“Vengeance Is Mine, Not God’s”



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Some years ago I wrote an article entitled God’s judgment. Though the post didn’t generate any conversation, it did receive some negative feedback—some one or two stars. I’m not surprised because we live in a day when people calling themselves Christians pooh-pooh the idea that God will actually be sending anyone to hell. At the same time others question whether or not they might be nicer than the Almighty. I wonder if they’d prefer a different name for Him—the All Tolerant One, perhaps. But I jest, and this really isn’t a matter for levity.

The fact is, we humans find it easy to label others as bigots or hate-mongers or hypocrites. We have no problem criticizing each other—online, to our faces, behind our backs. We can even yell at God and tell Him how disappointed or angry we are at Him. But far be it that God could do the same thing in return. No, no. He’s supposed to stand meekly by and love.

But that idea is nonsense. We get angry at the things we perceive to be wrong. Why shouldn’t God, in whose image we’re made?

Someone may counter that God can get angry, no problem, but it’s unthinkable for Him to give sinners consequences, especially ultimate consequences.

That position, of course, strips God of His power. So He’s a loving God who can get angry when a child is molested, but He can’t punish the evildoer.

How then is He loving? Real love, as author and speaker Gary Chapman (The Five Love Languages) said when he visited my church, is expressed in God’s anger toward sin and toward the wicked. Let me invert that statement to reinforce it: God’s anger toward sin and toward the wicked expresses His love.

Psalm 136 illustrates this point. That poem recounts God’s divine intervention against Egypt and other nations standing against Israel, as an evidence of His lovingkindness.

To Him who smote the Egyptians in their firstborn,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,…
He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting…
To Him who smote great kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And slew mighty kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And Og, king of Bashan,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting (vv 10-20)

In order to stand for Israel, God had to stand against those who wanted to destroy them.

Other passages in Scripture declare God’s acts of judgment to be the very way in which He showed Himself so that the nations would know Him, turn from their sin, and come to Him. In those instances His intention was to correct those who were forsaking Him in order to bring them back:

O LORD, do not Your eyes look for truth?
You have smitten them,
But they did not weaken;
You have consumed them,
But they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
They have refused to repent. (Jeremiah 5:3)

When rejection is complete, when the wicked are oppressing the poor and the needy, the orphan and the widow, God acts on behalf of those who are suffering abuse:

So their houses are full of deceit;
Therefore they have become great and rich.
‘They are fat, they are sleek,
They also excel in deeds of wickedness;
They do not plead the cause,
The cause of the orphan, that they may prosper;
And they do not defend the rights of the poor.
‘Shall I not punish these people?’ declares the LORD,
‘On a nation such as this
Shall I not avenge Myself?’

“An appalling and horrible thing
Has happened in the land:
The prophets prophesy falsely,
And the priests rule on their own authority;
And My people love it so! (Jeremiah 5:27-31a – emphasis mine)

An appalling thing, God says, when we spurn His authority and take it for ourselves. Such is the false teaching of our day.

Clearly, God’s judgment is righteous.

But ours?

Here are a few comments, apparently made by Christians, to a couple controversial articles.

are all of you out there so naive and stupid not to see the propaganda

Or there’s this one:

As a Chrisitian, I do not want to come under the same umbrella as those that hate, undermine, are haughty and proud, and who cause millions of people to avoid even looking at Christianity as an option because of the behavior of many christians in their hate-mongering, their pride, their ‘holier-than-thou-attitude’.

Then there’s this one:

What rock are you living under?

I’ve seen worse, and I’m sure you have too.

Yes, people who claim to be Christians, say mean and judgmental things. I don’t know if those same people all claim God doesn’t have the right to judge. It’s quite clear, though, that they believe they DO have the right to judge.

In truth, God is rightfully angry at sin and wickedness. What are we Christians angry about (and I’m talking to myself, here)? Bottom line, are we—am I—taking it upon ourselves to reap vengeance with our words?

This article is a revised version of one that appeared here in March, 2012.

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Published in: on February 21, 2019 at 5:09 pm  Comments (6)  
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Waiting


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When I was little I remember waiting . . . a lot. I remember waiting for my mom when we went shopping. I remember waiting for my birthday, which was hard. I mean, my sister had a birthday, and then four days later, my brother had a birthday. Mine? I had to wait another seven-plus months. Then there was Christmas. As soon as it was over, I remember waiting for the next one. I wanted one of those count-down calendars in the worst way. Anything to make the time seem like it was going.

