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.

Covid-19


We are currently in the midst of a pandemic—a worldwide crisis caused by a deadly disease. There has been talk about pandemics in the past, but I’ve not lived through a real health crisis like the Black Plague or the Flu epidemic in the early twentieth century, so I don’t really know how fearful this spreading pestilence can become.

And pestilence it is, though that’s not a word in common use today. We favor “pandemic,” I suppose to emphasize the widespread nature of whatever disease is moving from person to person. But pestilence emphasizes the fatal nature of the disease, and I think it’s more accurate when referring to Covid-19.

Though not a common word today, pestilence is a term used in Scripture, most often by the prophets warning of coming judgment. Jeremiah 14:11-12 is an example:

So the LORD said to me, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.”

These judgments, also recorded in Ezekiel and Habakkuk, are directed primarily at Israel because they forsook God to worship idols.

Revelation echoes these judgments but on a worldwide scale:

I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (6:8)

Of course, just mentioning Revelation stirs up some people. On one hand are those who want to trot out the End Times Charts. On the other are those who secretly wish (or nearly so) that Revelation weren’t in the Bible because they don’t think it adds much, being all symbolic as it is. Why bother with it when we can’t really understand it?

Well, I’m of a different mindset. I believe God speaks through Revelation as much as through any other book. I believe some is literal and some symbolic, and by relying on the Holy Spirit, we can know with a high percentage of accuracy, which is which. God didn’t give us this glimpse into the future to confound us. He wants us to know what He’s communicating.

One thing that’s clear is this: God will bring judgment on the earth because of our rebellion against Him. In the Old Testament, He brought judgment against Israel, His chosen people, in precisely the ways He’d said He would through the prophecies of Jeremiah. Consequently, I have no doubt the warning of judgment in Revelation is also true.

In fact the language in Revelation and in Jeremiah is eerily similar, both warning of the sword, famine, and pestilence. The scope of the judgment is really the only difference.

So is the Covid-19 virus the beginning of the pestilence God is sending? Are we, in fact, in the end times? Is the tribulation about to fall? (And the rapture before it, for those who hold to a pre-trib view).

Here’s where I depart from those who work out the end times charts. We simply don’t know God’s time in regard to these matters. He told us we can’t know, so I’m not sure why some people get so hung up on trying to figure out the time and sequence of all these things.

In the Old Testament, God sent numerous foreign incursions against both Israel and Judah before the two nations were taken into captivity by Assyria and Babylon respectively. Which one was the start of God’s judgment? The time Egypt came in and captured Jerusalem? Or when Edom broke free of Judah’s control? Or when Aram attacked Israel?

The answer is none and all of these. God sent His prophets to warn His people and He sent enemies and famine and, yes, pestilence, to judge them, to warn them, to show them what their end would become if they did not repent and turn back to Him.

These were not the final judgment but they were judgments. So too, we can look at the wars and rumors of wars, the drought and famine in various places, the pestilence rapidly spreading throughout the world, as God’s hand of judgment, just as He said.

But is it the final judgment?

Why should we ask this question? Are we planning on waiting for the final judgment before preaching repentance to those who deny God?

In short, the Covid-19 virus should concern Christians because it reminds us that God’s judgment is sure and that many people will be lost unless they turn to the Savior. We should have some urgency about us, even as those charged with health care here in the US are in the fight against Covid-19.

But we Christians know. If not Covid-19, one day there will be pestilence poured out on rebellious humans who refuse God’s mercy. May we be faithful to shout from the mountain tops: Here is your God; lift your eyes to the One who hung on the tree so that you might be healed and repent.

This article is modified from a 2014 post entitled Ebola.

Published in: on March 25, 2020 at 5:23 pm  Comments (6)  
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Praise Is More Than Positive Thinking


A number of studies reportedly show the benefit of a hopeful attitude. Patients, for example, who expect a positive outcome in their circumstances have a higher recovery rate. Praise supposedly helps students perform better as well. So along with discouraging corporal punishment, society now pushes positive reinforcement.

This has been going on for some time. Now, in order to make all little leaguers feel loved and accepted, everyone receives a trophy. Regardless of talent or ability (or attendance at practice), all kids must play. Never mind that the idea behind competitive sports is competition—the kind that produces a winner and a loser, or a runner up, if you prefer. But clearly, not everyone playing is a winner.

