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In the movie John Wick 2, Gianna D’Antonio, a woman Mr. Wick found it necessary to murder because of a blood oath he had taken, asked him, “Do you fear damnation, John?”

“Yes,” was his simple reply.

But did John Wick really fear damnation?

No, not at all, at least in any significant sense. True, it seems he thought that condemning judgment from the Lord God Almighty was out there, lurking in the future, causing a degree of consternation in our hero, but not enough to result in a change of behavior. He just continued to kill people. Apparently, he thought that damnation/hell/judgment might actually be a reality and thus awaited him; but the satisfaction and rightness of his revenge far outweighed the fear of that eternal truth. Revenge was not the reason he killed Gianna D’Antonio, but it had put him on the path that led to her. Originally, he sought revenge because a group of young men had killed his dog. To John Wick, revenge here on earth–even for just an animal–was worth the price of suffering for a trillion years and on into eternity.

Revenge. It seems to make sense to us in film. The victim has no legal redress and must have justice. In Wick’s case, he was in a system adjudicated by what was called the High Table. The laws of the government of the United States held no sway there. William Wallace, in the movie, Braveheart, was a powerless man under the authority of an evil king. The case was the same for the character, Maximus, that Russell Crowe played in Gladiator. What is the victim to do in the light of such injustice?

According to Scripture, Christians have but one choice in these scenarios: Suffer. Revenge is never a behavior in which they should engage. In the Christian era, such justice is to be meted out only by governments and ruling authorities. Paul wrote, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:3–4).1

Does this mean that Christians cannot be involved in helping themselves and others who have suffered injustice? Of course not. However, ruling, governmental authorities are to be the “avengers” who carry out “God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” For the individual, however, who must await such earthly judgments, he or she is not to take on that role of avenger. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19–21).

Obedience to this truth requires that Christians take an eternal view of justice, something that is not popular today—perhaps it never was, knowing the nature of mankind. It requires faith in a just God. It requires hope in a just judgment to come.

But there is more going on here, I would think, than just obeying a command about vengeance. In his revenge, John Wick kills—I don’t know—a hundred people. He kills them as if they are not living individuals at all. In contrast, the reader is probably aware of the anguish of civilians and police officers who have had to take the tragic action of killing an intruder or violent criminal. We are also aware of the toll taken upon individuals who have seen the bodies of victims, especially children. They never forget these images. What has been seen can’t be unseen. However, John Wick violently kills people, seemingly, with no impact on his soul whatsoever. This is simply not reality for us. We may enjoy a fictional bloodlust on the screen because we know they are all actors and stuntmen, but when we see this kind of death first-hand, it messes with and damages us.

I don’t know what lasting effect revenge films have on us, if any. I sincerely hope that this society will never begin to think they have become so powerless and their government so corrupt that they must take justice into their own hands. Regardless, for Christians, vigilante justice is no option. This may be at least one reason why Paul wrote that we should pray for ruling authorities. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).

Amen. That sounds good to me.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016).

Gif courtesy Bing images.

 

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Jesus spoke stunning, beautiful truths many times, but few rival His statements in John 8, where He told the doubting Jews that Abraham, who lived many centuries before, rejoiced to see His day. Immediately following, He claimed to be Yahweh, who spoke to Moses in the burning bush in the wilderness.

“‘Abraham your father rejoiced that he would see my day, and he saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’” (John 8:56–58).1

Doesn’t this passage cause your mind to soar? Jesus is harkening back to two experiences He had with two men two thousand years or so before His listeners were born. The first was with Abraham, whom Jesus claimed had seen his “day.” This encounter will be our primary focus in this article. So, let’s ask the question, “What day had he seen?”

Let me begin by saying that I do not think that this “seeing” was only one incident but the culmination of promissory encounters and revelations from the Lord. Perhaps we should say, “revelations from Jesus.” Because it was Him, was it not, by the oaks of Mamre, who promised the son, Isaac? That promise brought the laughter of incredibility, and for Abram and Sarah, who had several months to see the promise come to pass, that doubting laughter was turned to true, believing joy. They named their son, Isaac—laughter. “And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me’” (Genesis 21:6).