Oh, and then there were the trips. We took a lot of car trips as a family. And I was one to ask with some frequency, are we there yet? I took up map reading as a way to answer my own question because I could tell, my parents were getting tired of it.

Surprise, surprise. Waiting is pretty much what the human race has been doing since the Fall, since sin entered into the world.

When God corrected the wayward pair in the garden of Eden, He introduced His solution to the problem:

And I will put enmity
Between you (Satan in the guise of a serpent) and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel. (Gen. 3:15)

Say what? What’s this bruising on the head and heel stuff, and who is “He”? Other parts of Scripture shed light on this part of God’s corrective measures. Satan is the serpent, also identified as the dragon of old. His seed, would be one coming from him. In the same way, the seed of the woman would be one coming from her.

Now if a person is walking along and a snake bites them, it will likely be somewhere on the foot, here specified as on the heel. Not a deadly strike. On the other hand, if that person steps on the serpent’s head, he crushes him, kills him. The serpent, then will get his shot in, but it won’t be deadly; the seed of the woman wins.

But when?

It is this event humankind waits for and has been waiting for, from that moment on.

I don’t know when the Jewish people put the label “Messiah” to the one for whom they waited, but He appeared in the form of other types throughout history. Paul even called Adam a type of Christ, though kind of in the reverse sense. Adam brought sin, Christ brought grace. Adam, condemnation; Christ, justification. Adam, death; Christ, life (see Romans 5).

But all through history, people who weren’t The One, popped onto the screen of history, pointing to The One. Some of these types include Isaac, whose father was to offer him in sacrifice; Joseph, who came out of his prison to rule; Moses, who led the people of God to the Promised Land; David, who reigned with justice over Israel; Jonah, who was in the stomach of the God-prepared fish for three days and three nights.

In addition to the people, there was the yearly Passover Lamb, which symbolized Christ’s substitutionary death that gave life to God’s people. Add to that, the scapegoat who bore the sins of the people away from the camp. And the daily sacrifices, whose blood covered the sins of those making the offering.

What’s the point? All these types and these symbols pointed to The One God had said would crush Satan’s head.

Add to these sign posts, God also sent prophets who spoke from Him and specifically told the people that Messiah was coming. Daniel called Him the Son of Man, Micah said He’d be a king, the Psalms said He’d be greater than David. So many others. To the point that, when Jesus came, people had already seen a number of false messiah’s who claimed to be The One.

In other words, they’d been eagerly waiting for Christ.

And at long last, He came.

But not the way they thought He would. They’d overlooked all the types pointing to His sacrifice and all the prophecies about his suffering. Jesus Himself had to explain to his disciples, after His resurrection, what those Old Testament references meant.

In truth, when Jesus came, He did crush the head of the serpent of old. It’s just that the enemy of our souls is either unclear about the concept of defeat or he’s trying to take as many people as possible down with him.

But there’s another pertinent fact. Even though Satan who had the power of death, has lost his power, he’s still at large. He hasn’t yet been held accountable for his part in the fall of humankind. In addition, Christ hasn’t yet taken the throne.

He will.

He’ll return to reign in a way that will cause everyone to bow before Him.

But that’s not yet. So we . . . you guessed it, we wait.

Waiting isn’t easy, but God gave us some specific things to do. First we are to be on the alert, we are to watch, we are to be ready, we are to go and make disciples. This waiting time is actually prep time. God is using this time to bring in those who will sit at His banqueting table. And He’s using us to get all the invites out.

Published in: on February 20, 2019 at 5:49 pm  Comments (3)  
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What Satisfies


Years ago I read a book by author, speaker, psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb that left a lasting impact. He based his thoughts on Jeremiah 2:13.

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.

God gives living water. We need living water. But instead of staying beside that Fountain that provides in abundance, we take another tack. We go to our own wells which we have to dig for ourselves and which are actually broken and can’t keep any water in them.

This is a great picture of what we humans do.

God offers, we reject. But we still have our basic needs, so we turn to our own solutions.

