Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:4)

Paul is addressing the Corinthian church here. If you read this verse out of context it seems like he is describing a thriving church.  And when you see the weaknesses and failings of today’s churches, not to mention our own shortcomings, you might ask “Why can’t our church be like one of those flourishing, victorious early New Testament churches where everyone is doing so well?”

But after his kind opening, we see that Paul was painfully aware of the imperfections of the Corinthian church. Paul’s opening thanks for these early believers in Christ is followed by a sharp reprimand.

After continuing in Chapter 1 for several more verses of thanks, Paul shifts hugely: by the time we get to 3:3, he is on an angry rant.  You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?  

Paul was not being self-righteous or holier-than-thou here. After all, he frequently referred to himself as the chief of sinners!  Yet, these believers were falling far short of what Christ was calling them to be and so they did need a rebuke.

And the purpose of this rebuke was to bring them to repentance, so they’d return to the path to maturity that Christ has for them:

 Brothers and sisters stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20)

Chapter 16 is the grand finale of this book. Hear Paul’s closing words: The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen. (1 Corinthians 16:23-24)

What a kind way to talk to his people after having given them such a thorough scolding! Here, love and mercy triumph over judgment. I am glad that happens when God deals with our own imperfect but loving churches today. He still uses rebukes and correction — not to fill us with shame and guilt but rather to grow us and our churches so we can have more of Christ!

Another Bogus Bill

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a spreading mold in a house in that land, the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, ‘I have seen something that looks like a defiling mold in my house.’ (Leviticus 14:33-35)

Putting a mold in a house? What is God up to? Is he is doing something evil?

We often hear “God is not the author of evil” as a blanket statement and ironclad rule. Today, let’s examine that.

We do know that Satan had to get God’s permission to afflict Job. So if the devil needs to ask permission, then obviously God could say “No.”  But then, why did God ever say “Yes”? Because doesn’t saying yes make God responsible for the evil?

Some try to solve this problem by backing off a bit and saying God “allows” evil…But that begs some additional questions ….

For example, does God “allow” stuff that is not part of his plan? If yes, then he is not omnipotent. But if no, then it means that evil is part of his plan. But if that’s true then, once again, it looks like God is the author of evil.

Here’s how I try to sort that out: God does ordain evil which can temporarily seem nothing but bad. But the key word is temporary. Because from a long term or eternal perspective God always uses that temporary evil to achieve something good in his long run plans. This means that God never ordains evil whose end result remains evil with nothing good coming out of it.

So God ordains evil as a passing step towards what will bring him even greater glory.

Now I can try to explain why God put the mold in the house. Because verse 35 says that the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, ‘I have seen something that looks like a defiling mold in my house.’ So, God has given a test for the owner —- he is tempted to cover it up because now the house is required to be torn down if the mold persists. Does the owner respond in obedience and report the mold?  Or disobey and keep quiet to nervously hold onto his property?

Now, an example from my own life. It’s when I receive a bill with a bogus charge on it. I have whined and whined when that happens. I am not proud of my history of being all ticked off about it and then yelling on the phone when the help desk refused to fix the error.

I had said I would never yell again, ever. But a few months ago it happened again! Why did I blow it? It’s because I did not see that somehow God did ordain it – allowing the phony charge to test me and to grow me. After all, God could have stopped the bill but he did not.

Reflecting on that, now I know ahead of time that I will again get a bogus bill and again get a help desk person who refuses to fix it. Will I yell or will I say OK Lord I know you have sent this evil as a test and this time I will pass the test to your glory?

Sure, getting fake charges on a bill is annoying. But just think of the biggest example of fake charges in history. God ordained that wicked people to crucify his only Son on fake charges!  But God ordained this wickedness to bring the greatest good in the history of the planet— a redeemed people called Christians who have eternal life and bring God’s good news to the world! And when he ordains that I get fake charges, God means it to shape me into being a better ambassador of his good news.

Screaming about the Bible

It’s easy to find people on the Internet screaming that the Bible is full of falsehoods. They’ll claim that the logic of science and modern critical scholarship makes it clear that the Bible is bogus.

