Telling People They’re Good


Some time not long ago Western society started lying to kids. You can do ANYTHING, parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures all say in unison. ANYTHING. Except that isn’t true.

Case in point. When I was coaching, I had a seventh grade girl who made the basketball team as an “understudy”–a player who would practice with the team, sit on the bench during games, but who would not play. This particular girl hadn’t played before, so had no bad habits to break. What’s more, she was sharp, attentive, and willing to work. But she was also slow and weak and not particularly quick.

Nevertheless, all her hard work earned her a spot on the team the following year. In fact when she went into high school, she made the freshman team of her fairly large public school, all because she had great fundamentals. But she still wasn’t fast or quick or strong. No matter how much that girl may have wanted to play pro basketball or make the Olympics (I have no reason to believe she wanted either) that was never going to happen. Never.

Her story repeats itself time and time again, and yet all these parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures continue to lie to kids.

What bothers me so much is that at the same time, those influential people are missing what kids really need to hear: the truth. They need to hear what they need to improve and they need to hear what they do well.

I wrote a post some years ago over at Spec Faith about writing reviews. I’m a big believer that we need to be balanced in what we say about books—and that would apply to movies, too, or songs, or people.

Yes, people.

We are all a mixed bag. We were created in God’s image, with a sin nature. How much more mixed can we get? We have talents and character strengths and physical prowess and mental capacity. A lot of that is wired in our DNA. We did nothing to make ourselves as tall as we are or as creative or adventurous. We have those things because God gave them to us.

At the same time, we are prideful, lazy, greedy, selfish, vengeful, dishonest, and a host of other things–not stuff we had to learn, but stuff that is innately ours as sin baggage we’re born with.

How great, then, if the influences in our lives told the truth about us. Things like, You are such a gifted athlete, but your pride will stop you cold from ever being a good teammate.

I’m not sure people need to hear both sides of the equation at the same time, but hear it, they should.

Also over at Spec Faith, on one of the writing challenges I ran, of those posting an entry remarked that the environment created by commenters as they gave feedback was positive and encouraging. I honestly hadn’t thought about it until he mentioned it, but he was right.

Good, I thought. Writers get bad news ALL the time—rejections from agents, contest entries that don’t place, critiques from partners pointing out what needs to improve. All of that is fine and legitimate and part of the process of learning and improving.

But what happened to telling people what’s good? We learn that way, too. Peter in his first epistle points to Christ and His suffering on our behalf and says, that’s the way to do it. He didn’t sin, didn’t lie, didn’t hurl invective back at those who jeered Him, didn’t threaten payback while he was suffering. That’s the way to live, Peter says.

Paul does the same kind of thing with the Thessalonians. You’re doing well, he says, but now excel still more.

Maybe it’s time for us to start telling the truth to each other, not just to our kids. We can’t do everything. But what we do well, shouldn’t we tell each other? Shouldn’t we be happy to sing the praises of those in our lives when they show kindness or work hard on their job or pick up their socks? Sometimes I think we’re waiting for great things. But maybe we need to mention the every day things, then at the appropriate moment let them know they can excel still more.

I have my suspicions that telling people they are good at filing or being on time or taking out the trash without being reminded will go a lot farther than telling them they can do anything.

Advertisements
Published in: on July 18, 2017 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

The Goodness Of Humans And Animals


I don’t think I’ve ever heard of an animal referred to as evil. Sure, there have been rogue animals that break from normal behavior for one reason or another. They may act in unpredictable ways, but no one ascribes evil motives to them. They are being nothing more than what their environment and their DNA made them to be.

Of course many in our culture want to believe the same about humans. Except there’s this odd, inexplicable problem: Humankind believes in evil.

Not within animals, mind you. No matter how many gazelle a lion slaughters, no one calls him a murderer. No one is out trying to convince the cat family to become vegetarians — not even those which we’ve domesticated and which live under our care. We understand they are carnivorous, we accept that as fact, and we don’t try to train the “evil” out of them. We don’t believe it is evil for them to eat meat.

In contrast, humans believes humans to be evil. Even those who think humanity is good. Generally “society” is blamed for causing good humans to swing to the dark side. It’s those churches, one side says. If it weren’t for religion, we wouldn’t have had all the wars we’ve enduring for centuries.

It’s demon drink, the other side says, or bad government or political corruption or Big Business or drugs.

Whichever way you look at it, the answer is, humanity causes the problems because “society” is nothing more than humans acting in a group.

