Turning To God


If it’s true that the problems the US faces today are not going to be fixed by government, that they actually need a spiritual answer, that such an answer starts with turning to God, what does that mean? What does it look like?

I’ve talked to a number of atheists over the years, and clearly their belief (although they say they don’t believe anything) is that there’s no evidence for God. What they are actually saying is a refutation of Romans 1, and an agreement.

Paul says in the first chapter of this letter that “that which is known about God is evident within them because God made it evident to them.” This, he explains, has been so since the creation of the world, in which God’s invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature have been clearly seen through what He made.

So the atheist starts by denying creation.

Paul addressed that, too, saying that though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God. So we refer to “Mother Nature,” not God. Maybe Mother Nature will give us a break in the weather so the fires will be brought under control.

In the same breath, many of the same people declare that humans are in control of that which has been made. So everything will be fine if we just don’t screw it up. All the climate warming and the resulting floods and hurricanes and fires, are our fault because we aren’t doing a good enough job.

So, on one hand, Mother Nature is in charge and we’re just along for the ride, but on the other hand humans are in charge of not making a mess of “our home.” How this Earth became our home, doesn’t ever seem to cross their minds.

But the bottom line is this: those who do not believe in God claim there is no evidence for His existence, then distort that very evidence, suggesting instead that this world and our place in it happened randomly and yet in an orderly progression of random events that can’t be replicated. But it was random. Not a result of an intelligent mind or a loving Father who chose to bring the world into existence and chose to put us humans in charge of it.

Interestingly, I had one atheist tell me she kept the Ten Commandments. Clearly she didn’t really know what they say, because they start with “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Mother =Nature is another god. And so are we humans, if we credit ourselves with what only God does.

I don’t want to get too far from the point. If we are to turn to God, we first have to acknowledge that He is. The writer of the book of Hebrews says that: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

So the first part of turning to God, I think, is to live what we say we believe. If we believe God is, then we need to trust Him, even when things don’t go the way we want. We need to trust that He sees the end from the beginning, that He knows what’s right.

I remember playing as a kid that I was a pirate looking through a telescope (usually the cardboard tube after all the Christmas wrapping had been used up). The problem with looking through a narrow cylinder is that you don’t get the panorama. You only see one small portion, and sometimes that is so close up it seems as if it is everything, or at least all that is important.

Unlike that kind of limited perspective, God sees and knows what we need, today, ten years from today, what our neighbor needs and our nephew we see at Thanksgiving. God can be trusted, if He is God. And if believers want to lead the way for our nation to return to Him, we need to trust Him, even when we don’t understand what He’s doing.

The prophet Habakkuk had the same issue. He wanted the nation Israel to turn back to God. God told him He was about to send a far more wicked nation to put them into captivity. That made no sense to Habakkuk. Until God told him about the remnant and the Messiah which was part of this overall plan.

So, too, for us, we don’t know what God’s plans are for the world or even for us individually. But we can count on His promises and we can turn to Him as our shield, our refuge, our safety net.

Published in: on October 1, 2020 at 5:12 pm  Comments (9)  
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The Solution Is Not Political


The US has been pulled in two this year by all the rancor and accusations and rushing to judgment and anarchists and rioters. And then came the first Presidential debate.

Nothing could have demonstrated how divided we are more than those 90 minutes. At the same time, nothing could have demonstrated so clearly that what the US needs is not a political solution. It’s spiritual.

Pointing fingers and claiming that this person lied or said or did or didn’t do this or that doesn’t actually solve anything. It doesn’t bring clarity to the issues. It doesn’t actually answer the questions because those who agree with President Trump will believe him and those who agree with the former Vice President, will believe him.

This should surprise no Christian.

I understand, Christians like so many other Americans love their country, and it is hard to see people steadily dismantle what it has stood for all these years, to actually hate it and accuse those who are their neighbors and co-workers of hate.

I know this is old school, but all through my history and sociology courses, the clear ideal for which America stood was a place where all peoples from anywhere could find freedom and the pursuit of happiness. We though of ourselves during those years as a “melting pot,” a place where various peoples all became one—Americans.

No one hid from us the failings of our country—of slavery and the scar it left, of the Japanese interment camps during WWII, of the hatred Germans endured at that same time. But no one hid the great accomplishments of “people of color,” either.

