Joining the Jesus Movement

Months ago I received an e-mail from a post-christian Protestant denomination.  Titled “Welcoming Others to Join Our Jesus Movement,” it included an appeal to support “Ministries that make a difference in our world and propel us forward to walk in the way of Jesus.”  Bullet points pointing to these ministries included: Creation Care – advocating for the care of God’s creation; Evangelism – welcoming others to join our Jesus Movement; and Racial Reconciliation – working to create a Beloved Community for all citizens.  Essentially, “jump on the Jesus train, become an environmentalist, and focus on social justice.”  On Easter Sunday, many in the broad spectrum of christianity who attended a church or listened online heard sermons on subjects similar to the above, as they do most weeks, while many heard themes like Spring, victory following defeat, happiness and prosperity and success, or affirmation coming from the inspiring story of Jesus.

The “gospel” so often referenced on Easter and in other sermons, the messages that are the focus of the entertainment-modeled music heard in the typical evangelical, are “gospels” featuring themes of self-affirmation, prosperity, happiness, success, triumph, self-reform, or calls to societal change inspired by “Jesus.”  The approach is usually happy, upbeat, and affirming rather than reverent, repentant, and truly joyful.  The focus becomes “who I am” or “who I can become” because of God.  That, however, is not the Gospel of the Jesus of the Bible.  It is a deception.  It is a “pied piper” gospel, strong and delusive, making irresponsible promises, attracting followers, but not focusing on grace, faith, regeneration, and repentance.  It robs God of the glory rightfully His.  And, by not declaring the Gospel of scripture, it does not address the true need of the human heart.

__________

The local church we are part of had both an Easter/Resurrection Sunday service and a service on Friday evening.  The Friday service was memorable and was the perfect pattern for a church service.  The account of the trial, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus from Matthew 26 and 27 was read in sections, with a traditional hymn or gospel song appropriate to the occasion sung by the congregation between each reading.  The ordinance of Communion was observed, with time devoted to individual reflection and prayer, and the congregation was lead in corporate prayer.  Attendance by visitors outside of the congregation had been encouraged, and the Gospel was clearly proclaimed, from the scriptures, in song, in the observance of Communion, and in brief remarks by the pastor.  On Sunday morning, the pastor spoke from the resurrection account in Matthew 28, completing the account of the death, burial, and resurrection from Matthew’s gospel.  True worship draws the attention of the worshipper to God, to His nature, to His majesty, to who He is and what He has done for us in Christ.  What our church did that weekend did just that.  

The message of “Good Friday” and “Easter” is not primarily “me” focused.  It is not merely “By Your spirit I will rise from the ashes of defeat, the resurrected king is resurrecting me.”  No, the message of “Easter” is ultimately God-focused, Christ-focused, Gospel focused.  It is the message of sin and the wrath of God against human sin demonstrated and satisfied by Christ on the cross.  It is the message of the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ in victory over sin and death.  It is the message of the salvation of those who in repentance and in faith believe the Gospel and turn to Him.  And yet, paradoxically, it is only when we realize this, when we focus on God, Christ, and His Gospel, that we attain fulfilment, joy, and eternal life.  In John 14:19, it is recorded that Jesus told the disciples, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me.  Because I live, you will live also.”

“Because I live, you will live also.”  Christ came in the sovereign plan of God to make human redemption possible.  He defeated death for us.  Because He atoned for my sin, because in His grace He has called me to faith and repentance, because for His own glory He has made me a new creature in Christ, Because He lives, I will live also.

Unworthy

A social media photo of an individual who has been in the news many times in recent months prompted a reaction, as it usually does when I see the person in media.  This individual was the head of the state health department in a large state throughout the virus situation and has been appointed to a high position in the Biden administration.  The individual has shoulder-length curly hair, an obviously male face, dresses in female clothes, and has championed the idea of allowing, even encouraging, children to question and choose their gender and to receive harmful hormone and medical treatments to change their gender.  I am probably not alone among people with traditional values in having a reaction something short of the gag reflex when this person is the subject of a news clip or depiction on a screen. 

The presence of this person in responsible government positions is a symptom of something deeply wrong in post-modern, post-Christian western society.  He is not alone.  A similarly afflicted individual is a state legislator in the state where I reside, and this is by no means rare.  It is an indication of social collapse.  In the not-too-distant past, such individuals might have been considered mentally ill.

I have never and will never meet this person; he has committed no personal offense against me, and yet from a distance I am somewhat repulsed by him, by what he says and believes, and by what he represents.  But as I reacted internally to the photo I saw, I quickly was reminded of something else, something perhaps more relevant to me and to all of us. 

God created human beings and blessed humanity with a marvelous world and environment.  Yet the unthinkable occurred – man rebelled against God, the creature against the Creator.  That rebellion brought disaster to all of creation, to all of humanity.  My reaction to the depravity of another human surely pales beyond measure against the divine reaction to the fact that I am a sinner against God, a sinner both by virtue of the fact that I am part of the rebellious human race, and a sinner by willful choice.  “For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.”  “All.”  Even traditional values, conservative, Republican, church-going Americans.  “The wages of sin is death” – separation from God – for all of us.  We are all repulsive unworthy rebels against God, subject to His righteous anger.  The ancient prophet Isaiah wrote that all our righteous works are but “filthy rags.”  We are all born part of humanity in rebellion against God, an offense of unimaginable magnitude.

But the most astounding thing has occurred.  Despite the repulsiveness of human rebellion, God Himself in Christ has atoned for our sins!  “The Just for the unjust.” 

None of us can redeem ourselves in the economy of God.  We cannot save ourselves from His righteous judgement.  In a real sense all of us should be irredeemable, yet no one is irredeemable.  Can a person become depraved to the point that they will not or cannot be saved?  A case can be made for that from Scripture.  But regardless of our sin and depravity, God is sovereign, God is gracious, and if an individual will but repent of sin, turn to Christ, acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior, that individual will be met with the love and acceptance of God.  Not because of works, not by intrinsic worthiness, despite human depravity, because of divine grace. 

“Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9).”  Salvation is a work of God, offered not because any of us are worthy – because we are not, but purely of His grace, purely in His sovereignty.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).”  In Christ, we are no longer depraved, no longer repulsive, but accepted.  And that is indeed good news.

