Saying No To Free Gifts



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When I was a kid, we had a mother cat that delivered six or seven beautiful kittens. We couldn’t keep them, of course, so we put an ad in the newspaper for free kittens. No one came to claim one.

The same thing sometimes happens today. Authors, from time to time, offer free things—perhaps a free ebook or a short story that someone can download for free. Some even hold drawings in which a winner will receive some cool prize.

So, why doesn’t everyone who hears about these freebies, grab the opportunity to order or download or enter?

I’ve thought of several possibilities:

1. They already have whatever is being offered and don’t think they need another.
2. They don’t want to take the time to order or download or fill out an entry form.
3. They don’t want to give the required information.
4. They don’t think the give away will be as good as it sounds or that they have a chance of winning.
5. They see so many give-aways, they are numb to them and barely notice them.
6. They don’t want the thing that’s offered.

As you might have guessed, this post isn’t about promotional giveaways. Actually there is a clear parallel between those who decide to say no to an author’s giveaway, and those who say no to God’s great giveaway: the free gift of salvation, offered on the basis of His grace through faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son.

The first reason seems to me to be common. Those who say no to God’s free gift of salvation don’t think they need salvation. Maybe they think they’re good enough or that God is such a good guy he’ll overlook their reprehensible thoughts and behavior. After all, there are so many who are worse. You know, murderers and the like, people who nobody wants to hang with for eternity. As long as they’re not as bad as those guys, then maybe they can get by without forgiveness.

Another possibility is that they think they can do enough to earn their own salvation. Maybe they ascribe to the “I don’t take charity” motto. Or maybe they think they shouldn’t need salvation and are too proud to let everyone know they actually do.

Secondly, I suspect there’s a good number who say no to God’s free gift because they’re too busy to pay attention to His offer. They don’t want to slow down to find out what exactly they would have to do and how their lives would change if they said yes. They might even promise themselves “someday,” thinking they’ll give it more thought later.

Undoubtedly there are some in a third camp—they wouldn’t mind a free gift if the price weren’t so high. You know, if there weren’t strings attached. Sure, it’s free, but there’s personal information they have to disclose—sins they have to confess, truths they have to believe. Getting to a place where they are willing to be so personal is asking too much, in their book.

Fourth, it’s possible some say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t think it’s real. They think He doesn’t exist, or that He isn’t good. Some few might think their lives have been so unutterably evil that God couldn’t possibly extend salvation to them; it just can’t be true.

A fifth reason for saying no to God is that there are so many offers on the table, each saying this about God or that or the other. He’s interested in making you healthy and wealthy, he hates gays, he will bring everyone into heaven eventually, he is one with the universe—in us all and all of us in him–and so on. Who knows if the story about Jesus dying in their place to pay for their sins, is reliable and true? There are just so many other possibilities.

Lastly, there are undoubtedly some who say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t want to see Him showing up in their house, at their place of business, at their parties, or any of the other places they hang out. Salvation, frankly, isn’t appealing because God is attached to the gift. They don’t want “such a tyrant” bossing them around.

Amazing, isn’t it? Something so valuable, so necessary, so life-changing, and yet person after person refuses the free gift. They have their reasons, after all.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This article is based in large part, on one that appeared here with this same title in September, 2012.

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Published in: on August 23, 2019 at 5:12 pm  Comments (15)  
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Belief In What?


This question, belief in what, might not be one that other people ask. Maybe it’s obvious to them, but not to me, at least not when I first thought about the question. It came up again today as I looked at a passage in James. His explanation in the second part of chapter 2 is that Christians must have some action that gives life to their faith. At one point he says, “The demons also believe and shudder.” Believe in what?

Well, his previous statement was this: “You believe in God, you do well.” So the demons, apparently, “believe in God.” And that causes them to react in fear, not in faith. So “believing in God” is not enough. Saying, I believe God exists. Is not enough. I believe that God is the supreme authority in the universe—that He is One—is not enough.

So, what are we to believe?

I want to say, We are to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, because believing in Him sets apart Christians from other “faith communities.” In other words, from other people who believe something, but not that Jesus is Lord.

But what about Abraham and all the other saints of the Old Testament? Abraham is particularly easy to discuss because both the Old and the New Testaments say, And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. He believed God.

