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Catastrophes. Everywhere.

What—or who—causes them?

One can run through the list of natural disasters in the United States and the world—I was surprised how many there were—to see the cost in human lives and wealth. New Orleans and Katrina. Hurricane Maria in 2017 which struck the East Coast, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and in that same year, Hurricane Harvey, which mangled Texas and Louisiana. The earthquake and tsunami that overwhelmed Southeast Asia in 2004 and took a quarter of a million lives. What caused these calamities? Is it Mother Nature/Earth raging, paying us back for what we have done to her? That is a silly, superstitious attempt at anthropomorphism to give Mother Nature/Earth motives and will. The second explanation for weather-related disasters is just a guess. Global warming or climate change. Weather disasters occurred for many years before temperatures began to rise or the climate changed, whatever that means. And earthquakes? Just the Earth doing its thing.

How about disasters caused by humans? The attack on Pearl Harbor. The starvation of 600 million Chinese in the Great Leap Forward. The Great Purge under Stalin. Forty million dead in World War I; sixty million in World War II. The attempt by Nazis to annihilate the Jews. Two million killed under Pol Pot. Eight hundred thousand slaughtered, mostly with machetes, in the Rwandan Genocide. The Twin Towers. The mass shooting in Las Vegas. School massacres. To these we assign motive or try to. “Why did people do these things?” we ask over and over again, with no real answers from a human perspective. Christians maintain that these terrors are the result of sin and the fallenness of mankind. This answer, of course, is rejected out of hand by the unbelieving. No, they are more likely to mock God and His followers, saying, “Your God is either impotent or doesn’t care. You can’t have it both ways.” Is that true? Is the Lord impotent? Does He care about human suffering? Can’t He stop both natural and human disasters?

Of course He could. God is sovereign over all things. Nothing happens on the earth or in the universe that He doesn’t cause or allow. Many Christians, however, reject this truth. Certainly, their God would not do this. He loves the world. He brings life and hope, not horrendous events.

Apparently, these Christians have not read the Old Testament.

Or I guess they think God got saved between the Old and New Testaments.

Consider this verse: “Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?” (Amos 3:6b).1 This is a rhetorical question. The obvious answer the Lord required was, “No.”

And this: “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).

I think the common response to these two verses would be, “That’s the Old Testament. Things are different now.” This untruth brings to mind some Christian women we met in a Mexican town in which we lived a few years ago, who were, sadly, asking God to reveal to them their sins which had made them sick. I brought up Job, whom God caused to suffer without giving a reason why. One responded, “That was in the Old Testament.”

So, I suppose we are to ignore the horrifying prophesies and warnings from the Savior whom they consider always only gentle and kind, that the Lord was going to destroy the temple and Jerusalem—which He did—at great human cost. Josephus wrote that 1.1 million Jews died in 70 A.D., and 97,000 enslaved by the Romans and their army.

Does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has done it? Does He make well-being and create calamity? We can read these truths plainly in Scripture.

However, a caution. We must remember this passage: “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (Luke 13:1–5).

It is not for us to know why God brings disasters to pass. Therefore, it would be unwise, unjust, and harmfully ignorant for us to claim that the Lord brought calamity at a certain time to a certain place because of the sinful people there. Really? All of them were sinners and deserved this earthly justice? What about the place where you live? Any sinners there? Believers suffer these catastrophes along with unbelievers. The principal thing, Jesus said, is that we repent and come to know Him.

Everyone dies by some means or another. The years between adolescent and elderly is, in eternity’s scope, one flutter of a humming bird’s wing. It’s a matter of knowing the Lord that ultimately matters.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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To all those who read this blog, all over the world:

May you have a happy celebration of our Creator God coming to earth in the body of a baby, our Lord who came to redeem and save us.

Best to you, and may the Lord bless you and your families.

A merry and peaceful Christmas from Laurie and me to you!

 

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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Christmas presents a challenge to Christians. The celebration, it seems, has a questionable origin and roots, but surely we want to rejoice in the birth of Jesus, don’t we? Yet, this cultural—what shall I call it?—extravaganza we experience annually has wrapped itself around His glorious incarnation; perhaps I should say it has strangled it almost to death. We are awash, inundated, swamped by commercials and advertisements. It’s a cultural, materialistic tsunami. “Buy! Buy! Buy!” we’re told, ad nauseum. “Gifts bring joy! Happy family around the gorgeous tree! Warm, fuzzy tradition! Santa Claus! He’s coming! Gifts under the tree!”