Idols of Our Own Making

Augustine wrote, ” O poor soul, how you debase yourself when you love earthly things.  You are better than them!  Only God is above you and you were made to love him only!”

God – the God of the Bible – is the Creator of all and leaves no room for any other imagined deity.  He is eternal, uncaused, self-existing and absolute perfection, and nothing can be added to him or taken from him.  No other being is its own cause.  No other being rivals the One True God.  In the Ten Commandments we read,   

6 ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  7 ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.  ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 9 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.  For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.  11 ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

Deuteronomy 5

That message is repeated throughout the whole of Scripture.  The Christian believer is to love and serve Him as Lord and as God; there is never to be any place given to any other god, idol, or power.  Further, we are to worship and revere Him as He is, as He has objectively revealed Himself to us in His Word, and not merely as we might wish or imagine Him to be. Idolatry, at times incorporating the religious influences of the pagan nations around them, and ultimately essentially forgetting the One True God, brought ruin and destruction to the Jewish kingdoms in the Old Testament.  Isaiah 44 conveys a key and powerful message:

 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the First and I am the Last;
Besides Me there is no God.

The superiority of God over idols is the main point of this writing of Isaiah, proven by the ability of God to foretell the future.  At the end of the chapter is a detailed prophecy of events fulfilled more than a century in the future at the time of writing, and throughout the writings of Isaiah there are a number of very detailed prophecies that have been fulfilled.

And who can proclaim as I do?
Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me,
Since I appointed the ancient people.
And the things that are coming and shall come,
Let them show these to them.
Do not fear, nor be afraid;
Have I not told you from that time, and declared it?
You are My witnesses.  Is there a God besides Me?
Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.’ ”

Other “gods” made by men are idols that cannot see, speak, hear, or even do what humans can.  The ancient workmen who created idols from the natural elements of creation were mere men who could make nothing superior to themselves. 

Those who make an image, all of them are useless,
And their precious things shall not profit;
They are their own witnesses;
They neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed.
10 Who would form a god or mold an image
That profits him nothing?
11 Surely all his companions would be ashamed;
And the workmen, they are mere men.
Let them all be gathered together,
Let them stand up; Yet they shall fear,
They shall be ashamed together.

12 The blacksmith with the tongs works one in the coals,
Fashions it with hammers,
And works it with the strength of his arms.
Even so, he is hungry, and his strength fails;
He drinks no water and is faint.

13 The craftsman stretches out his rule,
He marks one out with chalk; He fashions it with a plane,
He marks it out with the compass, And makes it like the figure of a man,
According to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house.
14 He cuts down cedars for himself, And takes the cypress and the oak;
He secures it for himself among the trees of the forest.
He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it.

15 Then it shall be for a man to burn,
For he will take some of it and warm himself;
Yes, he kindles it and bakes bread;
Indeed he makes a god and worships it;
He makes it a carved image, and falls down to it.
16 He burns half of it in the fire; With this half he eats meat;
He roasts a roast, and is satisfied.
He even warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm, I have seen the fire.”
17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, His carved image.
He falls down before it and worships it,
Prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

18 They do not know nor understand;
For He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see,
And their hearts, so that they cannot understand.
19 And no one considers in his heart,
Nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say,
“I have burned half of it in the fire,
Yes, I have also baked bread on its coals;
I have roasted meat and eaten it;
And shall I make the rest of it an abomination?
Shall I fall down before a block of wood?”

Nothing could be more foolish than worshipping something made of metal or wood or other materials of creation.  Idolatry is declared to be a deception, which profits nothing and brings judgement.  The chosen Jewish nation failed to maintain strict loyalty and obedience to God.  Few of us, either individually or in our churches, have any sort of statue or image that might be considered an idol, but too often we too are given to very real idolatry. 

In Colossians 3:5, Paul wrote  “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”   John warned believers in 1 John 5:21 to “Keep yourselves from idols.”  Earlier he warned, in 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”   To love the world is to make an idol of some element of it.  Sexual sin, materialism, jealousy, covetousness, hunger for power and prestige, the inordinate pursuit of pleasure, selfish pride; these things are idolatry and displace God from His rightful place in our lives.  Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”  Too many of us are guilty of these things, and often we must be reminded to turn away from such behaviors and attitudes. 

But all idolatry is not so obvious.  John’s statement to believers in 1 John 5:21 to “Keep yourselves from idols,” is perhaps a contrast with reference to “the true God” in verse 20, essentially a warning against false teachers and false teaching.  A god who is not the god of Scripture becomes in effect an idol, a false god, and the god of growing segments of perceived evangelicalism is just that, a false god of their own making.

“Lovers of self” leads the list of Paul’s description of the last days in the 2 Timothy passage; if unrepentant self is loved and admired it is an idol.  This has been forgotten by a broad part of the church with people often essentially encouraged to be “proud,” “unholy,” and “lovers of themselves” by the church.  God isn’t championed as the living sovereign God of Scripture, holy, righteous, just, intolerant of rebellion and sin, while also love and grace and mercy; but rather merely as accepting and loving as defined by human reasoning.  The gospel that is presented is broadly a man-centered gospel of happiness, hope, prosperity, and success; Jesus the life-coach. The Jesus of history becomes a divine source of inspiration and timeless wisdom but not the source of salvation through His atoning death and resurrection, for a god of purely human-defined love and acceptance requires no atonement. There is little mention of the sin of man and his utter helplessness in turning to God for salvation.  Jesus is frequently referred to in literature, sermons and teaching, and especially in music in terms of filial or erotic love; Jesus the divine boyfriend.  Compromise and secularization of the church is justified by saying that this is necessary to appeal to a broader segment of society and attract the un-churched.  Pragmatism rather than revealed truth becomes a driving principle, with churches that warn no one of eternal judgement or teach that anyone should repent of their sins. As a result of these compromises they are no longer worshipping the living God but are worshipping an idol of their own making.  This is idolatry as surely as bowing down to a statue.

Ideology often becomes, in effect, an idol embraced by the church.  Patriotism and love of country is a good thing, but it can never be allowed to displace the gospel as the dominant theme of the church, and at times this has become a problem in conservative American evangelicalism.  But God, as it were, is neither Republican nor Democrat.  Themes of socialism, “social justice,” critical theory, multiculturalism, and leftist-Marxist ideas have begun to gain acceptance in the perceived evangelical community; these ideas are completely antithetic to the gospel.  The god envisioned by those who accept these ideologies is not the God of Scripture but rather an idol, a god of human making. 

