God’s Smuggler Speaks


The Christian Post has a fascinating interview with Brother Andrew, the famous “Bible Smuggler.” I encourage you to read theBrother Andrew Open Doors entire article, some of which is quite entertaining. Brother Andrew is now in his 80’s, and his work for the persecuted church is immense, primarily accomplished through Open Doors, a ministry he founded in 1955.

Below is a sample taken from the interview. His popular book, God’s Smuggler, is available as a free audio download this month. Check it out at Christian Audio.

CP: How do you personally pray for the persecuted Church?

Brother Andrew: Let me first tell you what I don’t pray. I don’t pray that God will lift the persecution because if there is persecution there is a plan that God has, otherwise God wouldn’t allow it. So do we understand why this persecution? When we read the Bible, all the Bible’s characters met with at least opposition. Our problem is that if we have a little opposition we call it persecution. That is ridiculous. Every Christian is tested; every Christian has and has to have opposition.

How do we pray? Not for God to remove persecution, but use that to purify the Church. And it is my strong belief that the countries where there is persecution are stronger in faith than churches in countries where there is no persecution – whether it is your country or my country (Netherlands). And there will come a time, maybe it has come already, where we will depend on our survival on the faith and input of the church that is now persecuted. They are standing strongly in the storm; we write and speak about them because we admire them. They have qualities that I wish we had: the perseverance of faith. They don’t have Bibles often and they don’t have liberty. But do we need all this liberty that we take for granted in order to function as the Church? And of course the answer is no.

The Church thrives under pressure, that was the very birth of the Church. They were persecuted in Jerusalem and all over. Look at it a different way, what does the Bible say, how do I pray? That whatever happens in the world, the Church will be revived in our countries and be spared from apostasy and unbelief, but God’s way may well be a good dose of persecution because that is good medicine for the soul. At the same time having said that, there can be so much persecution that the Church ceases to exist, like that happened in North Africa and in other places, but these are exceptions. The church in China is of course a glorious example of the biggest, fastest growing church in the world, but we don’t know nearly as much about the church in China as we do about the church in America.

Is it Evil to Say God Has Purpose for Evil in Connecticut?


To my post Did God Cause Kids to Die in Connecticut, some objected that it did not go far enough. Some believed that it was necessary to say that God actually caused the school shooting for the purpose of judging Americans for kicking God out of our schools. Yesterday, I demonstrated why that position is inaccurate. Today, I look to a different objection, one that says my original post went too far.

The original post argued that Adam Lanza was the immediate cause for the evil. As such, God would hold him accountable for God and Evil School Shootinghis sins. In addition, I argued that God was also active throughout the event, causing it to work together for His ultimate good. In all events, there is both a temporal (immediate) and eternal (ultimate) purpose.  Some disagree, stating that this theological idea goes too far.

Specifically, some say that viewing God as having a purpose to accomplish through evil makes God evil. Some even say it would be cruel to tell a child that God has a cause to accomplish through the school shooting in Connecticut.  So, I ask, Is it evil to say God orders evil for His ultimate purposes? I don’t think so for at least two reasons.

First, if God does not order evil for His ultimately good purposes, who does? If evil exists independently—apart from God’s authority over it—then there is a force (or being) outside of God’s control. If this is true, then God is diminished—He is not omnipotent. God is omnipotent only if he has the power to accomplish all of His will.  If there is a force (like Satan or human free will) which operates independently of God’s ultimate control, then God may not be able to accomplish all of His will (because there would be a force opposing His will which He does not control).  If that is true, then whatever else God may be, he could not be called sovereign or omnipotent. He could not guarantee that His ultimate will would be done. He could only guarantee that He would do His very best to accomplish His will.

Of course, there is the possibility that no one orders evil. That evil is some chaotic, non-directed force inherent in the universe without regard to an ordered will such as God’s (or Satan’s). But, again, I would say that an all-powerful God could not coexist with a force outside of His control. One could argue for a system of gods who are at war to establish good and evil (and authority and power), but one is not able to pretend that God is somehow sovereign but also not sovereign over free will or over evil. That would be like saying you are an unmarried man but you are not a bachelor. Either God is sovereign, or he is not.

Second, if there is no God, or if God is not sovereign over evil–using it to accomplish His purposes–then there would be no purpose for suffering and no hope in times of loss.  It might seem insensitive to tell young people that God has an ultimate purpose for this loss of life. It might seem harsh to suppose that God’s will somehow mysteriously encompasses the loss of twenty children in a Connecticut school around Christmastime. But as harsh as that might seem, it is nowhere near as harsh as saying that the children were lost with no purpose or meaning at all. It would be even worse to say that they were lost to the purposes of evil.

God does not work some things out according to the purpose of His inscrutable will. He works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).  It is not cruel to admit that glorious fact in the face of suffering; it is helpful and hopeful. What would be cruel would be to leave people without the hope of redemption. In this world, there will be the heartache of deep loss. Jesus was never unclear about that point.

It does not go too far to say what Jesus says (and what the Scripture teaches): God is sovereign, and now all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).  God is sovereign over evil. It is under His control—even if for a season we do not understand how that dynamic works. We can trust the ultimate hand of God to accomplish a good purpose through all of man’s evil (so Acts 4:28).  And in this world of tragedy, sin, and loss, we have the Word of God to instruct us:

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, nasb).

 

Was Connecticut Shooting God’s Judgment?


Thank you for the responses to the post, Did God Cause the Connecticut Shootings. The responses came mostly through Facebook and other media.  Some thought the article didn’t go far enough. Others thought it went too far. So, let’s consider the objections in these two directions.  First we will consider the objection which says my view did not go far enough.

Basically, my argument is that the immediate cause of the deaths is rightly placed upon Adam Lanza, who alone was God's Judgment School Shooting Newtown Conn Sandy Hookresponsible for killing more than two dozen people in Newtown, Connecticut.  He will be held accountable by God for his sinful, murderous actions. However, God was not absent from the horror. Ultimately, God—secretly and mysteriously—was (and is) causing it all to work together for a greater, eternal good.

Objection one says that this argument does not go far enough. Instead, the argument should state not only that God was present, but that He was also present specifically to enact His judgment.  In other words, God caused the event to happen to exact His judgment against America and, especially, America’s schools.

So, the question becomes, was this an action of God’s judgment on American schools for rejecting Him and removing prayer?  No, I don’t think it was.

Here’s why I say “no.” I have no hesitation stating that God exacts His perfect justice against sins.  God punishes the wicked.  He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, but He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished (see Exodus 34:6-7).  Every evil action, thought, and deed will face the bar of perfect justice, and our God is a consuming fire! He will, in fact, cast souls into Hell (Luke 12:5), and He will ultimately usher in a new heaven and a new earth for all who believe. Thus, it is always a fitting word to say,

“See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven” (Hebrews 12:25).

Nevertheless, God’s judgment is better directed than the bullets at Sandy Hook. God’s judgment is precise and exact—even down to the thoughts and intentions of the individual heart.  So, what evidence is there which suggests these particular kids were guilty of the particular sins God supposedly judged on this occasion? The kids weren’t responsible for prayer being removed from their schools.  They probably had no knowledge of any of the lawsuits which led to the excising of God from student classrooms. Yes, God judges—but not haphazardly!

