It’s All About God — Deuteronomy Edition

February 29, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, It's All About God | Leave a comment

The book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ last instructions before the Israelites entered the Promised Land after wandering forty years in the desert.  Moses seems to remind them, and us too, that it’s all about God.  God is cause and agent of everything good that happened to the Israelites.

First, the Israelites are God’s people.  Moses uses the title “the LORD our God” 23 times and “the LORD your God” 263 times!  They are God’s people because he chose them – something he tells them at least five times.  For example 7:6 says “The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (NIV)  However, he chose them not because they were good or special, but because of his love; he reminds them that they are stiff necked.  Chapter nine is especially strong on this matter.  Verse six summarizes the verses before it with these words; “Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.”  He not only calls them stiff necked, he also uses the term rebellious a few times; he says they tested the LORD, they aroused his anger, and they provoked him to anger.  That’s pretty strong language.  So why did God make them his people?  “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.    But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers.” (7:7-8)

Besides making them his people, God also is giving them the land he promised.  Eighty times the words land and either give or giving are found together in Deuteronomy.  God constantly reminds them that what they will inherit is a gift from him.  One example of this is found in 9:6 quoted above.  An example of another common reminder is 11:9; Moses says obey the LORD, “so that you may live long in the land that the LORD swore to your forefathers to give to them and their descendants.”

These things are not just in the earlier chapters I quote from here but run through the entirety of the book.  It is a constant stream of reminders echoing over and over, “You are my people and I am your God.”  Then at the end, God tells Moses to teach a song to the people as a witness for Him (31:19).  This song, found in chapter 32, is all about what God does and how the people forget God and abandon him in spite of his goodness.

God’s choice of Israel, just like his choice of us, is not based on our goodness, but on his grace.  We too are people who tend to forget and abandon him, but he always comes to us in grace.  It’s his doing and his work.  He gets all the glory.

Book Review: Radical Reliance

February 15, 2012 at 11:14 am | Posted in Books and Movies | Leave a comment

I recently finished reading Joseph Stowell’s wonderful book Radical Reliance.  It is a great read, reminding us about one of the most important things in life: our relationship with God.  I haven’t read a book about basic relationship with God for a long time, but such reminders are often needed, and even if they are not needed, the fresh perspective is beneficial.  The book is reasonably short and simply presented, yet profound in many ways.  This one will be worth your time to read.

Stowell begins with the basics.  “The ultimate issue of life is where do I look for real satisfaction, and where can I be assured of sufficient resources to sustain and secure me.”  This book, he goes on to say, is to be “a primer, a starting point in the wonderful adventure of finding satisfaction, security, and sustenance in growing intimacy with God.” (p. 15)  Of course our relationship with God begins with Him.  “While we have life and breath, God will not cease to pursue a rewarding, deepening intimacy with us.  He is not content to leave us alone.  His unceasing, unconditional love for each of us compels Him.” (23)  The absence of this relationship leaves us in a state Stowell calls “aloneness.” Aloneness is not being alone, instead, “Aloneness is what we feel when we are functionally disconnected at the core of our being from all that truly satisfies, sustains and secures.” (30)  We try to alleviate our aloneness in all sorts of ways, many of which are not bad in themselves, but not the best for us.  “The issue is not that we have fixed our hope on wrong things but that we have fixed our hope on lesser things.” (50)  “It’s not that the things and thrills of this world don’t temporarily satisfy and sustain.  It’s that at best they are like fireworks in the shoreline of life, lighting the night of our lives with transitory rushes of excitement.  But then the night is there again.” (38)

The solution to aloneness is repentance – changing our minds and turning our lives in the opposite direction – and Stowell gives practical steps to repentance in chapter seven.  These steps begin with an accurate view of our own frailty.  Next the author offers intentional steps toward intimacy with God, including ways to establish regular patterns of communication with Him.  In this part of the book, Stowell shares interviews with Christians he knows who have healthy walks with God and shares their insights.  He includes Christians like Joni Eareckson Tada, Elizabeth Elliot, Bill Hybels, Max Lucado, Bill Bright and others – it’s like a mini discipleship conference with great Christians!

The book finishes with five myths about intimacy with God and counters those with five truths.  The first myth he addresses is that intimacy is about what God will do for us.  “We tend to validate His reality and measure the quality of our relationship to Him by what He is doing for us at any given moment.” (153)  One of the truths that counters this is number three: God has already done for me more than I deserve.  “God has already dramatically intervened in a major way in our lives when he opened up the story of the cross to us and bid us come by the power of His Spirit.” (161)

My readers can tell by the number of times I quote from the book that it has some great lines and paragraphs, but I still have to conclude with one more:

We can serve God our whole lives as elders, Bible teachers, Sunday school teachers, kingdom philanthropists, counselors, missionaries, pastors, or college presidents.  We can be emotionally charged as we sing exhilarating songs of worship in grand and glorious cathedral settings or highly energized praise rallies.  . . .  But it’s all a show if unhindered pursuit of God is not at the center of our lives.  God doesn’t want our busyness; He wants our hearts.  (74)

If you need a primer on the basics of the Christian walk, if you need a boost in the day-to-day rut of living, if you need some direction in pursuing God, or if you ever disciple another in his walk with God, then this is a great resource to have.

