Is God On Trial?

Have you ever doubted God? Who hasn’t? It’s in our nature to question what all this means and evaluate how our lives will seem to be a random set of events that amount to nothing. We agree with Solomon’s wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes that “all is vanity” and “striving after the wind.”

But do we realize what we’re doing when we entertain those doubts? Essentially, we’re listening to the flesh, which veers quickly to the words of Satan, “Did God really say?”

Worse, we begin listening to worldly wisdom that tells us we are the architects of our future, or we make our own luck.

Some Christians will say, “God doesn’t drive parked cars!”

Is this true? Does God need us to get moving before He can use us?

Others say we need to follow the rules of Karma, and that if we are one with the positive forces in the cosmos, then things will turn around to our favor.

Maybe you’re wondering, is God even real, or is it just “the Universe” like so many like to say.

There’s a movie out, The Case For Christ, following Lee Stroble’s research that convinces him of the ‘proof’ that Jesus was a real man, and thus, Christianity is true. The title suggests a trial of sorts, and it is a compelling story. It captivates us because we like trials and arguments. A large number of TV shows involve lawyers and trials. We enjoy parsing through the evidence to see what really happened.

This is also the topic of Isaiah chapter 40 and 41. God puts himself on trial against the idols. Actually, the idols, and the world corridors of power are on trial against God, just as Pilate was standing before the judgment bar of Christ, not the other way around.

In chapter 41, in particular, God challenges the people and their idols to tell the future, explain the events of the past … do good, do evil, show power.

Of course, the idols and the rulers cannot do any of this. Through Isaiah, God has already declared what will happen, despite people’s attempts to secure themselves against the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians. None of these great nations can do anything to God. They actually serve His purpose.

We often think that our lives are filled with meaningless suffering or unjust turns of events. Yet, God is sovereign in every aspect of what happens. When we doubt this, we’re actually being tempted to trust in our idols. Granted, we don’t have little statues made of wood and metal or shrunken heads of our ancestors, or bones plastered into the walls of our house (I’m assuming most of us don’t!) But, our idols are just as much “less than emptiness.”

We trust in the politics of today. Many trust that Donald Trump will protect Christian morality through Supreme Court nominations. Many trust in a job with the right company to provide for their needs.

It’s not immediately wrong to read the paper and make evaluations on a Presidential nomination, or seek to be gainfully employed. But, it is wrong if we start assigning God’s hand to things that we think are fitting into some plan or design of our own making. In other words, some people have determined that one way is God’s Will, and then begin constructing a path of likely scenarios that will accomplish it.

That’s worldly wisdom. That’s actually sooth-saying. We want to know the future, and we attempt to read the tea leaves or look into the crystal ball to declare the outcome. Some use the Bible to do this. They assign numbers to the letters and try to unlock secrets about the future (this is called Numerology).

God tells us not to do this. It’s witchcraft. It’s attempting to do what only God can do.

Only God directs events. Only God can tell the future. Only God can explain events that happened and what they mean.

Sometimes, God reveals the good reason for some tragedy to us in our personal lives. We come to realize the good that God was working. But other times, God simply asks us, as He did to Job, “Where were you when I created the universe?” God repeatedly says through His writers in Scripture, “Who counseled me with wisdom and taught me justice?”

The answer is obvious. No one  did.

God may leave us waiting for an answer, showing us enough light for one step at a time. And we should respond in thanksgiving for that light, and that step.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Why We Shouldn’t Fear

Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. 

Isaiah 40:21-31

But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.

You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all.

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.

Isaiah 41:8-13

A Useless Message?

Isaiah wouldn’t be considered a successful minister. Despite his prophecies, kings did what they wanted, repented only when it seemed they had to, then returned to their selfish, prideful ways.

Isaiah is remarkable because his prophecies pointed down the vast corridors of time to Jesus Christ, our Lord. He reminds us of God’s sovereignty over all matters of life. He reminds us that we don’t even have a frame of reference to interpret God’s ways.

That could be frightening. Imagining God looking down on humanity, regarding the lofty princes and powerful nations as “less than nothing,” and the people as grasshoppers, dust on the scales. We make no impact at all to God.

We don’t like that idea. We like to think that we have a purpose and make our mark on history. We want to be somebody. We want to make a name for ourselves. We believe we can reach the stars or build a tower to heaven. We prefer to think that we can know the deep things of knowledge both of good and evil, and that in that pursuit, we’ll become like God.

