Gratitude, Day 5—Salvation


Well, duh, some Christians might say. I might say that too. I mean, salvation is not new to me. I’ve lived with it for most of my life. I’ve gone through the gamut: I’ve been unsure I was saved, so I prayed for salvation again, and again, and again; then I came to the place where I decided to take God at His word; until I questioned His goodness, heard His answer, and trusted in His wisdom, just trusted; to the point that now, things I don’t understand don’t disturb me . . . much. I’ve just recently started a note section for my daily Bible reading asking the question, Who Is A Christian?

All that to say, salvation is familiar and it would be easy for me to take it for granted. I’ve lived with it for so long—the ups and the downs, the doubts and the assurances.

But in the end, I realize, salvation is everything. Yes, it’s a gift from God. A free gift, based on His grace.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

But it’s also a gift I must receive. There are any number of pictures of receiving the gift of salvation. Jesus referred to Himself as living water, for instance, and said to the woman at the well,

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” (John 4:19)

Ask, give, receive. It’s all part of what Peter calls being born again:

for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23)

Jesus also painted that new birth picture when He met with Nicodemus:

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

Of course, another image Jesus used was that of a Father accepting His wayward son who returns and repents.

Throughout the New Testament there’s the association of Christ’s sacrifice with that of the pure and spotless lamb used in temple sacrifices. But Christ is portrayed as the sacrifice “once and for all.”

In thinking about why I’m thankful for salvation, these things come to mind:

I’m thankful salvation is free. It’s amazing to think that something so valuable is not something I have to pay for, that God actually chose to pay on my behalf.

I’m also thankful that it’s accessible by everyone. No one has to clean up before coming to God through His Son Jesus. He’ll take care of the sanctifying part, just as He has taken care of the justifying part.

Justifying simply means that I’ve been set right with God, so I actually have peace with Him. I’m thankful for that peace. I’m no longer God’s enemy. I’m not at war with Him. I recognize Him as the sovereign ruler He is.

The sanctifying part is me learning to get off the throne of my life and letting God be God. I don’t always want to.

Another thing I’m thankful for concerning salvation is the glorification that we who are saved will enjoy in the future. We’ll get better bodies—ones that won’t age or get sick; we’ll take our place in God’s kingdom as people who serve Him purely. I don’t know what all that will look like. Some speculate that we’ll have jobs in the New Earth that suit us. So I could possibly be a writer in the future, too.

The greatest thing about this glorification aspect of salvation is the hope it gives. So we Christians, when someone we love dies, we grieve, but we do so with hope. We will not be separated from each other forever. We will have a great reunion, first with God our Savior, and then with one another.

Pretty much salvation changes everything. That’s why Scripture talks about us being renewed, about us living in newness of life. Old things are passed away. All things are new. Definitely something I am thankful for.

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Published in: on November 7, 2018 at 5:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hell And The Postmodern/Post-truth Generation


When I was growing up in the middle of the twentieth century, at times I felt out of step with my culture. After all, I and my Christian college classmates helped rescue books from our school library, when across town students in the secular university were burning a nearby bank and sending bomb threats to their library.

As I see it, those beginnings of a cultural divide are nothing compared to what Bible-believing Christians growing up in today’s postmodern/post-truth culture are going to face. Think about it. Discipline, even among Christian parents, is nearly a thing of the past. School is to be tolerated or, for the bright students, to be used as a means to a good job. It is definitely not a place to develop your ability to think and reason. Fewer and fewer of the postmodern/post-truth generation attend church.

Consequently, a teen growing up with parents who discipline, homeschool, and take him to a Bible-believing church, will be an anomaly. More and more, he can expect “the world” to believe differently than he does.

The discussion over books like Love Wins by Rob Bell that calls into question the doctrine of hell is, I suspect, indicative of how great the divide has become.

There are a number of root issues. For starters, postmodern/post-truth philosophy does not believe in absolute truth. What’s right for you might not be what’s right for me. And what’s true isn’t as important as how a person feels.

