Sidetracked


Becoming sidetracked—distracted, pulled off course, diverted—is something we all understand. I mean, how many times do we start one task and in the process see something that pulls our attention away and causes us to start a new task.

Facebook or social media in general is a good place for becoming sidetracked. Yes, we want to click over to read one article, but there’s a link that seems like it will give more information, so we jump over to a different site, then a notification comes which we have to read, which contains an important message we must deal with at once and . . . what were we planning to do at Facebook in the first place?

In some ways the issue is that we are bombarded by information. And options.

Of late, our society has bombarded us all with Problems That Need To Be Fixed. The current two, of course, are the Coronavirus and racism. Before those, we were told—or perhaps taught would be a better word—that the planet was at risk unless we got our act together and stopped using fossil fuel as a source of energy. THAT would solve all the problems.

Except, apparently, racism and Coronavirus.

Along with these issues, we’ve also been taught that we need to stand against sexual abuse in any shape, that women must receive equal pay and opportunities as men, that we should stand against Apartheid, fight a war on poverty, stop bullying, build up a child’s self-esteem so they don’t pick up a gun and try to kill as many of their schoolmates as possible.

I could go on.

The thing is, these causes and campaigns are not all wrong, though some have engendered a bit of controversy. So is the Coronavirus a real problem? Yes, as much as some people would like to say it’s a problem drummed up by government to control the population. Actually, people are getting sick and dying all over the world.

And racism? The very people who say “all ANYBODY are ANYTHING,” are racists. So all police aren’t racist. Nor are all whites. Those are actually racist statements (as is the statement that all BLM supporters are racist). So yes, the problem of racism does exist.

Apartheid was an issue in South Africa, but now it seems to have migrated to America where we have NAME-THE-RACE communities. In other words, we are segregating by choice—at least a number of us are.

And yes, the gender issues are real. Women should not be harassed, raped, abused, misused. Bullying is a real problem—no one should be shamed or coerced or mocked publicly, because of their beliefs, their looks, the way they talk, or think, for their background, or history. Of course mass shootings are a real problem, too, at least in the US. In South America, for decades the issue was bombings. And shootings. I guess the Middle East goes the bombing route. And of course the US has known a few of those, ourselves.

I could go on. The environment? Yes, actually God gave humans “dominion” of the earth—not to misuse it, squeeze all the goodness out of it, as happened during the Industrial Revolution in the West. When people realized that rivers were becoming so polluted they were toxic, that the air was so contaminated it was dangerous, measures began to come into practice to change the damage we had done.

I say “we” as a reference to humans, though none of us were even alive at the time.

But I don’t want to get too far afield from the main topic (although that would actually serve as a good example of what I’m saying). All the problems—and many more that I haven’t even mentioned—are only side issues. They aren’t the real problem.

But as long as we talk about these other problems in the media and with our children and in our schools, as long as we are writing books and signing petitions and participating in protests and pointing fingers about any of these issues, we are being sidetracked.

The real issue—the central issue above all else—is that we as a culture, as many cultures—have turned away from God. We show it by how we treat each other and by how we treat our world, but mostly by how we treat God.

Do we know God? Or do we buy into the “God is dead” rhetoric? Do we exclude Him from our schools? Keep Him locked in the privacy of our own homes rather than include Him as part of the public conversation about all these other issues?

After all, God knows the human heart better than we do. He knows my heart and He knows the heart of the guy in China who just lost his mother to the Coronavirus. He knows the heart of abusive cops and He knows the heart of criminals and He knows the heart of citizens who are just minding their own business.

God is mindful of us. “He knows we are but dust.” Jesus understands our weaknesses, because “He was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” God knows.

Do we turn to Him for answers? Or do we treat Him as an uninvolved spectator?

Do we live to make Him known? To turn the spotlight on Him as the One who deserves all praise and worship and honor?

Or are we focused on getting our lives back to normal?

What’s our mission statement, our assignment from God, and are we focused on accomplishing that or are we sidetracked by, oh, so many things?

