I Love the God of the Old Testament!

Judgmentalism
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I love the God of the Old Testament! Honestly, I do. I suppose that some people will imagine me to be a judgmental enforcer of rules—or perhaps a really cruel-hearted guy with violent tendencies. Those prone to stereotyping might picture me carrying a protest sign alongside the members of Westboro Baptist Church—you know, that mean-spirited group of people who hate just about anyone who differs from their narrow-minded view of religion.

If you think that any of these things are true of me because I love the God of the Old Testament, you would be wrong. One of the most disastrous misconceptions held by people today is that Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, is a cruel, violent despot and that Jesus, the God of the New Testament, is a passive and somewhat timid teddy bear. Why would we have such an inaccurate understanding of God’s nature? We generally don’t know the true character of God, nor do we understand the manner in which He interacts with the human race.

What are we to make of statements made by Jesus about His relationship with His heavenly Father (Yahweh)?

“He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” John 14:9 (NASB)

More than once, the New Testament proclaims that Jesus and Yahweh are of the very same essence (nature). The much maligned God of the Old Testament is the very same God who, because of His great love for us, sent His beloved Son to die on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven and our relationship with Him restored. This is the Old Testament God who is slow to anger and full of mercy (Psalm 86).

Jesus and Money Changers
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Many who proclaim only the warm and fuzzy aspects of Christ’s love fail to recognize that it was He who turned over the tables of the money changers and blasted the Pharisees for their unjust practices. Yes, we are referring to the King of kings and Lord of lords who will one day return to judge all who have walked this earth.

All too often, we fail to understand that love without justice isn’t love at all. We don’t realize that God pours out wrath, not because He wants to, but because He would be unjust not to. Would a loving God wink and look the other way when an adult male abducts, molests, and kills a little girl? We may struggle to understand why God allows such things to take place, but we can rest assured from the Scriptures that He will one day call such actions fully into account. The guilty will not go unpunished!

The cross of Jesus Christ is where God’s wrath and mercy meet. Through the cross, the vilest of sinners can be both forgiven and transformed. Through the cross, we discover a love so profound that it overloads the natural mind’s ability to comprehend. If we are to believe the writings of the New Testament—and we should—we can’t help but recognize that God the Father is every bit as loving as Jesus Christ.

All of this, of course, leaves us with one massive, nagging question: If Yahweh is so full of love and mercy, then why do we see harsh judgment throughout the Old Testament? The question is entirely reasonable and well worth further explanation, but the short answer is profoundly simple. Through the course of time, the nature of God has never changed. What has changed is the manner in which He relates to the human race.

The short answer to our question is not complicated; however, understanding the details behind that answer is somewhat more involved. In future posts, I’ll further address God’s interaction with humanity. To set the stage, however, I’d like to highlight an ancient proverb that continues to speak deep wisdom even in our day.

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,
But the glory of kings is to search out a matter. Proverbs 25:2 (NASB)

Study Bible
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Quick judgments are easy and usually wrong. Humbly searching the Scriptures, while asking God to open our eyes, is an entirely different matter. Those who are willing to search beyond the realm of natural appearances may soon find themselves encountering a heavenly Father who is very different from what our world thinks!

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Why I Am Voting for Mitrak Obamney

Photo by Poster Boy NYC — CC BY 2.0

I for one am more than ready for this election to be over. However, it is not so much the election that bothers me—I consider voting to be a genuine privilege—as it is the low level to which political campaigning has now sunk. The continuous onslaught of vicious ads (filled with lies and half-truths) that we find coming from both of our major political parties has destroyed my confidence that major candidates from either party can be trusted.

As a conservative Christian, I also find it difficult to place the full weight of my confidence in either major party platform. Certainly, I do like the general Republican emphasis on morality and the right to life, but I also find their marriage to big business to be very disturbing, if not immoral. On the other hand, I think that the general Democratic concern for the poor is worthy of attention, as is the emphasis on promoting education. Other aspects of the Democratic platform, however, fly in the face of Biblical principles. Thus, I find it very difficult to choose either major party candidate, knowing that regardless of how I vote, I will somehow be violating principles that I hold to be valuable.

That is why I have decided to write in Mitrak Obamney for President of the United States of America. Yes, on November 6, I will be able to walk out of the voting booth with my head held high, confident that I was able to make my voice known according to my principles.

Now, I suspect that there are a few skeptics out there—those of you who think such an approach will amount to nothing more than a lesson in futility. You will tell me that even if I do write in Obamney for President, mine will be a wasted vote because in the real world such an option would be meaningless. You would, of course, be correct.

