with Him at every turn. At one point they accused Him of doing miracles by the power of Satan. Ultimately they became so jealous of His following and so fearful they would lose their own positions of authority, they conspired to have Him killed. At that point, they actually didn’t care if He was the Messiah. Maybe they had even stopped believing that God would send a Messiah.

Certainly when Jesus was executed, when He hung on the cross, dying, I’d venture to guess that close to 100% of the people stopped believing that this Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, was God’s Messiah. I mean, how could you have a dead Messiah? How could He save anybody if He was dead?

What they all missed, even Jesus’s followers, was that the very act of dying was the means God chose for their salvation.

In many ways, it’s more surprising that the Jews missed it because their whole history was littered with sacrifice: Passover lambs for the life of the first born in every family; sacrifices for the sins of the people; scapegoats for the sins of the nation; a ram caught in a thicket as a substitute for Isaac. All through Jewish history, sacrifices to save. But along comes Jesus who dies, and they miss who He is, what He’s doing.

Actually, one of those hated Roman soldiers understood better. As Jesus asked God to forgive the men who were killing Him, or perhaps when the earth shook or the sky went dark in the middle of the afternoon, this centurion figured out that Jesus was not just a run-of-the-mill guy. “Surely, this was the Son of God,” he concluded.

What did he know about God? About His Son? Had he been in Jerusalem when Jesus caused the lame man to walk? Did he hear the rumors about Lazarus coming back to life? Or about Jesus multiplying a few loaves of bread and a couple fish so that He could feed 5000 people? We don’t know. But this Roman “pagan” was convinced, as Jesus breathed His last, that this Man was indeed the Son of God.

But that brings us back to the point that had the Jews stumped: how could Jesus save anybody if He was dead? Besides what we can see more clearly in hindsight—that Jesus in fact saved by dying—it was a realistic question. I mean, the Messiah was to be a king, to reign forever. So a dead man wouldn’t qualify, would he?

That part they got right.

Which is why Jesus didn’t stay dead.

As believers all over the world will joyously announce this coming Easter Sunday, He is risen. He is risen indeed! Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ of God, His very Son is risen and alive and will one day return to take His rightful throne.

Published in: on April 2, 2021 at 2:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Take Courage. Fear Not.


I’ve discovered in the last ten years or so just how relevant the various books of prophecy are. Some of them seem as if they could have been written about contemporary America. So I was not surprised when I came upon a verse that speaks to many in today’s climate of . . . worry.

I don’t know how else to say it, but there are small businesses that have had to close their doors; people who have lost their jobs; others who are worried about finding the paper products they need, when they need them; people who are concerned about getting sick or wearing masks or getting a vaccine or not getting a vaccine.

Isaiah comes along in chapter 35 and says

Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.
Say to those with anxious heart,
“Take courage, fear not. (vv 3-4a)

Interestingly, the passage starts out by announcing a reason for nature to be glad and to rejoice: “They will see the glory of the LORD/The majesty of our God.”

Essentially Isaiah is describing how things will be when Messiah comes again. He will set things right—bring His vengeance on those who deserve vengeance, save those who trust in Him, provide a “Highway of Holiness” to the redeemed, to enable gladness and joy to the ransomed of the LORD, to chase away sorrow and sighing.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it a relief, refreshing, to hear good news. Not only that, this passage reinforces the fact that God is in control, even when circumstances seem so far from what we imagined or hoped for.

For instance, I grew up in the era which taught that the US is a melting pot. We all have one thing in common: we have come from somewhere else, whether recently or in the distant past, and we have come together, blending our identities into Americans. It’s a wonderful ideal.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would see the day when students are taught “Critical Race Theory,” such that they had to identify which racial, religious, economic, gender, sexual preference oppressed group they belonged to. Those who could not, were part of the oppressors. In other words, these ideas are Marxist and they are the antithesis of the American ideal based on the creed that all people are created equal.