It’s all absurd. It would be like the comedy sketch Jim Gaffigan did about the toddlers who try to run away. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Only, with God, it’s even more absurd.

Who Is Like God?

There is nothing to which we can compare God. He is intimately involved in his creation, including all the stars in the galaxy, which he calls by name, not missing a single one.

Think about that when you think you’ve been forgotten by God. He doesn’t regard people the way we do. Pomp and status in our society means nothing to Him. When Jesus stood before Pilate, it was actually Pilate who stood before Jesus, his soul on trial.

With all our striving, we grow tired. Even when we are young, we do not possess the strength to go on forever. There comes a time when we are exhausted, hemmed in on every side.

True Hope of Deliverance

But if we look to the Lord, He renews our strength. He gives power to the faint. Though we be as lame, weak people, we’ll be more than conquerors by His might.

The promise that continues in chapter 41 is to God’s people, not to people in general. It is only the repentant who have put their faith in the absolute justice and holiness of God’s nature, have renounced all claim of control on their life that can then rest in the declarations that follow.

Our enemies will be as nothing at all. We’ll look for them and not find them.

The Lord holds us in His right hand. We need not fear. He is our Lord.

Ignorance is the New Sin: How Modern Heresy Works

I was shocked when Ted Dekker, a well-known Christian author–son of missionaries to Indonesia–ripped off the mask to reveal himself as a prophet of Baal.

I’ve written about it here for part 1 and here for part 2. Like all heretics, he declares that he received an audible-yet-not-audible word directly from God telling him to forget everything he knows about God and embrace the new way that God was going to reveal to him.

There’s a long list of people who will have similar stories. Some are more heretical than others, but they all bring strange fire before the Almighty. They all claim to have a New Way that nobody knows about. For Ted, it’s the ‘Forgotten Way.’ And it can be yours, for as low as …

Funny how that works. I’m fairly certain that Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, and John never charged for their inspired works. How times have changed.

I continue to see Ted–in unrepentant fashion–promote his new cult. Here’s a quote:

Why are people leaving churches? We’ve lost sight of the power found in our true identity as the light which manifests in a radical love without which all else is found worthless, as Paul wrote. Ignorant of who we are, our own self-limiting beliefs sabotage us and keep us in darkness every day. But that can change today. Watch this eye-opening 2 minute video and see the only problem Christians face today. You don’t have a light. You ARE the light.

Good marketing always tells people what they want to believe.

This pill will shed all your excess fat without any exercise or special diet! 

Drinking beer will make you popular and sexy!

Drive this car and you’ll command respect from everyone around you! 

Wear this bracelet and you’ll have energy all day! 

You can write a novel in 3 days if you follow these two simple steps! 

I think we’ve all seen these types of things. The Superbowl is coming up and we’ll laugh, we’ll cry, we’ll … buy. We even know that it’s pure marketing, but we still really, really want to believe it.

Same with what Ted’s selling. It’s actually no different than what Rob Bell advanced in his book, Love Wins. The premise is that our ignorance of God’s love is our ‘hell’ or ‘darkness.’

Rob says that everyone is a child of God and are already in His family. They simply choose to leave, like the prodigal son. Or, like the older brother, when the prodigal’s father throws a party upon the younger son’s return, everyone is at God’s ‘party,’ though some create a ‘hell’ for themselves because they allow envy to get in the way of experiencing the Father’s love.

Ted’s doing exactly the same thing: Our ‘ignorance’ of ‘who we are’ is ‘keeping us in darkness.’

But that’s not the most startling thing. He goes on to say who we are is The Light.

You don’t have a light. You ARE the light.

Who knew?

Ted rips this from Luke 16:8, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

Context is key. Just like Mr. Bell can offer a plausible twist to parables and other verses to support his universalism, so does Ted.

The context of Luke is the testimony of the believer. If we turn to John 8:12, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Again in John 9:5, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

John the Baptist was sent as a forerunner to testify to the ‘light that shines in the darkness.’ John 1:5-8.

Ted and Rob’s message to the world is the same: We’re ignorant of who we are and we need to simply ‘wake up.’ In fact, that’s the title of Ted’s e-book promo for his Forgotten Way study. Once we let go of our “self-limiting beliefs,” we will be free to experience God the way we are meant to.

