A Good Man, Or God?


One of the remarkable facts about Christianity is the deity of Jesus. Well, that and His humanity. I’m sure Jesus’s dual (and yet not divided) nature is one of those issues that causes thinking people to do a double-take. After all, nothing else we know of is all one thing and at the same time all another. It would be like a caterpillar being a butterfly simultaneously.

We’re familiar with mixtures. Brass is an alloy consisting of copper and zinc. Mules are a cross between donkeys and horses. We have hybrid cars, hybrid roses, hybrid breeds of dogs. The tendency, then, is to think of Jesus as a kind of hybrid between God and Man, but that’s not what the Bible says.

That He was a man seems like a given. He walked and talked, ate and drank, lived and died. Rather, the sticking point for people today seems to be the idea that Jesus, while being a Man, was also and equally so, God. In the flesh.

Paul spelled it out a several times in his letter to the Colossians:

  • “He is the image of the invisible God” (1:15a – English Standard Version)
  • “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (1:19 – ESV)
  • “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9 – ESV)

This is a hard one for many people to swallow. Since there are extra-Biblical records authenticating Jesus’s life, it’s pretty hard to deny that He existed, but to believe He is God? That’s where a lot of rational people draw the line. This idea of His deity, they say, was an invention of His followers. He Himself never claimed such a thing.

Really?

More than once He did just that. More than once the gospel of John records Jesus claiming to be the I AM–the very name of God which He revealed to Moses and which was recorded in Exodus. One of the clearest statements comes in John 8 when Jesus says to a group of Jewish religious leaders “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”

Not only did He use the name the Jews considered holy, but He also said He predated their ancestor. Clearly, they understood precisely what Jesus was saying because they picked up stones to stone Him–the penalty for blaspheme.

Besides referring to Himself as I AM, Jesus also called Himself the Son of God. Some people have claimed that this is simply a Jewish reference to God being the Father of all Mankind, that Jesus was in no way claiming any special relationship to God.

But that isn’t consistent with the times Jesus expressly referred to God as His Father. For example, when He was twelve, He was in the temple schooling the religious leaders. When His parents came looking for Him, He said He had to be about His Father’s business. Not Joseph’s carpentry, clearly. He referred to God and the business was that of explaining the Scriptures.

He also said, at his last meal with His followers, that He and the Father were one. Clearly, this was a reference to God, not to Joseph, who may have died years earlier.

Then too, Jesus answered Philip’s request to show His disciples the Father, with this: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9b).

In addition to Jesus’s own clear statements, several times, God witnessed directly about Jesus’s identity. When He was baptized, for example, “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'”(Matt. 3:17).

In the Jewish culture, a fact needed two or three witnesses to be established. Besides the testimony of the Father, Jesus said His works testified about who He was. I think these are often neglected. Jesus acted in ways that were consistent to the attributes of God revealed in the Old Testament.

For example, God the Father is omnipotent and Jesus showed Himself to be the same:

    • He raised a dead man back to life
    • He healed a blind man so that he could see
    • He multiplied five loaves of bread and a few fish so that they fed five thousand men and an untold number of women and children
    • He walked on water
    • He stopped a storm with a word

    At other times He demonstrated His power over the spirit world, casting out demons from various people. He also forgave sins.

    He showed that He was also omniscient, knowing at different times what those who judged Him were thinking, knowing that He would be handed over to godless men and crucified, also that He would raise from the dead on the third day, knowing all about the Samaritan woman’s past when He met her at the well, knowing who would betray Him and that Peter would deny Him three times.

    These instances are not exhaustive, but the key is this: while God made Man in His image, there are certain attributes that are termed incommunicable because God didn’t transmit those qualities to us–He reserved them for Himself. And yet, Jesus clearly demonstrates those traits time and time again.

    Besides His own word, His Father’s word, His works, Jesus had two other witnesses. One was John, a prophet of God, the forerunner of the Messiah. The other is Scripture. Jesus spelled this out: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39).

    In fact, the Old Testament is full of allusion and direct prophecy that reveals Jesus to be God. Interestingly, Jesus spent forty days here on earth after His resurrection. We know from the gospels that one of the things He did was explain Scripture to His disciples. So when Peter preached about Jesus in his first sermon, he peppered it with Scripture, quoting from the prophet Joel and from various Psalms. In his second sermon he quoted from Moses, from the book of Genesis, and again from one of the Psalms.

