The Clay Is Talking Back


But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter

But now, O LORD, You are our Father,
We are the clay, and You our potter


“God did not make us.”

I hear atheists reject God’s work of creation all the time, but more recently I’ve heard people claiming the name of Christ reciting a companion falsehood.

Isaiah prophesied about the twisted thinking that creates these untruths:

You turn things around!
Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,
That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”;
Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”(Isaiah 29:16; emphasis added)

Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens popularized the first part of that prophecy: He did not make me.

And “progressive Christians,” who believe in universal salvation, are saying in essence, He has no understanding.

Their belief system questions God’s plan of salvation by implying that sending “billions and billions” of people to hell for eternity is beneath Him. Judgment of sinners doesn’t measure up to the progressive Christian’s idea of what God should be like. In essence, they are saying God must not judge and punish as He sees fit. If he does so, he’s a “monster” as one supporter of author and former pastor Rob Bell called it.

“We do these somersaults to justify the monster god we believe in,” [Chad Holtz, former pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina] said. “But confronting my own sinfulness, that’s when things started to topple for me. Am I really going to be saved just because I believe something, when all these good people in the world aren’t?” (from “Pastor loses job after questioning hell’s existence”)

In other words, if that’s the way God is, then he’s wrong. Their answer is to ignore the clear statements of Jesus about His children, His followers, His sheep, in favor of a few isolated passages taken out of context and made to say things they were never intended to say.

In addition, the fundamental error in the thinking of those who indict God comes out loud and clear. Man is good. It is God who is suspect.

The thinking seems to be, Since we know Man is good, and we want God to be good, then hell can’t possibly exist, at least in the form that the “traditional church” has taught.

The answer, then, is to re-image God. And hell. And even heaven. But our idea that Man is good? In spite of evidence to the contrary, we’ll keep that belief intact.

The truth is, Man is not good.

A just God warned Man away from the tree that would bring death and a curse. Man ignored God and succumbed to temptation. He has not been “good” at his core ever since.

As Man went his own way, God chose an individual to be His, from whom He would build a nation that would be an example to all the nations of what it meant to be God’s people.

When the chosen nation went its own way, God sent prophets to warn them not to forsake Him. When they ignored the warnings, He sent more prophets, and finally He sent His Son in the form of man:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was in the flesh, God did, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3)

God’s Son didn’t come to judge—He will take that role later, when the just penalty for turning from God will be handed out to sinful (not good) Man, condemned by his own choice to go his own way.

Though Jesus came to save when He first entered the world, He created a dividing line.

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)

In summary, Man sinned, Man went his own way, Man rebelled, Man rejected God, his Maker. Clearly, by our nature we are not good.

The problem is ours, not God’s. God certainly does not need a make-over. He does not need progressive Christians to frame Him in a better light. Rather, we all need to stop going our own way, stop acting independently of God. We are but clay. Beloved by God, yes—not because we’ve earned His special consideration, not because we deserve His kindness and patience and love—but because of God’s own nature.

He is the potter. The clay really is not in a position to improve the potter, nor should it be talking back.

This post is a revised, updated version of one that first appeared here in May 2011.

Revelation


The Left Behind books by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye attracted attention to eschatology—the “part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind” (Oxford English Dictionary). They are by no means the first writers to depict the events cataloged in the book of Revelation and other passages of prophecy. Back in 1972 A Thief in the Night, the first of a series of four feature-length films, made it’s way into theaters.

There was also a badly written novel—the title escapes me—that encapsulated the entire story of The End . . . in about 250 pages. I’m sure there were others. Certainly there have been since Left Behind. In 2010 Scars: An amazing end-time prophecy novel came out. In 2011 an author announced he was beginning work on The Revelation: a new end-times novel as part of NaNoWriMo.

Years ago, before Revelation became a subject of fiction, churches favoring a dispensational view of Biblical history, held prophecy conferences, complete with charts and time lines.

