Overzealous Faith?


smokestack-1402448-mA number of years ago I read a book that had me a bit steamed. There are lots of reasons, but not the least is the subtitle: “Avoiding . . . dangers of overzealous faith.”

Certainly we are to avoid the things listed where I typed an ellipsis—pride and exclusivity—but why would those be associated with “overzealous faith”? Why would any “danger” be linked to overzealous faith? For that matter, is it possible to be overzealous in our faith?

If you think about it, God’s word tells us the first command, the one that’s most important, is to love God “WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH” (Mark 12:30; the all caps indicate a quotation from the Old Testament). If this is what God commands of His followers, I don’t see much room for over-the-top zeal. Already what God asks is . . . well, everything.

He wants us to take up our cross, to die to ourselves, to lay down our lives, to be living sacrifices. I don’t see how this clear teaching of Scripture, that we as believers in Christ are to be all in, lends itself to zeal that goes beyond those requirements.

Rather, I expect this “plea for balance,” as many of the positive reviews of the book labeled it, is looking for wiggle room for comfortable American Christians who want to stay comfortable and still be “good Christians.”

Thankfully there is a counter thrust among evangelical pastors to the health-and-wealth message which distorts Scripture. But a look at the values which the Bible teaches in the areas of physical health and finances calls into question a lot of what Americans do and even preach as “best practices” or “good stewardship.”

Along comes this book, Accidental Pharisees, and most probably others like it, and we have an intentional reining in of concepts calling for a radical or crazy or counter-cultural approach to doing church.

The message I got from this book is, let’s be content with the status quo. After all, Paul said we should learn to live quiet lives, and that’s good, because then I can have my big house and my fancy cars and not feel like I’m a lesser Christian than brothers who have moved to the inner city or are giving away 90% of their income.

Honestly, the premise of this book makes me a little crazy. The idea is that Christians who “get out in front of the following-Jesus line” start to look around and compare where they’re at with where other Christians are at and then they start looking down on believers who aren’t up with them at the head of the line. So their “overzealous faith” has led them into pride.

I submit that anyone who is looking around and comparing his spiritual progress with others has already succumbed to pride.

I submit that someone afraid of crazy love or radical faith or sold-out evangelism or whatever else is the latest call for Christian devotion, is really afraid of the Bible. It’s more comfortable to be content with the status quo—the American Christianity that doesn’t demand too much, that lets us alone to do what we want, except for an hour or so on Sunday.

Scripture does call Christians to be content and to live quiet lives, but it’s in the context of sometimes going hungry or serving someone by going the extra mile or by thinking more highly of a fellow Christian than of myself.

The thing is, I understand it is possible to be overly zealous about all kinds of things, some dangerous, some merely silly. But faith? Genuine faith in Jesus Christ? I don’t think so.

Genuine faith in Jesus Christ is built on the Word of God. Consequently, a zealous Christian will know what Jesus thinks about looking down on others or about holding people to high standards for salvation (as if we set standards for salvation in the first place!) or any of the other “dangers” supposedly inherent in “overzealous faith.”

I suppose the best conclusion about this book is this: since Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites (7 or 8 times in Matt. 23), any “faith” of “Pharisees” isn’t real faith at all, so being overzealous for a hypocritical “see how spiritual I am” substitute for faith is definitely something to avoid.

OK, in that light, it’s a good book. 😉

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in September, 2014.

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Joseph, The Clueless?


I love the story of Joseph. I just think too often in the past I idolized him. I think I did that with a lot of the Bible people if at some point they shone forth as heroes of the faith.

I now see Joseph differently. After all, he was an ordinary human like the rest of us.

Here’s what we know: he was his daddy’s favorite.

All the brothers knew he was, to the point that they became so jealous they could hardly speak to him.

His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms. (Gen. 37:4)

Funny thing, Joseph seemed clueless about their attitude. Once he had a dream that could only be interpreted as Joseph ruling over his brothers, and he didn’t hesitate to tell them about it.

Their response was exactly what you’d imagine:

Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

But clueless Joseph wasn’t done. He had another dream, this one showing that not only his brothers would worship him but his parents would also. You’d think he would have seen his brothers’ response the last time he told them his dream, and maybe kept this one to himself. But no. He couldn’t resist, which earned him a derogatory nickname with his brothers: That Dreamer.

