Joy And Rejoicing-A Reprise


Christmas_shoppers_in_Leeds_in_December_2009Complaints. Angst. Cynicism. Malaise. Western society seems bent toward dissatisfaction. I blame this in part on our consumerism. We are constantly being told we need something other than what we have which instills a sense of disgruntlement. At the same time, however, we’re aware that wherever we turn, someone is trying to sell us something or scam us, spam us, or hack us, so we have our guards up.

Ironic. Perhaps no people on earth have more material goods than those of us in western societies. And yet, as one pastor said recently, we are a covetous people.

Instead of enjoying what we have, we plot and plan how to get more, even as we worry and work in order to keep what we’ve got. We spend hundreds of dollars purchasing warranties and insurance–health, auto, home, renter, life, dental. There are specific kinds of insurance, too–flood, fire, earthquake, theft, comprehension, accident, collision.

Protect, protect, protect. We have passwords to keep people out of our computers and mobile devices and social media sites. We have security alarms in our homes and cars and places of business. We have cameras and automatic light systems and safes and security doors and gated communities and security guards.

I’m not saying any of those things is wrong, but quite frankly, I don’t know how anyone keeps up. And I understand why so many people seem unhappy.

In the midst of all the frenzy connected with getting and keeping, magnified during the weeks known as “the shopping season,” the US has tucked into the last week of November a day we call Thanksgiving.

After cooking and cleaning and gathering together in our family groups, we eat our feasts, then go through the appropriate motions of being thankful to whomever for whatever before we rush off to the next hurried and hectic day of shopping.

A friend recently wrote a blog post that indited Christians for not being joyful, not laughing, not making merry. I don’t think it’s a problem with Christians as much as it is with people living in western societies. Oh, sure, there’s laughter in places where the people have had too much to drink or are making sport of others.

But joy? Where do you go to see people with joy oozing from their expressions?

Well, certainly it ought to be the Church. Joy is a product of contentment, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t require happy circumstances, and it doesn’t need to be greased with a pint of the bubbly.

Rejoicing is the same. James says the poor man is to rejoice in his humble circumstances. Peter says the believer is to rejoice to the degree that we share the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13).

It’s already abundantly clear that lots of stuff doesn’t lead to joy and rejoicing. Sure, sitting down with a group of friends or finding the perfect present at a bargain price or cheering for a team that wins all might make us happy for a time, but joy lasts and rejoicing doesn’t need an occasion.

At least not a new occasion. We already have received the good news of great joy which is for all people. And that’s reason for rejoicing for all time.

This article originally appeared here November 2013.

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Published in: on November 17, 2017 at 4:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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Who Is God But The LORD?


Idols were everywhere when David wrote these words from Psalm 18:

As for God, His way is blameless;
The word of the LORD is tried;
He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
For who is God, but the LORD?
And who is a rock, except our God,
The God who girds me with strength
And makes my way blameless?
He makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
And sets me upon my high places.

Idols are everywhere today, too, but they come in different guises. Mostly what Americans worship today is the human spirit or human ingenuity or strength within or however it’s phrased. In short, many worship human ability. Consequently, the thinking goes, humans are right to judge God for heinous things like killing off the people in Noah’s day. He should have told the people Himself that a flood was coming. He should have had Noah build a bigger boat. He should have kept the door open so that all the people who came to the realization that this flood business was serious, could get on board. In other words, God, not the people who turned away from Him was at fault for all those deaths.

Because after all a) ignoring God is not a capital offense; and b) everyone deserves a second chance.

So ironic. Ever since Adam sinned, all humans, all life, was under a death sentence. By ignoring God, those people were ignoring the one chance they had for safety. They were turning their backs on the only refuge in the storm that could save them.

And a second chance? They had all those years that Noah was building, building, preaching, and building. They undoubtedly had more chances then a second or a third. The thing about saying no to God—you forget how to say yes. I heard Christopher Hitchens in a debate once and read an interview with him shortly before he died. He clearly stated that he had no intention of making a deathbed conversion, that he didn’t want to spend eternity with a God who would always call the shots.

