The Issue Of Identity


Setting aside the upheaval that the gender identity crisis has created, especially among the young, I realize we’ve been having an identity crisis of a different sort for years, even decades.

I don’t have the exact timeline, but at least for two decades according to one blog article I read, kids have been receiving participation trophies for involvement in youth sports. One article in the Baltimore Sun ties the proliferation of trophies to the push for self-esteem. “In the 1980s, self-esteem building became an educational priority really kicked off by the state of California.”

Apparently there is some debate about how healthy receiving these awards have been. I mean I read articles in the Washington Post and New York Times that discussed the subject, and the one above is reporting on a league that has decided not to give them out any more. Then there are bloggers defending Millennials who have been called The Participation Trophy Generation.

The argument seems to be entitlement and learning from not coming out on top versus low self-esteem.

All this has much more far-reaching affects than what anyone may have realized when they first came up with the idea that it would be cool to give all the kids a trophy—win or lose. For instance, some of this “everyone wins” thinking may explain why socialism seems appealing to a certain age demographic. But I have something even more serious in mind.

I wonder if there aren’t serious spiritual ramifications, not just from participation trophies, but from the entire self-esteem push. I wonder if we aren’t training kids to lie to themselves.

I’ve heard more than once, contestants on some “reality” TV game show, like Survivor—people who did something mean or really, really foolish that caused them to get kicked out of the game—say that no, they didn’t regret how they played; they were actually quite proud of themselves for their involvement. At the time, I was confused. I thought, You made such horrible mistakes and you don’t regret even one of them?

But now I’m thinking that’s what we are teaching our kids, and the adults who grew up with this self-esteem emphasis.

What’s also interesting is that teaching our kids to love themselves and that they all deserve a trophy for being on the team doesn’t seem to be producing happier people. Teen suicide hasn’t gone away. According to the CDC, teen suicide has increased in the US by 30% since the year 2000.

Mental Health America, in an undated article, reports,

Adolescent depression is increasing at an alarming rate. Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression.

Science Daily reported a year ago that “More than 1 in 20 US children and teens have anxiety or depression.” We’re talking kids aged 6-17. Six!

Off hand, I’d say, the push for higher self-esteem isn’t working. I mean, what I see is closer to people feeling bad about themselves but unable to deal with the cause because they’re supposed to be winners.

I realize that’s an oversimplification. Like any problem, it undoubtedly has multiple contributing factors. But I don’t think we should ignore the fact that we are living in a culture that tells kids they aren’t sinners, that they do deserve . . . pretty much whatever they want. The word deserve continues to be advertisers’ favorite, I think.

But here’s the truth about each and every one of us. We are made in the image of God, though marred by sin. Not the individual acts of sin we do—those are results, not causes. The sin that we inherited from Adam makes us wonderful image bearers who walk away from the One who created us. We are, in essence, kind of schizophrenic.

But for the grace of God.

He was not content to let us turn our backs on Him without putting into motion a rescue plan. A plan that declares how loved we are, how forgiven, how washed, how renewed, made alive.

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14)

We are the princess, saved by the knight in shining armor. We are the citizens of Metropolis rescued from destruction by the Superhero who saved the day. We are the servant girl pursued by Prince Charming.

The point is, our identity comes because of our relationship with God.

Some years ago I attended a Dodger baseball game with some friends, and our seats were one level up, right behind home plate. They were the very best seats. But I only sat there because my friends had company tickets. I was ushered into the primo section of the stadium, not because of my standing, not because I was someone special. I got there because of who I was with.

That’s an incomplete picture, to be sure, but spiritually speaking, I am not in relationship with God because of my merit. I’m in relationship with God because I am in Christ. I’m with Him.

And where is He? Seated “at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Heb. 1:3)” And I’m with Him.

That’s actually a transforming identity. No longer dead in my trespasses and sins, but alive, living in freedom from sin and guilt and the Law.

Funny how I could never enjoy this identity if I didn’t first admit that I can’t get there on my own.

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What God Has Said



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I might be wrong, but it seems to me as if here in western society, specifically here in the US, there has been a devaluation of the Bible. Certainly as the secular mindset becomes the norm, there’s a noted absence of religion in the realm of entertainment. There are some exceptions, but they are notable because they stick out as NOT LIKE THE REST.

But more than this change from “religion as expected practice,” is a change in the attitude toward the Bible. Once, Biblical references punctuated literature in various ways. In fact I’ve heard of some professors saying the Bible ought to be required reading so that students would understand the classics. And poetry, I might add.