In this same visitation at that meeting by the oaks, the Lord announced the destruction of Sodom. Despite Abraham’s intercession, God could not find ten righteous people in Sodom, and it was destroyed as He had said.

Abraham learned truths about God in these experiences. The Lord brings to pass what He announces. The child was born in old age. He had asked Abraham and Sarah after the laughter at His declaration: “Is anything too difficult for Yahweh?” (Genesis 18:14a). “No, nothing,” they would surely soon confess. Abraham and Sarah were becoming convinced of the reality of the sovereignty of God. The Lord possesses the ability both to bring fertility to an old couple as well as overwhelming destruction.

The Lord told Abraham previously (Genesis 13 and 15) that He would give his descendants the land and make his offspring as numerous as the dust and stars. We don’t know if Abraham always believed these promises throughout his life, but a test of faith in those oaths came when the Lord commanded him to sacrifice Isaac. Keep in mind this was the very son the Lord had promised, and this boy was the only true descendant through whom those numberless descendants would come. This test of faith, I think, is the apogee of Abraham’s seeing Jesus’ day and rejoicing in it. This is the wonderful thing he said to his servants before he trudged up the hill to obey the Lord’s command of sacrifice: “You stay here with the donkey, and I and the boy will go up there. We will worship, then we will return to you” (Genesis 22:5). And he said this to Isaac when he asked where the sacrificial animal was, seeing the wood and the fire but no lamb: “God will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8a).

The day of Jesus that Abraham “saw” was the knowledge of a needed, sacrificial Son of God’s promise and His subsequent resurrection.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered Isaac, and the one who received the promises was ready to offer his one and only son, with reference to whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your descendants will be named,’ having reasoned that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which he received him back also as a symbol” (Hebrews 11:17–19).

Nothing on Earth or in the universe has the power to stop the Lord from fulfilling what He has proclaimed. Thus, with Abraham, we rejoice that Jesus came and, humbling Himself, became a servant unto death and offered Himself in sacrifice of which Isaac was the type. Jesus then rose from the dead, as He said He would, defeating sin, death, hell, and the grave.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, Immanuel, God Almighty in the flesh, for your merciful sacrifice, salvation, and resurrection. We rejoice with Abraham and all the saints to have seen Your day.

 

1Harris, 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 Bing images.

 

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One of the things my poor, formerly evangelical mind has trouble wrapping itself around is that Jesus purposefully said things that were incomprehensible not only to those who opposed Him, but to His disciples, as well. The boldest example of this is when He told His listeners that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53-58). I guess Jesus hadn’t attended any church growth seminars. Surely, this seems counterproductive.

But wait just one second. This is the Creator of the universe speaking. God in the flesh.

It would behoove us to listen.

But that passage in John is another topic for another time. The truth I’d like to look at in this article is the time He told His disciples that they should buy swords.

And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough” (Luke 22:35–38).1

I can say with certainty that any one of us who had been there with Jesus that night would have interpreted what He said in the same way as the disciples. Jesus never talked about swords in any of His teachings except in a literal sense. Why would He do this? Why would He purposefully tell His disciples to buy swords, knowing that is exactly what they would have heard Him to say? They didn’t buy any, by the way, but just showed Him the two they had. Jesus didn’t correct them when they produced these weapons which He surely could have done. He simply said, “It is enough.” We know Jesus didn’t really want them to buy swords to fight because when Peter slashed off the high priest’s servant’s ear in Gethsemane, Jesus told him, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). Matthew recorded that Jesus said, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Jesus then healed the poor man (Luke 22:51).

