Thursday, April 28, 2016

One Promise Leads to Another

It's said that a lie only leads to more lies, so it’s best not to start that ball rolling. The natural progression is that a lie grows. Bob tells Sally he didn’t go there (lie), then Sally asks where he went. He tells her where he went (lie), and she asks what he did there. He tells her that he met up with some friends (lie), and she asks which friends. Now the ball is rolling.

But there’s also a natural progression to truth. In a perfect world, Bob and Sally show each other love and respect. Bob really doesn’t go there. Sally has no need for questions. Bob has no reason to lie. Why? Because Bob and Sally made a promise. And the progression is that one promise leads to another. 

Before and beyond Bob and Sally and all relationships among human beings, a great cascade of promises began when God spoke the world into existence, and it continues today. Unlike us, God speaks only truth and He never lies. And His promises never fail.

It may seem strange that what is commonly referred to as the first promise in the Bible was spoken by God to a snake—that is, Satan. But really, the promise was for us.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heal. Genesis 3:15

God makes it known that Satan will be defeated (his head gets crushed), while the One who comes to save will suffer and appear defeated. But then He will defeat even death.

This is the last promise in the Bible:

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Revelation 22:20

Some may see this as a promise unfulfilled since Jesus hasn’t returned. How long does it take to come quickly, anyway? But the reference is not to what we consider speedy, but rather suddenly. No one knows when, but when it happens, some will think they should have had more time. Besides, our
understanding of quickly has got to be monumentally different than God’s.

In between these promises, in the pages of Scripture, God makes and keeps His promises. A Promised Land, victory over enemies, offspring too numerous to count, protection, peace, joy, the knowledge of God. Promises of salvation, sanctification, justification. Promises of Heaven, of eternal life. Promises of a Great Redeemer.

Too many promises to list in this short space flow from the Word and fill us with hope because those of us who follow Christ know Him, and we know His words are true. But there is one promise that seems to me to act as the hinge for all the rest:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7

If it just makes you want to sing Handel’s “Messiah”, you’re not alone. But the promise here of the birth of Christ is presented in only the first few words. After that, it’s all about the promise of His second coming, about His rule and authority. And all this is accomplished by the zeal of God. Here’s the definition of zeal: great energy or enthusiasm to achieve a goal, fervent pursuit. This is God’s plan, His desire for His world. For us.

All the promises spoken by God revolve around the promise of the Son. They are for our good. To bring us to the realization of the truth and then to help us live victoriously. They are for God’s glory, that all should behold Him, and know Him, and know that He is good.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

God is Always Working behind the Scenes

God being behind the scenes implies that, although we don’t see Him when situations are unfolding, He is orchestrating the details. What an encouragement for the children of God! Nothing happening to us takes Him by surprise. He is either orchestrating or permitting it; regardless, He is in full control and will work it out for our good and for His glory. Amazing! There is absolutely no reason to worry. Our Father is aware and is working it out!  

Below is an illustration of this truth. The children of Israel during the time of Samuel the prophet, insisted they wanted a king to rule over them, just like the neighboring nations. The prophet Samuel, tried to dissuade them, since God was their King. When they wouldn’t listen, God instructed Samuel to honor their request (see 1 Samuel 8:4-7, 19-20).

God had by then decided who the king was going to be – Saul, son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin. The account went like this: Kish’s donkeys went missing, so he instructed Saul to search for them (see 1 Samuel 9:3). Saul and the servant who accompanied him searched for days without success; Saul suggested giving up the search and going back home, but the servant suggested they consult the prophet (Seer) who lived in town. Saul didn't want to, as they had no money to offer the prophet. Amazingly, the servant had a silver coin they could offer to the prophet (see 1 Samuel 9:6-9).

As soon as they agreed to go and talk to the prophet, they met some young girls who gave them directions. The first person they encountered after they received directions from the young girls was the prophet Samuel himself (see 1 Samuel 9:12-14). Meanwhile, God had said to Samuel the day before, “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him to be the leader of my people, Israel” (1 Samuel 9:16 NLT). Just before these gentlemen met, God said to Samuel, “That’s the man I told you about. He will rule my people” (1 Samuel 9:17 NLT).