But as the Bible slipped into this role of foundational to literature, its status as the authority to govern our lives has faded. Now, even among those who identify themselves as Progressive Christians, the Bible is treated as little more than interesting (and sometimes boring) myth about things we know couldn’t possibly have really happened.

I’ve heard over and over in my discussions with atheists, either here at my blog or in the Facebook atheist/theist group, that the Bible is simply not reliable, can’t be trusted at any level, and—worse—shows god to be hateful, vengeful, cruel.

I was first made aware that people looked at the Bible like this when I had a lengthy exchange some years ago with someone who was a professing Christian, claiming that god the father “repented” of his anger, which is why he sent Jesus, a loving, kind, and gentle version of himself.

Clearly that guy did not get his ideas from the Bible. They came from what Paul calls “philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

And that’s the problem. Some people still calling themselves Christians have given up believing the Bible, understanding it as God’s revelation of Himself—His Person, His plan, His work, His Word. They no longer believe it is authoritative. They don’t believe it’s sufficient for life and godliness either, or that how we respond to it determines our eternal destiny.

Sadly, this attitude seems to be seeping into the Church as well—not just the false church, but the true Church. It starts with parts we start labeling “cultural.”

Don’t get me wrong. One of the things atheists do, if they read the Bible at all—and many don’t—is take verses out of context and treat Christians as if we are waiting in the wings to implement the Law of Moses right here in the US. They have no understanding at all of how God, because of His grace, satisfied His just wrath by the blood of Jesus, and thereby fulfilled the law.

So, no, Christians don’t want to stone adulterers or disobedient children or any other sinners. Because, as Paul said, “Such were some of you.” We are all deserving of God’s wrath, but because of His great love He extended to us—to the whole world, Jesus said in John 3:16—those who believe have eternal life, not judgment.

In short, we are saved by faith, not by works. But faith that saves, works. That’s essentially what James says in his letter to first century Christians running for their lives from the persecution brought on by the religious Jews (like Paul, before he became a Christian).

Yet I’ve heard James’s letter challenged by a preacher who claims to believe the Bible. Just not that book, as if it was mistakenly put into the canon.

Other people challenge bits and pieces of Paul’s letters, as if he wrote them without really meaning them. There are whole chapters about how the gifts of the Spirit are to be used in the assembly of the Church, but today there are whole denominations that claim some of those spiritual gifts aren’t around any more. So where does that leave the instruction of the word of God? Apparently on the cutting room floor. There are other parts, too—wives submitting to husbands comes to mind, as does women serving as pastors.

Because these things don’t fit nicely into the way our culture is moving, we Christians now want to dump the authority of the Bible instead of doing the hard work of understanding the principle behind the words of Scripture. We forget that all Scripture is inspired by God. All. Not just the parts we like. Not just the ones that sound good. Not just the ones that promise hope and help.

Scripture tells us to deny ourselves daily. Scripture says we are to take up our crosses. We can’t XXX out those passages because we don’t like them, because they are countercultural or contrary to the image we want to project to the world.

God’s word is absolutely authoritative because God is Sovereign Ruler of everything. What He says is true and right and good. Even the parts of His revelation that are hard for us—hard for us to do, hard for us to understand, hard for us to accept. The world will scream at us that the Bible is old-fashioned, out-dated, irrelevant. But the truth is just the opposite. God wrote about gender wars back in Genesis 3 and Paul talked about how to solve those problems in multiple passages. But we want to ignore those solutions because, well, some people might misuse his council or it might make us look foolish to our culture or . . .

Yes, ignoring God’s council is no better than XXXing out the parts we don’t like. So when He speaks about gossip, we ought not chuckle behind our hands and double-down on our hatred of abortion. Abortion is a horrible sin and we should stand against it, but shouldn’t we stand against gossip just as strenuously? Or lying? I mean, if God’s authoritative word says He hates lying (and it does, more than once), why do we view that as an “acceptable” sin and homosexuality as an unforgivable sin?

I just heard a woman speak on Christian radio who was saved out of a homosexual lifestyle, and in the conversation the fact came out that some Christian colleges will not invite her to speak to their student body because of her past. Apparently they missed the “and such were some of you” part of the Bible. Or they’ve decided they only need to concern themselves with the parts of the Bible they like. Which actually makes them authoritative in their lives rather than God and His word.