Just recently I found another passage of Scripture that basically says the exact same thing. This one is in Isaiah:

Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.
“Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live (55:1-3a)

I’m guessing not many people know the word ho appears in the Bible. It’s an interjection and the Hebrew transliteration of the original is howy. It’s most often translated as woe but sometimes as ah or alas or even O. The point is, it’s not a happy word. It’s drawing the reader’s attention to something that isn’t really a happy circumstance.

I had been reading the first lines as a carnival barker might call out to the crowd: “Listen up, people. Step right up! I have a special you don’t want to miss.” But the following lines are not in that cavalier vein.

Rather, this portion of Scripture is sober and sobering. The offer of water is there, but this is more than water. It’s nourishment. It’s fulfilling. And it’s free. But then the questions upon which the verses turn: Why do you spend money (when you’ve been offered something for free) when it isn’t even anything that will sustain you? I mean, you need food. You need water. But you’re paying out for stuff that will not keep you alive.

It gets worse. You’re working long hours to turn your earnings over to someone selling stuff that gives you no satisfaction. In other words, you’re just as hungry, just as malnourished, when you finish eating as when you started.

Just like the broken cisterns.

What is it with us humans that we pursue empty goals, empty pleasures, empty dreams, empty relationships. If it’s empty, we’re all over it, like a miner panning for fools gold.

We bite on every offer for the next new shinny thing. We buy lottery tickets because, you know, instant millionaire! It looks so inviting. We drink too much because for that moment we feel so good about ourselves. We do drugs for the next high. We dabble or dive into promiscuous sex because it’s candy to our appetites.

On and on. We think we know what will fulfill us. Maybe it’s a younger wife. Or taking a little money under the table. Or cheating on our income taxes. Or a church that says God wants me to be rich.

Who wants a “follow me” message that involves denying myself and taking up a cross. My cross. A place where I am to die to myself. That sounds counter intuitive to fulfillment.

I suppose it is. God is that way. In fact He says as much later in that Isaiah passage:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (55:8-9)

This is where trust comes in. The way things look to me: if I want water, I need to go look for some, dig a well, collect it. What God says: Come to Me. Listen to Me and live.

My efforts give me mud, at best. Zilch, nada, nothing, at worst. In truth, we can’t live that way.

Then why do we spend money for what is not bread and our wages for what does not satisfy?

Are we afraid to trust God? Do we think Jesus was wrong when He said we should take up our cross daily? Do we really think we can do better than God?

The thing is, some people do look as if they are doing fine without God. They appear to have it all together. Except when we look at increasing instances of divorce, drug use, prescription drug use, anxiety, suicide, pornography, abortion, mass murders, homelessness—things that should not be in society if we were all happily fulfilled with our marriages, our jobs, our homes, our friendships.

It really is kind of astounding. As the anonymous quote says, “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” That’s where mankind lives. We know going our own way does not satisfy, but we go our own way regardless.

I’d say that could be a result of a person not knowing there’s a different way. Not knowing seems unlikely in our western culture, at least. But I’m coming to understand that many who think they know about God and His way, really are mistaken. They have believed a lie. So they keep rolling the stone up the hill, trying to reach the top, even though it continues to slip into reverse and come down upon us as it returns to the bottom of the hill.

Why do we do it?

The solution to our cracked and broken wells, to our cycle of buying what is not bread and what does not satisfy, is not so complicated.

Seek the LORD while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the LORD,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

Published in: on February 14, 2019 at 6:05 pm  Comments (3)  
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What Constitutes Sin?


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One of the tenets of Christianity that cause people to stumble, it seems, is the idea of sin. After all, according to the prevailing thought in our western culture, people are good. All of us. We might have an addiction or a mental illness or we might be coming out of a life of abuse. But none of that is our fault. Really, people only do bad things because we have been raised in a dysfunctional environment and have learned anti-social responses. If we simply teach and train a person what is beneficial for them and for society, we will eliminate the undesirable behavior. Like terrorism. And mass murders. And drug trafficking. And kidnapping. And fraud. And blackmail. And pornography.

Oh, wait. That last one has been moved out of society’s list of anti-social behaviors into the column of normal and … well, not “beneficial,” but at least “acceptable,” conduct.

I suppose, if the world lasts long enough, whatever a person wants to do, even if it does harm to others, will still be considered an expression of their self-hood, and therefore, acceptable. The point is, we are eliminating sin.

The Church ought to help here, but it seem we are emphasizing happiness over holiness, so we don’t talk much about sin. Sins are things that don’t make us happy. That keep us from our goals.

