Who Do We Follow? (Reprise)


I remember the name of the William Morris Chevrolet dealership because the owner does radio spots on the local Christian station. But instead of using his advertisement time to talk about his cars or service or low prices, he gives a devotional, usually something he’s learned from his personal experience.

In the latest one, he said he was writing about following the Word, but accidentally wrote world instead. Then he realized. In reality we do follow one or the other–the Word or the world.

Good insight. More true probably than we even realize.

For instance, the world adopts tolerance as its highest value and suddenly Christians begin to talk about loving homosexuals and those in the inner city and prisoners and unwed mothers.

But doesn’t Scripture admonition God’s children to care for orphans and widows, the poor and the stranger? Didn’t Christ tell us to love our neighbor, our brother, and even our enemy? So why do we rush after the trends of the world when the Bible had it right all along?

If we would faithfully read, preach, obey the Word, we would be showing the world how to live rather than toddling along behind.

There are so many current issues to which Christians are reacting–feminism, homosexuality, welfare, immigration, socialism. For some, “reacting” means resisting and for others, it means imitating–the Christian version of feminism, the Christian version of welfare.

Rather than letting the world pull us here and there, the Church should turn to God’s Word and see what His principles are that we ought to apply.

The same is true for theological issues. Atheists say a god so violent as to command the extermination of a whole race of people is too abhorrent to believe in, so a group of professing Christians band together and re-image God as a kinder, gentler Jesus.

Western culture says Christians are hateful hypocrites, and Christians dutifully follow with Church-bashing books.

The easy answer would seem to be to withdraw from the influence of the world.

The problem is, however, that God gave Christians the task of proclaiming “the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9b). This proclaiming necessitates our involvement with the world. So how do we do it in a way that the world will hear?

Once upon a time there were Rescue Missions and tent meetings and evangelistic crusades and street preachers and door to door evangelism. But somewhere along the line our western culture became too sophisticated for all those. The preaching had to be slick and professional. No one except the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons wanted to go door to door any more. Government welfare and an increase in credit-induced affluence made inner city missions a bit passe.

Essentially the Church followed the world into comfort and ease, rather than taking up our cross daily and following Christ to connect with our culture and proclaim His excellencies.

Not that the old methods needed to be calcified into unbending tradition. But neither should we abandon the principles upon which the old methods were founded.

Jesus told His disciples before sending them off on a short term mission that they were to be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. And so should we.

We can’t afford to continue making the same mistakes. We need to follow God’s Word, not the world.

And yet it is the world we need to engage.

We mustn’t bury our heads and stay locked away from the world. We tried that because we wanted to keep our children safe, and the world without Godly moral guidelines has become a place where those children, when they are grown, may well face persecution for their faith.

Unless God brings revival.

But will He if we don’t ask Him to? Will He if we continue padding along behind the world, adopting their business models to run our churches, listening to their psychologists to learn how to discipline our children, studying their economists to figure out how to handle our money? As if the Bible doesn’t speak to these issues.

As I think about this, it makes sense that we would follow the world more than we follow the Word, simply because we spend so much more time in the culture than we do with God. And in a sense, we should.

God purposefully left us in the world rather than taking us out, to be with Him. He has a job for us to do here–that proclamation bit He assigned to us.

But what we struggle with, it seems, is allowing our time with God in His Word to inform our actions and attitudes when we are in the world. Instead, the reverse is becoming true–our time in the world is informing our attitudes toward the Word.

William Morris Chevrolet stands out in my mind because their owner decided to do something different. Perhaps that’s the lesson the Church needs to learn. To reach the world, maybe we should be radically, Biblically different rather than walking along behind, adopting the culture’s way of doing things. Maybe in our difference, we can proclaim God’s excellencies and so catch their attention.

This article originally appeared here in June 2012.

Published in: on December 26, 2017 at 6:06 pm  Comments Off on Who Do We Follow? (Reprise)  
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The Opportunities Of Christmas


mary_and_baby_jesus017On Sunday, our fill-in speaker at church, Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, delivered an unusual Christmas sermon. His key points were anchored by John 12:31-32.

“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”

Jesus was speaking about His own death. He declared that two things would occur: 1) judgment upon this world and the ruler of this world would be cast out, and 2) He, Jesus, would be lifted up.

First, “this world” refers to the world system that opposes God, His will, and His way. It’s one of the three sources of temptation: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The one who is the mastermind of all the world systems that oppose God is Satan, but it is the system or systems he’s behind that entice us to sin.

