The Devil is in the Details

NEWS FLASH: The Devil does not wear red tights, have a pitchfork and is graced with a long pointed tail. But then, you probably knew that. The Devil (a.k.a. Satan, Lucifer, the Dragon, the Serpent of Old, The Evil One) is often so characterized, and the danger is that people are pushed towards the idea that he is some sort of cartoon character that we really don’t need to take seriously.

That, of course, is not true, but beyond that, Christians need to be aware that the occult, witchcraft, Satan worship and like things are dramatically on the rise in America. Not only is there is a rise in occult religion and activity in the USA, but it is finding its way into churches, even “evangelical” ones. Recent studies by the Pew Research Center points to the infiltrating of occult beliefs into American culture as well as into the church. While one might dismiss this as nothing more than a cultural phenomenon, it is really more than that. Satan, the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) is relentless in his goal of keeping people from seeing the glorious savior, Jesus Christ, and will use whatever enables him to do that.  And with the erosion of God’s truth and standards in America (and to some extent in the church as well), the Evil One appears to be moving into this spiritual vacuum with his own old spiritual ideas. 

Pew Research has found that over 60% of American adults believe in some aspect of New Age (occult) beliefs, such as belief in astrology, reincarnation, psychics or spiritual energy located in physical things (such as trees, mountains, animals, etc.). And there has been an explosion in the last two decades in the number of people who identify themselves as witches and/or are part of the Wiccan religion. (Wicca promotes individual freedom of thought and the will and a deepened understanding of nature and the earth). This occult, new age mysticism is fitting very nicely into American life. One person has observed that “witchcraft is the perfect religion for liberal millennials who are already involved in yoga and meditation, mindfulness, and new-age spirituality”. Another adds that “the occult is becoming mainstream in this country…it is user-friendly and infinitely customizes the beliefs borrowed from Eastern pantheistic faiths…there is no church or creeds or set of rules. You can pick and choose whatever you like…you are the god.” All this is not too surprising as it fits nicely with “individual rights”, toleration and our eclectic approach to spirituality.

But the Pew study also reveals the fact that the number holding to some new-age beliefs is basically the same in churches. Among Roman Catholics it is 70%; among mainline denominations it is 67%; and among evangelical Christians it is 47%. And so, in churches it is not unusual to find yoga classes, teachings emphasizing “contemplative prayer” and transcendental meditation and a growing emphasis for us to take care of “mother earth”. These and other teachings and activities have their taproots back into Eastern mysticism; in other words, back into the occult world.

This is the growing reality that we are facing. It would do us good to remember the following 3 truths about Satan, his philosophies and the world we live in.

#1 – Keep a proper balance in our thinking about Satan.  Years ago in his classic book “The Screwtape Letters” (where an older experienced demon is giving counsel to a younger apprentice demon), C.S. Lewis correctly noted that Christians are often out of balance in their thinking about Satan. They either ignore him entirely as if he isn’t really an issue, or they see him and his minions hiding behind every bush and responsible for flat tires, head colds, refrigerator breakdowns and everything else. Neither is acceptable or biblical. We are dealing with a powerful foe and one who doesn’t take vacations. He is real, but he is not omnipotent.

#2 – Remember that though defeated, Satan can inflict terrible harm on people.  Jesus died and rose again, and when He did so, He triumphed over Satan (Col. 2:13-15). The defeat of Satan is clear; and his end will forever be in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10). But, in the meantime, he is still able to do great damage to mankind. This reminds me of a football game where the home team is ahead 42 to 3 with one minute left in the game. The outcome is settled. But during that final minute a player on the home team might get a concussion, break a leg or have some other serious injury. The outcome is clear, but damage can still be done. So it is with Satan and his forces.

#3 – All that believers need to stand strong against the Evil One has been given to us in the “armor of God.”  This might be a good time to review Ephesians 6:10-18. With the armor on we are told several times that we can “stand firm” against the Devil.  However, though the armor has been provided it is up to each believer to put the armor on.  This might also be a good time to take a close look at ourselves in the “spiritual mirror” of God’s Word and see if the armor is really on. The spiritual conflict in our culture and church is a real one. And whether we like it or not, we are in this battle…as victors or casualties.

By a Vote of 3 to 0

Having just gone through another round of elections we are quite familiar with ballot counting and election results, and are likely quite weary of it all. In all of the local, state and federal results, to my knowledge, no one won by the kind of score in the title of this blog; that is, a total victory. But the above mentioned “vote” really isn’t about any recent election, it is about something far more significant. It has to do with a vote taken in eternity past concerning the absolute security of the individual who places their faith in Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation.

