God’s Plan And The World—A Reprise


For God so loved the world, John 3:16 says. And yet there are people who think Christians are some kind of exclusive club looking to keep out people who aren’t like us.

First, Christianity doesn’t belong to Christians. It belongs to God. Second, it isn’t a club, though it is a relationship—first with God.

Jesus told a story to illustrate how His plan of redemption and reconciliation works.

A rich ruler decided to put on a banquet. He sent out invitations, but one after the other the people he wanted at his feast sent their regrets: A new responsibility needed attention. Another important relationship had to take priority. Too busy to squeeze in the time.

Fine, the ruler said to his servants. They don’t want to come, then they don’t get to come. Invite people from all walks of life, no matter what their status, what their occupation, even the beggars.

When everyone arrived, there was still room for more people, so the rich man sent out his servants again, this time to the places where criminals were apt to hang out, and told them to compel the people to come.

At last the banquet got underway, but one person wasn’t dressed appropriately. Why aren’t you wearing banqueting attire? the host asked. The guest had no answer, so he was put out.

The banquet is a metaphor for the “marriage supper of the Lamb,” the great celebration God has prepare for His people. But “His people” aren’t necessarily who you’d expect. They aren’t an exclusive set handpicked for their charm, wit, intelligence, skill, power, prestige, or money. They are simply those who accepted the invitation. In contrast, those who are too self-important, too determined to go their own way, won’t accept the invitation. And some might accept but won’t come prepared.

This story, this word picture (actually two versions—one in Matt. 22 and the other in Luke 14—which I’ve compressed into one), makes several things clear. First, those who ended up at the rich man’s table, enjoying the feast, did nothing to earn their invitation.

Most of them were going their own way, expecting to do something different, be somewhere else, and suddenly the invitation comes—there’s a banquet, and you’re invited.

To accept such an invitation, it seems to me a person would have to realize what an honor, what a privilege had come their way. If they thought, No big deal; I can throw my own banquet if I want to—then chances are, they wouldn’t put a great deal of priority in attending. If they had plenty of food and weren’t particularly hungry, they could easily have thought ill of the invitation—what a bother, in the middle of the work day? he can’t expect me to drop everything and come just because he’s throwing a party.

But for the people who were out of work, who begged just to buy a scrap of food, who had never sat at a banqueting table in their lives, this invitation had to be the best news they’d ever heard.

Of course, there may have been some who didn’t think the invitation was real. What, you think you’d be invited up to the mansion for a party? You’re deluded. Or someone is scamming you. You’ll show up and somebody will jump out from the bushes and shout, April Fool, and you’re it. I mean, no one, no one in their right mind, invites a bunch of riffraff to share their table.

So the people who benefit from this invitation don’t earn it, but they must trust that the invitation is true.

The_Marriage_Feast_by_MillaisThe part of the story that has long given me trouble is the part about the guy getting put out for not wearing the proper clothes. I’d think none of those beggars or poor or the ones coming in from the highways and the byways would have the proper clothes either. I can only conclude, the banquet attire was something the host provided for his guests, so the man who was dressed inappropriately had no excuse. Which his silence would seem to corroborate.

So there’s God’s plan for the world. He invites, and we either accept or reject. Nothing exclusive about it. In reality, none of us can provide our own banquet. We might think we can, but that’s delusional. Only God can provide what we need. Our role in the matter is to recognize our need and His provision, then trust that He will give what He said He would give. That trust, I believe, is the proper clothing we need. Trying to go to His banquet all dressed up in our own rags of self-righteousness will surely get us barred from the table.

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in April, 2015.

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Billy Graham: 1918-2018


Billy Graham with son Franklin Graham

One of the first things I heard this morning on the Christian radio station I listen to as I’m getting breakfast, was that Billy Graham had passed away. He was 99. Would have turned 100 in November. I admit, I didn’t quite know how to feel. I haven’t thought of the man for . . . maybe months, possibly years, because he’s been out of the public spotlight since he stopped preaching.

Besides, I have confidence, based on what he preached, that he is rejoicing in, what Paul called “a very much better” life in Christ’s presence.

And yet, I felt strangely sad. I’ve never met the man, heard him on TV but never in person. Read part of his autobiography but never finished it. But the sadness was undeniable as the radio played a short tribute to him.

I decided I was experiencing a sense of loss of his role more than anything. He fearlessly, consistently, unwaveringly preached the gospel.

I expected to read quite a bit about him on the internet today, but his name didn’t come up on the posts I saw on Facebook or at the blogs I regularly visit. That changed later in the day.

