The Connection Between Pride And Anxiety


scan-2016-11-8-0002As I stood before a cashier this evening, a woman behind me said how worried she was about the election. Later at home, I heard on TV that people in state X are exhibiting signs of anxiety as they anticipate the election returns.

I don’t think worrying about the results or the next four years of struggle and/or change is the road God wants those who fear Him to take.

Here’s a re-post of an article I wrote three years ago that addresses this issue.

1 Peter has some great “one liners” and lots of people quote various verses from the book, but I’ll admit, I never paid much attention to the context in which those verses appear. I’m talking about ones like, “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (2:24). Or how about the last half of 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Then there is 5:8, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”

Just before that verse about the Christian’s enemy, though, come two other well known verses, and I realized for the first time how they relate to each other. The first one is this:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (5:6).

The thing is, the next verse continues the thought: “casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you” (5:7).

The sentence construction, as I understand it, means that casting our anxieties on God is a working out of the previous command to humble ourselves. It would be like me saying, Drive to the store, stopping at all the red lights on the way. Stopping at the lights is a part of carrying out the command to drive to the store.

I never before saw casting anxieties on God as a working out of humbling myself under His mighty hand. Looking at 1 Peter as a letter from an evangelist to the churches he helped to start, however, rather than a collection of quotable Christian sayings, has changed my understanding.

Traffic_lights_red.svgI now think the two ideas fit really well. If I humble myself under God’s mighty hand, I have to let Him be God. I have to recognize Him as sovereign, but then I also have to trust Him, even when things are hard and don’t seem right. I have to be willing to relinquish my concerns and put them in His care. I have to stop worrying, in other words, and trust that He sees the big picture better than I do.

The problem I struggle with is knowing what part I am to play as I trust God. I don’t think it means I take my hands off the wheel (with all due respect to Kelly Clarkson). God has put believers on this earth and keeps us here to be His representatives. Therefore, I can’t sit back and say, I have to trust that God will bring people to Christ without also doing what I am capable of doing.

I can’t say, God will feed me, so I don’t have to worry about working. I need to give myself to my work, understanding that God is the provider, but that He is providing through my efforts and the doors He has opened up for me.

I think contentment is critical in understanding the interweaving of pride and anxiety. If we recognize that what we have is from God’s hand, that He is good and loving, then we can be content in His watch care. If we want more than He provides, we can ask Him for more. He may lead us to more or He may not.

Anxiety sets in, I believe, when we think we have to circumvent God to get the more we asked for. We know MORE is what we need, and God isn’t coming through or He’s too busy. So it’s up to us to figure out how to get MORE.

The problem is, we are the agents through which God works, so sometimes we really do need to do something to bring about the thing we’re asking. The trick is to know when to do and when to stand and watch God work.

Well, the real trick is to cast all the worry about the matter upon our good God because He cares for us. If we give Him the worry, I believe He’ll give us the understanding about what we’re to do.

I don’t think this principle is only applicable to money and jobs. It’s true about anything we humans tend to worry about. Over and over God promises us peace, and yet we seem to rush about so, trying to do and fix and change and make, when we need, first, to hand our worries over to God and trust that He’ll show us our part in due time.

Published in: on November 8, 2016 at 5:33 pm  Comments (8)  
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The Impossibility Of Empathy


donald_trumpEmpathy, according to my atheist blogger friend Violetwisp, provides a moral framework by which a person can make moral judgments. So, no, God did not “set eternity in our hearts” or a “God-shaped vacuum” or a “moral compass.” Our morality comes from our ability to “understand and share the feelings of others.” (Oxford American Dictionary)

Which is impossible.

No one can actually understand and share the feelings of someone with a radically different experience from ours. Take Donald Trump, for example. I’ve never been a multimillionaire. I’ve never had my own TV program. I’ve never had multiple marriages. I’m not a man. I have never wanted to run for President or to deport illegal aliens by the truckload or to carpet bomb the Syrians. There are many, many other things that make my life and experience different from Mr. Trump’s. So how am I to understand and share his feelings?

I can’t. We could easily be from different planets. He says deplorable things about women. He encourages violence against those who protest against his positions. He advocates for religious discrimination in the name of homeland security. He condones torture. Many of his “plans” for solving the problems in the US are unconstitutional.

I don’t understand someone who behaves as he does unless I assign motives behind his actions. My conclusion is that he cares more for himself than he does for others. Consequently, he’ll find a loophole so he doesn’t have to pay income taxes, then blame the government for the existence of the loophole. “If you’d just stopped me from being greedy and selfish, then I would have been like all other Americans,” he seems to be saying.

