Sending The Wrong Message


What message should Christians be spreading during a time of pandemic, when much of the world seems to be in semi-quarantine? A couple weeks ago I addressed this issue in the article “Speak Lord, For Your Servant Is Listening.” Since then, I’ve heard a number of Christian leaders speak to the topic.

I’ve been pleased with some, disappointed in others, and surprised at those who have remained silent.

The latter shouldn’t surprise me, really. They are the preachers who push the health and wealth message. What can they say when Christians actually do come down with the virus? What can they say in response to the social distancing policies designed to limit the spread of the virus? No, we don’t have to do that because we have God’s promise of health and wealth? There are serious Biblical problems with that position, and of course we know that all of us, Christians included, will one day die. So apparently God isn’t keeping His promise, if we read into the Bible that idea. So, silence. What message can they give their friends and neighbors when Christians like everyone else can contract Covid-19 and can be carriers of the virus?

The first group of leaders who have turned to the Bible and are addressing today’s circumstances in light of what the Bible says, seem to me to be seizing the opportunity. People who are afraid or who feel like they’re losing control, who were counting on a job that disappeared over night, who no longer have the comfortable retirement package they once had, need to hear what God says about crisis and about how he works through trials and suffering, how He is sovereign and will not leave or forsake His children. That’s the message those leaders have delivered.

Another group of Christians who have a media presence have given a non-message as their response: God isn’t doing anything different today than He did in years gone by; it’s not up to us to take the events of today as particularly meaningful. Here’s one example:

No doubt the usual silly suspects will tell us why God is doing this to us. A punishment? A warning? A sign? These are knee-jerk would-be Christian reactions in a culture which, generations back, embraced rationalism: everything must have an explanation. But supposing it doesn’t? Supposing real human wisdom doesn’t mean being able to string together some dodgy speculations and say, “So that’s all right then?” What if, after all, there are moments such as T. S. Eliot recognized in the early 1940s, when the only advice is to wait without hope, because we’d be hoping for the wrong thing? (“Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To”)

In response to that article, another leader offered a Biblical counterpoint:

Christian hope is radically different [from the hope the world enjoys], because Christianity is different from every other religion. Why? Because it’s eternally founded on the prophetic words of God, revealed to prophets who wrote down what God said about the future. The God of the Bible is eternal, infinitely above the unfolding of time. He is the “Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13). He wrote the complex story of human history before the world began. And he has revealed everything we need to know about the future. (“Surprised By Hopelessness”)

Still one more leader gives a message of repentance and hope. John Piper has written a book on the subject, Coronavirus And Christ (audio book available for free; also available for purchase in various platforms). He not only addresses hope for believers but also the need for repentance.

As I see it, the message of no purpose and hopelessness is the wrong message. I don’t believe God wastes any opportunity to draw people to Himself. More and more, people around the world are asking what God’s doing in and through this pandemic. As places begin to move back toward opening businesses, toward a bit of normalcy, the window is also beginning to close when Christians can spread the Biblical message of repentance and hope to people who have come face to face with their mortality. May many more leaders follow those who are doing so, and not those who are giving the wrong message.

Originally posted Monday at Spec Faith.

Published in: on April 30, 2020 at 3:55 pm  Comments (15)  
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Speak Lord, For Your Servant Is Listening


A year ago, almost to the day, I revised and re-posted an article entitled “Does God Speak Through Nature?” The premise was simple: God used “natural” phenomenon in Egypt to pry His people free from Pharaoh’s grip. Could He not continue to use the world around us to speak to us?

So many people today—and this includes many Christians—say, No, floods and earthquakes and hurricanes and pandemics have known, scientific causes. They occur because of natural law.

But my question is, Who created and controls natural law? Did not God hang the stars in place? Does His hand not maintain what He created? Scripture indicates He is the One who makes DNA coding and tides and mutating viruses work the way they work—and keeps them doing so.

And He [God’s Son] is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Heb. 1:3a; emphasis mine)

Then there’s this passage in Colossians:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (1:16-17; emphasis mine)

All this to say, I don’t believe things happen in the world for no purpose.

God hasn’t sent a modern day prophet to tell us why things happen as He did during Israel’s history before their exile. But we don’t actually need a modern day prophet because we have the ancient ones.

