The Super Bowl Half-time Show; Or, God’s Standards Applied To The Twenty-first Century


Apparently there has been some discussion among Christians about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the half time Super Bowl show. I’ll admit, I didn’t watch it. I’d seen the promos, and I had a strong sense that the dance and dress of the artists would cross a line of propriety. I didn’t want to be subject to that. But I didn’t realize others who watched the show were also having discussions along that same line until I was approached by someone asking my opinion.

All this to say, I have been made aware that Christians are not united in our standards of behavior. Some saw no issues at all with the show. Others were offended. Hence, I thought it appropriate to explore the issue of God’s standards once again. The following is an article I wrote in 2015 on the subject.

I have a friend, a godly Christian man, who’s written a series of articles on modesty. His basic premise is, modesty isn’t a static condition; it’s the intention of the heart.

I’m not sure I agree. But I’m not sure I disagree either.

Standards such as modesty do seem to fluctuate. What was modest in one generation will seem positively prehistoric in another. Take the Amish, for instance. By their dress, you’d expect the Bible to have mandated double-breasted, floor-length dresses that don’t use such modern things as buttons and zippers (If the hook and eye was good enough for granny, it’s good enough for me 😉 ).

The point here is this: freezing clothing style at a certain point in history does not insure that it meets God’s standards. After all, there’s mention in the Bible of women covering their faces at certain times. So the Amish aren’t modest according to Biblical standards.

On the other hand, the swim wear of the 1920s would look positively risque in comparison to Amish dress. And yet today, someone at the beach in a ’20s suit would stand out like a sore thumb for the very fact that no one wears that much clothing at the beach these days.

In some senses, then, it seems as if God’s standards need to be applied to our lives today, but that may look different from the application of those same standards by people living a hundred years ago.

I understand this when it comes to clothing. A teenage girl may desire in her heart to be modest, but the shorts she buys which are longer than all her friends’ shorts, might still induce her parents to tell her she can’t be seen outside the house wearing such a revealing outfit.

According to my friend’s standard, the teen with the intent to be modest should be credited with mission accomplished, despite the fact that her parents think her shorts are too revealing. Is the issue how revealing her clothing is or whether or not she’s trying to be alluring by what she wears?

This modesty issue is reflective, I think, of a host of standards God set before His people, starting back with Adam and Eve, but moving from them to the people of Israel. When God gave Moses His law, He said the people were not to commit adultery, and if they did, they were to be put to death. Flash forward to King David who committed adultery and did not give himself up to the death penalty.

Or how about the Keep the Sabbath command. Shortly after the people of Israel agreed to keep the Law, a man slipped out of camp one Sabbath to gather wood. He was discovered, brought before Moses, who in turn went to God, and at God’s direction the man was stoned to death. Yet a few centuries later, God said one of Israel’s problems was that they weren’t keeping the Sabbath any more. Apparently they were breaking the Sabbath with impunity.

The cultural slide away from what God said and initially punished by death, was not OK. It was still God’s standard for His people to keep the Sabbath, but they no longer thought it was so important. And after they returned from exile and instituted Pharisaic Law to insure obedience to God’s standards, there were still people finding ways to skirt the point and purpose of the Law. Jesus, in fact, called out the Pharisees for holding up their tradition as a way to avoid doing what God said they were to do (in that particular case, to honor their parents).

Then there was God’s direction not to make any idols or offer any sacrifices on high places at any altar other than the one altar consecrated for His worship. In fact, when two of the twelve tribes departed for their homes after spending five years fighting to win the promised land, they built an altar beside the Jordan as a witness that they too were worshipers of the LORD God Almighty.

The ten tribes, however, thought they were disobeying God and had built the altar for a place to offer sacrifices. They gathered their fighting men and headed off to do battle with their brothers because they thought they’d broken God’s standard.

Fast forward a couple generations, and everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes, including building altars on high places and creating their own house gods to put in their shrines. Even God’s prophet, Elijah built an altar when he had the showdown with the prophets of Baal.

So when is a standard, a standard? And who is to define words like “modestly” or “keep the Sabbath” or “altar of the LORD”?

Or should we chuck all those discussions? I mean, we are New Testament believers, saved by grace, no longer under the Law.

Except it was Paul who set the standard of modest wear for women in the Church. And it was Jesus who told the Pharisees they should be tithing even their spices, just not at the expense of justice and mercy and faithfulness (see Matt. 23:23).

Later, when believers were selling property to give to the needy, two Christians, Ananias and Sapphira, were struck down for lying about how much money they sold their home for. But we know there are professing Christians today who have not been struck down for lying on their income tax or juggling the books at work or even committing outright fraud.

