Which God Are We Talking About?


God, the dictionary tells us, is “the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being” (Oxford-American Dictionary).

Can there be more than one Supreme Being? Turning to the dictionary again, we find “supreme” means

• superior to all others
• strongest, most important, or most powerful

In short, there can’t be multiple beings superior to all others. Nor can there be more than one strongest, or more than one most important, or more than one most powerful.

There can be multiple claimants to the position of God, but only One truly fills the role.

Today we have pretenders, even as past cultures and past generations had pretenders. The god of the Mormons is a pretender. The Hindus worship thousands of pretender gods, none actually being God who is Supreme. The Sikhs worship one god as do the Jews and Muslims, but these too are pretenders.

I know that latter statement might be controversial, but the truth is, Jesus is the one who shows us God. Without believing in Him, a person will not know the One True God. So the Muslims and Sikhs acknowledge that Jesus lived, but they do not believe He is God. Therefore, what they know about God isn’t complete. The same is true about the Jews, as close as they might be. They do not accept Jesus as Messiah, so they only partly know and understand who God is.

In the western world, the greatest pretender is Mankind. Atheists in particular, but others also, see Man as the one who is supreme—in practice if not in ideology.

How else could a person dogmatically state that in all the vastness of the universe, or perhaps of the multiverse, God does not exist? Only a supremely knowledgeable person could know such a thing.

On the other hand, some who claim to believe in God emphatically rule out the idea that He might judge humankind and find us wanting, find us deserving of judgment. These are the people who say, God would never send people to hell. Religious minded individuals of this persuasion believe they get to decide what god is like—if they don’t want a god who is angry at sin and at the hurt to which people subject each other, well, then they declare him to be what they want. In essence, they make themselves their own god.

In the days of King Hezekiah, a commander of Assyria, who confronted Judah, made the mistake of thinking the One True God was just another spiritual being like those worshiped by any number of the other nations in the Middle East. When this military leader came against Jerusalem, he tried to talk the citizens into surrendering by belittling God:

Beware that Hezekiah does not mislead you, saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? And when have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the LORD would deliver Jerusalem from my hand?’” (Isaiah 36:18-20).

Well, sure, he’d have been right if God were one among many. Why should one be feared more than any of the others if there is no One Supreme Being? But in fact, God, the God of the Old and the New Testaments, stands above all.

He alone is self-existent. All other spiritual beings are part of His creation. King Hezekiah had a chance to declare this truth so that people for all time could know who God is:

“O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to all the words of Sennacherib, who sent them to reproach the living God. Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have devastated all the countries and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, LORD, are God.” (Isaiah 37:16-20)

In fact God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and answered him accordingly. Assyria never did conquer Judah. Their army was decimated, and the king returned to Nineveh where his own sons assassinated him.

God, the One True God, will not be mocked. He wants the nations to know Him and worship Him. I know this bothers a lot of atheists. They think it’s egocentric of God to want glory. But the truth is, to want anything less would be a falsehood. It would suggest that someone else is as deserving of praise and honor as God is. None are.

Should God lie in order to appear humble? Thank you all, you’re all too kind. I don’t deserve all this attention. Please, feel free to praise each other or one of the angels or one of the pretend gods. I want to be fair and pass the attention around so you all can experience this great feeling of being adored by so many.

That’s the kind of thinking the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have produced. We think all the Little Leaguers should get trophies; that all people, no matter what their abilities, can do whatever they want if they just put their minds to it; and that god should not be so selfish as to demand all praise be given to him.

But to whom else should we give praise?

Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales. . .
All the nations are as nothing before Him,
They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.
To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare with Him?
. . .
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.
. . .
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable. (excerpts from Isaiah 40)

God, the One True God, deserves to be treated as the Supreme Being He is!

This post is a revised and edited version of one that appeared here in January, 2015.

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Published in: on March 29, 2019 at 5:31 pm  Comments (6)  
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Trusting God Doesn’t Mean Things Will Be Easy


God cares about His people, but He does so on a much deeper level than we realize. He cares about what happens to us into eternity. His goal for us here and now is to make us like His Son. We are being conformed—molded, shaped, fashioned—into the likeness of Jesus.