But what about God did He believe? In the Old Testament context when the statement was first made about Abraham (Genesis 15:6), God had just promised him that he would have as many descendants as the stars of the sky, that he would possess the land upon which he stood. Then Abraham believed in the LORD. Abraham went from calling on God to believing in the LORD. I mean, he’d left his home back in Ur because God told him to do so, back when he was calling upon God.

Now, however, these years later, his belief is counted as righteousness. What did he believe? Not that God existed. He’d believed that before. But now he believed the promise of God, the word of God. He believed that God was telling him the truth, even though he clearly would not live to see all the things happen that God said would happen. He didn’t need to see God keep His promises. He believed He would.

God’s promises, essentially, can be boiled down to one: the coming of His Son, Jesus. No, He didn’t explain it all to Abraham. But He set in motion the coming of Jesus, born of a descendant of David, who was one of those many descendants of Abraham, which God promised.

So, believe in what? I guess I’d say, I believe in what God says, what He’s promised.

It’s really the fact that Adam did NOT believe in what God said that got him in trouble back in the Garden of Eden. God’s word is the thing Satan has attacked from that time until now. Further more, the enemy of our souls wants to bring God’s word in question at every turn. Has God really said ______. Fill in the blank. He even brought that same tactic to Jesus when he tempted Him. “If You are the Son of God. . .,” “If You are the Son of God . . .,” he repeatedly threw at Jesus. If You are the Word, he could just as easily have said, because that’s precisely what John told us about Jesus.

Hebrews reinforces this. God spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets, but in these last days has spoken to us in His Son. (See Heb. 1:1-2). We can essentially put in an equal sign: God’s Word=Jesus, God’s Word.

He is the promise Abraham believed. He is the promise we must believe today.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Rom. 1:16)

The gospel. The Good News the angels told the shepherds on the day of Christ’s birth. The Good News “which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son” (Rom. 1:2b-3a).

Believing God, believing in God, is taking God at His word that He would and did send His Son. John said it plainly in his first letter:

The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. (1 John 5:10-12)

Published in: on August 22, 2019 at 5:39 pm  Comments (14)  
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Sunday “Christians”


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Sunday Christians may not be Christians. Only God knows. A couple of the pastors I listen to on the radio when I’m doing dishes or the like, repeatedly challenge their congregation—and by extension, those of us listening to the broadcast—to examine our hearts to see if we are of the faith, because it’s too, too easy to sit Sunday after Sunday in a church service and not actually be saved.

But how is that possible? someone may ask.

One way is to sit under the instruction of false teachers who “tickle our ears.” Of course, no one forces us to choose false teachers. This is something we do because we like it that way: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, (2 Tim. 4:3)

In other words, these false teachers are giving people what they want to hear, but it’s not the gospel.

Another way people calling themselves Christians may not actually be Christians, is if they see their “religious activity” as their ticket to heaven. In other words, going to church is just one activity on a list that they can check off and add to the “good deeds” side of the ledger. In their mistaken way of thinking, as long as the good outweighs the bad, they can bank on heaven for their future home. It’s sort of like depositing money in your savings account so when it comes time to buy a new house, you have a sufficient down payment.

Sadly, for these folk, salvation doesn’t work that way.

There’s a third category, and of course, there well may be Christians in this group. Only God knows their hearts. These are people who come to church, listen, say they believe, and then go away and live their lives as if they are just like everyone else. In other words, their Christianity does not inform their daily lives—what they say, how they work, what they do on their free time—none of it.

Some actually think this is a good thing. The more they can blend in with society, the better they think it is. They don’t want to look too radical, too focused on “just Christianity.” They want the empirical data to govern their every-day lives and the Bible to govern their spiritual lives—never the twain should meet.

What I don’t see or understand is how this approach fits in with the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He told us that we who would follow Him should take up our crosses daily. We are to die to self, and we are to live for Christ. This approach requires a total reordering of our lives, our priorities, our purposes. Can a person be a Christian without such a renewed approach to life?

Maybe. God only knows. I mean, none of us enters the Christian life as fully formed, mature believers with all the right priorities. We talk about growing in our faith because we do need to develop from little seedlings into more sturdy plants, on our way to fully developed trees that will withstand the storms of life. We simply don’t start there once we acknowledge our need for a Savior and turn to Jesus for our redemption.

The point is, can a person be saved and still look like pretty much everyone else? Maybe. Maybe the Holy Spirit hasn’t convicted them about things others see in their lives. They might think there’s nothing wrong with porn, for example, because the world tells them nothing is wrong with porn. But at some point the Holy Spirit will convict a true believer and they will deal with that sin in their lives.

