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.

Daily Devotional: Warrior Babies!

Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. Psalm 8:2

We often think God should act immediately. We have visions of how He should put people to shame when they commit evil, or do wrong.

Who hasn’t been treated unfairly, or been wrongfully accused? Which of us has not had our pride stepped on or our feelings dragged through the mud?

In those instances, we might cry out and expect God to reveal Himself in a show of force.

But our understanding is like a small child’s compared to a wise parent. Our sense of justice amounts to a sneering face with a protruding tongue directed at the offending party.

God, on the other hand, works in ways that seem slow to us. They seem long in arriving, as if God uses ancient sea vessels to deliver His goods when there are jet planes available!

Often, we fail to see our own guilt and should pray, along with the Psalmist for God to point out our faults and judge us.

Ultimately, we rest on God’s given righteousness, not our own. We don’t have any righteousness to claim.

Our trust is in God, but also in His timing. Our faith rests in His strength, which is established from the mouth of infants. God defeats His foes with babies, not grizzled warriors.

Specifically, God defeated the great foe, Sin, through one baby, Jesus. Our savior was born to a poor couple–outcasts on a weary road, holed up in a stable. No guards to protect this tender life. No supernatural show of force. Just a warning from an angel and a long, arduous journey to Egypt, away from home and family. Just a looming threat of a mad king who murdered hundreds of babies in Israel to wipe out the Messiah.

God is not mocked. And He doesn’t act according to the wisdom of His creatures. We need to trust His strength … which is established in what we’d consider foolishness.

Do You Need to Be In a ‘Church’ To Grow Spiritually?

Forget about the doctrinal disputes among religion for a minute. Go to any church in America, and probably in most Western nations, and you’ll find they are all pretty much the same: Platform up front, pews, chairs or theater seats down in the auditorium/sanctuary. Sometimes there’s an altar up front. There will be religious icons around in the form of stain glass windows, sculptures or pictures.

The place you go is also recognized as a non-profit (non-prophet?) CORPORATION. That’s right. Churches in America are corporations.

The pastoral staff, elders, whatever they call themselves, are the “professional” Christians who are in charge of the corporation that tells the “lay people” or the customers what Christianity really means.

The church staff mirrors a corporation in many respects. There is one “senior” pastor, or a head bishop, who oversees the location, hires the staff and attracts and retains membership.

Those who attend will look up to the pastor as the authority on all things Biblical. Questioning the pastor is frowned upon and will result in marginalizing the person who attempts this, and possibly the removal of the offending ‘heretic.’

I was thinking about this a lot as I’ve been studying the writings of Menno Simons (the Anabaptist theologian from the early 1500s). Much of what he wrote still applies today, though it wouldn’t be limited to the Romans, Lutherans and Zwinglians.

Then I came across this YouTube video pointing out, Scripturally, the very same issue. It’s 20 minutes, but it’s well done and on-point.

 

 

I don’t know the YouTuber personally. I’ve watched two and a half of his videos. But, he is exactly right in his indictment of the “system” of church as we know it.

The Roman church in the 1500s was a powerful Church/State system that held people’s eternal condition in its filthy hands. When Luther began the reformation, it shook that power. Luther probably assumed he would die for his rebuke of the Church.

But then, he backed off and endorsed the System, which still held the power over the blasphemous infant baptism and the mockery of the Lord’s Supper (embodied in what is known as Transubstantiation, or the idea that the bread and wine are made into the actual body and blood of Christ as the priest holds them up).

Today, people still believe that baptism must be done by a pastor or priest to hold any weight. And that cuts across from the infant baptizers to those who practice believer baptism (though not all, just by consensus). Many believe that the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, holds some magical properties when administered at church by a pastor or priest. When I grew up, I was warned about eating the crackers or drinking the wine after the service for fear that I’d be violating the sanctity of the communion bread and making light of the Lord’s Supper!

How absurd! Have we had the teachings of Christ so long and we still elevate rituals and other humans among us so that we blaspheme the Lord?

Taking communion in an unworthy manner means pretending to commune with Christ as his brother while being outside of faith and a traitor like Judas.

Communion is more than unleavened bread and grape juice. Anyone can eat that. But if an unbeliever seeks to blend in with the Lord’s sheep and enter into the intimate communion with the Lord, they are being Judas and it would be better if they had never been born!

The true Pastor, King, High Priest is Christ. He is the Good Shepherd who guides his flock. He is the Groom that prepares His Bride (the ecclesia, the true, spiritual Israel).

