None Righteous, No Not One


MOTORCYCLE_COPAccording to the Bible, none is righteous, no, not one. I think we might all admit it’s a hard truth. The problem is, we measure Man with Man, and as such we see that there’s a wide range—from Jeffery Dahmer and Joseph Stalin to Mahatma Gandhi and Bill Gates.

From our perspective, the man willing to die to bring peace is a good man. The one bent on giving away his massive fortune to those most in need is a good man. The cannibalistic serial killer, not so good. The murderous paranoid tyrant, not so good.

But reality is, God does not measure us one against another. He Himself is the standard and we, all of us, no matter how we compare against each other, fall short, far short.

The sad truth is, we are all deserving of hell.

Again, our cultural thinking makes this fact hard to grab hold of. Our inclination is to think, if everyone is doing it, then no one is guilty. Like speeding. Cars whip by going eighty when the speed limit is sixty-five. So if I go seventy, I’m really doing good, aren’t I? And none of us will be ticketed because all of us are exceeding the limit.

None of us may be ticketed, but the truth is, all of us breaking the law deserve to be ticketed.

For some reason we expect God to act like a traffic cop and let us all go, either because He’s off somewhere else and doesn’t see us breaking His law, or He doesn’t care, or He’s just such a nice guy, He’s decided to give us all a break.

But God is not the traffic cop. He’s the just judge.

Funny how we all want a just judge to preside over the trial of a heinous criminal or one who has wronged us. But do we really want a just judge to preside over our trial regarding the crimes we have committed against God? Wouldn’t we rather have a merciful judge?

The truth is, God is both, just and merciful. He will not violate His justice to extend mercy and He will not violate His mercy to exercise justice.

I think understanding this point is at the heart of understanding hell.

God’s actually very up front. He lays out for us what His standards are and He tells us the consequences for falling short. There ought to be no surprises.

Yet some people kick against these basic parameters. God’s standard (perfection) is too high, His punishment (hell) too harsh and too long lasting (for eternity).

But it’s this very kicking that is the problem. Who is Man that he should try to tell God how to run things? That’s like a three-year-old trying to tell Sully Sullenberger how to land a plane.

God, by nature of … well, His nature, is the only one who gets to make the rules. He is perfect so He knows what real righteousness looks like. He is good, so He knows what true goodness looks like.

We’re operating in the dark from a collapsed mine a half-mile deep, and we’re trying to direct our own rescue efforts. Or more accurately, telling everyone how we’re planning to pull ourselves out.

We’re telling the One Who provides the only way of escape we have no intention of confining ourselves in such a restrictive capsule for a twenty minute ride to the surface. We don’t deserve such ill treatment. In fact, come to think of it, we don’t really need rescuing at all. We’re fine where we are, thank you very much.

How is it we are so shortsighted? so unwilling to let God tell us what’s what?

The great, great news is, He not only wants to tell us how far short we are of His standards and the horrible consequences for that condition, He also wants to tell us about His love and mercy. Of course, only guilty people need mercy, which means all those people confident in their own goodness will turn down God’s offer. They’ll harden their hearts and go their own way—the way that leads to destruction.

This post first appeared here in October 2010.

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Published in: on February 17, 2016 at 6:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Peace Child And The Hound of Heaven


peace-child-richardson_coverPeace Child by Don Richardson is a true story that beautifully illustrates the author’s “redemptive analogy” thesis—how God pursues His own.

Don and his wife were missionaries for fifteen years to the Sawi, a Stone Age tribe (cannibalistic) of Irian Jaya. Don designed an alphabet suited to the Sawi language and worked on translating the Bible. But after three years living among them, as he shared the gospel with the people, he found the most shocking rejection.

When Don told them the story of Jesus, they revered Judas as the hero. It seems that part of their cultural heritage was to esteem betrayal and the deception of an enemy. The bigger impact, the more dramatic the betrayal, the better. Consequently, Judas did what they valued most, and he did it to the All-powerful One. What greater glory could there be?

You’ll have to read the book to learn the details of what happened next, but through a crisis between neighboring tribes, Don discovered another piece of Sawi culture—the Peace Child. One tribal chief, desiring to bring an end to conflict, could do so by giving his child to the enemy tribe. This was the ONLY way peace could be achieved, and could be assured.

Don now had the metaphor that made sense to the Sawi. Once he explained that Jesus was the Peace Child, then Judas’s act of betrayal was seen for what it was. Through the years of Don’s ministry with the Sawi, half the people came to Christ.

How amazing that God had provided that critical piece of cultural connection so that even a tribe steeped in hatred and revenge, deception and betrayal, could understand God’s redemptive act of yielding up His Son to overcome our hatred of Him.

