Jesus And The Government


I just signed a petition urging the California State Senate not to pass a bill that the Assembly sent to them, but I’m not sure I should have.

We live in a representative democracy, so in that regard, I have some responsibility to shape the government as much as I can. But that’s not what Jesus did.

Of course He lived under the Roman Empire, in an occupied land with an appointed governor in charge. Yet I wonder.

After all, His counsel to the people of His day was to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” When He was interrogated first by Pilate, then by Herod, and again by Pilate, He did not revile in return, He didn’t utter any threats. What we have recorded in Scripture is either His silence or simple answers to the questions posed to Him.

What’s more, Peter instructs churches in the first century to

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. (1 Peter 2:13-14)

One more important piece of information: my hope is not in the government. I have no illusion that the government is going to fix things. The things that need fixing are a result of humankind’s sinful nature. We are increasingly becoming a nation of people who only want to do what is right in our own eyes. As a group we see humans as the arbiters of what is right and what is wrong. So if it looks good to us, if we think it might be tasty, if we think it can get us more power, more prestige, then we’re all for it. We are not thinking in any tangible way differently than Eve thought.

So government is not going to change our nature. In fact, our democratic republic was purposely designed to counter our sinful, selfish tendencies, and here we are, a scant 200 years later, considering a law that would undermine the very protection of rights our founding fathers thought necessary to include in our governing document.

Religious freedom? No, not if it’s going to clash with someone’s sexual desires. Or sexual proclivities. Or sexual perversions that they don’t even want any more. In reality, this law wants religion to shut up about sexual sin. The sin of choice in this case is homosexuality, but that’s because we have already OKed heterosexual sins. Even we in the church say very little about couples living together before marriage, or adulterous affairs, or multiple divorces and remarriage, or pornography, or pornographic entertainment disguised as TV shows or movies or books like Fifty Shades Of Grey.

Really? I’m bringing up that old book now? Well, yes, because that bit of our culture has had an influence on our attitudes—what we accept and what we think is OK.

Rather than looking to culture, though, we should be looking at Scripture and seeing what God has to say. He, after all, has our best at heart. He doesn’t give us laws to be a kill-joy. He isn’t thinking about the human experience and concluding that if He’d forbid X or Y or Z, then we’d be more miserable, so that’s what He’ll do.

Nothing could be further from the truth. God wants to give us Eden, He’s preparing a mansion. His free gift brings wholeness and healing. He sets things right. He doesn’t make life a little better. Instead, he changes our dead into life, our broken into made new, our slavery to corruption into freedom in Christ.

What does any of this have to do with me signing a petition?

If I am to emulate Christ, if I am to trust Him instead of government, am I spitting in the wind to do anything else?

Sometimes I think so. But I always come back to King Josiah who discovered God’s law and determined to bring his nation back to righteousness. In truth, a generation later, Judah succumbed to Babylon and the people were hauled into captivity. But Josiah had an impact during his lifetime. How many people found God and repented of their sins because one ruler determined to do what was right?

Shouldn’t we Christians be doing what is right, seeking to influence our government for right, all the while knowing that our trust is not in the government to fix things?

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The Call Of God


Paul_the_Apostle_conversionThe apostle Paul received the call of God. So did any number of other people in Scripture—Abraham, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah, Samuel. The thing about Paul’s call was that it was so public.

He saw a light so bright it blinded him for days. In fact, he needed a man sent by God to restore his sight. In the midst of that light, Paul heard a voice and what this Person said was a distinct message for him. First a question: Why are you persecuting Me?

Paul’s answer was natural: “Who are you, Lord?”

Then, The Call: “And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” (Acts 9:5b-6)

I suppose Paul could have said no. After all, Jonah did. Balaam and an unnamed prophet also resisted God’s directions. But the fact is, Paul obeyed. He did exactly what he’d been told.

And though the men with him saw the light (not in the way Paul did—they weren’t blinded by it), and though they heard the voice (not the way Paul did—they didn’t understand what the Speaker said), this call was for Paul alone.

It was dramatic. It was personal. It was convincing. We don’t have any record that Paul ever looked back from that moment on. He had been pursuing Christians to arrest them and bring them to judgment which would lead to their executions. Now he was a Christian who other zealous Jews were trying to put to death.

Despite his calling, others questioned what he was doing. Ananias, the man God sent to heal Paul, was the first one. God told him who he was to go to, and Ananias answered, Really, Lord? This man has been actively seeking to KILL Christians.