Before Samuel met Saul, based on what God had already told him, the prophet made plans to dine with him. Samuel sent Saul and the servant up to the place of worship to wait for him, as well as put their minds at ease about the lost donkeys; he told them they’d been found. By the end of the story, Saul had been anointed the first king of Israel by Samuel, who announced, “I am doing this because the Lord has anointed you to be the ruler over Israel, his special possession” (1 Samuel 10:1).

If you need to, re-read the account and ask yourself: Why did the donkeys go missing? Why was Saul included in the search party? Why didn’t Kish just send only servants: after all, isn't that what servants are for? Why did the servant have money on him? Why did Saul listen to the servant’s suggestion to consult the prophet? He was the son, and didn’t have to listen to a servant. Why did the two men encounter people who knew exactly where Samuel was and how long he was going to be there? Why was Samuel the first man they met? Were all these details coincidences? I don’t think so! On the contrary, God was working behind the scenes, making things happen at the right time; it was like puzzle pieces coming together for a perfect fit.

The same can be learned from the story of Jonah. God sent Jonah to Nineveh. He got on a ship that was going in a different direction, thinking he was running away from God. There was a violent storm at sea, the sailors threw cargo overboard to lighten the ship. Not wanting to perish, they followed Jonah’s suggestion – they threw him overboard. A great fish swallowed Jonah and later spit him out. Jonah got a second call from God, and this time he obeyed! He preached to Nineveh, “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” (Jonah 3:4 NLT). The people repented!
Why was there a storm at sea? Why did the sailors ask Jonah to pray? Why did Jonah ask to be thrown overboard, and why didn’t Jonah drown, but instead got swallowed by a fish? God used Jonah’s disobedience to get the attention of the sailors. For sure, God was working behind the scenes; He got Jonah’s attention, but also the attention of the sailors – they prayed, sacrificed, and made vows to Him.

Similarly with us, God is working out the details of our lives every day; nothing is happening to us by chance, accident, or luck. The key to coping calmly with our circumstances while we wait for God’s intervention is to trust and obey Him. Our God is always in control, and is the only One who can make a positive difference in our lives. When we trust that God is in control, and that He has our best interest at heart, we will overcome our fears and worries (see Jeremiah 29:11). Obeying Him in whichever way He directs us is the indication that we love and trust Him (see 1 John 5:3). The hymnist admonishes us to trust and obey God, because “There’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

If you are a worrier, take a new approach to managing your stress and worries – trust and obey God. He is working behind the scenes, providing opportunities for you to learn to totally trust and obey Him. Remember His ways and thoughts are higher than yours. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Great Snatching Away

Is it really going to happen?

I’m writing a dark, young adult, post-apocalypse, dystopian, speculative fiction story. Yeah, one of those. I thought maybe when I finished my third book about a transhuman, I’d be ready to settle down and write something nice. You know, for the general Christian women’s readership. But then along came this teenager living in fear of a truck that comes at night and makes people disappear, and I had to write her story. It’s not a full-length novel, only about 12,000 words, so I won’t spend too much time with the girl. Unless her story doesn’t end with this novelette, which is a possibility. One thing I learned from the transhuman is that the story isn’t over until it’s over.

But for now the plan is to move on after my brief encounter with a girl named Rae. What makes her story different from the adventures of dystopian heroines like Katniss (Hunger Games) or Tris (Divergent) is the reason for the apocalypse. It’s found in Scripture, analyzed by theology, dreaded by some, and hoped for by others. But mostly, to the greater population, it’s just an unbelievable prophetic event that the Christians talk about. Here are some varying opinions about the rapture of the Church:

It’s not a real thing because the Bible doesn’t contain the word “rapture.”
It’s real, but only good Christians will get raptured. Bad ones will have to suffer the tribulation.
It will happen before the tribulation begins.
It will happen in the middle of the tribulation.
It will happen at the end of the tribulation.
Every child under the age of accountability will get raptured.
Planes, trains, and automobiles will crash, derail, and run off cliffs when operators are raptured.
Clothes the believers were wearing when the rapture occurs will be left neatly folded.
The Holy Spirit will be removed from the earth.

Some of these speculations are just that—speculation. Some might be products of imagination. I can’t fault that since I’m one of those people who makes up stuff. But I hope to never confuse a good story with the truth. Some of these conditions of the rapture, I wouldn’t touch with a forty-foot theological pole.

