Reprise: What’s Offensive about Grace?


God's Great GraceWho would ever find grace offensive? We’re talking about God’s free gift. His favor—unsought, unearned, undeserved—yet something God chooses to give because of His great love. In what way is that an offense?

Yet people are offended by this good news. Why? I think there are several possibilities.

1) God’s gift of grace is a result of Man’s need for grace. And why does Man need God’s favor? Because not only are we sinners but our sin prevents us from coming to God on our own.

Some people, however, don’t want to hear about Man’s sin. They’ve bought into the worldly lie that humankind is good (it’s society that’s messed us up! 😮 ) So the idea that God extends His grace is offensive. Only a weak, wounded, incapable person needs a saving hand. Someone who views himself as strong, whole, and adequate might be offended at a person declaring the opposite.

2) God’s grace requires belief in God. Unfortunately, some people are offended by the idea that God exists. If they can’t see Him, then He isn’t, from their perspective. Their unwillingness to accept revelation, and their determination to rely on their own understanding make the idea of a Supreme Being detestable. Consequently, His offer of grace is offensive.

3) God offers grace uniquely through His Son. The idea that Jesus is the only means by which a person can receive God’s grace is offensive to some. Could it be these people don’t like being told what to do, that they don’t handle do-it-or-else very well? Apparently they are offended at the lack of options, at the requirement to proceed through the only open door.

4) God’s grace is a free gift. Some people are adamant that they don’t accept charity. They pay their own way, and they’re determined not to change for God. He offends them by offering to cover for them because in so doing, He’s implying that they can’t make it on their own. And they’re convinced they can.

It seems to me that all these reasons for people to view God’s grace as an offense have one thing in common: pride. Pride colors our view of humankind so that we don’t see our sin nature. Pride keeps humans from accepting revelation over against our own rational interpretation of the world. Pride keeps us from accepting God’s solution instead of the ones people have imagined. Pride keeps a person from realizing he can’t reach God through his own efforts.

So why is grace the offense? Seems to me, grace rubs our pride the wrong way.

This article first appeared here in Feb 2009.

Published in: on October 13, 2015 at 4:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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We Don’t Have What It Takes


Mountain climber
Recently on Twitter a Christian with some standing in the writer world tweeted this: “We all need to be reminded more often that we have what it takes. It’s true. You are enough.”

I’m sorry, but I don’t know what world this individual is living in, but in the real one, none of us is enough. We wouldn’t be around if our parents hadn’t seen us through that awkward stage called infancy! We weren’t enough in those early years.

None of us is growing our own food and making our own clothes and pumping our own water that I’m aware of. We aren’t enough in the day-to-day business of providing for our basic needs.

Someone in the writing business ought to be aware that none of us is enough. Writers need editors (or friends willing to read over our work for mistakes) and cover designers and Amazon if we want to do the simplest, most basic kind of publishing. Even if we decide we will put our work up on our blog, we are not alone in the endeavor. We not only need the blog platform, we need the computer and the software and the Internet connection. We simply are not enough.

But of course, our inadequacy is most evident when we look at spiritual matters. Our pride would like us to believe we’re enough. Satan would like us to believe we’re enough. The world, and now this professing Christian, tells us we’re enough. But God says we aren’t.

In fact God says our righteousness doesn’t cut it, that salvation is “not of ourselves” (Eph. 2:8-9), that it is found in no one except Jesus Christ (“There is salvation in no one else . . .” – Acts 4:12).

Quite honestly, I’m baffled. I know this “look to the power within” movement, a very Zen idea, is quite the rage these days. But really? Power to do what, precisely? Do we cause the sun to rise? The tides to swell or withdraw? Can we stop the rain from flooding or bring it to drought-ravaged land? Do we “have what it takes” to force our boss to give us a raise? Or cure our friend of cancer? Do we have what it takes to force ISIS to stop killing people or the Boko Haram to stop kidnapping and raping Christian girls in Nigeria? Is it in us to bring an end to the Ebola virus?

The amazing thing to me is that a handful of people have retweeted this utter nonsense and an almost equal number have favored it.

What do these people think we have in us that “is enough”? Enough for what? And what do we have? What is the “it factor”? And what does it accomplish?

I can see people reading those words now, nodding, and thinking, Oh, so wise. Yes, I am enough.

It’s a bit of meaningless garbage, but it stokes the ego—which I assume is why people think it’s worth passing on to others, why they want to save it where they can find it and read it again some day.

As near as I can figure, ego stroking is all those lines accomplish. They are void of any substance and they are patently untrue.

I shouldn’t be surprised, I know. Satan is all about cutting humans off from God upon whom we must depend.