How like so many of us. We act as if we need to remind God of the dire circumstances we’re in or the offense against us or the plans we’d made, as if God had forgotten or maybe wasn’t aware. In reality it was Ananias who wasn’t aware:

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

I still marvel that the “before the Gentiles” part didn’t throw Ananias, but to his great credit, he obeyed God.

He wouldn’t be the last person to doubt Paul’s calling, though. When this new, enthusiastic convert arrived in Jerusalem, “he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26b)

Can’t blame them really, but I think that’s typical. We don’t know what the calling is that others have received. Really? we say; you’re going to be part of a prison ministry? or an unwed mother’s Bible study? or a medical ministry to Russia? or a missionary to … shhh . . . a Muslim country.

Even more, we might say, What? You’re giving up your writing to take care of your disabled sister-in-law? Or, you’re giving up your stable job to become a writer? Or, you’re turning your back on that great guy who loves you because you feel called to the mission field?

The part that’s inexplicable is the calling. Paul knew he was called, though no one else heard what he heard, and he acted accordingly. Eventually others realized he was serious, though they may not have understood. And certainly his old Pharisee buddies did not get it.

In fact, later in Paul’s ministry when he was called to Jerusalem, a number of his Christian friends and disciples, including a prophet, tried to dissuade him. Don’t go, they said. If you go to Jerusalem, you’ll be arrested.

Paul had listened to those warnings before. After his conversion, in Damascus, when the staunch Jews were planning to kill him, his disciples lowered him in a basket outside the city wall so he could escape. Another time, when there was a near riot because of his preaching, he wanted to enter the arena to speak to the crowd, but the other Christians told him no. He left Philippi because of death threats and traveled by himself to Athens to wait for his companions. So Paul was not a stranger to heeding the warnings of others.

But he’d been called to Jerusalem, so to Jerusalem he went, regardless that this calling didn’t insure a happy end or many converts—at least not in the short term.

That’s also true about following God’s call. There is no guarantee that there will be fruit from your labor. Jeremiah, in fact, knew going in that no one would listen to him. Yet God called him to warn the people of God’s judgment.

In other words, the veracity of God’s call can’t be confirmed by results that people here and now can see. The widows of the men martyred with Jim Elliott may well have thought initially that their calling had ended in fruitlessness. It hadn’t, but they couldn’t know that at the time.

But it can be “confirmed,” I guess you’d say, by Scripture in the sense that God isn’t going to call a person to do something contrary to His written word. He isn’t going to “call” someone to have an affair, for instance, or to preach a different gospel from the one Scripture teaches.

I’ll be honest—I don’t like this notion of God’s call. I know it’s easy to act on our own, to be deluded by our own desires, to want something so much we talk ourselves into believing God wants it for us too. I feel on shaky ground when someone else says they’ve been called. But the few times I’ve known God’s call in my life, it’s been clear—convincingly clear. But maybe not necessarily to everyone else around me. Undoubtedly there are some still saying, Really? I get that. I wish I had a bright light to point to.

Or not. Some scholars think that perhaps the thorn Paul wanted removed was his poor eyesight which, though restored, was never as good as it had been. Of course his poor eyesight could just as easily have come from one of the beatings he took or the times he was stoned and left for dead.

Either way, it’s clear callings come with a cost—people not always “getting it,” some even opposing it, and lots of people doubting you ever got such a calling in the first place. That’s OK.

Like Lucy in Prince Caspian, we can respond to the call of Aslan, even though others don’t see or hear, or we can fall in line and go the way everyone else is going. It’s a matter of trust.

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so—”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I—I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that . . . oh, well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you.” (pp 135-136)

This post first appeared here in June, 2014.

Published in: on April 26, 2018 at 5:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Purpose—A Reprise


What is the purpose of life? Not just any life, but the life of a human being. Christians schooled in the Westminster Shorter Catechism will immediately answer that “the chief end of Man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

It’s hard to refute that statement, for surely all of creation is to glorify God and at some point in the future “every knee will bow of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-10).

The problem I’m having with this concept is this: why didn’t God tell Adam and Eve their purpose was to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever? And when Jesus came, why didn’t He correct any wrong thinking and state what His followers’ purpose should be? Then when Jesus left earth, why didn’t the Holy Spirit set them on the right path and give them their ultimate purpose?