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis was masterful in showing that what particular system the tempter used was not the issue. Whatever pulls a person’s eyes off God, works just fine. So someone with the wealth of the world, like Solomon, is vulnerable, as is the poorest of the poor such as the beggar Lazarus.

So Jesus’s coming initiated judgment upon the world system that tries to squeeze God from our consciousness.

Christmas affords the believer the opportunity to ask ourselves if we are siding with Jesus when it comes to casting out the ruler of the world, when it comes to standing against the world system. Oh, someone may say, you’re talking about keeping Christ in Christmas, about refusing to replace Him with Santa.

Well, no, I’m not. The world system isn’t about Santa.

It’s actually about ME.

It’s about looking at the world with the idea of seeing what I can get out of every situation, every circumstance. What’s in it for me? Am I getting what I deserve?

Trying to discern our own motives is hard. Do I want to postpone the meeting because I have something else I want to do that day or because I think it will fit everyone else’s needs more? Do I want to sign up for the prayer team instead of serving in the homeless shelter because it means less travel for me or because I think I’m more fitted for that ministry? You see, even in doing “good things” we can have our eyes firmly fixed on ourselves because the world system tells us it’s all about us.

It’s all about us, and it’s all up to us. We simply have to look within. We have to find our inner strength, because whatever we put our minds to, we can do. Whatever we want to make of ourselves, we can make it happen.

Not really.

But that’s what our world system says over and over and over.

It also says that a person is more valuable if they have all the right bells and whistles. Do you have the newest car, the latest technology, the most up-to-date software? Are your clothes in style? Did you get a really cool gift for Christmas? Dr. Muehlhoff touched a nerve when he mentioned that one.

When I was growing up, we were very middle class. Perhaps low middle class, but I never felt poor. Still, my parents were frugal, because we had been poor. So I generally wore hand-me-downs, and our parents never gave us extravagant gifts for Christmas. We often got practical things—socks, pajamas, that sort of thing.

So going back to school after Christmas vacation was always a challenge because kids would always ask, What did you get for Christmas? I wanted to be able to answer without making my Christmas sound lame.

The thing is, I really didn’t feel deprived for not getting some hot new fad item. I generally didn’t ask for things that I knew were beyond the price my parents usually spent on us at Christmas. But I dreaded telling my classmates what I thought they would look down on.

That’s the world system—gifts have to be of a certain caliber to be considered worth. Really?

That’s the world system that attacks our contentment, that judges according to monetary value, not according to heart intention or thoughtfulness or sacrifice.

Of course all these years later, our culture has become exponentially more hedonistic. Is it fun, is it entertaining—these questions override, can we afford it. Because we can afford anything simply by putting “it” on the credit card. One statistic Dr. Muehlhoff gave was that what the average person spends for Christmas this year via credit card, will take four years to pay off. Of course, they’re still paying off last year’s Christmas, and the one before that, and the one before that, so it is an ever increasing problem.

This consumerism, this hedonism, this ME-ism are reflective of the world system—Satan’s schemes to keep us away from what God wants, and Jesus came, in part, to bring the world and the ruler of this world, under judgment.

As Christmas, ought we who follow Jesus not stand against the world, at least a little?

The second thing Jesus said was that He would be lifted up, with the end result that He would draw all men to Himself.

The next question seems obvious: we who follow Christ are lifting up Jesus in what way?

To be honest, I didn’t like Dr. Muehlhoff’s ideas on this one. Everything he mentioned, someone who was an atheist or a Buddhist could do. On the other hand, at the Atheist/theist Facebook group, someone posted a video of an obnoxious pastor (self-identified) who went into a mall where kids and their parents were waiting to get their pictures taken with Santa, and became shouting that Santa was a lie, that the parents were lying to their children, that Christmas was really about Jesus, not Santa.

Is that what lifting up Jesus looks like?

I don’t think so.

I keep thinking of the disciples who confronted the beggar by saying, I don’t have any gold or silver, but in the name of Jesus, get up and walk.

I wish I could lift up Jesus’s name like that!! I mean, I can’t imagine someone who just received the ability to walk not wanting to know about this person named Jesus whose name made his healing possible.

So I can’t heal. Does that mean I can’t lift up Jesus’s name?

