Angst And Worry


Western culture seems to revolve around angst and worry, to the point that we do everything in our power to deal with it. Except the one thing that is needed.

More and more we are diagnosing teens and preteens with anxiety disorder. We wring our hands because the suicide rate of young people is on the rise. At first this fact was laid at the feet of “homophobia,” but with the spreading acceptance of the LGBTQ lifestyle, that excuse no longer seems accurate.

The fact is, kids worry. Adults worry. Everybody worries. Or tries to escape worry. Drug addiction seems to be unchecked, including prescription drugs given to “calm” these anxious teens down. And no one talks about the use of alcohol, unless it’s coupled with driving or abuse. So an untold number of adults are fleeing their worries inside a bottle. There are even jokes about following a stressful event by finding a potent drink. Because clearly we can’t deal with worry in any other way. We simply must numb it or forget it.

The problem is, when the drugs wear off, when the hangover is all that’s left of the drink, the cause of stress, worry, anxiety remains.

Trouble at work? Chances are, that trouble will still be there in the morning when the “calm” wears off. Relationship problems? Drugs and alcohol don’t see to actually repair relationships. How about financial woes? No, substance abuse definitely doesn’t make money problems better. Probably the opposite is true.

Of course not everyone who feels stressed out or distressed about their marriage or their job or about their wayward kid or health concern runs to some addictive beverage or pharmaceutical. There are other ways of escaping stress. We can live for thrill; we can bury ourselves in entertainment; we can become workaholics. Anything to take our minds off that which causes us to worry.

But none of those things makes the thing behind our worry better. None of them. When we get back from the ski trip, the problems at work will still be there. After we finish bing-watching Lord of the Rings the money problems will be no different. We can go to Disneyland every day, and we won’t change the medical diagnosis of the person we love so much.

In truth, there is only one solution to angst. The Bible gives it to us clearly in 1 Peter 5:7—“casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

God wants to take our worry off our hands.

The problem is, we either think He can’t or He won’t fix whatever is troubling us. So we have to do what we can’t trust Him to do.

Part of that thinking is actually right: God might not fix our problems the way we think they should be fixed. Our loved one might not recover from cancer, our wayward child might walk away from us, our church might split, our boss might promote someone else instead of us, our washing machine might need to be replaced, our baby might have Down Syndrome.

But in and through all the hard things of life, God walks with us. He “fixes” our problems in ways we could not imagine before hand. Chances are, the “fixes” are spiritual and occur because of the difficulties. If I had not lost my spouse, I would never have learned to depend on God instead. If I had not had the accident, I would not have had the opportunity to witness to that nurse. If I had not lost my job, I would not have had the courage to start the ministry God has led me into.

Above all, when we do not cast our cares on God, we remain ignorant of how much He cares for us. Oh, sure, we might say, God loves me. I mean, He loves the world, right, so that includes me.

But actually, God’s love is much more personal. If there were no other people on earth, Jesus Christ would have died for my sins. Because His love is not some sort of generic thing that He’ll withdraw if there aren’t enough people involved. Really, He loves me.

His caring for the things we hand over to Him, is one way we can come to understand how personal His love is for us. He’s not too busy or too preoccupied or too overwhelmed to pay attention to the cares and worries I lay at His feet.

The thing that is perhaps the best here is that this caring that I can see so clearly as I give God my problems, creates a relationship that overshadows any of the problems I’ve been so concerned about. The love and peace and comfort and mercy and forgiveness and wisdom and joy that comes from a caring God, dwarfs the stuff that would drag us to the pit of despair.

Why? Because we’ve put the problem in hands more capable than our own. We’ve called in the Good Physician, the omniscient and omnipotent God who “upholds all things by the word of His power.” How can I not trust Him to know what’s best in my circumstance?

