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.

Is Sin Original? A look at history


It seems fitting that after writing about God’s judgment here and here, I look once more at why God needs to judge and discipline us human beings.

The general belief in Western culture today seems to tip toward the idea that man is fine, thank you very much. In fact we’re better than fine. We’re good. Or we will be as soon as we learn enough, as soon as we develop our empathy gene. Or have our selfishness instructed out of us.

The Bible gives us the accurate picture—of what we once were and what we’ve become.

– – –

This post subtitle probably chased away about half the regular visitors. 😉 Of course I could change it, but I like history and I think it’s important to learn from history. So today, a look at history.

The evangelical, Bible-believing Christians I know ascribe to the doctrine of original sin. The idea is that Humankind was created in God’s image, for communion with Him, but sin changed our condition permanently.

No longer does humans bear the untarnished image of God because we are now born in the likeness of Adam. Consequently, all our righteousness is like filthy rags. Our best effort at goodness falls far short of God’s holy standard. We are born in this condition, in need of a Savior, without the internal wherewithal to please God.

Not only does this doctrine square with Scripture, it squares with Humankind’s experience. There’s a reason we have as an idiom we all know to be true, Nobody’s perfect.

But even if that weren’t the case, the reliable, authoritative Word of God demonstrates the concept of original sin starting in the book of Genesis.

In chapter one:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;

Then the command in chapter two:

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.

Recorded in chapter 3 is Adam’s disobedience and the consequence he would face. But then this line:

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil;

In other words, whatever else that line means, we see that there was a fundamental shift. Humanity was no longer the way God created us when He declared all He had made to be good. Genesis 4 records the first effects of this fundamental shift—Cain’s jealousy and ultimate murder of his brother, among other things.

But chapter 5 records perhaps the clearest declaration of this shift:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. (emphasis mine)

The clear implication is that Adam’s likeness and God’s likeness are no longer the same.

So what’s the point? Our culture does not believe in original sin. Ask the average man on the street and he’ll tell you Man is good, though he’ll just as likely turn right around and tell you nobody’s perfect.

Some time ago as I reread an old college textbook, Religion in America by Winthrop S. Hudson, I discovered that the roots of this cultural change (because the depravity of Man was universally understood and accepted in western civilization from some time during the 2nd century AD until the 19th century) stem from American Protestantism. Not exclusively, but in a large part.

America was a New World, with possibilities untold. Some years before independence, the colonial settlers experienced a Great Awakening that established Christianity as a way of life.

After independence the Second Great Awakening spurred believers on to hold camp revivals and send out missionaries and build more churches and colleges and schools all with the intent to bring the lost to salvation and teach the young to live godly lives.

But there began to be an added incentive. With all this hopefulness and push toward moral purity came a belief that God’s kingdom was being established physically right then and there.

And so, the shift began. Could it not be that Humanity, if given the right circumstances, could choose to live a holy and pure life in obedience to God? Could it not be that a community of such men and women would lead to a godly society? And wasn’t that the idea found in the Bible concerning God’s kingdom, when God’s law would be written on people’s hearts?

Consequently, what started as a work of God seems to have become a work of men, built upon their good works (which Scripture says are but filthy rags), to the point that men came to believe, not only in the goodness of their works but in the goodness of their being.

This is obviously a simplified, stripped down version of that period of history, but here’s the thing. Even when the two world wars in the 20th century shot to pieces the notion that the world was getting better and better, the idea that Humankind was good had become a best-loved belief. And humanism spread. Even into the church.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2010.

Truth And Love


Instead of starting with Love or even with Truth, I want to start with a discussion of post-truth.

Post-truth: adjective

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’

‘some commentators have observed that we are living in a post-truth age’ (English Oxford Living Dictionaries)

As it happens, the Oxford Dictionary picked post-truth as their Word of the Year for 2016. Fitting, some might say. Truth is having a hard time because so many politicians and media people and Washington insiders lie regularly.

But there’s more to that definition: in place of facts we’re apparently forming our opinions based on our beliefs. Which implies that our beliefs are already divorced from facts. So we’re believing something because . . . ? What’s the basis for our beliefs if not something we can label as True?

Are we believing what makes us feel good? I believe I’ll win the lottery. I believe it will not rain this weekend. I believe the Dodgers will win the World Series this year. I believe I’ll sell my fantasy series for a six figure advance. Silly stuff, that. Those aren’t beliefs, though they’ve been framed as belief statements. They would more accurately be called wishful thinking or pipe dreams—unattainable, unlikely, or fanciful desires.

Truth is not part of that kind of wishful thinking.

But clearly our society has moved belief out of the camp of truth and into the camp of post-truth.

Yet Jesus, standing with his disciples turned to Thomas, the doubter, and said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6; emphasis mine) He went on to say that if they’d seen Him, they’d seen the Father. So Jesus is Truth, ergo, God is Truth. Essentially He said, You’re looking at God, who happens to be Truth.