Someone has to be pretty blind not to see parallels between the world today and the world of the ancient Jews. Including this passage:

Come, my people, enter into your rooms
And close your doors behind you;
Hide for a little while
Until indignation runs its course.
For behold, the LORD is about to come out from His place
To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;
And the earth will reveal her bloodshed
And will no longer cover her slain. (Isaiah 26:20-21)

But who knows? Maybe the Coronavirus is just your run of the mill viruses and we shouldn’t think twice about it in spiritual terms.

Then again, maybe it is the wake-up call to remind us that God will bring judgment on the earth one day. Not today. Maybe not in five years or ten or fifty. But assuredly, God will bring judgment. Again, something—in this culture—that’s uncomfortable to say. I mean, we’ve heard from the likes of Rob Bell and his Love Wins best seller of nearly a decade ago. He clearly lays out his belief that no matter what a person believes, he’s on his way to paradise with God.

Well, for one thing, I know a lot of atheists who would be horrified if this were true. They don’t want eternal punishment, that’s for certain, but neither do they want to be with God for eternity.

But more importantly the “everyone’s on his way to heaven” idea is not what God revealed. Pretty much the opposite:

“THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;
THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,
THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;
ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS;
THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,
THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE . . .
THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.” (Rom. 3:12-18)

Which brings us to God’s warning and the need for repentance.

At one point God sent the prophet Jonah to the main city in Assyria, Nineveh. I won’t get into Jonah’s issues here, but the people there were known to be a warlike nation, violent and cruel. They seemed to devise ways of killing people that would cause the most pain. Jonah’s message was simple: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” He apparently didn’t even offer them any hope.

Still, the people knew what was the cause for this judgment, and they bowed before God and repented.

God’s response? “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10).

Those people in that place and for that generation, were spared God’s judgment.

The prophet Joel brought the same message to the people of Israel:

Alas for the day!
For the day of the LORD is near,
And it will come as destruction from the Almighty.

Revelation echos this idea of “destruction from the Almighty,” which Christians know as the Tribulation. Are we there yet? Not close. Jesus Himself when asked when He would establish His kingdom went into some detail about the things that will take place first, including this:

You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. (Matt. 24:6-8)

The beginning of birth pangs, not yet the end. I think that’s where we are. And these events that seem so out of the ordinary (because they are) serve as reminders that “the wages of sin is death,” that God will bring His judgment to bear on this world.

The prophet Joel said it to his generation in Israel, but I think it is just as true today:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil. (Joel 2:12-13)

I admit the word “evil” has troubled me. I looked it up and in the original, used as a noun as it is here, evil means distress, misery, injury, calamity. In other words, it does not mean wickedness. The idea is clear: repentance alters God’s judgment. His nature is to be slow to anger, to have heaps upon heaps of lovingkindess, and turn away from bringing His judgment.

Of course the New Testament paints the entire picture for us. God turns away His wrath from those who bow before Him because Jesus accepted that wrath, poured out on Him. And those of us who accept this free gift of grace? We have peace with God through Jesus.

Even in the midst of a pandemic. We’re not facing His angry judgment. Ever. We may die from the virus or from something else, but we will enter into His presence, the way the thief dying beside Jesus, did. That’s something far different from judgment.

So in one way (there are others), this virus thing is a blessing in disguise. It gives us an opportunity to face our mortality, and to repent for turning our backs on God, for living for ourselves instead of living for Him. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime, so to speak—an eternal lifetime.

Covid-19


We are currently in the midst of a pandemic—a worldwide crisis caused by a deadly disease. There has been talk about pandemics in the past, but I’ve not lived through a real health crisis like the Black Plague or the Flu epidemic in the early twentieth century, so I don’t really know how fearful this spreading pestilence can become.

And pestilence it is, though that’s not a word in common use today. We favor “pandemic,” I suppose to emphasize the widespread nature of whatever disease is moving from person to person. But pestilence emphasizes the fatal nature of the disease, and I think it’s more accurate when referring to Covid-19.

Though not a common word today, pestilence is a term used in Scripture, most often by the prophets warning of coming judgment. Jeremiah 14:11-12 is an example:

So the LORD said to me, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.”

