It’s Not A Good Year


Back in January my thoughts were on things like making New Year’s Resolutions and surviving the New Year’s Eve night of fireworks. Shortly after, there was the impeachment trial of our President, which I followed pretty closely. When that was resolved, folks started talking about the November election and the upcoming primaries.

But the news was quickly hijacked by the Covid-19 virus beginning to spread around the world. Italy seemed the hardest hit . . . until the US was. But truthfully, nations in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Scandinavia, Africa, all over Europe have all had to deal with this disease.

The US economy has tanked, and I think other countries are experiencing the same problem. People have lost jobs, businesses have turned belly-up. And of course, people are dying.

For whatever reason, the US can’t seem to get a handle on the disease, and it continues to spread. So, in places like Texas and Arizona, which once had very few cases, there are thousands of new cases every day, and up to a hundred new deaths. Of course, world wide there are hundreds of thousands of new cases and thousands of new deaths, so I suppose we should keep all the info in perspective.

But alas, like everything else that takes place today, the response to Covid has become controversial. No to masks—they actually hurt more than they help. Yes to masks because they will help contain the spread. No to Chloroquine because there might be side affects. Yes to Chloroquine because it might save lives. No to social distancing and closing churches because it’s all a government conspiracy. Yes to distancing measures so we can get over this pandemic more quickly (and have sports).

And on it goes. The debates are endless and, I might add, pointless, because this is our new year, our happy new year that is kicking off the 2020’s.

I could go on about the social unrest and the “cancel culture” culture, about extremists who eat their own because the canceled individuals haven’t gone far enough into the ideological abyss. Or what about cities that refuse to police things like destruction or theft of private property. How about the demolition of Federal property? But then there’s the controversy over whether the President should or should not send in troops to do what the local police can’t do or haven’t been ordered to do.

The atmosphere is toxic in 2020.

Some people—even some Christians—are throwing our elderly and infirmed under the bus. Stop the measures to contain the virus (usually this comes from conspiracy theorists) and let nature take its course. Because the spread of this virus, and the number of people dying, aren’t that bad.

I suspect that approach is sort of like the mayor of Seattle saying to leave the rebels in her city alone—until they marched on her house. When riots and looting and mobs come close to home, it’s time to do something. So, too, when Covid puts a loved one into the hospital, it’s time to take more serious measures.

In the midst of a thoroughly forgettable year that likely most people will never forget, God has not changed.

He’s still God. He’s still sovereign. He still asks the same of His people—that we rejoice always, that we glorify His name, that we tell people about Jesus.

God has not gone away, His plans for the world have not changed, His purpose for His people has not become something different.

Rather, God asks us to be joyful, in the midst of the difficulties the things in our society are causing. He asks us to still love our neighbors even as we face accusations that we can’t do that if we are a certain skin color.

God still wants us to be the body of Christ, loving our brothers and sisters around the globe, praying for the challenges suffering saints face that might be greater or more disruptive than those we face.

Even if we are at the heart of the worst of what’s going on in 2020, our mandate from God has not changed. It’s not suddenly OK to speak against our brothers or judge our brothers. That what James says in chapter 4, and then reiterates in chapter 5. He’s talking to Christians who were being persecuted, and he holds ho punches:

Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? (4:11-12)

Above all God wants us to remember that He is still in charge. The Covid virus didn’t somehow slip past his attention. The riots in Chicago or Portland or Atlanta haven’t happened when He had His back turned.

Because He knows the end from the beginning. He has an amazing way of working through human agents. In fact that’s His preferred method today. He wants the Church to be His hands and feet, caring for widows and orphans and strangers and the oppressed.

At the same time, He brings people who are opposed to Him, who reject Him, along our path in order to refine, correct, or warn.

I’m of the mindset that the greatest need in the midst of the pandemic and the unrest and the economic fallout, is for us as a world, to bow before God and recognize that He is LORD, that He will do justly. That we who fear Him can know that He will keep us, even as His word promises.

Will He keep us now or in the life to come? Yes.

Published in: on July 30, 2020 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Humming Birds And Parakeets


So this morning a couple hummingbirds that live in the tree next door got into a fight at my neighbor’s bird feeder.

I love hummingbirds. They have always fascinated me. One was a frequent visitor at my mom’s place years ago, and I remember sitting on the porch and trying to hold very, very still in order to keep from scaring our little guest away.

But this morning the hummingbirds were irritated with each other. They didn’t come to blows (clearly—since they don’t have hands!), but they squabbled. It seems that one of the birds was taking too much time at the feeder and the other one wanted in.

Apparently hummingbirds don’t operate under the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. They certainly aren’t prioritizing their neighbors (or family members) as more important than themselves, as God through the apostle Paul tells us humans to do.

Unfortunately, a segment of our society looks more like squabbling hummingbirds than people abiding by the council of God’s word.

As my neighbor and I were talking about the hummingbirds, she mentioned that one of her relatives who had a pair of parakeets accidentally left the door of the cage open and the male escaped.