We all face this sort of roller coaster experience in our Christian lives. We repent and then find ourselves needing to repent all over again. To repent means to turn from, but our turning too often seems like a U-turn. We can’t seem to continue on the path of righteousness that God would have us walk. We want to. We pray to. And we see our baby steps taking us along the way more and more, but not all at once. Never all at once.

So who’s to say that another person is a believer or not?

Of course if they say they’re not, they’ve answered the question for us. If they think they are, but are sitting under false teaching, that’s pretty easy to see they have deluded themselves. Same with those who think doing religious duty is the same as following Christ.

Truly, becoming a Christian requires us to declare who Jesus is, what He’s done, why we need Him.

Who is He? Jesus is God’s Son who died for the world, to pay they penalty for our sins which we have no way of paying for on ourselves. He is Lord—not only in a future sense when every knee will bow to Him, but now, in my heart.

What has He done? He’s stepped in to do what we could not do for ourselves. He’s become the Mediator between God and humanity. He’s made it possible for humans to see God and to know Him and to enter into a relationship with Him.

Why do I need Him? Because I’m a sinner and have no way to reach God on my own. I’m mired in the world system, entangled by my own evil desires. I need Jesus to rescue me from the “dominion of darkness.”

In the end, I don’t want to go my own way any more. But sometimes I do. I wish it weren’t true, but that’s the reality Paul described in Romans 7—“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (v. 19).

So, do Sunday Christians exist or are they all pretend Christians who don’t exhibit a sold-out lifestyle? I have no doubt that some are saved and some are not. God knows who’s who. My responsibility is to examine my own life, to lay it before God, and ask Him where He wants me to grow in order to become conformed to the image of His Son. I really have no way of doing that for anyone else.

Published in: on June 11, 2019 at 5:41 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Inexplicable Sacrifice


With Easter behind us and Christmas too far away to think about yet, it is nevertheless appropriate for us to consider Jesus. After all, He didn’t come to earth to look all cute and cuddly in a manger, or to have icons constructed of Him hanging on a cross. He came to earth for one primary purpose: to give His life as a ransom for us all.

Many years ago, when I taught missionary children in Guatemala, we sang a chorus each day before our prayer for the noon meal. One I learned from those kids came to mind some time ago:

For there is one God and one Mediator
Between God and man.
For there is one God and one Mediator,
The Ma-a-a-an, Christ Jesus,
Who gave Himself, a ransom for us all,
Who gave Himself, a ransom for us all,
Who gave Himself, a ransom for us all,
Oh, what a wonderful Sa-a-vior!

The thing is, that chorus is straight from Scripture:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Tim. 2:3-6)

So I began to think about this “giving Himself” in conjunction with John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (emphasis mine). God gave the person He loved most to redeem dying sinners. But because in Christ all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form, God was just as surely giving Himself for our ransom.

The idea then came clear—Jesus, the Mediator, the bridge between God and man—is the bridge to Himself. I know this bothers some atheists but in actuality, it is the ultimate picture of God stooping to reach humans—we who are incapable of reaching God because our sin created a separation.

Jesus, however, had no sin. He, being God, has perfect access to God. He being man could die the substitutionary death His justice as God required.

I did mention that this sacrifice is inexplicable, didn’t I? 😉 I mean, really. He’s the sacrifice He Himself required?

Why not simply do away with the requirement?

That’s basically saying, why not make green, red? Calling sin, not sin, doesn’t change the fact that sin is antithetical to God. God’s character doesn’t give any quarter to sin. He is just and holy. To pardon sin, with no penalty paid would be mercy without justice.

I suppose most of us would like mercy instead of justice, as long as God offered that to us and not to rapists or murderers … or even to the guy at work who is constantly taking advantage of others. Him, we’d like to see God give justice to, not mercy.

In truth, we don’t want criminals getting away with harming others and we don’t want selfish people getting away with using people. We long for a just world. Why else would there be protest movements such as the Occupy Wall Street movement of some years back. Those protestors lived in a land of great plenty and generous people, yet they didn’t think it’s fair for some to get rich at the expense of the many.

Over a hundred years ago, anti-trust laws were passed in the US for the same reason. Railroads held the exclusive means by which ranchers could get their cattle to market, and they took full advantage of their monopoly to get rich and richer. Other businesses did likewise, and the people cried for justice. Not to God, but to the government.