These judgments, also recorded in Ezekiel and Habakkuk, are directed primarily at Israel because they forsook God to worship idols.

Revelation echoes these judgments but on a worldwide scale:

I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (6:8)

Of course, just mentioning Revelation stirs up some people. On one hand are those who want to trot out the End Times Charts. On the other are those who secretly wish (or nearly so) that Revelation weren’t in the Bible because they don’t think it adds much, being all symbolic as it is. Why bother with it when we can’t really understand it?

Well, I’m of a different mindset. I believe God speaks through Revelation as much as through any other book. I believe some is literal and some symbolic, and by relying on the Holy Spirit, we can know with a high percentage of accuracy, which is which. God didn’t give us this glimpse into the future to confound us. He wants us to know what He’s communicating.

One thing that’s clear is this: God will bring judgment on the earth because of our rebellion against Him. In the Old Testament, He brought judgment against Israel, His chosen people, in precisely the ways He’d said He would through the prophecies of Jeremiah. Consequently, I have no doubt the warning of judgment in Revelation is also true.

In fact the language in Revelation and in Jeremiah is eerily similar, both warning of the sword, famine, and pestilence. The scope of the judgment is really the only difference.

So is the Covid-19 virus the beginning of the pestilence God is sending? Are we, in fact, in the end times? Is the tribulation about to fall? (And the rapture before it, for those who hold to a pre-trib view).

Here’s where I depart from those who work out the end times charts. We simply don’t know God’s time in regard to these matters. He told us we can’t know, so I’m not sure why some people get so hung up on trying to figure out the time and sequence of all these things.

In the Old Testament, God sent numerous foreign incursions against both Israel and Judah before the two nations were taken into captivity by Assyria and Babylon respectively. Which one was the start of God’s judgment? The time Egypt came in and captured Jerusalem? Or when Edom broke free of Judah’s control? Or when Aram attacked Israel?

The answer is none and all of these. God sent His prophets to warn His people and He sent enemies and famine and, yes, pestilence, to judge them, to warn them, to show them what their end would become if they did not repent and turn back to Him.

These were not the final judgment but they were judgments. So too, we can look at the wars and rumors of wars, the drought and famine in various places, the pestilence rapidly spreading throughout the world, as God’s hand of judgment, just as He said.

But is it the final judgment?

Why should we ask this question? Are we planning on waiting for the final judgment before preaching repentance to those who deny God?

In short, the Covid-19 virus should concern Christians because it reminds us that God’s judgment is sure and that many people will be lost unless they turn to the Savior. We should have some urgency about us, even as those charged with health care here in the US are in the fight against Covid-19.

But we Christians know. If not Covid-19, one day there will be pestilence poured out on rebellious humans who refuse God’s mercy. May we be faithful to shout from the mountain tops: Here is your God; lift your eyes to the One who hung on the tree so that you might be healed and repent.

This article is modified from a 2014 post entitled Ebola.

Published in: on March 25, 2020 at 5:23 pm  Comments (6)  
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How Not To Repent; Or, The Houston Astros Scandal


If you follow sports at all, you probably know that the Houston Astros were caught cheating. Back in 2017, when they “won” the World Series, they were stealing the signs catchers gave to their pitchers by using a center field camera. They then used a low tech method of communicating to their hitters what pitch was going to be thrown. Major league players have uniformly said that the biggest advantage a hitter can have is if he knows what pitch is coming.

Punishment was handed out by the commissioner of Major League Baseball, and managers and front office execs got fired. Then this week, as spring training is starting, the Astros players and their owner issued what they said were apologies. Except those short little speeches sounded as if they belonged in a Reeses Pieces commercial: “Not sorry.”

Rather, the sentiment seemed to be, yes, we got caught doing something the rules said we weren’t supposed to do, but it didn’t really help us and we won the World Series because we were just such a great team.

At one point the owner said, the cheating “didn’t really give them an advantage.” Then in the same interview he tried to backtrack and say it was an advantage but one that didn’t really help them.

Mostly, the most outspoken guys seemed to be saying, Sorry we got caught. A few others said, Sorry I didn’t do something to stop it.

I think that last is probably the best. There’s at least an admission of responsibility.

