Belief And What We Put Our Faith In – A Reprise


skydivingI believe that skydiving is safe. However, you aren’t going to see me getting into a plane with one of those flimsy parachute contraptions strapped to my back! 😉

Clearly, belief is not the same as putting our trust in that thing we say we believe. For example, see what James said to Christians: “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” (Jas. 2:19)

Believing and trusting are not the same thing. That’s a good principle to keep in mind when we look at extra-Biblical encounters with God. Yes, extra-Biblical.

God makes Himself known first in His creation.

Some time ago, I passed this liquid amber tree in full autumn colors (yes, here in SoCal, we do have the occasional tree that turns into gold and red and yellow and brown). As I slowed to admire the beauty, a woman walked by, never looking up, apparently oblivious to the glory swaying over her head. How sad, I thought, that God is so present and people can completely miss Him.

Because of His great love, of course, God went farther than simply showing Himself through creation; He revealed Himself through prophets, His law, His word, and His Son.

But that’s not all. He also revealed Himself through dreams and visions and angel visitations. The Bible records any number of these, and we’re especially reminded of them at Christmas time. Angels appeared to shepherds, wisemen discovered the birth of the King of Judea by studying the stars, Mary learned she would become pregnant from an angel, Joseph too, and then he had a dream warning him to take his family and escape to Egypt.

There’s more. The wisemen were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. The Holy Spirit revealed to a man named Simeon that he would not see death until he beheld the Messiah–which he did when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the temple on the eighth day. More amazing, the Holy Spirit also communicated something to Jesus’s cousin John, while he was still in the womb, and as a not-yet-born baby, he “leaped” when Mary entered the house and greeted Elizabeth, his mother who was carrying him.

So, yes, God reveals Himself in many ways. Some believe He no longer does so, but I find this position a stretch that doesn’t fit either Scripture or reports from various parts of the world today. From any number of sources, I’ve heard recently of people coming to Christ as a direct result of a dream or vision.

And yet . . .

I think a look at the Apostle Paul’s life in regard to visions might be instructive. Certainly he had an extra-biblical encounter with the living Christ. It’s why he made an about-face and stopped persecuting Christians to become one himself.

He also had a vision of what he referred to as the third heaven, though he left open the possibility that he’d actually been transported there bodily (see 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). But here’s the thing. Paul did not formulate his theology based on his vision.

His encounter with the living Christ was consistent with Scripture. Apparently his vision of the third heaven was just something for him—not something extra that informed Christians what to believe or do.

In fact, in his letter to the Colossian church, Paul was clear that visions were not a sound basis for deviating from Scripture.

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind (2:18 – emphasis mine).

Paul believed in visions. He had them. And yet here he is saying that things not consistent with Scripture—self-abasement and the worship of angels—were not to become part of the practice of the Church simply because someone had a vision that said those applications should be included. Visions weren’t enough in and of themselves to become the basis of doctrine.

That approach to extra-Biblical information is a good rule of thumb, I think, and a means of escaping much false teaching.

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

Published in: on October 18, 2017 at 4:54 pm  Comments Off on Belief And What We Put Our Faith In – A Reprise  
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Solomon: The Ultimate Testimony To Man’s Success


businessmanFor years I’ve had a problem with Solomon, King of Israel, son of David. I’ve complained about his life style and even declared his book of Ecclesiastes my least favorite book of the Bible . . . until his book of Song of Solomon edged it a few years ago.

Of all the people in the Bible, I understand him the least. I mean, this guy had it all. As a newly anointed king, he had an encounter with God. As a result, he experienced God’s faithfulness and fulfilled promises, specifically riches, honor, and wisdom.

In addition his father was “a man after God’s own heart,” so Solomon had a spiritual heritage. Unlike David, Solomon never lived in a cave, never had to run for his life, never experienced a civil war or open rebellion.

Though he stockpiled horses and chariots—the military might of his day—Israel lived in peace. Other kings paid tribute to him and allied with him.

His building projects succeeded, his trading ventures brought in incredible wealth. His influence expanded.

Solomon didn’t know defeat or failure or financial ruin. He never lost his job or went bankrupt or faced foreclosure.

I’ll say again, he had it all. He was the ultimate success. Status? He had it. Fame. Yep. Money, comfortable lifestyle, bling—he had all that too.

Oh, yeah, the guy was wise. His counsel was sought after by other rulers. He apparently amazed the Queen of Sheba when she tested him by asking him questions, to the point that she said, “How blessed are your men, how blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom.”

From my point of view, the guy had no excuse for what happened toward the end of his life. Solomon had it all. All. Everything people dream of. He was the ultimate testimony to human success. And here’s what he did with it:

When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab, on the mountain which is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestable idol of the sons of Ammon. Thus also he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. (1 Kings 11:4-8 – emphasis added)

So Solomon is a testimony to the truth that Mankind’s success means nothing when it comes to the eternal things of God.

In contrast, the Apostle Paul said, his weakness made room for God’s strength.