Many of the kids may have shown a work ethic or the ability to cooperate or a team spirit. But in the end, some kids are better than others; one team is pronounced the champion. Others may have done their best, but their best didn’t produce enough points or enough defense to put them ahead on the scoreboard when the last out was recorded.

Praise, as it turns out, is only temporary unless it is tied to truth. I can say all day long that I’m the best basketball player in my age and gender group, but that does not make it true. I might feel good about myself because of my perceived ability, but what happens when I play against someone better than I am?

As it turns out, a study some years ago indicates a connection between “too much” parental praise and narcissism in children.

True praise will not ascribe something false to another just to puff them up.

In contrast to the fakery of parental praise—or if not feigned, then manipulative (if I tell him how great he is, then he’ll perform the way I want him to)—praise offered to God stands on the truth of God’s character. He is worthy to be praised because He genuinely is the greatest, the sovereign, the almighty.

Praising God starts with recognizing Him for who He is. He is kind, consequently He deserves praise for His kindnesses that are new every morning. He is love, consequently He deserves praise for His love that never fails. He is just and therefore deserves praise for his righteous judgments. He is merciful and therefore deserves praise because His mercies never cease.

When we recognize the truth about God—about His Person, plan, work, and/or word—either we can respond directly to Him in the form of thanksgiving (publicly or privately) or we can reflect what we see by offering Him praise (corporately or personally). Scripture refers to these responses as sacrifices—of thanks or of praise.

I will render thank offerings to You.
For You have delivered my soul from death,
Indeed my feet from stumbling,
So that I may walk before God
In the light of the living. (Psalm 56:12b-13; emphasis mine)

No, we do not live under the sacrificial system any longer. Jesus Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust so that He might bring us to God.

But God delights in our sacrifice of praise:

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (Heb. 13:15)

Jesus modeled this act of praise to God. Many who Jesus healed and even those who witnessed the miracles praised God for His marvelous work. Some of the disciples, when they were persecuted, responded by praising God with psalms and hymns.

In fact, the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is the very mark of His Church:

you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:15)

Praising God is not wishful thinking or hoping for the best or positive mind speak or any of the other human endeavors many engage in. Praising God is anchored in the truth of His character, His promises, His acts of mercy, His way of salvation. In other words, God deserves recognition.

When the President of the US comes to California on one of his fund raising trips, nobody ignores him. He has police escorts and roads are closed off to allow his motorcade to pass. The media reports his arrival and covers his activities. People pay attention.

Recognizing someone’s existence or presence is not the same as praising them, however.

God wants more than our awareness of His existence or our willingness to meet with Him regularly. He wants us to shout our gratitude for His traits, for the wonders He performs, for the rescue He pulled off in transferring us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

The psalmist rendered thank offerings for a reason: because God delivered his soul from death and his feet from stumbling. Our praise today should be no less anchored in truth.

This article, with a few minor revisions, first appeared here in March, 2015.

BTW, have you noted today’s date: 02/20/20, 😉

The Character Of God


What’s God like?

Many people shape God in the image they want for Him. They’ll tell you what a good buddy He is or what a kindly grandpa He seems to be.

On the other hand, some will accuse Him of being cruel and spiteful and selfish and wicked.

So how do we know the truth?

Well, we couldn’t know anything about God unless He made Himself known. But that’s exactly what He’s done. First He showed Himself in and through what He made. Second, He showed Himself in what He told us about Himself—through prophets, within the pages of Scripture. Third, and finally, He showed us Himself by taking human form and becoming like one of us. Except He lived His life in a way that none of us have been able to do. He was without sin. Then, to top things off, He demonstrated His power as God by His resurrection from the dead.

In many respects you could say God bent over backwards to let us know what He’s like. He makes things very clear in Romans 1: look at creation and you can see what God is like.

But Hebrews 1 spells out the other two means by which He made Himself known: through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, and finally through His Son.

And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (v. 3a)

Clearly, God wants us to know Him.

So, what’s He like?

I made a list of things we can know about God just by looking at the world. Here’s the short version, which certainly is not exhaustive:

1) Even single cell organisms contain complex parts. Complexity requires a complex designer.