His view of God was so thoroughly different from David’s.

I find that to be true today. People who believe in God see Him through the lens of His revelation; people who do not believe in Him see Him through the lens that Satan passed on to Eve. Basically the deceiver told her that God wanted to keep all the good things for Himself. He didn’t want her to enjoy the wonderful tasting and pleasant to look upon fruit. More than that, He didn’t want her to have the capacity to judge good and evil, because then she and Adam would be like God. And above all, God didn’t want to share His throne, His glory.

What Satan missed was that no one can share in God’s sovereignty, for the simple reason that no one but God is sovereign. So I can get on the throne and I can claim glory for myself, but that does not make me sovereign.

Because who is God but the LORD?

To Accept Or Not To Accept God’s Correction


father-and-daughter-1064479-mNot many of us like to be corrected, even when we were children. In the book of Hebrews the writer agrees. He says the correction we received from our parents wasn’t joyful, but sorrowful (Heb. 12:11).

Nevertheless it “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

The people of Israel, under Moses’s tutelage, experienced God’s correction from time to time. Most notable was His response to their rebellion when they reached the Promised Land.

At God’s direction, they sent twelve spies into Canaan to see what they were up against and what kind of land they’d be taking over. When they came back after forty days, ten of the spies concluded, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us” (Num. 13:31b). Because of this report, the people decided it was a mistake to try and take possession of what God had promised to give them.

All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” (Num. 14:2-4)

Things got worse as the other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, tried to reason with them that God would bring them into the land, no matter what the obstacles. The people took up stones to put them to death. At this point God told Moses He’d had enough of their rebellion. However, Moses pleaded with God—not for the sake of the people, interestingly, but for God’s sake. He said, the Egyptians would hear of it and the nations around would hear of it and conclude that God simply wasn’t strong enough to give them the land. He made one of the great declarations of God’s character, then concluded with a plea for the nation:

“‘The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’ Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” (Num. 15:18-19)

Moses had it right—God would by no means clear the guilty, though He would, and did, pardon their sin. In other words, there were consequences for what they did. God, by way of correcting them, gave them what they wanted. Those adults who said it was a bad idea to go into Canaan would not step foot in the land. Instead they would wander in the wilderness for forty years—a year for each day the spies were in the land.

The punishment had its desired effect. The people mourned and recognized their sin, but they didn’t accept God’s correction. Instead, they apparently thought, since they’d finally gotten with the program, God should cancel their punishment:

In the morning, however, they rose up early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, saying, “Here we are; we have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised.” (Num. 14:40)

Nice try, Israel. But no, it’s too late, Moses said. Don’t go up aiming to win a battle because God isn’t with you.

You guessed it: they went anyway. The result was a good sound defeat at the hands of the Amalekites and the Canaanites on top of the forty years in the wilderness God had determined as their correction.

I notice a couple things in this story. One is how gracious God is. Because of their rebellion, the people of Israel deserved death. But God withheld His hand because of Moses’s mediation.

As he does throughout these chapters containing his story, Moses serves as a type of Christ. It is He who stood in the gap for us as our Advocate when we deserved death for our rebellion.

Third, the people responded incorrectly to correction. Sure, they were sorrowful—they didn’t want to wander in the wilderness for forty years! Who would? But a genuinely repentant heart would have responded with obedience, not more rebellion!

Today, God’s grace is poured out on His people so that we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Our sins are forgiven. And yet, we may suffer the consequences of our rebellious ways. Or not. Because of His mercy, God can and does stay His hand. But not always, and not forever.

Either way, God’s correction or His forbearance is not reason for our continued rebellion.

As He did for Israel, God may use circumstances to correct us today. Back then He told Moses what He was doing. Today we have the Holy Spirit to prod us to repentance when we go our own way.

