Narrow-Minded Christians

One WayIn the way the world defines narrow-mindedness, Christians fit the bill!

As long as you don’t say Jesus is the ONLY way to salvation…as long as you don’t insist in a ONE TRUE GOD who revealed Himself only through the Bible…as long as you don’t stand against sin ABSOLUTELY…then the world will accept you as an open-minded Christian. And the world loves open-minded Christians.

We have a tiny problem, however, and that is–or, rather, He is–Jesus.

Yes, Jesus claimed to be the ONLY way by which to access the Father: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14.6). Jesus taught there is only ONE GOD (Mark 12.29). Jesus preached ABSOLUTELY against sin (see Matthew 5.21-48, which ends with “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”). Jesus traced sin to the recesses of the human heart:

“What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7.20-23)

Love your neighborHowever, He taught us not to be narrow in choosing who we love. In fact, we should liberally love all those around us, no matter their sins and no matter their station in life. Didn’t Jesus present the story of the good Samaritan in order to show us love crosses all ethnic, social, and whatever other boundaries?

So, dear neighbor, I cannot condone your sinful habits, but I attempt to love you like Jesus loves you. I cannot amiably accept your god, but I can still do what is right towards you. Because I love you, I’ll tell you about the One True God comprising the Holy Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

This world hates that kind of narrow-mindedness, but God loves it because it’s the truth. I’ll stick with Him, not the world.

So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4.18-20)

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5.29)

Humility, Grace, and Restoration: Job 42

Why?After saturating ourselves in the book of Job for four wonderful weeks, our church enjoyed a final study last Wednesday. However, we failed to finish the last chapter, where some of the juicy “so-what” information lies. In the last chapter we see Job’s humility, God’s grace, and God’s heart to restore back to Job what had been taken.

Humility

Job’s final response (Job 42.1-6) is a picture of extreme humility. Many recoil at the thought of God allowing Satan to commit those terrible atrocities against Job (see chapters 1 & 2), and they cannot fathom remaining silent. But Job laid a hand on his mouth, realizing he held no authority before God. He had no answer to God’s questions in chapters 38-41, and he had no right to demand an explanation from God.

HumiltyCan you and I be so over-awed by God’s power, majesty, and authority that we humbly accept every insult, every pain, every trouble which comes our way without complaint? Extreme humility engenders extreme contentment. If I can realize, “I don’t deserve anything,” I will also say, “Thank You, God, for what I have.” If I can realize, “God doesn’t owe me anything, yet He has blessed me,” I can also say, “Naked I came into this world, and naked I shall return; the Lord has given and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1.21).

Grace

Besides the grace towards Job (God chastened His child into beautiful, humble submission and also blessed him again after the test), God also extended grace to Job’s three friends. In anger, God insisted, “You have not spoken of Me what is right, as my servant Job has” (Job 42.7-8).

Apparently, to not speak correctly about God greatly offends Him. This should give us great pause and make us extremely careful (and perhaps uncomfortable) with how we speak concerning the awesome Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth. Let us speak only what He has revealed to us–no more and no less.

RebuildDespite their grave sin, however, God commissioned Job to offer a burnt offering of seven bulls and seven rams, “and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer” (Job 42.9). God forgave those three friends who had spoken rashly and incorrectly about Him! That’s grace.

Restoration

Though God does not owe us anything, He delights in restoring to His servants what we lose. This is wonderful! What a blessing to have a Father who so loves us that He will help rebuild after the storm does its damage. God loves restoration.

“The threshing floors shall be full of grain;
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten…” (Joel 2.24-25)

Have you wrestled with the deep things Job wrestled with? Have you wondered how a loving God can allow His servant to be treated so ruthlessly and aggressively? Perhaps you’re walking through a fire right now. Job is an extreme case, but we all endure periods of trying, testing, and tempering. Don’t become angry with God, though He did allow your situation to happen! Yes, He controls it; but, no, you don’t have a right to accuse Him of evil. God sometimes allows great pressure in order to shape His clay into something useful. Sometimes He allows fire in order to burn off the dross and leave pure gold. God loves us enough to humble us, He extends grace to us, and He delights to restore to us what is lost!

The Shack: Does It Accurately Describe God?

The ShackYou’ve probably heard of (or possibly have read) The Shack, a best-selling novel which came out in 2007, written by Canadian author William P. Young. The book was published amidst a cloud of controversy, and the arguments continue because the movie (see the trailer) will be released early next year (March 3, 2017).

Many “main-stream Christian” groups are promoting The Shack as a wonderful and fresh portrayal of God’s nature and character.

Does The Shack accurately portray God? Is it helpful in understanding His character, purpose, and plan for us?

