Tested By Fire


Fire is a refining agent. Cheap stuff burns up–paper, straw, twigs, logs. Gold, on the other hand, purifies.

The Apostle Peter alludes to this process in his first letter to the Christians of the first century. They faced a lot of persecution because of their faith, and he noted that fact:

In this [your salvation] you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7)

According to Peter, faith is of greater value than gold because even gold will eventually perish. But faith, even when tested by the fires of persecution ends up bringing praise and glory and honor when we see Jesus.

It’s an amazing thing. This trust in God, this dependence on Him even in the worst of circumstances actually is cause for joy. Peter again:

and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8)

How ironic, then, when contemporary Western Christians approach trials as opportunities to express anger and disappointment toward God.

I do believe we should be truthful and of course that includes truthfulness when we’re talking with God. But there’s a difference accusing God because that’s how I honestly feel and confessing to God because that’s how I honestly feel.

The first might sound something like this: God, why did you let this unfair thing happen to me? I am so mad at You right now. I thought you were on my side, looking out for me. You really let me down.

The other might be something like this: God, this bad thing happened and it makes me so angry. I know that’s not an attitude demonstrating trust in You. I’m worried and fearful and want revenge. I know none of that brings you glory. Please, God, forgive me and help me find a way out of those debilitating reactions to a place of trust. Help me to find in You exactly what I need.

One reaction makes God out to be the culprit and the other recognizes Him as the rescuer. The first pushes Him away, the second draws near to Him for help.

The bottom line is, accusing God of wrong doing, no matter how honest the person is being about their emotion, is still saying about God what is not true. James says, “For God cannot be tempted by evil and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” God does not do evil. How then is it honest to express anger toward God by accusing Him of something He is not?

I’ve heard Christians, time and time again, toss off their tantrums as something God is big enough to handle. The issue is not whether God can handle our sin. We know He canceled our sin debt at the cross. The issue, instead, is whether we should justify our sin and even applaud it as being real.

It’s much the same as the church in Corinth boasting about their tolerance of sin in their church. We today act as if we are doing some great good to hurl angry charges at God because … well, because we feel angry and we need to be real with Him.

What happened to trusting God in the midst of trial?

Here’s what the prophet Habakkuk had to say about the matter:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (Hab. 3:17-18)

Where’s the exultation of the contemporary Western Christian? I fear it is reserved for our honest emotions we hurl at God rather than for He who is with us when the waters and the rivers overflow, who walks with us through the fire and flame.

How sad that we rob ourselves of His comfort and presence and even protection because we’re so busy venting our honest emotion.

When you pass through the waters, 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. (Isaiah 43:2)

This post was first published here in June 2012.

Published in: on April 8, 2016 at 6:15 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Revisiting Anger With God


Toddler_tantrumI read another post today about how God is big enough to handle our anger, how He already knows we’re angry, so we should express it to Him and even to others. This view is not new. It’s been floating around Christian circles for nearly twenty-five years. But repeating it does not make it Biblical.

As far back as 1988 Philip Yancey wrote Disappointment with God, and ever since, it seems we’ve escalated our reaction to things we don’t like. Now it manifests itself as anger toward God.

Please understand, I’m aware that a believer can go through a crisis of doubt, especially when difficulties arise, but the new thinking seems to be that anger at God is normal, even somehow healthy, and certainly understandable.

A verse in Lamentations disagrees:

Why should any living mortal, or any man,
Offer complaint in view of his sin?
– Lamentations 3:39

In the margin of my Bible I wrote this note: “Satan counters with his great lie—man is good so that gives the feel of justice in complaining to God.” Or against God. After all, if man is good, then he doesn’t deserve the consequences of sin he must live with—sickness, pollution, crime, cruelty, hatred, death. We are, instead, innocent victims of God’s inexplicable abuse of His omnipotence. And of course we should be mad about it.

