Speak Lord, For Your Servant Is Listening


A year ago, almost to the day, I revised and re-posted an article entitled “Does God Speak Through Nature?” The premise was simple: God used “natural” phenomenon in Egypt to pry His people free from Pharaoh’s grip. Could He not continue to use the world around us to speak to us?

So many people today—and this includes many Christians—say, No, floods and earthquakes and hurricanes and pandemics have known, scientific causes. They occur because of natural law.

But my question is, Who created and controls natural law? Did not God hang the stars in place? Does His hand not maintain what He created? Scripture indicates He is the One who makes DNA coding and tides and mutating viruses work the way they work—and keeps them doing so.

And He [God’s Son] is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Heb. 1:3a; emphasis mine)

Then there’s this passage in Colossians:

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. (1:16-17; emphasis mine)

All this to say, I don’t believe things happen in the world for no purpose.

God hasn’t sent a modern day prophet to tell us why things happen as He did during Israel’s history before their exile. But we don’t actually need a modern day prophet because we have the ancient ones.

Someone has to be pretty blind not to see parallels between the world today and the world of the ancient Jews. Including this passage:

Come, my people, enter into your rooms
And close your doors behind you;
Hide for a little while
Until indignation runs its course.
For behold, the LORD is about to come out from His place
To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;
And the earth will reveal her bloodshed
And will no longer cover her slain. (Isaiah 26:20-21)

But who knows? Maybe the Coronavirus is just your run of the mill viruses and we shouldn’t think twice about it in spiritual terms.

Then again, maybe it is the wake-up call to remind us that God will bring judgment on the earth one day. Not today. Maybe not in five years or ten or fifty. But assuredly, God will bring judgment. Again, something—in this culture—that’s uncomfortable to say. I mean, we’ve heard from the likes of Rob Bell and his Love Wins best seller of nearly a decade ago. He clearly lays out his belief that no matter what a person believes, he’s on his way to paradise with God.

Well, for one thing, I know a lot of atheists who would be horrified if this were true. They don’t want eternal punishment, that’s for certain, but neither do they want to be with God for eternity.

But more importantly the “everyone’s on his way to heaven” idea is not what God revealed. Pretty much the opposite:

“THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;
THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,
THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;
ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS;
THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,
THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE . . .
THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.” (Rom. 3:12-18)

Which brings us to God’s warning and the need for repentance.

At one point God sent the prophet Jonah to the main city in Assyria, Nineveh. I won’t get into Jonah’s issues here, but the people there were known to be a warlike nation, violent and cruel. They seemed to devise ways of killing people that would cause the most pain. Jonah’s message was simple: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” He apparently didn’t even offer them any hope.

Still, the people knew what was the cause for this judgment, and they bowed before God and repented.

God’s response? “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10).

Those people in that place and for that generation, were spared God’s judgment.

The prophet Joel brought the same message to the people of Israel:

Alas for the day!
For the day of the LORD is near,
And it will come as destruction from the Almighty.

Revelation echos this idea of “destruction from the Almighty,” which Christians know as the Tribulation. Are we there yet? Not close. Jesus Himself when asked when He would establish His kingdom went into some detail about the things that will take place first, including this:

You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. (Matt. 24:6-8)

The beginning of birth pangs, not yet the end. I think that’s where we are. And these events that seem so out of the ordinary (because they are) serve as reminders that “the wages of sin is death,” that God will bring His judgment to bear on this world.

The prophet Joel said it to his generation in Israel, but I think it is just as true today:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil. (Joel 2:12-13)

I admit the word “evil” has troubled me. I looked it up and in the original, used as a noun as it is here, evil means distress, misery, injury, calamity. In other words, it does not mean wickedness. The idea is clear: repentance alters God’s judgment. His nature is to be slow to anger, to have heaps upon heaps of lovingkindess, and turn away from bringing His judgment.

Of course the New Testament paints the entire picture for us. God turns away His wrath from those who bow before Him because Jesus accepted that wrath, poured out on Him. And those of us who accept this free gift of grace? We have peace with God through Jesus.

Even in the midst of a pandemic. We’re not facing His angry judgment. Ever. We may die from the virus or from something else, but we will enter into His presence, the way the thief dying beside Jesus, did. That’s something far different from judgment.

So in one way (there are others), this virus thing is a blessing in disguise. It gives us an opportunity to face our mortality, and to repent for turning our backs on God, for living for ourselves instead of living for Him. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime, so to speak—an eternal lifetime.