I think I know at least part of the answer to explain Jesus’ words. We know He spoke in parables so that everyone but His disciples would “see but not perceive” and “hear but not understand” (Mark 4:10-12). But here is Jesus speaking, not in a parable, but in a—what shall we call it—a divine secrecy.2 It seems that in this case He expected the disciples to figure it out by seeking understanding from the Holy Spirit, even if that understanding didn’t appear for a while.

Proverbs 25:2 says. “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” It is astounding, isn’t it, that God says He is glorified when He conceals things? But that isn’t the whole story. It’s also a glory for us kings and priests (Revelation 1:6 and 5:9-10) to search concealed things out. I don’t know why this searching is the “glory of kings,” but surely it’s a good thing.

Thus, God is glorified in our pursuit here and, somehow, it is good—glorifying—for us to discover, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, what in the world Jesus, our Savior, is talking about.

In the case before us, I think that we are to discover that Jesus was saying to His disciples, now that He would soon be absent physically from them, that they should sacrificially and purposefully do what they must, with great desire and diligence, to search out the truths in the Word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), which pierces us even dividing one’s soul and spirit, discerning the thoughts and intents of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). It is here that we learn the true Truth. It is here that we will find Jesus, who is the Word. God’s words are not just the opinion of irrelevant ancients. They are the thoughts of the one who created the universe—and you.

The hidden treasure and the pearl of great value are ours to find and make our own from the proceeds of the sale of lesser, temporal things (Matthew 13:44-46). This is the truth upon which our spiritual and eternal lives depend.

It is not a hobby.

Father, give the Church the desire to sacrificially seek out Your truth, no matter how opaque it may seem to us. Forgive us for taking Your words so lightly. Forgive us for our inattentiveness to Your words of life.

 

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

2Ross, A. P. (1991). Proverbs. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1079). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

 

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Let’s take a moment to think about eternity. Right away, an obstacle lies in our path. Taking a “moment” and the immediacy of “right away” in a discussion about eternity inform us of the challenge. We are bound by time. We can’t comprehend eternity, and thoughts about it elusively descend into to a haze.

But why should we think about eternity at all?

Good question.

Difficult question.

To start with, some may say that we have enough to occupy our thoughts with the stuff going on right now. True enough. Sicknesses. Jobs. Families. They all require our careful attention.

At least let me throw out one thought, although it is a little disquieting: In seventy years or so, everyone reading this article will probably be dead. Almost no one will know or remember you even existed. Any money you saved will be in the possession of others. Any deeds you did, unless you’re famous, will be forgotten, remembered, perhaps, by your grandchildren. As for their children remembering—don’t kid yourself.

So, who will remember you?

The Lord God, your Creator. The one who loves you with—yes, I should state it—an eternal love.

He will always love you.

Can you imagine a trillion years? No, of course you can’t. But if you’re a Christian, you’ll be alive a trillion years from now.

Doing what?

Well, Scripture doesn’t offer a lot of details. We get a few hints, though. Before we look at those things, let’s be unambiguous. What we know of reality now is not what reality will be for us then. There’s a time coming when all that we know and see and understand about the present earth, solar system, and universe won’t exist anymore. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1).1 The Lord God Almighty is going to create everything new. “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:5). What will that be like? Will there be boars and bears and butterflies? No one knows but Him. But if you have ever been dazzled by this present creation—if you haven’t, you haven’t been thinking properly—then it isn’t hard to imagine that whatever is to come will be better. Better, because there will be no sin there and thorns will not “infest the ground,” as the Christmas song says.

Despite the lack of detail, however, we have a few scriptural truths about eternity that should cause us to pause and ponder.

Believers will judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:2–3). How long will this judging take? Well, there are probably tens of thousands of these fallen angels, but the notion of “how long” does not exist in the Lord’s heavenly kingdom. We don’t know how to answer this question.

Believers—meek ones, apparently—will inherit the earth—forever (Matthew 5:5).

Believers who overcome, who “conquer,” will rule over nations—forever (Revelation 2:26—27).