That idea is clearly one embedded in the Bible. God loves the whole world, for instance, and promised a blessing through Abraham for all the world. Paul specifically said all the divisions of ethnicity, gender, economics melted away at the foot of the cross. In the Church, made up of those who are reconciled to God through the sacrifice, the payment for sin, which Jesus provided, there are no distinctions.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:21-24–emphasis mine)

So in the face of the many difficulties in 2020, our hope does not lie in a change in the calendar. I know a lot of people are talking about how they can’t wait to be done with 2020, as if the covid virus will disappear at midnight New Year’s Eve. Or jobs will suddenly come back and restaurants will miraculously open or racial tension will vanish or any number of other problems this year has uncovered, will suddenly be solved.

The change of calendar is not the answer, but the knowledge that Jesus, our Savior, will indeed come to reign as our King eternal, heaping gladness and joy on our heads and driving sorrow and sighing away, gives us a reason to take courage, to fear not.

God will handle the problems. He will set things right. It’s in the bank, a done deal. And we have His word on it.

In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:17-18)

So now we can ask—are we in the company of those who have taken refuge in the promise of God? If so, Scripture gives us strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. Which means we can take courage. We can fear not.

Published in: on December 29, 2020 at 5:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Solution Is Not Political


The US has been pulled in two this year by all the rancor and accusations and rushing to judgment and anarchists and rioters. And then came the first Presidential debate.

Nothing could have demonstrated how divided we are more than those 90 minutes. At the same time, nothing could have demonstrated so clearly that what the US needs is not a political solution. It’s spiritual.

Pointing fingers and claiming that this person lied or said or did or didn’t do this or that doesn’t actually solve anything. It doesn’t bring clarity to the issues. It doesn’t actually answer the questions because those who agree with President Trump will believe him and those who agree with the former Vice President, will believe him.

This should surprise no Christian.

I understand, Christians like so many other Americans love their country, and it is hard to see people steadily dismantle what it has stood for all these years, to actually hate it and accuse those who are their neighbors and co-workers of hate.

I know this is old school, but all through my history and sociology courses, the clear ideal for which America stood was a place where all peoples from anywhere could find freedom and the pursuit of happiness. We though of ourselves during those years as a “melting pot,” a place where various peoples all became one—Americans.

No one hid from us the failings of our country—of slavery and the scar it left, of the Japanese interment camps during WWII, of the hatred Germans endured at that same time. But no one hid the great accomplishments of “people of color,” either.

I could spend a lot of time elaborating, but that’s not the point here. Rather, despite the wonderful ideal and the good instruction that certainly did play a part in forming the attitudes of many of us, we are far more divided now than we ever were. Ever.

In other words, the public policy, the political solutions, the social engineering have not brought peace and harmony to our land. In fact, they’ve hardly moved the needle.

The fact is, each and every one of us needs to bow the knee to the Sovereign Lord God Almighty.

Interestingly the Bible has a lot to say about harmony and unity, most addressing believers. “To sum up, all of you, be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit, not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead.” (1 Peter 3:8-9, I believe).

Of course the Apostle Paul called the church in Philippi (and us right along with them) to have the same attitude Jesus had. To regard others as more important than ourselves.

Do you think we would have racial or political division if we were doing what Scripture calls us to do?

But people who don’t follow Jesus likely won’t ever get there. For one, they don’t recognize the Bible as an authority, and two they don’t have any motive to do what Jesus did. Christians have that motive: “But you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also died for you leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” (also in 1 Peter 3).

So the real need is not to try and make people with no motive do what Christ taught and did, nor is it to try and fashion a government after His principles that is void of the heart of what He said.

Christ came to preach good news—release for the captives, the forgiveness of sins. He didn’t come to set up an earthly kingdom. Various people groups have tried to do this before—the Puritans in England, the Calvinists in Geneva, and perhaps that’s what the Pilgrims wanted when they came to America. I know here the Amish have tried for the same idea.

It doesn’t work. Some might think the Amish have been successful, but that’s because they don’t know about the church splits over the use of a hook and eye instead of a button or zippers instead of either. Or about the Amish that excommunicate others for having a telephone or any number of other legalistic trivia. No, the Amish community is not an example of a successful earthly group that lives in harmony.

