Revering God’s Name – A Reprise


Anne Elisabeth Stengl's rescue dogSome years ago I saw a Facebook ad: “Hit ‘Like’ if you love Jesus.”

Is it wrong or sinful or a bad testimony to join the over 9,000 people who hit “Like”? I’m not ready to go that far, but the first thing I thought when I saw that was, How cheap.

It’s like taking the most valuable human relationship you can imagine and saying, “Show how much you love your spouse or your kids by hitting ‘Like.’ ” Does hitting “Like” really show how much you love them?

It reminds me of an era gone by when there were bumper stickers saying, “Honk if you love Jesus.” Really? Honking or Liking shows you love Jesus?

Honk if you want that driver to wake up and realize the light turned green; honk if a dog is sitting in the road and won’t move, honk if another driver doesn’t see you and starts to swerve into you, but honk if you love Jesus?

Hit “Like” if your friend posts a cute picture of her new puppy, hit “Like” if a commenter says something you agree with, hit “Like” if someone cheers for your same sports team, but hit “Like” if you love Jesus?

These kinds of soundbite responses are typical of our culture, but I’m troubled when we reduce our relationship to our Savior and Lord to a one-second button push or, in the olden days, a tap on the horn.

I’m wondering if such a costless and near anonymous declaration isn’t also meaningless, and maybe worse. When we put Jesus on a par with the thousands of other things people can “Like” on Facebook, aren’t we actually demeaning Him?

Scripture says, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness of Deity to dwell in [Christ]” (Colossians 1:19). Yet we’re saying, treat Him the way you treat your favorite actress or singer or politician. Or your friend’s real estate business or restaurant or antique shop.

Clearly, not everyone treats God this way–because some never had any reverence for Him and others believe Him to be high and Holy and beyond a gimmicky “Like” button. Sadly, I don’t see the former group taking much notice of God because a group of people are hitting the “Like” button to say they love Jesus.

If we truly love Him, we’ll obey His commandments. That’s what He said. And His commandments were two-fold: love God and love your neighbor.

If we truly revere God and His name, we’d do an act of kindness for our neighbor–something significant that cost us in time or in money. We wouldn’t honk as we drove off for the day, shouting out the window, I just wanted you to know I love you. We wouldn’t flash a “Like” sign when we spotted them walking to their front door.

Those are cheap expressions that might make us feel warm and fuzzy for a few seconds, but they in no way lift up God’s name or show Him as the one we worship as Creator and King.

How can we expect a world in need of our Savior to give Him a second thought when we treat Him in such a cavalier, perfunctory way? How could anyone believe we have a genuine relationship with someone we treat with such disrespect? How can they believe He is God when we so clearly don’t treat Him as a person who is worthy of our highest praise, not our quick hit of the “Like” button.

David said in Psalm 18

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock
And exalted be the God of my salvation.

Declaring God’s greatness and His attributes and His work to rescue us, deliver us, enlarge our steps, and set us on our high places is far removed, in my view, from hitting the “Like” button.

Of course we’re not all poets like King David was, but we can sing out the praises he wrote, and we can scratch out our own praises in our poor prose, we can certainly cry out our thanks to God in prayer.

And we can “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects” (Col. 1:10a).

Hitting the “Like” button . . . may we think better of God than that.

This post first appeared here in October 2013.

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Published in: on January 11, 2018 at 5:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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God Started It – Reprise


Nativity_Scenes004When I was growing up, my brother, sister, and I had . . . disagreements from time to time. We squabbled about silly things—whose turn it was to do the dishes, who got to sit in the front seat of the car (or if Mom and Dad said we all had to sit in the back, who got the window seats), what TV program to watch, who got the Sunday funnies first, who got to sit where at the dinner table—silly things.

Inevitably our disagreements would escalate, and Mom or Dad would intervene, scolding whoever had caught their attention. Just as sure was the response from whichever one of us was in the hot seat: But he started it! Or she. We were not the instigator. Ever. At least as we saw things.

In truth, there is one time when in fact that line is true. When it comes to our relating to God, He started it.

In the grandest scheme of things, of course, He started it because He started everything! But specifically in relating to Humankind after the first man and the first woman turned away from Him, He started it. And on a personal level, with me, He started it.

