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Fishers of Men

Christian, do you consider yourself to be part of a grand story?

I wonder how many Christians sit on the sideline of life, neither expecting nor wanting God to put them into the game.

But Christians are more than benchwarmers who receive a championship trophy (a ticket to heaven) merely because they are part of the victorious team.

Our Biggest Need

Sin separates us from God. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not only from our sin, but also from its consequences, most notably, separation from God now and in eternity.

Christians become children of God from the moment of salvation. We should expect a close relationship with Him in this life. We dwell with God, learn his ways, learn his purpose for us and obey him.

What Does Jesus Call Us To?

When Jesus calls you and me to follow him, he does not call us to a life concerned mostly with the things of this world (Matthew 6:32-33), but to an abundant life where we work alongside Jesus in his kingdom. Jesus does not call us to a lackadaisical life marked by a half-hearted and reluctant obedience but to a life marked by zeal to do good works (Titus 2:14) that God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). He calls us to make the most of our time for the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16).

What Task Has Jesus Given Us?

If we are to work alongside Jesus, we must know our purpose, our mission, given to us by Jesus.

When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, he immediately told them that he would make them fishers of men. Their new job description, their new purpose that he would later explain to them, was related to his purpose for coming from heaven to earth (Luke 19:10). When we start a new job it is important to know what the job entails. When we are born again and start a new life in Christ, it is even more important to know what this new life is all about.

It is significant that the first thing Jesus told his disciples (become fishers of men) and the last thing he told his disciples described their purpose. In Mathew 28:18-20 Jesus told his disciples to make disciples of all nations:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Is not our purpose to make disciples who make disciples? If we are to make disciples we must first be disciples.

It is God Who Works In You

When we are born again, our priority becomes to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

As disciples, we must no longer be conformed to the image of this world but to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). This is God’s purpose for us—we, as children of God, must become like Jesus. This transformation is God’s doing.

God is working in us and completing this work (Philippians 1:6). (Ephesians 4:23-24). However, this does not mean we need to wait until we have reached some pre-determined level of spiritual maturity before we can start making disciples. We can start right away. But just as our personal transformation is God’s doing, so is the expansion of Jesus’ kingdom (Philippians 2:12-13). Without Jesus we can do nothing (John 15:5). Go and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom when Jesus sends you. See Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-12.

From Eternity Past

Making disciples is indeed a grand purpose. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. In eternity past, before the foundation of the world, God the Father said to God the Son:

Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. Psalm 2:8 (NASB)

Did Jesus make this request to the Father? Evidently he did. Jesus speaks of those whom the Father has given him:

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” —Mt. 10:28-30

God the Father gave Jesus disciples:

I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. —John 17:6

Jesus’ disciples would go on to make disciples who are also given to Jesus by God the Father:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.—John 17:20-24

Jesus came to seek and save the lost. That God would allow us to participate in his purposes is an astonishing privilege.

Ambassadors for Christ

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

—2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Here we see the amazing privilege we have to spread the gospel—our purpose intertwined with God’s purpose. Anyone who is in Christ has been qualified and commissioned by him to carry the message of reconciliation to the world. That’s you. That’s me.

As ambassadors we have the responsibility to share the gospel, to represent the kingdom of God to the kingdom of this world. Too often I have been content to support other ambassadors for Christ through giving, leaving evangelism to them. It’s good to support other Christians as they labor in the kingdom. But, when Jesus implores his disciples to pray for workers of the harvest (Matthew 9:36-38) what proof do we have that someone else is the object of those prayers and not us?

Become fishers of men.

Yet You Did Not Return to Me: Economic Disaster

I recently wrote that coronavirus might be judgment from God and an opportunity to draw nearer to God. But, by my observation, most people and many Christians seem to be focused on the sins of others. Uncivil discourse on racism, LGBTQ rights, MAGA, the pandemic, abortion, cultural Marxism, and a myriad of other concerns consume our time as people trample each other in a panic of virtue signaling. Instead of examining ourselves against God’s standards, we’re promoting ourselves as righteous based on which group or cause we identify with. This is not repentance.

Lost in all this turmoil is any sense that coronavirus might be a wake-up call from God. Instead of an opportunity for individuals to repent, various groups see the pandemic as an opportunity to advance their worldly agendas.

Prosperity & Turning Away from God

Before bringing catastrophic judgment, God gets a nation’s attention in a variety of ways. A nation that turns away from God and ignores him often does so in the midst of prosperity. This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching that we cannot serve both God and money, either we will hate one and love the other or we will be devoted to one and despise the other (Matthew 6:24). In the time of the prophet Amos, the rich in the northern kingdom of Israel oppressed the poor in their quest for wealth (Amos 2:7; 4:1; 5:11; 8:4,6).

Missed Opportunities to Repent

God brought calamities upon Israel to remind them—“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isaiah 42:8). He brought disaster so that they might repent.

But they did not.

After each calamity the Lord declared—“yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6,8,9,10,11).  As a result, though God had been longsuffering, eventually Israel would be destroyed by Assyria.

Economic Disaster

The first calamity God brought upon Israel was economic disaster, which, in an agricultural economy, is expressed as draught, blight, locusts and famine (Amos 4: 6-9).

Sin reflects our desire for happiness and satisfaction apart from God. When God removes our prosperity, he thwarts our efforts to find heaven on earth and provides us with an opportunity to repent. However, a person with a rebellious and hardened heart “shakes his fist” at God and refuses to repent and draw near.

America’s Economic Sins

As did Israel in the time of Amos, the world in general, and the U.S. in particular faces economic distress. But the majority narrative that the U.S. economy was strong and our economic problems will go away when the pandemic is under control is a lie. It is strong delusion. This narrative ignores our economic sins. As long as we fail to recognize our sin, there is no chance anyone will repent.

What do I mean by economic sin? We are a debtor nation that cannot repay the debt owed to our trading partners. This is wicked (Psalm 37:21). Our lifestyle is subsidized in part by some of the poorest nations on earth. When the plunder of the poor is in your house it gets God’s attention (Isaiah 3:13-15). The pursuit of wealth dwarfs the pursuit of God as we convince ourselves that either God doesn’t exist or that we can serve both God and money. We condone an economic system that can only thrive on discontent and debt even as it demands our full allegiance. This is problematic for Christians as it leaves little time and energy to advance the Kingdom of God (Proverbs 23:4).

The Worst Is Ahead

Our economic actions have assured consequences. We reap what we sow. Record individual, corporate, national and international debt is evidence that we have lived beyond our means for decades. The party is over and the economic hangover will be the worst we’ve ever experienced. To make matters worse, U.S. monetary policy (with the Federal Reserve believing they can stave off another Great Depression by buying debt) is on a collision course with hyperinflation. If they don’t reverse course, everyone’s savings will be wiped out.

We dare not carry on as usual during these times unless we know for sure we have nothing to repent of. We do not want to hear God say of us, “Yet you did not return to me.” Our economic famine might turn into an actual famine. Furthermore, if our nation follows the pattern of Israel, we will also experience ”not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.” Dare we think that those who desire to tear down our statues and our society will not come after Christians? When persecution arrives, will we be ready spiritually?

Still Doubtful About the Precarious State of Our Economy?

If you still hold doubts about the precarious condition of our economy, these articles explain why our economy was weak before the pandemic:

The Wizard of Odd – Trump Edition. Why debt is a problem and why our standard of living must go down in order to pay it back.

What Really Causes Inequality? Contains answers to this question that both conservatives and liberals will love and hate.

How Much Socialism Does it Take to Collapse an Economy? – Part 2 Explains why U.S. monetary policy is headed toward hyperinflation (this article is fairly technical).

The Money Changers Have Stolen From Our Future – Why We Will Have to Live on Less Explains why the prevalent financial practice of ignoring the future to attain short term gain makes our economic prosperity unsustainable.

America’s Level of Prosperity Is Not Sustainable – Explores the implications of our trade deficit.

Feeling Repressed? Discusses stealthy methods used to transfer your money to the government. Hint- it involves inflation.

As In the Days of Noah

Noah lived in the midst of evil. We do too. Our modern world has plenty of idols. For some it is politics, for others it is entertainment. Acquiring wealth consumes the time and affections of many people, providing a false sense of security and self-sufficiency that excludes God. As in the days of Noah, violence fills our world. Individuals and nations employ violence as a means to secure wealth through war, sex trafficking, drug trafficking, and exploitation of others in the global marketplace. Violence against the unborn has reached abominable proportions. It’s not difficult for Christians to identify many other forms of corruption and to be appalled at their rapid increase.

A Unique Task

God gave Noah a unique task for a unique time. Noah, a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), was faithful even though God delayed for decades the judgment he declared to Noah. Though none of us have a task as unique as Noah’s nor live in as unique a time, we can learn from Noah’s persistent obedience. We can, in the words of the apostle Paul, see to it that we complete the ministry we have received in the Lord (Colossians 4:17).

It could be that you have been given a specific task, one that others have been given but that is by no means universal. Perhaps you have journeyed far and labored long in obedience to God’s clear instruction but do not yet see the fruit you expected. Be encouraged by this:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.—Galatians 6:9

Favor In the Eyes of the Lord

Noah, a righteous man and blameless among the people, found favor in the eyes of the Lord and he walked with God.

A careful look at scripture shows many of God’s promises to be conditional on our obedience. We either walk with God or we don’t, there is no third option. If we cling to idols we cannot simultaneously walk with God, if we serve money we cannot serve God, we will not gratify the flesh if we walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16); we cannot be partners with immoral, impure or greedy people and be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1-7).

The Bible is filled with exhortations to persevere in our faith. In times such as we now find ourselves in, God looks with favor upon those who, like Noah, walk with him and are obedient to the task they are given.

A Universal Task

God has given some tasks to every Christian. None of us are excluded from walking in the Spirit, being ambassadors for Christ, or making disciples. We cannot do what God has asked of us in our own strength, but God has made it possible for us to participate in the work that he is completing in us. We can, in the words of the New Testament, see to it that none of us has a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12) and that no one falls short of the grace of God (Hebrews 12:15). We can “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”. We can “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Noah had to be prepared for the time of God’s judgment. Likewise, we must be prepared for the Lord’s return. God has promised to complete the work he began in us. We take comfort in this fact when we stumble while running our race, knowing that our perseverance, though there is no room for laxity on our part, ultimately depends upon God. Even the warnings against falling away found in the book of Hebrews serve as a means by which God ensures his elect do not leave the faith.

Noah warned about unseen things. As in the days of Noah, the unbelieving world is unaware of the wrath to come. We are called to go into the whole world and warn them, to make disciples who follow Jesus and escape God’s wrath.

Persevering In the Storm

Whether you believe the coronavirus pandemic is judgment from God on a rebellious world, a wake-up call for believers or merely evil resulting from a fallen world, the task in front of every Christian remains the same—to persevere in faith.

I can’t help but wonder what Noah thought while the flood waters prevailed on the earth for 150 days. How long would he have to live in the ark? When would he be back on familiar, solid ground?

The Lord knows how to rescue godly men and women from trials (2 Peter 2:9). If you are discouraged during this pandemic, recall that even as the floodwaters were still high, God remembered Noah and then made the waters subside. He will remember you too. Be faithful.

Coronavirus: Bursting Babylon’s Bubble

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Our world has been hurtling toward globalization for decades. Progressives spend their lives devoted to the cause of globalization with zeal unmatched by most of their ideological opponents. And, with the enthusiastic and unwitting help of their conservative opponents, a global capital economy has engulfed the majority of today’s societies.

From the point of view of economics, a nation is simply a political barrier to the movement of the factors of production. Since capital freely flows across borders in our modern global economy, globalization is nearly accomplished from an economic standpoint. Regional economies such as the European Union already allow the free movement across national borders of another factor of production—labor.

With a global economic system in place, progressives need only consolidate political power to achieve their goal of a one-world government. Progressives hate nationalist and populist movements because they stand in their way. I think this explains the irrational hatred of Donald Trump and his supporters among the media and progressive elites as well as the opposition to Brexit.

Nations Have a Purpose

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

—Acts 17:26-27

People have a natural, sinful tendency to think they are self-sufficient, without any need for God to help them succeed.

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth—Deuteronomy 8:17-18

In the Bible, Babylon represents any world system antagonistic toward God and his people. It is no wonder then, that the most famous king of Babylon was judged for failing to recognize God’s sovereignty over him.

All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”—Daniel 4:28-30

This illusion is even more powerful and destructive when the entire world gathers together to solve humanity’s perceived problems without any deference to God and without acknowledging the real problem facing humanity—sin. At the tower of Babel the result of humanity’s desire to unite in rebellion would have been so disastrous that God, in his mercy, confused their language and scattered them over the earth. Better a world divided into nations than a world united in apostasy.

Recognizing Babylon

Both Scripture and history describe the world system called Babylon.

John in Revelation 17:5 describes Babylon as the great harlot (Revelation 17:5). The Bible uses adultery to describe idolatry. Idolatry is unfaithfulness to God (Hosea 1:2). Babylon opposes God’s redemptive plan and replaces it with human self-sufficiency. Babylon seeks power and wealth in an illusory attempt to get away with a sinful lifestyle opposed to God’s standards (Revelation 18:3). The great whore Babylon seeks worldly wealth convinced that its lack is humanity’s real problem. It hates the real riches we can obtain only through Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Babylon at the time John wrote the Revelation was Rome, an empire that persecuted Christians and sought to control vast portions of the world. The world system Babylon at the end of the age will be drunk with the blood of the saints (Revelation 17:6) as it seeks luxury. Its merchants will both fear and mourn her demise, one she never saw coming because of her rebellion against God (Revelation 18: 7,10-11).

We can recognize Babylon as any society that makes wealth acquisition its top priority at the expense of others (i.e., slavery in Rome, or enslavement by debt in modern societies) and one that opposes God’s standards of morality while persecuting Christians who would stand against its man-made standards.

Coronavirus vs Globalization

Globalists/progressives try to plan the world’s course without God. Our modern day situation is really not that much different than that at the tower of Babel. The predictable outcome now seen in the developed world—record individual, government and corporate debt, unrestrained sexual immorality, rampant abortion, small families and the resultant demographic crises—can be directly attributed to the all-out quest to serve money instead of God.

The coronavirus, with astonishing speed, has brought the global economy to a standstill.

Will anyone notice the spiritual implications?

We don’t know how long the coronavirus will wreak havoc on the global economy. But even if the pandemic ends sooner than expected, it will leave in its wake a worldwide economic crisis (more on that in my past and future blogs).

Has coronavirus dealt a serious blow to globalization? Or, will progressives find a way to use it to their advantage, not willing to let any crisis go to waste? It’s not hard to imagine a progressive call to unite the world to fight future pandemics and to resolve the looming worldwide economic crisis. Of course, they will want to expand government to attain their goal.

Bursting Babylon’s Bubble

This is where American Evangelical Christians need discernment. We have been told that, before coronavirus, the United States economy was very strong; even the best we’ve ever had. That’s a lie. Our economy and the world economy were unsustainable; they were built on debt. Coronavirus was simply the pin that pricked the debt bubble. The underlying problems in our economy and that of the world are so deep and severe that two or three months of a shut down economy pale in comparison.

Years of artificially low interest rates have increased the money supply (in the form of debt) to unprecedented levels. When all of that money is unleashed on economies that have misallocated resources into non-productive assets, prices will skyrocket as competition for necessities increases amid a slowed economy. The world is awash in debt it cannot repay (Psalm 37:21). Babylon cannot solve the problems it has made for itself.

Christians Unite

God will not give his glory to another (Isaiah 42:8). Not to progressives, not to conservative politicians, not to our economy, not to a united world. God provided the solution to the world’s problems when Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead. If Christians are to unite, let’s do so to proclaim God’s mercy to the world.

This Is the Day That the Lord Has Made! – Part 2

Gathering Manna Daily

Part 1 looked at how God provides for and leads Christians. Part 2 looks at the believer’s response to God’s faithful provision and guidance.

Rejoice In the Lord Daily

This is perhaps the one daily habit I need to develop most. There have been seasons when I have rejoiced in God’s presence and leading, but God wants every Christian to continually rejoice in him. Each day is a gift from God in which we have the privilege to enjoy, serve and worship him. If I wake up each day thankful and mindful that God has something for me to do, I will be better able to rejoice and be glad throughout the day.

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. —Psalm 118:24 (ESV)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

—Philippians 4:4

I find Paul’s exhortation in Philippians harder to obey when things don’t go as I would like. Those suffering during this pandemic might reasonably ask what they have to rejoice about. But Paul wasn’t exactly relaxing in a comfortable home when he spoke these words. From prison, unsure of his future, unsure whether he would live or die, he instructed the Philippians to turn away from anxiety and turn, in thanksgiving, toward God:

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.—Philippians 4:5-8

One thing I know with certainty. Being close to God replaces anxiety with an unexplainable peace. To find this joy and peace during good times prepares me to find it when trials come.

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.—Isaiah 26:3 (ESV)

Seek the Lord Daily

For me, a watershed moment, or, more accurately a watershed year was 2013. In January, my mother died. In April, my father died. In the middle of my grief, I found out we had to find a new place to live because the landlord of the house we were renting wanted to sell it in August. God was turning my world upside down. My wife and I set out to diligently seek God’s will. Our Bible study and prayer became more frequent and more focused. We journaled daily to record how God was answering prayer. Early on in this journey it became clear that God wanted me to take a major risk. We were amazed by the number of people God used to point me to the same conclusion: I trusted too much in my job for security. God wanted me to quit my job and write my book. It seemed nearly every sermon we heard (in church or on the radio), every devotional we read, and every quiet time we had proclaimed the same truths from the Bible.

Even with this flood of instruction, I managed over the summer to concoct two plans that would allow me to keep my job and try to write my book. But God would not budge. He wanted to break my trust in worldly security. His loving persistence won out. In September, I quit my job. We left Denver and moved to Texas where I started writing my book.

If I had not sought out God’s leading daily, I would have continued to look for my security in my job.

You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.—Psalm 63:1

When we are in the desert, we seek water daily in order to live. David thirsts for God with his whole being. To him, God’s love is better than life itself.

I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.—Psalm 63:2-3

I wish I could say that I continually sought God’s leading daily from 2013 until now. I haven’t. That’s why this pandemic has been a wake-up call. It has rejuvenated my desire to commune with God daily, to dwell in the shelter of the Almighty.

Seek God’s Wisdom Daily

Blessed are those who listen to me,
watching daily at my doors,
waiting at my doorway.
For those who find me find life
and receive favor from the Lord.
But those who fail to find me harm themselves;
all who hate me love death.”—Proverbs 8:34-36

God’s wisdom is available in the Bible for our daily intake. Wisdom so gained brings blessing, favor and life from the Lord.

Surrender to God Daily

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.—Luke 9:23

This command deals a deathblow to any priorities that distance us from God. It should kill our procrastination and rationalization. It is a sobering reminder of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

Taking up our cross daily only seems onerous when we value this life more than the next. It doesn’t preclude rejoicing in the Lord’s presence each day. It doesn’t preclude enjoying his many good gifts. But it does prioritize our desire.

Today’s Obedience

What has God placed on your heart today? What has God done in your past to demonstrate his faithfulness? Think on these things. I pray we all find contentment in our circumstances and trust God to supply all of our needs as he leads us each day.

This Is the Day That the Lord Has Made!

Gathering Manna Daily
Wake-Up Call

If you are like me, this coronavirus pandemic has been a wake-up call. Bible verses that used to sound pleasant and encouraging to my ears now sound life preserving. “Redeeming the time, for the days are evil” has a more urgent ring to it. Verse after verse tells me that today is the day to trust and obey God. This is the day to walk in the Holy Spirit, totally surrendered to God and enjoying his presence. Today is the day to abandon all worry and find comfort in the promises of God. This is the day to follow Jesus as his disciple, observing all that he has commanded me.

Here are a few examples of verses that have caught my attention:

God Provides Daily

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. —Lamentations 3:22-23

The Bible teaches that God’s love sustains us on a daily basis. Jesus taught his disciples to pray for their daily bread (Matthew 6:11) and then commanded them not to trust in riches but to trust in God, not worrying about tomorrow (Matthew 6:19-34). God supplied miraculously bread from heaven on a daily basis, commanding the Israelites not to gather more manna than they needed each day in order to test them (Exodus 16:4-5; 17-20). Having more or less than our daily needs tests our trust in God and often reveals our true heart condition (Proverbs 30:8-9).

This truth, that God faithfully provides our daily needs, is the key to living each day as God has commanded, trusting in him.

One way that God impresses on our hearts that he is the one who provides all of our needs is to place us into situations that we cannot control. Some people live this reality constantly, but those who live in affluence rarely experience deprivation. Coronavirus may have taken away much of our entertainment and many of our amusements, but, at least for now, few in wealthy societies have a lack of the necessities of life to the point that they experience God’s daily provision in an obvious way as did the Israelites in the desert. Many of us still think we are the ultimate providers for our family:

He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.—Deuteronomy 8:16-18a

God Leads Daily

When we truly believe God will provide for us each day, we are freed from self-dependence and ready to follow Jesus’ leading wherever that may take us. Most of the time, we find that God leads us step by step, day by day. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105).” Ancient lamps did not shine very far down the road.

As a new Christian, I wanted to know God’s “big picture” for my life. It didn’t occur to me that God would ask for daily obedience and that by my obedience he would lead me. I am sad to report that too often in my Christian life, I did not set out each day to accomplish the task in front of me, but instead, wasted time seeking some elusive future existence or worrying about the future. I’m not saying we don’t benefit from planning or having a vision, but that we won’t reach the goal God has for us if we don’t obey and follow him today.

We can be more certain about today. All of us have something we know God wants us to do today. We know of a relationship that needs mending, a neighbor who needs our compassion, a habit we need to form or break. We know these things because God has spoken to us through his Word and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. We make plans for the future, even very good plans, but God may alter them— “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps (Proverbs 16:9).

My wife and I recently had our hopes and plans for the future changed by God. Over the past couple of years, through Sunday sermons, personal study and mentoring by a pastor devoted to making disciples, we knew the Spirit was calling us to make disciples in obedience to the Great Commission. We knew that along with being a disciple of Jesus, making disciples was our main priority and we desired to minister in the Philippines. We knew that getting there might take a year or two, but we hoped to go sooner. So, during the waiting period, we continued to hold Bible studies in our home—the task we knew to do today.

We traveled to the Philippines to see how God was working there. We met with missionaries both in the US and in the Philippines who connected us with a church that reaches out successfully to plant churches that can go on to make more disciples.

But on our return from the Philippines, my health took a turn that would make it difficult, if not impossible, to move to the Philippines. God closed a door. Whether he will re-open it remains to be seen. But whether he does or doesn’t our present outreach remains. Our mentor, who uses technology to disciple people living around the world, told us early on that we can make disciples anywhere. We knew, before going to the Philippines, that our daily mission can be accomplished from any location God chooses for us. So, this closed door didn’t discourage us or change God’s mission for us to carry out. The fact that we can hold our Bible studies online during the coronavirus shelter-in-place order proves again the point that disciples can be made anywhere.

We should all remember how God has led us in the past. He is our Rock! During this coronavirus crisis, let’s not imitate the majority in Israel who didn’t trust God to lead them and care for them even though he had faithfully done so in the past:

Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place. ”

In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God, who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.—Deuteronomy 1:29-33

Part 2 looks at the believer’s response to God’s faithful provision and guidance.

 

God Is Good

God is Good: A Mini Theodicy

Theodicy: An explanation of why a good, omniscient, omnipotent God permits evil.

The task of any theodicy is to show that the existence of evil is not contradictory to a God who is omnipotent, omniscient and morally good. This article does not attempt a full-orbed theodicy. Instead I assert that God permitting evil and God’s judgment of evil are not contradictory to the actions of a good and loving God.

A common explanation for the coronavirus is that it is a natural evil resulting from the Fall. The Scriptures show that goodness is the essence of God while evil is revolt against God (Psalms 25:7-8; 100:5; 118:1; Matthew 19:17). Scripture also affirms that God’s creation was good and later subjected to futility as the result of sin. God’s original creation contained no coronavirus. It contained neither disease nor infirmity. It contained no evil. It was good (Genesis 1:31).

But knowing the source of evil and why it exists doesn’t explain why God permits it. It doesn’t give any hint as to the purpose of suffering. We need the Bible to tell us that too.

Satan Did It

Some Christians, who believe correctly that “God is love,” can’t seem to imagine how God would in any way be involved in bringing calamity upon people even when faced with Scriptures that indicate that He is involved during times of judgment (Amos 3:6). For them, the “go-to” option that remains to explain something like coronavirus is that it comes from Satan. But to come to this conclusion without considering the possibility that a disaster might be judgment from God, one must ignore God’s other attributes such as justice, mercy and holiness. This is the “let God off the hook” argument I mentioned in my last article.1

This “Satan did it” line of reasoning aligns perfectly with the skeptic’s contention that God is either indifferent or unable to stop evil. If God is not Judge, he is not in control. Christians affirm that God is in control, so how can we acknowledge that Satan seeks to do harm to people without attributing to him more power than he actually possesses?

God Is Not the Author of Evil

God is not the author of evil. Scripture is clear on this matter (1 John 1:5b; James 1:13; 1 Peter 3:12). But Scripture also consistently asserts that God is sovereign over his creation (Job 38:8, 11; Psalm 89:8-9; Luke 8:24). Evil is on a leash, restrained by the hand of the Almighty. God is in control (Job 2:6).

In an article entitled “How to Contemplate Calamity,” John Piper notes that both the author of the book of Job and Job regard God as the decisive cause of Job’s misery (Job 1:21; 42:11; 2:10). Satan certainly was involved in Job’s misery (Job 1:12; 2:6) but he had not the decisive hand. Piper points out that Job’s misery was not punishment, but purifying (Job 42:6) but that the death of his children may have been judgment (but we simply don’t know for sure). His point is that suffering and death can be judgment and mercy at the same time (1 Peter 2:24).2

This dual application of judgment and mercy can be true for any calamity that is a result of the Fall, including the coronavirus.

Evil Brothers and an Evil King

Let’s look at two examples from Scripture, one familiar and one not so familiar, in which God permitted evil to accomplish his purpose. In the first God used evil to bring about good. In the second he used evil to punish evil.

The story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers is well known, as is his amazing declaration after he reunited with his brothers many years later, forgiving them:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. —Genesis 50:19-20

Without the Fall, there would be no coronavirus. Without the Fall, Joseph’s brothers would not have acted wickedly and sold him into slavery. Without the Fall, Joseph would not have suffered so much at the hands of other men. But without God orchestrating events, there would have been no food in Egypt and many would have died of starvation.

In a perhaps less familiar example, the Assyrians, a particularly cruel people, were the instrument by which the Northern Kingdom of Israel’s destruction came about. God made clear through his prophets (Hosea, Amos, Isaiah) that this destruction was a judgment from God.

Without the Fall, there would have been no wicked King of Assyria who boasted of his military might:

When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes. For he says:

“‘By the strength of my hand I have done this,
and by my wisdom, because I have understanding.
I removed the boundaries of nations,
I plundered their treasures;
like a mighty one I subdued their kings.
As one reaches into a nest,
so my hand reached for the wealth of the nations;
as people gather abandoned eggs,
so I gathered all the countries;
not one flapped a wing,
or opened its mouth to chirp.’” —Isaiah 10:12-14

God used this wicked nation to judge another wicked nation, Israel. Assyria was merely an axe in the hand of God. It was God who swung the axe:

Does the ax raise itself above the person who swings it,
or the saw boast against the one who uses it?
As if a rod were to wield the person who lifts it up,
or a club brandish the one who is not wood!
Therefore, the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
will send a wasting disease upon his sturdy warriors;
under his pomp a fire will be kindled
like a blazing flame.—Isaiah 10:15-16

God’s Judgments Are Righteous

It is not evil for God to judge his creatures (Romans 2:4-5). If it were, then there would be no hell for a good God of love. This idea that all humans will eventually be reconciled to God (so no need for an eternal hell), of course, is the conclusion that Universalists have come to, and it’s based upon a false conception of God. It can only come about when humans impose their idea of good upon God. We say God is good and then define good as something or someone who does not allow evil rather than using the biblical definition that says that good is God’s character and actions, which are both exclusive of evil.

Where Does God Draw the Line?

Why does God allow you or me to sin? When we think about evil, our minds go to unusually wicked actions of people like Hitler, child predators, human traffickers or to natural disasters, or to creatures like Satan who continually act in an evil and cruel manner.