So, what should Christians do? Bow the knee to it? Put up with it?

I say resist it. Resist it the best you can. Resist it because if you are a Christian, you should not be content with a “Christian” holiday the foundations of which are lies. Let’s enumerate some of them.

Lie #1: We give gifts to one another because gifts were given at Christmas. True, gifts were given, but they were given to Jesus and His family. How that got finagled around to giving gifts to each other is a history too long to tell, substantially bolstered by Dickens’ well-meaning, if off-the-Jesus-centered mark, A Christmas Carol. So, we wonder if we should deny our children and others joy if we don’t give mounds of gifts. Nobody wants to be like Scrooge. Bah! Humbug! However, that meme is a lie, as well. Scrooge ended up giving a grand turkey to the family of a handicapped boy. He was kind to his financially struggling employee. He helped the poor. This is a good thing to do at Christmas. It has nothing to do with giving gifts to work mates, family, or friends.

Lie #2: Santa Claus exists. Parents spoon this to their children because the cultural meme is too strong to oppose. To be frank, it’s a lie. So, think about this for a moment. What would Christmas look like in the U.S. if Santa Claus wasn’t part of it? Interesting thought. I am angered, righteously, I would argue, that a god-like mythical being who knows the thoughts and actions of children has become the center of Christmas rather than Jesus.

Lie #3: Receiving gifts brings joy. No, receiving a gift brings momentary happiness that dissipates in twenty-four hours. I don’t know about you, but I was enlightened when my little children tossed aside the first gift they had just opened in their exuberance to find the next best thing, the next I’ll-be-made-happy-by-this-package frenzy. It was something to see such, um, raw greed on display.

Lie #4: Christmas is wonderfully joyful for American families. Certainly, there is a truth here. Gathering as a family is a good and biblical thing to do. But the commercials we see portray wonder and joy because everyone is thrilled about receiving their presents, as if somehow this is the dream of a lifetime. But what message do the poor receive from this false narrative? What about broken families? Families that have experienced tragedy? Will they experience this “joy”?

Resist the lies.

However, resistance isn’t all. Consider the poor. Consider those who have less than you.

Do these words from Jesus mean anything at Christmastime?

“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:37–40). 1

The wise men traveled a great distance to sacrificially give gifts to Jesus. We can’t do as they did. But we can endeavor to sacrificially give to Him and those who are His, regardless. This will please Him. This will honor Him.

Thank You, Jesus, that though You were rich, for our sake You became poor, so that we by Your poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). You emptied Yourself and offered Yourself in sacrifice for sinners. What an amazing, wondrous God You are. Help us follow Your example and not be compromised by a misleading love for the things of this world.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

 

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Most people in the United States have no time for the Christian God. Many simply ignore Him or concoct a cornucopia of beliefs that are a mixture of Christian truth and misunderstood and thus twisted truth. Some deny He even exists. This last group of people are quite firm and content in this state of non-belief. This rejection of and ignorance about the Christian God has had a devastating effect on the culture of the United States. I am sure books have been written about these disastrous effects, but recently, in some ways, my God-denying culture, surprised and annoyed by what they have assisted in creating, is trying to enforce a kind of strict cultural morality, a social legalism in order to correct what they deem immoral behavior.

Strange antics from the sort of people who for a very long time have ridiculed puritanical morality.

Who dismiss Christianity as a myth, an ancient superstition.

A backward, ignorant, desperate clinging to a crutch, a hopeless hope.

A lie, even a dangerous deception.

This is where we find ourselves—in a degenerating, God-denying American wilderness.

This cultural deterioration has not gone unnoticed. Having seen the outrage of sin, the God-deniers now want to stop it—some of it, anyway—the breaking of laws they have chosen. They do not and would never call it sin. Rather, it is a mistake. Hurtful-to-others behavior. Sometimes, outrageous, hateful, enraging behavior. The supreme tragedy—perhaps we should call it tragi-comedy—is that they have no answer, no clue whatsoever, about how to curb the things they find disturbing.

What should we expect? Christianity has been tossed, by the majority, onto the rubbish heap to cheers of success. However, Americans will continue to attempt to find secular answers because the problems we face are real. For example, some school officials now establish dress codes to help curb the students from having sex in the restrooms which is like trying to establish an island of puritanism in the middle of a sea of pornography, fornication, and sexual uncleanness.