Some are appointed Apostles, teachers, prophets…we all have talents. But none of us are to “lord it over another” like the world does. We are not to have corporations of professional Christians as opposed to the unprofessional masses. All of Christ’s purchased souls are Saints in a Holy Priesthood. We have no need of any other instructor outside of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word.

We should all be seeking the truth and exhorting each other from Scripture. We should wrestle with questions and help each other through it. But we should never believe something because some human with a degree said so.

What Does Your Life Say To God?

“The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great.” This was what the Lord told Abraham as they looked out over the valley, past the still waters of the Dead Sea to the lush, quiet cities of the plain. As the sun set in the west, casting it’s long, warm shadows against the sturdy walls and gentle rooftops, illuminating the stately palm trees that rose from amid the buildings, Abraham might have asked, “what cry?”

Creation itself groans under the weight of human rebellion against God. But, each life sends up a cry, betraying the self-satisfied pleasure each one feels in committing both macro and micro evils. What that means is that we may not be committing murder (macro), but we still show hatred, or outbursts of anger (micro). We may not rob a bank (macro), but we rob another’s virtue through gossip (micro).

Each one of our lives cries out to God, alerting him to our sin though we have tried to cover ourselves with leaves and have hidden from His sight.

The cry of the oppressed, the down trodden – the victims of human violence and lust. The cry of the maiden, the wife, and the child. These were the cries which had entered into the ears of the Lord God of Sabaoth. And each sin has a cry. “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me” and it will go on crying; unless it is silenced by the yet greater voice of the blood of Christ “which speaketh better things. –F.B. Meyer

Our sin cries out to God, betraying our guilt. No amount of good work or religious leaves will cover our shame and nakedness. Only the sacrifice of Christ can cover it.

What is the cry of your life? Do you have Christ speaking louder on your behalf?

What is the Sabbath and do I keep it?

Two phrases stand out as the most discouraging things Jesus said: “Have I been with you so long…” (John 14:9) and “how long am I to be with you…?” (Matt. 17:17, Mark 9:21, Luke 9:41–granted, all of those references refer to the same incident).

In each case, we might read the words with a tone of exasperation. After all, he was teaching the disciples, but they didn’t seem to get the overall theme. He multiplied the bread and fish, but in another instance, they didn’t look to him for food. He taught them that he was their teacher and they were all brothers. But they argued about who would be the greatest in the kingdom. He taught that his kingdom was not like those of this world, but they continued to think he would overthrow Rome.

Anyone would be frustrated if their followers didn’t get the message. But Jesus wasn’t just anyone. He is fully God and fully man. He lived with every temptation common to each of us, yet without sin.

I believe his words were filled with patience and longing. Like when someone is trying to explain something wonderful, and eagerly anticipates the moment the listener discovers that ah-ha moment.

“Have I been with you so long…?” “Don’t you see?”

In Mark chapter 2 we see Jesus answering a common question from the religious leaders: Why are you and your disciples doing work on the Sabbath?

For the Jewish people, they had rituals and religious observations that they kept, well, religiously. The seventh day was a day of rest! No argument.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8). Again, “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:11).

Well, actually, there was plenty of argument. What did work mean? What if this? What if that? How about when it lands on Leap Year?

The real irony is that they actually made the day of rest into another “work” to keep them holy.

This makes me think of a period when I was a kid. We were told that we couldn’t change out of our church clothes or play outside on Sunday (because some Christians don’t get Jesus’ teaching, either, if you believe that! And that we changed the Sabbath to Sunday because Jesus was raised on the first day of the week).  So, for a while, we’d sit around reading books and making sure we didn’t play too hard on Sunday. And we’d keep clear of clothes that might imply we were getting ready to play (or work).

Later, we decided that the best way to rest might be to change into clothes that allowed us more comfort.

As I grew up, I struggled with this. We are to obey God’s word. Not just the parts that are easy. The commandments include, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8). Again, “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:11).

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28).

There are 28 verses in the books of the Law talking about the Sabbath and the requirement that none among the people of Israel should do any work.

One of those passages was somewhat quoted by the ruler of the synagogue in Luke 13:14 when he tried to keep people from being healed by Jesus on the Sabbath!

This came up a lot. The pharisees didn’t like Jesus’ disciples picking grain on the Sabbath. They didn’t like Jesus healing on the Sabbath. They didn’t like Jesus, frankly. They saw him as a rival to their authority over the people. And the Sabbath violations were a perfect scandal headline for their endless indictments against the Lord.

Stop and think about that for a minute. Someone is healing incurable diseases, casting out demons, restoring people’s mobility … and these religious leaders say, “If you’re going to do something supernaturally wonderful, make sure it’s on Sunday through Friday, not on Saturday, buddy!”

Really?