Consider Christ’s teaching in this regard from Luke 13:1-5,

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

The Tower of Siloam

The Tower of Siloam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Notice that there were people who wanted to ascribe a slaughter to the judgment of God.  Jesus quickly corrected those justice-mongers who hoped to tie the tragic events of his day directly to the hand of God.  No one knows for sure what event is being spoken of here in Luke 13, but the point is plainly stated. Jesus turns the situation into a rhetorical question of great significance: Do you really think these people died because of their particular sins? No, there was no way to tie their deaths to any immediate sin committed by them. Thus, the deaths could not be ascribed to the judgment of God in any particular sense.

The same is true for the tower of Siloam.  A dozen and a half victims unexpectedly perished in an instant, when the tower fell upon them. Was that the hand of God’s judgment against them? Jesus says, no. Whether slaughter (the Galilean example) or accident (the Tower of Siloam incident)—the lesson from mass tragedies is NOT to point the finger and say, “Those people must be great sinners, for God has judged them.” Rather, the point is for every survivor to point to himself and say, “God have mercy on ME, a sinner.”

Tragedies–whether tsunamis or school shootings–are reminders of the fixed reality of God’s ultimate judgment over humanity.  All are under the curse of sin and death. Thus, any could die at any given moment.  And we all need to seek the remedy God gives us in Christ.

Objection Two moves in the opposite direction and says, “God had nothing to do with Connecticut, and it is unhelpful, if not downright hateful, to suggest that he did.” The answer to this objection is next… stay tuned.

Did God Cause Kids to Die in Connecticut?


Christ Before Pilate. Friedländer (1969): p. 83.

Christ Before Pilate. Friedländer (1969): p. 83. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A brother in Christ recently asked, “Did God cause the Connecticut school shootings?”  I am attempting to answer that question with this blog post because I imagine that question—or something similar to it—is on the minds of a lot of Christians.

So, let me begin by clarifying some language. Clearly, God did not cause the evil in the schoolrooms of Sandy Hook Elementary.  The cause of that evil was sin in the heart of Adam Lanza. It was Adam Lanza’s sinful actions which led to the deaths of twenty children, six adults, his mother, and himself.

But the question isn’t so easily answered, is it? While it is true that the cause of these deaths was one man, Adam, the question still persists: Where was God?  Did God have a hand in the evil? So, to clarify the question a little further, we might ask plainly, “Was this God’s will?”

Several passages of Scripture make it plain that God is in charge of all things pertaining to life and death. God is sovereign over life and death and all things good and evil.

Deuteronomy 32:39, See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life.

Amos 3:6, If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it?

1 Sam 2:6-7,  The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts.

Lamentations 3:37-38Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it?  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?

Job 2:10But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job 37:13, “Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen.

Proverbs 16:4, The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.

Hebrews 9:27, And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,

In accordance with Scripture, we would have to say that it was God’s will for those 28 people to die in Connecticut last week.  A day is fixed by God for death for all people. After this death, the judgment comes, and no one knows the day or the hour. Some people die at birth. Others die at a hundred and three.  Some die in plane crashes, others of sickness and disease. Some, sadly, will die at the hands of an evil murderer. So, these died on their appointed day.

We do not know how these things are ordered by God, but we know that they are. So, it was God’s will?

That still doesn’t seem exactly right to say, does it? On the issue of God’s will, the Scriptures are clear that murder is wrong: Thou shalt not kill.  It was not God’s will for this man to kill these children.  And yet it happened.  And nothing happens outside of God’s ultimate will.  So how could this happen apart from God’s will, and, if this is God’s will, how could He not be considered the cause of it?

On the question of whether God causes such evil, the answer must have the flexibility to handle both what God reveals as His will and what God ultimately accomplishes as His will.  God spoke through Moses, for example, that it was His will for no one to murder or bear false witness.  And yet, God accomplished the redemptive work of Christ through the murder and betrayal enacted by Judas.  Acts 4:27-28,

For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate… to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

So, it seems there is a revealed will of God–that which we should do–and a secret will of God–that which we do not know everything about but must trust God’s hand to accomplish.  There is an immediate cause of sin which brings death, and there is the ultimate cause which God is accomplishing through sin and death.  Adam Lanza caused the deaths. But, ultimately, the cause of all things is God, who is working everything according to the counsel of His own secret will.

In the ultimate reality of eternity (of which we by faith can see only darkly), God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  In the immediate reality of a world filled with sin and death, there will be gross injustice and dire despair. But there will come an ultimate day when all things will be made new and made clear. A day of triumph in Christ when righteousness will finally prevail. Even when we can’t see God’s will, we can still trust His word.

Where Is God When Kids Get Shot?


Jesus Christ Crucifix

Jesus Christ Crucifix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Yesterday, twenty kindergarten children were mercilessly murdered by an evil young man. Some have  shouted, “Where is God?” in the face of this utterly unspeakable tragedy.  A friend of mine posted a quick reply to the cynical inquisition: “Where is God? He was kicked out of schools in America years ago.” There is truth to that remark.

 

I heard a news panel discussing the situation this morning, and one of the newscasters observed that we refuse to allow mention of God in the schools throughout the year, and, yet, we want to know where He is when tragedy strikes. This particular news commentator then said that prayer returned to the Sandy Hook school yesterday, and he recounted a story of a teacher huddling her children into a closet and praying over them. In crisis, we return to foundational principles of faith to offer some sense to the senseless.

 

But what good is faith in this situation? Where is God?  Actually, God has spoken to this situation. In these last days, God has spoken to us in His Son (Hebrews 1:2).  God, in love, sent His Son, so that whoever believes in him would never perish but would have eternal life.  Jesus did not come to play religious games. He did not come to teach meditation techniques. He did not come to establish a religious cult. He did not come as a football for American politicians to kick around.  He came to deal with the serious curse of death which has reigned since the time of Adam and Eve, our original human parents.

 

Adam’s son Cain committed the first human murder, perhaps wiping out ¼ of the human population at that time.  Abel was innocently worshiping God when his brother Cain fell upon him and mercilessly slaughtered him.  Murder has had its allies ever since. Jesus did not come to earth to rid the planet of murder—at least not yet.  There will be killings until Christ returns.

 

However, though Jesus did not come to answer murder, he did come to answer death. Death is a curse over all humankind.  In love, God has offered human beings an answer for the curse of death.  Christ paid the death penalty for all who believe.  He also has been raised from the dead, demonstrating that death is not final; it need not be the final word. There is another word: Life! Jesus Christ even called himself the resurrection and the life. He said He is the truth, the life, and the way.  Christ did not say this because he was on some exclusive power trip. He said it because it is true. There is only one answer for death: the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.

 

Where was God yesterday? The same place He remains yesterday, today, and forever—speaking to us in His Son, saying death is a curse that you are all under. Young and old alike will die. Some, sadly, will kill.  But Christ gives life.  Christ is the Resurrection and the Life.

 

When Martha’s brother unexpectedly died, she was hurt and confused. She turned to Jesus for answers, and this is what He said:

 

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

 

Fatherhood: One Reason the Holy Trinity Matters


Kempele Old Church

Kempele Old Church Trinity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Holy Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, operating in complete unity of will and purpose (though 3 distinct, divine persons)–is unique to Christian theology. The Trinity belongs to no other religion, and, thus, no other religion can explain the complexities of the universe.  The universe is filled with individual, particular realities which must also exist as parts of collective, universal realities at the same time. This systemic design in the universe is present because the God who designed the universe exists in Trinitarian unity.