Salvation And The Need To Forgive


Forgiveness is two-pronged—something we need and something we need to give.

One of the parables that used to make me uncomfortable is the one Jesus told in answer to Peter’s question about how many times they needed to forgive those who sinned against them. After giving the now-familiar seventy-times-seven answer, Jesus proceeded to tell a story to illustrate his point.

As it goes, a slave owed his master an insurmountable debt. When his lord decide to sell him, his family, and his belongings to recoup some of what was owed, the slave begged for more time.

The master turned around and forgave him the debt entirely.

Such a great story. Expecting deserved punishment, the slave pleaded for mercy and found grace. Complete grace that washed away his debt in its entirety.

But the story didn’t end there. The slave, upon leaving his master, ran into a colleague who owed him a modest sum, within the man’s ability to pay. The first slave required what he deserved.

The second slave asked for mercy—just a little more time, and he would meet his obligation. But the first slave was unwilling and had the man thrown in prison. When the other slaves saw it, they told their lord.

The master brought the first slave before him again and chastised him:

“Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?”
– Matthew 18:33

I said this parable made me uncomfortable. I just didn’t understand what this meant for salvation. Was God going to take back salvation if we didn’t follow his example, at least in this area of forgiveness?

And if forgiveness is a necessary action I am required to take, how then is grace free of my works and based upon faith alone?

Recently I heard a great sermon that explained the troubling story. Yes, I’d heard sermons that explained our forgiveness of others is a sign of our right standing with God, not a condition for it. But for the life of me, though I believed that to be true, I couldn’t see that teaching in this passage.

Well, the sermon I heard, from Allister Begg, most likely or maybe my pastor, explained that the first slave, if he had understood the concept of receiving unmerited favor, if he’d understood that he truly owed more than he could ever pay, if in fact he had humbled himself and received the grace his master offered him, would have extended his own small measure of grace to the second slave. By not doing so, he demonstrated that he had never grasped the enormity of his own debt and the grace his master held out to him.

In essence, by not extending forgiveness, he proved he didn’t “get it.” Though it had been offered him, he didn’t believe himself truly in need of his master’s grace, didn’t humble himself, and didn’t appropriate what his master extended to him.

My forgiving my neighbor, then, is not the cause of my salvation, not the root from which my salvation grows. It is the fruit, the product of my rooted-ness in God’s forgiveness of me. If I in fact humble myself before God, will I not also humble myself before my neighbor? Humility, I don’t think, is a trait that should come and go. I’m humble before God but demanding of others?

By insisting others pay me my due, I show my own nature, not the one God clothes His children with. I wish I’d learned this years ago.

From the archives: this post originally appeared here in March, 2009.

Published in: on March 5, 2019 at 5:36 pm  Comments (5)  
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Waiting


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When I was little I remember waiting . . . a lot. I remember waiting for my mom when we went shopping. I remember waiting for my birthday, which was hard. I mean, my sister had a birthday, and then four days later, my brother had a birthday. Mine? I had to wait another seven-plus months. Then there was Christmas. As soon as it was over, I remember waiting for the next one. I wanted one of those count-down calendars in the worst way. Anything to make the time seem like it was going.

Oh, and then there were the trips. We took a lot of car trips as a family. And I was one to ask with some frequency, are we there yet? I took up map reading as a way to answer my own question because I could tell, my parents were getting tired of it.

Surprise, surprise. Waiting is pretty much what the human race has been doing since the Fall, since sin entered into the world.

When God corrected the wayward pair in the garden of Eden, He introduced His solution to the problem:

And I will put enmity
Between you (Satan in the guise of a serpent) and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel. (Gen. 3:15)

Say what? What’s this bruising on the head and heel stuff, and who is “He”? Other parts of Scripture shed light on this part of God’s corrective measures. Satan is the serpent, also identified as the dragon of old. His seed, would be one coming from him. In the same way, the seed of the woman would be one coming from her.

Now if a person is walking along and a snake bites them, it will likely be somewhere on the foot, here specified as on the heel. Not a deadly strike. On the other hand, if that person steps on the serpent’s head, he crushes him, kills him. The serpent, then will get his shot in, but it won’t be deadly; the seed of the woman wins.

But when?

It is this event humankind waits for and has been waiting for, from that moment on.

I don’t know when the Jewish people put the label “Messiah” to the one for whom they waited, but He appeared in the form of other types throughout history. Paul even called Adam a type of Christ, though kind of in the reverse sense. Adam brought sin, Christ brought grace. Adam, condemnation; Christ, justification. Adam, death; Christ, life (see Romans 5).

