The Lesson Of The Bee


Some time ago, I had a bee find its way into my bedroom. I don’t relish killing bugs, and less so bees, but this one was in my bedroom! What to do?

I ran through my options as I watched the angry little critter buzz to the top of the window screen, find no opening, and buzz back to the bottom. Again and again.

At last I figured out a way to avoid killing him. From the cupboard, I pulled down a goblet, then retrieved an envelop that fit nicely over top. I held the glass stem and approached the bee still bouncing against the screen in a futile attempt to zip outside.

In one quick move, I plopped the goblet over the wayward wanderer. As he flew into the bowl looking for escape, I slid the envelop between the screen and the lip of the glass. Got him!

Earlier he seemed mad. Now he buzzed with vicious frenzy.

Poor little guy, I thought. Wasting all that energy, so mad he’d sting me if I gave him the tiniest opening. Yet my only intention was to help him get exactly what he needed, the very thing he’d been looking for.

And then it hit me. So often I act just like that bee. I find myself in a mess of my own making and try furiously to free myself, often repeating the same futile steps over and over. Then, when things seem to get worse, not better, I rail against God, not realizing that He’s using the very circumstances I hate for my good.

How much simpler if I obeyed God and refrained from grumbling and disputing, if I trusted Him instead of blaming Him, if I turned to Him in dependence instead of away from Him in stubborn willfulness. After all, my buzzing about is no more profitable than was that little bee’s.

God, on the other hand, sees the big picture, knows what’s best, and has much more regard for me—love, actually—than I had for the miscreant I set loose from my bedroom.

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” Philippians 2:14 says. Now there’s a novel idea. ;-)

What does me in, though, is what Paul says next:

so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (v 15; emphasis mine).

By this one thing, refraining from grumbling or disputing, we will accomplish what Christ called us to do—serve as lights in the world, even the crooked and perverse world.

I’m thinking the first grumbling or disputing I need to eliminate is any directed at God. We’re so quick in our culture to say that it’s OK for us to rail against God. He understands. He forgives. He’s big enough to handle it. He knows what I’m thinking anyway, I might as well say it. We’re just being honest.

Actually, no. While God does understand and forgive, while He’s certainly “big enough” to handle my puny complaints, while He already knows my heart, it’s still not right for me to accuse righteous God of doing what is not good. And where in Scripture to we learn that God values our honesty more than our trust?

What I should do when thoughts of disgruntlement come into my mind, is confess them and seek God’s forgiveness.

Who am I to accuse God of wrong doing, or of falling down on the job, or of not keeping His promises? I’m really no different than an irate bee buzzing madly to get what I want, ignoring the hand stretched out toward me.

I don’t want to be that bee any more.

This post sans some small additions and revision first appeared here in August 2011.

Published in: on March 18, 2015 at 7:12 pm  Comments (3)  
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Hard Of Hearing


figsI don’t think any group of people illustrates better how those rejecting God simply refuse to hear God speak than the people of Judah who Jeremiah prophesied to. Amazingly, God warned Jeremiah, who was apparently a young man when he started prophesying, that the people would not do what he was telling them to do. But still, God wanted him to keep on warning them.

So Jeremiah did. For decades.

He warned that if the people didn’t repent, God would bring an end to the nation just as He had sent Israel into exile. God had him give a number of object lessons to illustrate the things He wanted Judah to understand.

One was a potter and the clay he was using to make his pots. Another was a cloth belt he was to take and bury near the river. Of course, when God sent him back to reclaim it, it was ruined. God’s pronouncement followed:

‘This wicked people, who refuse to listen to My words, who walk in the stubbornness of their hearts and have gone after other gods to serve them and to bow down to them, let them be just like this waistband which is totally worthless. For as the waistband clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole household of Israel and the whole household of Judah cling to Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘that they might be for Me a people, for renown, for praise and for glory; but they did not listen.’ (Jer. 13:10-11; emphasis mine)

Still, no one believed him.

Ripe_Figs_-_c._1773Even when the Babylonians came up against them and defeated them, carrying the leaders into exile, even when they removed the rightful king and set his uncle on the throne, even when they stripped the gold from the temple and pillaged everything of value, Judah still held fast to the idea that they’d prevail.

God had Jeremiah put before them two baskets of figs, one filled with good figs and the other with over ripe ones that were worthless. Then he prophesied:

“Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the captives of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans. 6 For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them again to this land; and I will build them up and not overthrow them, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart. (Jer. 24:5-7)

But those who remained in the land—Jeremiah, under God’s direction, said they were like the basket of bad figs and as such were worthless, fit only to be destroyed:

I will send the sword, the famine and the pestilence upon them until they are destroyed from the land which I gave to them and their forefathers. (Jer. 24:10)

At another time, Jeremiah put a wooden yoke on his neck and prophesied:

“It will be, that the nation or the kingdom which will not serve him, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and which will not put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine and with pestilence,” declares the LORD, “until I have destroyed it by his hand. (Jer. 27:8)

But he was up against some false prophets and “your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers or your sorcerers” who were telling the people just the opposite. One of them took the yoke from Jeremiah and broke it in two. He falsely prophesied that in two years God would break the yoke of Babylon, that the exiles would be returned to Judah, that the temple vessels would be restored to them.