I think the key is the first part of the answer those disciples gave: I don’t have what you’re asking for, but I’ll give you what I can. I’ve always looked at it like, you want this thing you think you need, but I’ll give you something better. But why not accept it at face value. What if they had silver and gold, would they have given that instead of the healing?

I don’t think the key is in trying to give people the greatest thing they need. I think it’s in putting them before God and asking Him how I can lift up Christ before them.

So no one answer. But an awareness that lifting up Christ is the goal, and the greatest gift possible for Christmas.

Who Does God Love?


Advent Wk 3At Christmas, we highlight God’s love for humankind, evidenced by sending His only Son to take on flesh, and ultimately to bear the punishment for the sinners.

On the surface, the question who God loves might seem simple. He loves the world. Which is true. We know this because John 3:16 tells us so, but also because Jesus commissioned His followers to make disciples “of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19, NASB). Luke records Jesus’s words in Acts 1:8b: “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Those first disciples had walked with Jesus and listened to His teaching, watched Him be arrested and put to death, saw the place where He was buried, then witnessed the resurrected Christ walk into their room, talk with them, break bread, fix breakfast, and ascend into heaven. He left them with the command to tell everyone everywhere what they’d witnessed.

Why would they go to places all over the world—and why would we who have inherited this commission—if God’s love didn’t extend to those in the remotest parts of the earth?

But here “simple” comes to an end. Some believe the natural conclusion drawn from the fact that God loves the world is that God saves everyone: if you love ’em, you save ’em. This of course means the Paris terrorists are saved, the San Bernardino shooters are saved, Hitler is saved.

There’s something in most of us that recoils at such an idea. We want “good people” saved, but not the heinous ones. We want to tell the world that God loves them, unless the people are trying to kill us. Those, we’d happily send to hell.

But we’re an imperfect lot. Could it be that God loves Muslim terrorists, that if they were the only people in the world, He still would have sent His Son? And if so, does His love for them mean they are saved?

I know—too many questions. Talking about God’s love should make us feel good, not feel confused. But God simply defies our every effort to confine Him with our own mores and understandings. He is Other, which means greater, more Perfect than we can imagine.

The truth is, if God only loved the “good people,” He wouldn’t love any of us. None of us is good.

We forget that when we stare into the face of people who embrace evil and call it good. Most of us regularly fight the evil inside us, and hence, we are loath to call it evil. We get angry or jealous or selfish or greedy or covetous. We lust, we envy, we betray our friends, our spouses. We gossip, we lie, we say mean things about our boss, our coworkers, our in-laws. And we think we’re good because we didn’t shoot anybody today.

So who does God love—just the not so very bad, bad people?

He says He loves the world.

But in loving the world, is He therefore obligated to save everyone?

God isn’t obligated to do anything our human understanding dictates He should do. He’s already laid out how salvation works (John 3:16 again): He loves, we believe, He gives everlasting life.

The belief component is all important. Some people call this “easy believism” because they attach it to a false teaching Paul confronted in the New Testament. Some people thought that since they were “saved” or “in Christ” they could live however they wanted. After all, whatever sin they committed was forgiven, washed away by the blood of the Lamb.

Just one problem there. If we truly believe something, it affects our lives. If we believe our car will be repossessed if we don’t make the payment, we aren’t apt to take that money and go to Vegas or on a shopping spree. We believe we’ll lose our car if we don’t make the payments, so it affects how we act.

Husbands who believe their wives want something nice for Christmas act on that belief (to the best of their ability!) They would be foolish to say, Well, I didn’t get you a Christmas present this year because I bought myself some new golf clubs instead. His belief affects his actions, and wives all know this. So if he’s bought himself golf clubs, his actions demonstrate his true belief about his wife.

So too in our relationship with God. If we say we believe that Jesus came as payment for my sin, but we keep on sinning, willfully, knowingly, with no intention of changing our sinful behavior, we are demonstrating that we don’t really believe.

God loves, but we have fallen short of His glory, His holiness. All of us have. Everyone except Jesus Messiah. God doesn’t change His standards or go back on His word because He loves us. He declared from the beginning that rebellion carried a death sentence.

Jesus, of His own free will, took our sin that we who believe might have everlasting life. We who believe look so much like those who don’t believe. Except little by little who we are inside is being reshaped to look more and more like Jesus.

