Anger, Sin, And God’s Work


two-men-arguingA friend of mine once 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, coupled 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). Could anger have been his thorn in the flesh?

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, they 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. Of course, Barnabas might have been the angry one. Except I’m not convinced only one angry person would create a “sharp disagreement.”

But 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.

What about the event that took place 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.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in July 2010.

Published in: on February 3, 2017 at 5:47 pm  Comments Off on Anger, Sin, And God’s Work  
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Traditions Of Men


One of the letters the Apostle Paul wrote was to the church in Colossae in which he said those believers should see to it no one captured their thinking by philosophy and empty deception according to the traditions of men or according to the elementary principles of the world (2:8).

There are a lot of parallels with that church and with Christians today in the west. As such we can look at Paul’s instruction and admonition to them about how to conduct themselves in the world and learn what we should be doing today.

By way of explanation, Rebeca Seitz, a knowledgeable PR professional who taught at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference a number of years ago, explained that she anchored her work in the idea that we live in a celebrity culture—the one God placed us in—therefore, those of us who work in the public arena need to learn how to be celebrity Christians, who are decidedly different from regular celebrities.

In other words, as I understand it, Rebeca says we should learn to use the traditions of men.

I’m reminded of God’s instructions to the Israelites the day before they left Egypt. Along with the particulars of the Passover, He told them to go to their neighbors and ask them for articles of gold and silver. Then this:

and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. (Exodus 12:36)

As it turned out, the gold and silver they took from the Egyptians ended up being the gold and silver they would turn around and give for the work of the tabernacle. So God had them make use of the culture in which they’d been living for His purposes.

He did that with Abraham; then with Jacob when he worked for Laban; in Joseph’s day, He again did so in Egypt; and years later when Joshua led Israel into the cities once belonging to the Canaanites, God again had them make use of the culture they were dispossessing.

Over and over God blessed his chosen people through the generosity of others or through victory over other ethnic groups. At the same time, He promised that through Israel all the nations would be blessed. Yet they weren’t to mimic the ways of those nations. They weren’t to intermarry, weren’t to adopt their gods, weren’t to follow their traditions.

In Paul’s words, they weren’t to be taken captive by philosophy or empty deception according to the traditions of men.

The point here is that the prohibition against adopting the worldview and lifestyles of the people around them was not a prohibition against interacting with them. King David, for example, teamed up with Hiram, King of Tyre, to build his palace, then to provide some of the material Solomon would need to build the temple.

The question is, how should a Christian today react to our culture? We aren’t a separate nation like Israel was. We’re integrated as were Daniel and Nehemiah and Joseph, and for a time, Moses. Daniel and Moses, we know, received their education at the government’s expense—the pagan government. Joseph and Nehemiah worked for their respective king—their respective pagan king.

I conclude that “culture” isn’t the problem. The traditions of men aren’t poison. The key is the actual admonition in Paul’s statement—“See to it that no one takes you captive” (emphasis mine). The point he wanted to get across in this section of his letter has to do with truth versus error. Earlier he explained: “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” (Col. 2:4).

I think it’s easy to look at the disappointing and discouraging things in our society and feel like the best part of valor would be to retreat. Paul wasn’t advocating that here. After telling the Colossian believers to set their mind on things above, he went on to give a string of commands that were very earthly: put aside anger, do not lie, forgive each other, wives submit, husbands love, children obey, do your work heartily. Then this:

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (4:5-6)

Am I to run from the culture—the traditions of men? I suppose if that’s the only way I can be sure someone won’t take me captive, but as a general rule, it seems to me we’re to stay where we are, surrounded by the traditions of men, but we’re to make sure we don’t get caught in their sway. We need to recognize them for what they are—empty deception—and live accordingly.

This post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in September 2011.

Published in: on January 12, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments Off on Traditions Of Men  
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An Attitude Shift


Locusts_feedingAll things are lawful. That’s what the Bible says, and that’s apparently the way many Christians are living their lives. The fact is, however, that the Apostle Paul who penned those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit didn’t stop there. He went on to say that not all things are profitable or edifying.