In other words, this idea that Humankind has been given the central purpose of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever seems to me to be something humans have cobbled together from various scriptures. By the way, the purpose the Westminster Catechism gives humans seems to me to be fulfilled by the angelic host. Are we to duplicate what they have been given to do?

According to Genesis, God gave Adam and Eve a completely different directive:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28)

First, God made humans His image bearers. Second, He told them to multiply. And third, He gave them dominion over the earth and the rest of life on the earth. God never rescinded his commands to Adam. Therefore, I submit, these are the purposes of Humankind.

Because Humankind introduced sin into the world, Adam’s original purpose was subverted, but not eliminated. Humans are still to multiply. I don’t think that command was ever about filling the world with more bodies, however. Without a sin nature, a child born before sin would have had the same relationship with God that Adam and Eve had. They could have communed with Him in transparent intimacy. They could have represented God to the rest of creation by administering just and merciful dominion over all of life. In other words, God wanted more people carrying out His work in the world, and it was up to Adam and Eve to multiply.

In many respects, the Church, God’s redeemed and reconciled people, have been recommissioned to accomplish what Adam and Eve failed to do.

We are to represent Christ to the world. Paul terms this as being ambassadors:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us (2 Cor. 5:20a)

We are also to multiply.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you (Matt. 28:18-20a).

I recently read that Christians are not primarily to engage in a “pyramid scheme” of evangelism. That term, of course, has negative connotations because those participating had to put in money with the hope of getting a greater return in the end. This goal can only be accomplished by bringing as many other members into the scheme as possible.

Of course Christians aren’t to be engaged in disciple-making with some ulterior goal or with some sort of works-based reward system in mind. We shouldn’t be trying to notch our belt to signify another redeemed scalp.

But trumpeting the good news, playing the part of ambassadors, teaching others who can then turn around a teach others, is precisely what Christians are called to do.

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2)

As I see it, because of sin, we are now on a rescue mission. Our chief end, just as it was Adam’s chief end, is to obey God–which Jesus says we’ll do if we love Him–and His primary commands haven’t change, though the scope of them has. Now we are to be image bearers to the rest of creation, including people who do not know the Son. In the process, we are participating in the multiplication of His people:

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29 – emphasis mine).

Throughout the New Testament there’s a discussion of “bearing fruit.” Primarily those references deal with one of two things–good works or people. In one parable, for example, Jesus admonishes His disciples to go out into the harvest because the fields are ripe. Then in the epistles, Paul talks about obtaining fruit among the Gentiles. Elsewhere he talks about some Christians planting, others watering, but God giving the increase–or bringing to fruition their work.

I suggest God receives glory when what He made works the way He intended it to work. The heavens, for example, declare His glory. How so? By the fact of their existence because what He made originally was good.

Because of the sin nature in Humankind, however, we do not glorify Him merely by our existence. We are not the perfect image bearers He originally made. We are flawed, which is the very thing Christ came to take care of. His work allows us to return to our work.

Yes, I happen to believe God will receive glory because of our doing what He made us to do. In other words, I believe that when we fulfill our chief end we will glorify Him. I also believe that when we fulfill our chief end, we will enjoy Him and that enjoyment will be without end.

Consequently, when we fulfill our purpose, we will bring about the things the Westminster Catechism declares to be the chief end of man. I just happen to think the men who put that doctrinal statement together put the wrong question to the answer. They should have asked, “What will result when Man fulfills his chief end?” Then the answer, “They will glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” works very well.

This post first appeared here in September 2013.

Just Not Me – Reprise


Moses029When I was growing up, missionaries home on furlough would, from time to time, speak at our church. Inevitably they’d show slides I (still pictures inserted into a projector and displayed on a screen 😉 ) of their overseas ministry, usually including one or more of people suffering from a disease known as elephantiasis. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything harder to do than go to a foreign place and deal with such illnesses. And yet time and again, I thought for sure God was sending me to the mission field.

Mind you, I wasn’t opposed to missions. I thought missionaries were brave (though generally boring and quite old-fashioned). I was fine with other people going to foreign places. Just not me!

My attitude was not so different from the one Moses displayed when God called him to go back to Egypt and lead the people of Israel into their own land. His short answer? Not me, God.

Interestingly, his reasoning was similar to Gideon’s some hundreds of years later when God commissioned him to free His people from the tyranny of Midian.