2) The existence of language, including DNA coding. Suggests a communicating originator.

3) Genetic code, a “set of rules.” Laws of nature exist. Mathematics exists. Requires an ordered Source.

4) Human ability to recognize and appreciate beauty. Suggests a Creator who has an aesthetic sense.

5) Coherence in the big philosophical issues such as What is truth? Why are we here? Where did we come from? What is our destiny? Science gives no meaning to life and no explanation for why we even ask these questions. God gives meaning and significance.

6) Morality. Humans have a sense of right and wrong. Fair and unfair. Truth and falsehood. Requires a moral designer.

7) Evil. How could humans know evil if good does not exist? The world is not neutral and not homogenous. God explains this, not science.

8) Worship. The nearly universal sense that there is a spiritual force or forces at work in the world. Far from “no god” being the default position history bears out that “there is a god” is the default position. The question then becomes who is he and does he matter?

9) Joy. C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy explained this far better than I ever could. The idea is that at times something seems so perfect—so beautiful, moving, uplifting, peaceful, “right”—that we simply want to capture it and stay in that moment for always. He identifies this as “joy.” But in fact the sense of perfection is fleeting. Nevertheless, it shows us that there is something more. And if we experience the taste of more, it’s likely we were made for more, God being that “more.”

10) Eyesight. If eyesight were a product of evolution, a sightless creature would have had to simultaneously evolve by growing eyes and by developing the brain function that would translate the light into something meaningful. Belief in a designer is far more plausible.

11) Hearing. Same with ears and the development of brain function that translates vibration into sound.

Of course we know much more about God from what He told us about Himself. He is holy, righteous, good. He is love and merciful and kind. He is also jealous and just and Judge. And yes, the Bible—the New Testament, even—speaks of His wrath.

We also know His ways and thoughts are not the same as our ways and thoughts, that He is “intimately acquainted” with us, to the point that He knows what we’re going to say before we say it. He has no beginning and no end. And He is the Source of all that’s in the universe. He made it and upholds—or maintains—it.

Just naming things that are true about God may not really tell us what He’s like. He knew that. So He came in bodily form and lived among us, so we could see Him in action. We could see His compassion, His power, His wisdom, His love, His holiness. Even His confrontation with evil as He declared the lying Pharisees to be like their father the devil.

I guess you could say, God is more complex than we often allow Him to be—in our minds. I know atheists who hate God. I know Christians who only see Him with a halo hovering over His head. Of course God is wrapped in holiness and love, but those traits do not negate the rest of who He is. Accepting God as He reveals Himself is the most meaningful way of entering into a relationship with Him. We can “re-image” Him into what we think He should be, or we can accept who He says He is, even when we don’t understand how He can be so complex.

I mean, it really starts with the idea that God is One, in three manifestations. Not three persons. He is not three Gods. He is One. And He is Three.

Not such an easy thing to comprehend. So why do we think the other things God reveals about Himself will be easy? They aren’t, but the more I learn of Him, the more I love Him.

Published in: on February 17, 2020 at 5:08 pm  Comments (11)  
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It’s Not About Us, Or What False Teaching Gets Wrong



False teaching seems to be increasing. More people are buying into old lies, and new lies are popping up at an alarming rate. There is an ever growing number of people who want to camp under the umbrella of Christianity but who don’t hold to some of the most basic tenets of the faith—such as, God exists.

I don’t mean to be snarky here, a group of people have begun to self-identify as Christian agnostics. I don’t see the rationale behind the idea. The Christian faith is centered on Jesus Christ and His work to reconcile us to God, so how can a person be a Christian if he’s uncertain about God’s existence?

But those who identify as agnostic Christians have lots of company when it comes to people who claim the name of Christ while ignoring what He said. My point here isn’t to start a list of false teachings. Rather, I want to focus on what those false teachings seem to have in common.

In a word, I think all false teaching is self centered. It’s more important to those believing a false teaching that they are comfortable or tolerant or intellectually satisfied or rich or right or inclusive or happy or whatever else different people set ahead of God.

Some will even say, in essence, If God is like the Old Testament describes Him, then I don’t want anything to do with Him. God, in other words, has to conform to their wishes. He must be made in their likeness, as opposed to they, made in His.