Am I empathetic toward Mr. Trump? No. I believe I understand him. He wants what he wants when he wants it and doesn’t care who he bulldozes out of his way to get the power or prestige or possessions he’s set his sights on. But do I feel for him? He’s had advantages in this life that few have had, and he comes to the twilight years of his life as a power-hungry bully who lies and manipulates and blusters and fawns—whatever works to create sycophants. I don’t feel for him. I think he should know better, that he should have done more with what he’d been given.

The truth is, he might have experienced heartbreak when he was young. He might have been lonely and alone as a child and has been acting out from a place of pain ever since—to live in a way that keeps him from feeling the heartache, to exact revenge on a perceived perpetrator, to make up from what he considers his lost youth. I simply have no way of knowing what is behind his deplorable actions and words and ways of relating to people in public.

I do not empathize with him. I don’t even want to. I don’t want to explain away what he’s done or what he continues to do.

tex_watsonEmpathy is a failed strategy. It cannot move me closer to Donald Trump. I could extrapolate from that one example to a host of others. I don’t empathize with David Duke and other racists. I don’t empathize with the Planned Parenthood execs who sold fetal body parts. I don’t empathize with the Manson family prisoners who have had parole denied repeatedly.

How am I supposed to empathize with a sex-trafficker? With a mob hit man? With an ISIS suicide bomber?

In case after case after case, I don’t understand someone or I don’t feel with them. And we haven’t even begun to talk about people from other countries who have customs and practices and traditions that are completely foreign to my experience.

Empathy doesn’t cut it. Can’t cut it. I don’t know enough to understand all these people. I don’t care enough to feel with them in their experiences.

Empathy doesn’t give us a moral framework apart from our own personal experience. And then we only feel with people based on our own perspective. Consequently, our moral judgment becomes, what do I want to have happen? So if I want abortion, then it’s legal. If I want slavery, then it’s legal. If I want divorce, then it’s legal.

Another gaping failure of empathy is to explain how all those unempathetic behaviors came into being in the first place. If the first humans were empathetic toward one another, all should have been well. But someone at some point introduced behavior that contradicted the moral framework that existed because of the perfect empathy governing those early relationships. What caused empathy to break down?

There is no answer to that question in the moral framework constructed by people who look to empathy as the solution to sin.

Yes, sin. That’s what we’re talking about. When one person violates another person, either in word or deed, it’s sin. Sin is actually deeper than that, but for the purpose of this post. focusing on the observable is sufficient.

Empathy can not change sin. That’s really what I’ve been saying. Empathy can’t explain why people sin, and it can give no answer to the cycle of sin—either those who sin against another or those who have been sinned against.

There’s only one remedy that has proven effective—forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t depend on my understanding or my feeling with another. I can forgive without knowing why someone behaved in a despicable way. I can forgive and work toward a restored relationship without feeling with the person who holds hatred in his heart.

I’ve played the empathy card before. I’ve sat with friends and listened to their tales of woe. I’ve worked to understand and feel with them when they have been wronged and mistreated. And what did it bring? Relief? No. It nurtured more of the feelings of resentment and anger that the original actions engendered. No relationship healing occurred. Only greater division.

But forgiveness—that’s a different thing. Forgiveness humbles and heals. Forgiveness bridges gaps without excusing or erasing responsibility. Forgiveness requires growth and added maturity in both the forgiven and the forgiver.

I suppose forgiveness is impossible too, apart from the great example of forgiveness God enacted when He sent His Son to provide a way for us to access His forgiveness; apart from the power of God to work in and through our frail human desires.

Yes, God alone is stronger than the heinous acts one person does against another. Only God can turn people who hated each other into friends. Only God can give the ability for a Nazi concentration camp prisoner to reconcile with one of her guards. Only God can lead a kidnap victim to forgive the men who were responsible for her husband’s death. Only God can put it in the heart of a congregation to forgive the racist who gunned down their loved ones in their own church.

God does what empathy can never do. Because God can do the impossible. Empathy . . . not so much.

Published in: on November 4, 2016 at 6:27 pm  Comments (3)  
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By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone


martin_luther_lucas_cranach_1526I admit, I’ve been spoiled. I’ve grown up with so many great gifts—loving parents and siblings, an opportunity for a sound education, attendance in church from infancy on, a middle class existence that ensured I had three square meals a day and a warm place to live and many changes of clothes in my closet. I had a secure and happy childhood, though we moved many times.