And yet, our culture increasingly says openly, humanity is good. Hence, we should simply give in to our instincts—as long as we do no harm to others.

How interesting that the animals have no such exception clause. They can do harm to others with impunity. No one calls the bull elephant who chases off the young males threatening his leadership in the herd, a bully. No one wants to hold him accountable or tell him he needs to make room for others to express their individuality. Or that, in fact, the female elephants should have equal authority, and if they want to take charge of the herd, then the males should be only too happy to care for the pint-sized elephants for a while.

There is no equity in the animal kingdom, no sense of fair play, of justice. Alligators aren’t held accountable for the baby wildebeest they devour. Cheetah aren’t considered immoral because they attack the weak or the young instead of taking on the most fit zebra in the herd.

Animals act as animals will. And humans?

We’re such a mixed bag. We volunteer hours on end to search for a missing child, we collect money and clothes to give to victims of natural disasters, we risk our lives to pull others out of burning buildings or sinking ships.

But we also cheat on our income tax and lie to our husbands or wives. We hold grudges and argue and complain and push to get our own way. What a selfish, proud, unkind, discontented lot we are.

From what I can discern, only Christianity explains the existence of evil. If life is, as many apart form Christianity believe, nothing more than matter plus time plus chance, then where did intolerance come from? Where did hatred come from?

Christianity understands the uniqueness of humanity, both of his created and his fallen states, explaining the mixed bag completely. What other worldview can make such clear sense of the things we see in this world?

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

Published in: on April 11, 2017 at 6:14 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

God And Disappointment


Some years back Christians started talking about how God could disappoint us and how honest it was to admit that, how right it was for us to tell God when we were angry with Him. I’ve written a number of posts on the subject (here and here are two, and the second has links to three others, if you care to read more), so I don’t want to spend a lot of time on that aspect of disappointment and God.

Let me introduce my thoughts on that aspect of the topic with a quote from one of the articles:

Please understand, I’m aware that a believer can go through a crisis of doubt, especially when difficulties arise, but the new thinking seems to be that to be mad at God is normal, even somehow healthy, and certainly understandable.

Today I came across a verse in Lamentations I had marked:

Why should any living mortal, or any man,
Offer complaint in view of his sin?
– Lamentations 3:39

In the margin of my Bible I wrote “Satan counters with his great lie—man is good so that gives the feel of justice in complaining to God.” Or against God. After all, if man is good, then he doesn’t deserve the consequences of sin he must live with—sickness, pollution, crime, cruelty, hatred, death. We are, instead, innocent victims of God’s inexplicable abuse of His omnipotence. And of course we should be mad about it.

Complaining against God has two problems: 1) only someone who views himself as an equal takes it as his right that he can complain (face to face) when he is dissatisfied. So complaining against God is a way of bringing Him down from His position of sovereignty; 2) only someone who believes he deserves better, complains. Hence, we are elevating humankind above the assessment God gave—that we are sinners and that the wages for our sin is death.

No, we say, when we shake our fists at God, we deserve better. Not death. And not pain or suffering or hardship or abuse or trauma or tragedy or illness or anything that might lead to death. We deserve life and happiness and wholeness and comfort.

Why do we believe such things? Possibly two disparate answers: 1) we long for, in our heart of hearts, the relationship with God that we lost at the Fall; 2) our culture is selling us on the idea that we are good, not sinful, and therefore deserving of much more than what God has told us is our destiny apart from faith in His Son.

In truth, both possibilities might play a part. But I do see the culture crowding out the truth of God. The latest twist to our thinking about us and God comes in a strange reversal. The new line of thinking is that God is not disappointed in us. There are any number of articles online in the last couple years that affirm this: “No, God Is Not Disappointed in You,” “Is God Disappointed In Me? – Lies Young Women Believe,” “Father God Is Not Disappointed In Us,” to name a few.

One thing I found interesting in several of these was the focus on our faults, failings, mistakes, even issues. Yes, there was also mention of sin, but not of repentance, and only a nod at confession. The idea seems to be that our greatest danger is to keep beating ourselves up for our wrongdoing:

Our souls are wearied by the weights we put on ourselves. We are often dried up by self-criticisms and judgement. We try to motivate ourselves with fear and shame—the idea that we are bad people until we change. But that tactic simply isn’t effective.

Staying in shame keeps us stuck. And God knows this. So He chooses to motivate us by giving us knowledge of who we really are, and awareness of His unconditional kindness (excerpt from “No, God Is Not Disappointed in You”).