Covid-19


We are currently in the midst of a pandemic—a worldwide crisis caused by a deadly disease. There has been talk about pandemics in the past, but I’ve not lived through a real health crisis like the Black Plague or the Flu epidemic in the early twentieth century, so I don’t really know how fearful this spreading pestilence can become.

And pestilence it is, though that’s not a word in common use today. We favor “pandemic,” I suppose to emphasize the widespread nature of whatever disease is moving from person to person. But pestilence emphasizes the fatal nature of the disease, and I think it’s more accurate when referring to Covid-19.

Though not a common word today, pestilence is a term used in Scripture, most often by the prophets warning of coming judgment. Jeremiah 14:11-12 is an example:

So the LORD said to me, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.”

These judgments, also recorded in Ezekiel and Habakkuk, are directed primarily at Israel because they forsook God to worship idols.

Revelation echoes these judgments but on a worldwide scale:

I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (6:8)

Of course, just mentioning Revelation stirs up some people. On one hand are those who want to trot out the End Times Charts. On the other are those who secretly wish (or nearly so) that Revelation weren’t in the Bible because they don’t think it adds much, being all symbolic as it is. Why bother with it when we can’t really understand it?

Well, I’m of a different mindset. I believe God speaks through Revelation as much as through any other book. I believe some is literal and some symbolic, and by relying on the Holy Spirit, we can know with a high percentage of accuracy, which is which. God didn’t give us this glimpse into the future to confound us. He wants us to know what He’s communicating.

One thing that’s clear is this: God will bring judgment on the earth because of our rebellion against Him. In the Old Testament, He brought judgment against Israel, His chosen people, in precisely the ways He’d said He would through the prophecies of Jeremiah. Consequently, I have no doubt the warning of judgment in Revelation is also true.

In fact the language in Revelation and in Jeremiah is eerily similar, both warning of the sword, famine, and pestilence. The scope of the judgment is really the only difference.

So is the Covid-19 virus the beginning of the pestilence God is sending? Are we, in fact, in the end times? Is the tribulation about to fall? (And the rapture before it, for those who hold to a pre-trib view).

Here’s where I depart from those who work out the end times charts. We simply don’t know God’s time in regard to these matters. He told us we can’t know, so I’m not sure why some people get so hung up on trying to figure out the time and sequence of all these things.

In the Old Testament, God sent numerous foreign incursions against both Israel and Judah before the two nations were taken into captivity by Assyria and Babylon respectively. Which one was the start of God’s judgment? The time Egypt came in and captured Jerusalem? Or when Edom broke free of Judah’s control? Or when Aram attacked Israel?

The answer is none and all of these. God sent His prophets to warn His people and He sent enemies and famine and, yes, pestilence, to judge them, to warn them, to show them what their end would become if they did not repent and turn back to Him.

These were not the final judgment but they were judgments. So too, we can look at the wars and rumors of wars, the drought and famine in various places, the pestilence rapidly spreading throughout the world, as God’s hand of judgment, just as He said.

But is it the final judgment?

Why should we ask this question? Are we planning on waiting for the final judgment before preaching repentance to those who deny God?

In short, the Covid-19 virus should concern Christians because it reminds us that God’s judgment is sure and that many people will be lost unless they turn to the Savior. We should have some urgency about us, even as those charged with health care here in the US are in the fight against Covid-19.

But we Christians know. If not Covid-19, one day there will be pestilence poured out on rebellious humans who refuse God’s mercy. May we be faithful to shout from the mountain tops: Here is your God; lift your eyes to the One who hung on the tree so that you might be healed and repent.

This article is modified from a 2014 post entitled Ebola.

Published in: on March 25, 2020 at 5:23 pm  Comments (6)  
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God’s Work, Now And In The Pre-Flood World


Some years ago the movie Noah, turned the spotlight, though not particularly brightly, on events recorded in the Bible. Like Exodus that followed it months later, the movie deviated from the historical account—understandable since most atheists such as the film maker don’t look at the Bible as history and would have a hard time showing God as the Bible reveals Him.

I didn’t see the movie, but I saw trailers and clips. One of the more memorable had a mob of people clamoring to get on board the ark, only to have Noah hold them off at gun point under threat of violence.

Interesting since the small amount of information we have about the pre-flood world mentions violence as one cause for God’s judgment. Of course there was the whole Sons-of-God-copulating-with-the-daughters-of-men issue. Nobody really understands what that was all about, of course. Some scholars insist the “sons of God” refer to angels, but then there’s not a good explanation why God would judge Mankind for what angels were clearly responsible for.

