Looking to Jesus…

~ Of Men and Books ~

* * *

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of [reading] many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecc 12:12)

I’ve been off work for most of the past several weeks with an abscessed tooth and a severe infection. During this time, I read a number of books just to try to keep my mind occupied with something else than my pain. But that got me to thinking about books…

I like books with complex characters and plots. Books like Moby Dick that are an allegory if you read below the surface. That is a kind of writing that seems to be almost extinct. Ted Dekker is one of the better ones left, but he’s been straying into left field with his theology in his recent writings.

I don’t read a lot of theology or doctrine anymore. Partly because I have a harder time following the complexity of writers like NT Wright since my TIA a few years ago. I do enjoy practical books and if I write a nonfiction book, that is the course I take. Theology is isn’t a lot of value to most people unless it is made simple and applied to everyday life. For instance, a friend sent me some books about the PSA view of the atonement versus the Cristo Victor view. It was a good discussion and answered some questions I had for a long time, but for most people the discussion is not really that practical.

But, like I said, I got to thinking about all this.

Right now, I’m reading a book, Except Ye Repent, by HA Ironside. Good book with some valuable insights. But I can’t help but notice how focuses change from book to book, and author to author, and preacher to preacher. For some, grace is everything. Any kind of work, including repentance or obedience is legalism. For others, repentance paves the way for grace. For still others, grace paves the way for obedience. Some wash their hands of it all and consider God malevolent, and irrelevant.

If you are the kind of person whose thinking reflects the last book you’ve read, this can be a real problem and put you on a spiritual roller coaster. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I’ve sort of shelved many of the debates I mention in the last paragraph. I know that I came to Jesus as a teenager and gave Him my heart. Theology wasn’t any part of that decision. I was an unhappy sinner and I wanted rid of the load of guilt. Jesus gave me peace and changed my life.

But in my library I have books that emphasize repentance, grace, obedience, eternal security or it’s opposite perspective (is there a name for that?), etc. I look around and see people who claim to be Christian but who live in evident sin. I see others who seem to have caught the essence of living for Christ. But none are perfect and if you watch long enough, they disappoint you as well. I even disappoint myself. Its easy to become bewildered by it all and wonder if it wouldn’t be better doing like Dan Barker and walking away from it all.

But then I look at the alternative. And I realize that it isn’t even a consideration. So, I look back to Jesus, and suddenly life becomes so much simpler. Jesus loved me and died for me so that I could be a child of God. He forgives me when I fail and guides me through life. I can trust Him when my favorite authors disappoint me. I can trust him when my favorite preacher falls into sin. I can trust Him when my church or other Christian structure lets me down. I can leave the theology to him, and I can trust my eternal future into His hands. If I go astray, I can trust Him to gently bring me back. I can even trust my family into His care.


Keep your eyes on Jesus! It makes life much easier.


Therefore…  let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2 CSB)

Is God Angry? Vindictive?

For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Deu 5:9-10)

About five or six years ago, Dan Barker (a former evangelical pastor turned atheist) wrote a book lashing out at God. Amongst other nasty things, he called God a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Now think back to the God Job met in the whirlwind at the end of the book of Job. I don’t think the God pictured in that account worries much about what humanity thinks of Him. We are the ones who will suffer for such thoughts. He won’t because what we think of Him won’t change anything. He doesn’t need to defend himself.

God will not force anyone to serve Him. If someone wants to call Him a malevolent bully that is up to them.

However, I think it is only fair to note that God does have two sides to Him.

On the one side,

God is merciful, as the introductory passage from Deuteronomy states. Those who love Him and serve Him voluntarily will continue to live under His mercy.

But God has another side,

— His holiness and hatred for sin, which these verses also portray. This is the side of God that often makes the problem for today’s society.

Many people, even Christians, think God has a neutered personality — like the benevolent grandfather CS Lewis talked about. But that is not what God is like. God is not worried about political correctness or trampling on people’s toes. He is a man’s God, if you want to say it that way. A friend of mine wrote me recently…

Just been thinking about God this morning here in my office while I work. He flat scares the wits out of me… He’s no sissy, emasculated, cuddly thing. He is awesome.

