200w

If you were hoping this was a post about police officers, you are going to be disappointed. You tuned into the wrong channel.

The subject at hand is Jesus’ statement about pigs. It’s the only time He talked about them, in fact. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6).1 In my experience, the Church in the West has accepted the interpretation of that statement in the same way as the culture: Do not give precious truth to people who cannot or will not hear them. You have great things to be said and heard, but the listeners are, well, individuals unworthy of your “pearls.”

That’s an arrogant way to think, wouldn’t you agree? A bit self-righteous?

This arrogance is fleshed out when one looks at this statement in context. Jesus’ “pigs statement” comes directly after these verses: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1–5).

Does Jesus change the subject after this teaching about unjust judgment, specks, and logs, about judging people unrightly and arrogantly, treating them and speaking to them as if they are sinners and you are better than they?

No. Please allow me to prove it to you.

Pause for a moment and put the existing “pearls before swine” narrative out of your head and try not to rip verse six away from the previous five verses. If we don’t, Jesus makes this statement about pigs right out of the blue, for some reason. Now, I admit that I have come across passages where Jesus does seem to say something out of the blue, and I walk away scratching my head. Nevertheless, we should ask in such cases, “Why did He say that here?” It’s a good question to ask. We should always wonder if somehow, we are missing the context. I think there is a contextual answer for this passage. Here’s the question I ask to find it: When does Jesus ever refuse to give his pearls of truth to people who are “pigs”—unclean people like Gentiles or Samaritans?

Never.

Remember when He said this astonishing thing to the adulterous Samaritan woman at the well? “The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am he’” (John 4:25–26).

Talk about a pearl of truth! He was very constrained in revealing this truth about Himself to others. Yet, here He was, telling this immoral Samaritan woman straight out that He is the Promised One.

How about the Canaanite woman—an idol worshiper—who asked Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter? He tested her, but when she revealed her faith in Him, He said, “‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly” (Matthew 15:28). Jesus gave a beautiful pearl to this suffering mother: He commended the greatness of her faith. Would you like Jesus to say this to you? How would you feel? Would you feel loved? Affirmed? But this Canaanite woman was a dog in the eyes of some and did not deserve a pearl of truth but rather condemnation.

So, what did Jesus mean when He said, “Don’t give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest them trample them underfoot and turn to attack you”?

Here’s what I think Jesus is saying in the “pigs” verse: Don’t arrogantly and self-righteously treat and speak to people like they are filthy sinners, like pigs and dogs; otherwise, they will trample your precious “pearl of truth” underfoot and then attack you. Doesn’t that make sense? How far do you think you will get if you treat people like trash and then try to preach God’s loving truth to them? Do you think they will happily accept your pearl of truth even though it may be God’s truth indeed? No. They will turn on you and possibly attack you, trampling what is precious truth—God’s precious truth—under their feet.

Let’s ask the Lord to help us treat sinners as Jesus did when we interact with them. As Peter did when he preached at Cornelius’ house (Acts 10:34-48). As Paul did when he spoke to the Athenians (Acts 17:22-31). Terrible sinners? Yep. So are you. The righteousness of God has been imputed to you by grace and great love. You did nothing whatsoever to attain this status. We should never forget this. Looking down our noses in arrogance and self-righteousness at people whom we consider worse sinners than we will never bring fruitful ministry and will instead damage the good work we are trying to do.

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

 

Advertisements

200j

Oh, pride. How dangerous. How death-dealing and destructive. How hated. Hated by whom? People? No. At times, we rather like it, thank you very much. God hates it, though (Proverbs 8:13). He resists proud people (James 4:6). So, in this post we are going to look at a man Scripture says was the humblest man on earth (Numbers 12:3), but who was also overtaken by pride and then dealt with severely: Moses.

Consider with me, for a moment, how easily Moses could have vaulted himself into the heights of pride. Was there anyone else in Egypt—or in the world—who could cause a body of water to divide? To his credit, Moses took no credit whatsoever for this (Exodus 15). He was also the supreme leader of around one million people. Talk about temptation. We know nothing about the battle Moses fought against becoming proud, but it must have been a bit of a battle, wouldn’t you think? I mean, we boast about all manner of deeds that are tiny compared to what happened in Moses’ ministry.