“Jesus” must be the Jesus of Scripture, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity who came to atone for the sins of all who will repent and believe His gospel.  The prosperity-promising Jesus, the sin-affirming cosmic boyfriend Jesus, the life coach Jesus, the inspirational philosopher Jesus, the example of divine love martyr Jesus, the socialist Jesus, the Jesus adapted to fit the culture of the day – these are idols, abominations to God.  The Jesus of the Bible will be all or nothing, Lord and Savior, and anything else is a lie and a deception. 

John Calvin (Institutes, 1.11.8) rightly said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”  Just as idolatry brought disaster to the ancient Jewish nation, it will bring disaster to us. 

6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” 

1 Corinthians 10:6-7

Whose World Is It Anyway?

As we understand that this truly is God’s world, and that He is really in control, we begin to have some sense of understanding our circumstances and the events around us.

My wife and I were unable to have children for reasons that were never diagnosed.  We were able to adopt and have two healthy, happy, now grown children.  We brought home our daughter from the hospital the morning after her birth, and four years later we brought home our son the morning after his birth.  After a couple of years of marriage, our daughter wasn’t yet expecting, and my wife began to despair that she might not ever become a grandma.  But, eventually, our granddaughter was born, beautiful and healthy and happy!

But not all stories in life end well. Why do children become orphans?  What does one say to the person whose child is not healthy, whose business fails, whose spouse is unfaithful or abandons them, or who receives solemn news from their physician?  Why does the crusty old reprobate live to be age ninety, while the kind faithful man dies at age forty?  Why do bad things happen to both good and bad people?  Why is the world full of disaster and plague and poverty and injustice?  We at least sometimes find ourselves answering such questions with an honest “I don’t know.”

An understanding of the teaching of the Bible teaches us that God created the world, the universe around us, and us.  God created all for His own glory, for His own eternal purposes.  He displayed His great wonder, power, and surpassing majesty in creation.  But that was just the beginning.  He allowed sin to enter creation, and disaster followed.  Bad things – catastrophic things.  When humankind sinned, God displayed His nature far beyond what was displayed in creation.  He displayed grace.  He displayed love.  He displayed forgiveness.  He did not destroy creation; instead He began to unfold the eternal plan of redemption.  Christ was the Lamb ordained before the foundation of the world to be the requisite sacrifice.  At the appropriate and predetermined time in history, in Christ God did something so startling that we cannot completely comprehend it.  He Himself atoned for our sin.  He satisfied divine wrath and justice.  He forgave the sins of those who would merely turn to Him in faith and repentance, made possible by Christ.  It is His world, and He has supremely displayed His grace, love, and forgiveness to us when He chose to redeem us.

We must remember this to maintain any sort of perspective on the progression of events in the world as well as the events in our life.  God is – God.  He is Sovereign over all of the affairs of time.  He is never taken by surprise, and nothing that happens is out of the control of His ultimate divine purpose.  The author of Psalm 90 reflected on this concept:

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. You turn man to destruction, And say, “Return, O children of men.” For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it is past, And like a watch in the night.

For all our days have passed away in Your wrath; We finish our years like a sigh. 10 The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away. 12 So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom. 13 Return, O Lord! How long? And have compassion on Your servants. 14 Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, That we may rejoice and be glad all our days! 15 Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us, The years in which we have seen evil. 16 Let Your work appear to Your servants, And Your glory to their children. 17 And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, And establish the work of our hands for us; Yes, establish the work of our hands.

God is above time and not limited by time.  He is the eternal God, not measured or limited as we are.  He sees all of time as one event, and all that happens in time happens ultimately for His divine purposes.

To acknowledge this doesn’t fully solve all of the related philosophic questions we might consider.  The whole concept of good and evil, why God allowed sin and evil, is in some sense impossible for us to comprehend.  Why are some saved and many lost?  What is the divine purpose in allowing many to be eternally lost?  Why have empires arisen and fallen throughout time, disasters and misery occurred throughout history, billions of people been born and died without hearing anything of the gospel?  In truth, we cannot completely fathom the answers to these questions.

In a more personal sense, it is important to remember that all events are under the control of divine providence, and so the events and challenges in our life are ultimately traceable to our Father and His divine purposes.  Sometimes we can see testing in life’s difficulties; the Psalmist wrote in 11:5 that “The Lord tests the righteous,” and this concept is found throughout the pages of Scripture.  Our Lord in His infinite wisdom and superabundant love sets such a high value upon His people’s faith that He will not protect them from the trials by which faith is strengthened.  He knows our tomorrows as well as we know our todays and yesterdays, and thus we can trust Him with what tomorrow will bring.  While we might acknowledge this principle of being strengthened through trials, in truth it is often difficult for us to see any value in the “bad” events that happen to us.  “How can this possibly benefit me or anyone else or bring glory to God?”  Perhaps steadfast faith in acknowledging His grace and sovereignty in such circumstances supremely brings glory to Him.

As we understand that this truly is God’s world, and He is really in control, we begin to have some sense of understanding our circumstances and the events around us.

A recent hymn reminds us,

Our sovereign God by His own word
Sustains this world and reigns as Lord.
No angel, demon, sinful man
Can change His course, restrain His hand.
O sovereign God, we praise Your power;
Your wisdom, goodness we adore.
We bow our hearts before your throne,
Help us O Lord to trust You more.
Help us O Lord to trust You more.

When the fullness of the time had come,
God sent His own beloved Son
To keep God’s law, live in our place,
To bear our sin, guilt, and disgrace.
Dead in our sin, estranged from God,
We fled as rebels from His love.
In sovereign grace He made us sons,
And saved us from the wrath to come.
And saved us from the wrath to come.

Before our birth He planned our days,
Laid out our course, ordained our ways;
The moments of our lives He weaves
So all the glory He receives.
To those He loved before all time,
To all He called in grace renewed,
He cannot lie, His word is true,
He makes all things to work for good.
He makes all things to work for good.

