No Thank You, Mr. Buffett


Suppose I decide I want to talk to Warren Buffett, the American business magnate. I hunt up a number, call, and wonderfully am answered on the first ring by one of his many assistants.

I explain I want to talk to Mr. Buffett himself. The assistant tells me he just happens to be on site and available. In seconds I hear Mr. Buffett’s energetic voice.

I eagerly identify myself, then move on to the reason for my call. “Thank you,” I say, “but Mr. Buffett I’ll have to say no. I just can’t accept a million dollars from you.”

He pauses, clears his voice, then says, “There must be some mistake. I never offered you a million dollars.”

As you know, this scenario is completely fictitious, but I think there are parts that are analogous to our perception of humankind’s relationship with God.

Jesus clearly said that

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; emphasis mine)

As I understand this passage, there are only two camps—he who believes and he who has not believed. In other words, no one is in the state of my fictitious scenario in which no offer has been made.

We frequently talk about accepting Christ, yet we don’t take much time thinking about what rejecting the Son means. Instead, we assume that first a person hears about Jesus, then he “makes a decision.” That way of looking at things suggests the third category—those who have not heard.

I want to postulate that the decision to reject the Son of God has more to do with our heart attitude than it does with hearing the name of Jesus.

I realize I am walking a dangerous line here, one I think some of the universalists traverse. However, I hope I am coming at it from a Biblical perspective.

More and more, people claiming to be Christians speak of the “innocent” people who haven’t heard the gospel (as Rob Bell did some years ago in his ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos). At best that position is tapping into the “blank slate” theory, that man is born neutral and can decide to be good or evil. At worst, it aligns with the belief that man is good and something from the outside—society or government or Satan or an evil parent or traditional religion—drags him into sin.

The truth is, none is innocent. None is righteous. We are all in “reject” mode, dethroning God and enthroning ourselves.

Let me turn the page for a minute. When Jesus was teaching in the temple one day, He began a discussion with the Pharisees about who their father was. They claimed God was their father, but Jesus said no. Their father was the devil (see John 8:18-59).

Whether Jesus stood in front of them or not, their father would still have been the devil. He did not become their father because they rejected Jesus as their Messiah. The devil already was their father.

Jesus, of course, knew this about them because He is omniscient. He knew they were slaves to sin. The only thing that could free them would be His shed blood.

But today so many are coming to the issue of salvation as if it is a matter of imparting information—giving everyone a chance to hear the truth, and if they haven’t had that chance, then God is either unfair or He’ll give them that chance later or the information we thought they needed, they didn’t really need because their own belief system is a good substitute.

All of this rejects the idea that an omniscient, all powerful, good God who forms us in our mothers’ wombs can know our hearts and that He calls those who are His. It’s an uncomfortable idea.

We don’t know, can’t understand why God put us in America where we could so easily hear the gospel.

But we must marvel just as much about Tisquantum, better known as Squanto, who was kidnapped with the intent to be sold into slavery. As a result, he had the opportunity to learn about Jesus and escaped the plague that wiped out the rest of his people group.

Or how about Mincayani, one of the Huaorani tribesmen that killed Jim Eliot and the others martyred with him. His act of violence did not stop the truth of God from coming to his people and specifically to Mincayani himself.

The stories of people coming to Christ are many, varied, and no less miraculous if the miracle is about being born where the gospel is readily heard or if it is about one hearing the unexpected and unsought truth of God’s Son.

My point is this. I don’t believe anyone will be judged for rejecting an unoffered gift. God is not Warren Buffett.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in March 2011.

What Does “Believe In Jesus” Mean?


woman-praying-840879-mI’m glad I didn’t sit under some of the Bible teaching as a young person that I’ve heard as an adult. Don’t get me wrong. I respect the preachers and I believe what they say, but it’s not what I needed to hear as a young, immature Christian who often doubted my salvation.

The message these pastors are giving is undoubtedly intended to counter “easy believe-ism.” This false teaching wasn’t familiar to me, but apparently some people claim that as long as you say “the sinner’s prayer” you’re going to heaven no matter what you do thereafter. It sounds sort of like a “works” salvation, with “works” reduced to one—saying a prayer “accepting Jesus into your heart.”