I could spend a lot of time elaborating, but that’s not the point here. Rather, despite the wonderful ideal and the good instruction that certainly did play a part in forming the attitudes of many of us, we are far more divided now than we ever were. Ever.

In other words, the public policy, the political solutions, the social engineering have not brought peace and harmony to our land. In fact, they’ve hardly moved the needle.

The fact is, each and every one of us needs to bow the knee to the Sovereign Lord God Almighty.

Interestingly the Bible has a lot to say about harmony and unity, most addressing believers. “To sum up, all of you, be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit, not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead.” (1 Peter 3:8-9, I believe).

Of course the Apostle Paul called the church in Philippi (and us right along with them) to have the same attitude Jesus had. To regard others as more important than ourselves.

Do you think we would have racial or political division if we were doing what Scripture calls us to do?

But people who don’t follow Jesus likely won’t ever get there. For one, they don’t recognize the Bible as an authority, and two they don’t have any motive to do what Jesus did. Christians have that motive: “But you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also died for you leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” (also in 1 Peter 3).

So the real need is not to try and make people with no motive do what Christ taught and did, nor is it to try and fashion a government after His principles that is void of the heart of what He said.

Christ came to preach good news—release for the captives, the forgiveness of sins. He didn’t come to set up an earthly kingdom. Various people groups have tried to do this before—the Puritans in England, the Calvinists in Geneva, and perhaps that’s what the Pilgrims wanted when they came to America. I know here the Amish have tried for the same idea.

It doesn’t work. Some might think the Amish have been successful, but that’s because they don’t know about the church splits over the use of a hook and eye instead of a button or zippers instead of either. Or about the Amish that excommunicate others for having a telephone or any number of other legalistic trivia. No, the Amish community is not an example of a successful earthly group that lives in harmony.

The only such group is the Church, and we aren’t setting up an earthly place to gather or to rule. That’s part of our heavenly inheritance. But what I’ve noticed is this: since God calls us brothers and sisters, there is an instant affinity, Christian with Christian. So if I’m talking to a Kenyan I’ve only just met or if I’m sitting on a small stool in the hut of a poor Guatemalan or I’m sitting at a sushi meal in Tokyo, there is a rapport, a recognition, that we are family.

The family of Christ supersedes earthly cultures or nations or ethnicities. When I sat in a church in Harlem and sang with an all black congregation, I was with my brothers and sisters. That’s the unity that can transform a nation.

I know a lot of Christians are familiar with a part of this verse:

[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Too many people are only interested in these parts, when they pray, I will heal their land.

First God spoke these words to Israel, and He was referring to the Promised Land. I don’t think there’s any evidence that the US is a Promised Land replacement.

But more importantly, the verse says if we call on God’s name, if we humble ourselves, if we pray, if we seek His face, if we turn from our wicked ways . . . then God will hear and forgive and heal.

So where is a national turning to God? Israel had the temple and the Mosaic Law and kings anointed by God’s prophet as David was, and still needed God to explain to them that they had to be ready and willing to turn back to Him. Their God established nation and political system was not enough.

Certainly, certainly we must see that it’s also not what we need today either. We need repentant hearts and a turning to God. That’s what we should be preaching.

Photo by Craig Adderley from Pexels

Published in: on September 30, 2020 at 5:13 pm  Comments (5)  
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It’s Not A Good Year


Back in January my thoughts were on things like making New Year’s Resolutions and surviving the New Year’s Eve night of fireworks. Shortly after, there was the impeachment trial of our President, which I followed pretty closely. When that was resolved, folks started talking about the November election and the upcoming primaries.

But the news was quickly hijacked by the Covid-19 virus beginning to spread around the world. Italy seemed the hardest hit . . . until the US was. But truthfully, nations in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Scandinavia, Africa, all over Europe have all had to deal with this disease.

The US economy has tanked, and I think other countries are experiencing the same problem. People have lost jobs, businesses have turned belly-up. And of course, people are dying.

For whatever reason, the US can’t seem to get a handle on the disease, and it continues to spread. So, in places like Texas and Arizona, which once had very few cases, there are thousands of new cases every day, and up to a hundred new deaths. Of course, world wide there are hundreds of thousands of new cases and thousands of new deaths, so I suppose we should keep all the info in perspective.

But alas, like everything else that takes place today, the response to Covid has become controversial. No to masks—they actually hurt more than they help. Yes to masks because they will help contain the spread. No to Chloroquine because there might be side affects. Yes to Chloroquine because it might save lives. No to social distancing and closing churches because it’s all a government conspiracy. Yes to distancing measures so we can get over this pandemic more quickly (and have sports).