One friend posted a moving announcement by Rev. Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, on Facebook. Then I got a newsletter from Jerry Jenkinks about his own blog article containing personal memories of Rev. Graham when he worked with him on his autobiography.

Lastly, I watched a video clip that might be the best testimony of Billy Graham’s life and legacy because it is an example of what Anne Lotz said:

And it’s [the gospel is] a message of genuine hope for the future, of love for the present, of forgiveness for the past.

It’s a message, when received, that brings a fresh beginning, unshakable joy, unexplainable peace, eternal significance, meaning and purpose to life, and opens Heaven’s door.

It was this message, which Daddy carried to the world, that penetrated my own heart as a young girl and has created in me a personal, passionate resolve to communicate it myself to as many people as possible. And so, even as my tears seem to be unending, I silently rededicate my life to picking up and passing on the baton. Would you do the same?

Well, Kathie Lee Gifford did, right on national TV.

When I read Anne Lotz’s conclusion, I was reminded of Psalm 145, particularly v 4:

One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.

Which brings me back to why I was especially sad when I heard that Billy Graham had died. He was such a clear voice of truth and reached so many people—of all ages and stations and races and cultures. Yet he really only had one simple message. Who, I wondered, is there to take up his mantle, as Elisha did Elijah’s?

Essentially Anne Lotz said, we all should. She’s right.

Published in: on February 21, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Grown-Up Christian Is …


I admit it—I’m a sucker for pictures of babies. But there is method in the madness today. We can’t really talk about grown-up Christians without at least mentioning newborns. Below is an article on the subject that first appeared here in June 2012. I’ve made a few changes here and there.

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“Man is sinful and in need of God alone who can save us.” So I stated in a post about the problem of sin.

Unfortunately, too many people don’t understand what God’s work of saving us means on a practical, everyday level. There might be an idea that we start attending church and that we will go to heaven, but little else.

Even new Christians may not be clear on the “what next” part of things. Are we supposed to clean up our language? Start doing “holy” things? Put on a serious expression and stay away from anything that’s fun?

Well, no.

The grown-up Christian life is actually characterized by abundant joy, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who came to Him privately to ask questions, He said that to come to God we must be “born again.” Jesus created this metaphor to illustrate that coming to God is the beginning of life, and just as we grow physically from immaturity to maturity, we do the same spiritually.

So coming to God through Jesus Christ is the “birth.” From that point, when we confess with our mouth and believe with our heart that Jesus Christ is Lord, we have a new life.

How great if God waved His hand over us at spiritual birth and changed our desires, so that what we once hated, we now love; what offensive things we once loved, we now hate. But life doesn’t work that way. Babies don’t settle in the day they come home from the hospital and begin driving—or trading stocks on E-trade.

Instead, they have things to learn. They need time to grow. They need proper food and abundant rest, and yes, they need their messy pants changed. Eventually they need to be potty-trained. It’s a process.

The Christian life is no different.

A brand new Christian is not going to turn into a mature Christian over night. We don’t transform ourselves into mature Christians by imitating what mature Christians do, no more than a toddler can become a man by using his toy tools on his toy car in imitation of his adult dad working on his real vehicle.

Don’t get me wrong. Imitation has value, but it should not be mistaken for actual maturity.

So what is maturity? If we are in need of Christ’s redemptive work because of our sin, does maturity then mean Christians no longer sin?

I’m pretty sure that’s what a lot of people believe—some Christians and some non-Christians. Why else are Christians vilified for doing what everyone else in the culture does?

According to one poll, 85% of those answering the questions said Christians are hypocrites. Meaning we don’t live according to our beliefs.

And we don’t, not perfectly. We are in a battle to accomplish that very thing. What we believe is that we should follow Jesus—we should love God and love our neighbor. What we do is, live too often for ourselves, forgetting God, ignoring our neighbors.

So how are we any different from the rest of the world? In some respects, we aren’t. We still sin. On the other hand, we are growing up to salvation. We’re taking baby steps away from conformity to the world; we’re allowing God to transform us into His image.

It’s just not an instantaneous deal, so when we mess up—and we will mess up—we stand exposed for the world to see our imperfection.

The thing is, if no one expected us to be perfect, our exposure as “not perfect” wouldn’t be a big deal.

But expectations aren’t reality. The truth about Christians is that we do sin, even though we don’t want to. Paul said it best in Romans 7: “The good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

So mature Christians aren’t instantaneous, and mature Christians aren’t perfect.