Be that as it may, we can put down as fact that something immoral, of a sexual nature, was taking place. My theory, which I may have shared in this space before, is that Adam and Eve had children before they sinned. These would have been “sons of God” in the sense that they didn’t have a sin nature. Daughters of men would have been born in Adam’s likeness, with a sin nature.

But that’s a theory.

The bottom line is that humankind didn’t just sin occasionally:

the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5)

A few verses down, God references their violence:

Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. (v 11)

We don’t have details here, but we know that Cain killed his brother—2nd degree murder, or premeditated murder, we don’t know for sure. Either way, God didn’t respond with capital punishment. Instead he protected Cain from those who might want to kill him by branding him with a special mark. This was not a curse as some have suggested or a mark he passed on to his descendents as others have said.

There’s no indication it was anything more than a way people could identify Cain as a man under God’s protection. God’s promise was that if anyone killed Cain, they’d pay sevenfold.

Perhaps the people of the day took this to be a license to kill. We know in fact that one of Cain’s descendants, Lamech, also committed murder. In fact he confessed to two murders:

For I have killed a man for wounding me;
And a boy for striking me (4:23b)

Lamech then claimed the right of seventy-sevenfold retribution against anyone who would seek to kill him.

One more thing Lamech is famous for: he’s also the first recorded bigamist.

Apparently he was a trend-setter because few men from that point on until the first century were monogamous.

So here are the facts: God said to Adam and Eve, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Their descendants were killing each other.

God established marriage as a one man-one woman union that made them one flesh. Adam and Eve’s descendants were partnering inappropriately—in the wrong way (multiple partners), with the wrong people (sons of God with daughters of men).

So apparently humankind was 0 for 2—they failed to obey the only two commandments God had given them. And things were only getting worse:

God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.

As we know from Romans, humankind’s corruption affected the rest of creation.

The point I want to make here is that God judged Lamech and his sons and their sons, not because they were good people and God just had a temper tantrum. He judged them because they were mass murderers and rapists and adulterers and bigamists. They rejected God’s right to rule their lives in the simplest, most basic aspects.

Noah alone was righteous.

And still, after God passed judgment, after He gave Noah the command to build the ark, it took a hundred years to get it finished.

Yes, these were the days when humans still lived long lives. Scripture intimates in a number of places that humans didn’t lose their faculties as they aged at the same rate we do today. So at 75, for example, Sarai, Abram’s wife, is still referred to as very beautiful—not a typical description of a senior citizen.

But to the point, God didn’t strike down all the corrupt of the earth in a fit of anger. And Noah wasn’t off in some corner happily preparing his escape from the coming judgment while other “good people” were unaware of the coming catastrophe.

Scripture refers to Noah as “a preacher of righteousness,” suggesting that he was splitting his time between building the ark and telling everyone else about God, His expectations, and His righteous judgment.

The people who died in the flood were “ungodly” according to 2 Peter. They’re listed along with the angels God judged and the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which God also judged and destroyed.

God does not whack innocent people like some gangland kingpin who’s having a bad day and wants to take it out on whoever is in his way.

God is a righteous judge.

He’s sovereign, but He’s good; his judgments are pure and right, every one of them.

I’m convinced we don’t have to fret over the people who died in the flood. God says He takes no delight in the death of the wicked, and yet He carries out the judgment against them. I have no doubt that he made the right call. Am I happy many people died? Of course not. But God knew each one of those people by name. I’m confident He wanted more than I ever could, for them to do an about-face so that He didn’t have to carry out the judgment upon them.

How do I know this? Because of the prophets and the ways God worked to spare Israel and Judah—the extent He went to in the effort to induce His people to turn back to Him. Because of His warning to and forgiveness of Nineveh, And ultimately, because He Himself went to a cross to die for the sins of the world.

Would a God who loves that much, have done less to win and woo the pre-flood people? It’s not consistent with His character to think He was uncaring in His judgment. But His judgment is a fact and a warning to us that God’s patience is long-suffering but not endless. There is a day of judgment for our world that is also coming.

Would that people today will learn the lesson the pre-flood people failed to grasp.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in July, 2015.

What Happened to a Just God?


Is God just? Scripture says He is, but you would hardly know by reading some of the literature coming from Christians these days. Or by listening to some of the sermons broadcast over the airwaves.