And on it goes. The debates are endless and, I might add, pointless, because this is our new year, our happy new year that is kicking off the 2020’s.

I could go on about the social unrest and the “cancel culture” culture, about extremists who eat their own because the canceled individuals haven’t gone far enough into the ideological abyss. Or what about cities that refuse to police things like destruction or theft of private property. How about the demolition of Federal property? But then there’s the controversy over whether the President should or should not send in troops to do what the local police can’t do or haven’t been ordered to do.

The atmosphere is toxic in 2020.

Some people—even some Christians—are throwing our elderly and infirmed under the bus. Stop the measures to contain the virus (usually this comes from conspiracy theorists) and let nature take its course. Because the spread of this virus, and the number of people dying, aren’t that bad.

I suspect that approach is sort of like the mayor of Seattle saying to leave the rebels in her city alone—until they marched on her house. When riots and looting and mobs come close to home, it’s time to do something. So, too, when Covid puts a loved one into the hospital, it’s time to take more serious measures.

In the midst of a thoroughly forgettable year that likely most people will never forget, God has not changed.

He’s still God. He’s still sovereign. He still asks the same of His people—that we rejoice always, that we glorify His name, that we tell people about Jesus.

God has not gone away, His plans for the world have not changed, His purpose for His people has not become something different.

Rather, God asks us to be joyful, in the midst of the difficulties the things in our society are causing. He asks us to still love our neighbors even as we face accusations that we can’t do that if we are a certain skin color.

God still wants us to be the body of Christ, loving our brothers and sisters around the globe, praying for the challenges suffering saints face that might be greater or more disruptive than those we face.

Even if we are at the heart of the worst of what’s going on in 2020, our mandate from God has not changed. It’s not suddenly OK to speak against our brothers or judge our brothers. That what James says in chapter 4, and then reiterates in chapter 5. He’s talking to Christians who were being persecuted, and he holds ho punches:

Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? (4:11-12)

Above all God wants us to remember that He is still in charge. The Covid virus didn’t somehow slip past his attention. The riots in Chicago or Portland or Atlanta haven’t happened when He had His back turned.

Because He knows the end from the beginning. He has an amazing way of working through human agents. In fact that’s His preferred method today. He wants the Church to be His hands and feet, caring for widows and orphans and strangers and the oppressed.

At the same time, He brings people who are opposed to Him, who reject Him, along our path in order to refine, correct, or warn.

I’m of the mindset that the greatest need in the midst of the pandemic and the unrest and the economic fallout, is for us as a world, to bow before God and recognize that He is LORD, that He will do justly. That we who fear Him can know that He will keep us, even as His word promises.

Will He keep us now or in the life to come? Yes.

Published in: on July 30, 2020 at 5:12 pm  Comments (2)  
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Exalting The LORD


I’m accustomed to the Bible. I’ve gone to church since I was a small child. Truth be told, my parents undoubtedly took me to church when I was a baby, but I can’t say I remember the experience.

What’s more, in my teens I made some feeble efforts to read the Bible on my own. Finally I succeeded in making that a habit when I was in my early twenties.

All that to say, not only is church language (some people call it churchese) familiar, but so is Bible language.

Some might be scratching their heads. Bible language? There is Bible language?

Well sure there is. Where else do people talk about justification or sanctification or glorification? These are Biblical terms, words used and explained by Paul. And as it happens there are a number of other “Bible words,” that I never really thought about being used—not exclusively, but perhaps primarily—in the Bible.

Take mercy, for example. Who uses that word apart from Christians? It doesn’t really come up too often in normal conversation. I mean, even in legal proceedings, I don’t think mercy is really part of the equation. Most penalties, in our state at least, have mandated sentencing, leaving judges no leeway to be merciful.

As it happens, our society is in a dangerous place of payback, so we don’t hear a lot of neighbors talking about mercy, or customers concerning businesses. Instead, the public is more apt to “cancel” someone or to boycott, or protest, or demand reparations, or to simply take what they consider to be their rightful due. No mercy.

The idea is, no mercy was offered to me, so they ain’t receiving any mercy from me!

Except, no one really says that. Because mercy isn’t really part of the every day vocabulary. It’s part of Bible talk.