The truth is, the government—any government, led by whatever ruler—isn’t able to provide perfect justice. Only God can, but that doesn’t bring us comfort because the severity of sin means I too must face His justice—if it weren’t for His great kindness and mercy that led Him to stoop, to bridge the gap, to mediate, to ransom, to give His Son, to give Himself.

But in truth, He did come. He did give his life as a ransom for us all! How great is our God! Oh, what a wonderful Savior!

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here under this same title in November, 2011.

The Extent Of The Mercy Of God


Lots of people underestimate the severity of sin. In turn that propensity turns into a similar response to the mercy of God: we underestimate it also!

One of the things that makes God’s mercy so great is that He covers all our sins, not just the socially acceptable ones. So He can forgive gossip, and He can forgive mass murder.

I know some people don’t think that’s fair.

I think this idea of “not fair” comes from a) not grasping the fact that all sin, any sin is open rebellion against God, and therefore a major problem. No sin is minor. No sin is not serious.

But “not fair” also comes from b) believing we are capable of covering over, at least in part, our own sin. That we can earn most of our way to heaven and only need God’s help with that last little part. People who aren’t as good might need a little more of his help, and I might actually need him to give me a boost at the beginning, or to set the foundation for forgiveness, but after that, I can take over.

Both those ideas miss completely what is truly happening.

Instead of committing minor infractions, all of us have made ourselves rebels. We are spiritual terrorists. We would usurp the King’s rule if we could, and install ourselves in His place. That’s the truth about a).

The truth about b) is that we have a bomb vest locked around our waist, and we simply cannot take it off on our own. We can pretty it up, make it look like a special accessory, but that doesn’t make it less deadly. We can hang out with the bomb squad, but that doesn’t get that killer-vest off. We can run as far from all the major population centers in our state in order to minimize the damage to others, but we’re still going to blow ourselves up if we don’t let Someone who is able, disarm the monster we are wearing.

Our merciful God comes to us, takes the vest from us, and throws Himself over top, taking the blast Himself. For us. In our place. To protect us. And to protect all the people we would harm.

It’s the most selfless act anyone could ever do—to die in someone else’s place. But God in Christ died, not for a buddy who He was fighting with. He died for a terrorist who wanted to sit on His throne and to rule in His stead. He died for the enemy.

Paul spells it out in a clear way in Romans:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (5:6-10)

What does that say about God’s mercy? First that it’s limitless. He doesn’t have a cut-off line where any who commit too many sins or ones that are too horrible, are no longer able to obtain forgiveness.

He also extends His mercy to the most undeserving: not to friends or people who like Him or who are on His side. We may fool ourselves into thinking we are one of those, but the truth is, as long as we refuse Him kingship in our lives, we are His enemies.

Then too, God’s mercy does what we cannot do for ourselves. Paul says it this way in Titus:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. (3:4-6)

Our glitzy resume of good deeds doesn’t change the fact that in our hearts we are terrorists until we accept God’s love and kindness which will do for us what we so desperately need: to be freed from the burden of sin and of guilt strapped around us.

When we take God at His word, when we believe what He says, then this truth becomes our reality: “[Christ] Himself likewise also partook of [flesh and blood], that through death He might rendered powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” (Heb. 2:14b-15)

God’s mercy is not only vast, not only available to the undeserving (which is all of us), but it is deeply personal. He sent Christ to the earth because He loves the whole world, but not in a generic way.

Jesus showed us that. His mercy is for the woman with five husbands he encountered at the well, for the cheating tax collector, for the Jewish leader bent on capturing Christians and dragging them to trial. He came for the prostitute and the leper and the children even His own followers tried to shoo away. He came for the thief who hung on a cross next to His at Golgotha. Jesus may have fed crowds, but He didn’t give mass absolution. He dealt with people one on one. As He does today.

It’s part of God’s mercy. He sees us. He knows us. He cares for us, as individuals, with personal needs and questions and even doubts. Ask Thomas.

Published in: on May 14, 2019 at 5:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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Does God Really Love?


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Atheists accuse God of being hateful. “Progressive Christians” claim the Bible simply isn’t an authority or true because it has all those stories about God bringing judgment down on people . . . and they died. Others say God’s not the problem: His followers are the hateful ones because they preach hell and sin; in contrast Jesus “hung out with sinners.”

The last position implies that Christians who believe all the Bible aren’t actually following Christ. They’d say, I suppose, that God is loving, but somehow He failed to communicate to His followers what love was supposed to look like.