So like us humans, leaving God’s provision and protection and abundant care to . . . what? Explore for ourselves?

I wonder if the little parakeet wanted a quick flight, only to lose his way and not be able to get home. Or maybe a cat found him perched on a tree limb. Or perhaps a hawk swooped him from the sky. Maybe he’s still out there, searching for food, fighting off the sparrows and crows for his share of the edibles he comes across.

God’s word does talk about birds in a number of places. In one specific instance Jesus made the comparison with birds and his disciples:

Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. (Matt. 10:29-31)

In another place Jesus makes the point that God cares for the birds—feeds them and provides “clothing” for the flowers.

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! (Matt. 6:26-30)

A couple important things come from these passages:

1) God considers people as more important than birds. More valuable. Worth more than they.

I think that’s significant in this day when evolutionists are telling us that birds, cows, cats, people—all part of a continuum, not really different. From that belief comes the idea that abortion is not really wrong if eating a hamburger isn’t really wrong. But that bleeds into the next point.

2) God cares about the birds, has their life span planned. Arguing from the lesser to the greater, He makes the point that if He cares about what happens to them, He certainly cares about what happens to us.

In other words, there are no throw-away humans. In truth, what sets us apart from the birds, what makes us more valuable than they is the image of God stamped on every single person. Every. Single. Person. Without exception. Animals, insects, birds, reptiles, fish—not so much. God didn’t fashion them in His image.

There’s another point:

3) God’s plan is to care for us.

He said that in the Matthew 6 passage:

Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (vv 32-33)

If you think about it, that’s exactly what God did for Adam and Eve in the Garden. All the food they could eat, and when they were in need of clothing, God gave it to them.

Today, of course, God uses a whole lot of ways to provide for us. Could be the sweat of our brow, could be the kindness of strangers, could be the kindness of friends.

The significant thing here is that God wants to provide. Alas, too many of us are like the little parakeet who flew away from his home. We decide to make it on our own, and then we wonder why things are hard.

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Hummingbird photo by Harrison Haines from Pexels

Paraleet photo by Roshan Kamath from Pexels

Published in: on July 29, 2020 at 5:29 pm  Comments (1)  
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Exalting The LORD


I’m accustomed to the Bible. I’ve gone to church since I was a small child. Truth be told, my parents undoubtedly took me to church when I was a baby, but I can’t say I remember the experience.

What’s more, in my teens I made some feeble efforts to read the Bible on my own. Finally I succeeded in making that a habit when I was in my early twenties.

All that to say, not only is church language (some people call it churchese) familiar, but so is Bible language.

Some might be scratching their heads. Bible language? There is Bible language?

Well sure there is. Where else do people talk about justification or sanctification or glorification? These are Biblical terms, words used and explained by Paul. And as it happens there are a number of other “Bible words,” that I never really thought about being used—not exclusively, but perhaps primarily—in the Bible.

Take mercy, for example. Who uses that word apart from Christians? It doesn’t really come up too often in normal conversation. I mean, even in legal proceedings, I don’t think mercy is really part of the equation. Most penalties, in our state at least, have mandated sentencing, leaving judges no leeway to be merciful.

As it happens, our society is in a dangerous place of payback, so we don’t hear a lot of neighbors talking about mercy, or customers concerning businesses. Instead, the public is more apt to “cancel” someone or to boycott, or protest, or demand reparations, or to simply take what they consider to be their rightful due. No mercy.

The idea is, no mercy was offered to me, so they ain’t receiving any mercy from me!

Except, no one really says that. Because mercy isn’t really part of the every day vocabulary. It’s part of Bible talk.

I realized this fact about some of the words I don’t think twice about any more, because I’ve been around Bible talk for so long, when a friend approached me and asked me if I’d be interested in reading a Psalm a day with her.

Well, yeah!

One of the things I soon discovered was that a word like mercy is Bible talk. It needs explaining.

And so is the word exalt.

Today we read Psalm 30, which begins with these words (NIV):

I will exalt you, LORD,

for you lifted me out of the depths

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but exalt is a Bible word.

Who else do we exalt in the present culture in the western world? Ourselves, surely, but we don’t generally talk about doing so by using the word. We also exalt stars—of movies, music, TV, sports. But in those instances, we are more apt to say the culture or individual idolizes them, as opposed to exalts them.

What precisely do we mean by exalt? It’s a fair question. Is idolize an accurate synonym? Yes, according to the Oxford-American Dictionary, it is. The most appropriate definition is as follows:

hold (someone or something) in very high regard; think or speak very highly of

The synonyms listed in the accompanying thesaurus are these:

extol, praise, acclaim, esteem; pay homage to, revere, venerate, worship, lionize, idolize, look up to; informal put on a pedestal, laud.