That leads to tolerance, the word of the day. All people and their lifestyles are as acceptable as all others. It’s only OK to hate hateful people. Of course, by hateful people we actually mean people who disagree with us.

The biggest issue, though, is that postmoderns/post-truthers believe ardently in Man’s goodness. Society, nations, corporations, religion, of course, are all evil, but Man is good.

How then, could this generation possibly believe in hell? They have not experienced just and loving punishment. They have no belief in absolute truth. They discount sin.

As a result, they do not believe anyone (except maybe mass murderers, as long as that doesn’t include abortion doctors) deserves to be shut out of heaven, let alone suffer for eternity. And any God, should he actually exist, who would do such a thing, would be too cruel to have as a god.

In addition, they think, since spirituality is something personal and individual, anyone can re-image god according to his own conscience, which by the way, is bound to be a lot nicer than the God of the Old Testament. Jesus, now he’s another story. He’s alright. All those cool myths about him walking on water and stuff—it’s almost like he’s a superhero. And love! That guy had it figured out—love, love, love, and stick it to the religious bunch! We like Jesus!

You see the divide. The Bible contradicts each of these points.

Man is not good; he is sinful.

God is a real person, sovereign and infinite, loving, righteous, just, good, merciful, and true. (And His Son is exactly the same).

Man’s sin is an offense to God because it is rebellion.

The payment for rebellion is death, first physically, then a second “death” that is eternal punishment in a real place we know as hell.

Despite what postmodern thinkers say or believe, these absolutes don’t go away with a wave of the mantra, It might be true for you, but it’s not true for me. True is true. What’s more, God “has granted everything to us pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him.”

Peter wrote that at the beginning of his second letter, but he went on in the next chapter to explain some of that “everything”:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot … then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority … But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong.
– 2 Peter 2:4-13a (emphases added)

What does a long passage about coming judgment have to do with life and godliness? For one thing, it reveals God’s nature. He is a just judge. No one is going to suffer wrong as the wages of doing right.

He also has spelled out as a warning, replete with examples, what the unrighteous will face.

And He has made it clear that there is a way of escape.

This article is an edited version of one that appeared here in March, 2011.

Published in: on September 28, 2018 at 6:17 pm  Comments (1)  
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Holding Fast To The Word


When I say hold fast to the “word,” I’m referring to the Bible, but I could just as easily say this about the Word, which is Jesus Christ. The Bible actually only points to Jesus. It isn’t itself an object of worship. But it is through the Bible that we can learn about God and all that He has revealed to us.

I love the first two verses of Hebrews because the truth is right there—about both the Bible and Jesus:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

The fact is, we know about God because He spoke long ago and we know about the Son because He came long ago.

I know a lot of atheists think this “long ago” business is suspect. They say, if God is really all powerful, why can’t he speak now, today, so that we can know first hand what He wants us to know.

I don’t have a real answer for that other than that God shouldn’t have to repeat Himself. I mean, He graciously has said many things many times, but not for every generation in every place.

I have to believe His decision when and to whom to reveal His person, plan, work, and word, is part of His sovereign choosing based on His omniscience. I know it’s beyond my pay grade. It isn’t within in my ability to determine God’s best way of revealing Himself to the world, apart from what He has already told us.

What He said was that we, His followers, are to be his ambassadors, that we are to go and make disciples. In other words, getting the word out is something He asked us to do.

I’m constantly amazed that God, who spoke the universe into being, actually wants me to come alongside Him and do something with Him.

Best example I can think of took place when I was teaching. For a number of years I had the benefit of a student or two working as my teacher’s aide. Several years I even had an adult who came in and worked in that capacity. But inevitable, when someone new came in and I had to ask them to do a task—say, put up items on a bulletin board—I realized I could do the work faster, more efficiently, and more to my liking. Of course, the more the aide worked, the better they got.