If God did what so many of us would like him to (namely, not allow great evil), there would have been no Hitler or other despots. However, if God didn’t allow them into the world, we would then see those who did a little less evil than Hitler and Stalin as people God shouldn’t allow. We would still not be satisfied and we would eventually demand that God not allow whoever’s evil we detest into the world. Then surely God would draw the line between good and evil before he got to us.

Nope.

This is where God draws the line:

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.—Luke 18:19

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! —Matthew 7:11

In short, ordinary people, indeed, all people, are evil and deserve death and hell. If only God is good, where does that leave us?

A Perfect Solution to the Problem of Evil

Creatures brought sin into the world. Our sin, no matter how insignificant it seems to us, separates us from God.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God—Romans 3:23

For the wages of sin is death—Romans 6:23a

A good, loving God provides a way out of the predicament that sinful humans find themselves in.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.—Romans 6:23

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.—John 3:16

What does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ? It means to trust in and depend on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross as penalty for your sin and acknowledge that you can do nothing to earn salvation.

If you are reading this and you have yet to believe that Jesus Christ is the way the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus, you need to know this—that those who trust in Jesus are imputed his righteousness and are no longer separated from God.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.—2 Corinthians 5:21

Those who have not believed in Jesus when they die will spend eternity in hell, but those who believed will have eternal life with God.

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”—Matthew 25:46

The Bible says we must decide now in this life because it is appointed to men to die once and then be judged (Hebrews 9:27). There is no second chance after you die.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near—Isaiah 55:6

If you trust in Jesus now, he will lead you into his Kingdom.

God’s Is Just and He Is Good

At the cross God brought the greatest good out of the greatest evil. Evil men murdered the perfect Son of God. He was crucified for our sins and paid the penalty for them on our behalf.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.—Isaiah 53:5

There will be a final judgment. At that time all who have believed in the name of Jesus will enter eternal bliss because their sins were judged at the cross. Those who reject Jesus will get what they want, an eternity without God telling them what to do. Those who rejected the Light of the World (John 8:12) will be in eternal darkness. They will be in eternal agony separated from everything good. They will be forever separated from God.

 

Notes:

  1. God can’t actually be let off the hook, because that would imply he was “on the hook” for doing something wrong. God’s ways are perfect, so it is only our arrogance and misunderstanding of God’s character that demand that God act in a way that suits our definition of good.
  2. John Piper, “How to Contemplate Calamity,” Desiring God, December 26, 2012, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-contemplate-calamity.

Is the Coronavirus Judgment from God?

Is the coronavirus judgment from God? Surely Christians everywhere are asking this question or one like it.

I have listened to a number of sermons from this past Sunday that addressed the believer’s response to the pandemic we now experience. All of the pastors exhorted their congregations not to fear. Believers were reminded that God is in control and that he is our fortress. People were encouraged to pray for courage, mercy and peace. These are all very good responses.

Some pastors said the coronavirus is just one of many calamities (though admittedly larger in scope) that God allows in a fallen world. Others, similarly, proclaim it to be just another natural disaster, all of which can be traced to sin. No need to panic, nothing new under the sun here. This is not the beginning of the tribulation. Just hunker down and trust God.

The Elephant In the Room

What was missing from all but one of the messages I listened to (admittedly a small sample) was any notion that the coronavirus might be judgment from God. In fact, one well-known pastor said it would be dangerously presumptuous to say that the coronavirus was judgment on America for wicked behavior (such as abortion) if God did not say it, citing Deuteronomy 18:20. I agree. Why would God send corona virus upon the whole earth as judgment for the sins of the United States?

But how can something that, on a world-wide basis, brings economies to nearly a standstill and upends life as we knew it with no end date in sight just be a run-of–the-mill natural disaster?

I fear that when we omit judgment as a possible explanation for this pandemic, it might be perceived by unbeliever and believer alike as “letting God off the hook” for the suffering, fear and death this pandemic will cause.

The result of not mentioning judgment is predictable. Doing so brings comfort to the people of the world, especially Christians steeped in it, who might otherwise examine their troubled hearts, by telling them that everything will be ok, just play video games or whatever else distracts you from reality. Carry on as usual except that now, perhaps, would be a good time to start reading your Bible.

Conditional Comfort?

I am one of many who take comfort in Psalm 91. Three times in this Psalm, protection from pestilence and plague and the fear they produce is promised to the one who dwells in the shelter of the Most High. The psalmist also gives this promise:

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge—
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent. (ESV)

Charles Spurgeon says this about Psalm 91:

The blessings here promised are not for all believers, but for those who live in close fellowship with God. Every child of God looks towards the inner sanctuary and the mercy-seat, yet all do not dwell in the most holy place; they run to it at times, and enjoy occasional approaches, but they do not habitually reside in the mysterious presence.

If this be true, then carrying on as usual is the last thing that we want to do, unless our normal day consists of walking in the Spirit, ever communing with God and surrendering each day to him.

An absence of prayer and Bible reading indicates we are not dwelling in the shelter of the Most High (Psalm 91:1). In this time of pandemic, exhortations to draw close to God should be bold and forceful, not merely suggestions. Abiding under the shadow of the Almighty does not happen when God is an afterthought or the last Person to gain our attention on a daily basis.

Disease and Judgment In the Bible

Jesus could stop this virus in an instant. Why hasn’t he? Maybe God brought the corona virus for a particular purpose.

“Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heals.”

—Habakkuk 3:5

Throughout the Bible God used disease as judgment.

God brought pestilence as judgment on Egypt and he will bring it as judgment at the end of days to judge the world system of Babylon (Revelation 18:8). Our God protects and blesses, but he also brings pestilence to accomplish his righteous purpose on earth (See Isaiah 45:7; Ezekiel 5:16-17; Amos 4:10).

When Moses finished writing the Torah he warned God’s people that they would rebel against the Lord, do evil in the sight of the Lord provoking him to anger through the work of their hands. So, as judgment for their idolatry; evil would come upon them. (See Deuteronomy 31:24-32:47) Disease was part of the judgment (Deuteronomy 32:24).

Other examples where disease is used for judgment can be found in Jeremiah 42:22 and Numbers 25:9.

Awake O Sleeper

If the coronavirus is not judgment, then surely believers can see it as a wakeup call:

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. —Ephesians 5:14-16 (ESV)

 

Wouldn’t the best use of our time during this pandemic be to examine our walk with God? We can use this time to address the sins we have clung to (Psalm 66:18) and expunge them from our lives. We can ask God to show us sins we aren’t aware of (Psalm 139:23-24).

The law of God reveals our sin to us (Romans 7:7-8). The blessed man delights in it and meditates on it day and night (Psalm 1:2). The one who turns away his ear from it utters abominable prayers (Proverbs 28:9). 

What if we aren’t close to God? What if we have strayed?

Take the first step.

In James, chapter 4, the author attributes division in the church to worldliness. James beckons us to draw near to God so that he will draw near to us. He exhorts us not to be double-minded, to repent and purify our hearts.

Do we not find ourselves in a situation that is an opportunity to seriously examine our hearts, repent and humble ourselves to receive the promise that the Lord will exalt those who do?

When we walk each day submitted to the Holy Spirit will we not then be under the shadow of the Almighty?

Be Ready to Witness

We know that earthquakes, floods, pandemics and all natural disasters affect everyone in their path, both Christian and non-Christian. Our response should correspond to our relationship with God:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” —Luke 13:1-5

Jesus focuses here on what is a main reason for suffering—to lead people to repentance.

Regarding coronavirus, unbelievers should fear more than a disease that could kill their body. They should fear God who can cast both body and soul into hell (Matthew 10:28).

But God has not given Christians a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). When we are burdened beyond our own strength we develop reliance upon God (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). In the midst of this crisis and thereafter we have a mission.

These two workings of God in human hearts can come together magnificently in this crisis.

Christian, is not Jesus telling us now–“Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest!” (John 4:35-38)

Let’s use our time well during this crisis and be ready to share the Gospel!

Do you know someone you can call or chat with online who needs to hear the Gospel?

 

Photo from CDC.

“Thou Shall Not Covet” Is Not a Defense of Capitalism

“Thou Shall Not Covet” Is Not a Defense of Capitalism (It’s Actually an Indictment of It.)

(Note: For those who are new to my website, when I critique capitalism, I am in no way suggesting we should embrace the wicked economic/political system known as socialism.)

I recently saw a tweet admonishing Christians not to engage in the politics of envy (which the author ascribed to socialists) because to do so violates the 10th Commandment. I saw another that said God is the ultimate capitalist. These sentiments are not disconnected. In fact, those who think capitalism is “God’s ordained economic system” usually attribute envy (as the primary motivation) to anyone who challenges their worship of capitalism.

Does every Christian who uses the “envy card” to defend capitalism worship capitalism? Of course not, but some do. I make this bold charge of worshiping capitalism because some Christians ascribe to capitalism qualities and purposes reserved solely for God, forgetting that God does not give his glory to another person or thing. I’ve heard some speak of a capitalist paradise; others describe capitalism as the only moral system. In their world, it seems, wealth inequality always occurs as a natural consequence of laziness versus hard work or because of government intervention into the economy and never occurs as a natural consequence of sinners operating in a free market. In their world, wealth accumulation should be one’s goal, the more the better. So anyone who mentions inequality or who challenges capitalism engages in the politics of envy and acts wickedly. And, according to them, the 10th Commandment proves their point.

Here is what the 10th Commandment says:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. —Exodus 20:17

Words Matter

We should be suspicious of any claim that envy violates the 10th commandment when the word doesn’t appear in the verse. The KJV, NIV, NASB and ESV all use the English word covet to translate the Hebrew word chamad which means to desire or to delight in something.1 So we must ask, why didn’t the translators use the word envy?

The English word envy comes from the latin word invidere which literally means “’to look askance at,’ or ‘to have hatred or ill will toward another’ because of their possessions or advantages.”2 If Bible translators thought this was the meaning of chamad, they would have used the word envy instead of the word covet when translating the 10th Commandment into English. But they didn’t.

The Hebrew word chamad, used in the 10th Commandment, means to desire intensely anything that becomes a substitute for love and devotion due to God. The intensity of this desire overpowers the moral demands of the law so that the coveted object must be attained by any means.3

When Jewish scholars produced a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (called the Septuagint) they used the Greek word epithumeo for the Hebrew word chamad when translating Exodus 20:17. Epithumeo means to set your heart upon, long for, covet, desire.4 It can be used to express evil desires opposed to the will of God. Exodus 20:17 forbids this kind of desire because it represents a heart not fully devoted to God.5 Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

Covetousness ≠ Envy

Well, you might say, the 10th Commandment does refer to envy because the English words envy and covet are synonyms and are interchangeable in common usage. Doesn’t matter. What matters is the meaning of the biblical text in the original language. What matters is what sin does the 10th Commandment prohibit.

The problem with using envy and covetousness interchangeably is that the Hebrew words translated into covet and envy do not have the same meaning. As noted above, covetousness is the desire for something in place of God while envy is the resentful dislike (or hatred) of another who has something we desire. Envy seems to describe socialists very well, problem is, that’s not the word used in the 10th commandment.

Covetousness = Idolatry

Both Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:5 label covetousness as idolatry:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

—Colossians 3:5 (ESV)

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

—Ephesians 5:5 (ESV)

Covetousness fits well within these lists because, in the Bible, idolatry is often compared to sexual immorality. See Ezekiel 6:9; Jeremiah 3:6-10, 19:5; Isaiah 57:5-8; Ezekiel 16:15-19; Hosea 3:1-5.

So we see that the 10th commandment prohibits desiring the things of the world to the point of being unfaithful to God. Those who violate the 10th Commandment fail to love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength and instead lust after the things of the world, thereby becoming enemies of God (James 4:4).

An Indictment of Capitalism

Whenever we don’t make a distinction that the Bible makes, we will miss something important. And that “something” will likely convict us of our own sin rather than bolster our argument about someone else’s sin.

The Hebrew Bible uses the word qana to denote the concept of the English word envy. Qana denotes jealousy or to blush from strong emotion.6 As previously noted it is not used in the 10th Commandment. Proverbs uses qana to warn against envy of evil men (not righteous rich capitalists!) (Proverbs 3:31; 23:17; 24:1,19. See also Psalms 37:1 and 73:3).

Inserting the concept of envying the rich into the 10th Commandment to argue for the morality of capitalism is both tragic and wicked. It is tragic because it blinds those who do it to their idolatrous love affair with capitalism. It is wicked because it seeks to persuade others to follow them into their sin.

It is wicked, because instead of warning others to flee the world system and to not envy evil men, it encourages others to remain in the world system and admonishes them to not envy the rich.

The 10th Commandment stands as an indictment against any world system that seeks to make us unfaithful to God (1 John 2:15-17). Capitalism is one such system. Christians are called to come out of the world system (Revelation 18:4-5) not to defend it.

 

Did you like this article? For more on economics and the Bible, check out my book, The Narrow Road: Loving God In a World Devoted to Money, on Amazon.

 

Notes:

  1. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
  2. S. Barabas, “Envy,” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 2:314.
  3. W. White, Jr., “Covet, Covetousness,” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 1:1016-1017.
  4. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
  5. H. Schonweiss, “Desire, Lust, Pleasure,” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 1:456-458.
  6. V. Cruz, “Envy,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 357.

How Do We Love God?

Church

Would your spouse say you loved them if you never demonstrated that love? If you always put your interests above theirs would your professions of love be believed?

Surely no healthy, discerning person would.

So, how do we demonstrate our love for God? We can’t meet God’s needs—he doesn’t have any. But, we can put his interests above our natural inclinations. We can show by our actions that we believe God’s plan is more important than our desires when they conflict with each other.

The Two Greatest Commandments

Jesus left no doubt as to the importance of loving God when he responded to a scribe who asked, “Which commandment is the most important of all (Mark 12:30).” Jesus, expanding on Deuteronomy 6:5, commanded us to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength (Mark 12:30). No part of our being is excluded.

The scribe only asked for one commandment, but Jesus followed this greatest commandment with another like it, declaring the second greatest commandment to be “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” By doing so, Jesus indicated the primary way we demonstrate our love for God—by loving others.

These two commandments are necessarily connected. We cannot love God and hate our brother (1 John 4:20). To hate our brother disobeys the second greatest commandment and we know that if we love Jesus we will keep his commandments (John 14:15).

Walk By the Spirit

Galatians 5 explains that it is through love that our faith works (v6). Our freedom in Christ is not an opportunity for the flesh, but an opportunity through love to serve one another (v 13). “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself (v 14).”

Therefore, loving God consists of more than obeying commands not to commit certain sins. Loving God requires our positive action. So, obeying biblical commands to love one another, instruct one another, serve one another, pray for one another, encourage one another and forgive each other demonstrates our love for God. Obeying Jesus’ command to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” demonstrates our love for God.

But we cannot do it on our own. We cannot love God in the power of the flesh. We must walk by the Spirit. Then we will not carry out the desire of the flesh (v 16).

When we look at Galatians 5:19-21, we see that the deeds of the flesh are the opposite of loving our neighbor and therefore the opposite of loving God. But, when we walk by the Spirit, our actions are good for everyone around us. And good for us.

Seek Life and Peace

Romans 8:6 gives more incentive to walk in the Spirit. When we set our minds on the things of the Spirit rather than on the things of the flesh, we go from death to life and peace. When we walk in the Spirit every encounter with people can be viewed through the lens of the God’s will and purpose. Every encounter can be one in which we seek to be in peace (Romans 12:18) and one in which we show God’s love. When we walk in the Spirit we won’t see interruptions the same way. We won’t be inclined to become angry at the person who delays our plans for the day. Instead, recognizing God’s sovereignty we consider how this “divine appointment” might be an opportunity to advance God’s kingdom or grow us in our faith.

Romans 8:6 echoes Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount-that the easy road leads to death and destruction but that the hard road leads to life (Matthew 7:13, ESV & RSV). It’s easy for me to tell someone without food or daily bread to “go in peace, be warmed and be filled (James 2:16).” It’s hard to put aside my plans and help them. It’s easy to tell my neighbor to “Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow (Proverbs 3:27)”– when I have it with me to give. It’s easy for me to act in this manner when I walk in the flesh. When I walk in the Spirit, I will hear him nudging me– “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him (1 John 3:17)?”

Love’s Implications

Jesus’ commandments to love God and neighbor come with responsibility. His disciples are ambassadors for Christ through whom God makes his appeal for reconciliation to a lost world (2 Corinthians 5:20). Unbelievers know we are Jesus’ disciples, his ambassadors, by our love for one another (John 13:35). Ambassadors in both the ancient and modern world present credentials from their sovereign leader to prove their office. Christian’s love for one another act as credentials from our sovereign God.

Jesus’ commandments to love God and neighbor come with sacrifice. We cannot live out our Christian lives in isolation or indifference.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. — 1 John 3:16-18

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. — John 15:12-13

Jesus’ commandments to love God and neighbor come with a job description. We are disciples who make disciples.

As disciples, we learn and grow in grace and the knowledge of God’s word (2 Peter 3:18). God works in his disciple’s lives to accomplish his will (Philippians 2:13). We can be confident in the promise that God will complete that work which he has begun in us (Philippians 1:6).

As disciple makers, we not only share the gospel but we teach and care for Jesus’ sheep. We do so because we love Jesus (John 21:15-17).

Jesus’ commandments to love God and neighbor come with an assignment. We have heard it many times:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. —Matthew 28:18-20

Our efforts to share the gospel will take us out of our comfort zone. We will have to sacrifice our spare time to love others enough to tell them about Jesus. We may suffer for it. We may even become ambassadors in chains (Ephesians 6:20).

God has given us the privilege of proclaiming to the world the good news of the kingdom of God. As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, let’s resolve never to leave that privilege to others.

Christianity: Radical from the Beginning

If you are like me, you learn a lot of things that excite you about God, but following through in obedience after the initial excitement wears off proves difficult. You hear God’s clear call on your life only to discover years have passed with seemingly little progress toward that end.

Or maybe you embarked on your journey of obedience and find insurmountable obstacles blocking your path, challenging your convictions and blurring your memory of God’s working in your life. This precarious position tests your faith as the world’s siren call beckons you to return to Vanity Fair. God’s call becomes a whisper as you begin to doubt a once clear calling.

A Manageable God

Maybe the problem you or I have is that we want a manageable God. When we hear Jesus’ voice we desire to follow him, but we want to bring along a heavy burden—a bag packed with all the things we need to help God accomplish the task. We bring our own refreshments, our own entertainment and our own security blankets. Perhaps worst of all, we bring our own timetable.

But we know deep down inside our soul that following Jesus looks very different. Following Jesus requires surrender. It requires trust.

Radical from the Beginning

Where did Christians get the idea that Christianity is just one more thing to add to the “good life?” When did radical faith become quaint and eccentric and optional? How have so many of us come to the conclusion that we can follow Jesus and continue on with our usual way of life?

Christianity was radical from the beginning. When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, they left their nets immediately. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told his disciples to rejoice at persecution rather than hide the light of the Gospel so as to avoid trials. He called them to a higher standard of morality, one that went beyond actions to reveal sinful thoughts and intents of the heart. Jesus instructed them to love their enemies and to do nothing for the reward of man. He taught them to pray for God’s will to be done and to expect God to provide for them each day.

Jesus commanded his disciples to store up treasure in heaven rather than treasure on earth. He told them they could not serve both God and money. He explained why they should not worry about anything because God cares for them, but to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus admonished them to get their eyes off other people so that they could deal with their own sin. He exhorted his disciples to be among the few who enter the narrow gate and travel the narrow road that leads to life.

Jesus warned them about false teachers and how to recognize them by their fruit. He warned them that only a persevering, committed faith endures the final judgment.

Jesus calls and instructs us in the same radical way.

Ramifications of the Sermon On the Mount

D.A. Carson sums up the ramifications of the Sermon on the Mount for anyone who desires to follow Jesus:

Nothing could be more calamitous than to meditate long and hard on Matthew 5:1–7:12 and then to resolve to improve a little. The discipleship which Jesus requires is absolute, radical in the sense that it gets to the root of human conduct and to the root of relationships between God and men. A person either enters the kingdom or he does not. He walks the road that leads to life, or he walks the road that leads to destruction. There is no third alternative. Nothing, nothing at all, could have more crucial significance than following Jesus. Even if today this is far from being a universally admitted truth, yet one day all men without exception shall confess it, some to their everlasting grief.1

Should we not exhort and encourage one another to follow Jesus in a radical faith?

…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. —Hebrews 12:1

I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.

—Psalm 119:32

 

Did you like this article? Check out my book, The Narrow Road: Loving God In a World Devoted to Money, on Amazon.

Notes:

  1. D.A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount: An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1978), 122. Citation is to the paperback edition, 1982.

America’s Fight for Freedom

Whatever happened to America’s fight for freedom?

Don’t get me wrong. Americans still fight for freedom, but for many people it’s a different kind of freedom than previous generations fought for.

Yesterday morning, a day after celebrating our Fourth of July holiday, I wondered if my memory was accurate. It seemed to me that, during the Cold War, most Americans believed that the battle was between God-fearing nations and God-denying nations. Those who wanted to preserve individual freedom fought those who wanted to enslave individuals under collectivistic communism. The most effective pejoratives against communism were that it was godless and would take away our freedoms. It seemed clear—the Cold War pitted those who believed in a sovereign God and in the right of individuals to serve Him or to reject Him against atheists who demanded service only to the state. For Christians who knew their Bible, which system was good and which system was evil was easily discernible.

That was a major reason why the United States was determined to halt communism’s advance, even if it entailed great sacrifice.

But did we win the war?

Who Won the Cold War?

During the Cold War, the majority of Americans believed that communism was evil. Fast forward to today. Why do so many people in the U.S. believe socialism, which shares many of communism’s evils, is good?

I believe our secular society no longer cares much if we adopt a godless ideology, because in practice, most people already live as if God doesn’t exist. Thus, a call to fight godless ideologies will not have the effect it had on previous generations.

I also believe it is because we live in a secular society in which most people want to do what is right in their own eyes. Many Americans want freedom from religion so they can do whatever they want in their personal lives, including behaviors prohibited by Holy Writ. Many Americans want nearly unlimited freedom from government interference, believing the Bible imposes few if any restrictions on their economic activity.

Instead of fighting for freedom from a godless communism bent on taking away our freedom to serve God, too many of us fight for the freedom to serve our self. Now that our society has chucked God overboard on its journey to progressivism’s imaginary man-made nirvana, the argument has turned to economics.

Now, in what seems to me to be a capitulation to our culture’s dominant worldview, the main weapon many Christians use to fight socialism is a zealous promotion of capitalism, claiming it to be the only moral economic system.

What happened to God? Have Christians really come to believe that God will give his glory to another? Is it capitalism that will save us and demand our service?

Who won the battle for the hearts and minds of humanity that was fought in the Cold War? The West may have halted the geopolitical boundary expansion of communism, we may have won the battle against flesh and blood, but how did we fare “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms?” (Ephesians 6:12)

The Task Ahead

It is sad that many Christians now fight against godless ideologies, not by proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God, but by proclaiming the gospel of capitalism. What message do we send to unbelievers when we are so ashamed of the gospel and the freedom it gives that we promote with all our might the freedom to pursue great wealth via capitalism? Jesus’ words in Mark 8:34-38 ought to sober up any Christian inclined to fight evil by employing the very weapons the enemy uses to destroy him (1 Timothy 6:6-10).

Our task hasn’t changed. Our mission is the same. True freedom comes from Christ (John 8:36). The pearl of great price cannot be obtained via capitalism or by voting into power a certain political party. Our job is to spread the good news of the kingdom of God.

 

Did you like this article? Check out my book, The Narrow Road: Loving God In a World Devoted to Money, on Amazon.

My Kingdom Is Not of This World

Heavenly Image Rapture Left Behind

Many Christians say that Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) and cultural marxism pose the greatest ideological threat to the gospel in our day. They may be right. Others fear that the spread of these ideas will lead to full-blown socialism in our nation.

Another concern some Christians share is that these ideas have infiltrated the Church thus diluting or even destroying its ability to proclaim the truth of the gospel.

This raises some interesting questions:

  • Are today’s false doctrines any more dangerous than those faced by previous generations?
  • Has Satan come up with a new strategy or has he merely recycled old lies?
  • Is our battle against flesh and blood (politicians, leftists and deceived church leaders) or is our battle “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms?”

Those sounding the alarm correctly surmise that we are responsible to fight for truth and to proclaim a biblical gospel. But whom do we fight and how do we wage war?

Suppose the heretofore unthinkable happens and the United States slips into the evil of socialism/marxism. Is the Kingdom of God threatened by an economic system?

Let’s keep these questions in mind as we look at the threat posed by cultural Marxism.

Critical Theory

Ideas such as social justice, identity politics, radical feminism, intersectionality, classism and white privilege fall under the umbrella of critical theory. Neil Shenvi (a Christian apologist) defines critical theory this way—“Critical theory is an ideology that divides the world into oppressed groups and their oppressors and aims to liberate the oppressed.”1

The oppressed groups are not confined to economic status as in traditional marxism or Liberation Theology. Women are also oppressed, as are people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. Lots of people are oppressed, and of course, the only people left to play the role of oppressor are white males, especially Christian white males.

So how is the gospel threatened? The most common response I have read is that social justice warriors confuse justice and mercy, two concepts that are very clear and very distinct in the Bible. Sinners deserve justice for their sin, but God in his mercy “gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” SJWs affirm a different idea—that somehow the oppressed deserve mercy in the same way they deserve justice, that they are two sides of the same coin. If that be the case, then we deserve our salvation.

My first reaction to reading Shenvi’s definition of critical theory was to recall Jesus’ words in Luke 4:18–19:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Indeed, this passage refers to both spiritual and literal freedom, poverty, blindness, and oppression. But critical theory ignores the spiritual component. Jesus sets us free from sin’s oppression and Satan. Critical theory doesn’t see sin as the problem or Christ as the solution because it focuses on real and imagined oppression by other people. They proclaim moral superiority over their oppressors and exhibit a hubris that excludes them from the moral requirements that the Bible applies equally to every human. It perpetuates Satan’s lie that someone else (perhaps even God) is withholding something from us.

Thus, critical theory doesn’t allow us to identify with Adam so that Christ, the second Adam can free us. Instead, we must belong to an oppressed group (or repent of our wrongs as a member of an oppressor group) and fight for liberation. The gospel is unnecessary as critical theorists virtue signal their way into hell. Tragic.

Critical theory ups the ante on post-modernism’s disdain for objective truth by claiming objective truth acts only as a cover for the evil perpetrated by oppressors. Subjective experiences trump objective facts.2 So, in critical theory, Satan’s lie —“has God said” takes on a form that refuses to consider any appeal to the Bible.

At Odds With the Gospel

We are either in Adam or in Christ. We are lost or we are found. We travel the road to destruction or we travel the road to eternal life. These are the only two identities that matter. Critical theory ignores the gospel and divides people into two groups—the oppressed and their oppressors. In the worldview of critical theory there is neither room for good in the oppressor group nor evil in the oppressed group. But our identity (and certainly our virtue) does not lie in our gender, skin color or oppressed status.

Christians are commanded “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Critical theory promotes strife and conflict between groups while denying that we are all born into the same sinking boat. It is contrary to Christianity because the Bible teaches we are all separated from God by our sin, and need a solution that can only be provided by God. They don’t need Jesus or his gospel because they have substituted oppression for sin as mankind’s biggest problem. And, they believe they can solve the problem themselves.

Critical theory is at odds with Christianity because it makes distinctions between people that the Bible doesn’t consider as important as the distinction between those in Adam and those in Christ:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29

So those who are alarmed are correct – we have to preach the true gospel. To do so requires us to identify and reject any false gospel.

Will the Social Justice Movement Lead to Socialism?

The Social Justice Movement is currently a hot topic in the Church. You may have heard the phrase “Woke Church.” It refers to churches and their members who embrace the idea that racism and injustice are systemic in America. For some, righting this wrong becomes the main mission of the church instead of preaching the gospel.

For secular critical theorists and SJWs to reach their objectives, the existing power structures must be overturned. Thus, many people fear that this ideology will lead to socialism. The social justice movement is more likely to result in socialism than simple class warfare because so many more people can be incited to rise up against the status quo.