Today, some theologies teach that a person who has put their trust in Jesus and are saved, can subsequently lose that salvation. This can come about, they say, because of the bad behavior of that person. But that is not actually the case, because long ago the Father, the Son and the Spirit “voted” to keep us eternally secure. 

The Father has stated that He will bring each and every believer to final glorification (Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 1:4). This decree given before creation cannot be thwarted by anyone or anything, and nobody falls between the cracks. Everyone who has been justified by faith in Christ has already (in the purpose of God) been glorified.  Complete salvation is a done deal. It is the power of God the Father who keeps a believer in a completely secure position, according to Jesus (John 10:29). He says that no one (including the believer) “is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand”.  Jesus adds that the Father is “greater than all” which eliminates all people, organizations, Satan, and all forces from being able to rip the believer from his/her place of security. 

The Son paid for all of our sins, and He says that all believers are also secure in His hand (John 10:28); and emphatically states that they shall “never perish.” The Lord uses a double negative when making this point, which is the strongest possible statement that His “sheep” are complete secure.  Jesus gives no exceptions to this. Again, no one, including the believer, is able to be removed from the secure hand of Jesus.  And Jesus is equally clear in John 6:38-40 where He declared that He does not lose anyone that the Father has given to Him! There are no exceptions in that statement either. The eternal security of the believer does not depend on his/her own ability to cling tenaciously to Christ, but on Christ’s all-powerful grip on the believer. Our Creator-Savior has declared this and we can rest securely in it.

The Holy Spirit “seals” the person immediately at the moment they trust in Jesus as Savior (Eph. 1:13-14).  In the Greek world, a “seal” (sphragis) was used as a symbol of security. For example, Pontius Pilate put his “seal” on the tomb of Jesus to make it secure. No one except for Pilate (or someone greater than Pilate, like Caesar) could legally break the seal. So, at salvation, the Spirit makes the believer secure, and no one except God, or someone greater than God (and there is no one) can break the seal of the Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 goes on to explain that the Spirit’s “seal” exists until the day of our final salvation; that is, the moment when we are glorified.

So, there it is. By a vote of 3 to 0, the believer is declared by the Trinity to be eternally secure. And as we come to the Christmas season, and reflect on God becoming man in order to bring us salvation, how wonderful to add to our thinking the permanence of that great salvation proclaimed by the angelic band.

The Satanic Sickness of Anti-Semitism 

Horrific but not surprising. When we heard the grim news of the killing and wounding of well over a dozen people in a Pittsburg synagogue, there erupted a multitude of proclamations of grief and outrage. And so it should be when such a despicable event occurs. But it is not surprising when we consider that this has been going on for centuries at the hands of Arabs, gentile nations without number and even the “church”. 

The hatred of the Jewish people is not rational. The level of hatred and the widespread nature of it just doesn’t make sense.  There is really no other people on the earth where this kind of fierce, vicious hatred is exhibited. Can you name any people group where this kind of antagonism has been going on for millennia? Probably not.

The taproot for the Pittsburg synagogue massacre goes back to the Garden of Eden. There our first parents made the terrible choice to disobey God. But God then graciously embarked on a program to restore and reconcile everything that was lost that day in Eden. When the Lord God met with the group in the garden that day, He made it clear to Adam and Eve and to the Devil (the serpent) that the “seed of the woman” (a very unusual phrase) would put an end to the Devil (“crush his head”).  All the Devil (Satan) knew from this brief encounter in the Garden was that mankind would be the cause of his demise.  Satan never did like humans, and as Jesus would later say of him, that he was a “murderer” of people (John 8).  It was not until several thousand years after that meeting in Eden that Satan came to understand that it was to be Abraham’s line that the great deliverer/redeemer would come. When God chose Abraham in Genesis 12, it became clear to Satan that the descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people, would burst his “I will be like God” bubble, and anti-Semitism was born then.

The demise of Satan would be an ongoing matter. Jesus, the Jew, (son of Abraham, son of David) died for the sin of mankind on the cross and then rose victorious over death, sin and Satan. Satan has never been the same since resurrection Sunday, as Jesus “disarmed” the forces of Satan and “made a public display of them, having triumphed over them” (Colossians 1:15). But that is not all. Jesus, son of Abraham and son of David, will return in the future to this earth and will strip the Devil of his remaining power and authority on this earth, and will cast him into the Abyss (the prison for Satan and the demonic beings). 