As part of this “not all are profitable or edifying,” I was raised to believe that some things were better left alone lest they prove to be harmful or stumbling blocks.

Alcohol was one such thing. Yes, the Bible did not prohibit drinking. In fact Jesus turned water into wine, and that makes it pretty hard to make a case against drinking alcohol. And yet there were cultural considerations–how strong was the alcohol in Biblical times and what other drinks did they have available? In addition there is the knowledge we’ve gained today about the addictive quality of alcohol and the psychological propensity of some people toward addiction.

In short, we have choices people in the first century didn’t have, bad and good, and we have an awareness that we might find alcohol more than we can handle. So is it OK to drink? Presented with such a choice about any number of things–smoking, doing drugs (easier to decide because those are illegal), sex before marriage, going to movies, dancing, gambling–my church and family challenged me to error on the side of caution.

My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, I was reminded, and a temple should be cared for, not exposed to harmful substances, whether harmful physically or emotionally or spiritually.

I suspect that kind of reasoning is foreign to today’s youth.

As I look back at the particulars of the things I was taught, I can see how some churches and some individuals turned those tenets into legalistic propositions that defined spirituality. Clearly such a misuse of cautionary behavior is wrong. And today legalism has become the great sin of the church.

But it seems to me we have tossed the baby out with the bath water (that’s really a horrible image, isn’t it?) Yes, we have unshackled our youth by teaching them that the only sin connected with alcohol is drunkenness and that sex outside of marriage is wrong but if you’re going to do it, be sure it’s safe sex, and dancing isn’t outlawed in the Bible (after all, David danced before the Lord), and on and on. But where’s the caution? Where’s the “all things may not be profitable or edifying”?

From what I can see, Christian kids are too often thrown to the locust–that is, forced to make decisions that could affect their entire lives without the cautionary wisdom that they might want to protect the temple of the Holy Spirit from harm. They’re given the facts, certainly. They know about addiction and sexually transmitted diseases and designated drivers.

But they aren’t being challenged, I don’t think, to choose what is profitable and edifying. They’re being taught how to play with fire rather than the wisdom to stay away from fire.

“All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Cor. 10:23).

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” 1 Cor. 6:19-20).

In the end, I chose some of the things I was taught as a young person and rejected others. What I didn’t reject was the principle that I had freedom, including freedom to choose the profitable and the edifying. I was not a slave to my lusts or to the way the world does things.

Yes, I acted like a slave at times–still do. Thank God for His mercy.

What I fear is for this generation of young people and their children who aren’t being taught that they don’t have to involve themselves with lawful things simply because they are lawful. They can choose a better way, a profitable and edifying way, that will spare them lives of heartache and missed opportunity.

God can redeem the years the locust have eaten, but I can’t help but wonder if we who should be teaching the next generation when we lie down and rise up, when we’re sitting in our houses or walking along the road are not fulfulling our responsibility. Should we not clue them in that all things may be lawful, but a whole lot of stuff isn’t profitable or edifying?

This article is a re-post of one that first appeared here in October 2013.

Published in: on November 17, 2016 at 6:31 pm  Comments (2)  
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Quarrels And Conflict


yelling-932983-mI know I don’t always see things the way others do—it’s a quirk, I guess, which I’m pretty sure I got from my dad. If there was a well-traveled road, that’s the one he wanted to avoid. I don’t think I go that far, but there’s a part of me that is just ornery enough, I’ll avoid band wagons and take a hard, hard look at what “everyone else is doing” and in the end, I’ll probably do something else.

I say all this so that you can be forewarned: you may wish to take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt. Just chalk it up to Becky being quirky again.

Here’s the thing. There are some passages of the Bible that seem to me to be ripped out of context and forced into places they weren’t intended to go.

One of my favorite verses is like that:

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Great verse, but in context it’s clearly addressing the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Still, all Scripture is profitable, and so there is something for us today. However, the verse clearly is not a blanket promise for all people. Who can take this verse as a promise and as a promise of what, needs to be thought through.

But that’s not the one I want to look at today. Rather, it’s Philippians 4:8. To a greater degree than the Jeremiah verse, this one has been made to say things I don’t think God ever intended.