This process of trimming and pruning is quite different from what most people think of in connection with the Christian life. I dare say, there are those who think once a person becomes a Christian, God is on their side. Once I even stated, “Apparently God chooses sides.”

By that, I did not mean what many people think, however. A Christian hasn’t simply added to his team the biggest and best person around. He hasn’t ensured his chances of success because he now has someone greasing the wheels to make his plans work.

And despite players making very public display of praising God during their football games, God doesn’t want my team to win more than He wants your team to win just because I’m a Christian. (The truth of this becomes clear when two Christians want different, opposing teams to win).

The Christian life, then, is not about getting God to give us what we want to be happier, healthier, richer, more comfortable, stable, protected, or respected than the next guy. A person who claims the name of Christ is not getting a pass when it comes to hardship.

Christians still lose their jobs and have car accidents. Their computers crash, and their loved ones die. They get cavities, acne, cancer, strokes. They have rebellious kids and unfaithful spouses. Bills pile up. Colleagues stab them in the back. Muggers stab them in the chest.

And they die. We die.

The point isn’t that God steps in and saves us from human tragedy or suffering or trouble, though He sometimes chooses to do so. But He always walks through life with us, maximizing the joys and minimizing the sorrows.

Isaiah 43:2 says it well:

When you pass through the water, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.

I find it interesting that God said those words, through Isaiah, to Israel. In the preceding verse, He identifies them in this way:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!”

So I have to think, in what way is the Christian different? We have been redeemed, called, and claimed. This promise, then, is for us as much as it was for Israel. God isn’t going to let us pass through floods except that He’ll be with us. And when we walk through fire He will protect us.

We’ll still have to experience the fire, though. The difference is that we’ll come out the other side un-scorched.

So Christians don’t have things easy—but it might be a little more comforting to go through hard times with Someone rather than alone, knowing that there’s a grand purpose for it and a sweet end waiting.

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in January, 2014.

Deadly Lies


Photo by Eduardo Braga from Pexels

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

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

God replaced the wooden yoke with one of iron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To another false prophet Jeremiah encountered:

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

And another time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Spiritual Disciplines


Sunday we had a guest speaker, a pastor from the Seattle area. And yes, he spoke on spiritual disciplines, though he didn’t call them that. This term goes way back to the 1970s and maybe was recycled from an even earlier time. I first heard it when I was a young adult, and the disciplines were ways in which we can grow spiritually.

Our speaker Sunday said essentially the same thing, but instead of “grow spiritually,” he referred to intimacy with Christ and sanctification and building habits.

He even provided a handout so we could pull together his general comments and apply them personally. On the handout the habits that will help us cultivate a closer relationship with Christ are of two types, those we “inhale” and those we “exhale.”

As you would expect, the things on the “inhale” list are things we take in such as Bible study, meditation, church attendance, fasting (not necessarily from food), and so on.

On the “exhale” list are things we give out: service, generosity, hospitality, and the like.

I have to say, I’m excited to see this kind of emphasis, and I’m happy to know that other churches are emphasizing these things. For some time there was so much confusion among Christians.

There were divisions but by far the most serious aspect of what affected the Church was the willingness to have our ears tickled by those who said what was culturally pleasing and not necessarily Biblically true.

I’m thinking of two extremes. On the one hand there were the people who followed “America’s pastor”—and even that silly title says a lot about the error slipping into his teaching. These are people who wanted to have their best life now, who wanted to hear that their fondest dreams would come true, that they too could become free from sickness, that they could have all the technological toys and still be debt free.

In a camp that seems quite the opposite are those who wanted to re-image Jesus, though they pretty much liked what he did about social justice. In many ways this “progressive” view is nothing but a reiteration of the social gospel of the early twentieth century. They’d likely say that a Christian can reach heaven by doing good deeds. Except many don’t believe in heaven. Of course whatever heaven might be, all of humanity is going there. Here’s what one “progressive Christian” site says:

The Christian faith is our way of being faithful to God. But it is not the only way.

Christianity is the truth for us. But it is not the only truth.

This principle stems from the reality of the 21st century. We share our lives with people who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist. We experience these people as loving and caring by following their religious traditions.

