Tell Me About Your Jesus

I posted on social media recently a question to others who’ve professed their faith in Christ.

If someone said to you, “Tell me about your Jesus,” how would you respond?

There were some good online dialogue.

Then one friend commented, “Nick, how would you respond?”

Hopefully, the “nuts & bolts” below will help bring confidence to so many of us who are timid about sharing our faith.  It can be fairly terrifying.  (Satan will make certain of it.) But, nothing will more infuse your soul with supernatural adrenaline than telling someone about Jesus.

Below is my reply:

With a statement as powerful as “Tell me about your Jesus,” I, personally, would be careful to ask questions often to better understand if I am going in the right direction. The answers offered to my questions would help me understand the person’s present worldview (atheistic, agnostic, seeker, works-based religion, mysticism, etc.)

Understanding a person’s worldview helps tremendously.  Author and defender of the Christian faith, Gregory Koukl, in his book, The Story of Reality, proposes that every worldview attempts, at some point, to answer four basic questions: (1) Where did we come from? (2) What went wrong? i.e. why is the world a mess, (3) What is the solution to this mess?, and (4) How does it end for us?

By far, the Bible does the best job of answering all four of these questions.

1. I would most likely begin with making certain they understand that the Jesus of history truly existed and that the vast majority of historians (Christian & non-Christian) agree on four basic tenets about Christ: (1) Jesus certainly existed – even UNC New Testament professor, Bart Ehrman, who describes himself as “agnostic with atheistic leanings” states that Jesus “certainly existed”, (2) he was executed by crucifixion by the Romans, (3) he was buried in a borrowed grave, and (4) on Sunday the tomb was empty. Of course, it’s point No. 4 where the debate begins – “why was the tomb empty?”

2. Then, I would do my best to explain the simple gospel story (“gospel” means “good news”). I would let them know that God gifted us with not one – but four – perspectives of the life of Jesus: the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John. Together, the four stories provide a rich and powerful story of love and hope through the man, Christ Jesus. I would then provide various scriptures from those stories about the love of God given to us in his Son.

3. It’s important to allow the person to stop us any time they desire and ask questions. Also, should the questions come across as dismissive about the Bible, try not to come across defensive. Jesus not only encountered the same responses, he seemed to welcomed them as it gave way to healthy dialogue.  Search the gospels and you will discover it is full of people who strongly questioned Jesus’ claims. Even Jesus’ own family, early on, thought he was a nut case. So, should your friend have objections simply reply with something like, “That’s actually a great point. And a lot of people feel that way. (Pilate looked at Jesus and asked, “What is truth?”) Could I try and bring some clarity to your question from the Bible?” Or, if you have no clue how to answer their question simply reply, “That’s a wonderful question. Would you mind if i do some research and get back to you on what i find?”  It is critical to always be kind and respectful. 

4. Most of all, our ability to share our faith depends on prayer and study of the scriptures as it defends on nothing else. One can have the New Testament memorized (Satan does), but if that person is not allowing the Holy Spirit to fill and control them they will be of little use to impact the kingdom. And the old saying is true: people don’t care how much we know until they know how much they care. Per that last statement, make certain they can tell you’re simply discussing the answer to their query and not attempting for force the Christian faith on them (Jesus never imposed himself or his message on a single person.)

5. Also, never worry about an initial conversation turning out to be “part one” of an ongoing conversation. I had a “part one” conversation just a couple of weeks ago with a person seeking truth. Only God can change a heart. We are merely the messenger.

Sometimes, people are more philosophical and have many great (and hard) questions. And, then there are times when the Holy Spirit will use the most simple of responses to the statement, “Tell me about your Jesus,” to convict a listener’s heart. Such an account is recorded in Acts 16 when the Philippian jailer asked Paul & Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” It appears that was enough for the jailer – as well as his entire family.