The only such group is the Church, and we aren’t setting up an earthly place to gather or to rule. That’s part of our heavenly inheritance. But what I’ve noticed is this: since God calls us brothers and sisters, there is an instant affinity, Christian with Christian. So if I’m talking to a Kenyan I’ve only just met or if I’m sitting on a small stool in the hut of a poor Guatemalan or I’m sitting at a sushi meal in Tokyo, there is a rapport, a recognition, that we are family.

The family of Christ supersedes earthly cultures or nations or ethnicities. When I sat in a church in Harlem and sang with an all black congregation, I was with my brothers and sisters. That’s the unity that can transform a nation.

I know a lot of Christians are familiar with a part of this verse:

[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Too many people are only interested in these parts, when they pray, I will heal their land.

First God spoke these words to Israel, and He was referring to the Promised Land. I don’t think there’s any evidence that the US is a Promised Land replacement.

But more importantly, the verse says if we call on God’s name, if we humble ourselves, if we pray, if we seek His face, if we turn from our wicked ways . . . then God will hear and forgive and heal.

So where is a national turning to God? Israel had the temple and the Mosaic Law and kings anointed by God’s prophet as David was, and still needed God to explain to them that they had to be ready and willing to turn back to Him. Their God established nation and political system was not enough.

Certainly, certainly we must see that it’s also not what we need today either. We need repentant hearts and a turning to God. That’s what we should be preaching.

Photo by Craig Adderley from Pexels

Published in: on September 30, 2020 at 5:13 pm  Comments (5)  
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What’s Behind Mistaken Beliefs


Jesus was pretty clear about the reasons for the very religious Jews of His day getting their theology off the track of truth.

In the days leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion, both Pharisees and Sadducees worked overtime to trip Jesus up. He faced question after question that was designed to paint Him into a corner, either with the Romans or with the Jews.

While Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, the Pharisees had brought up a point of Law—Mosaic Law. I suspect this was their “gray area” question, bound to get one group or another upset, no matter how Jesus answered.

Using flawless logic, coupled with knowledge of Scripture Jesus squelched their plan. The question: is it right to divorce? After all, Moses made provision for it in the Law.

Jesus’s answer: Sure he did because of the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning, that was not God’s plan. He then laid out one of His, “But I say to you” statements as He did in the Sermon on the Mount: “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. (Matt. 19:9)” In other words, he breaks God’s Law.

When He reached Jerusalem, the questions continued: Where did you get your authority? Did they have in mind Jesus’s “But I say to you” statements? Or did this question refer to Jesus taking it on Himself to kick all the money changers out of the temple? No matter which motivated them, the question was another way of asking, Who do you think you are? Because clearly Jesus was taking authority the Chief Priests and the scribes had not taken.

Jesus sidestepped that authority question. In fact, He answered with a counter trap: Where did John get his authority. They wouldn’t answer, so Jesus declined to give their question an answer.

Then came the question designed to get Him in trouble with Rome: should we pay taxes to Caesar? Here Jesus again used impeccable logic: since Caesar’s picture was on every coin, the money belonged to him, but then give to God the things that belong to Him.

Rome certainly couldn’t accuse Him of rebellion from that answer. And the Jews couldn’t accuse Him of turning His back on God.

Pivoting from trying to catch Jesus saying something against Rome, the Pharisees gave way to the Sadducees. These guys didn’t believe in the supernatural. Not sure what they actually thought about God, but they denied the existence of angels and didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead.

In answer to these false teachers, Jesus gave the answer that fits all false teachers, down through time. His statement was really simple. Basic even. But profound. Of course He went on to apply His answer to their specific question about marriage in heaven, but here’s the principle:

But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God (Matt. 22:29).”

Their false ideas, the very foundation of their sect and what they taught, developed because they did not understand Scripture, and because they did not understand the power of God.

I can think of any number of cults that have gone astray for one or both of those reasons. They don’t understand what the Bible says about Jesus. So Mormons think He was a created being who worked his way up until he became a god, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t think He was God at all.

Other people don’t understand the power of God, so they deny that He created the world out of nothing by the words He spoke. They deny the miracles of Scripture. No worldwide flood, no path through the Red Sea, no walking on water, or stopping a storm with His word, no healing of the lame and blind, no resurrection from the dead. Those things couldn’t happen, they say, because look around you: they don’t happen.

