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Christians are engaged in a joyful, impossible task: Comprehending an incomprehensible God. Of course, if we could understand Him, He would no longer be God. We would be equal to Him. But that isn’t going to happen, even if all of us were ten times more intelligent that Einstein. Why? For starters, and starters is a good word to use here, He started from nothing everything that exists in less than a second.

Go ahead. Comprehend that.

We don’t even try because we have not the slimmest idea about how to create something out of nothing, much less all of the material in the universe, not to mention time. However, God has given us the ability to discover and recognize His greatness; to consider His incomprehensibility. The creation of all that exists is, as previously stated, just for starters.

Let’s look at another of His impenetrable truths. It concerns what is called the Book of Life. Are you familiar with it? If you are a Christian, your name is written in it. Let’s pause for a second. You have probably signed your name a great many times in the course of your life. We don’t sign it now as much as we used to, since paper checks are becoming rare, and we don’t have to sign to use our credit cards much anymore. But there is one place, one book, where your name was entered for you. Truth is, you were unable to write it down. Truth is, you weren’t even born yet when it was recorded in this book. Neither was anything else on the earth. Yes, I used the word “anything,” because your name was written down by Jesus in a book—the aforementioned Book of Life—before this beautiful planet existed. This astounding fact was made known to the Apostle John when he saw a terrible thing in a vision. “And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:5–8).1

Let’s pause for a moment. It will be a momentary pause, because we are attempting to envision an act that we quickly discover we cannot envision. At one time—I think I can write that word, “time”—your name was written, somehow, in a book in heaven. I write “in heaven” because that is where we surmise, in our limited understanding, was the location. What does a book in heaven look like? What kind of writing instrument was used? The Lord wrote it. Did an angel do so at His command? What did that look like?

No answers. Envisioning over.

Now, here is another incomprehensible truth, and it has to do with writing as well. “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. ‘They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him’” (Malachi 3:16–18).

The Lord God Almighty takes notes. He takes notes—about you—in a “book of remembrance.” He takes notes when Christians speak to each other about their fear of the Lord.

Surprised?

More incomprehension. The Lord does this note-taking while being aware of swallows that fall, counting the hairs on your head, upholding all things that exist by the word of His power, and a vast number of other activities concerning life of this planet. The Lord placed these truths about writing things down in Scripture. He is not teasing or taunting us when He makes them known. No, instead, He lets us in on these glimpses of real reality to bring us joy and glorify Himself—which is always for our good. Wondrous things.

Things to think about.

But not to comprehend.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

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“So,” I asked the little group of Christian men when we met together a few days ago, “was it the Lord’s will to flatten the Bahamas?”

“No,” one said. “It was just nature.”

“So,” I asked, “the Lord couldn’t have stopped it?”

“Yes. He could’ve stopped it.”

“Then He allowed it.”

“Yes.”

“Then it was His will.”

Questions lingered on this issue—the sovereignty of God—but all rightly agreed that we should have faith in God regardless of the circumstances or the source of all manner of disasters, whether personal or global. It was a good discussion.

I’m not sure Christians have clarity on this important topic. Recently, a missionary with a very important ministry in Southeast Asia wrote on his website:

“Why do so many Christians think that hurricanes and natural disasters are the will of God? ‘The thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy.’ Jesus rebuked the storm sent to kill Him and it wasn’t sent by God! If the Father is sending and the Son rebuking, then their house is divided. No! The Prince and Power of the Air is the culprit. Rebuke that devil sent hurricane! As of this writing (Saturday, Aug 31st) Dorian is headed for central Florida, USA. In Cambodia, on the USA’s Saturday evening, the church will be in united prayer: ‘We command Hurricane Dorian to dissipate, break-up, turn and die! In Jesus’ Name, Amen! It would be so easy to just give up, and attribute whatever happens to God’s will.  But, not everything that happens on this earth is God’s will. Regardless of the adversities orchestrated by the ‘Prince and Power of the Air’ and whatever evil he throws in our path, Solomon says, ‘[we must] push on!’”