I have to wonder, actually, if Joseph was so clueless. Perhaps pride would better explain for his actions.

After all, Joseph was young and handsome, the favorite of his father, blessed with spiritual insight that allowed him to have prophetic dreams, and those showed him ruling over his older brothers and his parents.

So maybe Joseph wasn’t so much unaware of his brothers’ reaction to him and to his dreams as he was proud to “share.” Scripture doesn’t tell us Joseph was proud, but his actions suggest either a cluelessness or a prideful heart.

Is it possible to know which? Perhaps. I think we can see something true about Joseph later in life that contradicts the idea that he was clueless. Of course, it’s possible that he had changed. Who wouldn’t, after his brothers sold him into slavery, after his master’s wife accused him of attempted rape, and after getting thrown in prison unjustly? Joseph definitely did change, but perhaps not in the way many would expect.

If Joseph had lived today in western society he likely would have clamored for justice and perhaps revenge. Instead, the real life Joseph simply went about his business doing the best he knew how to do. As a result, God blessed him, first as a servant, as a prisoner, and eventually as a ruler.

There came a day, however, when two of his fellow prisoners woke up troubled. The important thing here is that Joseph noticed.

When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold, they were dejected. He asked Pharaoh’s officials who were with him in confinement in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?” (Gen. 40:6-7)

Mr. Clueless didn’t need someone to jab an elbow in his ribs and point to the two miserable servants of the king. He didn’t need someone spelling out that these two were upset about something. Rather, Joseph had changed—one way or the other.

Either he’d grown some sensitivity in Egypt, or he’d never been clueless in the first place. In fact, he might have been a discerning guy all along. In which case, his telling the brothers who couldn’t even speak in a friendly manner to him, all about the “I’ll one day rule over you” dream just might have been little brother Joseph rubbing their noses in his favored standing and future greatness.

I tend to think the latter was true, but God still had a lesson to teach Joseph. After he accurately interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s two servants, Joseph asked the one returning to the palace to remember him. In other words, he’d done this guy a favor and was asking for a little back-scratching in return.

But God didn’t want Joseph depending on his own ways, his own manipulations. Consequently, he sat in that prison for another three years.

When at last Pharaoh’s servant did remember Joseph, it was because his master needed someone who could interpret dreams. Notice the difference in Joseph’s two responses to people asking for dream interpretations. First to the two servants three years earlier when they were in prison:

Then they said to him, “We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.”

In his response was Joseph claiming to be God?

Surely not. I mean I never thought so in the past, but I know how the story ends. I believe he took a further step forward three years later, because his response to Pharaoh requesting an interpretation of his dream, was completely unambiguous:

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Gen. 41:15-16)

Joseph the clueless became Joseph the humble. Later he even said to his brothers, with no animosity in his heart,

And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Gen. 50:20)

Joseph was in a position of power and could have brought the wrath of Pharaoh down on his brothers. He could have said, Told ya so! Instead, he wept when his brothers, fearful of Joseph’s revenge, asked for forgiveness. Then he assured them that they had no reason to fear him: “But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?” (Gen. 50:19).

He certainly wasn’t clueless at that point, if he’d ever been. But more importantly, he was walking humbly with his God.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in August, 2014.

Published in: on August 31, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Dirty Laundry We Still Don’t Talk About


When I was young, no one talked about disabilities. There weren’t any handicap parking places. No ramp alternatives for those in wheelchairs. Kids with severe mental delay were not mainstreamed. No one was being tested for ADD or ADHD or dyslexia. If someone was autistic, they were placed in a special school, and no one discussed causes or symptoms or cures or prognosis.

All that has changed. Other things that were once taboo have also been brought out into the light, Divorce, for instance. Yes, there was a time in our country when divorce was so rare that kids only whispered the rumor that so-and-so came from a divorced home. As if the home was the problem.

Sex was another one of those things people didn’t talk about openly . . . until the sexual revolution stormed into culture riding on the coattails of “the pill.” Suddenly women were as free to do as they pleased sexually as men had been all those years, and no longer were they keeping quiet about there experiences. “Locker room” talk became fodder for women’s magazines, and not so long after, evening sitcoms.