The truth is, Christianity is not about what we wish God were or what we’d like Him to do. We don’t get to tell Him how He should deal with suffering or sin. We don’t get to order Him to make us healthy or wealthy. We don’t get to exclude Him from creation or salvation. Any attempts to change Him and what He’s said or done, are actually forms of rejecting Him.

That’s not to say we can’t question. Those who embrace a false teaching often say people who cling to the God of the Bible are unwilling to search for answers. But that’s simply not true.

Job asked more questions than a good many people ever will, and God didn’t scold him for asking. He confronted him about his accusations against God, and Job agreed that he was wrong. God “in person” showed Job what sovereignty and omnipotence and wisdom really meant, and Job repented in dust and ashes.

Gideon questioned God, over and over. He wanted to be sure he’d understood that he was to be a part of the great victory God had planned. He wanted to be sure he got it right that he was supposed to decrease the size of his army. He wanted to be sure he was supposed to go forward in the face of his fear.

David asked questions, too. Why do the wicked prosper; how long, O LORD; why have You forsaken me; what is Man; why do You hide Yourself, and many others.

Abraham was another one who entertained doubts. He, and Sarah, weren’t sure they’d got it right. God was going to make a great nation from his descendants? God must have meant heir, or, if descendant, then birthed by a surrogate, not Abraham’s barren wife.

No, and no. God corrected him and repeated His promise.

Mary questioned. Me? A virgin? How could that possibly happen?

Moses doubted which lead to such despair he asked at one point for God to simply kill him then and there because he couldn’t continue leading an angry and rebellious people.

I could go on, but the point is this: asking questions is not wrong and people who ask questions aren’t necessarily disbelieving. What’s wrong is thinking that our answers are better than God’s.

And that’s what all false teaching has in common. Man has secret knowledge of God, or can earn his own way into God’s good graces, or can come to God however he pleases, or can worship the god of his own choosing, or can manipulate God to do his bidding, or can re-image God the way he wants Him—all of those and a host of other false ideas put self ahead of God, as if it’s all about us.

But it’s not.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in January 2014.

Photo by Jonas Ferlin from Pexels

Job And Our Organic God


My church started a short sermon series in the book of Habakkuk this month. This fairly obscure prophet wrote at the end the Judean Kingdom. He saw idol worship and all kinds of evil things, and he took his concerns to God. Sort of a, “Aren’t You going to do something about this” question. God answered by saying, in part, “Yes, I’m sending the wicked, violent Chaldeans against Judah.”

Habakkuk’s response was so much like any of us might have given: Really? You’re sending a nation that is more wicked to punish a wicked one? How does that work?

God, as our pastor pointed out, reserves the right to do surprising things. Actions we can’t always get our heads around. He made the comparison with what Job experienced.

I found this post, that is an expanded and revised version of an earlier one, that addresses the issue.

– – – – –

One of the things writers talk about is creating stories organically. The alternative is to force a story to become what you want it to become by reducing it to a formula. Organic stories are the ones that seem real, that last long after you’ve closed the book, that affect you rather than merely entertaining you.

There is no one key to writing organic stories, but they must have characters that seem like real people with believable motivations, realistic emotional patterns and true-to-life psychological mechanisms for handling problems.

The formulaic characters are little more than place holders. In a formulaic romance, for example, insert heroine on page 1, the opening paragraph; slot in romantic lead in chapter 2. Almost it doesn’t matter who these people are. They will have some problem that keeps them apart for a third of the book, then they will begin to draw close, only to run into a wedge that drives them further apart for another third. When all seems hopeless, after the heroine experiences the black night of the soul, the two resolve the conflict and come together. Or something like that. You get the gist. There’s a pattern, one that romance writers are taught in writing workshops to follow.

I’m not trying to pick on romances. I think westerns can be just as formulaic and so can mysteries. Character X discovers crime Y with suspects A, B, and C. With a little detecting, he uncovers clues 1, 2, and 3. A formula.

I don’t know enough about any of these genres to say whether there is a way to write them organically—to make them come alive and therefore to separate them from the pack. I do know that readers of formulaic books have a hard time remembering if they’ve already read Busted, Bashed, or Butchered. (I just made up those titles, but that kind of title connection in a series is another part of the formula). Even by reading the back cover, readers can draw a blank. Is this the book they read? It sounds vaguely familiar, but so do the other two.