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Published in: on January 15, 2019 at 5:33 pm  Comments (1)  
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Suffering And God: The Refiner’s Fire


He is a refiner’s fire, and that makes all the difference. A refiner’s fire does not destroy indiscriminately like a forest fire. A refiner’s fire does not consume completely like the fire of an incinerator. A refiner’s fire refines. It purifies. It melts down the bar of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up, and leaves the silver and gold intact. He is like a refiner’s fire. (excerpt from Desiring God, “He Is Like a Refiner’s Fire” by John Piper)

One of the reasons I loved coaching so much was because I understand team sports as a microcosm of life. Teamwork, conflict, response to authority, hard work, patience—these are just some of the areas that confront athletes. Another is keeping the big picture in mind—winning isn’t everything; in fact, the game isn’t everything.

Then there is the key ingredient—a successful team suffers. Of course, we coaches don’t call it suffering—we call it training or conditioning. But the truth is, we put players through workouts we know will leave them weak and exhausted and hurting. Why? Because I hated my players? Hardly. The more potential I saw, the more I required of them. I pushed so they would be ready to face the opposition and overcome, but also so they would learn discipline and the necessity of preparation—in other words, things they could take with them long after they stopped playing team sports.

If I had hated my players, in fact, I would have pretty much ignored them. I saw a coach who treated his kids that way once. He would bring a lounge chair along to whatever game he was coaching, plop down, and pretty much let the kids do whatever they wanted to do. Like recess, some kids might think, How cool. But come game time, when that team was getting their clocks cleaned in a big way, none of those kids was having such a good time. I don’t know any of them, so can’t be sure, but I have to believe their experience in team sports at that level didn’t contribute in a positive way to their building traits they would need in life.

The point is clear. Just as coaches put their players through training, at times God takes His children through suffering. He wants to form us into the image of His Son. It’s one purpose of suffering, though certainly not the only one.

Someone with a different worldview that doesn’t account for eternal life may think God is cruel. Look at Joni Eareckson Tada—confined to a wheelchair since the age of 17 (she’s in her late 60’s now). How could she not become bitter and resentful toward God? I can only answer from what I’ve heard and read her saying, and one component is that she is looking forward to unending health once this life is over. Another is that her relationship with Jesus has become so sweet, she says she would never trade it for the use of her arms and legs.

My, what an impact that woman has had on thousands, maybe millions, not in spite of her disability but because of it. She is a living and breathing example of what the Apostle Paul said: “Power is perfected in weakness.”

He went on to add, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 10)

Easy for me to say, sitting comfortably in the land of the free and home of the brave, but what about that hypothetical girl in Sudan that I referenced in an earlier post? There are many people who have actually lived through the kind of abuse in the description. From Daughters of Hope by Kay Marshall Strom and Michele Rickett (InterVarsity Press)—a book composed of real life stories of women around the world:

The villagers said that government forces were capturing women and asking them whether they were Christian or Muslim. If the … response was “Christian,” the women were raped, mutilated, and left to die where others could see them as a warning.

“This woman was supposed to be an example to others who would dare to remain Christians,” Dr. Lidu said. “But I wish they could have heard her as she was recovering. She spent her time praising the name of Jesus!”

These women strengthen my faith. God doesn’t hate them. And while I might think the best is for Him to rescue those who are suffering out of the hands of evil men, God has a bigger, eternal, perspective. He knows that these women, though they may never leave that refugee camp or be free from the abuse, can impact thousands because of their faith. I, for one, can hardly wait to see the rewards stacking up for them in heaven.

This article is a revised version of one that first appeared here in November, 2008.

Countering False Assumptions


A member of the humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse waits to board a UH-1Y Venom, with Joint Task Force 505, for transportation to the Villages of Chilangka and Worang, Nepal, May, 11, during Operation Sahayogi Haat. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by MCIPAC Combat Camera Staff Sgt. Jeffrey D. Anderson/Released)

I never knew there were so many false ideas out in the world until I got on the internet. I knew there were false ideas about Americans—I’ve lived in various other places such as Africa or Latin America. But the internet has shown me the false ideas about politics, and Christians, and God, and the Bible—things I was not as aware of.