Now Satan knows all this. He knows he is defeated and he knows that he cannot reverse these events and he knows what his final fate is.  But in the meantime, since he cannot touch the Lord Jesus, he goes after His people. He targets the church (true believers) in this world, but he also goes after the earthly family of Jesus Messiah, the Jewish people.  Revelation 12:12 informs us that half way through the period of the Tribulation, Satan and his demons are forcibly removed from heaven. At that moment, Satan knows that his time is about over, and yet even with that knowledges he does his best to wreak havoc in the world of men, and especially the Jewish people. In the tribulation, Satan will go after the people of Israel, according to the prophet Zechariah. So, it becomes pretty clear that knowledge of the future will not alter his behavior nor his attitudes. He hates the people that brought Jesus into this world. 

Satan reminds me a little of a proud football team that is being crushed by its opponent and humiliated in the process. The game is lost but players, in their rage and frustration, begin to play dirty and fight. They seemingly cannot contain their anger. Satan has lost but he isn’t going to change and he will always be a liar and a murderer (John 8:44). In his “great wrath” (Rev. 12:12) he will do his dirtiest to harm the Jewish people.

So while we are sickened by this act of violence against the Jewish people of the synagogue in Pittsburg, and we join in the grief for them, it is certainly not the last time this will take place. The spirit of anti-Semitism has its origin in God’s great enemy, Satan. Throughout history it has manifested itself through human beings such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Yasser Arafat. But we need to keep in mind that the poisonous source of it all is the Devil. 

As those who claim a relationship with Jesus (the Jew), we must never engage in anti-Semitic behaviors. Rather we should lend aid and support to the Chosen People and pray for the peace of Jerusalem. The Lord God still blesses those who bless Israel.

The Supreme Supreme Court

Much of America sits in shocked amazement watching the melodrama in DC surrounding the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the US Supreme Court. The drama is decidedly an unpleasant one. (At this writing the confirmation vote has yet to be taken.) Gone is any pretense of kindness or even civility. Words like “ambush”, “justice”, “hypocrisy”, “lying” and several dozen others fill the airwaves, the internet and the printed page. And it is very easy to have hostile thoughts and acidic attitudes. We wonder why a marine sniper doesn’t take out a few select people; or “where are the Russians when we need them”; or even “why can’t God strike several with some fatal disease”. 

But those thoughts and attitudes do us little good and only increase our need for antacids. So is it wrong to be angry and upset by these current events? Not necessarily so. God Himself expresses His “hot anger” towards that which is evil on many occasions, as in Ezekiel 14. However, in all of this I am reminded of certain well-known truths from the Scriptures which we might want to consider. We must think “Christianly.”

(1) In Daniel 2:21, seventeen year old Daniel was reflecting on God’s gracious revelation to him as he faced execution at the hands of the Babylonian king. But Daniel realized that the power of the king was limited, because it is God who controls and structures all of history, both its great happenings as well as the sequence of all events. It is the Lord who controls this planet and all the people and nations on it. God’s sovereign power is evidenced by the fact that He alone decides who will rule, as Daniel notes: “He removes kings and establishes kings.” And we today must think like Daniel and realize God has a clear endgame in view and He is directing the world towards that. I go back to this truth regularly because I need to recall that no event and no group of people can derail God’s program. God is not in heaven saying, “I never saw that coming”, or “I didn’t realize they would do that!”

(2) But is it wrong to get angry about the DC drama? Generally our anger ends up in the “unrighteous anger” category. But Dr. Edmond Hiebert has insightfully observed that: “anger against sin is an essential part of a healthy, moral nature.” So being angry over injustice and violations of God’s truth is a legitimate, and even good, response.  Mark 3:5 helps give some needed perspective, as it records Jesus’ anger with the religious elite of His day. These arrogant religious leaders willfully resisted the truth that Jesus was giving. On this occasion, Jesus’ eyes swept over the group of leaders looking for at least one who would respond positively to His truth, but none existed. Jesus’ righteous anger was momentary (the use of the verb tense shows this), but His grief over their stubbornness was prolonged (use of the present tense). His anger was more against their rejection of truth rather than against the men themselves. We tend not to be like Jesus in that our anger is prolonged (present tense) and is directed towards people and not their rejection of truth. This is likely why the Apostle tells us to keep our anger under control by not letting it take root (Eph. 4:26-27). We probably need to learn from this.

(3) I am also reminded of the familiar exhortation of 1 Timothy 2:1-4 where we are told that prayer is to be the key factor in our relationship with secular government and leaders. Paul says that “first of all” we are to pray so that life might be tranquil. With “peace” and “tranquility”, the gospel can proceed more easily and people can come to faith in Jesus; which Paul says is God’s desire. So interestingly, our prayers are a key factor in God’s workings in leaders and nations because the “king’s heart” is in the Lord’s hands and, He can “turn it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1). He has done this in the past.