All this to say, there has been a fascination with Revelation and what it says about the future. But of late, perhaps in reaction to the so popular Left Behind books, there’s been a bit of a backlash against end-time fiction. Some publishers, for example, state in their guidelines they do not want end-time stories. Some bloggers make repeated references to the “bad theology” of the Left Behind books.

I suppose the main struggle with the book of Revelation is to know what is symbolic and what is literal. In some instances, an angel tells John, and therefore us, what the visionary language means.

As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Rev. 1:20)

These passages are not nearly as common as the pictorial, symbolic language filling most of the book.

That we struggle today to know what John saw that was figurative and what, literal, should be no surprise. The disciples struggled to understand Jesus, too. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, He told them. Oh, no, the disciples said, we forgot to bring bread. I’m going up to Jerusalem to die, Jesus said. Who gets to sit on Your right hand and left hand when You take over, the disciples asked.

When was He talking in parables, when was He speaking plainly? If they couldn’t tell, it should be no shock that we struggle a bit with the same issues when it comes to the revelation Jesus gave to John.

But there are some things we can know. So what is good theology when it comes to the book of Revelation? What is this book recording John’s vision of angels and trumpets and bowls of wrath and seals and beasts and the harlot Babylon, all about?

As my former pastor said as part of his introduction to a sermon series over the book, the one clear truth is that Christ wins. That being said, I think there are some additional key themes that run through Revelation which, I believe, Christians on either side of the theological divide, agree upon.

First, Jesus Christ is the Lamb that was slain, making Him the only one qualified to open that which God has held secret from past ages and generations.

In addition, He will return as the Conqueror and the King, defeating Satan and assigning him eternal punishment.

Revelation also portrays divine judgment on those who follow Satan, who do not repent and give God glory.

Throughout, the book shows God as righteous in His acts, even those that come directly from His wrath. Here’s an example:

And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” (Rev 16:5-7)

Another key theme is God’s provision of a new home—a new heaven and a new earth—for those whose names are written in the book of life.

One more, though undoubtedly there are others: there’s a clear warning to the churches to hold fast to the truth, to love God and obey Him, to resist false teaching or the lure of riches or complacency.

Revelation is a rich book because it shows us more about who God is than it does about what will happen someday. It shows us what He cares about and what His wrath looks like. It shows that He is worthy to be praised for His justice as well as for His redemption, for His majesty as well as for His righteousness. It shows that He is the Lamb who is Worthy.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2012.

God And The Moral Standard: Moral Judgments, Part 4


I’ve said plenty about Moral Judgments in the earlier posts here, here, and here, but one more thing jumps out at me. Anyone who believes truth is relative is on thin ice when it comes to God. In fact, I’d venture to say, a relativist doesn’t really believe in God. Not a sovereign God, anyway. Not a good God. Not a God who says what He means and means what He says.

Relativism requires each person to determine what’s right and wrong, good and bad, for his own circumstances, within his own worldview. Hence, God is not Himself an absolute standard. His ways aren’t necessarily the right ways, since any person might decide “right” is something altogether other than what God has said is right.

In that vein, God can’t be sovereign. He isn’t ruling over others; they are the master of their own view of right and wrong, their own judge, their own determiner and interpreter of their lives.

God also can’t be good because Person A might say God is responsible for war and violence and hatred down through the centuries, and this would be true for him. Person B might say God is an impersonal force, a prime mover, and nothing more, and this would be true for him. Person C might say God is the great whole, of which each person is a part, and this would be true for him. Consequently, God becomes the author of hate, an amoral force, and an impersonal other. But Good? Not if relativism is true. God could only be good for those whose truth is that God is good. For all the others in the world who believe something different, then God is not good.

Finally, God would not be a keeper of His promises. His Word would not be settled in heaven, as Scripture says, nor would His word endure forever.

For,
“ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS,
AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS.
THE GRASS WITHERS,
AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF,
BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.”
And this is the word which was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24-25)

How, then, could we say God is love? He might not be tomorrow. How could we say He forgives? Maybe five years from now, He’ll decide He wants to hold the forgiven accountable after all. How could we say He’s holy or unchanging or all powerful or merciful or true? None of those things are reliable unless God is Himself absolute — the firm and fixed, unmoving standard.