 

Talk of the Trinity is notoriously complex and can be abstract. So, many Christians avoid paying attention to such theological diatribe. But the Trinity is very important in everyday affairs–such as how a family ought to function.  This past year, I published a lengthy article in the Journal of Family Ministry on the practical way the Trinity should shape the functioning of our families–particularly fatherhood. Here is a quote from the article so you can see what I mean:

 

We have a great deal of instruction from the Lord concerning fatherhood, but, frankly, we need more than instruction. After all, even instruction manuals are illustrated. While we are indeed thankful for any directions we receive concerning child rearing, we could use more help. We need a model of fatherhood. We need to see fatherhood in action.

Reading instructions is always made easier by seeing a living example. How much better would it be to have a living example of fatherhood? Thanks be to God, we have such an example! We have the perfect example to learn from now that we have become children of God. Now that the Siprit has helped us, we can cry out, “Abba, Father,” to the only perfect father knowable on the earth…

The thought of calling God “Father” is almost unthinkable to many people, including Muslims. Born into the upper class of the Muslim society in Pakistan, Bilquis Sheikh later converted to Christ. In her testimony concerning her conversion, Bilquis Sheikh remembers how shocking it was when a certain Dr. Santiago first suggested that she address God as Father:

“Talk to him as if he were my Father! The thought shook my soul in the peculiar way truth has of being at once startling and comforting” (1). You can read the remainder of Bilquis’s testimony in the book I Dared to Call him Father.

 

You can read the rest of this article here, at the Family Ministry Today website.

 

 

Does the Bible Condemn Abortion?


I hear a common refrain from those who favor abortion. It usually goes something like, “The Bible is silent on abortion,” or “the Bible never condemns abortion.” Is this true? Is it true that the Bible does not speak to abortion?

On the surface it appears true that the bible does not condemn abortion. There is no text which says, “Thou shalt not commit

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, painting by Rembrandt (1659) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

abortion.” However, on those literal terms, there is no text which says, “Thou shalt not initiate a nuclear holocaust.” Yet, we somehow think that would be a bad thing and probably not something God wants us to do. Must we have a verse which explicitly says, “Do not put Jewish people in a gas chamber” in order to know that it’s wrong to do it?  It’s a bit simplistic to say the Bible does not condemn abortion. It certainly does.

In the 10 Commandments, we read, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).  The word murder (in the original Hebrew) refers not to killing in general, but to the specific, determined effort to end a human life.  Often, it is translated “manslayer.”  This command does not forbid all human killing. It does not forbid killing in war or conducting executions for the sake of justice.  But the question is whether or not it forbids killing a life in the womb. I think it does, and I will share with you the two reasons why.

First, Moses (who wrote Exodus) does speak to the issue of abortion in the very next chapter after writing the “You shall not murder” commandment. In Exodus 21:22-25, Moses writes the famous “eye for an eye” passage (called the Lex Talionis, or the law of retaliation). The point of that passage is not to encourage blood-thirsty people to seek vengeance. Rather, the point is to keep the punishment in proper relation to the crime. If a foot is injured, you cannot gouge out a person’s eyeballs in return.

What is almost always missed when this passage is read or quoted is the fact that it is spoken in the context of a pregnant woman being accidentally struck by men who are in a fight. “If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth… yet there is no further injury… “(Exodus 21:22)–then the result is to pay a  fine in accordance with the demands of the woman’s husband. But if there is further injury (to the woman or the child?) then the law of retaliation holds: life for life.

While it is not certain what further injury is in view in this passage, the principle holds either way: Do not fight near a woman who is pregnant because you may do harm, and, if you do, you will bear the full weight of guilt in accordance with the injury you cause. In modern legal jargon, the fitting term here is negligent homicide–a form of murder which took place because you acted recklessly and caused another person to die.

The Exodus 21 passage stringently forbids reckless behavior when men are around an expectant mother in order to prevent injury. This principle is something we still recognize with animals, but we exempt ourselves from its reasonableness when it comes to human life.  According to Title 16, Chapter 5A, Subchapter II, Paragraph 668 (a), of the United States Code, if one disturbs an eagle’s nest and, thus, causes an eagle’s egg to crack, then he can be fined $5,000 and sentenced to prison. The reason is clear. An eagle’s nest incubates an eagle’s egg which is the home of an eaglet struggling to be born alive. Along the same reasonable lines of thought, the Bible protects the nest of babies struggling to be born alive.  The hypocrisy of our laws is inexcusable.

On the second reason I think the Bible does condemn abortion: God is pro-life in the most exceptional sense of that term. Jesus on two occasions in John’s gospel called himself “Life” (see John 11:25 and John 14:6).  Practically every verse in the Bible after Genesis 1:26-27 affirms the value of every human life and, thus, negates abortion–which inherently devalues human life.  Genesis 9:6–the passage of Scripture which demands execution for murderers–does so on the premise that human life images forth God and, thus, is the property of God. No person has the right to determine in accordance with his whims or desires that one of God’s image-bearers should be killed.

We must not destroy the image of God. Indeed, Genesis 9:7–the very next verse–reaffirms the God-given command to be fruitful and multiply human beings upon the earth–that is the opposite of the spirit of abortion. So, it appears to me that the Bible is not silent after all on the issue of abortion.

Saying there is no commandment in the Bible against abortion is almost like saying there’s nothing in a grocery store that says you have to eat.  While it may be technically true, it is ridiculously off the mark.  Everything about a grocery store says, “Food, Eat.”  And everything in the Bible says, “Life.”

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Is God Always on Israel’s Side? (Part 3 of 3)


If what has been said already about Israel is true, then a question arises, “What about the nation of Israel today?” In this finalIsrael Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National Christ part (of a three-part series), we’ll look at what the Bible says about Israel as an ethnic/national people.  The key text for this discussion is Romans 11.

The question we are asking is, essentially, the same question Paul asked when he discussed this topic (which might be an indication that we are on the right track).  Paul’s question, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?” The answer is, “By no means! For I myself am an Israelite…” (Romans 11:1).

Romans 11 is notorious for the difficulty scholars have had coming to an agreement over its contents. I will offer you my thoughts on it to help you make sense of the chapter for yourself.  Here is the way I read Paul’s statement.

First, it is not as though God’s plan has failed just because Israel (nationally/ethnically) has been cut off from God’s favor, “for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Romans 9:6).  Paul acknowledges that the situation after Christ is not so far removed from the situation before Christ; it has never been the case that everyone within the borders of ethnic or national Israel were actually the chosen of God.

God’s people have never been characterized by ethnicity. They have always—since Abraham—been characterized by faith—humbly believing as true that which God has revealed.  The issue has never been about birth or land but always about mercy (so Romans 9:14-15). So, Paul states in 9:7, “not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.”  Children of God were always and still are children by faith, not by birth.

Second, God has an over-arching, sovereign plan for all nations and people, including for Israel. In Romans 11:11, Paul asks, “did [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall?” His question wonders whether Israel is forever lost to Christ in the plan of God. His own answer is, “May it never be!” This verse (11:11) alerts us to the fact that God has a plan for people—including for people whose heritage is Jewish—through Jesus Christ.

Third, God’s plan displays an unexpected irony in that the present rejection of the Jews has the built-in purpose of making them jealous of the outpouring of salvation to the Gentiles (See 11:11).  The fact that God’s people are now those with faith in Christ is expected to make the Jews (who had all the original promises and covenants from God) jealous—so that they, too, might be brought back to covenant love with Him.