What does all this have to do with God and the book of Job?

Job’s friends saw God as a formulaic figure. He was as good as programmed, in their minds, and had to act in manner y if person A did action x. In other words, they were not seeing God as organic—alive and relational. They were talking about Him as if He were an it, a force, a thing they could predict. Perhaps a thing they could manipulate.

While Job was wrong to complain against God and to accuse Him of wrong doing (which is why he repented in the end), he nevertheless got it right that God is a free and independent person, transcendent, able to act however He wants to act. He’s organic. He’s more than that, of course, because He’s sovereign.

In the past some professing Christians have accused traditional, Biblical Christianity of putting God in a box. Let him be organic, in other words, by which they mean, let him bend with the culture—change to fit the changing times.

Well, funny thing. The most organic thing a person can do is reveal who he is. “You want to know me? Let me tell you about myself so that you’re not reading your own thoughts or feelings or motives into my actions.”

This, God chose to do.

However, instead of embracing His story about Himself and His relationship with humankind, many people, even “religious” ones, decide they get to say who God is and what He is like. What these people are doing is “re-imaging” Him into the formula they’ve created.

That is what Job’s friends did.

They determined that God dealt with people in a formulaic, foreseeable way. He punished sin by bringing suffering down on the sinner. He rewarded those who lived righteously by giving them prosperity and long life.

Consequently, they left no room for God to do anything else with an unrighteous man other than bring disaster down on his head. And since disaster hit Job five fold, he was clearly, according to their formula, an unrighteous man.

People today do essentially the same thing: God is loving and kind and forgiving and tolerant and an advocate for peace. Therefore he would never send people to hell, order the death of . . . well, anyone but most certainly not a whole nation, though He said they were people who lived in debauchery. Above all, the loving and kind and tolerant God would never punish the entire human race because one person ate a bite of forbidden fruit. That’s not God, they say. (I mean, it’s just fruit!)

Maybe punishing sin is not the formulaic God these progressive Christians have concocted, but the organic God who is sovereign, just, and good, can do, and does do, all the things He revealed in His word. And more.

He’s not bound by a formula. He can, and did, take the form of a mam. He can, and did, live a sin-free life. He can, and did, sacrifice Himself to pay for the sins of the world. Why? Not because we did a satisfactory quota of good deeds, certainly. He, being living and self-existent, chooses to do what He chooses to do.

The point is, God isn’t limited by our expectations. He can forgive the repentant, even someone like King Manasseh who had instituted child sacrifice. Undoubtedly Job’s three friends would have demanded that God strike the wicked king down in the midst of his wickedness.

But God, who is merciful and all-knowing and just, forgave that man instead.

God can be trusted to do what is right with the lives and souls of the people He created. He doesn’t have to fit the formula Job’s friends created—in fact, He doesn’t. Theirs was a works theology—do the right things and God has to bless. Stray from His demands, and He will rain suffering down.

They didn’t understand what it meant to believe God to be sovereign, to trust Him to do what is right, even when His action is surprising and unexpected and even sometimes painful. They didn’t know Him and love Him. They more nearly knew about Him and used Him—in Job’s case, to chastise a man suffering horrific loss. But that’s what happens when someone believes God must follow their formula.

Published in: on January 14, 2020 at 4:42 pm  Comments (4)  
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Following God


King David followed God, to the point that God identified him as a man after His own heart. As it happens, David was also filled with the Holy Spirit:

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah. (1 Sam. 16:13; emphasis mine)

Still, as any Christian who is honest will admit, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives does not mean we have some kind of insulation against sin. Hence, King David sinned, and grandly so. He also confessed his sin and returned to God, more than on one occasion. As it happens, we have some of his prayers of confession in the book of Psalms.

King Solomon stands in contrast to David. God made an incredible offer to this newly anointed king—ask whatever you want, and I’ll give it to you. He asked for wisdom. God blessed him with wisdom all right, but threw in riches and honor as well.

He gave Solomon the same promise He gave David: follow Me and there will be one of your descendants on the throne . . . forever.