I understand why pastors are standing against this approach to salvation. There’s so much it leaves out. Where’s the part about repentance, about taking up our cross and following Christ, about entering into a relationship with Him, about obeying God, loving Him first and loving our neighbor more than we do ourselves?

The truth is, though, I became a Christian by asking Jesus into my heart.

I was young, a small child. I don’t remember the specific time I first prayed to receive Christ (yes, first—I’ll get to that in a bit), but I do remember asking a Sunday school teacher how Jesus, pictured as a man on a flannel graph, could fit into my heart.

Chuckle if you must, but I think that’s a good question. It’s not normal to invite a person “into your heart.” Anyone who does so without understanding what he’s doing, very well might not actually be doing it.

That poor, dear, wonderful teacher did her best to explain that it wasn’t Jesus’s body that would come live inside me but His Spirit. So, I wondered, why don’t we say we’re accepting the Holy Spirit, but I don’t think I actually asked that question, possibly because the teacher explained that it was Jesus who died for me, Jesus who paid for my sins.

I got it. But I had another question. Again, I don’t have a clear recollection of the sequence of these events, but at some point when I was six or seven, I wasn’t so sure if I agreed that all had sinned and come short of God’s standard. I knew a few Bible stories by this time, so I figured if I could just think of one person in the Bible who hadn’t sinned, then maybe I could be like him. (I shared a little more about this incident in this post: “My Deceitful Heart.”) I mean, what evil had I done at six? Obviously I hadn’t yet learned about pride and self-righteousness.

I was probably in fifth grade, maybe fourth, when I came across John 3:18. I was playing alone in my room, pretending to be a preacher (I hadn’t learned yet what the Bible says about women and teaching in the church, either 😉 ). I opened my Bible to about the only passage I knew by heart, John 3:16, and started in explaining what it all meant to my pretend congregation. But when I got through that verse, I had more sermon I wanted to preach, so I went on to verse 17, then verse 18. And when I explained the part about Jesus not coming to condemn but that those who didn’t believe in Him were condemned already because they didn’t believe, I got it.

Salvation wasn’t about toeing the line, because none of us could. We were all condemned. Believing in Jesus gave us a pardon.

I was still confused about a lot of things—most particularly why I continued to sin. It gave me no end of doubt about my salvation and contributed to my “accepting Jesus” any number of times because I just didn’t know if it was enough that I meant it when I said it but later acted like I didn’t.

What was it I meant? That I knew I was a sinner, that I knew Jesus had died in my place, that He would forgive me if I believed in Him, and that I would have everlasting life, which meant I’d go to heaven.

I didn’t want to go to heaven particularly. Everything I heard about it made it sound kind of boring, but I knew I didn’t want to go to hell, so I pretty much just wanted to keep living on earth.

That changed, many years later when I read C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce and came to understand that eternal life is Real Life.

I could go on and tell how one by one God added to my understanding and corrected my misunderstanding. But the point is, my “faith journey”—actually my walk with Christ—started because someone asked me if I wanted to pray to accept Jesus into my heart.

Are there false conversions, people who prayed “the prayer” and who have not continued with Christ? I’m sure there are. That’s what Jesus said in the parable about the sower and the seed. Some seed sprang up, but weeds choked it. Some seed fell on the side of the road and was trampled or the birds snatched it away (Luke 8:5-7). Jesus explained it this way:

Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. (Luke 8:12-14)

So who, then, believes in Jesus? I’m convinced I was “born again” when I first put my trust in Him as a small child. My faith wasn’t grounded in theology and it wasn’t mature. It didn’t need to be. It only need to be, because the work wasn’t mine. It was and is Christ’s.

After all, that’s what Scripture says:

but these [signs] have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:31)

And after [the jailer] brought [Paul and Silas] out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Act 16:30-31a).

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in February 20011.