Then what’s true about mature Christians? Besides being forgiven, redeemed, God’s children, the mature part means we actually refuse to pretend that we are what we are not. We do not go into the world with the intent to sin. We do not celebrate some false notion of being free to sin since God’s already picked up the bill.

Actually the opposite is true. When a mature Christian sins, it breaks his heart because he knows it breaks the heart of his Father. He knows that he should walk worthy of his calling (see Eph. 4:1) that he should please God in all respects (see Col. 1:9).

His sin, then, will drive him to his knees. He will bring it to his Father to claim the forgiveness He has already given. He will let God teach him and correct him and shape him.

In this way his life begins to take on a distinction that marks him as someone like Christ. The cool thing is, the more like Christ he becomes, the more he’ll want to serve and repent and learn and grow. He won’t parade an imagined perfection in front of the world. He won’t take credit for what God has done. But he will rejoice in the God of his salvation.

Published in: on February 20, 2018 at 5:33 pm  Comments (4)  
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Everlasting Life Changes Everything


One of the issues that’s come up in some of the discussions I’ve had with the FB group promoting dialogue between theists and atheists, is our attitude toward life. In one thread the topic of abortion came up, though the originator of the post hadn’t intended that aspect to take center stage. The thinking of many of the atheists fit closely with their belief in relative morality—if society says abortion is OK, then it’s OK. Because . . . no soul. An aborted fetus would not know existence, so it can’t miss something it doesn’t know about.

In another conversation, the idea that the Christian has a different outlook because of the hope for life after this life, became very apparent. To the atheists, anything that God allows that brings suffering is considered His moral failure, because this life is all we have. There’s no point to suffering that conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ, because they don’t believe there’s anything beyond the grave.

The point is simple. Belief in everlasting life has an enormous affect on a person’s world view. It can dictate what a person thinks about abortion, euthanasia, suffering, the purpose of life, the death of a loved one, views on a “just war,” and more.

Because, put simply, if this is the only life we have, and it comes to an end when this body stops breathing and the brain waves cease, then this body, this life is the one we ought to value above all else. But if this body merely houses an eternal soul, then what happens to the soul should be of supreme importance.

Maybe other people have known all along that this fundamental rift exists between theists and atheists, but I don’t think I did. I’ve said more than once, we Christians are no different than any other sinner. And I think that’s true on one level. But that doesn’t mean that we think the same way.

Oh, sure we may all reason, and study, and deduce the same (though often Christians are accused of somehow turning off our logic), but our fundamental starting places are different. Think about geometry, if you ever had to take the subject in school. At some point you had to use the laws of geometry to construct certain “proofs.” You had a starting place known as a “given” and from that to a stated conclusion, you had to show how the laws of geometry, lead you to the conclusion.

But what if not everyone in the class had the same “given” statement? Could you all successfully prove the desired conclusion? Of course not. A “given” is a statement that needs no proof, either because it is fundamental, like a definition, or because it is a measurement made before hand. So a problem might start by saying, if A, B and C are points on a line (definition), and AB=BC (a predetermined measurement).

However, if some of the class have a different “given,” the steps they take and the conclusion they reach will be very different from everyone else. What if their “give” stated AB=BC-2? Clearly, a starting point that is skewed, can’t arrive at the same conclusion.

In the same way, the important things in life like purpose and values and destination and significance, hinge on what a person understands about life and life after life.

In that regard, theists do have a common starting point—and that point is very different from the one atheists have.

The stark differences between theists and atheists do make for lively debate, I’ll accede to that. But I question if there’s much else we can ever agree upon if some of us believe humans have souls and some don’t.

We won’t think the same about “animal rights,” for instance, or human rights either. Although, I continue to believe that much of the beliefs that those who reject God hold, come from Christian underpinnings.

No one can tell me, for instance, why one person should sacrifice himself for another, as did those teachers at the horrific school shooting last week. Why would they do that, if their life would come to an end? Did they think a young life was more valuable than an old life? On what basis? Or did they act because of some other reason, some other fundamental belief? Would atheists ever sacrifice themselves for another? If so, why?

I tend to think Christianity has informed our society so that sacrifice is something we admire, that we incorporate into our own thinking, whether we embrace Christ or not.

As far as practical take-away from this idea, I think those who do believe that life will continue after this life (and a 2014 Pew Research study indicates that’s as high as 72% of Americans), need to think seriously about that next life, that everlasting life. What, where, and how are questions that come to mind.

Of course those are beyond the scope of scientific study. We’re trafficking now in the realm of the spiritual. And it seems to me to be a wise investment of time to nurture our spiritual life even more than we do our physical life.

