Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category


Quote of the Day: Reactionary morality

September 17, 2014

“Because we have, by and large, abandoned God’s revealed Word as the standard for our morality, we have taken another standard: peer pressure and the media. The reason such wishy-washiness prevails is because it feeds our self-righteous desire to feel and act very moral while saving us the hard work of studying to know and do God’s Word.”

~ The New Morality


Unconditional love

July 1, 2014

hug-88440689334_xlargeMy son came up with this saying that he likes to pull out every once in a while that goes like, “I love you when [something] and I love you when [not something].”

For instance:

  • “I love you when you’re sick and I love you when you’re not sick!”
  • “I love you when you’re mad and I love you when you’re happy!”
  • “I love you when you’re here and I love you when you’re not here!”

You kind of have to imagine this 5-year-old saying it with a beaming face and a soft voice.  It’s pretty charming, I have to admit.

But it’s also a surprisingly deep statement from a little kid.  What he’s trying to articulate is the enduring presence of his affection — the outpouring of unconditional love.  He both craves and gives a love that is not subject to the whims of change and circumstance.  He wants consistancy.  He wants others to know that they won’t lose his love just because they leave the house or deliver a punishment.  And he says that in the hopes of hearing it in return.

I think that we are often afraid that God is as fickle with how he hands out love as we often are.  It’s really difficult to believe that God loves us wholly, unconditionally, and eternally, especially when we look deep within the well of our own sins and shortcomings.  We don’t deserve love, we think.  We don’t even love ourselves most of the time.  Others’ love toward us is often imperfect and capricious.  Why would God be any different?

Because our God loved us not when we became perfect, but while we were still self-centered sinners (Romans 5:8).  He put his life on the line for us to save us because of that great love (John 3:16).  When God looks at his creation, as rebellious and ugly as it can be, he cannot help but tenderly love each and every one.  And best of all, God’s love cannot be taken away from us (Romans 8:35).

Today I just needed to remember God’s love for me.  His love that is patient, kind, refuses to keep track of my wrongs, is faithful, and abounds in truth.  God is complex beyond comprehension, but his love is as simple as that of a five-year-old.  He always loves, no matter what.  It’s hard to hate someone who loves you that fully; the best thing to do is to surrender to it and reciprocate.


God’s former home: The Holy of Holies

June 11, 2014


I’ve been reading the saga of King Solomon’s construction of the temple in 2 Chronicles, including all of the decoration details that most folks probably gloss over.  Today I got to 2 Chron. 3, where he built the Holy of Holies, which reminded me of how fascinating this one room was in all of Israel.

He said to me, “This is the Most Holy Place.” (Ezekiel 41:4)

To understand the Holy of Holies, you have to trace the path of God’s relationship with his people.  In the beginning, that relationship was intimate and familiar; Adam and Eve walked with God, talked with him, and had no reason to hide from him.  Sin changed that by severing the relationship, causing God to expel the people from his sight because he could not bear to be in the presence of sin.  But God still loved us and strived to reunite with his people, but that process would be long and somewhat complicated.

Some of the first steps back to reestablishing that relationship was God descending to be among his people in a safe, acceptable way that would not incur the proper penalty for his wrath among sinful folk.  God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses as a sign of his perfect law to be delivered to the people.  The Commandments were put in the Ark of the Covenant, which became the physical vessel and symbol of God being among his people.

Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place,which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. (Hebrews 9:3-4)

However, when the people stopped to make camp, they had to sequester the Ark in the tabernacle, in an inner room that was designated for the “Holy of Holies.”  It was in this 15x15x15 cubed room that the Ark rested, in the midst of the people but still cut off from them — again, both physically and symbolically.  Solomon’s temple (and the subsequent second temple) had a more permanent Holy of Holies, still separate from the people by a three-foot thick curtain and inaccessable except by the high priest once a year.  God was still among and with his people, but he was not united with them.

But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance [...] They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.  (Hebrews 9:7-10)

The author of Hebrews does a great recap in chapter 9 as to the purpose of the Holy of Holies and how it connects to the lives of believers.  In these verses he illustrates how the high priest would arrive in that room with a sacrifice that wasn’t fully able to absolve sins, but were commanded to keep the people mindful of the need for forgiveness and cleansing by the blood of the innocent.

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.  At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:50-51)

The detail of the temple curtain tearing often goes unnoticed in the death narrative — there’s a lot going on, of course.  But notice that here in Matthew, it happens the second Jesus dies on the cross.  He dies, and the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the people is torn in two.  Jesus’ death accomplishes God’s plan to reunite with his people by delivering a perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.  The barrier between God and man is lowered, and God no longer needs to be hidden from his people.