Marxism and socialism destroy individual freedom and private ownership of the means of production. Thus they undermine biblical principles of reaping what you sow and stewardship. Capitalism must have freedom and private ownership in order to operate so it preserves them.

Does Jesus’ Kingdom Depend On an Economic System?

But herein lies a trap. Instead of defending the gospel, some Christians are tempted to spend much of their time defending capitalism rather than simply fighting against biblical heresy and the horrors of socialism.

Most Christians would probably agree with the statement that capitalism is better than socialism because evil men can do the least harm under capitalism. But is it really capitalism that restrains evil or is it individual freedom, the rule of law and the preservation property rights that cause a society to flourish?3 The fact that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom should alert us to the fact that capitalism’s prosperity may hinder the gospel as well. Capitalism may only encourage a weak faith. Jesus’ proclamation that the kingdom of heaven is more important to Christians than their material prosperity suggests that our priority must be to defend the gospel, not capitalism:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. Matthew 13:44-46

Let’s not promote capitalism (a system that preserves market freedom yet easily diverts us from God’s purposes) over God’s economy in which Christians steward their resources to promote the kingdom of God. Let’s defend freedom, property rights and the rule of law, but let’s not promote a capitalism that encourages and depends on debt and covetousness to enslave its participants.

And, let’s not make the same mistake as the critical theorists. They are not the enemy we must ultimately overcome. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).

Let us remember this when the injurious treatment of others provokes us to revenge. Our natural disposition would lead us to direct all our exertions against the men themselves; but this foolish desire will be restrained by the consideration that the men who annoy us are nothing more than darts thrown by the hand of Satan. While we are employed in destroying those darts, we lay ourselves open to be wounded on all sides. To wrestle with flesh and blood will not only be useless, but highly pernicious. We must go straight to the enemy, who attacks and wounds us from his concealment, — who slays before he appears. (From Calvin’s commentary on Ephesians.)

This is a battle that we can’t win on our own. We must spend time praying before any encounter with the lies of Satan (including lies we believe unawares) and we must keep ourselves unstained by the world as we proclaim the truth. Christ will establish his church and his kingdom and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

But Isn’t Oppression a Problem the Church Should Address?

Yes! The Bible condemns oppression whether it occurs in ancient Israel, in America’s slave trade, in South Africa’s apartheid or in today’s society. Christians must defend the rights of the weak and vulnerable. We must soberly examine our society against Scripture and root out any evil practices (and laws that abet them) without compromising the main point of the gospel—we are all born sinners in need of Jesus Christ.

(To learn more about economic oppression in our modern world and the ways in which capitalism and socialism compete against God’s economy for the hearts and souls of humanity, look for my book, The Narrow Road, available on Amazon later this month.)

Notes:

  1. Neil Shenvi, “Critical Theory Quotes” https://shenviapologetics.com/critical-theory-quotes/
  2. Neil Shenvi, “Christianity and Critical Theory” https://shenviapologetics.com/critical-theory-and-christianity-part-1/
  3. These three principles distinguish capitalism from socialism, but they don’t sufficiently define capitalism. These principles can exist outside of capitalism.

 

Why Christians Care About Economics

How we make our money is just as important as how we spend it.

Economic activity is one of the most common and basic forms of human interaction and the Bible has much to say about it. However, it takes time to understand the complexities of our modern economy so that we can better apply God’s principles to our everyday activity. Here are five reasons your effort will be worthwhile.

1) Good stewardship includes taking care of the economy.

Everything is God’s (Psalm 24:1). We are given the privilege of being stewards of God’s creation. (Genesis 1:26–28). But good stewardship involves more than charitable giving, wise spending, and performing our jobs with integrity.

Good stewardship includes taking care of the economy. In Israel, people provided for their families utilizing land, capital (tools and animals), and their own labor. Prohibitions against theft, laziness, and moving boundary markers were designed to maintain everyone’s ability to steward his allotted piece of God’s creation.

In today’s complex economy, protecting each person’s ability to steward from the evil schemes of others is no less important. In an agricultural society you literally reap what you sow. But in our economy, most people entrust their money to a local bank, the government, or a financial institution. The problem is, as attested by events leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, they may invest your money in dishonest ways that enrich some while bankrupting others. You might become a victim or unwittingly victimize others.

How we make our money is important because, if we gain wealth at the expense of others rather than produce wealth, we take what God has given to others to steward and thus deprive them of that opportunity.

A better understanding of economics will help Christians identify, oppose, and refrain from participating in investment vehicles that simply transfer wealth rather than produce it.

2) God expects us to defend the defenseless and deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

The Bible often describes the wicked in terms of economic interaction. The wicked have no concern for the poor (Proverbs 29:7), use dishonest and deceptive means to gain wealth (Micah 6:10–12), and are free to oppress the poor when society honors their vile practices (Psalm 12:5–8).

Psalm 82:2–4 neatly sums up our responsibility to defend the poor, orphans, and the oppressed from the wicked. We can only maintain their rights and rescue them when we stop defending laws and systems that show partiality to the wicked.

Understanding economics helps us uncover wicked practices in an economy that is, by design, complex and non-transparent. Further motivation to study economics comes from knowing God’s heart to defend the poor and his determination to judge their oppressors (Isaiah 3:13–14).

3) We want our government to restrain evil, not enable it.

We know stealing and lying are wrong, but in our economy there are legal ways to get something for nothing and deceive others on a grand scale. Economists refer to one such practice as “rent seeking” which has been popularly described as an effort to grab a bigger slice of the economic pie rather than make the pie bigger. One familiar form of rent seeking is lobbying to gain an unfair advantage. Those with more money have more opportunity to obtain rents from the government. Thus these transfers of wealth tend to be from the majority of taxpayers to the rich, though sometimes, economic equals compete for rents.

Also, when government fails to properly restrain evil in financial markets, wealth is transferred by deceptive or fraudulent practices simply because people can do so without consequences. Quite the contrary, they often can expect the government to bail them out.

Legalized theft is not a new problem. Consider this from the Heidelberg Catechism (1563):

Question 110. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment? 
 Answer. Not only such theft and robbery as are punished by the magistrate; but God views as theft all wicked tricks and devices, whereby we seek to draw to ourselves our neighbor’s goods, whether by force or with show of right, such as unjust weights, ells, measures, wares, coins, usury, or any means forbidden of God; so moreover all covetousness, and all useless waste of His gifts. (emphasis mine)

4) We want to leave an inheritance to the next generation, not debt and a ruined economy.

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children (Proverbs 13:22). One can argue, considering other passages that condemn the accumulation of wealth for selfish purposes (Luke 12:16–21) or for security (Job 31:24Psalm 52:7), that the biblical emphasis is on preserving the ability of the next generation to steward resources. In economic terms, this means stewarding present resources in a manner that leaves the next generation unburdened by debt and in a position to work productively.

5) We need to keep ourselves unstained by the world economy.

Any economic system devised by sinful humanity will often be opposed to biblical values. Our economic system encourages covetousness and scoffs at contentment. It rewards debtors and punishes savers. It implements immoral wealth transfers. It enables one generation to live beyond its means and pass the bill to the next.

We must not be deceived into thinking that conservatism or liberalism has the answers. God has given us the answers in the Bible. Our first priority is to learn what the Bible says about money, but an understanding of economics helps Christians test economic practices and the words of economists, bankers, business leaders, and politicians against biblical truth.

God, the “Father of the fatherless and the protector of widows” (Psalm 68:5), views our religion as pure and undefiled when we look after them in their distress (James 1:27). To rescue the needy or to be a Good Samaritan or oppose oppressors will always cost us something. Whatever cost, inconvenience, or trial we encounter because we choose to live by biblical economic principles cannot compare to the immeasurable joy that belongs to us who, because we are followers of Jesus, steward our time and money wisely (Matthew 25:22–23).

(This article first appeared at desiringGod.org.)

The Idol of Self-interest

Idol

There’s a very unpleasant breed of Christian festering in the comment sections of blogs, websites, Twitter and Facebook groups. They won’t recognize themselves in the description I give in this paragraph, but you certainly will if you have run across them. They are typically young men, many well-educated and some with a background in philosophy. Their most obvious attribute, aside from their pride and superiority complex, is that they are unteachable. They always have an answer to counter anything you say. They are especially inclined to do so when they don’t understand what you said but think that they do. As one well-known Bible teacher has noted–that’s a stupid way to live.

The Cage Stage

Somehave noticed that people who have come to accept the doctrines of grace, especially in the Reformed tradition (to which I subscribe), go through what has been dubbed a “cage-stage” in which these new converts feel compelled to correct everyone else’s doctrine in an obnoxious and impatient manner. The term comes from the idea that it might be better for all concerned if the people afflicted with this malady were locked up in a cage until they mature a bit in their faith.

Now many men, myself included, can relate to the excitement of learning new things as young men and remember their enthusiasm to tell others about what they had learned. And, we sometimes spread our message with varying degrees of hubris, forgetting that just a short time before, we too didn’t know these truths.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon can lead people to spread false teaching as well. Of course, they don’t think it’s false.

Blind Guides

One such group consists of Ayn Rand devotees who claim to have incorporated into their worldview all of her true but none of her false philosophy. Their mission, the noblest on earth, is to defend reason, individualism, and capitalism.

Their tactics include making outrageous, provocative statements to get attention. For example, they might say “There is no such thing as …” and then they fill in the blank with a term we know by common sense exists. Or they say “… is more dangerous than Cultural Marxism” and fill in the blank with an apologetics method they deem inferior to theirs. They feel compelled to point out publicly what they see as muddled thinking by people they claim to have great respect for, people they were sometimes educated by. I haven’t yet figured out how these men, who are mostly in their twenties and some still in school, so quickly surpassed their mentors in understanding, let alone wisdom.

Now, in their defense, most of the philosophies and beliefs they oppose are truly dangerous and will have disastrous consequences for our society if adopted. However, their apparent lack of humility makes it impossible for them to learn from others where they are in error.

They cannot see, for example, that to someone outside their coterie, that their defense of self-interest has gone far beyond a rejection of altruism as a guiding principle for our lives to what looks like a worship of self-interest, making it a guiding principle for our lives instead.

My advice is to run as fast as you can the other direction when you encounter this philosophy.

I suggest for your consideration the following understanding of self-interest instead: It is in our self-interest to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.

A Winsome Alternative

Anyone interested in learning more about the dangerous philosophies currently infiltrating society and the Church can find on the internet other groups of men and women who have better arguments to counter ideologies such as critical theory and who have enough humility to continue learning and listening. They have a more winsome and convincing message.

 

Notes:

  1. See these articles by R.C. Sproul and R.C Sproul Jr.: “Escaping the ‘Cage-Stage‘” and “Cage-Stage Calvinism: What Is It and What Causes It?”

Forgiven, Honored and Empowered Christians

Symbols for no guilt, no shame, no fear

I find it interesting that the gospel message presented in the Western world emphasizes the forgiveness salvation brings to guilty sinners yet in biblical times, people in Israel and surrounding lands lived in cultures that seemed just as concerned about alleviating shame with honor and fear with power (Psalm 44:13–15; Isaiah 54:4).

Consider these three verses of Scripture that address guilt, shame and fear:

He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

—Colossians 2:13b–14

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.

—Revelation 3:21

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

—Ephesians 6:10–11

Having grown up in Western culture, the first of these three Scriptures (and ones like it) had the most impact on me when I first heard the gospel and started reading the Bible. We live in an individualistic culture where lawbreakers are guilty and wrongs are rectified either by administration of justice or forgiveness.

In my fallen nature, my first instinct is to seek justice for others and mercy for myself. I’m probably not alone. We can relate to a God who judges sin. Once we understand our guilt before God, we desire what we perceive we need most—forgiveness. That may be why the major focus in our gospel presentations is the forgiveness of sins.

My initial exposure to the gospel of grace came in the form of antinomianism. This belief system, meaning “against the law”, placed so much emphasis on grace that its teachers did not expect Christians to necessarily change once they believed in Christ. In contrast, A. W. Tozer wrote that salvation from the consequences of sin without salvation from sin and evil conduct does not satisfy.

He was right. The gospel offers much more.

Guilt, Shame and Fear

After The Fall, Adam and Eve experienced more than guilt. They felt shame so they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. They felt fear so they hid from God. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that our redemption through Jesus Christ addresses our shame and fear as well as our guilt.

Because our individualistic culture operates within a guilt/innocence construct in which our actions comprise our core problem, we see our greatest need as forgiveness. In honor/shame cultures, honor is associated with belonging to a group in right relationship. Sinful actions may result in expulsion of that person from the group to remove the shame. Thus, the sinner’s greatest felt need is restoration. In fear/power cultures the greatest felt need is power to protect them from evil spirits.

Take a look at these verses that invite belief in Jesus while appealing to three different felt needs resulting from sin:

He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

—Acts 10:42–43

For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe…

—1 Peter 2:6–7a

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.

—John 14:1

This last verse is in the context of Jesus telling his disciples he would soon leave them (John 13:33). Jesus comforted them, promising them power to do even greater miracles (John 14:12–14). They would be given the Holy Spirit (John 14:16); they would not be left as orphans, vulnerable to spiritual powers (John 14:18); they would be given peace and told not to be afraid (John 14:27). They would need to remember all of Jesus’ comforting words as the events of the crucifixion unfolded and it seemed Satan had gained the upper hand.

Though our culture may influence how we first perceive our need of a savior, Jesus redeems every Christian fully from all of sin’s effects.

Forgiveness, Honor and Power

Many of the stories in the Bible appeal to our desire for forgiveness, honor or power.

Joseph forgave his brothers who sold him into slavery even though they intended to harm him. Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who crucified him for they did not know what they were doing.

The Prodigal Son was restored from shame to a position of honor.

Jesus restored honor to the outcasts of society, be they lepers, the blind or Gentiles. His miraculous healing and release for the demon-possessed demonstrated his power over demonic forces.

These stories shout to all of humanity—there is hope for you!

Sometimes the solution to guilt, shame and fear (forgiveness, a place of honor, and the power of God) are all addressed in a single verse:

I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.

—Acts 26:17b–18

Tozer was right. Only the richness and fullness of our redemption truly satisfies our soul. When we embrace the shame aspect of the gospel, we acknowledge our lost relationship with God and recognize that not only do our actions need forgiveness, but that our brokenness needs restoration to wholeness. Thus the need for sanctification. When we embrace the fear aspect of the gospel, we acknowledge our vulnerability, leading us to a dependence on God’s power.

We are a new creation—declared not guilty with our debt paid; unashamed and given a place of honor in God’s family; empowered to please God instead of appeasing the gods of this world that we fear.

Suggested Reading

This article just skims the surface of these wonderful truths. For an in-depth treatment of the subject, I recommend The 3D Gospel by Jason Georges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Christians Care About Immigration

Letter from US Immigration and two passports

People are on the move. In 2017, approximately 258 million people, or 3.4% of the world’s population, live outside their country of origin. Migrants include legal and illegal immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, guest workers, missionaries, international students and expatriate businessmen.

According to the United Nations 49.8 million migrants reside in the United States. Saudi Arabia, Germany and Russia host around 12 million each while the U.K. hosts about 9 million. In 2017 India had 17 million native born persons living abroad followed by Mexico with 13 million. Other countries with substantial migrant populations living abroad include Russia (11 million), China (10 million), Bangladesh (7 million), Syria (7 million), Pakistan (6 million) and Ukraine (6 million).

Despite the small percentage of people involved worldwide, immigration is a contentious topic. Citizens in wealthy nations, where 2/3 of migrants end up, sometimes feel threatened by an influx of people who bring different values and customs to their land. Some fear immigrants will take their jobs. Resentment that tax dollars go to support immigrants heightens when stories of lawlessness on the part of immigrants surface.

Most of us have heard arguments for and against current U.S. immigration policy. But how closely have we examined migration from a biblical perspective? Do we have confidence that our words about immigration and that our actions toward immigrants conform to God’s will?

Two Christian Views on Immigration

Within the past two weeks I have heard on Christian radio two disparate views on migration.

One program1 featured a talk given by a former U. S. congresswoman in which she portrayed migration as a threat to the survival of Western civilization. She cited as evidence numerous accounts of attacks on western women by immigrant Muslim men. She asserted that many Muslim refugees do not intend to assimilate into Western society, preferring to live in enclaves where sharia law supersedes the law of their host nation. The goal of Muslim immigrants, she claimed, is to establish an Islamic state in their host nation. Furthermore, she says demographics will make such a takeover possible because the Western world has decided to stop having children.

The congresswoman quoted Deuteronomy 32:8 to support her position that moving one nation into another goes against Scripture. She said that God called Abraham out of mankind’s rebellion at Babel to bless the nations by forming a blessed nation (Israel) that other nations must bless rather than curse (Genesis 12:3). She pointed to Matthew 25:31-38 and Joel 3:1-2; 12-14 as evidence that the nations will be judged on how they treat the nation of Israel.

The other radio program2 featured a seminary professor who described migration as part of the human DNA, saying that every country has been built on migration starting with God’s command to go and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28). God was the catalyst for worldwide migration in Genesis 11. (Of course, problems arise when people migrate to a place where other people already live.)

He said, “migration is a metaphor for the Christian life” citing 1 Peter 2:11. He made the point that not only should we be a blessing to migrants, but also that migrants bring blessing with them. Migrants can actively bless their new community (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Also, he reminded the audience that immigrants are made in the image of God and that Jesus died for them. They too can rule the earth and they can bring something to their host country.

The professor noted that the Great Commission is a call to migration.

Migration and the Spread of the Gospel

This last observation reminded me of one of the lessons in a course called Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. (For those who aren’t familiar with Perspectives, it is a class to help Christians gain biblical, historical, cultural and strategic perspective on Christian mission and become more involved. Some mission organizations require the course.) The lesson shows that historically, the gospel spread both by voluntary and involuntary migration and by migration of Christians and non-Christians.

For example, missionaries, in obedience to the Great Commission, voluntarily migrate to lands where Jesus is not known. Ruth voluntarily migrated to Israel to follow their God. Daniel involuntarily migrated to Babylon where he had significant impact. The Celts and Goths voluntarily migrated to the Roman Empire for spoil and were evangelized. The Vikings took Christian monks as slaves and Christian girls as wives back to their homeland (involuntary migration) where their captives, over time, evangelized them. African slaves involuntarily migrated to North America where many became Christians.

As the above examples demonstrate, man’s wickedness cannot thwart God’s purpose. Christians need not remain passive in sharing the gospel with migrants while we debate whether or not they should migrate.

As you can see, Christians care about immigration for different reasons. This post is an invitation to start a discussion about immigration. I hope readers will share their perspective and experiences so that we, as Christians, can better understand and better formulate our personal response to the migration phenomenon encompassing the globe.

To start the discussion, I have shared some of my thoughts and experiences in a comment on this post. Please share yours.

Why do you care about immigration?

Notes:

  1. What is God Saying to the Nations? https://www.oneplace.com/ministries/understanding-the-times/
  2. Christians at the Border, https://discovertheword.org/series/christians-at-the-border/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suffering and the Prosperity Gospel

Resort Hotel

False teachers typically turn Bible doctrine on its head. They take passages out of their context and apply them to whatever point they want to make. Of course, in the process, they ignore many Bible passages that assert reality and disprove their message. The doctrine of suffering is an easy target for these charlatans because, simply put, no one wants to suffer.

The prosperity gospel has spread across the globe because it appeals to our natural desire for health, wealth and happiness (2 Timothy 4:3-4). In other words, it focuses on man’s purposes instead of God’s purposes. It focuses on this world instead of the next.

It is a false gospel because it proclaims that mankind’s biggest problem is the effect of sin, not sin itself. This false gospel proclaims the good news that you can have your best life now in the midst of this fallen world. Christians need not wait for eternity. Who needs a redeemed creation when we can have now the same world Satan offered Jesus?

Prosperity teachers need to learn the lesson Jesus taught Peter in Matthew 16:21-28. They do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men. God’s plan included the suffering of Jesus. It includes suffering for all who follow him. Prosperity teachers want us to believe we can gain the whole world while assuring us we are in no danger of losing our soul. Instead of Jesus being worth more than our worldly possessions (Matthew 13:44-46), prosperity teachers see him as a means to obtain them.

As they quote Psalm 35:27, prosperity teachers like to talk about how it pleases God to give us wealth. This shouldn’t surprise us because God is a good father who gives good gifts to his children. But good fathers don’t spoil their children by giving them only what they want. Good fathers also discipline their children (Hebrews 12:4-11). God disciplines his children so that we may share in his holiness. Suffering produces in us something prosperity cannot—it produces a person who seeks the will of God instead of evil human desires (1 Peter 4:1-2).

God created everything good. Since, all human suffering is the result of sin, we should hate sin more than the suffering that results from it. Since, everything that is good is from God, we should love God more than his gifts. But the prosperity gospel teaches that it is more important to avoid suffering than to deal with sin and it is more important to obtain God’s gifts than to treasure him.

Suffering teaches us that we are totally dependent upon God. Without suffering we might never know whether we truly hate sin or whether we truly love God. Without suffering we might never know whether Satan’s charge against Job applies to us:


“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.  But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”                                                       Job 1:9-11

It seems that prosperity teachers don’t even want to find out.

Maybe they already know.

Why I Don’t Envy the Rich

Big house class envy

If you don’t subscribe to the idea that capitalism is the only moral economic system, an idea boldly proclaimed by Christians infatuated with Ayn Rand’s philosophy, and you dare mention inequality, you will probably be accused of class envy. Or, you will be labeled a socialist. It matters not to these ideologues that you reject socialism outright.

By almost any standard of measure, I am rich when compared to the vast majority of humans who have ever lived. And so are most Americans. So, when anyone accuses me of class envy, they must be referring to an envy of those richer than I am.

But I don’t envy people who have more wealth than me because the Bible gives me many reasons not to. I will mention only a few.

Perhaps the most obvious reason is the Bible’s prohibition of covetousness (Exodus 20:17). Riches can become an idol.

Seeking riches will often wear us out so that we have little time or energy to pursue God’s will (Proverbs 23:4,5). Wisdom bids us to spend our time wisely, storing up treasure in heaven instead of storing up treasure on earth (Matthew 6:19-21).

Why would any Christian envy those richer than themselves given the potential risk described in 1 Timothy 6:9-10?

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

I don’t envy people who are richer than me because I already am tempted to depend on wealth rather than God for my security:

The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it an unscalable wall (Proverbs 18:11).

I don’t envy the rich because, unless I have been rich toward God, any treasure stored on earth is useless on the night my life is demanded from me (Luke 12:13-21).

I don’t envy the rich because, often, the fortunes of the rich and the poor are reversed in eternity.

Looking at his disciples, he said:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.

Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. Luke 6:20-26

Jesus provides convincing evidence of the power of wealth to turn hearts away from God. The beatitudes and woes are specific genres in the Greek and Jewish worlds. Beatitudes and woes function as congratulations and condolences in the present for certain outcomes in the future.1

Though it is possible with God for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:26), Jesus clearly states that wealth becomes an obstacle for many a rich man or woman (Matthew 19:21-25).

The rich don’t merit our envy, but some rich people deserve our pity.

Did you like this article? Check out my book, The Narrow Road: Loving God In a World Devoted to Money, on Amazon.

Notes:

  1. Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke, (New York: Crossroad, 1982), 69-70.

The Wizard of Odd – Trump Edition

wizard hat and money

Two years ago I wrote an article that poked fun at President Obama’s notion that America’s economy was strong and that it would adapt to the global economy. Since then the elephant in the room that President Obama and most of America ignored has only gotten fatter.

Swamped by debt, American households owe more money now than ever before. Government debt is at an all time high. Our trade deficit has worsened. America’s high standard of living rests on a foundation made of sand.

If you went out and borrowed a large sum of money you could purchase all sorts of goods and services and make it appear that your personal financial situation is strong. You might even think to yourself that future pay raises will allow you to pay off your debt and maintain your lifestyle. But deep down you know, or you should, that there is a limit to how much debt you can take on. Some day the party ends and you have to pay back what you borrowed. Then your standard of living will decrease.

But somehow, according to most politicians and economists, when you multiply the above scenario by 325 million people, it’s different. Magically, government debt presents no problem at all!

In his state of the union address, President Trump touted the rise in the stock market and decreases in unemployment since he took office. This is odd since during the presidential campaign he called the stock market a “big, fat, ugly bubble” and described the unemployment numbers as fake.

After the election, based on the promise of a business-friendly Trump administration, the stock market rocketed upward anticipating economic growth. Though it is true that consumers and companies spend more money when they feel wealthier because of asset price gains; it is also true that spending money based on unrealized gains may not be the most prudent plan. With recent tax cuts, an action that increases the national debt, many businesses felt even richer and they increased spending and hiring. This led many people to believe that all is well with the economy. Perhaps this explains the relative silence about the massive increases in spending (and debt) that will result from the latest budget legislation.

I have a few questions.

Who is going to buy the increased production of American workers this faux economic boom provides?

President Trump vowed to decrease the trade deficit but, in 2017, it increased. If he continues to fail in his goal, we will increase our debt to other nations as we consume our production plus that of export nations.

Oddly, hardly anyone is talking about what happens if he succeeds. In 2017, the U.S. dollar lost 12 percent of its value against a basket of currencies that included the euro, yen, pound sterling and Canadian dollar. This means the price of foreign goods will rise and that we can buy fewer of them. Significantly, a larger percentage of our collective work effort will be going into producing goods that foreigners consume—in other words, into exports. Since we will buy fewer foreign products and consume fewer of our own, our standard of living must decrease. The wealth that has been flowing our way for so many years will reverse.

How have we been deceived into thinking that our national debt doesn’t matter?

It is odd that President Trump and other elected leaders believe making America great again means prosperity powered by increased indebtedness.

Governments may think they can borrow forever but the Bible says otherwise. To repay debt with more debt is not repaying at all. The Bible says it is wicked to do so (Psalm 37:21). Christians surely know our nation will suffer serious consequences for this behavior. We should be outraged at recent tax cuts followed by spending increases.

Inevitably, massive debt erodes the value of a nation’s currency to the point where foreign holders of dollars would rather buy U.S. assets or our exports than buy treasuries (debt). This means interest rates must rise to attract buyers of government debt used to run our oversized government. The cost to run government becomes more onerous as interest payments on the national debt increase. (Think of an adjustable-rate mortgage on a national scale.)

Higher interest rates increase the cost of doing business and cut into profits. Consumers buy fewer houses and automobiles because of increased loan costs. The economy slows down into a recession and workers get laid off.

The supply of goods collapses because we can buy fewer imports and more of the goods made here are exported. Less supply means prices increase further. If we try to maintain the current level of government spending, inflation will get even worse.

Does this scenario sound to you like a booming economy? The power brokers in our nation would like us to believe the economy is so good that it is in danger of overheating. They turn the facts on their heads, claiming rising prices result from too much of a good thing (demand from a booming economy) instead of from too much of a bad thing (demand caused by inflation of the money supply via debt). Instead of taking blame for high prices resulting from money inflation, they tell us they can control it. (This article explains why they won’t be able to next time).

But, as I said in my article two years ago, reality takes a back seat to hope in the Land of Odd. In Obama’s make-believe world, government supplied us with hope; in Trump’s fairy tale, “free” markets that are “fair” to America will deliver us from our folly.

What Really Causes Inequality?

Inequality sign

Few topics invoke a maddening response like income and wealth inequality does. Just as Pavlov’s dogs salivated in response not only to food but also to stimuli (like lab coats and bells) associated with food, the mere mention of inequality causes many of us to salivate at the opportunity to make our ideological opponents look stupid or immoral.

Too many of us try to prove our self-proclaimed intellectual or moral superiority by describing our political adversaries either as jealous of the rich or as greedy. Both sides accuse the other of thievery.

It seems that underneath the anger lie the assumptions that the battle is about capitalism and socialism or about justice and fairness.

There really isn’t much discussion about inequality because both sides hijack the concept to argue their ideology.

Hear No Evil

When deeply held beliefs are threatened, our tendency is to conveniently ignore the arguments of those who disagree with us. Emboldened by our ideology, we give much consideration to the real evil we see in others but dismiss as imaginary the evil they see in us. We validate our arguments by focusing only on the facts that support our case while neglecting facts that undermine our worldview. And so, with civil discourse a thing of the past, we speak evil of others.

Inequality’s Lessons

Wealth and income inequality reveal the natural outcomes of human action, both good and evil.

Inequality validates the fact that we reap what we sow.