God seems to start out so strict, but then He lets us go our own way. If we want to stretch the boundaries of modesty, He seems to let us do it. If we want to stretch the boundaries of what it means to worship before His altar, He seemed to let the people of Israel do it. If we want to stretch the boundary of integrity, He seems to let us do it.

Granted, He doesn’t relent in His judgment. Israel went into exile in part because of their Sabbath breaking and idol worshiping.

So do His standards apply to the twenty-first century? They do. Any fudging we do, any accommodation to the culture that nullifies what He’s said, will surely bring us grief. God says what He means and means what He says. But we aren’t always so quick to figure out how that looks in our society today. Especially since so many in our culture have no interest in God’s standards.

God’s Work, Now And In The Pre-Flood World


Some years ago the movie Noah, turned the spotlight, though not particularly brightly, on events recorded in the Bible. Like Exodus that followed it months later, the movie deviated from the historical account—understandable since most atheists such as the film maker don’t look at the Bible as history and would have a hard time showing God as the Bible reveals Him.

I didn’t see the movie, but I saw trailers and clips. One of the more memorable had a mob of people clamoring to get on board the ark, only to have Noah hold them off at gun point under threat of violence.

Interesting since the small amount of information we have about the pre-flood world mentions violence as one cause for God’s judgment. Of course there was the whole Sons-of-God-copulating-with-the-daughters-of-men issue. Nobody really understands what that was all about, of course. Some scholars insist the “sons of God” refer to angels, but then there’s not a good explanation why God would judge Mankind for what angels were clearly responsible for.

Be that as it may, we can put down as fact that something immoral, of a sexual nature, was taking place. My theory, which I may have shared in this space before, is that Adam and Eve had children before they sinned. These would have been “sons of God” in the sense that they didn’t have a sin nature. Daughters of men would have been born in Adam’s likeness, with a sin nature.

But that’s a theory.

The bottom line is that humankind didn’t just sin occasionally:

the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5)

A few verses down, God references their violence:

Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. (v 11)

We don’t have details here, but we know that Cain killed his brother—2nd degree murder, or premeditated murder, we don’t know for sure. Either way, God didn’t respond with capital punishment. Instead he protected Cain from those who might want to kill him by branding him with a special mark. This was not a curse as some have suggested or a mark he passed on to his descendents as others have said.

There’s no indication it was anything more than a way people could identify Cain as a man under God’s protection. God’s promise was that if anyone killed Cain, they’d pay sevenfold.

Perhaps the people of the day took this to be a license to kill. We know in fact that one of Cain’s descendants, Lamech, also committed murder. In fact he confessed to two murders:

For I have killed a man for wounding me;
And a boy for striking me (4:23b)

Lamech then claimed the right of seventy-sevenfold retribution against anyone who would seek to kill him.

One more thing Lamech is famous for: he’s also the first recorded bigamist.

Apparently he was a trend-setter because few men from that point on until the first century were monogamous.

So here are the facts: God said to Adam and Eve, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Their descendants were killing each other.

God established marriage as a one man-one woman union that made them one flesh. Adam and Eve’s descendants were partnering inappropriately—in the wrong way (multiple partners), with the wrong people (sons of God with daughters of men).

So apparently humankind was 0 for 2—they failed to obey the only two commandments God had given them. And things were only getting worse:

God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.

As we know from Romans, humankind’s corruption affected the rest of creation.

The point I want to make here is that God judged Lamech and his sons and their sons, not because they were good people and God just had a temper tantrum. He judged them because they were mass murderers and rapists and adulterers and bigamists. They rejected God’s right to rule their lives in the simplest, most basic aspects.

Noah alone was righteous.

And still, after God passed judgment, after He gave Noah the command to build the ark, it took a hundred years to get it finished.

Yes, these were the days when humans still lived long lives. Scripture intimates in a number of places that humans didn’t lose their faculties as they aged at the same rate we do today. So at 75, for example, Sarai, Abram’s wife, is still referred to as very beautiful—not a typical description of a senior citizen.

But to the point, God didn’t strike down all the corrupt of the earth in a fit of anger. And Noah wasn’t off in some corner happily preparing his escape from the coming judgment while other “good people” were unaware of the coming catastrophe.

Scripture refers to Noah as “a preacher of righteousness,” suggesting that he was splitting his time between building the ark and telling everyone else about God, His expectations, and His righteous judgment.

The people who died in the flood were “ungodly” according to 2 Peter. They’re listed along with the angels God judged and the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which God also judged and destroyed.

God does not whack innocent people like some gangland kingpin who’s having a bad day and wants to take it out on whoever is in his way.

God is a righteous judge.

He’s sovereign, but He’s good; his judgments are pure and right, every one of them.

I’m convinced we don’t have to fret over the people who died in the flood. God says He takes no delight in the death of the wicked, and yet He carries out the judgment against them. I have no doubt that he made the right call. Am I happy many people died? Of course not. But God knew each one of those people by name. I’m confident He wanted more than I ever could, for them to do an about-face so that He didn’t have to carry out the judgment upon them.