Published in: on February 19, 2018 at 5:34 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Influence Of Christianity


On Tuesday apparently the panel of women on ABC’s The View made some comments about Vice President Mike Pence which included one person quipping that hearing from God is “mental illness.”

What’s so sad is that the Florida Parkland school shooter is also being scrutinized for mental illness.

Now The View person has said she was just joking, but clearly she showed what she thinks of Christianity.

I think such statements show the disconnect in our society about what Christianity is and what Christians have done. Think, for example, what organization is front and center as part of any disaster relief. Yep, the Red Cross. The symbol was chosen for a reason.

Then there is the Salvation Army—another relief organization that also provides for the needs of the homeless and the poor.

Or how about the Union Rescue Mission? Here’s their basic mission statement: “We embrace people with the compassion of Christ.” And their short description on Google: “Helping men, women, and children escape the streets of Skid Row through food, shelter, education, counseling, and long-term recovery programs.”

I’m curious. Where are the atheist organizations that reach out to help the needy? Sure, the government now does some of the same work, and government programs have helped countless people suffering from disasters of one kind or another. I’m not minimizing those at all. But that’s because the government has been put in position to care for its citizens because not enough of our citizens are taking care of those in need.

I don’t want to turn this into a church versus government discussion. But I did wonder about independent atheist groups who are actively reaching out to needy people. I suspect there are individual atheists who do so, but are there any atheist-based organizations doing this?

Maybe there are, but I’m not aware of them.

For one thing, atheism doesn’t stand for something. It stands against something. So there’s no moral compass that directs atheists to band together to help needy people.

How about the institution of Thanksgiving Day or Memorial Day or Ash Wednesday? God is an integral part of our culture, whether atheists want to admit it or not. The fact that Christianity is being squeezed from the fabric of society by media disdain, sarcasm, and slurs, does not reduce the great good that churches and para-church organizations do and have done.

Or what about the YMCA, founded back in 1844.

The YMCA was very influential during the 1870s and 1930s, during which times they most successfully promoted “evangelical Christianity in weekday and Sunday services, while promoting good sportsmanship in athletic contests in gyms (where basketball and volleyball were invented) and swimming pools.” (Wikepedia)

Then there are Good News Clubs in schools and organizations like CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) involved in colleges and universities.

But here’s the salient point: all this “mental illness” that has built into the fabric of our society is based on building values and health and hope and help. Christianity wants to pass on the love of God. That’s it. To people in need.

Wouldn’t we have fewer school shootings if we ramped up programs that taught the love of God?

As I see it, the more Christianity gets ridiculed and relegated to the privacy of our own home, the more trouble our nation is in. We are recycling old problems like racism while we have added the intensified problem of lawlessness and a disregard for authority.

Setting Christianity aside doesn’t seem to be working for us. When will the country wake up and realize, the thing we’re missing is the love of God—between our races, our genders, our economic strata. God’s love works like cement to bring groups of people together. Paul said it is Scripture—Jews sitting next to Greeks, men worshiping in the same house as women, the rich land owners along side their field hands.

It’s not the church that does this. It’s God. It’s His love in the hearts and lives of believers. And that’s the influence of Christianity.

The Power Of Forgiveness – A Reprise


joshmcdowellI heard another story of incredible forgiveness a number of years ago. A well-known Christian writer and speaker and apologist, it turns out, had a horrific childhood. His father was an alcoholic and in his between sober and drunk stages, was violent. His mother had a medical condition that necessitated the family bring in outside help. The man they hired began to sexually abuse this boy between the age of 6 to 13. When he finally worked up the courage to tell his mother, she didn’t believe him and whipped him for lying.

I’m referring to Josh McDowell, the author of Evidence That Demands a Verdict, and over a hundred other titles. This man who has been so vocal and passionate about the truth of God’s good news–his love and forgiveness–once considered Christianity worthless and identified himself as an agnostic.

What changed?

Josh McDowell met Jesus Christ.

Apparently his radical change came because of a college paper. He set out to examine the historical evidence for Christianity in order to disprove it, but instead he found compelling proof of its veracity.

He embraced Christianity, was discipled by a pastor for six months, enrolled in Wheaton College, and eventually attended Talbot Theological Seminary here in SoCal.

But the key turning point in his life, he said, was when he forgave the man who abused him. His was not a secret “in the heart” forgiveness. He actually tracked the man down, went to his home, and told him that what he’d done was wrong and hurtful, but because of Josh’s new life in Christ, he forgave him.