Well, there are numerous problems in this thinking. First is perhaps a lack of Biblical knowledge. If someone’s soul is wearied and weighed down by what we put on ourselves, ought we not repent of taking on what is not ours to take? After all, Jesus said His yoke was easy, and His burden light. Any heaviness simply does not belong!

Secondly, our problem is not merely to find what is effective. The idea that whatever works is right, undermines God’s authority.

Third, God is not our cheerleader, motivating us from the sidelines.

Fourth, God does tell us in His word exactly who we are: sinners. Sinners! We are not wonderful people deserving of salvation. God saved us while we were yet sinners. He saved us because of His love. We have nothing with which to commend ourselves.

I can understand people weighing themselves down with burdens if they think they have something they need to do to be more acceptable to God. But clearly, Scripture says more than once, our righteousness is nothing but despicable trash. Rubbish. Filthy rags.

The way out of shame is not talking ourselves into believing that God sees us as beautiful or worthy. God sees us for who we actually are: sinners. He loves us, not because we are lovable. We aren’t.

Nevertheless, by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, God extends His love to us. Why? Because He is love.

In so doing, He brings about a remarkable transformation in us, which is the great glory of salvation, and something this fallacious idea mars. We who were slaves to sin become children of God. We who were chained to the law of sin and of death have been released to walk in newness of life. We who have no righteousness of our own are now clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

But all this is God’s doing.

We are redeemed and made spiritually whole. Our debt is paid. Our sins forgiven. We are now heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.

But it’s all Christ. Not our doing. Nothing we can take credit for. Nothing we can pat ourselves on the backs for and say, God loves me because I’m worth it.

My worth comes only as a result of what God has done on my behalf. He did not sacrifice Himself because of my goodness or value.

Here’s the point in bringing these two ideas together. In our day, belief in God has eroded. We have called into question the authority of Scripture, God’s existence, even the belief that Jesus actually lived. We have steadily brought God down. But in more recent times we have begun the process of lifting humankind up.

So now Christians will tell us that it’s OK for us to be disappointed with God but that God is never disappointed with us.

And who again is the one who lives in holiness?

We’re getting truth backwards.

I realize the argument that God is not disappointed with us draws from the truth about His self-sufficiency and from the sufficiency of Christ. Like any error, there’s enough truth in this idea to make it sound plausible.

But lest this post turns into a book, let me end by asking this: if God cannot be disappointed with us, why does Scripture tell believers not to grieve the Holy Spirit?

Published in: on March 30, 2017 at 5:50 pm  Comments (15)  
Tags: , ,

Is Sin Original? A look at history


It seems fitting that after writing about God’s judgment here and here, I look once more at why God needs to judge and discipline us human beings.

The general belief in Western culture today seems to tip toward the idea that man is fine, thank you very much. In fact we’re better than fine. We’re good. Or we will be as soon as we learn enough, as soon as we develop our empathy gene. Or have our selfishness instructed out of us.

The Bible gives us the accurate picture—of what we once were and what we’ve become.

– – –

This post subtitle probably chased away about half the regular visitors. 😉 Of course I could change it, but I like history and I think it’s important to learn from history. So today, a look at history.

The evangelical, Bible-believing Christians I know ascribe to the doctrine of original sin. The idea is that Humankind was created in God’s image, for communion with Him, but sin changed our condition permanently.

No longer does humans bear the untarnished image of God because we are now born in the likeness of Adam. Consequently, all our righteousness is like filthy rags. Our best effort at goodness falls far short of God’s holy standard. We are born in this condition, in need of a Savior, without the internal wherewithal to please God.

Not only does this doctrine square with Scripture, it squares with Humankind’s experience. There’s a reason we have as an idiom we all know to be true, Nobody’s perfect.

But even if that weren’t the case, the reliable, authoritative Word of God demonstrates the concept of original sin starting in the book of Genesis.

In chapter one:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;

Then the command in chapter two:

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.

Recorded in chapter 3 is Adam’s disobedience and the consequence he would face. But then this line:

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil;

In other words, whatever else that line means, we see that there was a fundamental shift. Humanity was no longer the way God created us when He declared all He had made to be good. Genesis 4 records the first effects of this fundamental shift—Cain’s jealousy and ultimate murder of his brother, among other things.

But chapter 5 records perhaps the clearest declaration of this shift:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. (emphasis mine)

The clear implication is that Adam’s likeness and God’s likeness are no longer the same.