Interestingly, some years ago in my church’s weekly newsletter, they included a select number of high schoolers’ credal statements based on a meditation of Matthew 16:13-20—including Jesus’s question, “Who do you say that I am?” While three published statements focused on things like God’s love and our purpose, the fallen nature of the world, salvation, and our eternal destiny, one started out like this:

I believe in a jealous God, one who demands our complete faith.

I believe in a wrathful God, an all powerful God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with burning sulfur and fire, and snatched away every first born son of the Egyptians.

I wonder how many Christians would include those two statements in a personal credal statement, let alone start with them.

But isn’t God’s character as a just Judge as much at the center of the gospel as is His love and mercy? For without His jealous demand of an exclusive relationship with those He loves, without His unbending judgment against sin, why would we even need a Savior?

Who needs to be forgiven when no offense has been recorded? Who needs Jesus when sacrifices to some statue will do, or when looking deep inside for the secret in all of us will bring us to a higher plane, or whatever the latest road to spirituality proclaims?

Make no mistake. The God of the Bible hates sin, to the point that He punished two of His first priests, Aaron’s sons, by putting them to death. He brought plagues on His people for disobedience, caused the ground to swallow another group of rebels, and sent fire from heaven even on their families.

For some reason, perhaps because of God’s mercy extended through His Son, many today discount the clear evidence of God’s wrath. Even when He says, Vengeance is mine, I will repay.

Somehow, lost in the preferred image of Christ as the mild-mannered cool dude, is the truth that Jesus clearly taught that those who rejected Him would be judged accordingly. He said it in parables, He said it in exposition, and He said it to the faces of the Pharisees (“how shall you escape the sentence of hell?” Matt. 23:33b, NASB).

So in this day of tolerance, do such strong statements and stories of judgment (such as God’s clear decree that the people of Israel were to utterly destroy the nation of Amalek) embarrass Christians? Are we ashamed because our God is jealous? Because He punishes sin? After all, the rest of the world seems to be all about tolerance and acceptance and understanding.

Ah, make no mistake. God understands. Therein is the missing piece—He knows the hearts of Humankind that they are desperately wicked, deserving of death.

We, on the other hand, have convinced ourselves that we humans are actually good and entitled to riches and pleasure and a life of comfort and ease.

It’s just that this mean ol’ god spoils it for us. Why won’t he cooperate and make life better, especially since I’ve done my part? He ought to step up, to come through with his end of the bargain. And honestly? I’m furious with him for missing opportunities. Why is he taking so long to give me my blessing?

Apparently, we don’t believe in a wrathful God, but wrathful humans, we have no problem with.

From the archives: this post is a revised and edited version of one that appeared here in October, 2009.

Published in: on February 27, 2019 at 5:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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God Is Not Benevolent


copOne of the “faults” atheists find with God, and apparently some professing Christians share this thinking, is that He shows Himself in the Old Testament to be wrathful. The first conversation I had with someone about this subject made me think we simply were not defining “wrathful” in the same way. She, I believed, meant that God was quick to anger, that he “flew off the handle” easily, and that He was capricious about when and why He “lost it.” I knew He wasn’t any of that.

Apparently I was wrong about her definition. She meant that God was wrong for punishing the unrighteous.

There are indeed those in the world who think God errors because He judges sin. His wrath, then, isn’t acceptable in any form. There simply isn’t room for a god who doesn’t bend his will toward making life better for the universe. Only if he did so, in this view, would he be a benevolent god.

And clearly, so these thinkers say, the God of the Old Testament is not benevolent.

I agree with this conclusion. The God of the Old Testament, who happens to be the same as the God of the New Testament, is not benevolent by those standards. The Oxford English Dictionary defines benevolent as “well meaning and kindly.” Ah, but as C. S. Lewis reminds us, God is good, not simply well meaning and kindly.

God does not “mean well” in the sense that He’s hoping for the best and trying to help and aiming for what’s good. NO! God is good, does good, brings about good. But good is defined on His terms.

I can say it would be good for me to sell my book for a million dollars. But my understanding of good is limited and finite. I don’t know if a million dollars would make me happy or angry at people who I perceive as trying to leech off me once I got some cash. I don’t know if a million dollars would change my perspective so much that I’d stop doing things of value like writing blog posts and doing freelance editing. I don’t know if a million dollars would make me more prideful, self-centered, and egotistical that I’d lose all my friends. And most importantly, I don’t know if a million dollars would become my idol, if I would worship it in God’s place.