Of all the powerful forgiveness stories I’ve heard–Christ forgiving His crucifiers, Stephen forgiving those who stoned him, Corrie ten Boom forgiving the Nazi concentration guard, Elizabeth Elliott forgiving the indigenous people who killed her husband and four other missionaries with him, Kent Whitaker who forgave the person who murdered his wife and son–this one ranks right up there toward the top.

In all honestly, apart from Christ, this kind of forgiveness seems next to impossible. It doesn’t even seem all that desirable. Our culture wires us to be much more inclined toward revenge than forgiveness. Maybe it’s more than our culture. It’s probably wired into our nature. We want pay back.

If the guilty person is remorseful, then forgiveness doesn’t seem quite so hard. But if they remain hardened and unrepentant, forgiveness seems like an unacceptable concession.

The thing is, it’s not our job to play judge. God is the One who is ready to judge, according to 1 Peter. He is the Judge who is right at the door according to James.

For us to step back and refuse to do what isn’t our job in the first place, helps us, and it doesn’t change the fact that God will take care of the other party–either by covering them with the blood of His Son or by meting out judgment at the end of the age.

Let me reiterate what Josh McDowell experienced. Forgiving the man who hurt him, and his parents for allowing it, removed a weight he’d been carrying. It freed him to love.

Paul identifies an unforgiving attitude as a scheme of the devil.

for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes. (2 Cor. 2:10b-11)

Wow! Part of Satan’s plan of attack has to do with taking advantage of our lack of forgiveness.

That alone is sobering enough, but of course Jesus also taught extensively on our need to forgive our brothers. Understanding our own forgiven state seems to have a residual effect–it turns us into forgivers.

It makes sense. When we get the immensity of what we’ve been forgiven, we understand how cheap and petty we are to hold something against someone else.

The person Jesus died for, I’m going to squeeze a little more? To accomplish what? If that person is redeemed by the blood of Christ, am I asking Christ to do more than die for his sins? If he is not redeemed, am I saying I can punish him more adequately than God can?

My lack of forgiveness accomplishes nothing, but it’s negative effects on my life don’t end. A lack of forgiveness calcifies and turns into bitterness, resentment, hatred. Those things eat at our souls.

Josh McDowell is living proof that forgiving others made a great deal of difference in his life. God saved him and taught him what he needed so that he could be free and could heal from the hurt of his childhood. It wasn’t instantaneous, and God continues to heal all these years later. He healed and He is healing. And forgiveness is at the center of it all.

= = = = =

This post originally appeared here in July, 2013.

For more about Josh McDowell’s story you might be interested in Undaunted:

For the first time, Josh fully reveals the dramatic spiritual transformation that occurred when he faced his past head-on and put everything entirely in God’s hands. It’s a story of overcoming shame, grief, and despair and embracing real love for the first time. It’s a tale of divine grace: when the worst that life can throw at you happens, you can come out on the other side with a faith that is full, free—and undaunted.

Published in: on February 15, 2018 at 5:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Christianity Starts And Ends With Grace


I was listening to a radio sermon today and the pastor said all of Christianity could be summed up in the word obedience—obedience to Christ, submission to His will. That caught me off guard a moment. It’s not the word that came to me at once.

I didn’t have to think very long before I came up with the word I’d say encapsulates Christianity—grace. Or maybe forgiveness.

Obedience? Especially obedience when it’s tied to submission? I wouldn’t say that pastor is wrong, especially in the context of the series of sermons he is airing. But obedience for a Christian is way different than it is for someone in a different religion or for someone outside of all religions,

For the Christian, doing what God wants us to do is like a wife making her husband his favorite dinner or a husband bringing his wife flowers. Maybe a better example is a husband shoveling snow so his wife won’t have to wade through it to get to her car. Or a child making her daddy a get-well card when he’s sick.

The point is, none of these things are mandated. The wife doesn’t cook the special dinner because she has to. If the government passed a law that all husbands brought their wives flowers every Tuesday, the bouquet would soon become meaningless. The wonderful thing about doing little acts of kindness is because they say so much, and one of those statements is NOT, “I’m doing this because I have to.”

Rather, a husband takes his wife’s car to get the oil changed, not because she’s incapable of taking it in herself, but because he wants to save her the aggravation.

He’s saying, I want to make your life a little easier, I’m thinking of what’s best for you, I want to care for you, I love you.

If the Department of Motor Vehicles required husbands to take cars for oil changes, would his actions say any of those things? Of course not. They would say, I’m doing this because I have to.

The point here isn’t really about husbands and wives or parents and children. The principle is true for donating to charities or helping friends. Do we cheerful pay our taxes or send money to victims of disasters? Do we joyfully go to the office party the boss requires us to attend or to our granddaughter’s soccer game?