First, as a reminder, here’s the verse:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Next we need to realize that “dwelling on these things” 24/7 is certainly not possible (because we’re asleep a part of that time, if nothing else). If all our thoughts were only to dwell on the things Paul listed, we could never comfort the grieving, speak encouragement to the depressed or hope to the lost. We’d have to confine our conversation to only the lovely, and there are a lot of unlovely things that a Christian should speak to: racism, abortion, homosexuality, gossip, complaining, lying, to name only a few.

The Bible itself clearly shines light on subjects that would not make the cut if Paul’s list was exhaustive for the believer.

So what does Philippians 4:8 refer to?

Remember, I’m in a minority of one, as far as I know, but I believe it is connected to the theme of the book—unity, and particularly the situation Paul addressed in verses 2 and 3:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Many people assume Paul dropped this admonition in and then did a little Proverbs-style skipping around from point to point in the next six verses. I don’t think so. It doesn’t fit the style of this letter.

Rather, I think what follows are the points Paul wants his true companion to help Euodia and Syntyche with:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.(Phil. 4:4-8)

Rejoicing, showing a gentle spirit, being anxious for nothing which will yield inner peace. And then the things upon which to put our minds. All for the sake of helping these women to get along.

Think about it. How much easier would it be for them to live in harmony if they are rejoicing in the Lord? How much easier if they showed gentle spirits? How much easier if they weren’t worried about what others say or whether they’ll get the work done or if she’s doing her share, or any of the other things people worry about when they work together.

And then the key verse: how could Euodia and Syntyche fight with each other if they were thinking only about what was true of the other woman, or honorable, or right, or pure, or lovely, or—now get this—of good repute! That is, what good things the other was known for.

Then the capper:

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:9)

“The God of peace will get you past the quarrels and conflict, Euodia and Syntyche, so that you can live in harmony. This is what I want my true companion to help you figure out.”

So there’s my quirky understanding of Philippians 4:8. It’s not a catch-all command. Rather, it’s part of the recipe for unity, the way we as brothers and sisters in Christ can have harmony as we work side by side.

Published in: on January 22, 2015 at 5:11 pm  Comments (7)  
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The Call Of God


Paul_the_Apostle_conversionThe apostle Paul received the call of God. So did any number of other people in Scripture—Abraham, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah, Samuel. The thing about Paul’s call was that it was so public.

He saw a light so bright it blinded him for days. In fact, he needed a man sent by God to restore his sight. In the midst of that light, Paul heard a voice and what this Person said was a distinct message for him. First a question: Why are you persecuting Me?

Paul’s answer was natural: “Who are you, Lord?”

Then, The Call: “And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” (Acts 9:5b-6)

I suppose Paul could have said no. After all, Jonah did. Balaam and an unnamed prophet also resisted God’s directions. But the fact is, Paul obeyed. He did exactly what he’d been told.

And though the men with him saw the light (not in the way Paul did—they weren’t blinded by it), and though they heard the voice (not the way Paul did—they didn’t understand what the Speaker said), this call was for Paul alone.

It was dramatic. It was personal. It was convincing. We don’t have any record that Paul ever looked back from that moment on. He had been pursuing Christians to arrest them and bring them to judgment which would lead to their executions. Now he was a Christian who other zealous Jews were trying to put to death.

Despite his calling, others questioned what he was doing. Ananias, the man God sent to heal Paul, was the first one. God told him who he was to go to, and Ananias answered, Really, Lord? This man has been actively seeking to KILL Christians.

How like so many of us. We act as if we need to remind God of the dire circumstances we’re in or the offense against us or the plans we’d made, as if God had forgotten or maybe wasn’t aware. In reality it was Ananias who wasn’t aware:

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

I still marvel that the “before the Gentiles” part didn’t throw Ananias, but to his great credit, he obeyed God.

He wouldn’t be the last person to doubt Paul’s calling, though. When this new, enthusiastic convert arrived in Jerusalem, “he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26b)

Can’t blame them really, but I think that’s typical. We don’t know what the calling is that others have received. Really? we say; you’re going to be part of a prison ministry? or an unwed mother’s Bible study? or a medical ministry to Russia? or a missionary to … shhh . . . a Muslim country.