Ultimate Truth: Politicians Just Don’t Get It

February 13, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, English Bible Translations | Leave a comment

King Balak just didn’t get it.  He believed that money and personal agenda, especially a king’s agenda, trumps everything else.  He thought his desired outcome ought to be everybody’s desired outcome.  He was clueless that some men can act from conviction of ultimate truth rather than personal agenda.  When Balak invited the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites by promising him lots of money, he just naturally assumed that Balaam would be enticed to come, but Balaam warned him that he would only speak what God told him to speak.  “Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God.” (Numbers 22:18)

When Balaam, after an amusing incident with his donkey for which he is most famous, came to Balak and blessed the Israelites instead of cursing them, the king was furious.  Balak thought that seeing the Israelites from a different location would change Balaam’s (or maybe God’s) mind.  He tried three times to get Balaam to curse the people of God, and three times Balaam blessed them instead.  Balak sent the prophet away without any of the reward he promised, which was just as Balaam expected.

God’s principles are God’s principles; they are unchanging.  They remain in place regardless of circumstances, like location or promised riches; they are based on ultimate truth.  Many politicians today are like King Balak.  They just don’t get it.  They believe that money and personal agenda, especially a powerful politician’s agenda, trumps everything else. They think their desired outcomes ought to be everybody’s desired outcomes.  They are clueless that some men can act from conviction of ultimate truth rather than personal agenda.  They naturally assume that others will be enticed by their promises.  But when their agenda crosses the line of ultimate truth, they are furious that people will stand against them.

In recent days we have seen some examples of leaders crossing the line, and I believe we will see many more, unless the outcome of the upcoming election dramatically changes things.  The time to stand against the personal agendas of those in power, even if it means civil disobedience, will come (as Chuck Colson points out in this recent video).  When it does, and when Christians take that stand, the authorities will be furious.  They just won’t get it.  Still we must stand for ultimate truth.

As a final note, compare Balaam’s prophecy of Numbers 23:19 in the two translations I am comparing this year.  The NIV2011, trying to use gender inclusive language wherever possible, changed “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill? “ (NIV1984) to “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. …”  The first is much more concise and powerful, while the second, in my mind, comes across as awkward.  The ESV, which uses gender inclusive language only when necessary, translates, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Has he said, and will he not do it?  Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”  The ESV gets my vote again today.

Are Ghosts Real?

February 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Posted in Eschatology, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Theology | Leave a comment

Hello Pastor Glenn,

I have a question about “spirits” or “ghosts.”  Recently a family member of mine called his ex-wife and told her he keeps seeing a man in his house whose always dressed in grey.  When he called the landlord, the landlord asked if he was dressed in grey.  He said the previous owner saw this spirit as well.  What is that?  Is it something evil?  Buy the way, this took place in Sweden.

Phenomena like this have been reported in popular tales for centuries.  The common accepted explanation is that these are ghosts, particularly spirits of dead people who may have passed away in the building or area where they appear.  Does the Bible have something to say about this?  Is the popular explanation a viable one within a biblical world view?  To answer, I will assume that at least some of the stories are factual, though to some people that is a big assumption.  Because of the human nature to embellish stories, I tend to think many of these are just fictional folk tales, but let’s say for argument purposes that some of them are true.

The Bible recognizes the existence of a spiritual world and of spirits.  However, the Bible calls those spirits “angels” (messengers from God) or “demons” (fallen angels, who oppose God).  Demons and angels are created beings, separate from humans.  The popular notion that good people die and become angels in God’s service is not biblical, nor is the idea that dead people are spirits just kind of hanging around this world until the end of time.  When believers die, their spirits are immediately in the presence of God (2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Philippians 1:22-23; Luke 23:43), and their bodies will someday be resurrected to live forever (1 Corinthians 15).  When unbelievers die, their spirits are immediately in torment (Luke 16:19-24), and they too will be resurrected (John 5:25-29).

Between the time of death and resurrection, can these spirits of dead people visit the earth and appear to or talk to others who still alive?  Apparently not.  Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man indicates that such a thing cannot happen (Luke 16:19-31).  Even if they could appear, they would have more important things to do than haunt people; for this story indicates they would want to give warning of what is to come.

What then of these ghostly appearances?  I believe we are left with two possibilities.  Either they are psychological in nature, or they are demons.  The psychology explanation, in my mind, leaves a lot to be desired,.  For instance, it can’t explain why appearances in the same location are often the same to different people, like the case you mention from Sweden.  That leaves only one possible explanation, and that is that such appearances are demons.

If that is the case, then why do they appear as they do – sometimes in the same form to different people in the same location?  I do not know.  Remember that Satan and his army are out to deceive and mislead.  They are liars, so anything spirits say is suspect, unless they prove to be spirits from God.  The Bible gives a clear test of a true spirit (1 John 4:1-4), and one would be wise to memorize it.  A spirit that cannot confess the true Jesus as the divine one in the flesh is not a spirit from God.  Finally, remember that all spirits are under the authority of Jesus, for he is the King of kings and Lord of lords; he is their creator, and they must answer to him (Colossians 1:15-20).

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