I should note here that we Christians will be judged, as well, by Jesus Himself. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Corinthians 5:10–11a).

It should be noted that this judgment is final. So, that will last for eternity, as well.

So, it seems a fruitful thing, a worthy thing, doesn’t it, to take a time-bound moment or two and think about eternity in the light of these truths.

All glory to Him who sits upon the throne and unto the Lamb, forever and ever.

 

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

Gif courtesy Bing images.

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The boys and I met before Christmas, and at one point our attention turned to indebtedness, in particular in the light of this verse, which one brother quoted: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). Once he had finished, a bevy of thoughts ploughed through my brain. Only one answer arose, but it was a little shaky. As far as I knew, the Lord did not forbid Christians in the New Testament to borrow money or incur debt. Nevertheless, I wanted to poke at this notion. I asked if all of us had had mortgages at one time or another. All of us had. We also revealed that we all had been in trouble with credit card debt earlier in our lives, and that we had learned from that experience. But that we had all been in debt proved nothing. So, this vague feeling of law-breaking hovered over our little group like a misty fog. Is it true that Christians should “owe no one anything” means not being in debt?

Since I didn’t have an immediate scriptural answer for Romans 13:8 that day, I encouraged the brothers to read the verse in context. After we’d all gone home, I remembered, somewhere in my memory-deprived brain, that Jesus talked about lending and loans without condemnation (Luke 7:41–42 and Luke 11:5–7). But before I got around to looking any of that up, sometime during that day, I remembered a foundational truth: All of God’s laws either have to do with loving God or loving your neighbor. Quickly following, I recalled this from Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).1

So, I asked myself, “How does owing people money portray not loving my neighbor?”

It seemed obvious I wouldn’t be loving my neighbor if I didn’t pay my bills and unjustly kept what was owed to them. This is backed up in Proverbs: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’—when you have it with you” (Proverbs 3:27–28).

Eventually, I got around to reading the sentence in Romans 13:8 in its context. Having done that, I found that this verse was not about borrowing money at all. Here’s why: Verse 8 is preceded by Paul telling the Romans to be subject to the governing authorities, which in their case, was the emperor, tax-collectors, and law-enforcers. The verse just before the “owe no one anything,” is, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7). It is followed by these verses: “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:9–10).

The passage in question, Romans 13:7-10, is about being subject to governing authorities and thus loving one’s neighbors, “paying” them what is “due,” like taxes, revenue, respect, and honor, not about borrowing money. However, I don’t think it’s a stretch to maintain that making monthly payments on a loan is loving one’s neighbor, as well.

It is true that in Deuteronomy 15:6 and 28:12, the Lord told Israel that they shall not borrow, but it seems He is saying that such borrowing would put them in subjection to other nations. “For the LORD your God will bless you, as he promised you, and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you” (Deuteronomy 15:6).

It is also true that Proverbs 22:7 wisely tells us that “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender,” but this seems to be a warning about being impoverished under crushing debt. Both Deuteronomy and Proverbs concern debt that puts us under the “ruling” subjection of others. Borrowing money wisely does not bring this result.

So, no New Testament admonition commands us to not borrow money, and Romans 13:8 cannot be used as law for us. One must take that verse out of context and twist it to make it so. Nevertheless, we should love our neighbor by paying our debts and bills on time.

 

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

Gif courtesy Bing images.

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To all of my friends, both here in the United States and all over the world:

May you have a happy celebration of our Creator God coming to earth in the body of a baby.

This baby, this Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, grew to be a man and humbled and emptied Himself.

He offered Himself in sacrifice so we could become forgiven, holy sons of our Father and servants of the Lord Almighty, the sovereign God of the universe.

Because of Jesus, we will never die but live eternally in the Lord’s heavenly kingdom.

May the whole earth be filled with His glory.

Best to you, and may the Lord bless you and your families, from Laurie and me to you!