According to some on the internet, of the atheist stripe, Christians have no basis for their religious beliefs other than wishful thinking. The idea is, Christianity is a myth but we refuse to accept the truth and believe anyway.

Bong! Wrong answer.

I’m not sure what this group of atheists thinks about the hundreds of thousands of theologians who study the Bible and history and archaeology and science and psychology and on and on. One possibility is they simply are unaware of the depth of scholarship, the number of universities, of books, of seminars, of debates, or of university lectures.

The other possibility, of course, is that no contradictory ideas are tolerated, no matter how studied the view. I got such a response concerning a scientist, the head of the human Genome project, who became a Christian. Gave up his atheism. But in doing so, in the eyes of some he is no longer qualified to speak.

But God’s existence is only one position targeted with false assumptions. Even within Christianity I’ve discovered there are false assumptions, such as “Christians who believe the Bible are Pharisees.” Or those who are into “easy believism” aren’t really saved. Or evangelicals are all hateful. Or fundamentalists are all judgmental.

So many of these false assumptions are so far from my personal experience, it’s really hard to understand how these exaggerated and generalized ideas came to be accepted as the true—by anybody.

Here’s one in the political realm that I’ve heard on TV not the internet, but I’m sure it is there because the sponsors of this campaign post their website. It’s a movement to impeach President Trump. Frankly, I’m surprised there hasn’t been a more rigorous and intentional attempt to remove him from the Presidency sooner, but the point for this post is that this group claims President Trump is the acknowledged “most corrupt President in history.”

I guess these people have never heard of Richard Nixon who would have been impeached and ousted from office had he not resigned. Or what about Warren Harding? One site says this about President Harding: “He loved playing poker and womanising, but was less interested in running the country. His cabinet and official appointments included a large coterie of old pals from Marion, Ohio, including several of his relatives. Many of these people made personal fortunes from taking bribes.”

Then there was James Buchanan who pulled all kinds of shenanigans that exacerbated the brewing conflict over slavery. Or how about Andrew Johnson who actually was impeached, though never convicted, because of his mismanagement of reconstruction after the Civil War which enabled the Carpetbaggers to sow havoc in the South.

I could go on, but the point for this article is how false the statement is that President Trump is the most corrupt President ever.

I guess what surprises me most about all the false assumptions is how easily a little online research can expose the false assumptions. Without half trying someone can find out that Evangelicals are not hateful but actually have been behind a host of projects and organizations that promote the welfare of peoples of all stripes, in all places.

For example, several years ago CNBC reported “The top 10 charities changing the world in 2016” which included the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (number 7), Samaritan’s Purse (number 4), MAP International (number 2).

But those are only the large international organizations that get noticed the most. There are everyday things that go on under the radar, such as the $100,000.00 raised by my church in the Thanksgiving offering that went to help those in need in our local community—with things like laptops for moms who were volunteering to replace a discontinued after-school program that helps students with their homework.

There are so many examples I could give that simply blows apart the idea that “evangelicals” are hateful and narrow-minded and bigoted and judgmental. Never mind programs for the disabled like Joni and Friends or outreaches in local universities to international students. Or inner city shelters. Or missionaries and the hundreds of thousands of Evangelical Christians who support them as they provide means for needy people to access clean water or give needed medicine or teach literacy.

I have no doubt that some people identifying as evangelical Christians are not generous. I mean, Christians are people and therefore sinners, and we are capable of falling into error ourselves. But certainly all evangelical Christians are not legalistic and bigoted and fear mongers.

So many of the false assumptions, like the “most corrupt President” line, are just completely false, but whether there is an element of truth or the idea is an out and out lie, they ought not stand unchallenged.