Of course, the ideal would be not to rebel in the first place. 😉 If only! I would so much rather I didn’t have to face God’s correction, and yet, as Hebrews says, it yields the fruit of righteousness.

What’s more, it’s a sign that God is our Father:

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. (Heb. 12:7-10)

In the end, holiness is the issue. God wants us to be like Jesus more than He wants us to have a rockin’ good time here and now.

Our response to His correction, then, should be quite different from that of the people of Israel. Sorrow, sure, but not because we’ve been caught or we don’t like the discipline facing us. Rather, it should be sorrow and acceptance, knowing that it comes from the hand of our Father:

When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand (Ps. 37:24)

This post is an edited version of one that originally appeared here in September 2014.

Being Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough


When I was a teenager, I went through a period of time during which I questioned whether or not I was a Christian. I figured, if I was saved, I’d want to obey Christ. After all, that’s what the Bible says. But I continued to sin. Oh, nothing big and horrific. But I knew I wasn’t honoring my parents. I knew I was selfish and angry with my siblings. I was under no illusion that I was perfect. But why not? I considered that, just possibly, I didn’t really “mean” it when I “accepted Jesus into my heart.” So to be sure, I accepted Him again. And again. I even raised my hand and went forward in church. Just to be sure.

At one point, though, I realized that I had to take God at His word. So when He said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31a) He actually meant it.

I now understand that what I experienced then, and continue to experience now, is God’s grace. I did not, do not, and will not measure up to God’s standards—His righteous and perfect standards. In short, I sin. I do so because I am a sinner.

I’m always a bit mystified when someone claims he doesn’t sin. I’ve been in discussion with a number of atheists who don’t think sin is a real thing. But so far, not one of them refutes the fact that nobody’s perfect. They have no answer to the fact that the Bible says, The wages of sin is death, and the correlative fact that one out of one persons dies. Conclusion: all must therefore be sinners.

Either all are sinners or death has a different cause, which, of course, is their position, though one I don’t understand. I mean, we are evolving . . . until we die? How does that work? But that’s a different discussion. Except that grace doesn’t really make sense if you don’t see the sin problem which leaves all of us stranded, separated from God with no possibility of reaching Him.

Grace simply means that since we can’t do anything about the gap between us and God, He did the work for us. He didn’t help us. He didn’t start the process. He did what we could not do for ourselves. He came to us. He died for us. He gives new life to us. It’s all God. And He extends His hand to us, so to speak, for no other reason than that He loves us. He didn’t pick out the best looking or the tallest or the smartest or the thinnest or the kindest among us. He picked those who believe in Him. That’s it.

I’m pretty convinced that we’re all a mixed bag of belief and unbelief. There’s a man in the Bible who approached Jesus and said, I believe, help my unbelief. I think he illustrates where we all are. God does not withhold faith from some people. In fact, Scripture says that He does not want any to perish.

Furthermore, I see people who don’t believe in God, exercising belief is something else. Many believe in evolution. Or the goodness of humankind. Some believe in a mystic religion or in some other god. What I have never encountered is someone with no belief in anything.

Oh, sure, some atheists insist that they don’t believe because they have science. But what they miss is that they are choosing to believe particular scientists, since they themselves have not conducted the experiments or done the observation from which the conclusions they espouse have been drawn. They believe in their source of information and in the conclusion that certain people in a particular field of study have reached.

So the real issue is not, do you believe, but in whom do you believe? Because we all believe. Just like we all sin.

Back to grace. Not only did God cross the gulf that separated us from Him, He paved the way for us to follow Him. In other words, He crossed once so that we all can cross in His steps.

One thing grace does not do: it does not force anyone to join God. Sadly, there are some who choose to be His enemy. They don’t see His love and forgiveness. They don’t want Him telling them what to do. So they pull away from Him instead of following Him. They spurn His grace.

Because grace is extended to us, not forced upon us.