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12)

Hebrews pontificates on the theological implications of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Jesus is the ultimate high priest who does what every high priest before him cannot.  He enters the Holy of Holies, he absolves sin with the blood offering, and the people are made righteous before God.  The Holy Spirit then moved out of the temple for good and into the new temples — the lives of believers.

For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God,and they will be my people.” (1 Corinthians 6:16)

We are the temple of God.  What the people of Israel could only imagine seeing in their lives in the Holy of Holies now exists inside of each of the elect.  This verse in 1 Corinthians is a joyous proclaimation that God has finally reestablished that long-broken relationship — he lives with us, walks with us, and belongs with us.


What does God require of me?

June 5, 2014

micah6-8Continuing my exploration of Micah, I reached the sixth chapter today and came upon a famous verse — with some added context that I never noticed before.

Basically, God is challenging the wicked people to appear before him and plead their case in a court of law.   God is the plaintiff who accuses his people of doing him and his loved ones wrong.  He reminds them of the good that he’s done for them in the past, using the word “remember” over and over.

For the repentant people, the defendants, they know they are guilty and that resitution must be made.  So the question is asked, “With what shall I come before the Lordand bow myself before God on high?” (Micah 6:6).  In other words, what does God want from me?

God begins by telling the people what he does not want.  He doesn’t want what the people assume, what other nations and their gods practice.  He does not want nor need their gifts of cattle, or precious oil, or even their children.  He does not want what they own, but as he soon makes known, he desires what they are to be better.  In verse 8, God says that what he requires of us is not a secret: “He has told you, O man, what is good;and what does the Lord require of you…”

Then he outlines three of his most desired aspects for his followers:

1. “To do justice”

The prophetic books of the Old Testament are rife with complaints about the wickedness of the people against each other.  The abuse of violence, of lying, of false testimonies, of cheating, and particularly of abuse from those in power and with wealth against those weaker and poorer.  God is the ultimate judge and final arbiter, but he charges us to promote and seek justice in the world.  We are not meant to be insular, caring only of ourselves and blind to the pain around us, but to stand up for what is right and to do what is right.

2. “To love kindness”

This is also translated as to have “steadfast love” or “love mercy.”  It’s a developed quality that follows God’s heart — to love others completely and fully, without condition or prejudice.  The heart full of love has no room for hate, and the life lived in love is one that pleases God greatly and makes this world a better place.  We do not exalt “kind” people as much as we should in our hero worship, but we should.  We should emulate those who have grasped the kindness of God and extend that to everyone.

3. “To walk humbly with your God

Not just to walk with God, but to walk humbly.  The theme of arrogance vs. humility is one that is repeated so often throughout the Bible that a reader really has to be blind not to pick up on how important it is to God.

It is possible to walk arrogantly with God, assuming that one is above the law and looking down on everyone else.  It is very possible to expect God to capitulate to one’s personal whims and be at one’s beck and call, but not to do the same in reverse.

A humble walk with God paints a picture of a soul that knows the true need for God’s saving grace and continuing forgiveness.  A humble person does not demand of God, but requests.  A humble person remembers God’s kept promises and praises him for them.  A humble person knows that he or she does not know everything, and that it is always important to keep a reign on ego and extend grace as much as possible.  The humble person puts God first, others second, and themselves third.

It’s very difficult to do, and I’m ashamed to say that I often lack the humility needed for this walk.  Reading this is a good reminder that these three qualities are goals to strive for as I grow spiritually.


The Church of the Willfully Ignorant

May 14, 2014

BraveSirRobinI’m starting to dig into the prophet Micah’s words in my devotions and have come to an interesting little passage in chapter two.  Micah is pronouncing upcoming judgment for Israel and Samaria for their sins (namely idol worship and gross abuse of power), and the false prophets of these nations bristle at these statements.

So they said to Micah, “Do not preach!  One should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.” (2:6)

In other words, they’re incensed that Micah is pointing out their sins and that these sins will have dire consequences.  They are content to wallow in active ignorance of the upcoming doom instead of facing the truth head-on.

It’s what I like to call “The Church of the Willfully Ignorant,” and this passage is a terrific microcosm example of a serious problem among both believers and non-believers.