God knows these things, however, and may, for my benefit here and now, in this life, prevent me from getting a million dollars. I also have no doubt that God could give me a million dollars if that were truly for my good—if it would bring me closer to Him, cause me to serve Him more truly, make me conform more closely to the image of His Son. What’s a million dollars to the Owner of the cosmos?

But He withholds what would harm His people in the same way that a good parent doesn’t give a three-year-old candy for breakfast just because she asks. God knows better than we do what is truly good.

God Himself is good, so we can conclude that His judgment is good as well. When He says, the wages of sin is death, that’s not an arbitrary judgment—that’s the testimony of an all knowing Creator. Much the way that a policeman might point to a sign and say, this is a handicap parking zone; you’ll get a ticket if you park here, God has made plain what disobeying His righteous standards will cost.

handicap parking signSomeone who didn’t know what the handicap parking sign meant would be grateful that the policeman told him. They wouldn’t rail against him because he didn’t tear the sign down and let them park in the specially marked spot, and they certainly wouldn’t ignore the warning and park there right under the watchful eye of the policeman.

But that’s what many people want of God—that He would ignore justice for them. Of course, few want Him to ignore justice for those they consider enemies, but they reserve their idea of His benevolence based on how He treats them.

Jesus told an interesting story about a man who thought much as these people do. He owed a debt so great he could never manage to pay it back in his life time–the equivalent would be millions of dollars. His creditor said all the man owned would have to be sold and he himself would go into servitude until he paid his debt. The man begged for more time. The creditor had compassion on him but instead of giving him more time to pay, which was really an impossibility, he forgave him the entire debt.

The man left and immediately ran into a fellow worker who owed him the equivalent of about ten thousand dollars. The man grabbed his co-worker and demanded that he pay up or he’d have to sell everything he owned and go into servitude himself until the debt was paid. The co-worker begged for more time, but the man refused.

A bunch of other workers saw what happened and told the man’s creditor. And this is how the story ends:

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. (Matt 18:32-34)

Was the creditor in the wrong because he didn’t treat the man in a benevolent way? Of course not. He had in fact canceled the man’s debt. It was the man himself who wasn’t benevolent, who didn’t understand what receiving a gift of forgiveness actually meant.

So, no, God is not benevolent in the way the people of today want Him to be. He doesn’t tear up the ticket we deserve. Rather, He paid it for us. The point isn’t to get us off so we can go pile up more debt. The point is to change our status from debtor, to adopted child; it is to give us an inheritance far richer than any we can imagine.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in June, 2013.

Published in: on May 7, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments Off on God Is Not Benevolent  
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The Difference Jesus Makes


Moses010When God chose Abraham, He entered into a unilateral agreement, promising to give him land, make him a father of nations, and yes, the father of His chosen people.

Later this agreement expanded into a conditional one–if Israel did certain things, then God would bless them and make them fruitful, but if Israel did the opposite, then God would bring their actions down on their heads.

In part the conditional agreement was based on Israel keeping the Ten Commandments and participating in the sacrificial system God launched when Moses finally led the people across the Red Sea, ready to be on their way to the land God had promised.

After escaping a confrontation with the Egyptians and surviving the crises of no water and not any food, Israel spend at least a year on hold, waiting as Moses received instructions from God and then as they carried them out. Through Moses, God transmitted the plans for a worship center and laws about their relationship with Him, with each other, with their stuff.

Over and over in all those laws, His call for them was to be holy because He is holy. But the problem was, they weren’t. He knew it and they knew it. When Moses was getting ready to meet with God to receive His instructions, the people were warned not to come near the mountain where God’s presence would be. The place was cordoned off, but God had Moses retrace his steps and warn the people again that if they tried to break through and come up to God, they would die.

Yes, die.

Later, God spoke to the people, and He so terrified them, that they begged Moses to act as their intermediary from then on rather than dealing directly with God.

I have to admit, I find all this stunning. I understand how great God is, how awesome His power, how far above any human He is in might and majesty. I even understand Peter’s command for believers who call God, Father, to “conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Peter 1:17b).

But understanding all this is purely head knowledge.

I know God to be a just Judge who will one day separate those who follow Him from those who reject Him and will mete out appropriate rewards for both. But my experience with Him is far removed from these things I know.

I shake my head and think, how can I be relating to God as one of the living stones who is being “built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices” when the people of Israel couldn’t even stand in His presence?