Ah, but you are mistaken because you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God.

What a load of dung, they may answer in return. Your Bible is full of errors and no one knows what the originals actually said.

Well, that’s not true, but at the heart of your statement, you are mistaken because you do not understand the power of God. The Word God inspired, He can also preserve and protect. Many facts support the idea the Bible we have today, even in various translations, has been preserved and does faithfully reflect what God said about who He is, what His plan for and His work in the world is.

So yes, people who don’t understand the Scriptures or who deny the power of God, are going to get swallowed up by false teaching of one kind or the other.

Easter Isn’t A One Day Event


I know stating that Easter isn’t a one day event will be self-evident to some and nonsense to others. I guess it goes back to what a person believes Easter commemorates. There are some, of course, who think it marks the cycle of life and the coming of spring after the cold winter. Others think it’s about candy and the Easter bunny. Some think it’s a call to attend church for the year, to get a spiritual boost.

A smaller number of people think Easter celebrates the day Jesus rose from the dead. Those people might have some question, along with the others, about this idea of Easter being something other than one day that marks a notable happening.

But Easter is much more. True, there was a moment in time when a group of mourning ladies made their way to a Judean tomb with the intention of adding spices to the body of the man they had hoped was the Messiah of God. What they discovered was an empty tomb and a angel saying they shouldn’t be looking for the living among the dead.

And there it is. Easter marks the fact that Jesus lives. He didn’t just come out of the tomb on that first day of the week, then die again. He, in fact, conquered the grave—defeated it, gained total victory over it. Death could not, would never, touch Jesus again.

What He accomplished as a sinless sacrifice for the world God loves, was not a one-day exploit. He didn’t die as the Passover lambs did. His sacrifice was complete—the once-for-all kind, the just for the unjust. And His resurrection was the first fruits of God’s harvest. Just as Jesus came out of the grave with a new body that will not die—a new body that was remarkably familiar because it bore the scares of His crucifixion and allowed Him to eat at will, but also one that was remarkably different because He could pass through doors and disappear in a blink—so too, those who believe on His name will one day receive our glorified bodies.

So that first Easter was the start of Jesus’s life after death. While we are to remember Jesus’s sacrifice by taking communion—the bread to remember His body, broken for sinners; the wine to remember His blood shed to cleanse us from all sin—Jesus most definitely did not stay dead.

There’s an old church tradition among Christians on Easter. When someone says, He is risen, the congregation, or even individuals, respond, He is risen indeed. I like that affirmation, but I think a more accurate response would be, You got that right! He is alive and lives inside me!

Because, that’s the capper. Not only did Jesus get that new, glorified body, He has put His Spirit inside each one of His followers. That’s why one of the irrefutable evidences of the resurrection is the host of believers who have new life because Jesus Himself imparted His life to us.

It really is a thought TOO BIG. How can one man’s sacrifice cover the sins of all who believe? How can He live in me here in SoCal and also live in the lives of precious fellow believers living in Sri Lanka? Or Ukraine. Or Morocco? Or Tanzania. Or Peru. Or Alaska. Or South Korea.

Jesus lives and lives in the hearts of believers because . . . God. It’s really that simple. God can do the impossible. He is smarter, more capable, wiser, more powerful, unstoppable, irrepressible, more noble, truthful, good than we can ever imagine. What CAN’T He do?

So it was His good pleasure to find an answer to the problem of sin by taking on the sin of the world, paying the penalty for that sin, and then declaring from the cross, It is finished. The sacrifice was done, His new life, however, was days away from beginning.

And that’s what Easter is. Not a one day event but the celebration of Jesus alive—present as friend of sinners, as Living Water infusing His people, as the soon and coming King we await.

Published in: on April 13, 2020 at 5:01 pm  Comments (4)  
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Accused, Betrayed, Denied, Forsaken


With all the Coronavirus news, it’s easy to forget that this is passion week—the time between our celebration of Palm Sunday and Easter. How much more do we need to focus on Easter this year than we normally do! Not the Easter bunnies or egg hunts or chocolate goodies. Not even attending church because that isn’t going to happen.