No, Jeremiah countered. He’d just ensured that the yoke Judah was under was made of iron, and then this:

“Listen now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This year you are going to die, because you have counseled rebellion against the LORD.’”

So Hananiah the prophet died in the same year in the seventh month. (Jer. 28:15b-17)

Yep, two months after breaking the wooden yoke, Hananiah died.

You’d think that would be convincing evidence that Jeremiah was the real deal, a prophet who spoke the words of the Lord. But no.

Jeremiah was arrested, an attempt was made to kill him, and he was accused repeatedly of treason. You see, he was begging the people to surrender. It was the only way they could be saved, he said, as God’s spokesman. If they would turn themselves over to the Babylonians, they’d come away with their lives.

As the days drew closer to the final exile, Jeremiah wrote to the first group of exiles and told them to make themselves at home because the exile would last for seventy years, but after that, they’d be restored to their land.

Judah ignored even this word of hope. In fact, when word came to Jerusalem about Jeremiah’s message, it was one of the bits of evidence against him that he was counseling treason.

God had him perform another object lesson. He bought a piece of land from his cousin, then had the deeds sealed up in a clay jar. The message was that when God restored the people to the land, they would once again thrive.

No matter. The people didn’t want to hear it. They’d closed their ears to the warning that they needed to repent or face destruction. Now they closed their ears to the promise of restoration.

The last we know of Jeremiah, after Jerusalem was destroyed and only the poorest of the poor remained, a group of people wanted to leave for Egypt. They asked Jeremiah whether that’s what they should do. He said he’d ask God. When he returned and told them that no, they should not go to Egypt, again they refused to listen. No matter that they’d given their word that whatever Jeremiah told them, that would be their decision. Instead they did just the opposite.

The people of Judah during this period are a real study of what it means to have hard hearts. They listened to those who said the things they wanted to hear, not to God’s word delivered in an unambiguous way by His prophet who had the credentials of one whose word came true.

But they didn’t want to hear THAT message—the one from God that told of the consequences for their sin, that talked about exile and repentance, about putting away their idols and ignoring the false prophets and the sorcerers. So they stopped their ears and went with the beautiful message of peace—the one that was completely NOT TRUE.

How like today.

Published in: on March 10, 2015 at 6:26 pm  Comments (3)  
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Pride Is The Fall, Revisited


proudasapeacock-1-1379173-mRecently one of the bloggers I follow, InsanityBytes, has opened my eyes to a group of professing Christians I didn’t realize were doing and saying the kinds of reprehensible, ungodly things that they’re circulating on the Internet.

It dawned on me in one of the recent posts that the attitude these “Christian gamers” are displaying is self-righteous pride. They were quick to fault others—in this particular instance, women who espouse feminism—but don’t see their own hearts.

So I thought perhaps I’d revisit the subject of pride by reposting an article I wrote in 2010. Because it’s based on Scripture, it’s as relevant today as it was then. As it happens, it also addresses Adam’s sin which I’ve also been discussing with Wally, another blogger I follow.

Without further intro . . .

For years money received a bad rap in America. A particular verse in the Bible (I Timothy 6:10a) was misquoted to say “Money is the root of all evil.”

In fact the verse actually says in the New American Version, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (Emphasis mine.)

Perhaps money taking the blame for all evil, explains why pride seems to have skated off our radar screen. I won’t say it’s received a free pass. After all, the adage Pride goes before a fall has become a cliche in America.

That line also stems from Scripture—Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (KJV). Apparently somewhere along the line, the verse morphed into that shortened version.

The heart of the statement remains true to the original, though I wonder that we haven’t taken the point to it’s logical conclusion: If pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall, then didn’t pride and a haughty spirit go before The Fall?

Or more accurately, was pride The Fall itself?

Before Man sinned, Satan rebelled against God, and Scripture clearly shows that the pride of his heart was the real issue:

“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.‘ ”
– Isa 14:12-14 (Emphasis mine).

Is it any wonder, then, that when Satan approached Eve, one of the things he said to her was

“You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
– Gen 3:4b-5 (Emphasis mine).

Eve took Satan’s words into consideration. She saw that the fruit was tasty, attractive, and desirable to make her wise. Whole-heartedly, it would seem, she bought into Satan’s shtick. His desire became hers.

Adam fared no better. He openly chose to side with Eve against God, basically saying he knew what he needed more than God did.

Eve, he understood, would die, just as God said. Then what would happen to Adam? He’d return to that pre-helpmate state, and he didn’t want to do that. He must not have believed that God could, or would, fix things. So Adam had to take on that role. He had to stave off separation from Eve.

In short, he played God.

Isn’t that the definition of pride? From a heart that wants to be God, we act as if we are God. We put ourselves—our wants, our wishes, our well-being—above all else.