That said, a basic understanding of the rapture of the Church should not be missed. The Greek word harpaz√≥ is why we must consider the rapture. It means to snatch away, or to be taken away in an instant. The word became “rapture” in the Vulgate, which was the main Bible for the medieval church until the time of the Reformation. So the word has been in Scripture, translated from the original text, for a long time.

The rapture is a future event foretold in prophecy. All kinds of people interpret the prophecy of the Bible in all kinds of ways. Here are two verses that, to most redeemed believers, offer the great hope of the rapture:

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” I Corinthians 15:50-54

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a
word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will
rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.  I Thessalonians 4:13-18

The message is that something is going to happen, at some point, specifically for the Church alone. Here’s a verse telling about the Second Coming:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. Matthew 24:29-30

The two events have similarities—they are both events in the return of Christ. But they’re different. One is a surprise. Even though the angel is shouting and the trumpet is blowing, it must be a quiet, instant occurrence that only believers will experience. Afterward, there will most certainly be some 
mess for the rest of the population to clean up. People will have questions. And the world will never be the same.

But in this millisecond Christ won’t set His feet on the ground. He’ll come for His own and be gone in a flash. Until Part Two of the return. The next time isn’t so low-key. Everybody will see Him. He’ll defeat the Antichrist and end the tribulation. No secret. No surprise.

Between these two events, will any be saved? I’ve often wondered at the statement that the Holy Spirit is “removed” at the rapture. How is the omnipresent God not present… anywhere? I know, now I’ve taken out my forty-foot pole. But believers followed Christ before the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost. It’s not that the Spirit wasn’t there—He just hadn’t been “poured out” on the Church. In other instances in Scripture, He is poured out. Salvation wouldn’t occur during the tribulation if the Holy Spirit was gone for good, and the Bible indicates some will be saved. It won’t be easy though, and most of them won’t live through the awful times.

As for the pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib argument, it’s a distraction to the Gospel. If you read my blog last week, then you know I consider the growing persecution of Christians to be a very different matter than the wrath of God. I might have to face persecution, but the wrath of God brings me no fear. I’m covered by the blood of Christ, and my stance on the rapture’s timing should be clear. But I won’t give the argument much voice. While we Christians are fighting over when we’re going up, somebody might get left behind.

One other interpretation I’ll poke my pole at: Only good Christians get raptured. I hope that’s not true. I’m not sure I know any good Christians. The only thing good about Christians is our Great Redeemer. And He won’t leave us.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Giving and Receiving

‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ Luke 6:38

Thank you to the unknown couple who selflessly bought my breakfast this morning! I woke up in a great mood, feeling blessed and joyful. After an early morning appointment, I stopped into my favorite restaurant for breakfast.

“What can I get you?” Debbie asked in a flat, bored voice.

“Good morning!” I said enthusiastically. Debbie looked a bit startled at my response.
After giving my order, I pulled out a book and sipped rich, flavorful coffee. The restaurant was quiet mid-morning. Two tables up a couple packed up their to-go boxes, walking past me without a word as they left the restaurant.

The book was awesome and breakfast was yummy. After my third cup of coffee, I asked Debbie for a box and the check.

“You don’t owe anything. The couple who left paid for your breakfast,” she replied.“

“What a blessing! I love it,” I said gratefully. Again, Debbie looked started at my response.

“Well I absolutely want to bless you as well,” I told her as I handed her a large tip. Debbie’s entire demeanor changed.

“I guess we’re all blessed today,” she said cheerfully.

How awesome it is when folks give from God’s abundant heart. I have no idea whether this couple were Christians. But I have no doubt God moved their heart to bless me this morning. While I was the recipient of their generosity today, I believe God will bless them with this same measure tomorrow.

I aspire to live a generous life, staying open and available to hear from God on how to bless others. This worldview allows me to express genuine thanks when I’m on the receiving end and excitedly look for a way to share the blessing I’ve been given. I was thankful to be able to share my heart with Debbie in a way that gave testimony to God’s goodness.

What is your story of giving and receiving?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Persecution Map

The reality of being a Christian in the red zone.

