Category: Theology

Tell Me What I Don’t Want to Hear

dont want to hear

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3)

First, some fake news for itching ears: The Christian life is always easy.  We are special because we have faith; with our faith we can speak wonderful realities into existence. Because we have faith, God automatically protects us from the misfortunes that plague those who lack the faith that we have.

Now for some genuine news:
As Christians, we do not have the power to speak wonderful realities into existence. We are not magically exempt from misfortunes, calamities, sickness, and plagues. 

At first glance you might think that the fake news sounds much better. But here’s some genuine good news:
We have a God of all comfort. And our faith does give us something special that outsiders lack. When we are faced with misfortunes, calamities, sickness etc., we do, by faith, have a special ability to persevere through them. God gives us the grace to endure.

The bogus teaching that you won’t suffer or be sick if you have enough faith sounds good when you are healthy and the economy is booming. But what if you catch COVID and then get laid off from your job? Does this mean you are guilty of deficient faith?

Looking at Paul’s life helps answer that question. He faced much persecution and suffering. Does that mean he had deficient faith? Listen to what he said:

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. (2 Timothy 3: 10-11)

Paul’s rescue was guaranteed until he finished God’s mission for his life. Indeed, each of us can say that God never stops sustaining and supporting us —– until we have finished with all that he has given us to do.

His guarantee does not give us our best life now but for those who believe it grants our best life forever.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

How Can I Be Both Perfect And a Screw-Up?

Matthew 5:48 says: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

But at the same time Romans 3:10-11 says:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
 there is no one who understands;
 there is no one who seeks God.

What? The Bible tells me to be perfect, but then it tells me I am a perfect screw-up? How can both things be true?

To answer, I must tell you how much I love the cation words. These are several rhyming words that describe what Jesus did, what Jesus is now doing, and what Jesus will do. Let me start by giving you “cation” word #1 for today: It’s justification. Justification says you do not bear the full penalty for your screwups or moral failure since Jesus took all your blame on the cross! Since Jesus now stands in your place, you can claim this stunning verse:

 I lead a blameless life;
deliver me and be merciful to me. (Psalms 26:11)

What? Blameless? Yes, I am:  Christ set me right with God. And his righteousness comes from outside of me, not based on anything I ever did. In Romans 3:22 it says:

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

But despite this, I still screw up. What happens when I do sin? Do I just laugh and blow it off since I have already been declared righteous? I don’t think so.

Sam, a missionary pastor who gave a sermon at our church, is a mature Christian who’s served the Lord faithfully in his international organization for decades. Yet, he confessed that he really started to lose it in a discussion at a recent meeting that degenerated into a futile argument.

I admired Sam for being man enough to admit his foul-up in front of our whole congregation and for how quickly he got the meeting back on track by rapidly repenting and asking forgiveness.

Why was Sam able to react correctly?

His reaction leads to our other “cation” word today: sanctification. This means becoming more like Christ over time. Ephesians 4:24 talks about progressively growing in sanctification:   put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Because I’m striving to walk as a mature man of Christ, I am not planning to yell on the phone at anyone ever again. I am not planning to lust ever again.

But what if I do?

I trust that the Lord will lead me to repent and ask forgiveness more quickly than I ever have before. And that he’ll continue to replace an impatient urge to get my own way with more of the good attitudes that Jesus gives.

I am glad I am not alone in this process of achieving change. I’m in a good men’s fellowship group called Battleground at my home church that is a huge help in this.

Our motto in Battleground is that we seek an authentic experience of God’s word, meaning that we want to not merely put Bible verses into our heads, but to allow those words to change us to reflect the character of Jesus. We confess when we fall short of that and we rejoice when we see the Lord at work building that into each other.

This quote from John Piper gives a great description of what we strive for in Battleground. Each of us is:

a godly man,
who knows he is a sinner, pardoned for God’s name’s sake,
justified by grace, trusting God’s mercy,
depending on God’s Spirit, taking refuge in God’s protection,
delighting in God’s beauty, keeping God’s covenant,
and therefore walking in integrity and honesty and uprightness.1 

What John Piper described cannot be achieved in isolation. In strong fellowship God gives us a solid way to care for and encourage each other to grow to be more like Christ.

May you have fellowship in a group like that, too.
Amen.

1 https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/can-anyone-really-be-blameless

A Post From Leviticus??

It may surprise you to see that today’s devotion starts from the book of Leviticus.

Leviticus is often viewed as a book that’s full of puzzling and outdated rules, but amazingly it can spur our passion to follow our Lord God today. I’ll warm up by giving you one command from Leviticus that is appealing for people of a certain age……….

Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.  (Leviticus 19:32)   If you are old enough for young people to stand up for you, this is a nice command. (Of course on a more serious note, think how our culture venerates youth and discriminates against talented older workers.)

But now on to today’s main point. Many ceremonies described in Leviticus seem quite strange to our 21st century eyes. But there’s one ceremony that points straight to the heart of what Christians believe. In talking to the people of Israel, God says: On the tenth day of the seventh month atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you…. from all your sins. The …. high priest is to make atonement. (Leviticus 16:29,30,32)

And in verse 34 God says: “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”

Can you imagine having your sins pile up for a full year……and then having an annual cleanup? It’s good to get rid of sin but still …. something about this remedy is defective.   

Speaking of defective, I vividly remember one episode on the original Star Trek. It’s called The Changeling.Here the Enterprise crew meta space robot called Nomad. Nomad approached and then probed some crew members, and was not pleased with what it found. Indeed, in its robotic voice, Nomad would exclaim: “This unit is defective,” and the consequences were rather dire…. say goodbye to that crew member.

But now, let’s hear what Leviticus says about defective units.  Here, someone is not allowed to approach God’s altar: 

  No man who has any defect may come near; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. …. because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the LORD (Leviticus 21:18,21,23)

This passage focuses on people with physical defects like crushed testicles, but aren’t we all defective when we stand on our own before the Lord? Yes, but are we hopeless?

No, we have hope because God chose to come in the flesh. Born a baby, Jesus grew up to become the man who lived the one and only perfect Christian life. He then was crucified to become the perfect, once for all sacrifice for our sin.

Jesus’ death and resurrection tore the curtain before God’s altar in the temple so that we can enter God’s presence. And now, free from sin, God no longer views us as defective units! We are presented “without defect” because of what Christ has done……….. What a joy!

Now to him that is able to keep you from falling, and make you appear in his glorious presence, without defect, and full of joy: (Jude 24)

Once we are freed from defect, what happens next? Do we just sit back and chill out? I don’t think so. See my next post.

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.