Those who don’t believe, those who say they believe by act in a way that shows they’re lying, have not escaped God’s love . . . or His wrath. In our human way of thinking, love and wrath seem incompatible. But Scripture leads me to believe they are not, when we’re talking about God. As I see it, God loves us so much, He isn’t going to force us to love Him back or to spend eternity with Him if we really hate Him. I’ve heard people say they’d rather be in hell than in heaven “with a God like that!” They hate Him.

God’s going to let them walk away. But He is also going to punish sin, just as He said He would. Since they’ve rejected Jesus’s payment of their debt, there’s nothing left but for them to pay their own debt.

So who does God love? The world! Absolutely. If only the world loved Him back.

Published in: on December 17, 2015 at 7:35 pm  Comments Off on Who Does God Love?  
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Keep Seeking The Things Above


speak, see, hear no evilPaul wrote to the church in Colossae that their relationship with Christ should matter. In chapter two, he said, “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why as if you were living in the world, do you submit to decrees such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (v 20-21). In other words, “dying with Christ” is not the same as adopting a legalistic life style. I think it’s fair to say, neither is taking up our cross.

Paul didn’t stop with the negative though. He began chapter three with the flip side:

Therefore if 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 that are on earth. (vv 1-2)

Our relationship with God, then, is to affect what we think about—things above, not things on earth.

Tall order. After all, we live here, not there.

It’s hard to think about where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, when it’s time to fix lunch or to do laundry or to take the car in to get it smogged. Everyday responsibilities can distract. So can everyday pleasures—watching a ball game, going to a movie, enjoying dinner with friends and family. How do we set our minds on things above all day long?

Or do we chalk this up as a nice goal, though an unreachable one?

I actually think the thing that’s working here is a principle I learned when I was teaching at a Christian school: integration. We aren’t Christians and school teachers, or Christians and writers, or Christians and wives (or husbands). Our Christianity infuses all the roles we have and all the activities in which we participate because “Christian” isn’t our religion; it’s our life.

A car doesn’t stop being a car when it’s parked in the garage or when it’s getting gas pumped into its tank. It’s a car from morning to night, on the road or at the curb, in a parking structure or pulled over by a police officer. A car is a car because it’s a car.

In the same way, a Christian should be a Christian because he’s a Christian. There ought to be no “taking days off” when it comes to trusting God, loving Him, obeying Him, or living to please Him. We ought not aim to be Christians at church and businessmen at work, Christians at Bible study and fans at the ball park, Christians at home and greedy shoppers at the mall.

Which isn’t to say we can’t be businessmen, fans, or shoppers. We can. We should be. Jesus said we are to be “in the world.”

That phrase reminds me of the prophet—Jeremiah, I think—writing to the exiles that they should seek the good of the place where they’d been taken. They were still Jews, but they were in Babylon and that meant they were to fully engage in life in Babylon so that the place would be better for their having lived and worked there.

At the same time, Jesus said we’re not of the world. We are not to make the world’s principles our principles—we’re not to see the world the way others see the world. Simply put, that means we’re not to see it apart from Christ. We’re to look at this world as God’s creation, and the people in it as the ones Christ came to save. We’re to look at life—every part of it—as an opportunity to be light to the world and to give thanks and praise to the One who rescued us from the dominion of darkness.

The world operates on principles like take care of number one and the one who dies with the most toys wins and even reduce your footprint on the planet. Paul said in Colossians, these are things which are all destined to perish.

In contrast we’re to concern ourselves with that which lasts. Matthew said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Our purpose, our goal, our driving force in all things should be to advance God’s kingdom and to live in His righteousness.

What does that look like?

It’s easier to show what it doesn’t look like, I think. It doesn’t look like one friend bad-mouthing another. It doesn’t look like engaging in sex outside marriage. It doesn’t look like holding grudges against a friend or family member. These are also right there in Colossians:

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him (3:5-10)

Paul does move to the positives. He says Christians are to put on love, beyond all else, that we’re to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, that we’re to let the word of Christ dwell in us. And several times he mentions we’re to be thankful: “. . . giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (3:17b)

So what’s different with these things from the “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” things Paul was referring to in chapter two? I think it’s in the mind. We are to set our minds on things above, we are to consider ourselves as dead to things on earth. We’re to lay aside what was a part of our old self as we’re being renewed to a true knowledge of Christ.

In short, where our minds go, our bodies are sure to follow! 😉

Published in: on May 22, 2015 at 7:03 pm  Comments (5)  
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Influence And Good Deeds


Since last Thursday when I wrote the post “Who Do We Follow?” I’ve been mulling over the question what it means to be “in the world but not of it”–a phrase that comes from Jesus’s prayer for His people just before the events leading to His crucifixion:

I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (John 17:15-16)

This “in but not of” creates a tension that apparently God wants, in large part, it would seem, because He has a job for us to do–that of making disciples.