Death was also a closed subject for a very long time, and to be honest, it’s still not a popular topic at parties. But preachers address its inevitability, life insurance companies, mortuaries, and cemeteries openly advertise based on the surety that death is something we need to plan for.

So what is it that people are still hesitant to talk about?

Not politics or even religion. Not sex trafficking or poverty or racial concerns or the economy. Sin and Satan are not popular topics, and that brings me close to the dirty laundry no one wants to discuss.

I’m referring to pride.

Oh, sure, we can talk about pride in a generic sort of way, but few people come clean about their own struggle with pride. I don’t hear anyone naming pride as a problem that affected their reaction to another individual: No, I don’t want to go out with him, he’s too prideful.

Do we not care?

I don’t think that’s it. Many years ago the protagonist in my first novel was arrogant, and the members of my critique group didn’t like him. A Beta reader said if he weren’t reading the book to help me he would have put it down and not finished. In other words, pride is a quality we see and do not like. But do prideful people get pushed out of the promotion line pr have friends take them aside and say, You have a problem that is holding you back . . .

I’ve heard sermons that talk about humility, and once in a great while, pride. But I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone ask for prayer for their problem of pride. And it’s not typical for someone to tell how Christ saved them from their pride.

Why does pride still seem to be the secret sin we don’t want to talk about? My guess is that Satan wants us to keep it that way, so he’s not encouraging us to bring it out into the light.

If we did, we’d see how ugly it is. How it leads to all kinds of other sins. We’d see it’s a kind of entry drug that opens up the whole case. We might even talk about how pride is at the heart (literally) of every person who does not come to God.

No matter what reasons people give—from crazy Christians to “a lack of evidence”—the real issue is what atheist Christopher Hitchens admitted before he died. He didn’t want a Supreme Being telling him what to do. He wanted to be master of his fate.

And therein is the real problem. It’s not easy to say, Thy will be done.

No, we want our will to be done. In government. In our office. At our children’s school. In our church better. In our community, our city, our state.

That’s why we buy into commercials that tell us we deserve this or that. Inside we quietly agree.

Jonah is a good example. God said X and he did Y. He wanted what he wanted, no matter what God wanted.

Pride is at the root of sins in more than one Bible person’s life. And too often it’s at the root of our sins today. I guess the old term was “besetting sin.” Pride plagues us far more than we are willing to talk about, I think.

Of course submission to God is the cure to pride.

Published in: on January 4, 2018 at 6:24 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Connection Between Pride And Anxiety


scan-2016-11-8-0002As I stood before a cashier this evening, a woman behind me said how worried she was about the election. Later at home, I heard on TV that people in state X are exhibiting signs of anxiety as they anticipate the election returns.

I don’t think worrying about the results or the next four years of struggle and/or change is the road God wants those who fear Him to take.

Here’s a re-post of an article I wrote three years ago that addresses this issue.

1 Peter has some great “one liners” and lots of people quote various verses from the book, but I’ll admit, I never paid much attention to the context in which those verses appear. I’m talking about ones like, “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (2:24). Or how about the last half of 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Then there is 5:8, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”

Just before that verse about the Christian’s enemy, though, come two other well known verses, and I realized for the first time how they relate to each other. The first one is this:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (5:6).

The thing is, the next verse continues the thought: “casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you” (5:7).

The sentence construction, as I understand it, means that casting our anxieties on God is a working out of the previous command to humble ourselves. It would be like me saying, Drive to the store, stopping at all the red lights on the way. Stopping at the lights is a part of carrying out the command to drive to the store.

I never before saw casting anxieties on God as a working out of humbling myself under His mighty hand. Looking at 1 Peter as a letter from an evangelist to the churches he helped to start, however, rather than a collection of quotable Christian sayings, has changed my understanding.

Traffic_lights_red.svgI now think the two ideas fit really well. If I humble myself under God’s mighty hand, I have to let Him be God. I have to recognize Him as sovereign, but then I also have to trust Him, even when things are hard and don’t seem right. I have to be willing to relinquish my concerns and put them in His care. I have to stop worrying, in other words, and trust that He sees the big picture better than I do.