Published in: on October 25, 2017 at 4:00 pm  Comments (15)  
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The Church And What It Has Become


I recently heard a partial quote about Christianity, but I didn’t catch the source. What’s more, I didn’t write it down—just the part I remembered of it because I thought it was pretty truthful, as far as it goes.

Christianity started in Israel and became a religion.

It went to Greece and became a philosophy.

Then it passed on to Rome where it became an institution.

From there it went to Europe where it became a culture.

Eventually it traveled to America where it became an enterprise.

Obviously it’s a statement about Christianity in America and in the West in general.

Since I live in the US, I don’t know the particular struggles the Church goes through in places like Asia and Africa. Has Christianity avoided some of the shifts and changes that have corrupted the Church here? I don’t know.

I do know that I wince when I think about Christianity as an enterprise. My mind goes to “snake-oil” preachers and TV evangelists who cared more for making a buck than for the people they were fleecing of their hard-earned money.

I think of the Christian trinkets a certain group of writers and editors and agents used to mock at the yearly International Christian Retail Show. I mean, someone figured out that they could stamp a Bible verse on a tee shirt or a mug or a plaque, and people would pay good money for them. They could make Testamints and Bible-verse bookmarks and Bible covers and pens or pencils with verses stamped on them. “Jesus junk” the critics called it, but the store owners called it “how to get out of the red.”

But the truth is, when I look around me, I see some of those same items in my home. There’s that plaque on the wall and that mug in the cupboard. I’ve bought those pencils to give out to my students. I have some of those bookmarks in my Bible. I am one of the consumers.

Beyond the trinkets themselves, I cringe at the way we have put the gospel up for sale—Christian music, Christian self-help books, Christian fiction, all sold in the Christian bookstore.

And here I am—writing what would likely be considered Christian fiction, trying, even, to make a living from it.

Should I?

Shouldn’t we be giving the gospel away for free?

Of course Scripture also teaches that the worker is worthy of his hire. And I have to say, I like seeing scripture when I look at the particular mug with it inscribed. I like the plaque and the bookmarks. I’m glad I gave the pencils as prizes.

I think there has to be a line. We live in a capitalist society. We aren’t necessarily called to life as if we lived under a different system.

Except, Christians DO live under a different system. We aren’t to be governed by greed. As consumers or as entrepreneurs.

I conclude then that money should never be an obstacle preventing someone from hearing the gospel. Money should not be the driving force behind our “ministries.” Christian schools, for example, once were an outreach of particular churches. They charged tuition to defray some of the cost but mostly staff viewed themselves as missionaries, doing the work of the LORD.

But now, Christian schools strive to compete with public schools by paying their teachers a comparable wage and offering lavish benefits. Tuition, as a result, continues to creep higher, and some schools are pricing themselves out of existence, because their middle income communities can no longer afford to send their children to such an expensive school.

Christian bookstores aren’t doing so well either. But most bookstores are in the same boat, so it’s not possible to say if Christians are doing better or worse than the norm.

The point is, or maybe the question—when did “ministry” turn into “business”? When did coffee shops go into churches? When did we decide to get rich from preaching the gospel, or quoting Scripture?

I don’t think there’s an answer for the culture. America is consumed by consuming. I don’t know if other parts of the West are too, but I don’t see it changing here any time soon. But we can make a difference in our hearts which is where all attitudes reside.

Colossians says that greed amounts to idolatry.

We Americans . . . we Christians, need to check our hearts and see if there is a love of stuff that resides right there as an idol along with our love of God. That’s the way the people of Israel lived for years. Their prophets were constantly admonishing them to destroy their idols and worship God alone. At some point, they thought they were. They built all kinds of altars on high places, never mind that God said they weren’t to do so.

Are the consumerist trappings of Christianity our high places? Are we trafficking in the stuff of Christianity without any true worship? I can only answer that question for myself, but I’m pretty sure, if the Church is to survive here in the US, we all who profess the name of Christ need to go before God and ask Him to do the work of burning the dross away from our faith.