This message is appealing because it comes packaged in terms our culture loves. It’s a ‘cleanse,’ as if we need to clean out the toxins that have polluted us. Evidently, orthodox theology is one of those toxins!

It’s easy! 12 days, or 20, or 30, or, gasp, 40. Those are always the quick 12-step-program words that promise we’ll be kicked into high spiritual gear!

Do this study and in 20 days you’ll be experiencing heaven on earth, here and now! 

What if you could take a simple spiritual cleanse to free you from all the negative thoughts and beliefs that are keeping you from experiencing life to the fullest?–Ted Dekker

Sign me up! I don’t want to wait! I want my milk and cookies now!

It also appeals to us because we all crave acceptance, but we loath repentance. We desire love, but hate truth that allows intimacy.

Ted and Rob’s version of the gospel offers a mirage of love. It’s actually more like infatuation, or puppy love. It’s self-centered and experience-based. It sits and dreams of an image of our ‘loved one,’ but knows that when we get to know the actual person, things will fall apart.

Hence the term “fall out of love.”

I thank God that His version of love is not this insipid, gooey Valentine’s Day box of chocolate love. God didn’t send us a glittery, cheesy card with Hallmark sentiments.

No, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ who had to bear the weight of our sinful rebellion against the demands of God’s Righteousness. It was a burden you and I could not carry or pay. Not in a thousand lifetimes could we compensate for the offense against an eternal God.

Puppy love knows nothing of the demands of true Love. Puppy love doesn’t look at our sinfulness and die to redeem us from it!

This is why it can be so sugary-sweet and then so desperately empty. It’s the donut compared to the true meal. We may prefer the pastry, but our bodies will waste away.

True Love required a heavy price. True Love depended on God, not us. For He loved us while we were still in open rebellion to Him. Romans 5:8.

Love demands we turn from our sin and make Jesus our Lord because he bought us on the cross. Love will then show itself in our obedience to Him, as our Lord.

Dekker references “radical love,” as evidence that we’ve found our true identity as “the light.” His version of love, however, doesn’t cross paths with obedience. It simply “holds no account of wrong,” and is the genial non-judgmental acceptance of everyone.

This is where heresy gets it’s power. It sometimes has 90% truth to it. It’s true that we must forgive those who sin against us. We are to turn the other cheek. We are to go two miles when someone compels us to go one. We are to love our enemies. We are to do good to those who hurt us and despitefully use us.

But, how are we to love them? Though we don’t strike back, but turn the other cheek, we should wonder, why do they keep striking us? Why would they be enemies to us if we go extra miles and love them?

Because, what we love more than the acceptance of our fellow man is the acceptance of God. And God calls us to run the race, put to death the things of the flesh, and grow the fruit of the spirit through obedience to Him.

Paul compared his spiritual life to an athlete in severe training, working his body so that he’d find favor from God at the end of his course. He’d rather die than deny his Lord through disobedience or hypocrisy.

We are to hold every thought captive to God. Each attitude must be passed under God’s gaze to burn away our self-life (pride, selfishness, greed, envy, etc.).

The Christian life is not about letting go our ignorance or our ‘self-limiting beliefs.’ It’s about putting to death the works of the flesh.

Apart from Christ, and His life within us, we most certainly are not the light.

Talent on Loan From God!

Mat 25:30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Talent

Rush Limbaugh is fond of saying that he has “Talent on loan from God!” I suppose there’s no doubt that the man has talent. Even his adversaries will admit that he has a unique talent for making them angry, stirring the pot, or being a lightning rod for controversy.

I happen to believe that I have a talent for writing. My Grandma Jones always praised me for having a “good imagination.” At the same time, she wanted me to become a lawyer when I grew up. Come to think of it, lawyers often have pretty good imaginations, so I can kind of see the logic there.

I digress!

I firmly believe that we all have talents. Humans are remarkably talented! We’re always looking for ways to do something more efficiently. Our creativity and aptitude is seemingly unstoppable at times. What was once science fiction has become science fact!

And so, I think about the parable Jesus taught in Matthew 25, The Parable of the Talents. The common interpretation is that God gives talents to people and he expects them to use them for Him.

No argument there, really. I certainly don’t advocate using talents for evil purposes.