But I think the skeptics’ objections to the Bible are less objective than they claim. Why? Consider this…. if the Bible is full of falsehoods about the events that it says really happened in history, then it must be full of falsehoods when it talks about what we are supposed to believe and to do. If the Bible is bogus then I can disregard the Bible any time it contradicts what I think and want.

Before the modern revolution in thinking took hold, people acknowledged that the decrees and details in the Bible were true, but they simply often just did not feel like obeying them. In the 21st century, though, when we hear the same question that Pilate uttered, “What is truth?” the modern answer is “The Bible does not matter. The only truth is what is true for me.”

So that brings me to my presupposition:

A presupposition is something I assume is true without proving it. My presupposition is that the Bible is true. I don’t claim that I can prove to you that the Bible is true. But I can argue that it is reasonable to believe the Bible is true. I am not making a blind leap of faith. Rather, you might call it a sighted step of faith.

Once I thought only lamebrains believed the Bible was true—but that all changed when, while I was at UConn, I met professors with PhDs who believed in the Bible’s truthfulness. They showed me that believing in Scripture’s truth does not freeze our mind — it renews it!

Before I came to believe that the Bible is true, I gave myself an excuse to do what I wanted. Hearing a Bible teacher who propounded a conservative sexual ethic, my attitude was, “How dare anyone say that what I am doing sexually is wrong !!” (Looking back I see I was so angered because I knew that the guy was speaking truth.)

If the Bible is true, then, its truth authority stands outside of me. Thus, Scripture can overrule or contradict my own feelings and thoughts and desires. The Bible has the power to say that some of what I believe and think and do is false.

You might think that coming under the authority of Scripture is restrictive and harsh. Quite the contrary! Instead, it leads to what Jesus calls the abundant life. Living under Scripture’s authority guides us to turn back from dead ends and to move forward to having life in the fullest.

Replacing the Slop

As I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah
    along with their neighboring towns,”
declares the Lord,
“so no one will live there;
    no people will dwell in it. (Jeremiah 50:40)

This verse in Jeremiah was part of my  recent daily Bible study. The context : the Jews had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians, but now not only were they going to be allowed to return to their homeland, but their captors  were going to suffer retribution. The destruction that’s awaiting the Babylonians is like the judgment and disaster that already befell Sodom and Gomorrah.

This prophetic word was great news for the original Jewish readers. But how does it connect for us in 2019 ?

God still does overthrows today.

Today’s example : Smoking.

Using my own best efforts, I had quit smoking (and relapsed!) many, many times before. But  God engineered my final successful quitting. Was it a mystical deliverance ? Not quite. Here’s what happened : we were washing the smoke stained walls in the kitchen of 2 heavy smokers. Filling bucket after bucket as each turned black ! I had a vivid picture of my own lungs turning black. God used this incident plus being around some supportive non-smokers to free me, after 13 years of smoking bondage.  So there was not a sudden supernatural miracle, but God was in control of each of the steps that set me free,  starting with how it was no coincidence that I was assigned to visit the kitchen of the heavy smokers.

The main reason that quitting was finally successful was that it no longer depended only on my own willpower. Sure, my will was involved, but what God did was far more important. And it’s by God’s grace that there has been no relapse since I was set free of smokes over 30 years ago.

God is still freeing me from bondages. Now he is working on some stinky, self-centered attitudes in my heart —-which are less visible than having smoke pour out of me like a human chimney.  But changing these crummy attitudes is at least as important.

But why even bother ?

Because we are putting off slop and putting on more of Jesus.

Jesus says that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Are you troubled by an area of your life that is in captivity ?  God wants to set you free from bondage and give more of Christ’s abundant life to you.

“Must I ?”

piper

You may be familiar with the teaching and writing of John Piper. I last saw him in person 10 years ago at the Gospel Coalition conference in Chicago.  Recently  I caught him on a live stream from  the Gospel Coalition conference in Indianapolis.

Well, after 10 years, Pastor Piper, now 73, has not lost any of his zeal.