But God is also Love. As it happens, Jesus is the proof, the evidence, the tipping point that demonstrates God’s attribute of Love:

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:8-10; emphasis mine).

In other words, when God sent Jesus, He demonstrated to the world that He is Love.

How so? Because He stood in the gap for the world, according to John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” We on our part must do nothing but believe. God, manifesting His Person as Love, sent His Son to do what we could not do for ourselves.

We could not deal with the sin in our lives and in the world. We could not bridge the gap between us and God. We could only suffer the consequences for sin: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

So why the big deal that God is Truth and that God is Love?

In our post-truth culture, we live as if the truth and love are mutually exclusive. If I have the truth and you disagree with me, then you are engaging in hate! Of course, my truth might not be your truth unless you say that your truth is absolute and unshakeable and eternal. Such a statement marks you as a hater because the only truth we can know for sure is that there is no absolute truth. How we know this has never been explained, but our post-truth society embraces it.

But what if we Christians step out and do the ministry of reconciliation in our communities and families—what if we Love in Truth and what if we speak Truth in Love? What if we show by our lives that God is Truth and God is Love; what if we, His children who house His Spirit, reflect His qualities by what we say and do?

Too often people look at Christians and see us at war with our culture. Or they see us withdrawing from our culture. We either embrace Truth and seek to stand by it or die trying. Or we embrace Love and shy away from anything that could offend or stir up ill will or that could be misunderstood. We want above all to clasp hands with our neighbors in hopes that they realize we love them because of God’s love (which we never talk about because *gasp* we might offend someone) in us.

Or we retreat into our own. We trust Team Jesus, and we’d just as soon keep all our dealings with the home team. No offense. We’d just rather not have to deal with, you know, The World. That’s one of the enemies, right up there with The Flesh, which we pretend has disappeared when we became Christians, and The Devil, which we must guard against. So, to avoid fighting battles on two fronts, we’ll separate ourselves from The World.

It’s not quite that simple.

The World doesn’t refer to the latest movies or songs on iTunes. It doesn’t refer to today’s fads and fashions in clothes or piercings or tattoos. It refers to the system by which the world operates. The system that opposes God, that denies The Truth about God, that lies about who we are and how we got here and why we exist.

We can only counter The World by submerging ourselves in The Truth and engaging those who need to hear it with the same love Christ had for us while we were yet sinners. In other words, we must be proactive, not reactive.

We must not play favorites with God’s nature. His Truth can’t be ignored. His Love can’t be ignored. Otherwise we’re representing a God who doesn’t actually exist. He’s not a kindly grandfather trying to give every boy and girl a lollipop and a pat on the head. His Love is radical and dangerous and transformative.

As is His Truth. But His Truth does not make God hard-nosed, unkind, or insensitive. He isn’t a drill sergeant waiting for recruits to mess up so he can send them on a night run as punishment. He isn’t playing some game of “gotcha.”

No. His Truth is fueled by His Love. And Jesus exemplifies both.

Now it’s our turn—those who believe in Jesus—to go out into the world and preach Jesus as The Turth which the post-truth generation needs, and to do so in The Love that will enable them to hear what we’re saying.

– – – – – –

For more on Truth and Love see this RZIM article, “Truth Or Love: What’s Your Choice?”

The Clay Is Talking Back


But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter

But now, O LORD, You are our Father,
We are the clay, and You our potter


“God did not make us.”

I hear atheists reject God’s work of creation all the time, but more recently I’ve heard people claiming the name of Christ reciting a companion falsehood.

Isaiah prophesied about the twisted thinking that creates these untruths:

You turn things around!
Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,
That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”;
Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”(Isaiah 29:16; emphasis added)

Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens popularized the first part of that prophecy: He did not make me.

And “progressive Christians,” who believe in universal salvation, are saying in essence, He has no understanding.

Their belief system questions God’s plan of salvation by implying that sending “billions and billions” of people to hell for eternity is beneath Him. Judgment of sinners doesn’t measure up to the progressive Christian’s idea of what God should be like. In essence, they are saying God must not judge and punish as He sees fit. If he does so, he’s a “monster” as one supporter of author and former pastor Rob Bell called it.

“We do these somersaults to justify the monster god we believe in,” [Chad Holtz, former pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina] said. “But confronting my own sinfulness, that’s when things started to topple for me. Am I really going to be saved just because I believe something, when all these good people in the world aren’t?” (from “Pastor loses job after questioning hell’s existence”)

In other words, if that’s the way God is, then he’s wrong. Their answer is to ignore the clear statements of Jesus about His children, His followers, His sheep, in favor of a few isolated passages taken out of context and made to say things they were never intended to say.