6. Finally, I like to inform people with whom I’m visiting that the Christian faith is nothing close to the “opium of the people” as Karl Marx once described religion. Nor is it an emotional crutch or a fairy tale, as some derisively call it. Quite the contrary, it is a rational, intelligent faith – a faith God actually encourages people to test and examine. The Bible is based on actual history – history that can be fact-checked. The gospels, according to historians, seem to fit best in the category of ancient Greco-Roman biography and, when scrutinized and weighed against the same criteria as other ancient literature, prove to be overwhelmingly reliable. The Homeric Epics come nowhere close to manuscript evidence of the New Testament, and no one questions their validity. Further, scholars, scientists and academics from the likes of Yale, MIT, Cornell, Harvard, Dartmouth, Stanford, UC-Irvine, Notre Dame, Cambridge and Oxford, just to name a few of the myriad of scholars, have placed their faith in the risen Christ.

The first verses I learned when being taught to share the gospel are commonly referred to as The Roman Road.  Simple and brief, I would encourage you to have them highlighted in your Bible and, even better, memorized. They are:

Romans 3:23 – If the Bible is indeed true, we have a serious, life-impacting problem: we are separated from God because of our sin.

Romans  6:23 – A bad news/good news verse.  There is a horrific consequence for this problem.  And there is also a solution: the “free” gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus. This “gift” had to be provided because of the first part of this verse: sin has a inviolable consequence: death.  Because of human sin, someone had to die.

Romans  5:8  –  The gift is free to us, but it was not truly “free” for it cost God the life of his Son.  Jesus died in our place, absorbing all the wrath of God on himself – for our sin. Why did Jesus do this?  Because of his boundless love for us.

Romans 10:9-10 – How do we accept this gift?  A gift can’t be earned by human effort; it is, by faith, accepted by a willing and believing heart.  So, when we agree with God that our sin has separated us from him and that he has provided for us a saving solution through the sacrifice and resurrection of his Son, the Bible says, “you will be saved.”  Saved from what?  The Bible calls it the second death (following physical death), or hell.  Further, those who profess faith in the risen Christ are made righteous in the sight of God – in right standing before God.  This means that a holy, terrifying Judge no longer sees us in our sin, but as he intended for us to be.  In short, he sees in us the righteousness, purity and holiness of his Son imputed to us through faith.

Hope this helps. Much love, Nick

The Prodigal Son: A Modern-Day Telling

The Return of the Prodigal Son; Rembrandt, 1669

My favorite chapter in all of scripture is Luke 15.

In a trilogy of parables, Jesus concludes with the story of the lost sons.

Philip Yancey, in his award-winning book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, tells the story of the younger lost son in modern context.  Yancey’s writing skills are extraordinary, and his re-telling of this story is powerful.  Enjoy.  nw

A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan.  Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts.  They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside.  “I hate you!”  She screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times.  She runs away.

She has visited Detroit only once before, on a bus trip with her church youth group to watch the Tigers play.  Because newspapers in Traverse City report in lurid details the gangs, the drugs, and the violence in downtown Detroit, she concludes that is probably the last place her parents will look for her.  California, maybe, or Florida, but not Detroit.

Her second day there she meets a man who drives the biggest car she’s ever seen.  He offers her a ride, buys her lunch, and arranges a place for her to stay.  He gives her some pills that make her feel better than she’s ever felt before.  She was right all along, she decides:  her parents were keeping her from all the fun.

The good life continues for a month, two months, a year.  The man with the big car – she calls him “Boss” – teaches her a few things that men like.  Since she’s underage, men pay a premium for her.  She lives in a penthouse, and orders room service whenever she wants.  Occasionally she thinks about the folks back home, but their lives now seem so boring and provincial that she can hardly believe she grew up there.

She has a brief scare when she sees her picture printed on a flier with the headline, “Have you seen this child?”  But by now she has blond hair, and with all the makeup and body-piercing jewelry she wears, nobody would mistake her for a child.  Besides, most of her friends are runaways, and nobody squeals in Detroit.

After a year the first sallow signs of illness appear, and it amazes her how fast the boss turns mean.  And before she knows it she’s out on the street without a penny to her name.  She still turns a couple of tricks a night, but they don’t pay much, and all the money goes to support her habit.  When winter blows in she finds herself sleeping on metal grates outside the big department stores.  “Sleeping” is the wrong word – a teenage girl at night in downtown Detroit can never relax her guard.  Dark bands circle her eyes.  Her cough worsens.