They wanted God to go with them, but in order for that to happen they had to abide by that elaborate system of sacrifices and purification. In contrast, I offer no sacrifices, undergo no purification rites, and have the Holy Spirit of God make His dwelling in me. Not with me. In me.

I know Him as a child knows her father, as a sheep knows its shepherd, as a friend knows his best friend. How can this be???

It’s Christ.

He makes all the difference. God is still awesome in power, but I never have to fear that He will turn His vengeance on me because He turned it on Christ. I never have to fear God’s just judgment for my failures to obey Him because He already judged Jesus.

As a result, I can enjoy God’s presence–not as one trembling on the outside of a boundary line staring up at the top of a mountain in the hope of catching a glimpse of His glory. Rather, I have the Holy Spirit with me, guiding me in all truth, comforting me in sorrow and grief, producing His fruit when I feel inadequate and fruitless.

It’s such a dramatic difference, I can hardly comprehend what life must have been like for those who lived without the Holy Spirit in their lives day after day. Even during those times when I quench the Spirit or grieve Him, it’s not the same as not having Him in my life. It’s more like a fight with someone I love who I know I still love and who will still love me. It’s ugly and painful and sometimes costly, but it’s not permanent and it’s never complete separation.

What a difference Jesus makes!

This post originally appeared here in September, 2013.

Published in: on September 26, 2017 at 6:02 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Patience Of God


Manasseh repented002There are two kings, one of Judah and one of Israel, who were despicable. The Bible doesn’t mince words about them—they built idol temples and instituted idol worship and for one of these kings that turned into child sacrifice.

The thing is, that latter king, Manasseh, reigned the longest of any in both kingdoms—fifty-five years. The other, Ahab, wasn’t some brief footnote in history himself, holding his throne for twenty-two years.

They shed innocent blood, worshiped gods who were no gods, “seduced” the people to do evil, and in Manasseh’s case, involved himself in the occult.

But other kings who didn’t do half the horrific acts these two did, had short reigns: Jeroboam, the first ruler of the divided northern kingdom, Israel, was succeeded by his son Nadab who reigned two years. Omri, Ahab’s father, reigned twelve. Manasseh’s son Amon was on the throne for just two years.

Then there were the final four—the last kings of Judah who reigned for three months, eleven years, three months, and eleven years, respectively. All short in comparison to Ahab and Manasseh. Why did those evil kings stay in power so long?

Scripture spends a little more time on Ahab and his reign than many of the kings. Remarkably, despite Ahab’s waywardness, God sent prophets to him time and again, unbidden apparently, to help him in what appeared to be impossible circumstances.

The great threat of his day came from the north. The group of city-states known as Aram—the area we identify as Syria—came together under one powerful king and mustered a huge army to go against Ahab.

Israel’s forces were in decline. They’d had wars against Judah and were greatly weakened, so they were no match for the 100,000 Aramean troops that surrounded them. Enter the prophet of God. His message to Ahab was, God will get you out of this:

Behold, I will deliver them into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the LORD. (1 Kings 20:13b)

Ahab asked one question: by whom? God answered, By the hand of the young men of the rulers of the provinces. Turns out that was a group of 232 young men—a smaller force than Gideon lead in an earlier generation.

Nevertheless, as the prophet said, God delivered this huge army into Israel’s hands.

The powerful Aramean king who’d apparently expected a pretty easy victory, raised another army as big as the first and he put military men in charge. Further, he changed the location of the battle since his advisers told him the God of Israel was a God of the mountains and not the plains.

Again the prophet came to Ahab:

“Thus says the LORD, ‘Because the Arameans have said, “The LORD is a god of the mountains, but He is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’” (1 Kings 20:28)

Israel did, in fact, reap a miraculous victory again, but Ahab let the Aramean king escape God’s retribution. God rebuked him for that. Ahab responded by allowing his wife to steal land he coveted from a neighbor and have the man killed. This time Elijah confronted Ahab and pronounced judgment on his house.

Up to that point Ahab’s legacy was abominable:

Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him. He acted very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom the LORD cast out before the sons of Israel. (1 Kings 21:25-26)

And yet, when he heard Elijah proclaim God’s judgment for his sins, he repented. He tore his clothes—the Middle East way of mourning—put on sackcloth, and fasted. There was a change in his demeanor, too.

God explained it to Elijah: “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me?” (1 Kings 21:29a) The attitude change had to be genuine and deep. After all, God sees the heart. He wouldn’t be fooled by a hypocritical outward display that held no real change.