Belinda Elliott defends the book on the Christian Broadcasting Network:

“I just couldn’t find much in the book that I would consider heretical…

“The author portrays the Trinity in a unique way. I understand that some readers will be uncomfortable with this portrayal, especially with God The Father as an African American woman and the Holy Spirit as a mysterious Asian woman named Sarayu. This depiction is one of the things that many critics have deemed heretical. Some have gone as far as to cite these two characters as the promotion of ‘goddess worship’ or a feminist God. But I found these to be not only interesting artistic choices, but actually enlightening in a spiritual sense as well.”

God's RevelationReally? Portraying God as a woman doesn’t smack at all of the heretical?

James B. De Young, ThD, wrote a challenge to The Shack entitled Burning Down “The Shack.” He claims The Shack is greatly deceptive and exposes William P. Young’s worldview as a universalist:

“I have known the author of The Shack, Paul Young, for more than a dozen years. In 2004, Paul Young wrote a lengthy document in which he rejected his evangelical faith and embraced universalism. I expose these in my book. He said then:

  • that evangelical faith and its teaching about judgment makes God “grossly unjust”;
  • that “Jesus is a million times more vicious and vindictive than Pharaoh, Nero, or Hitler put together”;
  • that Jesus Christ is “not the Savior from sins”;
  • that Jesus died “a failure and in vain and never saved anyone”;
  • thus Jesus “is not even a good man but a liar, a rogue, and a deceiving rascal”;
  • that “Calvary is a farce, a travesty, and a sham.”

“Young began work on a novel proclaiming universalism for his children. Then three years later Young rewrote the fiction and published it as The Shack, in part his autobiography. Since its publication I have sought to expose the aberrant theology on a web site, in various articles, and most recently, in my book Burning Down “The Shack” by WND Books. In my introduction I cite the many statements that Young wrote in 2004 and compare them with the claims made in his novel, The Shack. The parallels with 2004 are several:

  • “God puts himself on our human level and limits himself”;
  • “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human”;
  • “Although Jesus is fully God, he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything”;
  • “God cannot act apart from love”;
  • “I don’t need to punish people for sin”;
  • The Father and Jesus were crucified together;
  • “God cannot send any of his children to an eternity of hell just because they sin against him”;
  • “mercy triumphs over justice because of love”;
  • Jesus is “a path of reconciliation”;

“These are just some of the distortions of Christian truth that Young puts into the mouth of his characters speaking as the Trinity.”

Jesus the BabyI cringe and shudder whenever a human being (man or woman) attempts to play God in any way. The only human who has a right to show us God in the flesh is Jesus Christ, and He has already done it! ONLY GOD has a right to tell us who He is and what He is like, and He has told us in many passages.

Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with [Moses] there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34.5-7)

In the same context, God both extends mercy to His people and judges those who persist in sin. He does not universally save everyone despite what we do, as The Shack teaches. On the contrary, He judges, and Jesus assured unbelievers of an eternal punishment (Matt. 24.45-51; 25.30, 46). John wrote in his Apocalypse about the final judgment, a lake of fire (Rev. 20.11-15). The Bible gives no room for universalism but instead commands all men everywhere to repent because of the coming judgment (Acts 17.30-31).

The Bible depicts God as masculine. God is a Father, a Husband, a Shepherd, a King. Our post-modern, feminist world cannot accept a God depicted as a male, but neither can it accept the Bible’s clearly-defined roles between the sexes. They would have an androgynous god, but the God of the Bible does not speak of Himself that way. We do not pray to our mother, but to our Father. The church is not Jesus’ husband, but His bride. Any confusion on this aspect of God’s character IS blatant and terrible heresy, and woe to those who cannot see it and teach otherwise!

Be careful! Don’t accept man’s images of God, which are only idols; only settle for what God says about Himself. Once we start attempting to find “fresh” ways of communicating who God is, we have stepped outside of our rights. He created us; we have no right to create Him or attempt to modify / explain His character outside of what He has already given!

If you love the divine image from The Shack, my friend, you love a man-made and impotent god. She is most certainly not the real deal.

The Political Christian? World Says…Word Says

American PoliticsWORLD: “The worst possible thing that can happen is that a Democrat/Republican president is elected.”

WORD: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Rom. 13.1)

WORLD: “If my presidential candidate doesn’t win, I’ll take to the streets in protest. The other person won’t be MY president!”

WORD: “Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Rom. 13.2-4)

WORLD: “I’m not going to pay taxes. Paying taxes is unconstitutional.”

WORD: “Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (Rom. 13.5-7)

Helping HandWORLD: “I don’t like that person who is running for president. Therefore, I shall share every news story I find that tears him/her down. I like this other person, so I shall share every news story I find which builds him/her up.”