God uses a variety of metaphors to show us our connectedness with Him, our dependency on Him. He says we’re sheep and He the Shepherd will guide us to green pastures, quiet waters. Christ says He’s the vine and we are the branches, that abiding in the vine is how we produce fruit. He says He is the head, the brain, if you will, and we are the body. Paul even identifies the lack of connection to Christ as pride:

Their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it. (Col. 2:18b-19, NLT)

Psalm 71 spells out our need for God, as opposed to an independent state of being enough:

For You are my hope;
O Lord GOD, You are my confidence from my youth.
By You I have been sustained from my birth;
You are He who took me from my mother’s womb;
My praise is continually of You. (vv 5-6)

The Psalmist did not say, my praise is continually of myself for I have it within me. I am enough.

So I wonder, have we stopped reading our Bibles that we would be suckered into believing this platitude of the world’s philosophy? I have to admit—I feel a little shell-shocked. I mean, believers, or at least professing believers, writing something or agreeing with it and sharing it with others, that is so contrary to what the Bible says is true. It’s another instance of calling wrong, right, and even encouraging others to do the same.

Make no mistake, though. God does not reveal in His word that we have what it takes, that we are enough. He reveals that our best efforts, our righteousness, is dirty, grimy, muddy, slimy, unclean, mucky foul, squalid, sordid, nasty, soiled, sullied polluted, contaminated, unhygienic, unsanitary rags:

For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on Your name,
Who arouses himself to take hold of You;
For You have hidden Your face from us
And have delivered us into the power of our iniquities. (Isaiah 64:6-7)

So if by “we have it in us,” this individual means, we have the power of our iniquities in us, then OK. If by “you are enough,” this person means we are enough to cause God to turn from us because of our sin, then OK. I don’t think that’s what they were going for, though.

The reason this false teaching is a big deal is simply this: unless we see our need for a Savior, we won’t want one. Unless we realize we aren’t enough, we won’t seek the One who is enough. Unless we see our best efforts as God sees them, we won’t want the new life we can have in Christ. Instead we’ll be off trying to conquer mountains with what we have in us. Which decidedly isn’t enough.

Published in: on May 28, 2015 at 6:20 pm  Comments (12)  
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Discussions And Winning


Roulette_in_Las_VegasI’ve been on the Internet long enough to have involved myself in a good number of discussions. I’ve gotten myself banned from a couple sites for being contentious, and have had a fair share of mud flung in my direction.

From where I sit, having learned a thing or two along the way, I think people enter into Internet discussions for one of four reasons. Some people take part by dropping their explicit opinion without reading any other comments and without returning to engage any opposing views. In other words, they drop their opinion and run. They are like drive-by shooters.

Others want to be the wise professor, showing all the other peons, er, people, what they know.

Some percent of people care more about winning than they do what it is they are discussing. Consequently, if they are corrected or challenged in what they say, they must find a way to attack back, to gain points for the ones they lost.

Finally, there are some people who actually want to engage in give-and-take, to consider a subject from a different perspective, to learn even though they may continue to disagree. They may even discover they have far more common ground with those in disagreement than they had once presumed. In short, they are willing to engage in a discussion without the need to win.

I have to admit, I’m a fan of this latter type of interaction. I like learning new things. I like having my own assumptions and beliefs challenged. It forces me to examine where I stand and see if it’s actually firm enough to hold me up.

More often than not, I come away from those kinds of discussions with a firmer conviction. Sometimes I’m forced to do some homework—to search out answers to a question I hadn’t thought of before or know little about. That also is a good thing—a very good thing.

But the “discussions” that devolve into gamesmanship in which one party cares more about winning than about considering both sides of a question, or about the people with whom they’re dialoguing, bring out the worst in me. As my family can tell you, I don’t like losing. I don’t like eating humble pie. I don’t like people calling me names or laughing at my expense. My instinct is to fight back, to prove I know just as much, can be as snarky as they, can take them down a peg.

In short, I’m tempted to adopt the “discussion is about winning” mindset.

It’s a temptation, sadly, because “everyone’s doing it.” The desire to win has become far too prevalent in western society. We want our sports teams to win (I sure do!) We want the singer we voted for to win. We want our political candidate to win. We want to beat the other driver in a race to the next red light, and we surely don’t want to let that jerk in ahead of us.

The bottom line, I guess, is pride. We want to come out looking like we did something (picked the best team, the best singer, the best candidate). We want to outshine the next guy, even when we don’t know that guy and will never see him again. It’s our own ego we are trying to satisfy.