Yes, Christianity is exclusive—no man comes to the Father except through the Son, because Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life.

But God is also the Hound of Heaven and He pursues us relentlessly.

From Francis Thompson’s poem by that name:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat—
“Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.”

Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”

This post first appeared here in December 2007

Published in: on November 10, 2015 at 6:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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Mercy, Justice, And Abortion


Anti-Christian_sign_in_Federal_Plaza_ChicagoChristians are often accused of being judgmental. I tend to think the people making the charge are reacting to a lack of compassion. It’s not that others think judging is so very wrong. They themselves are actually making a judgment when they say being judgmental is wrong.

Rather, it seems to me, people see Christians as unwilling to give a guy a break. Come on, they say, wait to have sex until you’re married? Give a guy a break! Or, You mean a guy can be faithful, a good father and provider, but you say he’s a sinner because he’s married to another guy? Come on, give him a break!

There are multiple problems here, the first being the notion that Christians are making the rules. Believers are not the ones inventing the no-sex-before-marriage standard. Or the no-homosexuality standard. Just like we didn’t come up with the no lying, gossiping, murdering, dishonoring of parents standards, either.

The second issue is that we can’t give a guy a break. We aren’t his judge. We get accused of being the judge because we report what the Judge has said about the matter of sin, but just like we don’t invent the rules, we don’t invent the punishment.

Third, we ourselves are under the same standards and don’t come out triumphant. We are no different when it comes to sin than anyone else. James says this clearly:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (2:10-11)

In short, there isn’t a single person who doesn’t fall into the category of “guilty of all” because we have all stumbled in one point, or more. If it’s more, we aren’t any more guilty of all than if we stumbled only once. Either way, we’re guilty of all.

So Christians are not better than abortion providers or those in the business of selling fetal tissue. At various times, when listing different sins, the Apostle Paul would add, And such were some of you.

This is true of women who have had abortions. I know women, and have heard about women, who have had abortions, only to embrace Christ and renounce their past actions. Take Norma McCorvey, for example, the “Jane Roe” in the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the US. She is now a Christian who stands for life.

Norma McCorvey is just like the people Paul addressed: “such were some of you.” But so am I and so are we all. If we haven’t committed the particular sins in Paul’s list, we’ve committed others. There simply is no one out from under the burden of sin.

Is that admission hateful or judgmental? Hardly! It’s the first step toward escape. When we admit our sin, we can embrace our Savior.

Then as people who have been forgiven, we can extend forgiveness and compassion to others.

I can’t forgive someone’s sin against God, however. I don’t have that power. I can’t acquit someone who has committed murder though he seeks forgiveness in the blood of Christ. God alone can forgive sins against Him. And He does.

He gave a great picture of the way this works when He ordained a religious ceremony with the Jews which required the release of a scapegoat. One goat would be sacrificed as a sin offering, depicting the fact that sin requires the shedding of blood which Christ freely gave, but another goat was released into the wilderness after the priest had laid hands on it, transferring to it the sins of the people and depicting Christ as the sin bearer who takes away the sins of the world.

God in Jesus Christ has made forgiveness available to all who believe.

But to those who don’t believe? They aren’t forgiven and we shouldn’t pretend they are. At the same time, they aren’t enemies. They may come to a realization of their sin later in life the way Norma McCorvey did. They are people for whom we should feel compassion. And empathy. Because we were such as they before we met Christ.

The difference, simply put, is Jesus. Without Him, deserved justice. With Him, unqualified mercy.

We who have received such mercy, how can we not extend mercy to others? No, we can’t wipe away their sins, but we can love them the way Jesus loves. We can forgive them their offenses against us, we can serve them and pray for them and refuse to write them off as a lost cause. No one is a lost cause. God alone gets to separate the wheat from the tares, the sheep from the goats. And He is perfectly just as well as perfectly merciful.

Published in: on September 2, 2015 at 5:33 pm  Comments (14)  
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Compassion And Entitlement


Homeless_woman_in_Washington,_D.C.A couple years ago, I stopped by Target to pick up a few necessities. As I was putting my purchases in the trunk of my beater . . . uh, vintage Honda Accord, a thirty-something guy walked up to me with iPod earbuds around his neck, dressed in better clothes than I was wearing, and asked me for a handout.

Generally when people ask for money, I try to give it. I mean, I may not have much, but I have a roof over my head. And I think the love of Christ compels me to share with those who are less fortunate. Except . . . this guy didn’t look less fortunate. And he also seemed oblivious about the situation because when I said I didn’t think he was any less prosperous than I, he started to argue.