(4) When we pray as Paul exhorts us, we know that we are praying within the declared will of God. Proverbs 14:34 says that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  This truth applies to all nations including America. The best thing for our nation is not the domination of one political party over another, but rather the prevailing of God’s righteous standards in the national life. When Abraham pleaded his case with God about His necessary coming judgment of unrighteous Sodom in Genesis 18:22-33, he did so with an amazing combination of humility and boldness, recognizing that the gracious God had to deal with evil. Abraham, like you and I, really didn’t understand how God’s love and mercy combines with His righteousness as He deals with people and nations. But Abraham prayed knowing the Judge of the earth will do what is right. And this should be our prayer as well. He did understand, as did Daniel that there really is a great Supreme Court. This court is not in Washington DC, but in the throne room of heaven. So, in reflecting on DC’s   Supreme Court, let’s not forget the Supreme Supreme Court.

Secular Saints

“Secular saints” would seem to be a contradiction of terms, and in some ways it really is.  The dictionary says that the word secular means “of this world, temporal”; and is distinguished from the “sacred”. A “saint” is one who had been declared righteous by God because, and only because, faith has been placed in Jesus Christ as the one and only Savior. But what is a secular saint?

Recently I heard an amazing statistic which stated that when church attenders were asked if they had conversations at home, during the week about the Lord and about His Word, 90% said they did not. Now, I cannot vouch that this was a “scientifically done” survey, but even if it was not of that caliber, it likely does reveal a lot of truth. Sunday mornings is apparently for church and religious activity (it is good for a well-rounded life as one millennial observed), but starting at around noon on Sunday, the Lord is not an integral part of life. So it would appear that many are saintly on Sunday mornings and secular the rest of the week. I read an article recently from the Colson Center in which the author noted that the real issue today for Christians is not atheism, but rather apatheism (apathy about God). This unfamiliar term is what a French philosopher reflected when he stated that “to believe or not believe in God is not important at all.” While Christians would say they don’t agree with such a sentiment, the problem is they essentially do. A seminary professor observed that so many in the church today simply don’t see theology and the practical out-workings of theology as something worth their time and energy. They basically don’t care. God is nicely compartmentalized and plays an insignificant role for most of the week.

The Bible has a word which describes the current secularization of believers, and it is the word “ungodly.”  We should note a distinction between “ungodly” and “unrighteous”. While these words are often found together, and overlap, there is a distinction to be noted. “Unrighteousness” focuses on the violating of divine law. There is a standard which God, the great Lawgiver, has established, and breaking His laws are acts of unrighteousness. “Ungodly” looks at marginalizing God in our lives, not a denial of His existence. When the 90% say that God and His Word are not talked about, this is the essence of ungodliness.  God is pushed to the outer edges of life but He is not an integral part of life (until, or course, a crisis happens). Obviously when one is ungodly, there is most likely a lot of unrighteousness there as well. Most secular saints have some feel for what is unrighteous and try and avoid some of the more obvious sins of the flesh. But they (to use Jesus’ term) do not “abide” in Christ on a daily basis. And Jesus was pretty clear, in John 15:1-11, that we need to maintain a close, daily, intimate relationship with Him; that is the core of being “godly”. According to Jesus, “abiding” brings glory to God, and that causes joy and real meaning to flow into our lives. Not to abide will always produce lives which lack real joy, lack the sense of fulfillment and God’s blessing. It is not that God ceases to love His children when they don’t “abide”, but His love is seen more particularly in that He disciplines them (see Heb. 12:3-13). 

How did we get to this place in the church, and what are we to do? The secular saint is the norm today and not the exception. Believers are sounding much like the “world”, reflecting its standards (see 1 John 2:15-17 for the apostles classic warning about the world—the secular).

Much of the blame for the current secularization of the church lies squarely at the feet of church leaders, especially those who are required by Christ to feed His sheep with the nourishing Word of God. The trend started in the 1970s but is full blown today. Bible doctrine and God’s standards are not really taught in most churches. Gone from most pulpits is expositional teaching of the Bible (just declaring in context what the Scriptures are saying). Being in the ministry myself, I have seen many too many men who simply do not feed their sheep. What passes for a biblical sermon is often not much more than religious entertainment.

  Many, in an attempt to help the unsaved person feel unthreatened and “at home” in the church, have backed off of declaring the whole teaching of the Scriptures. Gone are sermons on the tough sayings of Jesus, on hell and coming judgment, on the sanctity of God-ordained matters like life and marriage and many other “controversial” topics. Jan Markell noted in a recent article on “What Happened to My Church?” that “It seems like an ‘eleventh commandment’ came into the church: thou shalt not offend. Taking a stand was clearly over.” 