So what’s the point? Our culture does not believe in original sin. Ask the average man on the street and he’ll tell you Man is good, though he’ll just as likely turn right around and tell you nobody’s perfect.

Some time ago as I reread an old college textbook, Religion in America by Winthrop S. Hudson, I discovered that the roots of this cultural change (because the depravity of Man was universally understood and accepted in western civilization from some time during the 2nd century AD until the 19th century) stem from American Protestantism. Not exclusively, but in a large part.

America was a New World, with possibilities untold. Some years before independence, the colonial settlers experienced a Great Awakening that established Christianity as a way of life.

After independence the Second Great Awakening spurred believers on to hold camp revivals and send out missionaries and build more churches and colleges and schools all with the intent to bring the lost to salvation and teach the young to live godly lives.

But there began to be an added incentive. With all this hopefulness and push toward moral purity came a belief that God’s kingdom was being established physically right then and there.

And so, the shift began. Could it not be that Humanity, if given the right circumstances, could choose to live a holy and pure life in obedience to God? Could it not be that a community of such men and women would lead to a godly society? And wasn’t that the idea found in the Bible concerning God’s kingdom, when God’s law would be written on people’s hearts?

Consequently, what started as a work of God seems to have become a work of men, built upon their good works (which Scripture says are but filthy rags), to the point that men came to believe, not only in the goodness of their works but in the goodness of their being.

This is obviously a simplified, stripped down version of that period of history, but here’s the thing. Even when the two world wars in the 20th century shot to pieces the notion that the world was getting better and better, the idea that Humankind was good had become a best-loved belief. And humanism spread. Even into the church.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2010.

Published in: on March 23, 2017 at 4:06 pm  Comments Off on Is Sin Original? A look at history  
Tags: , , , , ,

The Clay Is Talking Back


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

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


“God did not make us.”

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

Isaiah prophesied about the twisted thinking that creates these untruths:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The truth is, Man is not good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Are We Going?


I_love_my_trans_child_I have serious concerns for America, for the human race, and even for the Church. Where are we headed?

In the western world we’ve discovered eastern thought, and in the East, Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds. That gives me hope, it really does. But what I see in my own country, not so much.

There’s the political mess we’re in this election cycle. Please God, by His mercy, we might still have a candidate who will not make the mess worse, but if things continue to go as they are, the likelihood is that we’ll have either a fascist, a socialist or a possible felon for President. Happy days.

Of course, what’s dominating our thought—other than music and TV and movies and movie stars and sports, is bathrooms! Behind the issue is the acceptance of the transgender community which is a niche in the whole LGBT coalition.

The really troubling aspect, to me, is not that men will be in women’s bathrooms or women in men’s (though I tend to think not so many women-changed-to men will actually be a problem in the men’s bathrooms since they aren’t going to be shoulder to shoulder with guys at the urinal). Rather it’s the randomness of our rational for these “I feel like a woman, therefore I am a woman” identity issues.

Some of the same people who cry loudly that a person’s gender identity is how they feel inside will also cry loudly that evolution is real science and that supporting creation is “junk science.” They’ll also cry loudly that global warming is a Real Thing, with Scientific Proof! And that God does not exist (because we can’t see him).

The randomness comes from the selective use of physical evidence. Is not a person’s genitalia scientific evidence of gender? Why do some people trust in science when it comes to an unprovable theory like evolution but completely ignore it when it comes to gender identity?

The gender identity issue is not a small thing. It attacks the fundamentals of humanity. Scripture tells us that God created humans, male and female. But we, in our superior, I’m-better-than-god mindset think we can improve on what he made, if we don’t like it. Instead of teaching young people that God “don’t make no junk,” we have been sending out the word that girls have to be skinnier, men more muscular, white people tanner, nobody with gray hair (unless you’re eighty, and then only if you want to stop the hassle and expense of coloring your hair) or bald, and on and on. In other words, accepting who we are as we came out of the womb is pretty much unheard of.

That same kind of thinking has simply expanded. First, we did plastic surgery to fix the features we didn’t like, and now it’s hormone therapy and sex-transformation surgery.

This is not solving a problem. It’s creating a bigger one. Kids don’t know who they are, to the point that they no longer know what bathroom to use. And we give them the answer that we’ll simply let them choose or we’ll make a neutral bathroom for those who don’t feel like they fit in the silly binary bathrooms we have now.

My heart breaks for kids today who don’t know who they are. Their gender identity search is simply a symptom of their larger confusion. They don’t know where they belong or if they belong.