The problem I struggle with is knowing what part I am to play as I trust God. I don’t think it means I take my hands off the wheel (with all due respect to Kelly Clarkson). God has put believers on this earth and keeps us here to be His representatives. Therefore, I can’t sit back and say, I have to trust that God will bring people to Christ without also doing what I am capable of doing.

I can’t say, God will feed me, so I don’t have to worry about working. I need to give myself to my work, understanding that God is the provider, but that He is providing through my efforts and the doors He has opened up for me.

I think contentment is critical in understanding the interweaving of pride and anxiety. If we recognize that what we have is from God’s hand, that He is good and loving, then we can be content in His watch care. If we want more than He provides, we can ask Him for more. He may lead us to more or He may not.

Anxiety sets in, I believe, when we think we have to circumvent God to get the more we asked for. We know MORE is what we need, and God isn’t coming through or He’s too busy. So it’s up to us to figure out how to get MORE.

The problem is, we are the agents through which God works, so sometimes we really do need to do something to bring about the thing we’re asking. The trick is to know when to do and when to stand and watch God work.

Well, the real trick is to cast all the worry about the matter upon our good God because He cares for us. If we give Him the worry, I believe He’ll give us the understanding about what we’re to do.

I don’t think this principle is only applicable to money and jobs. It’s true about anything we humans tend to worry about. Over and over God promises us peace, and yet we seem to rush about so, trying to do and fix and change and make, when we need, first, to hand our worries over to God and trust that He’ll show us our part in due time.

Published in: on November 8, 2016 at 5:33 pm  Comments (8)  
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The Connection Between Humility And Obedience


sad_snot-nosed_kid“Fool! You fool!” the five-year-old shouted. As it turned out, he was talking to his mother. She didn’t reprimand him for the name calling or for the disrespect. Instead she asked him if his father gave him sugar that morning. He growled in reply. She asked again and he growled again. Finally she asked him why he was making those noises. He said, “I’m a monster,” and proceeded to growl a few more times. At last his mother told him to stop being a monster. He growled in reply.

Is there a connection between this five-year-old’s disobedience and his disrespect for someone in authority? I think absolutely. Philippians tells us that Jesus humbled Himself by becoming obedient (2:8), and Hebrews tells us He learned obedience through suffering.

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (5:8)

Jesus was not disobedient until he learned obedience. Rather He was sovereign, the One others obeyed. Being God, He was not in a position to obey anyone else. So when He came to earth, He needed to learn.

Suffering was the means by which He learned, and humility was the outgrowth of this obedience.

So here’s a thought. If suffering leads to obedience that leads to humility, then it makes sense that withheld punishment leads to increased disobedience that leads to pride. Consequently, when parents withhold punishment from their children who are disobedient, they are missing an opportunity to teach them humility. In short, they are enabling their child’s pride.

Ah, yes. Pride. Satan’s plaything. He loves to convince children they know as much or more than their parents, that they don’t have to listen or obey, that their way is as good or better than the way they’ve been instructed.

Those prideful little people, when left uncorrected, end up becoming prideful adults who may tell God they are nicer than He is, that they think He’s wrong to send people to hell, that His Word is outdated, irrelevant, intolerant. In other words, pride is at the heart of much of the apostasy in the western Church. Unlike Jesus, twenty-first century westerners have not learned humility through what we have suffered.

May God have mercy so that we learn humility at the hands of our parents rather than through the consequences a prideful people can accrue.

This post first appeared here in January 2013.

Published in: on September 21, 2016 at 7:11 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Picture Of A Stubborn King


Israel_Museum_290416_Pharaoh_in_Canaan_02

Those who don’t believe in God give Him a bad rap. They criticize Him in blasphemous ways. Not so different from the Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled over the people of Israel in Moses’s day.

First he enslaved God’s people and oppressed them. That shouldn’t be overlooked. The Pharaoh who ruled when Joseph came to power recognized God as the One who gave the interpretation of his dreams:

So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.” (Gen. 41:39-40)

He even gave Joseph a new name which is most likely interpreted “God speaks; he lives.” He also gave Joseph his daughter to marry, so Joseph’s sons were in the line of the Pharaohs.

