Warnings Or Threats


Jesus Christ came to seek and to save. That cost Him His life. But Scripture also says He gave us an example to follow. Peter said it clearly in his first letter.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:22-24)

So Christ is our model. When he was condemned, censured, abused, attacked, He didn’t sling invectives back. While he was beaten bloody, while he hung dying, He didn’t curse those who were responsible. He didn’t threaten them with Hell, and surely He could have.

I started thinking about threats in the context of warning sinners about their eternal destiny if they don’t repent.

I’ve said before that part of a Christian’s responsibility is to tell people the truth about what their headed towards. How else can they turn from the error of their ways if they haven’t heard that their ways are leading to destruction?

I’ve likened the Christian’s role to that of an emergency worker warning traffic that up ahead the bridge is out. They can’t slow down and carefully easy their way forward. No, the bridge is gone! If they continue down the road, they will crash. No other option. They must either turn around or die.

Is that a threat?

I know some atheists think so. They look at Christians as gleeful in their pronouncements of doom.

The truth is, there’s a difference between warning someone of impending disaster and threatening someone with it. In the first case, the person is trying to prevent harm and in the second, he is calling it down on another’s head.

Sadly, I believe the Christian’s job to proclaim the truth about God’s justice is much harder as a result of a misguided group of people professing Christ but listening to false teaching—five years ago it was the Westboro Baptist folks and now it’s many in the alt-right.

Five years ago the Westboro Baptist group was in the news here in SoCal as they made plans to come and picket the funeral of a soldier killed in combat. As it turned out, they didn’t show up, but the local community was up in arms and ready to spring a counter-protest.

These wrong-headed people are in no way following in Jesus’s steps. This from a news release sent out days before the funeral and still available on their web site:

GOD HATES AMERICA & IS KILLING
YOUR TROOPS IN HIS WRATH.
Military funerals have become pagan orgies of
idolatrous blasphemy, where they pray to the
dunghill gods of Sodom & play taps to a fallen fool.

The last line is the worst: “THANK GOD FOR IEDs.” That would be the weapon used to kill this soldier.

So how is it that people like this think they are walking in obedience to God’s will? Christ was suffering but He made no threats. Do they think that because they’re not the ones suffering, it’s OK to issue threats and recrimination?

In the end, all they accomplish is to confuse society so that when someone wants to issue a warning, it’s taken as a threat. But that’s what false teaching does—it plays right into the hands of Satan, the father of lies.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in June 2012.

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Published in: on June 19, 2017 at 5:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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No Thank You, Mr. Buffett


Suppose I decide I want to talk to Warren Buffett, the American business magnate. I hunt up a number, call, and wonderfully am answered on the first ring by one of his many assistants.

I explain I want to talk to Mr. Buffett himself. The assistant tells me he just happens to be on site and available. In seconds I hear Mr. Buffett’s energetic voice.

I eagerly identify myself, then move on to the reason for my call. “Thank you,” I say, “but Mr. Buffett I’ll have to say no. I just can’t accept a million dollars from you.”

He pauses, clears his voice, then says, “There must be some mistake. I never offered you a million dollars.”

As you know, this scenario is completely fictitious, but I think there are parts that are analogous to our perception of humankind’s relationship with God.

Jesus clearly said that

he who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18; emphasis mine)

As I understand this passage, there are only two camps—he who believes and he who has not believed. In other words, no one is in the state of my fictitious scenario in which no offer has been made.

We frequently talk about accepting Christ, yet we don’t take much time thinking about what rejecting the Son means. Instead, we assume that first a person hears about Jesus, then he “makes a decision.” That way of looking at things suggests the third category—those who have not heard.

I want to postulate that the decision to reject the Son of God has more to do with our heart attitude than it does with hearing the name of Jesus.

I realize I am walking a dangerous line here, one I think some of the universalists traverse. However, I hope I am coming at it from a Biblical perspective.

More and more, people claiming to be Christians speak of the “innocent” people who haven’t heard the gospel (as Rob Bell did some years ago in his ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos). At best that position is tapping into the “blank slate” theory, that man is born neutral and can decide to be good or evil. At worst, it aligns with the belief that man is good and something from the outside—society or government or Satan or an evil parent or traditional religion—drags him into sin.