The grand scheme refers to the cosmos. God created. The specific dealing with humanity refers to God’s plan of salvation—sending His Son as the sacrifice to expiate our sins. The personal refers to His work to bring me to Himself.

At no time did I or anyone else initiate with God.

He started everything by making Man in His image, after His likeness. Like any child, Adam was helpless when it came to deciding what color hair he’d have or how tall he’d be or how smart he was. He didn’t decide to be like God, with a will and emotions, with the capacity to create and to communicate. It was God who wanted us to be like Him, and so He made us.

It was also God who loved the world, who determined to love us while we were yet sinners, who chose to express His love by His actions. He gave His Son, and His Son died that He might cancel out the certificate of debt we each owed.

And speaking of “each,” God chose me, called me, rescued me. It’s very personal—not some generic salvation, as if he tossed his net into the sea of humanity and scooped up the ones who couldn’t get away, so I was caught along with a myriad of others.

The point is, I wouldn’t be here, there wouldn’t be a Church of which I am a part, and I wouldn’t be His child if it weren’t for the fact that God started it. John said it plainly in his first letter: “We love Him, because He first loved us” (KJV, 1 John 4:19).

Paul spelled out God’s initiating activity more fully. First our condition:

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Eph. 2:1-3)

Pretty hopeless—if God didn’t enter the picture. There was no way for dead people to be made alive without a miracle. There’s no way for sons of disobedience to become righteous and holy, apart from God transforming our lives. There was no way for children of wrath to become children of peace and reconciliation except by the power of God to cause us to be born again.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Eph. 2:4-10, emphasis added)

Love is the fourth and final quality our church is emphasizing as part of the Advent season, and certainly love seems to be a part of Christmas. We are reminded of the love of our families—some traveling many miles in order to have a few days together with loved ones; most spend hundreds of dollars and precious hours shopping in order to give gifts to those we love.

We even include a “love” tradition—the hanging of mistletoe—as part of our Christmas celebration. And the holidays aren’t complete without at least one Christmas romantic comedy or classic story with romance.

Then when we look at the events of that first Christmas, we’re aware of Mary’s love for her newborn child, of Joseph’s love for his little family, of the wisemen’s love and devotion that took them far from home to worship the king.

But none of it would have happened if God hadn’t started it. He formulated the plan before the foundations of the earth, Peter said:

you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18b-20)

And Paul verifies the plan:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:4-6).

There was no salvation until the kindness of God and His love for mankind appeared. There were no deeds we could do to earn a righteous standing with God. The great change from dead men walking to alive in Christ came because God started it. And He did so as an expression of His great love.

This post first appeared here in December 2014.

Published in: on December 19, 2017 at 4:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Trappings Of Christmas


I love Christmas decorations. I love the lights in particular, but I love wreaths and mistletoe, presents under decorated trees, bells, and candy canes, manger scenes, all of it. I even like Santa and his reindeer, the elves, too, and Frosty, to a lesser degree. I’m not sure how Snoopy has insinuated himself into Christmas, but he has. I don’t hate him there. Or the Grinch.

What I’m not so crazy about is the need some people seem to have to find or create a Christian meaning behind every bit of tradition. The Christmas tree, for instance, can remind us of a cross because it’s made of wood, and because the cross provides life, which the evergreen tree suggests. Couldn’t it just be a pretty tree decorated with lights and ornaments?

The funny thing is, I love symbols. I love them. So when Jesus said He is the Light of the world, I think the metaphor speaks volumes. When He said He’s the door to the sheepfold or the Good Shepherd or Living Water or the Vine, the Bridegroom, even the Temple, I think there’s so much to discover and to think about with each comparison, I never tire studying them.

And of course I love fantasy, which is pretty much one gigantic symbol of the inner workings of the human heart.

So what’s my problem with the Christian explanation of the Christmas traditions?

Well, I said it, didn’t I. I have a problem with the “explanations.” If a symbol works, it doesn’t really need to be explained. It stands on its own. But if someone explains a symbol, it reduces it somehow. It becomes a thing more than a concept, an idea, an event.

At the same time things are occasionally just those things. Not every frog is a prince. Sometimes a frog is just a frog. And sometimes a bit of holly garland is just a nice decoration to liven up a room, to add a bit of festive.