The other guys? Not so much. There was a lot of circular arguing, maintaining that they actually did win the big prize though they did cheat all year long. But, you see, they were quick to say, they could only cheat during their home games. When they were on the road, they didn’t have the benefit of their center field camera.

Players and fans from other teams are pretty mad. The Dodgers lost to the Astros in the World Series that year, and they feel cheated out of a championship. Of course the Yankees lost to them in the conference final, and they believe they should have been in the World Series, not the Astros.

Some players are talking about pitchers throwing at Astros hitters, and pretty much everyone is expecting fans to boo them mercilessly when they are the visiting team.

The baseball commissioner just wants the whole mess to go away, but it won’t. Why? Because the Astros issued their sorry-not sorry apologies. They will still display the trophy and they have the 2017 banner flying in their home park.

It’s a sad scandal for baseball to endure, and it’s not over. There is an investigation about cheating involving another team which was managed the following year by a former Astros bench coach. The thought is, he took the method of cheating with him to his new team. Nothing proven so far, but he is one of the guys who lost his job.

All this to say, repentance is a lot more than “saying sorry.” This applies to anyone and everyone who is faced with the ways he has ignored, disobeyed, rejected God and His Son, Jesus. Some people say, Sorry, and then go about trying to make amends. Of course nothing good going forward can change the past. The curses and insults and hateful actions don’t go away.

The only way to “say sorry” and to make it all go away when we’re talking about ways we have offended God, is by actual, real repentance. Not the Astros, Sorry we got caught, brand of repentance.

I’ve heard more than once that the word from which repentance comes has the connotation of turning around. In other words, of doing a 180° change. Instead of ignoring God, then we embrace a relationship with Him.

This is only possible because God has made it possible. First, His plan for us “from the foundation of the world” is to experience His mercy and forgiveness, bought and paid for by His own dear Son, Jesus. Without Jesus as our merciful and faithful High Priest, we’d be left with the scars of our anger or disobedience or blasphemy. Those things kind of have a way of hurting a relationship, not healing it.

Ask the Astros as this season unfolds. Are their relationships with the other teams and their fans, healed because they issued their “apologies”? Not by a long shot. Fans don’t see that justice has been done. There can’t be restoration, some kind of peace, when the scar of their cheating remains.

That’s just on a small scale compared to the way we have offended God. Every one of us. To say “Sorry” isn’t enough. Someone has to pay. And Someone did. Jesus paid, but Scripture talks about “receiving the reconciliation.” It also talks about the free gift of God’s grace. But like any gift, it must be accepted. That takes the 180° turn-around, where we acknowledge that we deserve what Jesus received—a criminal’s death.

It seems to me that there are people who attach themselves to Christ, who are actually in the sorry-not sorry camp. Those Other People are wicked, but we don’t do what they do. We don’t really have anything heinous enough to be sorry about. We certainly don’t deserve death.

Except, Scripture is very clear on this point”

“There is none righteous, not even one.
There is none who understands.
There is none who seeks for God…
There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Rom. 3:10-12, 18)

And

“The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23)

We’re all in the camp of those deserving death, and in need of reconciliation. Which God said will take place for everyone who believes what Jesus did for them.

The Bible calls it a free gift, and that seems to bother some people. They want to earn forgiveness by doing all the right things. But none of our “right things” can undo the wrong. There needs to be just payment. And that’s what we have from Jesus. He “canceled our certificate of debt.” He’s the only One able to do that.

Christians, then, are people who own up to who we are, admit we need the free gift which is available in Jesus. And we enjoy the restored relationship with God, which this free gift provides. That’s called repentance and reconciliation.

Published in: on February 19, 2020 at 5:04 pm  Comments (2)  
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Gratitude, Day 3—The Kindness Of The Lord


As you may (or may not) remember, I am doing a series of Thanks posts, sort of in protest to the fact that Thanksgiving here in the US is being squeezed out amid the candy and costumes of Halloween and the presents and lights, carols, nativity scenes, and Santas of Christmas.

I actually love Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday that hasn’t been overly commercialized. It can’t be confused with any other holiday, the way Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, and Flag Day can be confused with each other. But the greatest plus is that the origins of the holiday have a spiritual foundation. The Thanks in Thanksgiving, is directed to God. And that fact gives me a good reason to love this particular day above other celebrations.