However, it came to a head when, after so many miracles, he broke.

He broke as we all do.

A little background.

Israel was complaining that they had no water. Moses wasn’t at all happy with them, but the Lord didn’t seem angry. He said, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink” (Exodus 17:5–6).1 This is what Moses did, and water did indeed flow from the rock.

However, it was the second time Israel complained about water that drove Moses to his prideful error. As before, the people of Israel were thirsty and criticized Moses for being uncaring. The Lord, again, didn’t seem angry and did not raise His hand against them. He said this: “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (Numbers 20:8).

But when Moses took up his staff, instead of speaking to the rock, said, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10). Then he hit the rock twice and water flowed once more. The Lord, instead of being angry with Israel, was angry with Moses and said, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).

This is strict punishment. After all he’d been through, he would not enter the Promised Land. What was Moses’ error? Pride. Exalting himself. He did not uphold the Lord “as holy in the eyes of the people.” Moses said, “Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Clearly, Moses and Aaron could never have caused water to flow from a rock, and they knew it.

So, what is the Lord teaching us? Consider these verses from Jesus’ teaching:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3–4). It is imperative to understand that this is Jesus’ response to His disciples’ question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1b). The disciples’ question was not about salvation. It was about self-exaltation.

I trust you can see from these verses how vital it is that we humble ourselves; otherwise we may not “inherit the earth,” and in some way not enter the kingdom of heaven. Our problem with these verses is that we equate entering the kingdom with salvation. Sometimes that is the case in Scripture, other times it is not. Why? Because hell is not our future dwelling place if we fail to humble ourselves—thankfully. We are not saved by works. However, we will be excluded in some way—how, I do not know. Further, it is indisputable that Moses went to heaven—we see him with Elijah when Jesus was transfigured on the mount (Matthew 17:1-4). The account of Moses in Numbers is a figurative warning for us: Do not exalt yourself, claiming you did something that, in truth, only God did. Like Moses, you can do nothing by yourself. You go to work, but only God provides. You plant. You water. But only God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6).

May the Lord be merciful to us.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

200

Insensitivity is a widely discussed topic at this time in the culture of the United States. This is the account of a woman in the Bible who rightly handled insensitivity–on steroids. The woman’s name was Hannah.

Hannah was married to a man named Elkanah. He was also married to a woman named Peninnah (We’ll overlook this polygamous behavior, which seems strange to us, for now.), who gave Hannah grief because she couldn’t get pregnant. Sensitive woman, that Peninnah. However, Elkanah loved his wife, Hannah. He gave her twice the amount of meat from the offering than he gave to anyone else in the family.

But Peninnah wouldn’t stop the badgering. This upset Hannah so badly that when she went to the Lord’s house, she would cry and refuse to eat. Attempting to comfort her, Elkanah said, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8).1 Although it’s true that her husband loved her, this also seems insensitive. Having a loving husband is certainly a good thing—even though he had two wives—but it has little to do with a woman’s desire and need to have a baby, especially in Israel, where every male baby was a candidate for the Prophet to Come. And why didn’t Elkanah defend Hannah against her antagonist?

Insensitive household on steroids.

One day, Hannah was at the Lord’s house, and was praying about her childlessness in this beautiful prayer: “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (1 Samuel 1:11).

Eli, the priest, saw Hannah mumbling and thought, strangely, that she was drunk. I don’t know why he thought this, but he did. More insensitivity. I think in the U.S. culture, a woman so disrespected would have reached the boiling point here and struck back at all three of these people verbally, perhaps physically.

Thankfully, Hannah was cut from different cloth. Instead of yelling at Eli, frustrated, wounded, and disrespected as she was, she answered honestly and humbly. “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation” (1 Samuel 1:15–16).

Does anyone speak with this kind of humility anymore when shown disrespect?

To his credit, Eli said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him” (1 Samuel 1:17). It should be no surprise that she responded to the man who had added to her suffering in this way: “Let your servant find favor in your eyes” (1 Samuel 1:18a).