I realized this fact about some of the words I don’t think twice about any more, because I’ve been around Bible talk for so long, when a friend approached me and asked me if I’d be interested in reading a Psalm a day with her.

Well, yeah!

One of the things I soon discovered was that a word like mercy is Bible talk. It needs explaining.

And so is the word exalt.

Today we read Psalm 30, which begins with these words (NIV):

I will exalt you, LORD,

for you lifted me out of the depths

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but exalt is a Bible word.

Who else do we exalt in the present culture in the western world? Ourselves, surely, but we don’t generally talk about doing so by using the word. We also exalt stars—of movies, music, TV, sports. But in those instances, we are more apt to say the culture or individual idolizes them, as opposed to exalts them.

What precisely do we mean by exalt? It’s a fair question. Is idolize an accurate synonym? Yes, according to the Oxford-American Dictionary, it is. The most appropriate definition is as follows:

hold (someone or something) in very high regard; think or speak very highly of

The synonyms listed in the accompanying thesaurus are these:

extol, praise, acclaim, esteem; pay homage to, revere, venerate, worship, lionize, idolize, look up to; informal put on a pedestal, laud.

Many of those terms are not quite right when we’re talking about God. Or they also are Bible terms. Take revere or worship. I suppose it is possible that an Englishman would say he reveres the Queen, but generally those words are reserved for speaking about God. And specifically about the Christian God. Do Muslims revere Allah? Maybe, though I don’t recall anything about revering God in the Five Pillars of Islam or in the Islamic law (sharia).

Perhaps Hindus revere their various gods. I know that those they believe are present in the animal kingdom are preserved and protected. Many Hindus don’t eat meat, for instance, and they do all they can to preserve the life of even the lowest insect. I’m a little muddy as to the reason, here. All these animals aren’t gods, in their way of thinking, but they are reincarnated beings who have been brought back as lower forms of life as part of their karma.

So who is exalted?

As it turns out, the Bible talks a lot about exalting God.

So what exactly does exalting God mean, apart from the other Bible-term synonyms or from those that simply don’t work (like idolize).

The best way I can explain it is this: exalting God, exalting Jesus, is something we do to elevate His standing. Of course we can’t actually elevate God’s standing since He is God and already over all things. But we can point to Him, credit Him with what He does, put Him in the spotlight, so to speak, call attention to Him so that others notice Him, too.

And that’s what I think David was saying in Psalm 30. He exalts God, and then He spends the rest of the psalm explaining why.

His number one point is that he’s exalting God, because God put him in an elevated position. I mean, he’d been a mere shepherd boy, only for God to lift him from that position to the place of king over the nation Israel. It really is an amazing transformation, and because of it, David wants to turn the spotlight back on God: He gave me this power and authority—it was not my doing.

So, too, Christians can exalt the LORD, because we once were His enemies, going our own way, either in intentional rebellion against Him or in denial of who He is and His right to rule. But because of Jesus Christ, we’ve been made new.

Now we are friends, sons, heirs, beloved, adopted into His family. On and on.

Because of our transformation, like David’s, it’s only right for us to exalt the LORD.

Even though we may have to find another word to explain what it is we’re doing.

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Photo by St. Mattox from FreeImages

Published in: on July 28, 2020 at 5:33 pm  Comments (1)  
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All The Eggs In One Basket


As I read through the major and minor prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and so forth—one theme seems crystal clear. Whether God, through the prophets, was issuing warning, announcing judgment, or rebuking His people, the behavior that came up time and time again was that Israel was supposed to worship God only.

Sure, from time to time the prophets also talked about oppressing orphans and widows; not keeping the Sabbath; rulers, priests and false prophets leading the people astray; even the killing of their children in false worship.

The bottom line, however, was that all the ugly, sinful behavior the people engaged in, was linked to breaking the command to love God only. This passage from Deuteronomy spells things out pretty clearly:

“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, and to keep the LORD’S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen. (10:12-21)

In truth, all the elaboration and explanation shouldn’t have been necessary because God stated what He wanted in a very clear commandment which He placed first in the Ten Commandments:

‘I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.You shall have no other gods before Me.’ (Deut. 5:6-7)

No other gods. First, Scripture makes it clear that there ARE no other gods—only idols, false angels, pretend gods who wish to usurp God’s sovereign rule.

Despite God’s clear instruction, the people of Israel became enamored with the culture around them. The Egyptians, for instance, had all kinds of false gods. When, after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, God’s people reached the Promised Land, they found a number of other cultures who worshiped a different set of false gods, so they decided to add them to their pantheon.