One night as she lies awake listening for footsteps, all of a sudden everything about her life looks different.  She no longer feels like a woman of the world.  She feels like a little girl, lost in a cold and frightening city.  She begins to whimper.  Her pockets are empty and she’s hungry.  She needs a fix.  She pulls her legs tight underneath her and shivers under the newspapers she’s piled atop her coat.  Something jolts a synapse of memory and a single image fills her mind:  of May in Traverse City, when a million cherry trees bloom at once, with her golden retriever dashing through the rows and rows of blossomy trees in chase of a tennis ball.

“God, why did I leave,” she says to herself, and pain stabs at her heart.  “My dog back home eats better than I do now.”  She’s sobbing, and she knows in a flash that more than anything else in the world she wants to go home.

Three straight phone calls – three straight connections to voicemail.  She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Dad, Mom, it’s me.  I was wondering about maybe coming home.  I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow.  If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada.”

It takes about seven hours for a bus to make all the stops between Detroit and Traverse City, and during that time she realizes the flaws in her plan.  What if her parents are out of town and miss the message?  Shouldn’t she have waited another day or so until she could talk to them?  And even if they are home, they probably wrote her off as dead long ago.  She should have given them some time to overcome the shock.

Her thoughts bounce back and forth between those worries and the speech she is preparing for her father:  “Dad, I’m sorry.  I know I was wrong.  It’s not your fault; it’s all mine.  Dad, can you forgive me?”  She says the words over and over, her throat tightening even as she rehearses them.  She hasn’t apologized to anyone in years.

The bus has been driving with lights on since Bay City.  Tiny snow flakes hit the pavement rubbed worn by thousands of tires, and the asphalt steams.  She’s forgotten how dark it gets at night out here.  A deer darts across the road and the bus swerves.  Every so often, a billboard.  A sign posting the mileage to Traverse City.  “Oh God.”

When the bus finally rolls into the station, its air brakes hissing in protest, the driver announces in a crackly voice over the microphone, “Fifteen minutes, folks.  That’s all we have here.”  Fifteen minutes to decide her life.  She checks herself in a compact mirror and smoothes her hair. She looks at the tobacco stains on her fingertips, and wonders if her parents will notice.  If they’re there.

She walks into the terminal not knowing what to expect.  Not one of the thousand scenes that have played out in her mind prepares her for what she sees.  There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and even her grandmother.  And taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a banner that reads, “Welcome Home!”

Out of the crowd of cheers and well-wishers breaks her Dad.  She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized speech, “Dad, I’m sorry. I know….”

He interrupts her.  “Hush child.  We’ve got no time for that.  No time for apologies.  You’ll be late for the party.  A banquet’s waiting for you at home.”

After this story, Yancey adds the following comment:

We are accustomed to finding a catch in every promise, but Jesus’ stories of extravagant grace include no catch, no loophole disqualifying us from God’s love.  [When we “come home”], to God it feels like the discovery of a lifetime.  As Dutch author, Henri Nouwen, points out, “God rejoices not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end,…No, God rejoices because one of His children who was lost has been found.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

How to Respond to Pastoral/Church Abuse

Recently, I read an article in USA Today regarding pastoral abuse and felt strongly convicted to write about it.  Over the years, I’ve heard painful stories told by those who’ve been bullied by church leaders.  I hope my words here help bring clarity, as well as hope, to the bruised and hurting.

My personal commentary follows my “short answer” as to how to respond to pastoral/church abuse.

Also, I have been a pastor for over 36 years. So, I write this as I “preach” to myself, reminding myself of what is biblically true.

First, the short answer:

1. Never – never – tolerate abuse of any kind from a church leader.

2. Because of the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, church leaders (pastors, clergy, priests) have no more access to God than any other Christian. Don’t allow them to twist scripture and tell you differently. They are on no “spiritual higher plane” than another believer in regard to status.  Further, they are subject to greater judgment due to their vital role in the spiritual growth of others. They’ve been entrusted by God with leadership, not authority. (see commentary)

3. Don’t confuse abuse with disagreement. We can disagree – even strongly – and still be civil, kind, respectful and honest. Abuse, on the other hand, involves any level of feeling dismissed, invalidated, ignored, intimidated, bullied, threatened, or humiliated.