In truth, people kind of have a choice: ignore Easter or celebrate it as the day to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. You probably know which one I’m planning to do.

But instead of “re-inventing the wheel,” I’m going to republish an article that has appeared here before. I think it digs into the heart of the reason Christians celebrate Easter.

During Passion Week, we Christians commemorate the great sacrifice Jesus made for us, giving His own life in order that we might experience newness of life, freedom from sin, reconciliation with God. But our focus often centers on Christ’s physical suffering. In looking at the events surrounding His crucifixion, however, it becomes apparent that He suffered in every way humanly possible.

First, His suffering had a social component. One of His twelve chosen followers into whom He poured His life, betrayed Him to His enemies. One of His inner circle, who knew Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God, who saw Him transfigured, denied Him. All His followers abandoned Him, literally leaving Him for dead. Jesus could not have been more alone.

His suffering was also intellectual. Jesus identified Himself as the Truth, yet He endured false accusations. People twisted His words, claiming He said things He didn’t say. His very purpose for coming to earth was misrepresented and misunderstood. He was also subject to an illegal trial which unfolded in six phases. He was questioned and denounced by Herod when He gave no answer, condemned by the High Priest when He did answer, and ignored by Pilate when He offered him the Truth.

Jesus suffered emotionally, too. The Roman soldiers made fun of His position as King of the Jews. As Pastor Chuck Swindoll taught, those godless men who hated the Jews presented Him with three things that marked a king: a robe, a scepter, and a crown. The crown was made of thorns, the scepter was a reed, and the robe, identified in Matthew as a chlamys, was a short robe covering the shoulders and ending at the elbows such as military men wore. He was naked from the waist down.

In addition, as He hung on the cross, onlookers and even for a time both thieves dying with Him, taunted Him. Somewhere nearby soldiers gambled for the few possessions He owned—His clothes. And ultimately, He had to put His mother into the care of someone else.

I believe the worst suffering of all, however, was what He went through spiritually. Jesus Himself gave voice to what He was experiencing:

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” (Matt. 27:46)

Jesus, Who existed with God and also was God, somehow experienced forsakenness by God. He was, after all, becoming sin for us. And Holy God has no part with sin.

Yes, the pain and suffering Jesus went through, being whipped and nailed to a beam, hung above the earth for hours until He died from the wracking effects on His body—this was physical torture few of us can imagine. Yet His sacrifice extended beyond that one part of who Jesus was. It encompassed His total person. He give Himself completely to be consumed by the Consuming Fire of God’s wrath.

And as He died, He said the most wonderful words possible: “It is finished.”

The burden of sin paid for, the certificate of debt canceled.

How can we not love a Savior such as Jesus!

Apart from the introduction, this post is a lightly edited reprint of one that first appeared here in March 2013.

Published in: on April 8, 2020 at 4:34 pm  Comments Off on Accused, Betrayed, Denied, Forsaken  
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How Not To Repent; Or, The Houston Astros Scandal


If you follow sports at all, you probably know that the Houston Astros were caught cheating. Back in 2017, when they “won” the World Series, they were stealing the signs catchers gave to their pitchers by using a center field camera. They then used a low tech method of communicating to their hitters what pitch was going to be thrown. Major league players have uniformly said that the biggest advantage a hitter can have is if he knows what pitch is coming.

Punishment was handed out by the commissioner of Major League Baseball, and managers and front office execs got fired. Then this week, as spring training is starting, the Astros players and their owner issued what they said were apologies. Except those short little speeches sounded as if they belonged in a Reeses Pieces commercial: “Not sorry.”

Rather, the sentiment seemed to be, yes, we got caught doing something the rules said we weren’t supposed to do, but it didn’t really help us and we won the World Series because we were just such a great team.

At one point the owner said, the cheating “didn’t really give them an advantage.” Then in the same interview he tried to backtrack and say it was an advantage but one that didn’t really help them.

Mostly, the most outspoken guys seemed to be saying, Sorry we got caught. A few others said, Sorry I didn’t do something to stop it.