Clearly, whether we give a gift of money or time or goods, the meaning behind it is greater and the attitude we have in the giving is dependent upon our freedom to give. If we’re simply meeting a requirement, or even an expectation, the statement is not so meaningful and the accompanying attitude is not so great.

But if the gift is given freely, if there is no expectation, then the act accomplishes a great deal, for both giver and receiver.

But what if the giving isn’t a one-time event? What if it becomes a habit? Everyday the wife gets up at 4:00 to make her husband breakfast. Everyday the friend takes the trash out for her neighbor. Everyday the husband scrapes ice off the windshield of his wife’s car.

Aren’t the habits of love and thoughtfulness and concern even greater than the one time surprise events?

Well, in some measure these human examples approximate a Christian’s relationship with God. First God showers us with His grace and forgiveness. In loving response—not because God commands it—we worship Him, we pray, we read His word, we attend church. Of course, we know those things, and any number of other things, like being honest, not swearing, being kind to one another, we know will please God because they are in His word.

We can actually look at those things as mandates. But if we love God, doing the things that will please Him becomes a joy. We want to do what He wants us to do. Not because we are under law but because we are under grace.

Someone who looks at God and thinks they have to obey Him to earn His favor might do the exact same things as someone who looks at God and chooses to do what will please Him because they are so grateful for His grace. The outward appearance might not differ at all, but the inner attitude of the heart, where God looks, is vastly different.

Sometimes it’s easy to understand why God wants us to be a certain way—loving to our neighbors, for instance. Other times, what pleases Him is hard to understand and hard to do—loving our enemies, for instance.

The secret to life in Christ is to create the habit of obedience, of pleasing God, not just when it makes sense to us and feels good, but when it’s hard to understand and hard to do.

Trust God through suffering? Yes, that pleases Him. But it’s not so easy. Doing so, not because He’s commanded it but because we love Him, now that brings joy.

Published in: on February 12, 2018 at 5:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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Perfect People Aren’t Saved


No Perfect People

Yesterday I re-posted an article about morally flawed people, and the irony that many who accept their flaws without blinking still think they “deserve” heaven. Today, I want to address the opposite problem: people who think heaven is for good people. This article originally appeared here in May, 2013.

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Along with an erroneous view of the Bible, some people also have misconceptions about salvation. One of the most common is that it’s the good people that come to Christ—the people who like church and gospel music, who think a good time means going to a prayer meeting. Those are the people that become Christians.

Wrong.

For one thing, there are no “good people.” If someone is devoted to religious expression but has not believed the claims of Jesus Christ, he’s using his religion to get something he wants. In other words, religious expression can be an evidence of our selfishness, our desire to manipulate—either other people or even God Himself.

Good people aren’t saved. Sinners are saved. The lost are found, the broken are healed, those at the bottom of the pit are rescued. Jesus Himself said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt 9:12b). In context it’s clear he was referring to messed up people—“tax collectors and sinners.”

Even today, I think some Christians have the idea that a person needs to clean up a bit before coming to Christ. Jesus seems to say the opposite. He first encountered people where they were at, and knowing Him then brought about change. In some instances, such as His conversation with the woman caught in adultery, He told her to sin no more. In other instances, such as with Zaccheus, the sinner himself volunteered to clean up his act after his encounter with Jesus.

Either way, Jesus saves sinners, not because they get rid of sin but because they can’t get rid of sin and they know it. They repent but it is Jesus who takes away the sin of the world. It is His Spirit that gives each sinner the desire to live in newness of life.

By our nature, none of us wants to worship God and serve Him [atheists call this our “default position,” not realizing that they are defining the sin nature]. We want to worship ourselves and serve ourselves. We do unto others so that they will do unto us. In other words, we largely look at relationships as trade-offs. I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. And woe to the person who doesn’t follow through on his promise. Revenge awaits! Justified revenge, because people are supposed to come through for me (even though I don’t always come through for them).

The interesting thing is, those who think they are good don’t see any need for God. Why would they? They don’t think they need saving.

So it’s ironic that people falsely think good people come to Christ. People good in their own eyes are too busy with their perfectionistic ways to pay attention to what Christ is all about. They are making sure that they recycle, give to the charity of the month, teach their children to be tolerant of all lifestyles, and do their fifty percent of what it takes to have a good marriage.

Don’t get me wrong. When a person comes to Christ, he changes. A thief like Zaccheus doesn’t want to keep stealing. Just the opposite. He has a passion for making right the wrongs he’s done. But his new life is a result of his relationship with Christ, not a cause of it.