I think of that as an illustration of God allowing me to do work He could manage way better. There certainly could be multiple reasons He decides to work this way, but one reason certainly is for our benefit who do the work. We enjoy the blessing of serving Him.

What does all this have to do with holding fast to the word? I think some people are so preoccupied with hearing something new from God, they miss what He’s already said.

I think some people want the next new spiritual thing in the same way they want the next cool development in technology.

God doesn’t change, though. Who He is, is who He has always been. He’s not going to surprise us with a new slate of Ten Commandments. He isn’t giving a pope or a prophet a new set of regs He wants the Church to follow.

In truth, He’s already said what we need to know. Now it’s up to us to listen and to do what He’s asked us to do. That’s not complicated. But it does require us to get a good grip on the truth.

Athletes who are successful have a good grip on the fundamentals of their sport. The study film, they compare notes, they research analytics, they listen to coaches, and they practice. They take the job that they have—pitching or batting or fielding; blocking or throwing a football or rushing the passer or running pass routes—very seriously. They might be gifted athletically, but their physical prowess will not earn them a spot on a team unless they hold fast to the fundamentals.

Christians need to do the same. We need to learn the fundamentals and we need to hold fast to the fundamentals. Those fundamentals are in the word and in the Word. Everything else comes from those two: prayer, how to handle temptation, dealing with sin, with fear, and mostly how to draw close to God. It’s all in the Book and the Book points us to Jesus.

Published in: on September 26, 2018 at 5:59 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Ups And Downs Of The Straight And Narrow


A Reprise.

Life is often compared to a path leading from one place to another. Jesus used the picture of a road in one of His teaching sessions to describe the journey to life or to destruction. The first has a small gate and is narrow. The latter has a wide gate and a broad road.

Elsewhere in Scripture the path God wants us on is described as straight. For example, Jeremiah 31:9b says

I will make them walk by streams of waters,
On a straight path in which they will not stumble (emphasis mine)

While many are familiar with the road metaphor and may even know of the narrow versus broad comparison or the straight versus crooked analogy, fewer of us realize that this road is as much like a roller coaster than anything else. Scripture is filled with examples of people who experienced great success only to turn around and encounter great adversity.

Elijah is one example. He experienced a great success when he confronted Baal’s prophets, and God proved Himself true. He followed this showdown by seeing God answer his prayer to bring an end to the three-and-a-half-year drought. But what happened next? Jezebel threatened to kill him, and he ran for his life.

Jesus experienced this roller coaster more than once. Right after He was baptized–a spiritual high point–He spent forty days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan. I’d call that a spiritual low point, if ever there was one.

There are even several of these high/low experiences connected to the Christmas story. After the magi made their visit, Herod, in his jealousy, attempted to kill this prophesied Messiah. Because of God’s warning in a dream, Joseph was able to steal away with his little family and head into Egypt. But back in the region of Bethlehem, male babies under the age of two were slaughtered. Part of the Christmas story, then, is the weeping and wailing of Rachel, lamenting for her children.

Thus says the Lord,
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
She refuses to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18 quoting Jeremiah 31:15)

Of course the ultimate up and down ride connected to Christmas is that Jesus left the glories of heaven to be born as this sweet baby boy for the purpose of dying. But His death is the very means of life for all who believe in Him. Talk about a roller coaster!

No surprise, then, that life holds ups and downs for each of us. Not forever, though. There will be a day when the rough places will be made plain, when the mountains will be brought low and the valleys exalted.

Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 40:5)

This post is a reprint of one that first appeared here in December, 2012.

Published in: on September 25, 2018 at 4:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A New Commandment


First I have to say how blessed I am because my church has an abundance of Bible-believing pastors who love God’s word and can communicate its truth.

So Sunday our executive pastor preached from a verse in John:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.(John 13:34)

He starts out by asking, Since Jesus said this was a new commandment, what was the old commandment?

That made me think. When someone asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment, He said, Love God, and a close second is love your neighbor as yourself.