Photo by C.P.Storm — CC BY 2.0

How is it, then, that when it comes to religious beliefs, many rational, intelligent people feel that they can simply pick and choose what they like from various belief systems? As a case in point, I recently read an article in which the author spoke of a new and improved emerging form of Christianity—one which does away with unpleasant topics such as blood sacrifices and sexually immoral behavior. And while such approach may appeal to many people, it speaks of a religion that isn’t real.

You see, if Christianity is nothing more than a human construct, then we are free to mix and match and rearrange according to whatever seems right. After all, a religion invented by humans should serve to accomplish what humans desire it to accomplish—provide a sense of comfort and vague hope for the future. But if Christianity is real, if the Bible is truly the inspired Word of God, then we have absolutely no right to attempt to recreate the Christian faith according what we do or don’t like. The task, then, falls upon us to seek God in an effort to clearly understand what He desires to communicate through the sacred Scriptures.

Personally, I desire to whole-heartedly embrace the Christian faith, but not because I like its every aspect. In fact, I find concepts such as blood sacrifice, loving one’s enemies, and self-denial to be terribly unpleasant at times. No, I embrace the Christian faith because I have found the Bible to be true; and it has pointed me to a God who, even though terribly mysterious, loves every one of us beyond measure.

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You probably figured out by now that I am not really voting for Mitrak Romney—no, I will choose a specific candidate for Tuesday’s election. The future of our nation is too important to squander. I ask you to please recognize, however, that the ramifications of our religious beliefs reach far beyond this life and into eternity. What we choose to believe matters too much to accept any type of buffet-style belief mumbo jumbo.

Help My Unbelief!

I believe in God. Really, I do. I believe that He exists and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him. I believe that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, that 2,000 years ago He walked this earth and died an excruciating death on the cross as a substitute for my sins. I believe that His tomb is empty, that He rose again on the third day, destroying the power of sin and freeing its captives. I believe that after I pass from this earth I’ll be immediately translated to heaven where I’ll spend all eternity in His presence.

The reality of the cross as my source of moral righteousness has permeated almost every nook and cranny of my heart. When I do sin, I’ve learned to go directly to God to confess my sins and find restoration. Rarely do I run from God or suffer under the weight of condemnation; instead I rest in God’s grace, fully realizing that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. These truths are essential to the Christian life, but despite their importance, they don’t form the sum total of all that’s involved in walking with our Creator.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the multi-faceted grace of God, explaining how various expressions of grace empower us for different tasks in our service to the King. But if grace is multi-faceted, it stands to reason that faith has varied expressions as well. God-confidence in one area of life is no guarantee that we’ll be strong in every expression of our faith.

Photo by cohdra - morgueFile

There are days when I have difficulty freely giving of myself because I’m not quite sure that God will take care of me without that extra $25 in my wallet. All too often I get anxious about my schedule. And, unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for me to find myself comparing myself to others in an effort to measure up to certain expected standards. Still, I believe. Really, I do.

I have a friend with an amazing gift of faith to believe for financial provision. I know few people as generous. At the same time, he struggles desperately to trust God for the restoration of broken relationships. His faith is rock-solid in one area, while quite weak in the other.

Understanding this type of variance will go a long way in helping us to live out the Gospel on a daily basis.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” Romans 1:16-17 (NASB)

In all likelihood, Paul is referring here to the growth and perfection of our faith for the sake of trusting God for our eternal salvation; however, it’s quite possible that he also had various expressions of faith in mind. In other words, God’s strong and ever-present desire is for us to go from weak to strong in faith for righteousness, faith for provision, faith for identity, faith for healing, etc.

By loco's photos - CC BY-ND 2.0

A one-dimensional view of faith does as much damage as a one-dimensional view of grace. Week after week we preach a message of salvation, breathing a collective sigh of relief when our loved ones have finally been caught and are resting safely in God’s fishing creel. The result is that we put little focus on the development and perfection of faith in other essential areas of life. All of this serves to make Christianity both boring and irrelevant to those who live in a very real world, facing very real day to day challenges. If our goal is to develop spiritually immature Christians, we can be sure that such a one-dimensional approach to faith/grace will put us on the fast track to zero growth.

Recently I came to the realization that I had allowed a number of past disappointments to undermine my trust in my heavenly Father. It’s difficult to explain, except perhaps to say that it’s like trying to run in faith with a spiritual limp. It hasn’t stopped me from moving forward, but I long to run after God free from any hindrance whatsoever.

As we’ll see in coming posts, various expressions of faith really do matter, and working through these types of issues requires thoughtful and honest prayer–something more than some type of faith formula that can be indiscriminately spread like butter over any area of life.

Lord, I believe. Really, I do. Please help my unbelief!

Searching for Peace? Bend the Knee!