The truth is, none is innocent. None is righteous. We are all in “reject” mode, dethroning God and enthroning ourselves.

Let me turn the page for a minute. When Jesus was teaching in the temple one day, He began a discussion with the Pharisees about who their father was. They claimed God was their father, but Jesus said no. Their father was the devil (see John 8:18-59).

Whether Jesus stood in front of them or not, their father would still have been the devil. He did not become their father because they rejected Jesus as their Messiah. The devil already was their father.

Jesus, of course, knew this about them because He is omniscient. He knew they were slaves to sin. The only thing that could free them would be His shed blood.

But today so many are coming to the issue of salvation as if it is a matter of imparting information—giving everyone a chance to hear the truth, and if they haven’t had that chance, then God is either unfair or He’ll give them that chance later or the information we thought they needed, they didn’t really need because their own belief system is a good substitute.

All of this rejects the idea that an omniscient, all powerful, good God who forms us in our mothers’ wombs can know our hearts and that He calls those who are His. It’s an uncomfortable idea.

We don’t know, can’t understand why God put us in America where we could so easily hear the gospel.

But we must marvel just as much about Tisquantum, better known as Squanto, who was kidnapped with the intent to be sold into slavery. As a result, he had the opportunity to learn about Jesus and escaped the plague that wiped out the rest of his people group.

Or how about Mincayani, one of the Huaorani tribesmen that killed Jim Eliot and the others martyred with him. His act of violence did not stop the truth of God from coming to his people and specifically to Mincayani himself.

The stories of people coming to Christ are many, varied, and no less miraculous if the miracle is about being born where the gospel is readily heard or if it is about one hearing the unexpected and unsought truth of God’s Son.

My point is this. I don’t believe anyone will be judged for rejecting an unoffered gift. God is not Warren Buffett.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in March 2011.

Abiding In Christ


My church has a candidate for senior pastor, Darin McWatters, and it turns out he was a guest speaker at our church last July. I even wrote a blog article based on one of the three sermons he preached that month.

In his first message Pastor McWatters spoke from John 15, particularly these verses:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me (vv 1-4).

I’m not going to go into everything he said (I just watched the video last week, so it’s fresh in my mind), but he gave one illustration that I think will stay with me for a long time. He came to the point where Jesus said we are to “abide” in Christ, which he said means essentially to stay. But the original carries the idea of actively staying. It’s not a passive, do-nothing role.

In other words, we aren’t to stay in the “hands off the wheel” sense of the word. But what does actively staying look like?

Pastor McWatters said it can be likened to aerial refueling of fighter planes which both the US Navy and the US Air Force use. I did a little checking and learned that there are two types of aerial refueling processes: the probe-and-drogue system used by the Navy, and the flying-boom system used by the Air Force.

It is the latter that our speaker referenced, and it certainly seems like an apropos illustration of actively staying.

With the flying-boom system, the fuel tanker goes on autopilot at the appropriate speed and altitude, but the plane receiving the fuel remains hand-flown. In other words, it’s the job of the pilot of the plane receiving fuel to match the speed and altitude of the tanker, and to stay in the proper alignment while the boom is attached and the fuel dispensed.

An article describing the process said it’s essentially the same skill needed when pilots fly their planes in formation.

In either case, the job is anything but kicking back and letting come what may. There has to be a great deal of work involved to stay at the proper distance and to maintain proper air speed and control, especially if unexpected turbulence should buffet the aircraft.

In the same way, believers are to abide in Christ. He is the constant. We are the ones tasked to “stand firm” as Paul phrased it. We are to be in proper alignment, which certainly is the work of Jesus at the cross. He spilled His blood for the forgiveness of sins. He made it possible for us to be born again, to have new life, to be adopted as children of God.

But fruit-bearing, which is what Jesus was talking to His disciples about the night before He went to the cross, requires us to abide. To actively stay.

I think about the Jewish Christians the book of Hebrews was written to. They had certain expectations about this Messiah they had put their faith in—one being that He would return soon. When that didn’t happen, some considered turning back, leaving their new faith, and returning to their old way of working to fulfill the Law.