It’s also good to note that the parable actually refers to currency. A talent was a wage, or money. In fact, in the story, Jesus tells how the two worthy servants invest the talents and they grow.

It’s further good to notice the context of the parable. The one before it is about the virgins awaiting the groom’s arrival. The one after it deals with the final judgment on the world. In the parable about the virgins, they are given lamps. Five take along oil, while the other five do not. During their watch for the groom’s arrival, the five foolish ones run out of oil and their lamps go out. They’re not ready for the arrival of the groom. They ask for oil from the five wise virgins, but they cannot give them any oil. The foolish women rush to the vendors to buy more oil. Then, while they’re trying to buy the oil for their lamps, they miss the groom’s arrival and are not allowed in to the wedding feast.

The final judgment is portrayed as God separating His people from among all the nations of the world:

Mat 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.

Mat 25:32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

In Jesus’ words, God will note that when He was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, sick and in prison, the righteous fed Him, gave Him water, welcomed Him and visited Him. On the other hand, the unrighteous didn’t feed Him, give Him water, welcome Him or visit Him.

While the righteous are welcomed in to His Kingdom, the unrighteous are banished to eternal punishment.

But there, in the middle of those two parables sits the Parable of the Talents!

So, what does it mean? Is it about cash that God gives us? Is it supposed to be about the talents that we’re given, like running, writing, preaching, fixing things, etc.?

I was thinking about this in the car on the way to work this week. And it hit me like a revelation: God’s not going to throw someone into “outer darkness” if we don’t use our individual talents. Can you picture it? Someone was gifted in writing, but never seeks publication or retains that talent to a personal journal. Then, “You are banished to outer darkness, you worthless steward!!”

I don’t think so.

So, what does it mean? How do we apply this parable in the context of the chapter?

The talents represent the Gospel, just like the oil represented God’s gift of salvation and repentance to those who accepted His Lordship. God has given the world the Gospel. He communicated it to the world through Adam, through Enoch, through Noah, through Abraham, through Isaac, Jacob and Moses. The world has been given His wealth of mercy and grace.

Each one of us is given the currency of God’s grace through Jesus’ sacrifice. Some seem to be given more understanding of it than others. Some may only get a very basic understanding of their sin and God’s grace.

But each one of us will be responsible for what we’ve done with that talent, or talents.

Maybe you think you haven’t been given much from God. But if you take the Gospel, then bury it, fearing God as some evil master to despise, then you’re, in fact, rejecting His love. You will be held responsible for mistreating the gift of God’s love and will be justly judged as a worthless steward of what God has given to you.

We all have talent on loan from God. It’s His love. But if we don’t esteem its value, we’ll find that we’re going to be judged with a righteous and harsh judgment.

 

The Reason for Suffering

coffee and note padThis is just an astounding message for today:

“He suffered thee to hunger.”—Deuteronomy 8:3

THERE was a Divine intention, then, in the hunger and thirst and weariness of the desert march. God suffered these hardships to come to the chosen people, in order to teach them dependence on Himself.

The daily gift of manna was a perpetual evidence of His loving thought and care for the pilgrim host; they came to learn that sin and backsliding could not alienate His compassions; they found that the Word of God was life.

But none of these lessons could have been acquired if the supplies of food had been as regular and plentiful as in Egypt. They were suffered to hunger that God might make them know:

You are suffered to hunger for human love, that you may know what the love of Jesus can be to His own. Open your heart to it, until it flood you as the sunshine does the south windows of a house.

You are suffered to hunger for recognition and gratitude, that you may know what the “Well done!” of Jesus is, and to lead you to look for that only. What do the words of men amount to unless He smile?

You are suffered to hunger for easier circumstances, for money, that you may know the tender provision which Jesus can make for those who are wholly dependent on Him. In the absence of all human help, you will learn the sweet taste of His manna.

Glory to God, to God, he saith, Knowledge by suffering entereth, And life is perfected in death. These seasons of hunger are necessary for the discipline of life.

But, thank God, He is able to satisfy us; and out of His riches in glory in Christ Jesus He can and will fulfill every need of ours (Philippians 4:19, R. V.).

Meyer, F. B. (2011-07-17). Our Daily Homily  (Sermon) Volume 1 (Genesis-Ruth) (Kindle Locations 2132-2144). Heritage Bible Fellowship. Kindle Edition.