Part of my growing up included my spiritual education, so I understood early on that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. I understood that I could not do enough good things to make up for the bad. And I understood that no one could help me because they had their own sin problem. No one, except Jesus. His being the only sinless person who ever lived qualified Him to be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world for those who believed.

So nothing I did or could do would merit me to be acceptable to God. Only Jesus, standing in my place, taking the punishment I deserved, solved my sin issue.

Because I understood the basics of salvation at an early age, I have never grasped what it would be like to live any other way.

I’ve heard Jews and Catholics and Greek Orthodox joke in a knowing way about the guilt instilled in them by their religion, or more specifically, by someone who was holding them to a strict adherence to their religion—a parent, a priest, a teacher. I’ve also heard people refer to Christians as bound by guilt.

Those seem odd to me. I don’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt guilt-driven.

So I’ve been spoiled because I’ve believed from my youth that I’m forgiven because of God’s grace.

Christians haven’t always had this understanding. There was a period of time when grace took a back seat to doing good works as the Church defined them. No doubt those who were saved, gained that standing with God because of His grace, but they were perhaps less aware of it.

All that changed four hundred and ninety-nine years ago when Martin Luther went public with the results of his own doubts, questions, and struggles to understand God. On October 31, 1517, Luther sent a paper he’d written to his bishop: “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This document became known simply as the Ninety-five Theses. Whether Luther ever attached a copy of the document to the door of the church at Wittenberg is a matter of contention, as was the document itself, when it first appeared.

But from the thoughts, question, and issues Luther looked at, grew the bedrock of Protestantism and a reformation (though more slowly, it would seem) of the Catholic Church. Luther challenged the practice of selling indulgences, by which the priests grew richer because of the desire of the poor to do what they could to insure the salvation of their loved ones.

Luther contended that salvation depended on God, not on humans:

The most important [truth of Christianity] for Luther was the doctrine of justification – God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous – by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah.[43] “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.”[44] (see “Theology of Martin Luther,” Wikipedia)

Luther had much Scripture to support his position, not the least of which is Ephesians 2:8-9—“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The work is God’s, Luther proclaimed. A worker giving his copper to the church would not save the soul of his dead brother.

When I was growing up, I’d never heard about indulgences or even doing something to help a dead person reach heaven. The works I knew about were the kinds of things people did to make themselves acceptable to God. And these works included good things: going to church, reading the Bible, giving money to the poor, going on a short term mission trip, and so on. Good things.

But just like Paul’s list of good Jewish things recorded in Philippians, this Christian list of good things amounts to rubbish if its considered the means to a relationship with God. Paul’s birth status, circumcision, religious affiliation, and even his personal righteousness, were nothing in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3).

Essentially Martin Luther discovered and proclaimed what Paul had learned through his own quest. The two men were similar. They both wanted to please God, and they both went about it by trying to be good enough for Him based on the good things they did. Both eventually realized that there weren’t enough good things in the entire earth to make them good enough, but that God had given right standing with Him as a free gift through Christ Jesus.

That’s grace.

Nothing earned here.

A free gift.

Undeserved.

I know that rankles American minds—perhaps the minds of others, too. But here we have two competing philosophies—an independent, “earn your own way” mentality and an entitlement, “you deserve it” belief. God’s free gift is an affront to both of those positions. We humans don’t get to take credit for salvation, no matter how you look at it. We didn’t earn it, and we aren’t so wonderful that it ought to have been handed to us based on our incredible merit.

Luther did the hard work of sussing out from Scripture this truth, and I’m incredibly grateful.

Thanks be to God for His free gift of salvation, and thanks be to Him for teaching this truth to Martin Luther so that he could make it widely known.

And Then There Was Peace


Gideon004I’m slow on the uptake at times. Until recently I thought Israel, prior to becoming a kingdom, only had a judge when they needed to be rescued from an oppressor. Hence the judges were, in essence, military heroes, but little else.

Except, I noticed as I read from Judges 4 that Deborah was judging Israel before God called her to facilitate the end of the oppression of Jabin king of Canaan.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5, emphasis added)

Finally, as I read further, something clicked inside my head. The book records a small group of judges who don’t have military credentials. I’d always thought Scripture skipped who they fought against and how long Israel was in bondage to these unnamed oppressors. But no.

Those judges didn’t come to their position in response to the need to free Israel from oppression. They simply were the designated judges that presided over the nation for those short years.