Of all the things that matter these days, one matters above all others: TRUTH, which, by the way, points to Jesus, since He is the way, the truth, and the life—the only Way we can come to God.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

At Odds With Our Culture


Thinking Biblically puts Christians at odds with our culture. How could it be any different? Western culture says humans are their own masters, captains of their own fate. Christianity says, God is our Master and, in fact, Lord of all.

Western society is an odd mix of democracy and equality tangled with one-upmanship capitalism. We’re all equal, which means we don’t care who we step on as we climb our way up the ladder of success. Christianity, on the other hand, has no such confusion. We are to share with the needy, give no bribes, play no favorites.

The world in which we live says we are to protect what’s ours. Build fences (which make good neighbors according to the man in Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”), construct sturdy banks, invent efficient security systems. The Bible says we are to trust God, love our neighbors, give our shirt when someone takes our coat.

Our culture says there’s a drug for all your needs. Feeling a little anxious? Try something to calm you down. Need more sleep? Take a sedative. Not alert in the morning? How about some caffeine in a cup? God says, let your requests be known to Him. Don’t be anxious. Make Him your refuge and your strength.

I could go on and on—about our attitudes toward people of different races or ethnicities, toward those in governmental authority, spouses, parents, bosses, toward discipline, money, enemies, borrowing, work, education. There are a hundred ways Christians should stand out as different from our culture.

The point is, believing God to be omnipotent, sovereign, good, all knowing, and my personal friend ought to change the way I do things. But it seems there’s too much noise drowning out God’s voice, too many activities to crowd out time with our sure Counselor.

I think the bottom line is this: none of us can think Biblically if we don’t read the Bible. Regularly. As though the answers to all the problems we face day after day are within its pages.

I remember one particularly difficult year when I read the book of 1 Peter every day for a week or more. I wanted to hear what God had to say and it seemed like that book had the answers. But as each day wore on, I found myself back with my same attitudes and worries. So I’d dig into 1 Peter again. I wish I’d been better at putting what I was reading into practice, but I hadn’t learned to pray with those things in mind.

I knew God would hear and answer prayer according to His will. I just hadn’t figured out that the Bible told me at least a part of His will. So when He said, “casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you,” I didn’t draw the conclusion that God’s will for me was to cast my anxiety on Him.

It seems rather obvious now. But my learning to think Biblical was and still is, in process.

To be honest with you, I’d prefer to be in the social center rather than at odds with society. I don’t like feeling like an outsider, a misfit, someone who doesn’t belong. I spent too many years as the new kid who’d just moved into town and had to find a way to be accepted.

Now as an adult I learn I don’t fit because my citizenship is in heaven. I have a different mindset, a different allegiance, a different hope, a different strategy, a different goal.

Part of me would like to pull in and find a comfortable place with like-minded people where I’m understood and secure. Except, then I’m not positioned to accomplish my goal or live out my strategy or demonstrate my hope or allegiance.

In short, thinking Biblically isn’t easy. It puts me at odds with my culture. And that’s actually as it should be.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in January, 2014.

Published in: on January 3, 2019 at 5:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Anxiety In The New Year


I keep hearing about people starting 2019 filled with anxiety and a sense of woe. I’m not sure where this pessimism is coming from. Maybe it’s the usual depression brought on by winter. Maybe it’s the divisiveness currently in our nation. Maybe it’s the downward spiral some see our moral climate taking. I don’t know for sure.

What I do know is that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

That truth actually isn’t good news for people who reject or ignore God, because He has already demonstrated that when evil reaches a limit, He will act in judgment. He did so with Egypt, with Canaan, with Israel, with Judah. Why would the God who is the same from one era to the next suddenly go soft on sin? He isn’t likely to do that. But we don’t know just how or when His judgment will fall.

So those who are far from God have reason to be somewhat anxious.

But Christians? Not if we are going about doing our Father’s business.

There’s a little known verse in a little read book of prophecy, Nahum 1:7, that I’ve come to love:

The LORD is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble.
And He knows those who take refuge in Him.