4. You have every right to confront a church leader you feel has abused you, or a friend or loved one. You have every right to question a church leader. They are as flawed as everyone else on planet earth. As such, church leaders are as capable of the same level of abhorrent sin of which every other person on earth is capable. This is why we see church leaders experience moral failure all too often. And this is why you never – never – place your trust in a human being, even if that church leader is on the cultural level of a celebrity.

5. Church leaders are merely human beings with, hopefully, a genuine call of God on them to “shepherd the sheep” God has entrusted to their care, commanded by Christ, the Chief Shepherd, to lead not by flaunting artifical authority, but by serving others. Using degrees and job titles to inflate their self-view is biblically prohibited.   The 18th century, British theologian, John Wesley, wrote, “this may be demonstrated in a church leader behaving in a haughty, domineering manner, as though they have dominion over the church.”

6. The good news: for every abusive pastor, there are dozens of godly, humble men and women who have committed their lives to leading people as Jesus led. I heard years ago – and always remind fellow pastors – “sheep are led, not driven.” A shepherd leads sheep. A butcher drives them.

Commentary on the USA Today article:

Cowards and/or bullies, serving in church leadership, have been hiding behind intimidation tactics for centuries. Sadly, these tactics are as old as the Bible, both Testaments being filled with examples of abusive, ungodly church leadership.  Later on, the medieval Roman Catholic Church, driven by indulgences, perfected church abuse. Still afterward, the Puritans, with their witch hunts, were adept at it as well. These tactics of psychological warfare involve demeaning, intimidating, ignoring, dismissing, and invalidating a person.

The pastor in the USA Today article pushed back against the alleged abuse of the two girls due to wanting to protect his church by covering up the truth. The sad truth is that he wanted to protect himself. Unity never trumps truth. For when unity is created upon a foundation of cowardly lies, or half-truths (which are still whole lies), it’s only a matter of time until that foundation crumbles underneath the weight of the truth. When truth suffers, everything suffers – and the house of cards begins to fall.

NOTE:  Before you begin defending the church in the story, I get it. Were the girls in the story foolish getting involved with the fool (youth pastor) in the story? Yes. Was any crime committed? No. Because they were of age.

But, search the scriptures. Never – not once – will you see Jesus ignore, intimidate or dismiss a person the way these girls and their families have been ignored, intimidated and dismissed.

Does a pastor have biblical authority over his church?

First and foremost, it’s not, nor ever was, “his church.” Jesus said, My house shall be a house of prayer.” The church belongs to Christ. We’re merely stewards and shepherds of such.

A pastor (the biblical term literally means “shepherd)”, has been entrusted with the leadership of his flock/church, but has no authority over them. Abusive, biblically inept pastors will snatch Hebrews 13:17 out of context when it serves their narcissistic purposes. The verse begins, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority.” But the very misuse of this passage is, itself, abusive. The command here is in the same vein of Paul’s command for women to “submit to your husbands” in Ephesians 5:21-30, where the context is crystal clear: abuse disqualifies you from receiving submission, whether in the context of marriage or a church. By the way, the second half of Hebrew 13:7 reads, “because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.” A reckoning is coming for abusive church leadership.

What pastoral abuse isn’t:

Pastoral abuse is not when a pastor interprets a biblical passage differently than you and strongly, albeit kindly, defends his position. Additionally, abuse is not when a pastor chooses, for whatever reasons, a methodology of “doing the practical side church” with which you strongly disagree i.e. whether or not to meet on Sunday nights, whether or not to have Sunday School, what time the offices should close, what style of music to sing, etc.  Should he be supported by the vast majority of the church, you are free to join a church that more closely agrees with your practical preferences.

Healthy pastoral accountability:

The key word here is “healthy.”

By all means, lovingly keep your pastor(s) accountable. In Acts 17, the Bereans “examined the scriptures daily to see if what Paul was teaching was true.”  Church leaders desperately need healthy accountability. Through the prophet, Jeremiah, God warns, “the heart of man is deceitful above all things.” Left to our own devices, we all are living recipes for disaster. This is why Paul used the metaphor of the body to describe the Body of Christ. Simply put, we need each other. This is by God’s own design. And even the most humble and loving of pastors need trusted friends who may notice something amiss.