The more we work the more we produce. The better we work the more we produce per unit of time. Over time, skilled and diligent workers will attain more wealth than unskilled and lazy workers.

Inequality results from voluntary transfers of wealth.

If you produce something that large numbers of people want to buy at a price that gives you profit, you will attain much wealth as purchasers willingly give you their money to obtain your product. Even some monopolies involve voluntary wealth transfers. For example, you may have a monopoly because you have patented an invention. This is a monopoly we accept because it rewards innovation that benefits society and involves voluntary transactions. Likewise, we accept the monopoly that NBA and MLB players have because we want to watch the best athletes. The key point is that these wealth transfers are voluntary choices made with sufficient information.

Inequality results from involuntary transfers of wealth.

The Bible clearly states that God brings judgment on those who steal by force or deception. Our government grants monopolies and rents to special interests, bails out banks, practices financial repression and champions our trade deficit—all of which result in involuntary transfers of wealth from the non-rich to the rich.

But this is where defenders of capitalism and the conservative cause sometimes go off the rails. It is not sufficient to blame unjust inequality on government intervention in the economy. We must also hold accountable those who benefit from those interventions and those who take advantage of lax government oversight of the markets to transfer wealth to themselves. We must not use the fact that voluntary (and moral) transfers of wealth are commonplace to absolve the sins of the rich and powerful.

Here’s the problem as I see it. Capitalists err when they think that immoral wealth transfers to the rich only occur because of government intervention in the markets (because of crony capitalism). So, in their minds, the rich who don’t have a direct connection with government officials are off the hook. Many capitalists have imagined a self-regulating, laissez-faire free market in which no one can get away with financial sins. Therefore government regulation, particularly in the financial markets, becomes an object of scorn instead of a protection sanctioned by God.

Socialists make an equally grave error. They incorrectly see the government not as a major cause of inequality, but as its solution. This leads to the ludicrous conclusion that wealth transfers from the rich will solve the problem of inequality their big-government policies caused in the first place.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Increasing inequality is a red flag. It warns us of impending danger. Increasing inequality, much like a dead canary on the floor of our economic mine, beckons us to heed its warning that our economy is poisoned. Sadly, we either ignore the dead canary or we misdiagnose the cause of death. Debt, theft and corruption poisoned the canary. It will poison our society if we don’t wake up. We need to call out those who have done this, irrespective of their ideology. We need to reverse course.

What Really Causes Inequality?

The Bible doesn’t hide the answer to this question, but boldly proclaims it for all to see. Sin causes inequality. Our greed and our laziness cause it. So do covetousness and theft. Oppression, indebtedness, and deception cause it. Defending transgressors with our ideology instead of defending the weak and needy they subdue cause it.

The Bible tells us how to deal with economic sin. It tells us to reject the “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” attitude. It tells us to be rich toward God and acknowledge that he owns everything.

The Bible warns us to stop excusing our economic sins while vilifying others for theirs.

Will our society listen?

How Much Socialism Does It Take to Collapse An Economy? – Part 2

Empty shelves depicting economic collapse
The Road to Economic Ruin

In Part 1, I asked if the economic havoc wreaked by socialist dictators can be replicated in a capitalist democracy. I also stated that while Venezuela exports oil to fund their social programs, we, in part, export dollars to fund ours.

But what if the price of our main source for funding our social programs drops dramatically, will we experience the same problems as Venezuela did when the price of oil plummeted?

If the U.S. dollar plummets in value we will not be able to import goods in the quantity that we do now unless it’s at inflated prices. As inflation increases, foreigners will not want to hold dollars that continually decline in value relative to their own currency. They will decrease purchases of U.S. debt used to fund our social programs. Instead of buying treasuries that yield little interest, they will dump their dollars for something that will at least retain its purchasing power.1

We have been in this situation before. Under the Bretton-Woods system the U.S. government spent more than it took in. But the dollar was tied to gold at a fixed price, so governments and individuals could redeem their dollars for gold if they saw their dollar holdings decreasing in value due to government spending. In fact, they redeemed dollars for gold at such a rate that, in 1971, President Nixon had to close the gold window and remove the dollar from its tie to gold. The dollar became a fiat currency.

Today, without the option to redeem dollars for gold at a fixed price and with U.S. Treasury interest rates at historic lows, it makes sense for foreigners to use their dollars to buy America’s assets putting even more upward pressure on prices.

So, why not raise interest rates on government bonds to attract foreigners to buy our debt? When inflation raised its ugly head after Bretton-Woods’s demise, Fed chairman Paul Volker raised the federal funds rate as high as 20% in 1981 to combat an annual inflation rate that had risen to almost 15%. By 1983 inflation had fallen to 3%. The cost to control inflation was a painful recession in which unemployment rose to 11%.

And that is one of the reasons the Federal Reserve doesn’t raise rates now – fear of a recession. However, critics of the Fed correctly claim that continuing the low interest rate policy will only make the inevitable recession and resulting economic pain worse.

But there is another reason the Federal Reserve doesn’t raise interest rates – it can’t afford to. In 1981 the U.S. debt to GDP ratio was at an all time low of 31%; now it is over 100%. We have so much debt that we cannot afford an interest rate significantly above zero. Our national debt is over $20 trillion. We owe foreign governments over $5 trillion. Raising interest rates would increase the cost of servicing our debt beyond what we can pay.

The Federal Reserve is in a prison of its own making. If they raise interest rates the economy will go into a deep recession. If they keep rates low they risk out of control inflation.

Tipping Point

The U.S. dollar will experience a serious devaluation when the creditors of the United States lose confidence in the dollar because they have become convinced that the U.S. will never get its fiscal house in order.

When everyone wants to dump dollars at the same time, the resulting sell-off will crush the value of the dollar in relation to other currencies and could induce an inflationary spiral.

Can the U.S. Dollar Maintain its Status as the World’s Reserve Currency and Safe Haven?

Some economists aren’t worried, claiming the United States cannot default on its debt because our debt is denominated in dollars and we can always print more of them. Notwithstanding the moral implications of such a statement, this assumes that the dollar will always be the reserve currency and that other nations must always accept it as payment.

But creditors may decide to dump the dollar even if it means taking a loss. The process may have already begun. China recently announced the launch of a Yuan-denominated oil futures contract. These contracts will be convertible to gold. This is significant because oil exporters under U.S. sanctions will be able to get around them by avoiding oil contracts denominated in U.S. dollars. Not only does this move signify a possible crack in dollar hegemony but also undermines political influence the U.S. enjoys because the dollar is the world’s reserve currency.

In other words, an economic catastrophe probably cannot be avoided simply because the dollar is the world’s reserve currency, at least not for long.

Others argue that it will be a long time before the U.S. dollar loses its status as the reserve currency because there is no better alternative to replace it and that the dollar is still a safe haven when troubles ripple through the global economy. Therefore we still have plenty of time to turn our economic ship around. Besides, many other nations with large economies are in worse financial shape than the United States.

A New Normal – Monetization of U.S. Debt

Nothing signals economic trouble quite like monetization of debt.

“If the Fed wants to lower interest rates, it creates money and uses it to purchase Treasury debt. If the Fed wants to raise interest rates, it destroys the money collected through sales of Treasury debt.”2

The Fed does not consider its purchase of Treasuries to be monetizing government debt unless the purchase of securities is permanent. Quantitative easing (QE), which included the purchase of mortgage backed securities as well as Treasuries, has resulted in $4.5 trillion created by the Federal Reserve.

But does anyone believe the Fed will follow through with any meaningful reduction of its balance sheet? Ben Bernanke has stated that reduction of the Fed’s balance sheet will not begin in earnest until interest rates are well on their way to normalization. The world has seen the U.S. go through three rounds of quantitative easing already without being able to normalize interest rates. They are still at one percent.

Janet Yellen announced on September 20, 2017 that the Fed intends to begin reducing its $4.5 trillion balance sheet in October. But the amounts are miniscule, 0.2% per month. Furthermore, Fed officials are on record as saying they don’t expect the Fed’s balance sheet to return to pre-2008 levels. In other words, the new normal actually does involve monetization of debt.

Signs of Trouble Ahead

The stock market is overdue for a crash. The current bull market is the second longest ever. The current economic expansion is the third longest of eleven since World War 2. Raising interest rates will pop the housing and stock market bubbles that the Fed’s low interest rate policies have inflated. Having propped up the stock market for over eight years, the Fed is not going to change course now. Any claims by the Fed to raise interest rates look more like self-deception or a bluff than implementable policy.

At the first sign of trouble, just like in 2008, the Fed will likely want to step in and attempt to stimulate the economy.

But the Fed is in a bind. They want to raise interest rates so that they will have a weapon to employ (lowering rates) when the next recession hits. If they raise interest rates too quickly causing a stock market crash, they will be blamed. If they are unable to raise rates for fear of recession, then per their own statements, they will not reduce their balance sheet and it becomes clear that the U.S. monetization of debt is permanent.

How then will the Fed fight the next recession? Interest rates cannot be lowered much from one percent unless they go negative. The Fed fears deflation above all else so they will try to stimulate the economy with more quantitative easing and will achieve the same dismal result.

Not only will QE4 not stimulate the economy, it will indicate to nearly everyone that quantitative easing will never end and that the dollar is in trouble. The Treasury will only find buyers for its bonds at higher interest rates. If the Fed tries to reduce its balance sheet by letting its bonds expire, the treasury has to sell that many more bonds to pay back the Fed, putting upward pressure on interest rates in order to sell the bonds it needs to run the government. If the Fed sells bonds on the open market they compete with the Treasury also causing rates to rise.3

What’s the Big Deal?

So what’s the big deal if the Federal Reserve unwinds its balance sheet and lets interest rates rise so people have incentive to buy U.S. bonds? They cannot for two reasons, 1) we can’t afford the higher interest payments, and 2) it will pop the stock market bubble fueled by low interest rates. People will put their savings in safer investments than the stock market if they can earn decent interest, thus decreasing demand for stocks.

Well then, if the Fed thinks we need more economic stimulus when the next crisis hits, why not employ another round of quantitative easing? After all, we’ve gotten away with it thus far.

Inflation, Inflation, Inflation!

Inflation is an increase in the quantity of money in circulation. Rising prices result from inflation, they are not in themselves inflation. Why is this distinction important? Because one cannot fight rising prices unless one attacks the root cause.

The identity equation of the Quantity Theory of Money, MV=PY, shows how the quantity of money affects the economy. In this equation, M is the money supply, V is the velocity of circulation (the number of times per year the average dollar is spent), P denotes the price of one unit of output and Y denotes the total output of the economy. PY is the same as nominal GDP from the viewpoint of the production or seller side.

Economists often assume that the velocity of money, V, is constant. They then use this equation to show that the price level changes proportionally to the money supply.

But Fed economists evidently don’t believe V is constant (It’s not). After a crisis, the powers that be seem to think that business and consumers incorrectly lose faith in the economy and don’t spend enough. In other words, when V falls (less spending), the Fed believes it must come to the rescue and increase the money supply to prevent a decrease in nominal GDP. What they fear most is price deflation. But, unlike the Fed, the average Joe knows what he is doing. He is in debt and broke, that is the reason for the decrease in spending (V).

That is why QE hasn’t caused much price inflation of general goods, though methods of measuring inflation hide some of the price increases. The average person or business doesn’t want to go into more debt so the velocity of money remains low. But QE hasn’t stimulated the economy either. What it has done is transfer wealth from the bottom to the top by generating asset price bubbles in housing and the stock market. I have often mentioned these wealth transfers but how they happen deserves repeating:

Increases in the money supply set in motion an exchange of nothing for something. They divert real funding away from wealth generators toward the holders of the newly created money. This is what sets in motion the misallocation of resources, not price rises as such. Moreover, the beneficiaries of the newly created money–i.e., money “out of thin air”–are always the first recipients of money, for they can divert a greater portion of wealth to themselves. Obviously, those who either don’t receive any of the newly created money or get it last will find that what is left for them is a diminished portion of the real pool of funding.4,5

Armed with the false belief that deflation is the worst possible outcome (and evidently with the belief that they must arm-twist financially broke Americans into spending) the Fed believes they can stimulate nominal GDP (PY in above equation)  by increasing the money supply (M) to make up for decreased spending (V). Austrian economists would counter that the equation balances naturally by allowing prices (P) to fall (inflated bubbles pop). With lower prices, people will spend more and (V) will return to normal.

The Fed’s plan hasn’t worked. The “recovery” from the Great Recession is a sham. Stock and housing prices inflated, transferring wealth to a small portion of society, but real economic growth is low and wages have stagnated.

Not only that, but instead of people’s bank accounts being filled with dollars that are worth more due to falling prices if nothing had been done, they are worth less because of the Fed’s “money printing.”

However, the inflationary effects of QE will eventually show up. At some point people will realize the government has gone too far. Both foreign and domestic holders of U.S. dollars will spend them before they become worthless. When spending (V) returns to normal or above, that along with the increased money supply due to quantitative easing increases the value of MV in the identity equation. But MV, by definition, must equal PY. Since the new money from QE was not put to productive use, but mostly into inflating the price of existing assets, Y (production or real GDP) was not increased by QE. This means that the price (P) of the goods and services we use every day must increase.

Inflation will take off. If we don’t want to end up like Venezuela, the Fed will have to admit defeat, raise interest rates and send the economy into a recession that will be far worse than if they had never implemented their easy-money policy.

Here’s the question – will the Fed be as stubborn as a socialist dictator and stay the course when crisis comes? If the Fed responds to the next recession with QE4, in my opinion, it will be “game over.” They will sacrifice the dollar and our economy with it.

So, will the path we are on predictably and inexorably lead to a currency collapse? Yes, but the Fed can change its path. I read years ago one man’s observation that when an economy reaches the critical point, rich Western nations choose deflation over inflation. I believed it then. Now I’m not so sure.

Finally, how much socialism does it take to collapse an economy? It only takes the amount necessary to direct an economy away from its natural course into the precarious position we now experience. Without quantifying how much socialism is required, it is safe to say that we have enough, especially since the government has a monopoly on money in the form of the Federal Reserve.

(Part 3 will offer some possible Christian responses to these grim prospects for our economy.)

Notes:

  1. This is not inconsequential. As of September 2016. foreigners held 30% of our public debt — $6 trillion in treasuries. But they also held $5 trillion in corporate bonds and another $6 trillion in mutual funds, ETFs and other portfolio assets.
  2. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, “In-Depth: Is the Fed Monetizing Government Debt”
  3. Peter Schiff, “The Fed Is Going to Sacrifice the Dollar,”
  4. Frank Shostak, “Defining Inflation,” https://mises.org/library/defining-inflation.
  5. In the case of QE, the first recipients and primary beneficiaries of the newly created money are the too big to fail financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs. See the complete list of primary dealers here at the New York Fed.

References:

The Last Days of Israel

Jerusalem Israel

Some of my favorite Bible teachers on radio have been dispensationalists who believe in a pretribulation rapture of the church. They rarely bring up the subject. In fact, you could listen for years without hearing a sermon on the rapture. The same is true of the church I currently attend. When they say one’s stance on the rapture shouldn’t divide Christians, they mean it. They are more interested in building up the body of Christ and making disciples.

Unfortunately, there are other radio programs whose hosts and guests accuse anyone opposed to their teaching of a pretribulation rapture of anti-semitism and replacement theology. They claim that one’s stance on the rapture doesn’t affect salvation, but then repeatedly refer to themselves as the remnant and accuse those who don’t agree with them or who don’t constantly teach about eschatology of being false teachers. It seems the greatest sin one can commit, according to these teachers, is to neglect Bible prophecy and Israel.

I don’t agree with their assessment. It is possible to believe the people of Israel play an important role in Bible prophecy without believing in a secret rapture that removes the Church from the earth before the start of the tribulation. I also believe God’s priority for Christians is to become more Christlike, not self-proclaimed experts in eschatology.

A Quick Review

In an earlier post I made the claim that the Church is not a parenthesis in God’s redemptive plan, inserted into history because of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah. Thus the Church and Israel do not operate as distinct entities and the rapture is not required to separate them into their respective dispensations. Also, the Church and Israel do not have separate eternal destinies, one in heaven and one on the new earth.

In another post, I presented Bible verses indicating that Israel and the Church have the same savior, redeemer and husband. This suggests a continuity and oneness between Israel and the Church far more than it suggests two distinct groups of people.

Furthermore, both the Church and Israel are called God’s chosen people and a holy nation. They have the same shepherd and same king. Jesus declares they shall be one flock. It makes no sense for them to have different eternal homes.

Finally, a closer look at the “left behind” passage in Matthew 24:37-41 reveals that the rapture is not in view here because it is unbelievers who are “taken” in judgment and it is believers who are left behind to live with Christ in the Millennium.

Israel’s Status

So, if there is no rapture and no Jewish age to be completed in the future, what role do the Jews as a distinct people have in the eschatological events prophesied in Revelation?

Much of the debate* concerning Israel’s role in future events centers on how much of the prophecy in the Olivet Discourse found in Matthew 24 and 25 has already been fulfilled.

Most all Christians agree that the context of the Olivet Discourse (especially Matthew 23:37-39) is Israel’s rejection of their Messiah. Furthermore, they agree that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. was God’s judgment on Israel for their rejection of Jesus.

But was it a permanent setting aside? Has the Church, as some believe, replaced ethnic Israel?

Grafted Back In

Matthew 23:37-39 and other passages seem to refute such a notion.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:37-39).

Matthew 23:37 describes the anguish Israel’s rejection caused her Messiah. Israel’s house is left desolate (v 38) when Jesus leaves the temple (24:1).1 But they will see him again (v 39). During his triumphal entry (Matthew 21), they welcomed Jesus as King hoping to be released from Roman rule but rejected him as Savior from their sins. After the crucifixion the Jews, as a people, will not see him again until they repent, using once more the words from Psalm 118 which portrays the triumph of the 2nd Advent — Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord — this time in understanding and faith.

Not only does this passage refute the extreme preterism idea that Jesus returned in 70 A.D. (because the Jews did not repent); it also indicates that Israel has a very important role to play in the future. Jesus will not return until Israel as a nation (but with exceptions) repents.2

The above may seem like thin evidence, but Zechariah 12:10 also refutes the idea that Israel was permanently replaced in God’s redemptive plan:

I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. (NASB)

Though one fulfillment of this verse occurred at the cross (John 19:37), when examined along with Romans 11:11-26, it becomes clearer that in the future, Israel mourns its sin and is grafted back in to the root because they no longer persist in unbelief and are saved.3

Jesus wept over the city that rejected him (Luke 19:41) knowing that unless they did, he would never be crucified. He wept knowing that unless they rejected him, the fountain that would cleanse from sin all who believe in him (Zechariah 13:1, Hebrews 9:22) would never be opened in his side. He wept knowing  his Spirit of grace would one day be poured out on his people so they would recognize him, mourn and repent. Jesus wept, perhaps longing for the time when he would return (Matthew 23:39) to make Jerusalem’s desolation a distant memory and to dwell in their midst (Zechariah 2:11).

Jesus’ love for his people pours out of these verses like a flood. Should we not see as Jesus did? Ethnic Israel’s last days do not end in the despair of the destruction of Jerusalem as some preterists claim. Israel’s last days end in the joy of knowing her Messiah. Grafted back into the root, Jesus makes them one flock with all the elect to live together forever with him.

The apostle Paul concluded that God has not rejected his people forever (Romans 11:1) nor are they beyond recovery (v11) though they have experienced a partial hardening (v25). Christians need not believe in a pretribulation rapture that abandons the Jewish people to the horrors of the tribulation to affirm that God still has plans and promises for ethnic Israel.

The fact that the modern nation of Israel exists, populated with Jews gathered from around the world is potentially very significant to prophecy fulfillment. Is it time for Israel to be grafted back into the root? Is the world stage being set for their repentance and the return of Jesus?

 

Notes:
  1. Preterists argue this desolation denotes the end of the old covenant. See further reading below.
  2. This, of course, could refer to Israel used in the sense of all saved people. However, since verse 25 refers to physical Israel and not spiritual Israel and since it would not be a “mystery” that all the elect, whether Jew or Gentile, will be saved, it is more likely that Paul sees a “restoration of the Jews in the sense in which they had been rejected, that is, the nation generally. Paul then is affirming that the nation of Israel as a whole will ultimately have its place in God’s salvation.” (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 421.)
  3. This differs from the mourning of Revelation 1:7 when, at the 2nd Advent, every eye will see him and unbelievers, without repentance, mourn as they face judgment. However, in Matthew 24:30 the mourning of the tribes of the earth (Israel) upon Christ’s return (KJV, NASB and ESV) is most likely accompanied by repentance.
*Further Reading – Interpretive Methods for the Book of Revelation

Note — The following discussion uses the term Israel to refer to the Jewish people as an ethnic group, not to the redeemed people of God comprised of both Jew and Gentile.

A person’s view of Israel’s role in future world events largely depends on the method he or his Bible teacher uses to interpret the Book of Revelation.

For example, preterists interpret the book of Revelation as a message of hope to persecuted believers of the late first century and early second century. Preterism comes in three forms – mild, moderate (or partial) and extreme (or full). Mild preterism sees the prophecies in the book of Revelation fulfilled in 70 A.D. in the downfall of Israel as a nation and in 313 A.D. when pagan Rome met its demise with the Edict of Milan. Extreme preterism believes the 2nd Coming occurred in 70 A.D. along with the spiritual resurrection of the saints. There is no future bodily resurrection of believers or unbelievers. The mild and extreme forms of preterism are untenable in my estimation.

The moderate preterist understanding of both the Tribulation and the bulk of Bible prophecy centers on political events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. In this view the kingdom has not been postponed as dispensationalism teaches, but is here now and is spiritual in nature. Thus there is no need for national Israel to have a future dispensation in which to fulfill prophecy. However, for the moderate preterist the Second Coming, Resurrection and Judgment remain in the future.

Idealists view Revelation as a dramatic portrayal of the battle between good and evil and its application to humanity’s struggles. It does not serve as a predictive text.

Those who hold a millennialist view mostly adhere to either a historicist or futurist interpretation of Revelation. Historicists believe fulfillment of Revelation’s prophecies can be found in the past, present and future. Futurists believe the events of Revelation await a future fulfillment.

 

References:

  1. Toussaint, Stanley D., “A Critique of the Preterist View of the Olivet Discourse.” Bibliotheca Sacra161, no. 644 (2004). 469-490.
  2. Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 350-351.
  3. John Piper, “There Shall Be a Fountain Opened
  4. Richard D. Phillips, Zechariah, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007).
  5. Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, The Case for Historic Premillennialism, An Alternative to Left Behind Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, e version

 

The Rapture: Who Really Gets Left Behind?

Heavenly Image Rapture Left Behind

Does the Bible predict a future “Rapture” of the Church when believers are suddenly snatched off the earth to meet Jesus in the air, and unbelievers are left behind to deal with airplanes without pilots, driverless cars and other assorted chaos? Is Jesus 2nd Coming a two-stage event in which he comes first for his Church, delivering them from the horrors of the Great Tribulation, and later to judge the world and usher in the Millennium?

The imagery of a world thrust into chaos by a “secret” rapture of Christians comes from imagining what surely must follow the sudden removal of millions of people from planet earth. This imagery comes mainly from Matthew 24:40-41, describing what will happen when Jesus returns:

Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

A whole theology has been built around not being “left behind” to go through the worst period of human history. This “truth”, in the minds of proponents of this view, increases both the urgency with which Christians evangelize and the motivation for unbelievers to place their faith in Christ.

Of course, proponents of a pre-tribulation or post-tribulation “Rapture” don’t base their beliefs solely on Matthew 24:40-41. However, it is important to address this passage since it plays such a central role in the widespread and popular theology expounded from pulpits and portrayed in print and film.

Who Really Gets Taken?

In Matthew 24:37-39, Jesus compares the events surrounding his return with the events surrounding Noah entering the ark:

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.

We know that Noah, the one who escaped judgment, knew God was going to judge the whole earth (Genesis 6:13-14). The people who did not know the flood was coming were the ones who were taken in judgment while Noah was left on the earth to live. So, when Jesus says, “That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man,” should we not conclude that those who know that Jesus will bring judgment to the earth (i.e. believers) will be the people who are left on the earth (like Noah) and that those who don’t know (unbelievers) will be taken in judgment?

Thus, the man taken from the field and the woman taken from the mill will be taken in judgment, not to safety. This is consistent only with a post-tribulation rapture in which unbelievers are taken in judgment and believers are left to live with Christ in the Millennium.

Contrary to popular theology, it is better to be “left behind.”

 

Will the Church Go Through the Great Tribulation?

sunset heaven tribulation

If you attend an evangelical church, especially a Baptist, Pentecostal or non-denominational church, you might be surprised to know how many Christians do not believe in a pre-tribulation rapture or in a “great tribulation” lasting seven years or that Revelation chapter 20 speaks of a literal thousand-year period (millennium) when Christ rules on earth.

According to LifeWay Research, only one-third of American Protestant pastors believe in a pre-tribulation rapture and only half believe in a future, literal thousand-year reign of Christ.1

Who Believes What

The prevailing interpretations of Revelation chapter 20 can generally be categorized into three options – premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism.

Premillennialists believe:

  • Christ will return physically to reign on earth for a thousand years.
  • Jesus’ return will result in a sharp contrast between the worst period of history (the great tribulation) and the best period of history (the thousand-year reign of Christ).
  • Christ’s second coming will result in Satan being bound for one thousand years.
  • Near the end of the millennium Satan will be released and launch a final rebellion that Christ will squash and Satan and his demons will be cast into the lake of fire.
  • There will be two physical resurrections, one for believers and one for unbelievers, separated by the thousand years of the millennium.
  • The arrival of new heavens and the new earth follow the final judgment.

Amillennialists believe:

  • The thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 are symbolic rather than literal and represents the entire church age. Persecution increases toward the end, prior to Christ’s return, but there is no distinct seven-year period of tribulation.
  • There will be no earthly, personal reign of Christ (no millennium). Christ’s rule is in the hearts and minds of Christians who experience trials and tribulations throughout the church age.
  • The two resurrections of Revelation 20 are not separated by a thousand years and are not both physical resurrections as in premillennialism.
  • Final judgment immediately follows Christ’s return, whereupon both the righteous and the wicked will enter into their respective final states.

Postmillennialists believe:

  • The thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 are symbolic rather than literal and represents the entire church age. Persecution increases toward the end, prior to Christ’s return, but there is no distinct seven-year period of tribulation.
  • The kingdom is present now and Christ rules in the hearts of men.
  • Prior to Christ’s return, the world will, over time, get better rather than worse. Evil will be reduced to negligible proportions through conversion of most of the world. When enough people submit to God, a long period of earthly peace of unknown length (millennium) will result.
  • At the end of the millennium a brief period of evil and apostasy arise associated with the Antichrist.Then Christ will return which will immediately be followed by a resurrection that includes all people, the final judgment and assignment of the wicked and righteous to their eternal destiny.

So, it would seem that for a Christian to consider the rapture debate to be of any import, she must first decide whether or not the millennium is a literal thousand-year period and if there is a distinct period of great tribulation to be rescued from.

We should probably not attempt to convince anyone of a particular eschatological position based on who has held it in the past. It is interesting, though, to realize that Christians we may look to for guidance understanding the Scriptures or for inspiration in missionary efforts, have held a position on the end-times we find untenable.

For example, William Carey was a postmillennialist. Jonathan Edwards, who ranks very high on my list of favorite theologians, was a postmillennialist. In the wake of the Great Awakening in America many Christians thought perhaps this amazing spread of the gospel meant the millennium was approaching. But, the optimism of postmillennialism is captive to the times we live in, to world events. Two World Wars, the Great Depression and horrifying genocides in the twentieth century, unsurprisingly diminished enthusiasm for the idea that the world was getting better.

The time we live in influences us greatly. When the Church undergoes persecution, a millennium brought about by a dramatic, sudden intervention of God’s power seems more plausible. Perhaps this is why the early Church (until the time of Augustine) was largely premillennial in its eschatology.

Revelation 20

Proponents of the different millennial views, understandably, believe their view best explains various biblical passages. However, Revelation 20 is the only place in the Bible that mentions a thousand-year period in which Christ reigns and Satan is bound. It is the focal point of the millennial debate.