    Peter, remember, was a fisherman, not a rabbinical priest. He’d never been trained as a scholar, yet here he was laying open Scripture, explaining to others what undoubtedly Jesus had explained to him.

    The evidence is far from circumstantial. To disbelieve that Jesus is God, one would have to come to the question with the foregone conclusion that such a thing isn’t possible; that, in fact, there is no God; or that the documentation of the evidence is unreliable. The good news is, there is a God; Jesus is His Son, God incarnate; and the Scriptures that reveal His identity are reliable.

    This post originally appeared here in April, 2013.

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To Please Or To Become Pleasing, That Is The Question



Photo: Three Crosses © Mellow Rapp | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The distinction I am making is between doing good works to become pleasing to God (works done because of law) and doing good works to please God (works done because of grace).

There’s nothing I can do to become pleasing to God. Not only would my motives be wrong in doing good, my efforts would be futile. My nature is sinful, and all the cleaning up I do amounts to rearranging dirt, not genuine washing.

For the person who believes, the work Christ did on the cross changes everything. Before, as Romans 7 says, the wanting to do good was in me, but the doing ended up being that which I hated—and that which God hates too, I might add.

Because of the new nature God gave me, because of the Holy Spirit in me, and because of the strength Christ provides me, I can now do the good I want to do. And why do I want to do good? To earn points with God? Get jewels for my future crown? Earn a spot closer to the throne?

No. The issue is still not about me becoming good or better or pleasing. Who I am in Christ is fixed. But because of what Christ has done, my response, as is true in any love relationship, is to want to give to Him in return for what He has been given to me.

In one of the most amazing aspects of God’s love for us, He who needs nothing from us, asks something of us so that we can joyously give to Him as an expression of our love. Hence, my desire—a growing desire, not a fully mature thing—is to please Jesus.

Here are some favorite verses that touch on pleasing God:

I Thessalonians 4:1 – “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.”

II Corinthians 5:9 – “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”

Colossians 1:10 – “so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

Ephesians 5:8-10 – “for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”

Pleasing God, as I see it, is all about getting to know Him.

Young people in love do this same thing. Does he like his coffee black or with cream, pie for dessert or cake, the beach or the mountains, football or golf, Hondas or Chevys, and on and on.

Why learn all these things?

In order to provide him with what he wants, in order to choose his preferences, in order to please him as often as possible.

When I stand before God washed of my sins, that should spark in me a response—more and more I should like what He likes, do what He does, speak as He speaks. When I do, I am not more pleasing to God, but He is pleased.

From the archives: this post originally appeared here in August, 2015.

Published in: on April 2, 2019 at 4:54 pm  Comments (4)  
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God, The Same Yesterday, Today, And Forever


I think most who identify as Christians believe God is the same yesterday, today, and forever—which is how the Bible describes Him. But to listen to some talk about the Bible, it would be easy to think that the Old Testament shows God as different from the New Testament.

The natural conclusion would be to assume that only one testament or the other reveals the true nature of God.

The biggest mistake in that line of thinking comes in not seeing that the Old and New Testaments show the same God. Both show Him to be sovereign, loving, just, righteous, holy, omnipotent, merciful, omniscient, gracious, forgiving, patient, and on and on.

Some people have this snapshot of God as WRATH in the Old Testament and a contrasting snapshot of Jesus as LOVE in the New. It’s a false dichotomy, and a sincere look at what Jesus taught and what the prophets and the psalms reveal, should make that clear.

But why the Old and New Testaments? In theological terms, “testament” means “agreement,” specifically God’s agreement with His people. So, while God does not change, His agreement with His people does.

Until Jesus came, the agreements or covenants God established were most often (but not always) conditioned upon humankind’s response: if they did certain things, God would bless them, but if they did certain other things, they put themselves under God’s curse.

Adam and Eve essentially had such an agreement with God. If they obeyed Him, they would live, and if they disobeyed, they would die. Abraham had a covenant with God, and so did Jacob and Moses and David and Solomon. In truth the Abrahamic covenant was with his descendants, too; the Mosaic covenant was on behalf of the people of Israel; and God’s agreement with David was with those in his lineage, culminating in Jesus.

And Jesus initiated a new covenant, a new agreement.

And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (Matt. 26:27-28)

Paul referenced the new covenant on more than one occasion. He wrote of it to the church in Corinth, for example:

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant. (2 Cor. 3:4-6a)

The writer of the book of Hebrews went to some length to explain the new covenant (8:6-10; see also chapters 9 and 10) and how it differed from the old (I’ll let you read that for your homework).