But all through history, people who weren’t The One, popped onto the screen of history, pointing to The One. Some of these types include Isaac, whose father was to offer him in sacrifice; Joseph, who came out of his prison to rule; Moses, who led the people of God to the Promised Land; David, who reigned with justice over Israel; Jonah, who was in the stomach of the God-prepared fish for three days and three nights.

In addition to the people, there was the yearly Passover Lamb, which symbolized Christ’s substitutionary death that gave life to God’s people. Add to that, the scapegoat who bore the sins of the people away from the camp. And the daily sacrifices, whose blood covered the sins of those making the offering.

What’s the point? All these types and these symbols pointed to The One God had said would crush Satan’s head.

Add to these sign posts, God also sent prophets who spoke from Him and specifically told the people that Messiah was coming. Daniel called Him the Son of Man, Micah said He’d be a king, the Psalms said He’d be greater than David. So many others. To the point that, when Jesus came, people had already seen a number of false messiah’s who claimed to be The One.

In other words, they’d been eagerly waiting for Christ.

And at long last, He came.

But not the way they thought He would. They’d overlooked all the types pointing to His sacrifice and all the prophecies about his suffering. Jesus Himself had to explain to his disciples, after His resurrection, what those Old Testament references meant.

In truth, when Jesus came, He did crush the head of the serpent of old. It’s just that the enemy of our souls is either unclear about the concept of defeat or he’s trying to take as many people as possible down with him.

But there’s another pertinent fact. Even though Satan who had the power of death, has lost his power, he’s still at large. He hasn’t yet been held accountable for his part in the fall of humankind. In addition, Christ hasn’t yet taken the throne.

He will.

He’ll return to reign in a way that will cause everyone to bow before Him.

But that’s not yet. So we . . . you guessed it, we wait.

Waiting isn’t easy, but God gave us some specific things to do. First we are to be on the alert, we are to watch, we are to be ready, we are to go and make disciples. This waiting time is actually prep time. God is using this time to bring in those who will sit at His banqueting table. And He’s using us to get all the invites out.

Published in: on February 20, 2019 at 5:49 pm  Comments (3)  
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What Constitutes Sin?


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One of the tenets of Christianity that cause people to stumble, it seems, is the idea of sin. After all, according to the prevailing thought in our western culture, people are good. All of us. We might have an addiction or a mental illness or we might be coming out of a life of abuse. But none of that is our fault. Really, people only do bad things because we have been raised in a dysfunctional environment and have learned anti-social responses. If we simply teach and train a person what is beneficial for them and for society, we will eliminate the undesirable behavior. Like terrorism. And mass murders. And drug trafficking. And kidnapping. And fraud. And blackmail. And pornography.

Oh, wait. That last one has been moved out of society’s list of anti-social behaviors into the column of normal and … well, not “beneficial,” but at least “acceptable,” conduct.

I suppose, if the world lasts long enough, whatever a person wants to do, even if it does harm to others, will still be considered an expression of their self-hood, and therefore, acceptable. The point is, we are eliminating sin.

The Church ought to help here, but it seem we are emphasizing happiness over holiness, so we don’t talk much about sin. Sins are things that don’t make us happy. That keep us from our goals.

A six-year-old study by the Barna Group examined a women’s faith self-assessment, and discovered that most of those in the survey group reported spiritual fulfillment and an absence of anything the Bible identifies as sin. You know, things we once called “the seven deadly sins”: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.

The Bible addresses all those things, but Jesus took the concept of sin a step farther in His Sermon On The Mount. He said that murder wasn’t just murder, but hatred or anger was also murder and just as deserving of punishment. Same with lustful or greedy thoughts. In other words, not just sinful actions deserve punishment, but sinful thoughts do, too.

So which of us is without sin?

But we’re like the guy speeding down the freeway at 85 MPH where the speed limit is posted at 70 MPH. He’s not worried about “getting caught” because everybody else on the road is going just as fast, or faster. If we’re all doing it, it must not be wrong, or at least it must not be a punishable offense, the reasoning goes.

God doesn’t work that way. He actually treats us like adults. He tells us what’s what and expects us to do the right thing. If we don’t, He may remind us, warn us, or let us suffer the natural consequences of our actions. But He doesn’t baby us. He also doesn’t spoil us. He doesn’t look the other way.