That’s very much the way the people of Judah responded when they were conquered by Babylon. Most were dragged into slavery. The few people left in Israel ran back to their false gods, concluding that all the trouble they had experienced came because they had stopped worshipping those gods in the first place. Never mind that Jeremiah had been prophesying for years that God would bring judgment upon them because they had ignored and disobeyed Yahweh.

After Adam sinned, God said from day one that life would be hard and Man would die. Now we come along and act shocked and hurt and shake our fists at God and say, “Life is hard and people I love are dying. What’s more, I’m sick/aging and can only conclude, death is creeping up on me! This is wrong, unfair. How could you?”

What are we thinking? Life was hard for Jesus, for goodness sake, and He died.

Instead of this anger thing, we should be rejoicing that when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us.

But no. Our response is now, “God is big enough to handle my anger.” That statement, or some form of it, has become a justification for hurling our ire at God.

Like most arguments, it has truth mixed in with the error, which makes it hard to pin down the problem. For surely, God IS big enough. A Christian’s anger toward Him would never diminish Him. Consequently, the silent part of the argument goes like this: If God is big enough to handle my anger, then to say I shouldn’t be angry at God is to imply He isn’t big enough, and certainly, certainly I don’t want to suggest that.

But such reasoning is flawed. It leaves out the other person in the equation: me. The problem isn’t with God, it’s with me. I’m not big enough to be angry at God, and doing so diminishes … not me exactly, but my relationship with God.

Let me elaborate on these points. “The problem isn’t with God, it’s with me.” The verse from Lamentations spells it out pretty clearly. My sin is the real issue. Who am I, a sinner, to accuse the Perfect One of wrong doing? For certainly that’s what anger toward Him says. God has goofed somehow—fallen asleep at the wheel, made a bad decision or a cruel one. Anger toward Him calls into question His very character. Who am I, a sinner saved by His grace, to suggest that God doesn’t measure up, that He is flawed?

In some ways, this was Job’s problem. He had lived a righteous life, but when he was suffering, at some point he decided he needed to confront God. Part of his complaint was that God was silent about what was happening to Job. In other words, God owed Job an explanation.

God answered Job by showing HIMSELF. He said things like, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of earth!” (Job 38:4) Job saw God as He is, and he repented. “Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You” and “I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (Job 40:4 and 42:3). In other words, Job realized he wasn’t God’s equal, to put Him on trial, to accuse Him of wrong doing.

Thirdly, to be angry at God hurts my relationship with Him. All unconfessed sin does. But when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and we decide to spit accusations at God, we are the losers. God’s intention is to walk through those trials with us. Instead, we push Him away, kicking and screaming accusations. How can He comfort us under those circumstances? How can He show His compassion, mercy, grace to help in time of need?

We are foolish, foolish immature children to yield to the temptation to vent our anger on God, the Righteous One. Sure, He is big enough to handle it, but that doesn’t make our actions right, any more than a four year old is right to stomp his feet and call his mom names because it’s time to pick up his toys or to lie down in the middle of a store and wail his refusal to do what he’s told.

Mind you, I am not belittling suffering or how hard it is to lose a loved one or to endure any number of other heart-wrenching trials. I just know that being angry toward God because of the circumstances is adding to the weight, not alleviating any part of it.

Much of the content of this post in a reworking of two articles that originally appeared here in March 2008.

Jews And Greeks, Republicans And Democrats


A couple weeks ago, my pastor, Mike Erre, pointed out something important about Jesus’s redemptive work. First He provided reconciliation between God and man, and then He abolished the barriers for believers that separated them from one another.

The Jews understood reconciliation with God–that was pretty much all those who were religious cared about, thinking that they had to perform to a certain high standard to bring it about. But they had no interest in reconciliation with other people. In fact, they believed themselves to be the chosen people who were to pursue separateness. They were to be religiously clean, and racially pure.

This, of course, was wrong thinking on their part. They could not do enough to be rid of sin, and they had long ago lost any racial purity. Joseph, for example, had married an Egyptian, and his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were therefore not “pure” Jews. Of course, neither was King David with his Canaanite ancestor Rahab in his family line and his Moabite great grandmother Ruth.