But God had said, put your eggs all in one basket. Don’t trust Yahweh, the living God, and Baal and the Asherim and Molech, and Chemosh, or any of the other gods that the people around them worshiped.

Today we might be tempted to scoff a bit. After all, we are not superstitious. We do not worship the Sun or bow before a statue made of gold or wood or stone.

But truth be told, we in our sophisticated Western culture are not any different from those ancient Middle Easterners. We just hide what we’re doing. We say God is on the throne, but here in America, Sunday evening church services are almost non-existent because people who say they follow Christ are too busy with work or sports or family or some other leisure activity to give God one day in the week. He can have an hour Sunday morning, and maybe even two if we’re “really involved” in our church. But the whole day? Well, churches have made it easy for us by doing away with that Sunday evening service.

We say we love God, so we read our Bibles for fifteen minutes, maybe even a half hour a day. We might even get a devotional on our phone or tablet. But in contrast we watch TV for a couple hours, or play our computer games into the late night hours.

We privatize our religion and don’t let the Bible inform our views about Covid-19 or race or the Fourth of July. We are pretty OK with adopting the attitudes of our culture—our divided culture—about such things.

I know, because I’ve done all these things, and I could go on and on.

I’m not about to make a list of what I think we should or shouldn’t do. How we should vote or think or what we should say. Each person is different, and God moves in different ways in all our lives. But I do think we should love God more than these—whatever these is to us. We should give up stuff that stands in our way, that keeps us from loving God with all our mind, heart, strength. ‘Cause all our eggs belong in one basket.

Photo by Rodolfo Clix from Pexels

Published in: on June 30, 2020 at 4:35 pm  Comments (3)  
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Racial Divide, 2.0


Back in 2016 I wrote a post about the racial divide in America. The catalyst for my thoughts was completely different from those today.

American has continued to experience protests all over the country, and now protests have emerged all over the world because a white police officer and three others (one Asian, but I’m not sure of the ethnicity of the other two) were involved in the death of an African American accused of a misdemeanor. I covered the details of the tragedy in an earlier post.

What disturbs me beyond the needless, horrendous death of a man is the way the protests tear our nation apart. Granted, the violence, looting, and killing have subsided, but this whole event—from the death of the accused to the speeches made by the high profile media and sports types—cements the idea that racism is “part of our DNA.”

God doesn’t say that. In fact His word says just the opposite: There is no distinction; all have sinned; go into the whole world and preach the gospel; love, the perfect bond of unity; and many, many more such passages.

Of course, the primary concerns in the first century revolved around Jews and questions about including Gentiles—Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, you name it; basically anyone who was not a Jew—in the body of believers following Christ. While Scripture was written to people in the first century, it was written for all the rest of us, down through time, in every place.

So it’s not a stretch for us to read Paul’s statement in Colossians 3 “. . . there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all [believers, whom he is addressing]” and to conclude that there is no distinction between a Christian Italian, a Christian Swede, a Christian Kenyan, a Christian Mexican, a Christian Middle Easterner, a Christian from India, or a Christian from any other part of the world, from whatever ethnic or cultural background they have come out of.

The truth is, again from Scripture, that there will be people worshiping God in the new heaven and the new earth from every tribe and tongue and nation.

And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev. 5:9-10)

I love the part about God having made us all into a kingdom. Not a kingdom for each of the tribes or tongues or nations. One kingdom. United, because we have one God and Father:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:4-6)

He is One and He has and is making us one. One body. One bride. One temple. One family. One nation. The Bible uses all these metaphors to describe the Church. Because, the simple fact is that what we have in common because of Christ is greater than any cultural difference or economic divide or language barrier.

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, (Eph. 2:14-19; all caps indicate a quote from the Old Testament while the italics are my emphasis.)

The Apostle Peter echoed this same message in his first letter: “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

One nation, not many. One race. One people.

Therein lies the unity of believers. The fracturing and the divide in the world and in our nation come as a part of the upheaval created by sin. The only real, complete, long-lasting solution, is a Savior who makes us one.

Thus Says the Lord


I’m not sure this should be a blog post. More like a quick Facebook update or even a Tweet. So I’ll give you some background.

