If We’re Thankful, Why Aren’t We Content?


pumpkin-patch-3-1367968-mNext week those of us in the US will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. It’s a little harder to get in the holiday spirit this year, what with Starbucks red cups and terrorist attacks in Paris!

Still, it is Thanksgiving. It seems quite common to hold a genuine feast on Thanksgiving Day, even pause to pray and thank God for the bountiful blessings, then scurry out the next day and shop to the dropping point.

So how thankful can we actually be if we must always buy more? Granted, I realize much of the after-Thanksgiving shopping is connected with Christmas, but the American way of life has become that of the consumer. Once, not so long ago, we made things. Now we consume things.

And what’s more, that’s considered the good life. During the Great Recession, the powers that be seemed to believe the solution to righting the ship was to get America away from saving and back into spending.

While I’m not saying that spending is “bad” or that our spirituality should be measured by how much we save, I do think there’s a point where we should evaluate our attitude to see if we care more about living the life of abundance rather than living the abundant life.

Not long ago I read the Biblical account of the exodus—God’s people leaving Egypt for the Promised Land. On their journey God provided their food—manna:

The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey.
– Ex 16:31

Wafers with honey. Yet a bunch of people who enjoyed this gracious provision as they traveled across the wilderness found fault with it.

The sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.”
– Num 11:4b-6

For the moment, give them the benefit of the doubt—they were tired of the same diet meal after meal, day after day. But look what they were doing—remembering what they’d enjoyed in Egypt. Never mind that Egypt had just experienced devastating plagues that had wiped out virtually all vegetation. Between the plague of hail and the plague of locust, were there any cucumbers and melons and leeks and onions and garlic for them to go back to?

The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled in all the territory of Egypt; they were very numerous. There had never been so many locusts, nor would there be so many again. For they covered the surface of the whole land, so that the land was darkened; and they ate every plant of the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Thus nothing green was left on tree or plant of the field through all the land of Egypt.
– Exodus 10:14- 15

Granted, the hail did not fall in Goshen where the people of Israel lived. Let’s say for the moment that the locusts didn’t go there either, though the text doesn’t specify this. How was it that Israel had the food they remembered so fondly when the rest of Egypt was decimated? Obviously the answer was, God.

What they had in Egypt, then, came from the hand of God, and what they had in the wilderness came from the hand of God. Consequently, when they cried discontentedly against the manna they were “forced” to eat, they essentially were telling God He wasn’t doing a good job of caring for them.

In other words, discontent is actually an accusation against God.

Yet our entire existence seems to be made up of striving and struggling and trying and working. Oh, wait. Wasn’t that what God told Adam life would be like outside the Garden?

So the striving and all isn’t the problem per se. That’s the condition into which we’ve been born. But responding with discontent seems to me to be a choice—one that clashes with a genuine spirit of thankfulness.

Minus a few changes, this post first appeared here in November 2010.

Published in: on November 18, 2015 at 5:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Golden Calf Syndrome


Golden calf idolIn revisiting unholy habits yesterday, I didn’t deal with the root issue—the idols we worship.

For some of us, we need to face the fact that we have accepted false gods into our lives, just as Israel accepted the gods of Egypt or as they adopted Baal or the Asherah of the Canaanites and the other neighboring peoples. We put in the highest place things like our desire for pleasure or for power, our desire for position or for prestige, even our possessions or the people we care about. These things are gifts from God, but when we let them rule in our lives they become idols.

But there’s a more insidious idol—of the kind that Jeroboam built. He set up a golden calf—two, in fact—and told the people that here were the gods who brought them up from Egypt. In other words, he decided to create god in the image he wanted him, with priests and festivals and worship ceremonies to his liking.

He didn’t want his people traveling to Jerusalem for Passover or any of the other feasts God had instituted through Moses. His reason for re-imaging God and redirecting the worship of his people was personal:

Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will return to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:26-28)

Jeroboam was afraid he’d lose his position as king, that his people would turn against him, so he decided he’d make god the way he wanted him. He ignored the commandment against making an image to represent God. He ignored the Law that required worship in the one place where God would establish it—Jerusalem, as it turned out. He ignored the feast days God established. He ignored God’s choice of the Levites and particularly of the descendants of Aaron as the priests who were to stand before Him.