He has written history’s final page,
His Son’s return will end this age.
The Lamb will come in glorious might,
Take back His world and end its night.
How deep the wisdom of our God;
Unknown, unfathomed are His ways.
None counsels Him, or knows His mind;
We bow before Him all our days.
We bow before Him all our days.

O sovereign God, we praise Your power;
Your wisdom, goodness we adore.
We bow our hearts before your throne,
Help us O Lord to trust You more.
Help us O Lord to trust You more.

“Not Yours” – The Child and the Pandemic

Some would suggest that the current coronavirus pandemic is a message from God.  Perhaps it is a harbinger of the end times, or a warning of divine judgement.  We have certainly learned how easily mass panic can be engendered in the age of the internet and the constant bombardment of “news,” and how easy it is to get people to fall in line with growing governmental involvement in their lives when it is presented as necessary for their own good and the perceived good of the community.  But a “sign of the times?”  I don’t think so; there are no “signs of the times” to look for.  Christ will come suddenly for His Church, and then the prophesied events that precede the second coming and the establishment of the kingdom will come to pass.  But nevertheless, there is a profound reminder of scriptural principle for us in the situation.

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My wife and I often have occasion to watch our little granddaughter.  Both parents are employed, and we split daycare duties with the other grandparents and have done so since our daughter returned to work from maternity leave.  As the baby began to become mobile, first crawling, and then crawling faster, now toddling, generally during the day we have kept her in our family room most of the time.  The room is never too hot or too cold, always just right.  Her diaper is checked and changed regularly.  Bottle feeding was administered per her mother’s instructions, and now at some fourteen months old she is given age-appropriate nutritious food, and water is almost always available.  Toys and books are readily available as well as someone to read to her or play with her almost constantly.  Naps when she is tired are facilitated and encouraged.  Grandpa often carries her around the house, showing her “baby” – pictures on the wall, most featuring her, the baby.  Yet, invariably, she attempts to disregard the barriers to her exit from the room.  She attempts to escape and crawl up the stairway to the upstairs and has always been intercepted and scooped off the stairs, with, in my case, a pronouncement of “Not Yours.”  Attempts to get to something that might harm her, or to “mess up” something in the house, are met with “Not Yours.”  She wants the television remote, the lamp cords, anything placed out of her reach.  Taken into the room full of her toys and stuffed animals and books and told that “These are Yours,” she will soon attempt to escape to what is “Not Yours.”

She has enjoyed going outside in recent weeks and loves it.  In our back yard, we let her toddle around for the most part at will.  She may be met with “Not Yours” when she puts plant material in her mouth, but otherwise we enjoy watching her explore.  It is natural and healthy for her.  Over coming weeks, months, and years, we will enjoy watching her grow and explore.  That is what should happen.  That is for her enjoyment and benefit as well as for the profound pleasure of those who love her.

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The Bible affirms that God created man for His own divine purposes.  He created the world around us explicitly for us.  The writer of Genesis, the Psalmists, the Old Testament prophets affirm the glory of creation.  From the subatomic particle to the vastness of outer space, God created a perfect world, immensely beautiful and complex, a display of his grandeur, a place for people to explore and learn from.  The Edenic environment was perfect for the first created humans.  It was no doubt stimulating and awe inspiring, an environment in which humans could grow and explore and have fellowship with their Creator.

But the unimaginable happened.  Mankind rebelled and sinned against the Creator.  The principle of “Not Yours” was violated.  God, for His own unfathomable purposes, had created humans with the ability to disobey Him, and they did.  Their nature fundamentally changed.  They no longer had unimpeded communion with God, and in fact even their relationship with their world, with self, and with each other was damaged.  We can infer from Scripture that cataclysmic change occurred throughout the natural world when sin came.  And now everywhere we look, we see the glory of creation juxtaposed with the destruction of sin and rebellion against God.  There was no death in Eden, no pain, no tears, no suffering.  Mankind was created with a perfect environment.  But displaying their own will, the first humans rebelled against God.  Flood and drought.  War.  Misery.  Disease and pandemic.  Above all death.  All obviously allowed by Sovereign God, none part of His original creation.

The world didn’t merely become “broken.”  My granddaughter has some Lego-like plastic blocks.  Sitting on the floor with her, I can assemble a few into a shape.  She takes apart what I put together – she breaks it, the blocks easily reassembled or assembled into another shape.  A while back I attempted to glue back together a Christmas ornament that fell and broke, a ceramic egg picked up as a travel souvenir.   Almost as good as new, missing just a few tiny pieces, seams showing just a little glue and fitting almost but not quite perfectly.  That is “broken.”  But the Fall is something far beyond that.  The rebellion of creature against Creator was and remains something more massive, with consequences displayed everywhere we look.  Creation and the Fall.  The first two parts of God’s great plan for humanity.

The apostle Paul reminded in Romans 5:12-19,

 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.  Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.  But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.  And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification.  For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)

Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

The fallen nature that we inherited from Adam plagues all humans.  Even my granddaughter.  The principle of “Not Yours.”  But the story does not end there.  As the Romans 5 passage reminds us, Christ came and has overcome the consequences of the Fall for us.  Rebellion against God required a solution of nothing less than Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, coming to earth as man to die on the cross for human sin.  The third part and culmination of God’s great plan for mankind that is explained in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is the salvation that Jesus accomplished for us.  He made a way for us as sinners to return to fellowship with holy God.  It is incumbent on humans to be born again, to respond to the gospel and to the Spirit and recognize that we have by nature and by choice violated “Not Yours,” to turn in faith to Christ, to end our rebellion and call out to Him.  The necessary atonement for human sin has been made by the Second Adam.  Centuries after the Cross, we live in a world still plagued by the effects of the Fall, by disease and disaster and death, but we can individually know redemption and restoration.  The first Adam sinned and brought destruction and ruin; when we go toward what God has told us is “Not Yours” it brings problems to us individually.  God’s divine purpose is to call out people who are in violation of “Not Yours” and save them if they will turn to Him in faith.  Christians eagerly await the final part of God’s great plan, the end of the age and the eternal state, the restoration of all that was lost in the Fall.  An eternal age when we will know Him as Creator.  An eternal age when we will know Him as Redeemer.

An eternal age when there will be no more pandemics.