This man is right about a few things in this post, but his proclamation is biblically confused. It is true that Jesus rebuked the storm, and He knew its origin was not from His Father. It is not known that the storm was sent to kill Him—the text does not tell us this. When our brother in Southeast Asia commanded the hurricane to dissipate, break-up, turn, and die in his post, he laid claim to a power he does not possess, which was readily proved. Hurricane Dorian lingered after this declaration and completely destroyed some of the islands of the Bahamas. (As I write this, reports about the devastation continue to come in.) Sadly, many people died, and the tragic count continues. The damage was less severe stateside, but Dorian didn’t break up, turn, and die without catastrophe.

I have no problem whatsoever with praying for a storm to go away. Asking the Lord to be merciful. To help. To rescue. To protect. But to claim that all storms are from the devil simply is not scriptural. The times the psalms proclaim that the Lord sends rain and lightning are too numerous to list here. We know that the Lord sent destructive hail upon Egypt. He did so to Israel (Haggai 2:17). He will rain massive hailstones upon the Earth, which we see in the Book of Revelation. Here’s a great verse that plainly sums up the truth that the Lord God Almighty controls the weather: “He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses” (Psalm 135:7).1

Christians are uncomfortable with the truths in the three verses below, which they think cannot be reconciled with the New Testament’s God of goodness and love.

“I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

“Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?” (Amos 3:6).

“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39).

However, these two seemingly contradictory truths can be reconciled. God is good. He is eternally and perfectly good. He was good in the Old Testament, and He is in the New. He was love in the Old Testament and He remains so in the New. He was and is perfectly sovereign and just. We will not know how all things were just and good and for His glory until we are with Him in eternity. We think suffering and death are bad. They are. But they are temporary. Everyone suffers. Everybody dies. It is how we live, suffer, and die that matter in eternity. Do we know Him? Do we trust Him?

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

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The secular culture of the United States has mocked Christianity for as long as I can remember. I viewed part of a film from the middle of the 20th Century a few years ago where the actors were ridiculing the Salvation Army. Long ago, cartoons in newspapers lampooned crazy, wild-haired men on sidewalks carrying signs that proclaimed, “The end is near.” The unbelieving culture has scorned those who strive to be morally good. Perhaps some of the readers here may remember the derisive phrase “Goody Two Shoes.” Christians are portrayed as joyless fun-killers, weirdly religious, obedient to ridiculous rules, believing non-sensical myths, and sexually repressed. Recently, secular media was astonished that the Vice President of the United States would not have a meal alone with another woman because he held to the biblical view that Christians should “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22).1 Puritans and fundamentalists have even been portrayed as evil, condemning legalists, patriarchally dominating women to their diminution or destruction in one way or another.

Now, however, after decades of sexual revolution and giving full throat to the meme “Love the one you’re with,” a line from the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song, post-Christian society is seeing the downside of “sexual freedom.” Women have discovered that free sex is not really free at all, realizing they experience strong and connective emotions after intercourse, unlike men. A “roll in the hay” is not just a freebie from which you go home, take a shower, go to sleep, and then head off to work the next day, rejoicing in your female liberation and contribution to the death of Puritanical “purity.” No, you have proved the biblical truth, “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh’” (1 Corinthians 6:16).2 I don’t mean to imply that all women who have sex outside of marriage are prostitutes, but if a man and a prostitute become one flesh by having intercourse, it would obviously be true of any male and female.

So, in the face of a reality that shouldn’t exist by their liberated lights, pressured by the tears and shame of women who have been taken advantage of and abused, the non-Christian culture is on patrol. It has become the moral police. The cultural watchers are the New American Puritans. However, they are confused guardians with a patched-together law book. They ridiculed Vice President Pence for his rule on dining with women but condemn powerful men who take advantage of women when alone with them. Men cannot treat women like sexual objects as they once did, but women are free to dress, perform, and be photographed as sex objects in various stages of immodest undress. Adultery is kind of okay, depending on whether the spouse “deserves” it or not. Sex before marriage is not only almost universal, but necessary. Child molestation is still on the outs. The sin of homosexuality is not only to be accepted but celebrated. It’s a confused, hypocritical mess.