Kids—people—have always needed to belong, needed to feel secure and loved, needed to have purpose. Parents ought to be the first place where children have those needs met, but because parents aren’t perfect, they won’t be met perfectly. Friends meet those needs to a lesser degree, and spouses perhaps more so. But none can do so perfectly, and many a marriage goes through rocky times simply because one spouse or the other had expectations that their needs would be perfectly met, only to wake up to reality.

As a result of all the confusion, kids today seem to be growing up like weeds. Well, honey, what do you want to wear today to preschool? Well, honey, what gender do you want to be when you go to middle school?

Really, parents?

Where are you?

Parents don’t parent any more because they’ve been brainwashed into believing that there are no absolutes. So if Johnny doesn’t want to share his toys, well, they are his and we can’t violate what he wants to do (because apparently one of the few absolutes is that we are to allow everyone to do what they want, unless they’re bent on harming others physically; emotionally has yet to be determined).

So instead of Johnny learning to think of others and not just himself, he has parents who validate his selfishness. He never learns impulse control or empathy for others. He simply buys into the philosophy of bullies everywhere: if I want it, I take it.

We are a confused people because we have lost our moral compass. God said, do this one thing I’m telling you to do, and we can’t even manage that. Why? Because we want to be the boss. We don’t want to be second, even to God. We want what we want when we want it, and God isn’t going to stop us. We’ll simply believe him out of existence.

If things were left up to us, it would be hopeless. But praise God, He has come to rescue us from the dominion of darkness.

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7, emphasis mine)

So where are we going? God has made the way for us through Jesus Christ our Savior to have eternal life. But to claim the gift of salvation we have to be clear about our identity: we are sinners coming to God, not on the basis of anything we’ve done but completely dependent upon what Christ has done for us. When we get that part of our identity cleared up, the rest will start to fall into place.

Love That Tells The Truth


U_Wash_Quad__04Years ago when I was in college, a friend of mine was up for election. They posted the results on the window of the dining commons when I was in line for dinner. Inside, my friend sat at a table watching those of us on the outside cluster around to see the results. My friend didn’t win, and I made the fatal decision to go in and tell her. The problem was, she thought I was kidding. I mean, who in their right mind would go up to their friend and say, Sorry but you lost. I had to say it with some vehemence because she really thought I was yanking her chain.

I thought at the time I would have been better off to pretend I didn’t see her. At least that way I wouldn’t have been the bearer of bad news. “Don’t shoot the messenger” has become a cliché for a reason. People are apt to turn on the one who tells the sad tale even though they had no hand in creating the event that caused the sadness.

It’s awkward to tell the truth when you know what you say is unpleasant or hurtful. Telling the truth can put a relationship in jeopardy.

What’s more, we live in a society that is confused about the truth. The relativistic principle now ruling the majority of Millennials, says truth is whatever you want it to be. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, watch this short video.

These college students seem to be intelligent, yet they are unwilling to stand up and tell someone the truth—no, you’re not 6’5″, you’re not Asian, you’re not a woman, you’re not seven.

The truth is, the DMV will not go along with a ten year old claiming she’s eighteen. Movie theaters aren’t going to let a thirteen year old into an R-rated film, voting registrants still need to be over eighteen as do those who volunteer for the military. States still have a legal age for someone to drink—twenty-one in most places.

As to height, no NBA team will look at a 5’9″ man as a potential center for their team just because he is 7’1″ on the inside. Amusement rides aren’t going to change height requirements for young children just because they feel as if they are as tall as their daddy.

In other words, facts remain facts, and the truth matters. Those who love, tell the truth.

It is not loving to let someone think one way, only for them to discover that what they had believed, was not true. It is not loving to let someone turn onto a street in front of a bus simply because they thought the way was clear: “Well, I didn’t want to offend her by telling her she needed to stop.” What friend would say that?

Apparently a good number, because young people who are doing themselves harm are regularly allowed to do so by their friends. The excuse so often is, She’ll never speak to me again if I tell her to stop drinking, stop taking drugs, stop sleeping around, stop wasting so much time watching TV, or whatever the unhealthy behavior might be. We are more concerned that we keep status than that we tell the truth.

That fact extends to the truth about our spiritual condition.

I know there’s a bit of a fine line. No one likes to be bossed around or made to feel like a little kid who can’t get it together. People often push back against those who tell them the truth: Who are you to tell me what to do? Look at your own life. You don’t have it all together.