Published in: on October 17, 2017 at 6:01 pm  Comments (9)  
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Who Is Mother Nature?


cloudsI made a comment today in the atheist FB group I’m a part of, as part of a discussion about how nature can show God’s existence. Before long someone used the term Mother Nature. Apparently she is alive and well in the minds of atheists, whoever she is.

As it happens, I wrote an article on this subject back in September 2013, so I thought it might be worthwhile running it again.

– – – – –

Once again I heard a weatherman credit “Mother Nature” with the change in the wind currents and pressure gradient influencing the forecast he was about to make. When I first heard the term as a child, I understood it to refer to a make-believe person like the Jolly Green Giant who oversaw the growth of amazing frozen vegetables.

Today, however, more and more people speak of “Mother Nature” as if she actually exists. Some, to be sure, are speaking of her as a personification of the force of nature, but others, by the way they are crediting Mother Nature for things like a good night’s sleep or unexpected rain, seem to actually believe a sentient being is at work.

I have to admit, I’ve been guilty in the past of tongue-in-cheek claims of “Mother Nature’s” work. I thought it was harmless pretend.

Sometimes, however, harmless pretend can soften a person or a society to a concept. As mysticism has taken hold of Western culture, ideas I once thought far-fetched are now considered normative. “Mother Nature” is slipping into that role.

But who is “Mother Nature”? A quick look at the history of the term discloses roots in various religions as well as in Greek mythology, attaching the term to a number of different goddesses.

The popularization of the term, however, has escalated as actual characters or “Mother Nature” figures have worked their way into such media as The Santa Clause 2 and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause movies, Happily Ever After, episodes of Stargate SG-1, and Avatar.

As society gets more and more comfortable with the idea of a being working in and through nature, who is not God, I have to wonder if stage isn’t set for a rebirth of goddess worship.

Dare I say, there are women who are part of the feminist movement who already hold their beliefs with religious fervor. If there is not already a worship of the idea of Woman, the underpinnings are there. It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to me to think that a religion centered on goddess worship is just around the corner.

So, in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve, I want to point out that there is no separate force controlling nature apart from God Himself. He is both the creator and the sustainer of our world. In Him all He brought into being holds together.

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

Maybe it’s time we retire the pretend “Mother Nature” lest we find ourselves on the edge of religion that worships nature and credits something other than God as the force behind it.

Published in: on October 6, 2017 at 6:02 pm  Comments (5)  
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Our Sin Is Too Small – Reprise


Years ago a little book came out entitled Your God Is Too Small by J. B. Phillips (reissued in 2008). The title seemed to say it all. Christians were losing a proper view of God as transcendent, sovereign, majestic, holy, all powerful, omniscient.

Instead, we were turning God into whoever we wanted Him to be. He could be our buddy, for example–one that wouldn’t mind if we were too tired on a Sunday morning to keep our appointment with Him. He was OK with taking a back seat to . . . pretty much anything.

What a far cry that view of God is from the one Jesus showed us when He proclaimed that His followers would have to hate their family members and even their own lives if they were to be His disciples.

Today, it seems, a good many professing Christians have taken another step along the continuum of making God small. The way they’re going about it, though, is not by making less of Him, at least not initially. It’s by making less of sin.

Sin, you see, was never so egregious that sinful people deserved a death sentence. In fact “sin” is such an ugly, old fashioned word. People all make mistakes, but sin?

Most of us are simply living out learned behavior. It’s society who taught us to be prejudice and selfish and greedy.

Not to mention that a good many people are sick. We have addictions and paranoia and all kinds of disorders that make impulse control difficult. But none of it is sin.

Then there’s our DNA. I mean, really, is it our fault if our genes put us on a path toward alcoholism? Forget the old “the devil made me do it” line. It was our genes which we can’t control or choose. This “sinful” stuff is simply not our fault.