I don’t want to get sidetracked with a long explanation about the old and new covenants, but what’s important to understand is that God’s character is exactly the same from everlasting to everlasting. But that doesn’t mean that He treats every person the same way or that He deals with every people group the same way.

I think in this age of “tolerance” we’re looking for uniformity. Nothing is “fair” unless we all have the exact same hand dealt to us. Then, and only then do we think it’s fair because it’s now up to us to do with that hand whatever we can.

Such a silly notion. If that were the accurate view of justice, then none of us could be smarter than any one else. We couldn’t be more athletic or better singers or taller or ambidextrous or more mechanical or . . . well, anything that could be perceived as an advantage. We have to have that same hand to play as the next guy.

In contrast to that silliness, God seems to delight in working with people that have a disadvantage. David was the youngest in his family, Abraham didn’t have any sons, Ruth was a widow, Joseph was a slave. The whole nation of Israel, in fact, God said was not His pick because they were more numerous or stronger or more righteous than the other nations. In fact, He said the opposite was true.

He used the small and weak in order that we could all see Him at work. It’s hard to take the credit for a victory when we’re outnumbered, when the other army has more advanced weapons, and when they have the tactical advantage. In those circumstances, when God brings the victory, we can only say, Praise God!

No matter what, though, God’s point and purpose is to make Himself known. He says it over and over again. He wanted Israel to display His glory to the nations. He wants His Church to make disciples of the nations. Always God has done what He’s done that we might know Him, even when what He did was to kick His children out of the garden He’d made to be their home, or to exile them from the Promised Land, or to give His Son as a sacrifice that all who believe might be reconciled with Him.

Our ways aren’t God’s ways, so we don’t always recognize what He’s doing, especially if we expect Him to treat everyone the same, or worse, if we expect Him to act the way we would act.

But no mistake: God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, we need to believe what He’s told us about Himself and stop looking for Him to behave the way we think He should. After all, He is God, not an idol we can move from place to place or dress up in purple if it suits us.

He is the sovereign, and He tells us what is righteous. How dare we shake our fists at Him or tell Him He was wrong to judge people whose heart He knew intimately. Who are we in comparison to who is He?

I’m not perfect in love or goodness. I don’t know all truth. I’m certainly not sovereign or all powerful. And if it comes right down to it, I am most certainly not the same yesterday, today, and forever. I’m more like a vapor that appears for a little while and them vanishes away.

Not God. He’s as sure as His word, and His word abides forever!

From the archives: this post is a revised version of one that appeared here in March, 2015.

Which God Are We Talking About?


God, the dictionary tells us, is “the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being” (Oxford-American Dictionary).

Can there be more than one Supreme Being? Turning to the dictionary again, we find “supreme” means

• superior to all others
• strongest, most important, or most powerful

In short, there can’t be multiple beings superior to all others. Nor can there be more than one strongest, or more than one most important, or more than one most powerful.

There can be multiple claimants to the position of God, but only One truly fills the role.

Today we have pretenders, even as past cultures and past generations had pretenders. The god of the Mormons is a pretender. The Hindus worship thousands of pretender gods, none actually being God who is Supreme. The Sikhs worship one god as do the Jews and Muslims, but these too are pretenders.

I know that latter statement might be controversial, but the truth is, Jesus is the one who shows us God. Without believing in Him, a person will not know the One True God. So the Muslims and Sikhs acknowledge that Jesus lived, but they do not believe He is God. Therefore, what they know about God isn’t complete. The same is true about the Jews, as close as they might be. They do not accept Jesus as Messiah, so they only partly know and understand who God is.

In the western world, the greatest pretender is Mankind. Atheists in particular, but others also, see Man as the one who is supreme—in practice if not in ideology.

How else could a person dogmatically state that in all the vastness of the universe, or perhaps of the multiverse, God does not exist? Only a supremely knowledgeable person could know such a thing.

On the other hand, some who claim to believe in God emphatically rule out the idea that He might judge humankind and find us wanting, find us deserving of judgment. These are the people who say, God would never send people to hell. Religious minded individuals of this persuasion believe they get to decide what god is like—if they don’t want a god who is angry at sin and at the hurt to which people subject each other, well, then they declare him to be what they want. In essence, they make themselves their own god.