But how, precisely, are we to be in the world but not of it? How are we to go about letting our light shine?

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:16)

Yesterday I received an email from Publisher’s Weekly that got me to thinking about influence and making a difference in our culture. It seems that a significant number of people in the publishing world have taken it upon themselves to see to it that President Obama is re-elected. Set aside for the moment how appropriate it is for an industry periodical to take this biased stand or for a group of people to presume to speak for the industry at large, the point in question is that these people believe their voices can make a difference. Their voices, their visibility.

I imagine news crews will be out filming authors and publishers marching along the streets of New York waving pro-Obama signs and giving interviews to say how much the US needs this President to stay in office.

My initial reaction is, Wow, they’re right. They’re speaking out and getting the jump on any number of the rest of us who have a different opinion. In politics, the bandwagon effect seems to be so important. Get the “right” people to voice an opinion, and those who believe in, follow, admire, listen to those influential voices will create an echo chamber that spreads the message far and wide.

So why don’t Christians do this, too? Wouldn’t that be the best way to bring people to Christ? Wouldn’t that be the Church engaging the world in the way the world will best listen? Isn’t this, in fact, why so many Christians are on the look-out for celebrity believers? If we can just get the celebrities to speak up for Christ, then surely their followers will do the same.

There definitely is a speaking out component in bring people to Christ. Paul says in Colossians, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” In Peter’s first letter, he says in chapter two, “…so that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

But is proclamation the “light” that Jesus referred to? In fact, He couples letting our light shine with our good deeds.

Later in 1 Peter 2, the apostle says, “For such is the will of God, that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (emphasis mine).

As I see it, this is another line of tension. Yes, we are to be in the world but not of it. And we are also to proclaim Christ and do good.

Do we get to choose one or the other? Can we stand on the street corner and wave Bible verses in front of people as they drive by without doing good? Can we hand out tracts at the beach or leave them at restaurants without doing good?

On the other hand, can we give food for the homeless shelter or volunteer to tutor at the inner city school and not proclaim Christ? Can we make blankets for unwed mothers or work a shift at the thrift shop and not admonish and teach with all wisdom?

Must the two go hand in hand or is there a time to paint buildings for the underprivileged and a separate time to speak of the redemptive work of Christ on the cross? Do the good works allow us to speak because they first silence the ignorance of foolish men?

In the mean time, as we do good deeds, one person at a time, will the publishing industry band together with the political forces to regulate Christianity out of the public forum?

Where is the fight?

If it’s in the heart of man, as Scripture teaches, shouldn’t we focus our efforts there?

Then do we abandon the political arena, the media, and quietly work behind closed doors?

I don’t see easy answers. If we engage the issues in the same way those opposed to a Christian worldview do, then believers are labeled hateful and bigots and hypocrites. If we stay silent, those rejecting Christ speak to the culture anyway and define who we are and what we believe.

If Scripture is true, and I know it to be so, then it seems we are not silencing the ignorance of foolish men with our good deeds. Rather than increasing the rhetoric, perhaps we need to increase doing what is right. Of course, if that’s the answer, then we need to know what the Bible considers “doing right.”

Who Do We Follow?


I remember the name of the William Morris Chevrolet dealership because the owner does radio spots on the local Christian station. But instead of using his advertisement time to talk about his cars or service or low prices, he gives a devotional, usually something he’s learned from his personal experience.

In the latest one, he said he was writing about following the Word, but accidentally wrote world instead. Then he realized. In reality we do follow one or the other–the Word or the world.

Good insight. More true probably than we even realize.

For instance, the world adopts tolerance as its highest value and suddenly Christians begin to talk about loving homosexuals and those in the inner city and prisoners and unwed mothers.

But doesn’t Scripture admonition God’s children to care for orphans and widows, the poor and the stranger? Didn’t Christ tell us to love our neighbor, our brother, and even our enemy? So why do we rush after the trends of the world when the Bible had it right all along?

If we would faithfully read, preach, obey the Word, we would be showing the world how to live rather than toddling along behind.

There are so many current issues to which Christians are reacting–feminism, homosexuality, welfare, immigration, socialism. For some, “reacting” means resisting and for others, it means imitating–the Christian version of feminism, the Christian version of welfare.