Many of those terms are not quite right when we’re talking about God. Or they also are Bible terms. Take revere or worship. I suppose it is possible that an Englishman would say he reveres the Queen, but generally those words are reserved for speaking about God. And specifically about the Christian God. Do Muslims revere Allah? Maybe, though I don’t recall anything about revering God in the Five Pillars of Islam or in the Islamic law (sharia).

Perhaps Hindus revere their various gods. I know that those they believe are present in the animal kingdom are preserved and protected. Many Hindus don’t eat meat, for instance, and they do all they can to preserve the life of even the lowest insect. I’m a little muddy as to the reason, here. All these animals aren’t gods, in their way of thinking, but they are reincarnated beings who have been brought back as lower forms of life as part of their karma.

So who is exalted?

As it turns out, the Bible talks a lot about exalting God.

So what exactly does exalting God mean, apart from the other Bible-term synonyms or from those that simply don’t work (like idolize).

The best way I can explain it is this: exalting God, exalting Jesus, is something we do to elevate His standing. Of course we can’t actually elevate God’s standing since He is God and already over all things. But we can point to Him, credit Him with what He does, put Him in the spotlight, so to speak, call attention to Him so that others notice Him, too.

And that’s what I think David was saying in Psalm 30. He exalts God, and then He spends the rest of the psalm explaining why.

His number one point is that he’s exalting God, because God put him in an elevated position. I mean, he’d been a mere shepherd boy, only for God to lift him from that position to the place of king over the nation Israel. It really is an amazing transformation, and because of it, David wants to turn the spotlight back on God: He gave me this power and authority—it was not my doing.

So, too, Christians can exalt the LORD, because we once were His enemies, going our own way, either in intentional rebellion against Him or in denial of who He is and His right to rule. But because of Jesus Christ, we’ve been made new.

Now we are friends, sons, heirs, beloved, adopted into His family. On and on.

Because of our transformation, like David’s, it’s only right for us to exalt the LORD.

Even though we may have to find another word to explain what it is we’re doing.

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Photo by St. Mattox from FreeImages

Published in: on July 28, 2020 at 5:33 pm  Comments (1)  
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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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All The Eggs In One Basket


As I read through the major and minor prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and so forth—one theme seems crystal clear. Whether God, through the prophets, was issuing warning, announcing judgment, or rebuking His people, the behavior that came up time and time again was that Israel was supposed to worship God only.

Sure, from time to time the prophets also talked about oppressing orphans and widows; not keeping the Sabbath; rulers, priests and false prophets leading the people astray; even the killing of their children in false worship.

The bottom line, however, was that all the ugly, sinful behavior the people engaged in, was linked to breaking the command to love God only. This passage from Deuteronomy spells things out pretty clearly:

“Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen. (10:12-21)

In truth, all the elaboration and explanation shouldn’t have been necessary because God stated what He wanted in a very clear commandment which He placed first in the Ten Commandments:

‘I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.You shall have no other gods before Me.’ (Deut. 5:6-7)

No other gods. First, Scripture makes it clear that there ARE no other gods—only idols, false angels, pretend gods who wish to usurp God’s sovereign rule.

Despite God’s clear instruction, the people of Israel became enamored with the culture around them. The Egyptians, for instance, had all kinds of false gods. When, after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, God’s people reached the Promised Land, they found a number of other cultures who worshiped a different set of false gods, so they decided to add them to their pantheon.

But God had said, put your eggs all in one basket. Don’t trust Yahweh, the living God, and Baal and the Asherim and Molech, and Chemosh, or any of the other gods that the people around them worshiped.

Today we might be tempted to scoff a bit. After all, we are not superstitious. We do not worship the Sun or bow before a statue made of gold or wood or stone.

But truth be told, we in our sophisticated Western culture are not any different from those ancient Middle Easterners. We just hide what we’re doing. We say God is on the throne, but here in America, Sunday evening church services are almost non-existent because people who say they follow Christ are too busy with work or sports or family or some other leisure activity to give God one day in the week. He can have an hour Sunday morning, and maybe even two if we’re “really involved” in our church. But the whole day? Well, churches have made it easy for us by doing away with that Sunday evening service.

We say we love God, so we read our Bibles for fifteen minutes, maybe even a half hour a day. We might even get a devotional on our phone or tablet. But in contrast we watch TV for a couple hours, or play our computer games into the late night hours.

We privatize our religion and don’t let the Bible inform our views about Covid-19 or race or the Fourth of July. We are pretty OK with adopting the attitudes of our culture—our divided culture—about such things.

I know, because I’ve done all these things, and I could go on and on.

I’m not about to make a list of what I think we should or shouldn’t do. How we should vote or think or what we should say. Each person is different, and God moves in different ways in all our lives. But I do think we should love God more than these—whatever these is to us. We should give up stuff that stands in our way, that keeps us from loving God with all our mind, heart, strength. ‘Cause all our eggs belong in one basket.

Photo by Rodolfo Clix from Pexels

Published in: on June 30, 2020 at 4:35 pm  Comments (3)  
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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.

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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