Because He doesn’t correct us immediately, a lot of people think God doesn’t care or that He must not have noticed our sin or that He doesn’t think it’s so bad. But no. Isaiah addressed this issue:

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable. (40:27-28)

God knows and He understands exactly what we’re thinking.

In truth, God is gracious and gives us time to turn to Him. Another passage from Isaiah:

For the sake of My name I delay My wrath,
And for My praise I restrain it for you,
In order not to cut you off. (48:9)

In other words, He purposefully waits so that all who wish to come to Him, will have the opportunity.

In addition, He waits to bring judgment until the Church is complete. Think about it. It God had brought the world to an end 500 years ago, or 1000, a lot of believers would not have been born, let alone had the opportunity to come to God through Christ. No Billy Graham. No Martin Luther. No Jonathan Edwards.

How many of us would be missing from the banqueting table?

Among other metaphors, God compares the Church to a temple, whose cornerstone is Jesus Christ. But we are the “living stones” that go into the building. Think about that structure with all the missing stones if God didn’t wait patiently for us to come to Him.

The point is, delayed punishment for sin does not mean canceled punishment for sin.

Well, actually the debt of sin has been canceled by Jesus. But we must claim the free gift, and God waits for us to do that.

The fact is, He won’t wait forever. At some point a person who has chosen against God will die, and he simply will have run out of time to do an about-face. In addition, at some point God will bring this whole process to an end and say, Time to party, those who are My adopted children, those who make up the temple, those who have accepted the invite to the feast.

So what is sin? I guess the simplest way to understand it is, going my way instead of God’s. Going my way in my thoughts and my actions. Going my way in my desires and in my dreams.

The truth is we all sin, so we are all sinners. But the cool thing is, because of Jesus we who know Him, are sinners saved by grace. And that makes all the difference.

Published in: on February 13, 2019 at 5:57 pm  Comments (6)  
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Faith And Hope In Christ


Today’s western culture believes humankind is good and advanced and capable. We can do whatever we put our minds to, be whoever we want to be. So much so, that there are countless preteens and teens becoming transgender individuals. They have decided, in the midst of the confusion of adolescence that they know what’s best for their lives, from that point on! As a result, they mutilate their bodies, condemn themselves to a lifetime of hormone treatment, walk away from the life they had and into the mindset of the opposite gender, as if it were their own. In other words, they are no longer from Venus. They are from Mars. Or vice versa.

The problem is, our thinking is not clear. When we are apart from Christ, we deceive ourselves. We say things like, Nobody’s perfect, though we also affirm, There is no sin nature.

Excuse me, but if there was no sin nature, wouldn’t at least one person down through history have managed to actually live without sin?

No, our muddled thinking says, because society messes us up. We’re good, but society isn’t. Which is just another one of those deceptions. I mean, how can people be good, but those same good people create a wicked society?

The problem today, first and foremost, is that we refuse to start where God starts: He is holy and we are not.

Well, we are not holy now. Before humankind fell by embracing this “We can be like God” approach, we were holy and pure and right before God. Now, not so much. One day, we who enjoy adoption as His children will again enjoy the sanctification God has in store for us.

But the “one day” all depends on whether or not we do an about-face. Essentially, we need to turn away from trusting our own understanding and turn to Jesus and the truth God has revealed about Himself and about salvation.

We need to resign as kings of the universe, which includes kings (or queens) of our own lives, and we need to enthrone God as the Lord of all.

Why would we do such a drastic transformation?

On an intellectual level, it makes sense:
God is all knowing; we are limited in what we know.
God is eternal; we are finite.
God is all powerful; we are weak.
God is good; we are largely out for ourselves.

There are many more, but the pattern should be clear.

On the practical level, we can see what trusting ourselves accomplishes. No, those who are separated from God are not miserable only and always. But even they can see that the not-holy state in which we live, has problems. There’s violence in the world and cruelty and greed and selfishness and pride and lying and sexual perversion and abuse. The world is not a place where anyone can find a “safe place” away from the offensive things that threaten us.

On the other hand, God promises His love and peace that extends beyond anything that we would normally expect. He gives hope and a place of refuge. He helps us make sense of the world; gives us a firm identity as His children, His heirs; gives us purpose. In other words, God answers the big philosophical questions of the human heart.

He fulfills instead of tearing down.

He is the hero we long for.

The answer to our, Why?

He is our hope made certain.

Our joy when all is lost.