Both Moses and Gideon didn’t think they were qualified, Moses because he couldn’t speak well and Gideon because he was the youngest of his family and his tribe was the least important in Israel. I don’t know if either of those assessments were true, but that’s what each man thought. They simply weren’t capable of doing the job God was calling them to do.

Actually, that’s not a bad place to be. Moses some forty years earlier had thought he was capable of ruling over Israel—protecting them and judging between them. He got a rude awakening when things didn’t pan out the way he expected. So his new position of humility was a needed step.

Both Moses and Gideon also asked for a sign. They wanted to be sure they’d understood correctly. They wanted to know that God was indeed sending them.

God gave them more than one sign. With Moses He turned his staff into a snake and back again; turned his hand leprous, then healed it; and turned water he poured onto the ground into blood.

With Gideon God produced dew only on the fleece he set out, then produced dew everywhere else except on the fleece. Further, he told Gideon to sneak into the Midian camp where he heard the interpretation of a prophetic dream recounting Israel’s upcoming victory.

Not much doubt that God was calling these two guys despite their initial “not me” reaction.

You’d think the hard part was over. They finally got the message. Yes, God really said and meant that they were to go and do . . . well, the impossible.

But the fact is, Moses first had to convince the people of Israel that God had sent him, then he had to convince Pharaoh to do what God and told him. The process was harrowing and I suspect lasted for months if not years (though we can read it in a relatively short time in Exodus).

Gideon had the cooperation of the people immediately. But God was the one who initially put up obstacles. Too many people, Gideon—send home the people who have just bought land or just got married or who are afraid. And then, after thousands left, God said, still too many, Gideon. Weed out more. After the initial, miraculous, God-orchestrated victory, he faced opposition from people: some who didn’t want to help because his numbers were so small, and some who were infuriated that they hadn’t been included in the whole operation.

No, following God was not easy.

Not everyone who God called responded as Moses and Gideon did. Samuel didn’t know God or recognize His voice, but he answered, “Here am I.” Isaiah realized he was a man of unclean lips, but once his iniquity had been removed, he answered in the opposite vein—Here am I. Send me!

Jonah was most definitely in the Not Me camp. He ran in the opposite direction from the one God had told him to go. Saul was a Not Me guy too. When the people of Israel chose him to be king—and this was after God had Samuel anoint him—he was hiding amidst the baggage.

Joseph, on the other hand, was a Here Am I guy. Daniel was too. Ruth was a Here Am I gal as was Mary.

Esther was back with the Not Me guys, though. But she had good company. All those disciples of Jesus hiding after the crucifixion—definitely Not Me guys. Peter even said, as for me and my house, we’re going fishing.

Not Joshua. He was a Here Am I guy. So was Noah and Abraham and Daniel.

The amazing thing is that God used them all. His kindness and patience were on display when He sent a storm, then a great fish, to stop Jonah in his tracks. Jesus had already appeared to Peter and had given him instruction to wait for the Holy Spirit, but Peter, being Peter, was off doing his Not Me thing. Jesus loved him back to obedience.

Esther had Mordecai’s counsel and prayer, Saul had Samuel and his instruction from God.

Sadly, Saul’s Not Me changed at some point to Not God. He decided he could re-interpret God’s commands and do things his own way. That, I guess, is the real answer to God’s call that we need to guard against.

I’m reminded of the parable Jesus told of the two sons whose father instructed them to go out into the vineyard. The one said no, the other said he’d go. However, the first relented and obeyed his father even though he’d said he wouldn’t, and the second didn’t go though he said he would. So which did the will of his father? Jesus asked. (Matt. 21:31)

In the end, that’s what God wants of us—to do His will. I’d still like to be a Here Am I gal, but the reality is, I more often than not resemble a Not Me gal.

But God deals with us in kindness and patience and mercy. He knows our weaknesses, and even promises to give us strength when we are at our breaking point. And He gives us second chances. And third. And fourth. Well, I suppose it’s more like seventy times seven.

How great is our God!

This post first appeared here in August 2014.

Published in: on August 15, 2017 at 4:37 pm  Comments Off on Just Not Me – Reprise  
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God’s Indictment Of His People


Old_Testament sacrificesThe books of prophecy are filled with warnings–some against the nations surrounding Israel and Judah, but most directed at God’s chosen people themselves. Micah is no exception, but the things he points up seem a little different.