According to the Open Doors website, persecution of Christians is extreme in the following countries: Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. These countries, all in or around the proximity of the Middle East, number in severity from 2-10, but the #1 spot for extreme persecution sits isolated from the rest: North Korea. After these, many other countries are listed as enduring persecution of a severe, moderate, or sparse level. A map on the website marks the countries with various colors as indicators—red being extreme. The greater portion of the world map is colorless, clear of persecution in any measurable report.

The majority of the planet’s inhabitants may be unaware of the dangers of being a Christian in certain parts of the world. Some nations may not consider the possibility that persecution might enter because Christianity has already abandoned their religious landscape. But even in these places, a number of Christians are active, though perhaps they meet in secret and evangelize with discretion.

Here in America, Christians see this as a horrible reality, but only for those brothers and sisters whose countries are given a color on the persecution map. It’s far away. Foreign. Our experience tells us we must be quiet at school and perhaps in the workplace. Media reminds us we’re close-minded bigots who want to keep good people bound by our antiquated morals. General attitude pushes us toward shame. Shame on us for holding onto our principles, when the time is far gone for such things. But we can’t compare this mental manipulation with the martyrdom of believers in those foreign places.

I live in the South where walking space and doctrine separates churches. They’re close together, common, numerous. Yes, they vary in methods of “doing church” but if the Gospel is being preached, then church is being done. In other parts of the U.S.A., churches are farther apart and offered with less variety. And in some cases, less of the Gospel message. I can feel it when I travel—a wasteland exists here. A mission field. If persecution of the extreme, or even the sparse kind were to spread across the oceans and takes root in America, would the unchurched notice? Would the population of South take a different attitude than the people of the Northwest? (I know there are well-functioning churches in the Northwest, but they are far apart.) Would Americans stop viewing Christianity as an organization clinging to the past and realize it holds the only hope for the future? The answer might depend on the persecuted church. Would we cower, or stand resolved?

The made-up Christians I write about fall somewhere in between cowering and standing. Wake the Dead portrays Christians as ultra-subtle, not wanting to bring on the fury of government, meeting underground but only beginning to consider that they may face greater persecution. The next book, Killswitch, releases this summer. In it, Christians are captured and delivered to facilities where death machines await them. Readers find the menacing fiction startling in light of the real possibilities. But already, in those “red” countries on the map, acts of persecution are not fiction. The Bible has always taught us this would be a part of our existence as followers of Christ. It’s always been that way. But not for Americans. And still, it’s not here. Not quite.

Will the persecution map alter? Will it even be permitted to remain as a testimony of the times in which we live? The map supports the truth and warning of Scripture. And if the prophecy of Scripture has been and is being fulfilled, then what follows the persecution of Christ’s followers is something much worse: The wrath of God.

I won’t fear what man can do to me. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21) Nevertheless, I will pray for those suffering persecution. It’s a trial that for now I can only imagine. May God give them encouragement and peace.

As for the wrath to come, I’m covered by the Blood of Christ. In this red zone God’s children are safe. What a good, amazing, loving Father He is to rescue us from His own wrath. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


A person’s identity is who they are; it is what sets them apart from everyone else. Who are you? Who do you claim to be? Do people know you, and does their knowledge of you match who you claim to be? Don’t make room for them to assume who you are, and don’t make room for them to guess, but if they do guess, make it possible for them to guess correctly. Just be yourself!

For example, if you see an individual with a stethoscope around his or her neck, you could assume he or she is a medical professional. If you see an individual in court, wearing a robe, sitting behind the bench, and holding a gavel, you could assume he or she is the judge.

In our natural world, everyone has parents. So it is in the spiritual world.  You either have God or Satan for a father. Do you call yourself a child of God? If you do, then be a child of God. When you meet people, do they notice something about you that causes them to assume or guess you are a Christian, or will they be uncertain? If they don’t think you are a child of God, you are left with only one other option: they must think you are a child of the devil. But if you are a Christian, then there is something wrong with your identity. What is it? 

If you became a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, then person you are should be obvious to people around you. If you live a life of obedience to God, you will in essence be saying you love Him (see John 14:15). On the other hand, if you are living in disobedience, people can quickly assume you are not a Christian, even if you claim to be one.