In short, the postmoderns who claim to be Christians are either rejecting God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture and in the world He created, or they are denying their own relativistic beliefs when it comes to God. There can not be an absolute Sovereign and relative truth. The truth about the absolute Sovereign would have to be relative, too, and then how would you know He was absolute?

To be true to relativism, you pretty much have to conclude, we know nothing for certain. And that’s precisely where much of the world is headed. It’s a nihilism that allows for a hedonistic lifestyle and a clear conscience. It doesn’t, however, remove guilt or final judgment because the relativist will one day face the absolute truth of his own death.

I don’t think we can wait to tell people that relativism isn’t shaky ground—it’s thin ice!

This post, part four of a short series on moral judgment, is an edited version of one that first appeared here in April 2012.

Published in: on August 9, 2016 at 6:01 pm  Comments (2)  
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Determining Right And Wrong: Moral Judgments, Part 3


In this short series about moral judgments, I concluded in the first post that we all make them and in the second that there needs to be a standard by which to make them besides what do I like?

Thankfully, such a standard already exists, so we don’t have to invent the wheel. We do have to accept it, however, and we do have to learn to use it correctly.

If you’ve hung around A Christian Worldview of Fiction for any amount of time, you already know what I’m about to say — the standard by which we should make moral judgments is the Word of God.

Think about it for a moment. If there is a standard of right that is more than a politically correct idea, it’s right whether or not the majority of people believe it to be so. It’s the flat earth/round earth debate. How ridiculous it would be to take a vote on that subject. No matter how many people down through the centuries may have stated emphatically that the earth was flat, it would still be round.

There is a standard of truth, a level of fact, a moral right which is not up for grabs. Green is green and it’s not going to be orange. Two plus five is seven and it isn’t going to be nine. God is love and He never will be hate. And Man is to obey God, never ignore Him.

In other words, there are certain unshakable absolutes in the world. God’s Word communicates just such unshakable absolutes. But of course we have to believe that the Bible is what it says it is.

Perhaps most pertinent to this discussion, the Bible says it is inspired—breathed—by God. In other words, God chose to communicate with us in a clear and relevant way—through language. He did so before Christ came, sometimes speaking directly to people like Abraham and Gideon and Samuel and Elijah. Sometimes He spoke through dreams to people like Joseph and Daniel. Other times He spoke through a prophet like Ezekiel or Jonah or Jeremiah.

Then He sent Jesus, the Living Word. His language was His life as well as His stories and sermons. His was the whole package. But for us who live all these years later, we have the words of God to the men and women of God which He preserved for us.

But here’s the point. What God chose to communicate is one of those absolutes. We don’t get to pick and choose what we like and what we dislike from all He’s said, Genesis through Revelation.

When I was growing up, I didn’t like those “rod of correction” verses that informed my parents about good discipline. When I was a young adult, I didn’t like the “to die is gain” verses that reminded me that this world is not my home. Regardless of my attitude toward these things and many others, they remain true. They remain God’s standard.

Consequently, I don’t get to say, Love God — check; love my enemy — NO WAY!

I am not the authority passing judgment on the rightness of God’s moral standard. That is completely backwards. Rather God’s moral standard reveals my heart and shows me how far short I fall from His Holiness.

Which is why I need a Savior.

This post, part three of a short series on moral judgment, is an edited version of one that first appeared here in April 2012.

Published in: on August 8, 2016 at 6:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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If I Like It, Then It’s Good: Moral Judgments, Part 2


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The question, then, isn’t should we make moral judgments. We do—that’s a simple fact. The question ought to be, on what should we base our judgments? (“Moral Judgments, Part 1”

When I taught seventh and eighth graders, I soon learned that a good number of the boys students found it amusing to look for double entendres, particularly ones with a possible sexual slant. I decided early on that I could either learn all the latest slang and work to avoid any words that might carry sexual innuendo, or I could teach my students to employ a little self discipline. I opted for the latter.