We rarely hear the old Pride goes before a fall adage any more. We apparently no longer believe that pride is such a bad thing. In fact, the real problem we face, society says, is not loving ourselves enough, not believing in ourselves enough, not taking enough “me time,” not pampering ourselves, not drawing from the power within.

I think we’re missing it. Pride doesn’t just come before a fall; it is The Fall itself. The hunger in our hearts to be God, forever separates us from Him who actually is God.

But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. In other words, God has the answer even for pride.

Published in: on March 3, 2015 at 6:52 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Key To Life


Christ as Lord 2The book of Jeremiah has a small verse toward the beginning that is the key to life. It either describes what is true of us or what was true of us but is not true anymore. It’s such a key verse that a counselor has made it the root of his teaching about our emotional health. But that’s for another day. The verse is Jeremiah 2:13.

For my people have forsaken Me the fountain of living water
To hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

I’ve been watching a YouTube video one of the atheists from the Facebook group posted. He’s explaining his journey from a teen who believed he was gong to become a pastor, to the atheist he is today. In the first part he describes how he was involved in church and how he was known at school as the Bible guy.

So what happened that brought such a radical change? The verse in Jeremiah explains. First there’s a point where people turning away from God forsake him. For some it comes sooner than later, but it manifests in a rejection of what God has said.

Next comes turning to our own resources which, like the broken cistern, can’t work.

Lot thought he could move from the fertile valley where he’d gone to live after separating from Abram, into the godless city of Sodom, and he did, but at a cost. Moses thought he could bring water from the rock by striking it instead of speaking to it, and water came, but at a cost. David thought he could hide from Saul by going over to the Philistines, and he did, but at a cost. Peter wanted to fight the soldiers who came to take Jesus and crucify Him, but he failed utterly.

Whenever man goes his own way, there’s either outright failure or great consequence later. Our schemes don’t work.

Eve wanted to be like God, ignoring the fact that God had actually made her in His likeness and had breathed life into her so that she became a living soul. She forsook Him, though, so she could go her own way and eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

What’s more, Adam followed her, knowing full well that God had said eating would result in death. He dug his own cistern presumably because he didn’t want to trust God to fix the problem Eve had created. He thought the only way for him to hold onto Eve was to do what she’d done.

At any rate, the schemes the two of them concocted did not work. They certainly didn’t become so very wise that they were like God—except, perhaps, in their own minds. That’s really the problem.

People who turn from God are basically saying they are wise enough in and of themselves to determine what’s right and wrong. The don’t what an authority telling them what to do, which is why some of them refer to God as a tyrant. In their minds, they are the top authority, and anyone who wants to boss them around has overstepped his bounds. He’s taking from them what they’ve determined is their right—to call the shots for their own lives.

Christians often talk about the throne of our lives and the struggle, an ongoing struggle, to let God sit in the place of authority where He, being sovereign, belongs. But those who forsake God have basically declared war on Him and have pushed Him off the throne and out of their lives. They have no struggle. They’ve decided they are in charge, and the only issue that comes up from time to time is how to make it work.

It won’t work. Not in the long run, and often not in the short run. But that’s not a fact you can argue people into believing. Most often people need to come to an end of themselves. They try and try and try and life is still falling apart, in one area or another. Many times in multiple areas.

That’s precisely what happened to Judah when Jeremiah was prophesying to them. God sent prophets and they ignored them. Then He sent adversity, but they went their own way. They thought God was the one letting them down, not rescuing them when trouble came. They didn’t understand that He wanted them to turn to Him and repent.

Here’s how God through Jeremiah described them:

“For all of them are adulterers,
An assembly of treacherous men.
They bend their tongue like their bow;
Lies and not truth prevail in the land;
For they proceed from evil to evil,
And they do not know Me,” declares the LORD (9:2-3).

A few verses later, God declares His intent to punish His people for their waywardness:

“I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins,
A haunt of jackals;
And I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant.”

Who is the wise man that may understand this? And who is he to whom the mouth of the LORD has spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land ruined, laid waste like a desert, so that no one passes through? The LORD said, “Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice nor walked according to it, but have walked after the stubbornness of their heart and after the Baals, as their fathers taught them” (vv 11-14).

What God wanted was for them to repent, turn back, and worship Him, but they weren’t willing. Nor are many today willing to give up going their own way. They don’t want to let God call the shots.

This atheist who made the video said as much. There came a day when he started dating the girl he said had a reputation in high school as “the party girl.” Eventually, he, the Bible guy, decided they should move in together. People in his church tried to tell him he shouldn’t but that didn’t matter. And then, shortly afterward, he started drifting away from church. And besides, God wasn’t answering his prayers about the things he didn’t understand in the Bible.

Well, sure. He’d already made up his mind about what he thought about the Bible, about God’s authority in his life. God says clearly that our sins make a separation between us and God and because of them, God’s face is hid from us so that He does not hear.