You may know how Hannah’s story ends. She gave birth to a son, Samuel, whom she surrendered to the Lord after she weaned him, which means she gave him into the care of Eli the priest. Then she prayed. Here is but a portion of that lovely prayer:

The LORD kills and brings to life;

he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

The LORD makes poor and makes rich;

he brings low and he exalts.

He raises up the poor from the dust;

he lifts the needy from the ash heap

to make them sit with princes

and inherit a seat of honor (1 Samuel 2:6–8a).

Hannah, the humiliated, disrespected one, on the “ash heap,” is exalted.

There is a running theme in Scripture about how the Lord exalts the lowly. Check out, for example, the similarities of Hannah’s song of praise to Mary’s (Luke 1:46-55). It is also one of the themes of Jesus’ life and death. He, who was executed as a criminal, the lowest of the low, became the most highly exalted. Peter told the high priest and council, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30–31).

Strength is made perfect in weakness. Our strength without God is no strength at all. When insulted or treated with disrespect, let’s trust the Lord and pray like Hannah did. Let us speak kindly. God will exalt us in our weakness.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

giphy

Yesterday, at our out-of-the-building church gathering—it was at a local grocery store in the deli-eating area—a man sitting nearby approached us. At the time, we were talking about the temple and the development of the rabbinical system. Laurie’s been studying about this lately. I wondered if that system arose in Judaism because there were no prophets. There hadn’t been for four hundred years until John the Baptist came on the scene. In a related way, I also wondered if rabbis arose because, in the absence of prophets, spiritual leadership no longer existed. That causes problems. “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18). 1 The man came up somewhere in the middle of this, saying he’d overheard us talking about prophets and stuff. As a footnote, let me add that people interacting with us in our public Bible studies is relatively rare. I’d say once a year. All the responses thus far have been positive.

This one was too, but it was extraordinary in character.

The man who began to talk to us looked like, well, a wizened cowboy without the boots and the buckle. His jeans were well-used, as was his flannel shirt. Perhaps a construction worker. He was missing a tooth. He talked about meeting people in the laundromat. He wasn’t a young fellow. Looked like he was in his fifties.

We talked for some time, but the gist of our conversation was this: Difficult times are coming, times of sorrow, but we are safe; safe in the Lord. He mentioned the account of the three Hebrews thrown into the furnace. Someone had mentioned to him years ago that these three men were safer in the furnace than they were anywhere else in the country. I had never heard this before, but it was a wonderful point well-taken. He said that what we are now experiencing is like a toilet paper roll unrolling. You don’t notice much change at first, but soon you’re at the end of the roll. Homespun (pardon the pun) metaphor, but effective.

We told him that we agreed. I told him that I hadn’t met many people who talked this way.

Several times in our conversation, he was so moved that he teared up. You know how guys tear up. They fight it, but their eyes get wet. Happens to me fairly often when I talk about the things of God. I don’t know why this man was so moved. The Holy Spirit?

I told him that part of my sorrow in this time-before-His-coming has been the slow declination of the United States. We are a post-Christian nation I said. Perhaps we have been for longer than we realize. Culture and tradition, Christian or not, only has so much strength. When they fail, all the hidden ickiness comes out into view.

We all agreed again, that despite the sorrow, we were safe in the Lord. It was good. The man maintained that we won’t even remember countries when we’re in heaven. I’d never thought about that, and it makes sense. All things will be made new. “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Revelation 21:5).

We parted in friendship and gratitude for the fellowship.

All that we discussed is still true, here today, as I type this article.

The United States someday will no longer exist. Neither will England. Russia. Any other nation.

I love the country in which I live. I am thankful and appreciative that the Lord has provided for us here, in this place. I am thankful that Christians have been free to worship the Lord God freely.

Thus far.

We are noticing that that may be changing.

But we have fallen, fallen in terrible ways, and the falling has been slow but is now speeding up. In our history, we committed the terrible sins of slavery and mistreatment of Native Americans. We are still seeing the fruit of those sins today. Subsequently, we legalized the killing of unborn children. Then we legalized same-sex marriage, which to me is simply a symptom of the sinfulness of a culture. Gays and others should certainly have all the rights of other citizens. It’s just that it was never an issue before. Remember, we are a post-Christian culture.