 

 

Predictions and Prophecies

Early in the current coronavirus concern, on March 13, I sent an e-mail containing the following:

I just returned from Safeway.  No toilet paper or tissues.  Almost no bread.  Lines at checkout.  Many more people than a usual mid-day Friday.
With testing rolling out, I expect perhaps a quarter of a million confirmed cases in the US within two weeks.  I’d expect maybe 300 deaths in the same time frame.
Panic will continue for the next ten days or so.
Two or three weeks down the road, it will begin to be realized that it isn’t the disaster that some fear.  China first, then Italy, will begin to return to normal.  Things will begin to return to normal in the US.   A month down the road, other events will push to the top of the news cycle.  Economic damage will linger for several months.
Obviously, my predictions were – less than perfect.  I underestimated the spread of the disease, and greatly underestimated the panic.
On March 28, The Denver Post reported

Gov. Jared Polis offered grave predictions and a desperate call to action Friday over the future of the coronavirus, warning that tens of thousands of Coloradans could die if social distancing is not practiced, while reminding people that the effects of his orders restricting contact will not be seen for at least a few weeks.

The news conference marked the governor’s starkest warning to date, as he laid out two scenarios for the COVID-19 crisis — both of which he said could involve serious losses of life if the person-to-person spread of the disease isn’t slowed.

“Colorado hasn’t seen the worst of this. The United States hasn’t seen the worst of this. The world hasn’t seen the worst of this,” Polis said.

Citing modeling by the Colorado School of Public Health, Polis said it’s estimated that each person who contracts COVID-19 in Colorado is infecting an additional three to four people, and each of those infects another three to four — an exponential spread.

Under those two scenarios — depending on whether patients with COVID-19 are infecting three people each or four — either 23,000 or 33,200 people in Colorado could die by June if no social distancing is practiced, Polis said.

But Colorado is doing better than that, Polis noted. About 50% of the population was estimated to be practicing social distancing by avoiding crowds or isolating themselves before he issued his stay-at-home order this week. But that’s not nearly enough, he said.

As I write this, June is six weeks away.  The governor has placed the state on, as I call it, “martial law lite.”  I watched a local newscast last evening that reported on the lack of activity and staff layoffs in hospital emergency rooms and throughout healthcare in general.  The same newscast showed the governor, a politically ambitious progressive, at a news conference in a large convention center, wearing a hard hat and with sleeves rolled up, presiding over the construction of overflow space for hundreds of non-critical patients.  The predicted surge in patients, earlier slated for mid-April, has now been pushed back to May.  Currently nearly three hundred Coloradans who tested positive for the virus have died.  The governor is in a good position with his predictions.  If the number doesn’t continue to grow rapidly, he can take partial credit for his tough social distancing measures, and if perchance the numbers grow rapidly, it will be well within the scope of his projections.  At the national level, projections of deaths of those with positive tests also have been completely unreliable and have moved steadily downward.

In 1798, Thomas Malthus argued that human population always grows more rapidly than the human food supply until war, disease or famine reduces the number of people. He famously predicted that gains in living standards would be undermined as human population growth outstripped food production, and so would drive living standards back toward subsistence.  History has shown that he was completely wrong.  In more recent times, countless projections have been made about climate change originated by human activity.  Next to none have come to pass in predicted time frames.  Thomas Sowell has noted, “What can we be certain of from history? That human beings have been wrong innumerable times, by vast amounts, and with catastrophic results. Yet today there are still people who think that anyone who disagrees with them must be either bad or not know what he is talking about.”

Human predictions, even those based in scientific data, are, well, often wrong.

          

There is a source of predictions, however, that is always accurate.  The Bible is filled with prophecies, principles, and promises that we can see over and over are completely correct.  Upon completion of Solomon’s Temple,

Then the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice.  When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place.  For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there forever; and My eyes and ]My heart will be there perpetually. As for you, if you walk before Me as your father David walked, and do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and My judgments, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not fail to have a man as ruler in Israel.’

 “But if you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods, and worship them, then I will uproot them from My land which I have given them; and this house which I have sanctified for My name I will cast out of My sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.”  (2 Chronicles 7:12-19)

The rest of the Old Testament is a fulfillment of this pronouncement by God.  Following Solomon, the kingdom divided.  The northern kingdom of Israel fell away from following God and never returned to following Him.  That kingdom was destroyed some seven centuries before Christ.  The southern kingdom of Judah, headquartered at Jerusalem, also fell into times of apostasy but enjoyed times of revival and sometimes spectacular deliverance over the centuries before being overrun by the Babylonians.  Before the captivity, prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah under divine inspiration made many detailed and accurate prophecies, some fulfilled in their time, some fulfilled later in history, and some yet to be fulfilled.  Even after the fall of the kingdom, God continued to fulfill promises made to Abraham and to the Hebrew nation, preserving the Jews and eventually restoring the nation in their homeland.  During the captivity, Daniel received a vision that, coupled with other scriptures, lays out with stunning accuracy the course of world history, even dating the first advent of Messiah.  While some prophesied events are yet future, the Old Testament is filled with amazing prophesies that have been fulfilled just as they were given.

Jesus spoke words of prophecy.  He knew why He had come; He told the disciples of His impending death.  Mark 10:32-34 records,

Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him:  “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.”

His death happened just as the Old Testament prophets had foretold, just as Isaiah (chapter 53) graphically described prophetically some seven centuries earlier, just as Jesus on more than one occasion had told His disciples would happen.  And He rose from the grave, in fulfillment of  numerous prophecies, just as He told the disciples that He would.  Following the resurrection, He returned to heaven, and promised to come again:

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.  (Acts 1:9-11)”

God knows all things.  He created all things that we know and touch and feel and perceive.  He is above space and time.  He can predict with perfect accuracy all that will ever happen.  It should come as no surprise that human predictions are not always so  accurate.  Humans are inherently not only imperfect but sinful and apart from God.  Humans need to be saved from their sins.  The Bible is replete with the message that we are lost, but in His grace God has made a way, the only way, for us to receive a new nature and eternal life.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate, came to earth as a man, died, and rose again as the only acceptable and necessary atonement for our sin.  In His divine wisdom and grace, God has decreed that if we but end our rebellion against Him, turn from our sins, turn to Him in faith, and accept what Christ has done on our behalf, we can know eternal life.  That is not a human prediction.  That is His promise.