So, today, I am particularly grateful for the kindness of the Lord. A particular verse from the Bible came to mind when I thought of God’s kindness:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5)

Clearly, God’s kindness is connected to His work of salvation—something another verse of Scripture spells out:

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

So, yes, God’s kindness and love save us, but a great part of the process is His kindness leading us to repentance.

Repentance?

Isn’t that connected to an awareness of our sin? I mean, how can someone repent if they don’t actually think there is something in their life for which they need to regret, to be remorseful about, to wish were different in regard to their actions and/or character? I mean, are people who can only see their strengths ever going to repent?

No.

And that’s actually the human condition. We want to think better of ourselves than we are, but when we can’t avoid the problems, we tend to blame others. It’s society’s fault. I didn’t get a good education. My parents didn’t love me the way I needed them to. It was the snake who deceived me. The wife You gave me tempted me.

All those things are true or might be. But that doesn’t change the facts: whatever the conditions, we gave in and sinned. We made the decision to do what we knew we should not do. We stand guilty. Condemned.

And it is the kindness of God that brings us to that point. Kindness. Because once we’re aware of our need to repent, we can repent. We don’t need to hide any more, to blame others, to carry the guilt.

God’s kindness brings us to the place where we can deal with sin once and for all. Not through works we do. But by accepting the washing, the cleansing, the being made new provided by God.

God is actually kind in so many other ways. He is kind to give us friends and family, jobs and meaningful activity, churches and Bibles, homes and entertainment. But His kindness is greatest when it leads us to Him. Because nothing is more important. Our lives in the here and now are, as James says, a vapor. The Psalmist and Isaiah talk about our lives being like a flower—here today, and tomorrow gone with the wind or the scorching sun.

But only the here and now part. The eternal part of our lives stretches out before us. Nothing could be more important than that we live that eternal part with God our Savior. So how kind of God to invest so much into directing us to repentance for our sin.

He could ignore our need for repentance and make sure that these brief moments are nothing but pleasure-filled. I mean, it isn’t comfortable to think about our sin, to admit that we are the ones responsible, that we have gone our own way and ended up in a mess of our own making. But God’s kindness won’t let us delude ourselves into thinking that we’re OK in spite of our sin.

He is too kind to let us live in that delusion. He’d rather lead us to repentance.

Photo by Valeria Boltneva from Pexels

Published in: on November 5, 2018 at 5:10 pm  Comments Off on Gratitude, Day 3—The Kindness Of The Lord  
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And The First Commandment?


I can’t get the ongoing discussion prompted by Pastor John MacArthur’s Social Justice and the Gospel statement out of my head. What the discussion has reminded me of is a question I’ve asked myself from time to time

You see, I’ve heard any number of great messages about the second command, as Jesus labeled it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” These are excellent, Biblical, needed.

What I don’t recall hearing much are sermons about the first command:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.” (Matt. 22:36-38)

My thought is, if this is indeed the greatest command, shouldn’t we hear sermon after sermon about how we can actually love God with all of who we are?

Maybe that’s embedded in particular messages.

For instance, I heard one pastor whose sermons are on the radio, preach about abiding in Christ. Just recently I heard a message about being filled with the Holy Spirit, and a different pastor preached about the need for revival, in the Church but in our hearts first.

I’m not sure those are the same thing as the First Commandment. Isn’t loving God with our heart, with our soul, with our mind something we should do intentionally along with abiding in Christ and being filled with the Spirit?

Maybe having our relationship with God revived would address how, or to what extent, we love God. I’m not sure. The pastor made a good point that revival is for believers. You don’t revive dead people, and unbelievers are spiritually dead. We the Church need revival. The rest of the world needs to hear the gospel and respond for the very first time.

I’m thinking now that perhaps the angelic addresses to the seven churches in the book of Revelation were calls to revival. And to one of them the angel said, You have left your first love. In other words, you don’t love God with all your heart, soul, and mind any more.

Makes me think of what the prophet Joel said to the people of Judah:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil. (Joel 2:12-13)

The chapter goes on to describe what can only be stated as sorrow for sins. Repentance.

