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

Adam Loved His Wife Too Much, Revisited


Earlier this month, I brought up the idea that Adam disobeyed God, possibly because he loved Eve more than he loved God. I’d forgotten that back in 2011 I wrote entire post on the subject. I thought it might be a good idea to bring it forward, especially for those who found this idea something new. So, without any further explanation, “Adam Loved His Wife Too Much”:

A man is supposed to love his wife—to forsake all others and to cling to her—so it may seem odd to say Adam loved his wife too much, but that’s the truth. Mind you, I’d heard this before: Eve was deceived, but Adam willfully disobeyed.

A little study shows this statement to be true. Scripture tells us Eve was deceived: “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3—emphases here and in the following verse are mine). And it tells us Adam was not: “And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Tim. 2:14).

Adam, then, walked into sin with his eyes open. He knew the penalty for eating of the tree — death. He knew Eve was guilty and would have to die. So he ate too.

Why did he? The most logical explanation is that he loved her so much he couldn’t imagine life without her. I suppose he could also have thought that she now knew what he did not, and he couldn’t bear losing her that way either.

But here’s the thing: it hit me that if I were somehow the only sinful person in the world, Christ would still have died. For me. He, the Good Shepherd who goes after the one lost lamb, would come seeking to save me.

That’s precisely the situation Eve was in—the one and only sinner in the world. But Adam, instead of believing that God could display his mercy along with his justice, apparently chose God’s gift instead of God. He had heard and understood and believed God’s clear command. Consequently, on one hand was God, but on the other was his wife, destined to die.

What Adam did, might actually seem noble and endearing. He loved his wife so much he was willing to die with her. But actually it was faithless. He could not see a way God could fix this mess. He therefore saw God as limited in His power or not loving enough to care or good enough to act. He chose Eve because he did not trust God.

In contrast, Abraham years later also heard God’s clear command—sacrifice your son. But previously he’d also heard God’s promise—through Isaac your descendants will become a great nation. On one hand God, on the other, God’s gift, so like the dilemma Adam faced.

Abraham believed God, and came through.

The interesting thing, though, is this: I don’t think Abraham loved his son less than Adam loved his wife. After all, this was the son of his old age. He’d waited eighty years for this boy (assuming he didn’t start wanting a son until he was an adult). And for fifty years, he and Sarah were “the infertile couple.”

Everything was at stake here. Everything. He had believed God, followed Him to the ends of the earth. He had no Bible to turn to for assurance, just a remembered encounter, a promise he trusted.

And it all hinged on this lad, this beloved son, this teenager who was to inherit his wealth and grow a nation. If Abraham took the knife to him, and he died, all he believed would crumble to ash. He’d lose his son, but he’d lose his God, too, for surely he couldn’t continue to worship a faithless deity.

Did Abraham wrestle with such issues? Did Adam? Scripture doesn’t tell us, but we know how the two men acted. Abraham chose God. He believed both the promise and the command. He committed to his son by committing to God.

Adam did the opposite. He chose his wife. He doubted God’s unspoken promise—His provision of Eve to meet Adam’s need—which led him to disdain the command.

If only he had loved God a bit more than he loved his wife!

Published in: on March 19, 2015 at 5:28 pm  Comments (2)  
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Follow Paul Who Follows Christ


When I was a kid, one of the rainy day games we would play was Simon Says. A leader would stand before the class and announce something like, “Simon says nod your head.” The rest of us standing and facing the leader would dutifully nod our heads. Soon the leader increased the pace and eventually would give a command without the critical game-changing phrase “Simon says.” Those of us who forgot to listen for that critical bit of information had to sit down (and I was usually in the first wave of those caught listening to the command without attaching it to the giver of the command). The game was all about following commands, but only those that were authorized.

Wind the clock ahead a few years. As a teen challenged by my Sunday school teacher to spend time in God’s word every day, I read in one of Paul’s letters where he said the people he was writing to should follow his example. What hubris, I thought. How could anyone say, look at me, live like me, do as I do? How could anyone set themselves up to be Simon?