Human leaders of democratic nations worry whether voters like them. They worry about re-election and approval ratings. Sometimes they make changes to their platform to maintain their popularity. Popularity means more than being right.

People don’t understand real leadership anymore. That is one reason that they don’t understand God.

God is on a constant balancing act between mercy and justice. All of us deserve punishment, but God would rather give us mercy. Because of this, He always offers mercy first. But when people reject mercy, they must live with the other side of God.

Does God get angry?

Yes.

Does God get angry when someone tortures an innocent child?

Yes.

Does God get angry when someone calls Him a malevolent bully to His face?

Yes.

But His mercy and patience precede His anger and justice. People see this and they fool themselves into thinking that God either doesn’t exist, or He is some sort of a pansy that they can manipulate as they please.

Society today goes by feelings, not by facts. Punishing sin doesn’t seem nice, so we try to deny God His right to punish sinners. But that isn’t how things work. Someday there will be a culmination of all things, and God’s anger will fall on those who have deliberately snubbed their noses at him.

Hebrews 10:26 – 39 speaks of this, saying, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

We have done a serious discredit to society and the church by trying to hide this side of God. We do not need to be ashamed of Him. He’s not the family black sheep or local madman. He is not a genocidal murderer.

God is God almighty and we will NEVER turn Him into anything else.

Is God Fair?

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do innocent children need to suffer? Why do good people get sick?

All these bad things and many more happen every day. Is that fair?

WHY DOESN’T GOD STOP THEM?

Some people will tell you that He doesn’t care enough to stop them. Others will tell you that He can’t—He doesn’t have the power to do it.

Neither of these answers are true. The Bible clearly indicates that God loves us. His heart aches when bad things happen to good people. The Bible also indicates clearly that God is all powerful. It isn’t the lack of initiative or power that stops God from wiping out evil and evil doers.

So what is it?

Sometime, before time existed, God made a momentous decision. He would allow intelligent beings to have the power of choice. The angels would have this power. Lucifer, the beautiful and powerful leader of the angels, would have the ability to turn against God.

Lucifer made this choice, and a third of the angels followed him. The first thing they tried to do was overthrow God. The Bible doesn’t give us any details about this war in the heavens, except to tell us that Lucifer and his angels lost the battle, and they were driven from heaven.

The chronology of all this is a mystery. But somewhere during all of this, God created the universe and man. He decided that even humans would have the power to choose against Him. We are not told why, but it seems that God wants all intelligent beings, whether angels or humans, to serve Him voluntarily. He has never forced anyone to serve Him and He never will.

The ability to choose led to the beginning of evil. Lucifer and his followers were the first to take advantage of it, probably soon after creation.[1] When he was turned out of heaven he came to earth, determined to take revenge on his loss by persuading Adam and Eve to also choose against God.

He persuaded Eve that having the knowledge of good and evil was worth the risk of offending God. He didn’t warn her that the only way to receive the knowledge of evil was through experience. Every human since then has lived under the curse of the knowledge of evil. That is why evil things happen.

God will judge evil. He will eliminate it. But in His own time. Until then, we must live with the choice that Adam and Eve made to allow evil to enter this world.

Is this fair? It doesn’t seem that way to us. But God will not coerce people to do His will. He only reserves the right to give them the destiny that they have chosen for themselves. God is holy and God is just. He is merciful and He is love. God is good and He is great. He is fair.

It’s a matter of perspective. And it’s a matter of trust.


[1] I suppose it could have been a little before creation as well. But it appears that Lucifer fled to earth when he was cast out of heaven.

Overcoming…

What do overcomers need to overcome in order to be an overcomer? Not sin according to many of today’s evangelicals…

First, let me raise a question. Is it even possible for a mortal to “overcome”? And a second question: If it isn’t possible, why does God speak about it? Is He presenting us with a tantalizing target that he knows we will never hit?