A few weeks ago a visitor to my church blessed a homeless woman (I’ll call her Joy) who sometimes attends by taking her out to lunch. The next week the visitor who was returning home the next day wanted to give Joy a sort of care package but couldn’t find her, so left it with me in our church library (where Joy often comes to watch the service on closed circuit TV).

Sure enough, a short time later she came in. I happily gave her the sack with her name on it and explained where it came from. She thanked me, looked inside, and left it on the counter. Don’t forget you bag, I reminded her a couple times. At last she was packed up and ready to leave. She stopped by the library desk and said she didn’t think she could take the food sack. It was pretty heavy and most of the things in it she couldn’t eat. No problem, I said, and took the bag to the donations bin.

Just a week ago or so, I came to a stop light and in the center divider was a young man who looked like he could be a football player—a wide receiver, perhaps. And he was holding a sign—something like, “Veteran down on his luck.” He was collecting donations from the people waiting for the light to turn.

I kept thinking, I wish I knew a job opening where he could apply. I think that’s what he needs to spend his time doing instead of panhandling.

But there it was—my attitude toward people who seem to have a sense of entitlement, to the point that healthy young men (seemingly healthy, at any rate) are begging for money instead of looking for work, and homeless old women are turning down food.

I’m caught between feeling the responsibility to share generously with those in need, and the suspicion that the needy are too often gaming the system.

I didn’t mention the times I’ve been asked for a couple dollars for the bus or money for gas because their tank is empty and they don’t have any cash on them. Sure, maybe . . . And maybe not.

It doesn’t help that a local news show that exposes frauds and injustices did a piece some time ago about a guy who panhandled for several hours at a gas station, then got into his BMW, or some other equally expensive vehicle. He had no problem making money off other people’s generosity.

I have to wonder what Jesus would do in these circumstances. He didn’t give out money, but He distributed food. As I noted in “Take Up Your Cross Daily”, however, there came a point when He said, if you want to come after me, you need to stop living for your self.

Of course I’m not Jesus, and I don’t want people following me. I do want, however, to be a representative of Christ to the watching world.

Some Christians think we do no one any favor by giving beggars money because they might use it for drugs. Or we’re making it easy for them not to get a job. What they need, the thinking goes, is tough love, not a handout.

But what about compassion? Jesus saw needs and was moved with compassion. I think the visitor to our church was moved by compassion for Joy. But in the end, what she offered was spurned.

Does that matter? Isn’t it always right to do right, no matter what the other person does? I mean, none of us “deserves” what we have, contrary to all the commercials that say otherwise. We certainly don’t deserve God’s compassion.

Is compassion like forgiveness? James leads me to think it is. He made the case for treating people without partiality, then concluded that section by saying, “For judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12)

About forgiveness, Paul said, “Just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (Col. 3:14b) And of course Jesus told the story about the forgiven servant who turned around and refused to forgive the debt of a fellow servant.

I’m not saying giving to homeless people or beggars is required of the Christian, but I think a heart of compassion is. I don’t need to judge Joy for turning down the offering of food. She said something about a special diet because of allergies and the weight which put stress on her bad back. I have allergies too, and sometimes my back is bad. I don’t want people judging me for the way I deal with those conditions, so why should I judge her.

The homeless guys and the beggars may be scamming the public, but is it my place to judge them? Even if I’m not in a position to give money to them, I can give what I have—prayer for their physical needs, prayer for their ethical and moral needs. God knows exactly what those are, so it’s never wrong to pray.

Published in: on July 29, 2015 at 6:49 pm  Comments (8)  
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Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment


Louis_Zamperini_at_announcement_of_2015_Tournament_of_Roses_Grand_MarshalI like the idea that mercy triumphs over judgment. It seems like something most people in western society embrace. We admire people who forgive, especially in the face of unjust hatred or abuse or mistreatment.

Take the story of Louie Zamperini depicted in the movie Unbroken. Why would that man’s life have such an impact on people today? I think in part because of the mercy and forgiveness he extended to his torturers. Yes, his strength and will to survive were admirable, but if his story had ended with the post traumatic stress he experienced and the drug and alcohol abuse he resorted to as a way to cope, I don’t think Unbroken would have been made.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. That phrase is actually a portion of a verse from the book of James. It’s the first part that gives it context:

For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (2:13)

The discussion has been partiality—favoring the rich over the poor. James then builds the case that those engaged in favoritism are sinners. In contrast to that practice, Christians are to speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. Then verse 13.

So what is this law of liberty? I think it is the first part of verse 13: “Judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy.”