In the days of King Hezekiah, a commander of Assyria, who confronted Judah, made the mistake of thinking the One True God was just another spiritual being like those worshiped by any number of the other nations in the Middle East. When this military leader came against Jerusalem, he tried to talk the citizens into surrendering by belittling God:

Beware that Hezekiah does not mislead you, saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? And when have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the LORD would deliver Jerusalem from my hand?’” (Isaiah 36:18-20).

Well, sure, he’d have been right if God were one among many. Why should one be feared more than any of the others if there is no One Supreme Being? But in fact, God, the God of the Old and the New Testaments, stands above all.

He alone is self-existent. All other spiritual beings are part of His creation. King Hezekiah had a chance to declare this truth so that people for all time could know who God is:

“O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to all the words of Sennacherib, who sent them to reproach the living God. Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have devastated all the countries and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, LORD, are God.” (Isaiah 37:16-20)

In fact God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and answered him accordingly. Assyria never did conquer Judah. Their army was decimated, and the king returned to Nineveh where his own sons assassinated him.

God, the One True God, will not be mocked. He wants the nations to know Him and worship Him. I know this bothers a lot of atheists. They think it’s egocentric of God to want glory. But the truth is, to want anything less would be a falsehood. It would suggest that someone else is as deserving of praise and honor as God is. None are.

Should God lie in order to appear humble? Thank you all, you’re all too kind. I don’t deserve all this attention. Please, feel free to praise each other or one of the angels or one of the pretend gods. I want to be fair and pass the attention around so you all can experience this great feeling of being adored by so many.

That’s the kind of thinking the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have produced. We think all the Little Leaguers should get trophies; that all people, no matter what their abilities, can do whatever they want if they just put their minds to it; and that god should not be so selfish as to demand all praise be given to him.

But to whom else should we give praise?

Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales. . .
All the nations are as nothing before Him,
They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.
To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare with Him?
. . .
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.
. . .
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable. (excerpts from Isaiah 40)

God, the One True God, deserves to be treated as the Supreme Being He is!

This post is a revised and edited version of one that appeared here in January, 2015.

Published in: on March 29, 2019 at 5:31 pm  Comments (6)  
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Does God Care Who Wins The NCAA Tournament?


Even the person least into sports here in the US is likely to know that the top division in men’s basketball is holding their tournament to determine the 2019 champion. We’ve fondly dubbed this time each year, March Madness.

It’s not quite as mad as it used to be. Yes, there are still upsets which scramble everyone’s game-by-game predictions, but one TV network used to cover the games so there were split screens and much jumping from scheduled games to updates and even the endings of close games. The games, of course, started during the week, so working people were taping the games they most wanted to see and trying to avoid hearing final scores.

Things have changed. Cable TV is now part of the mix. All games can be viewed by whoever has that service. Or has the internet and enough data minutes to see the games they can’t otherwise get. In other words, there’s far less scrambling, far less madness connected with seeing the games.

Still, many people put a lot into picking winners and following the games to see how well they’re doing and what chance they have of winning office pools or more. In other words, a lot of people are interested in what a bunch of college students are doing the three weeks of the tournament.

Factor in interested parties which include fellow students at the competing universities, friends and family, alumni, teachers past and present, people who live in the communities where the different schools are located. In other words, beneath the layer of unattached fans, you have a layer of attached fans.

At the core, of course, are those intimately involved with the basketball programs—players, coaches, athletic directors, trainers, cheerleaders, ball boys, those who work the games, scorekeepers, timers. People involved are invested, some to a greater degree than others.

In all this, does God care who wins the NCAA men’s basketball championship?

That question comes to my mind in part because I spent thirty years as a coach—of various middle school, and then high school, girls sports teams, including basketball. Since I worked at Christian schools, we always prayed together as a team, but most often we were playing against other Christian schools which also prayed as a team.

Early on I confronted the dilemma—could I expect God to hear our prayers and not theirs if we both prayed to win the game? And if we prayed to win and yet lost, did that mean there was sin in the camp, that God was somehow displeased with us, that we had more to learn spiritually before He would reward us with a championship?

In other words, I wrestled with the issue of praying for a victory in a basketball game. In the end, I decided not to pray for wins.

The temptation is to conclude that God simply doesn’t care. Whether team A or team B wins certainly doesn’t change who He is or what He wants to accomplish. But I believe God cares about games because He cares about us.