Think back to the Old Testament for a little. Peter told the crowds in Acts 15 that the church should not put a yoke on the neck of the gentiles that neither the Christian Jews or their forefathers had been able to bear. In other words, the Jews had never really accomplished what the Law required. It was always a step beyond human capability. But Peter went on to say that both the Christians and their forefathers would be saved through the grace of Christ.

So, God’s people never were overcomers in the truest sense of the word. But it’s different now. Or isn’t it? When you read the Sermon on the Mount, it appears that the target has moved. And it seems to be as far out of reach as it ever was.

But would God give us a target that was out of reach? Let’s consider a few more thoughts.  In 1 Cor. 9:27 Paul wrote, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” He seems to be taking the concept of overcoming literally. In fact, this passage is in the context of running a race and running it with the assumption that he could win.

So, is the target out of reach? Paul didn’t seem to think so, though he realized that he could miss it.

John also talked about overcoming. In 1 John 5:4 he wrote, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”

Does this mean that the idea of overcoming is just an abstract concept? Is he saying that if you are a Christian you will overcome— but you actually won’t? That your faith will bridge that gap between what you should be, according to the target, and what you really are, in the human flesh?

To add to the dilemma, let’s go back to Revelation. John used the word “overcomes” eight times in Revelation. Each case appears to be a caveat. Let me list them…

  • Those who overcome will eat of the tree of life (2:7)
  • Those who overcome will not be hurt by the second death (2:17)
  • Those who overcome and keep God’s works will have power over the nations (2:26)
  • Those who overcome will wear white garments. Jesus will not blot their names out of the book of life. He will confess their names before the Father and the angels. (3:5)
  • Those who overcome will be a pillar in God’s temple, will receive the name of God and the New Jerusalem, and the new name of Jesus. (3:12
  • Those who overcome will get to sit with Jesus on his throne (3:21)
  • Those who overcome will inherit all things and be the sons of God.
  • Those who don’t… ???

God hates sin because He is holy. He hates sin even if one of His children commits sin. Isaiah 59:2 states this:

“But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.”

People have written entire books on this question. I haven’t found anyone that gives an answer that seems satisfactory to me. I’m not planning to write still another book about this, so let me summarize how I deal with this in my own life.

First, I know that God loves me so deeply that I can’t even comprehend it. He assures me in His word and by His Spirit that He absolutely wants me to be an overcomer and join Him in eternity. He proved this to me by sending His Son, Jesus, to die for me.

Second, I know that I can trust God. He knows my heart and I believe that He will do His part in this whole scenario. He tells me to overcome, so I believe that He will help me in the battle with sin and evil. He has also promised me that His strength will be made perfect through weakness and that His grace is sufficient to deal with my weakness (2 Cor 12:9).

Job put it this way: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Can I do any less?

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Php 2:12, 13 (NKJV)

To summarize once again, to me this seems to be saying this. I do my part by obeying Christ and He does his part by showing me what that means. He also gives me the desire and the power to do so. I can safely trust Him to make these reach together even though I can’t quite understand how they can.

I can safely leave this in His hands.

How do you Worship?

Worship is…

Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. (Matthew 6:6, The Message)

 

Lord, I have shut the door,
Speak now the word
Which in the din and throng
Could not be heard;
Hushed now my inner heart,
Whisper Thy will,
While I have come apart,
While all is still.

Lord, I have shut the door,
Here do I bow;
Speak, for my soul intent
Turns to Thee now.
Rebuke Thou what is vain,
Counsel my soul,
Thy holy will reveal,
My will control.

In this blest quietness
Clamorings cease;
Here in Thy presence dwells
Infinite peace;
Yonder, the strife and cry,
Yonder, the sin:
Lord, I have shut the door,
Thou art within!

Lord, I have shut the door,
Strengthen my heart;
Yonder awaits the task—
I share a part.
Only through grace bestowed
May I be true;
Here, while alone with Thee,
My strength renew.

© 1923, Ren. 1951 Hope Publishing Company , Carol Stream, IL 60188.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Jesus is Coming!


“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

“Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.

“So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.” (Mat 24:36-42 NLT)


Are you ready? 

What did God REALLY Promise You?