Jesus is not interested in lip service, and He made that plain to the disciples when He asked them, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not what I say” (Luke 6:46)? When Jesus was warning against false prophets, He said, “By their fruit you’ll recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:16-18).
If you are a child of God, the characteristics (fruit) you exhibit should be a clear indication that you are His son or daughter. There is no better way of demonstrating that you are child of God than through obedience. The Bible says, “Be holy for I (God) am holy.” In other words, we should exhibit His trait of holiness in the way we live.
Developing those traits is an ongoing effort. We do not arrive at holiness overnight. According to the apostle Paul, we have to work at it with fear and trembling (see Philippians 2:12). It takes meditation on God’s Word and allowing it to transform us into His nature through the renewing of our mind. Then we will shine, as the Scripture says, like stars in the universe (see Philippians 2:15).

Observing the lives of the disciples, the Jewish leaders were able to accurately conclude that they had been with Jesus. If we indeed have been with Jesus, it should be obvious to others. Claiming to be a Christian and yet living as an unbeliever is proof of an identity crisis. It means one is not really sure who one is.
We need to turn our backs on worldliness and all appearances of evil. A Christian should not live comfortably in sin. If you are, then you need to revisit God’s plan of salvation to make sure you are really born again. If we fall into sin, we should quickly repent, confess, and seek forgiveness. That is the mark of a Christian: the fear of sin and the concern for displeasing God.

Are you experiencing an identity crisis? You can change that by making the determination to live a life that is pleasing to God, and then seeking the help of the Spirit to accomplish it. The cure for identity crisis is: putting on the armor of God and keep it on (see Ephesians 6:11-18), 24/7.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Major Biblical Themes part 1 - Humans Are Weak

We Think We Are All That! In Fact We Can't Handle The Simplest Tasks

I am five pounds away from my goal weight. I know from past experience, including the last few weeks when I've shed 15 pounds, that I can lose this last five pounds in about three weeks if I just stay the course.

Today I did fine at breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I decided to consume an extra 180 calories on a bag of popcorn in the afternoon. That may not seem so bad except I never snack between meals, and I wasn't hungry. It just sounded good. Can we agree on that being the very definition of "Weak!"

God made us, and clearly he knows that we are weak. So much so that he repeatedly showcases our weakness throughout the Bible. Every major character in the Bible except Jesus showed huge weakness in the face of difficulties or just plain willfulness; David, Moses, Paul to name just the biggest and most obvious cases.

God comes at our weakness from another angle. He provided us with lists and lists of incentives and disincentives to help us overcome our weakness and our proclivity to sin due to weakness. Then he gave us clear direction a few dozen times in Deuteronomy alone: Deuteronomy 12:28  Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the LORD your God.

But the Jews, even with all those promises and incentives, proofs and miracles, couldn't keep even the easy rules. I mean how hard is it to not worship false gods, stay away from certain foods, and not sleep with your father's wife? 

We can look at the Old Testament Jews and be shocked at how dumb they were to keep going way off the plan of God, getting into serious difficulties, crying out to the Lord, receiving mercy, doing well for 40 years, then repeat and repeat the story. Seems perfectly silly and senseless. 

Modern humans, with the advantages of all of our wealth, our science, our psychology, our communication methods, our mega churches and 24/7 radio and TV preachers, not to mention having the New Testament, Jesus as an example, and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, haven't progressed one half step further along the evolutionary plain when it comes to being weak. 

Now I'm going to get to meddling. I personally sometimes have difficulty thinking of sins I've committed that need to be dealt with through repentance. I have a hard time seeing myself as Charles Spurgeon said: As thoroughly wicked. Okay, sometimes my prayer requests for others might border on gossip. Does exaggeration count as lying? What about failure to say something that needs to be said? What about not praising God for the life we have been blessed with, the phenomenal gifts in nature that are all around us, or His blessings every day.

How hard is it to follow the disciplines and rules that God has asked us to do FOR OUR OWN GOOD! The short answer - impossible, because we are weak. What is the solution? Dying to self, trusting God, heeding the Holy Spirit, and staying away from unrighteousness in every form. Somehow all of those seem harder than just following some clear rules.