Right Here and Everywhere

Historic orthodox Christianity at its most basic core believes that God is both infinite and personal and wants to have a relationship with us.  The Bible tells us of a God who is the uncaused first cause, who preexisted the universe that we know and inhabit.  Beyond the limitations of the physical, and in fact the creator of the physical world, God is in no way limited by space and time; He created it all.  The immense and wonderful universe that exists is a display of His infinite intelligence, power, and creative ability.  He “spoke” all that exists into existence out of nothing that previously existed – He willed it and it was so.  An incalculable number of unfathomably complex atoms came into existence, formed into billions of galaxies, stars, and solar systems, in immeasurable space.

Many, maybe most, today believe that it is not reasonable to think that in the vastness of the cosmos there simultaneously exists a God who relates to individual people.  The authors of a social media post somewhat mockingly expressed this commonly held idea:

CHRISTIANITY: Belief that one God created a universe 13.79 billion years old, 93 billion light years in diameter (1 light year = approximately 6 trillion miles), consisting of over 200 billion galaxies, each containing an average of 200 billion stars, only to have a personal relationship with you.

While not agreeing with all of the stated presuppositions here, I think this statement about Christianity is essentially correct.  Christianity fundamentally believes that God is both infinite and personal and wants to have a relationship with us.

Creation has a divine purpose beyond merely manifesting God’s infinite glory to Himself and to His created beings.  He created the universe of “93 billion light years in diameter (1 light year = approximately 6 trillion miles), consisting of over 200 billion galaxies, each containing an average of 200 billion stars” as the perfectly designed home for humankind.  He created all that exists within our observation and comprehension for a great divine purpose that is in truth even beyond the glory of creation.  He designed us for the grand purpose that demands that we know Him, love Him, and worship and serve Him.  He created human beings in order to manifest His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love.  Mankind, created by God, did the unthinkable, as God knew would be the case even before creation.  Mankind sinned and rebelled against the Creator.  Far more wonderfully than even creation itself expresses, God in turn has done the unimaginable.  He has made a way for us to be spared the consequences of rebellion against Him.  In Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Triune God became incarnate.  God stunningly became a man in order to be the requisite Savior.

Jesus Christ told us of God.  He taught us great high ethical standards.  He told us of God’s majesty and holiness.  He told us of the grace and love of God.  But supremely, He, God incarnate, submitted to a tortuous death on a crude Roman cross to demonstrate the monstrous consequence of human rebellion against creator God and to be the perfect sacrifice to provide the necessary atonement for human sin.  He died and resurrected in victory over death and sin for anyone who will but end rebellion against God, turn to Christ and embrace His gospel, recognize Him as Savior and Lord.  Yes, “only to have a personal relationship with you.”

Space and time and life on earth is a great display of God’s glory, and of His attributes of transcendence, unlimited knowledge, unlimited ability.  But surpassing that is the fact that God in Christ has Himself atoned for human sin and rebellion.  His redeemed people will know and love and worship Him eternally as Creator, but even more as gracious Redeemer.  A contemporary hymn writer has beautifully reminded us,

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.

God’s love, expressed in Christ on the cross, is “vast beyond all measure.”

What one believes about the anti-Christian sentiment and doubt expressed in the referenced social media post has great philosophical and practical implications.  Without an infinite personal god, human existence and life becomes vain and purposeless.  A human is but a tiny meaningless speck, an accumulation of a few trillion atoms, existing in a vast eternal cosmos of meaninglessness.  The uncomfortable but necessary conclusion is that there may be no answer in the quest for purpose and meaning.  Ethics and morality become relative.  Absolutes have no basis.  If I as an individual have no meaning or objective value, why might I assign value or purpose to others beyond what they can do for me?  The existentialist’s though of individual personal autonomy, of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die, and when I die I shall but rot,” becomes completely reasonable.  Love, hate, or indifference become merely highly complex chemical reactions in the brain of an individual.  The immaterial aspects of a human being that make one human – intelligence, emotions, thoughts, logic, will – have no explanation.  A purely naturalistic worldview cannot account for such realities.

Ultimately, the underlying nature of doubt about an infinite personal god is rooted in the fact that people want to be their own authority.  Jesus said, recorded in John 3:19, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”  They are unwilling to admit their sin and turn away from their sin.  They are unwilling to acknowledge Christ as Savior and Lord; they see no need for a supernatural savior, they want no Lord.

But to the Christian, there is no vain pursuit of meaning.  God values “beyond all measure” the people who He has created and who He has forgiven and redeemed.  He values us so much that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins to conquer sin and its effect, death and eternal separation from God.  He in fact delights in our eternal joy.

God told the ancient prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).  God knows us intimately and gives our lives purpose and meaning.  He formed us through His wisdom and power, and He sustains every moment of our existence.  Reflecting on God’s sovereignty over our existence, the psalmist David wrote in Psalm 139:17, “How precious to me are your thoughts, God!”  The Creator made us, knows us, and loves us.

Further, the Christian belief in a personal god, the God Who has revealed Himself to us through the ancient Hebrew prophets, through the inspired Scriptures, and supremely in Christ, leads to the conviction that moral authority resides in that personal God.  Man is no longer left to his own devices on questions of ethics and morals.  We can no longer be autonomous.  We cannot act as we please; we cannot treat others as we please.  We are created by God in the image of God who placed within us a moral nature.  He created us as both physical beings and as mind and “soul,” capable of communication, thought, reason, emotions, and will.  God has in fact spoken to us and revealed Himself to us, and we must live in obedient relationship to God as the ultimate authority.  All questions of philosophy, ethics, morals, human relationships and societal construct are subject to Him as Creator, Redeemer, and Supreme Ruler over creation.

 

 

 

 

Faith and the Trust Fall

I once watched the speaker at a post-evangelical megachurch deliver his Easter weekend message.  Broadly, it wasn’t bad, centering on an appropriate Easter theme as he spoke about the concept of faith in Jesus.  At the conclusion of the sermon, he climbed a ladder, perhaps twenty or more feet in the air, and, wearing a tethered harness, fell backward off the ladder, gently lowered back to the stage, as an illustration of faith.  As I reflected on this rather dramatic illustration and the entire talk, I was somewhat troubled.  I thought back to an experience earlier in my business career.