Others, like Isaiah and Hosea and Jeremiah seem to focus most on God’s people forsaking Him by worshiping idols or by not keeping His Sabbath or by mistreating the orphans and widows and strangers.

Micah, on the other hand, focuses more on the restoration. Israel, God’s chosen people, will face a day of reckoning, but redemption will follow. Nevertheless, God indicts them for some pointed things: cheating in business, bribery, lying to one another, and violence.

Here’s a sample:

Now hear this, heads of the house of Jacob
And rulers of the house of Israel,
Who abhor justice
And twist everything that is straight,
Who build Zion with bloodshed
And Jerusalem with violent injustice.
Her leaders pronounce judgment for a bribe,
Her priests instruct for a price
And her prophets divine for money.
Yet they lean on the Lord saying,
“Is not the Lord in our midst?
Calamity will not come upon us.”
Therefore, on account of you
Zion will be plowed as a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins,
And the mountain of the temple will become high places of a forest. (3:9-12 – emphasis mine)

A few chapters later Micah points out to the people that they can’t bring enough offering to make right what they’ve done.

With what shall I come to the Lord
And bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?
Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (6:6-7)

Rather God has made plain what He expects:

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? (6:8)

We can’t earn a place with God by doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with Him, but we can live up to our relationship with Him by practicing those things.

The relationship, interestingly enough, comes because God did what was needed—He paid that insurmountable price which thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of oil couldn’t satisfy. He presented His Son for my rebellious acts, for the sin of my soul.

With my certificate of debt canceled, nailed to the cross, I can “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects” (Colossians 1:10).

What does that look like? Well, Micah said it, didn’t he. God has told us what is good, what He requires of us: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with our God.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in May 2013. The YouTube music video below is a new addition.

The Connection Between Humility And Obedience


sad_snot-nosed_kid“Fool! You fool!” the five-year-old shouted. As it turned out, he was talking to his mother. She didn’t reprimand him for the name calling or for the disrespect. Instead she asked him if his father gave him sugar that morning. He growled in reply. She asked again and he growled again. Finally she asked him why he was making those noises. He said, “I’m a monster,” and proceeded to growl a few more times. At last his mother told him to stop being a monster. He growled in reply.

Is there a connection between this five-year-old’s disobedience and his disrespect for someone in authority? I think absolutely. Philippians tells us that Jesus humbled Himself by becoming obedient (2:8), and Hebrews tells us He learned obedience through suffering.

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (5:8)

Jesus was not disobedient until he learned obedience. Rather He was sovereign, the One others obeyed. Being God, He was not in a position to obey anyone else. So when He came to earth, He needed to learn.

Suffering was the means by which He learned, and humility was the outgrowth of this obedience.

So here’s a thought. If suffering leads to obedience that leads to humility, then it makes sense that withheld punishment leads to increased disobedience that leads to pride. Consequently, when parents withhold punishment from their children who are disobedient, they are missing an opportunity to teach them humility. In short, they are enabling their child’s pride.

Ah, yes. Pride. Satan’s plaything. He loves to convince children they know as much or more than their parents, that they don’t have to listen or obey, that their way is as good or better than the way they’ve been instructed.

Those prideful little people, when left uncorrected, end up becoming prideful adults who may tell God they are nicer than He is, that they think He’s wrong to send people to hell, that His Word is outdated, irrelevant, intolerant. In other words, pride is at the heart of much of the apostasy in the western Church. Unlike Jesus, twenty-first century westerners have not learned humility through what we have suffered.

May God have mercy so that we learn humility at the hands of our parents rather than through the consequences a prideful people can accrue.

This post first appeared here in January 2013.

Published in: on September 21, 2016 at 7:11 pm  Comments (4)  
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Jacob Was No Abraham


Abraham wasn’t perfect, but he was pretty amazing.

Leave your home, God said. Abraham’s response: Where to? Just go until I tell you to stop, God answered. So off Abraham went “as the Lord had spoken to him.”

When it was clear that his flocks and his nephew Lot’s couldn’t pasture together any longer, he unselfishly gave Lot the pick of the land.

Later he pleaded with God to be merciful to Sodom on behalf of Lot and his family. Six times he interceded for them.

Later, when God told him to circumcise every male in his household as a sign of the agreement they had together, he took care of it the very same day.

When Sarah wanted to send Hagar and Ishmael away, Abraham objected, but God told him to listen to Sarah. So “Abraham rose early in the morning,” packed them up, gave them provisions, and sent them on their way.