A six-year-old study by the Barna Group examined a women’s faith self-assessment, and discovered that most of those in the survey group reported spiritual fulfillment and an absence of anything the Bible identifies as sin. You know, things we once called “the seven deadly sins”: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.

The Bible addresses all those things, but Jesus took the concept of sin a step farther in His Sermon On The Mount. He said that murder wasn’t just murder, but hatred or anger was also murder and just as deserving of punishment. Same with lustful or greedy thoughts. In other words, not just sinful actions deserve punishment, but sinful thoughts do, too.

So which of us is without sin?

But we’re like the guy speeding down the freeway at 85 MPH where the speed limit is posted at 70 MPH. He’s not worried about “getting caught” because everybody else on the road is going just as fast, or faster. If we’re all doing it, it must not be wrong, or at least it must not be a punishable offense, the reasoning goes.

God doesn’t work that way. He actually treats us like adults. He tells us what’s what and expects us to do the right thing. If we don’t, He may remind us, warn us, or let us suffer the natural consequences of our actions. But He doesn’t baby us. He also doesn’t spoil us. He doesn’t look the other way.

Because He doesn’t correct us immediately, a lot of people think God doesn’t care or that He must not have noticed our sin or that He doesn’t think it’s so bad. But no. Isaiah addressed this issue:

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable. (40:27-28)

God knows and He understands exactly what we’re thinking.

In truth, God is gracious and gives us time to turn to Him. Another passage from Isaiah:

For the sake of My name I delay My wrath,
And for My praise I restrain it for you,
In order not to cut you off. (48:9)

In other words, He purposefully waits so that all who wish to come to Him, will have the opportunity.

In addition, He waits to bring judgment until the Church is complete. Think about it. It God had brought the world to an end 500 years ago, or 1000, a lot of believers would not have been born, let alone had the opportunity to come to God through Christ. No Billy Graham. No Martin Luther. No Jonathan Edwards.

How many of us would be missing from the banqueting table?

Among other metaphors, God compares the Church to a temple, whose cornerstone is Jesus Christ. But we are the “living stones” that go into the building. Think about that structure with all the missing stones if God didn’t wait patiently for us to come to Him.

The point is, delayed punishment for sin does not mean canceled punishment for sin.

Well, actually the debt of sin has been canceled by Jesus. But we must claim the free gift, and God waits for us to do that.

The fact is, He won’t wait forever. At some point a person who has chosen against God will die, and he simply will have run out of time to do an about-face. In addition, at some point God will bring this whole process to an end and say, Time to party, those who are My adopted children, those who make up the temple, those who have accepted the invite to the feast.

So what is sin? I guess the simplest way to understand it is, going my way instead of God’s. Going my way in my thoughts and my actions. Going my way in my desires and in my dreams.

The truth is we all sin, so we are all sinners. But the cool thing is, because of Jesus we who know Him, are sinners saved by grace. And that makes all the difference.

Published in: on February 13, 2019 at 5:57 pm  Comments (6)  
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Faith And Hope In Christ


Today’s western culture believes humankind is good and advanced and capable. We can do whatever we put our minds to, be whoever we want to be. So much so, that there are countless preteens and teens becoming transgender individuals. They have decided, in the midst of the confusion of adolescence that they know what’s best for their lives, from that point on! As a result, they mutilate their bodies, condemn themselves to a lifetime of hormone treatment, walk away from the life they had and into the mindset of the opposite gender, as if it were their own. In other words, they are no longer from Venus. They are from Mars. Or vice versa.

The problem is, our thinking is not clear. When we are apart from Christ, we deceive ourselves. We say things like, Nobody’s perfect, though we also affirm, There is no sin nature.

Excuse me, but if there was no sin nature, wouldn’t at least one person down through history have managed to actually live without sin?

No, our muddled thinking says, because society messes us up. We’re good, but society isn’t. Which is just another one of those deceptions. I mean, how can people be good, but those same good people create a wicked society?

The problem today, first and foremost, is that we refuse to start where God starts: He is holy and we are not.

Well, we are not holy now. Before humankind fell by embracing this “We can be like God” approach, we were holy and pure and right before God. Now, not so much. One day, we who enjoy adoption as His children will again enjoy the sanctification God has in store for us.