The thing is, we like to be told affirming statements about our life.  That we’re not that bad.  That we’re doing OK.  That we are loved.  Pour on the encouragement from the pulpit and people eat it up.  And it’s certainly not wrong to be rightfully told that God loves us and that we should encourage each other, but when we abruptly stop at the hard stuff, the stuff that makes us take a long, hard look at our lives, we put a quick end to the path of salvation.

Talking about hell and destruction from the pulpit makes no friends.  Nor does being blunt about our nature as sinners who are wholly incapable of redeeming ourselves from the rightful wrath of God.  Mention these, and people bristle.  They claim offense and fear-mongering, but what is really going on is a rebellion against the truth.  We know it’s the truth, and we have a choice when faced with it: willfully ignoring it to the point of self-delusion and denial, or embracing it even though it is profoundly uncomfortable.

Micah isn’t just being the heavy telling people how they’re going to burn in hell; he’s warning them of the very consequences that their choices have caused.  He knows he’s making no friends here, but that’s the thing about love: When you care about people, you tell them the hard truth instead of the easy-to-swallow lie, especially if there’s a chance that it might save them from further pain and possible death.  You get past the worry that you might offend them because awkward feelings are of little importance when lives and souls are at stake.

This reaction by the false prophets of Micah’s time are echoed throughout the Bible.  Jesus and the apostles experience it several times.  We see crowds happily following Jesus for the miracles, excitement, and uplifting teaching.  But when he calls for repentance, when he tells them that following him means bearing their cross, some get offended and leave.

Micah has a great response to the false prophets in verse 7: “Should this be said, O house of Jacob?   Has the Lord grown impatient?  Are these his deeds?  Do not my words do good to him who walks uprightly?”

He’s throwing his arms wide and asking them if he’s lying.  Deep down, they know he’s not.  They just don’t like hearing it said out loud.  But Micah goes on to point out that these uncomfortable words will “do good” to those who follow God.

Listen, I hate having my sin pointed out to me as much as anyone else.  I have a thin skin and I’m quite aware of my failings.  But when it’s done out of love and not spitefulness, it can be a good thing.  The Spirit can and does convict me, loving fellow believers have rebuked me, and the Bible serves as a hard reality check for my life.  And each time I have that choice of rejecting or accepting the truth.

But here’s the thing: Even though embracing that truth is initially painful, it does “do good,” as Micah says, in the end.  It puts me on a path to repenting.  It helps me identify what parts of my life I need God’s help adjusting.  It hopefully uproots the little sins before they can blossom into big ones.

Or, we could flock to the liers.  Micah gets a good dig into the crowd in 2:11: “If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’ he would be the preacher for this people!”

I’d rather have a real minister in my life than a party-loving fraud who’s trying to coddle my oh-so-delicate feelings.  My prayer is that the church would too.


The sins of Israel, the justice of God

March 27, 2014

gavelIn my devotions I’ve been reading through the not-at-all-happy book of Amos. Can’t say that I’ve ever really delved into Amos before — the prophets are easy to skip over, especially if you think that you’ve covered the “essentials” like Daniel, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. But Amos has really made me think about the depth of how God detests sins that we perform against him and against each other.

Amos is delivering God’s news of impending judgment on Israel for its sins, and there is just about nothing good in store for these people.  At first it appears that God is being unduly harsh (which is an arrogant position — we like to judge the Judge from a sinful viewpoint), perhaps overreacting in that Old Testament style.  But the more that Amos talks about Israel, the more their actions boil my blood too.

Their sins include:

  • Selling out the innocent for money (2:6)
  • Stepping all over poor people in a desire to get ahead (2:7)
  • Denying justice to the oppressed (2:7)
  • Sexual sins among family members (2:7)
  • Getting drunk and worshiping other gods (2:8)
  • Ignoring those in need while reveling in luxury (4:1)
  • An unrepentant lifestyle that’s punctuated by sacrifices that are done to brag about (4:4-5)
  • Hating those who uphold justice and tell the truth (5:10)
  • Taking bribes (5:12)
  • Being prideful (6:8)

In youth group this month, we’re tackling the serious topic of God’s judgment.  I’ve subtitled the series, “Setting all things right,” because that is what a perfect judge does.  A perfect judge does not let evil run amok, does not let injustice stand, and does not overlook crimes.  God is a perfect judge, the only one who is without guilt and has the authority to set all things right.

This is great news when it comes to the world, because like Israel, the world is broken.  It is corrupt and it is full of these sins that Amos declares and so much more.  We still trample on the poor, we still overlook justice, and we still put our comfort in front of those in need.  All of the sins here have a common root, the common root of sin, which is “I want to do what I want, what makes me happy, me me me.”  And God is over here saying, “Look at the pain you are causing others!  Look at the disrespect and hate you are giving to me!  I cannot abide it.  I must judge.”