Liberty? Well, yes. We liberate others from our judgment and we are liberated from bearing the responsibility of judging. The point James is making in this section is that we’re not to judge others based on things like how they dress or the gold they flash around for others to see. We’re not to judge the rich as more worthy of our time and attention, of our best service and favored place.

On the flip side, we are not to consider a poor person as unimportant, not worth our time, someone to be dismissed or kicked to the curb.

Verse 13 basically spells out the consequences for treating others that way: we will be judged without mercy if we show no mercy. If we show no mercy to the poor, we’ll receive no mercy in return. This thinking echoes what Jesus said as part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matt. 7:1-2)

In other words, the one judging others by what they wear and the gold they possess, will himself be judged by what he wears and what he owns.

If on the other hand, he refrains from judging others and accepts the poor as well as the rich, he himself well be judged by the standard of mercy he’s shown the poor.

This is a practical matter, I think. Too often in our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps individualistic, entrepreneurial society we are quick to look at someone who is struggling and reach the conclusion they are drug addicts or lazy or shiftless or takers. I know people who don’t want to give to the homeless because “they’ll spend it on booze.”

I’m not saying we should start giving money to every beggar who asks for “bus fare to get home” or whatever the pitch might be. I am suggesting we should extend mercy instead of judgment—which to me means I should not assume the worst in people, especially in people less fortunate than me. It means I should consider taking Peter’s tact when he was faced with the beggar at the temple gate:

And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple.

When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!”

And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.

But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” (Acts 3:2-6)

OK, I’m not suggesting we can fix all the external problems of those with whom we come into contact—not our friends or co-workers or family, let alone strangers we encounter on the street. But we can give them what we do have—the love of Jesus.

How to demonstrate that love is something God needs to show us, but He never will if we’re mentally filing through our list of judgments against the person.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. If we wish mercy to be extended to us, why would we hold onto judgment of others?

Why I Told My Story


First Century GalileeSome time ago, I realized that I had a habit of starting blog posts with “backstory,” something you should not do if you’re writing fiction. I’d begin my article by stating why I was writing on that particular topic—as if most readers really cared why I decided to write on Ebola instead of King David.

So yesterday without preamble, I wrote a post entitled “My Story,” a piece which fills in the gaps of a couple other articles which tell how I became a Christian.

But it’s bugging me that I left out the backstory, the why I was writing My Story. So now I’m backtracking.

Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preached from Luke 9/Mark 5ff. As usual, he connected lots of dots until a whole picture emerged, and there was one particular picture that is memorable and beautiful.

Part 1: Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to an area known at the time as the Decapolis, an area populated primarily by non-Jews who were pagan, worshiping various gods. They were heavily influenced by Greek culture, so many of those gods came from the Greek pantheon.

When Jesus arrived in the Decapolis, He went to a place where there was a demon-possessed man living in a graveyard. He was out-of-control violent and had superhuman strength. The people of his community apparently tried to restrain him because Scripture mentions his breaking chains that bound. Chains!

Instead of going the other way, Jesus held a conversation with him and eventually ordered the demons (there was a group of them) to come out of him. Chaos ensued. The demons, with Christ’s permission, entered a herd of pigs (which were apparently used in the sacrifices to those pagan gods) which rushed into the sea and drowned. The herdsmen fled the scene and apparently told anyone who would listen what had just happened.

Soon a crowd arrived. They found the man who’d been demon-possessed clothed and in his right mind. Instead of showing gratitude that this crazy man was sane and sober and lucid, they were scared to death and told Jesus he needed to leave. At once.

The former demoniac told Jesus he wanted to follow Him. Well, of course, why wouldn’t he? And Jesus was in the business of telling people to follow Him, so it was a perfect storm, right? If I were writing the story, I’d have the man packing his bags and climbing into the boat with Jesus.

But thankfully, God is better at figuring out what’s best than I am. Consequently, Jesus told him to go home instead and tell the people “what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19b) As a result, the man “went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed” (Mark 5:20).

Part 2: Jesus went back to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee where he performed a number of other miracles—healed some people, raised someone from the dead, fed the 5000 using just a few loaves and fish, walked on water—then he returned to the Decapolis.

This time things were different: “Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. Jesus took him aside from the crowd,” and healed him (Mark 7:31ff).

In the area where the man freed from demon possession had gone to tell of the great mercy God had shown him, now people weren’t asking Jesus to leave. They were bringing to Him people who needed healing. They were coming in crowds so great that Jesus had to say, enough. Not that they listened: “And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it” (Mark 7:36).

The point is simple: though we can’t know for sure, there’s a good possibility that the one man who went home and told people about God’s great mercy and what Jesus had done for him, turned the Decapolis to Christ.

Before the man told his story, the crowd was frightened and told Jesus to go away. After the man told his story, the crowd came to Him and were astonished.