He is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of His nature. The word of His power upholds all things.

He is the bridge between the Father and we flawed image-bearers.

By His grace we are saved.

I see a lot more reason in trusting God who is perfect, who is over all, above all, greater than all, instead of trusting in the cloudy thinking of flawed humanity. But even that comes from Him:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8)

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Published in: on February 11, 2019 at 6:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Deadly Lies


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Hananiah was the son of a prophet. Maybe he’d always wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Maybe he wanted his fifteen minutes of fame. Whatever his reason, he decided one day to stand up against Jeremiah.

This quirky prophet enacted at God’s command a series of object lessons to bring a dire message to His people: Because Judah had forsaken God, He was sending Babylon against them and they would go into captivity.

God replaced the wooden yoke with one of iron

On this particular occasion, Jeremiah was walking around with a wooden yoke on his neck—the kind that oxen wear, or that people hauling water might use. The yoke was a sign of servitude.

Hananiah faced him down in the temple and said, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.’ ” He went on to say that those who had been taken captive earlier and the valuables removed from the temple by the Babylonians, would be returned in two years.

I wish that was true, Jeremiah said, but it’s not. The prophets who came before me have prophesied that God will send judgment on His people. Besides, “The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the LORD has truly sent.”

At that, Hananiah took the yoke off Jeremiah’s neck and broke it.

I wonder what kind of a crowd they had by this time. Did some people turn away, muttering about how these crazy prophets hadn’t learned how to get along? After all, there was enough conflict with the Babylonians camped outside the walls. Why did they have to bring hate inside the city?

Or maybe there was another set cheering Hananiah on. After all, they’d had years of Jeremiah’s gloom-and-doom predictions. It was about time someone stood up and gave a message of hope.

But God told Jeremiah how to respond. First he declared that Hananiah might have broken the wooden yoke, but that would be replaced by one of iron, Furthermore

Jeremiah the prophet said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie.”
– Jeremiah 28:15 [emphasis mine]

As a result, Jeremiah continued, Hananiah would die because he counseled rebellion against the Lord. True to this word from God, Hananiah died in July of that year.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only false prophet of the day. Lies in God’s name were prevalent and had a deadly effect. To the people who were already in exile, Jeremiah sent word saying

Thus says the LORD concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite, “Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, although I did not send him, and he has made you trust in a lie;” therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am about to punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his descendants
– Jeremiah 29:31-32a [emphasis mine]

To another false prophet Jeremiah encountered:

“And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into captivity; and you will enter Babylon, and there you will die and there you will be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have falsely prophesied.” [emphasis mine]

And another time

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.
Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all;
They did not even know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
At the time that I punish them,
They shall be cast down,” says the LORD.
– Jeremiah 6:15

Today the issue facing Christians is whether or not God’s word means what it says—is God really going to punish people who do not name the name of Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior?

Universalists are crying peace, peace. “Good people,” or all people eventually, will have peace with God no matter what they believe about Jesus.

Because their claims contradict the Bible, we can know as surely as Jeremiah did, that the message is false.

Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.
– Jeremiah 14:14

Sadly, today’s lies may not be as easy to spot. I mean, we don’t have prophets standing on street corners. Rather, the lies come from false teaching that might even use the Bible. Certainly it sounds good. Often it satisfies a hope we have: I hope I get rich; I hope my uncle will go to heaven; I hope my neighbor can walk again.

Over and over I’ve read rants against God because “He commits genocide.” The truth is, many people—actually, all people—die, because the wages of sin is death. However, God is not responsible for these deaths.

1) He warned against sin, and if Adam had obeyed, death would not reign.
2) God is a just judge, a righteous judge, knowing what we will say before a word is on our tongue. He knows each and every thought and intent of the heart. He makes no mistakes in judgment. We can’t fool Him into thinking we’re OK when we’re not.
3) He reconciles humans to Himself, “while we were yet sinners,” if only we accept that reconciliation by believing in Jesus.

Many lies, from those who do not believe God exists and from those who say He exists but who want to make Him conform to their party line.

God will not be mocked. He will not be toyed with. He will not be manipulated. Best plan? Cling to the truth in face of the lies.

About two-thirds of this article is a re-post of one that appeared here in March, 2011.

The Advantages Of Knowing Jesus


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Once upon a time I might have headed my list of advantages of knowing Jesus, with reception into heaven. Don’t misunderstand. Knowing Jesus does provide entrance into God’s presence for all of eternity. It’s very important. But it’s also very future. So when I think of Jesus in my life, I generally think of things here and now.