George Murray (in defense of amillennialism) argues we should interpret an obscure passage in light of more clear statements. He contends that one can read the entire Bible without discovering the doctrine of two resurrections separated by a literal thousand years until he arrives at Revelation 20. Then, by interpreting one sentence literally, he is obliged to retrace his steps and re-interpret all eschatological passages in light of this one sentence.2

Another common argument from amillennialists is that the book of Revelation is structured so that it describes the period between Christ’s first advent and His second advent numerous times but with different emphasis. So, according to this reasoning, Revelation 20 starts a new description that begins with Satan’s defeat at Christ’s 1st Advent (the binding of Satan) and ends with judgment day at Christ’s 2nd Advent (Christ’s reign).3

Denver Seminary professor Craig Blomberg counters this latter argument by addressing the logical flow of thought in Revelation 19 and 20. Amillennialists and postmillennialists break the narrative between the two chapters because in order for the tribulation to refer to the church age, Revelation 20 must begin a new description of the church age starting with events that take place at the 1st Advent. But since the end of chapter 19 reveals the fate of two members of the unholy trinity (the beast and the false prophet), readers expect to hear next about the fate of Satan, the mastermind of the group. This is indeed what happens. Since Revelation 20 reveals Satan’s fate, it makes sense to consider chapters 19 and 20 together, thus placing the events of Revelation 20 at the 2nd Advent rather than the first, supporting the idea of a literal millennium.4


Of course, this by no means settles the matter. Differing methods of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) and insights from other passages of Scripture contribute significantly to the differing conclusions reached by students of eschatology.

Pre or Post Tribulation Rapture?

Let’s lay aside for now attempts to resolve the millennial issue because, while it helps us understand what people believe, the purpose of this article is to answer the question – will the Church go through the great tribulation?

We don’t need to choose between amillennialism or postmillennialism to answer the question, because if either are correct, then there is no unique period of tribulation to escape from since the Church experiences tribulation throughout history.5 Also, neither teaches that the Church will escape the intensified tribulation at the end of the age.6,7

But what about premillennialism? Do all premillennialists believe the Church will be raptured before the tribulation? Evangelicals who believe Christ reigns physically on the earth for a thousand years and who believe there will be a future seven-year period called the Great Tribulation, typically subscribe to either historic premillennialism or dispensational premillennialism.

We don’t need to choose between historic premillennialism and post- or a- millennialism to answer our question because historic premillennialism teaches that Christ returns for his Church after the Great Tribulation. Only dispensational premillennialism teaches that Christ returns for his elect before the Great Tribulation (a pre-tribulation “rapture”).Therefore the debate as to whether the Church goes through the tribulation is really an in-house debate among premillennialists and centers around the timing of Christ’s return for his elect.

My next article will examine the pre-tribulation and post- tribulation rapture positions. After investigating the reasoning and assumptions that lead people to reach different conclusions about the timing of Jesus’ return while citing the same Bible verses, I will attempt to answer the question – will the Church go through the Great Tribulation?

Notes:

  1. Smietana, Bob (2016) “Pastors: The End of the World is Complicated” http://lifewayresearch.com/2016/04/26/pastors-the-end-of-the-world-is-complicated/
  2. Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (1979). Grand Rapids, MI:Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., p 242
  3. The End Times: A Study On Eschatology and Millennialism, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, September 1989, p 39-40
  4. Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, The Case for Historic Premillennialism, An Alternative to Left Behind Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, e version, p 67
  5. Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, The Case for Historic Premillennialism, An Alternative to Left Behind Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, e version, p 66
  6. The End Times: A Study On Eschatology and Millennialism, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, September 1989, p 22
  7. However, it would appear from current world conditions, that postmillennialists have little reason to worry about the increased season of tribulation at the end as it appears it will be a long time before the the world attains a period of peace comparable to their envisioned millennium.

 

References:

The End Times: A Study On Eschatology and Millennialism, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, September 1989

Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, The Case for Historic Premillennialism, An Alternative to Left Behind Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009

Millard Erickson, Contemporary Options in Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Books, 1977

Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology, Volume Three, Grand Rapids, MI:Zondervan Publishing House, 1994

The Speck In Our Brother’s Eye

Money creates problems for many people. Too much of it and we may disown God, too little of it and we may dishonor his name:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God

(Proverbs 30:8-9).

It also creates lots of confusion. We need look no further than our political divisions to see the problem.

For instance, progressives and conservatives have different explanations for the cause of poverty and thus offer different solutions.

American progressivism, born out of a commitment to “dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics” (1912 Progressive Party Platform), desired a political party more responsive to the people it governed. Many of the reforms they proposed in 1912 are now part of American life: prohibition of child labor, minimum wages, one day’s rest in seven, eight-hour work days, compensation for occupational injury, organized labor and social security.

Progressives tend to blame poverty primarily on a corrupt system of power. Correcting the resulting oppression of the poor by the rich, behavior condemned throughout the Bible, becomes the focal point for progressive policy and purpose. They emphasize the sins of the oppressors but may, in the process, ignore the sins of the oppressed when devising solutions to poverty. The resulting government policy seeks to change the system and change the environment of the oppressed but leave the individual unchanged.

Conservatives tend to blame poverty on the poor. Lack of personal responsibility and a victim mentality prevent the poor from advancing in an economic system in which anyone can become rich. Conservatives can also use the Bible to support their idea that each person is responsible for the economic well-being of his or her family. Individual responsibility and providing freedom to choose become the focal points for conservative policy and purpose. They emphasize the sins of the poor, but may in the process ignore the sins of those in control of an economic system that favors some people over others. The resulting government policy seeks to leave unchanged a system they consider good and force individuals, via consequences, to become active agents in changing their economic environment.

So, why can’t progressives and conservatives come to agreement if both are championing causes supported by biblical principles? Why must their points of emphasis be mutually exclusive?

War of the Worldviews

Consider the connection between poverty and increased crime rates.

That poverty and crime go together is difficult to refute. Even people who would argue against this idea prove they really believe it when they won’t go to a poor area for fear of being a victim of crime. Progressives conclude that if poverty were abolished the crime rate would be reduced dramatically. For the progressive, environmental factors play a more prominent role than does human nature in determining whether an individual will commit a crime. This reasoning is consistent with a naturalistic worldview that believes people are basically good and can solve their problems apart from God.

We also know that most poor people are law-abiding. Conservatives therefore conclude that poverty does not play the prominent role in an individual’s decision to commit a crime.

Progressivism seeks to create a utopia for all in which humanity will no longer steal. Place unredeemed humanity back into this man-made Garden of Eden and all will be well.

Conservatism, oddly enough, also places too much faith in humanity. Give people the freedoms afforded in the Constitution and they will achieve their highest ends. Conservatism, having enjoyed freedom and prosperity, forgets God, relying instead on a man-made system called capitalism to determine a person’s wealth or lack thereof.

Not only do progressives and conservatives share an undeserved faith in humanity; they share a propensity to focus on the sins of other people. In doing so, progressives overlook individual evil when formulating policy and conservatives overlook systemic evil.

Why We Can’t Get Along

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).

Christians believe Jesus came to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoner, to give sight to the blind, and to release the oppressed. Jesus saves.

Progressives believe with equal fervor that with their insight they can construct government that will provide the needs of humanity. Government saves.

Conservatives believe freedom to operate within an economic system designed to maximize self-interest will provide the needs of humanity, one person at a time. Capitalism saves.

Perhaps the reason we can’t get along is not so much the differences between progressives and conservatives but the similarities.

Maybe we can’t get along because neither side can see its own sin clearly enough to be able to show their brother his sin.

We won’t get along until someone takes the plank out of his own eye. Who will be the adult in the room and go first?

Let Your Collection of Idols Save You!

In the wake of cruise missile strikes in response to Sarin gas attacks in Syria, the U.S. dropping the largest conventional weapon in history on an ISIS target, and U.S. warships sailing toward North Korea, internet searches for World War 3 on Google have reached an all time high. Other people, especially those who believe this show of strength will deter aggression from other nations, show considerably less concern.  

Such news though, when combined with an awareness of various armed conflicts and economic troubles around the world, cannot be dismissed as inconsequential. As one would expect after witnessing our contentious presidential election, Americans disagree about the best way to avoid war. However, a majority of Americans probably do agree that our leaders’ actions will be the primary, if not sole, reason for the fate we encounter.

Isn’t it ironic? While many Christians in America look to politicians to save them from the woeful state our nation is in, their leader’s proposed solutions don’t impress God.

Dumb Dogs Unable to Bark

Israel’s leaders failed the people. Described as greedy dreamers who sought unjust gain, they were blind to the real source of Israel’s problems and therefore unable to alert the nation, let alone lead them to safety (Isaiah 56:10).

Despite a deepening awareness of the failings of our current day leaders to solve our nation’s problems, many people, instead of turning to God, merely placed their trust in a different kind of leader. Having rejected the status quo of Washington elites, populist candidates gained great support.

Collectively, we didn’t really turn to leaders per se. We turned to people who convinced us they would appease our idols so that everyone would benefit, not just the elite. Whether we worshipped at the altar of free markets or big government, military might or progressive dreams of global cooperation, candidates stood ready to lead us to the Promised Land.

But, just like in Isaiah’s day, our undiscerning leaders are dumb dogs unable to bark.

Let Your Collection of Idols Save You

It’s not just our political leaders who have failed us. Some of our religious leaders have as well. But like their political counterparts, they merely tell people what they want to hear.

If we want to justify our sexual sin, we can find a church to accommodate us. If we want to substitute subjective truth for God-revealed truth we can find a church for that. If we are unwilling to lose our life for Jesus’ sake, we can find a church that teaches we can serve both God and money and gain the whole world without losing our soul because God’s main job is to shower us with prosperity. Too often, we want to live contrary to God’s revealed will yet convince ourselves we remain in his favor.

On a national level, America’s political, military and economic interests supersede God’s interests in the minds of many Christians. How many of us would rather sit through a patriotic Fourth of July church service than listen to a sermon confronting our pursuit of personal wealth and security with little regard to how American policy affects the poor of the earth?

Whom or what do we fear? Do we seek to please God or to protect our idols?

Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have not been true to me,
and have neither remembered me nor taken this to heart?
Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear me?

I will expose your righteousness and your works, and they will not benefit you.

When you cry out for help, let your collection of idols save you!
The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away.
But whoever takes refuge in me will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain. – Isaiah 57:11-13

No Peace for the Wicked

Outward appearances matter little to God. Christians who only worship God in a manner that cannot intrude on their desires and pleasures (Isaiah 58:3) reveal the same hypocrisy and deadness of soul of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:27).

How strange the following words of Jesus sound to human ears, sometimes even to the ears of Christians living in our affluent, comfort-seeking, security-obsessed culture:

The last will be first, and the first will be last (Matthew 20:16).

Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Mathew 23:12).

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for life eternal (John 12:25).

Trust in God and rejection of self-promotion, self-sufficiency and self-gratification results in our ultimate good. When we do things God’s way, we loosen the bonds of wickedness we have slapped on our fellow-man. We divide our bread with the hungry, share our homes with the homeless and cover the naked. It is then that our light breaks out like the dawn. It is then that our righteousness goes before us and the Lord answers our call (Isaiah 58:2-10).

America’s leaders, its institutions and its form of government can harm us or serve us. To place our trust in them and forget God and his ways is foolish. Our collection of idols cannot save us.

As international tensions mount and economies falter, many people fear our world is falling apart. Uncertainty and strife raise anxiety levels for both believers and unbelievers. But, Christians find the answer to fear and worry written throughout the pages of the Bible.

There is no peace for the wicked (Isaiah 57:21), but there is refuge in our God (Isaiah 57:13).

No Rules

sign that says no rules

Last Monday morning the social media world was in a huff because United Airlines denied boarding to teenage girls on one of their flights because of inappropriate attire. All the major news outlets reported the story.

How dare anyone tell us, the paying public, what to wear?

Well, as it turns out, no one did. The airline, like most companies, has a dress code for employees. The girls in question flew as “pass riders” – a term used for those flying for free or at heavily discounted fares as a perk offered to United Airlines employees and their dependents. Since they represent the company, United says they must abide by the dress code.

Increasingly, more people demand that society cease imposing rules that infringe on their personal freedom. Decorum, good manners and adherence to socially accepted practices, though still important to a dwindling majority, are an anathema to those who envision the only acceptable society to be one that doesn’t interfere with their personal desires.

Many want to live in a society where the only rule is – there are no rules, at least none that conflict with what they want to do. That means, for them, these rules aren’t really rules at all. By removing all but the rules they want to obey, they can be righteous in their own eyes. This is as true for libertarians as it is for liberals.

But make no mistake; they want rules for everyone else.

When this concept is applied to the society at large, the result is chaos. In an effort to build what they believe to be a better society they actually demolish it.

Lawlessness Will Greatly Increase

Christians shouldn’t be surprised. The oft-repeated pattern of a society’s rejection of God’s truth followed by everyone attempting to do what is right in his own eyes is playing out before us.

We see in America today a consistent march toward lawlessness. By that, I don’t mean more people are breaking laws. That would be less serious than the problem we have. No, in America, many want to get rid of rules – specifically, God’s law as revealed in the Bible. By becoming increasingly law-less, or without the law, our nation loses the protection God’s law gives to those who acknowledge Him.

The divisive issues of our time – abortion, same-sex marriage and inequality, to name a few – all result from the deception that humanity can make its own rules. Of course, if God does not exist or if we have sufficiently tamed him or made him into a god of our own imagination, then making our own rules makes perfect sense.

Facing Persecution

Not only should we expect conflict with the unbelieving world, Jesus told his disciples to expect betrayal and hatred from other professing believers (Matthew 24:10). As persecution gets worse, we will be sorely tempted to give up or give in. As wickedness increases many Christians will forego doing good works, including preaching the gospel. Jesus, however, tells us to stand firm to the end.

Some Christians have given in to society’s rules by embracing the idea of a seeker-friendly church. This past Sunday, my home church participated in the Dallas Pulpit Swap. These swaps are done in the hope they will help break down racial barriers in the community. Our guest preacher emphasized the important task of getting out into the community to serve other people. He highlighted the fact that Jesus sought out his disciples; they did not come to him. I was particularly struck by his application of this principle to show the folly of seeker-friendly churches.

Jesus Models the Way

It seems to me that seeker-friendly churches acquiesce to the world’s desire to change the rules so that unbelievers can avoid the rules they don’t want to obey. Whenever efforts to attract unbelievers compromise God’s standards in the process, that church, instead of being relevant to the culture, becomes irrelevant to God’s purpose and encourages unbelievers to accept a faith and a god of their own making.

Jesus told us he came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Seeker friendly churches cater to people who don’t exist for no one seeks God (Romans 3:11).  We only seek and love God after he has first loved us and drawn us to himself (1 John 4:19; John 6:44).

Jesus set the pattern we should follow – “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).”

It cost Jesus much to seek and save us. It will cost us much to go and make disciples of all nations, even if our mission field is in our own city.

The lost, when they seek freedom from God’s authority so they may do as they please, lose the freedom to consider others first in any decisions they make. Instead, they become enslaved to a selfishness in which self-given rights trump those granted by God.

But Christians, trying to preserve America’s way of life, exhibit their own brand of selfishness. Too often we resist the culture from the safety and comfort of our fortified Christian bunkers. We expect to win the battle without directly engaging the real enemy. We place our hope in politics or government leaders. We expect to win a spiritual battle by warring against flesh and blood opponents.

Jesus came to free us from sin and selfish desires. Jesus came to free us to do good works. People who resist God, substitute their rules for His. They place Satan’s chains on their own limbs and insist we join them.

I say we, standing firm in the full armor of God, strong in the Lord and in his mighty power and fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, go and unlock their chains instead.

What do you say?

Have You Experienced the Miraculous?

What have you done for me lately?

This is not a question we should be asking God, but it seems we do. What better explains an inconsistent prayer life? We get excited and thankful when God answers our prayers, certain we will remain connected to our Creator. Then we drift. This comes up, then that. We become too busy, too self-sufficient, too satisfied with life without Him.

We’ve gotten what we want. We don’t have the time or inclination to want what God wants. So we don’t ask. We quit praying.

But, then we need God. Not to accomplish his will, but ours. So we pray.

When I read in Exodus 32 the account of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf they had made, I am astonished at how quickly they forgot all that God had done for them and commanded of them, and how quickly they forgot their promises to obey him. But I shouldn’t be. I sometimes act just like they did.

Now, I haven’t experienced deliverance from slavery because God sent plagues on my enemies. Neither has he led me by a pillar of cloud or fire.

I haven’t witnessed tangible, miraculous events like the Israelites did. Or have I?

Miracles or Providence

Not long ago, I heard a new Christian describe events of her life as miraculous. They didn’t sound miraculous to me, at least not in the sense we normally think of miraculous. Instead they seemed to be instances of Providence. They were improbable circumstances that could not be explained by chance but only by God’s intervention.

But is there really that much difference? The miracles performed in Egypt were obvious. The providential hand of God in the life of Esther was evident only to those aware enough to recognize it.

However, I think the main difference between miracles and providence is frequency, not power. What we usually describe as miracles are events rarely seen that require supernatural intervention and power. Miracles are highly improbable and extraordinary. Providential events, also extraordinary, are often less dramatic and more common. However, they require no less supernatural power.

What could be more powerful than God working together the events and free will choices of us and the people around us (many of which oppose God’s plan) to accomplish His purposes? The Bible, is filled with stories that defy logic, disprove the idea of coincidence and prove God’s providential care of his creation. Yet, when we examine our own lives we discover that God has exhibited this same power.

If we want to avoid idolatry we must do more than recognize God’s demonstrations of power in our lives. We must remember them, rejecting fear and worry. We must pray, believing God will always do what he has promised.

As Christians we have witnessed the miraculous working of God in our lives. If we pray “Thy Will Be Done” and serve God’s interests over our own, we will witness even more.

 

How Important Is Christian Stewardship?

offering box for stewardship

Most Christians would probably agree that stewardship of our money is an important aspect of our faith. But if we merely nod our head in agreement without taking demonstrable action, we may be in grave danger.

John Wesley proposed four questions about how to spend money. These questions are as pertinent today as in Wesley’s time (1703-1791).

The four questions are:

  1. In spending this money, am I acting like I owned it, or am I acting like the Lord’s trustee?
  2. What Scripture requires me to spend this money in this way?
  3. Can I offer up this purchase as a sacrifice to the Lord?
  4. Will God reward me for this expenditure at the resurrection of the just?

Wired from birth to think of things as belonging to us, we instinctively want to protect “our things” from others. A young child will cry out “That’s mine!”  if he discovers a sibling playing with his toys. As adults we speak of how we earn what we have. With this perception of ownership, spending money becomes a right instead of a privilege and giving money becomes a burden rather than a joy. The Bible gives us the proper perspective – “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1)

Ownership and stewardship differ in one important aspect. Ownership entitles a person to decide how he uses his wealth; he answers to no one. A steward acts on behalf of the owner and at his direction. In either case property must be protected from theft.

In regard to Wesley’s first question, when we act as if we own our money we don’t protect it from theft so that we can use it for God’s purposes. Instead we protect it from being used for God’s purposes so that we can use it for our purposes. But the Bible proclaims that in doing so we become the thief. We rob God (Malachi 3:8) and place ourselves in danger of losing our life because we are not rich toward God (Luke 12:20). In contrast, when we act as his steward we store our treasure in heaven where the thief cannot steal it (Matthew 6:20). We are able to live life unshackled from worry (Matthew 6:31-34).

Wesley’s second question addresses God’s right, as owner, to direct how we spend our money. For example, he expects us to provide food, clothing and shelter for ourselves and for those depending on us. He also expects us to help the widow and orphan. He expects us to use our resources to spread the gospel. We can find many other commands in the Bible to guide us in our stewardship.

Wesley’s third question helps us prioritize our spending. When we act like we own our money, God gets our leftovers. We sacrifice not at all having already purchased what we wanted. When we act like a steward of God’s money, we give him the first fruits trusting him to provide our needs. If we don’t give this serious thought we will, by default, spend money on luxuries that God intended us to spend on furthering his kingdom. God gives his children good gifts to enjoy, but not everything he gives us is for our personal use.

The fourth question, emphasizes why, from an eternal perspective, it is important that we be good stewards. Having an “owner” mentality, unwilling to use money as God directs, results in eternal judgment (Matthew 25:30). Stewards get rewarded in eternity. When we faithfully steward God’s resources wisely, we share our master’s happiness forever (Matthew 25:23).

It is important to emphasize we are not saved by our stewardship. But how we spend our time and money is evidence at the last judgment that proves or disproves the genuineness of our professed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We spend our money on what we value. Good stewardship directs resources to advance the kingdom of God, thus showing faith in and love for the King (Matthew 25:31-40).

Wesley set a high standard consistent with the Bible. To seek God’s will so that every expenditure accomplishes his purpose is a concept foreign to Christians enchanted with Western individualism. Conforming to a society that opposes freedom to do God’s will in favor of a freedom designed to shield us from God’s will, results in our harm. Those who give nothing of their time and money to further God’s kingdom can expect to be among the goats, assigned to eternal punishment at the last judgment (Matthew 25:30; 25:41-46).

 

 

 

Dawn of a New Day or Midnight In America?

Dawn of a New Day or Midnight in America

Some on Christian radio proclaim Donald Trump’s victory as an act of God’s mercy, giving our nation a second chance. I suggested in a previous article that we should consider the choices we had for president this election as judgment from God.

So, is this a fresh start for America? Or, have we applied the brakes too late or not at all?

It really shouldn’t matter to Christians, at least not when considering what our next step should be. Is not our immediate task in any case to draw nearer to God?

Defining a Nation’s Greatness

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)

A return to economic prosperity won’t result in righteousness. In fact, prosperity is probably a major source of our problems.

Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die:

 Keep falsehood and lies far from me; 

give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.

 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you

 and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ 

Or I may become poor and steal,

 and so dishonor the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

Evangelical Christians have rightly stood against abortion and sexual sin. But, I’m afraid we have acquiesced to greed and covetousness, turning a blind eye to our economic sins. Too often we link prosperity with God’s approval regardless of how we attain our wealth.

Midnight in America

Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t specifically state how much money is too much or how much is too little. But, as we see from Proverbs 30:8-9, having too much is as perilous as having too little, at least from a spiritual standpoint. Furthermore, either extreme may reveal our true heart condition. Here and in the Lord’s Prayer no more than one’s daily provision is requested implying we can be content with that. Perhaps an examination of our hearts and our present actions will reveal to us how we might respond to the following:

  • If we lose everything will we still praise God as did Job?
  • If we lose everything will we resort to dishonest gain in any form?
  • If we prosper, will we trust in our portfolio or in God for our future?
  • If we prosper, will we consider our wealth to be ours to do with as we please?

If we place our hope in our leaders to make America great again while we whistle past the graveyard of our sins without forsaking our idols, then it is indeed midnight in America.

What About Consequences?

God doesn’t have a blind eye.

If we think a fresh start means that we won’t suffer the consequences of past sin, we err. God is not mocked.

Our nation will suffer the consequences from decades of abortion, covetousness, greed and all manner of evil. We will reap what we have sown. But of one thing we can be certain –we won’t get a better result by continuing to disobey God.

A repeal of immoral and unjust laws whether Roe v Wade, laws redefining marriage or laws governing our economy will unquestionably be good. Doing so will restrain evil. There is, however, something more fundamental to address.

Dawn of a New Day

It is the dawn of a new day for Christians in America. We will at some point have to live out our faith in circumstances we would rather avoid. Even so, we will be much richer in faith if, in response to our plight, we trust God and not in our wealth.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. James 4:8-10

Let’s pray that by God’s grace we emerge from this present darkness – having renounced our friendship with the world, having mourned our sin and having been humbled by sin’s consequences – into the presence of the Lord and into a comfort that exceeds any that can be attained by earthly treasure. (Mt. 5:4)

A Look In the Mirror

I found the widespread description of this past presidential election as a choice between the lesser of two evils perplexing. From an issues standpoint, I considered nearly every presidential election in my voting lifetime to be such a choice. Why were people in such turmoil over this election and not the previous ones?

For many people, what set this past election apart from others was the realization that neither candidate had the personal integrity required to be president of the United States.

This election was different. In past elections we evaluated candidates mostly on the positions they held, not by their personal character. Perhaps in trying to make this election seem like those in days gone by, many Donald Trump supporters urged others to ignore personal character and to vote for him on the basis of his political platform. Some Christians implored us to vote for Trump and to pray for him hoping God will change him. One wonders if these Christians employ the same reasoning to champion the marriage of their son or daughter to an unbeliever.

The Lesser of Two Evils Fallacy

It shouldn’t be hard for Christians to see through the lesser of two evils fallacy, but evidently it is. Christians can ask themselves which of the following biblical truths become invalid so that they can justify a vote for the lesser of two evils:

  • People groan under a wicked ruler. (Proverbs 29:2)
  • You reap what you sow. (Job 4:7-8; Galatians 6:7-8)
  • Have nothing to do with evil but instead expose it. (Proverbs 4:14-15; Ephesians 5:11)
  • Do not seek political saviors. (Psalm 146:3; 118:8)

Perhaps the worst part of voting for the lesser of two evils is that it is often done in the name of good. One theologian even suggested it was a sin not to vote for Donald Trump! Of course, as you have probably heard more than once, a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil.

If Christians truly believed that both major party candidates were evil (as evidenced by their proclamation that they voted for the lesser of two evils) and they falsely believed that to not vote for one candidate was in fact a vote for the other, then, in my opinion, they mislabeled their dilemma. The choice before them was not for the lesser of two evils because they could have voted for a third-party candidate or not voted at all. This election was instead, an opportunity for them to pick their poison.

A Look In the Mirror

American Evangelicalism is at a crossroads. Our Christian subculture has devolved to the point that we declare one evil to be good simply because we believe another evil is worse. Too often, we have jettisoned the notion that we seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness in favor of pragmatic and expedient solutions we believe will allow us to maintain our comfortable lifestyle.

The fact that our nation has come to the place it has, on the brink of moral and economic collapse, is an indictment against the American Church. Christian virtue remains, but it has been drowned in a sea of Christian accommodation of the culture. Up until now, we have averted persecution by avoiding spiritual warfare. Too few have been on the front lines and too many are non-combatants. The proof is in our lack of battle scars. We have looked too much like the world and therefore posed no threat to the powers of darkness. Collectively, our light has been engulfed by the darkness and we have become salt thrown out and trampled by men. It happened on our watch.

This election was a mirror held up to the Church so that we can see who we really are. I pray we will not go away and immediately forget what we look like.

People Get Ready

Dark Clouds On the Horizon

This past presidential election cycle awakened fears in the hearts of many Americans that might otherwise have lain dormant had there been a candidate who rose above the lesser of two evils criterion.

Christians across America sense that time is running out. Like a train speeding toward a canyon not knowing its bridge is out, our nation has failed to slow its moral decline or alter its course by taking a different track. On the contrary, we seem to be accelerating as we approach the abyss.

Couple this awareness of our own nation’s condition with the realization that the rest of the world isn’t faring any better, and it’s no wonder that a Barna poll taken in 2013 reported that 41% of all adults in America and 77% of evangelical Christians believe the biblical end times have arrived. Given the events of the past three years – increased terrorism, wars and a refugee crisis – even more people must wonder how close we are to the last days.

While some people, because of the results of Tuesday’s election, feel a measure of relief and hope that our nation’s headlong rush to disaster might be slowed or even reversed because the democratic candidate lost, others don’t. A sober analysis recognizes we are in the same state of moral decay as we were before the election. Even if our nation becomes great again by worldly standards, it will be to no avail if American Christians practice a powerless, ineffective and lukewarm Christianity that depends on political saviors.

We remain on the brink of disaster. And so does the world.

Do We Really Need to Understand Prophecy?

Considering the millions of copies the Left Behind series of books sold, one might conclude there is widespread interest in the study of the end times (eschatology), particularly by those who believe Jesus will return to take the Church to heaven before a seven-year tribulation period begins on earth. Though many denominations do not teach a pre-tribulation rapture, it is likely that more than a few Christians in those denominations adhere to the teaching simply because it is so ubiquitous.  Millions of Christians attend churches that do teach a pre-tribulation rapture. Thus, a significant number of people are anticipating future events to play out in a scenario similar to those found in the book series.

But what if events don’t go according to the script of these books?

In other words, does eschatology matter? If we are indeed close to the return of Jesus, does it matter which millennial view we hold or if we believe in a pre-tribulation rapture?