So apparently God selected judges throughout Israel’s pre-king years, not as military heroes, as I used to think, but as judges. (Imagine that!) They were to be the leaders of the nation, the ones who, like Moses before them, arbitrated between the people. No longer did leading include heading up the caravan of people traveling through the wilderness (as Moses had) or even conducting a military campaign (as Joshua had), though many of the judges did the latter.

In reality, the judges were God’s representative to the nation. Interestingly, many of them did free Israel from foreign oppression, but afterwards, they continued to judge the nation. For example, Gideon judged Israel for forty years after God used him and the measly three hundred to free the people from the iron fist of Midian. Before him, Deborah judged Israel for another forty years once she and Barak had freed the nation.

And the four who weren’t military leaders? They were in charge for a total of forty-seven years. Three consecutive judges, right before Samson, held the judgeship for seven, ten, and eight years respectively. So, for twenty-five years Israel knew peace.

Until they didn’t.

I’m not sure how the whole judge thing worked. Deborah, we know, stayed in one place and people came to her. But did people from the far away tribes make that trek? And what happened when God “gave them into the hands” of oppressors? Did that mean He did not choose a judge for that period of time? And how was the judge chosen?

We know God spoke to Gideon and Samuel. Deborah was a prophetess, so God spoke to her as well. Samson was set apart in his mother’s womb, and the Spirit of God came upon him when he needed superhuman strength, but did he actually judge the nation? Did God call him to do so? And what about the others—Othniel and Ehud and Shamgar and the rest—how were they chosen? Scripture doesn’t say.

So the process isn’t clear. Who exactly was in charge during those years?

The question comes to mind because after periods of peace, inevitably Judges records a verse like 13:1—“Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, so that the LORD gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years.”

But when, exactly did the people do this evil? The oppression came as a result of the evil, so the doing of evil must have come during those years of peace.

I’m sure Israel wanted peace. They had put up with Moab and Midian on the east, the Canaanites in the north, and the Philistines in the west. At one point they were nearly starved off their land as the Midianites burned their crops right before harvest and killed off their livestock.

War was . . . well, you know what war is, and Israel lived through it over and over and over. But because of it, they turned to God and cried out for Him to rescue them. It was during peace that they turned their backs on Him and worshiped other gods.

So peace and prosperity and abundance are things we long for, things we strive for, things we enjoy. But in oppression, we call out to God.

So which is actually better for us?

I maintain it’s not the situation we’re in that is better for us or worse, though history seems to argue against me. I think it’s our heart attitude. Paul said he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstance he was in:

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:12-13)

I’d rather have peace than oppression, prosperity than humble means, but do I want peace and prosperity more than I want Jesus? Do I want to know God and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings?

Peace actually tests our hearts to see if we want what tastes good and looks pleasing to the eye and promises to make us wise, more than we want to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Peace, more than oppression, then, should bring us to our knees praying for God to rescue us from the dominion of darkness, because the temptation of our souls is a bigger deal than the oppression of our bodies.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2014.

Published in: on October 26, 2016 at 5:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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Stumbling Around In The Dark


Some time ago I cut open my toe, which bled a lot, all because I was stumbling around in the dark. Granted, I was trying to get to a light to turn it on, but that doesn’t fit the metaphor I want to use.😉

I thought about stumbling around in the dark when I read the story of Israel setting out to conquer the Promised Land. After Moses charged Joshua to lead the people, he died.

So there the people were, on the wrong side of the Jordan, and lo and behold, as God had those past forty years, He came to their rescue. First He gave them specific direction, and then He worked a miracle so they could cross the river on dry land. More than that, He told them how to go about defeating Jericho, and a week later He brought down the walls of that fortified city.

All this time God had appeared among them as a cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night. His visible Presence either filled the tabernacle—the tent where they were to offer sacrifices and where the High Priest was to meet with God—or moved away, which meant they were to break camp and follow.

I haven’t found anywhere in Scripture that says when God no longer led them in this way. I wonder if He would have continued to do so until they finished conquering the land (a process that took at least five years). But apparently the people decided they no longer needed Him to tell them were to go.

You see, after the successful campaign against Jericho, Joshua sent spies to the little town of Ai, decided they could take it with a mere 3000 men, and sent the small force off. God, however, was not with them. Those Israelites were routed. Then and only then did Joshua and the elders of the tribes fall on their faces before God. Graciously He told them what the problem was: disobedience.

He even helped them determine who the disobedient person was and then passed judgment on him. Once again God was prepared to lead His people. This time he gave Joshua a battle plan. He was to put men in ambush, then draw the opposition away from the city.

God’s strategy worked perfectly and Ai fell.

So why didn’t Israel continue to let God lead them?