At his own realization of the glory of God in putting together such a comprehensive scheme for Jews and Gentiles regarding salvation through Christ, Paul worships, shouting forth, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways….”

Israel Flag God Favor Israel Ethnic National ChristFourth, for now, a hardening has come upon (ethnic/national) Israel. This hardening allows an on-going opportunity for the full number of non-Jews to come in to the kingdom. As Paul says in Romans 11:25, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”  What is important to remember is that the hardening is partial, meaning not all Jews even now are rejected. Some are accepted by God through Christ. Some are believers.  Paul stated that he was such an Israelite.

And so, any Israelite who stops his unbelief will also be brought into the family of faith and the kingdom of God (11:23). The partial hardening means some Jews are now being saved.  Now is the time for the full number of Gentiles also to come into the kingdom of God, along with some of the Jews.  “And in this way all Israel will be saved” (11:26).  Jews and Gentiles together become one body with one Lord in one faith through Jesus Christ.

The favored people of God are those who have faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Apart from Christ, there is no kingdom or covenant promise for any other people. In these last days, God has spoken to us in His Son, Jesus.  Anyone who has the Son, has life. Anyone who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  National Israel is in a favored place only in the sense that there is a gospel witness in that land. May the Lord indeed grant for many to come to Christ through the preaching of this gospel.

Debates are sure to continue concerning Israel and concerning Paul’s instructions in Romans 9-11.  These chapters divide Amillennialists from Dispensationalists and Dispensationalists from one another. Nevertheless, one basic truth pierces through all theological distinctions like a sword pierces through a chink in the knight’s armor: he who does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:12).

Those who take confidence in living on a certain strip of land or having a Jewish sir name should re-think their basis of security, taking no confidence in the flesh.  Rather, like Abraham, they should have faith in God. Christians—those who by faith have received the promises of Abraham—must always remember to stay fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith (for Gentiles and Jews alike).

Give Thanks to Almighty God (Says the President of the United States)


Happy Thanksgiving! We set aside today to remember Him to whom all thanks is due. Thanksgiving was instituted by

President George Washington First Thanksgiving Proclamation Almighty God

proclamation of the President of the United States–George Washington–on October 3, 1789.  You do not need for me to explain it to you because you can read it for yourself below. As you can see, the holiday was national and overtly religious.

Thank you, Almighty God, for the freedom our souls enjoy in Christ.

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

Is God Always on Israel’s Side? (Part 2)


Earlier, Acts 13:32-39 was quoted, but not in its entirety. When the complete quote is included, we see that the early church Dreidel God Israel Christ Kingdom landproclaimed more than the fact that Christ is the fulfillment of Israel, He is the realization of the Son of God. As such, Christ is also the fulfillment of the kingdom. So, Acts 13:34 offers this prophecy from God about Jesus: “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.”

Talk of David in the Bible is always significant because David represents the fulfillment of Old Testament Kingdom promises. David is the prototypical king of Israel. This prophecy fulfilled in Acts 13 is an acknowledgement that Jesus has come as the King of the Israel of God.  Thus, our contemporary over-emphasis on the national entity of Israel is a diminishing of the glory of the eternal kingdom which has already begun for God’s people in Jesus Christ.

The issue of emphasis in the New Testament is not national, nor ethnic, and it isn’t even about a parcel of land; the issue is Christ the king and His kingdom people who are “in him” by faith.  There is still a future fulfillment in Christ at the consummation of His kingdom, which brings about the new heavens, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem from above.  So, the Apostle Paul was able to speak of a new reality in Galatians 6:15-16,

“For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”

Clearly, the Apostle Paul makes Christ’s faithful out to be the true Israel of God. The reason is that those born again are “in Christ.” Those in Christ are in the true Israel of God. They are the fulfillment of the kingdom promises of the Old and New Testament.  Thus, the Apostle Peter would say of us who are in Christ,

1 Peter 2:9, But you are a Chosen Race, a Royal Priesthood, A Holy Nation, A People for God’s own Possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God…

The people of God—God’s Holy nation—is not Israel, but us who belong to Christ. The kingdom belongs to Christ and to those to whom He gives it. Jesus died the “King of the Jews,” and when He rose again and ascended into heaven, he guaranteed a new future which inextricably sewed heaven and earth together into a new reality which He will complete on His return.

Star of David Israel Nation Christ KingdomNotice the significance of each point in 1 Peter 2:9. Christians now are the “chosen race,” first mentioned in Isaiah 43:20.  Christians are now the “royal priesthood and holy nation” of Exodus 19:6.  [Yes! Christians are the nation of God’s favor.] Christians are now the “people for God’s own possession,” mentioned first in Exodus 19:5. In short, Christians are the children of God, the chosen for His kingdom.  Thus, no one [including Jews living in the land of Israel]—no one can come to the Father except through His son, Jesus (John 14:6). Christians are those who have thus come to the Father.

The original covenant promise from God came to Abraham. It was through Abraham that Isaac (the child of promise) and Jacob (the father of the 12 tribes of Israel) came about. The faith of Abraham is completed in the coming of Jesus Christ. So, again, Paul the Jew would say, “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7-8). “So, those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.”

From the beginning, Abraham was to serve as a light to the nations, and, in Abraham, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. They were originally blessed through the light of Abraham’s offspring–Israel, which shone (in varying degrees of darkness) until the arrival of the true Israel of God: God’s only begotten Son, Jesus. Now that Christ has come, everything has changed into a glorious reality of his eternal kingdom.

If you belong to Christ, you are Abraham’s descendant, an heir according to the promise (Galatians 3:29).  If you are in Christ, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…” (Hebrews 12:22).  In short, all the promises of God (including those in the Old Testament) are “yes and amen” in Christ Jesus.

To Be Continued Again? What about the future of national Israel? Stay tuned.

(In the meantime, you may want to read, “Is the Holy Land Really Holy?”)

Is God Always on Israel’s Side?


English: English translation of hebrew version...

English translation of Hebrew. Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I honestly dislike controversy. I try to avoid it. But the things which matter most to me are always on collision course with the things that others decide are too “controversial” to speak about in polite company.  Marriage, families, protecting babies, and the freedom of religion—all these are important realities which rile abortion supporters and those who wish to dismantle the traditional family.

Above all else, I care about Christ and sharing God’s love with others. So, I have to speak concerning the controversial subject of Israel (because it involves Christ). I read a popular Christian post which proclaimed that God is always on the side of Israel. I do not think that is true—at least not in the way the author meant it.  Before I explain further, I heartily agree that the nation of Israel needs our support, considering that it is freedom’s best ally in the Middle East, and many of her neighbors are busily working to see her annihilated.

That being said, the Bible nowhere offers warrant for saying the present nation of Israel is comprised of the people of God.  The land and the people filling it have no hope of being part of the kingdom of God without faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  Like the novelist Anne Rice, I understand the presence of the Jews as an “immense  mystery” without a natural  solution.  It takes God to explain the existence of Jews in this world, and it may well be that at some point in the future there will be a great outpouring of faith towards Christ among the Jews (Romans 11:25-29).

Nevertheless, the present nation of Israel does not exist as a vessel of God’s special favor.  The reason is simply this: The concept of Israel is a personal concept in Scripture, not a national one. The present nation of Israel is a national entity, not a personal one.