Nevertheless, the Jews of Jesus’s day were determined not to be tainted by the racially mixed Samaritans living on their borders. Or by the Romans, if they could help it, or the Greeks.

Paul made it clear that this divide no longer existed in Christ. Jesus revolutionized relationships.

and [you] have put on the new self who is being renewed . . . a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. (Col. 3:10-11)

Peter makes the same point. Writing to this mix of Jewish and Gentile believers scattered throughout Asia Minor, he said

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; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD (1 Peter 2:9-10a).

In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul expanded the number of barriers between people Christ broke down.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (3:28)

Barriers down. In house churches slaves sat alongside masters, men worshiped in the same room with women, and Jews prayed with Gentiles.

In truth there is only one category left–saved and lost.

But the lost are not the enemy. Again Scripture is clear:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

Flesh and blood–not the enemy.

Which brings us to Republicans and Democrats. Christians of either party are brothers and sisters of those in the opposite camp who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer. Eveyone else is in the lost camp. Lost, but not our enemies.

If they choose to make themselves God’s enemy, that’s something for which they’ll one day face His judgment. It is not up to us to fire angry invectives at them in the meantime. In fact, our anger toward the lost plays right into Satan’s hand. It’s one of his schemes:

BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. (Eph 4:26-27 – emphasis mine)

James says specifically

for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:20)

To be honest, it’s easy when we discuss things about which we feel passionate to express ourselves passionately. That, perhaps, is the anger the verse in Ephesians is referring to. However, the do not sin part would mean it’s not OK to belittle others or call them names or demean them because they see things differently.

In short, Republicans are not the enemy, Democrats are not the enemy, Libertarians are not the enemy, Socialists are not the enemy.

As the US elections draw closer and the race for the President grows tighter and emotions run higher and debates or attack ads stir the pot, we Christians need to remember that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20a), that we are admonished to

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 on earth. (Col. 3:1b-2)

If God is sovereign, and He is, then we don’t have to wonder or worry if He’s got a plan in mind should “the wrong” candidate win. No matter what, He will accomplish His purposes. Might we live less comfortably? That’s possible. Might we begin to see the door close on our religious liberties? That’s possible too. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to panic.

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. (1 Peter 3:13-14)

Published in: on October 15, 2012 at 6:24 pm  Comments Off on Jews And Greeks, Republicans And Democrats  
Tags: , , ,

“Vengeance Is Mine, Not God’s”


A couple days ago I wrote about God’s judgment. Though the article didn’t generate any conversation, it did receive some negative feedback. I’m not surprised because we live in a day when people calling themselves Christians pooh-pooh the idea that God will actually be sending anyone to hell, while others question whether or not they might be nicer than the Almighty. Or maybe they’d prefer a different name for Him — the All Tolerant One, perhaps. But I jest, and this really isn’t a matter for levity.

The fact is, we humans find it easy to label others as bigots or hate-mongers or hypocrites. We have no problem criticizing each other to our faces. We can even yell at God and tell Him how disappointed or angry we are at Him. But far be it for us to believe God can do the same thing in return. No, no. He’s supposed to stand meekly by and love.

But that idea is nonsense. We get angry at the things we perceive to be wrong. Why shouldn’t God, in whose image we’re made?

Someone may counter that it is fine for God to get angry, but not fine for Him to give sinners consequences, especially ultimate consequences. That position, of course, strips God of His power. So He’s a loving God who can get angry when a child is molested, but He can’t punish the evildoer.

How then is He loving? Real love, as author and speaker Gary Chapman (The Five Love Languages) said in his sermon on Sunday, is expressed in God’s anger toward sin and the wicked.

Psalm 136 includes God’s divine intervention against Egypt and other nations standing against Israel as an evidence of His lovingkindness.

To Him who smote the Egyptians in their firstborn,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,…
He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting…
To Him who smote great kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And slew mighty kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And Og, king of Bashan,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting (vv 10-20)

Other passages in Scripture declare God’s acts of judgment to be the very way in which He showed Himself so that the nations would know Him, turn from their sin, and come to Him.