Photo by Mark Plötz from Pexels

Published in: on July 7, 2020 at 5:21 pm  Comments (4)  
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Sending The Wrong Message


What message should Christians be spreading during a time of pandemic, when much of the world seems to be in semi-quarantine? A couple weeks ago I addressed this issue in the article “Speak Lord, For Your Servant Is Listening.” Since then, I’ve heard a number of Christian leaders speak to the topic.

I’ve been pleased with some, disappointed in others, and surprised at those who have remained silent.

The latter shouldn’t surprise me, really. They are the preachers who push the health and wealth message. What can they say when Christians actually do come down with the virus? What can they say in response to the social distancing policies designed to limit the spread of the virus? No, we don’t have to do that because we have God’s promise of health and wealth? There are serious Biblical problems with that position, and of course we know that all of us, Christians included, will one day die. So apparently God isn’t keeping His promise, if we read into the Bible that idea. So, silence. What message can they give their friends and neighbors when Christians like everyone else can contract Covid-19 and can be carriers of the virus?

The first group of leaders who have turned to the Bible and are addressing today’s circumstances in light of what the Bible says, seem to me to be seizing the opportunity. People who are afraid or who feel like they’re losing control, who were counting on a job that disappeared over night, who no longer have the comfortable retirement package they once had, need to hear what God says about crisis and about how he works through trials and suffering, how He is sovereign and will not leave or forsake His children. That’s the message those leaders have delivered.

Another group of Christians who have a media presence have given a non-message as their response: God isn’t doing anything different today than He did in years gone by; it’s not up to us to take the events of today as particularly meaningful. Here’s one example:

No doubt the usual silly suspects will tell us why God is doing this to us. A punishment? A warning? A sign? These are knee-jerk would-be Christian reactions in a culture which, generations back, embraced rationalism: everything must have an explanation. But supposing it doesn’t? Supposing real human wisdom doesn’t mean being able to string together some dodgy speculations and say, “So that’s all right then?” What if, after all, there are moments such as T. S. Eliot recognized in the early 1940s, when the only advice is to wait without hope, because we’d be hoping for the wrong thing? (“Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To”)

In response to that article, another leader offered a Biblical counterpoint:

Christian hope is radically different [from the hope the world enjoys], because Christianity is different from every other religion. Why? Because it’s eternally founded on the prophetic words of God, revealed to prophets who wrote down what God said about the future. The God of the Bible is eternal, infinitely above the unfolding of time. He is the “Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13). He wrote the complex story of human history before the world began. And he has revealed everything we need to know about the future. (“Surprised By Hopelessness”)

Still one more leader gives a message of repentance and hope. John Piper has written a book on the subject, Coronavirus And Christ (audio book available for free; also available for purchase in various platforms). He not only addresses hope for believers but also the need for repentance.

As I see it, the message of no purpose and hopelessness is the wrong message. I don’t believe God wastes any opportunity to draw people to Himself. More and more, people around the world are asking what God’s doing in and through this pandemic. As places begin to move back toward opening businesses, toward a bit of normalcy, the window is also beginning to close when Christians can spread the Biblical message of repentance and hope to people who have come face to face with their mortality. May many more leaders follow those who are doing so, and not those who are giving the wrong message.

Originally posted Monday at Spec Faith.

Published in: on April 30, 2020 at 3:55 pm  Comments (15)  
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Refuge


One of the themes in the book of Psalms, especially those psalms written by King David, is refuge. The “sweet singer of Israel” often wrote of things he knew well—“The LORD is my shepherd,” for example, from a man who spent his youth tending sheep. After a meteoric rise to prominence as a result of his victory over Goliath, David experienced an equally sharp decline in favor. Although he did nothing wrong, although King Saul was simply motivated by jealousy, David found himself on the run—for his life.