So one part of loving God, I think, would have to include keeping short accounts with Him. Short and shorter. And when we sin, instead of just making it right with the person we have sinned against, perhaps above all we should make it right with God.

Not that our sins are somehow undoing our salvation. But they harm our fellowship. I don’t know how it works. God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west. Not just past sins, but all sins. Then how can they harm our fellowship with God? I don’t know. Maybe because we remember them, because we need to bring them to the cross to know that yes, that too, God has forgiven. All I really know is, repentance restores my soul. It simply does. It’s not a psychological thing. Not a trick of the mind. When my sins are removed, the are removed! And it’s something that only other Christians understand.

What else does loving God with heart, soul, and mind entail? Jesus said we love Him if we keep His commandments. That’s kind of interesting. Usually we think of keeping commandments to be a physical thing: do this good deed, make this sacrifice, give up this thing, stop doing that thing. But the command to love God with our heart, soul, and mind, would seem to be saying that loving God starts inside. So extrapolating on that, keeping Christ’s commandments starts first in our hearts, souls, minds.

Now I know that the First Command is recorded in other gospel accounts, like Luke 10:27, which add “strength.” So yes, we’d have to say there is a physical component in loving God.

That makes me think of the parable that Jesus told about the King, after He separated the sheep from the goats, said for those on His right to come into His kingdom. Why? because they had fed him, give Him a drink, clothed Him, visited Him when He was a prisoner, taken Him in when He was a stranger, came to Him when He was sick. When did we do that, the people asked. The King answered, “‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” (Matt. 25:40b).

And therein lies social justice, I think. It’s tucked inside our love for God. We care for the lest, the lost, the left out, because we love God.

But we can’t leave out our heart, our soul, our mind. Loving God starts inside. It doesn’t start by what we do. Nor is what we do, the sum of our love for God.

Loving God isn’t measured by how high someone lifts their hands in worship, and it isn’t measured by how much food they provide for the homeless ministry. There’s more. And I want to learn what all that is.

Years ago, Christians talked about “practicing the presence” of God. I never really understood what that meant. Just like I’m not sure what it means to abide in Christ or be filled with the Holy Spirit.

In all this rhetoric, I keep thinking, it shouldn’t be that hard. I just want to be with God, to cling to Him, to depend on Him, to please Him, to rejoice in Him, to celebrate Him. I don’t want to fight Him or ignore Him or stray from Him. I don’t know that these things come naturally, so I wouldn’t mind hearing a sermon or two on the First Commandment.

Blowing Leads


The LA Dodgers, which is the first sports team I supported and cheered for, the baseball team I still follow and get behind, are going through a bad patch just now. They were ahead in a game against Colorado a couple nights ago, and lost. Then the following night, the Rockies earned a walk-off win when one of their players hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. It gets worse. The Dodgers came home to face the Giants last night, only to lose another lead in the ninth inning and once again lose the game.

These were all winnable contests. LA had the lead. The starting pitchers had put the team in position to win. But the offense stopped scoring runs and left runners on base, and the bull pen didn’t get the job done. In one instance there were two outs and the opposition onslaught started with a walk. In my way of thinking, the manager made some bad decisions, too.

My poor Dodgers.

But in truth, they remind me of America, and before it, Europe. And the Middle East. They remind me of the churches singled out in the book of Revelation. Those all started well, but there was this problem—not necessarily the same one for each. The warning was that they wouldn’t survive if they didn’t take care of their issue: “repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place” (Rev. 2:5b).

As it happens, the seven churches are located in the region we now know as Turkey. Though Christianity took root and flourished in what was then Pontus and Galatia and Cappadocia and Bynithinia, the warning of Revelation proved to be prophetic.

For more than a 1000 years the region was a bastion of Christianity . . . Even as late as 1900, Turkey was still 22% Christian. But by the end of that century the number of Christians had declined to 0.21%. Today Turkey is estimated to be about 97% Muslim.

Scholars have studied this change from one religion to another, but the bottom line is the warning of the angel to the churches: repent or your lamp will go out. Do what you did before.

I’m not one who thinks we should go back to “the good ol’ days,” but I was a coach and I did play sports and I do follow sports. There’s one thing that’s true of all sports teams: their players practice. They don’t practice fancy new trick shots in basketball, or new ways to field a baseball or creative concepts connected with throwing the football. No, actually even at the pro level, they practice the basics, the fundamentals, the right way of doing things, so that in a game they will instinctively do the right thing.