The problem I came up against was that some bright kids astutely said, in essence, But why shouldn’t we laugh? It’s funny. They were right, of course. Suggestive interpretation can be funny. Dirty jokes can be funny too.

So, I asked, is that the standard we use to determine what we listen to — if it makes us laugh?

It’s the question we should all be asking today. Is the standard we use to determine what we read, watch on TV, listen to on our iPods, where we go, who we hang with, how we spend our time, what Internet sites we visit nothing more than that it entertains us? Is the highest good, our feelings of pleasure — happiness, mirth, satisfaction, gratification, amusement?

You’d think so, judging by what we talk about and how we spend our time. But most of us realize there are more important things than what pleases us — the good of our family, for instance, or for Christians, doing what God wants us to do. In public schools here in California, the overriding principle students are to use as a guide for their behavior is, Do no one harm.

But all those and the countless other standards used in the business world, in government, in the legal system, in the marketplace, offer no definition for “good” or for “what God wants” or “harm.”

Is it harm to make fun of someone? If so, then why do we allow Saturday Night Live to stay on TV? Is it “good” for someone to be mocked for his lack of singing ability on national TV? Is it “what God wants” when we write a book that says there is no hell?

How are we to make such judgments?

We could go with what pleases us. Saturday Night Live is a funny show, so whatever they joke about is just fine.

We could say, A person gets what he’s asking for, so the clowns who try out for talent shows when they have no talent, deserve to get hammered. But does that mean someone cheering for the Giants in Dodger Stadium is asking to get hammered?

We could say, What we think is right, is what God wants us to do. So when people like President Obama support fetal stem cell research because they believe many, many people will be cured of diseases as a result, does their belief in their cause mean they are doing what God wants?

Clearly, every issue has two sides. Who’s to say what’s right? Person A says pornography hurts a person and tears apart marriages. Person B says it’s an innocent way of releasing sexual tension.

Person A says abortion kills babies. Person B says abortion saves children from lives of abuse and neglect.

Person A says bullying is part of growing up and every kid gets teased. Person B says bullying destroys self-esteem and pushes victims toward retaliation of one kind or the other.

On and on, round and round. Is it true that we should just go with what the majority of people believe to be right? Do we take a vote? Today it’s wrong to throw Jews into concentration camps, but tomorrow, if we have enough votes, we can decide that good means Jews will be arrested and jailed?

Is there no fixed standard? No way to know what is right and what is wrong for all time? Or are we left to our whims or to the trends of society fashioned by the best propaganda money can buy?

One of the telling facts that came out of President Obama’s statements about the Supreme Court’s deliberations about the Constitutionality of the health care law was that he considered the popularity of the law to be a reason it should stand and not be struck down. As if popularity outweighed the Constitution he has sworn to uphold.

But President Obama is a man of the times. As is Donald Trump. Secretary Clinton is no less a product of our times. How do they define good? It would seem they do so by whatever they want.

Essentially, our society has come down to this: every person does what is right in his own eyes, and if he’s doing something the law says is illegal, he moves with greater caution so he doesn’t get caught.

There ought to be a better way to determine what is right and wrong. And there is.

This post, part two of a short series on moral judgment, is an edited version of one that first appeared here in April 2012.

Moral Judgments, Part 1


Everyone makes moral judgments, even those who say, You shouldn’t make moral judgments. That statement itself is a moral judgment. As soon as someone says, You should, or even I, we, they should … or, shouldn’t … they’ve made a moral judgment.

If the idea is that something should be better, there’s a judgment that it isn’t as good as it could be. Implied also is the existence of a standard against which the current thing is being measured.

“You shouldn’t make moral judgments,” then, is a judgment. It is not saying that the listener isn’t capable of making moral judgments, but that life would be better for all if people didn’t make moral judgments. In extreme cases, a person might mean that it is actually wrong to make such judgments.