How do I know this? Because of the prophets and the ways God worked to spare Israel and Judah—the extent He went to in the effort to induce His people to turn back to Him. Because of His warning to and forgiveness of Nineveh, And ultimately, because He Himself went to a cross to die for the sins of the world.

Would a God who loves that much, have done less to win and woo the pre-flood people? It’s not consistent with His character to think He was uncaring in His judgment. But His judgment is a fact and a warning to us that God’s patience is long-suffering but not endless. There is a day of judgment for our world that is also coming.

Would that people today will learn the lesson the pre-flood people failed to grasp.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in July, 2015.

“Vengeance Is Mine, Not God’s”



Photo by Clem Onojeghuo from Pexels

Some years ago I wrote an article entitled God’s judgment. Though the post didn’t generate any conversation, it did receive some negative feedback—some one or two stars. I’m not surprised because we live in a day when people calling themselves Christians pooh-pooh the idea that God will actually be sending anyone to hell. At the same time others question whether or not they might be nicer than the Almighty. I wonder if they’d prefer a different name for Him—the All Tolerant One, perhaps. But I jest, and this really isn’t a matter for levity.

The fact is, we humans find it easy to label others as bigots or hate-mongers or hypocrites. We have no problem criticizing each other—online, to our faces, behind our backs. We can even yell at God and tell Him how disappointed or angry we are at Him. But far be it that God could do the same thing in return. No, no. He’s supposed to stand meekly by and love.

But that idea is nonsense. We get angry at the things we perceive to be wrong. Why shouldn’t God, in whose image we’re made?

Someone may counter that God can get angry, no problem, but it’s unthinkable for Him to give sinners consequences, especially ultimate consequences.

That position, of course, strips God of His power. So He’s a loving God who can get angry when a child is molested, but He can’t punish the evildoer.

How then is He loving? Real love, as author and speaker Gary Chapman (The Five Love Languages) said when he visited my church, is expressed in God’s anger toward sin and toward the wicked. Let me invert that statement to reinforce it: God’s anger toward sin and toward the wicked expresses His love.

Psalm 136 illustrates this point. That poem recounts God’s divine intervention against Egypt and other nations standing against Israel, as an evidence of His lovingkindness.

To Him who smote the Egyptians in their firstborn,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,…
He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting…
To Him who smote great kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And slew mighty kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And Og, king of Bashan,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting (vv 10-20)

In order to stand for Israel, God had to stand against those who wanted to destroy them.

Other passages in Scripture declare God’s acts of judgment to be the very way in which He showed Himself so that the nations would know Him, turn from their sin, and come to Him. In those instances His intention was to correct those who were forsaking Him in order to bring them back:

O LORD, do not Your eyes look for truth?
You have smitten them,
But they did not weaken;
You have consumed them,
But they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
They have refused to repent. (Jeremiah 5:3)

When rejection is complete, when the wicked are oppressing the poor and the needy, the orphan and the widow, God acts on behalf of those who are suffering abuse:

So their houses are full of deceit;
Therefore they have become great and rich.
‘They are fat, they are sleek,
They also excel in deeds of wickedness;
They do not plead the cause,
The cause of the orphan, that they may prosper;
And they do not defend the rights of the poor.
‘Shall I not punish these people?’ declares the LORD,
‘On a nation such as this
Shall I not avenge Myself?’

“An appalling and horrible thing
Has happened in the land:
The prophets prophesy falsely,
And the priests rule on their own authority;
And My people love it so! (Jeremiah 5:27-31a – emphasis mine)

An appalling thing, God says, when we spurn His authority and take it for ourselves. Such is the false teaching of our day.

Clearly, God’s judgment is righteous.

But ours?

Here are a few comments, apparently made by Christians, to a couple controversial articles.

are all of you out there so naive and stupid not to see the propaganda

Or there’s this one:

As a Chrisitian, I do not want to come under the same umbrella as those that hate, undermine, are haughty and proud, and who cause millions of people to avoid even looking at Christianity as an option because of the behavior of many christians in their hate-mongering, their pride, their ‘holier-than-thou-attitude’.

Then there’s this one:

What rock are you living under?

I’ve seen worse, and I’m sure you have too.

Yes, people who claim to be Christians, say mean and judgmental things. I don’t know if those same people all claim God doesn’t have the right to judge. It’s quite clear, though, that they believe they DO have the right to judge.

In truth, God is rightfully angry at sin and wickedness. What are we Christians angry about (and I’m talking to myself, here)? Bottom line, are we—am I—taking it upon ourselves to reap vengeance with our words?