One boy gone, but then God told him to sacrifice the son of promise. “So Abraham rose early in the morning,” took wood, fire, and his son and set off. Three days later they came to the place where God directed him to go. (Good thing Abraham listened since that’s where the ram was that would become the substitute sacrifice).

Compare this to Jacob. He swindled his brother out of his birthright; lied to his dad and fooled him into thinking he was his twin in order to obtain his brother’s blessing; manipulated his uncle’s animals to procure the best for himself, and sneaked away without saying goodbye.

On top of that, as he returned home, he got word that his brother—who, rumors said, planned to kill him—was on his way to meet him . . . with four hundred men. So Jacob, brave man that he was, sent a gift, divided his people and property in two, with the hopes that at least half of them could get away, and put it all in front of him.

Interesting, though. He had an encounter with God and the next morning he changed things up, putting himself ahead of his family, then falling on his face before Esau.

He was learning.

But he made more mistakes, most notably favoring Joseph, his wife Rachel’s firstborn. To be fair, he learned about favoritism from his parents. His mother Rebekah favored him—which was why she came up with the idea for him to steal his brother’s blessing—and his father Isaac favored Esau. So Jacob was carrying on the family tradition. It’s just that it didn’t sit well with his ten older sons. They eventually kidnapped Joseph, sold him, and reported to Jacob that they found his bloody coat.

Believing Joseph to be dead, Jacob shifted his protection and possibly his favor to his youngest, Benjamin.

Fast forward some thirteen years, and famine forced Jacob to send his sons to Egypt to buy food—all except Benjamin. Unbeknown to the brothers, Joseph was the man they bought from, and he told them not to return unless their youngest brother was with them.

Time passed, food dwindled, the famine continued, and Jacob wouldn’t send Benjamin. Ruben tried to give his father assurances, to no avail. Judah tried and was turned down, but finally things grew desperate, and Jacob was forced to relent.

Here’s the big turning point of his life, I believe. He went from saying

“My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow” (Gen 42:38)

to saying

“may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, so that he will release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (Gen 43:14)

It took him a long time to get there. In the meantime, God gave him the same promise He had given Abraham and Isaac—one not connected with the blessing he stole. He also protected him from his uncle and from his brother, appeared to him more than once in visions and dreams and perhaps even as the pre-incarnate Christ.

At last, he stopped grabbing and grasping and holding on. He opened his hand and relinquished his son. Only then did he receive Joseph back, alive and well.

Two patriarchs—one quick to obey, the other, oh, so slow. One willing to give up his sons, the other holding on as if he could care for them better than God could. In the end, God used them both, but I can’t help but think Abraham took the better road.

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

Published in: on August 25, 2016 at 6:46 pm  Comments Off on Jacob Was No Abraham  
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The Difference Between Religious People And Christians


horse_and_carriageThis is not rocket science. In fact, I’ve written about the difference between people of other religions and Christians on other occasions, but I’ve generally left the door open when someone professes to be a Christian. I mean, I can’t look into their hearts. I don’t know what their relationship with God is. If they say they have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, then who am I to say they haven’t been?

Some time ago on the radio broadcast Truth for Life, Pastor Alistair Begg gave the clearest, simplest way of identifying the difference between religious people and Christians.

Someone who is religious believes and obeys in order to be accepted by God. A Christian, on the other hand, believes in order to be accepted by God, and obeys as a result. Put in slightly different terms, a religious person works to be justified with God, whereas a Christian works because he is justified with God.

The differences seem small and even hard to tell apart, but the two positions actually are diametrically opposed to one another. It’s the cart before the horse idea. One man has a cart and a horse, the other man has a horse and a cart. What’s the difference? Everything. The first man goes nowhere. The second has a wonderful conveyance that takes him wherever he wishes to go.

So too the religious person is stuck with his own inadequate efforts trying to make himself acceptable to God. It will never happen, in the same way that a cart will never pull a horse. The Christian, on the other hand, confessing his inability to measure up to God’s standard, and accepting the completed, redemptive work of Jesus Christ, receives a full measure of God’s grace and is accepted by the Father. As a result, he obeys God in the strength and through the power of that grace.

So who’s a Christian? Not the person who believes his work is in any way meritorious in bringing reconciliation between him and God. It really is that simple.

Going Over To The Enemy


David055David, the future king of Israel and a man after God’s own heart, went over to the enemy. King Saul had falsely accused him of treason and was hunting him down with the intent to kill him.