By John WIlliam Waterhouse - Public Domain in U.S. Due to Expired Copyright

A teenager sneaks out of the house in the middle of the night. A wife continually nags her husband. A man explodes in anger because dinner is cold. A politician agrees to cover an indiscretion in exchange for a vote. A science professor blackballs a promising young PhD candidate for believing in God. A young girl dabbles in witchcraft to cast a spell on the classmate she despises. An aspiring supervisor spreads false rumors about the current boss. A church splits because of an argument over the color of the carpet. A couple of gang members drive through another gang’s turf spraying bullets in all directions. A drug lord brutally murders a leader from another cartel. Several terrorists bomb an elementary school filled with children….

The common denominator in each of these scenarios? They all involve efforts to dominate and control others. This struggle for power, inherent to the entire human race, is a third primary source of the conflict that continually mars our world. But it wasn’t meant to be this way!

27God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” Genesis 1:27-28 (NASB).

The "First Mourning" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau - Public Domain in U.S. Due to Expired Copyright

Notice that man was given dominance over animal life, but not over other people. Everything changed when Adam & Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in an effort to be like God apart from God. Immediately conflict erupted; a blame game was soon followed with their eldest son murdering his younger brother. Domination and control.

In so many ways God can do what we humans cannot. God can be the center of the universe without becoming self-centered. God is able to receive massive amounts of glory and yet never be demeaning to others. God is the sovereign Lord of the universe, yet still gives humans the freedom to make individual choices. God reigns, but He doesn’t control. Mankind seeks to control, extinguishing freedom and creating conflict.

Someone might argue that, historically, religion has been used to oppress others—and I would wholeheartedly agree. But I would also be quick to note the marked difference between rule-based religion and New Covenant Christianity. Confusing the two never results in anything good!

I know that this flows totally against our natural way of thinking, but serving Jesus as the Lord of our lives is actually the path to true freedom. The “good news and great joy” of the Christmas Story is not just that of a Savior coming to Earth (as awesome as this is) but also of a Lord; a Lord of a very different character than those who use their position and authority to dominate and control those beneath them.

Ignore Christ or try to remove Him from Christmas? To a certain degree, God will allow us to. But we’ll be on our own as we reap the consequences of the resulting conflict!

Photo by xenia - morgueFile

Personally, I’m learning more and more to celebrate the lordship of Christ. The peace of His kingdom is of an entirely different nature than the forced peace that results from a domineering ruler squelching every voice of opposition. The peace of Christ brings wholeness and well-being, covering us with an umbrella of safety in the form of love-shaped freedom. Are you searching for peace? Willingly bend your knee to the Christ the Lord!

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” Luke 2:10-11 (NASB).

What’s Wrong with Religion?

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It very common for me to hear people say that Christianity is not about religion, it’s about a personal relationship with God. In essence this is true, but too often religion is erroneously considered to be an evil word. Sometimes we’re left scratching our heads wondering what it’s all about.

Check out the following definition of religion from dictionary.com: “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

That sounds a lot like Christianity to me! So what’s the deal?

The New Testament word translated as religion can be used in either a good or a bad sense, usually connoting a motivation of worship. In other words, there is nothing inherently wrong with practicing Christianity as a religion.

“Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1:27 (NET)

Essentially James was saying that caring for the helpless and needy is at the very heart of the religion we call Christianity. But the Apostle Paul seems to have made up his own word to describe a religion much less desirable.

Flagellants

“If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” Col. 2:20-23 (NASB)

Ah, this is what the religion-bashers are actually condemning! What Paul calls “self-made religion” is actually a religious code of worship rooted in humanistic self-effort. It’s all about us trying to do more, work harder, sacrifice more—all in the name of appeasing what we see as a distant, judgmental God whose interaction with humanity is characterized by expectation.

But this isn’t the Christianity of the Bible! Through faith in Christ our relationship with God is defined not by expectation, but by acceptance. When we enter into the New Covenant through Christ, we stand secure in our heavenly Father’s unconditional love, free from the never-ending burden of judgment. Through this process the Holy Spirit produces in us the genuine love for others leading to the “pure and undefiled religion” called for by James.

Religion characterized by love and acceptance leads to wholeness and fullness of life. Religion characterized by expectation and self-effort will breed either arrogance or a constant sense of frustration and inadequacy.

What’s wrong with religion? Nothing, if it stems from pure and undefiled worship of our Creator!

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Imagine a World without Forgiveness

“Imagine there’s no heaven . . . It’s easy if you try . . . No hell below us . . .”