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Alan Turing was a brilliant English mathematician who, using that God-given gift, helped the Allies win the Second World War. The Allies needed to decode the encrypted German radio messages their enemy was sending. Those communications were encrypted by a machine called Enigma. The code-breaking machine Turing and others designed, which defeated Enigma, was a pre-cursor to today’s digital computer. For his efforts during the war, Turing was made an officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

It goes without saying, I hope, that Nazi Germany finds its place of dishonor among other cruel, fascistic nations and regimes throughout the history of this dark and rebellious planet. Nazi Germany was not the first authoritarian rule that tried to completely destroy the members of a race or group, nor was it the last. Germany’s attempt is striking because the race it endeavored to eradicate was the Jews, God’s original chosen people.

I do not know why God allows what He allows and disallows what He disallows; what He causes and for what reasons. No one does, although it may seem that we have more light sometimes than others. This is foolish thinking, truly, since none of us has the eternal viewpoint of the eternal God Almighty. And there is no light on the issue at hand. No mortal knows why God caused or allowed the Second World War, nor the mass slaughter of the Jewish people.

If you have visited this blog before, you may be aware that more than once I have cited these smack-in-the-face realities spoken by the Lord Himself.

“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).1

“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).

“Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire” (Psalm 46:8–9).

We Christians may not like these verses. We may try to ignore them. But there they are spoken in as plainly as possible. We must accept them. If that requires swallowing hard and pulling up our boots to do the hard work of thinking about the sovereignty of God, then that is what we must do. We cannot ignore the truth of the words of God.

But back to Alan Turing and the code-breaking machine. Mr. Turing was a homosexual. After the war, he was arrested for indecency regarding this behavior. This law has since been eliminated in Britain, as it should be. One should not be arrested for this sexual sin. But it is a sin, nevertheless. The scriptures that declare this truth are as clear as any in the Holy Writ. It is clearly condemned in 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10, Jude 7, and Romans 1:26-27. In addition, Jesus declared that only two genders exist when He confirmed the creation mandate in Matthew 19:4–5: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?”

The point I want to make concerning Alan Turing is that the Lord gave Mr. Turing the mathematical genius he possessed, knowing that he would use it to help defeat Nazi Germany. Thus, we have a man engaged in blatant sin against help defeat an enemy that was also engaged in blatant sins against God. Why would He do this? We do not know, and we may never know, unless such inscrutabilities are made known to the saints in the heavenly kingdom.

Let me close by adding the verse that follow Psalm 46:8–9 cited above which state that the Lord brings desolations to the earth and burns the chariots with fire: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10).

Amen.

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

Gif courtesy Bing images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG20191110122907Laurie and I returned from Bangladesh about a month ago. I had been invited to speak to a group of pastors led by a friend whom we met when we lived in India. We were excited to be given this opportunity. I prayed and hope that the truths I spoke edified the pastors and the Lord God Almighty was and will be glorified.

Our friend generously hosted us, allowing us to stay in his home and enjoy meals with him there. It is in this setting that Laurie and I witnessed wonderful examples of servanthood, displayed by our friend’s wife and daughter-in-law. We were struck by the servants’ hearts of these two women of God.

During our mealtimes there, Laurie and I noticed how closely the two women watched us as they waited and served. It was a little uncomfortable until we grew used to it. They took note of how much we ate of the different dishes they put on the table. They endeavored to serve the foods for which we showed preference. They also noticed that I drank coffee only at breakfast but mango juice at any time. (I was often in need of the energy boost because the speaking schedule was packed.) We were grateful that our Christian sisters lovingly cared for us, and we told them so.

One time, early in our stay, we were uncertain about the time for one of the meals and came down to the kitchen/dining area early. Within seconds, the two ladies emerged from another room. It wasn’t long before they had put plates on the table and were preparing food. The women served us because they thought we were hungry and wanted to hospitably provide. We did not ask for anything—they just proceeded to serve. Once, while we were eating a light dinner, our host had a cup of tea in front of him on the dining table. One of the sisters walked by on her way out of the room and quickly and deftly placed a saucer on top of his cup to keep it hot. He didn’t ask her to do it, she anticipated the need and just did it.