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

Published in: on February 21, 2019 at 5:09 pm  Comments (6)  
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Atheist Arguments: God Is Cruel


Often atheists claim that God, if He exists, is cruel, even evil, because look at the people who died in the flood (which they also don’t believe in), or how about all those Egyptian soldiers who died when the Red Sea closed over them (another account atheists claim is nothing but myth). A third example are those Amalekites Saul was supposed to wipe out (yes, those would be people atheists don’t actually believe ever lived). The war against the Amalekites, according to these atheists, shows that God is genocidal.

Taken out of context those examples do make God look bad. But here’s the truth.

First, God’s nature. Scripture reveals the character of God throughout. He identifies Himself as merciful and true, good and kind. There are many other traits revealed and demonstrated, but most pertinent to this question raised by the atheist argument is that God is righteous and He is just.

Psalm 7 contains one such revelation:

The LORD judges the peoples;
Vindicate me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me.
O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous;
For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds.
My shield is with God,
Who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge,
And a God who has indignation every day.
If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword;
He has bent His bow and made it ready.(vv 8-12)

Notice that God’s job as judge is actually a hedge, a safeguard, a shield for the upright, to protect them from the wicked.

Here’s another passage in the Psalms that makes the point that God deals with the wicked. He won’t let them hurt others with impunity:

The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked,
And the one who loves violence His soul hates.
Upon the wicked He will rain snares;
Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness;
The upright will behold His face. (11:5-7)

See? some atheists might say. There God is, hating and raining fire on people. Such a view misses the context again. The recipient of God’s wrath is the wicked who loves violence. As it happens even we fallible humans, with our imperfect laws and legal system and law enforcement officers, sometimes use deadly force to stop a violent person. We should not be shocked if God treats unrepentant oppressors and violent men in the same vein. After all, His knowledge is complete. His judgment is never wrong. So He doesn’t sometimes bring down His fire on innocent people. He gets the judgment right every single time.

The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. (Ps. 19: 9b-10)

Psalm 119 repeats the truth about God’s righteousness more than once:

5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
Yes, our God is compassionate.

75 I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous,

137 Righteous are You, O LORD,
And upright are Your judgments.

Psalm 145 declares a number of God’s attributes, including His righteousness:

8 The LORD is gracious and merciful;
Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
9 The LORD is good to all,
And His mercies are over all His works. . .
17 The LORD is righteous in all His ways
And kind in all His deeds.
18 The LORD is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
19 He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He will also hear their cry and will save them.
20 The LORD keeps all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.

These last lines bring up the next salient point in the answer to the atheist argument that God is cruel. In His righteousness, in His justice, He saves those who call upon Him, which obviously pits Him against those who are doing harm. How can you keep people safe who are being oppressed without dealing with the oppressors?

As it happens, in the three Biblical examples atheists like to use to claim God’s cruelty, He did in fact deal with oppressors.

First the people in Noah’s day. Too often we forget why God sent a flood. Yes, judgment but why did the people have to be judged?

Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. (Genesis 6:11-12)

As I read this, I think, Man would be extinct today if God had not stepped in and saved Noah and his family. Maybe not, but why wouldn’t Noah have eventually become a target for these violent people whose thoughts were only evil, all the time?

Then there were the Egyptians. These would be the people who ordered and enforced the killing of the Hebrew male babies, who kept them under slavery for 400 years. They would hardly qualify as innocent. When God judged them, He did so as part of the process of freeing His people from captivity. They were no match for the trained Egyptian army and chariots. So God intervened and stopped the potential slaughter of all the descendants of Abraham.

Which brings us to the Amalekites. This people group harassed Israel on their way to the Promised Land. Waited and watched and picked off the weak and the vulnerable. God did not send judgment on them right away. He gave them time to do the right thing, to turn from their wicked ways. He gave them a good 200 years! But throughout the exodus, throughout the time that judges ruled Israel, the Amalekites oppressed Israel. When God allowed Israel to select a king, He turned the punishment of the Amalekites over to him. As it happened, Saul didn’t complete the job. As a result, years later, a descendant of the king Saul had spared—a guy named Haman—hatched a plot to wipe out any and all Jews. He would have succeeded, too, if Queen Esther had not intervened.

Atheists see God’s intervention, His judgment of evil, His protection of the ancestors of the coming Messiah, as cruel?

I see the violent men in Noah’s day as the cruel ones. I see the Egyptians who were exposing babies and keeping a people in subjugation for 400 years, as the cruel ones. I see the Amalekites who were intent on destroying the Hebrews, starting with their weakest people, as the cruel ones.

I see God as He’s described in the Psalms and elsewhere: He is a righteous judge, who administers justice, which He always gets right.

Published in: on February 15, 2019 at 5:31 pm  Comments (28)  
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Deadly Lies


Photo by Eduardo Braga from Pexels

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.