He’s not going to continue giving us living water when we’ve forsaken Him, when we’re off trying to dig our own cisterns, broken though they are. Not until we get on our knees and repent.

I’m Sick Of Fifty Shades Of Grey


BattleofthesexesNo, I haven’t read the book or seen the movie. But pretty much wherever I turn, someone is commenting or writing about it. I’ve ignored most of the blog posts and comments. The nightly news continues to report the box office success of the movie, and mentions it for who-knows-what-other-reasons, though, so it’s hard to be oblivious to the phenomenon.

I’ve seen comments from some, shocked that Christians would even consider watching the movie or reading the book. Again, I put on my blinders and ignored the issue. It’s hard for me to imagine Christians walking into a movie knowing full well that they’d be seeing explicit sex, and not just the regular titillating copulation scenes. This movie was about sex involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism, better known as BDSM.

But now we have to talk about it. Endlessly. Some decry the moral collapse of our society that allows such a movie to make it to the big screen as if it is just any other film for adults.

Others blame a patriarchal society for creating the atmosphere in which this kind of book and movie could reach such a popular level. Still others apparently blame the rejection of patriarchy for this “edgy,” explicitly sexual movie.

The whole thing is actually a symptom, not a disease. It’s evidence, as if we needed more, that God is giving us over to our own desires.

I don’t have to see the movie or read the book to know that the relationship this story shows is contrary to what God desires for us. Scripture talks about a husband and wife submitting to one another, about the wife being subject to her husband “as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18), about the husband showing his wife honor “as a fellow heir of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7b), about both of them being “harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit” (1 Peter 3:8).

The greatest problem with a movie or book that puts bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism into the public arena as if this is a normal option for couples, is that it contradicts God’s word. It sells a lie.

And it’s no surprise that this lie is once again an attack on the proper relationship God intended for marriage. Marriage is a unique picture of God’s relationship with His people. He, the head, sacrificing himself for the Church He loves, even as the husband is to be the person in his home taking the responsible position as he unselfishly gives to his wife to express his love for her.

It’s the most brilliant, beautiful symbiotic relationship ever conceived. If only we humans didn’t think there was something we could do to make it better—like emphasizing a wife’s submission over and about the husband’s love for her. Or like tossing out a wife’s submission as archaic, or any number of other changes in what God told us was His standard for marriage.

And now we have the contradiction of His standard, shown on the big screen for all to consider as an option. I don’t pretend to understand it.

All I know is, God doesn’t let us down. His ways are true and right and good. They lead to joy and health and wholeness. Taking a path that’s headed in the opposite direction of God’s way can only lead to sorrow. How could it be anything else.

The prophet Isaiah warned Judah what going their own way would bring:

As they have chosen their own ways,
And their soul delights in their abominations,
So I will choose their punishments
And will bring on them what they dread.
Because I called, but no one answered;
I spoke, but they did not listen.
And they did evil in My sight
And chose that in which I did not delight (Isaiah 66:3b-4).

The crazy thing is, there are good marriages with a husband and a wife who both believe God’s word and work to follow what He says. Those are the stories that are joyful and uplifting (here’s one by InsanityBytes: “My Invisible Husband”).

These stories don’t get made into movies any more, though. Our society wants more thrills; a greater, more explicit, visceral experience. Here’s what one writing instructor said was part of the success of Fifty Shades Of Grey:

Once the reader/viewer is taken into that world, it all becomes astoundingly VICARIOUS.  It takes us somewhere we haven’t been before, to which will (for some) never go, or (for some) you desire to go, and for others, are afraid to go yet curious about, and and when you get there it is a literal, visceral, passionate experience, as shown the story’s “red room of pain” scenes. (Larry Brooks,“What You May be Missing about ’50 Shades of Grey’ “

That’s what our pleasure-seeking culture has come down to. We want relationships like the roller-coaster ride instead of the ocean cruise. We want the X-Games version of “love” instead of a team rowing in tandem.

But underneath our search for some sexual thrill greater than the last one is this unspoken belief that God’s way simply isn’t good enough. And that’s the real problem. People going to watch kinky sex is simply a symptom.

So, yes, I’m sick of hearing about this story, more so because of what it means for our society, because of how it shows our disregard for God and His word and way.

May God have mercy on us. He can bring revival, which we desperately need. He can forgive and wash us clean. He can restore a right spirit within us. May He be at work in our culture to bring us back to Him.

Is Faith The End All And Be All Of Christianity?


communion elements-1072441-mI’ve mentioned the Facebook group I was in briefly. The group started out by calling itself Faith vs. Reason and one of the few good discussions we had revolved around the understanding of the word faith. Christians, of course, see no contradiction between faith and reason. Most of us agree that our faith stands on reasonable arguments, and that, in fact, evolutionists have the same kind of faith in their theories as Christians do in the things we believe, such as the truth of the Bible.

Well, that was not consistent with what most atheists believed. Some would not accept that they had faith in anything because to them faith equaled blind faith—more like wishful thinking than the “assurance of things not seen” which Scripture talks about.