It’s not a leap to think the man freed from the legion of demons made a difference because he was willing to tell his story.

And isn’t that what God has asked each of us to do? Which was Pastor Mike’s point. Jesus delivered the great commission to one man as an example for us that we might also go and tell.

Published in: on November 19, 2014 at 7:38 pm  Comments Off on Why I Told My Story  
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Ray Rice And Forgiveness


Tony DungyTony Dungy, former NFL coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and before that, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, spoke out yesterday about Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice who made headlines this off season when a video surfaced showing him drag his unconscious fiancée (Janay, now his wife) out of a hotel elevator. Reports surfaced that he had knocked her unconscious.

Both Rice and Janay were arrested, with Rice eventually indicted on aggravated assault charges. Her charge of assault was later dropped.

Rice pleaded not guilty, then applied for and was accepted in a program for first-time offenders which, among other things, required him to attend regular counseling.

The NFL responded to the incident by suspending him for two games. Two. Games.

Many people were irate, and even those with no interest in football and no feminist ax to grind thought it was ridiculous that a man could knock a woman unconscious and receive a lesser penalty than someone who tested positive for a banned substance. The message seemed to be, it’s not good to hurt others, but it’s twice as bad to hurt yourself.

The NFL commissioner quickly saw the error of his decision and created a new policy for domestic abuse.

And then the public saw the punch for themselves. Ever-helpful TMZ aired a video of Rice and Janay inside the elevator which showed him delivering a blow that sent her against the railing, knocking her unconscious.

For some reason, seeing him hit her ignited a mob mentality against Rice, as if what people saw on film was a new and different incident from the one they witnessed after the fact, with him dragging her body off the elevator.

Rice’s team released him and some people are suggesting the NFL should give him a lifetime ban. As it is, they suspended him indefinitely.

Enter Tony Dungy, who happens also to be a Christian and is currently working as a football analyst for NBC. In an interview with WFLA, he was asked if Ray Rice deserves a second chance.

“He doesn’t deserve a second chance yet,” Dungy said. “Second chances come to those who show that they have changed. Now to me, if he does that, then yes, we should give them a second chance. I’m not one to say one mistake is the end of your life.” (EXCLUSIVE: TONY DUNGY ON RAY RICE: “He does not deserve a second chance – yet”

I have to say, the latest events baffle me. I personally found the most disturbing part of this story to be Rice dragging Janay’s body from the elevator. How lacking in compassion. If one of his teammates was lying unconscious on the field, would he grab hold of him and drag him to the sidelines?

The NFL has all kinds of protocols for head trauma and neck injuries. How did Rice know Janay didn’t have a serious, life-threatening injury? Instead of caring for her, though, or calling for help, he dragged her off the elevator.

To me that act was unconscionable.

But guess what? Her body sprawled on the floor of the elevator had a cause. The arrest and subsequent charges, followed by Rice’s decision to apply for the first-time domestic violence offenders program, made it clear she didn’t spontaneously drop to the ground. In fact, Rice was the cause.

So why was everyone shocked when the video came out showing that yes, Rice was the cause? Now that people can see it with their own eyes, is the act somehow worse? Worse than him dragging her body along the floor and out of the elevator?

Ultimately, Tony Dungy is right, though. We all need a second chance, though we don’t deserve one. The only thing that qualifies us for a second chance is change. But Dungy pointed to the fly in this NFL messy ointment: “Hard thing is, how can you prove you’ve changed, changed the way you live.”

Truth is, people can change on the outside, but their inner nature remains the same. Alcoholics who enter treatment learn, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. However, those who recover determine not to act according to their nature.

So much sinful behavior seems to have this addictive component, if the experts are to be believed—pedophilia, drug use, domestic violence, pornography.

So where does forgiveness fit into all this? And second chances. I suspect Tony Dungy was answering the question in the interview from a pragmatic perspective. But as a Christian, he knows change not only doesn’t come over night, real change doesn’t happen as a result of self effort.

Instead, Ray Rice needs a fundamental change. He needs to lay aside the old self “with its evil practices,” as Paul put it in Colossians, and put on the new self who is being renewed “according to the image of the one who created him.” This is the fundamental change of new birth—spiritual birth.

Peter makes the process of this change clear:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3)

Later in that chapter, he makes it clear that the tool God uses to bring about this change is His word:

for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 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 1:23-15)

In reality, forgiveness precedes change, but it’s God’s forgiveness that He initiates because of His mercy and through the work of His Son, a forgiveness that we learn of through the preaching of His word.

Then, and only then, can lasting change, fundamental change, take place.