So as near as I can determine, God allowed Ahab to remain on the throne all those years, sending him prophets to help him and rebuke him, to give him opportunity to humble himself. What a display of God’s patience and mercy!

Same thing with Manasseh. We don’t know as many details about the events that turned him to God after all those years of evil, but here’s what 2 Chronicles says:

The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the LORD brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains and took him to Babylon. When he was in distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (33:10-13)

God patiently waited for this man so many of us would have written off as hopelessly, despicably evil and beyond God’s reach, to humble himself and know that the LORD is God.

I wonder what Ahab or Manasseh might be sitting in some Senate seat or governor’s mansion or state office today. Perhaps we should be praying that God will demonstrate His loving patience so that they can humble themselves and know that the LORD is God. Perhaps we should thank Him for His patience that extends to us that we too might humble ourselves and know Him.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in November 2014.

The Angel and the Donkey


The Bible story of Balaam and his talking donkey recorded in the book of Numbers has always mystified me, and it seems like the more I think about it, the more I find mystifying.

My initial problem comes in what appears to be God changing His mind. Here’s the background. The king of Moab wants Balaam, evidently a prophet of God, to come and curse Israel, the people of God, as they are making their way to the Promised Land.

OK, we can overlook the king’s ignorance, I guess, assuming instead that he hadn’t put two and two together—that the God who was protecting and blessing these people was the same one Balaam consulted for his prophetic words.

But on to the story. When the envoy from the king arrived, Balaam said, Let me see what God has to say about this. He came back to them and faithfully reported God’s word—No, I’m not to go with you, I’m not to curse them.

Perhaps the king had been spoiled as a child because he didn’t take no for an answer. He sent his representatives to Balaam a second time. The prophet said he’d check with God to see what else He had to say. And this time God told Balaam to go with the men but to speak only that which He told him to.

Off they go, accompanied by two of Balaam’s servants. And Balaam’s faithful donkey which he’d ridden all his life.

Along the way, an angel of the Lord lies in wait for Balaam with drawn sword in hand. The donkey sees the angel and avoids him. Three times.

Balaam, apparently frustrated by his wayward donkey, beats the animal. And then the second miracle—the donkey asks Balaam what he did to deserve the beatings. Balaam says he would have killed the donkey if he’d had a sword because the animal was mocking him.

The donkey asks if Balaam has ever known him to act this way before, and when the prophet admits he has not, his eyes are opened and he sees the angel.

The angel says to Balaam, why did you beat your donkey seeing as he saved your life?

Balaam then repents, says he sinned, and that he’ll return home if that’s what the Lord wants. The answer? No, go ahead and go, but speak only what God tells you.

Besides the God-changing-His-mind issue, I saw for the first time the God-versus-God aspect of the story. The angel of God stood with a sword to kill the prophet of God, but a miraculous talking donkey saved him. Who but God opened the eyes and the mouth of the donkey? So God saved His prophet from His angel.

Now I have to admit, I decided to post these questions because often times in writing things down, I see more clearly. And I think that might be true here.

Apparently there is something Scripture doesn’t give us in these verses—Balaam’s decision to say something he wasn’t supposed to say.

Consequently, in the same way he viewed his donkey as wayward and beat the animal and would have killed it, God stood against Balaam with sword in hand as the prophet went, apparently wayward in his heart, to meet with the king.

Except God had mercy on Balaam and gave him a second chance—well, actually three chances, as it turns out, because that’s how many times the king took Balaam to a place where he could overlook Israel and where he offered sacrifices as a way of seeking God’s curse.

Three times. The same number of times the donkey saved Balaam’s life. Coincidence?

Now, about that God-changing-His-mind issue … 🙄

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in September 2009.

Published in: on March 24, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (5)  
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What Is Judgment?


_Judges_GavelWhen I ask, What is judgment? I’m not referring to the Final Judgment or our judicial system, but rather one person judging another. Today Christians use the notion of one judging another as a club to buffet the Intolerant One into submission. After all, we’re told over and over, we’re not supposed to judge each other.

Or are we?

Often the “no judging” position is supported with what Jesus said in Matthew 7, concluding with verse 5:

“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

In a radio sermon some time ago, one pastor pointed out that the conclusion of this process is still one Christian taking the speck from his brother’s eye.

Just ten verses later, Jesus had this to say:

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” (Mat 7:15-16a)

So apparently the “no judging” rule has conditions. Otherwise how would we ever arrive at the understanding that a false prophet is false?