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)

God lays it out clearly in Jeremiah,

Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer 9:23-24)

What’s of lasting value, what matters most is that we understand and know God.

Instead, we are a people who boast in our own wisdom, riches, and might. We are not boasting in our knowledge and understanding of God. We know less and less of His lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness—the things in which He delights.

In other words, we are Solomon. And we should be Paul.

This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in December 2012.

I Don’t Like Being Bullied, Intimidated, Or Maligned


Friendly_InternetI wish I had a better sense of humor. I don’t think anyone handles criticism better than InsanityBytes. She routinely writes blog posts about the unkind things people say that end up in her spam folder, and yet she treats them with lightheartedness (see for example “Lost In Spam” or “Back Talking Spam.” She makes some astute comments along the way, so she makes me laugh all the while making me think. Maybe when I grow up, I’ll be more like her.

In the meantime, I’m stuck not liking it when someone bullies me via the Internet (or in person), says things to try to make me back down from an opinion I hold, or vilifies my character. I’m pretty sure, of the three, I’m bothered most by the latter.

The little issues I faced recently have made me think about people who face real opposition, continually—the kind that restricts their freedom (such as being sold into the sex trafficking trade or married off to an Islamic terrorist) or threatens their life (such as Christians in Iraq or Sudan). Ultimately I’ve thought of the Lord Jesus Christ and those men and women who formed the first Church.

Jesus was bullied and intimidated and maligned. The Jewish leaders singled Him out because they were jealous of Him. That was Pontius Pilate’s assessment of things when Jesus stood before him and he wanted to release Him (Matt. 27:18). No, the crowd said. Not that man. Crucify Him and release Barabbas. Why did they turn against Jesus? Because the Jewish leaders, motivated by their envy, convinced them to.

I think jealousy and envy are behind a lot of bullying and intimidation. The Jewish leaders didn’t like it that this upstart carpenter didn’t bow to their rules or back off when they challenged Him. They didn’t like it that He did things they couldn’t do—like heal lepers and restore sight to the blind or raise dead people back to life. Mostly they didn’t like the fact that people followed Him and basically wanted to make Him the king.

After all, they were the leaders. The Jewish people were theirs to rule, for all practical purposes. Sure, sure, the Romans were over them, but when it came to the day-to-day things and anything having to do with religious law, the Council of seventy elders, led by the High Priest, was in charge.

So they tried to trap Jesus into saying something or doing something for which they could legitimately arrest Him. They didn’t realize they were dealing with the perfect Son of God. They were never going to catch Him in a sin.

Finally they resorted to lies, claiming outlandish things such as that He blasphemed. In other words, they maligned His character. But they’d been doing that for days and days, even accusing Him at one time of being in league with the devil. They said He was a drunk, a party-er, a Sabbath-breaker. Anything He did, they tried to turn into a reason to have Him arrested.

Jesus’s followers experienced the same treatment. Peter and John were thrown into prison though the rulers and elders and scribes had no charges to bring against them. After all, the only thing they’d done was heal a lame man and preach about the resurrected Christ. The Council released them the next day but threatened them and ordered them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Yep, that’s straight from Intimidation 101: “Stop what you’re doing, or I’ll make sure you stop for good!”

But what did Peter and John do? In this instance, they answered the leaders by saying, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge” (Acts 4:19b). Then they joined a prayer meeting.

It’s interesting to think about the fact that they didn’t have the end of the story. They didn’t know if they’d be killed the next day or if God would miraculously save them. So they joined their companions and prayed:

Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:29-30)

Clearly we can see on this side of the events that God answered this prayer. Peter and the other disciples did in fact speak with boldness, and God did continue to heal through them and produce signs and wonders through the name of Jesus.

Of course, Peter was arrested again and miraculously saved, but eventually, according to Church tradition, he died for his faith. We could look at the Apostle Paul and see a similar trajectory. Preaching and healing, followers, leaders in opposition, arrest and/or death threats. He was kicked out of towns, stoned and left for dead, beaten. In Greece he was forced to escape alone and head for Athens. In Damascus he got away in the middle of the night by hiding in a basket lowered over the wall.Inernet

Yes, the early Church knew a thing or two about being bullied, intimidated, and maligned. I may not like being treated badly, I may not like being misunderstood, but really . . . I sure haven’t “resisted unto death” yet.

It would help if I grew a sense of humor about such things, but it would also help if I followed Peter and John’s examples: choose to do what God says rather than giving in to intimidation; and pray.

Holding Life Loosely


holding plant looselyApparently humans have an innate survival instinct. Certainly celebrities have an obsession with looking younger than they are and sometimes a knack for acting more foolish than they ought to be (but that’s another subject).

I’ve seen a major change in our approach to doctors, too. It used to be you went to the doctor when you were sick. Then there developed an idea that you should have a routine physical. Now there’s almost an obsession (there’s that word again) with keeping track of our blood pressure and cholesterol and blood sugar and …

Then there are the things we shouldn’t eat, drink, or smoke and the things we should do religiously. All for the sake of adding years to our lives. This reminds me of a Woody Allen quote I heard recently:

Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.