He spoke of passion week and what must happen to Jesus at the end. Here’s a scripture that was central in his talk.

And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”( Luke 9:22)

Hearing Piper’s talk I was struck by all the musts, and how all the events that happened to Jesus during  passion week were foreordained as part of God’s plan. So even though  Jesus’ executioners meant it for evil, God used the crucifixion for the good purpose of saving a people who benefit from Christ’s death  and resurrection by getting eternal life.

Piper’s talk inspired me to reflect on our own lives and whether things must happen.

We know that God is totally in control of everything, so that in our lives there is nothing that “just happens” to occur. That really means that God says everything in our lives had to happen.  Stunningly, this even applies to the most negative stuff that has ever happened to us,  including nasty ways of being mistreated, beaten up, slandered, and unjustly accused.

If we don’t see God’s hand in it, reflecting on the negative things that have happened to us leads to a whining, bitter or fearful attitude. But just think : if we believe that God is really sovereign Lord, then we must accept that he could have stopped any of it — but somehow, for his own good purposes, not always clear to us, he allowed all of it.

The events of passion week, of course, had to happen because they were part of God’s plan for bringing salvation and showing his glory throughout the earth on a grand scale.

But the things that happen in our own lives help execute God’s will on a smaller scale…our “little” lives are meant to show his glory, too …so whatever misfortunes that happen  are fully  under God’s control. I know this isn’t always easy to see and accept but it’s a wonderful antidote to bitterness.

Don’t Get Snapped

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

snappedmy_turtle

 

I stopped while running and took a picture of a giant turtle. (My turtle is the one on the right). I was near the turtle but didn’t reach down or bend down close to it.

Later that day I showed my picture and a friend said I had seen a snapping turtle. It’s a good thing I did not tease this guy.

For I did not know what the consequences could be ! Knowing that I’m not too old to learn something new, I did some snapping turtle research.

I found a video  on YouTube  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xW0hlVwEQK0

In it, a guy bends down, teasing the turtle’s mouth with a stick. (his turtle is the one on the left).

Suddenly, lightning fast, the turtle struck, snap ! The dude in the video has blood pouring out of his hand !

This episode is  a picture of toying with, or playing around with, sin. I think that I am in control.  I can dabble with sin and I can easily pull back before I get ensnared.  I am not in danger. But that is not true ! I should not dare ! Snap !!

After my turtle encounter, I stand freshly warned. Indeed, I’d like to rephrase today’s opening verse as “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil lurks like a snapping turtle, waiting for someone to bite.”

Can I make Jesus Lord ?

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:9-11)

What happens when someone tells us “You need to make Jesus Lord” ?

First, we feel guilty because we know how far we fall short of obeying Jesus in all things. But then the preacher tries to get us all pumped up with the feeling that yes, we can do it if we decide to surrender to Jesus. We might even be invited to come forward while “I Surrender All” plays. We feel euphoria coming over us and get on a spiritual high, feeling that, this time, we can do it.

I remember one service where, before internet porn, the pastor put a dumpster up front, told the men to go out to  their vehicles, bring in their dirty magazines and throw them in the dumpster.

But I’m afraid that attempt, even if done with good intentions, didn’t really get to the heart of why the guys had the magazines in the first place. So after the spiritual high wore off the guys would buy replacement magazines and then feel more guilty than ever. This gloomy pattern of failure occurs because it all basically revolves around what we think we have the power to achieve.  Thinking we can, on our own, make Jesus Lord of any area of our life is trying to do the impossible.

Is there any way out of this mess ? Yes there is ! Here’s the secret : Jesus already is Lord. He’s a member of  the Trinity:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God the Father has appointed him Lord !

When I bow my knee, I don’t make him Lord, I simply acknowledge that he is Lord.

I don’t need to worry and  obsess about my own efforts falling short anymore. Instead I can do what Paul commands when he says to

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12b-13)

Since the Lord God is already working in me,  I simply want to line up with what he is doing.

So the answer to whether I can make Jesus Lord is “NO.”

But can I have ever-increasing fruitfulness because he IS alive and IS working in me and IS my Lord? The answer is “YES!”