There’s no false promise in the verse that God will magically take away any and all trouble. Rather, it pretty much promises a day of trouble. But God matches that with a greater promise—He is the stronghold, the fortress, the citadel, the bastion, the fortification. Not for everyone. Well, I’ll qualify that. Yes, He is the stronghold for everyone, but not everyone will trust in Him.

Those who do . . . well, He knows who those are. We can’t fool Him, or pretend we trust Him when we actually are depending on our own strength. He knows. And, as a reminder, He’s the omniscient one. As David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said in Psalm 139,

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.

God’s knowledge about each one of us is not limited, so when He says He knows who takes refuge in Him, I believe He does in fact know the real from the pretend, the “in name only” and the “all in’s.” He knows.

I find a lot of comfort in that. I won’t get lost in the shuffle of all the many, many people—those on the front lines, those in the thick of the fight. I might be nothing but a squire, delivering missives from one commander to the line of soldiers on the wall, but God knows I’m in the Stronghold, that I’m there for refuge, that I have no other “safe place” than in His presence.

I find it so ironic that our culture works so hard to keep everyone safe these days, and yet we are as vulnerable as ever. We have laws about seat belts and helmets and strollers and vaccinations and plastic bags and straws and abuse and fraud and border security and on and on, but we still face danger to our health, danger from nature, danger from individuals, danger from other nations. Perhaps most surprising is that we have become aware of danger from ideas. But instead pf arming ourselves for battle, instead of running to the Stronghold, we are drawing little circles around ourselves and declaring them safe zones. Reminds me of children playing tag but with a safe zone where they couldn’t be tagged. I mean, could they live there? Of course not. So they either had to leave the safe place or quit the game.

The cool thing is, we absolutely CAN live, or as Jesus says, abide, in our Stronghold. In fact we’re commanded to do so:

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

Abiding as a branch sounds even more permanent than taking refuge in a stronghold, except when you think about cities under siege. Staying inside the secure walls was paramount, just like a branch staying attached to a vine. So the images are really the same.

The point is, those without the vine, without the Stronghold, may very well be anxious, and may even be rightly anxious.

Sort of like when the 12 spies of Israel checked out the Promised Land. They reported back that there were giants in the land. Real giants. They had reason to believe that they couldn’t take down the giants—as long as they thought they were to do so alone. But they weren’t. Ever. God Had freed them from slavery and had preserved and protected them on their way. Why would they think in the day of trouble, He would abandon them? That was their great mistake.

What a difference if we take refuge in Him instead.

Accusations Against Christians — A Reprise


There’s quite a litany of accusations against Christians these days, from both non-Christians and others who call themselves Christians. Those charges include things such as Christians can’t do art or create good speculative fiction. More seriously, some say Christians are greedy and hypocritical and hateful.

Sadly a selection of very visible individuals or groups claiming the name of Christ have reinforced some of these ideas—pastors who end up having affairs, televangelists who preach health-and-wealth rather than sacrificial giving, sign-waving funeral crashers who condemn rather than present the good news.

But then there are individuals like the owner of Chick-fil-A who became the brunt of accusations because of his stand for monogamous, heterosexual marriage. He too was accused of being hateful.

Recently, as I was reading Scripture, I realized, we might as well get used to these sorts of recriminations. All the way back in the Old Testament, people proclaiming the truth about God and man’s sinful condition were tarnished with the brush of accusation.

Even Elijah. He prophesied during the reign of one of the most sinful kings Israel would know. Ahab married a pagan and proceeded to lead his people into idolatry like no king before him. He built temples and altars and assigned priests and made sacrifices to these false gods, all the while persecuting those who were faithful to the Lord God who lead them out of Egypt.

As judgment on the nation, God, through the prayer of Elijah, withheld rain from them for over three years. Needless to say, they suffered severe drought and famine. Ahab apparently conducted an extensive search for Elijah, thinking perhaps to force him to beseech God for rain. His search failed because God kept Elijah safe and supplied with food and drink.