We can logically conclude that since the New Commandment has to do with relationships on the horizontal plane—a human being with other human beings—the Old Commandment would have been the “love your neighbor as yourself” part.

As it stands, loving our neighbor as we love ourselves is a pretty demanding commandment. I mean we quite naturally take care of ourselves from birth. How many babies decide they’ll wait for breakfast until morning so their mom can get a good night of sleep? None! They are hungry, so they want to be fed.

Even the Yale baby studies reported on 60 Minutes some five years ago, admit to our natural love for us over others:

The youngest kids in the study will routinely choose to get fewer prizes for themselves just to get more than the other kid.

In other words, the Old Commandment was an admonition to bring others up to our status, to love them with the same kind of care that we provide for ourselves. Do we want to be first in line? Then we should also want our neighbor to be first in line. But what if there’s only one line, and we both need to be in it?

That’s where the New Commandment comes in: Jesus said we are to love other believers, not the way we love ourselves, but the way HE loves them. That would of necessity be self-sacrificially. In other words, I am willing to give up my place at the head of the line so that you can be first.

Well, that’s a bit shocking. But Jesus went on to say that this kind of sacrifice-love will set us apart from others, so much so that when this kind of sacrifice-love is observed, people will know: Yep, they are Christians.

One more cool thing from the message. In Colossians 3 Paul listed things Christians should “put on.” Seven of them:

put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other (vv 12b-13a)

Then Paul adds one more:

Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (v 14)

The ESV says it this way

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

That word for “binds” or “bond” also refers to ligaments. You know, the things that hold our bones together. So Pastor Jeff gave the illustration of a professional athlete who does these amazing things with his body—until he injures his ACL. Even the smallest tear in that ligament can shut down the athlete.

So Paul was saying that all the things the Christian should “wear” in his new life in Christ, is held in place by love. Kindness and humility and gentleness and forgiveness—all of it. Love holds them all together, helps them move in concert, as the ACL helps the parts of a knee function together.

And it is this love that will make Christians exhibit the New Commandment love Jesus was talking about.

One more vital thing. This kind of love doesn’t come from trying harder. It comes from the Holy Spirit. We need to allow Him to empower us, fill us, guide us. So if we want to love like Jesus told us to, we can’t accomplish that by deciding to do better. It actually comes from intentionally entering into a closer relationship with God. The more we know His heart, the less we will want to go our own way. Why should we hold a grudge against someone Jesus Christ loves so much He laid down His life to save him?

Christ died for him, but I’m going to remain angry because he was late and didn’t call? And is always late and never calls. As James says, “The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (1:20)”

It seems unjust. He’s getting away with being a jerk! And all I’m supposed to do is love him?

Yes, love him, which means you are willing to confront someone if they need to learn ways to relate to others that would glorify God. Confronting people is uncomfortable. Loving people is complicated. It’s not all smiles and flowers. A lot of times it’s forgiving people while they’re yet sinners.

But that’s the New Commandment, the one that will let others know we are Christians.

Published in: on September 5, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What’s The Take-Home


Writers of non-fiction generally are advised to answer the question, What’s the take-home value of your article or book? Behind this question is the belief that readers come to non-fiction to gain something—knowledge, insight, inspiration, instruction.

The fact is, the question fits Western culture. Generally speaking, we are a people asking, What’s in it for me? What can I get out of it?

Interestingly, John F. Kennedy moved a generation when he turned the question on its head: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” That may have been the last time any leader has challenged those of us in western society to altruistic behavior.

Most appeals come with a list of benefits: do this because you will gain x, y, and z.

No wonder, then, that this mindset has spilled into the Church. Come to Jesus, the appeal goes, and receive health and wealth. Or come to Jesus and your marital problems will be answered or your addictions will vanish or your fears will dissolve.

The truth is, God is a benefit-giving God. Throughout the Bible, He laid down choices—do this and you’ll be blessed, but do that and you’ll suffer the consequences of your sin.