Published in: on September 10, 2014 at 6:35 pm  Comments Off on Ray Rice And Forgiveness  
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Jezebel In Our Midst


Seven_churches_of_asia.svgIn Christ’s fourth message to the churches in Revelation, He follows the familiar pattern established in the previous three. He catalogs both commendable traits and those which He counts against them. Then He delivers a warning and a promise.

Thyatira, home of Lydia, Paul’s first convert in Asia, receives some of Christ’s strongest words in each of those categories.

First comes the list of what these believers had right. It’s quite impressive:

  • Deeds.
  • Love.
  • Faith.
  • Service.
  • Perseverance.
  • Greater deeds now than at first—i.e. growth, progress, spiritual development, living out their faith more each day.

As great as this commendation is, Jesus says, “But I have this against you.” That’s an ominous opening to the next section—perhaps the most detailed of all the confrontations sections in these messages.

The problem: the church in Thyatira tolerated a Jezebel—someone in their midst who called herself a prophetess. Bad enough, but here’s what she was on about:

she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.

Immorality and idolatry. These activities would be bad enough if someone in the church engaged in them (see Paul’s chastisement of the church in Corinth when they tolerated a man involved in incest), but this Jezebel is teaching others and leading others—Christians, mind you, believers Christ describes as bond-servants—into immorality and idolatry.

The amazing thing to me is that Christ then says He gave this Jezebel time to repent. Repent! She’s immoral, she’s idolatrous, she’s leading Christ’s followers astray, and what does Jesus want? For her to repent! What mercy!

What a stark contrast to some in the church in the West who call down God’s wrath on the disobedient, as if we know in advance that God will not extend mercy to them or that they will never repent. This Jezebel in Thyatira didn’t repent, but God gave her time to do so as an exercise of His mercy.

As an exercise of His judgment, however, He will bring her down, along with all those who “committed adultery” with her. James calls those who are friends of the world adulteresses, and the Old Testament prophets frequently used the image of Judah or Israel as an adulteress because of their unfaithfulness to God. So clearly Christians who act in this same faithless way—putting their own lusts before God or even “mixing their worship”—would be subject to the discipline Christ will bring.

It’s a sobering warning:

Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. (Rev. 2:22-23)

What about the rest of the church, those who didn’t actually follow after what the people in that day termed “the deep things of Satan”? Christ told them to hold fast to what they had—their works and love and faith and service and perseverance and growth.

I think it’s notable that he didn’t call them to repent. I take it they were not endorsing this Jezebel or accommodating her. I suspect, instead, they were either not in a position to deal with her or were too small a group to make their voice heard.

As Christ did in the other messages, He promises something to “he who overcomes.” But this time He adds a little extra: “he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end.”

This idea of doing something beyond overcoming reminds me of what Paul told the church in Thessalonica: “Excel still more.” I think this is why God gives us the admonition not to grow weary in well doing. The Christian doesn’t go on vacation from our service to Christ. We don’t retire from loving others or persevering or growing. Rather, we are to be like the sprinter racing hardest at the end, running through the tape, not slowing up.

The reward Jesus promises is particularly interesting. He quotes from Psalm 2—a Messianic passage. Here are the pertinent verses, with the portion which Revelation 2 utilizes in bold type:

“But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”
“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.
’ ” (vv 6-9)

In Revelation, Jesus says what God has given Him, He will give to those who overcome and hold fast. Interesting that those who did not follow the deep things of Satan or get drawn into the immorality and idolatry of Jezebel will one day be in positions of authority over the nations. In other words, there will be a time when they are not helpless to stop the waywardness currently surrounding them.

Christ closes by promising to give them the morning star. As one commentator notes

Jesus offers them a reward greater than the kingdom. He offers them the reward of Himself, because He is the Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). (“Study Guide for Revelation 2” by David Guzik)

Immorality? Yes, we see that in the church today in the rampant involvement in illicit sex. Idolatry? To our sorrow, yes, it’s there in our self-worship and greed. The “deep things of Satan”? We see the love of “mystery” and the twisting of Scripture so fitting of the Liar and Father of Lies.

But towering above all that Jezebel brings to the church is Christ, our true Reward. We will one day see Him face to face and know Him even as we are known. We will see His purity, His holiness, His righteousness—the same righteousness with which He clothes us.

Published in: on July 31, 2014 at 7:12 pm  Comments Off on Jezebel In Our Midst  
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Christian Forgiveness: Conditional Or Unconditional?


The_Crucifixion001I read a new thing about forgiveness today—well, new to me. The idea popped up on a post at Spec Faith by Stephen Burnett, then expanded as I followed a link to a post by Kevin DeYoung. I respect both of these men, but I have to admit, I think they’re missing something important about Christian forgiveness.