One must wonder what will befall us next, how far we are from unrolling down to the nub. The consequences of this fallenness are huge, not just for Americans, but the world. We are the bastion of freedom in the world—a strong economic and military bastion. When we fall—and we will—it isn’t difficult to conceive that the whole world will be in a more dangerous and drastic condition.

However, we are safe, and will be safe in Him, as the visitor said. Woe to those who do not know that safety. They will have no refuge. They will have no peace. But Jesus will still be available. May those who do not know Him find Him today and in that day as well.

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

afro crazy

Is the Christian God crazy? All Christians would likely join the chorus, shouting, “No!”

So would I.

However, I hope that after reading this post you will agree that, from a human point of view, the Lord does some things that are very…what’s the word? Curious? However, there is a reason for His “curious” behavior, as we shall see.

To begin the discussion, I want to look at the marriage of Samson. Now, Samson’s parents had been contacted twice by an angel before his birth. The wife—we’re not told her name—experienced the first visit. (She was barren, by the way.) She was given some basic instructions about how to raise this boy. He should drink no wine or strong drink. He should eat nothing unclean. His hair should not be cut. He would save Israel from the domination of the Philistines (Judges 13:2-20).

Well, the day came when this God-chosen deliverer wanted to get married. He’d found a woman who was beautiful and desired her. One major problem existed, however. The woman was a Philistine. The Philistines were not only one of Israel’s enemies, they were pagans. They worshiped Dagon. Not much is known about this god, but The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary says, “As divine ruler of his land, Dagon was responsible for king and people; this is well attested in spheres of military expansion, fertility, living and deceased human rulers, and divine advice (Kupper 1947: 150–52). A number of messages from Dagon to his territory have survived. By dream, by ecstatic possession, and by oral command, male and female prophets and commoners related Dagon’s messages on topics ranging from war and peace.” 1

The parents, however, knowing how distasteful this was to God, urged their son to relent. He did not. So, they went to Timnah to secure Samson’s heartthrob. In my opinion, they gave in to this unrighteous request because they knew, based upon their two encounters with the angel, that this man was chosen and called by God. However, was this behavior unrighteous? Read this: “His father and mother did not know that it was from the LORD, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel” (Judges 14:4).2

So, let’s get this straight. God chooses Samson as the man to deliver Israel and is going to use his marriage to a pagan enemy of Israel to do it.

Right. Happens all the time.

Thus, a wedding was arranged. Just before the joining, however, Samson told the bride-to-be’s relatives that he had a riddle for them. I mean, everybody does this, right? Just to add to the oddness of this account, the riddle had to do with a lion Samson had killed with his bare hands and the beehive he subsequently found it its carcass. Just normal, everyday stuff. These men did not know the answer to Samson’s riddle, so they told Samson’s wife-to-be that unless she spilled the beans, she and her family would be burned alive.

That’s called incentive.

So, she cajoled Samson, and he gave up the answer to the riddle. Then he responded the way the Lord wanted him to: “And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house. And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man” (Judges 14:19–20).

But it doesn’t end there. Samson catches three hundred foxes, ties their tails together, attaches torches, and burns up the Philistines’ stacked grain, standing grain, and olive orchards.

Do you know of anyone who has, without the aid of a trap, caught a fox, much less three hundred of them? Then tied their tails together? It’s clear—this man had supernatural enablement.

It doesn’t stop there. He kills one thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey. Right. John Wick with a jawbone. At least Wick finally got shot. Samson did this with no one stabbing him or shooting an arrow between his shoulder blades.

Feel free to read the Samson account, but it ends with the now blind Samson pushing on two pillars in the temple of Dagon, destroying it and killing about three thousand worshippers. Again, this man was enabled by the Spirit of God. No one is that strong.

Why would the Lord do things this way? It just seems crazy.

No, not crazy. The Lord God Almighty goes out of His way to inform us that He alone performs His work, so He alone will be glorified. Consider Gideon. His pots and torches were great, I’m sure, but they are not effective war weapons. Break the pots. Shout. Hold up the torches. The enemy is defeated. Good job with those pots and torches, men!