Do The Good Go To Hell? – A Story


Once upon a time, during a particularly difficult economic down turn, the president of the land of Make Believe decided to use his own money to help his people.

“I’ll build an industrial plant,” he told his economic adviser, “a huge complex, big enough to employ anyone who needs work. First we’ll hire people to do the construction. All kinds of people. No experience necessary. What they don’t know, we’ll train them to do.”

His adviser consulted with the necessary PR personnel and soon word spread: anyone who wanted a job could begin to report to the designated location, effective immediately.

People came slowly at first, hardly believing the president really meant what he said, and some stayed away, convinced the offer was a sham, or worse—a trick to bilk the people of the little they still had.

Eventually, however, as those first folk went home tired each night after a full day of hard labor, gold coins clinking in their pockets, more and more people decided to sign on for a job too.

One day, a nicely dressed young man named Warren Wingate showed up at the application center.

“Would you like to apply for a job?” the receptionist asked him.

“Oh, no, no. I don’t need a job,” Warren said. “In fact, I’m here to help out.”

“Help out? In what way?”

“I have money, lots of money, more than I can ever spend in my lifetime. I want to give it away.”

“To everyone?”

“Well, I could do that, but the amount would be so small, it might not make much of a difference.”

“So you plan to divide your wealth with just a few people? How will you decide which will receive your gift and which won’t?”

“I’ll figure something out—maybe based on need. You know, the poorest of the poor.”

So Warren set up a table and sat with his checkbook open. Whenever a poor man with a torn shirt or holes in his shoes came to the application center, Warren called him over, wrote a check, and sent him home.

“Warren,” the receptionist said, “you should be sending those poor people in to sign up for their job.”

“They don’t need it any more. I gave them enough to last a lifetime.”

“You don’t know that. What happens if inflation rises or our currency is devalued? These people need jobs. It’s the only way they can have a secure future.”

“That’s certainly a narrow-minded perspective. Look at me. I invested wisely, and I’m wealthy beyond measure. I don’t need a job, and in fact I can help shoulder the burden for all these other folk.”

With that Warren passed out checks to the next one hundred people who showed up at the application center, regardless of need. Each person was so happy, they shook Warren’s hand, said how grateful they were, how much they owed him, and headed back home.

The next day, all the people with checks hurried out to the bank. But instead of open doors and a lighted building, the shades were drawn and the doors were locked.

“What’s this about?” one person asked.

“Haven’t you heard?” a man on his way to work said. “The bank closed its doors yesterday. Those checks you have aren’t going to buy your groceries.”

“But Mr. Wingate said he had more than enough money for us all.”

“I’m sure he thought he had plenty. But he’s not buying groceries either, not unless he has some gold. And the only place I know where you can get gold is from the president. You all should come with me and put in your job application. They’re taking anyone willing to work.”

As the worker hurried toward the plant, a few folk trailed after him though most stayed in front of the bank.

“It’s a misunderstanding,” one man said. “They’ll open the bank in an hour or so, you’ll see.”

When those who went with the worker arrived at the application center, who did they see but Warren Wingate, handing out more checks to the poor.

One of those who had just left the bank, stepped forward. “What are you doing, Mr. Wingate? The bank is closed, and we can’t cash the checks you gave us.”

“Well, isn’t that sad. Would you like another? I can make this one for a good deal more if you like.”

“That won’t help. We need to buy groceries for our families and we need money, not a check we can’t cash. You need money, too. They say the only place to get any is here at the president’s industrial complex, so we’re going to apply for a job. You should too.”

“Me?” Warren said. “Why would I need a job? I have plenty of money. Take a look at my last bank statement.”

“But the bank is closed.”

“I’ll simply show this statement at the grocery story. I’m sure they’ll give me the food I need. You can show them your checks too. They’re bound to give you the food once they see how rich you are.”

– – –

So what do you think? Did the kind man giving out checks to the poor get the food he needed?

This story is an edited version of one first published here in October, 2010.

Published in: on October 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments Off on Do The Good Go To Hell? – A Story  
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False Ideas About God


I think perhaps the most harmful idea about God is that He’s sort of like a kindly, somewhat doddering, grandfather with a long white beard, waiting to give out presents to people who ask.

This false image is not only damaging as it is, it opens up a lot of people to anger who expect God to be this way but instead find Him to say no to their requests and to be quite engaged, in control, and not at all doddering.

I’m not sure where the idea of “grandfather god” came from, how it got started. I think it’s a fairly recent concept, though I don’t think Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting of God in the act of creating did anything to dissuade people from seeing God in this benevolent, passive, aged way.

I find it hard to imagine, though, that the people in the 1700s listening to preachers like Jonathan Edwards who preached “fire and brimstone” sermons such as “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” would conceive of God as a kindly grandfather. They understood from the sermons they heard on Sunday and those they listened to during revival meetings, that God’s judgment of sinners was anything but kindly.