Ego, I think, is what drove those teachers in Atlanta to cheat for their students. In fact, CNN reported that during former Georgia District Attorney Michael Bowers investigation, “he heard that educators cheated out of pride, to earn bonuses, to enhance their careers or to keep their jobs” (emphasis mine). Ego drives gang members to tag their turf and protect it. Ego drives businessmen to pull shady deals so they can climb over their buddy as they ascend the corporate ladder. Ego drives soccer moms to brag about their kids’ accomplishments even as they conveniently forget to mention the problems. Ego causes church leaders to play the number game—how many converts, how many baptisms, how many attendees.

And why shouldn’t ego be a growing factor in today’s society? From the moment kids can walk and talk, parents and TV and educators and most every other adult they come in contact with, tell them they can do whatever they put their little minds to. Unfortunately, “Just win, baby” actually hasn’t turned out to be much of a winning formula.

Some people believe it and spend their lives trying to get to whatever goal they desire and believe they deserve, regardless of the methods required to do so. Others who learn they aren’t the winners their parents said they were, live vicariously through their own children or through their favorite golfer or race car driver; others steep themselves in the gaming community and make all parts of life about winning. Including Internet discussions.

As long as we live with the idea that discussions are about winning, we doom ourselves in two ways: we will stop learning about other people and what they think—a dangerous circumstance in our ever shrinking world—and we will devalue compromise.

Once, in the US men of government were considered great statesmen if they could work out a compromise. If two sides saw an issue in opposing ways, a statesman was the person who helped both sides to come together and agree on something workable; though neither side got all they wanted, both sides got some of what they wanted.

Apparently we no longer value the role of a peacemaker. Rather, we want a litigator who can take the matter to court and WIN. Ah, there it is again. This passion to come out on top.

No wonder Jesus sounds so radical to our culture. He said things like, The last shall be first, and the first last. And, Love your enemies; do good to those who misuse you. And take up your cross daily, and follow me.

Our culture says things like, The one who dies with the most toys wins. But Jesus said, Store up your treasure in heaven where moth and rust can’t get to it.

I don’t think a person can turn on and off the desire to win. I think God needs to do something in a person’s heart to give life a greater meaning than just elbowing out the other guy. I think God needs to do a work in a person’s heart to make them care more for others. Even in Internet discussions.

Myths About Evangelicals – They’re All A Bunch Of Pharisees


512px-House_on_the_rock,_island_of_St_MarkoFrom time to time I get out my soapbox and pull myself to the top in order to decry some of the fantastical things people—even some professing Christians—say about those of us who believe the Bible to be true.

One I find particularly egregious is this notion that Evangelicals, or Bible-believing Christians—you know, those who think Adam and Eve were real people and the Garden of Eden was an actual place—are Pharisees. Some might even add, Pharisees of the worst kind!

This statement shows a lack of understanding, both about Pharisees and about Christians.

I’ve addressed the misconception about Pharisees and Christians before (see “Who Are The Pharisees?” and “Christians Are Not Pharisees”). But as I read through Matthew’s record of Jesus’s encounters with the Pharisees, a couple thoughts ran through my head.

1) “Religious” was not the problem Jesus had with the Pharisees. The main problem He had with them was that they rejected Him as Messiah. Long before the Pharisees conspired to arrest Jesus, try Him, and execute Him, Jesus knew they opposed Him. After all, they did things like demand He prove He was who He said He was and throw out trick questions to get Him to a) blaspheme, b) break the Mosaic Law, or c) denounce Roman rule.

2) The only religious activity Jesus hated was false religious activity. The Pharisees went around praying in public so people could see how pious they were. When they fasted, they made a show of it by neglecting their appearance so people would know they were going without.

3) The Pharisees focused on the external and the trivial, not the internal and the “weightier provisions of the law,” justice, mercy, and faithfulness. [And who today thinks of the law as teaching mercy and faithfulness?]

4) The Pharisees were crooks. They not only ripped off the people buying animals from them in the temple, they falsified their weights and shrank their measuring standard, all so they could get rich at the expense of others.

5) They twisted the law and added their own traditions to it so they could duck out from under the things they didn’t like, so they could stack other things in their favor.

6) They also misled many. The rabbis taught their disciples to do as they were doing and more so. They also “shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in” (Matt. 23:13b).

7 On the outside the Pharisees looked as if they were keeping the law, but inwardly they were “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:28b). Lawlessness! Who ever associates the Pharisees with lawlessness? The typical, or stereotypical, view of the Pharisee is someone parsing each tiny aspect of the law and bending over backwards to adhere to it. Legalistic might be a good way of describing the traditional view of Pharisees. And certainly some of what they did or said—tithing the smallest spices, insisting Jesus’s disciples ceremonially wash their hands, criticizing Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, and so on—would fall in the category of legalism.