The fundamentals are important. When we’re talking about Christianity, we’re talking about the things those churches in Revelation were warned about. Things like not leaving their first love or being faithful unto death or not tolerating false teachers or holding fast to the truth until Christ comes. And most of all, repent.

How do we hold fast, avoid false teachers, remain faithful? I think it all starts by embracing God’s word and keeping it close. Reading it regularly. Memorizing it. Thinking about it, Talking about it. And mostly, doing it. I don’t know of one other thing that will return us to our first love faster than steeping ourselves in God’s word. Everything we need for life and godliness is there.

Published in: on August 14, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Comments Off on Blowing Leads  
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Rejecting Jesus


All three of the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—recount the parable Jesus told about the landowner who rented out some property to a group of vine-growers. At harvest time he sent a servant to collect what was due him—likely a percentage of the proceeds.

Instead of paying up, the renters beat the servant and sent him away empty handed. The landowner sent another servant and another and more. Some, those vine-growers beat, some they even killed. At last the owner decided to send his son in hopes that the tenants would respect the son.

They didn’t.

Instead they thought they saw an opportunity. If they killed the son, they reasoned, the inheritance would be theirs.

The key points here are these: the people listening to Jesus tell this story, recognized themselves as the bad guys who killed the son; they also missed the part about what happened to the tenants after they killed the son.

First, those corrupt religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus, and who finally succeeded in manipulating Pilate into declaring the death sentence upon a man he had determined to be innocent, knew they were the vine-growers in the story, making Jesus either a servant or the son they were planning to kill. In other words, they knew Jesus had come from God, and they didn’t care!

That’s the ultimate rejection.

In dealing with Jesus, people can respond in a variety of ways”

  • Jesus? Who’s Jesus?
  • I’ve heard of Jesus, and he’s a good man, but I follow _____.
  • Jesus is not a real person.
  • Jesus is the Son of God, and God is a tyrant. What does that make Jesus?
  • Jesus is the Son of God, and I bow before Him in humble submission and repentance.

Likely there are others, but only the latter is the response of the follower, the person who wants to be brought into relationship with God. The others, if they go nowhere else, are simply forms of rejecting Jesus.

The thing is, there’s no reason for the person who asks, Who is Jesus? to stay in a place of ignorance. There’s no reason for the person who thinks Jesus is a myth not to learn the truth about Him instead. In reality, it’s the person who has his eyes wide open, who hears the truth, who understands the truth, and then who denies the truth, that is digging himself a hole he may never be able to climb out of.

That position is the same as those wicked religious leaders of Jesus’s day. Not only did they not want to respect the Son or give Him what was due, they did what they could to prevent others from believing in Him and following Him. That’s why they plotted against Him and had Him killed. They mistakenly thought that would bring an end to their problem.

But it didn’t. Rejecting Jesus was just the beginning of their real problem.

“When the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”

They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.” (Matt. 21:38-41)

The crowd listening to Jesus tell this story actually supplied the ending. Jesus simply confirmed what they said, tying it with Scripture:

” ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED,
THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone;
THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD,
AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’?
“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” (Matt. 21:42b-44)

This story reminds me of Adam. He knew that God had told Him not to eat of the fruit from the special tree, but he ignored God and did what he wanted instead. He rejected Him just as surely as those religious leaders rejected Jesus knowing that He was in fact the messiah.

In fact, what did they tell Pilate during Jesus’s final public trial? We have no king but Caesar. In other words, Messiah who is to come and reign is not over us; God is not over us. That was their way of taking the Son out and killing Him in the hope that they’d get the prize—they’d get to keep the power and authority they had taken for themselves.

Today people reject Jesus so they can keep their own rule and authority over their little lives. They don’t want God to tell them what to do, so they reject the Son in hopes that the kingdom of their heart will be all their own.

News flash: It won’t be.

Published in: on June 26, 2018 at 5:44 pm  Comments (1)  
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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?

Published in: on June 6, 2018 at 5:16 pm  Comments Off on Jesus And The Government  
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God Is Not Benevolent


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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