It was here that a wonderful thought went through my head. The Lord was like these two Christians. Better said, I’m sure, is that they were like Him.

How so?

First, when our sisters worked to provide us a meal when we came to dine early, the Father knows what we need and moves to provide it. He takes action according to our needs before we even ask. Just as the sister placed the saucer on the steaming cup on her way out of the room, He anticipates a need we may not know we even have. In the verses preceding the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew, Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7–8). Since we are so very needy, in spite of our opinion otherwise, the Lord is always at work at this task.

Second, like the sisters observed us to determine what we enjoyed most, the Lord watches us, as well. He knows what we have need of and what we don’t. This truth about God’s watchfulness has been under siege in recent years in an attempt to portray Him as an evil Santa Claus or a governmental Big Brother, frowningly stalking us so He can condemn us or make our lives difficult at His whim. This is a disgraceful attack on the character of our Creator. In His love, the Lord is indeed constantly vigilant over each one of us to meet our needs perfectly. How one perceives that action is determined by how one perceives God.

In ways that those beloved Christian women could never perceive, the Father knows what we need eternally. Those essentials may not be what we think are good or necessary, from our limited, earth-bound, non-eternal understanding of things. Far beyond meeting our physical necessities like food, God’s desire for us is true, rich spiritual life. He seeks to have Jesus formed in us, and that we, “being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and “be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17–19). 1

Thank You, Father, for your marvelous love. Please, may we have Jesus’ servant’s heart and the love of our Lord that surpasses knowledge.

 

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

 

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Throughout its history, Israel was unable to put away the sinful behaviors of the cultures in which they lived. It still shocks me that after all the miracles they had seen in Egypt, they took Egyptian idols with them when they crossed the Red Sea. They continued to turn to idols throughout the histories of Judges and Kings. I think, “How could they have been so foolish, so sinful after all the Lord had done? Really. I don’t get it.” However, I need to take note of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10: The idolatries of “our fathers” were “examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (vs. 6) and that we should “not be idolaters as some of them were” (vs. 7). 1

Let’s look at that passage. It’s rather long, so let me attempt to summarize. Please follow along in chapter 10 and the corresponding verses from the Old Testament.

How were the Israelites idolaters? They:

  • Doubted God when Moses was delayed on the mount and made a golden calf to which they offered sacrifices. The people then “sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (vs. 7; Exodus 32:1-6).
  • Engaged in sexual immorality (vs. 8). I don’t connect sexual immorality with idolatry, and that light of truth has not shined on me yet. Nevertheless, this sin was committed when “the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab” and worshiped Baal of Peor. Twenty-four thousand died of the plague in one day (Numbers 25).
  • Put Christ to the test (vs. 9). In this case, the people accused God and Moses of bringing them to the wilderness to die. Some were destroyed by serpents (Numbers 21:4-6).
  • Grumbled, and some were “destroyed by the Destroyer” (vs. 10; Numbers 16:41-49).

The very next thing Paul wrote was this: “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (vs. 11).

Then Paul wrote a “therefore.” As you know, whenever a therefore shows up, we must ask what it is there for. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (vs. 12).

So, let me get this straight. My brain is starting to burn, and that, well, is usually a good thing as far as God’s Word is concerned. We should view “these things”—stupid things, from my point of view—that the Israelites did as examples to us, that we might learn from their instruction, not to desire evil as they did, nor be idolaters as some of them were. And here’s the kicker—if I think I will not do evil like they did, I should take heed lest I fall.

In other words, I could do these things. I could be as sinful and irrational as they were.

Then in verse 13, some encouragement. We should know that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” In other words, these temptations to commit idolatry by doubting God, engaging in sexual immorality, putting Christ to the test, and grumbling are common to everyone. That’s a little comforting.