But there came a day when a Pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph came to power. That suggests to me there was a coup which brought a new leader to the throne. He not only didn’t know Joseph, he didn’t recognized God, and he said so when Moses first met with him.

And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1-2)

That was his second mistake, a second overflow of his stubborn heart. Egypt was a polytheistic culture. They had no reason not to accept Yahweh at least as one of their gods. But this Pharaoh was determined not to give place to God Most High.

When Moses produced the signs that God empowered him to perform—turning water into blood, and his staff into a serpent, which, incidentally ate the serpents that Pharaoh’s magicians produced—Pharaoh remained unmoved. Moses had been convinced by these signs and the people of Israel had been convinced by these signs. But not Pharaoh.

He wasn’t convinced later when his own people had had enough of the gnats (or lice) that covered them.

The magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; so there were gnats on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had said. (Exodus 8:18-20)

Things got worse. Pharaoh went from rejecting God to trying to manipulate Him by contorting what Moses asked. First Pharaoh said, OK, you can worship your God, but you need to stay here in the land. No three-day trip outside Egypt.

18th_dynasty_pharaonic_crown_by_John_CampanaAfter his people endured another plague, he tried a different approach. He’d let them go, but only the men. His next idea was that they’d have to leave their animals behind.

Sandwiched in between these attempts to manipulate God’s direct requirement were times of duplicitous refusal to do what God required. Oh, sure, Pharaoh said the right thing—this time, and then this time, and later this time he’d let the people go. But as soon as the suffering had abated, he changed his mind.

Pharaoh wanted to stay in control

Clearly he wasn’t in control. Nor was his river god or his insect gods or his frog god or his cow god or his sun god. But Pharaoh tried to bargain with Moses, to set up a quid pro quo scenario—if you do this, I’ll do that. But he was a liar and a manipulator.

God’s been blamed for Pharaoh’s hard heart, but the accusation has no merit. Scripture says Pharaoh hardened his own heart and that God hardened his heart.

But what does the original word we translate harden mean? It’s actually not a bad thing for the most part. Strong’s Concordance gives this definition:

to fasten upon; hence, to seize, be strong (figuratively, courageous, causatively strengthen, cure, help, repair, fortify), obstinate; to bind, restrain, conquer

The idea, then, is that what Pharaoh had decided, he fortified or encouraged himself to do. He determined to stay the course he’d chosen. God also bound him to that course of action—not an action God had caused him to take.

God ascribes motive to Pharaoh at one point, even as He reveals His own motive for dealing with the man as He did:

But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth. Still you exalt yourself against My people by not letting them go. (Exodus 9:16-17)

Pharaoh’s issue, then, was the same one Satan has and that he has infected the rest of us with: he wanted to exalt himself to be equal with God. In this instance, Pharaoh wanted to play God in the lives of the people of God. He wanted to tell them where to go and what to do, for no other reason than that he had the power to do so. (See for example Pharaoh’s decision to withhold straw, a necessary ingredient for making brick, from the Israelite slaves, while still demanding that they meet his chosen product quota.)

At any turn Pharaoh could have acquiesced, and let God’s people go a three day journey into the wilderness and worship Him. Egypt would have escaped the plagues. Israel would have remained in bondage. The only thing this decision would have cost was Pharaoh’s self-importance. He would be taking direction from God through Moses and Aaron, and he could not abide by such a blow to his ego. He had exalted himself against God’s people, and, stubborn man that he was, he wasn’t about to back down.

Little did he know that God would bring him to his knees and in the process would display His power throughout the world, from generation to generation.

Published in: on August 31, 2016 at 6:47 pm  Comments Off on The Picture Of A Stubborn King  
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Lessons Learned On The Football Field


Broncos linebackerToday is the beginning of the NFL preseason. The Broncos have traveled to Chicago and take on the team under the direction of their old coach, John Fox. So it seems fitting to revisit an article from a few years ago.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget a play that happened in the Ravens-Broncos NFL season opener a few years ago. As it turned out, it had no bearing on the result of the game, but I suspect it had great impact on the young man involved.

Danny Trevathan, a second-year Denver Broncos linebacker [who has moved on through free agency, to Chicago, no less], made a remarkable play on a pass from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, jumping the pass route, intercepting the pass, and racing to the end zone.