It’s ironic, is it not, that those who reject Christianity outright are now trying to enforce by human means some of Christianity’s moral laws. They have become like those whom they detest, embracing a death-dealing legalism. But this hate-filled, unmerciful New Puritanism offers no remedy. It has no room for forgiveness, mercy, or grace. If you have broken the New Puritanism’s legalistic religion, you are scum. The religious watchers are behaving in the same the way for which they have demonized Puritans. It is a religion that leads only to condemnation and shame. You are shunned.

This is where Christians rejoice in Jesus. Many of us have committed sins that the New Puritanism condemns. Unlike them, we have a God who shows mercy. Forgiveness. Not only these, but holiness, the righteousness of God Almighty Himself. For free. With no condemnation. Thank You, Lord God. Thank You, Jesus. Your grace and mercy astound us.

 

1The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

2All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, unless otherwise noted.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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At a recent Young Leaders Conference, Cory Booker, a United States senator running for the office of the president, said this:

“And I believe, as Philippians 4:13 says, I can do all things, all things, but y’all, I got to call it out. It says I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me. Now, Christ does not strengthen you to sit on the sidelines. Christ does not strengthen you to sit on the couch. This is not a spectator sport. Martin Luther King said it best when his era, in his moral moment, he said: We have to repent in our days and age, not just for the vitriolic words and violent actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence and inaction of the good people.

“And so I want to call the faith community together. Because faith without works is:

Audience: “Dead.”

Booker: “Faith without works is:

Audience: “Dead.”1

I am writing about this, not because I want to slam a political figure’s ignorance of the truth of Scripture, but to bring the attention of Christians to the misuse of it. Christians have mishandled this passage in much the same way as this senator did. Contemporary Christianity is rife with this kind of error. It is easy to identify. All that needs to be done is to read the passage in context. So, let’s do that.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).2

Paul is not writing that he can do “all things,” so we can fill in the blank to include all activities on the earth according to our arrogant and selfish minds. It is obvious after a few seconds of thought that I cannot do “all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I can’t run 100 meters in less than nine seconds, and neither can you. I can’t become a state-licensed cardiac surgeon in two years, and neither can you. The list of things I cannot do is very long, so I won’t continue. “Christ does not strengthen you to sit on the sidelines,” Senator Booker said. To him, this passage from God’s Word simply means, “Since we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, if we get off the couch, we can win this election.” All of this, of course, has nothing to do with Jesus and very little with the Bible. The candidate is misusing Scripture to place guilt on his audience and motivate them to help his campaign.

So, what does Christ strengthen us to do according to Philippians 4? Christ strengthens us to be content in all situations, whether rich or poor, hungry or satisfied. Paul says he can suffer all these things with contentment because Jesus strengthens him.

The second misuse of Scripture is when Senator Booker told his audience that if they have faith, they will get up and get going to help him because faith without works is dead. Essentially, he said, “If you have faith, you gotta get up and get active. Otherwise your faith is dead.”

But, shouldn’t we ask, “Faith in what”?

Faith must have an object. What is the object here? I’m not sure. Faith in the senator’s cause, his election, I suppose. The senator is endeavoring to mask his pitch with religious language to reach a religious crowd. What he said makes no biblical sense at all.

We are to have faith in the Lord God who created all things, not in political leaders, or “princes”:

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish” (Psalm 146:3–4).

Christian, go look up the things people quote from Scripture. Ask, “Does the Bible really say that?” Then you will not be led away from the true truth of God’s Word by others, whether they be politicians or preachers.

 

1 https://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/cnsnewscom-staff/cory-booker-i-can-do-all-things-through-christ-who-strengtheneth-me

2 All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

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A few years ago, Laurie and I lived for a year in Mexico. We made friends with a man who owned and operated a bakery and coffee shop, and we enjoyed his delicious mochas. Once while there, we ran into a man named Peter from Germany. He was delightful to talk to. In our first encounter we talked for about two hours and did the same the very next day. After I mentioned Christianity, however, he turned a bit sour. He dismissed Christianity entirely. I don’t remember all that was said except for his parting shot out on the sidewalk after we’d said our good-byes. “Be human,” he said, as he turned and walked away.