Right.

We could go on. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt by a man holding up his staff. I mean no disrespect, but I’m sure Moses would not think holding a staff up accomplishes, on its own, anything.

Defeating an enemy city, Jericho, by marching around it, shouting and blowing trumpets. Great work on those trumpets, guys! And the shouting? Awesome!

Could the Lord make it any clearer? He alone brings victory and deliverance. He alone, not us, is to be glorified.

 

1Handy, L. K. (1992). Dagon (Deity). In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 1–2, pp. 1232–2). New York: Doubleday.

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

 

200

God doesn’t think like we do. In response to this statement, you might say, “No duh, Jim.”

Or words to that affect.

But God’s thinking should influence what we do as Christians and how we think. The way of thinking I’d like to address in this post is our of-the-world reasoning that bigger is better.

Consider these things:

God Almighty in the flesh, Immanuel, descended from heaven and took on the body of a man. Jesus demonstrated His power over the material world many times: Increasing the substance of bread, walking on water, stilling a storm, changing water into wine, healing people, and raising them from the dead. All of this was done to glorify the Father and to prove Jesus’ deity. However, this Almighty God chose only twelve men to whom He would entrust the continuation of what He had initiated and made possible. Why only twelve? Or eleven, if you exclude Judas. Why not one hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? This is Almighty God, after all, and this was Jesus’ only opportunity to gather lots of people. Eleven men? Really?

Why only three years? Again, this was His one and only opportunity.

The wonderful, glorious answer lies in a passage in Judges when the Lord behaved in a similar way with Gideon.

The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained. And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many” (Judges 7:2–4a). 1

Ten thousand was still too many, so He reduced the number. Three hundred against how many enemy soldiers?

And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance (Judges 7:12).

Now, you know as well as I do that this just doesn’t make any sense. However, it made perfect sense to God, who only does wondrous—and perfect—things.

Does God need big numbers of His people to work His work?

Well, if the lives of Gideon and Jesus have any meaning for us, no.

Well, then, why do we think He needs large numbers?

The simple answer: We don’t think like God does.

Second answer: We think we will get more done for God.

Third answer: In our it-makes-sense-to-get-the-numbers way of thinking, comes a shift that is subtle but calamitous: We will get more done for God.

Again, this makes perfect sense to us. We’re working hard, right? We’re praying, right? God wants to expand His kingdom, right? God will to be glorified in big numbers, right? Big numbers equal, um, success.

Full stop.

I’m pretty certain that if Gideon and his ten thousand men had beaten the Midianites, they would have said, “All the glory goes to God,” in much the same way we do now. However, the Lord knows our hearts better than we do. He knew the temptation that Gideon and his men would face if He didn’t make it absolutely clear that He alone was bringing the victory. Think Moses and the crossing of the Red Sea. Think marching around Jericho. Think David and Goliath. Who brought those glorious victories? Men? No. God alone.

This way of thinking is so radical that we can’t imagine how to implement it. What? God could do glorious things through a handful of people? No. We need to get together as many as possible—God’s great army of believers.

No, Gideon’s army of believers.

What does this mean for the way pastors and leaders do ministry? All I have to offer is the truth of Scripture. What believers do with that truth, well, that’s their choice.

 

1The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy of giphy.com

200w

I happened to reconnect with an old friend the other day, who attended the last church at which I was senior pastor. We spent quite a bit of time catching up, and during that conversation, he told me about his conversion.

Mark (not his real name), was a very violent man in high school. He not only wanted to hurt people—which he did—he wanted to kill them, which, thankfully, he didn’t. After a friend suggested that Mark talk with his pastor, he gave his life to Jesus. Mark is not a complex sort of fellow. Things are black and white for him. He confessed to the pastor that he got angry very easily, and when he did, he wanted to punch people in the face. The pastor told him that he didn’t need to fight because the Lord would protect him. That was a straightforward truth to this new believer, so he left trusting that the Lord would do just that.