I’d be tempted, and might just fail in responding with more than just exasperation. I’d throw in some sarcasm. But, God’s working on me with that flaw.

Jesus didn’t have that sin. He responded patiently. He sought to teach the leaders.

He told them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28).

What does this mean? Jesus is the lord of the Sabbath … does that mean he gets to decide who observes it and when? Is he above the Law? This was probably what the Pharisees thought he meant.

But there’s a deeper meaning. Think way back to Genesis and the first Sabbath. God had completed creation. He narrates this to Moses in six days, describing the work in terms we’d understand. When the word was complete, He rested.

This is a pattern for us. It is good to rest from our work. We shouldn’t work continuously or we’ll get sick!

And, like we all know, sometimes we need to be forced to take a vacation. For our own good, someone might tell us, “It’ll wait till Monday. Go home.”

That’s a pretty neat meaning. Take some rest. But what about the part in the Law that we are to remember it and keep it holy? And why the emphasis on the Sabbath day in such detail? Couldn’t God have just said, “take a break! Trust me!”

Granted, God didn’t need to rest after creating the cosmos, spacetime and the planets and all living creatures, microbes and atoms. He doesn’t grow tired.

We do.

But that’s not why God created the Law of the Sabbath. There was something that all parts of the Law pointed toward that He wanted us to remember. Something far more important than taking a little vay-cay.

What was this thing that God wanted us to remember and keep close to our hearts? Why does this commandment rest within the 5 commandments that relate to our relationship to God? What’s the meaning here?

The writer of Hebrews points this out: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whosoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:9-10).

How do we enter God’s rest? It is through repentance and faith in Jesus as the completer of our redemption by His work on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Remember Jesus’ last words on the cross? “It is finished!”

Jesus completed the work of redemption for the world on the cross. Those who believe in Him as savior enter by faith into God’s rest, never to need to work the various requirements of the Law. The Law and the Prophets were fulfilled by Jesus. He did it all for us.

He is the Lord of the Sabbath not because He selectively enforces the law, but because He completed His work and we all enter a perpetual rest with Him.

For the Christian, every day is the Sabbath day because we no longer have a list of requirements to please God. We no longer have sacrifices to bring, or washings and fastings to observe. If you don’t have your males circumcised on the 8th day after birth, you’re fine! No infant baptisms, either. And believer baptism is not a requirement of salvation, either (it’s an act of obedience to Jesus’ words). Communion, too, is not a “work” that we must do to receive the grace of God, as many teach from the pulpit (to their own judgment). The grape juice and crackers are not the body and blood of Christ. They are bread and juice. The fool who holds them and tells you they changed is a bald-faced liar.

We who have been completed in Christ’s work, having claimed that work by our faith (which is also a gift of God) are filled with the new wine (the Holy Spirit) and no longer need the pots of water for ceremonial washing. Jesus launched His ministry at a wedding, performing His first miracle of changing the water to wine. And it was the most amazing wine anyone had ever tasted.

Jesus will conclude all things of this earth at a wedding. It will be the marriage of Him with His people, the spiritual Israel, His congregation, his bride!

We’ve been called out of the old system of rituals that pointed toward Him and we embrace Him alone. He is the sign and substance of our New Covenant. He has purchased us completely out of this world.

We are at rest. We no longer observe new moons, sabbaths or other festivals. They mean nothing.

 

Dressing Up The Simple Gospel Is Death

God has impossible demands that no one can meet! God wants perfection, but that’s not me. I’m tired of all the judgment and the rules. I can’t do anything right, so I guess I’m just going to unplug and do my own thing!

That’s the response many have to Christianity. And it happens because they have not seen the beauty of the Gospel, which is filled with Grace from an incredibly loving God.  Continue reading →

Toothless Christianity

I’m reading In Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins, written by Michael E. Wittmer. This is an old controversy … but it really isn’t new, either. They say a sucker is born every minute … well, so are heretic teachers. The problem is … I think the suckers are the ones responding to the heretics!

I’ll get to the book in a moment, but I want to preface it by another example. A while back I listened to a debate on baptism between John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul.

Hear the debate below:

The positions are well argued, generally. R.C. falls back on an argument of “deafening silence” regarding the practice of baptizing infants in the early church, and then attempts to string together the usual disconnected and out-of-context passages to build his defense of straight up idolatry.

MacArthur, while presenting the Biblical case for believer’s Baptism founded upon the actual teaching of Christ and the Scriptures, falls short in the end.

He succumbs to the same problem I’m seeing with Michael Wittmer in his response to Rob Bell’s heretical Universalims-tinged paganism.

Continue reading →