The writer of Hebrews is encouraging them to stay the course, to keep going in the Way. One way they were to accomplish this was to take heed to God’s word:

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. (2:1)

Another way that we believers can “hold fast” is by encouraging each other. The writer of Hebrews says we are to do so day after day so that we won’t be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” I take this kind of encouragement to be more than sideline cheerleading. I think it’s a constant, continual reminder of why Jesus Christ is trustworthy. The fact that we are to counter the “deceitfulness” of sin implies that we are to offer the truth of righteousness: we have it because of Jesus Christ and would have none of it apart from Him.

In terms of the aerial refueling illustration, if we don’t abide, don’t stay aligned with the tanker, we might be able to keep going on our own for a little while, but eventually we’ll run out of fuel. Our brothers and sisters in the faith can help us by reminding us that we need fuel, that the source of fuel is within reach, that it’s worth staying where we’ll get the fuel we need.

Third, we are to “hold fast our confession.” I take this to mean we are to refuse to go back on our word. Our confession of faith is our decision to trust Jesus to forgive us our sins and to put us in right relationship with God.

For years I questioned my confession of faith. Did I really mean it when I repented of my sins? I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t sense the Holy Spirit in my life. Nothing seemed all that different. So did my confession of faith “take”? Just to be sure, I made several more confessions of faith. I was where a lot of those Jews were that the the writer of Hebrews was talking to:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

That brings me to the final point for today: discerning good and evil. We can abide in Christ when we discern which way we need to go when turbulence buffets us. Do we need to correct to the right so we won’t be carried off line? Do we need more speed because we’re headed into the wind? We need discernment. What is evil and what is good.

That could be a blog post all on its own, and maybe it will be someday. At any rate, the concept of abiding in Christ has a lot more to it than “just staying.” For starters it means to pay attention to God’s word, to encourage (and be encouraged by) other believers, to keep to the confession of my faith, and to discern evil and good.

Published in: on March 29, 2017 at 5:56 pm  Comments Off on Abiding In Christ  
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The Addiction Of Freedom


Hell is, as Lewis says, “the greatest monument to human freedom.”

the-great-divorce-cover

So noted Pastor Tim Keller in a 1997 article in Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal, “Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age.”

Interestingly, Pastor Keller identified a shift in attitude regarding freedom in the postmodern era akin to the attitude C. S. Lewis ascribed to those destined for hell in his classic work The Great Divorce.

The attitude is one that puts freedom above all else.

Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that the people on Lewis’s bus from hell are enslaved because they freely choose to be. They would rather have their freedom (as they define it) than salvation. Their relentless delusion is that if they glorified God, they would lose their human greatness (Gen. 3:4-5), but their choice has really ruined their human greatness.

I couldn’t help but think of atheist Christopher Hitchens and his dread of “celestial tyranny.” How sad that he did not realize the tyranny of his own desires. Unfortunately, he was not so different from the majority of people in western culture.

Freedom, we cry, let us voice our opinions, choose our own path, chart our own life. So we legalize abortion and a good deal of pornography. We outlaw spanking and prayer from school and tell parents Johnny needs medication, not discipline.

And then we wonder why children no longer respect authority, why tolerance is the end-all of our society, why child abuse is on the rise, and human trafficking is rampant, why greed runs Wall Street and corruption keeps cropping up in Washington, or City Hall.

Somehow we’ve missed the connection points. Freedom, when it becomes more important than salvation, enslaves just like any other idol. Freedom to pursue sex without consequences makes a person addicted to lust. Freedom to pursue wealth without restrain makes a person addicted to greed. Freedom to pursue unbridled power over others makes a person addicted to bullying and manipulation.

If we would open our eyes, we would see the trap to which the pursuit of freedom can lead. It held Christopher Hitchens tightly in its jaws. No one, most certainly not God, was going to tell him what to do with his life, not even in the last hours of his life. Why?

Because he wanted to enjoy humanity.

Sadly, he’s chained himself to the ephemeral rather than to the eternal. For, yes, the option to unbridled freedom is also slavery.