In fact, one of the reasons I loved coaching so much was that I viewed sports as a microcosm of life. During a season of basketball, a team faces in miniature many of the things that they’ll have to deal with on a larger scope later on: adversity, success, hard work, togetherness, failure, discipline, teamwork, obedience, response to injustice, doing your best, bouncing back from not doing your best, and more.

Don’t get me wrong. Winning is sweet. But there’s so much that goes into winning, and I think God cares a lot more about those things. Ultimately, He cares more about the people than He does about the winning. Sometimes the greatest affect on a person comes from losing. In other words, some people need to lose to be the people God wants them to be. Some players need to forgive a teammate for making a bad decision or taking a bad shot. God cares more that they learn to show compassion and forgive than He does about their winning.

There’s a song that goes right to the heart of this matter. It’s called “Blessings”:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep

After a catalog of other things Christians have been known to pray for, the song turns and asks in the chorus, penetrating questions:

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

Sports can be a training ground for young athletes, and we who are on the sidelines, or on this side of the TV, watching have no way of knowing what God is doing in the lives of those people running up and down the court. I think God cares a great deal for each one of those student-athletes, but I don’t know if that means He’ll calm a nervous heart so a young man can play up to his potential or if He’ll prompt a player to say a kind word to an opponent or allow a TV camera to distract him so he misses a key free throw.

The book of James makes a couple clear statements about prayer:

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2b-3)

So God wants us to ask—just not with wrong motives, not selfishly.

Does He care about who wins the NCAA Tournament? In the grand scheme of things, probably not, but how the winning and losing and all that leads up to those results affects us, absolutely: God cares because He uses raindrops for His purposes. Or teardrops.

You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle,
Are they not in Your book? (Psalm 56:8)

From the archives: a reprisal is an edited version of an article that appeared here in March, 2015, which seems fitting on this first weekend of the 2019 tournament.

Does God Speak Through Nature?


Photo by Genaro Servín from Pexels

Weather across the US continues to be extreme, including here in SoCal. An hour ago, we had a downpour that flooded the streets and left puddles in our back yard. Now the clouds have moved off toward the mountains where there will likely be a snow storm before the day is over.

Oddly enough, the extreme weather makes me think of Exodus, the Egyptians, and the plagues they endured when God pried the Hebrew slaves from their control. I wonder how much the average Egyptian, without email, Twitter, or Facebook, knew about Moses and his demand to Pharaoh that he let the Israelites go to worship God.

When the first plague hit—the water-to-blood event—did the people think it was some sort of anomalous extreme they had to work around? Extra work, sure. They had to dig beside the Nile to get water fit for consumption, but not, surely, an act of the Israelite God.

When the frogs came, did the people revise their thinking? Or did they see a cause/effect connection—the bad water had chased the frogs onto the land and into their homes.

Then the gnats or lice followed and the swarms of other insects. And we know that insects can carry diseases, so no surprise that pestilence followed. Or maybe the Egyptians, who may not have known the connection between bugs and disease, were surprised.

At what point did they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was bringing these “natural disasters” on their land? Was it when Goshen where the Israelites lived became exempt from the effects of the plagues? Was it when Pharaoh’s magicians could no longer replicate what God did through Moses? Was it when boils appeared on humans and animals alike after Moses stood outside and threw ashes in the air?

At some point, Pharaoh’s advisers got the picture that God was behind all they experienced, and they urged their supreme ruler to capitulate. Eventually the everyday people got the picture, too, because they eagerly gave the Israelites their gold and silver and valuable cloth just prior to their exodus.

In fact, after the final plague, when the Egyptians awoke to find the eldest son in each house slain on his bed, they “urged the people, to send them out of the land in haste, for they said, ‘We will all be dead.'” (Ex. 12:33.)

I’m just silly enough to believe that blizzards and monsoonal floods and wild fires and tornadoes and earthquakes and hurricanes and outbreaks of measles and chicken pox, while certainly not plagues, are nevertheless from God—“natural” events He uses to press us to His side.

The Egyptians were disbelieving until they couldn’t not believe. They may not have concluded that God was God and Ra was not, Pharaoh was not, the Nile was not, but they knew that Moses’s God must be obeyed.

Are we like the Egyptians? We know all about weather patterns now and, via satellite, can see hurricanes forming. We can track jet streams and air currents and the movement of high or low pressure zones. We aren’t like Pharaoh’s magicians in that we can make nature happen, but we can predict it. Which gives us a sense of control over it.