The problem is, too many of us are missing the grand prize for coming to Jesus: Jesus. We’re like the man in the parable who found a treasure, then went and sold all he had so he could buy the field where it was hidden.

Except, once we have the field, instead of claiming the treasure, we’re busy collecting rocks. The rocks might be good and helpful, but they aren’t the treasure. They aren’t the reason we took up our cross.

Obeying Jesus and following Him does so often bring peace and joy; His ways are right and good. But those aren’t the Christian’s “take-home.” Jesus is. Peter, in a line that reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, said

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. (1 Peter 3:13-14a – emphasis mine)

Hundreds of years earlier, Daniel’s three friends were faced with death if they didn’t worship an idol. They responded by saying

“If it be so [that we are sentenced to die], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Dan. 3:17-18; emphasis mine)

He will, He is able, but even if He doesn’t, He’s still God. And in they went, only to find Jesus, the pre-incarnate Christ, there in the furnace with them. Their reward wasn’t status or protection or even deliverance from the furnace, though they eventually had those things too. But while they did not have them, they still had their relationship with God.

He is the treasure. Worshiping Him, enjoying fellowship with Him, walking with Him day by day—those are the delights that are ours no matter what our circumstances.

Paul said the same thing (in more words) in Colossians:

attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself (2:2b).

Christ Himself—the treasure, the reward, the take-home value of the Christian life.

This article is an edited version of one that first appeared here in September, 2012.

Published in: on August 27, 2018 at 5:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Christ Died for … ?


When I was young, I thought it was clear who Jesus Christ died for. In fact, most of my adult life, it never crossed my mind that this was a controversial subject. Rather, it was fact … that some believed and others did not.

But the world of the internet has put me in touch with lots more people, and suddenly the things I thought were clear, plain, easily understood from Scripture, I now realize don’t appear the same to everyone. Some professing Christians believe one thing and others believe a quite different thing, all based on the Bible. 😕

When it comes to some topics, I don’t think it’s all that surprising that Christians hold differing positions, simply because the Bible isn’t all that clear. End times comes to mind as a topic that can stir debate. Some have studied prophesies in the Old and New Testaments and believe they can create a time line, with the only missing piece the actual date of Christ’s return to rapture His church. Others don’t even think there will be a rapture. And among those who do, there is disagreement as to whether this will occur before, during, or after the Great Tribulation.

And so it goes. Other topics that generate similar disagreements are creation, the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit, church government, baptism … on and on.

But to the question at hand, Who did Christ die for? Isn’t that sort of … the foundation of what it means to be a Christian? So how can there be debate about this question? But there is.

Here are the positions I’m aware of (doesn’t mean there aren’t more):
1. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that no one will go to Hell (the view espoused by The Shack and Rob Bell’s Love Wins and the like).

2. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that Man’s sin nature has been forgiven, but he will be judged for the specific sins he commits. The sins of believers are covered by the blood of Christ, and the sins of unbelievers bring judgment upon them.

3. Christ died for the elect, those He predestined to be His from the foundations of the world.

4. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him appropriate forgiveness.

5. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him, chosen from the foundations of the world, appropriate forgiveness.

The latter is my view, and the more I study Scripture, the more I believe it to be true. This position, as I see it, takes into account all of Scripture, not just a handful of proof texts. But I did come across a verse, one of a number, that shows this tension between God’s work—through His predestination and redemption—and Man’s faith.

I’m referring to a verse in I Peter 2, in which the writer declares Jesus Christ to be the cornerstone, who also is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and then says “for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed” (v 8b). There it is, in one verse: men’s response to God (in this case, rejection of Him) and God’s appointment of men to their destination. The conjunction and gives the two equal weight.

Philippians 3 has a verse like this, but from the side of faith. “Not that I have already obtained [resurrection life] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (v12).

Again, both sides. God lays hold of us and we lay hold of Him.

Too many people want to make salvation a chicken-or-egg discussion (which came first, God’s foreknowledge or God’s predestination? God’s sovereign decision or Man’s free choice). Does a person have faith because he’s predestined or did God predestine those He knew would have faith?