Which is why it is important that we who tell the truth, first tell the truth about ourselves.

So here’s the truth that the Millennials need to hear, that Gen-X needs to hear, that the Me Generation needs to hear, that the Greatest Generation, that the latest generation (yet to be named) needs to hear: I am a sinner. I fall short of God’s standard of holiness. And so do you. We all fall short. We are not all winners in God’s eyes. We are lost children who have run away from home. That’s who we are.

And it is the most loving thing I can do to tell this truth far and wide. If someone doesn’t know he’s a sinner, why would he want to be saved? If someone doesn’t know he’s far from home, why would he want to return to the loving arms of his father?

I can say until I’m blue in the face that God loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you. But if you don’t believe you are in jeopardy, that statement sounds like nonsense. Why would someone die for me? I’m doing just fine, thank you very much.

At some point, if people are to believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life, they must realize they are lost, can’t figure out what is true, and are destined to die.

Christians should love in a way that is countercultural. But that love should be more than feeding the homeless, planting churches among the urban poor, translating the Bible into a tribal language, or giving shoes to poor children. True love also must say the hard things: if you continue in sin, you’ll separate yourself from God for eternity. Going your own way is sin. You need to repent, turn back, and accept God as your Lord—as do we all. I simply love you too much not to tell you the truth.

Published in: on April 26, 2016 at 6:15 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

God’s Judgment Misunderstood


The book of Isaiah portrays the truth of God’s judgment.

Yet some people reject the God of the Old Testament for this very reason—He brings judgment.

In reality, however, He first brings warning.

It’s something I was taught to do as a teacher. I had one principal in particular who required that we reduce our classroom rules to a basic group, then post them along with consequences for breaking them. In other words, no surprises. We were not to expect kids to abide by some standard they didn’t know existed.

My principal didn’t invent that process. Instead, by proceeding in that fashion, we were mirroring the way God works. He clearly set the standards for Adam and Eve, for instance, and spelled out the consequences. No surprises.

He did the same for the nation of Israel. First the directive — obey these laws, which He wrote down for them. Then the consequences, this time accompanied with a list of benefits for obedience.

In the same way, He worked with individuals such as Saul, David, Solomon, even Nebuchadnezzar.

His approach was the same for a city like Nineveh, to whom He sent the prophet Jonah, and for a nation like Moab, to whom He sent the prophet Balaam.

In other instances, God sent affliction as a warning:

So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. (Judges 2:13-14)

When Israel cried to God for help, He raised up judges to deliver them.

Ultimately He brought about the exile of His people — the fulfillment of His judgment which He’d warned Israel about from the beginning — and still He brought back a remnant.

So here’s the first think people mistakenly think about God’s judgment: He acts out of uncontrolled rage against people He perceives to have messed up, however slight the offense might be. Such a characterization of God is not consistent with Scripture.

Another thing I learned about God’s judgment from Isaiah is that lots of people will be cheering for Him because His judgment frees those who are being oppressed.

The afflicted also will increase their gladness in the LORD,
And the needy of mankind will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
For the ruthless will come to an end and the scorner will be finished,
Indeed all who are intent on doing evil will be cut off;
Who cause a person to be indicted by a word,
And ensnare him who adjudicates at the gate,
And defraud the one in the right with meaningless arguments. (Isaiah 29:19-21 – emphasis mine)

People who misunderstand God’s judgment believe He brings wrath down on innocent people, not guilty people.

Society agrees that those who harm children should be stopped, that someone gunning down people in their homes should be held accountable, that drunk drivers putting others at risk ought to be taken off the road. In other words, we believe in justice. We believe that authorities should stop and should punish those who do harm.

Consequently, if we understood that God’s judgment is and has always been upon guilty people, we would be like those Isaiah talked about — rejoicing in Him.

Instead, we take to ourselves the right to judge God — to determine if, in fact, He is only bringing down judgment on the guilty, or if He might be bringing down judgment on the innocent.

The most popular view today is that of course the people God judged were innocent — by reason of the fact that we are all innocent until proven guilty. Apparently that legal guarantee of the US Constitution has become our operating principle — Man is innocent, Man is good. Consequently, God has to prove to our satisfaction that Man deserves to die, and quite frankly, simply eating a piece of fruit does not qualify.

The truth is, since Adam, Man has not been innocent.