God’s Great Story In Esther


pagankingA few years ago there was great consternation over the story of Esther. A pastor who has since fallen into disrepute preached a series of sermons from the book of Esther, and apparently pointed a finger at Esther and accused her of . . . wait for it . . . (gasp) sin! And feminists had a field day! Oh, how they stood up to defend Esther and how they accused this pastor of condoning rape and abuse and sex trafficking.

I have to say, ever since I heard the story of Esther, I’ve had problems with it. Yes, Esther was one of the exiles from Judah, and therefore, not free. But was she forced into a relationship with the king? Not really.

But my intention isn’t to rehash the debate over Esther’s choices—or whether she had any. Rather, I was struck by something about the opening scene, before Esther has been introduced.

The book is ostensibly about the salvation of the Jewish people from annihilation because of God’s intervention through Esther and her role as queen in King Ahasuerus’s (Xerxes) reign in Medo-Persia. But as a number of Bible teachers will tell us, every book of the Bible is about Jesus Christ.

The pastor I mentioned above certainly preached his series from that perspective. His sermons had titles such as “Jesus Is A Better King,” “Jesus Has A Better Kingdom,” “Jesus Is A Better Savior,” and “Jesus Is A Better Mediator.”

But of course Jesus isn’t mentioned in the book of Esther. Neither is God, though His fingerprints are all over the place. The writer alluded to God most clearly in 4:13-14 when he wrote,

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

So what about the opening struck me as so significant?

We’re introduced to King Ahasuerus who inherited his position as ruler of the greatest empire then known to man. It stretched from India to Ethiopia. He was the greatest sovereign of that time.

With his position came power and wealth—so much so that in year three of his reign, he declared a six-month-long party for all the nobles, leaders, soldiers of his empire. Anyone who was anyone was invited to this bash. He capped the lengthy celebration off with a seven-day feast for those who served him in his palace.

Seven days his men drank and feasted. And elsewhere in the palace, his queen also held a banquet. King Ahasuerus used the occasion to brag about all his power and wealth. At some point, when he was drunk, he also started bragging about how beautiful his wife was. He decided to show her off, so he summoned her to leave her feast and her guests and to parade in front of his men.

Some commentators suggest this had sexual ramifications—making his party to be like a stag party or using her as live porn. Scripture doesn’t say that, but it’s not too hard to imagine that he wasn’t telling her to model the latest evening gown and then return to her own feast.

It’s all very unsavory.

His queen, for whatever reason, refused to come to him. He was furious. As punishment, he removed her from her place as his queen. On the advice of one of his princes, he determined to replace her with someone more worthy.

So here’s the opening of the story:

  • an all powerful king summons his chosen wife to his banquet
  • she refuses to come
  • he removes her and gives her favored position to someone else

Here’s the key verse:

If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed, that Vashti may no longer come into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. (Esther 1:19)

This opening, I suggest, is a metaphor for God’s dealing with humankind.

I know some people will object because King Ahasuerus is an unsavory character who did selfish, godless, unwise things. Some will call him a misogynist.

But throughout Scripture metaphors gave a picture of God’s work in the world and His plan of salvation, and they used sinful people to do so. Jesus even used a godless King in one of His parables to illustrate a point about God. The nature of this king should not blind us to the similarities.

  • God, the all powerful sovereign, calls His people to Himself.
  • His chosen nation refused Him, and finally rejected His Messiah.
  • In response, God chose a people from those who had not been a people—the Church—which has become His bride.

In other words, God’s plan of redemption is right there in the opening chapters of Esther.

Yes, the book is full of other great truths. Esther did have to make a life or death kind of decision, which she did on the strength of the prayers of the Jews she would intercede for. God did orchestrate a set of circumstances that we can only think of as providential because the chances of them all happening when they happened is just too coincidental to be believed . . . unless Someone was in charge.

How sad that in the cultural context of our day we can’t seem to see past the issues we’ve put on our human-centric pedestal.

Ahasuerus was an ungodly king, no doubt about it. He had a harem of untold number of wives and concubines. He made bad decisions and trusted the wrong advisors. He gave away his authority to a man who was prideful and wicked. What’s more, the king was unaware of the effect of his rule on the people in his empire. He wasn’t a good king, he wasn’t a good man, he wasn’t a good husband.