But how can someone who doesn’t believe moral judgments are right, or that life is better without them, make such a moral judgment? The statement itself demonstrates that everyone, even those who don’t realize it about themselves, makes moral judgments.

In today’s relativistic society, the going belief is that what is true for you may not be true for me. But that truth statement is a moral judgment—an absolute declaration saying that absolute truth does not exist.

Relative thinkers want to make absolute statements to propound their beliefs, but in doing so, they disprove the relativism they say they believe.

Relativism is similar to saying, All ideas are good. Your idea. My idea. The idea someone in China has or in India or Iraq. It’s fine to respect other people’s opinions and culture. But what if our ideas conflict? Are all ideas still good?

What about the idea that not all ideas are good? Is that idea good? How can it be when it says the opposite of “all ideas are good”? The relativist says, All ideas are good for me and all ideas are not good for you. But he has made a moral judgment about my idea, limiting it in scope to accommodate his idea. In essence, he is saying his belief that all ideas are good is a notch truer than my belief that not all ideas are good. He has given a higher value to his statement.

Discussion about relativism and moral judgment can quickly take on the feel of a circular argument, but in actuality, if relativists weren’t making moral judgments, there would be no debate, no discussion, and certainly no argument.

But the fact is, everyone is making moral judgments. People who like a blog post or rate it as one star or five or anything in between are making value judgments. People commenting are making value judgments. People who stop reading part way through are making value judgments.

The question, then, isn’t should we make moral judgments. We do—that’s a simple fact. The question ought to be, on what should we base our judgments? And that will take a bit more thought.

This post, the first in a three part series, was originally published here in April 2012.

Published in: on August 4, 2016 at 5:20 pm  Comments (3)  
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What Is Judgment?


_Judges_GavelWhen I ask, What is judgment? I’m not referring to the Final Judgment or our judicial system, but rather one person judging another. Today Christians use the notion of one judging another as a club to buffet the Intolerant One into submission. After all, we’re told over and over, we’re not supposed to judge each other.

Or are we?

Often the “no judging” position is supported with what Jesus said in Matthew 7, concluding with verse 5:

“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

In a radio sermon some time ago, one pastor pointed out that the conclusion of this process is still one Christian taking the speck from his brother’s eye.

Just ten verses later, Jesus had this to say:

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” (Mat 7:15-16a)

So apparently the “no judging” rule has conditions. Otherwise how would we ever arrive at the understanding that a false prophet is false?

That idea of conditional judgment seems consistent with the Apostle Paul’s confrontation of Peter when he changed how he treated Gentile Christians, and with his confrontation of the church in Corinth for accepting into their fellowship a man living in immorality. Not only did Paul confront the church but he expected them to do the same with the sinful man.

Earlier, in I Corinthians he makes the statement that he has already judged the immoral man. Then this:

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. (I Cor. 5:9-13; emphasis in the original)

From this process, groups like the Amish and the Catholics practiced shunning and excommunication. Perhaps because of abuses and/or subjective interpretation, those conventions have been discredited. Church discipline seemed to decline.

In its place, we have tolerance. No judging.

But what happened to knowing false teachers by their fruits? What happened to going to a brother who has offended you, as Jesus commanded in Matthew 18? How can we ever forgive if we don’t acknowledge offense?

On an ever increasing level, it seems the love we talk about is a brand that actually nullifies justice. But God is a God of love and justice.

His Word teaches correction and reproof along side love and forgiveness.

So maybe we Christians have gone overboard, tolerantly stepping around each other in an effort to avoid boat rocking. Instead, perhaps we should hold onto the sides of the boat and confront sins head on.

It’s not comfortable. It requires soul searching (or log-in-the-eye searching. Search me, oh God, try me, and see if there is any wicked way in me.) It requires confession. It requires letting go of my right to be right, to defend myself, to prove my point. It requires confronting and forgiving. But how true is the latter without the former?

This post originally appeared here in April 2010.