The result of “sermon lite” (tastes great, less filling) is that the saints suffer a terrible of lack of scriptural knowledge and spiritual discernment. Biblical illiteracy is rampant. They do not really know the character of God and they do not understand His standards. They apparently assume that God is an American; and He is not. Like a good parent, God’s love does not waver, but His favor does.

There is great blame to be given to the church, but each and every believer must personally obey Christ and daily have the wonderful experience of abiding in Jesus. Otherwise, being ungodly as well as unrighteous will always be the result. A believer cannot blame Pastor Jones entirely, for each of us is to be “abiding in Christ.” Am I ungodly (secular)? Are you ungodly (secular)? This is not a trivial question, but goes to the very core of our lives as believers.

God Friended Me

You may recognize this title from some previews of an upcoming show on TV.  The idea is clever and CBS has included it among their Fall shows to be broadcast in September. The basic idea is that a young man, Miles Finer, a self-proclaimed and somewhat aggressive atheist, receives a “friend” request on his Facebook account from none other than God. (The act of “friending” is when someone is invited to exchange messages with the one doing the inviting, and allowing that person to see one’s personal information).  Miles initially thinks that this is a hoax and someone is just fooling around with him, seeing that he is an atheist. But Miles’ “God account” will keep directing him to others who then enter his life with the result that Miles becomes an agent for some good changes in the lives of others. There is something to this, Miles concludes.

CBS says that this show is intended to be a “humorous, uplifting drama” which will show the good that is in people.  It is to be a show that is inspiring and encouraging to those who view it. Now, the producers of the show are clear that there is nothing supernatural about the episodes (unlike “Touched by an Angel”, or “Highway to Heaven”). The philosophy behind the show is that we are all in this life together and there really are a lot of good people out there.  Apparently, the big question of “did God really contact Miles’ Facebook account” may take some time to answer (if it ever is revealed). It probably depends if this idea has enough steam to keep it going for months or even years. But CBS has high hopes that this clever idea will morph into a hit show.

As I hear the promotions for this show, I have a number of responses.  First, I do like the idea of a show that is positive and uplifting. It sure beats so much that is aired on TV that focuses on murder, betrayal, deception, immorality and a nasty assortment of other bad behaviors. The show will focus on the good that is in people, and there is often good to be seen in people (they are, after all, created in the “image of God”).  It might be nice to have a program that emphasizes good deeds and kindnesses of various kinds.

Second, while the idea is clever, it is not original.  Whether online or offline, God has been inviting people to be His friend for millennia. Abraham took Him up on it and became one. To become a friend of God, Abraham believed in the true God and then lived in fellowship with Him (James 2:23; 2 Chronicles 20:7). Moses was God’s friend and they spoke to one another as friends do (Exodus 33:11). Jesus called His apostles “friends” (John 15:14-15). Over time the apostles had come to believe in Him and to obey His commandments with the result that they had a wonderful, close relationship. The invitation by the sovereign creator of the universe to come and be friends is open to all. The friendship that is spoken about in the scriptures comes about when we personally respond to His invitation. We trust Him for our eternal salvation and then we listen to Him and obey His directives. But, when we pause to think about it for just a moment, it truly is an awesome thing that the almighty One would bother issuing such an invitation; and then, to follow up on the invitation and make it a reality. Through His Word, God daily is “friending” people. The issue, as always, is will they respond or put the invitation on hold.

A third response is a little predictive. The storyline points to views of God, in this upcoming series, that will reflect the growing, general view of God in our culture. We have talked before about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (see a previous blog).  Fundamentally, MTD says that God is nice and He wants us to be nice too.  He doesn’t get upset about such antiquated ideas as “sin” and certainly is so loving that the idea of judging people apparently never enters His mind. He is there to give us a helping hand (so that we will be happy and fulfilled) if we want Him to, but He won’t interfere in our lives, much less make some demands on our time or behaviors. But He would like us to be nice and helpful to others. And who can be against being nice and good?

While I don’t know for sure, at this point, how God is going to be portrayed, we can be pretty sure that He will likely bear little resemblance to the God whose attributes and character are detailed in the Bible. And we can be very sure that the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ will be totally absent; claims that Jesus is the one and only way to God; that He alone is truth; and that life only comes through Him. As the Apostle Paul reminds us (2 Cor. 4:4), it is the truth about Christ that the Enemy labors at keeping from people, and characteristically this has been done through religion. In the CBS story, Miles’ father is a preacher, and so, we might get some general religious information through him, but we can be sure that the real truth about Jesus Christ will never surface.

