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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.

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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.

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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

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The Bible tells us that the Christian God is a jealous God. To us, that is a negative mark on the ledger of who we think God should be. Several years ago, the famous personality Oprah Winfrey renounced Christianity when a preacher said God was a jealous God. She wanted nothing to do with such a God. She is now, as I understand it (not a fan), a universalist: All religions lead us to God, whoever or whatever he, she, or it is.

However, is God jealously icky? Terrible? Self-centered and possessive, like a spouse who turns violent and murderous because his or her loved one has found another? This is a large topic, too large to deal with in a short article, so let’s look at just one aspect of God’s jealousy for His people in this passage:

“Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods” (Exodus 34:12–16).1

So, let’s ask the question: Why is God jealous for His people?

Here’s the answer: Because He loves them.

Well, one may say, a jealous spouse loves his or her spouse, as well. How is God different?

God is different because—I know this going to seem blindingly obvious—He is God.

Please allow me to explain. Why would a husband go ballistic when his wife has taken up with another man? Several reasons, but let’s consider just one: “I wasn’t good enough for her. I wasn’t meeting her needs. Someone else was able to do that.”

God’s people accused Him of the same inabilities. He wasn’t good enough for them. He wasn’t meeting their needs. They needed someone else. You know Israel’s history. Even after all the strong, miraculous things the Lord had done for them (You know, mundane thing like conquering Egypt and parting the Red Sea), they continued to worship idols; idols they thought would supply their needs when He had not. And, on a foolish, faithless, superficial level, they were right.

God does not immediately hop to when we want something, even when the need is desperate—like water in the wilderness. He’s not a God who straightway gives a hug or a healing or a miracle when we need it. He allows us to suffer, to be in need. He allows us to be tried. In fact, He will try us Himself. Thus, when the people of Israel became convinced that God was not meeting their needs, they foolishly and faithlessly turned to other gods. They offered sacrifices to deaf and mute idols, so they would get what they wanted. Kinda silly when you think about it. False gods were and are constructed of wood, stone, or metal. They can do nothing. They do not love people. They do not meet anyone’s true needs.

God, of course, knows this. He knows that He is the only Being in the universe who can meet human needs (He created us, after all, so He should know) in ways that are good, helpful, and fulfilling—perfectly, eternally, good, helpful, and fulfilling. When we forget this, we lose sight of who He is in truth and thus begin to doubt. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Can you see how faith in and love for Him is required in that promise?

All things. You may have no clue how what is happening could ever be for your good. You may not see it in your lifetime. That’s because you are not a Being who knows the end from the beginning, who knows everything perfectly and can do everything perfectly. Your mistakes, your circumstances are never so enormous that He cannot use them for your good and thus His glory. You just don’t know how He is going to do that.

God is a jealous God because He loves His people with perfect love. Think with me for a moment. Perfect love. No flaws in it. No selfishness in it. No turning away from that love, not even a shadow of turning. God’s love is perfect because He is good—perfectly good. Nothing bad or dark or evil exists in that goodness at all. So, He is jealous because He knows that He and only He can be the God who can, who will, meet our needs. No one, no person, no thing that exists outside of Him can provide for you, fulfill you, and satisfy you as God can. God is jealous because He wants to protect you from all “lovers” who promise that they instead can do this. They cannot. They are not God.

 

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

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God bends things. He makes things crooked.

I don’t want to mess your day up too much, but since I must deal with certain truths, I thought I may as well include you on this, um, unique journey with God that you and I are on. This is the first passage we shall consider:

“Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” (Ecclesiastes 7:13–14). 1

The word “crooked,” עָוַת, has a negative meaning in the Old Testament except in a very few places like this one from Ecclesiastes 12:1–3: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed…”

I don’t know why the translators of the ESV and NIV rendered עָוַת as “crooked,” instead of “bent,” as the NET Bible and the NASB do, but I’m not sure it affects how we are to view this turning-our-world-upside-down text.

