E-mail Rumors and God’s Sovereignty

September 29, 2008 at 11:55 am | Posted in God's Love, It's All About God, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Wisdom | 2 Comments

 

The following is a copy (minus names) of an e-mail I got this morning.  The letter was followed by a forwarded message giving “facts” about some people who cursed God in one way or another and died an unusual death shortly thereafter.  The obvious point of the message is that God is real and his enemies will die.  Since many have the same questions about these kind of e-mails as this writer, I thought my response was worth posting today.

Dear Glenn,

I’m unable to check it out, so I wanted to ask you whether the stories about these people are true.  I don’t want to send out lies.

Dear  .  .  .

Thanks for asking, I appreciate anyone who is trying to find out truth, rather than just pass along the latest sensationalism.  However, I couldn’t find anything on the truth of this one way or the other.  My advice is don’t put too much stock in reports like this for numerous reasons:

First, even if it’s true, it proves nothing.  Someone who knows how to do the research could come up with just as many people who cursed God for years and died of old age; I’ve known some of those myself.  The two simply are not related.  I could probably find some people who died strange and untimely deaths after they switched from Coke to Pepsi too!  But that wouldn’t prove anything about the evils of Pepsi.

Second, this kind of thing denies the love and heart of God.  God loves people;  his desire, as spelled out in the Bible, is for those people to come to him in repentance.  “God is not slow about his promises as some understand slowness, but is patient toward you not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  (2 Peter 3:9)  

Third, this denies God’s grace.  Even those who curse God repetitively are candidates for his forgiveness in Jesus.  Such is the incredible nature of the what Jesus did on the cross.  Some people try to tie this sort of cursing God with the unforgivable sin of “blaspheming the Holy Spirit.”  But that sin is a continual and stubborn rejection of who Jesus is (the context in which Jesus said it is instructive in this matter).  Those who embellish that sin to be anything else simply ignore both the context of the passage and the overall biblical data on forgiveness.  Even Jesus’ words about the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit begin with this promise, “I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them!”  (Mark 3:28-29)

Fourth, this kind of propaganda denies the sovereignty of God.  Death and Life are in his hands.  How that works with issues like cursing God I cannot tell.  But I do know the answer to this question:  When has a person cursed God to the point of no return?  Really, we all have!  Our deepest sin is not a matter of what we say or do; it’s a matter of being in rebellion against God.  Whether we live that rebellion out in cursing him, indulging our base nature, or religious self-pride, it’s still a grievous sin that brings God’s condemnation on us – all of us.  It’s only because of his grace, given to us on the cross, that any of us can have life at all.  This was exactly the point of my message yesterday.  “Once you were alienated from God and enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation!” (Colossians 1:21-22)  Now that’s the message we need to pass on to others!

 

Postscript:  I am usually not a big fan of e-mail stories that go around.  Many of them many be true, but so many are just sensational rumor that gets embellished and passed around for years.  I believe that Christians should never pass along lies when they have the opportunity to verify their truth.  I have found three websites that  research e-mail rumors and report on their truth, and there may be others out there.  All three have search engines to help one find specific rumors.  The three I use are:  www.truthorfiction.com,   www.snopes.com,  and  www.breakthechain.org.   Make use of these great resources before you pass on more untrue rumors.

 

Thee Examples of Faith

September 25, 2008 at 8:26 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Grace and Faith | Leave a comment

Mark 7-10.  In my message last Sunday, I made reference to the centurion whose trusted servant was sick.  His recognition of Jesus’ incredible authority serves as a prime example of faith. (His story is found in Matthew 8)  In these chapters of Mark, we see three more great examples of faith.

The first example is the Syrophoenician woman who came to Jesus on behalf of her daughter (7:24-30).  Jesus made, what seems to us in our culture, a rude comment about not giving children’s bread to the dogs.  (It appears as though he called her a dog, but he was only saying that he came to the Jews first.  He knew what her response would be – that it would serve as an example to us.)  My paraphrase of her response is, “I know I’m nothing, but you are so great even the smallest amount of your power and authority will make a difference.”  Apparently she knew who Jesus was and that only a word from him, even spoken from a distance, could cast the demon out of her daughter.  True faith is understanding that Jesus is everything and we are nothing, that even the crumbs of his life are enough for us.

The second example is the father of a son who is also demon possessed (8:14-27).  His exchange with Jesus goes like this, “‘If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’  ‘“If you can”?’ said Jesus.  ‘Everything is possible for him who believes.’”  That is followed by a response I love and have often quoted to God in my own weak faith, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”  True faith recognizes that there might be doubts in the mind, but cries out to Jesus anyway.  Too often, we are afraid to admit doubt, as though it would show our faith weaker.  Instead, thoughts of doubt should force us to depend on God more.  This father demonstrates that kind of faith.