In the Bible, Israel is a person. Originally, Israel is the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with the angel of God (Genesis 32:24ff).  Israel later became the collective name for the twelve tribes of Israel (which, of course, was a reference to the twelve sons of Jacob).  The original, biblical understanding of the name Israel was a reference to a person.  This person represented other people.

In a foreshadowing of the Christ who would later come to fulfill God’s purposes for His people, Exodus 4:22 says, “Thus says the Lord, Israel is My son, My firstborn.”  Again, in prophetic utterance, Hosea gets a word from God: “When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1). All the prophecies about God’s Son—Israel—have seen their fulfillment in Christ, who came not to abolish the law, but to complete the law and the prophets.  So, in Matthew 2, Jesus was taken as a child into Egypt so that Hosea 11:1 would be fulfilled—out of Egypt, God called His Son.

The concept of Israel and the person of God’s Son both find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  Acts 13:32-39 speaks of early Christians preaching Christ as the fulfillment of these prophetic words:

And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus as it is written in the 2nd Psalm, ‘You are my son, Today I have begotten you.’ 

The Apostle Paul (in Romans 9:6-8) spent much time and energy pleading with the Jews (who occupied the land which today makes up Israel) so that they would stop taking comfort in their ethnicity.  He spoke plainly that their hope was not to be found in “Israel” but in Isaac—not in the flesh but in the promise of God.  In other words, Paul says, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel… this means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise….”

To Be Continued (Let your mind chew on these thoughts, while I get ready to post more tomorrow)

Why Christians Should Care About Who Is Elected in November


For more than a century, Christians have been stretched by the tension of a fundamentalist strand on one side and the evangelical strand on the other, each pulling backwards against the other like a rubber band being pulled apart by two opposing hands.  The result has indeed been tension.

On the one hand, the fundamentalists have sought to protect the purity of the gospel against outside attacks. This fundamentalist tendency seeks to shield the church from outside influences but also has the rather unintended effect of shielding those outside from the church’s influence. Not only is the church protected from the world, but the world is also “protected” from the church.

Evangelicals, on the other hand, have sought to establish the necessity of salt stinging and light shining. So, under the theological influence of Carl F.H. Henry and the Billy graham evangelical vs fundamentalistpopular influence of Billy Graham, the evangelical movement sought to engage the culture, taking every thought captive in obedience to Christ.  Henry would initiate Christianity Today magazine and Graham would begin the practice of meeting with Presidents.  Evangelicals clearly won the debate, but the tension still abides. There are still Christians who wish us to “stay out of politics.”

Because our culture feels so “politicized,” many would prefer we not to get mixed up in politics. Surely, it would be easier if we didn’t have to deal with the deceit and obfuscation made popular by modern magistrates. Even though withdrawing would be easier, I don’t think it is the faithful course for Christians to follow. Here is why.

In Deuteronomy 17, the Lord gave instructions to Israel before she took possession of the Promised Land.  In these instructions, Israel was taught about the proper function of authority (the king).  In effect, the king’s role was to institute the righteousness of God.  A primary function of government, then, is to administer and uphold justice; upholding justice demands following the commands God has given. This was true for ancient Israel, and it is true for us today.

Obviously, we do not live under the rule of a Davidic king in the land of Israel, but the basic principle of Deuteronomy 17 still holds. Paul explains (in Romans 13) that government is to approve of what is good and punish what is evil. No doubt, Paul understands that good and evil are established by God, not merely by man. Thus, government still exists to uphold the righteousness of God (which is good).

Christians have an obligation to do their very best to uphold the righteousness of God in every aspect of life—including public and governmental aspects of life. Such upholding of righteousness in the face of injustice is at least a part of what it means to be salt and light in an otherwise dark and decaying world.

Practically, this upholding of righteousness means Christians must participate in public debate, must participate  by voting, and must care about what happens in the greater world of government and civic life. To withdraw from these responsibilities is not to care more about God and the gospel; it is actually to care less about the gospel and about people in general.  Listen to how St. Augustine explains it,

st augustine politics authority governmentFor both the physician is irksome to the raging madman, and a father to his undisciplined son,—the former because of the restraint, the latter because of the chastisement which he inflicts; yet both are acting in love.

In other words, Augustine understands that doctors and dads must intervene if they care at all for their patients or their children. Love compels their engagement—even if their engagement is taken as a negative or unpleasant intrusion.  Augustine explains further,

But if they were to neglect their charge, and allow them to perish, this mistaken kindness would more truly be accounted cruelty. For if the horse and mule, which have no understanding, resist with all the force of bites and kicks the efforts of the men who treat their wounds in order to cure them; and yet the men, though they are often exposed to danger from their teeth and heels, and sometimes meet with actual hurt, nevertheless do not desert them till they restore them to health through the pain and annoyance which the healing process gives,—how much more should man refuse to desert his fellow-man, or brother to desert his brother, lest he should perish everlastingly…

If the Christian cares at all for his fellow human being, he will not withdraw or be silent on matters which others have politicized. The greatest commandment is to love God with heart and soul, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. These two great loves compel our engagement in “political” affairs such as the protection of human life and the honoring of the institution of marriage.

In my opinion, then, each Christian should take up the shaker of the gospel and sprinkle its salt of truth into the world on issues important to the day. Likewise, each individual Christian should both live and act in a righteous manner to shine the light of truth for others groping in the darkness to see. That’s the way things look to me (and to Augustine).  Your opinion, as always, is welcome.

Gordon Lightfoot’s Good Question (and God’s great answer)


One of the greatest secular songs ever written, Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald stands as a monument of musical story-telling.  Inspired by a Newsweekarticle of the November 10, 1975, events that led to the loss of the Great Lakes’ greatest ship, Lightfoot penned a masterful poem capturing the weight of the

Christ theology lightfoot edmund fitzgerald

Source: Wikipedia

tragedy both lyrically and musically.

In the song, Lightfoot asks a penetrating question: “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

The question is an appropriate response to the actual tragedy of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The November gale likely stirred the waves to 35 feet or more.  No doubt, the 29 crew members spent the last minutes of their lives in a sinking agony which both lasted forever and ended their lives in an instant. All that remained were “the faces and the names of the wives and the sons and the daughters.”  All crew members were lost.

In those last moments of terror, where was God? Where, indeed, did the love of God go as the captain, cook, and crew were drowning? Lightfoot’s question is a good one, demanding a sober assessment of our theology.

I would answer in two ways. First, the love of God was at the cross in Jesus Christ. Scripture teaches that God is love (1 John 4) and that in His greatest act of love, God sent His son to die on the cross for our sins (John 3:16; Ephesians 5:25).  What this means is that God has made provision for us when the time comes to meet our maker.

Lightfoot’s rendering of the “Big Fitz” saga is an epic display of the drama of man meeting his mortality.  On the one hand, Big Fitz was the largest of the Great Lakes freighters; it was a workhouse, annually resetting hauling records which it had broken the prior year.  The ship was a maritime marvel of historic proportions. Yet, as Lightfoot so powerfully puts it, “That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed when the ‘Gales of November’ came early.”

Edmund Fitzgerald lightfoot christian theology godRegardless of our size, success, or seemingly invincible ability to survive, we all will face death. “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27).  The fact that death is in the world is undeniable for every living soul. The fact that our “appointment” with death is not ours to determine is likewise undeniable.  The love of God in Christ says that God has taken note of our frames (that we are but dust) and has acted in such a way that we need no longer fear death—whenever it calls upon us to go. God did not have to act on our behalf. God loved us and sent His son as a Savior for our sins. The love of God points to the cross when death draws near.