WORD: “You shall not bear false witness.” (Rom. 13.9) “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4.15).

WORLD: “If someone doesn’t agree that my presidential candidate is the right one for our country, I’ll let them have it with both barrels blazing!”

WORD: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4.29-32)

Taking Romans Personally

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” – Romans 12.1-2

Humility Quote C. S. LewisPaul connects Romans 12 (“therefore”) to the mountain of previous teaching from Romans 1-11. Before he presents what we should do, Paul deals with great theological truths about what God has already done and how we stand in relation to Him because of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Beyond being merely an intellectual exercise, the renewing of our minds includes actually obeying God–doing that which is good and right–which Paul immediately outlines for us in Romans 12.3-15.7. Here’s a quick breakdown of what is covered:

  1. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought; evaluate yourself properly (12.3-8)
  2. Love genuinely (12.9-13)
  3. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep (12.14-21)
  4. Subject yourself to the government (13.1-7)
  5. Love your neighbor as yourself (13.8-10)
  6. Walk properly, as in the daytime (13.11-14)
  7. Welcome the weak in faith (14.1-15.7)

Just about all of this has to do with submitting ourselves to others. How do we actually present our lives as living sacrifices to God and renew our minds? We follow Christ’s footsteps (see 13.14; 15.1-13) by assuming the lowest place, subjecting ourselves to every ordinance of God, submitting to one another in love, yielding to our enemies, and welcoming brethren with whom we don’t see eye to eye.

Humility Quote by D. A. CarsonIn a conversation last night with a friend, something hit me. He asked (in light of the “bearing with the weak in faith” from Romans 14) how we decide who is stronger and who is weaker?

“How can you know who is the weak one?” he asked.

“Whoever the other guy is, that’s the weak one,” I jokingly replied.

But silliness aside, I’m pretty sure that is not the question God would have us ask, because if we use Romans 14 to start a big row over who is weak and who is strong, does that not tend to divide rather than unify, as Paul insisted upon?

As I read Romans 12-15, God speaks to me, personally. I know He didn’t write Romans directly to me, but I should read it as a message from God to me. In other words, I don’t read it to figure out how you ought to change in your actions towards me; rather I read to discover how I might repent and change in my actions towards you. I can only worry about and change myself, and God has only given me control over one person on this planet!

FlowerIf every Christian read the Bible this way, wouldn’t we make gigantic strides towards unity? If every husband only worried about being the right kind of husband and didn’t worry about forcing his wife to be the right kind of wife…if every wife only worried about respecting her husband properly…if every brother only worried about how he was treating his fellow siblings and not about what they did to him or didn’t do for him…how powerful would that be?!

Is that how you read God’s word?

“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12.18)

We Just Want Peace…Don’t We?

Hatred QuoteI’m not seeing a whole lot of peace out there right now. Even so-called “peaceful protests” are really the result of unrest. Why the protest in the first place? Because folks are irritated and discontent.

Guns and the bombs reveal a whole new level of unrest. So far the city of New Orleans has had 69 murders in 2016. The last two were on the 5th and 6th of this month. We are number 7 on a most murders per capita list for this year. Birmingham, AL, is number 25, and Baton Rouge, LA, is number 29.

Makes me want to move out into the country. Probably no crime out there, right?

Unfortunately, where you find people you find crime. Anger, covetousness, greed, envy, jealousy, lust, and other passions control so many. When those passions spin out of control, the fireworks start and men engage in irreversible actions.

Islam claims to be a religion of peace. Why, then, is there such violence among them? Why does most of the mass violence on this earth right now result from followers of Islam? There seems to be little peace among them.

Sister HugsWhy is there so little peace in our cities? Men want to avenge themselves when others look down upon them and belittle them. Men want to take from those who have. They don’t believe the other person deserves all that wealth–so they steal and sometimes murder. Men feel the color of their skin has something to do with rights. Some feel they have more rights than others while others feel their rights are suppressed and trampled upon.

We are so sophisticated. We are so mature. We know what should and shouldn’t be. With gun or club or fiery speech we stride confidently into battle to fight for our rights, to gain honor over the enemy, to trample the hated oppressor, to get even with the man who keeps us down…TO WHAT END??

What is the purpose of all this violence? If we think this violence creates peace, Satan has completely sabotaged our thinking! How upside down are we? “War is hell,” said William Tecumseh Sherman, and as one of the major Civil War army generals for the north, he knew! Remember Sherman’s march to the sea, as his army left a swath of complete devastation and ruin in its wake?