God bends things, and we cannot make them straight.

As mom used to say, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

Many of us Christians think that God does only good things according to what we consider good, in our natural understanding. Therefore, He would never cause nor allow a hurricane, a catastrophe, or a disaster to bend things, to make things negative and difficult for us. He is, after all, a God of love. And love would not behave in this way.

So, let me say this straight up: Such a view of God in not biblical. Strum through these passages and let’s see if we can hear what may be a sour tune from our perspective:

“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).

In spite of these plain truths, however, I will tell you with sadness that many Christians reject such passages, saying “That’s the Old Testament. Things are different in the New Testament.”

Well, then what should we Christians do with Ananias and Sapphira? We can read about it in Acts 5:1-10, which is, um, in the New Testament. The Lord took their lives because of their deceit. And here’s what happened soon after that incident:

“And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them” (Acts 5:11–15).

Good, wondrous, miraculous things happened after God took the lives of two believers?

Let’s consider this horrific event in the New Testament:

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Rama, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more’” (Matthew 2:16–18).

The Lord God knew of this event and even spoke through Jeremiah about it. Why didn’t He prevent it?

Look at this Psalm, which refers to Jesus:

“He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth” (Psalm 110:6). This verse surely refers to the end of all things, when Jesus—yes, Jesus—kills people:

“And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh” (Revelation 19:20–21).

Is God good?

Yes.

Is He love?

Yes.

Is He just?

Yes.

Is He sovereign?

Yes.

Is He a God who only does good things according to our natural understanding?

No, He is not. He bends things and makes them crooked. He brings calamity and disaster. He brings the earthly existence of people to an end. All these things are done in love, done in goodness, done in holiness, done in supremacy. We Christians must deal with our God in light of these truths.

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

 

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I’m going to push pause in the series about Jesus’ salt talks and turn to the recent catastrophes in the United States. The devastation caused by natural disasters such as Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, with others to follow, caused and will cause enormous destruction to buildings and infrastructure in the United States. Read the rest of this entry »

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Do you keep your promises? Your answer to this question should be, “Sometimes.” Oh, I have little doubt some of the readers are scrupulously honest and honor verbal agreements they have made. I’m sure many of you have kept your marriage vows and not cheated on your spouses. You have kept promises made to friends to meet them somewhere, give them something, or help them. However, when compared to biblical standards, not meaning to be harsh, you are not a promise keeper.

You are a promise breaker.

Please hear me out.

Read the rest of this entry »

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In response to last week’s article, a friend submitted a passage of Scripture concerning the sovereignty and goodness of God, a message, if preached, he wrote sarcastically, would “fill the pews”:

Read the rest of this entry »

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In this series of articles, we have attempted to wrestle through the uncomfortable question if it is God’s will that people do horrendous acts, such as the rape and torture of children, or any other unconscionable deed. However, we have also had to consider the biblical truth that, from God’s perspective, without the righteousness that Jesus has freely given, we ourselves are guilty of crimes, just like the individuals who do the things we abhor. It is a difficult truth to swallow, but swallow it we must; otherwise, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross means nothing. The good news is that if we accept that amazing truth, we are free from our despicability. It’s amazing to comprehend, but Christians are now clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Himself. Perfect. Clean. Without guilt. We possess eternal life. Believers in Jesus actually become God’s sons and daughters and will receive an inheritance, of all things. Jesus was punished, we are not. We are, instead, recipients of grace and forgiveness for—everything.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Last week’s article dealt with one thought-provoking question: When terrorists strike, is it God’s will? In response to this post, a long-time, well-trusted Christian friend enumerated the questions she often encounters as she talks to people about God:

  1. Is it God’s will that babies and children are raped?
  2. Is it God’s will people are killed by drunk drivers?
  3. Is it God’s will that His children are hideously tortured before being
    raped and murdered?
  4. Is it God’s will that women have abortions?
  5. Where does our “free will” begin and God’s will end?

Read the rest of this entry »

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