In addition, the fundamental error in the thinking of those who indict God comes out loud and clear. Man is good. It is God who is suspect.

The thinking seems to be, Since we know Man is good, and we want God to be good, then hell can’t possibly exist, at least in the form that the “traditional church” has taught.

The answer, then, is to re-image God. And hell. And even heaven. But our idea that Man is good? In spite of evidence to the contrary, we’ll keep that belief intact.

The truth is, Man is not good.

A just God warned Man away from the tree that would bring death and a curse. Man ignored God and succumbed to temptation. He has not been “good” at his core ever since.

As Man went his own way, God chose an individual to be His, from whom He would build a nation that would be an example to all the nations of what it meant to be God’s people.

When the chosen nation went its own way, God sent prophets to warn them not to forsake Him. When they ignored the warnings, He sent more prophets, and finally He sent His Son in the form of man:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was in the flesh, God did, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3)

God’s Son didn’t come to judge—He will take that role later, when the just penalty for turning from God will be handed out to sinful (not good) Man, condemned by his own choice to go his own way.

Though Jesus came to save when He first entered the world, He created a dividing line.

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)

In summary, Man sinned, Man went his own way, Man rebelled, Man rejected God, his Maker. Clearly, by our nature we are not good.

The problem is ours, not God’s. God certainly does not need a make-over. He does not need progressive Christians to frame Him in a better light. Rather, we all need to stop going our own way, stop acting independently of God. We are but clay. Beloved by God, yes—not because we’ve earned His special consideration, not because we deserve His kindness and patience and love—but because of God’s own nature.

He is the potter. The clay really is not in a position to improve the potter, nor should it be talking back.

This post is a revised, updated version of one that first appeared here in May 2011.

Impulse Control


MacDonald'sAs I was driving out of the mini-mall with groceries in the trunk, I came to a stop sign. A young mom was walking with her son and her daughter who she held by her hand. They’d just finished crossing the street from the McDonald’s they must have visited because in the mom’s other hand she held a food item wrapped in the bright, cheery colors of the fast-food giant.

As she reached the near side of the road, I waited. Which way was she planning on going? As it turned out, she was no longer going at all. She reached the corner near the stop sign, mostly out of the traffic lane that led to the McDonald’s drive-through window, released her daughter’s hand, and opened the food parcel—a cheeseburger, by the looks of it.

Once set free, the daughter, who I’d judge to be about four, reached toward her mother with both hands.

With the little girl now free to run into traffic if she chose, I had added incentive to wait until I knew the mom and her charges were safely out of the way.

The harried woman proceeded to stand where she was and break off a piece of the sandwich to give to her daughter.

Really? I thought. Really? In the middle of traffic? You can’t tell your daughter to wait until the car goes by, at least?

But of course she couldn’t. We are a society of instant gratification, and we’re training our kids to our way of living.

How this societal trait contrasts with the Christian worldview! In Galatians 5, for example, we learn that the fruit of the Spirit includes self-control. In 1 Corinthians 13 we learn that love is patient. Even the idea that we are to wait for Christ’s return as victorious King, shouts of a need to harness our impulses and do what’s right, not what we feel like doing.

Romans 6:12-13 speaks to God’s standard for us:

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

In the first eleven verses Paul explained how our identification with Christ through baptism enables us to walk in newness of life, no longer slaves to sin. But the clear implication of the verses above is that we can still live as if we are slaves to sin, or not. If sin reigns, then we obey our lusts—our impulses, our selfish desires, what we want, no matter who it might hurt or offend or inconvenience or put in jeopardy.

If you want it, why by all means, go for it! seems to be our new motto. In other words, our lusts are reigning in our mortal bodies. Sin is reigning in our mortal bodies.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the little girl was sinning because she wanted some of the sandwich. But the mom clearly missed a teaching point. She could have shown her daughter that she needed to wait because the circumstances weren’t safe. They may have had that conversation before they crossed the street—I don’t know. But if so, the mother was either not a good judge of “safe” or she had caved to her daughter’s insistence that she get what she wanted NOW. For clearly the little girl was being insistent.

Sadly the church in the west seems to be rapidly incorporating the values of society instead of standing for God’s standard of patience and self-control. Just recently I received a newsletter from a Christian that boldly proclaimed, “I’m learning to say YES to myself.”

I don’t think the problem is that we haven’t said yes to ourselves.

I’ve been reading the biography of George Müller, who established homes for over a thousand orphans in England during the middle to late nineteenth century, all by faith in the provision of God and without asking for donations to meet any of their needs. I tried to imagine this man of faith saying that he was learning to say YES to himself. It doesn’t compute.

For Müller, the only thing that was important was seeking God and His righteousness.

To be honest, there is a movement in the church to be “missional,” by which those who use the term mean, working for social justice. But the aim seems less concerned with God’s kingdom and righteousness than with fixing the brokenness of our society.