But what a difference. Rather than slavery to that which would destroy, becoming a bond-slave of Jesus Christ is freeing. Ironic, isn’t it. Freedom that leads to slavery, and slavery that leads to freedom.

What a contradiction, but that’s in line with what we learn from Jesus. If we lose our lives, we’ll find them. If we are last, then we’ll be first. If we become His slaves, He’ll set us free. Then, and only then, will we be free indeed.

This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2010.

False Teaching/False Teachers


offerings to idolsI’ve been thinking a lot about the people of Israel and their propensity to copy the nations around them. God warned them time and time again to refrain from aping their behavior and traditions, particularly their worship of false gods. But the people God had chosen to be His representative among the nations simply didn’t like being “a peculiar people.” They wanted to fit in, to be like everyone else.

I think that same tendency infects the church in America, too. We don’t like being on the outs with our culture. I think our propensity to be accepted, often in the name of “reaching the lost,” leads to or opens us up to false teaching.

Any one who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If any one comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting …
– II John 9, 10 (NASB)

I’m glad the verse mentioned “the teaching of Christ” because surely Christians of various denominations, and even within the same denomination, disagree over doctrine. It would be easy to conclude that this verse means we have a green light to pick the one or two people we find who agree with us on every doctrine and disengage from every other Christian.

That in itself is a false teaching.

Once again, I am mindful that Scripture needs to be taken in its totality. There is not one verse or one principle that can become our focus to the exclusion of others without leading to error.

That being said, I do see an increase of false teaching and false teachers—teaching and teachers that do not comply with the message of Christ, whether uttered by Him directly or explained by the apostles, illustrated by Biblical types, or prophesied by the prophets.

Like, for instance? I’m glad you asked. 😀

  • Universal salvation.
  • Christ said He was the way, the truth, the life and no one comes to the Father except by Him. Throughout Scripture, that message is illustrated—from the Passover Lamb to the serpent lifted up in the wilderness to save those who looked on it, and lots, lots more.

  • God wants all His children to be healthy and wealthy.
  • Christ said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt. 6:24, NASB) Again, the principle is throughout the Bible, the biggest evidence being Christ’s clear teaching that His kingdom is an eternal one. Paul teaches that he has learned to be content in plenty or in want, that contentment with godliness is great gain. Granted, the people of Israel enjoyed conditional physical blessings, but their relationship with God pointed to the Savior. You could think of their journey as a type and the promised blessings the reward we have waiting in Heaven. Or you could think of their conditional physical blessings something unique to the Israelites. But to think of them as a pattern God wants to employ in His dealing with individual Christians is to ignore the New Testament.

  • If a person ever in his lifetime prayed a prayer of repentance, no matter if he returns to the sin and ignores God the rest of his days, he is a Christian.
  • This is nothing but a unique twist on a works gospel, the work being a prayer. People will counter this by saying that, no, it isn’t the prayer, it is the person’s faith that saves him. James says that faith without works is dead, so an unchanged life gives no evidence of the existence of faith. And doing anything doesn’t save us.

  • The Bible plus something else tells us what we need to know about God.
  • This “something else” could be the Book of Mormon, some creed, or tradition passed down through the ages. This is the very center of this topic. As early as John’s writing and also Paul’s these apostles warned about false teachers, people coming in and preaching a “different gospel.” In some cases, it was outward, like Peter not associating with the Gentiles because they weren’t circumcised and didn’t follow Jewish law (actually because he didn’t want to be censored by other Jews who looked down on Gentiles for those reasons). In some cases it was theological like the group claiming the second coming had already occurred. The point is, error comes in when human voices supersede Scripture.

  • Christ is coming back on [fill in the day/time].
  • More typically this distraction with future events has to do with figuring out who the Anti-christ is or when the tribulation will be or whether or not there will be a rapture. Oddly enough, Christ said He Himself didn’t know the day or the hour of His return. Never did He instruct His disciples to figure out these things. Rather, in parables He taught them to be ready—for the bridegroom to come, the landlord to return. Not, study to figure out when you think this will happen, but rather, do what you’re supposed to do while you wait. The only thing we are supposed to study are our times (check out Luke 12:54-57), so we can see … well, false teaching.Battleofthesexes

  • Women should be pastors too/should not be subjugated by the idea that they are to submit to their husbands.
  • The verses in Scripture that make a clear distinction between women’s and men’s roles are thrown on the heap of cultural application with no contemporary equivalent. Or they’re explained away. To fit our culture. In other words, we have to make God see things our way, rather than us seeing things God’s way. His way makes us look misogynist, so our culture tells us. And we care so very much about the opinions of the “learned.”