Rather than letting the world pull us here and there, the Church should turn to God’s Word and see what His principles are that we ought to apply.

The same is true for theological issues. Atheists say a god so violent as to command the extermination of a whole race of people is too abhorrent to believe in, so a group of professing Christians band together and re-image God as a kinder, gentler Jesus.

Western culture says Christians are hateful hypocrites, and Christians dutifully follow with Church-bashing books.

The easy answer would seem to be to withdraw from the influence of the world.

The problem is, however, that God gave Christians the task of proclaiming “the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9b). This proclaiming necessitates our involvement with the world. So how do we do it in a way that the world will hear?

Once upon a time there were Rescue Missions and tent meetings and evangelistic crusades and street preachers and door to door evangelism. But somewhere along the line our western culture became too sophisticated for all those. The preaching had to be slick and professional. No one except the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons wanted to go door to door any more. Government welfare and an increase in credit-induced affluence made inner city missions a bit passe.

Essentially the Church followed the world into comfort and ease, rather than taking up our cross daily and following Christ to connect with our culture and proclaim His excellencies.

Not that the old methods needed to be calcified into unbending tradition. But neither should we abandon the principles upon which the old methods were founded.

Jesus told His disciples before sending them off on a short term mission that they were to be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. And so should we.

We can’t afford to continue making the same mistakes. We need to follow God’s Word, not the world.

And yet it is the world we need to engage.

We mustn’t bury our heads and stay locked away from the world. We tried that because we wanted to keep our children safe, and the world without Godly moral guidelines has become a place where those children, when they are grown, may well face persecution for their faith.

Unless God brings revival.

But will He if we don’t ask Him to? Will He if we continue padding along behind the world, adopting their business models to run our churches, listening to their psychologists to learn how to discipline our children, studying their economists to figure out how to handle our money? As if the Bible doesn’t speak to these issues.

As I think about this, it makes sense that we would follow the world more than we follow the Word, simply because we spend so much more time in the culture than we do with God. And in a sense, we should.

God purposefully left us in the world rather than taking us out, to be with Him. He has a job for us to do here–that proclamation bit He assigned to us.

But what we struggle with, it seems, is allowing our time with God in His Word to inform our actions and attitudes when we are in the world. Instead, the reverse is becoming true–our time in the world is informing our attitudes toward the Word.

William Morris Chevrolet stands out in my mind because their owner decided to do something different. Perhaps that’s the lesson the Church needs to learn. To reach the world, maybe we should be radically, Biblically different rather than walking along behind, adopting the culture’s way of doing things. Maybe in our difference, we can proclaim God’s excellencies and so catch their attention.

Whose World Is It? Part 3


I ended Part 2 of this short series with these questions:

So does God’s sovereignty mean the world is Christian? Or does the fact that Satan rules the world mean it’s not?

By way of review, we know that Satan rules the world because Scripture tells us he does; this point is not arrived at through speculation, inference, or deduction based on observation.

This is a critical issue, I think, and therefore I want to take the time to look at the additional verses I mentioned in the previous post, along with 1 John 5:19 — “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (emphases in all these verses are mine).

John 12:31 – this verse comes in the midst of an amazing account. Jesus is preparing to go to the cross. As He shares His struggle, He cries out for God to glorify His name. The Father answers. The crowd of people standing around are trying to figure out what they heard. Then this:

    Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. 31 Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”

1 John 4:4 — “3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”

2 Corinthians 4:4 — “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

John 16:11 — “8 And He [the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.”

John 14:30 — “I [Jesus] will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.”

Fantasy author Karen Hancock wrote an excellent post on this subject as well, and she’s used an even wider range of Scripture in reaching the same conclusion I have: this world is not Christian.

How can we resolve the apparently contradictory facts that God is sovereign and yet Satan has the world in his grip? Part of the answer is that we’re at war. Satan is in rebellion against God, but there is also enmity between Satan and the woman and her seed. Many Bible scholars understand “her seed” to refer to Christ. But that doesn’t leave us out — not if we’re in Christ; not if He is the head of the body, the church, and we are the members.

But let me be clear. Satan is not an equal foe wrestling against God as if he can bring Him down. A poor analogy, but helpful, might be a two-year-old refusing to obey his parents and put away his toys. That act of rebellion isn’t going to bring his parents down, but for a time his room may be in chaos. And his parents might just let the chaos go for a while as they deal with the rebellion.