Published in: on July 28, 2016 at 6:43 pm  Comments Off on What Is Judgment?  
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God, Justice, And Punishment For Women Who Abort


March_for_Life_in_Washington,_D.C._(2013)_01

Donald Trump stepped in it last week. He was pushed into a corner, it’s true, but he made the worst of the situation by saying what he thought his new constituents—far right politicos—wanted to hear. He had adopted the pro-life position though he’d been in the abortionist camp “for many, many years” (to quote something he might say). I suspect he’d heard from his old friends that his new friends were all about punishing women, so when pressed on the issue, The Donald gave his “candid” answer, though you could tell he was sort of appalled by his own words.

Yep, he said if Roe v. Wade were overturned, a woman should be punished if she had an abortion.

Less than twenty-four hours later, his campaign issued a “clarification” which was actually a retraction. Mr. Trump, it turns out, doesn’t really believe a woman should be punished if she had an abortion.

Which actually demonstrates what a loose cannon Mr. Trump is, and therefore what a horrible President he would make. But that’s a different subject than the one in front of me.

Mr. Trump’s outlandish statement has stirred the pot, at least in some circles. There are people saying, but wait a minute: is Trump really so wrong? I mean, if these women are really killing, why should they be given a pass?

There’s a Biblical backdrop that I think sheds some light on this topic. At different times, God gave His law some teeth by bringing immediate and ultimate judgment. Two of Aaron’s sons died because they burned the wrong incense in the tabernacle. Another 450 people died—burned by fire from heaven and then swallowed by the earth—because they challenged Moses’s authority to speak for God. During King David’s rule, a man died on the spot because he touched the ark of the covenant. And in the New Testament, Ananias and Sapphira were separately struck down for lying to God about how much money they made when they sold their house.

God acted with immediate judgment. And yet years later people were doing all kinds of things against His law—worshiping Baal in the temple, building high places all over Israel and Judah, handling the sacred temple vessels, and in Jesus’s day, priests cheating the people who wanted to bring a sacrifice. Yet, for all intents and purposes, God was silent.

Until He wasn’t.

It’s true He didn’t bring fire from heaven against those people. Yes, Jesus tossed out the priests making money at the expense of the worshipers, but some time later He had to get in that temple again and toss out all the crooks once more. It wasn’t like He blasted them off the planet. Just chased them away. You’d hardly say that measure up to those early judgments of God against the people of Israel who rebelled.

The point is, there came a time when God’s judgment changed from immediate to something different. Now He lets people dig their own graves. That process might take some time, but in the end, their way He will “have brought upon their heads” (Ezekiel 22:31).

In other words, none of the people who didn’t receive immediate punishment were getting away with breaking God’s law.

In fact we all will face a day of judgment. God’s servants will separate the wheat from the weeds, the sheep from the goats. And He will mete out to each what is fair and just. To the wheat, the sheep, He will give His welcome to His banquet table because of His Son Jesus, whose robe of righteousness we wear.

That welcome is for liars and prideful people, for idol worshipers and women who have had an abortion or two or three, for gossips and prostitutes, for the greedy and the envious—really for any sinner who confesses, repents, and walks in the newness of life provided by Christ’s shed blood.

The question, then, isn’t whether woman should be punished for having an abortion. That matter is in God’s hands. The only thing we have to ask is whether we as a society that propagated the lie that abortion is not wrong, can avoid God’s wrath. We might also ask if we should do more than Jesus did when He faced an adulterous woman and said, “Go and sin no more.”

It seems to me, we stand with no defense before God for allowing abortion in our land and worse, for importing it to other places. We are guilty as a society. But what hypocrisy if we were to scapegoat the women we have convinced by our lies—if we were to suddenly tell them that they are the guilty ones for believing what our leaders have been telling us for decades.

Make no mistake, those women will one day face the judgment. I know of any number of women who had abortions who will be at the banquet table, their sins, including their abortions, cast into the sea of God’s forgetfulness. Others, however, will stand guilty, not of having had an abortion, but of refusing to accept God’s Son.