I understand that God created governments to protect their nations with a standing army and to wield the sword against evil-doers. I get that. But violence at the individual level makes me sick.

One day the God who actually has the RIGHT to destroy evil will come in judgment upon every evil in this world. He’ll take care of it all. But until then, He gave us the example of Jesus Christ, His Son, who, rather than come off the cross to squash the spitting, mocking haters in the crowd (which He easily could have done), hung on the cross until He died.

Peaceful BabyJesus didn’t come to destroy but to save lives (Luke 9.51-56). What a wonderful world we’d have if everyone was concerned about saving others! Christ cultivates this mind in His disciples, and those who truly follow Him become conduits of salvation and peace. We become more like children as we mature in Christ. All those given over to the hardness of their fleshly hearts around us think maturity is about control, violence, demanding their rights. And Jesus calmly teaches self-control, peace, and giving up rights. Read the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7. Read the gospels. Read the epistles. It’s all in there.

We need men and women with the tender hearts of children.

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Jesus in Matthew 18.3-4

Are You Walking in Grace Today?

ComfortingTheoretically, I assume grace would come naturally to a sinless and selfless individual. But to all of us lawbreakers who feel guilt and shame in our lives, grace makes us nervous and unsettled. As weird as it may seem, grace almost feels wrong to us.

Take for example the parable of the laborers in Matthew 20.1-16 in which the landowner went out five times during the day to find laborers for his vineyard. The first men began work early in the morning, the second around 9 a.m., the third around noon, the fourth around 3 p.m., and the last at 5 p.m., leaving them only an hour or two of daylight in which to work. Those last men were called “about the eleventh hour,” Jesus said (Matt. 20.6). We use that phrase “eleventh hour” to mean “the very last minute.” Indeed, those men were called at the tail end of the day, and we law-abiding folk balk as the landowner handed every worker the exact same wage no matter how many hours he had worked!

“Not fair! Those who worked longer should have received more. Workers have rights, you know. You can’t give those sweaty, exhausted workers the exact same thing as to those men who lazed around most of the day.”

Oh really? Jesus demands that we consider it. Isn’t it up to the landowner to hire workers and pay them whatever he wants? If the workers agreed to the wages, they received what was fair.

Not only was the landowner fair, but he extended grace to those who worked fewer hours. He didn’t have to pay them a full day’s wage…but he did. It’s not that he wasn’t fair to the first men, it’s that he is more than fair with the last–and therein lies the message. Grace makes us squirm.

When your wife has left several obvious items at the house undone, when your children succumb to temptation and break your rules, when a man holds a sign on the side of the road “hungry, please help,” do you act in grace? Is grace your default, or is it something you must work at?

By the Grace of GodBecause of our sinful natures, grace is often difficult and not our default. Grace is truly being like God, and we have fallen from His nature; that image has been corrupted. Jesus is the exact image of the Creator, but we are not!

How have you responded to your husband / wife today? How have you dealt with your children recently? When your boss is cranky, what is your default reaction? When your employees don’t exactly measure up, how do you treat them? Humans mess up. God doesn’t. Yet see how He treats us in spite of our sins!

Are you walking in grace today? Or do you walk entirely by law? When people don’t measure up, do you prosecute (persecute?) them to the fullest extent of the law?

“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1.17)

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3.21-26)

For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Rom. 6.14)

For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you. (2 Cor. 1.12)

Think on these things.

Helping Out an Enemy

Helping outMy wife and I watched War Room a couple of days ago, and we both highly recommend the movie.

Slight spoiler alert…

In one of the scenes, the main couple drives up to a guy in a business suit and nice car who has a flat tire. It so happens (of course) the stranded man has been sour and belligerent towards our story’s protagonist, and so we wonder if the man will stop and help his foe. The short scene packs the right kind of punch as we see our hero step out of his car to help his enemy while his wife and daughter watch.

I ran across this verse in my readings this morning:

Exodus 23.4-5 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.”

What an excellent illustration of both “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12.31; Rom. 13.9), which undergirds the even harder instruction to “love your enemy” and “pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5.43-48)!

If you see an enemy in trouble and you can help him / her, help! It’s what God does. While we were yet enemies Christ died for us…

Notice in Exod. 23.5 the situation God describes: “If…you would refrain from helping it…” In other words, we sometimes find someone we don’t like in a tangled mess, and in the darkness of our hearts we snicker, “This ought to be good,” when we should really be thinking, “I reckon I should help her out because, after all, that’s what I would want from her if the situation were reversed.” Yes, sometimes we just don’t want to help out; we would refrain from it. But God insists, “You shall surely help him with it.”

Yes, Lord. I need an attitude adjustment.