He had no one he could trust, so he looked to hide out in a part of the country that was nearly uninhabitable. It was called a wilderness for a reason. So, far to the south of the center of power where the king resided, where David once sat at his table, the fugitive now lived in caves and wherever else he could go—often on the run just to stay one step ahead of King Saul and his army.

David knew about not having refuge, and finding refuge. So no wonder he wrote a lot about the subject in his psalms. One of the psalms that addresses the subject most thoroughly is Psalm 91. There’s no “signature” telling us that David wrote this particular portion of Scripture, but regardless, it is consistent with what a man on the run, what someone facing trouble, would know to write.

Unsurprisingly, the psalmist, whoever he was, wrote that God is the ultimate refuge, the One who provides a “safe space.” Here’s a sample:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust!” (vv 1-2)

Interestingly, the psalmist is rather expansive when he describes what God can shelter someone from, but he includes pestilence—“fatal epidemic disease”—in some of his earliest thoughts:

For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper
And from the deadly pestilence. (v 3)

A few verses later he adds

You will not be afraid of the terror by night,
Or of the arrow that flies by day;
Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness (5-6a)

I think it’s significant that God’s refuge not only provides safety but also freedom from fear.

In a few verses the psalm takes on a prophetic, Messianic meaning—to the point that Satan actually quoted from it when he was tempting Jesus. These verses may sound familiar:

For He will give His angels charge concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways.
They will bear you up in their hands,
That you do not strike your foot against a stone. (vv 11-12)

The debate, then, is this: are the promises of refuge only promises to the Messiah? Can the everyday Christian turn to God as his refuge?

I don’t think that’s a question that’s too hard to answer, since this passage is not the only one that talks about taking refuge in God.

In fact, the book of Psalms is not the only place where we learn about taking refuge in God. One of my most favorite verses is in one of the minor prophets (not “minor” because of their importance, but identified so today by Biblical scholars because of their length). This one is found in the book of Nahum.

Ironically, the book starts off with anything but a tone of refuge. Rather, it describes God’s righteous anger, as in this verse:

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power,
And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. (1:3a)

The passage reaches a climax in verse 6:

Who can stand before His indignation?
Who can endure the burning of His anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire
And the rocks are broken up by Him.

And then the shocking, surprising, unexpected twist:

The LORD is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble,
And He knows those who take refuge in Him. (v 7)

So yes, God’s wrath being poured out like fire? That’s from the LORD who is good. But more so, this is the same good God who is a stronghold in the day of trouble, including the pestilence mentioned in Psalm 91. As if that was not enough, God knows those who take refuge in Him. Not in government or medical progress or the “human spirit” or anything else so many rely on today. God can use all those things if He chooses, but He is the One, the only One who is a refuge in the day of trouble, no matter what kind of trouble. No matter what source stirs up that trouble.

Like the plagues of Egypt, God can bring judgment, but in the same way He protected Israel from the consequences of those plagues, those who take refuge in Him today will be protected, too.

I say “in the same way,” but the truth is, taking refuge in God is not a way to insure we won’t contract the Coronavirus. I have heard of Christians who have fallen ill and some who have died. But the thing about refuge in God is that it’s win-win. We are in the same place Paul was when he said, “To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” We can live in God’s protection, or we can die and gain a more complete relationship with Christ, free from the dark glass we look through today.

There is no bad result from taking refuge in God. One way or the other, we are free from the fear of the terror by day or the pestilence by night. Why? Because we know God is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him.

Published in: on April 7, 2020 at 5:02 pm  Comments (3)  
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Speak Lord, For Your Servant Is Listening


A year ago, almost to the day, I revised and re-posted an article entitled “Does God Speak Through Nature?” The premise was simple: God used “natural” phenomenon in Egypt to pry His people free from Pharaoh’s grip. Could He not continue to use the world around us to speak to us?

So many people today—and this includes many Christians—say, No, floods and earthquakes and hurricanes and pandemics have known, scientific causes. They occur because of natural law.