Müller could be the cover boy for social justice. I mean, he was accepting into his orphan homes any and all children, regardless of their social status or financial means. At the same time he established an Institution of Spiritual Knowledge Home and Abroad which educated and provided for needs in various places.

But undergirding all this activity was prayer and faith and a desire for others to see God as He is—a loving Father who provides for the needs of His children, who answers the prayer of faith in the contemporary world just as He did in Bible times.

Müller’s life and way of working stand in sharp contrast to the self-indulgent lifestyle of today. I suspect he eagerly embraced, and undoubtedly taught, Paul’s admonishment not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies so we won’t obey its lusts.

Today we’re more inclined to ask, What is sin? Some might go so far as to say, Paul simply didn’t know how harmful it is to restrict a person from pursuing his or her natural inclinations. In other words, the Bible is Wrong!

Well, actually God knows us quite well, being that He came in the form of a man and lived among us. Not to mention that He created us.

Since I know myself to a degree (and because I trust Omniscience), I’m inclined to agree with God, here: I need impulse control. We all need impulse control.

Treating Poison Oak


WaterBalloonWhen I was younger, I loved water balloon fights. Or water fights of any type. My brother and sister and I used to have a pretty good water fight every once in a while. We had these plastic squirt bottles meant for ketchup and mustard which sent out a pretty great stream of water—better than any of the water guns we had (this was in the pre-soaker days).

Fast forward to college and a warm, late November evening, with vacation right around the corner. Someone came up with the idea to ambush a group of guys on their way to their dorm from the library—with water balloons! Oh, yes! I was in my element!

We did a little scouting and found a good place off the trail where we could hide in the bushes, toss our balloons, and make a quick get-away. So we waited. And waited.

After maybe ten minutes, one of the girls in the group said, Yeah, guys? Isn’t this poison oak? She held up a twig from the bushes we were hiding in. Sure enough! It had poison oak’s tell-tale three leaflets with scalloped edges.

Poison_oakYikes! But we thought it was a little too late. I mean, we’d been hunkered down in those bushes the entire time, so would a few more minutes matter?

On came the guys. We let fly our balloons and then scampered away. Except, this group of guys was of a mind to get revenge. They chased us down somewhere near the chapel with the nice little fish pond behind it, and, yep, in we went. With all the water and pond scum we had to deal with, the poison oak was forgotten.

Until the next day when the first sign of rash hit. Left untreated, it got worse. At last I made my way to the on-campus health facility to see the nurse. Lo and behold, one of the guys who had tossed us into the pond was also in the waiting room. And yes, he was covered with rash as well.

At the time I didn’t know how poison oak worked, but it was pretty clear that my exposure to the plant had transferred to him. In fact, he had a worse case of it, and to make matters worse, during the upcoming quarter break, he was scheduled to go on tour with the choir.

I don’t think I felt properly sympathetic at the time. I mean, I was dealing with my own misery, but at least I could do it at home, coated with calamine lotion and lying very still so as not to aggravate the itching.

I’ve since learned that poison oak, when damaged—the kind that occurred when a group of college girls tramped into the patch to hide—releases an oil to which many people are allergic. That oil can stay on clothing (pet hair, too, for those who might be curious). So when the guys with vengeance on their minds grabbed us to throw us into the pond, they picked up the oil off our clothes.

Poison oak is a nasty business. If you’ve never had it, count your blessing. There isn’t any cure. I mean, it’s an allergy. It could have been washed off if we’d acted promptly, but none of us really knew what we were dealing with. And of course, the unsuspecting guys had no clue. They simply contracted poison oak from our clothing.

Because there’s no cure, all you can do is minimize the effect. At the time, calamine lotion was pretty much the only thing the nurse could give us. But that treatment was temporary, smelled, and looked really bad. Though it reduced the itching, it was really only a cover up.

I don’t know what science understood about poison oak back then. Now we know there is a way to bring the rash under control. I mean, it’s an allergy. Allergies respond to antihistamine, but apparently not topical antihistamine. Only internal antihistamine.

But here’s the point of this story. Identifying the fact that we were lying in a bush of poison oak didn’t help us at all. For one thing, we didn’t leave. For another, we didn’t go immediately back to our dorms and wash. We didn’t handle our clothes with care, and we didn’t warn anyone else that we could potentially give them the rash by transferring poison oak oil to them.

So, sure, we knew we were in a patch of poison oak, but that knowledge did us no good since we didn’t take any action because of what we knew.

In the same way, we can understand that nobody’s perfect—that we have a sin problem—but unless we do something about our condition, we will put ourselves and others close to us at risk. Because sin has consequences—far worse ones than the rash poison oak gives.

“Doing something,” of course, doesn’t mean, figuring things out on your own. It doesn’t mean following a twelve-step program, though that might treat the symptoms and even ease the consequences for a time. But as addicts admit, the battle to stay sober or drug free is a lifetime battle.