Even more, we might say, What? You’re giving up your writing to take care of your disabled sister-in-law? Or, you’re giving up your stable job to become a writer? Or, you’re turning your back on that great guy who loves you because you feel called to the mission field?

The part that’s inexplicable is the calling. Paul knew he was called, though no one else heard what he heard, and he acted accordingly. Eventually others realized he was serious, though they may not have understood. And certainly his old Pharisee buddies did not get it.

In fact, later in Paul’s ministry when he was called to Jerusalem, a number of his Christian friends and disciples, including a prophet, tried to dissuade him. Don’t go, they said. If you go to Jerusalem, you’ll be arrested.

Paul had listened to those warnings before. After his conversion, in Damascus, when the staunch Jews were planning to kill him, his disciples lowered him in a basket outside the city wall so he could escape. Another time, when there was a near riot because of his preaching, he wanted to enter the arena to speak to the crowd, but the other Christians told him no. He left Philippi because of death threats and traveled by himself to Athens to wait for his companions. So Paul was not a stranger to heeding the warnings of others.

But he’d been called to Jerusalem, so to Jerusalem he went, regardless that this calling didn’t insure a happy end or many converts—at least not in the short term.

That’s also true about following God’s call. There is no guarantee that there will be fruit from your labor. Jeremiah, in fact, knew going in that no one would listen to him. Yet God called him to warn the people of God’s judgment.

In other words, the veracity of God’s call can’t be confirmed by results that people here and now can see. The widows of the men martyred with Jim Elliott may well have thought initially that their calling had ended in fruitlessness. It hadn’t, but they couldn’t know that at the time.

But it can be “confirmed,” I guess you’d say, by Scripture in the sense that God isn’t going to call a person to do something contrary to His written word. He isn’t going to “call” someone to have an affair, for instance, or to preach a different gospel from the one Scripture teaches.

I’ll be honest—I don’t like this notion of God’s call. I know it’s easy to act on our own, to be deluded by our own desires, to want something so much we talk ourselves into believing God wants it for us too. I feel on shaky ground when someone else says they’ve been called. But the few times I’ve known God’s call in my life, it’s been clear—convincingly clear. But maybe not necessarily to everyone else around me. Undoubtedly there are some still saying, Really? I get that. I wish I had a bright light to point to.

Or not. Some scholars think that perhaps the thorn Paul wanted removed was his poor eyesight which, though restored, was never as good as it had been. Of course his poor eyesight could just as easily have come from one of the beatings he took or the times he was stoned and left for dead.

Either way, it’s clear callings come with a cost—people not always “getting it,” some even opposing it, and lots of people doubting you ever got such a calling in the first place. That’s OK.

Like Lucy in Prince Caspian, we can respond to the call of Aslan, even though others don’t see or hear, or we can fall in line and go the way everyone else is going. It’s a matter of trust.

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so—”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I—I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that . . . oh, well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you.” (pp 135-136)

Published in: on June 16, 2014 at 7:21 pm  Comments Off on The Call Of God  
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Christian Superstars


Ted DekkerSome years ago, I went to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference when author Ted Dekker was the keynote speaker. I was impressed by his humble, heartfelt recognition that God had opened the door for him to receive his first publishing contract. And yet, in between sessions and at meals, conferees treated Mr. Dekker like a superstar.

I’ve seen the same reaction to agents and editors. But this response is not confined to the writing world. If in doubt, think Tim Tebow. Christians who openly profess their faith and who hold highly visible roles in society become Christian superstars.

This is not something new. On the apostle Paul’s first preaching and teaching mission, he and Barnabas were called by the Holy Spirit and commissioned by the Church to do the work God had for them.

Along the way, they arrived at a place called Lystra. As Paul was preaching, he saw a man in the audience who couldn’t walk. In fact, he’d never walked in his entire life. In some supernatural way, Paul recognized that this man had the faith to be healed, so he told him to stand up.

It’s hard to fathom how great a miracle this was. I imagine the man’s legs had never developed properly. Any muscle he had would have atrophied. And yet, he got to his feet. And then he started leaping and walking. It’s a phenomenal scene.