I guess.

Then Paul wrote,

“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (vss. 13b–14).

So, even though it is easy for me, in my pride and self-righteousness, to think that I would not behave like those ancient, unrighteous fathers, I very well may. I am liable to be as foolish and evil as they and be tempted to engage in all their sins. Therefore, I should be humble and not think I am somehow better than those Israelites. I am to be instructed by their lawless behavior so that I will not desire evil and trust in an alternative power when I’m in trial and trouble. The Lord God Almighty will help me to endure all those temptations.

Please note, however, that although the Lord will “provide a way of escape,” that “way of escape” enables us to “endure it,” not cause it to vanish.

Lord, help me. I will be tempted to do evil. I am weak. You are strong. Strengthen me, I pray.

 

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

Gif courtesy Bing images.

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The pastor is smiling at us from the cover of the full-color magazine. He’s a prominent man with a successful ministry, and I do not doubt that he is a sincere man of God. Making that judgment, outside of the knowledge of obvious sin, is not my job nor is it the job of any Christian. “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4). Nevertheless, I am compelled to question the article in which he is interviewed about his ministry. The title of this piece is “Growing the Urban Church.” Growing the church. May we pause to think about the veracity of the claim that we know how to grow a church? We have, unfortunately, become accustomed to this manner of speaking. There may be an evangelical pastor in the United States who has not attended a conference or read a book about church growth methods, but I doubt it. This is how we talk. This is how we think. I entered “How to grow a church” in the search field on Amazon and discovered there were a thousand books written on the topic. A search on Bing gave me over eighteen million hits.

Church growth is surely on almost every pastor’s mind.

However, we must face this truth. Men devising means by which to grow a church is not biblical.

After I saw the article title on the magazine cover, a scripture immediately came to mind. Paul had written to the church at Corinth. Disputes were rife in that fellowship about which influential leader one should attach oneself to. Peter? Apollos? Paul? Jesus? However, Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that he and Apollos were merely servants who were just doing what servants do. “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:5–7). 1

He and Apollos are nothing, Paul wrote. Nothing. Not super apostles, not outstanding speakers, not church-growers. No, Paul said. He planted. Apollos watered. But neither of them made the church grow, any more than they could have made a plant grow. God alone can do that.

Do we believe this biblical reality?

The answer should be obvious: No, we do not.

That’s a problem. Evangelicals think that lack of church growth is the problem in the United States, and it’s hard to refute that reality as the U.S. culture continues to disintegrate into sinful rebellion. However, which is more important? Believing biblical truth or declining church attendance? Do we even know how to make a church grow? Are you sure? Have you ever read in the Book of Acts how the Lord made the Church grow? Not by human means, I can assure you. No, we don’t know how the Lord makes churches grow. We just think we do. In fact, we know more about how God makes plants grow than we do churches. However, regardless of how much we know about plant growth, we humans still can’t make a plant grow. How would a person do that? Step one. Plant seed. Step Two. Add water. Step Three: Um, make seed sprout.

Game over, as the saying goes.

So, here we are, unsurprisingly, looking at the front page of a full-color mag about church-growing and thus becoming “effective leaders,” and having “successful ministries.” Step One: Plant seed. Step Two: Add water. Step three. Um, do something else that we think makes sense.

While we are trying to find some light on this topic, another scripture comes to mind, in which Jesus made it very clear who will build the Church. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17–18).

Pardon me, but who will build the Church? You? The successful pastor on the magazine cover?

No. Jesus will build it. God will give the growth according to His will. These are two very clear truths about church growth which pastors and leaders don’t or can’t manage to embrace. Why can’t we understand this? These aren’t two obscure passages hiding out in an ambiguous statement spoken by one of Job’s counsellors. No, they’re right there in plain sight, in plain language.

Why don’t we abide by them?

I encourage the reader to cogitate on that one.

 

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

Gif courtesy Bing images.

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