Now suppose the two-year-old induces the toys to rebel too, so that they refuse to be put away. (Work with me here — use your imagination. I am a fantasy writer, after all. 😉 ) The two-year-old is no closer to bringing down his parents. All he’s done is make the toys guilty of his same rebellion. The parents are still in charge, and the toys will get put away, but for a short time, the two-year-old will be the tyrant of his room and the toys will be out of control.

Right now, for a short time, Satan is the tyrant of this world. But ultimately, nothing has changed — he has already lost his rebellious struggle (see last Tuesday’s post on this subject — “The Defeated Foe”).

One final question regarding this subject: how does this view of the world, in contrast to “the world is Christian” position, affect Christian fiction? I’ll tackle that one next time.

Published in: on November 7, 2011 at 6:54 pm  Comments (3)  
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Whose World Is It? Part 1


I know I won’t get far in this topic in this post. I’ve been putting off bringing it up because it’s pointy and layered. It isn’t easily dissected and less so, digested.

So what am I talking about exactly?

A little while back on another blog, a commenter said this, in part:

this is an objectively Christian world regardless of what people think and regardless of whether anyone ever points that fact out. The truth of the Trinity blazes forth from the very creation, so much so that people have to forcibly repress it (Romans 1). Since this is the case, simply presenting the world just as it is – as a broken, warped, redeemed place of buzzin’, bloomin’ confusion – we are actually presenting Christ, because we are subversively attacking those repressing instincts.

… We don’t have to choose religious topics, or even include one second of overt Christian theology in our work – if we are presenting the truth about the world. Like the Dutch painters who began to simply paint ordinary houses and people, rather than saints with halos, they could also present truth, even True Truth, without a single word of religiosity. (emphases mine)

Ordinary houses decay

A Christian world, really? A redeemed place? Is that what Scripture says, or does it refer to this world as a place that is decaying because of sin that goes unchecked more and more each day?

I replied, and received this answer, in part:

Christians can relish and depict the world as it is without the agenda of making Biblical truth obvious because the world as it is happens to be a Christian world. We can present truth, even the Truth itself, simply by reveling in this world.

I have a tremendous problem with the idea that an ordinary house does not proclaim Christ. It is true that Romans 1 teaches God is known through what He has made – and this includes His Trinitarian being (Rom. 1:20). Unbelievers repress this. Yet the rocks and trees all proclaim “God made me! I love God! God is Three in One!” Jesus Himself even said that if there was not a single person left to proclaim God, the very rocks would begin to cry out. Even if we lived in a world where no one was a Christian, it would not change the fact that God made it and everybody knows it. It would not change the fact that the world is suffused at every moment with Trinitarian grace. That ordinary house is a Trinitarian house, regardless of what anybody thinks about it. Every molecule in that house is screaming at every second that God made it, and actively upholds it at every moment.

The implication (at least, the one that I hear!) is that if the house itself cannot proclaim Christ just by being, then the Christian cannot present that house as it is and it be a Christian painting of a Christian house. This then also implies that one must tack onto reality some sort of super-nature in order to make the house able to be presented as Christian like the refried gnosticism of a Thomas Kinkade painting (emphasis mine)

Setting aside the idea of gnosticism in a Thomas Kinkade painting, there’s a lot of truth in these comments. Certainly Scripture teaches that God can be known in what He made. Definitely Jesus said, if need be the rocks would cry out to praise Him.

Does that make this a Christian world?

I don’t think so. Rather, I think this world is the marred image of what God intended. Because of sin it is sinking deeper and deeper into the mire, obscuring God’s face more and more. Scripture says our iniquities have made a separation between us and God. That separation is real. It is not perception — as if this world was Christian but most people are blind to that fact.

This world was never Christian. It was good because God made it good, but sin soiled that goodness and it has not been good since. In fact it is less good today than the first day Adam and Eve stepped out of the garden. Scripture makes it clear, we’re in a process in which this world is failing further and further into disrepair.

Is it Trinitarian that the sex trade is flourishing? That abortion is practiced worldwide? That homosexuality is considered by many to be acceptable?

These things are direct results of sin, as Scripture makes clear:

God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Rom. 1:28-32 – emphasis mine)

I have more to say on this subject, but this is more than enough to get the conversation started. What do you think? Who’s world is this?

Published in: on November 3, 2011 at 6:07 pm  Comments (21)  
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