In reaction to this focus on God’s judgment, I believe Christendom began to focus on God’s love rather than on His wrath. Hence, the script flipped to this kinder, gentler God who loves the world. The natural outgrowth of this emphasis was a redefining of God’s image. He was not angry; He was loving. He was not eager to judge; He was eager to save. He was not a kill-joy; He was willing, even desirous, of showering His people with good gifts.

The problem actually is the focus, the over-emphasis of one of God’s traits to the exclusion of the others. And to be honest, grandfather god, while accurately identifying some of God’s attributes, neglects others so that the overall concept of God is drastically distorted.

As you would expect the preachers of Jonathan Edwards’s day knew nothing of “grandfather god.” Here’s a flavor of Edwards’s famous sermon:

II. They deserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way, it makes no objection against God’s using his power at any moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth such grapes of Sodom, “Cut it down; why cumbreth it the ground” (Luke 13:7). The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and ’tis nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God’s mere will, that holds it back.

III. They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They don’t only justly deserve to be cast down thither; but the sentence of the law of God, that eternal and immutable rule of righteousness that God has fixed between him and mankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they are bound over already to hell. John 3:18, “He that believeth not is condemned already.” So that every unconverted man properly belongs to hell; that is his place; from thence he is.” (excerpt from Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as posed by Yale.edu)

What I find interesting—though I haven’t read much of the sermon at all—is that I see nothing so far that doesn’t square with Scripture.

So which is true about God? Is He angry or is He a kindly grandfather?

Again, I’ll say, the problem is that both these perspectives are incomplete. God is kind, loving, merciful but He is also just and uncompromising and angry at sin.

The thing is, in this era of grandfather god, we don’t like to hear those things about God that contradict our image of universal benevolence.

But actually God is universally benevolent. He sends rain on the just and the unjust. He mercifully withholds His wrath from deserving sinners so that we have a chance to accept His free gift of grace. And it is His kindness and love for mankind that prompts His offer of salvation.

The mistake we make today, I believe, is speaking only of the traits that we like, that we’re happy about, and sort of mumbling under our breath that yes, God hates sin. Honestly? It’s even hard for me to write these truths. If feels a little foreign and I’m afraid someone will misunderstand. After all, we humans don’t have the holiness that God does which mitigates His traits we can only understand as negative.

In truth, God’s wrath is no more negative than His love is. His wrath is directed at rebellion and the cause of death which haunts the human race, and in fact all of creation. God hates death. He hates the sin that caused it. His plan is to bring it to an end. But the truth is, some will resist His love, His kindness, His mercy, His grace. As a result, they align themselves with that which God hates.

The best analogy is not a new one. Sin is like a cancer that will take a person’s life unless it is attacked aggressively, excised, dealt with ruthlessly. Should a doctor be benevolent toward the cancer? Or toward his patient?

To be benevolent toward the one is to be wrathful toward the other.

In short, God is both, kindly and angry. But grandfather? No. That doesn’t fit. God dwells in inexpressible light.

Time we retired the idea of grandfather god and look at Almighty God as He has revealed Himself—and that means we need to look at more than the qualities we find easy to talk about.

Volcanoes And Earthquakes And The Flood


This post is mostly my speculation. Some of you might be aware that in the last month there have been three volcanic eruption along the Pacific Rim. The first was in Indonesia and didn’t end up with any lose of life. The second is in Hawaii and is not finished yet. A few people have died. The third was just last Sunday in Guatemala, the land of volcanoes. That eruption was more violent than the first two and at least 69 known deaths have occurred.

Besides these, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming has recently experienced some “unusual activity” from at least one of their active geysers. Not Old Faithful. This one is known as Steamboat. But of course the fact that unusual seismic activity is taking place in the region reminds me that Yellowstone is actually an active volcano. A BIG, active volcano.

So what’s with all the volcanic activity?

The Bible talks about an increase in seismic activity in the form of earthquakes. Nothing about volcanoes, though, unless we understand “fire and brimstone” to be the residual effect of a volcanic eruption.

But here’s my speculation.

The facts: when God created the world, Scripture says “the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” We don’t know when He created that water or where it was located. But in the process of creating our world, He divided the water, some above and some below.

Later, when God sent a world-wide flood as judgment on the earth, He didn’t just send rain. Rather, Genesis 7 tells us “all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened.”

Interestingly, after the flood, the life span of humans plummeted.

My conjecture: The “floodgates of the sky” were a layer of water in our atmosphere that protected us and enabled life to exist in an Eden that allowed everyone long life. The “fountains” were likely an increased amount of water in the water table that cooled the earth and prevented the seismic activity which we have seen and are seeing today.