Scripture does not condone any of his behavior. It records it. And by doing so, a picture of God comes out of it all, like the phoenix rising from the ashes: God who is sovereign, calls His people to Himself. When they rejected Him, He created a new people for His own.

Published in: on January 5, 2017 at 6:55 pm  Comments (4)  
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New Beginnings


road-sign_u-s-_1_beginI suspect one of the reasons we like New Year’s Day is that we like new beginnings. In that, we’re not alone. God likes new beginnings, too, apparently.

For example, He established a thing called the Jubilee for Israel. Among the various aspects of this year-long celebration that occurred every fifty years was the opportunity for debts to be forgiven, slaves set free, and those who had sold their homes to once again take possession of them. These provisions allowed many people to have a new beginning.

God showed His love for new beginnings when He brought Israel out of slavery and led them into the land He had promised Abraham. He showed it again when He brought a remnant of the nation back to their land after their exile.

Most obviously, however, God showed His love for new beginnings by His plan of salvation. His forgiveness of sins gives each person who believes in and puts his trust in what Jesus did at the cross a new beginning with God.

No longer does He look at us as aliens and strangers but as friends and sons or daughters. No longer do our iniquities—the stuff we know we shouldn’t do, but we end up doing anyway—separate us from God. We have a new beginning, a record that says the guilt we incurred has been taken care of and we aren’t in debt after all.

We have a new beginning, a spotless record, one that stays that way because God’s idea of a new beginning isn’t one that becomes old after five minutes. He renews our new beginning as often as we need it—which if we’re honest, is pretty often.

God shows His love for new beginnings also in His promise to give us new resurrected bodies in our life after life.

Of course His Grand New Beginning is His plan for a new Heaven and a new earth.

So as the New Year approaches, may the horns and fireworks and champagne bubbles and Auld Lang Syne and the New York Time Square Ball all remind us of God’s love for new beginnings. As a result, may He give us hope for 2017, no matter what the personal or political or economic or social circumstances we may encounter.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in December 2012.

Published in: on December 28, 2016 at 6:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone


martin_luther_lucas_cranach_1526I admit, I’ve been spoiled. I’ve grown up with so many great gifts—loving parents and siblings, an opportunity for a sound education, attendance in church from infancy on, a middle class existence that ensured I had three square meals a day and a warm place to live and many changes of clothes in my closet. I had a secure and happy childhood, though we moved many times.

Part of my growing up included my spiritual education, so I understood early on that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. I understood that I could not do enough good things to make up for the bad. And I understood that no one could help me because they had their own sin problem. No one, except Jesus. His being the only sinless person who ever lived qualified Him to be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world for those who believed.

So nothing I did or could do would merit me to be acceptable to God. Only Jesus, standing in my place, taking the punishment I deserved, solved my sin issue.

Because I understood the basics of salvation at an early age, I have never grasped what it would be like to live any other way.

I’ve heard Jews and Catholics and Greek Orthodox joke in a knowing way about the guilt instilled in them by their religion, or more specifically, by someone who was holding them to a strict adherence to their religion—a parent, a priest, a teacher. I’ve also heard people refer to Christians as bound by guilt.

Those seem odd to me. I don’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt guilt-driven.

So I’ve been spoiled because I’ve believed from my youth that I’m forgiven because of God’s grace.

Christians haven’t always had this understanding. There was a period of time when grace took a back seat to doing good works as the Church defined them. No doubt those who were saved, gained that standing with God because of His grace, but they were perhaps less aware of it.

All that changed four hundred and ninety-nine years ago when Martin Luther went public with the results of his own doubts, questions, and struggles to understand God. On October 31, 1517, Luther sent a paper he’d written to his bishop: “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This document became known simply as the Ninety-five Theses. Whether Luther ever attached a copy of the document to the door of the church at Wittenberg is a matter of contention, as was the document itself, when it first appeared.