After Ai fell to Israel, a neighboring city decided they didn’t want to die and they didn’t want to leave their homes and they didn’t want to forsake their gods, so they came up with a plan to fool Israel into making a treaty with them. They claimed to be from a far away place and had come to ally themselves with Israel because they’d heard what God had done for His people.

Israel bought it.

All this time since leaving Egypt, they’d lived in the light, guided by God’s pillar of cloud or fire, and now they couldn’t even seem to ask Him if making a treaty with these people was a good idea.

They abandoned the light in favor of stumbling in the dark.

Before we think too harshly of them, perhaps we should first think about our own prayer life and see exactly what we are asking God for. Already I can hear a handful of people saying, Oh, but God doesn’t work in that way any more.

Really? You mean having the Holy Spirit living in my life is less advantageous than having God’s presence fill the tabernacle? I don’t think so. Rather, I think, just as the people of Israel did before Ai and before making that treaty, we ignore the light and stumble along in the dark. Scripture calls this quenching the Holy Spirit.

I can’t help but wonder how many Ai’s we would successfully conquer or how many treaties we would avoid if we walked in the light instead of stumbling in the dark.

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

The Picture Of A Stubborn King


Israel_Museum_290416_Pharaoh_in_Canaan_02

Those who don’t believe in God give Him a bad rap. They criticize Him in blasphemous ways. Not so different from the Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled over the people of Israel in Moses’s day.

First he enslaved God’s people and oppressed them. That shouldn’t be overlooked. The Pharaoh who ruled when Joseph came to power recognized God as the One who gave the interpretation of his dreams:

So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.” (Gen. 41:39-40)

He even gave Joseph a new name which is most likely interpreted “God speaks; he lives.” He also gave Joseph his daughter to marry, so Joseph’s sons were in the line of the Pharaohs.

But there came a day when a Pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph came to power. That suggests to me there was a coup which brought a new leader to the throne. He not only didn’t know Joseph, he didn’t recognized God, and he said so when Moses first met with him.

And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1-2)

That was his second mistake, a second overflow of his stubborn heart. Egypt was a polytheistic culture. They had no reason not to accept Yahweh at least as one of their gods. But this Pharaoh was determined not to give place to God Most High.

When Moses produced the signs that God empowered him to perform—turning water into blood, and his staff into a serpent, which, incidentally ate the serpents that Pharaoh’s magicians produced—Pharaoh remained unmoved. Moses had been convinced by these signs and the people of Israel had been convinced by these signs. But not Pharaoh.

He wasn’t convinced later when his own people had had enough of the gnats (or lice) that covered them.

The magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; so there were gnats on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said. (Exodus 8:18-20)

Things got worse. Pharaoh went from rejecting God to trying to manipulate Him by contorting what Moses asked. First Pharaoh said, OK, you can worship your God, but you need to stay here in the land. No three-day trip outside Egypt.

18th_dynasty_pharaonic_crown_by_John_CampanaAfter his people endured another plague, he tried a different approach. He’d let them go, but only the men. His next idea was that they’d have to leave their animals behind.

Sandwiched in between these attempts to manipulate God’s direct requirement were times of duplicitous refusal to do what God required. Oh, sure, Pharaoh said the right thing—this time, and then this time, and later this time he’d let the people go. But as soon as the suffering had abated, he changed his mind.

Pharaoh wanted to stay in control

Clearly he wasn’t in control. Nor was his river god or his insect gods or his frog god or his cow god or his sun god. But Pharaoh tried to bargain with Moses, to set up a quid pro quo scenario—if you do this, I’ll do that. But he was a liar and a manipulator.

God’s been blamed for Pharaoh’s hard heart, but the accusation has no merit. Scripture says Pharaoh hardened his own heart and that God hardened his heart.

But what does the original word we translate harden mean? It’s actually not a bad thing for the most part. Strong’s Concordance gives this definition:

to fasten upon; hence, to seize, be strong (figuratively, courageous, causatively strengthen, cure, help, repair, fortify), obstinate; to bind, restrain, conquer

The idea, then, is that what Pharaoh had decided, he fortified or encouraged himself to do. He determined to stay the course he’d chosen. God also bound him to that course of action—not an action God had caused him to take.

God ascribes motive to Pharaoh at one point, even as He reveals His own motive for dealing with the man as He did:

But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. Still you exalt yourself against My people by not letting them go. (Exodus 9:16-17)

Pharaoh’s issue, then, was the same one Satan has and that he has infected the rest of us with: he wanted to exalt himself to be equal with God. In this instance, Pharaoh wanted to play God in the lives of the people of God. He wanted to tell them where to go and what to do, for no other reason than that he had the power to do so. (See for example Pharaoh’s decision to withhold straw, a necessary ingredient for making brick, from the Israelite slaves, while still demanding that they meet his chosen product quota.)