I think that last is probably the best. There’s at least an admission of responsibility.

The other guys? Not so much. There was a lot of circular arguing, maintaining that they actually did win the big prize though they did cheat all year long. But, you see, they were quick to say, they could only cheat during their home games. When they were on the road, they didn’t have the benefit of their center field camera.

Players and fans from other teams are pretty mad. The Dodgers lost to the Astros in the World Series that year, and they feel cheated out of a championship. Of course the Yankees lost to them in the conference final, and they believe they should have been in the World Series, not the Astros.

Some players are talking about pitchers throwing at Astros hitters, and pretty much everyone is expecting fans to boo them mercilessly when they are the visiting team.

The baseball commissioner just wants the whole mess to go away, but it won’t. Why? Because the Astros issued their sorry-not sorry apologies. They will still display the trophy and they have the 2017 banner flying in their home park.

It’s a sad scandal for baseball to endure, and it’s not over. There is an investigation about cheating involving another team which was managed the following year by a former Astros bench coach. The thought is, he took the method of cheating with him to his new team. Nothing proven so far, but he is one of the guys who lost his job.

All this to say, repentance is a lot more than “saying sorry.” This applies to anyone and everyone who is faced with the ways he has ignored, disobeyed, rejected God and His Son, Jesus. Some people say, Sorry, and then go about trying to make amends. Of course nothing good going forward can change the past. The curses and insults and hateful actions don’t go away.

The only way to “say sorry” and to make it all go away when we’re talking about ways we have offended God, is by actual, real repentance. Not the Astros, Sorry we got caught, brand of repentance.

I’ve heard more than once that the word from which repentance comes has the connotation of turning around. In other words, of doing a 180° change. Instead of ignoring God, then we embrace a relationship with Him.

This is only possible because God has made it possible. First, His plan for us “from the foundation of the world” is to experience His mercy and forgiveness, bought and paid for by His own dear Son, Jesus. Without Jesus as our merciful and faithful High Priest, we’d be left with the scars of our anger or disobedience or blasphemy. Those things kind of have a way of hurting a relationship, not healing it.

Ask the Astros as this season unfolds. Are their relationships with the other teams and their fans, healed because they issued their “apologies”? Not by a long shot. Fans don’t see that justice has been done. There can’t be restoration, some kind of peace, when the scar of their cheating remains.

That’s just on a small scale compared to the way we have offended God. Every one of us. To say “Sorry” isn’t enough. Someone has to pay. And Someone did. Jesus paid, but Scripture talks about “receiving the reconciliation.” It also talks about the free gift of God’s grace. But like any gift, it must be accepted. That takes the 180° turn-around, where we acknowledge that we deserve what Jesus received—a criminal’s death.

It seems to me that there are people who attach themselves to Christ, who are actually in the sorry-not sorry camp. Those Other People are wicked, but we don’t do what they do. We don’t really have anything heinous enough to be sorry about. We certainly don’t deserve death.

Except, Scripture is very clear on this point”

“There is none righteous, not even one.
There is none who understands.
There is none who seeks for God…
There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Rom. 3:10-12, 18)

And

“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23)

We’re all in the camp of those deserving death, and in need of reconciliation. Which God said will take place for everyone who believes what Jesus did for them.

The Bible calls it a free gift, and that seems to bother some people. They want to earn forgiveness by doing all the right things. But none of our “right things” can undo the wrong. There needs to be just payment. And that’s what we have from Jesus. He “canceled our certificate of debt.” He’s the only One able to do that.

Christians, then, are people who own up to who we are, admit we need the free gift which is available in Jesus. And we enjoy the restored relationship with God, which this free gift provides. That’s called repentance and reconciliation.

Published in: on February 19, 2020 at 5:04 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Character Of God


What’s God like?

Many people shape God in the image they want for Him. They’ll tell you what a good buddy He is or what a kindly grandpa He seems to be.

On the other hand, some will accuse Him of being cruel and spiteful and selfish and wicked.

So how do we know the truth?