His intention in correcting those who forsake Him is to bring them back:

O LORD, do not Your eyes look for truth?
You have smitten them,
But they did not weaken;
You have consumed them,
But they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
They have refused to repent. (Jeremiah 5:3)

When rejection is complete, God acts on behalf of those who are being sinned against:

So their houses are full of deceit;
Therefore they have become great and rich.
‘They are fat, they are sleek,
They also excel in deeds of wickedness;
They do not plead the cause,
The cause of the orphan, that they may prosper;
And they do not defend the rights of the poor.
‘Shall I not punish these people?’ declares the LORD,
‘On a nation such as this
Shall I not avenge Myself?’

“An appalling and horrible thing
Has happened in the land:
The prophets prophesy falsely,
And the priests rule on their own authority;
And My people love it so! (Jeremiah 5:27-31a – emphasis mine)

An appalling thing, God says, when we spurn His authority and take it for ourselves. Such is the false teaching of our day.

Here are a few comments to a couple recent controversial articles, apparently made by Christians. This person agrees that Christians need to grow up, then he says:

I choose to find redemption in the gospel of Christ and yet feel empowered to refuse to accept the feudal rantings of many religious leaders.

Or there’s this one:

are all of you out there so naive and stupid not to see the propaganda

Then there’s this one:

As a Chrisitian, I do not want to come under the same umbrella as those that hate, undermine, are haughty and proud, and who cause millions of people to avoid even looking at Christianity as an option because of the behavior of many christians in their hate-mongering, their pride, their ‘holier-than-thou-attitude’.

Or how about this helpful question:

What rock are you living under?

Yes, these are people who claim to be Christians, though I don’t know if they all would claim God doesn’t have the right to judge. It’s quite clear, though, that they believe they DO have the right to judge.

Maybe it’s time we Christians take a hard look at our own attitudes. God is rightfully angry at sin and wickedness. What are we angry about? And are we taking it upon ourselves to reap vengeance with our words?

Published in: on March 16, 2012 at 7:33 pm  Comments (9)  
Tags: , ,

Anger and Sin and God’s Work Anyway


A friend of mine recently told me about an online encounter with someone who claimed his anger wasn’t sin. And yet he was so mad he was leaving the cyber-community in which this discussion took place. No apparent interest in reconciliation or a willingness to confront with a desire to restore relationship. No thought that he was letting the sun set on his anger and was therefore indeed sinning.

That storming-off-angry guy reminded me of something I recently thought concerning Paul. Yes, the apostle. I think he might have been a similar storming-off-angry guy.

He had to be at least “righteously” indignant before his encounter with Christ, because he was dedicating his time and energy to killing Christians.

But when he became a Christian, all that old nature was gone, wasn’t it? Well, yes, in the sense that God forgave Paul and clothed him in the righteousness of Christ. But no, in the sense that Paul still struggled against sin in his life. As he said in Romans 7, “I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (v. 15).

Why do I think anger was part of what he struggled with? For one thing after his first missionary journey, he and his partner Barnabas, who the Holy Spirit called to minister together, split because they had a disagreement.

Paul suggested they revisit the churches from their first trip, and Barnabas was evidently agreeable—except he wanted to take John Mark along. John Mark, who later wrote the gospel of Mark, had started out with them on the first trip but left right about the time the persecution started.

On this second trip, Paul refused to take John Mark along. Barnabas insisted. Paul refused. Barnabas insisted. “And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another” (Acts 15:39a).

Sharp disagreement. Though the Holy Spirit had called them together, hey separated. Seemingly as a result of Paul holding a grudge against John Mark. Or at least, not forgiving him, not being willing to give him a second chance.

And what did God do? Despite the disagreement, He used both missionary teams to further the gospel. Paul chose a new partner—Silas—and Barnabas set out with John Mark.

But that’s only one incident, and Barnabas might have been the angry one. Except I’m not convinced only one angry person would create a “sharp disagreement.”