At any turn Pharaoh could have acquiesced, and let God’s people go a three day journey into the wilderness and worship Him. Egypt would have escaped the plagues. Israel would have remained in bondage. The only thing this decision would have cost was Pharaoh’s self-importance. He would be taking direction from God through Moses and Aaron, and he could not abide by such a blow to his ego. He had exalted himself against God’s people, and, stubborn man that he was, he wasn’t about to back down.

Little did he know that God would bring him to his knees and in the process would display His power throughout the world, from generation to generation.

Published in: on August 31, 2016 at 6:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Grumbling Is Sin?


In the past I’ve been pretty hard on the poor Israelites fleeing Egypt for the Promised Land. They had just witnessed God’s amazing judgment on their oppressors, I reason, and walked out of Egypt a rich people. As if that wasn’t enough, God dried up a path through a sea and wiped out the army of charioteers following them.

And what did they do? They had the gall to complain when they got thirsty. They had the nerve to grumble about heavenly food provided for them on a regular basis.

Despite my judgment of that conflicted historical people group—which, by the way, coincided with God’s judgment of them—I’ve somehow avoided putting all the pieces together to see that MY grumbling, MY disputing is sin. I can see it in ancient Israel. I can’t see it in me. Or don’t want to.

In my post “The Lesson Of The Bee,” I pointed out that the problem of grumbling must first be addressed when we grumble against God. But directly hurling angry words at Him is not the only grumbling that displeases Him.

The passage to the Philippian believers, in which Paul commands them to do all things without grumbling, in no way limits this to their communication with God. In fact, since the point of their not grumbling was so that they might appear as lights in the corrupt and perverse world, it seems to me the lack of grumbling and disputing would have to be true of conduct and conversation in the public arena, not just the church.

In thinking of this command in a hierarchical manner—first don’t grumble against God—my natural second question is, Who is next in line?

I’d have to say, logically, that would be governmental leadership. For us in the Us that would start with … the President.

Ouch! That hurts, doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t it sort of one of the American pastimes to shred the President if we didn’t vote for him? Some, of course, shred all Presidents since they don’t vote, or don’t vote for a major-party candidate. Others “only” go after a President in the “opposition” party.

I know it sounds old fashioned, but I was raised to respect the President because he was … the President. It’s right there in the Bible, after all:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. (Romans 13:1)

Well, that doesn’t say “respect.” It says “subject.” Can’t we put ourselves in subjection to a leader and not respect him? Paul goes on to say more about our response to those in authority in his letter to Titus:

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. (Titus 3:1-2)

Since rulers would fall into the “all men” category, I think it’s safe to say the “malign no one” part applies to pretty much every President.

But what if the things we say against a leader are true?

Well, the things Israel said against Moses were true. They didn’t have water, and at one point, the water they had wasn’t drinkable. They didn’t have the strong-tasting foods they’d grown used to in Egypt, and there really were giants in the land.

The reality of those conditions didn’t mean they therefore had a pass to rebel against the man God had put over them. No, they could not stone Moses and return to Egypt because they were out of water.

Peter spelled out what was expected of the early Christians, many who suffered under the persecution of Roman rule, and why:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (1 Peter 2:13-15 – emphasis mine)

So are we muzzled? Can we say nothing critical about our President?

I think we are free to voice our opinion and even point out when we disagree with the President. I think we can state what we wish he would have done instead. For example, I have no problem saying I think the President was wrong in the decision he made about health care.

That’s a far cry from hurling verbal stones—the kinds of disrespectful invective that come out of the mouths of and onto the screen from many professing Christians.

It’s as if we think we have a better plan than the one God is working. When He said we could be light to a crooked and perverse generation by not grumbling or disputing, we come along with plan B: Grumbling and disputing when it comes to “a bad President” is desirable and to be encouraged. It’s the American’s right, even responsibility, because that’s what you do in a democracy if you get involved. And good Christians get involved.

There’s the insidiousness of this argument. Christians should get involved. But how shocked would our culture be if we disagreed respectfully, without maligning anyone, treating all with gentleness, showing consideration even to those with whom we take issue? Wouldn’t that have the kind of effect that, say, God said it would?