Secular leaders attempt to impose speech restrictions to stop language that is judged bigoted, racist, or insulting. Those who find such speech offensive attempt to control speech by shouting, “Stop it! You’re a terrible person! I condemn this!” Sometimes free speech is inhibited by rioting.

Drug programs. Alcohol programs. For some, like pedophiles and rapists, well, there is no help.

Our God-denying culture has no answer for these behaviors and a host of others. All their answers are retreads of an ancient legalism. However, legalism has no power whatsoever to stop sinful behavior. Paul wrote that submitting to the human precepts and teaching which demand that we submit to human regulations “…are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23). 1

Crying “Stop it!” means nothing. Trying to force others to stop behavior means nothing.

It is foolish of us, is it not, to expect any other response from folks who deny the existence of a gracious, life-changing God? However, the people of the U.S. can come to know the answer, the answer of liberation from a lie that we can fix ourselves and others through the works of our God-absent hearts and minds. It is possible to possess the will to do good and love others, but a change of the heart must occur, a new person must be created; Christian truths which have been available for two thousand years. May the Lord be merciful and gracious to those who deny Him, as He was gracious to the believers now reading this article. Only one avenue is available out of the American wilderness in which we find ourselves: Him. Him and all His life-changing love.

If we do not come to this gate, this life-saving path, great concern should grip our hearts. We cannot better ourselves. We cannot ourselves reverse the slide into degeneracy, hatred, and immorality. It will not fix itself. There is only One who can.

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

 

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I have a soft spot in my heart for the prophetess Anna. She makes a very brief appearance in the book of Luke, a lovely appearance, then we hear of her no longer.

“And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36–38). 1

She was, shall we say, a heavenly-minded woman. She was “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem,” and she realized that this baby who had just come into the temple was the promised Redeemer.

However, a common saying exists in our culture that would indicate we should discount a person such as this: “She’s so heavenly minded that she’s no earthly good.”

I suppose Anna isn’t worth much in the way the world thinks. Oh, that Anna, poor thing. No earthly good. Just one of the very few in Jerusalem who knew that the baby who had arrived was the promised Messiah for which Israel had been waiting for millennia.

I’ve been thinking the last few days about the origin of and reason for that accusation about heavenly mindedness. I’ve been hard put to come up with anything, unless it’s from someone who didn’t like the actions and/or words of Christians. Praying too much like Anna, for example. Truth is, the saying should be, “That person is so earthly minded that he’s no heavenly good.”

Jesus had a lot to say about the necessity of being heavenly minded. He strongly told us that we should be waiting for the same kind of redemption Anna longed for, although this time for the second coming of the Messiah, not the first as Anna did. He told us to be always heavenly minded, so we would be prepared for this return. For instance, Matthew 25 contains three parables, all about His return. The first is about the ten virgins, five of whom were not ready for the bridegroom. Jesus ended this parable saying, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13). The second parable in Matthew 25 concerns a master who went “on a journey” and “entrusted” his “property” to three men. Two put their money to work, the third did not (Matthew 25:14-30). The man who did not found himself at an unpleasant destination. The third parable in this chapter concerns the final judgment and those who knew the Son of Man and those who did not. Those who did not know Him, again, had an unpleasant destination.

Sounds like we should be ready for an extremely important, life-or-death event to come which is heavenly, not earthly.

A beautiful, stirring, encouraging statement about having an eternal, heavenly perspective is contained in these verses that Paul wrote in Romans: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:18–19). Is this heavenly mindedness of no earthly good? On the contrary. It is the highest earthly good possible because it gives hope to the sufferer, a hope that earthly-minded people cannot and do not possess. Those without a heavenly mindedness would find no reason for their suffering. Bitterness and anger would surely enter their hearts. Hatred of God would dwell in their thoughts. Why did this suffering happen to them? Was it bad luck? A twist of fate? Would they wonder what they had done to cause karma to inflict this upon them?

I reject the cultural meme that those who are heavenly minded are of no earthly good. We are to wait and be ready for a Savior from heaven, not from the earth. We are to have faith that one day, at the end of all things earthly, Christians will experience a revealed glory. What does the revealing of the sons of God mean? I don’t know, but it will be gloriously magnificent because “all creation waits with eager longing” for it to occur. At that time, we will know that all that we have suffered will not be worth comparing to those yet-to-be revelations.