To be clear, you have every right – and are encouraged – to visit with a church leader any time you have a concern, always speaking your heart in love. And he should respond in kind. You have the biblical right to be heard and for your opinion to be validated. Who knows? Perhaps you misjudged the pastor. Perhaps not. Respectful dialogue will help clear up any misunderstanding.

Do you know a pastor who resists or refuses accountability or correction? The Bible has an adjective to describe him that needs no clarification:  “stupid.”

Closing thoughts:

The families in the USA Today story who confronted the lead pastor about the youth pastor’s actions with their daughters were dismissed and ignored. My guess is that they felt intimidated and/or weren’t certain they could argue with a pastor.   I don’t know – I wasn’t there.

But this do I know: the Bible is full of clear, principled teaching urging Christians to keep one another accountable, regardless of what role in which they may serve. In 2 Samuel, Nathan lit King David up when he exposed him for his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the consequent murder of her husband he had been trying to cover up. In the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul confronted the disciple, Peter, about his blatant hypocrisy.

My heart hurts for the girls in the article, as well as for their families. (It hurts to see your children hurt.) Alas, since no state laws were broken, outside of exposing the church that abused them and then tried to cover it all up, they will have to leave those responsible for all of this to a higher court. As we already saw in Hebrews, all church leaders “must give an account.”

In sum, when the subject of perceived abuse, never tolerate it. Never. God doesn’t. Neither should you.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Atheism Failed Me – Part 2

Think deeply – and honestly – with me for a moment.

(In 2015, I posted a blog titled, Atheism Failed Me.  I further that conviction here.)

I just finished reading Bertrand Russell’s speech given after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Of course, Russell was a brilliant philosopher and avowed atheist, known for his book (which i have in my library), Why I Am Not a Christian.

As I read philosophers who possess an atheistic worldview I never cease to be surprised at reading nothing the Bible hasn’t already addressed. It was philosophy professor, Paul Copan, who, when asked who is favorite philosopher was, replied, “Jesus.”

Copan cites another brilliant philosopher, Douglas Groothuis,

who presents Jesus of Nazareth as a rigorous philosopher. Groothuis defines a philosopher as “one having a strong inclination to pursue truth about philosophical matters.” These philosophical matters include “life’s meaning, purpose, and value as they relate to all the major divisions of philosophy”—especially the areas of knowledge (epistemology), ultimate reality (metaphysics), and ethics. A philosopher’s task is accomplished “through the rigorous use of human reasoning and . . . with some intellectual facility.”

In addition to Russell, I own books by the great philosophers Nietzsche, Hume, Descartes as well as contemporary philosophers like NYU’s Nagel.   Further, I enjoy listening to the brilliant, contemporary physicist, Sean Carroll, of Cal Tech.  All of these men hold to an atheistic worldview.

After my son, Jordan, took his life in 2013, I was through with God and experienced what I describe as “situational atheism.”

I went back and re-studied the writings of the atheistic philosophers mentioned above.

But, atheism failed me.

The more I read, the clearer it became: these men don’t have life any more figured out than anyone else.

Then, what began leading me back to my faith in God took place as I was standing in my driveway one hot summer afternoon. I remember the moment distinctly. I glanced up at the hot son and thought, “Why is the sun 93 millions miles away and not closer, or farther? How did the sun land where it did?” My rational argument for the existence of a creator quickly gave way to a philosophical question: Why did the sun land where it did?”

In regard to Jordan, atheism failed me because (1) it gave me nowhere to place my rage, anger, confusion, depression, hopelessness, etc. And, (2) it offered me no hope of seeing my son again. In short, it made life meaningless.

Contrarily, the Cross offered all of this, and more. It offered me, both, a place to put my pain, and then it offered me hope for meaning in life – and the afterlife. In a sense, I could hear Christ whisper to me, “I’ve got this, Nick. Trust me. Life on earth is painful. But, because I suffered for you, it will not always be this way. I love you, my child.”