I think Solomon tried. He went about building a temple where the nation of Israel could worship the LORD. But he had a divided heart. He also made places for his wives, who worshiped idols, to perform their religious activities.

And when he was confronted with his sin, he did not repent. We have his spiritual journey recorded in Ecclesiastes, and it does have a hopeful end:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. (Ecc. 12:13-14)

Following Solomon was his son, Rehoboam. This guy came to the throne and immediately faced a request from his people. As near as I can determine, he had neither the Spirit of God or the wisdom from God that his more famous predecessors had. His solution to a crisis of confidence from those he was to govern? As for counsel.

No, he didn’t ask God. He asked the men who had advised his father. The he asked some guys like himself who had never ruled before. He liked their advice better. Clearly, Rehoboam was depending on himself. Not God. Not God’s gift of wisdom. Not even the men God had put in place who could give him God’s perspective.

The result was a national split—a civil war. The nation that had been one, became two. There’s much more to say about the Hebrew kings, but the point for this post is this: David had the Spirit of God and followed God; Solomon had the gift of God and turned to it to guide him; Rehoboam had advisors and followed the ones he found to be more to his liking. In other words, he followed his own way.

During the period of the Judges when there was no king, Scripture says that “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Now Israel (and soon after, Judah) had a king who did what was right in his own eyes.

I don’t think much has change when it comes to following God. We can look to His Spirit, His gifts, or our own way. What constitutes God’s gifts? Maybe spiritual gifts like love and joy and peace and patience. Maybe the Church God is building. Those are obviously very, very good, as was the wisdom Solomon had. But they are not substitutes for God Himself. We are not to follow “church tradition” or the “sense of peace” we may or may not feel if either of those take us away from God.

For instance, the woman who leaves her husband because she’s sure God wants her to be happy—or be at peace. Well, yes, God does give us peace and His love means He desires the best for us. But “the best” may not mean the kind of peace we think.

There’s a peace that comes from depending on God that is beyond comprehension, and may not override external turmoil. As a radio minister pointed out today, the apostle Peter was in jail, awaiting trial that would end in his execution, most likely, and he was asleep! The external turmoil surrounded him, but his soul was at peace. And as it happened, an angel broke him out of prison so that he didn’t die then—though Peter had no way of knowing that was God’s plan. His peace simply allowed him to have a good night’s sleep.

Before Making New Year’s Resolutions—A Reprise


I know lots of people are big on New Year’s resolutions, but I’m not. I used to go the resolutions route, but at some point switched to yearly goals. Finally I dropped those too. The fact was, whatever I did seemed like a plan for failure. Sure I wanted to do the things I put down on the list, but reality was, I didn’t have the time-management skills or drive or willingness to say no or whatever else might have determined a greater degree of success. So rather than setting myself up for failure, I decided to depart from the tradition. I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions since.

Not long ago something I read in Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening made me think there’s something different I could do instead. I think people who want to make resolutions might still find this idea appropriate, too.

Simply put, it’s a bit of an end-of-the-year evaluation, akin to a teacher’s end of the year evaluation I used to have at the close of every school year. I’d sit down with the principal and we’d talk about how things had gone and what we needed to do to prepare for the next year. The principal’s questions prompted me to ask what I personally was doing that needed to be improved. Even when I’d been teaching for years, I’d come away from the evaluation with a clear sense that I should not stand pat.

To be honest, I needed the principal’s prodding because, we aren’t really the best ones to evaluate … us. We need a more objective opinion, someone who both knows us well and who will be honest, even brutally so, if need be.

When King David wanted to take a good hard look at his life, he turned to God:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. (Ps. 139:23-24)

Who could be better qualified to search us than omniscient God? He knows my lying down and my rising. He knows my thoughts from afar. He knows each word I will say before a one is on my lips. I can hide nothing from Him.

So, why this search if God already knows?

I believe it’s got several functions. First, this evaluation is like my employer evaluations—as much about communicating the conclusions as about making them. If my principal knew what I should do differently and he never told me, I would be no better for having been evaluated. It would be a meaningless exercise. I needed the communication end of the meeting. So too with God.

Second is the part where God leads me in His way. Not only do I need to know what I need to change, I need to know God’s way of handling the change. Change for no other reason than to do things differently is actually wasted effort.