The whole idea is another way of rejecting Jesus.

God could not have been more clear: [I] love the world so much [I] sent my Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Nothing tricky there. Just God telling us straight out that He loves all of us. That His love caused Him to make a monumental sacrifice, one that Jesus (being God) voluntarily carried out by stepping into time and space, living on earth away from His heavenly home, and dying unjustly in order that we who believe might live.

There’s more.

From the beginning God loved. He loved Adam so much He didn’t leave him alone. He created Eve. He loved the two of them so much He warned them away from the one tree that would bring them death.

When Adam willfully ate from the tree anyway, God didn’t stop loving them. He set in motion the way of escape by giving a promise or a prophecy, whichever way you prefer to look at it: Death was now a fact of life, but one day, the Son of Man would crush death.

History unfolded with God giving pictures of this rescue that He planned, for all who believed: Isaac, rescued by a substitute lamb; Israel freed from slavery; Daniel, delivered from the lions; Jonah, given a second chance to obey God. So many more.

God also sent prophets who warned of sin, even as God Himself had done for Adam. Besides the warnings, these prophets told of the coming redemption. For all who believed.

At the right time, God sent His Son as that One to rescue those who believe from the dominion of darkness.

God’s work in the world has always been about love.

That’s one reason He refers to the Church—those of us from every tongue and nation and ethnicity who believe in Jesus—as the bride of Christ. Because clearly, bridegrooms love their brides.

If God didn’t love, He more than likely would have let us wallow in the mess of our own making. Those who turn their backs on Him often do. So do those who pretend to know Him but actually don’t. They say they’re his, but they act from their own evil desires. These could be people in the church or outside the church. Jesus made it clear that one day they will come to Him and He will tell them He never knew them. He said that some would come to the wedding feast too late or not properly dressed. They simply won’t be ready.

But doesn’t love make accommodation for those who aren’t ready? Sure. By warning them to get ready. That’s what God has asked His followers to do. We’re the ones He put in charge of getting the word out that anyone who wants to attend the wedding feast has to get ready.

“Getting ready,” He also makes clear, is something He has provided for as a free gift we simply accept by faith.

Pretty easy, right? We who follow Jesus just have to tell people they have a free gift waiting at the will-call window. They just need to pick it up.

“Yeah, but that’s out of my way,” some may say. Or, “I don’t think I need the gift.” Some might say, “I need to go to this other party first,” or “I can’t show up looking like this; they’d never give me the gift if I didn’t first dress up a little.”

Of course there’s the crowd that says, “Faith! Faith? You’re talking about wishful thinking because we all know, if it’s too good to be true, it’s probably not true. A free gift of love? No. Accepted on faith? Hahahah!! You’re not going to find me falling for that one. Show me this banquet and this bridegroom first and them I might consider showing up at the will-call window. But probably not. Because anything can be fake news or photo-shopped.”

All the while, God is patiently waiting with arms outstretched, holes in the palm of His hands, to bring us to the feast He has prepared for us, out of His love.

Published in: on May 8, 2019 at 5:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Evils Of Idolatry


Most of us in the western world are unaccustomed to the idea of worshiping a statue. I mean the Psalms and the prophets pretty much put an end to the idea that carving a figure out of wood or precious metal and then praying to it, was a good thing.

Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.
They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
They have eyes, but they cannot see;
They have ears, but they cannot hear;
They have noses, but they cannot smell;
They have hands, but they cannot feel;
They have feet, but they cannot walk;
They cannot make a sound with their throat.
Those who make them will become like them,
Everyone who trusts in them. (Ps. 115:4-8)

Other passages refer to a person taking a log, using part of it to build a cooking fire, part to make a fire for warmth, part to make a god. Worshiping an inanimate object seems ludicrous in that light.

The temptation, then, is to think we “enlightened” people have idolatry licked. We can cross out “Have no other gods before you” from the list of Ten, because we’ve got that one under control. No golden calves for us! No little fertility statues, no household gods, no gods on some nearby high place.

I know some Protestants point fingers at Catholics and say they are idolatrous because they “worship” the images of saints and Mary. But I tend to think this issue of idolatry is much bigger than some statue.

I was thinking about the “rich young ruler” in connection with a couple sermons about the use of money. This Biblical figure is often referred to in such contexts as evidence that having money isn’t the problem; rather, loving money is.