There wasn’t time for a rejoinder, which would have required more discussion, starting with, “What does ‘Be human’ mean”? He had told us earlier about when he was in north Africa and lost his wallet. A Bedouin on a camel eventually caught up to him and returned it. He was impressed by this act of honesty and sacrifice. I would have been, too, and I thought honesty would surely have fit into Peter’s definition of “be human.”

I was reminded about this encounter in Mexico when I read the recent rejections of Jesus by former Hillsong worship leader Marty Sampson and former pastor Joshua Harris. If I had the chance I would ask the same questions I didn’t have opportunity to put to Peter that day.

Here is the latter part of the former worship leader’s post: “All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point. I could go on, but I won’t. Love and forgive absolutely. Be kind absolutely. Be generous and do good to others absolutely. Some things are good no matter what you believe. Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.”1

In his rejection of Christianity, he finishes up by laying out the ground rules for the life he wants to live and is recommending for others. Here are the tenets he listed:

Love and forgive absolutely.

Be kind absolutely.

Be generous and do good to others absolutely.

Some things are good no matter what you believe.

What will happen to us if we don’t obey this man’s advice to love, be kind, and do good to others or if we don’t obey Peter’s admonition to “be human”? Will I be punished if I don’t? What moral authority do these men have to lay a moral law upon us?

The answer to the first question: Nothing will happen to us.

The answer to the second question: No moral authority whatsoever.

But there is One who does have moral authority to command us, and that is the One they reject to their peril.

But why should I obey Jesus’ commands to love, be kind, and do good to others among more? (There is no command to “Be human,” by the way, whatever that means.)

These men and much of the world maintain that you will be fine if you reject Jesus.

But you won’t be fine. I’m sure these men aren’t lying, but they are tragically ignorant.

Why do I obey the Lord? Simple answer: Because I love Him. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).2

But I love Him not only because He told me to do so. I love Him because He gave me life—not just life and purpose and meaning here in this life, but life eternal. He has given me a relationship with Himself, liberating sinlessness, a sonship, a shared inheritance with Jesus and in His kingdom, in which I will live forever. He humbled Himself in death to accomplish this.

All free. All free. I did nothing to earn any of it.

The “Be human” and “Be kind” bromides are boxed up in flimsy fairy ships crowded with cultural philosophers and dreamy unicorns. They happily toss these Hallmark cards and shallow bumper stickers to others as they navigate sad lakes, devoid of truth. Ships of fools.

Therefore, we call upon these three men to repent and come home to Jesus. Although you have tossed Him away as so much nonsense, He remains your sovereign Judge—who loves you. Disembark from the lost ship you think you navigate. The rainbows on your horizon are false angels of light concealing the darkness and evil that lay ahead.

Come home.

 

1https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/entertainment/2019/august/im-genuinely-losing-my-faith-hillsong-worship-leader-rejects-christian-beliefs.

2The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

 

 

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Nicodemus didn’t understand the idea of being born again. We Christians might consider exercising more grace toward this man, since we struggle with comprehending it ourselves.

Nicodemus came to Jesus one night cloaked by the darkness of night because he was feared he might lose his position and status. Nevertheless, he jeopardized himself because he wanted to know more about the Savior. And, just like you and me, he didn’t know what he didn’t know, which was—and let’s be honest, is—a common conundrum concerning our relationship with God in the flesh. How many times have you read Jesus’ response to someone in the Gospels and asked, “What do you mean, Lord?”

When Nicodemus found Jesus, he said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). What do you think Jesus’ response to this would be? How about, “I only do the works that I see the Father doing so He may be glorified.”

Nope. Not even close. Jesus responded, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).1

Right. Okay. That must mean that Nicodemus, although acknowledging that Jesus was from God, was nevertheless unable to see the kingdom. Well, Nicodemus, to his credit, went with the flow, even though He did not understand what Jesus was talking about. “Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’” (John 3:4).