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

Published in: on April 4, 2016 at 6:48 pm  Comments Off on God, Justice, And Punishment For Women Who Abort  
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Refusing To Listen


Evils_of_the_cities_-_a_series_of_practical_and_popular_discourses_delivered_in_the_Brooklyn_Tabernacle_(1896)_(14591198780)

For this is a rebellious people, false sons,
Sons who refuse to listen
To the instruction of the LORD;
Who say to the seers, “You must not see visions”;
And to the prophets, “You must not prophesy to us what is right,
Speak to us pleasant words,
Prophesy illusions.

So said Isaiah to the people of Israel when their nation was facing a crisis (30:9-10). But his assessment of God’s chosen people sounds uncomfortably similar to the things people are saying today about and to pastors and teachers:

Don’t talk about sin and especially don’t go on about hell, that imaginary place a bunch of sadistic legalists invented. No one wants to hear that outmoded “fire and brimstone” preaching. After all, people shouldn’t be scared into accepting Jesus. That’s a horrible tactic. Cruel. Kids will have nightmares. Why, it borders on abuse. They should outlaw such preaching.

Tell us instead how God wants us to be healthy and wealthy and how everyone is going to heaven. That’s what we want to hear. Tell us how good we are to try so hard to be good. Tell us how we’re all winners. Tell us that we can do it, we can do it, we can, we can. That if we just look inside ourselves, we’ll find we’ve had the strength all along to be the best we, we can be.

Sadly, that kind of false teaching is becoming the basis of our culture’s belief system, and religious leaders—pastors, priests, evangelists, itinerant preachers seminary profs, authors—have smoothed the road, if they haven’t marched at the front of the line.

The truth is, we don’t want to hear the hard things of Scripture. We don’t like the verses that tell us God is wrathful, even vengeful. Or jealous. Our culture has told us that tolerance and love are the highest values, so of course we expect God to exhibit those qualities too, all the time. He’s patient; he’s kind. He teaches love for your enemies.

So don’t go on about punishment, about judgment, about God separating goats from sheep and wheat from weeds. God is a uniter, not a divider.

Uh, not according to the Bible.

Of course Scripture does say God is love; but it also says He is a just Judge who brings people under his judgment

Behold, the name of the LORD comes from a remote place;
Burning is His anger and dense is His smoke;
His lips are filled with indignation
And His tongue is like a consuming fire;
His breath is like an overflowing torrent,
Which reaches to the neck,
To shake the nations back and forth in a sieve,
And to put in the jaws of the peoples the bridle which leads to ruin. (Isaiah 30:27-28)

In the same way that the people in Isaiah’s day wanted to hear only pleasant words, people today don’t want to hear such harsh words about God’s indignation and burning anger. The result is, people have built an idol they worship—a caricature of God, not the Holy God whose ways are not our ways.

With idols firmly in place, people today have no need of a Savior. They have no need of forgiveness. They’ve been told all their lives that they are extraordinary, that they can do whatever they set their minds to, that they are winners. They’ve been schooled in tolerance and politically correct speech. So certainly they don’t want to be told that the wages of sin is death, that no one is righteous, not even one, that Jesus is the way, the Truth (what is truth anyway?), and the life.

Hear no evil_gargoyle_06Stop with the negative gobbledygook. We don’t want to hear recriminations and accusations. We’re okay and they’re okay, so why aren’t you religious freaks okay? And if you MUST believe your nonsense, just don’t shove it down our throats.

So no more of this hate preaching—telling people they’re destined for hell. You all are haters and you believe in a hateful god-God, but we don’t have to listen to your list of what’s right and what’s wrong. In fact, why don’t you just stop speaking! That’s what we really want.

Yes, Isaiah tends to say it like it is, and that makes some people want to cut his book out of the Bible. It’s already been deconstructed and discredited by scholars who dismiss the idea of God inspiring the prophets. Which makes it easier to ignore.

For this is a rebellious people, false sons,
Sons who refuse to listen
To the instruction of the LORD;

Who say to the seers, “You must not see visions”;
And to the prophets, “You must not prophesy to us what is right,
Speak to us pleasant words,
Prophesy illusions.