The company for which I worked for many years hired an outside firm to conduct a rather elaborate company-wide training, team building, and motivational series of events.  Always a bit of a skeptic and cynic, I nevertheless played along, as I was a low-level manager at the time, and so had to participate without too much outward protest.  One event was an off-site event for groups of employees, conducted over a few days for groups of several dozen people.  At that event, I was introduced to the trust fall, sort of a highlight of the meetings.  A trust fall is designed to be a team-building group exercise game in which a person deliberately falls backward, relying on a group of a few people standing behind to catch him or her.  We were all encouraged to take a turn as the person falling.  At the end of the day, I thought the whole thing a waste of likely six-figure money, and it didn’t motivate me or any of my peers or subordinates to trust each other.  But again, I plead guilty to being a skeptical cynic.

Back to the megachurch.  There was encouragement in the sermon to have faith in Jesus, but there was little of the concept of turning away from sin and embracing Christ as Savior and Lord.  Likely the word “sin” wasn’t mentioned, or the necessity of Christ dying as the necessary sacrifice for the sin of sinners.  In short, as I reflected on it, it almost came across as faith defined in some manner as “take a chance on Jesus.”  A trust fall.  Biblical faith – saving faith, and sustaining faith for life –  is something profoundly different than that.

The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  When the Gospel of Christ, contained and recorded in the Bible, is internalized by the human mind and heart and applied by the Spirit, saving faith is the result.  Paul further says we are saved by grace through faith which is “the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9), a gift from God that is the result of embracing the message about Christ and His salvation.  We hear the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as the only solution to our alienation from God.  The Word produces faith within us and regenerates us.  We hear the message of the Gospel, we believe it, we acknowledge sin and turn to Christ as Savior and Lord, and the Spirit makes us a new creation in Christ: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).”  How this gift of God mixes with the human response is a mystery that maybe cannot be totally understood, but salvation is far more than deciding to take the proverbial leap of faith.

Faith is the Spirit-given conviction that the Gospel is true, that the resurrection is a fact, and then acting on that conviction.  Saving faith does not simply originate within a person.  It doesn’t just sound good or inspiring or reassuring or affirming and so make us want to jump on the bandwagon or trust our teammates or join a club.  It is the gift of Jesus Christ and of the Spirit.  It is Christ who is both the source and object of faith.

Often, we hear people say that “their faith” has sustained them in a time of difficulty.  I would be so bold as to suggest that such an attitude can in fact be a feel-good deception.  In Luke 7:50, it is recorded of Jesus, “Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you.  Go in peace.””  She did not here merely show faith in faith.  She had come to Jesus.  Beginning in verse 44, the account tells us, “Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head.  You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in.  You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil.  Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”  The object of her faith – was Jesus.

It is Jesus – the real Jesus Christ of Scripture – God the Son Who atoned for my sin on the cross and has conquered sin and death – that has saved me and will save all who will but end their rebellion against God and embrace Him as Savior and Lord.  It is He – the object of true faith – Who saves and sustains.

The Methodist Bishop

Recently on a local television newscast I saw a story that featured an interview with the first openly homosexual bishop of the United Methodist Church.  She told the reporter that in her view the group’s pending split over LGBTQ+ acceptance in the church was the result of a principle listed in the foundation of the denomination’s values when it was formed in 1972, which stated that the church considers the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching.  “At that point, we turned from a very grace-filled understanding of human sexuality to one of condemnation for a group of people,” she noted, and admitted that she was biased on the topic, as she has been married to her female partner for many years.  However, she said many pastors she works with throughout Colorado are traditional, and represent a significant portion of the denomination that believes homosexual marriage is prohibited in the faith and hold “very closely to a more literal reading of scripture, ”  while noting that she and other liberals “look at it through church tradition, reason and human experience.  And, our traditionalists look toward the Bible first and only.”  She said the split, if approved by vote later in 2020, was sad, but could also help Christians reach more people with the love of God.  “We can free one another to live in to the ministries we think God calls us to.  It is a huge moment in the life of our denomination.”  “What will emerge from this separation is a strengthening of a commitment to extend God’s love to all people, and that to me is where I find hope.”

I recall at the time briefly wondering just what I might say to her in a conversation on the topic.  She seemed like a pleasant person.  She is certainly better educated than I am, and likely my superior in intellect.  I soon forgot the news spot.

         

I recalled the report about the bishop when I was perusing a magazine recently.  In the publication “The Week” for January 17, 2020, in a short piece headlined “Irreconcilable:” was a report that

“The United Methodist Church announced plans last week to split into two branches, in a schism over same-sex marriage.  The country’s second-largest Protestant denomination, with roughly 9 million members, expects to let a “traditionalist” wing break off and take $25 million.  The remaining United Methodist Church would allow gay marriages and LGBTQ clergy for the first time, but any local church could vote to defect with the traditionalists (and take its buildings with it).  The announcement heads off contentious sanctions that were set to take effect against pastors who officiated at gay weddings: a one-year suspension without pay for a first offense and removal from the clergy for the second.  The Nashville-based church’s large following in Africa has fiercely opposed liberal reform.  Church leaders will vote on finalizing the split at their worldwide conference in May.”

I hope this denomination does indeed split.  But I think it needs to split over issues even more fundamental than the aforementioned.  Over what issues should this denomination split?  Issues such as the questions of –  Who is Jesus Christ?  Why did He come?  What is the Christian Gospel?  Do individuals need to be “saved,” and if so what does salvation entail, and how does one obtain it?  How has God spoken or revealed Himself to us; what is the Bible, and is it inspired, authoritative, primary, and sufficient?  It is in the answers to these questions that we find the basis of all true Christian unity, and that require division when there is disagreement.  It is only on the basis of the answers to these questions that the issue raised by this bishop can be addressed.

I am, frankly, highly unlikely to ever converse with this woman or any other Methodist bishop.  But, hypothetically, what would I say to her?  In all probability she is not a regenerate, born-again believer.  I would attempt to kindly share with her the Gospel, perhaps from Romans 3, perhaps from Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, perhaps from John 3, though understanding that she probably does not recognize the authority of those passages.  I would share with her that Jesus Christ was the virgin born Son of God and God the Son who died on the cross to atone for human sin and rose triumphantly from the grave, that human sin and rebellion against God requires punishment and separation from God, and Christ has provided the only solution for that sin.  Turning from sin and turning to Christ as Savior and Lord in faith is the only hope any of us have.  I might further invite her to examine the teachings of early Methodist John Wesley, to consider the lyrics of some of the great hymns written by his brother Charles Wesley.