So it’s bad news when it comes to me, because I am subject to God’s judgment and as a sinner I am not without guilt.  Amos has made me think a lot this week about how my nature is to “turtle” inside my life, to put my head down and try to get through my life without making waves or getting into trouble.  Staying out of trouble is good, but isolationism and materialism is harmful to the soul.  We’re meant to “go and make disciples,” to go and seek justice, not to sit around and hope that someone else does it.

Seeing my sins, I am relieved that God does not end with justice, but incorporates mercy into his rulings as well.  It’s a common refrain in Amos that God is and has been calling his people back to him.  He’s been holding off on punishing Israel for these sins because he wants them to “seek me and live” (5:4), to repent and return to him (4:6).

The book of Amos is a warning and a judgment in one.  God speaks through his prophet to remind the people of his faithfulness and how he has chosen Israel to be his people.  He points out their sins and indicates that if they were to but repent, the perfect judge would show mercy.  He warns of the death, exile, and devastation to come as a consequence for their sins.

It is, really, the core message of the Bible.  The Bible tells of God’s continuing faithfulness to us.  The Bible informs us to the depth and depravity of our sins and our guilt.  The Bible spells out the nature of our coming destruction.  And the Bible offers us a chance at grasping the mercy of God’s grace, given as Jesus took the punishment in our place.

God has a heart for us that is abounding in love, and Amos gives me just a small insight into his perspective as a patient, loving father who goes far above and beyond in withholding judgment in order to give his people a chance to come back home.  But the truth is that this judgment must come, sooner or later.  All must be set right.  And we can take Israel’s path of willfully ignoring the call home or we can take the mercy offered.


Angels: A biblical perspective

March 17, 2014

halo5Here are my notes from a Sunday School powerpoint series I’m doing on angels:

How important are angels?

  • There’s a WORLD of difference between the pop culture view of angels and what the Bible says about angelic beings!
  • The word for angels occurs more in the New Testament than the words for sin or love.
  • The Bible has 250 references to angels.
  • The Bible says that angels travel among us hidden in plain sight: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for some have entertained angels without knowing.” (Heb. 13:2)

So what is an angel?

  • Angels are the “other” created personal beings.  God created angels and God created humans.
  • Angels are sometimes called “sons of God.”
  • There are lots of angels: “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.” (Rev. 5:11)
  • Angels are glorious, radiant strong, and powerful.
  • Angels don’t have gender but are referenced in the masculine (“he”).
  • Angels are intelligent, moral, wise, without physical bodies (spirit beings), and are normally invisible to us but can make themselves seen.
  • Angels do not marry and do not physically die: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Matt. 22:30)
  • Angels live in heaven: “For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” (Matt. 18:10)

What do angels look like?

  • Isaiah 6:2: “Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.”
  • Daniel 10:5-6: “I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold around his waist.  His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.”
  • Matt. 28:3: “[The angel’s] appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.”
  • Rev. 4:6-8: “In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back.  The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.  Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.’”

Do angels have names?

  • There are only two named angels in the Bible.
  • Michael is an archangel and “chief prince” of angels (Jude 9) who delivers a message to Daniel, argues with Satan, and leads the angelic army against the dragon in Revelation 12:7.
  • Gabriel is a messenger of God who speaks to Daniel, Zacharias, and Mary.
  • Angels are also referred to as “thrones or powers or rulers or authorities” in Colossians 1:16.

Can angels sin?

  • Yes, angels can sin, although that places them among the fallen angels (demons).
  • “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment…” (2 Peter 2:4)

What are angels to us?

  • We were originally made to be a little less than the angels: “You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Psalms 8:5)
  • But one day we will be placed above them and will judge them: “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6:3)
  • Matthew 18:10 suggests that some people have angels assigned to them (“their angels”).

What do angels do?

  • Angels spend much time praising and worshiping God in heaven: “Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts.” (Ps. 148:2)
  • God does send angels out on missions to help us: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14)
  • Like us, angels continually learn more about God: “Even angels long to look into these things.” (1 Peter 1:12)
  • Angelic choruses often sing about God’s greatness: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)
  • Angels guard believers: “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” (Psalms 34:7)
  • Angels deliver punishment: “And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem.” (1 Chr. 21:15)
  • Angels deliver messages from God (angelos means “messenger” in Greek).

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