Blessing, honor, glory, and power be unto Him who sits on the throne and unto the Lamb forever and ever. Wonders beyond all thought and imagination await believers.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

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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

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Have you ever seen an angel? Have you ever given a prophecy?

Some people say they have. Should I believe them?

Well, yes—unless they give further information that contradicts scriptural truth. However, if we boil it down, if I just hear or read about such an encounter without further information, it doesn’t really matter if I believe them or not. However, what I would like to discuss in this blog is another aspect of such supernatural encounters: how we view such people and how they view themselves. So, let me begin with a broadside: You saw an angel. Good. A donkey saw an angel once. I write that because I want to diminish, not what God did, but to diminish our view of the people involved in such occurrences, to urge caution about such events.

I know a wonderful, gentle Christian lady who prays a lot for people who are sick or oppressed by forces of darkness. Years ago, she prayed for a spiritually oppressed man, and he was thrown against a wall in the room. Because of this, my friend garnered a reputation for being spiritually powerful. She now had cred. This woman, thankfully, was wise enough to reject such accolades. She knows who did it, and it was not her. The Lord possesses power. We do not, unless He bestows it.

So. Back to angels.

Several people in the New Testament saw angels. Joseph, Mary, shepherds, Zechariah, the women at Jesus’ tomb after His resurrection, Peter, Philip, Cornelius, Paul, John, and, of course, Jesus. Should we exalt such people because they saw angels? No—except Jesus, of course. Why did God allow these people to see angels? Well, it appears that each angelic appearance had a purpose. The angels didn’t just show up to give these people a thrill.

Why did God choose them? We don’t know. God chooses whom He chooses. And, most of the time, it is people we would not expect—because they are nobodies.

So, what about people who give prophecies? Should I believe them?

Well, yes—unless they give further information that contradicts spiritual truth. But let me offer another broadside: You prophesied. Good. Balaam also prophesied—beautiful prophecies about Jesus. However, he was later killed for leading Israel astray (Numbers 31:8). Murderous King Saul prophesied, too (1 Samuel 19:20–24), as well as Caiaphas, one of the priests who agreed to crucify Jesus (John 11:49–52).

Devilish, deceptive thoughts and feelings sprout up like weeds among Christians when these and other supernatural events occur. We start lifting up people and struggle with lifting up ourselves, as well.

The person through whom the Lord chooses to be involved in a marvelous spiritual event must seek humility. He must reject being elevated as more spiritual or somehow better than other Christians. As for those who know about the event, they must not treat the gifted individual any differently than any other Christian. I write “gifted” in a biblical way, not a worldly way. God gives spiritual gifts. Gifts are not earned. They are freely given without merit. This not-earning truth should be evident to Christians, but all too often, we err. We lift up people for spiritual gifts, whether it’s angelic visitations, prophecies (that come to pass, of course), speakers, leaders, singers, and musicians.

I think Christians of evangelistic/Pentecostal/Charismatic bent have fallen for a worldly deception. Exalting gifted people is what the world does. Christians should not do this. God allows angelic visitations and prophecies and all manner of spiritual gifts for His own purposes, the specifics of which are largely unknown to us. He does not give them to extol individuals so they can “build churches” or “build ministries.” He does not need great churches or ministries. Jesus will build His Church. He gifts people to glorify Himself and accomplish His purposes.

And to test us.

Whom are you elevating when you praise your pastor or a Christian singer on social media? Please keep in mind that the Lord uses people of insignificance to do His wonderful works—not famous people. Who was Joseph? Mary? Who were the shepherds? The women at the tomb? Peter? Paul?

Have you ever planted a seed in the ground? You stick it in the dirt and cover it up. You water it. Then, mysteriously, a sprout appears. Did you cause that seed to sprout? Of course not. This is what Paul referred to when he wrote, “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 3:6–7). 1

This truth should be obvious to us. It is not.

Do not boast in men.

“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:28–31).

 

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

Gif courtesy of giphy.com

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It is interesting living as a Christian in the United States. Better said, puzzling. Confusing.

A few examples.