But from the thoughts, question, and issues Luther looked at, grew the bedrock of Protestantism and a reformation (though more slowly, it would seem) of the Catholic Church. Luther challenged the practice of selling indulgences, by which the priests grew richer because of the desire of the poor to do what they could to insure the salvation of their loved ones.

Luther contended that salvation depended on God, not on humans:

The most important [truth of Christianity] for Luther was the doctrine of justification – God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous – by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah.[43] “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.”[44] (see “Theology of Martin Luther,” Wikipedia)

Luther had much Scripture to support his position, not the least of which is Ephesians 2:8-9—“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The work is God’s, Luther proclaimed. A worker giving his copper to the church would not save the soul of his dead brother.

When I was growing up, I’d never heard about indulgences or even doing something to help a dead person reach heaven. The works I knew about were the kinds of things people did to make themselves acceptable to God. And these works included good things: going to church, reading the Bible, giving money to the poor, going on a short term mission trip, and so on. Good things.

But just like Paul’s list of good Jewish things recorded in Philippians, this Christian list of good things amounts to rubbish if its considered the means to a relationship with God. Paul’s birth status, circumcision, religious affiliation, and even his personal righteousness, were nothing in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3).

Essentially Martin Luther discovered and proclaimed what Paul had learned through his own quest. The two men were similar. They both wanted to please God, and they both went about it by trying to be good enough for Him based on the good things they did. Both eventually realized that there weren’t enough good things in the entire earth to make them good enough, but that God had given right standing with Him as a free gift through Christ Jesus.

That’s grace.

Nothing earned here.

A free gift.

Undeserved.

I know that rankles American minds—perhaps the minds of others, too. But here we have two competing philosophies—an independent, “earn your own way” mentality and an entitlement, “you deserve it” belief. God’s free gift is an affront to both of those positions. We humans don’t get to take credit for salvation, no matter how you look at it. We didn’t earn it, and we aren’t so wonderful that it ought to have been handed to us based on our incredible merit.

Luther did the hard work of sussing out from Scripture this truth, and I’m incredibly grateful.

Thanks be to God for His free gift of salvation, and thanks be to Him for teaching this truth to Martin Luther so that he could make it widely known.

The Problem With Salvation


In the previous three posts (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday), I addressed the reality of sin and the need each of us has for the good news, that God has rescued us from the mess of our own making. But that’s only part of the story. More than what God has saved us from is the reality of what God has saved us to.

I addressed this in a post a number of years ago, and I want to reprise that article today.

– – – – –

When I was a kid, growing up in a Christian home, I attended Sunday school regularly. My first recollection of an explanation about sin and salvation is tied to heaven and hell.

Later I attended a Bible club and received a Wordless Book that reinforced the concepts.

Clearly, I did not want to go to Hell. If Heaven was the only alternative, then that’s where I wanted to go, and if Jesus could get me there, then I wanted to accept Him “into my heart.”

I had to get past the idea of a shrunken version of Jesus fitting into my heart, and one Sunday school teacher was able to explain, the Holy Spirit was actually the One who would live in my heart.

Why didn’t they just say so, I thought. I had a vague understanding of the Holy Spirit because a lot of hymns called Him the Holy Ghost. Ghosts didn’t sound holy to me, so I had already asked my parents about that one. I don’t remember what they told me, but it must have been adequate for a child’s understanding because I wasn’t troubled by further questions until much later.

But I digress. From my own experience, from listening to others tell their testimony and to some venting about unhappy religious backgrounds, I see confusion when it comes to the issue of salvation.

In part I think this is because some of us never grow up in our understanding of God. But another contributing factor, I think, is that I had an experience of being saved from Hell rather than an experience of being saved to God.

Any teacher, coach, and most parents will tell you that part of training involves laying out consequences. God deals with us the same way. He tells us what the wages of sin is, just as He warned Adam what would happen if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So Sunday school teachers who spoke of Hell were not inventing something or using scare tactics. They were telling the truth.

However, escape from Hell isn’t all that great in and of itself. For years I worried about boredom sitting on those clouds, playing a miniature harp for all of eternity.

Eventually my understanding began to grow and my relationship with God began to develop, but it took years.