In other words, Jeroboam wanted God to be who he said he was and he wanted to worship him how he chose to worship him. He simply wanted to be in charge of god.

Sadly we see the same thing today with people who pick and choose from the Bible what they decide they want to believe. God is loving but he’d never judge a nation to be so sinful its people needed to die. And the very idea that god would flood the earth to judge the wicked—horrible. Can’t believe that notion because MY GOD WOULDN’T DO SUCH A THING.

People following that train of thought are simply fashioning their golden calf. They don’t want God to be a just judge who declares that the wages of sin is death, so they fashion a god who looks away from sin because he’s tolerant and loves too much to declare anyone guilty and deserving of hell.

The grain of truth in such a false image is, of course, that God is loving, but His love provided the motive for Him to send Jesus to the cross to die for our sins, once for all. That great act of sacrifice is such a far cry from the false notion of tolerance, it’s hard to conceive of the idea that they’re talking about the same God I know.

And in fact they’re not. They’ve fashioned their own god. They’ve decided who god is, and it’s not the God who says He is jealous or who says vengeance is His or who reproves and disciplines. Some fashion a god who doesn’t call Jesus his son, others a god who added later revelation that contradicts the Bible.

Each of these methods of altering what God has disclosed about Himself are simply golden calves—the results of people making god into what they want him to be, not who He actually is. Jeroboam didn’t want Yahweh to be God because his people would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the Pharisees didn’t want Jesus to be the Messiah because they didn’t want to lose the power they had over the people.

I can suggest reasons why other people groups decide to re-image God, though I don’t know why for sure, but the bottom line is, whoever does so is replacing the One True God with a golden calf. In this day and age a host of religious people seem infected with golden calf syndrome, whether they as individuals decide that God didn’t really mean this or that which He said in the Bible or whether as a group they believe something more radically other than what the Bible teaches.

The result is the same: an idol, as displeasing to God as any Israel created.

Published in: on October 30, 2015 at 6:09 pm  Comments (4)  
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God’s Judgment Is Real


Eclipse_lunar_(Blood_moon)When Israel was poised across the Jordan River, ready to take the land God had promised them, Moses reminded them of the need to obey God. By God’s direction, he gave them a list of blessings and a list of curses—the former if they followed God and the latter if they rebelled against Him and did the things that the nations they were about to displace had been doing.

God’s judgment was real—against the people living in Canaan who practices things that were heinous in God’s eyes. They worshiped idols and sacrificed their children on their altars; they involved themselves in perverted sexual practices until God said the land was ready to “spew them out.”

Israel didn’t do any better. They conqueror the land, to be sure, but within a generation they were straying from God’s Law. For four hundred years they experienced a cycle of straying, receiving God’s discipline, and repenting. Eventually God brought His judgment upon Israel in the same way He had Canaan.

The thing is, I wonder if the people of Israel stopped believing that God would judge them. After all, they’d been going their own way for so long, did they think all that early history, with Moses and the exodus, Joshua and the River Jordan, was nothing but a myth? Did they explain the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea and the drying up of the Jordan as some natural phenomena?

Or did they think their ancestors’ own abilities had won their freedom and their own power and wisdom allowed them to conquer all those fortified cities? In other words, did they reason away God’s activity in their successes, so they no longer felt His wrath, when they experienced His judgment?

Something obviously changed. They weren’t crediting God with their prosperity, and they weren’t recognizing the adversity they went through as His judgment.

I thought of this today as I heard and read reactions to last night’s full blood moon eclipse. The news first drew my attention to the idea that some people feared the blood moon as a sign of the end of the world.

Apparently this idea has been fueled by Christians. Some pastors have even written books and pointed to the alignment of past blood moons and particular Jewish holy days.