Much later I learned that Paul claimed the role only so far as he followed Christ. “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

I’m beginning to think this “copy the model” way of doing things is a key in God’s plan and purpose. After all, He created Man in His image. He told Moses to build the tabernacle exactly like the pattern God showed him. And He told the people of Israel to not copy the nations living around them.

God’s plan, in fact, was for the other nations to learn from watching Israel:

So keep and do [the commandments and statutes], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?
– Deuteronomy 4:6-7 [emphasis mine]

This method of imitation continued throughout the New Testament. We are to be holy because God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Believers are being made in the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). We are to be lights in the world (Philippians 2:15). Christ Himself was to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6).

What’s the point? Israel was to serve as the model to the other nations, but they failed because they became the imitators of the other nations in direct disobedience to what God told them to do.

Today the Church is supposed to be a beacon in the dark world, but instead of embracing our role we seem to be more interested in blending in than standing out. It seems we’d much prefer to hide our lamps under a basket rather than put them on a lampstand.

I know it’s a lot easier to talk about living boldly in a way that shows Christ to the world than it is to do it, and I’m not living in a nation where my family will disown me for my faith in Christ. I’m not living in a land where a pastor can be tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for believing in Jesus. Being an example to others costs those Christians more than the little embarrassment or mockery it might cost me.

I’m not at the place yet where I celebrate ridicule for my faith. Clearly I have more to learn about following Paul who followed Christ.

The bulk of this article first appeared here in 2011 under a different title.

Published in: on March 16, 2015 at 7:21 pm  Comments (1)  
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Josiah’s Humble Heart


High Priest reads the Law to Josiah005The last good king in Judah came to the throne when he was 8. His grandfather, King Manasseh, had re-established idol worship, including the sacrifice of children. And he reigned for more than a half century. His son only ruled two years because he was assassinated. That left young boy Josiah on the throne.

Unlike his father and grandfather, this child king patterned himself after David. Eighteen years into his reign he ordered temple repairs and a bunch of clean-up measures. In carrying out the young king’s commands, the high priest found a copy of the Law. When he read it to Josiah, the king understood what kings older than he, had completely missed: because his nation had rebelled against God, He would cut them loose and send them into exile.

Josiah’s response? He humbled himself before God, first with a public display of sorrow, then by seeking out a confirming word from a prophetess of God:

When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Micaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant saying, “Go, inquire of the LORD for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the LORD that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:11-13, emphasis added)

He was right. God’s wrath—His righteous judgment against those who rebel against Him—was great. The prophetess gave
the messengers from the king this answer:

Thus says the LORD, “Behold, I bring evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore My wrath burns against this place, and it shall not be quenched. (vv 16, 17)

God’s word stands.

There was one other part to what the prophetess reported, however, and this had to do with Josiah and his response to God’s Law:

“Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you,” declares the LORD. “Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place.” (vv 19, 20, emphasis added)

Josiah’s reward? Peace in his day. He wasn’t going to be the king dragged off to Babylon, who had to watch the slaughter of his sons, then have his eyes gouged out. He wouldn’t have to walk the walls of his city and see his people eating their dung and drinking their urine or bartering to serve up their children.

Peace in his day.

Josiah may not have fully appreciated what this meant as we do after the fact, but he embraced the time God gave him by being zealous in his obedience to the Torah. He cleaned out the idol altars and utensils from the temple, torn down the idol high places Manasseh had put back up, instituted the Passover, and even went to Israel and torn down the golden calves their first king Jeroboam had erected which caused the northern kingdom to stray from the start.

This guy was relentless in bringing his people back to God—even though he already had God’s promise that he’d enjoy peace in his day.

A humble heart does that, I think. It’s not focused on self. He cared not just about escaping the coming wrath. He cared about doing what God intended His people to do.

Great example, I think. Recently the Church has been rightly rebuked for caring more about our own comfort than about pleasing God and loving Him through our obedience. Of course, that’s a generalization. Many in the Church live sacrificial lives. Many have such an integrated faith you could no more divide their sacred activities from their secular than you could divide water into hydrogen and oxygen.

That’s the way we should live, I think. It’s the way Josiah lived after he humbled himself before God.