He didn’t come to Christ because he stopped stealing. He stopped stealing because he came to Christ.

Too many Christians don’t really understand this new life we experience. We’d like all the old desires to be gone and for some people, they are. For others, it’s a fight to the death, or so it seems. The old desires seem to raise their ugly heads at the least opportune times. Some people experience gradual and constant improvement. What they used to do, they hardly do any more. What they want to do to please Jesus, they find delights them now, too.

The process, we’re told, is sanctification—growing up into our salvation, becoming like Jesus through the supernatural transformation of His Spirit. Most of us think it’s a long process that doesn’t show a lot of results to most of those who are close enough to us to see our warts.

And because we fall down so often, because lots of people think only the good come to Jesus, we give Christ’s name a bad reputation—because clearly, Christians sin. When we think about it, it grieves our hearts because we’re dragging Jesus’s name into the mud. We’re letting people think poorly of our Savior because we wallow in the sins we say He saved us from.

Christians aren’t good people. We’re saved people, and it’s important that we let others see who we are: a people who have received mercy, who have been pardoned, redeemed, cleansed, forgiven, and who one day, when we see Jesus face to face, will be like Him. It’s just that we’re not there yet.

Morally Flawed . . . Yet Bound For Heaven?


This post first appeared here in May, 2013.
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I read two intriguing articles today, and yet when I put them together, the picture I see is rather murky. The first, “Why so many people–including scientists–suddenly believe in an afterlife,” is a lengthy look at the attitude of western culture toward the afterlife.

In a poll taken in the US in 2011, 81% said they believed in heaven and 71% believed in hell. Honestly, that second number surprised me because it was so high. A 2010 Canadian poll indicated half believed in heaven and fewer than a third believed in hell. That’s closer to what I expected.

Apparently, with the increase in the number of near-death experiences–a result of advanced technology that brings people back after their physical functions qualify them as dead–there have also been an increase in reports about those experiences, the majority recounting details we normally associate with heaven.

More and more people are convinced, apparently, that heaven does actually exist. Even Harvard-trained neurosurgeon Eben Alexander who wrote Proof of Heaven, the account of his own near-death experience, has defied his scientific community, declaring that his anecdotal account is evidence of the afterlife.

And not just any old afterlife. It seems the majority of these experiences show a peaceful, loving place, without judgment.

Segue to the second article, one discussing another trend–that of stories with anti-heroes instead of heroes: “The Rise of the Anti-Hero.” In this piece, the author, Jonathan Michael, identifies a new love for characters in our entertainment who are flawed. Some, such as the protagonist in the TV show 24, do bad things for a good end. Others, however, are drunks or cheats or vengeful, and the audience doesn’t seem to mind, or is willing to forgive. Michael explains this:

Characters who shine as morally pure and upright don’t ring true to us anymore, because it’s not who we see around us in the world. Neither is it what we see when we look in the mirror.

My first thought was, When have we ever seen morally pure and upright around us or in the mirror? However, I think we used to be ashamed at these moral failings, our own and our society’s. Now we seem to have a higher value–that of authenticity. You can be the scum on the bottom of someone’s shoe, but good for you, you admit who you are! The only shame is in trying to pretend you’re better than you are.

Now, I’m left with putting these two articles together. From bottom to top this is what I find: we acknowledge and even embrace the fact that none of us is morally pure, but we believe in heaven, more than in hell. Which implies, no matter what happens in this life, there’s happiness waiting in the next one.

This view dovetails with the beliefs of such universalists as Rob Bell and Paul Young. It also fits in so well with the popular message going out to kids: Everyone’s a winner. You show up, you play. You play, you get a trophy.

So why wouldn’t we think we’re all going to heaven, no matter how we lived our lives?

Of course, the real secret is that how we live our lives isn’t the factor that determines our destiny. So by completely missing the target, most people have actually knocked away a false premise that haunted Western culture for a good long time: that by doing good we can earn our way to heaven.

However, today’s popular conclusion–that we don’t need to earn our way because heaven will be ours even though we didn’t do anything to deserve it–is equally false.

Unfortunately, metaphysics isn’t like algebra in which two negatives make a positive. There really is a right and no amount of positive thought can change it, no number of witnesses glimpsing into heaven, can undo it.

Honestly, I find it encouraging that so many people believe in heaven. I even find it encouraging that apparently people recognize themselves to be morally flawed. That’s the perfect set up actually for the critical question: how do morally flawed people end up in a morally perfect place?