Second, the love of God points to the Resurrection.  When the November gales chewed the ship and its crew, the Resurrection of Christ was screaming the love of God for all who believe. The Resurrection speaks on the authority of God that death is not the final victor. Though death seems to win in situations of shipwreck, the truth is that Christ has demonstrated the victorious power of life (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).  Christ called Himself the Resurrection and the life (John 11:25) because Christ alone has defeated death.

For all who perished on the Edmund Fitzgerald, it is true that their bodies sank in the rooms of Superior’s “ice water mansions.”  But it is also true that God has spoken for any and all to hear that death need not be the end of the matter.  The love of God screams of victory—of life—in the face of death because of the love of God who sent His Son that we might not ever perish but always have eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am glad Gordon Lightfoot asked the question. I’m even more glad that the God of love has answered it in Christ.

Aren’t You Ashamed? A Quick Thought on Saving Face


There were many instances from my days of growing up under the moss-laced cypress trees of southern Louisiana that I would be asked by my father or my mother, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” Most of the time, I was not. I was only “ashamed” of getting caught.  Shame is not an emotion we naturally embrace.

I was reminded of our natural desire to avoid shame when I visited China this past summer. It is well documented by missiologists that the oriental cultures in general and Chinese people in particular value “saving face.”  They do not wish to be ashamed. Thus, missionaries learn to tweak their gospel language and tailor their ministry work to avoid shaming the very people they hope to serve.

My reminder came as we tried to order our lunch. We had scoured the streets of Guilin, looking for the best local Shame in Chinese culture saving facerestaurant to explore authentic Chinese cuisine.  When we saw little swimming pools filled with living squid, eel, snakes, turtles, crawfish, and spoon-billed catfish, we knew this was the restaurant for us. If nothing else, the food would certainly be fresh.

Once seated, we began perusing the menu for our palate-pleasing entrees. Delighted, we pointed to the giant bowl of fried rice.  After all, there is a limit to how many noodles a human can eat, and we had eclipsed that limit. Unfortunately, after a flurry of language negotiations with our waiter, we were informed that the restaurant did not have rice–only noodles. Why then was there a picture of a very large, very inviting bowl of fried rice on the menu?

Our waiter was in crisis at the question. He could either be embarrassed and admit the false advertising, or he could attempt a perverted defense of the picture in order to save face.  Choosing the latter course, he replied to our inquisition that the picture of rice is used to show that the restaurant serves noodles.  As contorted and inexplicable as this explanation was, it was his explanatory attempt to save face.

Missiologists in China are pleased to report on the saving face impetus in oriental culture. But, really, Chinese people avoiding shame are no different from American people avoiding shame. When we say, “It’s not my fault”; or “I didn’t mean to”; or “What’s the big deal”; or when we say, “I’m sorry if anyone were offended…”; Are we not doing the same thing as the Chinese waiter? Are we not simply seeking to save face and avoid shame? All these statements are simply different berries from the same diseased plant called “avoiding shame.”

In fact, this natural tendency to save face by avoiding shame goes back to Adam’s finger in the Garden of Eden. When God called Adam to account for sin, Adam responded with “that woman that you gave me, she…” (Genesis 3).  Rather than humbling himself before the Holy One, Adam pointed the finger directly at Eve and (indirectly) back at God.  It’s easier to blame someone else than it is to be ashamed of ourselves, isn’t it?

How have you seen this saving face tendency in yourself and others? What are some other examples I’ve missed? I hope we all will be humbled and accept our part of the blame and, even more, Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf.

Do You Believe in Miracles? (Part 1 of 3)


This article is part one of a three-part defense of miracles.

Against the backdrop of growing skepticism in Britain and the west, C. S. Lewis wrote an important little treatise in

Christ pharisees miracles

Christ and the Pharisees
(Public Domain)

defense of miracles.  As the progress of science became more and more intertwined with Darwin’s evolutionary schemes of human origin, philosophers and academics became less and less comfortable speaking about miracles.  Yet, Lewis stepped in and placed before the world a stunningly clear explanation and defense of miracles.  Lewis wrote, “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”

The point Lewis made, of course, is the same one made by the psalmist nearly two thousand years before him: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2, ESV).  What the stars sing in the background, the miracles recite specifically.  God speaks plainly through creation, but not all people listen to what is being said.  So, God speaks even more plainly through miracles. But what do the miracles say?

The miracles say that God is at work among humankind.  In John 3, Nicodemus affirms what was commonly believed among the religious leaders of Jesus’s day.  The miracles of Jesus were a clear sign that he had come from God, for no one could do such miraculous signs, “unless God is with him” (John 3:2).  When Peter preached his great sermon at Pentecost, he, too, affirmed what Nicodemus knew—that Jesus was a man who was attested to by God with mighty works and wonders and signs (Acts 2:22).  Nicodemus, like both the Apostle Peter and C. S. Lewis who came after him, was convinced that miracles indicated the near presence of the living God.  The miracles of Jesus make plain that Jesus Christ himself came from God.

Jesus taught his disciples that miracles were designed to confirm his identity as the Son of God. After John the Baptist had been thrown into prison by Herod, he sent his own followers to Jesus in order to confirm that Jesus was in fact the Messiah sent to earth from Heaven.  One can understand John’s concern. He was, literally, about to lose his head for the cause of Christ. He needed to be sure that Jesus was, indeed, sent from God.

To confirm his own identity (and to put John the Baptist at ease), Jesus reported to John’s followers that they had already seen enough of his miracles to conclude that he was from God.  Luke reports that at the very same time the followers of John came to inquire of him, Jesus was healing diseases, casting out evil spirits, and giving sight to the blind (Luke 11:21).  Jesus told the followers of John to go back and report to their master all the miracles they had witnessed.  In short, Jesus appealed to his miracles as support for the presence of God in his ministry.

Jesus made clear that his miracles demonstrated the presence of God at work.  Yet, some viewed the signs and wonders of Jesus as evidence that he was a false prophet.  Though no one doubted whether or not Jesus was performing miracles, some—like the Pharisees—were certain that the miracles condemned his ministry rather than affirmed it in the eyes of God.  This condemnation sounds strange at first, but when one understands the Old Testament instruction on miracles, he can see what it was that caused the Pharisees to stumble in the matter of the signs and wonders of Jesus.

The Wedding: A Special Bride (by Becca Potter)


 

[The following post is from Rebecca Potter who wrote this article about a very special young woman named Project 13:3 persecution crystal's crossCrystal Marie Simpson. Crystal had a heart for Christ and for the persecuted church. She was supposed to be married in June of this year.  Sadly, she was killed in February. Her zeal is remembered at Project 13:3. The following post honors Crystal’s life and was given to Crystal’s mother today (August 26, 2012), which would have been Crystal’s 20th birthday.]

The Wedding

The creamy white dress gently hugged her slender body, the satin fabric carefully framing her subtle curves. The slightly plunging neckline was a bit too loose, but it didn’t matter; it was a detail easily overlooked, but had been quite bothersome to the bride. The simplicity of the wedding gown perfectly communicated the pure beauty and femininity of the young woman. There was no gathered lace, no puffy sleeves, no layers and layers of fabric to mask imperfections or take the focus away from the bride’s own radiance.