The real problem, then, is not the poison oak, so hiring someone to try and take out all the bushes, isn’t going to solve the problem long term. The real problem is the allergy—that part of a person’s makeup we’re born with.

Here the analogy between sin and poison oak breaks down because the best we can do for the allergy to poison oak is to administer an internal antihistamine. For sin, though, we can actually have it removed from our lives. Scripture says because of Christ we can be freed from the slavery of sin, that it will no longer have mastery over us.

I’m telling you, that makes me want to shout for joy. Hallelujah! If you’ve ever been tormented by a nagging, persistent, irritating habit that is harmful to you and to the people around you, and you can’t figure out how to stop doing what you don’t want to do, then you understand the slavery of sin.

Jesus Christ sets us free.

Published in: on June 24, 2016 at 6:07 pm  Comments (3)  
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Nobody’s Perfect


familynews_061514I don’t remember a time as a child when I didn’t go to church and Sunday School, unless I was sick. At some point the Sunday School teacher told the class that all people everywhere had sinned. How I resisted that idea! I related that story in an early post.

I remember distinctly that I wanted to believe I could live without sin. I didn’t have the habit of lying and I’d never stolen anything. I was young enough that most of my actions were monitored by my parents. I was also the youngest in the family, so if my parents weren’t watching, chances are my brother or my sister was. In short, I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to sin.

So maybe, I thought, with the way things were going, I could be the first person, besides Jesus of course, to not sin.

Well, I think it’s pretty clear that sin already had a stranglehold on my life. I mean, how much pride does a little person have to have to think she might alone resist all temptation and stand beside Jesus as a sinless person?

The problem was that I was blind to my pride and therefore blind to my sin. I set myself to studying the matter of sin. Everyone I knew had some sin I could identify, so I turned my attention to the Bible. Nope, all those people had sinned, too. I finally had to admit that I fell into the “all have sinned” camp, but I did so with great reluctance.

All that to say, I understand when people who are not Christians don’t want to think of themselves as sinners. Competitive people especially, who like to meet the standard set before them (and often want to do better than everyone else in the process), and people who want to be in control, don’t like to be told we can’t do something.

I can’t be sinless? What are you talking about? Just watch me!

And of course, by that time it’s already too late. The sin that was crouching at the door is now in full control.

Why?

Because sin is actually already in our hearts.

We have this basic fact recorded for us in the Bible. We know that sin took hold of Adam when he rebelled against God, and all of us since have been born in Adam’s image—in his likeness.

Most interestingly a group of Yale scientists have found a way to measure the moral values of infants too young to talk. Their findings are clear: babies aren’t blank slates at all. They prefer kindness and generosity, and yet they have prejudices. They are just and they are greedy. (See “Scientific Discovery Of The Sin Nature“).

In one discussion I had about sin with someone who thinks the idea is reprehensible, she explained bad behavior as immaturity. Just like newborns don’t know how to talk or walk or chew (mostly because they don’t have teeth!), they don’t know how to show empathy. They need to be taught. And if they keep learning, they will one day move away from things that create barriers between people.

Except the science shows that theory simply is not true. Infants do know which is the kind puppet and which is the selfish one or the mean one. And yet the babies themselves choose to do the selfish, the greedy when given the opportunity.

But, as my atheist friend suggested, good teaching can change this pattern of selfishness—up to a point. The scientist’s conclusion based on the study of the older children:

They’ve been educated, they’ve been inculturated, they have their heads stuffed full of the virtues that we might want to have their heads stuffed with.

So we can learn to temper some of those nasty tendencies we’re wired for—the selfishness, the bias—but he says the instinct is still there.

The instinct, the sin nature, is still there. We can mask it. We can pretend it’s not there. We can call it by another name, but the fact is, nobody’s perfect.

Nobody.

So if we’re all in the same boat, then what’s the big deal?

Here’s the big deal: we’re in the boat, and God is not. And we need God. After all, we were made for relationship with Him. That’s how we received the inclination to value kindness and justice which the Yale scientists discovered in their tests of babies.

Sure the scientists chalk these traits up to evolution, but I’m not sure why they think that greed is a trait passed on from animals. From all I’ve seen, animals seem to use what they need and move on. Sure, squirrels might store up nuts for the winter, but it’s not like they’re storing up nuts for ten winters to come, particularly so they can have more nuts than any other squirrel in the tree, and more specifically so they can have more nuts when they die. In truth, they aren’t looking to win by on-upping their fellow squirrels.

In reality, prejudice, greed, hate, selfishness are human traits. Sinful traits. We have them because we’re made in the image of the sinful people who begot us.

The key point here is that sin is universal. It’s a problem we all relate to because we all have to deal with the imperfection of the people around us and the imperfection of our own hearts that lead us to do hurtful things to others in return.