Introduction

The following passage from Psalms 37:4 has troubled a lot of people. They feel that it makes a promise to them that God has ignored. For instance, they might feel that this verse promises them that God will give them a marriage partner and a family. This is their desire and they feel that they are meeting the caveat.

Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

But is this what God is really saying in this verse? Is this a blank check that you can cash anytime you feel like it? Can you actually force God to give you whatever you want?

Context

It is important to consider the context of a verse before we base a strong conclusion on it. When we isolate a verse from its context, it is easy to make it say anything we want it to say. So note the following statements also found in this Psalm.

  • Trust in the Lord, and do good
  • Commit your way to the Lord
  • Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him
  • Do not fret
  • Cease from anger

In fact the first eight verses of Psalms 37 list behavior patterns God expects of us. The rest of the Psalm then goes on to clarify the promises in the first part. When you read the verses carefully, you will notice that the promises are actually future ones. While God is free to give us these things anytime that He wants, He might wait until we get to heaven to do this.

Compare Other Verses…

I’m troubled by the number of people who try to coerce God into doing what they want. Some feel that He promises us wealth and power. Others try to claim marriage partners under this promise. Some go so far as to blame God for being unfaithful to His promises if he doesn’t do this.

In the New Testament, Paul faced a similar situation in his life. He had a thorn in the flesh and he felt that it was hindering God’s work. But God viewed it from a different perspective.

7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:7-10)

What is Your Desire?

In the passage above, we have a clear example of a time when God’s will conflicted with a Christian’s desire. So does this mean that this contradicts the verse in Psalms 37?

I don’t think so. It just clarifies it. Since God doesn’t contradict himself we need to understand that in a situation like this we need to understand the two passages in a way that they complement each other. There are several ways we can do this.

In the first place, God understood Paul’s desire better than Paul did. Paul felt that he could serve God better if God would heal him. So his real desire was to be able to serve God better. God knew him better than he knew himself, and told him that he would be a stronger witness with the thorn in his life than he would without. In fact, if God removed Paul’s thorn, it would lead to people glorifying Paul rather than God.

Paul did want to glorify God, from the bottom of his heart. So he was willing to praise God for his weakness and accept God’s verdict. So did God fulfill His promise? I think Paul would have said that He did.

God’s Will, Not Mine

Jesus faced this same situation in the garden before His crucifixion.

He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matt 26:39)

Sometimes we simply need to lay down our desires at the feet of God and say, “You know best, Lord.” If Jesus needed to do that, how can we expect anything else?

This means that we might need to give up…

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  • health
  • our job
  • having a spouse and family
  • wealth and possessions
  • friends
  • etc.

God told Paul that, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” If we want to serve Christ from the bottom of our heart, then isn’t it our deepest desire to have His strength made perfect within us? This means that we must be willing to lay our personal desires on the altar at His feet. God doesn’t refuse to honor His promise. He just changes our desires so that He can honor them.

Read the book Hinds Feet in High Places for a wonderful illustration of this.

Potential brother?

How Can You Tell?

Right now, I’m sitting at my desk trying to put together an answer to an email. This is the third email now from this person and everything I tell him just triggers another rant against me and Christianity in general. As a former Christian, he feels that he knows everything there is to know about Christians, their beliefs, and their shortcomings. If I recommend a book that I think covers his questions or challenges, he rails at me for not knowing the answers myself and needing to refer him to a book. When I do try to answer his questions myself, then my approach isn’t Christlike. I think you get the picture.

Jesus said: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” 

In this verse Jesus said we are be careful with our pearls . When do we get to the point that we are violating this verse in our discussions with unbelievers and scoffers? Is it ever right to write someone off? Should I just stop answering this particular person’s emails?

What bothers me about doing that is that I don’t know what is going on in this person’s life. Maybe he isn’t “yelling” at me at all. Maybe he’s really fighting with himself. Maybe he’s crying out for help and doesn’t even know it himself. It would be sad if I quit now when maybe a little more patience would bring him to Christ. And yet, I’m responsible to be a good steward of the time God has given me, and while I’m responding to these emails, I’m not doing other things that might be important in helping someone else.