Well, we couldn’t know anything about God unless He made Himself known. But that’s exactly what He’s done. First He showed Himself in and through what He made. Second, He showed Himself in what He told us about Himself—through prophets, within the pages of Scripture. Third, and finally, He showed us Himself by taking human form and becoming like one of us. Except He lived His life in a way that none of us have been able to do. He was without sin. Then, to top things off, He demonstrated His power as God by His resurrection from the dead.

In many respects you could say God bent over backwards to let us know what He’s like. He makes things very clear in Romans 1: look at creation and you can see what God is like.

But Hebrews 1 spells out the other two means by which He made Himself known: through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, and finally through His Son.

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. (v. 3a)

Clearly, God wants us to know Him.

So, what’s He like?

I made a list of things we can know about God just by looking at the world. Here’s the short version, which certainly is not exhaustive:

1) Even single cell organisms contain complex parts. Complexity requires a complex designer.

2) The existence of language, including DNA coding. Suggests a communicating originator.

3) Genetic code, a “set of rules.” Laws of nature exist. Mathematics exists. Requires an ordered Source.

4) Human ability to recognize and appreciate beauty. Suggests a Creator who has an aesthetic sense.

5) Coherence in the big philosophical issues such as What is truth? Why are we here? Where did we come from? What is our destiny? Science gives no meaning to life and no explanation for why we even ask these questions. God gives meaning and significance.

6) Morality. Humans have a sense of right and wrong. Fair and unfair. Truth and falsehood. Requires a moral designer.

7) Evil. How could humans know evil if good does not exist? The world is not neutral and not homogenous. God explains this, not science.

8) Worship. The nearly universal sense that there is a spiritual force or forces at work in the world. Far from “no god” being the default position history bears out that “there is a god” is the default position. The question then becomes who is he and does he matter?

9) Joy. C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy explained this far better than I ever could. The idea is that at times something seems so perfect—so beautiful, moving, uplifting, peaceful, “right”—that we simply want to capture it and stay in that moment for always. He identifies this as “joy.” But in fact the sense of perfection is fleeting. Nevertheless, it shows us that there is something more. And if we experience the taste of more, it’s likely we were made for more, God being that “more.”

10) Eyesight. If eyesight were a product of evolution, a sightless creature would have had to simultaneously evolve by growing eyes and by developing the brain function that would translate the light into something meaningful. Belief in a designer is far more plausible.

11) Hearing. Same with ears and the development of brain function that translates vibration into sound.

Of course we know much more about God from what He told us about Himself. He is holy, righteous, good. He is love and merciful and kind. He is also jealous and just and Judge. And yes, the Bible—the New Testament, even—speaks of His wrath.

We also know His ways and thoughts are not the same as our ways and thoughts, that He is “intimately acquainted” with us, to the point that He knows what we’re going to say before we say it. He has no beginning and no end. And He is the Source of all that’s in the universe. He made it and upholds—or maintains—it.

Just naming things that are true about God may not really tell us what He’s like. He knew that. So He came in bodily form and lived among us, so we could see Him in action. We could see His compassion, His power, His wisdom, His love, His holiness. Even His confrontation with evil as He declared the lying Pharisees to be like their father the devil.

I guess you could say, God is more complex than we often allow Him to be—in our minds. I know atheists who hate God. I know Christians who only see Him with a halo hovering over His head. Of course God is wrapped in holiness and love, but those traits do not negate the rest of who He is. Accepting God as He reveals Himself is the most meaningful way of entering into a relationship with Him. We can “re-image” Him into what we think He should be, or we can accept who He says He is, even when we don’t understand how He can be so complex.

I mean, it really starts with the idea that God is One, in three manifestations. Not three persons. He is not three Gods. He is One. And He is Three.

Not such an easy thing to comprehend. So why do we think the other things God reveals about Himself will be easy? They aren’t, but the more I learn of Him, the more I love Him.

Published in: on February 17, 2020 at 5:08 pm  Comments (11)  
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Assassination


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on February 12, 2020 at 4:45 pm  Comments Off on Assassination  
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The Wages Of Sin Is Death


What a topic for a post leading up to Christmas! I mean, this is the season for Good News and peace and God’s good will toward humankind.