Interestingly, a recent comment to a post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction also, in part, addresses faith. The basic issue is that one of the visitors characterized what they thought were “God’s definitions of right and wrong.” Leading the way was “faith takes precedent over action or intent.”

How to describe the part that faith plays in the life of a Christian? This is a topic of many sermons and books and Bible studies. I took the easy way out and made a categorical statement that the list was “wide of the mark.” But that didn’t satisfy and the question came up again. So I’ll give my best shot to answer.

Does faith, in God’s eyes, take precedence over action or intent? Yes, and no.

God tells us clearly there’s nothing we can do to be saved—no action on our part is enough to wipe out the offense of our previous rebellion against God, the very rebelliousness built into our nature by the Fall of humankind into sin.

Instead He needed to act on our behalf. His action is effective because He has no sin. Consequently Jesus could present His life on our behalf, that we might be declared right with God.

So what do we have to do? Nothing, because we still can’t effect a change in our relationship with God. Rather we have to believe that Jesus did in fact stand in our place so that we now can enjoy God’s forgiveness and a restored friendship with Him.

But there’s more. The Apostle James wrote a letter that explains something critical about faith. He said that faith without works is dead being by itself. At one point he said, “You believe that God is One. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder.”

In other words, lip-service belief is nothing. Even demons can do that. They can acknowledge God without it making one bit of difference in their lives.

Rather, James describes faith that is lived out—demonstrated by actions. Without the actions that show the faith, it’s as useless as if you tell a hungry homeless person to be warmed and fed without giving them a thing to eat or anything to keep them warm. Words alone are as empty as the body without the spirit.

So, does God give precedence to faith? Well, without faith, Scripture says, it is impossible to please Him. But what kind of faith? Not something divorced from actions. But the actions aren’t some kind of do-gooder kind that earns brownie points with God. They aren’t rituals either—stuff that we do just because it’s what people who are religious do.

Rather, the faith we have in God changes us. It turns our lives upside down. In the Old Testament the prophets came down pretty hard on God’s chosen people for just going through religious motions. They were doing sacrifices, even fasting, but God didn’t want their sacrifices. He said, what He wanted was a broken and contrite heart. He wants us to come to the end of our efforts and stop trying to dig ourselves out of a hole we can’t possible escape from. He wants us to come to Him with hearts surrendered to Him, acknowledging our need for Him, sorrowing for our previous rebellion.

And from that place of brokenness, He heals us and makes us new. It’s the phoenix rising from the ashes. Sorrow in the black night of our souls, but joy in the morning.

As healed and new and joyful, we can get to work doing what God has asked us to do, which Jesus summarized as loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

So God’s thoughts about faith, actions, and intentions? I suppose He’d say good intentions are just like lip-service faith—it doesn’t put bread into the hands of hungry people. Good intentions are just as dead as faith without works.

But actions and faith? Pretty inseparable, those two. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, so faith is built on something, not just a feeling or a wish. There’s substance that can be checked and verified and analyzed and debated and discussed and in the end believed to be true.

But that belief makes everything different. Everything, including our actions.

So why the picture of the communion elements at the top of this post? Jesus said we are to take of the bread and the cup in remembrance of Him—of what He did that turned our lives upside down. When we take communion we are doing something, but we’re not. We’re remembering, but in remembering we’re doing. That’s a lot like a Christian’s faith. We believe, but in believing, we do. And if we are unchanged, there’s the possibility that we are offering lip-service faith.

The thing is, change sometimes comes over a period of time. That’s why we use metaphors like growing in our faith. How radically different we are (under new management, some like to say) can’t always be determined right away on the outside. But God’s at work renewing us, healing us from our brokenness, and equipping us for His service. It’s an awesome change, this coming to Christ. But is it faith taking precedence over actions? Yes, and no.

Published in: on February 26, 2015 at 6:07 pm  Comments (15)  
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Living With Guilt


Convict_Chain_GangThere’s a perception among many that Christians are the most tortured, guilt-ridden people on the planet. After all, our God has all these rules, and He judges everyone and is probably just waiting to zap whoever he catches breaking one of his commandments.

That picture is a sad caricature of what a true Christian is like. Don’t get me wrong. I know there are people in a number of arms of the Church that have the perception that their salvation rests on the works they do. But that’s a misconception of the truth.

In reality, Christians are wonderfully freed from guilt, sin, the law. We freely acknowledge that we’re failures. No matter how we might like to live in obedience to God’s mandates, we admit we can’t—not a hundred percent of the time. We’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we become so engrossed in our own lives and projects and comfort and well-being, we sometimes don’t even know who our neighbors are.

We know we’re supposed to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but sometimes it’s just so hard to get out of bed in the morning to have that time reading the Bible and praying that we know will bring us closer to Him. And doesn’t the church already have enough Sunday School teachers?