Some time ago I picked one verse from each book of the Bible to learn. Some were easy, like Joshua 1:8 and Jeremiah 29:11. But when I came to the minor prophet of Haggai, I struggled. As Chuck Swindoll put it in his overview of the book, “Haggai had an important message for the Jews who had recently returned from exile.” In other words, the book seems highly specialized, directed to a certain people, at a specific time, for a limited purpose.

You see, the message Haggai delivered was that the exiled Jews who returned to their homeland in order to rebuild the temple, needed to get busy and do what they had come to do.

In all the book, the only line that seemed to me not to point directly to rebuilding the temple was this: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Consider your ways.’ ” (1:7)

As it happens, it’s a perfect verse of warning. From Swindoll again:

The Jews who emigrated from Babylon to their original homeland of Judah faced intense opposition, both external and internal. Ezra 4:1–5 records the external resistance to the project of rebuilding the temple. The enemies of Judah first attempted to infiltrate the ranks of the builders, and when that didn’t work, they resorted to scare tactics. Haggai, on the other hand, focused on the internal opposition they faced, namely from their own sin. The Jews had thoughtlessly placed their own interests before the Lord’s interests, looking after their own safety and security without giving consideration to the status of the Lord’s house.

Looking after their own safety and security without giving consideration . . .

I watched a video today with the unfortunate title that asked the question if the US is running out of food. The answer is no, but the hoarder demands are greater than the usual, predictable buying patterns of the populace, so those responsible for the supply, the distribution, and the sale, are simply having a hard time keeping up.

I’ve maintained for two weeks now that things will soon calm down. I mean, hoarders can’t add more to their piles of hoarding, can they? Maybe so.

In that same video, the producers said we are not a nation in want of food. Our problem is that we waste food. The stat was 30-40% of food purchased ends up in the landfills. That’s kind of horrific.

When I saw that stat, I did wonder how much of the food that people had bought in a frantic panic, will end up being tossed. I mean, as the video pointed out, we aren’t eating more than we were, and we don’t have a smaller supply of food then we have had. So we have people buying food they don’t need and may not eat.

I think the verse in Haggai is appropriate: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Consider your ways.’ ”

Of course, there are other ways we should consider: our Wall Street greed, our Hollywood excess, our angry political battles, our attitude toward all human life, our moral and ethical standards, our unfair treatment of people who aren’t like we are. These are not specialty issues that some members of society have while the others can self-righteously point and judge.

No, we all need to consider our ways. How did Pastor Swindoll word it? “The Jews had thoughtlessly placed their own interests before the Lord’s interests.” Have Christians thoughtlessly placed our own interests before the Lord’s interests? If so, we need to consider our ways.

Published in: on March 30, 2020 at 4:51 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Kindness Of People—Or Not


News reports tell of heated moments in grocery stores as tension rises because of empty shelves and long lines. I heard of one woman in particular who berated a stock guy (a nice way of saying, she cussed him out) because they hadn’t refilled the shelves with the item (I think it was toilet paper) she wanted.

That seems over the top, but I just did a search on YouTube for a video of the incident, and found instead dozens and dozens of other altercations between store or gas station or restaurant workers and their customers. All those had nothing to do with the fear-driven reactions of today.

In some cases, the outrage had racial implications because of language or ethnicity. In others the anger was directed at a person’s political stance. In a few, the inciting issue was some person’s disability—stuttering or inability to hear. And some were directed at an individual who made a mistake or who didn’t perform up to expectations.

None of those altercations came from a spirit of kindness.

Certainly kindness was not the motivating factor that caused the customer to berate the stock person for empty shelves.

How unlike the encounters I’ve had this past week. A number of caring individuals—some neighbors, some friends—have called to check up on how I’m doing and whether I needed anything. One couple came out in the rain to bring me some supplies, just because they are kind.

When I did have to wait in the long grocery line last Friday, three or four of us had a pleasant time chatting and watching each other’s cart or basket when the need arose. The overworked clerk and bag person were both pleasant and appreciative (and exhausted) and obviously working to their max to move people through the line as fast as possible.

In truth, kindness is a choice. People can choose to be kind to whomever they want. But the fact is, if we focus on what we want, and don’t consider what the other person is faced with, we most likely will pass up an opportunity to show kindness.

Kindness does not come naturally. In some instances, people respond to kindness with kindness. That’s not always true, but it’s more likely that a kindness will generate a return kindness than a harsh or cruel comment or act, will.