Evangelical, Bible believing Christians share important, core beliefs about the end times. Christ’s visible, public return to earth, the bodily resurrection of all humanity, and the judgment of the living of the dead resulting in eternal life for some and eternal destruction for the rest are not the beliefs that distinguish those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture from those who don’t.

Furthermore, Christians can love, trust, serve and obey God without agreeing on the timing of the rapture or  how to interpret Revelation 20.

Yet, I can’t imagine that God doesn’t want us to get his prophetic message right, especially as events unfold. If a prophetic passage is a call to prepare, shouldn’t we know what to prepare for, whether deliverance from or perseverance through tribulation? If prophecy serves as a warning shouldn’t we assume the warning is for us unless proven otherwise? Certainly Jesus didn’t intend his warnings in Matthew 24 to go unheeded. If prophecy is a call to repentance, shouldn’t we know what to repent of?

Finally, since prophecy, like the rest of Scripture, reveals God’s glory we should understand it as best we can.

Crucial Questions

To make sense out of the various views about the end times and particularly the doctrine of the rapture of the church, a number of pertinent questions should be addressed:

  1. Are Israel and the Church distinct and separate peoples of God with different destinies? If this is the case, then a pre-tribulation rapture is a necessity because the church must be removed prior to the 2nd Advent in order for the Jewish age to be completed. (I have already made a case against this idea here, here and here).
  2. Is suffering and persecution normative for the Christian and, if so, is the notion that God would remove his saints from a period of intensified persecution in the tribulation consistent with how he has treated his elect throughout history?
  3. Is the great tribulation limited to a seven-year period just prior to Jesus’ return to earth? To so restrict the time frame of the great tribulation allows for the possibility that the Church can escape it. However, if the tribulation occurs throughout the church age (as believed by amillenialists) or if it encompasses the period from 70 AD until the return of Christ, (as indicated by Matthew 24 and Luke 21) then, by definition, the church cannot escape the worst persecution in history even though it escapes God’s wrath.
  4. Does the Bible teach a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth known as the millennium? This is significant, because various interpretations of the end times hinge on this question.
  5. Is Revelation best interpreted by assuming the book’s major emphasis is on the final victory of God over evil or by assuming its primary function was to address first century persecution of Christians under Rome or does the book mainly teach timeless principles about how God acts in the world? These and other approaches to interpreting the book of Revelation lead to quite different conclusions. Perhaps the best interpretation of Revelation incorporates all of these approaches when applicable.

Because proponents of the pre-tribulation rapture position have done a better job of promoting their view of the end times, it may seem to those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture that it is overwhelmingly the majority opinion among Christians. They therefore hesitate to entertain the possibility that alternative viewpoints are correct.

This series of blogs challenges the pre-tribulation rapture view. I haven’t engaged in a serious study of prophecy for decades, but now seems like the right time to turn to the pages of prophecy for instruction concerning the Blessed Hope.

Heaven On Earth

Tropical ocean scene heaven on earth
A Pleasant Respite

Nine years ago, I spent much of spring and summer on the island of Saipan with my fiancé, meeting her friends and church-mates, and preparing for our August Wedding. We had a routine, of sorts. Liberty picked me up at seven in the morning and drove us to the beach where we read the Bible. Then we exercised at the gym before she had to get ready for her work as a newspaper reporter. We usually met for lunch. After she got off work, we spent most evenings at church or at a Bible study in a home.

While on this self-funded sabbatical, I had plenty of free time to rest, read and relax while Liberty was at work. I enjoyed reading in the lobby of my hotel, located across a road from the beach. As a cool ocean breeze swept through the open lobby, I periodically paused from reading to gaze at a flame tree and the ocean beyond.

Whenever we temporarily leave behind our busy, stress-filled lives to visit beautiful tropical settings, they seem by comparison a sort of heaven on earth. We even refer to such places as a tropical Paradise. Of course, Christians know that no place on this sin-marred world can compare to the original creation or to the life to come. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, “Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” 1

Even so, this island setting, with my usual responsibilities temporarily removed, primed my heart to better appreciate what the Bible proclaims about our eternal home. It was providential, not coincidental, that one of the books I read in that Saipan hotel lobby was Anthony Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future.

Heaven On Earth

For me, the phrase “Heaven On Earth” brings to mind feeble attempts to create for ourselves a heaven of our own making that we control and manage. Such a focus easily transforms any hard tasks or sacrifices associated with following Jesus into obstacles to avoid. How different this is from Jesus’ invitation:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29

We can find rest for our souls now as we live in a fallen world even though we spend most our time away from the pleasant inns. But, what I found so comforting and restful, what stirred my heart as I read in that hotel lobby was contemplating what the Bible said God was going to do in the future.

I have to confess that, prior to this, I never spent much time studying the subject of heaven. Knowing that God would be there, that there would be no more crying or pain, that “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” 2 was good enough for me.

I also hadn’t given much thought to the significance the Bible places on our bodily resurrection. Nor did I concern myself over what it would be like in the intermediate state before the resurrection. I was content that I would be made clean, rid of sin forever.

I hadn’t considered how relevant the new earth is to my future. My first dispensational Bible instructors taught me that Israel would inhabit the new earth. Everyone else would inhabit heaven.

But, what if our eternal home is on a perfected earth, one restored to its original goodness without any sin? What if our “heaven” really is on earth?

Our Eternal Home

It is commonly taught, based on 2 Peter 3:10, that our earth and the cosmos will be completely annihilated and replaced by a new heaven and a new earth spoken of in Isaiah 65 and Revelation 21. But is this interpretation correct?

After the Fall, God subjected all of creation to futility, not just humanity. Both the cosmos and humanity groan under the curse that resulted because of sin (Romans 8:22-23). But God didn’t subject creation to a futility without remedy; he subjected it in hope. Just as we eagerly await our bodies’ redemption so all of creation eagerly awaits liberation from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21). To destroy creation to secure its liberation makes no more sense than to annihilate Christians to deliver them from their body of death! Neither our physical bodies nor the physical universe is discarded; both are redeemed.

The biblical evidence suggests that Christians are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) destined to live in eternity on a new earth (Revelation 21:1). The word “new” in both cases is the Greek word kainos that denotes new in the sense of being qualitatively better than what has existed until now. 3 The writers could have chosen the word neos had they wanted to denote new in the sense of something not previously existent.4,5

2 Peter 3:10 tells us that, at the end of time, all wickedness will be exposed and judged just as it was in the flood (2 Peter 3:6). Unlike the flood, this judgment liberates both the earth and redeemed humanity from the curse.

The Importance of the Resurrection of the Body

Mankind is not fully human without a body. Hoekema notes that if we are not raised into physical bodies, then the Greeks were right – that matter is evil, contrary to God’s declaration that his creation was good.6

”For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Death, the last enemy to be defeated (1 Corinthians 15:26), was the first enemy humanity faced because of the Fall (Genesis 2:17). When our bodies are resurrected, changed from corruptible to incorruptible, from mortal to immortal, then death will have neither victory nor sting (1Corinthians 15:54,55). Created to live on earth, redeemed humanity will do so forever.

A Beautiful Portrait

Look how our future is woven through the pages of Scripture:

  • Abraham (not just his descendants) was given all of Canaan for an everlasting possession (Genesis 17:8), yet he did not own a foot of ground in it (Acts 7:5) Instead he looked forward to a city prepared by God (Hebrews 11:10,16). His future possession and ours is on the new earth. We are strangers and exiles on this present corrupted earth (Hebrews 11:13).
  • Isaiah foretold of a new earth devoid of all sorrow (Isaiah 65:17-19).
  • Genesis 17:8 and Psalm 37:11 promised the meek they would inherit the land of Canaan, but Jesus extended that promise to include the entire earth (Matthew 5:5).
  • Christ’s suffering wiped away our sins and He will return from heaven to dwell with us after God restores all things (Acts 3:18-21).
  • Christ’s blood purchased men from every tribe, tongue, people and nation to become a kingdom of priests who serve God and reign upon the earth (Revelation 5:9-10).
  • God dwells with his washed and perfected redeemed on a perfected and cleansed earth (Revelation 7:14-17; 21:3-4).

There will be a time when our stay at a pleasant inn will not simply be a respite from a fallen world. Creation will have been liberated from the curse. All of it.  Every. Last. Inch.

Best of all, Almighty God and the Lamb who was slain for our redemption will dwell forever with us.

He is coming soon.

Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

 

 

 

Reference:

Hoekema, Anthony A., The Bible and the Future (1979). Grand Rapids, MI:Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Notes:

  1. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (1962). New York, N.Y.: Macmillan Publishing Company, p 115
  2. 1 Corinthians 2:9 NKJV
  3. Colin Brown, ed., Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1986), s.v. “New” by H. Haarbeck, H.-G. Link, Colin Brown
  4. Colin Brown, ed., Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1986), s.v. “New” by H. Haarbeck
  5. When translating Isaiah 65:17 from Hebrew to Greek, Jewish scholars used kainos as well. (Colin Brown, ed., Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 1986), s.v. “New” by H. Haarbeck, H.-G. Link, Colin Brown)
  6. Hoekema, Anthony A., The Bible and the Future (1979). Grand Rapids, MI:Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., p 250

When the Task Seems Too Hard

street in coloocan

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, 
 too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; 
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, 
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, 
your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:5-10

 

When God Hems You In – Rejoice In His Presence

Have you taken note of God’s presence and his leading wherever you go? Can you echo the thoughts David expressed in Psalm 139?

When I am on vacation I don’t usually seek out a local church to attend, but instead read my Bible. I probably have missed out on a lot because, as essential as reading the Bible is, God seems to delight in speaking to me through other Christians. When I have gone on short-term missions trips or have spent extended time away from home and do attend church, I have discovered that God doesn’t miss a beat. Either the sermon picks up where my home church pastor’s last sermon left off or the sermon is extremely timely and relevant for my life in a different way.

Such was the case last November while visiting my wife’s family in Coloocan, Philippines. We walked with my mother-in-law and brother-in-law to a service at their local church situated among houses in a residential neighborhood. The church, with a flat metal roof, would probably escape your notice should you drive by it on a weekday morning. Open on three sides, with numerous fans to keep churchgoers reasonably comfortable in the tropical heat, contemporary Christian songs rang out into the neighborhood to be heard by believer and unbeliever alike. Here, thousands of miles from home, a message prepared for the benefit of others encouraged and strengthened me just when I needed it most.

A Little Background

Have you read testimonies of people who were content with success as the world defines it only to be compelled by God to quit their job and embark on a different path? Perhaps you have experienced such a dramatic life change yourself. As I sat down in church that Sunday, it had been over two years since I quit my job in obedience to God’s calling yet I had not finished the work God had placed before me. I was beginning to think I would never finish. Sometimes I even entertained the thought that I had misunderstood God and had taken a wrong turn. In this context, God met me on the far side of the sea and spoke to me through one of his servants.

The Message

The sermon that Sunday was a forward look into 2016, acknowledging the evil times we are in while encouraging the congregation to exhibit the kind of obedience and perseverance that Noah did. In the sermon, the pastor made some observations about Noah that were apropos to our times and to my situation. (I have placed quotation marks around his comments below).

“Noah lived in the midst of evil.” Noah was 600 years old when the floodwaters came making him 480 years old when God declared his drop-dead date for humanity (Genesis 6:3; 7:6). Imagine how long Noah must have lived in a world full of violence (Genesis 6:11). Noah lived blamelessly among wicked people for possibly hundreds of years before God spoke to him and then Noah obediently built an ark over a span of decades believing God would bring about an event that defied probability. By comparison, my task and the obstacles I faced were miniscule. Why should I be discouraged?

“Noah warned his neighbors about things not yet seen.” I felt God’s hand hemming me in as the pastor spoke these words. Though not the primary reason for quitting my job, a call to warn others about things not yet seen provided the impetus to write my book. In this moment, God’s guiding hand did not feel heavy or burdensome – it felt exciting, as if the only misstep I could take would be to remain silent.

“Noah was obedient to a hard task appointed to him.” Now, as I listened, I felt convicted. I wanted to give up when the going got really tough. Or, take the easiest path forward. Writing the book was not easy, but getting it published was more daunting as it meant developing skills I didn’t care to learn or utilize. “A man of faith is a man of action.” Ouch! Inaction, procrastination and complaining had to stop. I had to press on.

“God remembered Noah and he will remember you.” I love promises, especially when combined with the conviction that God is ever-present and guiding me. He will remember to provide what I need and he will enable me to complete the task he has given me.

“God is always on time.” God’s thoughts are not my thoughts and his ways are not my ways. I must trust him.

Held Fast In God’s Hand

Even now as I recall this message, in the midst of the temptation to once again shrink back from the task ahead, God’s call compels me to persevere in obedience.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. Hebrews 11:7

God still gives his people hard tasks. Some are unique; some are common. In some cases our obedience will benefit many people; sometimes it only affects one person. In either case, when God guides us, when he hems us in – it is wondrous. Proceed in awe and with a holy fear for you are in the hand of Almighty God!

This Election Is a Test of Our National Motto – In God We Trust

election and the american flag

Many Christians are in a quandary about who to vote for in the upcoming election in the United States.

Both major party candidates are denounced for having a lack of personal character, un-American attitudes, and destructive policies. Unfortunately, one result is that Christians are mostly discussing which candidate is the lesser of two evils. But as we see our nation crumbling around us, is this really the most important choice we, as Christians, are facing?

The Choice Before Us

Maybe our choice for president is a secondary issue. What if the critical choice before us is whether we place our hope and trust in elected officials or in God to deliver us from the condition our nation is in?

American Christians have good reason to believe that neither candidate trusts in God for our nation’s future but instead trust in themselves and their ideology. We should not follow them in their folly.

Making the “right” choice in this election won’t change the direction our country is headed if, on a personal level, American Christians cannot honestly say – In God I Trust. Making the “wrong” choice won’t either.

Opportunity Is Knocking

Most Christians would probably agree that we live in evil times. In these coming months until the election, perhaps more so than ever, it is important to:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)

In Ephesians chapter 5, believers are called to holy living, told to expose evil, commanded to give thanks to God in everything and encouraged to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

How do we apply Ephesians 5:15-17 to our current situation – what is the opportunity we have and what is the Lord’s will? Is the presidential election an opportunity to head off disaster by political means or is the time we are in now an opportunity to deepen our resolve to live holy lives so that our light exposes the darkness?

Since God is the one who “deposes kings and raises up others” to accomplish his purposes, then perhaps the lamentable choices we have for president are not a warning to us to head off disaster by electing the candidate with the least destructive ideology or character. The fact that our options for president are limited and unsatisfactory may be, in itself, a judgment from God and a warning to turn toward him and perhaps even a warning to be prepared spiritually to live in exile in our own land.

Priorities Matched to God’s Will

If we read our Bibles we know what the will of God is (Romans 12:2). Our priority should be to do the will of God, not to look for a political savior. Exercising our right to vote so that we can elect the lesser of two evils or cast a vote for a third-party candidate who has no chance of winning has much less positive impact on our future than doing God’s will. Here are a few commands from Scripture that are particularly relevant to this discussion:

  • Do not worry about your life or about what tomorrow may bring but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. Matthew 6:25-34
  • Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before God. Micah 6:8
  • “Be imitators of God”, “live a life of love”, “find out what pleases the Lord” and “have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Eph 5:1,2,10,11
  • “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Philippians 2:12-16
  • Spread the Gospel. Matthew 28:19
  • Silence the talk of foolish men by doing good. 1 Peter 2:15
Born to Trouble

Our natural inclination is to bemoan our nation’s decline because we will suffer as a consequence. Our nation, our economy and our way of life are changing dramatically for the worse. However, God is more concerned about the spiritual condition of his children than their comfort. God’s will is not for us to avoid hardship at any cost. Jesus prayed that God would not remove his disciples from the world when the world persecutes them but to protect them from the evil one who would oppose their sanctification. John 17:13-20

Even if we are growing in our faith, even if sanctification and becoming like Jesus are at the top of our list of priorities, remember that men of faith such as Daniel and Ezekiel were carted off into exile when their nation was judged. Yet they were faithful witnesses.

Is the American Church ready for the challenges that lie ahead? What if our worst fears become reality? We may not be carted off to a foreign land, as were the Israelites, but we may find ourselves in a land we don’t recognize, one as godless as Babylon. Indeed, we may already be in it.

Will we praise God in the midst of suffering and persecution? Will we hold fast to our faith in the face of a fiery furnace or a lion’s den? Do we even have the courage to witness to our neighbor now?

Redeem the Time

Our time is better spent seeking God and his holiness than debating which political candidate will save us from ruin. Making the most of every opportunity to become more like Jesus is time better spent. Our time is better spent if our actions reveal to our unbelieving friends, family and neighbors that we live according to our nation’s motto – In God We Trust.

Should I Vote in the Election?

I am not saying that if either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is elected president that they won’t lead us into ruin. They might. That is why so many Christians are concerned. This election will have consequences. But, our future isn’t in the hands of politicians. It never has been.

As our nation becomes more like the Babylon of old, let us do what the exiles of Israel were told to do. Let’s seek the peace and prosperity of our nation (Jeremiah 29:5) and live life as normally as possible. Let’s vote prayerfully and wisely, but don’t fret over it – we cannot add a single hour to our life by doing so.

However Christians choose to vote in November, may each of us continually cast votes for God’s kingdom with our love, our light, our good works and our winsome presentation of the gospel of the Kingdom. If God be for us who can be against us?

 

 

 

 

One Shepherd, One King, One Holy Nation

Both Israel and the Church are referred to in Scripture as God’s Bride.  But, there are other names they share.

Both Israel and the Church Are Called God’s Chosen People

Prior to giving Moses the Ten Commandments, God gave these words to Moses and instructed him to deliver this message to the Israelites:

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Exodus 19:5-6 (See also Deuteronomy 7:6-8, Psalm 135:4)

God worked on Israel’s behalf; He chose them for himself. Peter applies the description of Israel found in Exodus 19 to the Church:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9

Both Israel and the Church Are Called God’s Holy Nation, Priests and a Treasured Possession

Both Israel and the Church are called out of humanity at large to be a treasured possession, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation. God certainly could have described Israel and the Church using different terms, but the fact that he did not is significant. This is one reason for the teaching that the Church is a continuation of Israel, a continuation of the ingathering of a people of God in his redemptive plan.

Because of her idolatry, God said to Israel, “you are not my people, and I am not your God” (Hosea1:9). But Hosea also speaks of a future time of restoration when Israel and Judah are reunited under one ruler (v10). God, through Hosea, promises a future for Israel when they will again be his people:

I will plant her for myself in the land;

I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’

I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’;

and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” Hosea 2:23

The New Testament writers quoted the Old Testament a lot, oftentimes, as noted above, applying to the Church verses originally addressed to Israel. I don’t believe these verses teach a Replacement Theology as some have suggested, but they do seem to indicate that God views his redeemed people as a whole.  For example:

What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—  even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea:

“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people;

and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”

and, “In the very place where it was said to them,

‘You are not my people,’there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’” 

Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea,only the remnant will be saved. Romans 9:22-26

Romans 9:24-25 applies Hosea 2:23 to the Gentiles. Not all Israel is saved, only the remnant. Paul is saying that not only is there hope for apostate Israel, who, because of disobedience were placed outside of the people of God, but there is hope for the Gentiles who were heretofore naturally outside the people of God (1 Peter 2:10). God calls to himself a people out of both groups.1

Jesus Is the Good Shepherd

I suppose one could still argue that the use of the same names for the Church and Israel does not disprove there are two groups of chosen people. The Bible, however, seems to go out of its way to say that there is no such distinction. Jesus appears to have settled the question in his declaration that he is the Good Shepherd.

God is the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 80:1; Isaiah 40:11). It is interesting that Jeremiah, in the context of God gathering the remnant of his flock, speaks of the righteous Branch of David who will rule as King and bring salvation:

“I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.

This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior. Jeremiah 23:3-6

We know this Savior and King from the lineage of David is Jesus (Matthew 1:1; Revelation 17:14; 19:16; 22:16; 1 Timothy 6:15).

Jesus Said Israel and the Church Shall Be One Flock

Jesus claimed to be the good shepherd who will not only gather the remnant of Israel, laying down his life for them, but will also shepherd and die for sheep not of the Jewish pen:

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.            John 10:14-16

Not only does God call his people out of both groups – he makes those he has chosen into one entity, one flock. Thus, it makes little sense to say that Israel and the Church are distinct and will spend eternity separated from each other with one group in heaven and the other on the New Earth.

This series of three articles has made the case that there is one people of God who has one Husband and one Shepherd and one King. Israel and the Church are not completely different entities with different eternal destinies. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is a Christian and not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. But those who truly are the elect, the chosen, share a common destiny.

The assumptions we start with when interpreting prophetic Scripture impact the conclusions we reach. If, when reading prophecy, we imagine that every occurrence of the word Israel refers to a national, ethnic entity with a future different from our own, then we are bound to err. But what other assumptions might lead us to conclusions about the future that are inconsistent with the way God deals with his people throughout the Bible? Upcoming articles exploring God’s Redemptive History will address some of these assumptions.

 

Note:

  1. Morris, Leon, The Epistle to the Romans (1988). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., p 370

Same Savior, Same Husband, Different People of God?

In my post, The Church Is Not a Parenthesis In God’s Redemptive Plan, I challenged the idea that God has a different redemptive plan for Israel and the Christian Church and posed this question – If Israel and the Church are so distinct, why are they often described the same way in the Bible, or called by the same name?

Israel Is Called God’s Bride

The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea describe Israel as a bride whose husband is God. In the book of Jeremiah, God remembers with fondness Israel’s “honeymoon” period of faithfulness:

The word of the Lord came to me:  “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown.” Jeremiah 2:1,2

But Israel was often unfaithful and eventually would incur judgment. However, she has a future because God is a faithful husband. In Isaiah 54, a disobedient, idolatrous Israel, though facing judgment and estrangement, is comforted by the fact that her husband, the Holy One of Israel, the Lord Almighty, will eventually call her back from exile into relationship:

For your Maker is your husband – the Lord Almighty is his name –
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.
The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.
“For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. Isaiah 54:5-7

An Eternal Love

Hosea warns Israel employing the language that might be used by a husband to divorce his wife in ancient Israel in Hosea 2:2 – “she is not my wife and I am not her husband.” But God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and Isaiah assures us that it was not a divorce (Isaiah 50:1) But neither are they idle words. God will hem them in so they cannot pursue their adulterous relationship with other gods and they will realize they were better off with their husband (Hosea 2:6-7). God will restore Israel and betroth her to himself forever:

I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord. Hosea 2:19-20

There is an eternal, covenant love depicted here, at least from God’s perspective. Israel undeniably has a future as God’s bride. But are they a distinct people separate from believers of the present age? Is the entire nation of Israel included or just a remnant? Being a part of Israel by physical birth but without faith in the Messiah (Romans 9:6) gives one no more claim to spend eternity with him than a churchgoer today who has not been born again (Matthew 7:21). God’s saving purpose in history is not thwarted because some don’t believe!

The Church Is Called the Bride of Christ
Jesus Is the Bridegroom

The Old Testament writers use imagery depicting God as the husband of Israel to help us understand the intimacy of the relationship between God and Israel.  John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the bridegroom thereby declaring him to be God (John 3:29-30).

Jesus claims he is the bridegroom:

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. Matthew 9:15

The Savior Is Described As the Husband of Those He Saves Irrespective of the Time In Which They Live

We know from Isaiah 54:51 and Isaiah 43:3 that the Holy One of Israel is her Maker, Redeemer, Savior and Husband.

Paul tells us that Christ Jesus is our savior and redeemer through whom we receive the promise and blessing given to Abraham (Romans 10:9-10; Galatians 3:13-14). Paul describes the relationship of the Church to Christ in intimate terms similar to marriage (Ephesians 5:26-32). He also describes the church as a bride whose husband is Christ:

I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 2 Corinthians 11:2

The Lamb of God Cleanses the Saved from Their Sin, Prepares Them for Eternal Fellowship and Celebrates with a Feast

Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29) and who redeems the Church with his precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19).

1 John 1:7 says the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. In Revelation 7:9,14, a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language stand before the throne in front of the Lamb, a group who shout praises that salvation is from God and the Lamb (v 10), a group who has been washed white in the blood of the Lamb. All of God’s people (Isaiah 25:6-8), including Gentiles from every nation, tribe, people and language – all who have been redeemed and made clean from sin – will attend the wedding (Revelation 19:7-8).2

Same Savior, Same Husband, Different People of God?

The OT states that God is Israel’s savior, redeemer and husband.  The NT reveals that Jesus is God and is savior, redeemer and husband of the Church. Have we a different Savior? Of course not!  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Have we a different Husband? No! Isn’t the proper conclusion then that both Israel and the Church are wed to the same saving, redeeming husband – Jesus. This language, this metaphor of the marriage of the bride and husband, suggests a continuity and oneness between Israel and the Church far more than it suggests two distinct groups of people.

 

Notes:

  1. See also Isaiah 41:14;43:14;47:4;48:17;49:7
  2. This picture of God’s people attending a wedding feast with their savior when the Kingdom is fully realized can be found in other biblical references (Matthew 8:11; 22:2; Luke 13:28-29; Revelation 19:9). As God’s children saved by the blood of the Lamb, the Church surely must attend the feast.

The Church Is Not a Parenthesis In God’s Redemptive Plan!

(This is the first article in a series that explores God’s plan and the Christian’s place in the unfolding drama that is indeed the greatest story ever told. It is God’s story, not ours, yet God has graciously made our story part of a larger, exciting, awesome, and beautiful story – God’s redemption of the world.  Included in this story is the Great Tribulation.  Will Christians be Raptured and thus escape this troubling time or must they be prepared to be faithful witnesses through it?)

The teaching you receive in your particular church tradition likely forms your understanding of redemptive history and your place in God’s plan.

My first exposure to Protestant Christianity was teaching based on what I now consider a flawed theological framework – Classical Dispensationalism. According to this theological construct, history is divided into dispensations (periods of time) during which God tests humanity’s obedience and manages the relationship of humans to himself. What is peculiar or distinctive about Classical Dispensationalism is that it teaches that God is pursuing two different redemptive purposes – one resulting in a heavenly humanity and one resulting in an earthly humanity.1

Of course, if there are two kinds of people, the tendency for humans is to elevate one over the other. Usually we elevate ourselves, but in Classical Dispensationalism, Israel holds the dominant role in redemptive history while the Church is merely a parenthesis in the plan of God, inserted into history because of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah and the resulting postponement of his kingdom.

Furthermore, according to Classical Dispensationalism, the Church is comprised of a heavenly people who have no significant role in the redemptive purposes of God as they relate to the earth. To make matters worse, those who have taken this belief system to the extreme of Christian Zionism declare to us, based on Genesis 12:3, that our fate while on earth is largely dependent on how we treat unbelieving Jews living in the land of Israel!

This dualism between Israel and the Church leads to the idea that promises of a restored land (or any physical earthly promises) apply only to national Jewish Israel and must be fulfilled in a dispensation following the present dispensation of the Church. Accordingly, this necessitates the removal of the Church via the Rapture so that God can deal with Israel separately and fulfill all the prophecies literally and politically.

Teachers of this view would often remind the congregation that as Gentile believers of the Church Age we were really just a parenthesis, a Plan B, and that we should just be grateful that we have been grafted into the olive branch. I could never reconcile this idea with the teaching that God would remove the Church before the tribulation while subjecting Israel to the worst time of human history. This seemed to me an odd outcome for a group of people these same teachers acknowledged as the apple of God’s eye and his chosen people. I can only imagine that any Jew who because of his people’s suffering over the millennia has mused that maybe God should choose someone else once in a while, would be even more inclined to think that way upon learning of this prominent Christian teaching.

This view of redemptive history never inspired me to go and make disciples of all nations. If anything, it inspired me to buy “fire insurance” to keep me out of hell, root for the coming of the end times, support efforts by man to re-gather Israel (so that the timetable of dispensationalism is met allowing God to rescue me via the Rapture) and encourage others to do the same.  This view of redemptive history is prone to an ignorance of any meaningful doctrine of suffering which is a chief means used by God to sanctify his elect. For some, the danger inherent in such a view is to not become a disciple of Jesus who prepares for the arrival of the bridegroom at the 2nd Advent, but instead to become enamored with the teaching of the Rapture only to find oneself unprepared for Jesus’ return and upon his arrival be told “I don’t know you” thus becoming the one who is “left behind” (See Matthew 25:1-13).