I had one friend in college who had serious questions about God, in part because she had questions about eternity. My answers were woeful and unbiblical, and she dismissed Christianity in the face of them.

That experience drove me to ask more questions.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

  1. Salvation seems to be less important to some people than their efforts to earn it.
  2. Salvation is much more about being in God’s company than anything else. The real terror isn’t Hell. It’s separation from God. Conversely, Heaven is only great because God makes it great.
  3. Christ provides the only access to God.
  4. Because salvation is really a relationship, it is dynamic.
  5. I don’t have to wait for “later” to experience the joy of my salvation.
  6. The relationship I now have with God grows like any other relationship. If I spend time with Him, I am close to Him. If I don’t, I’m not.
  7. Right now, my relationship with God is more like an Internet friendship. I know Him in part, in the ways He’s revealed Himself to me. Someday, I’ll know Him in person.

This article originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in August, 2009.

Published in: on June 27, 2016 at 4:33 pm  Comments Off on The Problem With Salvation  
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What Makes Good News Good?


reading_newspaper_276396976Since I’m a fiction writer, let’s pretend.

You’re rich. Not just comfortably middle class, but within reach of Bill Gates. We’re talking loaded, filthy rich, a billionaire. One day, you get an email notification that you have won a new car, the latest low-end Nissan—a stripped down car with no radio, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, or automatic transmission. Did you receive good news?

But let’s pretend you’re a twenty-year-old college student with mounting loans, and the only way you can get to work from school is public transportation — if the professor lets class out five minutes early, and then you have to make a dash for the bus stop. One day, you get an email notification that you have won a new car, the latest low-end Nissan—-a stripped down car with no radio, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, or automatic transmission. Did you receive good news?

I suspect someone in scenario number two would be ecstatic with such wonderful news, but why? It’s the same news the person in scenario number one received. In all likelihood, that individual would either look at the prize as just one more thing to have to deal with or more probably, as something to hand off to an assistant to dispose of. He might not give the matter a second thought.

Clearly the different reactions are based upon the differing circumstances.

In the spiritual realm, while we all have identical circumstances to deal with, our perception might be that we don’t.

All mankind labors under the weight of our selfish, prideful, self-righteous hearts that want to see us enthroned, not God; that want to see us first, not our neighbor. Our condition leaves us separated from our Creator and at odds with the people around us.

Some of us have learned to mask our disappointment at our isolation and some have learned to numb it by activity or some destructive behavior. Some try to overcome it, thinking it is possible to do enough good things to crawl out of the abyss. None of it works, but we keep trying because we think perhaps we just haven’t found the right key.

On the other hand, some seem to have it all figured out. They are successful, on the way to fulfilling all their dreams, happy in the truest sense of the word. They are the spiritual billionaires.

But the truth is, they are no less dead in their sins, destined for destruction. They just don’t know it. Their perception is, All is well. Their reality is, The wages of sin is death.

If I were to come up to one of these spiritual billionaires and say, God loves you; His grace is available for you; His forgiveness is free—that individual would most likely think I was offering him the equivalent of a cheap car he doesn’t want, a burden he’ll have to get rid of as soon as possible.

It takes thirsty people to want water, hungry people to want bread. It takes lost people to want to be found.

Enter God’s law. Scripture calls it a tutor. Without the law I wouldn’t know that my covetousness or lust or hatred is not OK.

Jesus Himself expanded the Ten Commandments. In fact one of His first public discourses was all about how the Law was not only external but internal—lust was the same as committing adultery, hatred the same as committing murder. In the end He said, Be perfect as My Father is perfect.

As if!

When you put it in the terms Jesus did, we all know we aren’t perfect, can’t be perfect. And therefore, that we stand in need of a Savior.

We—all of us—need the good news, but it will only seem good if we know we need it.

This post, a reprint of an article that first appeared here in February 2011, is a follow up to Who Believes In Sin These Days? and Sin Is Not The Problem.