Published in: on November 13, 2014 at 6:34 pm  Comments (3)  
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Good Listening


advice-from-dad-202988-mToday on Facebook a friend of a friend decried the loss of debate in our society. I happen to enjoy debate but know exactly what this man was talking about—so often online discussions break down. Sometimes either the tone of the original post or one of the comments is rancorous or the topic is contentious or the view of the writer, extreme. All these can incite something closer to hate speech than to discussion.

Unfortunately, contentious exchanges aren’t the only reason people no longer enter into substantive discussions. Another reason is that we in western society are losing the will to listen to each other. I’ve seen it on line; I’ve seen it in person.

Online our communication suffers because we’re all in a hurry and one or more party is skimming, not reading. Of course some commenters simply drop their opinion into the middle of a conversation and run away. Others do not take the time to read what people before them have said, so their contribution is warmed over rehash.

In real life we are also in a hurry, so our communication with one another is often part of multitasking. One example is a practice we know to be dangerous (and in some states, illegal)—texting and driving—and still we are tempted to do both things at once. People also hold conversations with others who are reading or watching TV.

These exchanges are far from what I consider good discussions. Once people sat around the dinner table and talked to each other. They listened to what others had to say, thought about what they’d heard, and contributed something if they thought it would advance the conversation further.

These kinds of conversations didn’t just happen after a meal, either. Sometimes people were invited to a friend’s house just “to visit”—a euphemism for entering into a conversation with someone else. Often people at church would stand around in the foyer or out front and talk, sometimes about the sermon, sometimes about their week.

The key in all these successful discussions is listening. Both or all parties listen to one another. They aren’t planning their next spiel or waiting for the current speaker to take a breath so they can jump in with their thoughts.

One way you can tell if someone is listening is by the questions they ask . . . or don’t ask. In a real conversation, there is give and take spurred by questions asking for amplification or explanation. New ideas might also be sparked, but those are clearly pertinent to what came before.

Listening is such an important skill in interpersonal relationships, so it seems like a serious loss that we no longer understand how to discuss. But even more important is our need to listen to God.

First we need to hear His word. James says clearly that real hearing isn’t hard to detect—it will lead to doing. If we hear God’s command to love our neighbors, we will not continue to ignore or belittle or slander them.

But God has also given us His Holy Spirit who guides us and teaches us and convicts us and comforts us—if we’re listening. Sadly some Christians shy away from communion with the Holy Spirit, thinking such “private communication” is akin to gnosticism. Well, it’s not.

The Holy Spirit lives in us for a reason, and it’s not for Him to act like a silent partner we never consult. Rather, He’s the dynamo, the source of power for our Christian walk. He wants to embolden us, to provide strength when we are weak, to spark our thoughts when we don’t have an idea what to write next (which happens a lot on this blog! 😀 )

Of course, to benefit from communion with the Holy Spirit, we have to listen. Scripture says we are not to quench the Holy Spirit, which is another way of saying we aren’t to ignore Him. It’s a great metaphor though because the Holy Spirit made a visual manifestation to the early church as tongues of fire. But those believers realized they could put the fire out.

I’m amazed that God would allow us to ignore Him. When I was teaching, I did what I could to keep my students listening. As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t optional. But not with God. He tells us—commands us—not to douse the Holy Spirit and in the command there is the implication that we can in fact do the opposite. We can quench Him. And we do that every time we ignore Him.

What’s frightening is, when we ignore the nudges from the Holy Spirit, it becomes harder and harder to tell when He’s giving us a nudge and when we’re operating from our own emotions.

Lots of times we say God gave us peace about this or that decision, which is well and fine. I’ve said that myself any number of times. But peace is only a byproduct of obeying the Holy Spirit and it’s not a constant.

I have a friend who teaches a Bible study at a women’s shelter. Every day she goes to teach, she is eaten up with anxiety, and yet she goes. For whatever reason, the Holy Spirit has not given her peace. She prays for it and knows intellectually that God will give her the ability to teach so she doesn’t have to worry, but the feelings have not followed. However, her obedience to go and to teach speaks far more about her willingness to listen to the Holy Spirit than any amount of inner peace.

You might say obedience is good listening.