But Jesus didn’t accuse them of being too picky about their adherence to the Law. Rather, He said inwardly they were without the Law. Can you imagine what these men who had grown up studying the Law must have thought when Jesus told them they were full of lawlessness?

In the end, I do think Christians should learn from the Pharisees (after all, all Scripture is for doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness – 2 Tim. 3:16). We are not insulated from their sins.

In a nutshell, the “woes” Jesus pronounced against the Pharisees stemmed from their pride, their false teaching which mislead others, their misuse of the Law, their neglect of justice and mercy and faithfulness, and their focus on the external rather than their heart attitudes.

The book of James ties what a person does with the reality, or “aliveness,” of his faith. The Pharisees showed their profession of faith was empty and meaningless because of what they did—flaunting their supposed spirituality, taking advantage of widows, cheating worshipers, holding others to a standard they themselves didn’t keep. They were religious phonies.

Anyone professing Christ can be just as much a phony as any of those Pharisees were. And even when we want to put our beliefs in practice, we can be seduced by pride or greed or selfishness. Our Christian walk can become so self-centric we forget that God’s heart is first and foremost for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.

Too often the American Christian follows our culture into me-ism, into looking out for number one—which can manifest as me, my family, my nation. We forget that God so loved the world. Not just our little corner of the world.

So, no, Evangelical Christians are not Pharisees. That’s a myth!

But that doesn’t mean we can’t fall into Pharisaical behavior. It doesn’t mean we can let down our guard when it comes to the sins the Pharisees were guilty of.

It also means that there may be people professing Christ, in the same way the Pharisees professed a special relationship with God, when in fact they don’t know Him. Jesus said so Himself:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ ” (Matt. 7:21-23)

There’s that word “lawlessness” again. Isn’t it ironic that the Pharisees, so proficient in the Law, were guilty of lawlessness? But apparently the same will be true of some who profess Christ.

And how can we know the difference between Christians who are the real deal and those just pretending? Jesus turned around and told a parable about two guys who built houses, one on rock, one on sand. He prefaced the story by saying, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them . . . ” (Matt. 7:24a)

Kind of the same thing James said about works proving that faith is alive.

Pride Is The Fall, Revisited


proudasapeacock-1-1379173-mRecently one of the bloggers I follow, InsanityBytes, has opened my eyes to a group of professing Christians I didn’t realize were doing and saying the kinds of reprehensible, ungodly things that they’re circulating on the Internet.

It dawned on me in one of the recent posts that the attitude these “Christian gamers” are displaying is self-righteous pride. They were quick to fault others—in this particular instance, women who espouse feminism—but don’t see their own hearts.

So I thought perhaps I’d revisit the subject of pride by reposting an article I wrote in 2010. Because it’s based on Scripture, it’s as relevant today as it was then. As it happens, it also addresses Adam’s sin which I’ve also been discussing with Wally, another blogger I follow.

Without further intro . . .

For years money received a bad rap in America. A particular verse in the Bible (I Timothy 6:10a) was misquoted to say “Money is the root of all evil.”

In fact the verse actually says in the New American Version, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (Emphasis mine.)

Perhaps money taking the blame for all evil, explains why pride seems to have skated off our radar screen. I won’t say it’s received a free pass. After all, the adage Pride goes before a fall has become a cliche in America.

That line also stems from Scripture—Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (KJV). Apparently somewhere along the line, the verse morphed into that shortened version.

The heart of the statement remains true to the original, though I wonder that we haven’t taken the point to it’s logical conclusion: If pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall, then didn’t pride and a haughty spirit go before The Fall?

Or more accurately, was pride The Fall itself?

Before Man sinned, Satan rebelled against God, and Scripture clearly shows that the pride of his heart was the real issue:

“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.‘ ”
– Isa 14:12-14 (Emphasis mine).

Is it any wonder, then, that when Satan approached Eve, one of the things he said to her was

“You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
– Gen 3:4b-5 (Emphasis mine).

Eve took Satan’s words into consideration. She saw that the fruit was tasty, attractive, and desirable to make her wise. Whole-heartedly, it would seem, she bought into Satan’s shtick. His desire became hers.

Adam fared no better. He openly chose to side with Eve against God, basically saying he knew what he needed more than God did.

Eve, he understood, would die, just as God said. Then what would happen to Adam? He’d return to that pre-helpmate state, and he didn’t want to do that. He must not have believed that God could, or would, fix things. So Adam had to take on that role. He had to stave off separation from Eve.