Identifying sin is only a first step, however. Sort of like recognizing you’re lying in a patch of poison oak. Once you see the problem, you can take steps to deal with it. And that’s the good news of Christianity. God has dealt with this sin issue for us, and now He wants us to trust Him.

The Problem Is Sin


Seattle_AtheistsIn the Theist/Atheist Facebook group I’ve mentioned from time to time, a question came up about faith (is it a virtue). One thing led to another and one person involved in the discussion said he had four problems with faith in the “christian god.” The first area he mentioned was sin. He said, in essence, that he rejects the idea of sin.

I was shocked at first. This discussion took place just a week after the Florida shooting that killed 49 people at the Pulse, a gay bar in Orlando. I think, how can anyone watch the news and then turn around and say he doesn’t believe in sin?

My only answer is that Satan, who Jesus described as the father of lies, has blinded the eyes of unbelieving people. The problem is so obviously sin.

Society talks about love and tolerance, to the point that those topics have become almost trite. And yet, as if bringing an answer to the problem of violence or hatred or prejudice or terrorism—whatever was behind the actions of the Orland killer—several Broadway stars resurrected an old folk song from 1965 by Burt Bacharach: “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.”

Before this cry for love, God gave us the Law that serves as our tutor—showing us how impossible it is for us to act in a morally upright way day in and day out, every hour of every day.

Jesus explained that God’s standard goes beyond the Law to include our attitudes as well as our actions. So lust makes us equivalent to adulterers, hate makes us as guilty as murderers. And yes, Jesus said, the law requiring an eye for an eye needs to be replace with love for our enemies.

So when the world tells us we need love, they’re right.

The problem is, they think love we somehow generate from within or already have but need to tap into, will be victorious over sin. If we love, we won’t be selfish any more. Or prideful. Or angry. Or greedy. Or lustful. Or power-hungry. Or jealous. Or vengeful.

If we had this love or could learn to love other people, if that was all we needed, then why do bad things still happen? Even if we just figured out the benefit of love fifty years ago when the song first came out, shouldn’t we see some progress, if that’s all we need?

In truth, the fact that we are still dealing with prejudice and hatred and corruption and all the other problems in our culture—abuse, pedophilia, sex trafficking, rape, identity theft, and more—is proof that sin is real. We should see some movement toward a better society, but what evidence is there for a positive change? We haven’t curbed alcoholism or drug addiction. We haven’t stemmed the growth and power of gangs. We haven’t replaced love for violence at any level. Kids still bully kids. Men still abuse women. Women still cheat on husbands. Takers continue to take.

Why is that, if not sin? There is no explanation.

Atheists have no explanation. I’ve asked before. Those who believe in evolution have no theory how society, which developed, they say, from the animal world, has taken on these evil tendencies.

Because that’s the prevailing view: humankind is good but society corrupts. The question remains: when there were just a handful of evolved humans, were did their evil tendencies come from? The atheist formula—good people create a bad society—simply does not compute.

The sad thing is, Christians have backed off from declaring the problem of sin. At some point the narrative accepted on most fronts was that “fire and brimstone” preaching was bad, that people shouldn’t be scared out of hell, that what would “win people to Christ” was to hear about His love and forgiveness.

There’s a lot of truth it that approach. Paul wrote to Titus, explaining the saving work of God:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

So, yes, the catalyst for change is God’s kindness and love.

But the atheist I mentioned from the Facebook group went on to say that the third thing he had against faith in God was salvation. He apparently doesn’t want it because he believes he doesn’t need it.

That’s the place people end up if they believe they are good and don’t have a sin problem. Maybe we shouldn’t bring back fire and brimstone preachers, but we certainly should tell the truth about human nature.

It’s hard for me to believe that anyone in the world would ever stand up and say, I’ve never had a wrong thought or done a wrong deed in my entire life. I’ve loved others as much as I love myself. Any such person would most likely be guilty of lying and of pride, so there goes the idea of good. Because in God’s way of accounting, “good” means “without any bad.”

In our society we put good on a sliding scale. If we can say something is “mostly good,” then it’s good. Five stars. But even the best five-star people we know, still fall short of perfect. They know it. We know it.

So why aren’t we coming to the obvious conclusion: the problem our world has is sin.

Until we get a proper diagnosis, we’ll slap band-aids over incurable wounds.

One more thing. Telling someone he is a sinner is not hateful. That’s like saying a doctor is hateful for telling someone he has cancer. Uh, no. Not. Hateful. Try, honest.

We have spent too long in the faery land of Good Humanity, so we no longer recognize what stares us in the face every night on the local and national news: humans sin. We all sin. Everyone of us.

It’s not hateful to admit that sinners sin. It’s not hateful to tell people there’s a Savior—One declaring Himself to be Love—who wants to rescue us from the mess of our own making.