But that immediately creates the question: do people who believe in heaven believe it to be a morally perfect place? If not, then I wonder what makes it heaven. I mean, if people can still lie, cheat, steal, and kill, what makes it a desirable place to spend eternity?

And if morally flawed people can’t do those morally flawed things, what keeps them from it? I mean we haven’t been so successful at stopping rape and murder and war and slavery in the here and now. What will make a difference then?

But lets say we agree that heaven is a morally perfect place, how is it that any of us deserve to be there? I think that’s the going assumption–not that we’ve done anything special but that by our very existence we ARE special. We deserve heaven . . . morally flawed though we may be.

Anyone else see a problem with this line of thought?

The problem is, until we get rid of this “we deserve” attitude, we won’t be interested in the solution to the dilemma of squeezing morally imperfect people into a morally perfect place. Oh, yeah, with a morally perfect God as the sovereign ruler.

Published in: on February 8, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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On Alert — A Reprise


I thought I understood what “be on the alert” meant, but I now realize I’ve been nearly clueless. Recently I’ve had a crash course because I’ve had to deal with a little unpleasantness.

For the second year in a row, I’ve been faced with an infestation of earwigs. According to all the sources I’ve checked, they are relatively harmless to humans. They don’t carry disease and, contrary to the myth associated with them, they don’t crawl into people’s ears and burrow into their brains. They do have a pair of forceps pincers on their abdomen, and I can attest to the fact that they know how to use them. But apparently their pinch causes only temporary discomfort.

The worst thing about them, for me, was their sudden appearance. I’d sit down for dinner and an earwig would scurry out from under the placemat. I’d open my napkin, and an earwig would be clinging to the cloth. I’d go to wash my hands or take a shower or do the dishes, and earwigs would zip around the sink or tub. Twice there were earwigs in with the bread, and I just recently found one in the refrigerator. Worst, perhaps, they’ve been in my covers and yes, in a few articles of clothing.

At first all these sudden appearances were frightening, and I’d jump from my seat, heart racing, and in my panic flick away the skittish things. I’d spend the next moments trying to find them again to kill them, and failing to do that, I’d spray insecticide to try and destroy anyway.

This second year enduring them, I’ve learned a thing or two. I no longer unfurl my napkin without a second thought. I don’t pick up the dishcloth without first looking on the underside to see if an earwig is clinging to it. In truth, for the first time in my life, I’m on the alert in my home. I’m watchful, careful, willing to take the time to inspect the bottoms of plates and bowls before depositing them where they should go.

In spite of all my care, they can still surprise me. The one in the refrigerator certainly did–I wasn’t on the alert for one there. Once, after thoroughly cleaning off the kitchen counter top in an effort to track down one that scurried under the microwave, I reached for a sponge to rinse off the household cleaning spray, and, you guessed it, found an earwig hugging the bottom. It was the one place I hadn’t looked.

I’ll be honest. I don’t like having to be on the alert in my own home. I want to relax and not have to worry about bugs popping out at inauspicious times. But I’d rather be on the alert and get those earwigs before they get me.

Imagine if those earwigs were actually as dangerous as they look (I’m convinced they belong in the same family as scorpions). How much more important vigilance would be!

Scripture tells the believer, on several occasions, that we are to be on the alert.

“I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert” (Act 20:29-31a).

Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong (1 Cor. 16:13).

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert (Eph. 6:18a).

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8).

I’m beginning to understand, being alert is more than doing a heads up. Being alert means doing your homework and knowing what you’re up against, studying the habits of the enemy, and staying ever watchful. Not letting down your guard, even when you think you ought to be safe (surely, not in the refrigerator! 😮 )

I also notice that the metaphors used to help us grasp what we’re up against aren’t comparing our spiritual enemy to a little bug that causes discomfort.

Rather, our enemy is a roaring lion, aiming to devour. Think Nature Channel or PBS and those shows about wildlife in Africa, with a lion lurking, lurking in the tall grass, ready to spring on the unsuspecting gazelle at the back of the herd.

Or our enemy is a savage wolf, right in among the sheep. Paul didn’t need to tell the Christians in the first century that wolves eat sheep.

In other words, our spiritual lives are at stake. Perhaps its time to start checking in all the dark and damp cracks where earwigs, er, where the enemy of our soul might be prowling.

Happily, this article first appeared here in May 2013 and does not identify a current bug problem! Our apartment building management has invested in an extermination service which makes all the difference. It strikes me just now that perhaps God’s word is our spiritual exterminator.

Published in: on February 7, 2018 at 5:16 pm  Comments (1)  
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