When at last God told Elijah to return to Ahab, his first assignment before dealing with the drought was to confront the prophets of of the false god Baal. But before he could propose a showdown, Ahab accused him of troubling Israel.

Elijah didn’t let the accusation stand. Rather, he turned it back on Ahab:

He said, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and you have followed the Baals. (1 Kings 18:18)

Of course today such a statement would be seen as further evidence of a hateful, intolerant, unloving attitude.

I think this is why New Testament writers like Paul and Peter were instructing Christians about how to handle things like false accusations and suffering. Peter in his first letter makes a strong case for suffering for the sake of righteousness, not for wrong doing:

and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. (1 Peter 3:16-17 — emphasis added)

In the end, it seems the only thing we as believers in Jesus Christ can do is live godly lives. Earlier Peter said

Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation . . . For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (1 Peter 2:12, 15)

Apparently Jesus flipped the script, and Scripture says we are to follow His example:

And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23).

“Hypocrites! Hateful! Greedy!” The accusations will come. The key is to silence our critics, not by taking a defensive stand, but by exhibiting good behavior with which the accusers cannot argue, then trusting God for the results.

With some minor revision, this article is a re-print of one that appeared here in November, 2012.

Published in: on November 26, 2018 at 4:43 pm  Comments (8)  
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Gratitude, Day 1—The Books Of The Bible I Used To Skip


A number of years ago, I began reading through the Bible from cover to cover. When I first started the process, I’d inevitably bog down when I got to certain parts that seemed . . . well, boring. I thought they weren’t relevant, didn’t give the spiritual nourishment I needed.

So one year I got the idea to skip the parts that were too hard, that I didn’t find engaging.

But since then, I’ve changed.

As it happens, the Bible is constructed in such a way that one passage builds upon another, and before I realized it, I was reading the hard passages and even taking notes and asking questions.

Specifically I’m referring to the books of Leviticus and Numbers. There were other passages—a portion of 1 Chronicles, for example—that dive into genealogies, and they were on my “To Be Avoided” list, too, but primarily, I dodged Leviticus and Numbers.

I’m not at all sorry I did because I’m convinced that decision kept me from quitting my reading plan, as I tried to work my way through the entire Bible.

The amazing thing is that God has turned around my attitude toward those books. I realized it some years ago when I felt a sense of sadness that I was finished with Leviticus. When did that happen? And how?

God did His work, is what happened. How? By the power of His Spirit and the incisive word that cuts to the heart. I don’t honestly remember when I decided to keep going when I finished Exodus.

To be honest, there are big parts of that book that are not your edge-of-the-seat fare, either. It’s there that God gave the specifics of the tabernacle—its construction and furnishings—as well as the Ten Commandments and a variety of other laws.

Leviticus, then, sort of slides right in behind, carrying on where Exodus left off. The thing is, the more familiar I become with the rest of the Bible, the more these books of law and records make sense to me, and the more they help me understand other parts of the Bible. Cyclical, I know.

Not that I don’t also have questions about them. I do. Questions and observations.

Here’s one note, for instance, across from Exodus 21:16—“He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.”My note:

By this law, Joseph’s brothers would have been put to death.

Joseph’s brothers—the patriarchs after whom the twelve tribes were named. Their sin against Joseph was of the nature that would have cost them their lives under the Law. Instead, they were forgiven and given places of prominence among the nation of Israel for all time. Who could do that but a God of grace?!

Or how about this note next to Leviticus 17:11-12—“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.’ ” My notes:

How radical was Jesus’s statement “This is my blood . . . drink this . . . ” ! The blood is the life, so Jesus’s blood spilled for sinners was His life spent for the atonement of sinners. And the cup of the Lord’s supper? His life in us symbolized by our drinking of the cup.

These notes were compiled over at least three different readings of the passage. Each time something new about the verses came clear and one thought built on another.