Despite the fact that God miraculously intervened time after time to protect him from Saul, David apparently grew weary of living as a fugitive, hiding out in caves, and escaping to neighboring countries. It was just a matter of time, he reasoned, before Saul got the right intel and tracked him down. He was just as good as dead.

Except, God’s prophet Samuel had anointed David to be the next king of Israel. So, was God lying? Or mistaken? Did He change His mind? David’s actions would lead a person to believe that something had gone wrong—that Samuel had gotten the wrong guy or was not a true prophet or that he was making it all up. Because from David’s perspective, this on-the-run-to-avoid-death deal was not part of becoming the king.

In fact, he decided something had to change. Did he turn to God to reach this decision? No. Did he consult the priest or look to a prophet or cast lots (a way followers of God discerned His will)? None of the above. He turned to his own logic, his own ideas about his situation, his own judgment:

Then David said to himself, “Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than to escape into the land of the Philistines. Saul then will despair of searching for me anymore in all the territory of Israel, and I will escape from his hand.” (1 Sam. 27:1, emphases mine)

And where did David’s own thoughts lead him? To the enemy. The Philistines, remember were the people who sent Goliath to terrorize the army of Israel. The Philistines were the people David killed in battle when the people praised him by saying, Saul has killed his thousands/And David his ten thousands.

Granted, David was walking a tight line between the two groups. He lived with the Philistines and pretended to be against Israel, but in reality he was raiding cities that were not in Israelite territory while making the Philistines think he was raiding in Judah. If he had been operating on the sea, we’d have called him a pirate. I guess the closest occupational title on land would be mercenary. But David did not target Israelite towns as he led the Philistines to believe.

David’s duplicitous life style almost cost him. His patron Philistine king decided that David and his men should join him and all the other Philistine kings in one grand battle against Israel. So off they went.

I’ve wondered more than once what David would have done had he still been around when the battle started. But he wasn’t. By God’s sovereignty, the other Philistine kings ordered David’s patron, a man named Achish, to get rid of that Israelite—you know, the one about whom all the woman sang praises. After all, he might turn on us in the middle of the battle, they said. And they had a good right to fear such a thing because an untold number of Israelites had done just that same thing some forty years earlier when Saul first came to power. Achish may not have known his people’s history, but these other kings did.

So David left. But when he got home, he found his city burned to the ground and all the women, children, animals, and goods gone. Such is the consequence of going over to the enemy.

On top of everything, his own men were so distraught and angry they consider stoning David for leading them on a wild goose chase while their own homes were under attack.

And now, at last, David turns to God. Should he go after the raiders and try to recover their people and possessions? Yes, God answered. Go.

David and his men went and successfully recovered everything and everyone and even brought back spoil from the raiders. His days with the enemy were over.

Interestingly enough, David was not the only one who went over to the enemy.

Back in Israel, with war looming over the nation, King Saul inquired of God what he should do. God was silent. He didn’t answer Saul in a dream or by a prophet or from a priest. He simply shut Saul out.

Ever since Saul took it upon himself to offer a sacrifice—something reserved for the priests—and as a result received God’s judgment that the kingdom would be taken from him, he worked against God to hang on. His number one goal was to eliminate his biggest threat—David. But now the whole nation was at risk, and he needed God.

But God was silent.

OK, Saul thought, I can get around God and find out what I need to know. So he sent his servants to find a medium. When he learned there was one in Endor, he disguised himself and requested that the woman bring up Samuel.

Amazingly she did. But the passage already said the LORD did not answer Saul. So the power to bring up Samuel was not from God. It was from the enemy.

Saul was determined to go his own way, get what he wanted, thwart God’s stated plan. He did not care that God had told him as if it was a done deal that the kingdom would be taken from him. He lived to make sure that didn’t happen.

But despite all his machinations, God’s word did come about.

Saul was willing to go over to the enemy in order to keep his kingdom. He had a wrong view of God and simply believed he could out-maneuver Him, that God’s word wasn’t final, that God didn’t have the say over his life.

David went through a period of doubting that looked similar. He didn’t believe God would keep His word, or that He had the power to do so. David went over to the enemy because of his wrong view of God.

I’m willing to say, a wrong view of God will end up leading us to the enemy’s side every time. Thank God He revealed Himself to us by what He made, by what He said, and by His Son whom He sent.