In short, he played God.

Isn’t that the definition of pride? From a heart that wants to be God, we act as if we are God. We put ourselves—our wants, our wishes, our well-being—above all else.

We rarely hear the old Pride goes before a fall adage any more. We apparently no longer believe that pride is such a bad thing. In fact, the real problem we face, society says, is not loving ourselves enough, not believing in ourselves enough, not taking enough “me time,” not pampering ourselves, not drawing from the power within.

I think we’re missing it. Pride doesn’t just come before a fall; it is The Fall itself. The hunger in our hearts to be God, forever separates us from Him who actually is God.

But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. In other words, God has the answer even for pride.

Published in: on March 3, 2015 at 6:52 pm  Comments (4)  
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Contentment Vs. Contentment With The Status Quo


smokestack-1402448-mI recently read a book that has 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). 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 outshines what’s expected.

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.”

There has finally begun to be 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 get 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 already has 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” substitution for faith is definitely something to avoid.

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

Joseph, The Clueless?


Joseph025I 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 figures, especially 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. And 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 toward their attitude because 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 keep 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, which, by the way, showed him ruling over all 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, he might simply have 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? But Joseph’s change is not what many would expect.

People in western society today would be clamoring for justice and perhaps revenge. Joseph simply went about his business doing the best he knew how to do. As a result, God blessed him, first as a servant, then as a prisoner.

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 because 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. 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? I’ve not thought so, but I also know how the story ends. And I know how Joseph honored God by refusing to commit adultery with his master’s wife. Still, reading his answer to these men in the best light, I believe he took a further step forward because three years later, his response to Pharaoh 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 who could later say 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 once their father died, 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 now, if he’d ever been. But more importantly, hefa was walking humbly with his God.

Published in: on August 14, 2014 at 7:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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Lessons Learned On The Football Field


Broncos linebackerI don’t think I’ll ever forget a play that happened last night in the Ravens-Broncos NFL opening-season game. 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, 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.

Published in: on September 6, 2013 at 7:31 pm  Comments (6)  
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Star Trek And Besetting Sin


star-trek-into-darknessI realize I’m late to the party, but at long last I went to see Star Trek Into Darkness. (The good news is, I saw it at one of those incredibly low discount theaters and only paid $2.00! The screen was truly BIG, and the chairs literally shook whenever the Enterprise went into warp drive.)

The short version of the story is that young Captain Kirk chases after a murderous, vengeful “superman,” named Kahn, who was genetically enhanced. In many ways, Kirk and Kahn are alike. Both are captains willing to lay down their lives for their crews. Both have suffered loss. Both feel murderous rage as a result. Both initially seek revenge. Both are capable of formulating intricate plots to get what they want, acting as renegades to pull off their schemes.

But what separates them makes all the difference. Kirk has a friend, Mr. Spock, who tells him the truth. And he listens. Kahn, on the other hand, places himself above all other humans.

While Kirk accedes to Spock’s urging to reject the role as judge, jury, and executioner, Kahn embraces it with no regard to the hundreds of people who will die in the process of carrying out his revenge.

The common thread running through both men’s lives is more than their similar circumstances. They both have what some might call a “hero’s complex.” They think putting things right is up to them, and they both are willing to disregard regulations or safety concerns or common sense to do what they think needs to be done.

Another way of saying this is that both men have a huge ego. They think they see things right and everyone else needs to catch up, shut up, or give up.

Except Kirk realizes at one point that he was wrong. Besides listening to Spock and putting his desire for revenge behind him, he apologizes to Scotty and elicits his help. He even admits that he doesn’t know what to do to get them out of trouble, that Mr. Spock is more fit to be the captain.

And despite Kahn’s talk, it is Kirk who actually acts on his proclamation that he would give his life for his crew.

Nevertheless, what I found fascinating in the movie is that both the hero and the villain shared the same besetting sin–the old problem of pride common to Humankind. Pretty interesting for a movie that got in at least one anti-supernatural line.

It seems that literature cannot deny the truth that in all of Humankind there is the likeness of God, mixed with the sin of Satan–the pride and desire he put before Eve to be like God. And how ironic–they who had been created in God’s image, desiring to be like God. Apparently they didn’t realize they already were like Him. Instead, they settled for willfulness, selfishness, self-centeredness–things which Kirk and Kahn shared. Things which all humans share.

Published in: on August 8, 2013 at 6:20 pm  Comments Off on Star Trek And Besetting Sin  
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The Connection Between Pride And Anxiety


Traffic_lights_red.svg1 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.

I 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 July 29, 2013 at 7:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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