For this is a rebellious people, false sons,
Sons who refuse to listen
To the instruction of the LORD
;
Who say to the seers, “You must not see visions”;
And to the prophets, “You must not prophesy to us what is right,
Speak to us pleasant words,
Prophesy illusions.
Get out of the way, turn aside from the path,
Let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,
“Since you have rejected this word
And have put your trust in oppression and guile, and have relied on them,
Therefore this iniquity will be to you
Like a breach about to fall…”
For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said,
“In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength.”
But you were not willing
Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him. (Isaiah 30:9-18)

What’s the truth about God’s judgment? It is handed down to guilty people after He has given clear commandments and warned of the dire consequences of rejecting or neglecting God’s word, God’s way. In the end, some choose not to listen to God who in His goodness and mercy has reached out to them.

Any other characterization of God’s judgment comes from the father of lies, that serpent of old who first said to Eve, Has God really said …

This post was first published here in March 2012.

Published in: on February 9, 2016 at 5:47 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,

What It Means To Be Made In God’s Image


puzzle-piecesI’m afraid this post is going to be ridiculously simplistic.

I’m not a philosopher, but for some strange reason I’m fascinated by the discipline. In my opinion the way we think about things, whether we’re aware of the system from which we’re operating or not, creates the filter through which we look at the world. Sometimes that system acts more like a blindfold that needs to be lifted before we can see.

Today I listened to the beginning of a lecture entitled “One God, Many Paths?” presented by Michael Ramsden of the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. In that opening, Ramsden explained that religions are rooted in either epistemology (thought), existentialism (feeling), or pragmatism (doing). In other words, they either tell people how to think, what to experience, or what to do.

Yes, there are some religions that combine all three—right thinking, right feeling, right doing. According to Ramsden, Christianity is not one of them. It cannot be reduced to one or even all three of those approaches. To become a Christian is not to master a system of thought, nor is it simply to have an experience or to follow a list of do’s and don’ts.

In truth, Jesus did not come into the world to tell us how to think about God or to give us new experiences with God or to tell us to do things for God. Jesus Christ came into this world as God. I’ll call this the relational component which other religions don’t have.

So what does this have to do with what it means to be made in the image of God? Simply this (remember, I said this post would probably be simplistic 😉 ): these philosophical foundations upon which religions are built fit nicely into the categories Jesus laid forth when He answered the question, What is the greatest commandment?

YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND (Luke 19:27b)

Heart, relational. Soul, existential. Strength, pragmatic. Mind, epistemological.

We are the sum of those parts.

We commune with others, feel in our souls, act from our will, analyze and reason with our intellect.

No surprise that God shows these same facets of His character, most clearly in Jesus—the Word made flesh—but no less present in God the Father or the Spirit. How could it be less so? Jesus specifically said He came to show us the Father. And what we find is that God, though incomprehensibly transcendent, is remarkably familiar. He cried and got angry and laughed and felt compassion. He told stories and accepted invitations to parties. He gave reasoned answers to questions and went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He blessed children and prayed to the Father. He did the right things, experienced life the right way, thought the right things, and related in the right way.

His empathetic connection with others, the way He lived, the things He said that revealed His mind, and the actions He took were not divorced from each other. He was a harmonious whole.

We have those same components.

Our brokenness lies in the lack of harmony we now live with. As a look at those various religious underpinnings reveals, we tilt dreadfully toward one direction or the other. We do this collectively and we do this individually.

Nevertheless, we have the same components Jesus exhibited and that we can find in God the Father. How logical, then, that when we trust in Jesus and His redemptive work, He can put the broken pieces back together.

Backward Thinking – A Reprise


Vitruvian-Icon-bYesterday I addressed the Caitlyn Jenner issue from the perspective that the media is manipulating public opinion—manipulating Caitlyn Jenner, too, I might add, though with her consent. The purpose is to reshape the way we think about ourselves. For the better part of two thousand years, western culture has been influenced by a Christian worldview. We have believed what the Bible says about us. But this Christian worldview doesn’t sit well with people who don’t believe in God. Hence, we need to re-think our opinions about life’s most basic questions: who are we, how did we get here, why are we here, where are we going?

The latter part of the twentieth century brought the triumph, in education, if not elsewhere, of “science” over “religion” in the debate over origins. But more recently the question those who reject God are addressing is, Who are we? No longer is the Bible the source to which we go to find the answer, but in a strange twist, we aren’t going to science either, as is so evident in the acceptance, even the glorification, of those who identify as transgenders.