But maybe that’s just me. I personally like the fun things of Christmas—the stuff that makes little kids squeal with delight. I remember trying to memorize ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas when I was a kid. I remember wanting and wishing and hoping for snow. I remember the year someone gave us an Advent calendar and we got to open one of the little windows each day in December. I remember trying to stay up until midnight to see if Santa Claus would really show up and drink the milk and eat the graham crackers we left for him. I remember hanging stockings and waking up as early as I could to come into the living room Christmas morning.

These were fun things. And anticipating the fun the other 364 days only enhanced the joy. Every time a Christmas song came on the radio, the anticipation ramped up.

I’m pretty sure that if I were still a kid, all the same fun and anticipation and joy would be there as part of Christmas.

But now, as an adult, I have a deeper joy, a greater anticipation, not of Christmas morning, but of Christ. I know now what Christmas means. Not because someone has explained the red and white stripes of the candy cane or taken away all the Santa things that “compete with Jesus.”

I don’t worship Santa. I know he’s pretend. I know that Christmas Day came into being as a way to counter pagan celebrations. I realize no one knows the actual date of Christ’s birth.

But so what?

So what that we have fun on Christmas and so what that we celebrate Jesus’s birthday without knowing when it really occurred?

The important thing at Christmas, as far as I’m concerned, is this: God gave us His Son and made a miraculous announcement of his birth to a group of lowly angels. Before they even saw the sign which the angels told them would verify this Child’s birth, they said, Let’s go see this thing that’s happened. They didn’t need any more explanation. They only needed to believe the announcement: For today there has been born for you in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

That’s the story of Christmas, right there.

The fun things, are just fun, and we can take or leave them. But shepherds saying yes to God’s message, that’s the symbol that ought not be explained, that means what it means and more. That is filled with a wealth of truth that we can study all our lifetime and never reach an end to the richness of what occurred.

Published in: on December 12, 2017 at 5:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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More About Jesus


Nativity_Scenes015As I’ve said, at Christmas time it’s appropriate to ask who Jesus is since the day set aside to commemorate His birth has become such a big deal.

Some undoubtedly don’t think past the manger scene. To them Jesus was, is, and always will be that infant wrapped up and lying amid a bunch of animals. The thing is, the baby didn’t stay in the manger any more than the man stayed on the cross or the resurrected Christ stayed in the tomb.

Others have re-imaged Jesus to be a good teacher. Sort of a Hebrew Gandhi, I think, one of the gurus who gave us quotables and an example to follow. This view is similar to the one held by a certain rich member of the Jewish ruling class who sought Jesus out.

In his exchange with Jesus, the young guy addressed Him as “good teacher.” In Jesus’s response, He separated Himself from all other teachers or examples. It defines who He is: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.”

The young ruler immediately dropped the “good.”

Quite apparently he did not think Jesus was God. Otherwise he might have answered something like, “I understand completely that no one is good except God alone. Good teacher, what must I do to be saved?”

Instead he said, “Teacher, I have kept all these things [the Law] from my youth up.” In other words, he did not acknowledge Jesus as God. In addition, he did not acknowledge his need. I’m not sure what he expected … an “atta boy,” maybe, a “keep on keeping on.” I don’t know.

In so many ways that Jewish law-keeper is like people today who identify with Jesus but who don’t realize He is God. Some have “re-imaged” him, describing all the things he did and said that fit in with 21st century sensibilities of love and brotherhood and tolerance.

What they do not look at or acknowledge are the “God things” Jesus did and said. And here I’m not referring to the many kind and seemingly miraculous interventions Christians experience today. (A good number of people have come to call such occurrences, “God things.”)

I’m actually thinking of something quite different. I’m thinking of the things Jesus said that ticked off the Jewish establishment. The things He did that made them ask, Who does he think he is?

Things like healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, or telling the paralytic his sins were forgiven, then to pick up his bed and walk–also on the Sabbath. Or how about the time when His disciples picked grain on the Sabbath because they were hungry. When the Pharisees confronted Jesus, He gave them a Bible lesson, ending with this:

“Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matt 12:5-8; emphasis is mine)

The big one that got the Jews worked up, of course, was His God claims. John records one of these:

“I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” (John 10:30-33)

Then, too, they didn’t like it much when He told them that they were of their father the devil. In that conversation, Jesus ended with another statement identifying Himself as God, and sure enough, they tried to kill Him on the spot.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:58-59)

I don’t know how people today who imagine this metro-sexual Jesus with the cool sandals and trendy long hair have missed the controversy the real Jesus brought. To His family. To the Jewish people. To the world.