But the “one day” all depends on whether or not we do an about-face. Essentially, we need to turn away from trusting our own understanding and turn to Jesus and the truth God has revealed about Himself and about salvation.

We need to resign as kings of the universe, which includes kings (or queens) of our own lives, and we need to enthrone God as the Lord of all.

Why would we do such a drastic transformation?

On an intellectual level, it makes sense:
God is all knowing; we are limited in what we know.
God is eternal; we are finite.
God is all powerful; we are weak.
God is good; we are largely out for ourselves.

There are many more, but the pattern should be clear.

On the practical level, we can see what trusting ourselves accomplishes. No, those who are separated from God are not miserable only and always. But even they can see that the not-holy state in which we live, has problems. There’s violence in the world and cruelty and greed and selfishness and pride and lying and sexual perversion and abuse. The world is not a place where anyone can find a “safe place” away from the offensive things that threaten us.

On the other hand, God promises His love and peace that extends beyond anything that we would normally expect. He gives hope and a place of refuge. He helps us make sense of the world; gives us a firm identity as His children, His heirs; gives us purpose. In other words, God answers the big philosophical questions of the human heart.

He fulfills instead of tearing down.

He is the hero we long for.

The answer to our, Why?

He is our hope made certain.

Our joy when all is lost.

He is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of His nature. The word of His power upholds all things.

He is the bridge between the Father and we flawed image-bearers.

By His grace we are saved.

I see a lot more reason in trusting God who is perfect, who is over all, above all, greater than all, instead of trusting in the cloudy thinking of flawed humanity. But even that comes from Him:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8)

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Published in: on February 11, 2019 at 6:11 pm  Comments Off on Faith And Hope In Christ  
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Deadly Lies


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Hananiah was the son of a prophet. Maybe he’d always wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps. Maybe he wanted his fifteen minutes of fame. Whatever his reason, he decided one day to stand up against Jeremiah.

This quirky prophet enacted at God’s command a series of object lessons to bring a dire message to His people: Because Judah had forsaken God, He was sending Babylon against them and they would go into captivity.

God replaced the wooden yoke with one of iron

On this particular occasion, Jeremiah was walking around with a wooden yoke on his neck—the kind that oxen wear, or that people hauling water might use. The yoke was a sign of servitude.

Hananiah faced him down in the temple and said, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.’ ” He went on to say that those who had been taken captive earlier and the valuables removed from the temple by the Babylonians, would be returned in two years.

I wish that was true, Jeremiah said, but it’s not. The prophets who came before me have prophesied that God will send judgment on His people. Besides, “The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the LORD has truly sent.”

At that, Hananiah took the yoke off Jeremiah’s neck and broke it.

I wonder what kind of a crowd they had by this time. Did some people turn away, muttering about how these crazy prophets hadn’t learned how to get along? After all, there was enough conflict with the Babylonians camped outside the walls. Why did they have to bring hate inside the city?

Or maybe there was another set cheering Hananiah on. After all, they’d had years of Jeremiah’s gloom-and-doom predictions. It was about time someone stood up and gave a message of hope.

But God told Jeremiah how to respond. First he declared that Hananiah might have broken the wooden yoke, but that would be replaced by one of iron, Furthermore

Jeremiah the prophet said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen now, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie.”
– Jeremiah 28:15 [emphasis mine]

As a result, Jeremiah continued, Hananiah would die because he counseled rebellion against the Lord. True to this word from God, Hananiah died in July of that year.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only false prophet of the day. Lies in God’s name were prevalent and had a deadly effect. To the people who were already in exile, Jeremiah sent word saying

Thus says the LORD concerning Shemaiah the Nehelamite, “Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, although I did not send him, and he has made you trust in a lie;” therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am about to punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his descendants
– Jeremiah 29:31-32a [emphasis mine]

To another false prophet Jeremiah encountered:

“And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into captivity; and you will enter Babylon, and there you will die and there you will be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have falsely prophesied.” [emphasis mine]

And another time

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.
Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all;
They did not even know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
At the time that I punish them,
They shall be cast down,” says the LORD.
– Jeremiah 6:15

Today the issue facing Christians is whether or not God’s word means what it says—is God really going to punish people who do not name the name of Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior?

Universalists are crying peace, peace. “Good people,” or all people eventually, will have peace with God no matter what they believe about Jesus.

Because their claims contradict the Bible, we can know as surely as Jeremiah did, that the message is false.

Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.
– Jeremiah 14:14

Sadly, today’s lies may not be as easy to spot. I mean, we don’t have prophets standing on street corners. Rather, the lies come from false teaching that might even use the Bible. Certainly it sounds good. Often it satisfies a hope we have: I hope I get rich; I hope my uncle will go to heaven; I hope my neighbor can walk again.

Over and over I’ve read rants against God because “He commits genocide.” The truth is, many people—actually, all people—die, because the wages of sin is death. However, God is not responsible for these deaths.

1) He warned against sin, and if Adam had obeyed, death would not reign.
2) God is a just judge, a righteous judge, knowing what we will say before a word is on our tongue. He knows each and every thought and intent of the heart. He makes no mistakes in judgment. We can’t fool Him into thinking we’re OK when we’re not.
3) He reconciles humans to Himself, “while we were yet sinners,” if only we accept that reconciliation by believing in Jesus.

Many lies, from those who do not believe God exists and from those who say He exists but who want to make Him conform to their party line.

God will not be mocked. He will not be toyed with. He will not be manipulated. Best plan? Cling to the truth in face of the lies.

About two-thirds of this article is a re-post of one that appeared here in March, 2011.

Not A Religion


Christians are apt to tell others outside the faith that we do not have a religion; we have a relationship. It’s really true.

When I consider what is different between the beliefs of, say, my cousin who is a Buddhist or my cousin who believes in some form of Hinduism, and my faith, I come to this religion/relationship issue.

I thought perhaps our understanding of heaven and what happens after death might be a key component in our differences. After all, Christians have the hope of heaven. We don’t see eternal life as an endless merry-go-round of incarnated lives, hopefully getting better and better until we lose ourselves completely.

No, Christianity is vastly different. We have the same sad parting from a loved one who passes away, but we have the hope of a future with that person if they embrace the good news of Jesus. Our parting is temporary. Not a good-bye but a see you later, as blogger friend Wally so beautifully reminded us in his post about his father-in-law.

Certainly that is different. Different from atheists who think death ends life completely. Different from people who have no idea what happens when we die, or from ones who think we all end up in the same place, whatever that place might be.

Christians have a knowledge that leads to assurance and hope, despite the grief of parting. It’s unique, but it isn’t the only thing we have.

In truth, we only have the hope of everlasting life, which we will enjoy with our loved ones who also believe, because first and foremost we have a relationship. We have a unique connection with the God of the universe, made possible because of what Jesus Christ was willing to endure on our behalf. So here and now, in this present world, we enjoy this kinship with Jesus.

The Bible introduces all kinds of metaphors to help us picture what would otherwise be so mysterious we’d have a hard time grasping the significance and truth about our being reconciled with God.

Jesus describes Himself as a Good Shepherd, a Mediator, a Friend, a vine, and more. But most significantly, He calls Himself our brother while at the same time identifying us as children. In other words, there’s an element of kinship involved, which is really just another way of saying relationship.

I suppose the most obvious aspect of this relationship is the love of God which is poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit. His love is behind His taking care of our sin problem, and that’s something we enjoy now. The weight of guilt, gone; the fear of judgment, dealt with. Hebrews 2 says we’re set free from the slavery of the fear of death.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this relationship is that we Christians are growing up, spiritually speaking. We’re starting to want the things God says He wants. Sure, it would be nice to be rich and famous, but how much better to live in such a way that God receives glory and honor! How much better to love our neighbors, to see unbelieving people become the committed followers of Christ?

Why would we do that?

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” — Jim Elliot

We cannot lose the love of Christ.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

We cannot lose the joy and peace and patience and kindness and self-control that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Those things will only grow and fill our lives more fully as we get to know our Savoir more and more.

We cannot lose our forgiveness, our justification, our right standing before God.

We cannot lose the privilege of prayer.

We cannot lose God as our “victorious warrior.”

“The LORD your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. (Zephaniah 3:17)

I could go on. There is so much that our relationship with God through Christ gives us. Christianity is about as far from “religion” with its cold ritual and self-help efforts as imaginable. But friendship? Sonship (and daughtership)? Brotherhood (and sisterhood)? Those are the things that define our faith. And they are things we will enjoy without end!

Looking For Water


According to Wikimedia “a cistern is a tank for storing water, usually covered. It may be as small as a toilet cistern or large enough to be essentially a covered reservoir.”