Loyalty To The King


President_Obama_at_MLK_Memorial_dedicationSome times a democracy can be harmful. I’m so happy the founders of the US established the kind of government they did, but the fact is, our right to vote has translated into a right to criticize. And criticism more often than not yields to grumbling and complaining, which in its turn can lead to slanderous invectives.

The US is in a unique period of our history. The nation is divided in a disturbing way—people on opposing sides have little respect for the individuals who hold a different view. The idea seems to be, only morons would not agree with my position, therefore you in the opposing camp are a moron, and I don’t have to listen to you. If fact, I’d rather if you simply did not speak.

Nothing could be more detrimental to a country that depends on compromise between legislators, between the two legislative houses, and between the legislature and the executive branch of government.

Compare where we are with David, youngest son of Jesse, who found himself in the opposite camp from the king of the land. Though he did not harbor rebellion in his heart and only fulfilled the king’s every wish, David became King Saul’s enemy.

We’re not talking about Saul hurling insults at David. He hurled spears. More than once. He ordered his men to pull him out of his house and kill him. He murdered seventy priests because one, thinking David, the King’s son-in-law to still be a loyal member of his court and on the King’s business, gave him food and a weapon.

Saul took an army of 3000 to hunt him down; he bribed and pleaded and cajoled and threatened to get people to disclose where David was hiding.

Sometimes his schemes seemed to work, and he closed in on David. Once when he was pursuing David in the desert, he took a break in a cave—a siesta, of sorts, in the middle of the day to get out of the heat. As it happened, David was hiding in the recesses of that cave, but Saul never knew it.

David’s men urged him to put an end to the persecution once and for all by killing Saul. But David refused for one reason and one reason alone—Saul was God’s anointed. In other words, God had put Saul in authority, and David was not about to supersede God’s decision.

Later he had a second opportunity to finish Saul when he made a foray into his camp at night. As it happens, God put a deep sleep upon everyone, and David slipped in, grabbed a couple things belonging to Saul to use as proof that he did not plan evil against the man who sought to kill him, then slipped out.

But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’S anointed and be without guilt?” 10 David also said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’S anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.”

In all this David did not rail against Saul or paint him as a monster. He didn’t brag that he too was anointed by God, and he didn’t use his choice by God, carried out by the prophet Samuel, as a special reason for no longer honoring the King.

David lived out his loyalty to God by remaining loyal to His chosen King. He was willing to let God deal with Saul. This position is precisely the one the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter preached, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to Christians in the first century.

They happened to fall under great persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ, but Peter says

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. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

By doing right we may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Not by calling them names. Not by signing petitions or starting impeachment campaigns or painting Hitler mustaches on the government leaders we don’t like.

David was right to let God deal with Saul. He had to wait, and he got tired of waiting which led him into a bad situation, but he remained firm about taking matters into his own hands. He would not move against Saul. He would let God take care of him.

His wait paid off.

When I see Christians treat our President with disrespect and accuse him unjustly, I am confused. God’s command in His word is clear: we are to honor our leaders:

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men (Titus 3:1)

Even more clearly, Paul said to the Romans, who would have had a front row seat to all the abuses of the Caesars and their minions:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. (Romans 13:1-6)

Notice Paul does not qualify his statements. He’s not saying be subject to authorities with whom you agree or to ones who aren’t corrupt.

David’s example shows, however, that being subject to the King didn’t mean to stand still so he could skewer him with his spear. David ran and hid and ran some more so that Saul wouldn’t kill him. But he didn’t assassinate his character or take the man’s life.

Would that Christians today had as much confidence in God’s sovereignty and His omniscient plans as David did all those years before. He didn’t have Scripture to direct him in his decisions. We do, and still we speak with such disrespect about our rulers.

It’s democracy, I tell you. But that’s not an excuse.

President Obama, Impeachment, And Hitler


Shoes of victims of Auschwitz

Shoes of victims of Auschwitz

I couldn’t help myself. I was in the middle of a blog tour and needed to vent, so I turned to Facebook.

You see, a couple with “Impeach Obama” posters and pictures of the President with a Hitler-style mustache, planted themselves outside the US Post Office which I frequent. As I came out, they drew me into a conversation. I only intended to say they ought not use such slimy tactics to voice their disagreement. I figured they’d hear me because I began by saying I was not a supporter of President Obama.