So, yes, speak about the environment and gender issues and social justice in terms that the culture at large will like. Or speak about becoming rich and self-satisfied in your own cocoon. Both those positions will garner followers, but neither is presenting the gospel.

I think a return to the habits that will bring us into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ is needed. Of course, I also think reading the Bible and studying it and memorizing it should be first on the list of habits believers should cultivate. The bottom line is this: we first need to know who God is, what His plan for humankind is. Without that in place, we’re simply operating from our own thoughts and desires and judgments a la the groups that have drifted from the truth.

Here’s what Bart Campolo, son of the evangelist Tony Campolo, said about his own experience:

Campolo admitted that changing his view of God’s sovereignty was “the beginning of the end” of his faith. Why?“Because once you start adjusting your theology to match up to the reality you see in front of you, it’s an infinite progression. So over the course of the next 30 years…my ability to believe in a supernatural narrative or a God who intervenes and does anything died a death of a thousand unanswered prayers”.

Campolo continued: “I passed through every stage of heresy. It starts out with sovereignty goes, then biblical authority goes, then I’m a universalist, now I’m marrying gay people. Pretty soon I don’t actually believe Jesus actually rose from the dead in a bodily way.”
How Christians become atheists

Campolo doesn’t think he’s a special case. On the contrary, he believes the current world of ‘progressive Christianity’ (what he calls “the ragged edge” of Christianity) is heading towards full-blown unbelief . . .

Campolo is predicting that as many as 40% of progressive Christians will become atheists over the next decade. In his view, the process of abandoning Christian doctrines is almost addictive. Once you start, you don’t know where to stop. It might begin with “dialing down” your view of God’s sovereignty, but it could easily end with unbelief.

“When you get to this ragged edge of Christianity when people say ‘God’ they sort of mean ‘the universe’ and when they say ‘Jesus’ they sort of mean ‘redemption’ – they’re so progressive they don’t actually count on any supernatural stuff to happen, they’ve dialed it down in the same way I did.” (Premier Christianity, “Bart Campolo says progressive Christians turn into atheists. Maybe he’s right”)

Hebrews was written to first century Christians who were questioning their faith, wondering if they shouldn’t return to Judaism. The writer gives a number of reasons they should stand firm, the first being that Jesus is the only one God ever identified as His Son, “whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature and upholds all things by the word of His power.”

Since Jesus is who He is, the writer concludes, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” (Heb. 2:1)

Yes, we do need to pay much closer attention! That’s a good habit to form, a good discipline to cultivate.

Social Justice And The Gospel


There’s a bit of a kerfuffle in the cyberworld because of a statement Pastor John MacArthur made, and thousands of other evangelical Christians signed, about Social Justice and the Gospel.

In essence MacArthur’s statement is a call for Christians to hold fast to the teaching of God’s word and not get swept up in the rabbit trails the world would lead us down.

I’ve been listening to MacArthur most mornings for about the last six months or so. Maybe longer. I have to say, I often disagree with him. Not substantively, but in places where he is so absolute, so dogmatic, that he doesn’t leave room for honest disagreement by others who are just as serious and knowledgeable about God’s word as he is.

From my perspective, I think he comes across a little arrogantly. I say this with love, mind you. Because I do think he cares deeply for God’s word and makes a great effort to help people grasp the truths of Scripture. And hold on to them. Without error. But still, at times he can be abrasive and seemingly, callous. But he’s right more than not.

As anyone who is paying attention knows, error does and has and is creeping into some bodies of the Church. Hence, in a recent blog post, MacArthur states

The besetting sin of pragmatic, style-conscious evangelicals has always been that they shamelessly borrow fads and talking points from the unbelieving world.

I don’t disagree with him.

Our sin is no different from the people of Israel worshiping Yahweh and some Egyptian idol or Canaanite god. Sadly, we are just as prone to look around, see what people in the world are doing, and say, “Let’s do that!” Because, you know, people will like us better. People will come to Jesus more, and isn’t that our goal?

That actually puts in the best light the desire to do what the world is doing, but some groups have motives that aren’t that noble. Yet even the most upright of motive misses the point that we don’t save anyone. The Holy Spirit does. We are to do the works of righteousness, to be ambassadors for Christ, telling the world near and far that we have a Savior who will rescue us from the kingdom of darkness.