Can this concept that the Church is a parenthesis in God’s plan of redemption or the idea that Israel and the Church are totally distinct from each other be supported by the biblical text? I believe the answer is a resounding no!   My next two posts in this series exploring redemptive history will raise this question – If Israel and the Church are so distinct, why are they often described in the same way, or called by the same name?

 

Notes:

  1. Dispensational thought has moved away from the Classical Dispensationalism teaching of two separate redemptive plans and away from the Revised Dispensationalism teaching that Israel and the Church are eternally distinct entities to a belief that the Church is a vital part of a single progressing redemptive plan of God. (See Progressive Dispensationalism by Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, 1993, BridgePoint Books)

The Money Changers Have Stolen From Our Future – Why We Will Have to Live On Less

money changers hands

My recent article, America’s Level of Prosperity is Not Sustainable, dealt mainly with the yet to come lowering of living standards in the U.S. due to having to pay back external debt to our trading partners.

The Financialization of the Economy

But there is a more insidious, pervasive and direct cause of our current economic woes – the financialization of our economy. There are a number of ways to describe financialization. It occurs when the financial sector accounts for a disproportionate share of a nation’s profits at the expense of the real economy. The real economy is that part of the economy that is devoted to actually producing goods and services rather than to buying and selling assets and debt.

This increased diversion of income from labor to capital owners results in inequality as wages of workers stagnate and wealth is transferred to those who use money first, i.e., the financial sector. Financialization is characterized by a penchant to obtain short-term profit at the expense of long-term economic growth. Normal economic common sense becomes increasingly uncommon as the concept of making money from money takes priority over using capital together with labor to produce goods and services.

It’s as if our society has become infatuated with investments that, in fact, are not – at least not in an economic sense. Many of our “investments” are no more than the buying of assets hoping their price will increase. For example, when we buy stock in a company, unless we purchase an IPO, we are simply buying ownership in a company from another owner. This “exchange” of stock puts no money in the company’s coffers to invest in future economic output.1

The Financial Industry is not Part of the Real Economy

The distinction between the financial industry and the real economy has been lost, along with any notion that the financial industry’s excessive growth actually chokes the life out of the real economy. Financializaton has already caused a lower standard of living for many. Wages have stagnated despite the fact that those producing goods and services have become more efficient in their work. Financialization ensures that the fruit of increased productivity goes mostly to capital owners rather than to workers.

Short-term Thinking, Long-term Pain

When financiers are given free rein, the economy loses its bearings as firms seek quick profits by whatever means allowed. Leveraged buyouts and massive layoffs result as shareholder’s returns on their “investment” trump the earnings of employees who actually produce real wealth. Pension funds go the way of the dodo bird and companies are carved up into pieces so that the most valuable assets can be sold to satisfy the shareholders’ greed.

When financiers are given free rein, research and capital equipment investment (key drivers of economic growth and wealth creation) decrease substantially because they are long-term investments. Corporate CEOs (who are mostly compensated with company stock) who delay satisfying the insatiable desire of capital owners for yield, are quickly punished by a drop in their company’s stock price.

Such economic practices are irresponsible. A farmer would be foolish to eat all of his grain leaving none to plant in the spring. He would be foolish to neglect his equipment, letting it break down while spending his profits on lavish parties and trips to the Caribbean. If he does so and wants to farm the next year, he will have to go into debt. Why should we expect better results when we sacrifice our nation’s economic future on the altar of short-term greed?

What is the proper role of finance?

Finance does play an important role in our economy. When the financial community does its job well they provide a trustworthy bridge between savers with money to invest and businesses that need capital to expand. Expanding business means more and better paying jobs and an increased standard of living.

Unfortunately, because of a lack of transparency and past abuses, financial markets have lost much of the public’s trust. Today, financial institutions only use 15% of their capital to fund business investments in the real economy.2

So, where does all the money go? Much of it is used for lending to buy existing assets.3 When this happens, besides creating a bubble and transferring wealth to the first users of money, less money is used to create new wealth. The financiers profit but the economy stagnates.

What evidence is there that the financial sector has grown too large? The financial sector takes a disproportionate share of corporate profits (25%) while creating few jobs (4%).4

It is government’s responsibility to rein in excessive power and influence, but it is instead complicit in the rise of the financial sector. When interest rates are nearly zero and when government hands power to the financial sector with little accountability, should we be surprised when they take the easy path to profits instead of the prudent path to economic stability?

Modern Day Money Changers

While not the only modern-day example, I have long thought that Wall Street and our financial system is a good representation of what the Bible refers to as money changers in Matthew 21 and John 2. The money changers should have been outside the temple serving those who needed to buy animals to sacrifice in the temple. Instead, they were a distraction and a hindrance to them even as they took advantage of them. Jesus drove them out calling them robbers who misused the house of prayer.

I use the term money changers to describe the financial “industry” because they have moved almost entirely from their traditional role to serve the public and business by facilitating the use of savers’ funds for investment in the real economy to a role of traders who, in the pursuit of large short-term profits charge excessive fees for products that add little to economic growth. Like the money changers in the Bible they no longer serve others, but instead, serve themselves.

Why We Will Have to Live On Less

When an economy is skewed toward finance the future is largely ignored. Inequality increases as wages stagnate because gains go to capital owners rather than labor, jobs are lost and debt piles up.

Productive capacity is reduced when capital is wasted on bidding up the price of existing assets. Investment in capital equipment and new business will prove to have been inadequate to meet our future needs. The only way we will be able to sustain our previous standard of living is to go further in debt to our trading partners. But, never-ending trade deficits are unsustainable.

These mistakes can be corrected, but much damage has been done and it will take time to repair our economy, even if we have the will to do so. We won’t escape from our own folly without having to endure a significantly lowered standard of living. We cannot reap from what we have not sown.

 

 

Notes:
  1. Stock price does have an effect on the company’s ability to borrow money for business expansion. However, it is the creditors (corporate bondholders) who are investing in the company, not stockholders.
  2. Foroohar, Rana, Makers and Takers, New York, Crown Business, 2016
  3. Foroohar, Rana, Makers and Takers, New York, Crown Business, 2016
  4. Rana Foroohar, Makers and Takers, New York, Crown Business, 2016

America’s Level of Prosperity Is Not Sustainable

The proposition that the level of prosperity the U.S. enjoys is unsustainable will inevitably draw scorn from patriots and economists alike. Wealth creation, to many, has no fixed ceiling. Whether because of faith in the idea of American exceptionalism or in Yankee ingenuity or that America possesses an unsurpassed entrepreneurial spirit, or in our military might or that the good times will continue because we are the recipients of God’s favor, many cannot be convinced that our fortunes will decline significantly and for a considerable length of time.

Whatever one may think about the United States, one thing Christians should know is that the U.S. is not special enough to violate God’s principles without repercussions. The borrower is still slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7) and the wicked borrow and do not repay (Psalm 37:1). And that is the problem – we are a debtor nation, have been for a long time and may not be able to repay what we owe.

IOUs and You

We must reap what we have sown (Galatians 6:7).

The United States has had a trade deficit each of the past 40 years. Simply stated, on a net basis, we have obtained goods and services from other nations in exchange for IOUs in the form of dollars. Essentially, what this means is that we have enjoyed a portion of the fruit of the labor of people in other nations in addition to the fruit of our own labor. We consume more than we produce. If we ever intend to pay them back, we must reverse the process and produce more than we consume with the excess production going to our creditors. This obviously requires a lower average standard of living in the U.S.

Another option to make good on our IOUs, and one that is occurring now, is for people of other nations holding dollars to buy up our real estate and corporations. Certainly we are not as wealthy or prosperous when foreigners own our land and factories and we possess our returned IOUs.

A third option is to not repay or at least not repay everything we owe. This is why, in my opinion, the Federal Reserve targets an inflation rate of 2%. When successful, the value of our debt is reduced by nearly half after 30 years. Whatever circumstances Psalm 37:1 includes, it certainly must mean that those with a planned goal to continue consuming other’s goods and not fully repay the debt they owe are acting wickedly.

Postponing the Inevitable

When illuminated by the light of Scripture, our nation’s current economic policies and monetary maneuvers can be seen for what they are – attempts to deny the consequences of debt and postpone the inevitable day of reckoning.

We really don’t have to look very hard to see that we are already beginning to reap a harvest of misery. The decrease in our standard of living is evidenced by increased underemployment, increased inequality, stagnating wages and an intractable dependence on entitlements even as we continue to increase our indebtedness.

A Christian Response

How should we, as American Christians, respond to the unpleasant facts of our economic situation? Even though changes could be made to our nation’s fiscal policies or to the global economic system that would, over time, improve our debt burden; and even though it is true that increases in productivity lead to increases in living standards, we still have this reality facing us – our standard of living is going to decrease.

If it is true that we should repay our debts, and I believe it is, then even if our leaders make wise economic choices from here on, we still face a major reduction in our prosperity.

How will hard economic times affect your walk with the Lord?

May I suggest a few ways one’s faith can increase? What if hard times help deliver us from our idols and lead to a greater trust in God? What if we learn contentment instead of covetousness and generosity instead of greed? What if, having been stripped of our security blanket of riches, we become free in the arms of Providence to love fully and fearlessly?

Would these things not make us richer than we are now?

We adhere to a faith that teaches us to be thankful for and content with much less wealth than we have now (1 Timothy 6:6-10; Philippians 4:12-13; Proverbs 30:8; Matthew 6:11). Would it really be a disaster if we had to live with less? Can Christians not, if prepared to do so, be beacons of light amid the darkness of whatever economic trouble lies ahead?  I pray we will be.

Note:

If you study economics at all, then you probably won’t be surprised to hear that some economists claim that we needn’t worry about the next generation because government debt cannot be passed from one generation to the next and that it is impossible for the United States to default on its debt because it can always print money. This article and this article make these claims. An interesting exercise, for anyone so inclined, is to discover and expose the non-biblical worldview lying beneath these assertions.

 

The Saddest Words of All

In John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem Maud Muller, a poor maiden and a rich judge, upon a happenstance meeting, imagine how different and better their lives would be if they left their own situations and lived like the other.  But their chance meeting was soon over, with neither having voiced their imaginations, as the judge closed his heart knowing his family would oppose him accepting a lower station in life.

He married rich; she married poor.  Years later, each recalled their youthful dream in an effort to escape the reality of their lives – the judge to escape the chains of responsibility and riches, the maiden to escape the drudgery of ordinariness and poverty.  The poem’s narrator concludes:

God pity them both! And pity us all,

Who vainly the dreams of youth recall.

 

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

Salvation Is Not Accomplished Via a Do Over

It’s no wonder that stories of time travel are so popular.  They represent a universal desire to be able to fix the past thereby erasing both the consequences of our decisions and the resulting regret.  In these stories, missed opportunities need no longer cause us sorrow as a second chance is offered. In them, the consequences of sin and evil are removed or altered via a sort of cosmic “do over.”

Time travel stories are appealing because in our imaginations we identify with a protagonist armed with knowledge of the future, pursuing a noble cause and having sufficient power to accomplish his purpose.  But these stories are vastly inferior to the real story unfolding throughout history.  They are vastly inferior to God’s story in which sinful people are redeemed and not merely rescued from the consequences of past actions.

Feelings of Regret Are a Poor Substitute for Thankfulness for Providence

And this is why words of regret are so sad. Regret searches for relief from our circumstances by dreaming of an alternate reality, one that might have been but cannot be. They are sad because they reveal a lack of understanding of God’s plan and his Providence. Surely we grieve and regret our sins against God that harm others and ourselves, but the Christian has the healing balm of forgiveness in his arsenal. Regret extended far beyond repentance and forgiveness paralyses us, preventing us from moving forward and assuring us of further failure.

Words of regret are sad because they don’t recognize and appreciate what God has given us.  They blind us to God’s redemptive and sanctifying work. Words of regret reveal a lack of contentment and they block our path to resting in Jesus.

We are tempted to kick ourselves over lost opportunity, but that only perpetuates the problem. Fretting over lost opportunities clouds our vision of God’s providence in the past and for the future. God is sovereign over our missed opportunities as surely as he is sovereign over those we capitalize on. He is in the business of making everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). He is a God of second chances, but not of the sort imagined in time travel tales. God is in the business of making things new (Revelation 21:5).

There Is No Greater Contrast Than That Between Regret and Salvation

One should not presume there will always be a second chance or a better opportunity when it comes to faith in Christ.  Today is the day of salvation.  Dying having missed the opportunity to believe in Christ results in the greatest regret of all, one that lasts for eternity.

For Christians, our sorrow over sin brings repentance that leads to a salvation without regret (2 Corinthians 7:10).  Let’s encourage one another to forget what lies behind and press on toward our heavenly calling (Philippians 3:13).

 

When Fragile Hearts Break

The human heart is fragile. It can be broken and crushed (Psalm 147:3). This same fragile heart is the one with which we are to love God passionately along with our mind and soul and strength (Luke 10:27). The fact that God “inflicts pain, and gives relief; He wounds, and His hands also heal (Job 5:18)” makes this conundrum even more baffling.

This is the dilemma that Naomi faced as she journeyed from Moab back to Judah. It didn’t get any worse in Israel than to be a childless widow past the age of childbearing in that male-dominated society. Her hope in God was tempered by the reality she faced. Her heart had been broken and her spirit crushed. Unable to protect and provide for Orpah and Ruth, she bid them return to Moab where God might show kindness to them. But Ruth remained with Naomi.

Naomi left Bethlehem with a husband and two sons but returned without them. She left Bethlehem full but returned empty. She left Bethlehem with a pleasant heart consistent with her name Naomi, but returned with an embittered heart and a desire to be called Mara. Naomi was sure that God’s hand had gone out against her; He had afflicted her and brought misfortune upon her. (See Ruth Chapter 1)

She knew this was God’s doing.

Isn’t God’s Providence Supposed to Be a Good Thing?

Intellectually we may know that God causes all things to work for our good, but our hearts struggle to see God’s goodness in the midst of suffering. Unable to see the end from the beginning, we focus on the loss and the pain we experience and perhaps, like Naomi, become embittered.

When God withdraws his mercies, it is a reminder that they are his mercies. The bad times are in his hands as well as the good. “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10) Our fiery trials are not unusual; God has a good purpose in them (1 Peter 4:12,13).

What Naomi didn’t know was what lay ahead. Was it more trouble or God’s mercy1? Did she hold a glimmer of hope that God would extend his mercy he was showing to Israel to her (Ruth 1:6)?

When Do We Move and When Should We Stand Still?

God did not despise Naomi’s broken heart and he doesn’t despise yours or mine (Psalm 51:17). But sometimes, just when it seems we are in the midst of deliverance; God gives us another trial. What are we to do when this happens?

Recall the Israelite’s Exodus from Egypt. God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that he would pursue them. Suddenly, as the Israelites camped by the sea, they became fearful as Pharaoh’s army approached. They forgot about God’s Providence, the miracles he had performed and the promises he had made. What were they to do? Moses told them to stand still. The Lord would fight for them and deliver them and bring glory to himself.

In his providence, God does expect his people to act, but there comes a point when we must be still and let him deliver us. He expected the Israelites to slaughter a lamb and place blood on the door frames of their houses but it was the Lord who passed over their houses (Exodus 12:27). He expected them to ask for gold, silver and clothing from the Egyptians but it was the Lord who made them favorably disposed to give it to them (Exodus 12:36).   God expected the Israelites to leave Egypt and camp by the sea but it was there that God would bring final deliverance from the Egyptians (Exodus 14:13-14).

It wasn’t yet time for Naomi to stand still before God; she had a journey to make. She chose to act on the news that the Lord had come to the aid of his people and return to Bethlehem.  “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).  What would God do with Naomi’s broken heart?

 

Notes:
  1. Of course, trials and suffering could be considered a form of mercy if they protect us from straying from God. However, the Psalmists typically view mercy as an alleviation of suffering, even if the suffering is the result of one’s own sin.

Rejoicing, Not Boasting, Is the Key to Loving Your Neighbor As Yourself

 

(Introductory note – This post is an adaptation of the “theological reflection” section of a paper I wrote years ago for a seminary class.  Since it represents my personal interaction with Scripture, it is written almost entirely in first person form.)

Saving faith changes the way I think and act. It has to. I am not the same person I was before I was born again. Romans 5-7 clearly delineates for me the difference in my spiritual condition before and after salvation. As an unbeliever, I was an enemy of God, under condemnation of death, a slave to sin, and powerless to escape from this predicament. As a believer, because of the work of Jesus Christ, I am reconciled to God, stand in a state of grace, have been justified, have eternal life, and am now a slave to righteousness. Though I will never be free from sin in this mortal body, God is working in my life, empowering me by the Holy Spirit to act as one dead to sin.

There is a oneness to humanity that I haven’t always understood or fully appreciated.  This is partly because American Christianity focuses on individuality. While it is true that each individual is accountable for his or her response to “what think ye of Christ?”, realizing my connectedness to Adam and the whole of humanity can change how I perceive my fellow humans. My attitude toward certain unbelievers sometimes reveals a disdain that is undeserved, at least when it comes from me. Despite knowing that my salvation is from God and is not by my own efforts, I sometimes, in uncaring fashion, expect an unbeliever who has never been liberated by a new birth in Christ to somehow, on his own, think like I do.

Unbelievers are not in a state from which I escaped, they are in a state from which God has rescued me. Similarly, oneness in Christ is often viewed among Christians only as our “personal relationship with Christ” without giving due consideration to our unity as a body of believers saved by grace, being changed by God.

How can identifying with both lost and saved humanity produce joy in the midst of the suffering I encounter at the hands of others? How can I love God and my neighbor?

It’s not wrong to long for a world without sin – it will come in the eschaton (2 Corinthians 5:1-5), but when I expect the present world to be a certain way rather than how it actually is, I am questioning God’s timing and his ways. He will make things right. He is the only one who can make things as they “ought to be.”  The unbeliever’s need for God is the same as my need for him even though he hasn’t acknowledged it. Other Christians’ struggles, though not identical, are basically the same as my own. I must accept the plight of humanity of which I am a part, and I must look to God as my hope and theirs.

Joy comes in the midst of suffering for doing good precisely because God is testing me and purifying me and by these means is accomplishing what I so long for – to be rid of my sin and to be able to rejoice at the revelation of Christ’s glory (see 1 Peter 4:12-19; Philippians 1:6). Trials are a sort of “stamp of approval” by God who is declaring through them – you are mine, I am preparing you for my kingdom (Hebrews 12:6,7,10).

The fact that “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see” should bring joy to my heart, not disdain for the unbeliever. I have a different standing before God and a different destiny than the unbeliever, not a different origin. Empathizing with the lost reminds me from where God has redeemed me and motivates me to reach out to them with the gospel. Identifying with his elect reminds me of where he is leading me and what he is accomplishing in me. I have no reason to boast or complain and every reason to rejoice.

My wishing for a better world won’t change it, my wanting professing Christians to behave at a higher standard than non-Christians won’t change the fact that they often don’t, and my desire to be free from being “the wretched man that I am” won’t cause it to happen.  Only God is able to open my eyes to the truth and change me and my view of life – and, thanks be to God, he is.

 

 

Does America Have An Incurable Wound? – Part 2

Micah denounced Israel not only for their sins against God in the form of idolatry, but also for their sins against each other. There is no doubt about their guilt, as it is God himself who testifies against Samaria and Jerusalem (Micah 1:2).

Israel Was Judged for its Oppression of the Weak

In both Israel and Judah, idolatry was accompanied by covetousness, fraud and oppression. Some, simply because they had the power to do so, made themselves rich by seizing the homes of their fellow-man, devastating families as they took their inheritance (Micah 2:1,2). Their punishment fit the crime as those in power saw their land and their children’s inheritance taken from them (Micah 2:4,5).

These kinds of practices were echoed on a very large-scale in the United States as big banks and Wall Street made huge fees selling packaged sub-prime mortgages to unsuspecting investors and then foreclosed on homes, often taking a family’s life savings in the process. Adding insult to injury, those who were guilty of these practices were rewarded with hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.

Israel’s Leaders Did Not Believe They Would Be Held Accountable

While false prophets proclaimed that disgrace would not overtake them they sought to silence Micah and other prophets of God (2:6). Not fearing judgment, sure that God would never do such a thing to his people (2:7; 3:11), they took comfort believing that God would keep his promises of salvation to the people of Israel all the while ignoring the promises of judgment for disobedience that were part of the conditional covenant with Moses (Deut. 28).

Meanwhile, in this atmosphere promoted by these false prophets, the rich in Israel were emboldened to evict widows from their houses and sell their children into slavery to finance their lifestyles (Micah 2:9; Amos 8:6). God does not tolerate those who perform or condone such wickedness: they will come to ruin as God evicts the evictors (Micah 2:10). But the warnings are ignored and visions of prosperity are just what the people want to hear (Micah 2:11; Jeremiah. 5:31).

Prosperity Gospel and the Poor

Many religious leaders today preach a gospel of prosperity that not only believes God will not judge those who weary themselves to gain wealth (Proverb 23:4) but that God is obligated to make us wealthy if we have enough faith. They strip God of his sovereignty and make their faith sovereign (2 Peter 2:1). Devoid of any doctrine of suffering, their message appeals to those who would rather skip the experiences of the saints listed in Hebrews 11’s “hall of faith” (Hebrews 11:36-40) (2 Timothy 4:3,4).

They disparage the poor man for his lack of faith instead of showing compassion toward him. They deceive the poor to obtain their money (Titus 1:11) and are seemingly unaware that they will be judged for preaching to satisfy their greed (2 Peter 2:3,14,15). It is certainly not to our credit but to our shame that this false message has spread from its origins in the United States into many parts of the world.

Perhaps there are even American Christians who, believing we are somehow better than the rest of the world, think God will overlook our sins because he cannot do without America’s mission agencies, mega-churches and seminaries!

Israel’s Leaders Did Not Restrain Evil, but Instead Loved It

The leaders, who should have known better and who should have known what God expected of them, hated good and loved evil (Micah 3:1). Instead of restraining evil they devoured the poor for personal gain (Micah 3:2,3). When their fortunes turn for the worse they will cry out and not be heard (Micah 3:4; Proverbs 21:13).

The professional prophets waged war against those who wouldn’t pay for their prophecies but would tell those who paid them what they wanted to hear. Therefore these false prophets will not hear from God. In contrast, Micah, filled with the Holy Spirit, declared to the people their sin (Micah 3:5-8).

The leaders judged for a bribe and the prophets taught for a price, denying that disaster was near as they clung to their belief that God would never judge his people (Micah 3:11). But judgment from God would come (Micah 3:12).

Are we guilty when we place our faith in a free market economy to police itself as many are wont to do? When we say that there is too much regulation and we need to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit are we ignoring what God has to say about fallen humanity and its propensity to act wickedly? Christians should know better.

What difference is there between Israel’s leaders who judged for a bribe and our politicians who pander to special interest groups?

Israel’s Trial

Before getting into Israel’s trial, Micah devotes two chapters mainly to future hope and blessing – namely the coming kingdom of Messiah, perhaps to show that he is faithful even though his people are not. God will keep his promises even as he exacts judgment.

When God brings his case against them he again states they should have known better. God has shown Israel what is good – acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with him (Micah 6:8) (Deut 10:12). When God makes his case against Israel he emphasizes the kind of sins that, instead of helping his weaker neighbor, harms him – gaining wealth at the expense of others by employing wicked methods (6:10), using dishonest weights and scales to defraud him (v 11), and threatening those who challenged their ways (6:12).  But ill-gotten gain is not safe, and those who obtain it will be brought to ruin (6:13-16).

Does America Fit This Pattern?

Does any of this sound familiar? To many, the answer will be no. They will say that corruption and oppression is much worse in other nations and that the opposite is true in America – we coddle our poor with “entitlements”. Besides, many of the poor in America would be considered rich in some countries.

They will say everyone has opportunity to succeed if they try. They will say too many people have a victim mentality and are just envious of the rich.

So, according to this line of thinking, God was wrong. He didn’t need to include commandments for economic interaction in the law he gave to Moses. If only God had known about free markets! Now that we have them, we need not be concerned.

Let me ask this. Is it possible that America has gained its great wealth solely because its people work harder than the people of other nations and because of our freedoms? Is a nation’s wealth always a sign of God’s favor? Have all rich individuals in our nation gained their wealth because they worked harder, utilized their freedom of choice and were blessed by God accordingly? Of course not! It wasn’t true in Israel’s time either.

We cannot hide behind a belief that our economic system has somehow overcome the problem of human sin when it comes to gaining wealth. People will still take from each other through trickery and oppression and people will still be lazy. It seems we, as a nation, hold neither person accountable.

Perhaps the most important question to ask is this. Does the way our economic system operates indicate to us a dependence on God as protector and provider and judge of our behavior?

I think the answer is no.

What Is the Proper Christian Response?

Micah, seeing the fate that awaits his people, mourns for Samaria with weeping and wailing, going barefoot and naked, howling like a jackal and moaning like an owl (Micah 1:8,9). Indeed, the northern kingdom would go into exile under Sargon II in 721 B.C. Twenty years later, his successor, Sennacherib invaded Judah taking many captive with Jerusalem escaping only because of God’s miraculous intervention (2 Kings 19:35).

We don’t know for sure (as did Micah) that we have an incurable wound. Only God knows. But should we not recognize our sins and mourn for our nation?

As we see our nation’s moral and economic decline accelerate, should we not be praying for a return to God rather than for a return to prosperity? Shouldn’t we know better than to chase after riches? We too know what is good – to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.

Our task, as Christians living in America, is not to place our trust in our leaders, our economic system, our national ideals, our military or in American exceptionalism. If we have misplaced our trust, then our task is to stop digging broken cisterns and return to the wellspring of life (Jeremiah 2:13).

 

 

 

 

Does America Have An Incurable Wound? – Part 1

Israel Had An Incurable Wound

In the book of Micah we learn that Samaria (the capital of Israel) had an incurable wound and like untreated gangrene it had spread to Jerusalem (the capital of Judah). What was the wound that was so loathsome to God?  The northern kingdom’s idolatry had reached a level from which judgment would no longer be withheld. As a result, God proclaims to the whole earth that he will make Samaria a heap of rubble.

A Portrait of National Decline

What was it like living in Israel prior to their judgment? The Israelites, for the most part, ignored God’s warnings delivered through the prophets. Though unconcerned about their own wickedness, they were certainly aware of the threat that lurked to the northeast. Towers built with the heads of conquered soldiers and rows of captives impaled on stakes outside of captured cities served as a warning to others who might resist the advancing Assyrians.

Everyday life in Israel wasn’t much different from that in surrounding pagan nations. They worshipped Baal, sold debtors into slavery and practiced divination and sorcery. They even sacrificed their children, burning them in the arms of Molech (2 Kings 17:15c-17).

Though God had disciplined Israel so they would return to him (Amos 4:6-11), he remained a stranger to them, so much so that he declares they will become re-acquainted with their God through judgment (Amos 4:12,13)! It was too late to avoid disaster. Having reached the point of no return, God raised up a nation that would destroy them. Though its kings boasted of their conquest of Israel, it was not Assyria from whom Israel would not escape; it was God (Micah 2:3)(Isaiah 10:5-15).

By What Standard Will Our Nation Be Judged?

We live in evil times.

Many American Christians fear that we, as a nation, may be nearing a time of God’s judgment. Human nature, being the way it is, leads us to point fingers at each other and blame our impending judgment on others whose sins are more heinous than ours. Of course, it is not wrong to confront sin and evil wherever it lies, but we do well when we heed Jesus’ rebuke to first take the log out of our own eye.

The Old Testament prophets chronicle what led to God’s judgment of Israel and surrounding nations. When trying to discern how the lessons from these scriptures might apply to our nation, we must be careful not to make comparisons or draw parallels to Israel that do not exist. For example, the United States does not have a national covenant relationship with God, as did Israel. Therefore, we must be careful not to cling to promises God made specifically to Israel as if he made them to the United States.

Nevertheless, we can see for which sins God judged Israel and know that He has not changed. It is still true that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

America’s Problem with Idolatry
The Idol of Money

Money has long been identified as an idol in American life. Christians are aware of the danger, knowing that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil and that we cannot serve both God and money. But how does that actually play out in our lives? It is easy to let cultural influences drown such knowledge in a pool of worry about our future. It is easy to let misguided concepts of stewardship lead us to the conclusion that we serve God best by focusing on multiplication of our resources so we can give from our excess. How many of us make an idol out of work, filling our emptiness with inner praise for our abilities, abilities that God reminds us come from him? In short, how many ways do we forget God, his faithfulness, his kindness, and his providence and settle for a substitute?