Or how about Numbers 7. It’s 89 verses long, but most of it is repetition, enumerating the dedication offerings for the altar. Each day for twelve days a leader of one of the twelve tribes brought the exact same offering, and these are listed throughout the chapter, one after the other. All twelve of them:

On the [__ numbered] day it was [name of tribal leader] the son of [tribal leader’s father], leader of the sons of [name of tribe]; his offering was one silver dish whose weight was one hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering; one gold pan of ten shekels, full of incense; one bull, one ram, one male lamb one year old, for a burnt offering; one male goat for a sin offering; and for the sacrifice of peace offerings, two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five male lambs one year old. This was the offering of [tribal leader] the son of [tribal leader’s father].

I don’t know why God repeated those lines twelve times, inserting, of course the different tribal names and their respective leaders and their fathers. But what I’ve noticed is that the margins of my Bible are covered with notes here (mostly questions). This was a passage I once skipped, then skimmed, then tried to memorize, then began to ask questions about and notice details.

For instance, the order in which the tribes presented their sacrifice is not the same as the order of birth of the patriarchs or their listing by the name of their mother (the two most common ways they are listed throughout the first five books of the Bible). Instead, they’d been grouped in companies, three tribes to a group, each under the leadership of one particular tribe. By the order of these companies they were to camp and by the order of these companies they were to travel. It is this order, then, that they presented their sacrifices.

Significant? In thinking about the dynamics of the nation, it’s interesting and informative, especially in relation to its division into two kingdoms later on.

Back to the sacrifices: part included flour or incense offered in 12 bowls, 12 pans, and 12 dishes. Only the pans holding the incense were to be made of gold. The others were silver. Is there a reason for that? Was the incense a particularly important part of the worship or was it a practical matter—the blend of burning spices would have tarnished silver?

I don’t know, but it’s interesting to note that in Revelation the prayers of the saints are referred to as incense.

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Rev. 5:8)

All this to say, there are all kinds of interesting connections, some literal and some symbolic, that I am beginning to see, especially in the New Testament, as a result of reading Leviticus and Numbers. I understand the book of Hebrews better, for instance, and a number of things that the gospels chronicle make more sense.

I have to mention this one: one of the laws in Leviticus was that a person with an “issue of blood” would be unclean—i.e. not able to join in the worship ceremonies and feasts. Furthermore, anyone that person touched would also be unclean.

So in the New Testament when the woman with the “issue of blood” touched the edge of Jesus’s clothing, she didn’t want to touch Him to cause Him to become unclean. He, on the other hand, didn’t rebuke her, but had compassion on her because her suffering had been much deeper than the physical. She’d been ostracized and separated from worship for all those years. And still she believed.

So today, I’m especially grateful for the books of Leviticus and Numbers and for the way God makes His word come alive. He is a faithful God.

Much of this post is a revised version of one that appeared here in September, 2014.

God Knows


I find myself saying “God knows” a lot these days. God knows about the person who is living an immoral life style. God knows about the unfair treatment the church person is meting out. God knows about the corruption in our government and the lies from the politicians. God knows about the problems I see at so many different levels.

I am comforted by the fact that God knows. It’s a reminder to me that even the things that seem so out of control actually aren’t.

I think of young Joseph, gang tackled by his older brothers and hauled to a pit, even as he pleaded for his life. Did he think in those darkest moments when he was fished out of the hole and pushed into the hands of the slavers, that God knows?

Certainly, years later Joseph knew that truth. God knew and as a result had the whole circumstance under control. In fact, all the evil directed at Joseph, God turned to the good for … well, the world.

Because He sent Joseph ahead to preserve the lives of his entire family, He set in motion so many things related to Jesus—His lineage and numerous important types that show the story of salvation. There would have been no exodus if Joseph hadn’t gone to Egypt. There would have been no Passover lamb, no passing through the sea on dry land, no giving of the law, no priestly office, no serpent lifted up for the sick to look at and be healed, no daily portion of manna, and on and on.