  • God couldn’t have created the universe(s) in seven days. Just for mankind. Hence we must adapt our beliefs about the origin of things to the science of the day.
  • I’m all for asking questions and I don’t think we should ignore science. But if science says one thing and the Bible says something else, such that the two cannot be resolved, then the Bible must be the authority we cling to. Fortunately, there are several theories that can resolve the differences. We can allow the Bible to interpret science for us, rather than the other way around.

    I’m sure if someone else were compiling this list they’d add other things, and maybe leave some of these off. In no way do I intend this to be an offense. But error is creeping into the Church. Too often we buy our cultural line that the highest value is tolerance. Coupled with the fact that the Bible clearly teaches unity, and we fall silent when someone stands up and preaches a different gospel.

    Perhaps instead we should reason together so that we are clear about the teaching of Christ; then we can stick to that.

    This post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in May 2007.

    Published in: on December 29, 2016 at 6:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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    Who Else Is There? You Have The Words Of Life


    With_His_Disciples023Dissent among the followers! That’s what Jesus experienced as He proclaimed that He was the bread of life. Like the bread of life given to the people of Israel during their exodus, Jesus clearly stated that He came down from Heaven.

    Well, that was a deal breaker, at least for some. Jesus was the carpenter’s son, the neighbor boy who played with our kids, the squirrely twelve-year-old who got left behind in Jerusalem one year. And he was saying he came down from Heaven?

    Jesus explained further, finishing with this:

    I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh. (John 6:51)

    Well, that made the bad, worse. Was he saying they should eat his flesh? What kind of a kook were they following? Time to make a hasty exit. The things he was saying were just too hard. Too hard to be believed? Too hard to obey? Too hard to understand? One commentary at least says the followers understood what he was saying, but they couldn’t accept those statements. Whichever way, many left. So many, in fact, that Jesus turned to the Twelve and said, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” (John 6:67b)

    That’s when Peter came through, as he did from time to time. What teacher, what Messiah claimant could we possibly go to? You’re it. “You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68b)

    Peter’s declaration is as true today as it was in the first century. Our postmodern society with its relativistic view of reality postulates that there are many ways to god, that what your culture has taught you to believe is no more “right” than what someone from India or Saudi Arabia or Chad or Taiwan or Costa Rica has come to believe because of their culture and history and heritage. “Truth” is a malleable thing based on our understanding which has been molded by our culture. So Americans are likely to claim the Christian god, Indians, the many Hindu gods, and so on.

    But Peter’s question seems to cut through the relativism. Where are we supposed to go? You have the words of eternal life. Implying that no one else does.

    Jesus spoke authoritatively, and His followers, then and now, believe with assurance, conviction, standing in contrast to those who hope one day to reach Nirvana or Enlightenment or the highest level of Paradise or the third Heaven or the place of the 144,000. Have they done enough, they wonder? Have they been good enough? Have they been generous enough? Kind enough? Have they done enough religious activity?

    The Christian has no such concern. We know the answer—we haven’t done enough and, in fact, can never, if we lived life over again a thousand times, ever do enough. We are not banking on our own actions, because that’s futile. Instead, we are counting on Jesus Christ, the one, the only one, who has the words of eternal life.

    Without Jesus, we are exactly like everyone else. With Jesus we are changed because we are forgiven. Not on the bases of anything we’ve done from our own store of good deeds. No. We’re made new because Jesus gave us the robe of righteousness. Our stinking garments made up of our best efforts that got us nowhere, are done away with. Now we are clothed in Christ’s clothes.