Let’s be fair here. If you had never heard of being born again, wouldn’t this be a natural question to ask? Here are Jesus’ three responses to Nicodemus’ question:

First, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (verse 5). Jesus is elucidating the idea of being born again to enter God’s kingdom. It’s a birth that involves being “born of” water—we’re thinking water baptism here—but it’s more than that. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, it’s a spiritual thing.

Second, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (verse 6). Jesus continues to clarify. This “born again” is a spiritual work and doesn’t have anything to do with a work of the flesh. Jesus is probably referring to being born a righteous-by-the-law Jew, which offers no efficaciousness concerning seeing or entering God’s kingdom.

Third, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (verses 7-8). Jesus enlarges on this born-again idea. It is a spiritual event, and you don’t know how it happens, where it will happen, or when.

It is this last truth that I would like us to consider.

Sometimes evangelicals fall into a ricky-ticky, formulaic strategy for answering an unbeliever about how to become a Christian. Repent, ask forgiveness from God, confess your belief in Him, and in some quarters, reception of Jesus into one’s heart. This requires a spoken declaration of faith, and the verse used to promote this is, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:10). There is truth here, certainly, but what is the nature of that confession? Is it parroting a prayer or some words? Is it true that the evangelist must hear the sinner say, “I repent”? Is it possible that belief and reception of Jesus doesn’t necessarily require an on-the-spot confession, “I believe in Jesus”? For instance, let’s consider the Samaritan woman. When was she born again? Did she ever say, “I repent’? Did she ever say, “Lord, forgive me for my sins”? After her conversation with Jesus, in which He called her out for her sin while supplying details about her married (and unmarried) life, this happened: “So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’ They went out of the town and were coming to him” (John 4:28–30). In her encounter with Jesus, somewhere, somehow, this woman believed in Jesus and then became an evangelist. There was no neat and tidy born-again process here. In fact, I think many evangelicals would only be satisfied by her positive answer to the question, “Did you receive Jesus into your heart?” But Jesus’ words are true. The born-again experience is like the wind. We don’t really know where or how it happens, and requiring a rote answer to a question won’t nail down that holy wind work.

How about Zacchaeus? He climbed up into a tree so he could see Jesus, who told him He wanted to stay at his house. After they had gathered, this happened: “And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’” (Luke 19:8-10). Do we see any tight, orderly line of confessed repentance, request for forgiveness, and spoken belief in and reception of Jesus here? No, but Jesus said salvation had come.

How about the Ethiopian eunuch? After Phillip told the eunuch the good news of Jesus beginning in Isaiah 53, this happened: “And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36–38). Phillip is translated away, and the eunuch leaves rejoicing. Confession of sin, request for forgiveness, and a spoken declaration of faith are not explicitly present.

How about the thief on the cross? All he did was rebuke the other criminal on the cross who was railing at Jesus and then said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The thief’s request for life in Jesus’ kingdom was sufficient to gain entry.

The proof that people are born again is not simply hearing them parrot words, as scriptural as they may be. Conversion is a spiritual event. As Jesus said, like the wind, we don’t know where, when, or how it happens. It’s foolish for us to think that requiring certain words to be spoken is the definitive evidence of salvation. Remember, the uncomprehending Nicodemus stood up for Jesus before the chief priests and Pharisees (John 7:50-51) and honorably attended to Jesus’ body after His crucifixion (John 19:39-42).

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

 

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In this post, I’d like us to look at a beautiful story about the Israelites in the wilderness that we find in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Numbers. Because God’s people had not believed the good report delivered by two of the spies—Joshua and Caleb, who had scouted out the Promised Land—they were sentenced to forty years of wandering. Only those who were twenty years and younger would live to inherit the land the Lord had promised. After this sad consequence, some of their disgruntled number revolted against Moses, whom the Lord then swiftly dispatched, sending them directly to their death without passing go. After this strong judgment—it’s hard to believe, “But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the people of the LORD’” (Numbers 16:41).1 Perhaps the Lord will give us insight someday into why the people of Israel, having just seen the earth open up and swallow people would, first, dare to challenge Moses about this judgment, or, second, somehow think that Moses and Aaron caused it. It is difficult to understand their behavior.