He said there will be a day of sorting–sheep on one side, goats on the other. He said there is a narrow road leading to life and a wide road heading to destruction. He said guests at the bridegroom’s feast will be turned away if they’re not wearing the proper wedding garments.

And in the end, He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” That’s who Jesus is.

A version of this article originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction December, 2010, then again December, 2013.

Published in: on December 4, 2017 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Name Above All Names – Reprise


christmas-star-1430243-mIt’s Christmas season, and I want to take some time to think about the person at the center of it all. Of course I can hardly think of Christmas without thinking of Christmas music. One song, not particularly known as a Christmas carol, came to mind immediately:

Jesus, name above all names
Beautiful Savior, glorious Lord.
Emmanuel, God is with us.
Blessed Redeemer, Living word.

But then the question: Why is Jesus’s name above all names?

The quick and easy answer is that Jesus is above all others—both in the heavens and on earth. This, of course, is true. But what precisely does “above all others” mean?

Clearly Jesus is not “#1” the way sports teams are or hit songs or bestselling books or box office hits. MVPs or highest grossing movies are at the top only until another MVP is chosen or another movie earns more money. Their rating is tenuous at best.

There’s nothing tenuous about Jesus being the name above all names. His position at the top is for all time. He will not be supplanted by another, by someone greater who will take away His title. His greatness is permanent.

Another thing that puts Jesus’s name above all other names is that at the name of our soon and coming King, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord (Phil. 2:10). Those in the heavens and on earth and under the earth will recognize His authority, even those who have denied Him, hated Him, or rebelled against Him in the past. That’s not to say they will change their tune and embrace Him with love and acceptance, but they will not be able to ignore His place as ruler of all. So He holds a role that sets Him above all others.

Thirdly, He cares like no other. Some might die to save a friend or risk their life to save a stranger, but Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, while we were walking away from Him, even while we were spitting in His face. He, the just, died so that He might bring the unjust to God (1 Peter 3:18).

This relationship Jesus makes possible brings up another way in which He is above all others: Jesus forgives. All other gods or world systems are built upon Humankind’s striving to do good, to be better. Only Jesus takes us as we are. We don’t need to clean up for Him. He’ll take care of the clean-up in time, just as He takes care of the welcome as we run into His open arms (Col. 2:6). It is by Jesus’s grace, not my efforts, that I am His child (Eph. 2:8-9).

“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy” (Titus 3:4-5a).

Jesus is also like no other because He is God, come down, and He is Man, resurrected and ascended. He is not a hybrid but is a miraculous one-of-a-kind.

Which reminds me. Some claim Jesus is the first of His “spirit brothers,” as if He is just like us, only better. There’s some truth to this idea, but a lot of untruth. Jesus is eternal. He didn’t have a beginning. He’s not created. He is the Creator because uniquely He and His Father and the Holy Spirit are One. Not simply one in purpose or some spiritualized meaning. God is One, not three. He is a Tri-unity. Jesus is a Person of this Triune God. Not “part” of God. There is no “part.” Jesus is God. The exact representation, Deity in bodily form.

Some also use Jesus’s name as if it were magic. They want to speak His name and get whatever they want just as surely as if they’d waved a magic wand or made the thing appear with some incantation. It’s a travesty at best. The idea of reducing Jesus to wait staff is despicable as well as misguided.

Jesus loves to give good gifts to His children. James tells us that all good gifts are from above (1:17). And Jesus has told us to ask whatever we will, in His name. But that doesn’t mean He is therefore forced to give us whatever we decide we want.

Like any good father would, He will not hand us something dangerous—spiritually dangerous—just because we ask. He disciplines us and sometimes ignores our requests because, as James explains, we ask with wrong motives (4:3).

One last point. Jesus is above all others because He has triumphed over the grave, and over sin which brought death into being. No other person or god or world system can offer us newness of life. Newness. Not the reincarnationist’s belief in a recycling of life here on this dying planet. Not some spirit existence in the great Other in which we lose our personhood.