As I understand the principle they’re presenting, they believe there are two ideas about forgiveness: one, a therapeutic forgiveness that is popular today even in the secular world, and two, a Biblical forgiveness that is dependent upon the repentance of the offender.

In his article about these two types of forgiveness, Mr. DeYoung goes to pains to explain that the second type of forgiveness in no way condones an attitude of bitterness or revenge:

We should always love our enemies. We should always fight against bitterness. We should cast all our cares on the Lord. We should learn to trust God’s providence. We should be eager to forgive those who hurt us and be reconciled to them.

The foundational thought to this idea that a Christian only forgives those who repent, is that we are to forgive like God forgives and He forgives conditionally—that condition being repentance.

Let me back up and explain “therapeutic forgiveness.” I’d not heard the term before, but I think it does describe a humanistic co-oping of a Biblical principle. The idea here is that giving forgiveness makes the person doing the forgiving feel better. There is no intent to reconcile, however. It’s just a way of escaping negative feelings like anger and bitterness.

Many Christians, influenced by Lewis Smedes and a lot of pop psychology, have a therapeutic understanding of forgiveness. They think of forgiveness as a unilateral, internal effort to get our emotions under control. (“What Is Forgiveness?”)

The Biblical view, according to Mr. DeYoung, is that forgiveness is the means to reconciliation. Hence, the Christian should always be ready to forgive, but true forgiveness only comes when both parties move toward one another, repenting and receiving or offering forgiveness as necessary.

Again the rationale behind this concept is the Scriptural statement that we are to forgive as Christ forgave us.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (ESV, Eph. 4:32)

I’ll admit, I have problems with this approach. First, I don’t think there has to be two choices: either therapeutic or Biblical conditional forgiveness. I think there can easily be a third option: Biblical unconditional forgiveness.

Part of my thinking is that some Bible scholars get tied up trying to think the way God thinks. Mr. DeYoung, then, says God’s forgiveness is conditional and therefore ours should be too, as if it’s possible for us to understand the conditional nature of God’s forgiveness.

Ah, but doesn’t Ephesians 4:32 say that’s how we are to forgive? I don’t think necessarily it does. I don’t read the verse as saying we are to forgive in the same manner that God forgives, but that we are to forgive because we received forgiveness.

Paul says essentially the same thing in Col. 3:13:

bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

The intent does not seem focused on forgiving in like manner but extending to others the forgiveness we received.

In other words, I see these verses mirroring Jesus’s instructions to forgive in response to the forgiveness we received. See, for example, the parable He told about the slave who received forgiveness for his debt only to turn around and withhold forgiveness from his fellow slave:

Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ (Matt. 18:32-33; see the entire parable in vv. 23-35)

It seems apparent to me that this “in the same way” is not talking about manner or even condition. In reality neither slave asked that their debt would be forgiven. They asked for more time to pay it off themselves. The act of forgiveness was an extension of mercy—the undeserved offer to cancel the debt.

This is what Christ did on the cross

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Col. 2:13-14)

As I read those verses, I’m convinced that God didn’t forgive us when we had put ourselves in a position to deserve it by repenting. He went to the cross while we were yet sinners.

Consequently, I don’t believe as Mr. DeYoung does that God’s forgiveness was conditional. He gave His forgiveness to anyone and everyone, but not everyone has accepted it. When Scripture says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), I think the words “world” and “whoever” remove conditions from God’s side of the equation.

When Paul instructed Timothy to pray for all men, he explained his reasoning this way:

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

There are literally dozens of verses throughout the Bible that carry this same idea. But one of the most telling, for me, is 2 Thess. 2:10ff which looks at salvation and forgiveness from the side of those who do not accept it:

[the lawless one will come with all power and signs and false wonders] 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. (Emphasis added.)

These who perish did not receive, implying that they could have received. They took pleasure in wickedness, implying that they could have refrained from taking pleasure in wickedness. They did not believe the truth, implying they could have believed the truth.

All this to say, the third reason I don’t believe forgiveness for the Christian is conditional, based on the repentance of the offender, is because I don’t believe God’s forgiveness is conditional.

I understand there are believers of a different doctrinal persuasion from mine who will disagree, but maybe two out of three reasons will be enough to make the case against this idea that forgiveness needs to be earned by repentance.

Immigration Reform


MigrantImmigration reform is a hotbed issue in the political arena, and it received renewed attention when the Virginia congressman Eric Cantor lost his primary election.

The first reports concerning this “shocking defeat” concluded that Mr. Cantor’s position on immigration reform was the issue that brought him down. Pundits rushed to add that this result spelled doom for any hope for a change in our immigration law in the near future.