But here’s the context: This ruler comes to Jesus and asks Him what he has to do to “inherit eternal life.” In other words, he’s concerned for his eternal destiny. Jesus answers in a surprising way.

You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” (Luke 18:29)

The other two synoptic gospels, Matthew and Mark, record this same event and Jesus answering the ruler in the same way.

The guy responds, I’ve done those ever since I was young.

At that point Jesus had him. I mean, I think the point of this exchange was to show the guy that he had need of a Savior, not need of more things to do. Jesus had purposefully referenced the part of the Ten Commandments that have to do with how we treat each other. He had not mentioned the first four that deal with how we are to relate to God.

The first one is pretty simple and straightforward:

‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’

This foundational command was followed by, Don’t make any idols, keep the Sabbath holy, don’t take the LORD’s name in vain.

In many respects, those three are subsets of the first command. Moses elaborated a little to make this point clear:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:4-5

Israel was not to love God, plus any other god or any other idol.

So when Jesus called the ruler on the subject of keeping the commandments, the first four really centered on whether or not he loved God in an exclusive way.

Chances are, if Jesus had asked him if he kept the Sabbath or avoided using God’s name in vain, the guy probably would have said, Yep, I’ve kept those commandments, too.

What he needed to see was that he didn’t love God exclusively. In fact he loved his wealth more. So much more that he was willing to leave Jesus, knowing that his original question involved his eternity, that loving God first and best and only was the way to what he desired, and yet he was unwilling to give up his . . . idol.

Because clearly, what the man loved most was what he was actually worshiping.

We in the western world can sin in the exact same way. Our wealth might not be the thing we love more than God. We might love our reputation, or our education, or our good job, or our country, or our family, or our religious affiliation, or our boyfriend, or our community (race, ethnicity), or our sports team. Those are all things that aren’t sinful until we make them idols. Of course we can also love our sin more than we love God. We can love our pride or our porn, our lust, our prejudice, our dirty jokes, our selfishness, our laziness, our addiction.

The issue is really where we put God in our priority list. If I love God first and best, it will have a profound impact on what I do.

I can’t imagine telling a spouse, I love you, honey, but I really don’t want to spend time with you everyday. I don’t want to get you a present for your birthday. I’d rather spend Christmas with my buddies. And yet we say those types of things to God all the time: I love you, God, but I’m kinda busy right now. I’ll catch you later.

The problem is much more serious, because the more we make other things our priority, the more we look at the whole world through the gray glass of our skewed value system.

Over and over the Old Testament prophets warned the Hebrews that they needed to stop pretending to love God when in fact they had a stack of idols that they looked to. I can’t help but think that there might be a number of professing Christians who are in the same boat.

Things Aren’t Always The Way They Seem


Jeremiah prophesied at the end of Jewish rule. Israel, the northern kingdom, had already suffered defeat and its citizens, for the most part, were forced into captivity by the Assyrians. Judah, by God’s grace, survived the Assyrian assaults and continued in the land, sometimes following God and sometimes succumbing to idolatry.

Finally, within the last fifty years of their existence, God sent Jeremiah with His final words of warning. This time, Babylon was the nation God designated as His instrument of judgment on His people. The people of Judah ignored the warnings.

At one point Babylon defeated Judah, deposed the rightful king, set up another king to be their puppet and to send them tribute, and carried into exile all the leaders—the priests and the army officials and the men of means.

Scholars suggest that Daniel ended up in Babylon because of this first, partial exile.

Eventually the puppet king rebelled against Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar sent his army to finish the job of defeating and removing Judah. So began a siege of Jerusalem that lasted for a year and a half.

Here’s the thing. When those first captives were taken from their homes and exiled to Babylon, I imagine that the people in Judah all felt like the lucky ones, the ones who experienced God’s favor (or the favor of whatever idol they might have been worshiping). That wasn’t actually true.

We know from the book of Daniel that the young men who showed promise were treated well, given an education, put in prominent positions in government. Sure they were exiled from their homeland, but they had their lives and had, as Daniel did, some amount of freedom to worship God, to work and earn a place of respect within the Babylonian system.

In truth, the people left in Judah were the casualties of the war, not the exiles.

They lived on meager provisions because God turned His back on them. They were living in their homeland, but they were not free. They paid a tax or tariff of some kind that undoubtedly further impoverished them. When they rebelled, they faced war again, and then the siege.