But recently we’ve headed down some of those cultural rabbit trails that MacArthur is warning us about. We’ve set the gospel aside to proclaim social justice instead.

The confusing thing is that the gospel is all about social justice, so by proclaiming it we are simultaneously, and more effectively, dealing with the glaring ills of society.

In some ways you could think of social justice as a subset of the gospel. I think it’s sort of like the Pharisees who locked on to the command to keep the Sabbath. After all, some of the prophets reamed the nation of Israel for not keeping the Sabbath—a contributing cause of God turning them over to Babylon and Assyria.

I suppose the Pharisees were determined that would never happen again, so they came up with an elaborate system of laws to make sure that someone didn’t work on the Sabbath. Their motive seems like it was good, but they were not dealing with a person’s heart. They were simply concerned about the outward appearance.

Social justice is like that in many respects. There are needs—homelessness, crises pregnancies, homosexual lifestyles, gender confusion, race relations, and more. So let’s clean up these problems, social justice seems to say.

But the real problem is in the heart. Cleaning the outside of the cup will only give a cup that looks clean, but all the germs are still on the inside and that’s what can cause real problems.

The Bible takes on the heart first, but also requires believers to take on the things that create confusion in our culture. Not by creating a Moral Majority or an evangelical voting block or some other system that copies the world. We already have our “system.” It’s called the Church.

And the Church is designed to equip the saints to go out into the highways and the byways and preach the gospel and love our neighbors and tell the world about Jesus.

Sadly, the poor we will always have with us. And yet we are to create a Church environment that makes room for the poor. We are to care for widows and orphans in their distress. We are to share Christ with the tax collectors and the Samaritan woman equally.

But we aren’t simply to clean the outside of the cup. That’s inadequate and doesn’t address eternal needs.

Back to the internet controversy about MacArthur’s statement, I think there is some disingenuous opposition and some genuine concern. Some people say, a lot of his statements give those who are racist a reason to hate and claim that they are doing so according to the Bible.

That’s a sad misreading of the text, of both Scripture and MacArhur’s. One can only reach that conclusion by ignoring the clear statements that present what the Bible actually says about Christian unity. Of course, there very well might be some people who want an excuse to hate. I don’t know that the Church can do anything to change that, apart from proclaiming the truth to them, too.

On the other hand, there are people who believe what the world is saying about feminism and homosexuality and gender, and they simply hate what the Bible says about those issues. Their criticism of MacArthur and his statement is disingenuous. They don’t really have a quarrel with him. Their quarrel is with the Bible because they don’t want women to accept roles that aren’t identical to men’s roles. They don’t want to bow to the authority of Scripture when it comes to sex.

They are like the children of Israel who made alliances with the nations they were to steer clear of, who later wanted a king rather than God to lead them, who drifted from worship until the temple was in a ruined state and the Law had been forgotten.

This is what John MacArthur is warning the Church about. When we follow in the footsteps of the people of Israel, we are jeopardizing our witness in the West.

No fear. The Church will flourish. The gates of hell won’t prevail against it. But maybe in the West, the lamp will go out. Like it did for a time in Ephesus and Laodecia and the other churches in Revelation. It just might depend on what this generation does.

Overzealous Faith?


smokestack-1402448-mA number of years ago I read a book that had me a bit steamed. There are lots of reasons, but not the least is the subtitle: “Avoiding . . . dangers of overzealous faith.”

Certainly we are to avoid the things listed where I typed an ellipsis—pride and exclusivity—but why would those be associated with “overzealous faith”? Why would any “danger” be linked to overzealous faith? For that matter, is it possible to be overzealous in our faith?

If you think about it, God’s word tells us the first command, the one that’s most important, is to love God “WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH” (Mark 12:30; the all caps indicate a quotation from the Old Testament). If this is what God commands of His followers, I don’t see much room for over-the-top zeal. Already what God asks is . . . well, everything.

He wants us to take up our cross, to die to ourselves, to lay down our lives, to be living sacrifices. I don’t see how this clear teaching of Scripture, that we as believers in Christ are to be all in, lends itself to zeal that goes beyond those requirements.