But my question is, Who created and controls natural law? Did not God hang the stars in place? Does His hand not maintain what He created? Scripture indicates He is the One who makes DNA coding and tides and mutating viruses work the way they work—and keeps them doing so.

And He [God’s Son] is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Heb. 1:3a; emphasis mine)

Then there’s this passage in Colossians:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (1:16-17; emphasis mine)

All this to say, I don’t believe things happen in the world for no purpose.

God hasn’t sent a modern day prophet to tell us why things happen as He did during Israel’s history before their exile. But we don’t actually need a modern day prophet because we have the ancient ones.

Someone has to be pretty blind not to see parallels between the world today and the world of the ancient Jews. Including this passage:

Come, my people, enter into your rooms
And close your doors behind you;
Hide for a little while
Until indignation runs its course.
For behold, the LORD is about to come out from His place
To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;
And the earth will reveal her bloodshed
And will no longer cover her slain. (Isaiah 26:20-21)

But who knows? Maybe the Coronavirus is just your run of the mill viruses and we shouldn’t think twice about it in spiritual terms.

Then again, maybe it is the wake-up call to remind us that God will bring judgment on the earth one day. Not today. Maybe not in five years or ten or fifty. But assuredly, God will bring judgment. Again, something—in this culture—that’s uncomfortable to say. I mean, we’ve heard from the likes of Rob Bell and his Love Wins best seller of nearly a decade ago. He clearly lays out his belief that no matter what a person believes, he’s on his way to paradise with God.

Well, for one thing, I know a lot of atheists who would be horrified if this were true. They don’t want eternal punishment, that’s for certain, but neither do they want to be with God for eternity.

But more importantly the “everyone’s on his way to heaven” idea is not what God revealed. Pretty much the opposite:

“THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;
THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,
THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;
ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS;
THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,
THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE . . .
THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.” (Rom. 3:12-18)

Which brings us to God’s warning and the need for repentance.

At one point God sent the prophet Jonah to the main city in Assyria, Nineveh. I won’t get into Jonah’s issues here, but the people there were known to be a warlike nation, violent and cruel. They seemed to devise ways of killing people that would cause the most pain. Jonah’s message was simple: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” He apparently didn’t even offer them any hope.

Still, the people knew what was the cause for this judgment, and they bowed before God and repented.

God’s response? “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10).

Those people in that place and for that generation, were spared God’s judgment.

The prophet Joel brought the same message to the people of Israel:

Alas for the day!
For the day of the LORD is near,
And it will come as destruction from the Almighty.

Revelation echos this idea of “destruction from the Almighty,” which Christians know as the Tribulation. Are we there yet? Not close. Jesus Himself when asked when He would establish His kingdom went into some detail about the things that will take place first, including this:

You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. (Matt. 24:6-8)

The beginning of birth pangs, not yet the end. I think that’s where we are. And these events that seem so out of the ordinary (because they are) serve as reminders that “the wages of sin is death,” that God will bring His judgment to bear on this world.

The prophet Joel said it to his generation in Israel, but I think it is just as true today:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil. (Joel 2:12-13)

I admit the word “evil” has troubled me. I looked it up and in the original, used as a noun as it is here, evil means distress, misery, injury, calamity. In other words, it does not mean wickedness. The idea is clear: repentance alters God’s judgment. His nature is to be slow to anger, to have heaps upon heaps of lovingkindess, and turn away from bringing His judgment.

Of course the New Testament paints the entire picture for us. God turns away His wrath from those who bow before Him because Jesus accepted that wrath, poured out on Him. And those of us who accept this free gift of grace? We have peace with God through Jesus.

Even in the midst of a pandemic. We’re not facing His angry judgment. Ever. We may die from the virus or from something else, but we will enter into His presence, the way the thief dying beside Jesus, did. That’s something far different from judgment.

So in one way (there are others), this virus thing is a blessing in disguise. It gives us an opportunity to face our mortality, and to repent for turning our backs on God, for living for ourselves instead of living for Him. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime, so to speak—an eternal lifetime.

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