Babylon simply waited them out while food grew scarcer and scarcer. Things got so bad that people were eating the dung of birds. At one point a couple women agreed to eat each other’s children. How desperate did a person have to be to make such an agreement, let alone actually carry it out?

What was Jeremiah saying during this time? Stop fighting. Give yourself up to the Babylonians. The siege was from God. The destruction of Judah was from God, but the people who stopped fighting and surrendered would not die.

Sadly, the Jewish king refused to listen. As a result, he was forced to watch as the Babylonians killed all his sons and the other nobles. Then they blinded him and led him away to be imprisoned. Apparently that king and his advisors looked at exile as the worst possible evil. But it wasn’t. They didn’t realize things aren’t always as they seem.

Jeremiah experienced this truth in his own life. At one point people became angry at him, claiming he was discouraging the troops with his prophecies. One guy even lied about him, saying he was trying to go over to the Babylonians, when he was not. They arrested him and held him from that time on. And fed him a loaf of bread a day until the bread ran out.

What looked like a defeat for this prophet, actually turned into a means for his daily provision.

All these examples are a mere shadow of the most notable “not what you think” event, that being the death of Jesus Christ.

The disciples thought all their hopes for the Messiah were over. The end. The crucifixion finished any chance of Jesus taking the throne and fulfilling the promises of the prophets. But His death was not the way it seemed. The cross was actually a gateway to the resurrection.

I wonder how many times I miss what God is actually doing because I focus on what I think is happening. That tendency to rely on our own thinking is deadly and shows why it’s so important to hold fast to the word of God. If Scripture says He’s good, then He is, even though the circumstances around us might not seem as if He’s good.

God’s word is true, and it’s the anchor we can hold to so that we don’t get pulled under by the way things seem. Instead, we can know, things aren’t always the way them seem.

I know atheists who have a hard time accepting this idea. But it’s really simple. Our understanding comes down to the answer to this question: who’s in control? If the atheist things humans are, then they will always rely on their human perceptions of a thing. But if a Christian say, God is, they should always rely on what God reveals in His word. Unfortunately we Christians are fallible and weak and sometimes deceived, so we don’t always live the truth that is available to us, but we should.

We might not remember, the way things were not as they seemed for Jeremiah, but we should remember, the way things were not as they seemed for Jesus. Paul said, if God didn’t spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, why should we think He will not give us everything else we’ll need? In other words, Jesus is the One we should look to, not our own understanding.

Published in: on April 25, 2019 at 5:26 pm  Comments (3)  
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Truth Or Harmony?


When I was growing up, there was a game show on TV hosted by Bob Barker called “Truth or Consequences.” I don’t remember just how it worked, but without truth, contestants were left with consequences—usually involving something sticky or messy.

Interestingly, no one questioned this. No one asked, Whose truth do you want, mine or his? No one asked that the consequences be waved because truth was relative. Truth was viewed as a fixed point, not a sliding scale.

Clearly no one’s playing “Truth or Consequences” today. In fact truth has shrunk in stature.

No longer do our courts try to find out what the truth is in a case — they look now for “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” which might or might not lead to truth. How many people have been imprisoned based on “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” only to have DNA evidence turn up and disprove the previous “proof”? How many criminals have walked free because there wasn’t enough proof to convince a jury there was no reasonable doubt? Good (expensive) lawyers know how to insert that kind of doubt. The point is, our courts are now about winning, not about truth.

Our schools aren’t about truth either. They are about self-esteem and emergency training and anti-bullying and equality for all. Somehow truth has been shuffled down the playlist and may have actually fallen out of the top ten.

Truth disappeared on the athletic field years ago, aided perhaps by a World Cup soccer player scoring a winning goal with his hand or by basketball announcers declaring that whatever contact occurred wasn’t a foul as long as the ref didn’t call it a foul.

Truth is now in the eye of the beholder, or so says the postmodern culture. “Reality” depends on your “situated-ness.”

So the ref standing at mid-court didn’t blow the whistle because from his vantage point he didn’t see any contact; therefore, his reality is, There was no foul.

The guy with the broken nose, however, says, There was contact across my face, which most definitely is a foul.

So there are two truths, or four if you add in the other refs, or thirteen if you add in the other nine players on the court, or forty-three if you add in the bench players and the coaches, or 15,043 if you add in the fans in the stands, or … You get the idea.

What, then, is truth?

Our culture has reduced it to a shifting perspective.