Nevertheless, the Lord responded to this rebellion by sending a plague in which 14,700 people died. Moses and Aaron interceded, and the Lord relented. Perhaps by now you’re asking, “Jim, I thought you said that this was a beautiful story.” Well, here it is.

“The Lord told the people The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you” (Numbers 17:1–5).

Then, “On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds” (Numbers 17:8).

That’s the beautiful part. Beautiful because the Lord God Almighty brought a dead stick to life and sprout with delightful buds, blossoms, and ripe almonds. I love this. Let’s think about this for a moment. Why buds, blossoms, and ripe almonds? Was it because images of the almond tree decorated the tabernacle? I think it is more than this. This is not a representation of power, as we understand power. If this had happened in a superhero movie, the staff would have been glowing and humming and perhaps killed those who were unprepared to pick it up. Or perhaps the staff would have gotten bigger and heavier. No, the Lord God demonstrated His choice of priest with life, beauty, and fruitfulness.

He just doesn’t think the way we do.

This account is a foreshadowing of what happened to our great high Priest, Jesus. When the tomb had been opened, like the tent containing the twelves staffs, He was found alive, overflowing with flourishing fruit, ripe and ready to nourish the ones He loved.

It is also a foreshadowing of what our great high Priest does when He brings us from death to life.

Recently, I heard a well-known biblical scholar refute the metaphor that a person who is not a Christian is like someone drowning at sea, clawing at the waves, shouting out for rescue. No, he said, that’s not what it is like at all. Being saved, becoming a Christian, becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is like someone dead at the bottom of sea with a few chomps taken out of him by the sharks. That’s our condition when our Jesus brings thriving life from lifelessness.

Fruit production is how we know the Lord is at work or not in those formerly dead “sticks.”

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15–20).

The men in the account from Numbers were shown to be dead pieces of wood. There is only one Priest who brings life, and the rest of those men did not have the goods. All the rest were false priests. We knew them by their fruit; rather their lack of it.

Christians must be careful. It is dangerous to measure life and fruitfulness as the world perceives it, and not by the Lord’s measure. We must not be deceived by false prophets, dead “sticks” without the loveliness of the life and fruit of the one, true Priest.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

200

Hey, Christian reader. You may already know this, but you can become anything, achieve anything, if you embrace your vision, your dream, and find your purpose. You need a vision, of course, because “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint but blessed is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18).1 Don’t think too long about that verse. Just get a vision because it’s good, and everybody needs one because we don’t, um, want people casting off restraint. You’ve gotta find your purpose because, well, everybody knows that God has a purpose for your life, right? Like Stephen who was stoned to death in Acts 7, or James, the apostle John’s brother, who was beheaded in Acts 12. Speak positive things over and in your life and stop confessing things that are negative like, “James was beheaded!” because Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). You don’t want to be an evil person, do you? So, don’t say things like, “I’m sick.” Eww. Really? Don’t you believe that Jesus heals people? Don’t say things like “My asthma.” Really? You possess asthma? Well, it’s yours, then. When people say, “The flu is going around,” say, “Well, it’s going around me.” Get it? If you get your vision, find your purpose, stop saying and thinking negative things, and keep believing, with God’s help, nothing is impossible for you because God is on your side and with Him, all things are possible, like Jesus said: “‘Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:24–26). You can be prosperous and wealthy. Stop confessing your poverty and saying you’re poor, because “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:10). Look. God wants what’s best for you. Jesus came to the earth, lived, and died so you could have an abundant life. He said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). How on earth is being sick or poor living a life of abundance? Listen. Once early in our marriage when we were struggling financially, our pastor asked for a special offering. I only had five bucks in my wallet, but I gave it. The next morning, a man showed up at our door with $5,000.00. That’s what happens when you’re faithful.

The paragraph above is a satirical narrative about how to live a life of Christian victory within the word-of-faith and prosperity-gospel world. But it’s a dangerous world to live in. Why?