While they didn’t defend the Hitler allusion, they did boisterously and rudely defend the impeach idea. Such nonsense. I had to rant.

But lo and behold, some of the comments I received on Facebook supported the idea that Mr. Obama should be impeached and some even that it was right to compare him to Hitler.

Support for this kind of character assassination and slander is horrifying to me.

President Obama has done nothing that would equate with what Hitler did. Some might suggest that the millions of babies aborted is absolutely a parallel with Hitler’s genocide. I wouldn’t argue that point, but the fact is, the decision was not President Obama’s.

Abortion has been the law of the land for more than forty years, so one President is not solely responsible for those deaths in the same way that Hitler was responsible for the six million Jews gassed in the extermination camps and the millions of Catholics, disabled, Gypsies, Slavs, Ukrainians, many of Germany’s own citizens, and civilians and soldiers all across Europe. In the abortion issue, if anyone’s to blame, we the people are for not voting a Constitutional amendment to prevent it.

Americans are rightly horrified at the beheadings committed by the ISIS soldiers. Multiply that by millions and you have an idea what Hitler was like.

It’s despicable to compare President Obama to that kind of violent, megalomaniac. What’s more, it’s slanderous, and therefore sinful. Yes, it is sin to say that President Obama has guilt for something he did not do.

Of course, someone might be speaking from ignorance. Perhaps they don’t know what Hitler put the Jewish people through—how he treated them like cattle and forced them to live in inhuman conditions until he came up with his Final Solution.

After the invasion of the Soviet Union, in June 1941 the Nazi government began to conceive of a plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler was the chief architect of the plan, which came to be called the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. (“Final Solution,” Wikipedia)

Suitcases of Auschwitz detainees (Auschwitz museum)

Suitcases of Auschwitz detainees (Auschwitz museum)

By the end of the war, Hitler and his henchmen had managed to kill an estimated two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe.

No, President Obama is not Hitler. To put the two names together is to slander President Obama and to denigrate the millions who lost their lives because of the Nazi power grab and subsequent effort at ethnic cleansing.

What’s more, people who make such connections between a despicable, violent, evil man and a President who holds to liberal beliefs, weaken any attempt to show voters why liberal politicians aren’t good for our country. The more unreasonable the opposition, the more likely reasonable people will assume all opposition has such illogical and irrational underpinnings.

Same for the impeachment issue. President Obama should not be impeached because he bombed Syria without receiving Congress’s declaration of war (the contention of the man in front of the Post Office). President Truman, President Kennedy, President Johnson, President Reagan, President Clinton are all former presidents who authorized military force in a foreign land without a Congressional declaration of war. President Obama is following precedent.

Further, on Facebook someone brought up the IRS scandal and the Benghazi attack and cover up. “If President Obama knew . . .” the comment read. Well, that’s it, isn’t it. Usually a person is not tried unless there’s some evidence that he took part in the crime. Until there’s an investigation that uncovers real criminal activity, such as the Watergate investigation turned up, or the evidence that President Clinton lied to the grand jury, then there is no grounds for impeachment. Hearsay, supposition, rumor—none of that provides legal cause for bringing President Obama to trial before the Senate.

But it gets worse. God tells us to honor our leaders. Honor! Not because the man is right or because we agree or we think he’s doing a good job. We are to honor him because of the position he holds as our leader.

It’s a fundamental attitude toward authority that we are losing in the US. The Bible tells children to honor their parents, but today kids disobey and backtalk, and society censors parents for spanking. Workers (servants) are told to do what our bosses say (masters is the actual term) not only when they are good and gentle but even when they are unreasonable.

And the admonition to honor the king came from Peter, for one, during the first century when Rome was hauling Christians into the coliseum and feeding them to lions.

Yes, this is counter-intuitive. And I certainly don’t expect non-Christians to get it. But the truth is, God is in control. God. And He has bigger things in mind than putting band-aids on a well-meaning but fading democracy in the US. Sure, it would be great if the US would be the shining city on a hill, but guess what? That’s actually the role God gave to the Church.

So ought we who profess faith in Jesus Christ as our resurrected Lord who we look to return in power and glory—ought we not be about His business? And how can we claim to be doing so if we spurn such a simple command as honor your king.