Rather, I expect this “plea for balance,” as many of the positive reviews of the book labeled it, is looking for wiggle room for comfortable American Christians who want to stay comfortable and still be “good Christians.”

Thankfully there is a counter thrust among evangelical pastors to the health-and-wealth message which distorts Scripture. But a look at the values which the Bible teaches in the areas of physical health and finances calls into question a lot of what Americans do and even preach as “best practices” or “good stewardship.”

Along comes this book, Accidental Pharisees, and most probably others like it, and we have an intentional reining in of concepts calling for a radical or crazy or counter-cultural approach to doing church.

The message I got from this book is, let’s be content with the status quo. After all, Paul said we should learn to live quiet lives, and that’s good, because then I can have my big house and my fancy cars and not feel like I’m a lesser Christian than brothers who have moved to the inner city or are giving away 90% of their income.

Honestly, the premise of this book makes me a little crazy. The idea is that Christians who “get out in front of the following-Jesus line” start to look around and compare where they’re at with where other Christians are at and then they start looking down on believers who aren’t up with them at the head of the line. So their “overzealous faith” has led them into pride.

I submit that anyone who is looking around and comparing his spiritual progress with others has already succumbed to pride.

I submit that someone afraid of crazy love or radical faith or sold-out evangelism or whatever else is the latest call for Christian devotion, is really afraid of the Bible. It’s more comfortable to be content with the status quo—the American Christianity that doesn’t demand too much, that lets us alone to do what we want, except for an hour or so on Sunday.

Scripture does call Christians to be content and to live quiet lives, but it’s in the context of sometimes going hungry or serving someone by going the extra mile or by thinking more highly of a fellow Christian than of myself.

The thing is, I understand it is possible to be overly zealous about all kinds of things, some dangerous, some merely silly. But faith? Genuine faith in Jesus Christ? I don’t think so.

Genuine faith in Jesus Christ is built on the Word of God. Consequently, a zealous Christian will know what Jesus thinks about looking down on others or about holding people to high standards for salvation (as if we set standards for salvation in the first place!) or any of the other “dangers” supposedly inherent in “overzealous faith.”

I suppose the best conclusion about this book is this: since Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites (7 or 8 times in Matt. 23), any “faith” of “Pharisees” isn’t real faith at all, so being overzealous for a hypocritical “see how spiritual I am” substitute for faith is definitely something to avoid.

OK, in that light, it’s a good book. 😉

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

A Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing


From time to time in discussions I have with atheists they will claim some false idea as if it represents Christian thought. They usually back this up with a Bible verse, taken out of context.

This kind of thinking distresses me because ultimately it defames the name of Jesus Christ.

The other day I ran across someone in the FB atheist/theist group who took the atheist stand one step farther. He actually knows a lot about the Bible. His main point was not, the Bible is a myth. He still reached a position of disbelief, however, and he did it by twisting Scriptures.

What’s really sad is that he parroted the line of thinking typical of those I categorize as “health-and-wealthers.” Others call them word of faith and still others, proponents of the Prosperity Gospel. With the backing of Scripture the line goes something like this: God promises to defend, protect and heal. Jesus said, by His stripes we are healed. People who think God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, will depend on God to do for us today what He did for people in the Bible.

He concludes these beliefs lead them to choose God instead of medical science. As a result, bad things happen. Consequently, people should not fall for the idea that God actually can be trusted and depended upon.

What’s so off here is that this atheist, someone who identifies as a former pastor, is examining a false teaching, finding it in error, and concluding that Christianity is unreliable, that God is untrue.

I have to admit, this is a new one for me. But it fits with all other error. It comes from A LITTLE knowledge. This Atheist Pastor (or AP) has more Bible knowledge than do most atheists, but he is still far from the truth. He apparently has gone no deeper into Scripture than have the false teachers he echoes.

Otherwise he would know that Job’s friends who spent days with him, essentially accusing him of wrong doing because he was suffering, were the ones who were wrong. Surely, God would not allow suffering if you haven’t sinned, they said. Well, surprise. Not true. And when God showed up in person, He accepted Job because he repented. The friends needed Job to intercede for them. I’ve wondered if that didn’t come with a bit of instruction on his part, explaining what he’d learned about God: that He is sovereign, that He won’t be manipulated, that He isn’t dependent upon us in the tiniest way.