Sadly, many Christians have fallen in line with this thinking. Just recently I heard a conversation in which a group of Christians decried all the disagreements about what to believe. Everyone should just learn to get along!

Well, yes, we should get along. We should learn to respect each other and treat one another as more important than ourselves. We should not enter into discussions to win. We should listen more than we speak. And yet …

Has harmony shoved truth further down the list? For Christians?

Clumping all the old divisive theological propositions into the vast unknown allows us to link arms and sing “Kumbaya.” After all, harmony is a higher value than truth.

Actually, Jesus did put great emphasis on unity, praying for this very thing:

“that they [those who believe in Jesus] may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one” (John 17:21-22)

Clearly if unity was a priority for Jesus, it should be a priority for His followers. But does it rank above truth?

Jesus, you may recall, said that He Himself is Truth. In fact, John identifies the Father as “full of grace and truth,” reports Jesus stating that He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and declares the Holy Spirit to be “the Spirit of truth.”

Jesus also prayed for us regarding truth:

Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.

The unity that Jesus prayed for was predicated on the Truth. He did not consider this to be fuzzy ground. He saw a clear demarcation based on His person and His word. To the Pharisees who did not believe He was the Messiah, he said

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.” (John 8:44-45 – emphases mine)

Truth first, and unity will follow.

Some professing Christians have this backwards. For them recreating the first century Areopagus where men gathered to discuss ideas, is the highest good. The goal of “finding truth,” or in today’s parlance, “answers,” is beside the point. Seeking is the great good, improved only by being in harmony with others in the process.

Few who don’t know Christ, I submit, will go to church on Easter looking for Truth, and sadly, too many pulpits around this country will be silent about the subject.

The subject is not a “feel good” message—this “choose whom you will serve,” drawing-of-the-line between truth and non-truth. It’s not conducive to harmony, which our culture values so highly these days. It demands Christians go against the flow, choose the unpopular side, be in the minority, be out of harmony with those who disagree.

It’s not comfortable. But I don’t think taking up my cross daily is supposed to be comfortable.

This article is a lightly revised version of one that appeared here in April, 2012.

Spring Has Sprung



Photo by Valeria Boltneva from Pexels

Ready or not, here it is. Today, being the spring equinox in which days and nights are the same length, marks the official beginning of spring.

Here in California we have had the last hurrah of winter rain. I know other parts of the US are dealing with horrific flood conditions. Still other places may be recovering from a late winter blizzard. But spring, it is.

Weather doesn’t seem to pay attention to the calendar.

The most notable evidence of spring here in SoCal is the incredible “super bloom” in the local deserts, particularly noticeable because of the fields of poppies.

When I was a kid, my dad, who loved all things outdoor, took us to see a “super bloom” before anyone was calling it that. In addition he took picture after picture, none of which we have. At the time I was initially wowed and then quickly bored. I mean, all it was, was acres of flowers. Brilliant orange flowers, mostly. I didn’t understand that this abundance was not typical.

Interestingly, this year’s super bloom is the second we’ve had in the last three years. I don’t remember as much attention focused on it in 2017, but that might be because I was busy having a stroke that year. At any rate, this year we have had so many people “sightseeing” in the desert that there have been traffic jams.

Not only the ground has been thirsty during the drought. We who love the outdoors have been starved for the beauty of nature.


Abundance is the key word here. One wild flower by itself is not all that impressive. Not like a rose or an orchid or even a tulip in its simplicity. But when a hillside is covered with these blossoms . . . There’s really nothing left to say. It is breathtaking.

What strikes me spiritually in all this super bloom, is that God promises a life of super bloom—an abundant life. Not at some future time. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). In other words, for believers, the abundant life is already underway.

Jesus went on in the John passage to describe what He would do for the sheep in His care. The most notable action was to lay down His life.

Sort of like all those flowers that were dead, that had no life in themselves until the rains came. The desert went from barren to blooming not on it’s own. It could not, by itself, produce the abundance we see and enjoy today, no more than a sinner who does not receive the Savior can experience the abundant life.

Contrary to what some may think, the abundance Christ was talking about was not long life or fame or riches. It was really beauty—that which comes from reflecting Christ Himself.

The more we hang around someone, the more we become like Him. So too, for the Christian who spends time with God, who abides in Christ, who does not quench the Holy Spirit living inside. How can we not experience abundance if we are the mirror image of our Savior?

Published in: on March 20, 2019 at 5:38 pm  Comments (3)  
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