God, through the prophet Jeremiah used cisterns as a metaphor to show His people’s relationship with Him.

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

696415_mountain_waterfallI don’t know about you, but if I were in need of water and had to choose between “living water”–the kind that flows freely, abundantly, cleanly–and water stored in a cistern, I’d take the former every time.

But God didn’t just accuse His people of choosing cistern water over living water. They were making for themselves broken cisterns—ones that couldn’t hold water at all. In other words, since we need water to live, they were abandoning the source of life in favor of their own empty effort.

What a great picture of Humankind’s attempts to make it without God. We dig and work and build and produce and save, but in the end we go out like we came in—alone.

Our own efforts to provide the love, security, purpose, sense of belonging that we all need, net us muddy ground. Furthermore, one person’s attempt to do religion is no better than another person’s rejection of religion.

Water isn’t found in man-made activities. We can’t give up enough for Lent or fast often enough or serve in homeless shelters frequently enough to get the water we need.

The Jews who Jeremiah was talking to had left worship of the LORD their God and were serving false gods, made with their own hands. They couldn’t see how silly it was for them to pray to a statue that they had carved from a block of wood, one that could not walk or talk, and certainly could not give them Living Water.

But people in contemporary Western society aren’t any smarter. We think happiness will come if we just have enough money, just get the right job, just marry the right person, just have freedom or protection or safety or health. We go all in on things that are temporary, ephemeral, over which we have little control.

God tells us that He’ll provide. But like little children we say, No, no, let me, I want to do it myself. So we’re hacking away to dig out these systems we think will make life make sense or fill up our loneliness or at least get us through to the weekend. It’s a sad way to live, trying to squeeze water out of the muddy mess we make.

Especially when we can turn and enjoy Living Water in abundance.

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

Published in: on January 14, 2019 at 4:49 pm  Comments Off on Looking For Water  
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Enjoyable Sin


Jimmy Dean—actor, singer, entrepreneur who died at 81

Years ago I read this line on Facebook, credited to Jimmy Dean: “Being a Baptist won’t keep you from sinning, but it’ll sure as hell keep you from enjoying it.”

Very funny. Several people laughed and more hit the “Like” button.

But what’s to like about the idea that sin is enjoyable? What’s to like about the idea that the enjoyment of sin is spoiled by a religion that calls it sin?

The Jimmy Dean conclusion would seem to be, Better not to be a Baptist so you can enjoy your sin. How sad! Really. There are so many things wrong with this way of thinking, I’m not sure where to begin.

First, I suppose it’s essential to recognized the part of the statement that’s true: sin is enjoyable. If sin was only hurtful, heinous, disgusting, and it separated us from God, why would it hold a lure? It wouldn’t. But just like the Tempter who appears as an angel of light, sin is dressed up as something pleasurable—something good to look at or to experience or to own or by which to be empowered.

That pleasurable something, however, is temporary (Heb. 11:25-26). No matter how wise or wonderful or sexy or rich or strong sin makes a person, the end of is still destruction.

For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction (Phil. 3:18-19a)

Furthermore, the consequences of sin are here and now.

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short
That it cannot save,
Nor is His ear so dull
That it cannot hear,
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God
And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2)

The third thing that makes this statement so not funny is the fact that personal enjoyment is held up as a higher good than obeying God or pleasing Him.

If you’re going to disobey God, you might as well enjoy it, which is another way of saying human enjoyment supersedes the conviction of the Holy Spirit. So the real thing that is bad isn’t the sin, but the guilt that spoils the fun of sin. I think that’s pretty much the way the world looks at sin.

Note, the answer isn’t to stop sinning—that’s apparently something we humans must concede, according to Jimmy Dean. The answer is to quench the Holy Spirit so we don’t feel His displeasure.

After all, life is all about pleasing ourselves, isn’t it?

Well, actually, no, it’s not. Which brings me to the next point that makes this quote anything but humorous. According to Paul in Colossians, we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (v. 10).

Our goal as Christians should be to live in obedience to God, not in submission to our fleshly lusts. When we sin, it’s something to grieve, not celebrate. James says our laughter should turn to mourning and our joy to gloom.

Of course there’s the chance that the Jimmy Dean quote was poking fun at Baptists who believe certain behaviors to be sin that others think are perfectly fine—not sins at all.