And the people who were standing around watching reacted as you might expect. They thought Paul and Barnabas couldn’t possibly be normal human beings. They concluded that two of their pantheon of gods had come down in human form to visit them. Barnabas they concluded was the chief of the gods, Zeus himself. Paul, the one who was doing most of the talking, they concluded was Hermes, the messenger.

All this discussion was taking place in a language that Paul and Barnabas didn’t speak. Certainly they knew the miracle had caused a stir, but at this point they didn’t realize the direction it was taking. Only when the priest from the temple of Zeus showed up with garlands and oxen to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas, did they get the picture. The people of Lystra wanted to worship them.

Here’s the key part of the story. Rather than standing humbly by as the people proceeded to treat them like gods, the apostles did something that mourners did—they tore their robes. Then they rushed into the crowd to stop what was to them egregious—the crowd was crediting them with what God had done.

“Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, WHO MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM.” (Acts 14:15)

Happy ending, right? Paul and Barbabas stopped the people from treating them like gods. They did, but the ending wasn’t what you’d actually call happy. With some prompting from angry Jews who followed them to Lystra, the crowd ended up stoning Paul and left him for dead. If he did die, God raised him. At any rate, he got up, and he and Barnabas continued on.

The point is, resisting the crowd was the right thing to do, but it cost Paul.

I don’t think the treatment people today give Christian superstars is so different from what the crowd wanted to do for Paul. Sure, no one is preparing a sacrifice, but we’ve got our own rituals. We want autographs and we want our picture taken with Important Christian, as if somehow proof of us standing beside him makes us a little more important too.

I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t responding in this way because we, like the people of Lystra, are crediting the Christian author or football player or agent with what God has done. Would we rush for an autograph if we thought, Wow, God is so great to use someone just like me to write books that reach hundreds of thousands.

On the heels of that thought, I wonder how many stones of envy might come out.

In the end, it seems to me that the culture of celebrity in which we live is unavoidable, but we as believers can resist treating each other the way the world treats their own. The success of other believers should give us cause to sing God’s praises, not those of the clay pots He chooses to use.

And a few pots would benefit from tearing their robes and rushing out in the crowd to stop the wrong-headed acclaim being thrown their way. No, no. We’re just human. The power, the ability, the strength—that’s all from God. He’s the superstar. He’s the one deserving of the praise.

God’s Not Good Enough


ÍndiosIt’s a bizarre statement—God’s not good enough—and yet that’s precisely what some people believe. Before he passed away, atheist Christopher Hitchens said if the Christian God did in fact exist, he would want no part of such a tyrant. Today I read a comment stating we are better off outside Eden [away from God].

Why would anyone hold such an opinion of God? Why would people like the sometimes commenter from a number of years ago, Mike Morrel, say he thought he might be nicer than God? Why would others claiming to be Christians say the God of the Old Testament is murderous?

Last I checked, murder was a sin, as is wielding authority in a cruel way, and not being as “nice” as the creatures He created. So, apparently, God is under indictment while others simply want nothing to do with Him.

And yet, there’s a sizable group who proclaim Humankind’s innocence. God might be a monster and society is seriously messed up, but humans are innocent bystanders who get caught up in the craziness.

That thinking is so flawed, it’s hard for me to grasp. Society is made up of people. The only way society could become messed up is if people are messed up.

And God is perfect—perfectly good, kind, loving, just, omniscient, powerful, merciful, sovereign, infinite, wise, and more.

Humans are imperfect. We all know it about ourselves and about every person we’ve ever met. We make mistakes, get things wrong, forget, become confused, lie. And yet, we think humans see things correctly and God does not?

Especially spiritual things.

So when God says, all have sinned, there is none righteous, humans counter with, “What about the innocent who have never heard?”

Apparently, all have sinned, none are righteous now refers only to people in western culture because we are the people who are privileged. No longer are people groups who kill their enemies and ritualistically eat their bodies considered sinful. They are the innocent who have been deprived of knowledge about the One who can save.