And even if we never see any results from subjecting ourselves to our President, we will have accomplished the greater goal—to please our Sovereign King with our obedience. After all, He’s the one who’s told us not to grumble or dispute. He’s the one we sin against when we disobey.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2011.

Published in: on August 29, 2016 at 6:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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Lessons Learned On The Football Field


Broncos linebackerToday is the beginning of the NFL preseason. The Broncos have traveled to Chicago and take on the team under the direction of their old coach, John Fox. So it seems fitting to revisit an article from a few years ago.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget a play that happened in the Ravens-Broncos NFL season opener a few years ago. As it turned out, it had no bearing on the result of the game, but I suspect it had great impact on the young man involved.

Danny Trevathan, a second-year Denver Broncos linebacker [who has moved on through free agency, to Chicago, no less], made a remarkable play on a pass from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, jumping the pass route, intercepting the pass, and racing to the end zone.

Trouble is, in his enthusiasm to begin his celebration dance, he dropped the ball before he crossed into the end zone. What should have been an easy Denver touchdown turned into a touch back, giving the Ravens the ball again on the 20 yard line.

Fortunately for the Broncos and for Danny Trevathan, the game wasn’t close, and there wasn’t enough time left for the Ravens to mount a comeback. But that kind of play is often one of those momentum changers.

The thing is, Danny Trevathan really had made a great play. It was a third down, with the Ravens driving and perhaps just enough time on the clock for them to at least make the game respectable if they could score and then recover an onside kick.

But after making his terrific, timely interception, Danny didn’t wait for others to praise him. He went for the glory himself, and in the process robbed himself of the very thing he sought.

I couldn’t help but think of a number of verses in Scripture that tell us pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. Besides Solomon’s wisdom in Proverbs, David talks about God abasing “haughty eyes,” James declares God’s attitude toward pride, and Peter repeats the same thing in an extended version:

God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you at the proper time. (1 Peter 5:5b-6)

Sadly Danny Trevathan apparently hasn’t learned the principle of letting others praise you and not your own mouth. Apparently he hasn’t learned that God abases the kind of pride he was ready to display.

But what a fortunate guy. True, his blooper happened in front of a national television audience, but it didn’t cost the Broncos the game. And it happened in a game. I mean, football is big business, and all, but it didn’t happen in a venue where people’s lives hinged on what he did or failed to do.

Plus, he gets to learn a valuable lesson that just might last a lifetime. In truth, this lesson could influence his entire worldview. Might it even be an opening for him to learn about God’s attitude toward pride? Now that would make Danny Trevathan a real winner . . . in spite of dropping the ball on the one foot line.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in September 2013.

Published in: on August 11, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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We Want To Be Cats, But We’re Sheep


Maybe I should have titled this post, “I want to be a cat, but I‘m just one of the sheep.” After all, should I be speaking for you?

I’m a little irritated right now at social media in general because The Powers That Be decide for the rest of us what they think we want, without asking us. Today it was Yahoo. Suddenly when I clicked on a new tab, I had a Yahoo search page pop up. I had to deactivate the Yahoo add-on to make it go away.

Sometime ago Facebook decided to speak for me—or more accurately, to think for me—by selecting what they deem to be my “Top Stories.” But they’re no different than Google+ who has determined what other G+ users I would most likely want to invite into my circles.

I think these social networking sites have taken their cue from cars that not only give you directions, but now park for you, change braking capacity under certain conditions, and even give you the hands off driving experience. For some years, those with alarm systems tell you (loudly) when something untoward approaches the vehicle.

The problem is, I’d rather think for myself. I’d rather do the driving because I like driving. I’m a responsible agent and shouldn’t need to be told to put on my seat belt. I like choosing my own routes instead of having a GPS tell me when to turn, and I think map reading is a good skill to have.

But more than that, I don’t want to be told who my friends should be on social media sites or what posts I should want to read. I want to think for myself.

I kind of assumed everyone else felt the same way (which is why I said “we” in the title, but I realize I am sort of playing the role of Facebook by doing so).

Perhaps this desire for independence is part of American Rugged Individualism we hear so much about— some of which I believe to be true. I mean, for people to pull up stakes and move across an ocean or to a foreign land where few people speak their language, they have to have a bit of individualism in them, I think.

And no matter how short or how long an American’s ancestors have been here, there is some value-passing that has preserved that individualistic spirit, that determination to go it alone against great odds.

However, I think there’s some of this independent spirit in all humankind. It’s not actually a good thing, either. It’s our desire, like small children who tell their parents they want to do “it” by themselves, to tell our Father that we can live life on our own.