First, the Word of God is twisted and abused. If you can’t tell how the passages above have been twisted, I encourage you to find out. You are vulnerable.

Second, the focus of your life with the Lord moves from Him to you. If you speak positively, if you confess your healing, if you give, God will supply for you. The focus is on you, what you say, and what you need, not the Lord God Almighty who faithfully provides all things to those who ask, who promised that if we seek His kingdom first, all things will be added to us (Matthew 6:33).

Third, the word-of-faith and prosperity doctrines are deadly legalistic. The narrative implies that if you’re not experiencing health and prosperity, you are doing something wrong or inadequate. “Stop the negative confessions! Begin positively confessing your healing and prosperity!” Can you imagine being in a fellowship where you felt you could not say you were sick because if you did, the people would chastise you? I’ve experienced this. What bondage.

We should ask questions like, “Who taught this in Scripture? When Jesus healed people, did He challenge them because they had negative confessions and said they were sick? Did Paul or anyone else in the New Testament instruct Christians to confess their healing or their prosperity?”

We are to pray about sicknesses. “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). We are to pray about our needs—“Give us today our daily bread”—believing that God knows about them and will provide for us in time of need. “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matthew 6:31–32). That is the biblical model. It’s humbly presenting ourselves to the Lord who loves us. It’s relying on a loving Savior. God gives freely by His grace. All things we ask for are not given us, but we trust in a God who knows all things perfectly, who can do all things—after all, He created the universe and all that is in it—and who knows what is best for us. Ours may be a life of deprivation at times. Of more-than-adequate provision at times. Sometimes times of sickness; sometimes of health. The endgame is not what or how much was freely bestowed upon us or not, but what we did with what we were given and the condition of our hearts when we did or did not have possession of it. Read the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31, or the account of Job, the quintessential truth of gain and loss.

Lord, please open the eyes of Christians to the truth of Your Word. Keep us from error and legalistic bondage.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

200w

I am disappointed that I was so ignorant about reading the Bible in context for such a long time. That is not to say that at present I am learned and competent. Not at all. I have such a long way to go. Should I blame that early illiteracy on my teachers who quoted scriptures out of context when they preached? I can’t blame them for my laziness and inattention. It’s all on me. As for them, the Lord is their judge, not me. My elders didn’t teach me to be a foolish Christian. I was able to do that all by myself.

Quoting scriptures out of context in not necessarily bad in and of itself. For instance, this verse from Isaiah is well-quoted out of context: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).1 However, this one, taught to us in our early years, is potentially dangerous when quoted out of context. “And no inhabitant will say, ‘I am sick’”; (Isaiah 33:24a). Can you imagine how you would censor your speech about your physical illness if you were in the presence of an influential pastor who taught this? This verse engenders bondage and was part of the positive confession nonsense—perhaps it still is. However, if one reads the portion of Isaiah in context from which this verse is taken, he or she will discover that it speaks of a glorious time to come. “Behold Zion, the city of our appointed feasts! Your eyes will see Jerusalem, an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent, whose stakes will never be plucked up, nor will any of its cords be broken” (Isaiah 33:20). In other words, there will be no sickness in the Lord’s heavenly kingdom.

There are many examples of verses that have been taken out of context from the Bible, and some are so common that even the secular culture has appropriated them; and they have the same meaning for unbelievers as they do for Christians. This is a famous one: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (Matthew 7:6).2 I have addressed the false understanding of this verse before, but I invite the reader to investigate it himself. It may not mean what you think it means.

It’s sad when we bungle along in ignorance of the precious words of God.

Another truth that the world has appropriated—part of it, anyway—is in these two passages: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17).

So, quick quiz. Which one of these verses can be applied to keeping our bodies in good health and used to admonish people to lose weight, exercise, or stop smoking because their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?