I suspect the water table is continuing to be depleted and therefore seismic activity will increase.

Of course, I could be wrong. All these volcanic eruptions so close together in time and all along the Pacific Rim could mean nothing.

But God is sovereign over this world, whether we humans recognize it or admit it, or not. There is no random “Mother Nature.” God is also purposeful. He doesn’t allow things for no reason.

Once we understood that God’s hand was in storms and drought and wind and lightning and earthquakes. But now humans have become so very smart and aware of how our world works, that we no longer want to credit God with being in charge. Even Christians assume that much of the attitude toward natural phenomena in years past was a result of simply not knowing or understanding the way things work.

But really?

Understanding tectonic plates or wind patterns or high and low tide does not give us humans control over those things. Nor does it negate God’s sovereignty over those things. Do we think less of an automobile maker because we understand what makes a car work? Are we less inclined to credit Henry Ford or the other inventors for their work because current day auto plants put out a much more complex product? No and No. We understand that the inventors created something new and that the manufacturers today keep updating that invention. We average Jo or Josephine drivers aren’t giving ourselves credit because we understand something about the combustion engine or about how to drive.

We certainly don’t think that now that we have learned how a car operates, it operates itself.

Why would we think that about nature?

Yes, we understand something about the way the world works that people five hundred years ago did not understand. But our understanding does not negate God’s creation of the systems we’ve discovered or His control over them. Just because we don’t see Him causing an El Niño does not mean that He isn’t doing the work. Scripture says He sustains the universe. He’s holding our world together, He set in motion what we now call laws of nature. They are actually laws of God and He can let them play out or He can stop them with a word.

I mean, the resurrection of Jesus Christ should convince us that God is not beholden to the natural way we’ve grown accustom to. He can reverse them, uproot them, change them, replace them.

He is the Sovereign Lord.

And us? We would be wise to see what’s happening in the world and take these “unusual activities” as warnings. God does nothing without purpose.

I don’t know what His purpose is now for all this seismic activity. But why should we not use these things as alarm clocks? We, God’s people, are to be ready for His return. Might these events be reminders that God will bring judgment, that He means what He says about the end of all things? Certainly we can allow them to turn our minds to the things that are eternally important.

God Is Not Benevolent


copOne of the “faults” atheists find with God, and apparently some professing Christians share this thinking, is that He shows Himself in the Old Testament to be wrathful. The first conversation I had with someone about this subject made me think we simply were not defining “wrathful” in the same way. She, I believed, meant that God was quick to anger, that he “flew off the handle” easily, and that He was capricious about when and why He “lost it.” I knew He wasn’t any of that.

Apparently I was wrong about her definition. She meant that God was wrong for punishing the unrighteous.

There are indeed those in the world who think God errors because He judges sin. His wrath, then, isn’t acceptable in any form. There simply isn’t room for a god who doesn’t bend his will toward making life better for the universe. Only if he did so, in this view, would he be a benevolent god.

And clearly, so these thinkers say, the God of the Old Testament is not benevolent.

I agree with this conclusion. The God of the Old Testament, who happens to be the same as the God of the New Testament, is not benevolent by those standards. The Oxford English Dictionary defines benevolent as “well meaning and kindly.” Ah, but as C. S. Lewis reminds us, God is good, not simply well meaning and kindly.

God does not “mean well” in the sense that He’s hoping for the best and trying to help and aiming for what’s good. NO! God is good, does good, brings about good. But good is defined on His terms.

I can say it would be good for me to sell my book for a million dollars. But my understanding of good is limited and finite. I don’t know if a million dollars would make me happy or angry at people who I perceive as trying to leech off me once I got some cash. I don’t know if a million dollars would change my perspective so much that I’d stop doing things of value like writing blog posts and doing freelance editing. I don’t know if a million dollars would make me more prideful, self-centered, and egotistical that I’d lose all my friends. And most importantly, I don’t know if a million dollars would become my idol, if I would worship it in God’s place.

God knows these things, however, and may, for my benefit here and now, in this life, prevent me from getting a million dollars. I also have no doubt that God could give me a million dollars if that were truly for my good—if it would bring me closer to Him, cause me to serve Him more truly, make me conform more closely to the image of His Son. What’s a million dollars to the Owner of the cosmos?

But He withholds what would harm His people in the same way that a good parent doesn’t give a three-year-old candy for breakfast just because she asks. God knows better than we do what is truly good.

God Himself is good, so we can conclude that His judgment is good as well. When He says, the wages of sin is death, that’s not an arbitrary judgment—that’s the testimony of an all knowing Creator. Much the way that a policeman might point to a sign and say, this is a handicap parking zone; you’ll get a ticket if you park here, God has made plain what disobeying His righteous standards will cost.

handicap parking signSomeone who didn’t know what the handicap parking sign meant would be grateful that the policeman told him. They wouldn’t rail against him because he didn’t tear the sign down and let them park in the specially marked spot, and they certainly wouldn’t ignore the warning and park there right under the watchful eye of the policeman.