We simply have dismissed physical evidence—the existence of Y chromosomes, the prominence of the Adam’s apple, deeper voices, hormones, differences in skeletal structure, genitalia, size of internal organs, and more—in the gender discussion. If you feel like a woman on the inside, then you’re a woman, no matter what the physical evidence says.

One person on Facebook explained this dismissal of scientific evidence by saying that perception is reality.

This question of who we are goes beyond gender however.

A few years back PETA brought a lawsuit, quickly dismissed, against Sea World on behalf of five Orca whales because of their “enslavement.” This extreme desire to treat animals with the same care and respect as humans, has the effect of degrading humans. We are, the thinking goes, not more special than the whale or gorilla or titmouse.

The Bible makes it clear that humans are special because we, of all creation, have uniquely been made in the image of God. Our Creator Himself breathed into Man the breath of life and he became a living being—a soul, a self, a person.

But the PETA folks would have us be less.

What’s ironic, at the same time, our culture has weighed humanity morally and found us to be good. Ask anyone. Humans—according to the majority of people in Western society, anyway—believe humans to be innately good. I suppose some might say dogs are good, and cats, horses, dolphins. But at some point, I think most people would hold back on calling mosquitoes good, or fleas or cockroaches or termites.

The truth is, animals aren’t acting out of a moral nature. We call some animals good because we find them to be beautiful or useful or companionable or admirable. Others we find to be a nuisance, destructive, harmful, disease-carrying, and suddenly the brotherhood of all living beings seems a little less desirable.

In truth, the human alone is a moral being, and sadly, we are not good. Yes, we bear the image of God, but we act out of the flaw in our character—the very flaw fiction writers know we must include in the characters that people our stories if they are to seem realistic.

All we have to do is look around us, and we see the flaws of Humankind. Corporate greed? That’s humans acting from our flawed nature. Welfare fraud? That’s humans acting from our flawed nature. Illegal immigration? Same problem, as is pornography, sex trafficking, adultery, extortion, murder, burglary … Need I go on?

Humans are not good. Those who ignore all of the above and insist humankind is indeed good, prove by their stubbornness and willingness to lie to themselves, that all of us are flawed.

So we have this upside down thinking going when it comes to the most basic question—who are we? Humans are just another animal species, some say. But humankind is good, some of the same people say.

But there’s more. While those lawyers were suing Sea World on behalf of the whales, another group of people were doing all they could to keep “a woman’s right to choose” in place. In simple terms, they worked overtime against any effort to chip away at the Supreme Court ruling that declared abortion legal.

Back in 1973, of course, the argument centered on the issue of when life begins. Pregnancy, the women’s rights movement taught, was at the sole prerogative of the woman, because at stake was her body, and hers alone. Inside her was tissue, a fetus, certainly not a separate life. To be alive, that embryo would have to be viable. Until abortion doctors wanted to finish a botched job outside the womb. Then it didn’t matter if the squirmy tissue was living and breathing. Abortion was legal, so there. Partial birth abortions—keep those legal. States that didn’t want abortion within their borders—out of luck. No bending on this issue even though now virtually everyone understands that the fetus is alive, that this is a separate person growing in the womb. An unprotected person, stripped of all rights, without a voice or any chance to do his or her own choosing.

But the irony doesn’t stop. Medical science has determined that certain things a women does when she is pregnant can have harmful effects on the baby she is carrying—things like smoking, consuming caffeine, and drinking alcohol. Other things are helpful like exercise and playing certain music or talking to the unborn baby. Pregnant women, then, are expected to do all the right things as part of prenatal care, while some have been accused of child abuse for doing the things that jeopardize the health and well-being of the unborn. That’s right. A woman can kill the child but not injure it by smoking.

Our thinking is backwards. We make these laws asking the wrong questions—most often, what do I want or what will benefit me? Some people might even go so far as to think, what will benefit society? Few, it seems, are asking, what is morally right?

Is it morally right to cheat on your income taxes? Is it morally right to steal from your employer? Is it morally right for CEOs of failed businesses to take millions of dollars in bonuses? Is it morally right for a congressman to receive thousands of dollars from a lobbyist for whom he will fashion upcoming legislation?

But no. We won’t create law by asking what is morally right because we have backwards thinking. Humankind is good … though an animal … with no right to be born should his mother choose to terminate his life while he’s completely helpless and dependent on her, but with every right to change his gender should he not like the one to which he’d been “assigned.”

In all this the image of God is being so marred it’s hardly recognizable.

A good portion of this article appeared here in February 2012.