So while the various episodes might have some “uplifting” elements to them, we need to be careful not to be drawn even a little bit towards the growing cultural view of God. A proper view of God produces a deep reverence for Him and this is at the very core of being a friend of God and Christ.

Is God Careless or Indulgent?

It can be a fascinating spectacle to observe a parent dealing with a misbehaving child. Sometimes the parent will make a clear declaration on what must or must not be done, but the child seems not to pay attention and continues doing what he or she wants.  The parental threat (and there can be many of those) is not followed up on, and the child continues on the same behavioral path. Parental standards have been successfully challenge by the child. When the encounter draws to a close, it seems that the parent might be frustrated but apparently not too upset about their own rules and standards being violated. And surely the child has developed the view that the parent is not all that serious about these matters; either because the parent is too indulgent or “loving”; or that the parent is too distracted to really deal with the situation; or maybe that the parent lacks the energy to enforce the rules. 

This same thing has been a problem with God.  He has set down many clear standards of behavior in the “Ten Commandments”, and an untold number of other places.  But many of His “children” don’t seem to pay attention and He doesn’t appear to do much about it.  As a result, the misbehaving person arrives at the erroneous conclusion that God is careless about righteousness and justice. He seems sort of indulgent and, frankly, really doesn’t take His own standards seriously. Their view of God and His standards becomes so badly distorted that they (in the words of the prophet Isaiah) “call evil good, and good evil; and substitute darkness for light and light for darkness…” Another prophet Malachi, looking at the people of his day, noted that these were saying “everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,” and “where is the God of justice?” Today, God indeed seems to be so very tolerant and to fit nicely into tolerant America!

The folks that the ancient prophets were talking about look a lot like many in our culture today. In fact, in our nation, people with these attitudes appear to be everywhere. What God has said doesn’t seem to really matter to them. God has spoken clearly about the sanctity of human life; about the sacredness of marriage; about the clear guidelines for morality and immorality; about the necessity of avoiding lying and deception; about being absolutely fair in business dealings; about being diligent in one’s work; about avoiding using His name in a vain way; about being kind to others; and etc. etc.  And with these commands and precepts, God states that these things cannot be violated with impunity.  And this, of course, is the problem.  These are being violated regularly by many, and God seems not to be paying attention; or worse, He sees it all and indulgently does nothing about it.  Thus, we see this viewpoint developing today as it did with the people of Isaiah and Malachi. But that viewpoint is badly mistaken, failing to observe two major points.

First, judgment delayed is not judgment denied. King Solomon ends his powerful and relevant book of Ecclesiastes by declaring that “God will bring every act to judgment, everything that is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”  When the people of Malachi’s day asked “where is the God of justice”, he immediately responded by stating that He is coming and it could be at any moment, and when He does come no one can handle that day of His judgment.  Even the most arrogant amongst us will find that they cannot stand before Him. Malachi gets specific and states that those who violated God’s standard of morality/immorality; those who deceived; those whose business practices were unfair; those who fraternized with the occult world; and those who did not reverence Him would be severely judged.  So, first God does take His commands and standards very seriously with the result that all in His creation will give an account for the way they have responded to His revealed standards.

But secondly, those who think God has become somewhat careless about enforcing His righteous standards usually fail to understand an essential aspect of God’s nature.  He explained to Moses, on Mt. Sinai (Exo. 34), that He Himself was slow to anger, exceedingly gracious and very compassionate towards the frailty of men. God usually does not judge men immediately (though He has sometimes), but rather works with them through His Word, through the conscience of people and through godly people. So when people seem to thumb their noses at God and get away with all sorts of evil, it is because, the One who loves to save, is using time to reach them in order to bring them to Himself.  However, as God explained to Moses, if a person will not respond and stop their transgressions, then I “will by no means leave the guilty unpunished”.  So, it would seem, that the time is now to take corrective action to insure a good time when that certain day of judgment arrives.

On Being Religious

The sheer number of religious expressions and ideas in our culture today is truly impressive. Our culture, if nothing else, has an unending variety to choose from as far as what one might believe in.

People seem incurably religious. And, in spite of philosophies like Marxism and worldviews like many forms of evolution, people remain religious. It is just not easy being atheistic. There is indeed that “God shaped vacuum” in the heart of each person. People do want to believe in something, and so they do.