Jesus has conquered and will conquer, and in doing so, He has made us new creatures. He sees us as righteous and will clothe us with His righteousness. He is preparing a place for us and will raise us up in newness of life to live with Him there. Not to live and die once again. To live.

His promises are unique and sure—because He’s gone before to show us how it’s done.

Jesus, name above all names, because the baby who bore that name is in fact the Person who is above all others.

Apart from some revision, this article first appeared here in December 2013.

God In The Flesh


Why does it matter that God came down to earth in the form of Man? That event, after all, is what Christmas celebrates. But why the big deal? Was it really necessary? I mean, couldn’t God forgive sins without coming to earth in bodily form?

These kinds of questions are a little mind-boggling because we are presuming to know why God did what He did. But here are a few things that Scripture tells us.

First, Jesus made it clear that anyone who had seen Him had seen the Father. In other words, by coming to earth, Jesus answered, for all time, the question of whether or not God existed. Not that people were atheists all those years ago. They weren’t. But God knew what the mind of twenty-first century humans would be dealing with, so He answered the question before anyone posited it.

Jesus also came in the flesh to teach. That’s what He told His disciples. Yes, He healed the sick, but they would get sick another day. Yes, He fed the hungry, but their hunger would return. Yes, He raised more than one dead person, but alas, they would face death again some day. While Jesus used His time on earth to do these other awesome things, He plainly told those who hung with Him that His mission was to preach.

He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” (Mark 1:38)

What exactly did He preach? I think it can be summed up in His answer to the question, What is the greatest command? Love God, He said. And the next command is like it: love your neighbor.

Jesus used a lot of stories to illustrate what He was saying—a landowner and his servants, a woman and a lost coin, a father and his two sons, a man left for dead by a bunch of robbers, an unjust judge, and on and on. Each of these in some way were illustrations of His two-pronged message. What did it look like to love God, or the opposite? What did it look like to love your neighbor, or not?

But Jesus didn’t merely teach. He also lived a pure and holy and sinless life. He did what no man had done before. He resisted temptation. He said no to Satan, to the world system, to desires of the flesh that would take Him into sin. His greatest temptation, of course, was to use His power to save Himself at the cross instead of saving sinners. But this too He resisted.

And of course that’s the ultimate reason Jesus came in the form of Man. He came to save the lost. He came to be the offering that would bring an end to the need for offerings. He came to condemn sin and to be the means by which we can sit at the heavenly banqueting table.

I can imagine Jesus as the honored guest and those of us who follow Him arriving for the great party. Do you have an invitation? we’ll be asked. Don’t need one. Jesus invited me personally. I’m with Him.

In short, Jesus came to be the mediator which makes friendship with God possible. Without Jesus, what are we left with? Idols. Atheism. Humanism. Nothing of substance. Nothing eternal. But because Jesus came we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.

Published in: on November 30, 2017 at 5:52 pm  Comments (14)  
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The Constancy Of Christ


Of all the things we talk about at Christmas, my guess is that the constancy of God is not high on the list. But maybe it should be.

First, what do I mean by “constancy”? Nothing tricky. I’m not trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat here. I mean just what the good ol’ Oxford American Dictionary has to say about the word: “the quality of being faithful and dependable.
• the quality of being enduring and unchanging”

Second, we need to understand who we’re talking about. “Christ” is another word for “Messiah,” the one promised by God. And in fact, Jesus and His followers identified Him as the Christ. But more than that, they proclaimed Him to be the Son of God. And more. They stated that He “existed in the form of God,” that in Him “all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form,” that He “is the head over all rule and authority.”

We could write it like this: Messiah=Christ=Jesus=Son of God=God. Consequently, in declaring the constancy of Christ, it’s really another way of saying the constancy of God.

God, though a triune being, is One in purpose, One in essence, One in nature. In other words, we can’t divide God and say, well, the Father is like xyz but the Son is like abc. No. Jesus Himself stipulated, if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.

There are several reasons why the constancy of Christ matters. First, some “progressive Christians” and atheists claim that the God of the Old Testament was all kinds of evil things: misogynist, genocidal, selfish, and more. But Jesus, they say, was better. The supposed Christians imagine that God learned from His mistakes, or that the writers of the Old Testament got it wrong, or some other inane explanation. Because, you see, they like Jesus; they just can’t stomach His Father.