Much like the past predictions of the end of the world, this kind of public declaration actually backfires, if the intent is to show God’s hand in the natural world and His coming judgment. The average person says, We were told that Y2K was going to be the end of the world, then Harold Camping named a date for the end of the world, then a revised date, then a date for the beginning of the end with another date for the end of the end.

When things continue as they have before, the natural tendency is to blow off the idea of an apocalypse and more specifically, of a judgment of God on this sinful world.

Some people joked about surviving the blood moon apocalypse, others marveled at the beauty of the event. But what I didn’t hear about was anyone repenting. I didn’t read about anyone saying, Well, this blood moon eclipse may or may not be a sign that the end is near, but even if it is not, I’m convinced God will judge the world as He said He would.

Predictions of an apocalypse that doesn’t happen serve to harden people’s hearts. One CNN article quoted Mark Hammergren of a Chicago planetarium as saying, “People have been predicting the end of the world for thousands of years in recorded history, and not a single time has that come about.”

These dramatic astronomical events are actually opportunities for us to pay more attention to space and the stars and how we’re connected to the universe, some unbelieving people reason. And who’s to say they’re wrong.

Regardless, God’s coming judgment is real.

I don’t think we need more signs than what we already have in Scripture—a risen Christ Jesus ascending into heaven with the promise that He will return as the reigning King.

God’s past judgments were sure. He gave people and nations time to turn and repent. Some like King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon who came to his senses and confessed God Most High as King over all, and some like Nineveh which repented when Jonah prophesied of God’s judgment, turned from going their own way and bowed before the Creator of the ends of the earth. Others like Sodom and Gomorrah laughed and ignored God’s word and His prophets—to their own doom and destruction.

If God is true, and He is; if He said He would judge the world, and He did; if He has judged nations and people in the past, and He has, then why would we think things will be different in the future?

God will judge the world. The false talk about an apocalypse should not fool anyone into believing that God is not deeply grieved by the mess the world is in. That some people have tried to connect the blood moon to events in Israel’s history or associate them with Jewish holy days is meaningless. God didn’t give us those kinds of details.

But the blood moon can serve as a reminder that God is in control, that His judgment isn’t a joke, even though we don’t know the day or hour, and that now is a good time to become His follower.

The Unprofessional Prophet


The book of Amos in the Old Testament is one of the smaller prophecies. Hence, Amos is considered a minor prophet. In truth, he wasn’t a prophet at all.

Amos was a farmer. He grew figs and herded sheep, and yet he ended up delivering some scathing prophecy to Israel. At one point the priest for the idol Israel set up at Bethel tried to kick him out of the city, claiming that he was conspiring against the king and saying he should take his prophecies to Judah.

With an open invitation to hightail it to safe territory, Amos stood his ground. He wasn’t a professional prophet. The king didn’t have him on retainer and no one had hired him to do freelance prophecies a la Balaam. Rather, God took him from his day job and said, Go, prophesy. So that’s what he did.

I love his unwavering obedience. I also love his amateur status. It reminds me that God essentially takes believers in Jesus Christ out of our day jobs and tells us to go make disciples. That appointment is for fig growers and doctors and electricians and social workers and teachers and carpenters and writers. And yes, for some professional preachers and missionaries and evangelists, too.

The other thing I’m mindful of is that Amos was commissioned to deliver bad news—Israel was to be judged and they were destined for exile. The Christian, however, gets to deliver good news—the way of escape from judgment, new life in Christ, and the hope of an eternal, heavenly home.

Amos didn’t mince words. He got right to it, telling Israel that God loathed their arrogance, that those most at risk were the ones comfortably rich who closed their eyes to the need for repentance. They cheated the poor, accepted bribes, and hated reproof.

To Amos’s credit, he interceded for Israel and twice God relented of the judgment He had disclosed to Amos through a vision. But the third time, He said, enough.

Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer.” (Amos 8:2b)

Still, Amos went to the people and pleaded with them to repent.

Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
And thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you,
Just as you have said!
Hate evil, love good,
And establish justice in the gate!
Perhaps the LORD God of hosts
May be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-15)

They did not, and judgment came. But perhaps the harshest part was the famine God proclaimed:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD,
“When I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,
But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.
People will stagger from sea to sea
And from the north even to the east;
They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD,
But they will not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12)

That passage reminds me of Romans 1 where God says He gives man over to his sin because he rejects God, choosing instead to worship the creature instead of the Creator (vv 24 ff).

It’s not a happy picture, but that’s the one Amos the unprofessional prophet was assigned to deliver.

How much better is our assignment today! The unprofessional Christian gets to say, Guess what? The One you rejected is the One who loves you and who died to redeem you from your sins, if you will but believe.

I’d say we have the better part, so I wonder why it seems so hard to tell the good news.

This post, with some minor edits, first appeared here in May 2012.

Published in: on April 16, 2015 at 6:08 pm  Comments (9)  
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Follow Paul Who Follows Christ


When I was a kid, one of the rainy day games we would play was Simon Says. A leader would stand before the class and announce something like, “Simon says nod your head.” The rest of us standing and facing the leader would dutifully nod our heads. Soon the leader increased the pace and eventually would give a command without the critical game-changing phrase “Simon says.” Those of us who forgot to listen for that critical bit of information had to sit down (and I was usually in the first wave of those caught listening to the command without attaching it to the giver of the command). The game was all about following commands, but only those that were authorized.

Wind the clock ahead a few years. As a teen challenged by my Sunday school teacher to spend time in God’s word every day, I read in one of Paul’s letters where he said the people he was writing to should follow his example. What hubris, I thought. How could anyone say, look at me, live like me, do as I do? How could anyone set themselves up to be Simon?

Much later I learned that Paul claimed the role only so far as he followed Christ. “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

I’m beginning to think this “copy the model” way of doing things is a key in God’s plan and purpose. After all, He created Man in His image. He told Moses to build the tabernacle exactly like the pattern God showed him. And He told the people of Israel to not copy the nations living around them.

God’s plan, in fact, was for the other nations to learn from watching Israel:

So keep and do [the commandments and statutes], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?
– Deuteronomy 4:6-7 [emphasis mine]

This method of imitation continued throughout the New Testament. We are to be holy because God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Believers are being made in the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). We are to be lights in the world (Philippians 2:15). Christ Himself was to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6).

What’s the point? Israel was to serve as the model to the other nations, but they failed because they became the imitators of the other nations in direct disobedience to what God told them to do.

Today the Church is supposed to be a beacon in the dark world, but instead of embracing our role we seem to be more interested in blending in than standing out. It seems we’d much prefer to hide our lamps under a basket rather than put them on a lampstand.

I know it’s a lot easier to talk about living boldly in a way that shows Christ to the world than it is to do it, and I’m not living in a nation where my family will disown me for my faith in Christ. I’m not living in a land where a pastor can be tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for believing in Jesus. Being an example to others costs those Christians more than the little embarrassment or mockery it might cost me.

I’m not at the place yet where I celebrate ridicule for my faith. Clearly I have more to learn about following Paul who followed Christ.

The bulk of this article first appeared here in 2011 under a different title.

Published in: on March 16, 2015 at 7:21 pm  Comments (1)  
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Ebola


6136_PHIL_scientists_PPE_Ebola_outbreak_1995The US news media has a short attention span (unless a story hits one of their pet peeves like the Donald Sterling fiasco did). Seemingly all but forgotten, for example, is the struggle Ukraine has with Russia. After the US started bomb runs in Syria, ISIS faded to a secondary story, too.

The new hot story is the Ebola virus because, like the beheadings in Iraq/Syria, Americans are involved! I don’t mean to speak lightly about this subject, and I love my country, but honestly there is such an insufferable self-importance about so much of what holds the attention of those who feed us the news.

The fact that hundreds were dying in West Africa wasn’t enough to move the Ebola story into the limelight, but when one, then two and three American aid workers became infected, suddenly Ebola was in the top tier of news items. When an average Joe American traveler contracted the disease and soon died from it, well, now it’s not just news. It’s a crisis.