Well, that’s perhaps the saddest of all the others. To think that one Christian would be so arrogant as to think another’s convictions are laughable.

If he’s a weaker brother, the stronger Christian is expressly instructed in Scripture not to act in a way that would tear down his faith.

For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. (1 Cor. 8:11-12)

If a person is in error, then he should be lovingly won to the truth. If he’s a false teacher, then he needs to be prayed for and perhaps rebuked.

But made fun of?

I know a little enclave of professing Christians that think mocking other people’s beliefs is the way to turn them from the error of their ways. The problem is, these arrogant self-appointed judges get those ideas from some place other than the Bible.

Scripture directs us to love—our neighbor, fellow believer, enemy, all men. There’s no room for mocking someone for their convictions.

Here’s the bottom line—sin might be enjoyable, but it’s no laughing matter. When Christians don’t see this, we’re playing right into Satan’s hands.

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

Published in: on October 8, 2018 at 5:36 pm  Comments (1)  
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Hell And The Postmodern/Post-truth Generation


When I was growing up in the middle of the twentieth century, at times I felt out of step with my culture. After all, I and my Christian college classmates helped rescue books from our school library, when across town students in the secular university were burning a nearby bank and sending bomb threats to their library.

As I see it, those beginnings of a cultural divide are nothing compared to what Bible-believing Christians growing up in today’s postmodern/post-truth culture are going to face. Think about it. Discipline, even among Christian parents, is nearly a thing of the past. School is to be tolerated or, for the bright students, to be used as a means to a good job. It is definitely not a place to develop your ability to think and reason. Fewer and fewer of the postmodern/post-truth generation attend church.

Consequently, a teen growing up with parents who discipline, homeschool, and take him to a Bible-believing church, will be an anomaly. More and more, he can expect “the world” to believe differently than he does.

The discussion over books like Love Wins by Rob Bell that calls into question the doctrine of hell is, I suspect, indicative of how great the divide has become.

There are a number of root issues. For starters, postmodern/post-truth philosophy does not believe in absolute truth. What’s right for you might not be what’s right for me. And what’s true isn’t as important as how a person feels.

That leads to tolerance, the word of the day. All people and their lifestyles are as acceptable as all others. It’s only OK to hate hateful people. Of course, by hateful people we actually mean people who disagree with us.

The biggest issue, though, is that postmoderns/post-truthers believe ardently in Man’s goodness. Society, nations, corporations, religion, of course, are all evil, but Man is good.

How then, could this generation possibly believe in hell? They have not experienced just and loving punishment. They have no belief in absolute truth. They discount sin.

As a result, they do not believe anyone (except maybe mass murderers, as long as that doesn’t include abortion doctors) deserves to be shut out of heaven, let alone suffer for eternity. And any God, should he actually exist, who would do such a thing, would be too cruel to have as a god.

In addition, they think, since spirituality is something personal and individual, anyone can re-image god according to his own conscience, which by the way, is bound to be a lot nicer than the God of the Old Testament. Jesus, now he’s another story. He’s alright. All those cool myths about him walking on water and stuff—it’s almost like he’s a superhero. And love! That guy had it figured out—love, love, love, and stick it to the religious bunch! We like Jesus!

You see the divide. The Bible contradicts each of these points.

Man is not good; he is sinful.

God is a real person, sovereign and infinite, loving, righteous, just, good, merciful, and true. (And His Son is exactly the same).

Man’s sin is an offense to God because it is rebellion.

The payment for rebellion is death, first physically, then a second “death” that is eternal punishment in a real place we know as hell.

Despite what postmodern thinkers say or believe, these absolutes don’t go away with a wave of the mantra, It might be true for you, but it’s not true for me. True is true. What’s more, God “has granted everything to us pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him.”

Peter wrote that at the beginning of his second letter, but he went on in the next chapter to explain some of that “everything”:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot … then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority … But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong.
– 2 Peter 2:4-13a (emphases added)

What does a long passage about coming judgment have to do with life and godliness? For one thing, it reveals God’s nature. He is a just judge. No one is going to suffer wrong as the wages of doing right.

He also has spelled out as a warning, replete with examples, what the unrighteous will face.

And He has made it clear that there is a way of escape.

This article is an edited version of one that appeared here in March, 2011.

Published in: on September 28, 2018 at 6:17 pm  Comments (1)  
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