Those are unanswerable questions, though people seem quick to pull out Scriptures to support their view. The fact is, the Bible clearly says God foreknew. And it just as clearly says He predestined. So can we know which He did first? Many will look at Romans 8:29 (“for those He foreknew, He also predestined …”), and conclude, Yes, foreknowledge first. But those from the predestination camp can just as easily point to election verses.

Which is why I say the entire Bible needs to be taken en toto which teaches both God’s sovereignty and humankind’s unfettered responsibility to choose Him.

In the end, I think only the first view in this debate skews God’s nature and distorts His work (and therefore is false teaching). Views 2 through 4 are reasonable and could be true. They do not alter a Biblical view of God. However, as I see it, the last position best accounts for the varied statements throughout Scripture as well as passages like I Peter 2 and Philippians 3. When the Bible seems to say two different things, it’s wise to accept them both. Just because we don’t see how they mesh, does not mean they don’t. After all, God’s thoughts and ways are not limited like ours are.

This article is an updated and expanded version of one that appeared here in August 2009.

The Attractive And The Spectacular


Here in Southern California we have a lot of flowering trees, shrubs, and vines. Honestly, I don’t know the names of all of them. I grew up with a bush called oleander and learned that it’s leaves were poisonous. We also had a bougainvillea vine and I learned that it had sharp, and long, thorns. Now I can recognize a variety of trees such as plumeria, crepe myrtle, magnolia, and jacaranda.

I have to admit, I get pretty spoiled because it seems all year long there is color blooming all around us. However, when I went to Hawaii . . . Well, I was shocked that there were so many MORE flowering trees and shrubs there. I’d known the beauty of Southern California, but the beauty of Hawaii was so much greater than I had imagined.

I’ve seen the same on a smaller scale lately. The crepe myrtle trees that are currently blooming are laden with flowers this year. They come in a variety of colors, but the most common are a reddish purple and a soft pink. On my daily walk there’s a cluster of four or five of those pink tress in full bloom. They always take my breath away.

Unless I’m driving along a street lined with trees covered with the vibrant reddish purple blossoms. Then, when an occasional tree sporting pink flowers pops up, it seems kind of washed out. A little plain.

The truth is, it’s easy to become enamored with what is attractive. To be satisfied. To think we have the best. Until we see the spectacular.

That’s the way I think Jesus is.

It’s easy to think humans are good, that we’re creative and intelligent and wonderfully made. Because we are. We even do amazingly wonderful things, sacrificial things at times. Kind things. Generous things.

But when we look to Jesus, we see the unblemished Lamb of God, the One who is blameless and pure. Who isn’t kind and generous some of the time, who doesn’t love until things get hard. He’s consistently kind and nothing can separate the believer from His love.

The point is, His splendor next to our attractive actually shows us who we are. We are precisely what the Bible describes—a marred image of our Creator. Marred. Whereas Jesus is spotless.

I suppose in our contemporary culture we have developed selective thinking, or maybe biased reasoning. It seems as if the secular mind only sees what is good in humankind, then 1) ignores what is ugly and 2) assumes nothing could be better.

So humankind is good and all the problems are a result of disease or society or (more common these days) religion. Never man or woman. No, this person or that caused a fatal car accident because he has the disease of alcohol. This other person abused and killed her children because she was caught up in a religion. And the guys who shoot kids in schools? They would apparently never harm anyone if we didn’t have such easy access to guns.

Please understand, I’m not saying that there is no truth in these ideas. But what is missing is the fact that humans sin. We sin against one another, and, more egregiously, against God.

Not Jesus. When we stack up our very best and measure it against the perfect Son of God, we don’t show as well. We need to keep our gaze fixed on Him so that we can see ourselves as we actually are. And so we can see Him in all of His glory.