I don’t understand. I truly don’t understand. Romans 2 spells out that those not blessed with the written word of God, the Law, are responsible before Him for the law written on their consciences, so that “all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law” (Rom. 2″12a).

The only way, then, for a person to be considered innocent is for him to live a perfect life. And only one individual in all time has done this.

Yet there’s still this idea that God would be unfair to judge those who have walked away from Him, who live in rebellion to Him, who rape and abuse and worship idols, because they haven’t been given “explicit knowledge” of Jesus, the Messiah.

Does God need to see them spit on Jesus to know they have rejected His Son? No! He is omniscient. Why is it we twenty-first century Christians have such a hard time believing that God actually knows what He’s doing? Or that He’s powerful enough to reach down among the “unreached,” and proclaim the gospel to them?

He found a way to turn the Apostle Paul 180 degrees, from a murderer to an evangelist. He found a way to bring Paul to the people on the island of Malta. He sent Philip to an Ethiopian and created an earthquake that lead to the salvation of a jailer in Thyatira. What can’t God do to bring His gospel to all the world?

We act as His judge. We declare Him unfair, because we don’t know. There might be someone out there who wants to repent, we say, and it would be unfair for God to judge them without giving them a chance to know Him.

So we think God does NOT know whose hearts are His? That somehow His knowledge stops with western civilization?

The two greatest evils in our society are these: we think so little of God and we think so much of ourselves.

But isn’t that really what the prophet Jeremiah said centuries ago (he in a more poetic way, to be sure):

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

When we think we know better than God, we have forsaken Him. When we think what He’s told us in His word is unfair and do a tap dance around it to get to a more user friendly position, we are digging our own leaky wells. We will not come up with the water we need.

The fact is, we are smaller than we think, and God is greater than we imagine.

A Different Gospel


Paul_the_Apostle006
Apparently the Apostle Paul felt strongly about the message God had given him to preach. More than once, to several different audiences he wrote about the need to resist false teaching. Nowhere was he as exercised, however, as he was in the letter to the Galatians. After a typical, though relatively short, opening, he got right to the point:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Gal 1:6-9)

Disturbing and distorting–sounds like the Liar at work. But what should we expect? OF COURSE, Satan wouldn’t want people understanding and believing the true gospel. So one way to dissuade them is to give them an alternative.

The true gospel is not complicated. Paul laid it out in 1 Cor. 15:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor 15:3-5)

In this short statement of faith we learn that we have sins, Christ died for those sins, the Scriptures revealed this before hand, Christ was buried–declaring for all time that His death was real–and was raised on the third day, something the Scriptures also revealed and the disciples witnessed.

A different gospel will distort those basics.

Some different gospels mythologize the resurrection. Others add human endeavor to Christ’s death in order to deal with sin. Some say sin isn’t the real problem–man simply needs to learn to be as loving as Jesus was.

Other different gospels downplay Christ’s accomplishment at the cross for Other Things, specifically, for what He can do for you NOW. Salvation’s good, but why wait for heaven to enjoy God’s best? We can have it now if we name it and claim it. In other words, this different gospel takes what Jesus and what Paul said were signs of the gospel, and elevates those as if they ARE the gospel, or at least a part of it.

There is a different gospel that says Christ died, but if you don’t believe it to be true–if you believe in the Hindu pantheism or personal enlightenment or some other sincerely held religious expression–you’re good. Apparently in this different gospel, sin isn’t really the problem. It’s hypocrisy or not going all out for what you believe or going all out for what you believe. The real problem Mankind faces isn’t really clear, but that it will be fixed no matter what each of us believes–that’s the different gospel.

Some distort the gospel by distorting the revelation in which it is contained. Consequently it becomes easier to dismiss if there is no authoritative, true, revealed Word of God that proclaims the gospel. If what we have are fables and fairytales instead, then we can glean whatever moral we want from them and dismiss the rest.

A radically different approach that also distorts the gospel is the idea that the authoritative, true, revealed Word of God that contains the gospel, lists out the rules and regulations by which a person can overcome sin.