I could go on about pride and grumbling and judging and greed and gossip and selfishness and hatred in our hearts—you know, the kind Jesus says is as bad as murder. We Christians are a bunch of sinners, like all the rest of the world. But there’s this important distinction. We don’t bear the burden of our sin any longer.

No guilt.

No shame.

No secret desire to sneak into a tiny monastery cell and engage in self-flagellation.

We’re also not boasting about the sins we’re chalking up. We aren’t bragging about getting out of a speeding ticket by lying to the cop or planning how we can cheat the IRS when we file our taxes.

The truth about Christians and sin is this: Jesus Christ paid the debt we owe for all our sins—past, present, and future. The guilt that we were rightly bearing is off our shoulders.

yokeWhat we know now is God’s love and mercy and grace and forgiveness. Out of hearts filled with gratitude, we want to love God better, obey Him more perfectly, follow Him where He takes us. We simply owe Him our lives and we don’t want to let Him out of our sight.

Happily, we don’t have to!

And that’s such great news, we don’t want to keep it to ourselves. We want to let other people know how Jesus will also take the burden of guilt they’re lugging around off their shoulders.

I can hear people now: What guilt? I don’t have any guilt. That only comes from crazy religious people with their lists of do’s and don’ts. That whole sin thing is a religious construct to force people into their churches.

Well, actually, it’s not. First we have these natures in us bent to glorify ourselves instead of glorifying God and serving ourselves instead of serving others. In other words, our bent is to reject God’s authority and to live for ourselves. Some people deal with this by saying God doesn’t exist and we have to learn empathy. But the fact is, we never learn it perfectly. So even if we set aside our rejection of God and just looked at how we treat others, we can see that bent nature in us all.

Most people are quite aware they aren’t perfect. However, they have allowed society to talk them out of recognizing that not-perfect state as sin. It’s kind of like these criminals caught on security cameras in the act of stealing the packages or dog-napping the puppy or passing the note to the bank teller, then standing up in court after they’ve been arrested and pleading not guilty.

Well, of course they’re guilty! What they’re hoping for is to escape punishment by some technicality.

I don’t know if people who say they don’t sin are angling for the same escape or not. But I will say, if they don’t own their guilt now, they will one day.

The ONLY people who are living without guilt are those who have accepted the grace of God poured out on us as His gift through His Son Jesus who took our sins on Himself and paid the penalty we deserved.

Simply put, we’ve been forgiven.

I’ll add that we also have a virulent enemy who tries to make us feel guilty even though we’ve been forgiven. He throws our past in our faces and tries to shame us by our failures. He loves to discourage us so we don’t face each day remembering how accepted and loved we are by God.

We’re in a battle, but not against people who don’t believe like us or against a certain political slant or law. The battle we are waging is “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12b).

These are the forces that hate God and don’t want us to lift up His name, who want to see us stumbling under guilt we’ve imagined still belongs to us. These forces would love to see us fall into sin and besmirch the name of Christ by which we are known.

Sometimes we fall, but God is the One Who holds our hand. He won’t let us pitch headlong out of His loving care. He’ll bring us back into His arms and carry us if that’s what it takes.

It’s God’s amazing love that drives us forward. Now, instead of hating on God, we want to do His will. We don’t have a list we need to check off because it’s in our heart to pay attention to what pleases Him.

So for the Christian, living with guilt has been changed into living for the delight of pleasing God. The Chris Tomlin song “Amazing Love” says it well:

Amazing love,
How can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?
Amazing love,
I know it’s true.
It’s my joy to honor You,
In all I do, I honor You.

Quarrels And Conflict


yelling-932983-mI know I don’t always see things the way others do—it’s a quirk, I guess, which I’m pretty sure I got from my dad. If there was a well-traveled road, that’s the one he wanted to avoid. I don’t think I go that far, but there’s a part of me that is just ornery enough, I’ll avoid band wagons and take a hard, hard look at what “everyone else is doing” and in the end, I’ll probably do something else.

I say all this so that you can be forewarned: you may wish to take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt. Just chalk it up to Becky being quirky again.

Here’s the thing. There are some passages of the Bible that seem to me to be ripped out of context and forced into places they weren’t intended to go.

One of my favorite verses is like that:

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Great verse, but in context it’s clearly addressing the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Still, all Scripture is profitable, and so there is something for us today. However, the verse clearly is not a blanket promise for all people. Who can take this verse as a promise and as a promise of what, needs to be thought through.

But that’s not the one I want to look at today. Rather, it’s Philippians 4:8. To a greater degree than the Jeremiah verse, this one has been made to say things I don’t think God ever intended.

First, as a reminder, here’s the verse:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Next we need to realize that “dwelling on these things” 24/7 is certainly not possible (because we’re asleep a part of that time, if nothing else). If all our thoughts were only to dwell on the things Paul listed, we could never comfort the grieving, speak encouragement to the depressed or hope to the lost. We’d have to confine our conversation to only the lovely, and there are a lot of unlovely things that a Christian should speak to: racism, abortion, homosexuality, gossip, complaining, lying, to name only a few.