It makes no difference at all what one’s spiritual appetite or preference might be. You could pursue one of the major world religions (each with an impressive number of sub-views) or perhaps one of the “new age” gods (who immigrated from the east) or even one of their spirit cousins who live in the Amazon basin.  Or, if all else fails, you could do what many have done and that is to construct your own eclectic god (which seems to be a current favorite). The point is that we can “have it our way” when it comes to religion.

But candidly, the sad reality is that religion, at best, is a temporary panacea for the human soul. I normally would not knowingly agree with Karl Marx.  But he did famously state that religion is nothing more than a drug that is bad for people.  And with that, I would fundamentally agree.  I told one of my granddaughters a few days ago that the worst thing one of the grandkids could say about me is “grandpa is very religious”.  I am not (as the term is commonly used).

Religion speaks of us folks trying to get right with God through a variety of means, or trying to make Him happy and accepting of us. This is what religions attempt to do…provide the needed highway to arrive at a good place. I am not religious, but I am righteous.  Now understand, this is not some attempt to be clever with words, but it is a 180 degree difference in perspective regarding a person’s relationship with the great Creator Savior.  I am righteous because I was given the only kind of righteousness that God accepts.  This righteousness is a gift given when a person places their trust in Jesus Christ, the God-man who died and rose bodily from the grave. (Note the key elements of faith in Jesus as it is found in John 20:30-31). Religion cannot and will not produce righteousness.

As a result, I don’t try and win God’s favor and love, since He already loves me and cares about me.  I do work at obeying Him (not in order to persuade Him to like me), But I want to obey Him because I am so incredibly grateful for what He has done (in giving me eternal life), is doing (in giving me a guilt free meaningful life here and now) and will do (in giving me a guaranteed entrance into His eternal kingdom). Religion tries hard to do all these things but cannot produce any of them. Religions give techniques, specific works and rules to assist an individual in achieving nirvana, reincarnation, heaven or whatever and to avoid some bad stuff. 

But the great question for each is, “am I religious or righteous?”  There really is a big difference. Righteousness comes only through Jesus Christ. He Himself said that “no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  He also said, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. His claims dismiss all religions. There is no middle ground regarding Jesus. He is who He said He is, and He does what He says He does, or He is certifiably insane. I have made my decision on this matter.

That Critical Two-World View

“You are so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good!”  That used to be a common come-back to religious type folks from non-religious type folks.  Aside from the fact that no such person really exists (ones who are too heavenly minded), it is not something anyone really wants to be like anyway. After all, who wants to be fundamentally useless in this life. But the people who live the very best in this present culture are those who look carefully at this world we live in while keeping an eye towards heaven, where the Savior is going to come from (Philippians 3:20-21). This is the perspective of the best of the best.  It keeps life and the issues of life in the proper perspective.

And this brings me to the ongoing debates and hostilities that are spreading like the proverbial wild fire in our country. There is seemingly no end to the issues: a Supreme Court appointee, illegal immigrants, upcoming elections, and, of course everyone’s favorite, Vladimir Putin. In all of these matters and others, we as believers in Jesus Christ we have something to offer our culture; something that brings what is the very best to mankind.  It is not that we are amazingly brilliant or smarter than the average bear, it is because the Creator God gave the rulebook and game plan for life. And He has made it possible for people to live (as Jesus phrased it), an abundant life by following what He had said. This is not a denominational or religious thing but a humankind thing. Because of this, believers are to engage the culture we live in and contribute as best we can.

The truth is, however, that we look ahead for something far superior to anything being proposed in Washington DC or expounded on any university campus.  We look ahead to the coming of King Jesus who, as a benevolent dictator, will bring in the epitome of full and abundant living.  He will bring in peace between men and nations as well as peace with the Lord Himself.  There will be significant prosperity for all; in the language of the Bible, every person will sit under their own vine and fig tree (we may not be into vines and fig trees but the point is that life is going to be very enjoyable and prosperous). Living will be characterized by full joy and there will be an enhanced knowledge that all will possess. The characteristics of the reign and the magnificence of King Jesus rule over all the earth are simply amazing. 

But coming back to the present situation which is not so amazing.  The reality is that man’s governments will never be able to accomplish what the rule of King Jesus will accomplish.  The democratic republic that we have in America has its flaws to be sure.  But the concepts found in this form of government have some roots back in the Scriptures.  For example, the Founding Fathers clearly knew Deuteronomy 17 and its principles can be observed in dozens of places in America’s founding documents.  Those Millennials today, and others as well, who imagine that Marxism (or whatever name one might want to use) is the way to go, seem unaware that it has never worked at any time or in any place.  So many of the ideas found in this form of government violate so many of the rules that the Creator put into place.