In the case of the public, many people are “neutral.” They stay to themselves, not responding harshly and not responding kindly. Just not responding.

I find it interesting that Scripture calls the Christian specifically to kindness—along with a list of other transforming responses which should govern our relationships:

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. (Colossians 3:12-13; emphasis mine)

At the same time, kindness is listed as a fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23; emphasis mine)

So kindness is both something God gives Christians and something He wants us to choose. Sort of like quenching or not quenching the Spirit, I suspect. Yes, we have kindness as a fruit, but we need to decide to use what we have.

Maybe that’s something we can pray for—for ourselves and for other believers who are in our lives. Because in theory, Christians are best equipped to show kindness and ought to do so no matter the responses of others.

And praying for God to enable us to use the gift He’s given us certainly takes care of the “praying according to God’s will” issue. I mean, I don’t know if it’s God’s will for me to catch the virus and suffer because of it, or to be quarantined for some time, or to get along without something I thought I needed. But I do know with certainty that I am to show kindness. Not just to those who are kind to me, but to the neutral people and the cruel people, too.

Also in Scripture: “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1a). The KJV translates gentle as soft. In other words, not responding to anger with anger. That’s a tough one, but this is God’s counsel. We can be sure it’s right.

Published in: on March 18, 2020 at 4:54 pm  Comments (6)  
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Facing Our Fears


Recently a good friend of mine posted a quote from C. S. Lewis on my Facebook page. He wrote about the reaction many in the mid-twentieth century had to the atom bomb. Living under the cloud of possible annihilation was something no one had known before, and it engendered fear.

I found what Lewis said to be quite interesting because I saw similarities, too. I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis and saw any number of people installing bomb shelters and storing up dried foods. I don’t remember anything like the run on grocery stores we are seeing today, but the emotional reaction is so similar.

Here’s what Lewis wrote:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

(“On Living in an Atomic Age,” 1948 in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays by C.S. Lewis)

Fear is pretty much always with us. I had a personal experience that taught me a lot about fear when I was a young teacher living in Southern California. One summer we received report after report of a serial killer the press dubbed, the Night Stalker. We were informed that many of the victims lived near the freeway and that the killer entered through an unlocked door or open window.

This was summer, and hot, so I was sleeping with open windows and even an open door, albeit a locked screen. I lived a mere two blocks from a freeway. And one of the killings was in my town. Night after night I had to face the fear that this killer would take advantage of my circumstances and I would be his next victim.

It seems a little silly now, all these years later, realizing how slim the odds were that he would actually attack me. But the very random nature of his crimes created greater fear.

I was forced to face what I believe. Either I could trust God in the face of what felt like dangerous circumstances, or not.

This was not something that was an easy fix. The killing rampage went on for months. And each hot summer night I had to decide if I should close the windows and bolt and lock the door—which would mean a sleepless night amid the high temperatures—or do what I would normally do, which was to lock the screen and go to bed.

I’m still fearful of many things, but that summer I came face to face with the choice of trusting Jesus for my life—or not.

I didn’t write down my thought process, so I can’t be more specific. Did God use a sermon? Some passage of Scripture? Counsel from a friend? I don’t remember. But I know that I had to choose to trust God.

And I’ve chosen to trust Him time and time again when I’ve been face with dangerous things or hard things or new things and unknown.

Yes, I was scared as a young person during the Missile Crisis. I remember asking my mom what our family would do if the air raid siren sounded. At that point I was looking to the adults to have answers. I knew the fear, but I didn’t need to act to change what I was feeling. I needed to trust that they’d make the right decisions for me.

But my parents were trusting God and His promises. Ultimately I figured that out, and I suspect that served me well when I was faced with my own fear that fateful summer of the Night Stalker.

What I’ve learned since only reinforces what I learned then: God is faithful. Which doesn’t mean that I will automatically be spared hard things. I haven’t been. But even in the hard things, God shows Himself to be faithful. He watches over His people like a shepherd does his sheep. He gathers the lambs and carries them close, right next to his heart.

That’s the same God who will walk with us through this virus thing, and the ensuing panic and fear our friends and neighbors, and even we ourselves, may be tempted to display.

Published in: on March 17, 2020 at 5:26 pm  Comments Off on Facing Our Fears  
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What’s The Answer?


Lots of people are now talking about the latest virus spreading around the world, in part because of the measures the governments are taking to stem the spread, and in part because of the overreaction of people who apparently think toilet paper is a sanitizer.