Here in the United States, we often hear the Christian song Amazing Grace performed at secular funerals and other events. As most U.S. Christians are aware, the first lines of that song are, “Amazing grace. How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” I wonder what is going through the minds of those non-believers when they sing such lyrics. They’re calling themselves wretches who were lost and now found? They were blind but now they see? What do these lyrics mean to them? I must assume the words have no meaning. Are they just pretty cultural poetry?

Another example. The first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13 are often read during wedding ceremonies. 1 Corinthians 13 is a very well-known passage. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3). 1 Really? Speak in tongues? Tongues of angels? Many Christians, much less unbelievers, do not even believe that tongues are a legitimate Christian behavior. I just can’t imagine what goes through the minds of those who say these things. I assume that to them the words are just cultural poetry, with some kind of meaning but surely nothing literal.

I am also puzzled by the ubiquitous presence in media of Christian hymns and songs in African-American churches. The songs are wonderful, beautiful, sung by spectacular voices. They’re about Jesus. The Lord. But why are they allowed by the overwhelmingly liberal, God-denying media? I’m not sure I have ever seen the same kind of singing in the churches of other races in the United States. My answer to this puzzlement is the same: pretty cultural poetry.

And thus meaningless; meaningless in any significant way that causes us to stop and think—which is odd.

Maybe not, concerning the nature of music. We could sing any number of secular songs that have no meaning. For instance, Kesha’s stunningly sung Praying mentions God and forgiveness, but the song’s tone is defiant concerning her former lover: “And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known. I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain, oh-oh. When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name.” I don’t know if someone who had had a former lover would actually mean that he or she would bring thunder or rain upon a former lover. That’s, um, a little difficult to do. Ed Sheeran’s Castle on the Hill is a love song, well-written, but it is not different in essence from countless other love songs. One could sing it just because it’s a nice, catchy tune, but one that has no relevance to one’s life. I mean, many of us sang Hey Jude or Hotel California back in the day, songs that had no relevance to us, either. But they were fun to sing along with, right—maybe even gave us goosebumps.

Pretty cultural poetry with little meaning.

I’ve also been puzzled by the usage of this sentence. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the victims of this tragedy.” How in the world does a prayer “go out” to anyone? These words have no meaning. Why can’t the speakers simply say, “We’re praying for them?” But perhaps that has no meaning, either. I mean, if Kesha can pray for her former lover while at the same time saying that when she was done, “they won’t even know your name,” what does praying for someone mean?

So. My conclusion? I’m not entirely sure, but please allow me at least to proffer an insight. And a fear. My fear is that Christian verbiage in the culture of the United States has become meaningless. They are words with no spine to them. If you were to quote the Bible, the words are easily ignored; ancient words from an ancient book with dubious legitimacy and little relevance to the world today. The words to secular songs may have little meaning, too, but at least they move the soul. However—and it’s a big however—since Christians believe the Bible is God’s words put to paper, we are never to doubt that, when spoken, the Holy Spirit is at work, making those words real and pertinent to the listener in a way that the words of a love song never, ever will.

This culture is strong. But our sovereign God has strength that cannot be overcome.

Christians in the United States live in a puzzling, post-Christian culture. Let us push through the meaninglessness, the confusion, with God’s truth—because He is the only truth. The only One with amazing grace. The only One with true, real, eternal love, without which our words are noisy cymbals. Far from being meaningless, His meaning for life, for truth, for us, is far deeper than any song will capture.

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

 

Gif courtesy of giphy.com.

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Last week, we looked at Jesus’ claim that He was the greatest among those born of woman. However, He also stated that he was least in the kingdom of God. Welcome to our amazing paradoxical God. The least being the greatest is a difficult idea for us to understand. Clearly, Jesus is not the least. He is exalted. He sits with the Father on His throne. He is God Himself, incarnate. However, when He walked the earth, He became the least. For further clarification about this, I refer you to last week’s article under Jim’s Ramblings: “Sorry, Christian, You Are Not the Least in God’s Kingdom. That Spot Is Taken.”

Jesus calls Himself the greatest again in Matthew 18:1–4: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘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.’” 1

I have experienced some difficulty finding an audience that will accept that Jesus is referring to Himself in this passage. Part of the dilemma lies in what was mentioned above: We cannot imagine Jesus humbling Himself like a child. However, there are other reasons for the rejection of this idea. One is that we rank greatness and “least-ness” according to our worldly understanding. The ones who have the most power, the most money, the most influence are obviously the ones who are great. Jesus, of course, had little of the above when He walked the earth. We cannot seem to comprehend the earthly powerlessness He had on earth. Note that I wrote “earthly powerlessness.” He possessed enormous spiritual power everywhere, all the time. But He denied Himself the use of this power-over-all: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53).