All true.

The angel who announced Jesus’s birth to a collection of shepherds said this precisely. Good news for all people. Today, in the city of David, a Savior, for you. And then a host—a legion, a battalion, a company of angels joined him. I’m reminded of the legion of angels Jesus said He could ask the Father for if He wanted. (Actually, twelve legions: “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” Matt. 26:53)

Well, at Jesus’s birth at least one legion was there standing before the shepherds saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14, KJV)

But who needs peace? Or God’s good will? Or a Savior, for that matter? Only those at war, who are in hostilities, who are unable to save themselves.

I know a lot of people think that what the angels said was wishful thinking: If only we wish hard enough or try hard enough, we can bring peace on earth. The good will part seems sort of nebulous. I mean, is there a god? Does he involve himself in the affairs of mankind? Does he give a rip?

Actually, Christmas—Jesus coming to earth—proves that God is, that He very much involves Himself in the affairs of humans, and that He gives much more than a rip about us.

But the peace, the good will, the salvation may not be what we expect. We’re looking for a better life, or perhaps a wonderful life. We want the good things, the best life now. In other words, it’s all about our happiness, our comfort, our ease, our fulfillment.

For many Americans, things are already going in the right direction. We don’t have any insurmountable problems. We’re already pretty comfortable, with the hope that we can keep making things better if we keep doing the right things.

On the other hand, there are people who have already given up. They are hopelessly mired in addiction or relationship disaster or financial ruin. They’ve lost their kids to the courts, they’ve been in and out of prison. Maybe back in again. They live in their car, but most likely, on the streets. They have no hope for a job that will help them turn things around. And peace? Good will? Salvation? Those seem like pie in the sky. Things for other people, because clearly, they aren’t having any of it.

What Jesus offers has to do with our relationship to God.

So many, many people miss Christmas. We’re not looking for peace with God or good will from Him or even salvation. But that’s because we’re confused, maybe blinded, to our real situation.

Our real problem is sin. It’s not anything else. Sure, there may be symptoms of the fundamental condition of our hearts, but a lot of people mask them. They say they’re fine. Why would they need a savior? They are healthy and happy and prosperous. Let the people who need the crutch of religion go on about a savior.

But they can’t see the gulf that sin creates between them and God. They can’t see how sin makes them God’s enemies. They don’t realize or don’t care that God requires payment for their sin.

What sin, some ask. I even had an atheist tell me she hadn’t broken any of the Ten Commandments. Never mind that she did not keep the first one, the second one, the third one, or the fourth:

‘You shall have no other gods before Me . . .
‘You shall not make for yourself an idol . . .
‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain . . .
‘Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy . . .’

This reminds me of the young man who approached Jesus and asked what he had to do to be saved. All the things from the Ten Commandments that Jesus named, he said he’d done. Then Jesus asked him to give up his idol, which happened to be his wealth. The guy left, downcast.

He thought he was good. He was blind to the fact that he actually had a huge need.

That’s so many of us today. We look at our physical situation and make an assessment as to how we’re doing: pretty good, some say. On the right track. Or, things couldn’t be better. But some may say, hopeless. I’m so far gone, nothing and no one can get me on the right track, if they even wanted to help.

In the end, we will never be able to receive the message of the angels that night Jesus was born. He is the Savior, because He acquits us of the punishment we rightful deserve. He frees us from the Law, from guilt, from the clutches of sin, from the eternal punishment that awaits. He provides the means to peace with God.

What will end the hostilities between sinners and a holy God? Jesus. And no one, nothing, else.

As far as good will is concerned, God’s good will toward us was demonstrated in His Son taking on flesh so that He could be like us—all but the sin part. He, the King of all, left His throne, submitted to a life as an ordinary human—except for the sin part. Then He died to pay the penalty of the sin that we are responsible for.

Now that is good will!

An end of hostilities, God’s good will poured out on us, His Son serving as Savior of the world. That’s what Christmas is about.

But honestly? We’ll miss it if we don’t recognize our own personal condition, in need of the things God offers.

Published in: on December 16, 2019 at 5:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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