But that’s what many people want of God—that He would ignore justice for them. Of course, few want Him to ignore justice for those they consider enemies, but they reserve their idea of His benevolence based on how He treats them.

Jesus told an interesting story about a man who thought much as these people do. He owed a debt so great he could never manage to pay it back in his life time–the equivalent would be millions of dollars. His creditor said all the man owned would have to be sold and he himself would go into servitude until he paid his debt. The man begged for more time. The creditor had compassion on him but instead of giving him more time to pay, which was really an impossibility, he forgave him the entire debt.

The man left and immediately ran into a fellow worker who owed him the equivalent of about ten thousand dollars. The man grabbed his co-worker and demanded that he pay up or he’d have to sell everything he owned and go into servitude himself until the debt was paid. The co-worker begged for more time, but the man refused.

A bunch of other workers saw what happened and told the man’s creditor. And this is how the story ends:

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. (Matt 18:32-34)

Was the creditor in the wrong because he didn’t treat the man in a benevolent way? Of course not. He had in fact canceled the man’s debt. It was the man himself who wasn’t benevolent, who didn’t understand what receiving a gift of forgiveness actually meant.

So, no, God is not benevolent in the way the people of today want Him to be. He doesn’t tear up the ticket we deserve. Rather, He paid it for us. The point isn’t to get us off so we can go pile up more debt. The point is to change our status from debtor, to adopted child; it is to give us an inheritance far richer than any we can imagine.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in June, 2013.

Published in: on May 7, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments Off on God Is Not Benevolent  
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Comparing


One of my neighbors has a band that recently started rehearsing in his garage. To be honest, they aren’t very good. The lead singer is especially weak.

Understand, I’ve recently been watching The Voice, and the contestants this season are especially strong. So even though I don’t really listen to contemporary music, like on the radio or via iTunes, I still have a standard with which to compare my neighbor’s band.

But here they are, playing for all the neighborhood to hear. Unless they’re playing for the love of music, I assume they have hopes of performing somewhere. I’m sure their family and friends have told them they are good, that they could find an audience. But a paying gig? I have a hard time imagining that anyone would actually give them money for their music.

But isn’t that they way we are? We evaluate our lives, our talents, our weaknesses in a large part in response to what others say about us. We listen to our co-workers, read the evaluations from our boss, maybe get a word of affirmation from our spouse or children, or maybe a complaint or murmured confrontation. From all that feedback we add our own summation based on what we see in the world.

Likely we reach a conclusion that runs something like this: I’m not so bad. After all I don’t cheat on my spouse, I don’t lose my temper that often, and I don’t rob banks or gun people down. I’m a pretty good citizen since I vote in most elections. I don’t speed more than anyone else, and I don’t drive drunk. Nobody’s suing me, I pay my taxes. My neighbors don’t complain about my dog barking, and I always greet the mailman. I mean, I really am not so bad.

The problem there is that we make our judgment according to a minimal standard. We’re not evaluating if we love our neighbor, just that no neighbor is complaining—to our face. We’re not detailing what service we do for our city or state or nation, just what we do that is required of us. We haven’t identified any selfless, loving action toward our family that puts them first, just what we do to keep those relationships.

And isn’t that enough?

Actually, no, it isn’t. God’s standard is much higher.

First He says, above all we are to love Him with all we have—our mind, body, soul. We’re to be sold out to Him. As if that wasn’t enough, we are also to love others—our neighbors, our family, our enemies—with the selfless love Jesus showed. One example Jesus gave was to give, pretty much, the shirt off our backs to someone in need. If someone asked us to help them, we are to do twice as much as they ask. The story He told on this same topic was about a man who knew he was in territory where people hated him, and still he stopped to help a stranger in need. And this help cost him—in time, in money, in resources.

Do we love like that? Do I love like that?

Not even close.

So, am I OK? Are any of us “not so bad”? Well, sure, some might say. We didn’t beat up the guy who needed help, who’d been robbed and left for dead.

But are we to compare ourselves to the bottom rung of society and evaluate our character based on the fact that we aren’t as bad as we could be? Or are we to make the judgment based on what we should be, what we were created to be?

When we look at what’s highest and best, we have to consider the things Jesus told us He considers:

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

There’s more, but it’s clear that Jesus set the bar high. He wasn’t interested in our just being better than murderers. He wants us to eliminate hate in our hearts.

With that as the standard, it’s pretty clear, we are not getting any paying gigs any time soon, because we all fall short of what Jesus set out before us.

Which is why He came—to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Published in: on April 11, 2018 at 5:25 pm  Comments Off on Comparing  
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