    It is on the basis of His provision for us that we have the assurance of Heaven. We don’t sit around wondering who’s good enough to get in. We glory in the fact that all who have been baptized into Christ’s death will be united with Him in the likeness of His resurrection. (See Rom. 6)

    After all, there’s nowhere else to go, no other god to give us salvation. God alone is LORD (Nehemiah 9:8).

    For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
    He also is to be feared above all gods.
    For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
    But the LORD made the heavens. (1 Chronicles 16:25-26)

    Published in: on May 18, 2016 at 6:34 pm  Comments (2)  
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    Living By The Terms Of The Treaty


    "Scene in Geronimo's camp, the Apache outlaw and murderer. Taken before the surrender to Gen. Crook, March 27, 1886, in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico."

    “Scene in Geronimo’s camp, the Apache outlaw and murderer. Taken before the surrender to Gen. Crook, March 27, 1886, in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico.”

    After reading a two part series of posts on Evangelicals by my friend and fellow blogger, InsanityBytes (part 1 and part 2), I decided the following article was the best comment I could give on the subject.

    – – – – –

    When I was growing up, Saturday afternoon meant old B movies on TV, often something western. One particular story has stayed with me.

    What history calls The Indian Wars dominated the West. Settlers and miners and railroad men and soldiers clashed with any number of Indian groups, from Chickasaw to Seminole.

    In this particular story, a compassionate and understanding American, with a number of Indian friends, was convinced to take the position as agent for what was the equivalent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As part of his job, he was required to negotiate an acceptable treaty with the tribes waring against the US government.

    Against all odds, he was successful—except, treaties needed to be ratified by the Senate. The political climate at the time was against him, and rather than agreeing to the terms he had promised the Indians, the government sent troops to implement the Indians’ forced removal from their land.

    The story stayed with me because I felt the betrayal this Indian agent experienced—as both the betrayed and the betrayer. He was let down by the government that said it would stand behind his negotiations (the stipulation he demanded as the condition for him taking the position as Indian agent). As a result, in the eyes of the people who had trusted him, he became their Brutus.

    It struck me recently that professing Christians who take up with false teachers are like those politicos in that old-time movie. They say they will abide by whatever their representative decides, but when the terms of the agreement come down, they don’t really want to keep their word. They find some way of changing the rules, of canceling the treaty.

    In essence, they leave their representative hanging out to dry. The world, to whom He has gone, point and laugh.

      Ha-ha, they say they love, but look at the nasty things they put on their signs when they picket the streets.

      They say they don’t love the world or the things of the world, but listen to how greedy their preachers are.

      They say they live like Jesus, but they have marital breakups, addictions, bad debt, carry grudges, sneer and snark, just like the rest of us.

    When we who bear the name of Christ, do not obey Him, we aren’t much better. Our disobedience affects how others look at Jesus in the same way that a false Christian’s inconsistencies end up staining the name of Christ.

    I’m reminded of an Old Testament incident recorded in 2 Chronicles 18. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, allied himself with Ahab, king of Israel. When they were preparing for war, Jehoshaphat wanted to inquire of a prophet of the Lord.

    All the other prophets said the kings would have great success if they prosecuted the war, but the one prophet of the Lord Jehoshaphat insisted they bring in, said they would meet with defeat.

    And what did Jehoshaphat do? He ignored the prophet of the Lord.

    Why, I’ve wondered, did he bother to ask for the man to speak a message from God if he wasn’t planning to listen?

    Then too, why do people today take up the name of Christ and ignore His Word?

    But that forces me to ask, do I ignore His Word, too—at least the parts I don’t like? Things like, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing”?

    I guess the question I need to ask is this: how much do I care about the reputation of He who I say I’m following?

    Published in: on March 8, 2016 at 7:39 pm  Comments Off on Living By The Terms Of The Treaty  
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    Preparing For The Super Bowl


    Denver_Broncos2In the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos went about their business in the same way that they had each of the previous weeks of the 2015 season and playoffs. Over and over coach Gary Kubiak would answer media questions by saying the team was focused on this week’s opponent.

    No, they didn’t think about who would be the quarterback in the playoffs or even next week, for example. They had determined who would be the quarterback this week and they were preparing accordingly.