This is the first in a series on Major Biblical Themes. I was struck by the fact that a quick Google search for Biblical themes provided a list of over 20. One was not included anywhere; human weakness. I also discovered that almost no one listed love as a theme. Over the next few weeks the case will be made the love is the unifying theme of the Bible and that the most critical and closely related aspect of love that is also completely overlooked is Joy.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Death of God

Around Easter, a title wriggled into my brain. I tucked it away, not wanting to address it, not wanting to abandon my current fiction project long enough to rummage through some real-life research. Besides, the idea of writing down the title made me uncomfortable. That kind of disrespect was inconsiderable. But it didn’t fade into a blip on my “stuff to write about” radar, and I had to consider it. On the Sunday after Easter my pastor started a sermon series about, among other wonderments, the cultural shift into post-modernity. About the Christian worldview. The title’s sting sank deeper under my skin until I agreed to give it a few paragraphs. I smiled at the timing of my giving in because research immediately revealed that this week marks the 50th anniversary of Time magazine’s famous cover asking the forbidden question, “Is God Dead?” (April 8, 1966)

This title that bothered me is not original, nor does it shout any sort of unprecedented proclamation or shocking revelation. In my own personal estimation it means nothing at all. I do not consider the possibility, the probability, the forlorn admission, the prideful assumption, or the wishful assertion that God has experienced death. And yet what brought this stubborn title urging the writer in me was the mental observation of Christ hanging blood-soaked on a cross. His skin torn from His bones. His lungs refusing to expand. A blade piercing His side. He was…He is God. And He died. That dreadful, awesome day brought the death of God. That glorious, joyous, Good Friday. 

This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

I picture Jesus and His disciples singing this Psalm, traditionally sung at the Passover meal. Was it for this day the Psalm was written—the day the Lord meant for death? Not just any death, but His death.

Even though He died, I do not accept He is dead. I was not called by a dead God. I do not follow a dead God. Even in death, God is God and He did not remain dead, but conquered death completely. And He lives.

I’ve always assumed those who proclaim God dead, or even question that perhaps He is dead, do so out of ignorance or stupidity. “A fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14: 1) But it appears the instigators, while fools they may have been, were not staunch in their atheism. If Nietzsche perfected the argument of those who came before him, and if atheist was his identity, then perhaps I've made an incorrect assumption. Those who’ve wasted more time than I have reading Nietzsche may take this quote from another angle.

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives; who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

As I read this, fear cries from between the eloquent lines. Perhaps Nietzsche’s fear sprang from what he knew would become of mankind when the ideals and morality that accompany belief in God were abandoned. But maybe he just didn’t know what to do with his guilt. Maybe he saw Christ as I saw Christ. Perhaps he saw a dead God and didn’t know how to absolve himself of the enormous recognition that it was all his fault. Of course, it was his fault. As it was my fault. 

 Maybe this unhappy fool, this brilliant writer and thinker, brought up the subject at the perfect time in the history of the modern world to launch it with enthusiasm. But a hundred years passed before the Death of God movement dropped its coin into the rippling pool of Christian theology. It’s all right there in Nietzsche’s guilty plea, but the trend didn't begin or end with him. Through the last five hundred years, Satan has propagated news of God’s death. Not the Good News, but the hopelessly wrong conclusion. In the 1960s several theologians gave a post-modern voice to the death of God with the spread of theothanatology. (Greek: god: theos, death: thanatos)

A few pseudo-Christians smart enough to use that big word in a sentence proclaimed God may have died. What they meant was that religion was dying. The notion of God was no longer needed for the functional purposes of society. Some of them considered the crucifixion, the actual death of God as the beginning of the dismissal of God.

Then the magazine put the announcement out there for all to see. In preparation for writing this dreaded title, I read Time’s article. It addresses not so much the death of God, but the death of the need to know that God is.

And yet, He is. Death was followed by resurrection. Death cannot contain the One who contains death.