So I wonder if we don’t miss what God might be doing to press us to His side, to call us to repentance, to summon us to obey Him and not the idols of the world. I wonder if all our accommodating of the cold and the rain while we go about our daily business, is us sticking our fingers in our ears and saying, I don’t want to hear you, God.

Would that we could be like the boy, Samuel, who, when he heard God calling, responded by saying, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.”

This article is the “face-lift” version of one that first appeared here in September 2014.

Published in: on March 21, 2019 at 4:39 pm  Comments (8)  
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Living In Joy?



Photo by Andre Furtado from Pexels

In Isaiah 55 the prophet says, “For you will go out with joy/And be led forth with peace.” In Nehemiah this governor of the returned exiles tells them, “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” King David write in Psalm 16, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” In fact, the various psalmists write about joy a lot.

Even the writers of the New Testament have a lot to say about joy, and those who penned the gospels report that Jesus mentioned it more than once. Yes, sometimes they speak of future joy, as Isaiah did, but sometimes they talk about joy in the immediate, even in the midst of trials.

James is a case in point when he says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”

Of course Paul includes joy among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, in essence saying that every Christian has joy.

We do?

I was listening to Pastor Greg Laurie this afternoon. At the end of the program he interviewed a guest, Pastor Levi Lesko, author of I Declare War. He mentioned that often we reach a crossroad in our day at which we can choose.

Interesting that another sermon I heard at breakfast mentioned how under sin, we had no choice. Meaning that sin controlled us. Now, as believers in Jesus Christ, we’ve been set free from sin. We are no longer slaves.

And here was Pastor Lesko saying, we have a choice to live in a funk or to believe what God says in His word. Things like, the joy of the LORD is our strength.

He then told us about how casinos in Las Vegas are built. Apparently when you’re on the outside, the entrances are clearly marked and the access is easy. But once you get inside, in the middle of the casino, it’s constructed like a labyrinth and finding your way to sunshine is like walking the maze.

I don’t know how true that is, but the illustration certainly seems to apply to sin and specifically to choosing joy over its counterpart—despair, regret, discouragement, depression. Sin, even though we are free from its mastery over us, is still compelling. It’s gained strength over the days and years and has created habits that are easy to fall back on.

This is a really simple example, but I’ve decided I want to treat other drivers (and here in the LA area, we all have to drive all the time, everywhere, or so it seems) with more courtesy and respect. Which is good. Until someone cuts me off in traffic. At that point all the frustration and anger at someone not willing to wait his turn flares inside me.

It’s a habit. For far too long, I’ve been an angry driver, always in a hurry, more aggressive than is good for me, and wanting every other driver to play by the rules. Breaking that habit doesn’t come over night.

Instead I have to let the word of God inform me what is true. Behind the wheel of that car is someone who Jesus included when He said, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life.

But I don’t love that guy even to the point of giving him a little grace on the road. In truth, I don’t know what the driver’s problem is. God does, though, so instead of steaming about his bad behavior, maybe I should bring him to God in prayer.

That’s the cool thing about joy. Yes, joy. We can actually choose joy in the same way that we can obey the command to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s not by trying harder. It’s by reminding ourselves, by preaching to ourselves—really by letting the Holy Spirit bring to our remembrance—what God’s truth is.

And His truth is that no matter what circumstances we live under—financial pressures, wayward kids, unhappy relationships, unemployment, open disdain for our faith in Christ—we have the joy of the LORD. Not, we can have. Not, we will have some day. No. The Holy Spirit lives in every believer and gives us all His fruit, which includes joy.

I think the fruit of the Spirit is part of the abundant life. Jesus painted a metaphor in which He said He was the door to the sheep pen. But then He goes on to say, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Sin does steal and kill and destroy. For one thing, it steals our joy. But we have this fountain of joy in us through the provision of the Holy Spirit.

When I was a kid we sang the little chorus,

I’ve got I’ve got that joy joy joy joy down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart –Where?
I’ve got that joy joy joy joy down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart to stay

There’s so much truth there, but it’s so easy to forget, so easy to let the old habits dictate and confuse, so easy to let sin steal that joy.

God’s truth makes it clear: we can live in the light of His word—and live according to the joy in our hearts—not in a maze of darkness and confusion

Are We Over-complicating Life?



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I’ve heard of oh, so many people who are stressed out, and any number of new books are hitting the shelves about managing our anxiety. I’ve even written blog posts on the subject (such as this one or this one).