The Bible itself clearly shines light on subjects that would not make the cut if Paul’s list was exhaustive for the believer.

So what does Philippians 4:8 refer to?

Remember, I’m in a minority of one, as far as I know, but I believe it is connected to the theme of the book—unity, and particularly the situation Paul addressed in verses 2 and 3:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Many people assume Paul dropped this admonition in and then did a little Proverbs-style skipping around from point to point in the next six verses. I don’t think so. It doesn’t fit the style of this letter.

Rather, I think what follows are the points Paul wants his true companion to help Euodia and Syntyche with:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.(Phil. 4:4-8)

Rejoicing, showing a gentle spirit, being anxious for nothing which will yield inner peace. And then the things upon which to put our minds. All for the sake of helping these women to get along.

Think about it. How much easier would it be for them to live in harmony if they are rejoicing in the Lord? How much easier if they showed gentle spirits? How much easier if they weren’t worried about what others say or whether they’ll get the work done or if she’s doing her share, or any of the other things people worry about when they work together.

And then the key verse: how could Euodia and Syntyche fight with each other if they were thinking only about what was true of the other woman, or honorable, or right, or pure, or lovely, or—now get this—of good repute! That is, what good things the other was known for.

Then the capper:

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:9)

“The God of peace will get you past the quarrels and conflict, Euodia and Syntyche, so that you can live in harmony. This is what I want my true companion to help you figure out.”

So there’s my quirky understanding of Philippians 4:8. It’s not a catch-all command. Rather, it’s part of the recipe for unity, the way we as brothers and sisters in Christ can have harmony as we work side by side.

Published in: on January 22, 2015 at 5:11 pm  Comments (7)  
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Atheism’s Unanswerable Question


Evolution_tree_of_lifeChristianity and atheism, which of necessity requires belief in evolution, are two contrasting worldviews, not only because they have opposing views about God but also because they have opposing views about humankind. While the focus of discussions and debates often concentrates on the existence of God, it is the view of humankind that leaves atheists with an unanswerable question.

There are two specific ways that Christians and atheists view humankind differently. First, Christians believe that humans are unique from animals because we have an eternal soul. Atheists believe instead in the “common descent” principle:

In evolutionary biology, a group of organisms have common descent if they have a common ancestor. “There is strong quantitative support, by a formal test”[1] for the theory that all living organisms on Earth are descended from a common ancestor.[2]

Charles Darwin proposed the theory of universal common descent through an evolutionary process in On the Origin of Species, saying, “There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one”.[3]

Second, Christians believe humans, though created in God’s image, have a fallen, or sinful, nature passed down through Adam who turned his back on God when he intentionally disobeyed Him. The only way to change society is to point individuals to Jesus Christ who provides a way of escape from sin, guilt, the law, and death.

Atheists, on the other hand, believe humans are morally neutral at worst and might even be considered “good” by virtue of the fact that what exists has survived.

Right and wrong, good and evil, then, are not existent apart from the perception of a group or community. Hence, homosexuality is wrong until the group determines it is right.

Infants come into the world as blank slates or even as good slates and only turn toward evil if they are influenced by societal patterns (racism, for example) or errant views (such as religion). The way to change society is simply to re-educate people.

One atheist puts it this way:

So if we are determined, then how do we define evil? If our minds come from our brains, and our brain circuitry is out of our control, then is anyone responsible for anything – no matter how courageous, no matter how innovative, no matter how good or evil, that the person is? (“An atheist’s view of evil”)

Another atheist discussing evil concludes with this:

For atheists, a better explanation for the presence of evil in the world is that God does not exist. (“Atheism”).

A number of others discuss evil only as an argument against the existence of God. But here’s the question that atheists can’t seem to answer: where did evil come from? If life has a common descent, if we’re born with no natural bent toward evil, what injected evil into the equation?

In reality, the atheist scenario is one that would seem to result in utopia: humans, evolved from a common and not evil descent, growing toward their full potential without any negative force to intercede.

Except for society. Which teaches gender differences and racism and encourages belief in mythical gods which motivate people groups to hate.

But society is nothing more than people interacting with one another. So how and why did humans start acting in hateful ways toward people who were different from them? Why did the strong decide to take from the weak instead of using their strength for the greater good?

In other words, where did evil come from?

This is the atheist’s unanswerable question.

As I mentioned, a number of professing atheists lay evil at the feet of God, then declare that its existence proves He couldn’t possibly exist. That he doesn’t eradicate evil shows either that he’s too weak to do so (and therefore, not God) or too evil himself or too undiscerning to know evil from good (and therefore not God).

The argument, of course, ignores what God Himself has to say about evil and its existence. But more so, it offers no alternative, no explanation for the virulent presence of evil in the world.