Never forget: atheism, like Christianity, is a faith worldview. Further, in my opinion, atheism requires far more faith than the Christian faith.

It was former ardent atheist and Yale Law School grad, Lee Strobel, who said,

“To continue in atheism, I’d need to believe nothing produces everything, non-life produces life, randomness produces fine-tuning, chaos produces information, unconsciousness produces consciousness, and non-reason produces reason. I just didn’t have that much faith.”

It’s a brilliant plan God has set in place, really. By faith, we choose our worldview and hold fast to hope that it’s true. But, it’s not until the nanosecond after we die that we discover who’s right. It’s known as Pascal’s Wager, set forth by the 17th century physicist and mathematician, Blaise Pascal. Personally, based on the mountain of evidence for the existence of God, I’m not willing to wager that the Bible’s a lie.

Contrary to what “internet atheists” spout, the Christian faith is an intelligent, rational faith. Which is why, numerous times, God tells us in the Bible, “Test me. Examine me. And make your decision.”

Even the renowned British, atheist philosopher, Antony Flew, as he put it, chose to “abide by Plato’s Socrates and follow the argument where it leads.” It led him to a decision that rocked the atheistic world: given the overwhelming evidence, he decided God existed.

Lastly, I have always believed that it’s not Christ that affects one’s choice to deny God’s existence, but rather, Christians. We can be horribly pathetic advertisements for the love and goodness of God.

When confronted with the evidence for a Creator, even the most intelligent skeptics are commonly left wondering, “I’ve never thought about that” (see video clip below).

Please consider taking 9 1/2  minutes and watch this video clip. Both the Christian giving the interviews and the atheists with whom he’s visiting are very kind. To me, it’s always refreshing listening to civil discourse related to typically controversial topics.

For Narnia, Nick

Maranatha

“Maranatha”

This Aramaic word, used once in the New Testament of the Bible, meaning “Lord, come,” is used in Paul’s closing words in his first letter to the Corinthians.

In another letter written by Paul, after addressing the return of Christ, Paul wrote, “Encourage one another with these words.”

Allow me to briefly do that for you now.

The second coming of Christ is threaded throughout Scripture, prophesied repeatedly by the Old Testament prophets and given, both, in way of promise and warning in Matthew through Revelation.

Significantly, the longest answer (by a mile) Jesus ever gave to a single question was in regard to his second coming (cf. Matthew, chapters 24-25).

This return of Christ is veiled in mystery (“no one knows the day or hour”, Jesus, himself, said.) When teaching on this topic, I tell people, “If anyone ever tells you they have Christ’s return figured out just smile and walk the other way. On second thought, don’t smile – just walk away.”

That said, while responding to his disciples’ question about his return, Jesus did tell them we can, as his prophecy continues to be fulfilled, we can know his return is drawing near.  As in “when a tree begins to bloom you know Spring is near.”

You will never see me standing on a busy corner in Lubbock with a sign saying, “The end is near.” But I do pay careful attention to world events in light of biblical prophecy.

The most significant fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecy, in my opinion, was when, on May 14, 1948, Israel was recognized as a state for the first time in 2500 years.

Further, what are the odds that a country so tiny it’s difficult to spot it on a map appears to control the entire global climate? (Based on God’s plans for Israel during the end times, the odds are 100%.)

Former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, once said, “The Temple Mount is the most volatile square kilometer on earth.” And he’s right.

Lastly, both the prophet, Daniel, and Paul in his 2nd letter to the Thessalonians, prophecy the Jewish Temple will be rebuilt during what Jesus called a period of “great tribulation,” comprising the final years immediately before his return to earth. When you have time, google anything related to “building of the third temple.” (The first Jewish temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and the second by the Romans in 70 AD).

The Bible records Christ’s return will be a glorious time for Christians, but a time of terrifying judgment for the rest of humanity.

The Bible tells us there is a reality beyond what we can physically see. It’s a good – and healthy – idea to, on occasion, focus on that. It’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “Set your mind on things above.”

Just wanting to help remind all believers of a marvelous thing: three times in the last chapter of our Bible, Jesus says, “I’m on my way.”