Of course 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 the Ebola virus.

Pestilence, though not a common word today, 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 Ebola 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 in West Africa, and perhaps in places beyond, 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 Ebola 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 now have in preparing to fight an outbreak of Ebola. It’s coming, they suspect.

But we Christians know. If not Ebola, 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.

Theology Versus Morality, Part 2


old-carriage-954803-mThere’s a saying my mom used to use which I think is fitting in this discussion about theology and morality. I’ve specifically applied the contrast to fiction, but I think it fits all of life. That saying is, “Don’t get the cart before the horse.”

I tend to think too many Christians put the cart of morality before the horse of theology. In fact we advocate certain behavior without the foundational belief system that can rightly shape a person’s actions.

I don’t want to disparage morality. God clearly chastised Israel for their moral failings–they didn’t keep the Sabbath, didn’t care for orphans and widows, engaged in child sacrifice, trusted in foreign powers. But behind their moral failings was their great theological error:

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

In a nutshell, Israel abandoned God and chose to create their own system of righteousness. I suggest that a great number of people identifying as Christian today are doing the same thing, whether Progressive Christians or Word of Faith folks or universalists or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Sinless Perfectionists or Trinitarian Theology adherents or Westbow Baptists or any number of other people believing that the good things they do make them acceptable in God’s eyes.

When it comes to fiction, I think there’s a segment of Christian readers who want their brand of morality mirrored in the stories they read. In fact, for some, the morality might be more important than the theology.

We end up, then, with criticism of books like Harry Potter that sounds like this: Never mind that Harry is trying to save the world, he left his dorm room without permission.

Of course he also conspired to take what wasn’t his, lied about leaving school, and broke a host of school rules–all for the greater good. Do such stories teach situational ethics, then?

Perhaps because the Harry Potter books do not pretend to be Christian, they aren’t good examples of viewing morality over theology. But the point is, readers often judge a book by its morality, not its theology.

In fact, there was considerable theology in the Harry Potter books–especially in the last book where Harry sacrifices himself to destroy the enemy. Certainly he was not a Christ figure in the same way that Aslan was in the Narnia books, but he was a type–“a person or thing symbolizing or exemplifying the ideal or defining characteristics of something” (Oxford English Dictionary). Harry exemplified Christ’s defining sacrificial characteristic much the way Biblical figures such as King David exemplified His Kingship and Moses, His role as mediator. They, of course, were real people, though flawed. Harry is fictitious, and equally flawed.

The fact that the Bible uses morally flawed people to point to Christ gives me hope, and it guides my thinking about fiction. The Bible never covered over the sins of the heroes of the faith. Take a look at the list in Hebrews 11, for example. Noah got drunk, Abraham lied, Sarah gave her servant to her husband as his mistress, Issac favored Esau, Jacob deceived his father in order to steal his brother’s blessing, Joseph bragged about his dreams, Moses committed murder, Rahab was a prostitute. None of these people is listed in Hebrews because of their morality. Rather, they had right theology.

I can only conclude that theology trumps morality. But I’m confident right theology leads to right behavior. However, the sanctifying process takes time–a life time, actually.

Why, then, do some readers demand a false conversion in fiction–one that shows characters no longer sinning? There are two possibilities. One is that some readers are choosing good morals over right theology. And that’s a problem.

The other is a more involved possibility, and I’ll reserve that for discussion another day.

(If you’d like to read or re-read the previous article, “Theology Versus Morality,” you’ll find it here.)

The Middle East Hornet’s Nest


Middle_East_(orthographic_projection).svgIt’s not like things have ever really calmed down in the Middle East for, oh, the last seventy years or so, but believe it or not, tension has risen yet again. Apparently Israel took action against Syria’s sitting government with an air strike near Damascus, targeting a military and research site. At least one Syrian official says the attack was a declaration of war.

Now the report is that Syria will retaliate despite the fact that the US has backed Israel and in fact is talking about arming some of the moderate rebels.