People believing in this different gospel might even give lip service to the fact that Jesus died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God. In practice, however, they live to toe the line, keep the rules, obey the do’s and avoid the don’ts–not because they love God and want to please Him, but because they want to impress God and earn His favor. That would be the unmerited favor He’s already extended to us through the plan of salvation.

Clearly there are many, many different gospels. In the first century, the Church leaders ran into those who didn’t believe in the resurrection, and others who thought Christ had returned a second time already. The leaders disciplined those who thought the forgiveness of sin gave them a license TO sin. They dealt with others who thought the body was evil and the spirit was good, and many more distortions of God’s truth.

The key here is this: if false teachings were not uncommon when the Church was in its infancy, why would we think things are different now? Why would we think that everyone who claims the name of Christ actually believes the gospel? It’s easy to say, Lord, Lord, but Jesus Himself made it clear that He would send away an untold number of people who called to him like that when He didn’t really know them.

Those folks had fallen prey to one of the false gospels floating around.

Paul closed his letter to the Corinthian church by saying, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (16:22). To the Galatians he said, the guy preaching a false doctrine is to be accursed.

There’s a principle of logic at work here:
if a = accursed and
b = accursed, then
a = b.

In this case, the one who preaches a different gospel does not love the Lord. So, why would we be inclined to hang out and hear someone preaching a different gospel?

Published in: on July 12, 2013 at 6:38 pm  Comments Off on A Different Gospel  
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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)  
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Paul Was a Creationist


I know this doesn’t have anything to do with what we’ve been discussing, but during my personal time in the Bible this week, it dawned on me that the Apostle Paul must have been a creationist.

Clearly he viewed Genesis as a historical record. He drew parallels in numerous places between Christ and Adam (Romans 5; I Corinthians 15). None of those works if Adam was a mythical character, not an actual historical person.

Come to think of it, the writer of the book of Hebrews (some think that was Paul, too, but some think it might have been Barnabas or even Peter) also believed in the historicity of Genesis. The fundamental comparison in Hebrews is between Christ and a little-known priest/king named Melchizedek. Genesis 1 mentions him briefly, almost in passing, but clearly the New Testament believers understood him to be a historical figure and highly significant in helping people (especially Jews) understand Jesus’s role as High Priest and King.

I suppose, more important than all is that Jesus Himself understood Genesis to be history. After His resurrection, He is the one who spent time with His disciples explaining how He figured into the Law and Prophets.

Before His crucifixion, He made numerous references to David, Moses, and Abraham. In fact, in connection to Abraham, He taught about life after death. Using a mythical character for these lessons would have destroyed the very point He was making. Instead, He referenced historical figures, and mentioned their motives, their choice of a verb tense, their use of words. If Jesus knew these Old Testament people to be figments of someone’s imagination, He would have been partaking in a great fraud.

No, He, along with the writer to the Hebrews, along with the Apostle Paul, viewed the Law and the Prophets as grounded in historical fact.

So how do I get from that point to Paul was a creationist? If Paul believed Adam was a historical figure and that sin came into the world because of what Adam did, which is precisely what he says in Romans 5:12 (“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned —”), he must have believed that Genesis 3 was historical.

Do we have reason to believe he thought Genesis 3 was factual but Genesis 2 or Genesis 1 was mythical?

Actually there’s no evidence that Paul thought any of the Old Testament was mythical. He took the Law and the Prophets to be the word of God. He based his instruction on the Word. He began his church planting by reading and discussing the Word.

Sure, some can dismiss Paul as scientifically ignorant. But one thing we can’t accurately conclude—he was spiritually ignorant.

So the question is, does rational thought negate the power of God? If after all our scientific discoveries, we say, God couldn’t have created the world the way Genesis says, isn’t that actually a reflection of our own beliefs, not of what really happened?

I mean, what we’re really saying is, I don’t see how these scientific facts and the Genesis account can both be true, so I choose known science (even though unknown science might someday prove me wrong).

In reality, Paul, who had a direct revelation of Jesus Christ, wasn’t encumbered with the restrictions of modern philosophy or with the uncertainties of postmodern philosophy. And his vast study, I’m certain, led him to be a creationist.

Published in: on July 9, 2009 at 10:52 am  Comments (1)  
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