Her blond hair fell in soft waves around her shoulders left bare by her sleeveless bridal gown. Her young face showed peace and beauty. The angles of her jaw line were hard and strong, but made soft by her long, dark lashes and pink lips. The exquisite features of her face communicated youth, kindness, elegance, and warmth.

Beside the classically beautiful bride stood her groom. And close behind him was her mother. The trio was surrounded by friends and family who had gathered for the occasion—the room was filled to capacity. Quiet voices in separate conversations created a low murmur as guests filled the spaces of time with talk of how lovely the flowers were, how wonderful the bride looked, how great the turnout was. Some conversations moved to empty talk of work or weekend plans, but quickly came back to the bride and groom.

The bride’s father chatted with the many guests, seeming genuinely grateful for their attendance but exhausted at the same time. The mother said over and over, “Isn’t she beautiful,” then grinned knowing the answer already. This young bride had been responsible for the marriage of her own parents. Years before, they, as teenagers, had found themselves expecting a child, still children themselves. And so they married—because of this now bride.

A few years later, their little girl led them to church and then to a relationship with Jesus. She had begged them to take her to church as a young child. They did, to pacify her constant nagging. They did it for her, without realizing what she was doing for them. Through this sweet, humble girl, God had established a relationship with this family and glorified Himself through their lives and their unity. And now, because of her, family and friends were united on this day.

But this was no wedding.

Weeks of anticipation, months of planning, years of dreaming, and here they all were. Instead of walking his little girl down the aisle, the father would walk by her casket. Instead of a rehearsal dinner there was a visitation. Instead of planning a reception and ordering a cake, the mother would make funeral arrangements and pick out a tombstone. And instead of seeing his beautiful bride walk down the aisle in her flowing satin dress, eyes wide and intoxicating and a shy smile meant only for him, this groom stood over her casket, looking into her beautiful but empty face, longing for what could no longer be.

Her body has been in the ground for a few months now. The shock has worn off and the real grief has set in. The hearts of her loved ones remain broken and the image of her face is a painful comfort to those who loved her. Even amid the heartache and agony, this would-be bride is still bringing people to the Lord. The place where she sat during worship service is not empty; it is filled with family members who were out of church before who now hear the Gospel and understand it with new awareness. Her witness, her beautiful spirit, still resonates strongly with us all. And we all look forward to the day we are reunited with her at a marriage feast that will last into eternity.

For Crystal, to live was Christ and to die was gain. For this bride, it was not death to die. And now, she rejoices with the Bridegroom, singing praises around His throne. She is indeed alive.

 

Grace and Controversy


Presently, a small group of Southern Baptists have stirred a mini-controversy over the issue of Calvinism (just in time for the convention).  This group (mostly affiliated with the seminaries in New Orleans and Fort Worth) have undertaken an effort to exclude or diminish the impact of Calvinism from “traditional Baptist soteriology.” I have strong opinions about the foolishness of their efforts, and I wrote a piece expressing my opinions. However, under the advice of godly people close to me, I chose to keep my opinions to myself rather than publish them for others to see. Basically, my decision was made by following the age-old adage: “If you can’t say anything nice. Don’t say anything at all.”

Fortunately, two godly men have published very helpful pieces in response to this controversy. If you are unfamiliar with the controversy, or if you are sorting your way through the details of it, you would do well to read these two pieces.  Dr. Mohler’s article is remarkably gracious and generous (read it here).  And Dr. Tim McKnight’s piece offers historical perspective which might ameliorate much of the animosity if heeded.  Of course, many folks have responded to the Statement made by SBC Today (authored by Erick Hankins). The pro-Calvinist responses I have read have been filled with both truth and grace.  I am severely unimpressed with the position statement authored by Hankins.

Again, I could not be as generous as Dr. Mohler nor as patient and cool-tempered as Dr. McKnight; so I have chosen to say nothing about the current controversy.  Both of these pieces are excellent.  Take confidence through the controversy that the Lord Himself will judge in grace and truth.  May truth indeed prevail and may the flock of God be shepherded and protected by Spirit-filled preachers.

Justice and Vengeance


Folks often confuse the concepts of justice and vengeance, but God is not confused. He makes a clear distinction.  Justice concerns dealing with someone according to a fixed law or standard—particularly a standard by which all are governed equally.  Vengeance, on the other hand, concerns an individual or group who perceive a wrong against them and seek revenge in response.  They forego justice for revenge.

Clint Eastwood’s famous film The Outlaw Josey Wales was an exercise in blurring the distinction between the two concepts of justice and vengeance.  Josey went after a band of murderers who had killed his family.  In taking on the mission personally and seeking revenge for the wrong done against him, Josey Wales enacted vengeance.  He subverted the law.  However, the men who were killed genuinely were guilty of murder and, thus, should have been punished.  So, in that sense, there was ultimately justice.  We call this kind of justice a vigilante justice.  All of Clint Eastwood’s acting and directing after Rawhide were directed towards the gray areas just off the edge of justice (think Dirty Harry).

No matter how Eastwood and others attempt to murky up the water’s edge, there is a pool of clear water out of which the Lord has established justice.  Deuteronomy 19 makes the point plain.  As the people of God were entering the Promised Land, they needed a system of justice to maintain order against the chaos of vengeance.  The Lord established for them cities of refuge in order to maintain the distinction between justice and vengeance.  His justice was displayed in several ways.

First, the Lord commanded that there be 3 cities of refuge, evenly spaced throughout the land.  The proportional spacing meant there would be refuge within the reach of all citizens, justice for all, not just for the privileged few.  In the event that Israel increased her land and population, she could add 3 more cities of refuge, again, ensuring justice for all.

Second, the cities of refuge were designed to promote justice and diffuse vengeance.  Whenever someone was killed, the family of the victim understood that they had the right to kill the killer in return (life for life).  However, the cities of refuge offered protection for the killer.  If he fled to the city of refuge, no one could kill him, thus providing protection for him against vengeance.

Third, the city of refuge offered justice.  If the person killing another actually were guilty of murder, he would not be allowed to stay in the city of refuge.  The elders of the city of refuge would have to apprehend the suspect and hand him over to those seeking justice.  I use the word justice here rather than vengeance because the family allowed the system of justice to work.  The family allowed the killer to reach the city of refuge.  They allowed the city of refuge to pronounce judgment as to guilt or innocence.  And they were right in their judgment against the man.  Because the killer was guilty of murder, he deserved to die for murder.  This is justice, not vengeance.

Fourth, the system of justice displayed by the cities of refuge is a remarkable manifestation of the justice of God.  In reality, there are no innocent people in the eyes of God.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  And yet, God makes a refuge for the innocent.  Though in an ultimate sense, all men are guilty of crimes against God, in a lesser sense, not all men are guilty of all crimes evenly.  If a man kills another man by accident, he is not guilty of murder.  The Lord Himself knows this and accounts for this reality in His great justice and mercy. God is perfectly just, and His justice and mercy are displayed in all His ways—even in the way that he maintains the distinction between justice and vengeance.

A Tale of 3 Men


The first man is Adam.  He is called this in the Bible (Genesis 2:20; Romans 5:14).  This man introduced sin into the world.  God immediately called him to account for his sin.  Adam was to be the steward over all of creation.  All of creation was under him.  So, when he fell, it all fell apart and went under a curse.  Pandora’s box could never unleash the evils which Adam unleashed in his fall from grace.  However, when God called him to account for his evil, Adam blamed Eve (that woman); then, he blamed God (you gave me).  His response has been representative of sinful creatures ever since.  Blame others, blame God.