Trouble is, in his enthusiasm to begin his celebration dance, he dropped the ball before he crossed into the end zone. What should have been an easy Denver touchdown turned into a touch back, giving the Ravens the ball again on the 20 yard line.

Fortunately for the Broncos and for Danny Trevathan, the game wasn’t close, and there wasn’t enough time left for the Ravens to mount a comeback. But that kind of play is often one of those momentum changers.

The thing is, Danny Trevathan really had made a great play. It was a third down, with the Ravens driving and perhaps just enough time on the clock for them to at least make the game respectable if they could score and then recover an onside kick.

But after making his terrific, timely interception, Danny didn’t wait for others to praise him. He went for the glory himself, and in the process robbed himself of the very thing he sought.

I couldn’t help but think of a number of verses in Scripture that tell us pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. Besides Solomon’s wisdom in Proverbs, David talks about God abasing “haughty eyes,” James declares God’s attitude toward pride, and Peter repeats the same thing in an extended version:

God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you at the proper time. (1 Peter 5:5b-6)

Sadly Danny Trevathan apparently hasn’t learned the principle of letting others praise you and not your own mouth. Apparently he hasn’t learned that God abases the kind of pride he was ready to display.

But what a fortunate guy. True, his blooper happened in front of a national television audience, but it didn’t cost the Broncos the game. And it happened in a game. I mean, football is big business, and all, but it didn’t happen in a venue where people’s lives hinged on what he did or failed to do.

Plus, he gets to learn a valuable lesson that just might last a lifetime. In truth, this lesson could influence his entire worldview. Might it even be an opening for him to learn about God’s attitude toward pride? Now that would make Danny Trevathan a real winner . . . in spite of dropping the ball on the one foot line.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in September 2013.

Published in: on August 11, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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God’s Gift Of Weakness


WeightliftingWestern culture does not prize weakness. For that matter, I doubt if Eastern culture prizes weakness either. Generally society rewards the brightest and the best, the strongest and the fastest, the most beautiful and the most gifted. We give A’s to the kids that get the majority of the questions right, not the ones who say, “I don’t know.” We give the big athletic scholarships to the players who score the most points, hit for the highest average, win the most games. In other words, we’re not wired to look at weakness as a gift.

That God apparently takes a contrary view is just another evidence that His ways are not our ways:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts
And My ways are not your ways
Declares the Lord
For as the heavens are higher than the earth
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 59:1-2)

But is it true that God prizes weakness? Yes and no. What He prizes is humility.

Over and over in the major and minor books of prophecy, God’s men gave the message that pride was a cause of God’s judgment—whether against Israel or Judah or one of the nations around them.

The Lord GOD has sworn by Himself, the LORD God of hosts has declared:
“I loathe the arrogance of Jacob,
And detest his citadels;
Therefore I will deliver up the city and all it contains.” (Amos 6:9)

God’s great passion throughout the Bible is to be known. Consequently He brought famine to show that He controls nature; He brought war to show that He provides or withdraws security. He raised people from the dead to show that He rules over life. He forgives sins to show that He is sovereign over the spiritual realm.

Why? Because people who were well fed and safe and healthy and self-righteous began to take credit for creating a world that gave them what they needed and wanted. In other words, they stole God’s glory by their pride.

Something else God prizes—the eternal over the temporal. He tells us to store up treasure in heaven where moth and rust can’t get it. The picture is treasure that lasts versus treasure that must inevitably fade away.

Consequently, God is more concerned with our character, which lasts, than with our bank account, which fades away. When Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had, He did so because He wanted the young man to yield himself completely to God’s lordship. The guy’s love of his money was standing in the way of a whole-hearted commitment to Jesus.

Which brings us back to the main topic. When we are strong, we keep fighting. We think we can still win. We believe in ourselves, believe we can come back from a deficit, that we can make it.

When we are weak, however, we have two options: give up or give in. We can quit, and some people do that, or we can give up—we can tell God He’s right, we’re wrong, He’s holy and we’re sinful, He’s perfect and we’re imperfect. When we give in, we say, we can’t make life work the way we want because we’re too weak, so we’re willing to let God make life work the way He wants.