The Idol of Entertainment

Consider our infatuation with entertainment. One of my favorite authors, A.W. Tozer, made astute observations about this form of idolatry in The Great God Entertainment. He said the essence of sin is the abuse of a harmless thing. Entertainment can be relaxing and refreshing. But, it can also be a waste of time and distract us from considering our life before God.

Our entertainment competes with God for our time and money. Many of us grab our cell phones first thing in the morning to check our email or favorite social media. Thanking God for the new day can wait. After a hard day of work, if we don’t go out for dinner or a movie, we may escape from the realities of our life by spending whatever free time we have watching television. Instead of serving God with our money, we redouble our work efforts so we can afford our next dose of entertainment.

The Idol of Self

Our economy is based on discontent. In our society, there is almost no concept of having “enough”. This is true for many Christians, too. God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet until we can’t get what we want. Then, unsatisfied with our “daily bread”, we succumb to society’s call to buy a bigger house, the newest model car or the latest fashion. The problem, at least according to our culture, is that God isn’t a good provider. Ever ready to rescue us from our stingy God, creditors entice us to borrow so we can obtain what we want on our own timetable. Some of us never think of waiting on God and trusting him to provide as long as we have the option of going into debt to get what we covet.

This kind of idolatry, often accompanied by an ungrateful and fiercely independent spirit, focuses on gaining the whole world with little concern for losing one’s soul. The covetous and greedy man may say he doesn’t agree with the philosophy that he is captain of his own soul, but his actions say otherwise.

Many in America, having discarded any notion of a God to whom they are accountable, imagine themselves to be a god, making their own rules and doing as they please. Postmodern thought that truth is relative is really just a warmed over restatement of Judges 17:6 – “in those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” NASB

When we do right in our own eyes, we do evil in the eyes of the Lord and serve a false god (Judges 2:11). Our clever, enlightened worldview calls evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20,21). Drug usage is common; pornography and sexual sin provoke no shame unless children are exploited. At least we protect our children, right?

How different is sacrificing children to idols in Israel’s day to gain economic favor with the gods and choosing abortion because we want to maintain our selfish, indulgent lifestyle and cannot be bothered with the expense or inconvenience of a child? Is burning a baby any worse than dismembering one and crushing its head so it can be removed from the womb? Those who protect the practice of abortion draw the same ire from God as those who perform them (Leviticus 20:4,5).

The Idol of Power

Thinking our own power can deliver us (Judges 7:2) and imagining that our wealth is an impenetrably high wall (Proverbs 18:11), our nation trusts in its military might and economic strength, seemingly unaware that it is useless against God when he brings judgment.

The Severity of America’s Wound?

Only God decides when a nation’s wound is incurable (Genesis 15:16). Our next president, our military might or our level of prosperity won’t determine our fate as a nation. We must not place our hope in them. Our task, as Christians, is to trust God and seek healing of our wound, however severe, with the balm of repentance before it’s too late (Jeremiah 8:6,22).

This portrait of America’s decline, already grim, is not yet finished. Does America Have an Incurable Wound, Part 2 further explores Micah’s description of Israel’s incurable wound and the possible judgment our own nation faces.

 

Christian Journaling: Seeing God’s Providence In Your Own Words

Are you ever surprised by how quickly you forget what God has done for you or what he expects of you? I am not just referring to something you heard in a sermon you thought was interesting. It could be something that touched you so deeply that, at the time, you would never believe you would forget it or fail to act on it. But you did.

You are not alone.

I keep a journal because it helps me remember. When I am hurting it helps me remember God’s tender mercies in times past. When I seek God’s leading, journaling helps me see step by step the path he has guided me on to get to the place I am now.  Or it shows me where I took a wrong turn. It helps me recognize all the providential care through the years so that I don’t doubt his providence in the present moment. When I am discouraged, it reminds me of God’s consistent instruction and grace. My complaining is stopped dead in its tracks by reminders of God’s goodness and faithfulness.

If only I was more consistent. Just this morning I opened my 2016 journal to discover that I hadn’t entered anything for nearly a month. It showed  For the past week I have been discouraged, complaining, anxious, impatient, not wanting to follow through with God’s clear leading. I have been somewhat apathetic about listening to Jesus. Of course, the reason is not because I didn’t journal, but because I didn’t remember to obey. I didn’t remember what God had told me through reading the Bible, reading devotionals, listening to sermons or any of the other means he uses. But there they were in my recent journal entries, staring me in the face – rebukes and encouragements addressing each of these attitudes. I couldn’t help but be simultaneously ashamed of my forgetfulness and amazed and encouraged by God’s love, mercy and providence.

Characteristics of a Christian Journal

What makes Christians’ journals different?  I believe that our journals should say more about God than they say about ourselves. A journal can stand as a witness to God’s faithfulness, his leading, his love, his presence, and his redemptive power in our life. And you and I need such a witness because we are prone to forget.

I keep a journal because, when God speaks to me, I really don’t want to forget what he says. I don’t want to forget what he has done. My journal helps me remember answers to prayer. It helps me remember with concrete examples that God does what he promises. It helps me remember God amid distraction or turmoil.

Seeing God in the Details of Our Lives

God never leaves us or forsakes us. But sometimes we don’t recognize his providential hand until we look back and see a sequence of events that can only be explained by divine intervention. The book of Esther shouts God’s name without mentioning it because the story could only be the result of God’s working. Your story and mine can only be explained by God’s providence. Nothing happens by chance.

That is where journaling comes in. Journaling is not a replacement for reading the Bible. It does not replace meditating on God’s Word, prayer, fasting, or memorizing Scripture. But it sure is a great way to recognize and remember God’s providence. Journaling helps us see God in the details of our lives.

I am not encouraging anyone to journal so they can make decisions based on their circumstances but, instead, to journal to help them recognize and follow God’s consistent leading. Opportunity is not synonymous with God’s will. I once had an opportunity to continue down a path of secure and comfortable prosperity but God clearly wanted me to trust him instead of money. Had my focus been on circumstances and opportunity instead of listening to God I would have made the wrong choice.

You may be surrounded by great winds of political upheaval, by economic earthquakes or by the fires of war yet God does not speak to you through them (see 1 Kings 19:11-13). But there may be a gentle whisper in a sermon here, a devotional there, the rebuke or encouragement of a friend or an answered prayer that all contain the same message for you from God. Write them down so you don’t forget. Write them down so you can see that these events cannot be explained by coincidence but only by God’s providence. Then act on God’s leading. Do what you know to do.

Journaling Tips

Journaling may not be for everyone. But, if you don’t journal and are prone to forget what you would otherwise remember had you written it down, maybe you should give it a go. As you journal, pay particular attention to answers to prayer. How often you write in your journal is a matter of personal preference.  However, avoid writing just to be writing or failing to record something you know God wants you to remember. Having too much in your journal will make it hard to profitably review. Having too little defeats the journal’s purpose.

If you already journal, please share with a comment how it has influenced your walk with Jesus.

 

Five Mistakes to Avoid When Seeking God’s Will for Your Life

Fork in the road which way is God calling you

Christians naturally want to know what God’s will is for them. However, when the focus of this question is on vocation rather than following Jesus, we are liable to get sidetracked.

Here are five common mistakes that Christians make when trying to discern and pursue God’s will for their life:

1) Looking in all the wrong places.

I believe this is far and away the biggest mistake we can make. We attend conferences, workshops or even pay an exorbitant fee for testing so that a “life planner” can lead us to the Promised Land of vocational fulfillment. (I have done this.)  We get off course because we haven’t seriously considered the most obvious way God communicates his will to us – through reading the Bible.

God expects us to discern his will (Romans 12:1,2; Ephesians 5:15-17). Furthermore, he tells us where to look (2 Timothy 3:16,17; Psalm 119:105). The Bible is filled with commands telling us what we should be doing and not doing. And the thing is, most Christians know what these are, but are looking instead for something with more pizzazz, something that relates to the “9 to 5 world” rather than to one’s entire life.

The best advice I ever heard on the subject of God’s leading is not complicated. It is short, sweet and to the point – Do what you know to do.

2) Ruling out our present situation as a calling.

We are sure we are missing our true calling. There could be a number of reasons we feel this way, but one reason might be that we don’t think becoming more like Jesus is a calling. It is.

Do what you know to do. Obey God. Act on the convictions of the Holy Spirit. As far as vocation goes, yours may not be anything out of the ordinary. But if it is what God wants you to do, then don’t waste time looking for something else. As the saying goes, bloom where you are planted.

3) Being too content with the status quo.

The flip side of mistake # 2 is to waste your time because you know God wants you to do something different, yet you resist. You feel comfortable and secure in your present situation. But it may be that you are just comfortable and secure in your sin. It is likely that one reason God has called you to something different is to move you into a place where you will trust him, a place out of your comfort zone, away from your idols to a place where you will become more like Jesus.

4) Pursuing a calling of your own making.

This happens whenever you don’t consult God at all (James 4:4). This goes one step beyond mistake #2. Perhaps because you have underestimated how important sanctification is, you have moved on to a place God has not asked you to go. And you still aren’t growing in your faith in the new endeavor.

5) Losing confidence in a clear calling from God.

This is a situation very unlike the others. Here you have obeyed God’s call for a specific task but what he asked you to do has not yet been accomplished even though years may have passed. The mistake is to doubt the calling instead of looking for confirmation of it. Remember where God has brought you, trusting his faithfulness. Stay the course. God will provide what you need.

Let’s be honest. Most of us are aware of a sin of commission or a sin of omission that God wants us to remove from our life, but sadly, for many of us, eliminating it is not high on our list of priorities. Following Jesus requires us to change our priorities to match God’s (Matthew 16:23). However you phrase it – to be holy because Jesus is holy (1 Peter 1:15,16), to be presented perfect in Christ (Colossians 1:28), to crucify the sinful nature (Galatians 5:24), to attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13), or sanctification, – your unique calling as a Christian is to be conformed to the image of Christ with ever-increasing glory and it is God’s plan and priority for your life (2 Cor. 3:18).

God sometimes asks people to do something out of the ordinary. But, most of us will live quiet lives out of public view. It doesn’t mean your calling isn’t important to God or leads to any less glory.

Feeling Repressed?

Do you feel repressed? No? Well, maybe you should.

Please let me explain. If you live in a nation that has a central bank (and who doesn’t?) then you are probably subjected to some form of financial repression.

Governments spend money on wars or the preparation for war and on social programs. Governments spend a lot of money. Trouble is, they don’t have any money. But you do. You have money because you worked and provided a tangible good or service for which someone else was willing to pay you.

Since the government has no money they get it from you through taxation or through borrowing. Governments issue bonds that people purchase and in return the government pays back the bondholders both principal and interest. So, where does the government get the money to pay back its creditors?

Tax increases are obvious and unpopular so governments usually pay back bondholders by selling yet more bonds. As long as the government can find buyers for its debt, then its leaders are lulled into thinking they need not raise taxes or cut spending.1  Instead, government debt is continuously increased. Eventually paying even the interest on all the debt becomes burdensome. 2

There are a few ways a government can reduce its debt. Economic growth and the increased taxes that accompany it is one way. A two-pronged approach of raising taxes and decreasing spending is the most obvious solution, but tax increases are opposed by one side as vehemently as spending decreases are by the other. Outright default or restructuring of debt is not an avenue that the U.S. is willing to go down at this point.

What if there was another way to pay off the debt? What if there was some sort of “hidden tax” that the government could levy to pay down its debt? There is. It’s called financial repression.

What Is Financial Repression?

Financial repression refers to methods used by governments and central banks to liquidate public and private debts and ease the burden of servicing those debts following periods of war or financial crisis.3  Governments promote monetary policies that favor debtors because they themselves are debtors.

Financial repression includes but is not limited to the following: capping interest rates banks can pay on savings deposits, interest rates for loans capped through the central bank’s target interest rate, and requiring pension funds to hold government debt.4  All of these actions direct funds to government that would normally flow elsewhere. It makes borrowing cheap for government.

But when the Federal Reserve talks about interest rates it doesn’t mention anything about trying to reduce government debt or financial repression. Instead, they base their monetary policy on “promoting maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.” They believe their mandate is best accomplished by monetary policy that has a 2% rate of inflation as its goal.5  Setting interest rates charged to banks near zero for the past seven years has been an attempt to stimulate the economy and increase employment.

So why do I believe that Fed policy is, in fact, financial repression and not economic stimulus?

 

  • First, their policy is based on the erroneous belief that demand creates supply and the irrational fear that deflation is the worst thing that can happen to an economy. In short, I don’t believe their policies can accomplish their stated purpose.
  • Second, the fact is, paying interest on our nation’s debt has already reached the point of being burdensome. The only rate of interest we can really afford is 0%. Therefore it is imperative that interests rates be kept near zero.
  • Third, employing quantitative easing (QE) proves how desperate the government is to keep interest rates low. When the Fed buys government bonds from banks in large amounts, the interest rate on bonds naturally goes down. Therefore, the government doesn’t have to offer higher rates to attract buyers (creditors) so the interest burden on its debt is less than if interest rates were higher. The Fed creates the artificial demand for its own debt and keeps interest rates down by printing money! It is only incidental that the fed hopes the money will circulate causing the economy to grow yielding more taxes to reduce the debt.
Why Use the Term Financial Repression?

So, you may ask, why use the term financial repression? Who gets hurt when the government and central bank intervene in the marketplace in this manner?

  • If there is any inflation at all, anyone who saves will see the purchasing power of his savings erode. Retirees are especially vulnerable because they are usually not in a position to put their money into higher yield, higher risk investments such as stocks that have the potential for large losses.
  • People who live within their means are forced to subsidize spendthrifts. Not only do Fed policies reduce the debt of the government, they reduce the debt of private individuals and corporations as well which have reached record levels in the last decade. The Fed’s policies make it possible for borrowers to get their hands on money at a lower interest rate than they could in a free market. A lower interest rate is forced upon savers who, without such interference, would receive a higher rate of interest from banks competing for deposits. This is not wealth creation; this is yet another example of wealth transferred from one group to another.
  • The economy as a whole suffers when financial repression is employed. Inequality rises when capital flows into stocks, not solely based on value, but because other alternative places to park money yield no return thanks to the Federal Reserve. Then, of course, prices are bid up and a bubble forms.  The system is set up in favor of the rich who have access to the first use of capital.6 When the bubble pops, capital is wiped out having served little purpose in growing the economy.  Then, the Fed and the Treasury bail out the financial sector.
  • Unemployed workers are harmed when they can only find part-time work or work at a lower wage because capital has been funneled into non-productive asset bubbles instead of being used to build factories or start new businesses.
  • Proponents of current monetary policy would argue that low-interest rates allow more people to obtain a home mortgage. Aside from the fact that indebting yourself for most of your working life might not be a good idea, the Federal Reserve’s policies essentially remove an important option for many people – to wait until they have saved more money. People who want to buy a home are harmed as the government entices them to borrow by offering low interest rates and tax incentives, and by producing asset bubbles prompting people to buy before they would normally for fear of being priced out of the market. This is especially true during a period of stagnating wages that are also a direct result of the same Fed policies.
Summary

Financial repression punishes you for saving, rewards you for going into debt, increases inequality, provides a disincentive for elected officials to balance the national budget, is a deceptive way to fund government spending, and tends to replace unemployment with underemployment. It produces a boom-bust economic cycle and then is offered as additional medicine to cure the diseases it caused in the first place.

On second thought, if you are retired or you live within your means or you are a member of the future generation who will more than likely pay the highest price for the Fed’s misguided policies, then maybe you shouldn’t feel repressed. The term is too vague. Maybe you should feel like someone who has been forced to contribute to someone else’s prosperity and later forced to suffer the consequences of their financial folly when the economy crashes because borrowers’ short-term gains came at the expense of long-term investment in the economy.

 

 

Notes:
  1. In the case of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, taxes were decreased and spending increased. Evidently it was believed that the tax cuts would increase tax revenues from individuals and corporations due to economic growth enough to offset the cost of the wars.  It didn’t turn out that way.
  2. Anyone with substantial credit card debt knows this. The difference between the credit card holder and the government is that the government can lower to zero the percentage interest rate it pays on the balance owed.
  3. “Financial Repression Redux”, Finance & Development, June 2011, Vol. 48, Carmen M. Reinhart, Jacob F. Kirkegaard, and M. Belen Sbrancia
  4. “The Liquidation of Government Debt” Carmen M. Reinhart, M. Belen Sbrancia, NBER Working Paper 16893
  5. “Statement on Longer-Run Goals and Monetary Policy Strategy”
  6. Read about the Cantillon Effect in my blog – Inequality, Part 3

A Watch In the Night

watch in the night, Garapan

A thousand years in your sight
 are like a day that has just gone by,
 or like a watch in the night. Ps. 90:4

I remember my concept of time when I was a child. It went by slowly. On my seventh birthday my present was a fishing rod and tackle box ordered from the Sears catalog. (Remember those?) Every day I watched for the mailman hoping he would bring my package. It took six weeks to arrive. To me, it seemed like an eternity.

As a young child, I liked to think that it would be a long time before I would die. My grandparents and other “old” relatives were in their’ sixties and still very much alive and well. Sixty years seemed like a very long time to a boy still in his first decade of life.

Does time still seem to go by slowly for me now that nearly six decades have passed?

Not so much.

It’s going by at warp speed. Sometimes when there is a remembrance on television of an event that happened twenty years ago, I am stunned because it seems like the event happened only a few years ago. I once reminisced with a younger co-worker only to have him kindly remind me that he couldn’t relate because he hadn’t been born yet. It just didn’t seem that long ago to me.

I am beginning to understand what the Bible means when it says life is but a vapor.

However, coming to the realization that life is short doesn’t mean that time always goes by quickly. Our circumstances may be so unpleasant that time seems to stand still. We may cry out “How Long O Lord” when he is slow to bring justice1 or when it feels like God, distant and deaf to our cries, has forgotten us.2

It is especially during times of suffering and despair that we need perspective. We need to think about the fleeting nature of our lives. We need to be reminded to look forward to a glorious future with Jesus that is really not that far away when compared to eternity.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.    2 Corinthians 4:17

Viewed from the perspective of our temporal lives, our suffering is oftentimes anything but light and momentary. Our suffering is in the here-and-now. Eternal realities may seem dim, unable to be grasped. When we suffer a significant loss, especially for the first time, we wonder if the grief and sorrow will ever abate.  Yet we know that our Redeemer lives.  We have hope.

How should we live knowing that our present life is like a watch in the night compared to eternity?
All of us will one day enter eternity. One should not presume when that will be, like I did as a child.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15 NKJV3

Making presumptions, apart from God’s will, about how long we will live or what we will be doing is childish.   Worse still, it is foolish and prideful. When we go our own way and choose friendship with the world we demonstrate hatred toward God. God wants us to forsake our double-mindedness. He wants us to humble ourselves and submit to him; then he will give us grace and lift us up. (See James 4:4-10)

For the unbeliever, denying life’s brevity or adopting a “you only live once” mentality leaves them in a precarious position.  Their suffering won’t be relieved in eternity.  The here-and-now is as good as it gets for them and completing their bucket list won’t come close to offsetting an eternity filled with torment.  We must warn them.  We must warn them that this life is not all there is; eternity awaits.  We must warn them they will be punished with everlasting destruction for not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus.4 We must warn them now and not be deceived into thinking that there will always be another day to tell them.

God has given us enough time. We should use it wisely.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  Ephesians 5:15-17

Our life may be a vapor when compared to eternity, but God gives us enough time to find out what pleases the Lord and then he gives us enough time to do it, provided we make the most of every opportunity. It is possible to waste our life satisfying foolish desires.

The apostle Peter offers some ways we can use our time wisely:

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.  Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:7-10

If we are not spending time with other Christians, praying for them, loving them and serving them, then we are not using our time wisely. It is not God’s will that we live isolated from those he calls us to serve. To not use our spiritual gifts is more than a tragedy of disobedience; it is a denial of the truth that God has prepared, in advance, good works for us to do.5

We should trust God in the midst of our troubled world because he will fulfill his promises. His timing is perfect.

God is not slow in keeping his promises;6 it just seems that way to us. God’s plans are perfect. Our understanding of them is not.  God will keep his promises to you and me.  He will keep them through good times and bad.  Some we will see fulfilled in this life, others in the next.  Should we live long enough to see the end of days with all of its tribulation we must remember that God sent his Son in the fullness of time7 and that Jesus will return at the perfect time.

We should fix our eyes on what is unseen and not lose heart.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Let us throw off the temporal perspective that hinders us from running the race God has marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.8

Our lives are but a watch in the night. In the morning that follows we will behold the beauty of the Lord. Forever! Let’s live like we believe it.

 

Notes:

  1. See Psalm 35:10-18; Revelation 6:10
  2. See Habakkuk 1:2; Psalm 13:1
  3. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  4. See 2 Thessalonians 1:8,9
  5. See Ephesians 2:10
  6. See 2 Peter 3:9
  7. See Galatians 4:4
  8. See Hebrews 12:1,3

 

A Comfort Beyond Measure

My times are in God’s hand.  I find great comfort in this fact particularly because of three things that are true about God – he is good, he is omniscient and he is omnipotent.  If he is not good, I have every reason to fear his sovereign power.  If he is not omniscient, then his plans might be misguided or have unintended consequences.  If he is not omnipotent, then he is unable to do all that he has promised and my times are not really in his hands.

Evil and God’s Will

This is especially important when confronted with trials or threatened by evil.  God’s providential care is a rock that believers have anchored their faith to for centuries.  However, God’s providential care is in jeopardy if sinful creatures’ actions are outside of his will.

But this is exactly what I have heard some Christians say.  Attempting to defend God’s goodness and armed with the knowledge that God is not the author of sin, they say that it is not God’s will when evil befalls us.  Not only does this contradict Scripture, but I don’t see how it is comforting to diminish the power of the One we are counting on to deliver us from evil.

In fairness to those who make such a statement, most are probably not trying to imply that our freedom to choose is on a par with God’s sovereignty, but it might sound that way to the seeker or to a new believer.  If human freedom holds such power, then all that goes on around us in this fallen world is a threat to us.  On the contrary, according to the Bible, God’s sovereign control of his creation is not threatened by the free will choices of his creatures.

I think the problem arises when we try to define a good God as one who does not allow evil that he has the power to prevent.  This is not the definition used in the Bible which proclaims repeatedly that God is good despite the fact that he allows evil as part of his will.  We need look no farther than the book of Job or Jesus’ crucifixion to see that God’s plan and his will include suffering and evil that he could prevent if he wanted to.  How else could Jesus say of his impending crucifixion – “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done”?

God is not the Author of Evil

Certainly God is not the author of evil.  Just as certainly, though, God is not wringing his hands wondering what to do when it occurs.  An inclination to defend God’s goodness may stem from a misconception of all that omnipotence entails.  Consider this from Millard Erickson:

We must recognize here the amazing nature of divine omnipotence.  If God were great and powerful, but not all-powerful, he would have to originate everything directly, or he would lose control of the situation and be unable to accomplish his ultimate purposes.  But our omnipotent God is able to allow evil men to do their very worst, and still he accomplishes his purposes. (Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, Copyright 1983, 1984, 1985, Baker Book House Company, p 400)

So, when we claim anything is not part of God’s will, especially evil, we are actually making the point we are trying to avoid – that we cannot know with certainty that God can protect us (should he so choose) from the evil free will choices of his creatures.  We have placed a limit on his omnipotence, one that is not warranted by Scripture.

Our Comfort Requires God’s Total Sovereignty

But you might protest and say that God is able to turn the evil intent of sinners into something good as he did with Joseph (Genesis 50:20) and certainly with Jesus (Acts 2:36).  There is a problem with this idea that God’s sovereignty as it relates to evil is reactive rather than proactive:

“… some will simply say that all Romans 8:28 means is that God will turn this evil thing, a thing that he could not help from happening, into some sort of good for us.  They present a God suddenly sovereign enough to reverse the situation, a situation he wasn’t sovereign enough to stop in the first place.” (Dave Zuleger, Desiring God, Can a Good God Bring Pain)

I don’t find much comfort in the providential care of a God who is a part-time, semi-sovereign deity.  There is no guarantee that the creation will not spin out of control with evil getting the upper hand creating a situation too dire for God to fix.

God’s plan is not an afterthought or a work in progress.  When I am in the midst of a trial I don’t find comfort in the fact that God is smart enough to come up with a plan B that just might work.  I find comfort in the fact that God has been working all things together for good – from the beginning of time.

Everlasting arms that do not grow weary of holding me, hands from which no one can snatch me, a love that endures forever, goodness that leads me to repentance and a mind that knows the end from the beginning are good enough for me. They all come together in a wondrous providence that is a comfort beyond measure.

The Love of Many Will Grow Cold

cold winter scene

I feel it sometimes. Cold, heartless evil.  It’s all around. It’s dark and ugly. It’s chill penetrates to the bone.  I felt the cold when I heard of the murder of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I feel it when I read about ISIS beheading and crucifying Christians. The darkness draws close with countless other events reported on the nightly news.

We all feel the cold.  Most of us will never experience it like the parents of those twenty children killed at Sandy Hook. Nor will we feel it like young children caught in the nefarious web of sex trafficking.  But it is palpable nonetheless.

If we aren’t careful, this cold will penetrate our own hearts and disable our love.  Perhaps it already has.  I am not suggesting we will commit some horrible, evil act.  But, as lawlessness increases, we can easily let fear reduce our compassion and acts of kindness to a level that is almost undetectable.

It is prudent to avoid dangerous situations, but our fear might cause us to choose our ministry based on risk level rather than on what God is prompting us to do.  We choose something safe. When we do, it may be that our love has already started to grow cold.

When the aids crisis was at its peak, many of us, myself included, were afraid to minister to those afflicted.  The thought of being a part of an inner city or prison ministry is terrifying to many Christians.  Now, with muslim refugees among us, many will be afraid to reach out to them.

Years ago I sat in the Latin American Missions guest house in San Jose, Costa Rica with ten career missionaries listening to stories and discussing various topics.  One man asked this question – who has been robbed at gunpoint in San Jose?  I (the sole member of the group who wasn’t a career missionary) and a young missionary who had been in San Jose for just a few months were the only ones in the room who hadn’t.  What if these missionaries and thousands like them had let fear of real danger cause their love to grow cold?

What if the apostle Paul, for whom seemingly nowhere was safe (2 Cor. 11:23-33), had let his love grow cold?

I have noticed a recurring theme whenever I feel afraid of the evil that is around me.  I have usually forgotten God, his promises and his providential care.

It’s not that evil will never harm us if we are God’s children; the Bible affirms that God allows suffering in our lives.  But God and Satan have different goals in suffering.  God wants to strengthen our faith.  Satan wants to destroy it.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:7-11

Fear and love are incompatible.  Perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:15) So what gives?  How is it that we are fearless one moment, resting in God’s love, and in the next full of dread and worry?  Perhaps it is because somehow we equate suffering with a failure of God to keep his part of a bargain we imagine he has made with us.

What is the proper response of the Christian to the evil around us?  Yes, we must protect ourselves and loved ones from evil as best we can.  Among the wolves we must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  (Mt. 10:16) But we should not succumb to fearing what evil men do.

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. Matthew 10:28-33

What if we simply took Jesus at his word and chose to obey him?  What if we stopped worrying about the evil in the world and instead found God’s peace through prayer and by thinking about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and commendable (Philippians 4) resisting the devil’s attempts to convince us to do otherwise?

We would lessen the risk of our love growing cold.  We would be freer to store up treasure in heaven instead of treasure on earth.  We would be freer to love our fellow Christians, spread the gospel, love our enemies, go the extra mile and help the man beaten and robbed lying on the side of the road.

In times of tribulation, there are two kinds of people.  There are those whose love grows cold and those who stand firm in their faith.  Those who persevere in their faith will be eternally saved. (Mt. 24:12-13) God intends for his elect to persevere. He who began a good work in you will complete it. (Phil. 1:6)  Be encouraged by this truth.

As lawlessness and persecution increase and as we see the Day approaching, let us hold fast to our faith and spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  (Hebrews 10:23-25)