Israel’s great concern in Syria’s civil war is this increasing armament, especially of those linked to Hezbollah, an organization operating in Lebanon that has continued to make the annihilation of Israel a cornerstone of its policies.

The Middle East has long been a hotbed of conflict. In ancient times, key trade routes passed through the region, linking Africa with Asia minor, the Arabian peninsula, and Europe. With the changes in transportation, the Middle East seemed to lose much of its importance, but in the twentieth century, with the demand for oil and the discovery that many countries in the region were “black gold” rich, the eyes of the world again shifted in that direction.

Add in the confusion reigning after World War II, in which displaced Jews were promised a homeland. When Britain, which had governed the region after World War I and the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, declared its intention to terminate the Mandate under which it operated, “the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending partition into an Arab state, a Jewish state and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem” (from “Palestine” ).

Palestinians rejected the proposal, and a civil war ensued, resulting in the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. War or peace accords have been a way of life since, resulting in varying degrees of stability.

Nothing has brought more concern, however, than the threat of Iraq and Iran gaining nuclear weapons. With Iran now having some type of nuclear capability (they insist they are merely generating electricity) and determined to support failing Syrian President Bashar Assad by shipping arms to his regime, the unstable situation has all the ear markings of a conflagration waiting to escalate.

Knowing all this history and the dynamics of the region, the religious tensions, and the economic factors, it still amazes me that such a small area can command such a great deal of interest, especially when you realize that Israel doesn’t have oil–not in the pipeline loads as does Iraq or Saudi Arabia or a handful of other Arabic states.

I remember hearing when I was younger, the interpretation of the book of Revelation that believes in a physical, literal fulfillment of the prophecy of the events surrounding Israel, and I thought, why would the whole world want to go up against that tiny, insignificant nation? It seemed unlikely.

In area, Israel comes in at number 153 out of 249 nations, making them smaller than countries like Belize, El Salvador, and Haiti. Such a tiny place to stir up such anxiety, such hatred, such animosity. But for one reason or the other, it has managed to stay at the crossroads of the world and generate strong feelings. Not many people are neutral about Israel.

This is one of those topics that can easily bring people to blows or at least to heated arguments. I’m glad to know there is a sovereign God superintending the situation. Otherwise it would be easy to become overwhelmed by the irreconcilable issues and the long-standing acrimony. We’re talking about the mother of all feuds–the granddaddy of the Hatfields and the McCoys. With modern weapons.

Yeah, not good.

But God is.

Which doesn’t mean He will stop the Middle East from erupting. In fact, it might mean the opposite. However, He has promised that when His people pass there the waters, He’ll be with us, and through the river, they will not overflow us. When we walk through the fire, we will not be scorched nor will the flame burn us. (Isaiah 43:2). The promise isn’t that He’ll prevent high waters or a fire we must walk through. Rather, He promises us His presence and provision in the midst of it.

Good to remember when we listen to the news.

Published in: on May 6, 2013 at 7:44 pm  Comments Off on The Middle East Hornet’s Nest  
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The Separateness of Holiness


The Tabernacle

The Tabernacle


God’s plan for Israel was that they should be a God-fearing nation in order to point all other nations to Him. As a result, after the Exodus, He gave them a place to worship, priests to mediate between Him and them, and sacrifices to perform for their cleansing.

When Jesus came, He perfected each of those roles in Himself. He spoke of His body as the temple to be destroyed and rebuilt in three days. He took the role of the High Priest. And He became the sacrifice, once for all.

When He ascended to the right hand of the Father, He gave believers the same three roles, not to redo what He had done but, because we are in Christ, to act as an extension of Him:

And coming to Him as to living stones, you also are being built up as a spiritual house for a royal priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)

Israel was to be separate and holy, to point the nations to God.

Jesus was separate and holy, providing the way of reconciliation to God.

Believers now are to be separate and holy, to point all other peoples to God.

We are not to be separate and holy in order to be reconciled to God–Jesus accomplished that for us. But in understanding that we humans cannot atone for our own sins, that we in fact need a Savior, it seems some have concluded that the separate and holy issues aren’t for today.