Of course the AP and the false teachers he was critiquing also ignore what Peter says about suffering:

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 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 3:13-17; emphases here and in the following passages, mine)

But there’s more:

For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God (v 2:20).

Peter’s not done yet:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (4:12-16)

Of course these are by no means the only passages that deal with suffering in a way that demonstrates the falsehood of the health-and-wealth position.

The point is, this AP and the false teachers he critiqued have some knowledge. Yes, the verses they quote are in Scripture. But instead of wrestling with how they can exist side by side with verses such as Peter wrote, or with what James said when he told believers to call suffering, joy, they ignore the parts of the Bible that don’t fit in with the paradigm they have created. The one ignores them as a way to manipulate God. The other ignores them as a way to accuse God. Both are wrong because they depend only on the little knowledge they have.

I’ve believed for a very long time that Christians need to read the Bible. But this encounter has left me more fully convinced than ever.

People can disbelieve the Bible completely and leave it alone. They can believe what someone has told them about the Bible and discount it, distort it, or accept it, based on who they actually are trusting. Lots of Christians do this latter. They listen to a pastor or a family member or a teacher who tells them what the Bible says. And they believe what they’ve been told. But what happens when those tenets are challenged? What happens when someone with compelling arguments against their beliefs comes along?

No, the way to handle the Bible is not second hand. We ought all to be reading it for ourselves, from cover to cover, taking the whole counsel of God and wrestling with what we find there.

Christ Died for … ?


When I was young, I thought it was clear who Jesus Christ died for. In fact, most of my adult life, it never crossed my mind that this was a controversial subject. Rather, it was fact … that some believed and others did not.

But the world of the internet has put me in touch with lots more people, and suddenly the things I thought were clear, plain, easily understood from Scripture, I now realize don’t appear the same to everyone. Some professing Christians believe one thing and others believe a quite different thing, all based on the Bible. 😕

When it comes to some topics, I don’t think it’s all that surprising that Christians hold differing positions, simply because the Bible isn’t all that clear. End times comes to mind as a topic that can stir debate. Some have studied prophesies in the Old and New Testaments and believe they can create a time line, with the only missing piece the actual date of Christ’s return to rapture His church. Others don’t even think there will be a rapture. And among those who do, there is disagreement as to whether this will occur before, during, or after the Great Tribulation.

And so it goes. Other topics that generate similar disagreements are creation, the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit, church government, baptism … on and on.

But to the question at hand, Who did Christ die for? Isn’t that sort of … the foundation of what it means to be a Christian? So how can there be debate about this question? But there is.

Here are the positions I’m aware of (doesn’t mean there aren’t more):
1. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that no one will go to Hell (the view espoused by The Shack and Rob Bell’s Love Wins and the like).

2. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that Man’s sin nature has been forgiven, but he will be judged for the specific sins he commits. The sins of believers are covered by the blood of Christ, and the sins of unbelievers bring judgment upon them.

3. Christ died for the elect, those He predestined to be His from the foundations of the world.

4. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him appropriate forgiveness.

5. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him, chosen from the foundations of the world, appropriate forgiveness.

The latter is my view, and the more I study Scripture, the more I believe it to be true. This position, as I see it, takes into account all of Scripture, not just a handful of proof texts. But I did come across a verse, one of a number, that shows this tension between God’s work—through His predestination and redemption—and Man’s faith.

I’m referring to a verse in I Peter 2, in which the writer declares Jesus Christ to be the cornerstone, who also is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and then says “for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed” (v 8b). There it is, in one verse: men’s response to God (in this case, rejection of Him) and God’s appointment of men to their destination. The conjunction and gives the two equal weight.

Philippians 3 has a verse like this, but from the side of faith. “Not that I have already obtained [resurrection life] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (v12).

Again, both sides. God lays hold of us and we lay hold of Him.

Too many people want to make salvation a chicken-or-egg discussion (which came first, God’s foreknowledge or God’s predestination? God’s sovereign decision or Man’s free choice). Does a person have faith because he’s predestined or did God predestine those He knew would have faith?