In fact, some atheists deny the existence of evil:

Atheists such as Richard Dawkins claim that evil doesn’t actually exist. In his book, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life Dawkins writes: “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” (David Robinson, “The problem of evil is a bigger problem for atheists than Christians,” Christianity Today)

Of course such a view collapses the argument that evil disproves the existence of God, because something that does not exist cannot itself be used to disprove anything. So either evil exists, or it doesn’t. And if it exists, but there is no God, then where did it come from? How did it come to be included in this mix of materialism?

Actually the atheist I quoted above, was on the right track. Evil comes from the absence of God. He does exist, but He doesn’t force Himself on our lives. Humankind, having chosen to leave God out, now experience the world with the absence-of-God component a reality.

Cold Is In The Eye Of The Beholder


winter-1419055-mSunday when I arrived at church around 7:45, there were still ice crystals clinging to some of the poinsettias planted out front. That was cold for sunny California.

Montreal, Canada, recently had an ice storm and they have more cold weather coming. The forecast low for next Tuesday is -10°F.

I got word from friends on Facebook that during the recent cold snap the temperature where they live dropped to -19°F. Water freezes at 32°, so we’re talking serious cold.

Except . . . I remember reading a story by Jack London called “To Build A Fire.” If I recall correctly, the story was set in the Yukon during an especially cold spell. The temperature dropped to -75°F. That’s the kind of cold that kills people.

Cold in SoCal doesn’t seem all that cold any more. Except it still feels cold. Everybody Sunday was wearing layers and putting on jackets and knitted caps. Some even donned gloves. The snow level during our last (mini) storm fell as low as 2000 feet.

That meant anyone going to the mountains had to have chains for their car, and Interstate 5, one of the main roads north, was closed for a few hours through an area called the Grapevine because of snow.

We’re all better now. Tuesday we warmed well past our seasonal average, and yesterday the high in LA was reported to be 85°. That short heat spell is gone and we’re closer to normal today—a perfect 70° though it’s getting a little chilly as evening draws near.

Yes, cold is in the eye of the beholder. This evening feels cold compared to yesterday’s high, but Denver is far colder, as is Atlanta, Waco, TX, Chicago, Green Bay, and pretty much anywhere else in the US.

When it comes to cold, there is no definitive standard. Cold comes on a sliding scale, understood by different people to mean different things. Beauty is understood by many to be the same—a quality that varies from person to person.

The problem today is that things which have definitive, measurable standards are viewed as if they too are on a sliding scale.

Sin is a behavior that many understand to be on this sliding scale. Swearing, gossip, lying, jealousy hardly make a blip in the ranking. Taking office supplies from work is on the low end too, cheating on income taxes, a little higher. Further up still might be yelling racial slurs at someone, then domestic violence followed by breaking into someone’s home to steal jewelry or electronics. Going into a fast food restaurant and robbing the service staff at knife point is another notch up. Eventually we get to the really horrible things like selling drugs, rape, sex trafficking, murder, terrorist activity.

Of course, a rape victim might put that crime closer to the top of the scale, and someone who has been physically abused by a spouse might slide that crime higher. Crime, sin in general, is in the eye of the beholder.

Or is it?

Certainly different sins have different consequences meted out by society, but what does God think of sin? Are some sins not so bad and therefore He turns a blind eye or winks at what we do as long as we promise to try harder next time?

From what Paul says in Galatians, it doesn’t seem as if God ignores the “minor” sins. If fact, He puts the ones we consider minor onto the same list as the biggies:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

So jealous people are just as bad off as sorcerers, dissenters as far from God’s kingdom as idolaters. That nice socially acceptable sliding scale of sin seems to crumple under God’s scrutiny.

He has a definitive standard for behavior—righteousness, purity, holiness. In other words, the definition of good is never mostly____, fill in the blank. Mostly kind. Mostly sweet tempered. Mostly peace loving. Mostly God-fearing.

Neither evil nor good are a moving target, and consequently sin isn’t on a sliding scale. We know from our own experience that we don’t hit “good” a hundred percent of the time.

As Scripture states it, someone who breaks the law is a law breaker, a trespasser, a sinner.

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

What’s the point? God told Adam there would be consequence if he fell short of the glory of God. That transgression would result in his death. When he did sin, his death meant a change in his relationship with God, his wife, his environment, and ultimately a change in himself.

Death.

Spiritual death, relational death, environmental death, physical death.

Not surprisingly, people today don’t like this death sentence. Some ignore it; many turn to a belief system that tries to undue it (reincarnation, for example, or universalism) or at least some part of it (annihilation).

Some rail at God because according to the sliding scale they use to measure sin, death is too harsh a consequence for every sinner.

The problem in each of these instances is that people want to take God’s place. He’s the Judge. Not only is that His role, He fulfills it perfectly:

And He will judge the world in righteousness;
He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity. (Ps. 9:8)

Trusting that God is right, He’ll make no mistakes, should take away any doubt or fear about what comes after this life. It should stop the vain attempts of humans to pick up the gavel and play judge.

We often talk about the need to let God be on the throne of our lives, but I think there’s an equal need to let God be in the judges box.

Published in: on January 8, 2015 at 6:36 pm  Comments (3)  
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