So how can anyone ever think God should condemn people to death for such petty things as complaining against their leaders? Or eating a piece of fruit. OK, that killing your brother thing was pretty bad, but King Saul got condemned for actually sparing someone’s life. God apparently can’t make up His mind.

That kind of reasoning sounds so rational, it’s a little scary. The problem, however, is with the reduction of sin. Because God is sovereign, any command He gives is to be obeyed. Ultimately He gave us two: to love Him with our whole being and to love other people in the same way we love ourselves.

Basic. Short and sweet. But no matter how hard we try–and people in religions all across the world have tried for centuries–we continue to fall short. We can’t love God the way He deserves to be loved or the way He requires us to love. And though we fully understand how we love ourselves, we can’t manage to treat other people in our lives the same way.

Instead of being heart sick at such utter failure, however, we simply shrug and say God is too demanding, too filled with wrath, too petty, too unloving.

Unloving!

When our sin becomes so small, our egos seem to grow in compensation, and they apparently block our view of who God actually is. Which leads us to say nonsensical things about His character.


After all, WE would never strike down Korah and his 250 followers for simply wanting to share in the priestly duties. (See Numbers 16) Why should their desire to better themselves be viewed as rebellion toward Moses and Aaron, and why should rebellion against their leaders be viewed as rebellion against God?

WE would be kinder and more willing to listen and probably commend the Gang of 250 for their initiative. And if we’d react that way, then God has to be a monster for not seeing things the way we see them.

Yep, we are now the measuring stick, not only of sin but of God Himself. We can declare homosexuality off the sin list, just as we did wives submitting to husbands, adultery, premarital sex, abortion, and any number of other things. And because God wanted those things to actually be punished, well, that makes Him a tyrant.

Because, you see, when our sin is too small, we judge God by our standards instead of accepting His judgment of us.

This post, apart from some editing and minor revisions, originally appeared here in September 2013.

Published in: on October 5, 2017 at 4:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Telling People They’re Good


Some time not long ago Western society started lying to kids. You can do ANYTHING, parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures all say in unison. ANYTHING. Except that isn’t true.

Case in point. When I was coaching, I had a seventh grade girl who made the basketball team as an “understudy”–a player who would practice with the team, sit on the bench during games, but who would not play. This particular girl hadn’t played before, so had no bad habits to break. What’s more, she was sharp, attentive, and willing to work. But she was also slow and weak and not particularly quick.

Nevertheless, all her hard work earned her a spot on the team the following year. In fact when she went into high school, she made the freshman team of her fairly large public school, all because she had great fundamentals. But she still wasn’t fast or quick or strong. No matter how much that girl may have wanted to play pro basketball or make the Olympics (I have no reason to believe she wanted either) that was never going to happen. Never.

Her story repeats itself time and time again, and yet all these parents and teachers and coaches and TV stars and sports figures continue to lie to kids.

What bothers me so much is that at the same time, those influential people are missing what kids really need to hear: the truth. They need to hear what they need to improve and they need to hear what they do well.

I wrote a post some years ago over at Spec Faith about writing reviews. I’m a big believer that we need to be balanced in what we say about books—and that would apply to movies, too, or songs, or people.

Yes, people.

We are all a mixed bag. We were created in God’s image, with a sin nature. How much more mixed can we get? We have talents and character strengths and physical prowess and mental capacity. A lot of that is wired in our DNA. We did nothing to make ourselves as tall as we are or as creative or adventurous. We have those things because God gave them to us.

At the same time, we are prideful, lazy, greedy, selfish, vengeful, dishonest, and a host of other things–not stuff we had to learn, but stuff that is innately ours as sin baggage we’re born with.

How great, then, if the influences in our lives told the truth about us. Things like, You are such a gifted athlete, but your pride will stop you cold from ever being a good teammate.

I’m not sure people need to hear both sides of the equation at the same time, but hear it, they should.

Also over at Spec Faith, on one of the writing challenges I ran, of those posting an entry remarked that the environment created by commenters as they gave feedback was positive and encouraging. I honestly hadn’t thought about it until he mentioned it, but he was right.