“Let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 9:24)

Elisabeth Elliot: 1926 – 2015


Elisabeth ElliotElisabeth Elliot died on Sunday. From my perspective, she is one of the great heroes of the faith.

She influenced countless thousands in any number of ways, not the least in the area of foreign missions. After all, she not only lived sacrificially among the Ecuadorian nationals responsible for her husband’s death and preached the love of Christ to them, she also wrote about her husband and the four other missionary martyrs:

The story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and companions Peter Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully—most famously narrated in Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor—is perhaps the most chronicled missionary account of the past 100 years, and remains an inspiration for many. (Christianity Today)

Yes, an inspiration to many.

Elisabeth Elliot had strong views and didn’t couch them in buttery, inoffensive terms. I heard her speak once. A friend was going on a short term mission trip and Elisabeth Elliot spoke at the commissioning service. I don’t remember precisely what she said—sort of, why are you young people doing this? Get your heads out of the clouds. Living on the mission field is not pleasant or easy. Specifically I remember her saying, contrary to popular opinion, she didn’t go to the jungle of Ecuador because she loved hot, humid weather and poisonous snakes. She said it was no easier for her to endure those discomforts and fears than it was for anyone else.

But ultimately, Ms. Elliot was not telling the prospective missionaries to “suck it up.” That’s not the way she thought. Rather, she had a passion for God’s word and for God Himself. She held to the fact that God can and should be obeyed and trusted.

Blunt—not ungracious, not impetuous, not snappy or gruff. But direct, unsentimental, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is, no whining allowed. Just pull your britches on and go die for Jesus—like Mary Slessor and Gladys Aylward and Amy Carmichael and Gertrude Ras Egede and Eleanor Macomber and Lottie Moon and Roslind Goforth and Malla Moe, to name a few whom she admired. (“Peaches in Paradise: Why I Loved Elisabeth Elliot” by John Piper, Desiring God)

She challenged believers to move out of our comfort zone and trust the God who knows the end from the beginning:

Because of her, I dared to leave my comfort zone.

I am not alone—many in my generation found similar courage and peace through her books, speaking, and radio program. There is little telling the breadth of her global heritage. I am grateful for her life, and for the profound influence she left on my own. (“This wife of a murdered missionary has died. Here’s why Elisabeth Elliot’s life mattered to so many” by Tsh Oxenreider, Washington Post)

I think Elisabeth Elliot’s influence was so profound because she spoke the truth, but it was a truth she lived. She knew romanticizing missions would give people a false view of service. She knew sentimentalizing discipleship was the opposite of what Christ required of us.

Finally, Elisabeth Elliot has had a strong influence on women in the Church and on our ideas of our place in God’s plan. Above all, she adhered to Scripture, even the growingly less popular parts that identify a wife’s role as that of being subject to her husband:

A Christian woman’s true freedom [and, of course, she would also say a Christian man’s true freedom] lies on the other side of a very small gate—humble obedience—but that gate leads out into a largeness of life undreamed of by the liberators of the world, to a place where the God-given differentiation between the sexes is not obfuscated but celebrated, where our inequalities are seen as essential to the image of God, for it is in male and female, in male as male and female as female, not as two identical and interchangeable halves, that the image is manifested. (399—Piper quoting from Elisabeth Elliot’s chapter “The Essence of Femininity: A Personal Perspective” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)

I said “finally” but there’s really this overarching message of Elisabeth Elliot’s life, ministry, writing, speaking—she trusted God no matter what the circumstances. As it happened, she spent the last ten years of her life in the grip of dementia, a gradual death of who you are, at least in the here and now. Her third husband (her second husband died of cancer four years after their marriage) addressed her response in an interview at World Magazine:

Last year, as Elliot’s health declined, WORLD interviewed her third husband, Lars Gren. Elliot met him while he was a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and they were married for 36 years, until her death. The magazine reported:

    Gren says Elliot has handled dementia just as she did the deaths of her husbands. “She accepted those things, [knowing] they were no surprise to God,” Gren said. “It was something she would rather not have experienced, but she received it.

(“Missionary Pioneer Elisabeth Elliot Passes Through Gates of Splendor” by Kate Shellnutt, Christianity Today)

In receiving the suffering of life which a good God put into her hand, Elisabeth Elliot became one of the great saints of the Christian faith. She is an example of living out what the Bible tells us, right here, in our sophisticated twenty-first century culture.

elisabeth-elliot