    Of course the pre-Super Bowl activities challenged their resolve. As player after player met the media, they fielded questions about how it felt to be such a big underdog, whether or not Peyton Manning was going to retire, whether switching quarterbacks had caused friction in the locker room and many more.

    Repeatedly they said they were staying in the moment, enjoying the experiences of the Super Bowl activities, but preparing for the game.

    BroncosCelebrationNot all the players made it. One young man who was on the practice squad was caught up in a prostitution sting. Though he wasn’t charged by the police, the team sent him home. He wasn’t on the same page with the others. Consequently he lost out. When the Broncos took control of the game and beat the highly favored Carolina Panthers, that young man was not on the sidelines. I don’t know if he was included in yesterday’s parade in Denver before a million fans.

    What he did was a betrayal of his team. He lost his focus and involved himself in some of the very distractions the coaches had warned them to avoid.

    But here’s the thing. What the Denver Broncos went through, particularly during those last two weeks before the Super Bowl, when the distractions were ramped up to an incredible height, mirrors what the Christian experiences day after day.

    We’re in the same kind of grind that the Broncos were in. Out of sight, behind closed doors, we prepare our hearts before God, then we face the day, with all of its challenges and temptations and distractions. We have a prize we’re going for, but in the long haul, we need to stay focused and keep our minds set on things above, not on things on the earth.

    Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

    We’re playing for the reward of the inheritance, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We celebrate the victory Christ has already won, but we also buffet our body and train our minds. We focus on the things above because we are saved and are being saved.

    In essence, we’ve won through Christ but now we must go out and play the game.

    I’m mindful of Joshua and the people of Israel as the walls of Jericho fell. What a wondrous miracle of God. And yet, Israel still had to conquer the city. There was still a battle to be won.

    In the same way, the Christian can bask in the victory Christ has procured for us. But nevertheless, we have battles to fight—against the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the boastful pride of life. Against ourselves, against Satan and his forces, against the world and its pull.

    We’d be wise, then, to adopt the plan of the Denver Broncos—stay in the moment, do what today calls for us to do. It sounds quite existential. But the point is, we really only have this moment. The past is gone and can’t be changed. We have no promise of tomorrow. If we are to press on toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, we must do so today. Now. With our focus firmly set against the distractions that would pull us away from the things above.

    Published in: on February 10, 2016 at 5:31 pm  Comments Off on Preparing For The Super Bowl  
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    Topping The List? Pride


    Engraving by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

    Seven deadly sins. That’s what the Church declared in the Middle Ages, trimmed and altered from their original number developed by Greek monastic theologian Evagrius of Pontus. But from the beginning, pride was on the list and placed in the position of most egregious. I can’t disagree. And yet, there’s a fundamental problem that listing out seven deadly sins and their corresponding Heavenly Virtues and Seven Corporal Works of Mercy misses.

    The real sin is rejecting Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God, given to us by the Father, because of His love, that we might have everlasting life:

    He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18).

    The passage goes on to describe the one who does not believe as loving darkness because his deeds are evil. So we’re back to sins—pride, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony, and lust, to name seven of them.

    Of course, the Ten Commandments puts idolatry at the head of the list: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3). And Paul, writing in Colossians says greed amounts to idolatry (3:5). So why would pride get tagged as chief among sins?

    A year ago in an article on this blog, I made the case for Pride as The Fall—the sin which Satan embraced and the one to which both Deceived Eve and Willful Adam succumbed.

    As I see it, pride is the act of putting self as a god before the Lord God, and I can’t imagine anything much worse. Pride was the sin of Nebuchadnezzar, crafting a statue of himself and ordering his people to bow before it. Pride was the sin of King Saul, declaring to Samuel that he had indeed obeyed the command of the Lord—all but the part about killing all the animals. After all, Saul had a better plan. He’d use those animals as sacrifices to the Lord. His way was better, infinitely better, because he’d kill the animals, save ones from his own flock and herd, and worship God, all in one. Great idea! Better than God’s. Better than doing what God had told him to do.

    Pride, I believe, was the sin of Balaam, the prophet insistent on circumventing God’s blessing of Israel when hired by Barak to curse them. He may have been motivated by greed, but at some level he believed he could do what he wanted, not what God wanted him to do.