A meaningful evaluation, then, requires sitting down and listening to the one in authority: This is what I see and this is what you need to do about it.

Evaluations can be scary—unless there is trust between the one being evaluated and the one doing the evaluation. Of course we know we can trust God to be truthful and not to miss a thing. But we can also trust Him because He is good and because He loves us. Consequently, it’s safe to ask Him to search us, to try us, to see if there’s a wicked something in our lives that needs to change.

Not a bad idea to have such a meeting with Him whether we’re planning to make a list of resolutions or goals or to pick a word for the new year or to follow any other kind of life-change plan.

This post is an edited edition of one that appeared here in December 2011.

Published in: on December 31, 2019 at 4:09 pm  Comments (6)  
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History In The Hands Of The Ignorant


I saw a news item some years ago. Supposedly a Hollywood star came out saying she hates the US holiday of Thanksgiving (the Los Angeles Times published a rebuttal article calling into question Fox’s motivation and journalism for drawing their information from popeater.com, though the Times failed to mention that sites like the Huffington Post also carried the story).

The “news event,” generated by second-hand reports, explained that this star was boycotting Thanksgiving because she didn’t want to be a part of rewriting history or commemorating “what the white settlers did to the native Indians.”

I’d like to rail a little against this one ignorant woman, except I saw something eerily similar from someone in my Facebook network.

Then today I learned that some are calling Thanksgiving a day of mourning, basically as a protest against the results of the Indian wars that occurred some 200 years after the event recognized as the first Thanksgiving.

Never mind that there are primary historical documents—journals by the pilgrims who actually celebrated that holiday, such as Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford and Mourt’s Relation by Edward Winslow and others—that make it clear Thanksgiving has nothing to do with any of the activity that forced the native Americans off their land.

The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated to give thanks to God for helping the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony survive their first brutal winter in New England. The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days, providing enough food for 53 pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.
Wikipedia

In what way would a gathering that included on average two Indians for every pilgrim settler be reprehensible? Especially when the settlers were thanking God for His provision—not merely for the food, but for the Indians who taught them how to survive.

In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims reaped a bountiful harvest. To thank God for their deliverance and the help they had received from the Indians, Bradford held a three-day Thanksgiving feast inviting the Indians to join them in their celebration.
“Strangers, Saints and Indians” by John A. Murray, Wall Street Journal

For the next fifty years, the pilgrims and the neighboring native people groups lived in harmony. And Thanksgiving feasts took place in response to the blessings they enjoyed. Not every year, but with more and more frequency.

So who actually is “rewriting history”?

Certainly not the people who are reading the original source material. And not those of us who celebrate God’s goodness, as the pilgrims did—recognizing that God’s hand preserves and protects and provides.

Think about it. What were the odds that a native American, fluent in English, would “happen” upon this colony of pilgrims so in need of help?

But I’m getting sidetracked.

This well-documented story certainly can be interpreted from a number of angles (for example, by focusing on the English speaking native Americans, by looking at the political developments within the colony, by exploring the relationships of the various native people groups with each other), but it cannot be painted as the beginning of hostilities, pilgrims with Indians.

At least as long as we’re not rewriting history.

In one video I watched, one history re-writer said the Pilgrims were shooting guns in preparation of the army that would wipe out all the native Americans. But the forced removal of Native groups from their land—a reprehensible act that demolished a number of treaties and broke trust and harmed the possibility of peace—didn’t take place until 1830. Two hundred years after the celebration of a promising beginning.

No, things were not always good during those ensuing years, in the same way that the US fought against England in 1776 and then again in 1812. As it happened, some Indian groups allied with England and some with the colonists/Americans. And yes there were localized land fights on occasion.

But none of that should take away from the glory of the event that brought over 140 people together to feast and celebrate and to give thanks. The first Thanksgiving was remarkable and should be our goal, not a cause for further division and accusation.

Are we so ignorant that in this Age of Communication, people will believe something so easy to debunk as the false narrative that the Pilgrims had something to do with displacing the native Americans? The sad part is that believing it turns into repeating it, which soon hardens into rewritten history.

Much of this article is a reprint of an earlier post.

Published in: on November 27, 2019 at 5:24 pm  Comments (6)  
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