The answer is, “Neither of them.” Why, then, we should ask, do so many Christians believe this untruth? I don’t know. Me-centered, evangelical Christianity? The passage from 1 Corinthians 6 is perhaps less vital to our growth in understanding God’s Word because the Lord is commanding men to “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18) and not to join themselves to a prostitute because he becomes “one body with her” and the two become “one flesh.” I say it’s less vital because Christians are commanded in other places not to be sexually immoral, and Proverbs is packed with warnings about prostitutes.

Our ignorance about the other, from chapter 3, however, is much more troubling. Do you know what Paul was addressing in those early chapters of 1 Corinthians? Believers attaching themselves to dynamic speakers. Paul told the Corinthians that because they had done this, they were “infants in Christ,” “people of the flesh,” and “merely human.” (1 Corinthians 3:1, 4). They were boasting in men (vs. 21). The price for this infantile behavior is that it was dangerously possible that they were destroying God’s temple and in danger of being destroyed themselves (vs. 17).

I trust I don’t need to explain to the reader how pertinent this is for evangelicals today. It’s not enough that many of us have skimmed over these texts in 1 Corinthians 3 and 6 like a flat rock skipping over a smooth pond, thinking that the Bible was telling us to take care of our physical bodies because we are temples of the Holy Spirit, but that we have been blind to the danger of boasting in and attaching ourselves to dynamic speakers and leaders.

Lord, please open our eyes to see the truth of Your Scripture.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, unless otherwise noted.

2The New King James Version. (1982). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

200w

When I was watching the gentlemen’s final at Wimbledon—yes, I watched the whole thing—I saw, as everyone did, a logo for a company named Slazenger on the wall behind the players. Above the name was what looked like the image of a jaguar. I thought, “Perhaps Slazenger is the parent company of Jaguar.”

Wrong. Sports clothing and equipment.

Wrong again on the jaguar image. It’s a panther.

Wrong conception of a company based upon a name and its logo.

It was a pretty classy logo, I thought. I wondered, “What would happen if God were to put His name on the court walls at Wimbledon? What logo would He use?” My next thought was that it would be weird. It wouldn’t work.  And what on earth would you use as a logo? How would one sufficiently, properly, advertise God at a sporting event, so He could be promoted, as Slazenger was?

It can’t be done. What’s more, He has already done a masterful job of letting everyone know who He is, and it’s a lot more than a name and an image. His glory has been pouring forth every day, all over the world, all over the universe, since the beginning. All humanity needs to do is look around. Look up. With our brains engaged, look at any natural thing.

Brains engaged. I know, I know. I’m asking a lot.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psalm 19:1–4a).1

As cool as the Slazenger logo is, it is a piece of dust compared to the depiction that the Lord God Almighty has given us that we can see every day, every night, everywhere. It is a depiction of a God that is so mighty, so powerful, so glorious, that we are unable to conceive of the power it would take to create everything from—nothing. We should be awed by it. So, Paul wrote, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19–20).

Nevertheless, we continue to hear a common criticism about God. “Why doesn’t He reveal who He is? When I die, I’m going to ask Him why He hid from me.” Paul wrote, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21). He also states that people “suppress the truth” in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Don’t believe it? If you’re a science teacher or professor, try to publish a book about creationism and keep your job.

But back to the GOAT.

After the match, the commentators discussed which of the Big Three—Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic—was the GOAT: The Greatest Of All Time. So, let’s ask this question: Among all the forces in nature, which would be The Greatest Of All Time? What are the candidates? Hurricanes? Earthquakes? Volcanoes? Tornadoes? Nuclear forces? It’s difficult to argue that any of them is greater than the One who created all these powers and the physics that make them function. What about all the so-called gods revered by humankind? The spirit of the earth? Some kind of pervasive life-energy that exists in nature, in trees and turtledoves? No, the truth is, no candidates even exist, except in our imaginations. The one true God proved His lordship over everything, not only in His creation but in His resurrection. Why? Because what Jesus said about Himself—that He was God incarnate—was proved true when He rose from the dead as He said He would.

The GOAT? All the “promotion” was done long ago in mind-blowing beauty and glory. There is no confusion about who it is based upon a wrong understanding of the depiction of Him. There are no other candidates. There is no competition and never has been.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

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