Another difficulty lies in the compromise the English language has made in the use of positive, comparative, and superlative forms of adjectives. Hang in there with me. This is not difficult. A good example for our use here is great, greater, and greatest. One thing is great, but this other thing is greater. But only one is the greatest.

At least, that’s how it should be. However, we have compromised these meanings in English. You hear it all the time. “You’re one of my best friends,” for example. However, according to Merriam-Webster, the word “superlative” means “surpassing all others.” Either your football team is the greatest team of the year because it won the Super Bowl or World Cup, or it is not. The team that lost to yours cannot possibly be “better.” But let’s get to the point. Was Jesus the greatest man to ever exist, or was He one of the greatest? If He was only one of the greatest, then it is possible that another may be as great or even greater. We cannot talk about God Almighty in these terms. He is the greatest Being who may be known to us. He is the most powerful, not one of the most powerful; the Possessor of perfect knowledge, not among the possessors of perfect knowledge.

So, when in Matthew 18:4 Jesus said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” to whom was He referring? No man or woman can be greater than Jesus. He was referring to Himself. He is God Almighty. You are not that Being.

The ramifications of this statement are stunning. Jesus humbled Himself like a child?

Yes.

Powerless, as children were in those days and still are, compared to earthly power.

The least, as children were in those days, considered slaves.

Yes. Jesus became like a slave.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5–7).

The word “servant” in this passage, and in many New Testament passages, is “doulos,” also translated “slave.”

Please note that Paul wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves…”

We are supposed to empty ourselves and be servants?

Become like powerless children?

It’s right there in black and white.

 

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

Gif complements of giphy.com

Kid-Climbs-up-Wall-for-Candy

In the eleventh chapter of Matthew, John the Baptist’s followers come to Jesus with a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3).1 Jesus responds in the affirmative, but I want us to look at the last few sentences of His response. After giving John high praise, He ends by saying these two challenging sentences:

“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).

The first sentence is quite a statement. I’ll let those who want to sift through, off in a corner somewhere, the possibility that John was greater than Abraham, Moses, David, or any of the prophets. My initial take on it is that God does not rank people in the way we do. God chooses insignificant people. Try ranking that.

However, another question looms large here. Jesus’ proclamation that no one born of woman—everybody, in other words—is greater than John, would include Jesus Himself.  We know this cannot be true. Jesus was and is God Almighty incarnate. That is the summit of greatness. There is none higher.

So, how do we solve this issue?

Jesus disentangles it for us with His last statement: “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom is greater than he.”

Ah. So, that’s who Jesus is. The least in the kingdom.

I know. This presents a problem. Jesus isn’t the least, He is the greatest.

Yes. And that’s precisely what He said. The one who is least in the kingdom is greater than John, and John is greater than anyone born of women.

So, how do we reckon that Jesus is least?

I hope that what I am to write next will be a source of wonderment for you, good Christian brothers and sisters. Here is the simple logic of it:

No being exists that is greater than the Lord God Almighty. He is perfect in power. No power exists that is more powerful. Nothing at all is impossible for Him. He is perfect in knowledge. He knows everything that is possible to know; after all, He created it. He is perfect in sovereignty. Nothing happens in the universe or on the earth that He does not cause or allow. He is the Creator of all that exists. Sustainer and Upholder of all that exists. There were no gods before Him. None beside Him. There will be none in the future.

Need I go on?

Therefore, when the most powerful Being imaginable takes on flesh, coming to this dark planet as a helpless infant, emptying Himself and not trying grasp at sovereign-over-all power, lowering Himself to the position of slave, even dying (Philippians 2:5-8), He has reached the pinnacle (or nadir, if you prefer) of “least-ness.” You, my Christian friend, cannot be “least-er” than He.

Therefore, the One who became least has been exalted:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11).

So, when you lift up your voice to praise Jesus, include in your worship the acknowledgement that Immanuel, Almighty God incarnate, lowered and emptied Himself like a slave so that He could bring you eternal life through His sacrifice.

If that doesn’t inspire wonderment, then I’m not sure what will.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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