Those are unanswerable questions, though people seem quick to pull out Scriptures to support their view. The fact is, the Bible clearly says God foreknew. And it just as clearly says He predestined. So can we know which He did first? Many will look at Romans 8:29 (“for those He foreknew, He also predestined …”), and conclude, Yes, foreknowledge first. But those from the predestination camp can just as easily point to election verses.

Which is why I say the entire Bible needs to be taken en toto which teaches both God’s sovereignty and humankind’s unfettered responsibility to choose Him.

In the end, I think only the first view in this debate skews God’s nature and distorts His work (and therefore is false teaching). Views 2 through 4 are reasonable and could be true. They do not alter a Biblical view of God. However, as I see it, the last position best accounts for the varied statements throughout Scripture as well as passages like I Peter 2 and Philippians 3. When the Bible seems to say two different things, it’s wise to accept them both. Just because we don’t see how they mesh, does not mean they don’t. After all, God’s thoughts and ways are not limited like ours are.

This article is an updated and expanded version of one that appeared here in August 2009.

What Is Cultural Christianity?


I heard a pastor on the radio talk about cultural Christianity, but I thought his answer was fairly incomplete. Basically he said that in the US many years ago most people knew about Jesus, and a lot of people were saved, even people you thought maybe you could share the gospel with.

Well, that was only partly right, I think. I think Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus explained cultural Christianity more correctly.

Growing up as a Muslim and as a second generation American, Nabeel understood Christianity more from what he learned at home than he did from any personal encounter with Christians.

Eastern teachers have taught the Muslims that the West is Christian, that its culture is promiscuous, and that the people oppose Islam… I remember pointing out to [my parents] that the people dressed provocatively on television might not be Christian, and their response was, “What do you mean? Don’t they call themselves ‘Christian’? Don’t you see them wearing crosses?” If I argued that some of them may be Christian in name only and might not even believe in God, they responded that this simply meant they were Christians who don’t believe in God. They did not categorize religion with belief but with cultural identity. (pp 80-81, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus)

Those who are culturally Christian do things that Christians do such as celebrate Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving. They might even go to church from time to time. They might pray at meals, like the Reagan family does in the TV program Blue Bloods. They might wear crosses and even send their children to a parochial school. These are traditions they keep because they’ve been raised in tradition, but they have no personal understanding or belief in Jesus and His saving power over sin. Their “Christianity” is only culturally deep. It doesn’t reach their heart or change their life.

The radio pastor is an evangelist and I respect him a lot, but he was talking about cultural Christianity as if those who have the Christian tradition were in a better place than people who have no familiarity with who Jesus is.

I think the opposite is true. People who think they know about Jesus, who picture Him perpetually as a baby in a manger or as a bloody figure on a cross, don’t understand the gospel. But they think they do. So they don’t have a grasp of the fact that they need to listen to someone who teaches what the Bible really says.

Many cultural Christians actually deny Christ and turn their back on Him. Oh, I’ve tried that, they’ll say, and it doesn’t work.

Doesn’t work? What did they think a relationship with God was supposed to “do for them”? They are behaving like consumers. They went out shopping for religion, bought the one that seemed to promise the most, then found it wanting.

Christianity isn’t like that, but cultural Christianity is.

That’s the problem. Too many people, and not just Muslims, but atheists, too, think they know what Christianity is when they only have a nodding acquaintance with cultural Christianity. I like to refer to cultural Christianity as pretend Christianity, though the latter term also includes false teachers and cults and “progressives” who say they believe, but who deny Jesus in one way or another.

Christianity has become a kind of catch-all term and it breaks my heart that one aspect of it is culture that is permissive, greedy, immoral. Those things have nothing to do with God’s holiness and goodness and righteousness. It’s as Nabeel said: a great travesty that Muslims—and I would not be surprised if other people groups made the same mistake—associate Christianity with the American culture they see on TV.

The thing is, I think we in the Church need to make an effort to “come out from among them.” We need to be different, not by being weird, but by being more like Christ. No one should be surprised to learn that someone is a Christian. By our good works, by our speech, by our love, people should recognize that we not only have been with Jesus but that He lives in us.

FYI, you can pre-order Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, 3rd edition, from now until Aug. 20 and receive some bonus material at the website set up for Nabeel, who died of cancer a year or so ago.

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