So as believers intelligently dialogue (without screaming and being uncivil) with others, we do have valuable contributions to make.  But the believer must also keep intact a two-world view: living well in this world while keeping an eye on the world to come.  Our ultimate hope is not in the direction that Washington DC heads towards, but in the One who will come back to this planet and will establish the long awaited, and oft prophesied, rule over all the earth (Psalm 2). Keep your focus.   

America the Beautiful or America the Insane?

Across all the political spectrum, there is a growing sense that this is no longer grandpa’s America.  The right wing, left wing and all points in between, are suggesting that presently there is a national insanity and it seems to be growing.  And these varied voices just might be right.  Consider some recent events.

A man threatens to kill the three young children of a congressman who is held responsible for the (alleged) separation of children from parents among those who have entered the country illegally.  The White House press secretary is forcefully asked to leave a restaurant at the start of the meal because the restaurant staff is traumatized by the presence of someone who works for Donald Trump.  A retired US soldier says that if there is an attempt to remove Donald Trump from the presidency, this will result in armed violence and bloodshed.  Target, in spite of declining sales, promotes enthusiastically its “gay pride” month with all kinds of “gay pride” merchandise for adults and children.  The long respected FBI and DOJ are under congressional scrutiny for dishonesty of all kinds.  Many NFL players have so politicized football that it seems less of a game and more of a social protest platform.  Universities where free speech was once a hallmark, now classify some free speech as not acceptable. Politicians openly suggest that active revolution is acceptable even if it includes violating established laws. (Note: Newton’s law of physics states that “for every action taken, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This statement is about physics but can surely apply to our national life.)  Reactions to actions and statements are happening and it is likely that more severe ones are to come.

The list of illustrations is endless. But one more.  Laura Ingalls Wilder who influenced generations of kids with her stories has had her name removed from a literary award that once bore her name.  This was done by the Association for Library Services to Children.  The ALSC did this because Wilder’s books were at odds with the “core values” of the ALSC.  And this is what is particularly fascinating about all of the above mentioned illustrations.  All justify their pronouncements and positions by using such terms as “core values”, “higher standards”, “integrity”, “moral grounds”, “certain standards”, “commitment to community”, “injustice/justice” or “upholding our morals.”  There is clearly some sort of moral guidelines that are being appealed to, though rarely is the source of those standards clearly set forth. Most likely, the “core values” really just reflect the current moral trends of the culture, which will be different (not necessarily better) a few years from now.  But these “core values” seem to moving America into a moral insanity while solving nothing.

Let’s bring in Jesus for just a moment and observe a claim He made about Himself in the last book of the Bible (Revelation 3:14). He said that He was “the Amen” and “the true witness”.  This is the only place in the Bible where “the Amen” is used of Jesus.  The title means that Jesus speaks that which is true and unchangeable, and that what He says will surely take place.  Jesus is also identified as “the true witness” (Greek word is martyr) which is a term that is used of Him in the New Testament (e.g. John 3:11, 32-33), and which communicates the trustworthiness of His witness to truth. He will never misrepresent the truth, either by exaggeration or by leaving out vital points.  He will never speak to be “politically/religiously correct”.  So these titles of Jesus communicate the critical point that when He speaks, He speaks absolute moral truth that never changes.

So while people and organizations can sound quite righteous by the words they use to establish their points and positions, the reality is that there is really just one absolute standard for mankind’s “core values”, “morals” and “standards.”  The ones given by the great Amen, the Faithful Witness, Jesus Christ. But when individuals, nations and other kinds of groups chose to set aside (or ignore) those standards as revealed in the Scriptures, there is precious little to rely on but the shifting sands of cultural whims. This was Jesus’ point when He concluded His “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 7:24-27). There He illustrated what we have been talking about.  He spoke of the foolish man who built his house on sand. But in contrast, the wise man built his house on the solid rock (in context, the teachings of Jesus). At first those two houses probably looked the same, and it seemed to make no difference what they were built on. Life went on. But, a storm came. When the storm hit, the house on the rock might have lost a shingle or two, but the other house collapsed. America is starting to choose the sand for its foundation…and that does not end well.  2 Chronicles 7:14 states: 

“(if) My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sins, and will heal their land.”

This verse is given to Israel who was in a covenant relationship with God. It was not given to America.  However, embedded in this verse are universal truths which can be applied by America and would result in great good for America.

What is needed in America are men and women (and pastors) who courageously declare by life and by word, what the Amen and True Witness has declared. This is not the time for timidity. Individuals, like you and me, might not see themselves as having any power to effect change, but the Almighty, Omnipotent One historically has delighted in using powerless nobodies to effect great change.