I think of His presence, through the Holy Spirit, living within my heart. In other words, I’m never alone. I think that’s huge in this day and age. Just the other day I heard a list of things that people were most troubled by, and loneliness was close to the top as one of the most difficult things they faced. But Christians are never alone, I thought. Never. Alone. We have comfort and encouragement and support and Someone to listen and a God to call in time of trouble, a God who will bring to our remembrance the things we need to know.

It’s kind of amazing to think of all that’s available inside me, every single day, hour upon hour. That I don’t turn to God more often is really the big surprise. He’s there, with me, in me.

Besides His presence, I think perhaps the biggest advantage of knowing Jesus is that He forgives my sins. Yes, that fact is closely tied to the point about entrance into heaven, but it’s more. I mean, Jesus “made purification of sins” (Hebrews 1) which has this snowball effect. His death is the means of my justification, my being set right with God, so that He now sees me as righteous, that is, as having right standing with Him. He reconciles me with God so that I not only enjoy His presence, but I enjoy His fellowship, His koinonia, which includes intimacy, partnership, joint participation, such as God including me in His work.

More than this, God’s forgiveness through Jesus, frees me—from slavery to sin, from the power of sin, from the fear of death, from the requirement of the Law, from guilt, from the devil who had the power of death (Romans 5-8; Hebrews 2). All of this sets in motion my sanctification, which is really just another way of saying, becoming like Jesus.

When I was a little tyke—I mean, not much more than a toddler—I had a toy broom, and I used to follow my mom around the house and mimic the things she was doing to clean. I wanted in the worst way to be grown up, to be able to do what my mom was doing. I wanted to mirror her.

That’s what sanctification is doing. It is molding me so that I will grow up to be like Jesus.

Just like any other relationship, if you know someone and like them, you want to be with them. Well, knowing Jesus makes me like Him more and more. The consequence is, I want to be around Him more. I want to read about Him more, hear about Him more, talk about Him more, include Him in all the stuff I do. Well, that last one—actually all of them—are works in progress. I want to include God in all I do, but I catch myself at times wondering why I didn’t pray about this or that thing I was concerned about. How much easier if I learn to take “everything to God in prayer” and not just the messes I make when I try to do stuff on my own.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I wonder what advantages of knowing Jesus you would include.

Let me conclude by stating the obvious: Jesus is my friend. When I was young, one of my favorite hymns was “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” I thought it would be fitting to find a good YouTube video of the song to put up. And I found one. A really good one. But I also found this “story behind the lyrics.” I had never heard it before. Well, it’s a story worth listening to. What an illustration of how a very present help in time of trouble our God is. Makes the words to the song that much more meaningful.

So, Groundhog Day


For whatever reason, I didn’t hear much about Groundhog Day this year. Until I looked it up today, I didn’t even know exactly when it was. Apparently I’m on an island. Deserted. Alone. Because thousands of people turned out this past Saturday to watch the most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, look for his shadow. What’s more, these folks had to be up at the crack of dawn because the event took place at 7:25 AM. On a Saturday morning. In the dead of winter. During a cold snap—or polar vortex as the weather people all call it now. What’s more, the “event” was live-streamed.

It was more like a non-event from what I could tell. I mean, the guy in charge of the overfed rodent, set him down on a tree stump for maybe 10 seconds, declared he couldn’t see his shadow, then read from the scroll that said spring would make an early arrival.

We all know this is a lot of silliness, don’t we? I mean, Phil has only a 40% success rate over the last ten years. People would do better if they simply flipped a coin. And he isn’t really 133. He’s not the same groundhog from those early days.

Then why do people get so caught up in the spectacle? I mean, there’s no alcohol involved that I could detect. No commercialism. No one selling tee shirts or Happy Groundhog Day cards. No bumper stickers or commemorative hats. So why do people care?

I’ve never talked to a single person who is out there in the freezing cold waiting for the faux prediction about the coming of spring, so all I have is speculation.

Could be they’re bored. But that’s a bit of a stretch when there’s entertainment at every turn, and much of it indoors where the temps are some 60° higher.

Perhaps some actually believe in Phil. Maybe they’re driven by that need to know, and particularly the need to know before it actually happens which has driven the news industry for far too lon.

Do they want spring to come early so badly that they are willing to put their faith in a groundhog? An overfed rodent covered in straw?