Published in: on August 20, 2018 at 5:29 pm  Comments (2)  
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Doubt And Uncertainty


More and more I’ve encountered people who elevate uncertainty and doubt to the level of virtue—at least when it comes to God. I suspect those same people don’t want any uncertainty or doubt when it comes to the planes they fly in. They want assurance that they have a fully trained pilot and crew, that the vehicle has been properly maintained and inspected. Doubt and uncertainty about the plane aren’t virtues. They are red flags.

The same is true about the money in their bank account. When they deposit funds, they want to know with certainty money will be available to them when they write checks or make withdrawals.

Or how about doctors? Not many people stand out on the street with a sign: “Doctor wanted, anyone willing to try will be hired.” Quite the opposite. When it comes to medical care, we want some assurance—doctors who have attended medical school, for instance–because we want doctors who oversee our treatment to know what they’re doing.

Few people are up to the task of building their own homes. They know they don’t have the expertise in electricity, plumbing, and basic architecture. When it comes to a house, they want something they have reasonable assurance will not collapse, or leak, or blow up—and that isn’t going to be a structure of their own concoction.

So why is it we are willing to accept the murky, the questionable, the uncertain, or the self-made when it comes to spiritual things? I can think of three possible reasons.

  • 1. People who embrace uncertainty don’t believe certainty exists.
  • 2. People who embrace uncertainty don’t believe certainty matters.
  • 3. People who embrace uncertainty believe there’s freedom in it.

Undoubtedly some people who find virtue in doubting and questioning when it comes to spiritual matters, do so with the idea that they are being intellectually honest, not uncertain. After all, are we really supposed to take the word of some musty book written thousands of years ago?

The thing is, true intellectual honesty will dive into that “musty book” and study it to see if there’s truth within its pages.

Once I read a comment online that gave this advice: question everything, “and I mean everything. Make a note of your question and Google each and every one. Read Richard Carrier and the early works by Bart Ehrman, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, Jerry Coyne, Neil Shubin.”

I find that pronouncement to be odd. Why would someone who wanted to know about democracy dig into Hitler’s writing or Stalin’s philosophy or look at China’s Cultural Revolution? I mean, I suppose a person could come to the idea of democracy by rejecting opposing systems, but wouldn’t it make more sense to study the thinkers and writers who played a part in establishing democratic societies, and beyond that, the actual tenets of democracy itself?

Intellectual honesty will also embrace the possibility of finding answers. Doubt and questioning won’t be virtues for someone who is honestly looking for answers. Why would you look for what you don’t believe you’ll find?

A second group embraces uncertainty because they don’t believe certainty matters. These people, I suspect, haven’t thought deeply. They don’t want to think about what happens to a person when they die or whether or not people have souls. They would rather feel good.

They want pleasure, not pain, and thinking about death and dying is painful, or scary, at least. Thinking about God is scary, too, especially the idea that He can be a judge who ensures people receive just consequences for their actions. So, frankly, it’s easier not to think about God, and one way to dismiss Him is to say He can’t possibly be known. So why try?

Which dovetails to the third position. Some think there’s freedom in uncertainty. If I don’t know for sure that God is and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him, then I can fashion a god who will reward me for my doubts instead of for my belief, for my pursuit of my own pleasures instead of his glory. I can sound spiritual without having to deal with any unpleasant repentance business, without any “denying self” stuff.

So, yes, for some, uncertainty sounds like the preferred path when it comes to spiritual things. In the same way, some people “invested” their life savings with Bernie Madoff and his fraudulent Ponzi scheme. Others “bought” homes they couldn’t afford when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were greasing their credit wheels.

We can look back and say, why didn’t those people pay attention to what Madoff was doing with their money? Or why did those people not pay attention to the details of their loans? They could have known. They should have known.

And so should each one of us know with certainty what God has made apparent about spiritual things. He is not hiding. Quite the opposite.

He announced ahead of time, what He was doing. He painted pictures with the lives of any number of people—Joseph as a savior of his family during a time of famine, Moses as a redeemer leading an enslaved people to freedom, David as a king freeing his people from oppression.