The final example is blind Bartimaeus (10:46-52).  He cries out to Jesus as helpless, even when all around him tried to discourage it.  Peer pressure and protocol could not dissuade his appeal.

That’s great faith.  It recognizes that Jesus is our all-in-all and that we are nothing in comparison; it recognizes that doubts may arise in our minds and doesn’t deny them; it calls out to Jesus regardless of doubts, peer pressure and protocol.  May that be our kind of faith!  Jesus we do believe; help our unbelief!

Lord of All

September 18, 2008 at 12:07 pm | Posted in Theology | Leave a comment

Matthew 8:29-30  “What do you want with us, Son of God?  Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time? . . .  If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”  This comment from the legion of demons gives us some interesting insight to the demonic world.  Three things are evident in these brief words.  First, these demons knew Jesus.  That seems surprising from a worldly perspective, since they’d spent so much time in these men’s lives, and Jesus public ministry was a long way off and had not been going long.  They must have recognized Jesus because they knew him from the past – from the era before Satan and his demons fell.  They saw him coming, even from a distance, knew his name was Jesus and that he was the Son of God – not just any God, but the “Most High God” – and they used that title for him.  (Some of these details are given in Mark’s version – Mark 5)

Second, they were afraid of Jesus.  They knew he had more power and authority than they or their master had.  They begged Jesus not to torment them.  As the Son of God, they knew he could do that with just a word from his mouth.  They had to beg Jesus to send them into a nearby herd of pigs; in doing so, they confessed their subjection to his authority.

Third, they knew who would ultimately win the spiritual battle.  Notice that they said, “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”  The indication is they knew Jesus was going to win, but that the complete victory hadn’t come yet.  Their only hope was, not to overturn that victory, but to delay it until the right time.

Jesus is Lord.  He is the ultimate ruler and highest authority in the universe.  No other authority even comes close.  Serve him and you are on the winning team!

The Sermon on the Mount

September 15, 2008 at 12:36 pm | Posted in Theology | Leave a comment

Matthew 5, 6, 7.  This passage, known as the Sermon on the Mount, contains some of the most famous sayings of Jesus:  “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” and all the other Beatitudes; “Love your enemies;” “pearls before swine;” the Lord’s Prayer; the wise and the foolish builders; and numerous others.  However, it also contains some of the most difficult sayings of Jesus: the speck in your neighbor’s eye and the log in your own; looking lustfully is the same as committing adultery; anger is the same as murder.  Who of us is not guilty of all those things?

Many try to write this sermon off in some way or other to demonstrate that these hard sayings are not written for us.  The Dispensationalists will say that Jesus was talking to the Jews of his day only and not to us, or, in some cases, to those who will live in the Millennial kingdom.  However, this would indicate that God’s standard changes.  God’s standard of righteousness is based on his unchanging character, so it never changes.  If anger was equivalent to murder in the past, or will be in the future, it always has been.  Some theologians have proposed that Jesus presents an ‘interim ethic’ which only applied to the early Christians, but this too results in a changing standard of God.  Socialists see this sermon as the presentation of the perfect society, if we could only obey it literally.  But such a view ignores the difficult sayings like, “if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out; if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.”  Obeying that one literally, and honestly, would certainly not make for a very healthy society!  Besides, who of us can honestly read this Sermon and not feel the conviction of those difficult passages?

It seems that the only sensible solution is to understand this sermon as a presentation of God’s incredible standard of perfection.  God is so holy, and we are so not, that his standard is way beyond us.  No matter how we try, we simply fall short.  The key verse of the entire message is 5:19, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  The Pharisees had a catalogue of all God’s laws and a reputation of obeying them.  But even if we appear to be obeying God’s standard outwardly, we fail in our attitudes and thoughts.

The good news is that Jesus fulfills God’s unchanging standard for us (5:17-18).  He lived a perfect life, and his perfection can be credited to our account.  When the only One who could keep God’s standard was killed, he became the perfect sacrifice and substitute for those who cannot keep that standard and deserve to die because they can’t.

The Sermon on the Mount should help us understand God’s holy perfection and motivate us to live it out in out in our lives, but it should also remind us that we all fall short of God’s perfection and need his grace to be accounted righteous in his sight.

Ten Influential Books

September 9, 2008 at 11:32 am | Posted in Books and Movies, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Occasionally I’m asked what good books I’ve read, and I wish I had time to read far more than I do.  I had thought about doing a top-ten list of books that have influenced my life, but I can’t honestly say these are the top ten.  I’m sure there are books which had a great impact on me years ago, and though the impact may still be with me, I’ve forgotten about the books in my middle-age mindset.  Maybe I should call this ten books I remember having a big impact on my life.  Anyway these are all worth the time to read.  They are listed in the order I read and/or discovered them.