After the fact, Joseph could tell his brothers that he got it—God knew, and what was evil, He made good. Now we can read the story and see too, the way God worked it all out. But what was Joseph thinking at the time? Wouldn’t he have been comforted if he could have glimpsed the end?

Of course, God had graciously given him just such a glimpse. Remember the dreams? God had shown Joseph his family bowing to him. Not once, but twice.

Did the memory of those dreams comfort Joseph when all seemed so horribly wrong? Did he think, I don’t know how this will happen, but God said He would put me as a ruler over my family. He knows I’m a slave now instead.

I suspect Joseph did hold onto the truth because he clearly held onto God. When his master’s wife wanted to sleep with him, he didn’t say, Your husband might find out. He said, How can I sin against God?

That’s the answer of a man who understood that God knows.

This article was first published here in October 2010.

Upside Down Commands


Like other elements of society, the Church follows trends, even fads. They might show themselves in worship styles or catch phrases (how many times have I heard a preacher “unpack” a passage of Scripture? 🙄 ) Those are certainly harmless. Less so, however, are the shifting points of emphasis which seem to change with the winds of preference.

One such shift has been toward creating “seeker friendly” (also a catch phrase) churches, which, in my opinion, seem to miss the point of believers assembling themselves together weekly. Then too, of late there’s been a noticeable increase in the attention churches are giving to service. No longer do we want to sit on the sidelines, but we are admonished to “be the hands and feet of Jesus” in our community.

And we don’t stop with admonishing individuals. We are organizing programs and partnering with para-church organizations to feed children, care for orphans, tutor those struggling with literacy, provide clothes for the needy, beds for the homeless, medical and dental care for the poor.

In short, we’ve left the comfortable pews behind and have made a determined effort to charge out into the highways and byways to reach the unreached through our good deeds.

“About time,” some say. The church in America has been trying for far too long to create a safe, wholesome place where our needs are met and our sensibilities aren’t offended. We’re overdue for a little boat rocking. In fact, the whole thing needs to be turned upside down.

There’s a lot of truth in that position, which, I’m discovering, is the place where a lot of error starts. Just as in every other area, we must look at Scripture and take our lead from God, not from what sounds good, and certainly not from what is currently trendy in the church.

So what does God think about caring for the poor and orphaned and widows? He’s all for it!

Problem solved? Not so fast.

There’s something He’s even more all for. He’s all for us loving Him. That’s the first commandment, the greatest one, according to Jesus. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Then and only then are we to love our neighbor as ourselves. It seems to me we are in the process of flipping the order of the two commands, as if doing for others is more important than loving God.

Over and over the people of Israel were admonished to love God or fear Him, then to obey and serve.

Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 10:12).

So here’s the critical point. It is in loving God that we will genuinely be concerned for serving others. It won’t be a passing fancy or a program that we’ll swap out for another one later on down the road.

No, if we love God with our whole being, we will want what He wants, go where He sends, do what He says. Loving Him seems like the only sure way we will end up loving our neighbor self-sacrificially. After all, these are the people the One we love passionately came to save. Why wouldn’t we in turn love them too? Isn’t that the way it works when two people love each other—they take on each other’s interests and passions. They pay attention to what they had never cared about before.

So, sure, it’s time the church in America became less self-satisfied and self-centered. It’s time we stopped loving ourselves more than we love God. But the answer isn’t to try to make ourselves love other people more than we love ourselves. That might be an admirable goal, but it has the commands Jesus enumerated upside down. Unless we do the first, we won’t be doing the second either—not the way we could or should. We’ll simply be trending.

Re-posted from the original article published November, 2011.

Published in: on October 9, 2018 at 5:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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Enjoyable Sin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Furthermore, the consequences of sin are here and now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But made fun of?

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

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

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

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

Published in: on October 8, 2018 at 5:36 pm  Comments (1)  
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