In spite of this drive for independence, though, we—and this is the right pronoun this time—end up like sheep. Scripture says so. Besides Isaiah 53 that says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (v. 6a), Jeremiah paints a picture I think reflects our world today:

My people have become lost sheep;
Their shepherds have led them astray.
They have made them turn aside on the mountains;
They have gone along from mountain to hill
And have forgotten their resting place. (Jeremiah 50:6)

The passage originally referred to the Jewish people, but since all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to see us Gentiles in the same light—as sheep who are lost, who have shepherds leading them astray.

Now cats—they don’t let anyone lead. They don’t allow for herding. They scatter whithersoever they desire. But us sheep, we go where we ought not go just because everyone else is going there. We don’t always even notice where it is we’re going because we’re not paying all that much attention.

This is why we need a Good Shepherd. Cats, though, even if they had a Good Shepherd, would still go their own way. Eventually they’d end up high in a tree and too scared to climb down, too ornery to let anyone near enough to help them. Maybe being a sheep isn’t so bad.😀

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2011.

Published in: on August 1, 2016 at 6:22 pm  Comments (5)  
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Why Did God Make Us As We Are?


Freedom-watch-protestIn any number of online discussions I’ve had with atheists, a couple questions eventually surface. One purports to get at the root of sin—basically, it’s God’s fault because He made us capable of sin.

In response I’ll generally say that God made us with free will, to choose Him freely, not as a puppet with no options of our own. But the comeback then gives rise to the question: why did God make a law in the first place? Why did He “invent” something that He could hold against us?

Another way of asking this, of course, is, Why did God make right and wrong? Why did He determine wrong needed to be punished? Why didn’t He simply make us so we could choose whatever we wanted, without any consequences?

That kind of libertarian freedom seems to be what many atheists want.

In essence, this approach judges God. He was wrong to make a law we had to obey. He was wrong to judge those who broke the law. I suppose in the one element of consistency, the conclusion of such a view is that a wrong God is no God at all; thus the conclusion that God does not exist.

The argument, of course, hinges on the rightness or the wrongness of 1) God creating humans with the ability to choose; and b) God determining right and wrong.

The irony of the argument is that in declaring God wrong to do what He did, both in giving humans free will and a moral law to follow, the person standing in judgment of God is acting like God. He’s determined that his own value system is superior, that he knows what’s best for all of humanity, that life without moral judgment is best.

This view, of course, exposes the greatest sin: pride.

But it also reveals something else, something equally vile.

God determined to make humankind in His own image, in His own likeness. To create humans without free will and/or without a moral compass would have violated God’s very nature. In essence, those who think God made mistakes or created the world wrongly are repudiating God’s very nature.

They are, in fact, rebelling against their Creator. They are following in the steps of the father of lies:

“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.’ ” (Isaiah 14:12-14)

“Like the Most High.” I don’t think many atheists would acknowledge this is what they want. After all, they don’t believe in God. Why, they don’t even believe in belief! But behind all their spiritual anarchy—their pursuit of absolute individual freedom—is simply rebellion. It’s spitting in God’s face. Kicking against His moral demands. Turning their back to His right to rule.

Professing Christians who doctor the Bible are in the same boat. They don’t like that God is the judge of all the earth, so they invent the belief that all people will be saved at some point. One school of thought is that everyone is already saved—they just don’t all know it.

Some of these accept sin—it is pretty hard to ignore—but they reject the idea of Jesus Christ canceling the debt of sin by substituting Himself for us, by dying in our place to satisfy the requirements of the law.

I presume this latter camp is divided—some believing that they must do good, like Jesus, in order to earn their own salvation, and some believing that God simply dismisses the charges because He’s just that kind of guy.

No matter how these individuals identify, the reality is that denying God’s revelation of Himself is rebellion.

No Christian can say, We believe in God, His great love for humankind, His Son Jesus and the example He set for us to follow—we just don’t believe in that wrath and judgment stuff. That’s not how I view God.

As if we have a say in determining who God is.

Just like the atheists who so often say that humans invented God, this progressive “Christian” view has humans determining what kind of God they are willing to believe in. In fact, they are trying to make God to their own specifications. They are unwilling to believe in Him as He has revealed Himself.

Aside from the fact that they are wide of Truth, they are also missing a true relationship with God, who loves us and gave Himself up for us.

Why did God make us as we are? Because He desires relationship with us. He desires to shower us with His love and grace and kindness and generosity and sense of belonging and security and purpose and wholeness. He wants us to talk with Him and walk with Him—not for His benefit, but for ours. That’s the way love is.