Yet the New Testament writers make it clear. Peter specifically quoted from the Old Testament law in his first letter as support for his call to be holy:

but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1:15-16)

Paul spoke about separateness:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 – emphasis mine)

Jesus prayed for His followers specifically about being in the world and yet being set apart:

I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:15-19 – emphasis mine)

No list of things to do or things to stay away from. Yet Paul is quite clear that our lives are to be different from those who don’t believe:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called . . . So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:1, 17-24 – emphasis mine)

Why, I wonder, do we hear so little about living a holy life? Some Christians speak as if holiness equates with legalism, but certainly the Bible doesn’t call us to be legalists. Rather than standing apart from the world, it seems many Christians make it their goal to fit in. How we handle our money, the entertainment we choose, our treatment of the homeless, how we dress, what we write–in so many ways, it’s hard to say Christians are not conformed to the world.

And wasn’t that Israel’s problem? Didn’t they want to be like the nations around them rather than to be holy like God, so they could represent Him to the lost peoples?

Published in: on February 1, 2013 at 6:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Unholy Habits


Jeroboam and the golden calfFor some reason, holy habits seem hard to put in place. The unholy ones, not so much.

I’ve been thinking about the unholy habits cultivated by the kings of Judah and Israel, the divided nation that came from a split after Solomon’s death.

In the north, Israel began unholy habits in an intentional way. The king, a man named Jeroboam, was at the forefront of the civil war. He held power tenuously, or so he thought, and was especially fearful that his subjects, should they make their required pilgrimages to the temple of the One True God in Jerusalem, would decide they wanted to rejoin the south. His solution was to build two worship centers in Israel–one in Bethel and one in Dan. In each of those places, he erected a golden calf, assigned priests who were not of the tribe of Levi as God required, and told the people they were to bring their sacrifices to the altars at these high places.

From then on, Scripture records that not a single Israeli king departed from these sinful habits that Jeroboam instituted intentionally. Some of them added their own sins, but even the best of them–Jehu, for example, who got rid of Jezebel and all the Baal worshipers–continued in the ways of Jeroboam.

In Judah, the southern kingdom, the situation was a little different. The unholy habits of those kings seemed to creep in rather than being superimposed by a leader who intentionally and willfully decided to make worship what he thought rather than what God said.

One of the unholy habits was the practice of worshiping God in “high places.” As near as I can tell, these were local altars built on a hill where people sacrificed to the One True God.

However, Mosaic Law said they were to sacrifice only in the place God would designate. For years that meant they were to take their sacrifices to the altar that was part of the Tabernacle–the mobile worship center God had instructed Moses to build there in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. Later that meant taking their offering to the Temple which Solomon built to replace the Tabernacle.

Such a little thing. I mean, it was more convenient, I’m sure, for people to go to the high place right around the corner rather than making the long journey up to Jerusalem. And yet that habit led to any number of other departures from God’s Law.

This habit of worshiping on high places became so ingrained in the culture that an Assyrian military officer suggested King Hezekiah had turned from God because he had removed the high places. Right in the eyes of this man, was wrong, simply because wrong had become the entrenched, cultural habit for hundreds of years. Never mind what God said about how He wanted people to worship Him.

What today, I wonder, might be the entrenched unholy habits of the Church? There’s really only one way to know. It’s the same way the kings of Judah and Israel were to know.

Part of God’s requirement of each new king was for them to read and copy the Law. I’m pretty sure that rarely happened. Too many kings were completely ignorant of the existence of the Law. King Josiah, for instance, ruled for thirteen years before they found a copy of the Law in the temple. When he read it, he recognized how offended God had to be because His people had wander so far from His plan for them.

I don’t suppose Christians today need to copy Scripture. 😉 I don’t think we’ll find that anywhere in the Bible. It does seem as if reading it and obeying it is in order, however. It’s the only way, I think, to unseat those unholy habits.

Published in: on December 6, 2012 at 5:28 pm  Comments Off on Unholy Habits  
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