1970s Through Gates of Splendor      Elizabeth Elliott

            The story of five men who gave their lives to reach a tribe of head hunters grabbed my high-school attention and impacted me forever.  May I have that kind of dedication to Christ.  This story has come back into focus with the recent movie, “The End of the Spear.”  I haven’t seen the film yet, so I can’t comment on it.

1980s George Muller: Man of Faith and Miracles      Basil Miller

            This biography taught me once and for all that we can depend on God to meet our needs when we are doing his will and that one life can impact a generation.

            Knowing God      J.I. Packer

            Though parts of it read like a seminary text book, the content is life changing.  I love Packer as an author, and, of what I’ve read, this is his best work.

1990s A Slow and Certain Light      Elizabeth Elliot

            The title indicates her perspective and finding and following God’s will – not bells and whistles but a growing faith and certainty

            From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya      Ruth Tucker

            This different perspective on church history tells the story of the gospel going around the world through the lives of those God used to make it happen.  Tucker doesn’t candy coat their lives; she lets the reader know they were men and women with faults, yet God used them in his plan anyway.

            The Screwtape Letters               C.S. Lewis

This classic work on spiritual battle can wake up one to the subtle schemes of God’s enemy.  Convicting and enlightening, but fun at the same time.

2000s Desiring God      John Piper

            Like Packer, John Piper’s works are not easy reads, but they are usually well worth the effort.  This is probably his classic.  The subtitle tells what it’s about:  “Meditations of a Christian Hedonist!”

            William Tyndale – A Biography      David Daniell

            Tyndale is one of my great heroes from church history.  This is the definitive work on his life.  If you have a Bible in English, it’s because this man paid the ultimate price for you to have it.  His translation of the NT was the basis for every English Bible from 1535 until the 1970s.

            Basic Economics      Thomas Sowell

            Though not a Christian book, it still had an impact on my thinking.  It is a textbook about the free market system – how and why it works.

            It’s Not About Me      Max Lucado

            Everything we do is usually about us, but life should be about God.  If you’ve read this blog, you know my theme is “It’s all about God.”  Lucado says the same thing like only he can.

            What books have influenced your life?

Get a Life

September 8, 2008 at 11:06 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Wisdom | Leave a comment

This weekend I was pondering Psalm 115.  I have often laughed at this psalm, as it shows God’s sense of humor.  Reading it today I saw the main theme in a new light — it tells us to “get a life.”  The poem begins with a reminder that God deserves all glory and praise and that he dwells in the heavens ruling there as he pleases.  He is a sovereign God.  But then it compares him to the idols of the nations.  The idols are made by human hands, and, with mocking voice, we are told, “They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats.”  And that is followed by the passage I find so humorous: “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them!”  Idols have the appearance of life, but no real life; so those who trust idols may have an appearance of life, but they don’t really have life as the God who created them intended.  The direct command is “Trust in the LORD;” but the implied command is “Get a life!”

In our culture, we have almost no incidents of people bowing down to statues, but we do have idols of all kinds.  We look for life in all sorts of things, and those things become our idols:  power and fame, money and possessions, sex and pornography, sports and performing arts, drugs and alcohol, friends and relatives, even hard work and accomplishments.  Many of these things are not bad in their proper setting, but when we try to get life from them, they prove to be empty.  Like the idols in Psalm 115, they have only an appearance of life.  Genuine life is found in God alone.  Trust in him and get a life.

Solomon addressed this topic in his book called Ecclesiastes.  To read more about it check out my article called “Life Can Be Empty.”

 

Micah’s Amazing Conclusion

September 3, 2008 at 10:25 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, God's Love | Leave a comment

Micah concludes his prophecy with some amazing words.  They are amazing because Micah seems so negative.  The section headings in the book include things like “Judgment Against Samaria and Jerusalem,”  “Weeping and Mourning,”  “Leaders and Prophets Rebuked,” and “The LORD’s Case Against Israel.”  The last of those is a section using a colorful metaphor of the courtroom to tell of Israel’s sin and coming punishment.  Over a century later, Micah was still known for his promised destruction of Jerusalem.  When Jeremiah was arrested and threatened with death because of his prophecies against Jerusalem, some of the elders stepped up and basically said, “Micah of Moresheth prophesied the same thing, and King Hezekiah didn’t put him to death.”  (See Jeremiah 26)

Yet not everything in Micah is negative.  There is the promise of the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem (probably what Micah is most famous for today – See 5:1-4).  There are great words like “He has shown you, O man, what is good.  And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (6:8)  But the conclusion is what stands out to me as such an amazing statement of God’s character.  Listen to these incredible words of God’s love and mercy:

“Who is a God like you?  You take away guilt; you forgive the sins of the remnant of your people.  You do not let your anger rage forever, for to be merciful is your true delight!  Once more you will show us your compassion and wash away our guilt, casting our sins into the depth of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19)  WOW that is a great statement of our incredible God!  May you too experience his incredible mercy and forgiveness.

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