Published in: on June 22, 2016 at 6:16 pm  Comments (17)  
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Gays Aren’t The Problem


San_Francisco_pro_gay_marriage_protest

On Facebook, a friend of mine addressed reactions to the recent terrorist attack at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Reactions from Christians. Hateful reactions.

In part she said

I need to stand up now and denounce the Christians I’ve seen saying that they are glad there are 49 fewer gays in the world and they are only sorry that the shooter didn’t finish the job.

This is vile, vile talk, and people who express such thoughts are no friends of mine.

I saw one short video clip on a news program that showed a pastor in northern California saying hateful things. And now there’s reportedly another pastor in Arizona who has said even worse.

As the news of these reactions flooded media channels, other Christians immediately responded with great love and support for the LGBT community. Society is rallying around gays and decrying Christians for hate speech. Of course there’s the usual “it’s the guns” response, and a few people are saying, Wait a minute; this was an attack in the name of loyalty to ISIS.

With all this clamor, one person commented to my friend’s post by asking some tough questions. I’m not sure they weren’t the same kinds of questions Jesus faced when the Pharisees were trying to trap Him by something He might say, but perhaps they are legitimate, tough questions. Here’s what the commenter asked:

Pls, as a true Christian, what is your take about the gay thing. Are we to love them as they are? Or to tell them it is wrong to be gay? Or to turn a blind eye to whoever they are and whatever they do? Your honest answer pls.

Really, that seems so much like an Are we to please God or Man? question. If we say God, we’re going against our culture and will incur further hate from those who decry hate speech (notice the irony), and if we say Man, we’re conceding the marriage ground and ultimately the authority of the Bible. In either case, Christians lose.

Oh, we lose, too, if we turn a “blind eye,” the option that many German Christians chose when confronted with Hitler’s treatment of Jews.

In reality, the answer is None of the above. Because the liberal left under our current administration has successfully challenged the status quo and redefined marriage, or prohibited states from putting a halt to the redefinition of marriage, and because gender identity has become a new, favorite liberal cause, we Christians have reacted. We want to defend the status quo, to push the LGBT community back into the shadows, to force compliance to God’s standad.

And make no mistake, God’s standard is marriage between one man and one woman.

But God’s standard is also for truth instead of lies, fidelity instead of adultery, love instead of hate, kindness instead of gossip, humility instead of pride, and much more. I don’t see us Christians taking to the street to rally against prostitution. Or to stand in pulpits and wish for the death of men (or women) addicted to pornography.

For some reason, some people, professing to be Christians, have drawn a line in the sand, saying if we could just stop this “gay thing,” we’d have our country back. That position has more problems than I can address in one post.

First, the goal of the Christian out not to be to “get our country back.” As much as I love America and am sad at the changes I’ve seen in my life time, I have no desire to work to return things to the “good old days.” God has given believers a clear mandate: we are to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.

The incredible thing about belief in Jesus as Messiah and Lord, is that we now have a spiritual kingdom that is far more important than the temporal one in which we live. So Christians in China and Guatemala and Cypress and Indonesia and Japan and South Africa and Morocco and Venezuela and India and wherever else in the world, are part of the same kingdom.

But of course we still have to deal in the here and now, the kingdom in which we find ourselves. We still have to “render to Caesar.” So here’s my answer to the questions the commenter raised:

The Biblical “take on the gay thing” is that gossip, slander, adultery, homosexual activity, lying, taking God’s name in vain—all of it—is sin.

Essentially sin is rebellion against God, and John 3:18 tells us that “he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

So if all the homosexuals stopped their homosexual activity, they would be no closer to God unless they believed in Jesus. It’s not their homosexual activity that separates them from God: it’s their rebellious hearts that say they will go their own way, no matter what God has to say. In that regard, homosexuals are no different from any other sinner.

So how are we to treat homosexuals? We are to treat them as we do any other unrepentant sinner. We should pray for those we know and ask God how we can present His truth to them. We are certainly not to slander them as a group.

At the same time, I don’t think we are to embrace them and identify with them as some have done in an effort to distance themselves from the hate speech.

Most certainly we shouldn’t pretend that homosexuality isn’t sin, but we also shouldn’t act as if it’s the unpardonable sin.

Above all, we should teach the next generation, because they’re getting pounded in schools and media that the LGBT community is nothing but a minority group that should be respected. (Emphasis added for this post; other formatting edits have also been made.)

In short, gays aren’t the problem! Sin is the problem. The stubborn hearts of humankind that refuse to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ—those are the problems.

And that’s what Christians should be speaking against. No, my neighbor, my friend, my co-worker, my critique partner, my uncle, my sister, my Twitter follower, none of us is good. We have a sin issue that we all must deal with, and there’s only been one successful solution: accepting the payment Jesus Christ made at the cross.