Life is hard. But it will not always be this way.

NOTE: I’m attaching one of my favorite songs by Waylon Jennings. Fittingly, it’s titled “Revelation.”

Maranatha, Nick

When God Says, “Have it your way.”

It’s something we don’t often carefully consider.

God’s love for us in inexhaustible. But – there comes a time when, due to one’s perpetual rebellion and telling God to ,in essence, “shove off,” that God says, “Ok.  Have it your way.” 

And it’s never pretty.

We don’t appreciate the protection God brings us until he removes it.

God is a gentleman.  He offers to us the gospel.  But he will not impose it on us.

What that means, per simple logic, is that, although he longs to save us, he will allow us to learn the hard way should we insist on doing so.  (Think: Samson)

The book of Proverbs is packed full of wisdom and warnings related to this topic, as seen in chapter one below.  The problem, according to God, begins with us:

“…fools despise wisdom and instruction.

God longs to save, not judge.  Hence, he calls us and warns us over and over again.  Like a parent who is fiercely protective of his precious children, he says,

Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square;… “How long,…will you insist on being simpleminded? How long will you mockers relish your mocking? How long will you fools hate knowledge? Come and listen to my counsel. I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise.”

But when we ignore his pleas – the hammer falls. Hard.

“I called you so often, but you wouldn’t come. I reached out to you, but you paid no attention. You ignored my advice and rejected the correction I offered. So I will laugh when you are in trouble! I will mock you when disaster overtakes you— when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster engulfs you like a cyclone, and anguish and distress overwhelm you.

And it just keeps getting worse.

“When they cry for help, I will not answer. Though they anxiously search for me, they will not find me. For they hated knowledge and chose not to fear the Lord. They rejected my advice and paid no attention when I corrected them. Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way, choking on their own schemes.

Before jumping to conclusions and accusing God of being a hateful parent, keep in mind a couple of biblical truths:

  1. God says through Jeremiah, the prophet: The heart (of mankind) is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.”  There are times when, refusing to heed God’s calls and warnings, he looks at us and says, “You want to be in charge of your life?  Have at it.”  But, what ensues is a return – sometimes quick and other times methodical, on par with a slow decaying – to the wickedness of our own heart.  This is what Paul means when, describing the same circumstances in Romans, he says, For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became foolsso God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.”  Translation:  You insist on living your life with out me?  Have it your way.
  2. Also, never forget that scripture must always be interpreted in light of scripture.  In other words, we must never build a doctrine based on a single, cherry-picked passage from the Bible.  This is why we have 66 books comprising two testaments.  Sure, if this passage from Proverbs was all we had it would strongly suggest there is no second chance with God – regardless of how sorry we are.  But, when the Proverbs passage is read in light of Luke 15:11-24, where the lost son is not only welcomed home, but embraced by the lovesick father (who represents our heavenly Father), we see there must be something more to the Proverbs passage which requires more careful study.  The subjects of the Proverbs passage are not sorry for what they’ve done.  They’re merely sorry they got caught.  They have no interest in repenting and trusting God for their good.  They simply want the consequences of their selfish behavior to cease – so they can continue in their arrogant lifestyle and thumb their nose at God. Those who are truly broken and repentant encounter a much different response from the Lord, as clearly seen in Jesus’ story in Luke 15, and culminated in the Cross.

And this is why God concludes the Proverbs passage with this:

“Fools are destroyed by their own complacency. But all who listen to me will live in peace, untroubled by fear of harm.”

The lesson here is just as the title makes crystal clear:  continue to tell God to shove off and he, in essence, will do just that, leaving you to yourself and Satan.

Consider yourself warned.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Helping Hurry God Along (Hint: That’s a Horrible Idea)

Ever felt like God wasn’t working as fast as you think he should?

I think that would describe, at one time or another, every Christian who’s ever lived.

Enter the story of Moses.

But first, a little context.

After the death of Joseph (the “coat of many colors” Joseph), things went downhill in Egypt.

The Bible puts it this way:

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.”

Due to paranoia that developed at the increasing number of Hebrew people living in Egypt, Pharaoh had a plan: enslave the Hebrew people. Beat them. Terrify them. Show them who’s boss.