One day shortly thereafter, one of Mark’s old nemeses started an altercation in the school’s hallway and shoved Mark against a locker. Mark reacted in anger, but remembering what the pastor had told him, put his hands in his pockets. Mark’s adversary threatened to punch him in the mouth. Mark said, “Go ahead. The Lord will protect me.” Mark told me he closed his eyes, so he wouldn’t see what was about to happen. Suddenly he heard a loud bang against the locker behind him, and his enemy started yelling in pain. “Ow! I broke my wrist!” He fell to his knees and started crying.

He had broken his wrist.

Afterward, the principal questioned Mark. “What happened?” Mark told him that he didn’t fight. The principal was skeptical, since he knew his history. However, he told the principal that he didn’t fight because he knew the Lord would protect him. “I knew the Lord would do this. Do you?”

Apparently, that ended the conversation; at least that’s where Mark ended it.

What shall we do with this account of responding nonviolently to a physical attack while trusting the Lord?

Great question. I think the issue of defending oneself is relatively easy to answer. If you want to deny yourself the impulse to defend yourself and trust solely in the Lord, you are free to do so. As you may be aware, Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38–42).1 It seems clear Jesus is talking strongly about humility and self-denial. In addition, we know that many Christians throughout the centuries and even now have not resisted and been martyred.

However, the issue of defending others under attack is a bit trickier. The first biblical instance that comes to mind is Peter cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant when a small force came to capture his master. Jesus told him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Doesn’t that prove that we shouldn’t defend others? Well, I hold that this case is unique. I’m unsure of Peter’s motive. Was he fighting to defend someone who was defenseless or protecting someone whom he thought was soon to launch the kingdom of God by force—which is the only political power Peter understood.

I am certain I could not simply stand by and watch my wife, daughter, grandchildren, or any other weaker person be raped or beaten. I just couldn’t do it. If it is truly sinful (I’m not sure it is), I would have to intervene and ask for forgiveness later. The only reason I would not step in would be because the Lord had clearly told me not to.

Did Jesus protect my old friend, Mark, in a miraculous way to prove His love and reality to a graciously saved new believer? I think so. We are not promised in Scripture that the Lord will always protect us from physical harm. Scripture—the martyrdom of James and Stephen, for example—bears this out, as does reality.

Thus, what should Christians do and remain obedient to the Lord? I have no Scripture from the New Testament to back up my stance about defending others. However, I cannot shake the belief that to do so is the honorable and right thing to do. If you have a biblical truth to cause me to re-think or reinforce my position, please inform me.

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

giphy

The other day I was reading in the Book of Deuteronomy, near its end. I came across something the Lord said to Moses that caused me respond in wonder. Surprising, huh?

He told Moses to write a song.

Well, all right! The Lord God Almighty is a song writer. I’d never thought of Him in this way. A little unexpected. Here is the reason the Lord told Moses to write down the lyrics He was going to dictate:

When I have brought them to the land flowing with milk and honey, of which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them; and they will provoke Me and break My covenant. Then it shall be, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify against them as a witness; for it will not be forgotten in the mouths of their descendants, for I know the inclination of their behavior today, even before I have brought them to the land of which I swore to give them (Deuteronomy 31:20-21).1

So. God writes songs. He wants this particular song to be sung so His people will know that evil will befall them when they turn away from Him after experiencing His blessing. Well, it’s worse than that. Destruction will come. (Deuteronomy 32:23-24).

Then, in this song, God Almighty makes this beautifully awesome, fear-inducing, sovereign announcement to a people who have wrongly trusted in other gods:

Now see that I, even I, am He,

And there is no God besides Me;

I kill and I make alive;

I wound and I heal;

Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand

(Deuteronomy 32:39).2

Yes. He is the One who blesses. He is the One who takes blessings away. The Almighty God takes full responsibility for good and bad things that occur. He kills people. He also brings life. God rules the universe—only He and none other. Nothing happens on the earth or in the universe that He doesn’t cause or allow. However, for those who know they are called according to His purpose, all things work for good (Romans 8:28). Thus, true good is eternal, not short-term, human-understanding good. When we do not see the good come about as we would like, we believe that we will comprehend when all things become known.

Toward the end of this song, in Deuteronomy 32:36, the Lord utters these gracious words, words that help us understand what He will do when we cease our dependence upon false “gods,”—things in which we have trusted when we have stopped trusting Him:

For Yahweh will judge on behalf of his people, and concerning his servants; he will change his mind when he sees that their power has disappeared, and there is no one left, confined or free.