Published in: on May 26, 2016 at 5:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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Accused, Betrayed, Denied, Forsaken


The_Crucifixion011During Passion Week, we Christians commemorate the great sacrifice Jesus made for us, giving His own life in order that we might experience newness of life, freedom from sin, reconciliation with God. But our focus often centers on Christ’s physical suffering. In looking at the events surrounding His crucifixion, however, it becomes apparent that He suffered in every way humanly possible.

First, His suffering had a social component. One of His twelve chosen followers in whom He poured His life, betrayed Him to His enemies. One of His inner circle, who knew Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God, who saw Him transfigured, denied Him. All His followers abandoned Him, literally leaving Him for dead. Jesus could not have been more alone.

His suffering was also intellectual. Jesus identified Himself as the Truth, yet He endured false accusations. People twisted His words, claiming He said things He didn’t say. His very purpose for coming to earth was misrepresented and misunderstood. He was also subject to an illegal trial which unfolded in six phases. He was questioned and denounced by Herod when He gave no answer, condemned by the High Priest when He did answer, and ignored by Pilate when He offered him the Truth.

Jesus suffered emotionally, too. The Roman soldiers made fun of His position as King of the Jews. As Pastor Swindoll taught, those godless men who hated the Jews presented Him with three things that marked a king: a robe, a scepter, and a crown. The crown was made of thorns, the scepter was a reed, and the robe, identified in Matthew as a chlamys, was a short robe covering the shoulders and ending at the elbows such as military men wore. He was naked from the waist down.

In addition, as He hung on the cross, onlookers and even for a time both thieves dying with Him, taunted Him. Somewhere nearby soldiers gambled for the few possessions He owned–His clothes. And ultimately, He had to put His mother into the care of someone else.

I believe the worst suffering of all, however, was what He went through spiritually. Jesus Himself gave voice to what He was experiencing:

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” (Matt. 27:46)

Jesus, with God and also God, somehow experienced forsakenness by God. He was, after all, becoming sin for us. And Holy God has no part with sin.

Yes, the pain and suffering Jesus went through, being whipped and nailed to a beam, hung above the earth for hours until He died of His wounds—this was physical torture few of us can imagine, and yet His sacrifice extended beyond one part of who Jesus was. It encompassed His total person. He give Himself completely to be consumed by the Consuming Fire of God’s wrath.

And as He died, He said the most wonderful words possible: It is finished. The burden of sin paid for, the certificate of debt canceled.

How can we not love a Savior such as Jesus!

This post first appeared here in March 2013.

Published in: on March 24, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Comments Off on Accused, Betrayed, Denied, Forsaken  
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Reprise: The Way Of Escape


PikiWiki_Israel_18483_desert_viewFrom our perspective, complaining may not seem like a big deal, but it’s the forerunner to rebellion. The people of Israel learned this somewhere in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land.

Though they were newly freed slaves, they seemed to have forgotten the hatefulness of that condition. They had cried out to God because of their affliction. He sent a leader to rescue them, but now they wanted out of the deal. They wanted to go back to Egypt.

The desert was no land of Goshen. They had little water and less meat. And they’d come to hate their daily ration of manna, the food of angels. After all, they’d had a steady diet of it for forty years. They’d had it, and they let Moses know. They let God know.

What’s a loving God to do?

What if He had given them what they asked for? I wonder how the people of Israel would have been received back in Egypt, after the death of all those first-born sons and the annihilation of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, not to mention the animosity they may have faced because they had walked off the job, leaving a huge gap in Egypt’s work force.

God of course did love His people so He didn’t give them what they wanted but what they needed — His justice and mercy.

First he sent fiery serpents among them. Deadly serpents that killed the people they bit. There’s God’s justice responding to their rebellion. He loved them too much to look the other way as they ruined their lives and the opportunity He was providing them to be His people.

As the serpents bit people and many died, Israel cried out to God, admitted their sin, and asked for deliverance. God instructed Moses to make a replica snake and put it on the end of a pole. Whenever someone was bit by a snake, all they had to do was look to the bronze replica, and they would live.

As Moses lifted up the serpent

Moses did what he was instructed to do. “And it came about…” I love that line. Just what God said, happened. The people bitten by a snake lived if they looked at the bronze statue lifted high above the camp.