Good, I thought. Writers get bad news ALL the time—rejections from agents, contest entries that don’t place, critiques from partners pointing out what needs to improve. All of that is fine and legitimate and part of the process of learning and improving.

But what happened to telling people what’s good? We learn that way, too. Peter in his first epistle points to Christ and His suffering on our behalf and says, that’s the way to do it. He didn’t sin, didn’t lie, didn’t hurl invective back at those who jeered Him, didn’t threaten payback while he was suffering. That’s the way to live, Peter says.

Paul does the same kind of thing with the Thessalonians. You’re doing well, he says, but now excel still more.

Maybe it’s time for us to start telling the truth to each other, not just to our kids. We can’t do everything. But what we do well, shouldn’t we tell each other? Shouldn’t we be happy to sing the praises of those in our lives when they show kindness or work hard on their job or pick up their socks? Sometimes I think we’re waiting for great things. But maybe we need to mention the every day things, then at the appropriate moment let them know they can excel still more.

I have my suspicions that telling people they are good at filing or being on time or taking out the trash without being reminded will go a lot farther than telling them they can do anything.

Published in: on July 18, 2017 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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No Thank You, Mr. Buffett


Suppose I decide I want to talk to Warren Buffett, the American business magnate. I hunt up a number, call, and wonderfully am answered on the first ring by one of his many assistants.

I explain I want to talk to Mr. Buffett himself. The assistant tells me he just happens to be on site and available. In seconds I hear Mr. Buffett’s energetic voice.

I eagerly identify myself, then move on to the reason for my call. “Thank you,” I say, “but Mr. Buffett I’ll have to say no. I just can’t accept a million dollars from you.”

He pauses, clears his voice, then says, “There must be some mistake. I never offered you a million dollars.”

As you know, this scenario is completely fictitious, but I think there are parts that are analogous to our perception of humankind’s relationship with God.

Jesus clearly said that

he who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18; emphasis mine)

As I understand this passage, there are only two camps—he who believes and he who has not believed. In other words, no one is in the state of my fictitious scenario in which no offer has been made.

We frequently talk about accepting Christ, yet we don’t take much time thinking about what rejecting the Son means. Instead, we assume that first a person hears about Jesus, then he “makes a decision.” That way of looking at things suggests the third category—those who have not heard.

I want to postulate that the decision to reject the Son of God has more to do with our heart attitude than it does with hearing the name of Jesus.

I realize I am walking a dangerous line here, one I think some of the universalists traverse. However, I hope I am coming at it from a Biblical perspective.

More and more, people claiming to be Christians speak of the “innocent” people who haven’t heard the gospel (as Rob Bell did some years ago in his ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos). At best that position is tapping into the “blank slate” theory, that man is born neutral and can decide to be good or evil. At worst, it aligns with the belief that man is good and something from the outside—society or government or Satan or an evil parent or traditional religion—drags him into sin.

The truth is, none is innocent. None is righteous. We are all in “reject” mode, dethroning God and enthroning ourselves.

Let me turn the page for a minute. When Jesus was teaching in the temple one day, He began a discussion with the Pharisees about who their father was. They claimed God was their father, but Jesus said no. Their father was the devil (see John 8:18-59).

Whether Jesus stood in front of them or not, their father would still have been the devil. He did not become their father because they rejected Jesus as their Messiah. The devil already was their father.

Jesus, of course, knew this about them because He is omniscient. He knew they were slaves to sin. The only thing that could free them would be His shed blood.

But today so many are coming to the issue of salvation as if it is a matter of imparting information—giving everyone a chance to hear the truth, and if they haven’t had that chance, then God is either unfair or He’ll give them that chance later or the information we thought they needed, they didn’t really need because their own belief system is a good substitute.

All of this rejects the idea that an omniscient, all powerful, good God who forms us in our mothers’ wombs can know our hearts and that He calls those who are His. It’s an uncomfortable idea.