In addition, God sent spokesmen to prepare people for what He had in mind. Throughout generations He announced His plan, and when His Son fulfilled His work at the cross, He broadcast the fact that God completed what He’d foretold. And now He has a people who once were not a people, all commissioned to be His ambassadors, repeating the announcement—God is; His Son Jesus shows Him; and by His death and resurrection, believers can know Him.

Doubt and uncertainty? Those are not virtues when it comes to choosing someone to baby-sit your children. Why would they be virtues when it comes to thinking about God?

This post is a revised and updated version of one that appeared here in October, 2013.

Christians Should Not Be Silent


African_sunsetWhen I say Christians should not be silent, I don’t mean Christians should complain more or rail against our culture more or even call out false teaching more. We do those things with some frequency. I’m one of those who does.

Some time ago, I was reminded that I’d much rather be known for what I believe rather than for what I oppose. In a discussion on another site, I made a comment that included these words: “Christ offers healing. He gives us grace. He made a way of escape from sin and guilt. His plan and work is Good News.”

However, I also pointed to things with which I disagreed, and consequently, the ensuing discussion, as far as concerned me, centered on my opposition (not on what I was opposing but on the fact that I was opposing). That taught me a lesson

I should talk more about Christ—the Way, the Truth, the Life—and how He came to show us the Father. I should talk about how Luke compiled his report for Theophilus “so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” I should talk about how John ended his book by saying, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

In essence, the issue at stake is the certainty or uncertainty with which we can know God. One perspective is that we cannot know with certainty and it is arrogant to say we do know with certainty. Somehow knowing is assumed to contradict faith. Never mind that the Bible defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

The assurance. The conviction. About what do I have assurance? These are the things I think Christians should chat up. We are too often silent about the things about which we have assurance. Why? Do we think everyone else already knows and believes the things about which we have assurance? Or the opposite? No one believes as we do. Neither position provides sufficient grounds for us to remain silent. The first is false and the second is the very reason we need to speak the truth in love.

So, what am I assured of? First, that God is.

I had occasion years ago to do some hiking in Colorado. One adventure was supposed to be a short mile hike to a small lake, but my hiking buddy and I both agreed when we arrive, it was far too short and there was too much day left, so we headed for the high country. At the end of our trail we stood on a glacier field looking up at rocky spires more glorious than any cathedral I’d visited. Over our heads was a canopy of blue, so rich and pure. Everywhere I looked, I saw God’s fingerprint.

I’ve seen His creative glory when I looked at the stars from Catalina Island or watched the sun sink below the western horizon of a Tanzanian sky as a full moon rose in the east. I’ve marveled at bull elephants protecting their herd and ostrich scampering across the grassland.

Who is God, but the LORD?
And who is our rock, except our God? (Ps. 18:31)

I know God is. I’ve seen His work.

I’ve also experienced His presence. His Spirit has taken up residence in my life. I am now one of those living stones Peter talks about:

You also as living stones are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).

I know God is. I’ve read His Word. The Bible is a lamp, a light, and what it illumines is God’s person, plan, and purpose. Where creation paints the general outline of God’s existence, the Bible fills in the details.

It shows through the narrative, from beginning to end, His love and power, His mercy and justice, His patience and faithfulness. He shows His redemptive purposes in His dealings with Israel. He shows His plan to rescue the condemned in His provision of the ram for Abraham to substitute for his son. He shows His patience when He rescued Jonah on his way as far from God as he could get. He shows His faithfulness in holding back a pride of lions from devouring Daniel when he refused to back off from his worship of God Most High.

The Bible is rich, so rich—filled with the greatness of the Author and Finisher of our faith.

I know God is. Jesus showed Him to His followers. He is the image of the invisible God. It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him. In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form. Look at Jesus, and you see God.

So yes, the first thing about which I have assurance is that God is!

This post is an edited and updated version of one that appeared her in October, 2013.

Published in: on August 15, 2018 at 5:34 pm  Comments (4)  
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