Our weakness, in other words, presses us to God’s side. We are forced to cling to Him or let go because our grip isn’t strong enough. But there’s no better place, no safer place, no place more beneficial than at the feet of Jesus.

By showing us our weakness, by leaving us weak when we ask Him to make us strong, God gives us the greatest gift apart from His Son. He gives us an awareness of our need for Him.

But as I mentioned, we have the option of giving up when we see our weakness. We can choose from the stubbornness of our hearts to “go down with the ship” rather than to yield control to God. Then, at least, we think, we can say, “I did it my way,” as if that’s some sort of victory.

My way, which leads to destruction, or God’s way which leads to salvation. I wonder which one is real victory?

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

This post first appeared here in May 2013.

Published in: on April 20, 2016 at 6:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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Topping The List? Pride


Engraving by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article first appeared here in November 2011.

Published in: on January 22, 2016 at 6:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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Accusations Against God


English-barristerI finished the book of Job this week and much of what I read lingers. This book makes me dig for answers. Yet much of my understanding crystallized some years ago when I wrote a blog post entitled “Thoughts On Job.” It’s not a particularly scintillating title, but the ideas are ones I want to share, so I’m reprising the article under this new name.

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I’ve been thinking about Job and his sorry friends a lot of late. For one thing, the real subject of the book of Job seems to be God’s character. I’ve read snatches of commentary about the book and heard sermons and even read fiction based on Job’s story and much of it seems to focus on the “wager” between God and Satan.

Oddly, I don’t see a wager. That would reduce the exchange to a “betcha he will/betcha he won’t” argument. There is no “betting” when it comes to omniscience, as if God might actually be wrong in His assessment of Job.

Instead, He pointed Job out to Satan as an example of righteousness, and Satan turned around and accused God of buying Job’s loyalty. God basically said, See for yourself if that’s true, which it wasn’t

Here’s the part that I understood for the first time though. Job’s friends, perhaps the first health-and-wealth theologians, in essence agreed with Satan. They said, Job, if you will just do right (or stop doing wrong), God will pay you for it.

In other words, they were putting God in a box and telling Job he had the capacity to manipulate God into blessing him and prospering him. Job countered by saying, No, he hadn’t done anything to bring down God’s wrath, but He was punishing him anyway.

Here’s where Job sinned. He accused God too. Accused Him of wronging Job, to the point that he justified himself at God’s expense. (God even asked him, “Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?” – Job 40:8b)

But the critical point comes when God spells out for all of them the truth about Himself:

Who has given to Me that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.
– Job 41:11

Satan was wrong in his accusation of God. God doesn’t need to pay off His creatures to love Him. Job’s friends were wrong in their description of God. He can’t be manipulated into giving us good things as payment for our obedience.

Of course, God then called Job to account for his pride. His description in verses 12 through 33 of chapter 41 sounds like that of a dragon, the very term used of Satan in the book of Revelation. Then God adds verse 34:

He [the creature He’s just described] looks on everything that is high;
He is king over all the sons of pride.

Did Job at that point see himself as a son of pride? as a son of Satan? Most definitely he saw God aright, but I think that must have also made him see himself aright, too. As a result he retracted his accusations and repented “in dust and ashes.”

One more cool thing. The message of Job seems clear: God doesn’t pay us for right behavior. He doesn’t owe us anything nor does He need anything from us. He is over all and owns all. But He juxtaposed this book with the book of Psalms, so full of promises like

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked …
He will be like a tree firmly planted by water
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.

So which is it? God doesn’t repay or God does bless the person who won’t hang with the wicked? Both.

It’s like the parable Jesus told about the landowner who hired workers at different times during the day. When those who worked all day received the same pay as those who worked only one hour, they were miffed and accused the owner of wrong doing. But he said, are you mad because I was generous?

God can be generous to whomever He wishes, to whatever degree He wishes.

However, the thing we too often miss is that His greatest gifts aren’t the external things that make this life more comfortable. The real gifts are the spiritual things that are eternal, and those eternal blessings we have no way of measuring here and now.

Published in: on January 8, 2016 at 6:30 pm  Comments (4)  
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