I don’t discuss for the sake of winning an argument. I dislike controversy too much for that. But I do want to do what I can to help others. The person writing these emails might be a future brother or sister in the Lord. Wouldn’t it be great to walk into the New Jerusalem some day to be greeted with a big hug from someone you helped to find the way? Maybe someone you almost wrote off as being impossible to help, but kept on?

I hope I can meet at least one person in heaven who will tell me, "I'm here because you didn't give up on me." Even if it is just one person, it will be worth it.

I think I’ll say another prayer and answer that email. You never know…

Never despise someone Jesus died for…

ACCOUNTABLITY

WHO ARE YOU ACCOUNTABLE TO?

Some people don’t worry about accountability. If they want to do something, they do it. If they don’t, they don’t do it. It’s as simple as that.

But the Bible gives us a different perspective, as this passage shows.

“For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: “AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL CONFESS TO GOD.” So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Rom 14:10-12)

This is something worth thinking about. If we voluntarily hold ourselves accountable to God, and ask Him to show us how He feels about what we are contemplating, we can save ourselves a lot of grief. One way to find out what God considers sinful is to read the Bible, especially the New Testament. Jesus stated that we would be judged by the words that He has spoken. Those words are recorded in the New Testament.

But the Bible also teaches another level of accountability. In our church, we are having our biannual communion service [known as the Eucharist to some]. It is our practice to have a separate service before communion that we call counsel meeting. During this service every member who is planning to take communion the next Sunday will give a public testimony of his personal status before God. This may include confession of sin, testimony of victory, joy for the goodness of God; pretty well anything you feel led to share.

There are no Bible passages that tell us that this is how we should do. But passages like Matthew 18:15 – 20, etc., make it clear that we are accountable to fellow Christians. Our counsel service is one way that we have chosen to do this. We give public testimonies since we do not believe that we are accountable to church leaders alone, but to the entire congregation.

However, this opens up an area that most Christians would like to ignore; their responsibility for their brother and sister. Not only am I accountable to the brotherhood I am part of, but each of them is also accountable to me. For this to work, each of us must be willing to go to a brother or sister that we see is struggling and offer our help. Jesus makes it even stronger than that in this passage:

Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. (Luk 17:3)

Accountability is serious. It helps us to follow God and be ready to meet Him. It also helps us to help those around us in the church to be ready. Accountability works two ways.

Near Dead Experiences?

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. (2 Co 12:2-4)

I probably first heard of the phenomenon of Near Dead Experiences from the Reader’s Digest decades ago. A doctor ran into enough of them experienced by patients who almost died that he set out to study it. This was from a secular perspective. Then I heard the talk of a man from a Mennonite church who had “died” and seen a scene from the final judgment, then came back. This one was from a Christian perspective.

I’m not here to make a judgment call on this kind of experience. Maybe they are visions, like one person stated recently. Or maybe they are real. It seems that Paul experienced this, in the passage I quoted above. He stated that he didn’t know if he was dead or if he wasn’t.

That isn’t my point. I want to share an experience that a close friend went through. His father was on his death bed, but wasn’t a Christian. This was at least partly because of his lack of understanding, rather than because of rebellion on his part. However, one day he came very close to dying, but was resuscitated.

But later, he talked about what happened to him. He was able to see down a corridor to where some people were gathered and watching him. One of these looked very much like his daughter. Since he had a daughter who died at three years old, he thought that maybe this was her.

He couldn’t forget this. He badly wanted to meet his daughter. It seemed that God gave him this “vision” to show him the reality of the hereafter, and to give him a push in the right direction. Anyway it was what he needed. A day or so later, my friend was able to lead him to God. Shortly afterward he died, a saved man.

You may see some weaknesses in this picture. We think that people die looking forward to seeing Christ. But we can’t put God in a box. I think this is a clear picture of how much God cares for people. He knew my friend’s father had a soft heart but didn’t understand. So, in His mercy, He gave him a vision that helped to open his heart’s door, then took him home.

That is the kind of God we serve—a God who will go the second mile for us if that is what it takes.

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Enter into the joy of your Lord!