I mean, really. What does that mean? It doesn’t mean endorse him or approve of his wrong policies or agree with him when he says something harmful. It does mean we speak about him in a respectful manner and we pray for him—not just that he’ll fail, either—and we praise him when he does right.

If Christians are to be light to the dark world, we need to start with some of our most public expressions—showing that we would rather obey God than the impulses of our hearts.

Published in: on October 2, 2014 at 6:44 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Heat Is On, Or The Rain


storm-1442004-mSome of you may or may not be aware that Southern California where I live is experiencing an extended heat spell. September is often one of the hottest months here, but some Septembers are hotter than others. This one is record-setting for a number of cities.

Yesterday LA tied the record at 103°. My computer has a weather channel app, and I knew it was going to be a hot day when the predicted high was 96° and the current temperature at 1:00 pm was 102°.

Ironically, the local news had more to say about the rain some in the viewing area experienced. All summer long we’ve had one hurricane after another sweep up from the south, bringing humidity and occasional rain, mostly in the high desert and mountains. This latest storm, the remnants of Hurricane Odile that hit Cabo San Lucas in Mexico’s Baja California, brought thunder and lightning and strong winds, even a few would-be tornadoes that never touched down. The rain was more like a torrential downpour that knocked down trees and flooded various buildings, including one high school gym.

Of course the heat can’t be ignored. Some communities have experienced power outages and some schools have dismissed at noon because of a lack of air conditioning.

Oddly enough, the weather extremes have made me think of the Egyptians and the plagues they endured. I wonder how much the average Egyptian, without email, Twitter, or Facebook, knew about Moses and his demand to Pharaoh that he let the Israelites go to worship God.

When the first plague hit—the water-to-blood event—did the people think it was some sort of anomalous extreme they had to work around? Extra work, sure. They had to dig beside the Nile to get water fit for consumption, but not, surely, an act of the Israelite God.

When the frogs came, did the people revise their thinking? Or did they see a cause/effect connection—the bad water had chased the frogs onto the land and into their homes.

Then the gnats or lice followed and the swarms of other insects. And we know that insects can carry diseases, so no surprise that pestilence followed. Or maybe the Egyptians, who may not have known the connection between bugs and disease, were surprised.

At what point did they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was bringing these “natural disasters” on their land? Was it when Goshen where the Israelites lived became exempt from the effects of the plagues? Was it when Pharaoh’s magicians could no longer replicate what God did through Moses? Was it when boils appeared on humans and animals alike after Moses stood outside and threw ashes in the air?

At some point, Pharaoh’s advisers got the picture that God was behind all they experienced, and they urged their supreme ruler to capitulate. Eventually the everyday people got the picture, too, because they eagerly gave the Israelites their gold and silver and valuable cloth just prior to their exodus.

In fact, after the final plague, when the Egyptians awoke to find the eldest son in each house slain on his bed, they “urged the people, to send them out of the land in haste, for they said, ‘We will all be dead.'” (Ex. 12:33.)

I’m just silly enough to believe that heat waves and monsoonal floods and wild fires and tornadoes and earthquakes and hurricanes and West Nile Virus, while certainly not plagues, are nevertheless from God—“natural” events He uses to press us to His side.

The Egyptians were disbelieving until they couldn’t not believe. They may not have concluded that God was God and Ra was not, Pharaoh was not, the Nile was not, but they knew that Moses’s God must be obeyed.

Are we like the Egyptians? We know all about weather patterns now and, via satellite, can see hurricanes forming. We can track jet streams and air currents and the movement of high or low pressure zones. We aren’t like Pharaoh’s magicians in that we can make nature happen, but we can predict it. Which gives us a sense of control over it.

So I wonder if we don’t miss what God might be doing to press us to His side, to call us to repentance, to summon us to obey Him and not the idols of the world. I wonder if all our accommodating of the heat and the rain while we go about our daily business, is us sticking our fingers in our ears and saying, I don’t want to hear you, God.

Would that we could be like the boy, Samuel, who, when he heard God calling, responded by saying, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.”

Published in: on September 17, 2014 at 12:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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