“Immigration reform is almost certainly dead on Capitol Hill this year,” according to Politico. And Fox News agreed: “Cantor’s loss could send immigration talks into a deep freeze.” Candidates, the thinking goes, would be too afraid of their constituents’ response if they back any meaningful overhaul of our current failed policies.

A few voices of reason have restored some order to this discussion. This election involved one state, one primary, with low voter turn out. It does not necessarily reflect a national trend! Sadly, however, I think the events surrounding the Virginia primary are a microcosm of what’s wrong with politics in America.

First, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, which recently commemorated those who died to defend our country and what we stand for, only a minority actually exercise their right to vote. The majority might grumble and complain, but they remain on the sidelines.

Second, the media drives the discussion. Once we believed in journalistic integrity in this country, which meant that nothing was reported as fact unless it was verified by at least two sources. So where is the data that proves as fact that voters turned away from Cantor because of his stance on immigration?

Third, once the media has delivered their “findings,” their reports drive the discussion and color the convictions of many.

Fourth, politicians care more about keeping their job than about serving their country. We no longer have a majority of leaders willing to do what’s right at the expense of their job or the loss of their precious legacy.

Gerald_Ford_(portrait)The truth is, those who work unselfishly for the good of others often have the legacy the power-hungry covet. I think, for example, of President Gerald Ford, the only US President never to be elected as either President or Vice President. He came to power because Congress chose him to fill the Vice Presidency to replace Spiro Agnew, leaving him in line for the Presidency when Richard Nixon resigned. His controversial move one month into his tenure was to pardon Nixon of his crimes committed as President because he believed this to be the quickest way to put the Watergate scandal behind the country and promote healing.

Many grant in hindsight that [Ford] had respectably discharged with considerable dignity a great responsibility that he had not sought. His subsequent loss to Carter in 1976 has come to be seen as an honorable sacrifice he made for the nation. (“Gerald Ford”)

Who in government is making honorable sacrifices today?

On the contrary, we have reports of “leaders” distancing themselves from one of the issues that desperately needs to be addressed—the question of our immigration plan.

As it is, our borders remain porous—allowing drug smuggling as well as human trafficking to take place. For months, perhaps years, places along our borders have endured gang wars as various drug cartels battle for control of the drug pipelines to our cities.

At the same time, poor, downtrodden immigrants from Central America and Mexico search for ways to escape the danger, poverty, and brutality of the countries they are fleeing. Sometimes they end up as virtual slaves here in America because they turned to an unscrupulous coyote to provide them with passage into the US. Some die. Others reach their destination penniless because they spent all they had on their flight.

In short, illegal immigration continues to take place. We have not adequately addressed how to protect our borders from the criminal activity that takes place or how to identify people in genuine need of asylum in America.

Making matters worse, we also have second generation illegals who came to the US as children or whose parents came illegally before they were born. Some face the possibility of deportation to a country they have never known, others the prospect of separation from their parents.

That’s the price of illegal activity, some will say. However, that kind of hard line is not a position we take with any other comparable criminal behavior. For example, if someone smuggles a costly souvenir from their vacation into the US because they don’t want to pay the duty, are they deported? Is their property taken from them without a chance to redeem it?

In addition, in what other circumstances are children punished because of the decision of their parents, the way immigrant children face deportation because their parents brought them to the US when they were infants or toddlers?

Clearly changes need to take place in the area of immigration. Some, shamefully using a kind of “us four and no more” mentality, want to see the US close to new immigrants altogether. Others advocate for the kind of amnesty that turns resident illegal immigrants into citizens which the country tried in the 1980s.

Neither extreme is a workable solution, but continuing the status quo isn’t workable either. That leaves immigration reform as the only answer.

Unfortunately, this complex problem with many facets requires real leadership to find a way out of the morass, and apparently right now our federal government is in short supply of that quality.

My hope is that Christians can lead the way. Rather than threatening to withhold support from a candidate who wishes to address this issue, we should be on the front lines encouraging them to do so.

We need sensible, just, compassionate change in our immigration policy which requires honest, fair men and women to find the best solutions. Yes, I wish those in leadership were true servants, willing to put the good of the nation ahead of their own political future, but in lieu of the ideal, we should look to the next best thing—citizens rallying behind candidates who are willing to study the issue and search for an answer.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

I’ll be honest. I believe we’re responsible before God for what we do about unwanted children, elderly widows who can’t support themselves, and aliens and strangers looking for hope and help.

The latter is our mission field, come to us instead of us going to them. The least we can do is to advocate for a fair policy that can offer them hope and help rather than a closed door.