The thing is, both sides of that equation are wrong. Life doesn’t have to be full of misery, loneliness, and suffering. Well, maybe the suffering. But for God’s child, we are never alone–the tag line Wayne Thomas Batson used for his Door Within books. It’s beautiful and true. We have the Holy Spirit living in us. How much better is that than what the people of Israel had–God coming into their midst in the form of a cloud or fire.

We know God through His Son, through the sacrifice He made on our behalf. The most notable thing about God, then, is the extent He went to in order to bring us near. He does not want us to be alone. Or miserable. His presence provides peace that surpasses understanding. His Person gives us joy unspeakable.

The suffering isn’t even the same when we have this relationship with God. Yes, we all lose loved ones and we all face death–in one way or another we all have or will suffer. But God doesn’t leave us without His strength to cope. He says in one place in Scripture, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.” Elsewhere he says when we stumble we won’t fall because He holds our hand. Then in David’s famous psalm, He says when we pass through the valley of the shadow of death He will be with us.

Which brings me to the other part of Woody Allen’s quote that he has wrong. It’s not over when it’s over. Death is the beginning of a new life experience, not the end.

When we understand this, we realize that we don’t have to cling to this life relentlessly or pretend that time isn’t passing. It is and it will and we can’t hold it back for the simple reason that our time is in God’s hands. He is the one who determines when we will pass from this life to the next.

It seems to me, if we try so hard to hold onto this life, our focus is in the wrong place. Paul says in Colossians

Therefore since you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things on earth. (3:1-2)

Of course the key is to have that relationship with God available only through Jesus Christ that makes it possible for us to experience His presence, His joy, His peace, and to look forward to the future, not some all-too-soon end.

“For to me, to live is Christ,” Paul said in Philippians, “and to die is gain.” What a difference the Savior makes!

Published in: on December 13, 2012 at 5:52 pm  Comments (2)  
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Belief And What We Put Our Faith In


skydivingI believe that skydiving is safe. However, you aren’t going to see me getting into a plane with one of those flimsy parachute contraptions strapped to my back! 😉
Clearly, belief is not the same as putting our trust in that thing we say we believe.

That’s a good principle to keep in mind when we look at extra-Biblical encounters with God. Yes, extra-Biblical.

God makes Himself know first in His creation.

Yesterday as I was driving to church, I passed this maple tree in full autumn colors (yes, here in California, we don’t have lots of trees that turn into gold and red and yellow and brown, but the ones we have stay around a long time). As I slowed to admire the beauty, a woman walked by, never looking up, apparently oblivious to the glory swaying over her head. How sad, I thought, that God is so present and people can completely miss Him.

Because of His great love, of course, God went farther, revealing Himself through prophets, His Law, His Word, and His Son.

But that’s not all. He also revealed Himself through dreams and visions and angel visitations. The Bible records any number of these, and we’re especially reminded of them at Christmas time. Angels appeared to shepherds, wisemen discovered the birth of the King of Judea by studying the stars, Mary learned she would become pregnant from an angel, Joseph too, and then he had a dream warning him to take his family and escape to Egypt.

There’s more. The wisemen were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. The Holy Spirit revealed to a man named Simeon that he would not see death until he beheld the Messiah–which he did when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the temple on the eighth day. More amazing, the Holy Spirit also communicated something to Jesus’s cousin John, while he was still in the womb, and as a not-yet-born baby, he “leaped” when Mary entered the house and greeted Elizabeth, his mother who was carrying him.

So, yes, God reveals Himself in many ways. Some believe He no longer does so, but I find this position a stretch that doesn’t fit either Scripture or reports from various parts of the world today. From any number of sources, I’ve heard recently of people coming to Christ as a direct result of a dream or vision.

And yet . . .

I think a look at the Apostle Paul’s life in regard to visions might be instructive. Certainly he had an extra-biblical encounter with the living Christ. It’s why he made an about-face and stopped persecuting Christians to become one himself.

He also had a vision of what he referred to as the third heaven, though he left open the possibility that he’d actually been transported there bodily (see 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). But here’s the thing. Paul did not formulate his theology based on his vision.

His encounter with the living Christ was consistent with Scripture. Apparently his vision of the third heaven was not because he made no claims based on that vision–no special standing before God or position in the church, nothing new Christians were to believe or do.

In fact, in his letter to the Colossian church, he was clear that visions were not a sound basis for deviating from Scripture.

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind (2:18 – emphasis mine).

Paul believed in visions. He had them. And yet here he is saying that things not consistent with Scripture–self-abasement and the worship of angels–were not to become part of the practice of the church simply because someone had a vision that said those applications should be included. Visions weren’t enough of themselves to become the basis of doctrine.

That’s a good rule of thumb, I think, and a means of escaping much false teaching.