Be that as it may, what about an incident that happened on that second trip with Silas. In Philippi Paul and his new partner were doing what they did—meeting with people in the place of prayer and baptizing believers—when a girl with an evil spirit started following them. “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation,” she cried out. Day. After. Day. (Acts 16:17b-18a)

How did Paul react? I would think he’d kind of like it. I mean, he had his own PR person, for free. I imagine people weren’t ignoring Paul and Silas with this girl trailing them. I mean, she was a person people used to hire to tell their fortunes, and here she was, for free, telling the crowds that Paul and Silas were proclaiming the way of salvation.

Apparently Paul didn’t see it the same way:

But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!”
– Acts 16:18b (emphasis mine)

Great miracle! And undoubtedly the girl was joyful to be free of the evil spirit.

Her masters, not so much. They seized Paul and Silas, dragged them into the marketplace and before the chief magistrates accused them of throwing the city into confusion and advocating illegal activities, “being Jews.”

A crowd rose up against them, stripped off their clothes, beat them with rods. Then they arrested them, putting them in the “inner prison” with their feet in stocks. It took an act of God (an earthquake) to release them. In the meantime they testified of their faith in God by singing praises to Him.

When the prison door opened, the jailer attempted suicide because he feared the prisoners had escaped. Paul and Silas stopped him, told him the way of salvation, and baptized him. But not him only—his whole household.

So here’s the point. Paul and Silas could have had an effective witness and brought many to Christ because of the girl who followed them telling people they were proclaiming the way of salvation. Paul’s anger—or annoyance, at least—landed them in jail. But God’s plan wasn’t thwarted. He used the circumstances to bring people to Himself.

And I wonder, could it be He also was delivering correction to Paul concerning His anger? Just a thought.

Published in: on July 7, 2010 at 4:02 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , ,

What Are Satan’s Specialities?


No doubt Satan wants to distort our perception of him, but that is not his only scheme. Because “he is a liar and the father of lies” ( John 8:44b), he lies about … pretty much everything—God, mankind, creation, good, evil, the saints, the angelic forces, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, you name it. I suppose we could say, Satan’s number one specialty is to distort the truth.

John 8:44 also says he “does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him.”

Truth, of course, is synonymous with God and His word, so we can know that ideas contradictory to Scripture most likely have their source in Satan. The amazing thing is, he’s proved he’ll even distort the Bible.

After tempting Jesus for forty days in the wilderness, he came at Him with three more attacks, each questioning Christ’s deity. In the first instance Jesus answered Satan with Scripture. The devil must have thought he could catch Jesus using His own strategy, so he quoted a couple verses from the Old Testament when he told Jesus to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple.

As an aside, the technique to distort the meaning of God’s Word didn’t dissuade Jesus from continuing to use Scripture to thwart the temptations, demonstrating what Paul later said in Ephesians—the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God is our weapon when we battle spiritual forces.

Because Satan distorts Scripture, it should be no surprise to learn that he also takes the word from the heart of those who hear it. Jesus explained this when he unpacked the parable of the sower for His disciples:

the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.
– Luke 8:12

Another of Satan’s specialties is to use our anger against us. Paul warned us to let go of anger so that we wouldn’t give Satan something to work with:

BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.
– Eph 4:26-27

When Paul wrote to Timothy, he explained more fully. Holding on to anger leads to all kinds of problems Satan can use to snare us or those with whom we disagree:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
– 2 Tim 2:24-26 (emphasis mine)

How different this approach is from the snarky, mocking criticism I see so often from a number of bloggers who claim purity in their theology.

How is it we miss the fact that Satan must gloat over things like anger toward God, condemnation of a brother or sister in Christ, our ignorance or lack of use or distortion of Scripture?

If we really believe we are in a war against the enemy of our souls, we need to make sure we’re not shooting our own with friendly fire or neglecting or misusing the weapons at our disposal.

Published in: on June 14, 2010 at 10:30 am  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,