We don’t know, can’t understand why God put us in America where we could so easily hear the gospel.

But we must marvel just as much about Tisquantum, better known as Squanto, who was kidnapped with the intent to be sold into slavery. As a result, he had the opportunity to learn about Jesus and escaped the plague that wiped out the rest of his people group.

Or how about Mincayani, one of the Huaorani tribesmen that killed Jim Eliot and the others martyred with him. His act of violence did not stop the truth of God from coming to his people and specifically to Mincayani himself.

The stories of people coming to Christ are many, varied, and no less miraculous if the miracle is about being born where the gospel is readily heard or if it is about one hearing the unexpected and unsought truth of God’s Son.

My point is this. I don’t believe anyone will be judged for rejecting an unoffered gift. God is not Warren Buffett.

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

Jesus And Jerusalem


Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for one final Passover. Christians refer to the commemoration of this as Palm Sunday, and it marks the beginning of Holy Week.

The thing most noteworthy about this arrival—and thus the name—is that His followers preceded Him with palm branches and shouts of praise. They believed they were ushering in the promised Messiah. And they were. But they understood the Messiah to be a king who would free Israel from their enemies (Rome) and establish a new kingdom without end.

Jesus’s expectations were entirely different. He came to Jerusalem knowing full well that the people He had come to save would turn their backs on Him, would falsely accuse Him, try and convict Him, beat Him, and finally crucify Him.

Oh, sure, at the end of His life people would still identify Him as king of the Jews, but the words would be inscribed on a board at the head of the cross where He would be nailed—the place where a criminal’s accusation would typically be placed.

His expectation was not that of a triumphal king. He was coming to Jerusalem to fulfill His role as suffering servant.

Ironically, after the people stopped cheering, after they began to be swayed by the Pharisees who regarded Jesus as a danger to them, to their way of life, Jesus accomplished the very thing they had hoped for. Just not in the way they expected.

In those first moments on His way up to the City, despite the palm branches and the cries of Hosanna, Jesus expected to die in Jerusalem. In dying, He would fulfill the very role His followers had wanted for Him. He would defeat their enemy and free them from the shackles they had been held by. But the enemy was death and the shackles were sin.

Jesus’s brief stay in Jerusalem and the nearby villages was marked by controversy. He would say things that put the Pharisees in their place. He would weep over the city because of their rejection of Him.

He would face betrayal and denial and desertion. He’d be lied about and misunderstood. Romans, who hated the Jews, would spit on Him and mock Him as the king of that backwater Roman province.

And Jesus walked into it all, headlong. He knew what was coming. He expected every insulting, cruel action and word directed His way.

The praises showered on Him that first day as He rode the donkey into the City, were a result of His miracles, according to Luke. The people knew Him to be the person who performed wondrous deeds, including the resurrection of Lazarus. Perhaps they’d witnessed one of the healings. After all, just outside of Jericho He gave sight to the blind beggar Bartimaeus. Perhaps word of this miracle had traveled ahead of him. Or certainly with the group of followers who accompanied Him.

But Jesus hadn’t come to Jerusalem to do more for those people’s physical condition. What they really needed, they didn’t realize. So they came looking for one thing, and Jesus came intending to give them something far greater.

That they missed it, grieved His heart, and He cried over the city.

What must the people have thought, this figure they wanted to crown as their king, pausing on the ride into the city . . . to cry? Maybe that’s when the seeds of disaffection were first planted. But Jesus crying for the lost was the truest picture of His heart and the motivation for what He intended.

He went to the cross—He wasn’t dragged there against His will—to be the ultimate Passover Lamb for Israel and for us Gentiles, too. We who didn’t even know we needed a Passover Lamb. Jesus knew what we needed above all else—peace with God, victory over sin and death—and that’s what He intended to give us, no matter what it cost.

Published in: on April 10, 2017 at 5:56 pm  Comments Off on Jesus And Jerusalem  
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