Photo by LifeHouseDesign (Flickr) - Creative Commons License 2.0

Such are the opening words of the opening track of John Lennon’s Imagine album that was released in 1971. Lennon’s desire was to help the human race recognize its oneness apart from the barriers that so often accompany greed, politics and religion. Noble thoughts for sure, but certainly misguided without the centrality of Jesus Christ.

Imagine another thought with me if you will—one of a world in which forgiveness did not exist.

Imagine yourself holding bitterness and anger toward every person who has hurt you even a little throughout the course of your life. Would you have any friends? How long could a marriage possibly last?  Can you picture the holiday gatherings?

Imagine everyone that you have ever hurt being bitter toward you. Has there ever been someone you have let down? Forgotten about? Offended? Looked at the wrong way? Imagine the same for everyone who even thought that you intended them ill will.

Photo by anairam_zeravla - MorgueFile

If forgiveness could not take place between us as individuals, our world would be even further than it is from John Lennon’s dream. How long would friendships last? What would hold communities together? War would never cease.

Now imagine that there was no forgiveness for your sins. Any and every thing that you’ve ever done to offend God (or hurt another person) would be held against you forever. The effects of every moral failure perpetual. Guilt eternal.

In a world without forgiveness would happiness or joy exist to any degree at all? Would words such as freedom, family and brotherhood have any meaning?

All of this speaks of darkness. Miserable, cold darkness. No happy thoughts. No joyful days. No pleasant memories. Only darkness. Miserable, cold, barren darkness.

Perhaps, somehow, the contrast between the warm light of love and the cold darkness of bitterness provides us with a small taste of the heaven and hell that all of our imagining can never eliminate.

Photo by natepowers - MorgueFile

Lennon was right in one regard. We are all connected and the manner in which we relate to each other has far reaching effects. Those who learn to walk in God’s love and forgiveness become sources of light all across the globe. Those who hold onto bitterness serve only to deepen the darkness that already exists.

What is your personal contribution to the landscape of our world? What are you growing in the hidden spaces of your heart?

I believe that most of my readers would readily choose light over darkness. But to live in the light, we must be light. And being light is impossible without learning to both receive and confer the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

God, Why?

Photo from Wikipedia

Have you ever asked, “Why?” I often wonder why God does some of the things He does. Some people mistakenly think that God is the source of natural disasters and every type of human tragedy. News flash: God doesn’t have a cruel streak!

At the same time, however, our Heavenly Father does have this tendency to lead His children into difficult places. Consider the Israelites’ entrapment by the Red Sea. And then their journey into the desert without food or water. God initiated all of that!

And why did Jesus tell us to pray to the Father, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (ESV)? Surely there is a reason for this particular aspect of a prayer that so many lift before God week in and week out.

Make no mistake—our loving Father is trying to prove and establish us as a people of integrity—that is wholeness. Matthew 6:13 might make more sense put this way: “And please don’t lead us into difficult trials where our faith and devotion will be sorely tested and proven, but do deliver us from our own evil tendencies toward self-sufficiency.”

The last thing that God wants is for us to fall prey to sin. But the one thing He always seeks to accomplish is the firm establishment of our faith. Trust cannot exist without faith. And relational intimacy never happens apart from trust. And wholeness, most certainly, is impossible apart from relational intimacy with our loving Creator.

Have you ever thought that perhaps God leads us into desolate, impossible circumstances in order to teach us to look to Him? Resting the weight of our confidence on others apart from God is idolatry–simply put. Trusting in ourselves is nothing more than a return to the original sin (the desire to be like God apart from God). Both idolatry and self-sufficiency corrupt our lives with bitter, poisonous roots.

Stepping out in ministry I have been living by faith for 12+ years—especially the past 4 with the launch of Search for Me Ministries, Inc. I can’t count how many times I’ve said in a tight spot, “God, if you make me independently wealthy, I would do this for free and fund it all myself.” Ah! That’s exactly the problem! I would do it all myself—in my own strength and with my own ability—if I could.

The only thing that compels me to avoid self-trust is to find myself in situations and circumstances that are beyond my human ability (and therefore considered impossible). Herein lies the wisdom (and beauty) of the wilderness experience. Through the Lord’s Prayer Jesus is sending us a message: “Put no trust in yourselves and your ability to handle difficult circumstances. Turn from self-sufficiency and put the full weight of your trust in your heavenly Father and His covenant love.”

God’s promise is that He will never fail or forsake us. The desolate and impossible terrain of the wilderness sends the opposite message. Depending upon our response, the final products are fear, anxiety, hardness and bitterness, or a deep-rooted transformation into a Holy Spirit-watered life. The potential outcome almost makes me want to say, “Bring on the wilderness!” Having been around the block a few times, however, I’ll wisely stick with, “And lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.”