Once His people realize how weak and in need of Him they are, perhaps they will call upon Him. Seeing their humility, the Lord will relent and turn toward them. He is forgiving and gracious. The Lord knows it is for our own good to trust Him and turn to Him—yes—for our own good, not because He is an evil dictator who loves cruelty.

And He wants us to sing about it, all of it.

 

1The New King James Version. (1982). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

2Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New King James Version. (1982). (Dt 31:20–21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

200m

If God really existed, would you like to know His mind?

Well, He does and Christians can.

Now, I am not saying that believers in Jesus can thoroughly know the mind of God. He is just too immense. For example, He possesses perfect knowledge of everything that occurred at Creation. No one on earth knows the how and workings of this event. Where did all this in which we live and breathe come from? We would have had to been present before Creation to know these things, but since we are created beings, that is clearly not possible. Although this is just one example, it is a very large one.

We could continue. How does the Lord God go about knowing the numbers of the stars? Human beings cannot count them all. Well, if you want to attempt it, go ahead. Inform me when you finalize your results. Even if we could count the ones we can see or detect, we would still fail, because some stars—even galaxies—are too distant. The universe is expanding at the speed of light, so these stars will continue to evade detection.

And how does the Lord God Almighty know about every sparrow that falls? How does He do that? What process does He use to count the number of hairs on everyone’s heads? (And perhaps the unbeliever should ask, ‘Why does He care?’) We are talking about an intelligence—a spiritual intelligence, not an AI computer intelligence—that we just cannot comprehend. I hope you believe me when I tell you that no matter how intelligent computers become, they will fail to do these things.

So, it should be no surprise that this immensely knowledgeable Lord has given us the ability to know His mind in a way we can understand. We can know enough of God’s mind to know the truth, truth that teaches us how to live in Him and with people here, on the earth. How? We can know His mind by reading the words He spoke to and through His prophets and apostles. He spoke to them in words they could understand, and they wrote them down. This is how we know God’s mind—at least enough to live this earthly life.

Knowing God’s mind about this life is not difficult. However, our hearts have been darkened, and our sinful brains reject simple truths, the simplest of which is that God exists (Romans 1:21). At one time in my life, I rejected this truth, as well. If I’d taken the time to look at the creation that flourished around and above me and thought about it, the reality of God would have been difficult to deny. But I was a fool. These are some words from the mind of God: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good” (Psalm 14:1).1 Now, the word “corrupt” here does not mean the kind of corruption we talk about when a government official is accused of taking bribes. Corrupt here means “ruined,” or “spoiled,” or “decayed.” So, I was being ruined when I denied the existence of God, and that ruin would have continued if He hadn’t graciously rescued me. The word “abominable” carries with it the meanings of “loathsome” and “abhorrent.” Even though I didn’t think this way about myself at all, I was. And, looking back at my life, I cannot help but agree. And, unfortunately, my old sinful self still wants to pull me to ruining, loathsome ways. When I don’t heed the words that God clearly spoke to His prophets and apostles, I leave what I know God’s mind to be. I ignore it. I justify my actions. Please allow me to be brutally honest. Sometimes I love ruin and abomination.

Would you agree that this is foolish?

May the Lord be merciful.

The last part Psalm 14:1 tells us that none of those in this condition can do good. True. How can a man or woman who is decaying and abhorrent perform something good? I mean, a stinking, decaying corpse has nothing to offer but food for fly larvae.

I write this brief look at a verse from Psalm 14 to help us grasp how we can know the mind of God. Believing He exists is the beginning of a process that will keep us from the ways of the fool. Ignoring His words leads us to one place and one place only—decay and abhorrence. There is no other destination. He does not want that for us. He wants to pull us out of a ruinous place, a place akin to a garbage pile on its way to the incinerator.

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

200w

When Laurie and I lived in Mexico, we met a fellow from Germany. He was bright and witty, and we enjoyed talking with him. I don’t remember how, but somewhere the conversation turned more serious, and Christianity came up. He rejected it out of hand, and then as we parted on the sidewalk, he said, “Be human.”