I can guarantee that more toilet paper will not stop the virus from encroaching. So what’s a person to do?

I’ve thought about the fact that experiencing an illness with no known cure and which is highly contagious, is new to the twenty-first century. A hundred years ago there was an influenza in the pre-antibiotics days that killed thousands. My mom’s older half sister died of it when she was 15.

In centuries earlier, people dealt with the Black Plague and cholera and yellow fever and any number of other deadly diseases. People in those times understood that life didn’t come with a guarantee. You lived with hope, but you held your life loosely, viewing it as God’s to protect or to move “across the river.”

But in this new technological era, we know nothing about incurable, fast moving, deadly illness. AIDES came close, but the general population wasn’t necessarily at risk. You had some control over being exposed. Not so with an air-born virus. Or one that stays on a surface an infected person (or a carrier who has the virus but not the symptoms) has touched.

Suddenly life seems out of our control. The only way we can “fix” things, apparently, is to buy lots of toilet paper! And canned goods. And now, today, produce, as if that will not go bad within a week or two.

The problem, of course, is that our lives are not our own. We did nothing to bring about our birth and can do nothing to stave off the enemy of our soul and body: death. We don’t like having to face our mortality, but there it is.

So, what’s the answer? When the deadly virus stares us in the face, do we panic buy? Climb into our bomb shelters and pull the sanitized curtains around us?

I’ve seen some people act out of panic and buy things they clearly don’t need simply because they are trying to build a hedge against the desperation they feel. I’ve seen others mock the very problem, as if it is no problem at all. Most people have made some small concessions, a change here or there to their life style.

Some changes, of course, are foisted upon us by governments shutting down schools, the NCAA cancelling March Madness, the NBA bringing a halt to their season, and MLB putting a stop to spring training.

Other changes have come as people in leadership make decisions to cancel conferences or meetings, including church gatherings.

These changes must be dealt with and they can bring more fear along with them. They make the seriousness of this virus seem more real, more dangerous. I mean, a National Emergency? Various counties mandating quarantines?

Are these changes the answer?

Not to the fear people feel. Not to the reality of our mortality. That’s still there, whether we avoid contact with others or not. Whether we panic or self-quarantine or mock or make small concessions.

Fortunately, God does not leave us without counsel for such a time as this. Here’s a key verse from Psalm 16, though there are more great verses following. This one makes the point I think we need most:

I have set the LORD continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

I read that and thought of Peter, walking on water, heading toward Jesus . . . until he looked away at the wind and the waves.

In a traumatic situation such as a spreading virus, it’s tempting to look at the “wind and the waves,” and consequently start to sink into fear. It’s a temptation for us all, I think. But, God lets us know that He’s beside us. Whatever He calls us to go through, He’ll be right there with us. He will not now, or ever, leave us or forsake us.

Of course, for that to be true, He has to be part of our lives to begin with.

For anyone who puts his or her trust in Jesus, we have an anchor, a Father who holds us by the hand, in times of joy, sorrow, danger, peace. He does not leave us or forsake us.

It’s up to us to keep our eyes on Him. As Colossians 3 says

if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (vv 1-2)

Here are three practical things, based on Scripture, that we can or cannot do:

  1. Christians should behave in a way that marks us as Christians. We should still be kind to our neighbors, to the people in the never-ending grocery line.
  2. We should resist the urge to take over for God. We can’t hedge ourselves against death. Our times are in God’s hands. Buying extra canned goods will not extend our lives a single day beyond God’s plan for our lives.
  3. We should remember that God is faithful, not just in good times. He is faithful even when the storm swamps the boat, even when we’re pushed into the fiery furnace, even when we’re trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army. He’s faithful when we face a giant and all we have is a sling. He is faithful when we’re beaten and imprisoned for our stand for Jesus. He is not faithful in fair weather, only to abandon us in foul.
  4. We should pray. Pray for God’s comfort for the fearful (and that might include us), for protection, for His mercy so that He would stay His hand, even when we deserve His righteous judgment.

I’m sure there are lots of other things to talk about in regard to what we can do to be good neighbors and friends and family members. Already I’ve had several people check up on me just to be sure I’m doing OK. That’s kind and caring, and it’s a cool thing to do for others.

Who knows what else God might direct his people to do if we keep our eyes fixed on Him.

Published in: on March 16, 2020 at 5:47 pm  Comments (9)  
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