Worse, the suicide rate among teens is on the rise, and there’s apparently so much pressure on kids to get good grades, to get into the right universities, that some people have simply thrown away the book on right and wrong.

What’s the matter with us? Our technology is supposed to make life easier, but teens are now getting killed because they allow their screens to dictate their lives. They get lured into places by dangerous people, they text while they drive, they tarnish their reputation by foolish pictures or comments or arguments.

And parents aren’t far behind. They work so hard to accomplish so much and then face their empty nest without a relationship with the kids they thought they were doing all their frantic activity for.

I didn’t mean to get started on the negative stuff. The fact is, even if we’re not living it, we rub shoulders with those who are.

But we ought to live differently. God put all people on this earth that He might enter into a friendship with each of us, that we can enjoy Him, that we can shine a spotlight on Him to show others how great He is.

Isn’t that what we do with our family? Pull out the phone and show pictures of the new baby or post the graduation shots on social media? We want people to know how great our kids are. How cute, how accomplished, how hard working. We want everyone to know what we know about them.

So, why shouldn’t we want to do the same about our Father? Our Heavenly Father? It’s a normal, natural family reaction—hold up the picture so everyone can see Him. Tell others how great He is.

Of course we can’t tell people about what we don’t know, so we need to wrap ourselves in this relationship and learn all we can about the God who made us, who loves us, with whom we will spend eternity.

Instead, we scurry and storm about trying to accomplish all the things the world tells us are important. We need to earn, accomplish, move up the corporate ladder.

But why?

If we were made for one thing, just one thing, why do we trouble ourselves with doing so many other things?

Jesus put it this way to His friend Martha:

But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42; emphasis mine)

What had Mary chosen? To sit at Jesus’s feet and learn from Him. Enter into relationship with Him. Spend time with Him.

I don’t know how that would look for others living in western society in the 21st century. Each person has to decide that for himself or herself, but I’m pretty sure we all think there’s more than one thing that “is necessary.”

Jesus said, No. Only one is necessary.

The rest? We put them into places of importance, sometimes even crowding out the necessary to work on our other stuff.

Ironic. I recently heard a pastor preach on knowing God’s will. He gave something like eight questions that he asks to know what God wants for him—the ones he suggests everyone else asks in order to figure out God’s will. In the back of my mind I thought, Really? Jesus put two things before us: love God and love our neighbor. That’s what God’s will is. I don’t need to over complicate this issue. To Martha, He narrowed that down to one thing: the necessary thing.

We love God by sitting at His feet until we desire what He desires, until we do what He directs us to do. We love our neighbors by putting the needs of those who cross our paths before our own needs. I could give examples, but really it’s not up to me to define what this means for other people. I have to know what God is saying by His Holy Spirit, to me.

But it’s not complicated. Not really.

Solomon’s Warning


I’ve never liked the book of Ecclesiastes. I thought parts were cool—a cord of three strands cannot be broken, for instance. And a time to laugh, a time to cry and so on. But the book? I didn’t really get it.

Then some pastor explained that the phrase repeated over and over, “under the sun” was Solomon’s way of saying, “Apart from God.” I wasn’t convinced. How did the scholars know that’s what Solomon meant? Finally I became convinced that’s truly what he was saying, but that just made me angry. I mean, the wisest man on earth, and he came up with some of the nonsense in that book?

And there was plenty of nonsense. Mostly his conclusions are nihilistic. Everything totals out to, zero. Even that passage made famous by the folk rock band The Byrds in their song “Turn Turn Turn.” I used to like that passage. Yes, I thought. It’s a statement of the rightness of the place all these things have in a person’s life. In my life. Until that same pastor pointed out that actually what Solomon was saying was that these things cancel each other out and the sum of them all is, zero.

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.

It gets worse when Solomon says, essentially that riches and poverty make no difference because the one who is rich and dies and leaves all his wealth to . . . he doesn’t know who. Will the one who takes control of his estate use it well or squander it? Or how about the wise man and the fool? No advantage, Solomon says, because they both die and end up going to the same place.

Uh, no, I think. This brilliant guy Solomon, is missing the truth. He is ignoring God and the ways He makes a difference, now and in the hereafter.

And that’s the point.

I heard a message by one of my favorite pastors on the radio, Philip De Courcy, and it “happened to be” his introduction to his series on Ecclesiastes.