Could there be something deeper here? Do people want to believe so badly in something these days so that they are willing to pretend to believe in Phil’s ability to predict the length of winter?

For whatever reason, the folks who show up, who belong to the club, who care for the groundhog all the year round, think this is fun.

But I can’t help but compare their “faith” with the real deal that Christians have.

One thing that jumps out at me is that the superstitious faith in Phil doesn’t depend on anything. Not whether he’s right, not whether the person shows up the following year, not whether any other groundhog agrees with his outcome. It’s sort of like playing the lottery.

Saving faith, based on the work of Jesus Christ at the cross, is lived day in and day out. It’s transformative and dependable.

Superstitious faith in Phil doesn’t cost a person anything, takes no commitment, except getting up early on a cold winter’s day.

Saving faith is an all-in proposition. Jesus said if we want to come after Him we must deny ourselves daily, take up our cross and follow Him.

Superstitious faith in Phil is not life changing. A person can “believe” in the ground hog and still believe in the weather report on their phone app.

Saving faith, well, saves. It transforms a person from death to life. It begins a relationship with the living God. It ushers us into the kingdom of God.

In short, superstitious faith in Phil is meaningless. Nothing changes if he’s right or if he’s wrong, other than the guy from his fan club reading a different little scroll.

Saving faith, on the other hand, is the most meaningful decision a person can make. So it ought not be made lightly. It should be informed.

Superstitious faith in Phil is closer to guess work and not quite as accurate.

Saving Faith brings forgiveness of sin, freedom from the Law, from guilt. It gives believers peace within. Comfort. Help in time of need. Joy. Purpose. But above all it brings assurance. No guess work!

There’s more, but the point is clear. False faith—whether in Phil or in a Hindu god or in a cult or anything else that is not true—is markedly different from saving faith.

Published in: on February 5, 2019 at 5:56 pm  Comments (4)  
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Aliens And Strangers


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Illegal aliens and border walls and immigration are currently big topics in the US. They are in the Bible, too.

Our church recently started doing a different kind of “read the Bible together” project. Kind of funny because it’s a lot like an old program we did under a former pastor, which he called Table Talk. I guess that was more about discussion, and this go around is more about journaling. But the concept is the same: read a given passage and interact with it.

A few of this week’s passages got me thinking about being alienated. One gives the account of a woman who had a disease of some kind that none of the doctors of the day could cure. It cause her to hemorrhage, which also meant, according to Mosaic law, that she was “unclean” and not permitted to go into the temple. She was as good as an unbelieving Gentile. Alienated. Not welcome. Cut off from God.

Another alienated person we read about this week was the woman who heard Jesus was dining with a certain Pharisee, and went to weep over His feet. Why would she do that? The Pharisee was condemning in his thoughts: if Jesus knew what kind of person that woman was, He wouldn’t let her touch Him. Actually, no, Jesus did know all about her and identified her tears, her worship as her love because her sins were forgiven. She had been alienated, and the Pharisee wanted to keep her in that state of isolation. Not Jesus.

Another one, this a parable Jesus told. A guy wanted to put on a feast, so he sent out the invites. When the day arrived, he sent servants to tell all the people the feast was ready and to come. No, they each said; somethings more important and I can’t make it. Get people off the street, then, the host said. We did and there are still empty places at the table, the servants answered. Then, get people who are outside the city—the place reserved for the alienated, like lepers and unbelieving Gentiles.

Finally, a passage from Ephesians:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

I was an alien, a stranger. But God brought me near, made me a citizen. More than that, He gave each of us who believe in Jesus, a role to play. We’re a piece of the puzzle, a stone in the building, forming a new temple.

Once the aliens could not go into the temple, now they are the temple. Once, the best a person could hope for was to be allowed into God’s presence. Now, God’s presence abides in each of His followers.

It’s quite the reversal—those who didn’t belong, are now official members of the kingdom.

How is this possible?

God tells us in Isaiah 55:

Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the LORD,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (vv7-9)

We don’t by nature abundantly pardon. We don’t invite the outcast to our feast or let the unclean sully our garments. But God declares, He doesn’t think the way we do.

Good thing, because in fact we are all aliens and strangers, shut out from God’s presence until we, too, fall at Jesus’s feet and cry for mercy and forgiveness. Our God who doesn’t see things the way we do, will then abundantly pardon, giving us citizenship and a place at His table.

Published in: on January 24, 2019 at 5:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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