Published in: on March 10, 2016 at 6:47 pm  Comments Off on Refusing To Listen  
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Pestilence


20110823-F-GA004-134The Oxford American Dictionary defines pestilence as “a fatal epidemic disease.” They cite the bubonic plague as the prototype of a pestilence. Of course, science has found an answer to bubonic plague, as they have yellow fever and polio and influenza—diseases that killed thousands of people throughout history.

In fact, during my growing up years, there was this feel that science was going to wipe out all the diseases that could sweep through a community unchecked. Science had the answers and the upper hand. No more did we have to quarantine people or fear for our lives because of casual contact with someone else who might be sick.

And then came AIDS. Suddenly there was an unconquerable disease in our midst again. But science redoubled its efforts and found, not a cure, but a life-sustaining treatment. AIDS was no longer a death sentence. And those suffering from the disease were no longer outcasts of society.

But diseases seemed to spring from nowhere. Suddenly there was the Bird Flu and the H1N1 Swine Flu. These viruses are apparently mutating, so what wasn’t dangerous to humans may become deadly. The health organizations remind us from time to time that a pandemic is in the realm of possibility.

More recently there was an outbreak of Ebola in Africa. This is another disease discovered in the twentieth century which has no cure—at least not yet. Science has been working hard to find a treatment.

But before we have properly educated ourselves about that deadly disease, we are now dealing with the Zika virus, another mosquito-borne disease like West Nile virus.

All this to say, my childhood idea that science will win out against disease is not happening. Instead, new deadly viruses are cropping up and literally going viral.

I’ve thought about disease in particular because of the prophecies in Revelation about pestilence. When God brings judgment on the earth, part of the means He uses will be pestilence. But how, I wondered, if science is wiping out diseases? Well, reality has set in. Science appeared for a time, from the perspective of this uninformed child, to be winning over disease. We had antibiotics, after all. The germ fighter that would wipe out deadly bacteria.

But we aren’t winning in the long run. We can’t anticipate how viruses will mutate, and we haven’t found a way to kill them.

Pestilence is listed throughout the Bible as one of the means God used when He wanted to judge a people. The others often mentioned were famine and the sword.

Famine was another thing I didn’t understand when I was growing up. I mean, we have stores of food and when an area such as Sudan is suffering from drought, we simply share with them from our excess. Except, it doesn’t always work that way. And what happens when America’s agricultural center experiences a drought?

“California is running through its water supply because, for complicated historical and climatological reasons, it has taken on the burden of feeding the rest of the country,” Steven Johnson wrote in Medium, pointing out that California’s water problems are actually a national problem — for better or for worse, the trillions of gallons of water California agriculture uses annually is the price we all pay for supermarket produce aisles stocked with fruits and vegetables. (“California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System”)

Why all this contemplation about pestilence and famine? I’ll spare you thoughts about “the sword.”

With the reports about the Zika virus, I’m reminded that God’s word is true, that humankind is not master of our fate, that God still sends His judgment so we might know He is Lord.

droughtFor months we in Southern California were told to prepare for El Niño. County workers cleaned out storm drains. Shrubbery was cut back so gutters wouldn’t be blocked. Sand bags have been handed out. All in preparation of the monster storms predicted for us this winter.

Today the temperature reached 84° and record highs have been recorded all week in any number of cities. Not the rainy weather we were supposed to have.

Humankind simply is not in control. Sure we’ve learned a lot. Our satellites allow us to see weather developing and to measure winds and water temperatures in ways we couldn’t years ago. But we are not in charge. We can anticipate from all our data, and still we can be wrong.

God alone created the heavens and the earth. He also sustains what He has made. And He shows us Himself in what He has made.

The damage to life brought on by pestilence and famine is real. God’s gracious provision for His creation is interrupted. What was good has been spoiled, but God still works His purpose through it all. He uses the crises of life to draw us to Himself, to remind us that He is still over all, that we are not god.

He alone is the LORD.

Published in: on February 11, 2016 at 5:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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