What I learned from Pastor De Courcy is that God used Solomon and his own personal struggles to find meaning in life, to inform us, so that we don’t have to go through the same crash into meaninglessness before we resurface and find God to be our anchor.

That was Solomon’s trajectory. He was the thirsty man building broken cisterns that could hold no water. He tried to achieve by building all kinds of awesome structures. He tried to acquire by gaining more wealth than anyone. He lived for personal pleasure—wine, women, and song. He tried to hone his wisdom. In the end, he concluded none of it was satisfying. It all left him empty.

And that lesson is for us. We don’t have to follow in Solomon’s steps. We can read his testimony, and we can skip to the last chapter so that his end and be the guide in our own lives:

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)

Instead of being angry at Solomon, I should be grateful to God for including in His word the struggles of this intelligent, capable, powerful king who “had the world on a string,” yet strayed from the truth. All those women he married brought into his palace and into his heart and mind, the foreign gods they brought with them. Which explains how someone so wise could go so far astray.

He lost his relationship with God and that left him trying to find meaning apart from God. It wasn’t in any of his stuff, his pleasures, his brilliance. Earlier in the book he said everything added up to zero. Life was futile. A miscarriage was better than a rich man because he didn’t have to face the struggle.

That’s worse than sad. It’s bleak, the words of someone who has no hope. But for the grace of God, his life, and the book of warning could have ended there. But no. God gave him clarity before it was too late. His conclusion to all his struggles is the most important part of the book: fear God—treat Him with reverence and awe—and keep His commandments.

Published in: on March 11, 2019 at 5:39 pm  Comments (7)  
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Reverence – An Expanded View


My alma mater’s semi-annual magazine that goes out to alumni featured an article by communications studies professor Gregory Spencer taken from his book Awakening the Quieter Virtues (InterVarsity Press). I know of Professor Spencer because he also has written a couple fantasy novels; consequently I was particularly interested in reading his article entitled “Reverence: The Church Without Shoes.”

Professor Spencer quickly moved from an introduction to his subject, to Scripture—specifically to the account of Moses’s encounter and reaction to God speaking to him from a flaming shrub. Remove the shoes, God said, as if the shoes were somehow less clean than the feet. And Moses was quick to do so. While we may not understand the whys and wherefores of God’s command, there’s still much we can learn, by metaphor if not by principle. And Professor Spencer did a wonderful job drawing out those lessons.

In contrast to Moses’s position—standing barefoot on holy ground—Jesus and Paul knelt in prayer and four others who encountered Christ knelt before him. Others in Scripture fell on their faces. So how do the these reactions to the holy, these postures before the holy, inform our understanding of reverence?

Professor Spencer uses the physical attitude of people in reverent communication with God as metaphors to explain what reverence actually means. As he describes it, the concept has two prongs. One aspect is what we often think of—kneeling or falling on our faces before the sacred:

Noticing the sacred is noticing all of God that we can see, especially his holiness. Sometimes the sacred is found because it is searched for. Sometimes it seems to crash upon us unannounced. Either way, reverence increases as we cultivate eyes and ears for the God who is there.

The second aspect of reverence, the part we too often miss or mistakenly practice, is standing up to the profane:

The profane is that which intentionally dismisses, ridicules or destroys the sacred. When our loved ones are attacked or defiled, don’t we bristle and seek to defend them? Aren’t we saddened when they are misrepresented, ostracized or harmed? And so it is in our life with the Lover of our souls. Who cares about sacrilege these days? The reverent do.

Professor Spencer closes this section with a good reminder that not everything offensive to us is offensive to God, and vice versa. The standard we must use is that which grieves His heart.

The article did not elaborate on this point (perhaps the book does), but I’d add that Scripture is the source we can rely upon to know what moves God’s heart. For example, Jesus mourned for Jerusalem because He longed to gather its people like a hen gathers its chicks, but they would not. It’s safe to say, then, that people rejecting Christ grieves God’s heart.

The books of prophecy are filled with things that grieve God’s heart. At one point He says He wants justice and mercy rather than sacrifice. He then chastises His people for idol worship, for neglecting the Sabbath, for profaning His house, for mistreating widows and orphans, and on and on.

I admit. I know that Proverbs tells us that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, but I seldom think what that fear, that awe, that reverence looks like. These metaphors, drawn from our posture before God, help me to understand both avenues our Heavenly Father wishes His followers to take: kneeling before the sacred; standing against the profane.

From the archives: this article contains minor revisions from one posted here in January, 2011.

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