    And isn’t that true of King David, too? And Samson. Lust may have motivated them, but at some point they believed they were not subject to God’s law, that they could make their own way, that they didn’t have to do what God said.

    Moses’s sister Miriam succumbed to pride at one point, wishing to have her brother’s job or power or influence. And I tend to believe Joseph, Godly man that he was, needed to learn the lesson of humility in the Egyptian dungeon before God would elevate him to the position of power over the nation and over his own family.

    Of course the great contrast is the Lord Jesus Christ who humbled Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, obeying the Father, and going to the cross (Phil. 2:7-8).

    For the Christian, I suspect pride is still the weevil that would spoil the vine and destroy the fruit God wants us to produce. At least I know that to be true for me.

    I find it interesting that Paul commands us believers to take on the humble attitude he described Christ having—regarding others as more important than ourselves, not merely looking out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

    In Colossians 3 he lists humility as one of the traits those “chosen of God, holy and beloved” are to put on—as if it is a piece of clothing we are to don in order to be ready to carry out our mission of loving one another and serving each other and forgiving whoever has a complaint against anyone.

    Thanks be to God that He provides the wherewith all to obey Him. It is not up to us to generate humility. Rather our source is Christ. How cool is that—His act of humility is not only our example but the very means by which we can learn to walk humbly before our God.

    This article first appeared here in November 2011.

    Published in: on January 22, 2016 at 6:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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    The Church’s One Foundation


    Baptist_Temple_cornerstone“The Church’s One Foundation” is an old hymn of the Christian faith penned by Samuel John Stone.

    Written specifically to counter a false teaching that was creating schisms in the church in South Africa, this and a series of eleven others were designed to reinforce the Apostle’s Creed. The opening lines of this hymn are as follows

    The Church’s one foundation
    Is Jesus Christ her Lord

    It is this foundation I want to focus on in light of my recent posts about the Church. As it turns out, I wrote a post entitled “Jesus Christ Is Lord” some years ago, and I don’t think I have much to add. So without further preamble, here is a reposting of that article.

    The Bible reveals Jesus as many things—the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, but it seems that the one thing God will make clear to all people at some point is that He is Lord.

    For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)

    When I think of “Lord” I think of authority. Interestingly, it was Jesus’s authority that caught people’s attention early on. The gospels record that people questioned the authority with which He taught, they wondered about (and some doubted) His authority over unclean spirits. And His disciples were especially amazed at His authority over elements in nature.

    I’m also curious about the way that Satan interacted with Jesus in the three temptations recorded in the book of Matthew. One was a concession that Jesus was master over physical elements, acknowledging that He could turn stones into bread if He wanted. Another was a concession that He, or at least His Father, was master over the angelic host.

    The third is the one that seems different. In the temptation involving who would rule the kingdoms of the world, Satan seems to be saying, in his offer to trade, that he had the power but God had the authority.

    Jesus being God would then have that same authority.

    Sadly, people in today’s western culture seem eager to bring Jesus down. For some time, other religions have acknowledged Jesus as a prophet, and it seems that view of Him is flooding into our Christianized societies. Hence, to many He is little more than a guru.

    Even professing Christians belittle Him by limiting His work on earth to a “this is how it’s done” example for us to emulate. Given that Jesus lived a sinless life, we can undoubtedly learn by studying what He did and said. But Jesus as example should not supplant Jesus as Lord.

    What Jesus said wasn’t just good thinking, wise advice, logical, helpful, and moral. It was right. It was true.

    He spoke as the one person who knew the Father and who could reveal Him. He spoke from a position of omniscience, without any misconceptions or delusions. No one else could speak this way. Only Jesus. Only the One who is over all.

    For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority (Col 2:9-10, emphasis added)

    I find it especially interesting that Jesus’s half brother James started his letter “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ …” Here’s a man who could have claimed a special relationship with Jesus on a human level but chose instead to identify himself as a servant for life to the Lord. Essentially he took his right to say what he was about to say from his relationship with Jesus as Lord.

    When I think about the fact that those words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, I get a picture of how God wants us to view Jesus.