That idea of conditional judgment seems consistent with the Apostle Paul’s confrontation of Peter when he changed how he treated Gentile Christians, and with his confrontation of the church in Corinth for accepting into their fellowship a man living in immorality. Not only did Paul confront the church but he expected them to do the same with the sinful man.

Earlier, in I Corinthians he makes the statement that he has already judged the immoral man. Then this:

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. (I Cor. 5:9-13; emphasis in the original)

From this process, groups like the Amish and the Catholics practiced shunning and excommunication. Perhaps because of abuses and/or subjective interpretation, those conventions have been discredited. Church discipline seemed to decline.

In its place, we have tolerance. No judging.

But what happened to knowing false teachers by their fruits? What happened to going to a brother who has offended you, as Jesus commanded in Matthew 18? How can we ever forgive if we don’t acknowledge offense?

On an ever increasing level, it seems the love we talk about is a brand that actually nullifies justice. But God is a God of love and justice.

His Word teaches correction and reproof along side love and forgiveness.

So maybe we Christians have gone overboard, tolerantly stepping around each other in an effort to avoid boat rocking. Instead, perhaps we should hold onto the sides of the boat and confront sins head on.

It’s not comfortable. It requires soul searching (or log-in-the-eye searching. Search me, oh God, try me, and see if there is any wicked way in me.) It requires confession. It requires letting go of my right to be right, to defend myself, to prove my point. It requires confronting and forgiving. But how true is the latter without the former?

This post originally appeared here in April 2010.

Published in: on July 28, 2016 at 6:43 pm  Comments Off on What Is Judgment?  
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Is God Listening?


A week from today, May 5, is designated as the US National Day of Prayer. I suspect there will be any number of events on the local level throughout the country. Prayer breakfasts, perhaps, with the mayor and the city council. Or gatherings of businessmen, led by a prominent pastor.

It sounds so good, like the Senate chaplain opening in prayer or the prayer in schools we wish we could enjoy.

Except … I wonder. Does God hear the prayers of those who don’t believe in Him? When President after President, for example, ends a speech, “God bless America,” does He hear and answer, even when the President invoking His name doesn’t know Him?

These thoughts came to mind when I was reading Hosea. During a relatively peaceful time in Judah’s history, Hosea, prompted by God’s Spirit, prophesied of God’s coming judgment against them and against Israel.

He said their sin had affected their relationship with God.

When I would heal Israel,
The iniquity of Ephraim is uncovered…
And they do not consider in their hearts
That I remember all their wickedness.

Woe to them, for they have strayed from Me! Destruction is theirs, for they have rebelled against Me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against Me. (Hosea 7:1-2, 13)

The key verse is the next one, I think. Apparently when trouble would come, then the people turned to God, but it wasn’t Him they wanted. It was the stuff He could provide.

And they do not cry to Me from their heart
When they wail on their beds;
For the sake of grain and new wine they assemble themselves,
They turn away from Me. (Hosea 7:14)

“Fake praying.” Saying the words, sounding religious, maybe even spiritual. But that’s not talking to God. There’s more:

Though I wrote for him ten thousand precepts of My law,
They are regarded as a strange thing.
As for My sacrificial gifts,
They sacrifice the flesh and eat it,
But the LORD has taken no delight in them.
Now He will remember their iniquity,
And punish them for their sins (Hosea 8:12-13a)

Their religious exercise didn’t bring God delight or them forgiveness. They were going through the motions, and God turned His back on them.

Indeed, I came to hate them there!
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
I will drive them out of My house!
I will love them no more;
All their princes are rebels. (Hosea 9:15b)

I’m stunned by that verse. God, who loved Israel for Abraham’s sake, said He had come to hate the northern kingdom because of their sin.

So, was He listening to their prayers?

As the enemy swoops upon them like an eagle, this was what Hosea said:

They cry out to Me,
“My God, we of Israel know You!”
Israel has rejected the good;
The enemy will pursue him. (Hosea 8:2-3)

In short, God doesn’t listen to the selfish prayer or the insincere prayer, not even from the religious. Here’s the prayer He wants:

Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you and return to the LORD.
Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity
And receive us graciously,
That we may present the fruit of our lips.” (Hosea 14:1-2)

God’s listening, yes, but He doesn’t always hear. He won’t be manipulated or used, but He gladly responds to our repentance.

I will heal their apostasy,
I will love them freely,
For My anger has turned away from them. (Hosea 14:4)

This post, minus the opening edit, appeared here in May 2012.

Published in: on April 28, 2016 at 6:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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