That’s God’s mercy.

Then this amazing passage in the New Testament gospel of John. Jesus is speaking:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

Jesus knowingly connected the mercy God showed Israel in the wilderness with the mercy He would show to the world. Yes, the world because the next verse says this:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Ironic that some use this verse as a proof text for belief in universal salvation. The thing is, Jesus, by connecting His impending crucifixion with the serpent lifted up above Israel’s camp made it clear: salvation is available to all just as the bronze serpent was out in plain sight for any suffering from the deadly bite of justice; those who believe, receive, just like those who looked at the serpent were healed.

God’s love involves His justice and His mercy. He is the same today as He showed Himself to be in the desert or on a hill called Golgotha. His love means He wants us out of Egypt; His justice means He would punish disobedience; His mercy means He bore that punishment that we would have a way of escape.

This article first appeared here March 2011

Published in: on October 14, 2015 at 7:18 pm  Comments Off on Reprise: The Way Of Escape  
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The Unity Principle And Knowing The Bible Is True


open bibleLet me clarify one thing. I’m not writing these posts about the Bible because I think someone who believes it is a myth will be reasoned into changing his mind. It’s clear to me that spiritual truth is discerned spiritually. Someone who says God doesn’t exist is going to find plausible alternatives that explain away the evidences of God. So too, the evidences that point to the Bible being true.

Why then am I taking the time to write these posts?

I think Christians who believe in the Bible are a shrinking number. It’s easy when you hold a minority opinion to start questioning it. And asking questions is good. I’m hoping to provide a starting place where people who are asking can begin to search for answers.

One evidence that the Bible is true is the unity principle, or what some have called the “Consistent Message.” Though the Bible has diverse authors, diverse genres (law, history, poetry, prophecy, letters), diverse reasons for their authors writing, diverse audiences, diverse subject matter, though the Bible as a whole was written across centuries, still there is a clear core theme that runs throughout.

The best way to pinpoint the theme is by quoting a parable Jesus gave close to the end of His earthly ministry:

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey.

“When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

“But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”

They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”
-Matthew 21:33-41

In a nutshell, this parable is an outline of the Bible. The Old Testament records the Landowner’s creation and cultivation of His garden, His subletting it and His repeated attempts to receive payment of what He was due. The Gospels record Him sending His Son and the vine-growers putting Him to death. The New Testament letters explain the ramifications of what has happened, and Revelation declares what will happen when the Landowner returns.

People stumble over the Bible for a couple reasons. In some instances, they read the Bible as a list of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not’s.” (Thou shalt pull thy neighbor’s donkey out of a hole, even on Saturday or Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.) Others read it as a list of promises they can hold God to (You said … so now you have to ….) While the Bible contains commands, it is far more than a list of commands. And while the Bible contains promises, these are not cudgels for us to use against God to get what we want. Anyone using the Bible rather than being informed by the Bible, will eventually stumble.

Another group, however, stumbles over the core message. They don’t want to admit that they owe God anything, that He, like the Landowner in Jesus’s parable, is just and right to come asking for payment. They especially don’t want His Son coming around because He will tell His Father everything. So they reject the Son and in so doing, claim the Father is dead too. Now they can brag about being free … as long as the Bible isn’t true. But if it is true, that means there will be a point when God will confront them and judge them.

Dismissing the Bible as myth allows this latter group to live under an illusion. They have a vested interest in discounting the evidences pointing to the Bible as true.

One such evidence is the clear message of sin and redemption stamped on every page. It’s taught through symbols, through ceremonies, through types, through parables, prophecies, sermons, personal testimonies, visions, dreams, historical events, answers to questions, examples … In other words, God saving sinners is what the Bible is about.

For someone who doesn’t want to acknowledge he is a sinner, this message is offensive. For someone who wants to believe he doesn’t need God, this message is offensive. And so, the Bible comes under attack. Dismissing it as inaccurate or unreliable is a form of shooting the messenger … in the same way an earlier generation stoned the prophets.

This post, with some revision, first appeared here in April 2009.

Published in: on July 7, 2015 at 5:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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