Enter the constancy of Christ.

“Jesus is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). What God reveals about Himself in the Old Testament is true about Jesus and what Jesus said about Himself in the New Testament is true about the Father. There is no “good cop, bad cop” here.

Here’s the important point: Jesus self-identifies in John 10 as “the good shepherd.” Good. He doesn’t do evil. In fact, James says, “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (1:13b) and, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (1:17).

In other words, God is all about good. He’s also holy and pure, spotless and unblemished. All that adds up to the fact that God isn’t anything like the description put out by those who oppose Him or who criticize Him.

The problem largely stems from God’s authority and His sovereignty and His omniscience. These are traits His opponents don’t recognize. Instead, they want to be the ones in charge, and they want to depend on their own finite knowledge. Consequently, they want to judge God. They want to determine that the people who died in the flood, for instance, were innocent, and not the guilty, wayward, wicked people the Bible describes.

More than that, they want to deny the fact that “the wages of sin is death” and that “there is none righteous, no not one.” This is somehow a horrible thing to tell people, even though the nightly news confers the truth of it, and as yet no one in modern times has escaped death.

Ironically I had a crisis of doubt in my life when I was in my 30s or so, and it centered on the goodness of God. I looked around at the things that were going on in the world, in the lives of people close to me, and I asked, right out loud, “Are you good, God? Are you really good?”

All this came to a head when I drove past a convalescent hospital where an old woman sat on the sidewalk out front, alone in a wheelchair.

God didn’t tell me that of course He was good, how could I ask such a thing. He didn’t bring Scripture to mind that told me He was good. Instead, He spoke into my spirit: “You think you’re sad about these hurting people? I know each one by name.”

In other words, because God is good, the evil and pain and suffering of this world grieves His heart. Sin did this, not God. Sin made a mess of the world, not God. Sin brings retribution down on those who run from God.

And that’s precisely what we can see in Jesus:

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 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.

Jesus didn’t bring judgment because that was already in place—the wages of sin didn’t start when Jesus showed up. It’s right there in the genealogy of Genesis 5:

So . . . Adam lived . . ., and he died. Seth lived . . ., and he died. Enosh lived . . ., and he died. Kenan lived . . ., and he died. Mahalalel lived . . ., and he died. Jared lived . . ., and he died.

On it goes with the exception of Enoch, demonstrating the truth about sin. It leads to death.

But Jesus came to set us free from the “slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” He did this because He is good, He is love, He is merciful, He is compassionate, He is kind.

“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us.”

And here’s the startling fact: salvation was something God planned before the foundation of the world.

So, no, He hasn’t changed. And Jesus isn’t a different iteration of the Father. In fact, we can count on the constancy of Christ.

Published in: on November 29, 2017 at 6:08 pm  Comments (19)  
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Faith And The Rock


I am mystified when people who don’t believe in God refer to Christians as people who don’t think. Their argument seems to be, Since God is invisible, you are only imagining anything spiritual or supernatural. You have no proof—by which they mean, scientific evidence—so you simply believe a lie or a myth or something in your imagination.

It doesn’t matter how many times a clear demonstration is offered that “belief” is not blind, those opposed to God insist it is. And yet the Bible says just the opposite.

As one illustration of what the Bible says about faith (I couldn’t possibly enumerate every instance in which we learn more about faith—there are too many), Jesus told a story about a wise man who built his house upon the rock. When the wind and rain buffeted the house, it stood firm. However, another man, a foolish man, built his house upon the sand. The winds came and the rain, and the house fell.

Jesus had prefaced the story by saying that the wise man was the one who heard His words and acted on them. In contrast, everyone who hear His words and doesn’t act on them is like the foolish man.

The point is simple, “belief in Jesus,” the faith that undergirds a Christian, is reliant upon God’s word.

Oh sure, some false teachers have invented “other gospels” and some have twisted Scripture to say what it does not say, but in the end, the one who takes God at His word is building his house on the rock.

Romans spells out what God’s word is which leads to salvation:

the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (10:8b-9)

Pretty simple really. Jesus is Lord, Jesus rose from the dead.

Of course how can we KNOW those things? Romans gives us that piece of information, too.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”

However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (10:14-17; emphasis mine)

Clearly faith is not dreaming up something and hoping, hoping, hoping that it will come true. I could do that. I could imagine a billionaire philanthropist who wants to give away his millions, and he pulls my name out of the hat. He’ll come tomorrow with a check that will make me rich beyond my wildest dreams. Now that is pie-in-the-sky imagination.

Believing in God is nothing like that. To begin with, I don’t tell Him what He’s like. He tells me. I listen, is all. “Faith comes from hearing.”

Another important aspect of faith comes from Hebrews 11—“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (v. 1). Assurance, not guess work; conviction, not irresolution or doubt.

How can a person possibly be sure of what you hope for?

Well, the assurance comes completely from the One in whom you put your trust.

For instance, if I want to know about basketball, I need to listen to someone who knows the sport, someone who has played the sport. I would not ask someone to explain the game whose credentials say he’s seen a game once, played between two elementary teams. “But I know baseball,” he adds. “I was a minor league pitcher for five years. So I can tell you want ever you want to know about basketball.”

Uh, sorry, but basketball and baseball are two different sports. If I want to know basketball, I have to talk to someone who is informed, who knows the game, who can answer my questions. Because I will have questions, undoubtedly. So I need someone to help me who I trust.

Faith is nothing more than taking someone at his word. And for the Christian, that someone is Jesus Christ.

Atheists take scientists at their word all the time. They do not observe space phenomena or record data or run experiences that lead them to believe in a big bang theory of the origin of the universe. Instead, they let someone else study and form opinions and postulate hypotheses, and they simply put their trust in what these individuals conclude.

Here’s the thing that is difficult for me to understand. These scientists, with their list of qualifications and all, admit they are fallible. Atheists admit that science has been wrong and is bound to be wrong again. But regardless, they trust the process, the results (which will be wrong in some unknowable way).

God, on the other hand, is infallible. He isn’t wrong about what He says. And yet His word is suspect and unreliable and can’t be trusted—because it requires faith.

That would be the assurance of things hoped for. The assurance. Why can there be assurance in an unsure world? Only if Someone trustworthy, reliable gives you His word. You know, a word that is rock solid.

Published in: on November 13, 2017 at 6:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Jesus And Suffering


I’ve been thinking a lot about suffering of late because, as I mention earlier this week, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Joni Eareckson Tada’s diving accident that left her paralyzed. And, “coincidentally” a friend lent me a book that Joni wrote twenty years ago on the subject of suffering.

I checked out the book on Amazon the other day when I wrote about it for this blog, and I was stunned to find a one-star review. Stunned, I tell you! I think of Joni as the quintessential expert on the subject of suffering. I mean, fifty years a quadriplegic, but on top of that a cancer survivor and now one ravaged by the pain of a body suffering from its own immobility.

So, yes, I think Joni knows what she’s talking about when she addresses the subject of suffering.

But even what she has endured pales in comparison to what Jesus experienced.

His whole life was a kind of suffering because He “emptied Himself” when He took the likeness of Man (see Phil. 2). Scholars debate the meaning of that phrase, but one thing we can be sure of—it ain’t positive. He wasn’t enriched by the experience, He wasn’t having a picnic, He wasn’t going on vacation. In some way, the incarnation cost Him. From the beginning.

People will sometimes reference Christ’s humble surroundings at birth—the feeding trough, the stable, with the presumed accompanying smells and sounds. But I think that’s kind of missing the point. God was now a baby boy. He did all the normal things that babies do. He likely spit up, maybe sucked His thumb, slept a lot.

This is God we’re talking about—the One who sustains the universe with a word. But now His words were baby sounds. Now those are humble beginnings. And a type of suffering we can’t know.

Things never got easier for Jesus. He went from insignificant to misunderstood, rejected, betrayed, and denied. Oh, and then He was crucified.

Jesus knew all about suffering. He’s the one who shows us how God can use suffering.

I think of the Christians in Syria who are persecuted for their faith, and to the surprise of many in the West, more and more people are coming to Christ. Would they have done so it their lives were easy?

Think about the start of Christianity. After that initial response to Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, suffering set in. Persecution. Martyrdom. Exile. And things only got worse. Certain Roman Caesars set out to eliminate Christians from their empire. Their ways of killing them were horrific and painful.

Did all that suffering stop the movement of God in the hearts of people? Not at all. In truth, those who had nothing, whose very lives hung in a balance spoke out boldly and pressed themselves to the Father’s side. The only comfort and joy and peace came from Jesus, not their circumstances. And they simply couldn’t be silent.

Joni Eareckson Tada reminds me of that. Her joy and peace and contentment have little to do with her physical life. Oh, sure, things could be worse than they are. I mean she could be homeless and without the necessities of life.

Oh, wait, there are Christians like that, too, and they still exhibit the joy of the Lord. How can that be? It’s not an issue of mind over matter or us pulling ourselves up by our own positive thinking. It’s actually all about the reality of Jesus Christ—His supremacy and His sweetness.

John Piper explains in this 8-minute video entitled “What Is the Secret of Joy in Suffering?”

So Who Is Jesus?


Recently someone commented on Facebook that the Jews, Muslims, and Christians all worship the same God.

It sounds true. After all, the Jewish Scriptures form the bases of the Old Testament, and Muslims believe that God gave his promise to Abraham—just through Ishmael, not through Isaac. They refer to God as Allah, which is the Arabic word for God, and he, they say, is the creator, the one who is to be worshiped.

But if Christians worship the same God as do Jews and Muslims, who is Jesus?

As Muslims say, there is no one worthy anywhere in the universe who is to be praised other than Allah. I think Jews would probably say the same about the God of their Scripture. But Christians can only say this with the understanding that Jesus Himself is God.

The conclusion some could draw is that Christians believe in multiple gods—at least three. But that’s not the case. Rather, Christians believe in the mystery of the Trinity that reveals God as three persons in One. No, God is not three separate individuals. He is One. No, God does not have subordinates working for Him.

Rather He Himself manifests as Father, Son, and Spirit. All three in unit of purpose, unit of existence, unit of character. God did not create Jesus and the Spirit. They are not separate entities. One of the mysteries of our transcendent God is that He is like no other. Nothing can really illustrate His triune nature.

I’ve heard a few examples. One is water, which manifests as ice, liquid, and steam. The analogy breaks down because water is never all three simultaneously.

Another comparison is with an egg—shell, yolk, white. The problem there is that each is part of the egg, not the whole of it. Someone following this line of thinking could assume that Jesus is part of God, but not actually God Himself.

A third analogy I’ve heard is popcorn, though I don’t remember how it all works. I can see the unpopped kernel and the popped kernel, but what was the third of the trinity?

There are others. An apple came up in an internet search, for example. The sun was another. But with each of these there is some sort of problem. The fact is, God is like nothing in the created order. Not really. He’s only understood a little better by looking at these items that have some similarities.

The truth is that Jesus is God, that the Father is God, that the Spirit is God. But there are not three Gods. There’s only one God and He reveals Himself as a Triune being—having three persons, though His nature is One, His essence is One.

So, Jesus.

Why do Christians believe such a difficult doctrine as the Trinity? Well, simply, the Bible presents this truth in many places and in many ways.

For example Jesus made some bold statements about His existence, such as “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30).

Or there was the discussion with His disciples when He said,

“Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9)

Then there are the times that He referred to Himself by the name which God used in His encounter with Moses: I AM.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”

By the way, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’s day understood very well that He was claiming to be God. That’s why they accused Him of blasphemy and why they tried to stone Him.

John began his gospel by stating clearly, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Of course another book of the Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning . . .” That would be Genesis, and in the beginning was God.

Other New Testament writers understood that Jesus is God and they proclaimed it clearly. Paul said, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9) and earlier he explained:

[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him

To another church, Paul wrote, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil 2:6, emphasis mine).

The writer to the Hebrews made a clear statement also:

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. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (emphasis mine)

All this to say, Jesus is not merely a prophet or a teacher or a healer. He did speak words of prophecy. He was a teacher. And, yes, He healed. But those were things that were actions He took, that stemmed from His personhood as God. They do not encompass Him.

Why am I making such a point about Jesus as God? Because only God qualifies as the Perfect Substitute to pay for the sins of those who believe on His name. No human being could accomplish what Jesus accomplished. No human is capable or qualifies. Only God.

And that’s who Jesus is.

Published in: on November 9, 2017 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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