Thus, we read with little surprise that Adam’s son killed his own brother.  Murder came into the world in the very first generation after Adam and Eve.  The account of Cain killing Abel is still a bit surprising.  It isn’t surprising that he killed his brother, but it is surprising that Cain is so insolent toward God.  God subjects Cain to futile labor (which appears as part of the curse on all mankind) and tells Cain that he will be a nomad—a wanderer—the rest of his life.  Cain cannot believe that God would be so harsh.

How insane!  Cain should have been wrecked by God’s mercy.  He should have been broken and contrite before the perfect justice of our Holy God, but, instead, he thinks his punishment is too much to bear.  Because of their lack of trust in God, sinful creatures will cry out that it is too much for them to face the consequences of their own sin (even though God is usually extremely merciful in making the load lighter than it ought to be—just as we see Him doing in the case of Cain).  Adam points to the sin of others.  Cain cries against God that his circumstances are unbearable.

There is a third man whose sins come before Almighty God.  His name is Isaiah.  Isaiah—like Adam and Cain—was guilty of sin.  He was born under the curse, and he sinned against God.  Yet, compared to others, he was a pretty swell guy.  He was from the upper crust of society, related to royalty.  He was a prophet.  So, there was nothing outwardly about Isaiah that would cause us to suspect him of anything “really bad.”  In other words, Isaiah was a righteous man who sought to please the Lord.  He was upright in all his ways.  And he was willing to serve the Lord.  When the Lord commissioned Isaiah into service, He gave him a glimpse of His glorious presence.  When Isaiah caught a glimpse of the glory of God, he cried out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).

The difference in the 3 men is the difference in seeing the glory of God.  Adam and Cain turned away from God’s glory (hid themselves from it).  As a result of not seeing God rightly, they also could not see their sins rightly.  Instead of recognizing the uncleanness of their own lips (like the righteous prophet saw), both Adam and Cain saw only injustice from God.  They accused God of being unfair and putting unjust burdens on them to bear.  Isaiah—more righteous than either Adam or Cain—did not see any injustice with God.  He did not sense any unrighteousness on the part of God.  When Isaiah saw the glory of God, he also saw the depths of his own sin (see also Ezekiel 1:28).  In seeing God’s holiness, Isaiah knew of his own wickedness.  He knew he was ruined.  He had no recourse but to plead for the mercy of God.  He received mercy—and cleansing—from God.

Obviously, what we need is the cleansing mercy of God.  It comes just after we see a glimpse of his glory and come undone from it.  We never outgrow our need to be reminded of the simple truth that we present no righteousness before a holy God.  With that view of reality fixed in our minds, we see that the mercy of God is enough.  We can live if we have mercy from God.  Just as a leach can live only if it is attached to a life-giving source of blood, so, too, we can live well (or live eternally) only if we are attached to the purifying mercy of God.  Through Christ, we have that mercy.  Since we have a great high priest before the throne of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.

To the extent that we are seeing fault with others (like Adam), we aren’t seeing either God or ourselves rightly.  To the extent we think sin has made our circumstances unbearable (like Cain), we aren’t seeing God or ourselves rightly.  To the extent we see our need for the mercy of God to cover us or else we are ruined (like Isaiah)—to that extent, we are beginning to see the healing mercy of God.  We are getting glimpses of his glory.  Such a view of God will make us more merciful toward others and cause us to seek to be changed and cleansed by God Himself.

Exodus 19 and 20


Reading Exodus 19 and 20, I am struck by just how out of touch God is with modern evangelicals.  We have methods for growth.  He has strict limits which prevent folks from approaching Him.  We have sensitivity toward all seekers. He was set apart in thick darkness.  We have open access where everybody hears a word from God.  He left the people saying, “You speak to us [Moses], and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us lest we die” (Exodus 20:19).

Now, I know that everything has changed since Christ has come and dwells among us (Hebrews 1), but I also know that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the Living God (Hebrews 10:31).  We might be too casual about God.

One Nation Under God


The official motto of the United States is more than lip service to ward off the wrath from a potentially vengeful god.  The motto is what I would call a fence, a paradigm for the existence of human institutions and the humanity benefitting from them.  This point—the significance of a corporate, unified belief in the supremacy of the God of the Bible—is underscored this week by Dr. R. Albert Mohler’s response to the cover article from Newsweek editor Jon Meacham. 

 

In his reply, Dr. Mohler points out that the idea of freedom of conscience depends on a greater reality than man if the concept is to mean anything.  Mr. Meacham had argued that America’s unifying force is not any specific faith; rather, the unifying force was a commitment to freedom, particularly including freedom of conscience.  Yet, the bare notion of freedom is insufficient.  On what grounds might one claim to have the right to freedom?  Why not rather assume one has the right to exercise freedom so long as his freedom does not undermine the well-being of the state?  Indeed, is it not the case that freedom is able to exist only insofar as its limits are understood?

 

For example, one may be free to play football.  In his playing football, he is free to run as fast and as far as he wishes.  However, there are other free players on the field, too, who wish to stop him.  Not only that, there is a prescribed area in which the player must run, or he is ruled out of bounds and his play is stopped, along with his freedom to run the football.  The player would not be free to play football if there were no boundaries to the field.  Without sidelines and goal lines, football is not a possibility.  Without boundaries, we have no freedom.  To put it another way, unfettered freedom is nothing short of chaos.  No one has unrestrained freedom of conscience, nor should he.  For freedom to flourish, boundaries must exist.  Boundaries provide the rules of the game by which maximum freedom for the individual and the society is realized.  The question, then, is not whether there should be freedom of conscience, but who decides the boundaries of freedom in America?   

 

The wisdom du jour would have us believe that the boundaries must not be provided by God for this would artificially and prejudicially inject religion into an otherwise non-religious sphere of political machination.  Yet, is this the truth?  The founders—many of whom were not Christians—did not shun the God of the Bible in determining the contours of our freedom.  They referenced Him specifically in the declaration of our freedom—the Declaration of Independence. 

 

The founders of the United States understood that Christianity provided a foundation for freedom and conscience in a way that other religions (like Islam) could not.  As Dr. Mohler says, “Though the founders included those who rejected the Christian Gospel and Christianity itself, Christianity had provided the necessary underpinnings for the founders’ claims.”  Claims to freedom require foundations somewhere beyond the individual man or woman in order to avoid a disintegration of social order into mass chaos, where every man does what is right in his own eyes.  

 

Democratic freedom—the kind of freedom that comes from majority rule—will prove (as it has in the past) to minimize freedom and maximize tyranny.  If we are one nation under God, then there will be one God to whom all men must answer, regardless of rank, title, or power.  In other words, when an understandable and knowable God exists who judges all men impartially, then all men can be said to be under the authority of that God’s law ultimately.  Law and order is made possible by the Lawgiver and Orderer of all things—God, meaning the Judeo-Christian God.  Mr. Meacham and many like him are unwilling to yield this point, apparently thinking that if a nation allows God to stick his divine foot in the door, then soon he will own the house and enslave everybody within it.  Again, this is not at all the case.  Our gravest danger comes not from letting God in, but in keeping God out.  Do you doubt this?  {Part 2 still to come}