Sadly, slavery is nothing new, having been in play for millennia.  What ensued in this particular story was oppressive and cruel slave-bondage of the Hebrew people.  400 years of it.

Again, the Bible describes it this way:

So [the Egyptians] put slave masters over [the Hebrews] to oppress them with forced labor,…and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.”

Worse – far worse – Pharaoh ordered genocide of all male Hebrew children.   Eradicate all the males and soon the Hebrew race no longer exists.  Pretty simple.

But there was one problem: the Hebrew midwives feared God and disobeyed the king’s orders to murder babies.

The Hebrew women wouldn’t obey?  Pharaoh had a simple solution.

Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his (Egyptian) people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

Most, even non-Christians, are familiar with the story of Moses’ birth and miraculous survival – how he was placed in a basket as a newborn baby, and sent down the Nile River only to be found by, of all people, Pharaoh’s daughter.

While Moses was being cared for and raised in Egyptian luxury, in chapter 2, we read:

“The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.”

Simple logic dictates they’d, no doubt, been crying out to God for help for centuries.

And Moses, living in the midst of his daily tasks, would have heard those prayers and cries every single day of his life.

I can imagine Moses thinking to himself, “Is God deaf?  Why isn’t he doing anything to help my people??  Come on, God!  Hurry up!!”

God was not deaf.  And he wasn’t sitting idly by either. Jesus would later say,

“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”

Further, God never sleeps nor slumbers, the psalmist wrote.  Contrary to what Moses was thinking – and, most likely, most of the Hebrews as well – God was simultaneously protecting his people while preparing Moses for something far greater than he could’ve ever imagined as a cocky young man of 40 years.

But Moses has no interest in waiting on God to implement his plan.

So, Moses decided to take things into his own hands.

This was a horrible idea.

The scriptures tell us:

“One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid (buried) him in the sand.”

Translation:  Hey God, I’m sick and tired of waiting on you so I’ll rescue these people myself – starting with murdering this Egyptian taskmaster.  (I wonder if the memory of this incident stung Moses’s heart when, while receiving the Ten Commandments from God, God said, “You shall not murder.”)

God doesn’t need our help.  What he wants is our faith and trust and courage, made available to us in Christ Jesus.

What happened after Moses’ rash decision to “hurry God along” was just the opposite of everything Moses had thought would happen.

Not only did his murderous act disgust the Hebrew people (the very people who wanted to be rescued), God sentenced Moses to forty years in the desert.

Forty. Years.

Moses would be 80 before God would call him from the burning bush.

***You can read the rest of the story in the biblical book of Exodus.***

Moses is a case study in the sin of trying to “hurry God along because I know better than he does.”

There are numerous examples of this painful mistake in scripture.  Here’s one other passage to which I’d like to draw your attention.

Centuries later, the prophet, Isaiah, was warning the Israelites (yes, these same Israelites) not to get cocky and try to “hurry God along.”

“Who among you fears the Lord and obeys his servant?  If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the Lord and rely on your God. But watch out, you who live in your own light and warm yourselves by your own fires. This is the reward you will receive from me: You will soon fall down in great torment.” (50:10-11)

Rather than “trust in the Lord and rely on God,” arrogance blinded Moses and led him to make a horrible decision.  He trusted “his own light” and relied on “his own fire.”  Rather than wait on God to “bring light”, Moses manufactured his own light rather than allow God to be “a lamp unto his feet and a light unto his path.”  This grave mistake led Moses down a path that seemed like the right path at the time.  But pride distorts truth.

As Solomon wisely wrote,

“There is a way that appears to be right; but in the end it leads to death.”

This meme offers great biblical truth:

In those times of seeming heavenly silence, Christ is actually working mightily, strengthening your faith and preparing you for an adventure you cannot possibly imagine.

The discomfort and trials you now experience are God’s “training ground” for what he’s planned for you.  As I heard one preacher once say, “God is preparing you for what he’s prepared you for.”

Jesus was never in a hurry.  But he was never late.  His timing was always impeccable.

Trust.  Wait.  And resist the temptation to help God out by hurrying him along.

It is a wise decision to let God lead.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick