Is Evil Winning?


ElizabethElliotSome time ago, I wrote a post at Spec Faith about evil as I believe J. R. R. Tolkien understood it. One point stood out as I wrote the article—the world of Middle Earth which Tolkien created was faced with defeat. If the protagonist of the story didn’t succeed in his task, no matter what the other characters did, evil would win.

In other words, their efforts were largely meaningless. They continued to fight evil, though they understood it to be hopeless, because it was the right thing to do, because they believed they should stay the course, because it was all they could do unless they gave in to despair.

On another blog I read a post about whether or not Christians should bother with changing the world. As the author probed the question, he received answers that can best be described as fatalistic.

There seemed to be two threads—one that said God would do what God would do no matter how we voted or prayed, and the other that evil was on a downward spiral, as prophesied in Scripture, and there was nothing we could do to stop it or change it.

I’m not happy with these fatalistic approaches. Yes, I believe God is sovereign and in control. Yes, I believe that God will turn Humankind over to the depravity of our heart and there will be a day of reckoning.

However, I also know the true story about a boy king reigning in the last century of Judah’s existence as a nation. He came to the throne when he was eight. When he was sixteen, he began to seek “the God of his father David.” When he was twenty, he began to get rid of the idols all over the country. At twenty-six, with the idols all torn down, he decided to repair the temple.

During that process, the high priest found a copy of the book of the Law. The young king, Josiah, read it and realized how great God’s wrath must be because of all the years and years Judah had wandered from Him. As a result, he led the nation in a revival. He made a covenant with God to follow Him and to keep His commandments. Consequently, during his lifetime “they did not turn from following the Lord God of their fathers) (2 Chron. 34:33b).

Nevertheless, twenty-two years, six months later, Judah fell to Babylon.

Was all that Josiah did for naught?

I don’t think his contemporaries would say so. They were free of idols and enjoyed the blessing God bestowed on their king because of his humble heart and his repentance.

What I learn from Josiah is that it’s never too late to repent. It’s never too late to turn from evil and do good. Will it change the course of the world? Maybe. Much depends on those who come after.

Martin Luther might be considered a priest who changed the course of the world because he, like Josiah, sought God and believed His written revelation.

Elizabeth Elliot might be considered a missionary who changed the course of a culture when she went back into the rain forest of Ecuador to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the people who murdered her husband.

But long-term change is not guaranteed. God determined to bring the long-delayed judgment on Judah after Josiah’s death despite his godly rule. His faithfulness couldn’t reverse the fortunes of his nation, only delay them. Perhaps his sons, if they had been godly would have changed the fortunes of the nation for another generation. But they went their own way and didn’t follow in the steps of their father.

Isn’t that the point, though? Isn’t each person responsible for how we are to live our lives, how we are to affect those around us, not what happens after we’re gone?

The way we are to influence future generations is by teaching and training the next generation—those younger than we who stand right in front of us. They in turn are to teach and train the next generation, and that generation, the one after them.

Is evil winning? Ultimately, of course not. Christ already defeated the enemy at the cross.

And evil will not win on the temporal level as long as Christians are living what we say we believe, then turning around and teaching the next generation to go and do likewise.

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut. 6:4-7, emphasis added)

This post first appeared here in October 2012.

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Listen To What I Do – Reprise



Ezekiel is currently my favorite prophet (until I forget that I picked him and find another one I like. 😉 )

I’m realizing he could be characterized as the Peter of the prophet core. In fact, God said He was sending him to a stony people because he was equally stony.

Then He said to me, “Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day (Ezekiel 2:3).

Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint I have made your forehead. Do not be afraid of them or be dismayed before them, though they are a rebellious house (Ezekiel 3:8-9).

So Ezekiel was hard-headed and probably on the rebellious side himself. He makes me think he was a bit like Moses, wanting to rush ahead of God and take things into his own hands. And that’s were I see the similarities with Peter, who stuck his foot in his mouth as often as he espoused the truth — until the Holy Spirit changed him inside out.

God changed Ezekiel, too, but from the outside in, it would seem because he needed God to rein in “the sharp stone.”

I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be mute and cannot be a man who rebukes them, for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you will say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house (Ezekiel 3:26-27).

Ezekiel did prophesy plenty, but as it turns out, he also acted out a lot of God’s message.

There was the “siege” of Jerusalem, for example. He set up a brick to represent the city, then built a siege wall, ramps, pitched camps, and set up battering rams against it. Lastly he put an iron plate between himself and the city and then he lay down on his side. For thirteen months — three hundred and ninety days — he laid siege to Jerusalem, a day for each year of Israel’s waywardness. Afterward, he flipped to his left side for forty more days, a day for each year of Judah’s rebellion.

Another time he enacted the people under siege trying to sneak out of the city. Under God’s direction, he packed his things, dug a hole under the wall, at night shouldered his baggage, and made as if he was trying to escape.

Then there was the hair object lesson. God told Ezekiel to shave off all his hair and beard. He was to weigh it and divide it into thirds. One third he burned in the fire; another third, he was to strike with a sword; and the final third he was to scatter to the winds. In the same way, God said, He would deal with His people.

The hardest object lesson, though, was when God told Ezekiel his wife would die and he was not to mourn for her. He was to “groan silently,” but not to make a public display of his grief, as a picture of how those in Jerusalem would deal with the dead as the time of the exile closed in.

What a cost it was to be a prophet. Hosea had to marry a prostitute. Jeremiah almost lost his life and ended up at the bottom of a pit for a time. But Ezekiel … now there was a prophet who lived out what he preached. Literally!

This post was first published here in April 2012.

Published in: on April 5, 2016 at 5:16 pm  Comments Off on Listen To What I Do – Reprise  
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The Key To Life


Christ as Lord 2The book of Jeremiah has a small verse toward the beginning that is the key to life. It either describes what is true of us or what was true of us but is not true anymore. It’s such a key verse that a counselor has made it the root of his teaching about our emotional health. But that’s for another day. The verse is Jeremiah 2:13.

For my people have forsaken Me the fountain of living water
To hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

I’ve been watching a YouTube video one of the atheists from the Facebook group posted. He’s explaining his journey from a teen who believed he was gong to become a pastor, to the atheist he is today. In the first part he describes how he was involved in church and how he was known at school as the Bible guy.

So what happened that brought such a radical change? The verse in Jeremiah explains. First there’s a point where people turning away from God forsake him. For some it comes sooner than later, but it manifests in a rejection of what God has said.

Next comes turning to our own resources which, like the broken cistern, can’t work.

Lot thought he could move from the fertile valley where he’d gone to live after separating from Abram, into the godless city of Sodom, and he did, but at a cost. Moses thought he could bring water from the rock by striking it instead of speaking to it, and water came, but at a cost. David thought he could hide from Saul by going over to the Philistines, and he did, but at a cost. Peter wanted to fight the soldiers who came to take Jesus and crucify Him, but he failed utterly.

Whenever man goes his own way, there’s either outright failure or great consequence later. Our schemes don’t work.

Eve wanted to be like God, ignoring the fact that God had actually made her in His likeness and had breathed life into her so that she became a living soul. She forsook Him, though, so she could go her own way and eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

What’s more, Adam followed her, knowing full well that God had said eating would result in death. He dug his own cistern presumably because he didn’t want to trust God to fix the problem Eve had created. He thought the only way for him to hold onto Eve was to do what she’d done.

At any rate, the schemes the two of them concocted did not work. They certainly didn’t become so very wise that they were like God—except, perhaps, in their own minds. That’s really the problem.

People who turn from God are basically saying they are wise enough in and of themselves to determine what’s right and wrong. The don’t what an authority telling them what to do, which is why some of them refer to God as a tyrant. In their minds, they are the top authority, and anyone who wants to boss them around has overstepped his bounds. He’s taking from them what they’ve determined is their right—to call the shots for their own lives.

Christians often talk about the throne of our lives and the struggle, an ongoing struggle, to let God sit in the place of authority where He, being sovereign, belongs. But those who forsake God have basically declared war on Him and have pushed Him off the throne and out of their lives. They have no struggle. They’ve decided they are in charge, and the only issue that comes up from time to time is how to make it work.

It won’t work. Not in the long run, and often not in the short run. But that’s not a fact you can argue people into believing. Most often people need to come to an end of themselves. They try and try and try and life is still falling apart, in one area or another. Many times in multiple areas.

That’s precisely what happened to Judah when Jeremiah was prophesying to them. God sent prophets and they ignored them. Then He sent adversity, but they went their own way. They thought God was the one letting them down, not rescuing them when trouble came. They didn’t understand that He wanted them to turn to Him and repent.

Here’s how God through Jeremiah described them:

“For all of them are adulterers,
An assembly of treacherous men.
They bend their tongue like their bow;
Lies and not truth prevail in the land;
For they proceed from evil to evil,
And they do not know Me,” declares the LORD (9:2-3).

A few verses later, God declares His intent to punish His people for their waywardness:

“I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins,
A haunt of jackals;
And I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant.”

Who is the wise man that may understand this? And who is he to whom the mouth of the LORD has spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land ruined, laid waste like a desert, so that no one passes through? The LORD said, “Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice nor walked according to it, but have walked after the stubbornness of their heart and after the Baals, as their fathers taught them” (vv 11-14).

What God wanted was for them to repent, turn back, and worship Him, but they weren’t willing. Nor are many today willing to give up going their own way. They don’t want to let God call the shots.

This atheist who made the video said as much. There came a day when he started dating the girl he said had a reputation in high school as “the party girl.” Eventually, he, the Bible guy, decided they should move in together. People in his church tried to tell him he shouldn’t but that didn’t matter. And then, shortly afterward, he started drifting away from church. And besides, God wasn’t answering his prayers about the things he didn’t understand in the Bible.

Well, sure. He’d already made up his mind about what he thought about the Bible, about God’s authority in his life. God says clearly that our sins make a separation between us and God and because of them, God’s face is hid from us so that He does not hear.

He’s not going to continue giving us living water when we’ve forsaken Him, when we’re off trying to dig our own cisterns, broken though they are. Not until we get on our knees and repent.

Gray Days


rifts-on-earth-1265066-mI know people back East and in the South are experiencing a particularly hard winter. They’ve had snow, certainly, but also Cold.

On the West Coast we’re having a hard winter, too, but you wouldn’t know it for the most part. Our problem is, the weather’s been too nice.

We haven’t had any rain as we usually get this time of year. January is the second wettest month of the year for us, and we got all of a trace of rain. In fact, since July, which is when they start the rain-total year, we’ve received under an inch of precipitation.

Today was a gray day, though. The weather forecasters had predicted only a twenty percent chance of rain, but I’m convinced God can bring us rain, if He wants, when He wants, no matter what the prognosticators say.

In fact, I’m praying that we’ll have rain and lots of it in the months to come, in part because we need it so much, but also because our governor dissed God publicly.

Two weeks ago Governor Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency and asked us to cut back our water consumption by twenty percent. As part of his speech he said that his declaration wouldn’t cause it to rain, and that some people thought the answer to the problem was to pray for rain, which was as likely to bring rain as was his declaration.

Either the Governor doesn’t believe God hears and answers prayer or he doesn’t believe God can do anything about the weather.

He’s wrong on both counts. I mean, Elijah, Scripture says, was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. (See James 5:17-18.)

So God answers prayer about the weather, according to His will.

I also thought about the Assyrian commander who stood outside the walls of Jerusalem and told the people of Judah God couldn’t save them from him, that they shouldn’t listen to their king and put their trust in God’s deliverance.

Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you from my hand; nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, “The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” (2 Kings 18:29-30)

As if that wasn’t enough, he sent a written message a bit later saying

“Thus you shall say to Hezekiah king of Judah, ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you saying, “Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” (2 Kings 19:10)

He went further, equating God with those false gods worshiped by the nations around Judah:

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

Of course, this commander, a man named Rabshakeh, was wrong to say what he did about God. And Governor Brown is wrong to say what he did about prayer and the unlikelihood that rain would result from asking God for it.

Whether or not God chooses to send rain is His decision. He chose to rescue Judah and sent the Assyrian commander home empty-handed.

God may not rescue us from this drought, but the fact is, He CAN send rain. He, not the weathermen, not Mother Nature, not uncontrollable jet stream patterns, is in charge of the weather, the political climate, the economic situation, the tides, the paths of comets, the rising of the sun and its setting. We are foolish to think God does not actively “hold all things together” as His word says He does.

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. (Col. 1:16-17)

So I do pray for rain, that God may be glorified over all these meteorologists, who truly do their best, and interpret the data with as much accuracy as possible. It’s just that they can only tell us what generally occurs when barometric pressure and wind currents and precipitation readings are what they are. They don’t know God’s mind or take into account His power.

He and He alone will decide if we need a drought or rain. But as for me, I will rejoice in every gray day that comes our way, and I will pray that God will be merciful and turn those predictions on their head and show His power so that all may see we have a mighty God who rules the Heavens and the earth!

Published in: on January 30, 2014 at 6:09 pm  Comments (3)  
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Unholy Habits


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Yesterday I wrote a post at Spec Faith about evil as I believe J. R. R. Tolkien understood it. One point stood out as I wrote the article–the world of Middle Earth which Tolkien created was faced with defeat. If the protagonist of the story didn’t succeed in his task, no matter what the other characters did, evil would win.

In other words, their efforts were largely meaningless. They continued to fight evil, though they understood it to be hopeless, because it was the right thing to do, because they believed they should stay the course, because it was all they could do unless they gave in to despair.

Also yesterday Mike Duran wrote a post about whether or not Christians should bother with changing the world. As he probed the question, he received answers that can best be described as fatalistic.

There seemed to be two threads–one that said God would do what God would do no matter how we voted or prayed, and the other that evil was on a downward spiral, as prophesied in Scripture, and there was nothing we could do to stop it or change it.

I’m not happy with these fatalistic approaches. Yes, I believe God is sovereign and in control. Yes, I believe that God will turn Mankind over to the depravity of his heart and there will be a day of reckoning.

However, I also know the story about a boy king reigning in the last century of Judah’s existence as a nation. He came to the throne when he was eight. When he was sixteen, he began to seek “the God of his father David.” When he was twenty he began to get rid of the idols all over the country. At twenty-six, with the idols all torn down, he decided to repair the temple.

During that process, the high priest found a copy of the book of the Law. Josiah read it and realized how great God’s wrath must be because of all the years and years Judah had wandered from Him. As a result, he led the nation in a revival. He made a covenant with God to follow Him and to keep His commandments. Consequently, during his lifetime “they did not turn from following the Lord God of their fathers) (2 Chron. 34:33b).

Nevertheless, twenty-two years, six months later, Judah fell to Babylon.

Was all that Josiah did for naught?

I don’t think his contemporaries would say so. They were free of idols and enjoyed the blessing God bestowed on their king because of his humble heart and his repentance.

What I learn from Josiah is that it’s never too late to repent. It’s never too late to turn from evil and do good. Will it change the course of the world? Maybe.

Martin Luther might be considered a priest who changed the course of the world because he, like Josiah, sought God and believed His written revelation.

Elizabeth Elliot might be considered a missionary who changed the course of a culture when she went back into the rain forest of Ecuador to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the people who murdered her husband.

But maybe not. God determined to bring the long-delayed judgment on Judah after Josiah’s death despite his godly rule. His faithfulness couldn’t reverse the fortunes of his nation, only delay them.

Isn’t that the point, though? Isn’t each person responsible for how we are to live our lives, how we are to affect those around us, not what happens after we’re gone?

The way we are to influence future generations is by teaching and training the next generation–those younger than we who stand right in front of us. They in turn are to teach and train the next generation, and that generation, the one after them.

Is evil winning? Ultimately, of course not. Christ already defeated the enemy at the cross.

And evil will not win on the temporal level as long as Christians are living what we say we believe, then turning around and teaching the next generation to go and do likewise.

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut. 6:4-7)