This is the moral worldview of the West. I think. Because I’m not sure they or I know what “be human” means. Perhaps it’s something like Google’s new motto: “Do the right thing.”

But what does “be human” or “do the right thing” mean? What is human? What is right? What is wrong?

“Being human” and “doing the right thing” means signing on to the post-Christian worldview that takes God’s moral law and selects the ones you like and dismisses the ones you don’t. But this way of thinking is absent a center if one thinks it through.

Please allow me to explain.

Most Westerners believe evolution is a fact, not a theory. I know for sure that the scientists at NASA do. They have announced recently (again, I think) that the “basic building blocks for life” have been found on Mars. They will be sending up a probe to drill into the Martian surface in an attempt to discover life. Therefore, intelligent scientists—much more intelligent that I am—truly believe that life spontaneously comes into existence if the “basic building blocks” are there. Add a little carbon, a little water, a little oxygen, nitrogen, and other stuff, and—poof—you’re good. But may this relatively science-ignorant man ask a very basic question? If life just spontaneously comes into existence—time plus chance plus building blocks—why can’t scientists create it here? Sincerely, I’m baffled. You are going to spend billions of dollars to send a drilling probe to Mars to find life that just “happened,” when you cannot create it here, with intelligence and technology at work? I don’t get it.

Nevertheless, if we truly are just “stardust,” random blobs of goop that evolved from some unknown, spontaneous—what shall we call it—combination of things; if we are the tree and the flower and the star and the leopard and the frog and the chimp, what does it matter what we do? Why do right and wrong matter? Who cares what evolved blobs of goop do to other blobs of goop? Are we concerned when bacteria die? Worms? Parasites? Are we concerned when an alpha predator, like a lion, destroys and eats its young? Or when it kills an antelope? No, we are not because, despite our solid belief in evolution, we know lions are different than we. If we awake in a house that is on fire, would we rescue our dog or cat or fish or gerbil before our own children? No. We know we are not all just time plus chance, but somehow there is a disconnect between reality and belief. Thus, while condemning Christianity as outdated or anti-science or superstitious or weird, Western unbelievers hold to its values.

Well, some of those values. For example, we believe rape is wrong but not pre-marital sex. (Please note that a recent poll stated that only 28% of Christians believe pre-marital sex is a sin. Welcome to the church that has been compromised by worldly values.)

Incest is wrong and even illegal but why? Are we worried when apes do this?

Why is bestiality wrong and illegal? Hey, those animals are just stardust, time, plus chance like we are. Eat, drink, be merry and bestial, for tomorrow we die. Whatever—we are all just star dusty blobs of goop. Have sex with whatever blob you wish. What difference does it make?

How about adultery? Well, it is generally frowned upon, unless, of course, love strikes in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. Then it’s—understandable. They’re in love! Everybody—well, all random blobs of goop, should be loved.

Poor, lonely, goopy blobs.

Scripture says that everyone on earth knows God exists: “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). But because we do not give thanks to Him or honor Him, our hearts become darkened. Therefore, God gives us over to dishonorable passions, impurity, and debased minds (Romans 1:21-28). 1

This is the current state of the West. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at the madness we witness.

However, before the Christian reader yields to self-righteous, we must confess that all of us are subject to this God-forgetfulness as well. You and I both know that we fail very often to honor God in our lives and to give thanks. The only difference between the Christian and the unbeliever is God’s gracious revelation of Himself to us. We are to shed the light we have been given —forgiven, nasty sinners that we are—into the darkness, so people who are bound up in the same nasty sins we were can come out of depressing darkness into the light. To live forever. To be set free from sin’s bondage. To find meaning in life. To be God’s sons and daughters. To be co-heirs with Jesus.

It is a difficult battle. I understand. The West has strongly rejected what I just wrote. But that doesn’t make void its truth. And there is only one true truth, and it resides in the Lord God Almighty, Creator of all things and Savior to all.

 

1The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

For more about the books

POSTS BY THE MONTH / YEAR

POSTS BY CATEGORIES AND TITLES

Follow me on Twitter

Advertisements