My mental observation turns to a newsstand where a magazine cover demanded attention. Some wondered at the question, but could not answer it. Some were relieved because now they could live as though God no longer watched them. Some shook their fists, thinking surely this kind of talk would bring the wrathful God down to teach us all a lesson. Some simply went on with a smile, though perhaps they deliberated that the fist-shakers might be right. But they praised the living God of their redemption all the same, for He would not, and He will not, be defined by a man, dismissed by a magazine, or declared dead by His own creation. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Every Soul Matters To God

God sent Jonah to Nineveh, a gentile .city, to warn them of impending judgment if they did not repent. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, a pagan city, which had a reputation for brutality and torture and was nicknamed “the city of blood” (Nahum 3:1 NIV). For that reason, Assyria was a dreaded enemy, not only to Israel, but also to the surrounding nations. Nineveh apparently was as great in wickedness as it was in wealth and power. Jonah wanted no part of God’s deal with them. He headed in the opposite direction, far away from Nineveh. He got onto a ship that was bound for Tarshish, not for Nineveh. He went below deck, lay down, and then fell into a deep sleep.
When God caught up with him, he gave an honest but sad excuse for his behavior. He said to God, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2 NIV).

Regarding salvation, the Bible says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? . . .  Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:13-14, 17 NIV). Jonah must have thought if he didn’t declare God’s word, Nineveh wouldn’t know the truth that would lead the people to repentance and subsequently to forgiveness. After all, he did not believe they ought to be pardoned. He wanted them to face the impending doom, and that would have been a blessing in disguise for Israel—obliteration of their enemies forever.

Scripture, however, teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (See Matthew 5:44 NIV). Jonah could not forgive the enemies of Israel, but God could! The souls of our enemies are just as important to God as the souls of our loved ones, and that is why He wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. (See 1 Timothy 2:4 NIV).

You need to answer two important questions.

One: are you neglecting to share the word of God with any particular group of people because you don’t care for them, or because, in your assessment, they are anti-God, terrorists, and etcetera? It is not for us to decide who should or shouldn’t be pardoned. We need to work with God’s agenda, not our own. He came to save all, He died to save all, and He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly! Every soul matters to God!

Two: are you running away from God because you disagree with His ideas or plans? You will not get very far. God knows where you are every second, and he can find you without looking. Learn from Jonah’s mistake, make a U-turn, and go in the direction God is leading you.

God gives second chances. He gave Jonah a second chance, and said to him a second time, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give to you” (Jonah 3:2 NIV84). He will give you another chance. Running away is a waste of time.  

Monday, April 4, 2016

Perfect Love Drives Out Fear

Worry and anxiety kept me internally isolated for much of my life. When I did share, any reassurance I received was like sand trickling through open fingers. I felt comforted and cared about for a short time, then it was gone and I needed another handful of reassurance. This pattern made me feel helpless and incompetent. Constantly asking for reassurance was taxing on my family and friends. Believing I was a burden caused me to feel even more isolated and fearful. But God broke through and rescued me from that lonely place. 

1 John 4:18 tells us, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” My lightbulb moment came when I realized moving from Fear to Freedom happens in the context of relationship. Even though my circumstances may not change, my ability to persevere and grow through them happens when I’m anchored in relationship.

I will never love God, myself, or others perfectly – but I don’t think God expects that of me this side of heaven. 1 John 4:18 tells me is there’s a connection between not feeling loved as the person God created me to be and my worry, anxiety, and fear. Being able to receive love, mercy, and grace significantly affects our ability to decrease fear-based symptoms. Fear breeds secrecy and shame. Opening ourselves up to receive love from God and safe people allows us to see what is true and hold onto hope.

I’ll always have a chemical predisposition to anxiety and depression, but I can have compassion and learn how to care for myself well when I’m in the midst of that storm. Learning how to battle my isolating thoughts and allowing God and others to care for me was really difficult. I had a lot of feelings and beliefs about being seen as weak and vulnerable that needed to be critiqued.

As a counselor, I work hard to offer a safe, caring therapeutic relationship to my clients. Sharing how they've been wounded emotionally and relationally is the key to healing. Allowing God to show how parents, spouses, and important people failed to love us in ways you needed is painful, but often uncovers old fears and hurts which invade the present. 

Asking “what, why, how” questions allowed me to move from living in fear to embracing a joyful, freedom based life. John 8:32 tells us the truth will set us free. Truth gives us a solid foundation and energy to withstand internal and external storms. Doing the hard work of seeing how you’ve been relationally failed and understanding your unhealthy responses to those hurts will equip you with truth to face fearful worries, thoughts and feelings.