          

While I will never meet this bishop, I do meet people who are rebels against God and are part of the fallen human race.  People who are sometimes less than honest, sometimes less than truthful, thieves, materialists, proud, self-sufficient, individuals caught up in unwholesome compulsions or aberrant sexual behavior, but mostly people who are unbelieving or spiritually dull but really nice people.   And regardless of their particular situation in life, regardless of their religion or morality or individual failings or virtues, people who need to turn to Christ in faith and repentance as their only hope.  People who need to become convinced that the Gospel is true, and call out to God with utmost sincerity, repentance, and faith,

“Dear God, I know that I am a sinner.  I’m sorry for my sin.  I want to turn from my sin.  Please forgive me.  I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son, that He died on the cross for my sin, and You raised Him to life.  I trust Jesus as my Savior and Lord and want to follow Him from this day forward.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Goodness of God

I recently attended an event where I heard a contemporary christian entertainment song that I have heard many times before.  Here are some of the lyrics:

You are good, good, oh, You are good, good, oh, You are good, good, oh, You are good, good, oh
Let the King of my heart, Be the wind inside my sails, The anchor in the waves
Oh, He is my song
Let the King of my heart, Be the fire inside my veins, The echo of my days
Oh, He is my song
You are good, good, oh, You are good, good, oh, Yes, You are good, good, oh
You are good, good, oh
You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down
You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down
You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down
You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down
You are good, good, oh
You are good, good, oh
You are good, good, oh (when the night is holding onto me)
You are good, good, oh (You are holding on)
You are good, good, oh (when the night is holding onto me)
You are good, good, oh (You are holding on)
You are good, You’re good, oh
You are good, good, oh
When the night is holding onto me

I submit that these words are a deceptive half-truth.

Say what?

I believe that, indeed, God is good.  Unquestionably, God is good, always good, depending on one’s perspective.  And I understand from Scripture that God often delights in blessing His people with good things in life.  As I write this, it is early May.  A tree in our front yard is in bloom, with a beautiful fragrance that I very much enjoy, and beautiful blooms cover the tree.  I go to the front door several times each day just to appreciate the tree.  Any person with a sense of smell and any sighted person can appreciate the tree.  The general goodness of God allows for this.  The magnificence of the Creator is on display everywhere.  But, is God still good when one loses the sense of smell, or the ability to see?  Is God still good when one is hungry with no food, when one loses a relationship, when one becomes unemployed?  Depending on one’s perspective, does God sometimes let me down?  Or, is He just always the wind in my sails and my anchor and my inspiration who never lets me down?

The idea of never-ending triumph sets us up for failure.  The contemporary church often tries to be attractive to society by presenting this overly positive triumphant happy attitude.  God really, really loves and affirms and accepts you just like you are and wants you to add Jesus to your life and be happy and successful and so do we.  This is not the message of the Bible.  Further, in this life, Christians are not promised that they will never know difficulty.  In fact, often our faith can cause difficulties, heartaches, and conflicts.  God’s love is not a divine version of the love of a spouse or boyfriend or genie-in-a-bottle.  Sometimes God allows conflict and difficulty, and this is according to His plan and purpose.  When we don’t acknowledge this reality, we set up both ourselves and others for failure.

In Romans 2:4 (New King James Version) we read, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”   Mankind is not merely living in a broken world, and I don’t just make mistakes.  Mankind is hopelessly lost in sin and rebellion against the Creator.  Mankind is subject to the righteous wrath of God against sin.  The very nature of God demands that sin be dealt with, atoned for.  Jesus didn’t die on the cross because He spoke truth to power, because He made religious hypocrites and those in political power uncomfortable.  He didn’t come primarily to bring a message of justice and love and affirmation.  He came according to the divine plan and purpose of God in order that He might suffer and die on the cross as the only perfect and acceptable sacrifice for the sin of those who would repent and believe.  That is offensive to many.  How could a good God be involved with blood and sacrifice and suffering and death?  Why would a good God allow people to go to eternal loss in Hell?  Why wouldn’t a truly good God just overlook sin and declare everyone righteous by divine fiat?  All that blood and sacrifice and eternal punishment stuff, many would say, doesn’t sound like love.  In fact, it is repugnant to post-modern man.  So too often the church no longer preaches and teaches and sings these truths.

The Bible tells me that I don’t merely make mistakes that He can just overlook; I am a born sinner who commits sins, acts of disobedience and rebellion against the eternal, holy, righteous, perfect God.  While this sin of the created is a massive affront against the Creator, it is His goodness that allows for His forgiveness.  It is His goodness that provided a way for my regeneration through faith and repentance.  Incomprehensible divine love provided for the Savior to atone for my sin on the cross.  His goodness doesn’t just accept and overlook sin, like a loving grandparent or a spouse or boyfriend or other offended human, but His goodness provided the avenue for my salvation from the consequences of sin.  And that requires that I believe that the gospel is true, that I acknowledge my sin, and turn to Christ in faith.  It isn’t enough to just acknowledge that God is good and is my inspiration and will never let me down.  I must acknowledge my sin and true guilt and acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior.  I cannot reform or perform religious rites or vow to become a better person to merit salvation; salvation is all of God’s grace.  But salvation doesn’t just affirm me in my sin; it requires that I turn away from sin and willingly give myself to Him as Lord and Savior.  This is the essence of the gospel, the central message of the church.

Further, we must acknowledge the reality of God’s goodness in the context of His sovereignty and His divine plan for us.  I don’t completely understand human suffering.  I don’t understand why good things happen to seemingly bad people while bad things happen to seemingly good people.  But I do rejoice in the fact that it is all for His ultimate glory and therefore for the best.   Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”  No, He never “lets me down,” but that is a matter of perspective.  An eternal perspective.  I think H. G. Spafford presented a more realistic tone a century ago when he wrote, after the tragic loss of his family in a shipwreck, “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, and sorrows like sea billows roll, Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”