Pretending that we’re actually good simply does not square with the facts. Working harder, trying better, hoping we’ve done enough, leave us wanting. Pretending that sin doesn’t matter, doesn’t make it go away.

The happy, happy news is that Jesus did what we can’t do. He has dealt with our sin for us. And that’s what every unrepentant sinner needs to hear—those in the LGBT community included.

Published in: on June 17, 2016 at 5:45 pm  Comments (10)  
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Where Are We Going?


I_love_my_trans_child_I have serious concerns for America, for the human race, and even for the Church. Where are we headed?

In the western world we’ve discovered eastern thought, and in the East, Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds. That gives me hope, it really does. But what I see in my own country, not so much.

There’s the political mess we’re in this election cycle. Please God, by His mercy, we might still have a candidate who will not make the mess worse, but if things continue to go as they are, the likelihood is that we’ll have either a fascist, a socialist or a possible felon for President. Happy days.

Of course, what’s dominating our thought—other than music and TV and movies and movie stars and sports, is bathrooms! Behind the issue is the acceptance of the transgender community which is a niche in the whole LGBT coalition.

The really troubling aspect, to me, is not that men will be in women’s bathrooms or women in men’s (though I tend to think not so many women-changed-to men will actually be a problem in the men’s bathrooms since they aren’t going to be shoulder to shoulder with guys at the urinal). Rather it’s the randomness of our rational for these “I feel like a woman, therefore I am a woman” identity issues.

Some of the same people who cry loudly that a person’s gender identity is how they feel inside will also cry loudly that evolution is real science and that supporting creation is “junk science.” They’ll also cry loudly that global warming is a Real Thing, with Scientific Proof! And that God does not exist (because we can’t see him).

The randomness comes from the selective use of physical evidence. Is not a person’s genitalia scientific evidence of gender? Why do some people trust in science when it comes to an unprovable theory like evolution but completely ignore it when it comes to gender identity?

The gender identity issue is not a small thing. It attacks the fundamentals of humanity. Scripture tells us that God created humans, male and female. But we, in our superior, I’m-better-than-god mindset think we can improve on what he made, if we don’t like it. Instead of teaching young people that God “don’t make no junk,” we have been sending out the word that girls have to be skinnier, men more muscular, white people tanner, nobody with gray hair (unless you’re eighty, and then only if you want to stop the hassle and expense of coloring your hair) or bald, and on and on. In other words, accepting who we are as we came out of the womb is pretty much unheard of.

That same kind of thinking has simply expanded. First, we did plastic surgery to fix the features we didn’t like, and now it’s hormone therapy and sex-transformation surgery.

This is not solving a problem. It’s creating a bigger one. Kids don’t know who they are, to the point that they no longer know what bathroom to use. And we give them the answer that we’ll simply let them choose or we’ll make a neutral bathroom for those who don’t feel like they fit in the silly binary bathrooms we have now.

My heart breaks for kids today who don’t know who they are. Their gender identity search is simply a symptom of their larger confusion. They don’t know where they belong or if they belong.

Kids—people—have always needed to belong, needed to feel secure and loved, needed to have purpose. Parents ought to be the first place where children have those needs met, but because parents aren’t perfect, they won’t be met perfectly. Friends meet those needs to a lesser degree, and spouses perhaps more so. But none can do so perfectly, and many a marriage goes through rocky times simply because one spouse or the other had expectations that their needs would be perfectly met, only to wake up to reality.

As a result of all the confusion, kids today seem to be growing up like weeds. Well, honey, what do you want to wear today to preschool? Well, honey, what gender do you want to be when you go to middle school?

Really, parents?

Where are you?

Parents don’t parent any more because they’ve been brainwashed into believing that there are no absolutes. So if Johnny doesn’t want to share his toys, well, they are his and we can’t violate what he wants to do (because apparently one of the few absolutes is that we are to allow everyone to do what they want, unless they’re bent on harming others physically; emotionally has yet to be determined).

So instead of Johnny learning to think of others and not just himself, he has parents who validate his selfishness. He never learns impulse control or empathy for others. He simply buys into the philosophy of bullies everywhere: if I want it, I take it.

We are a confused people because we have lost our moral compass. God said, do this one thing I’m telling you to do, and we can’t even manage that. Why? Because we want to be the boss. We don’t want to be second, even to God. We want what we want when we want it, and God isn’t going to stop us. We’ll simply believe him out of existence.

If things were left up to us, it would be hopeless. But praise God, He has come to rescue us from the dominion of darkness.

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7, emphasis mine)

So where are we going? God has made the way for us through Jesus Christ our Savior to have eternal life. But to claim the gift of salvation we have to be clear about our identity: we are sinners coming to God, not on the basis of anything we’ve done but completely dependent upon what Christ has done for us. When we get that part of our identity cleared up, the rest will start to fall into place.