Monday, October 31, 2016


Much of Western Europe seems to be walking the tightrope between civil war and accommodation to the demands of Islam. Now that Islam’s militant agenda is becoming increasingly clear, will the West find the moral courage and conviction to take a costly stand?

The USA is facing an unprecedented and acrimonious election characterized by allegations of fraud and threats of possible violence. We desperately want the anger, fear, and uncertainty to pass, but no simple reconciliation is in sight. Instead, whatever the outcome of the election, it seems that our foundations are crumbling.

Where then must the Christian stand, and what principles must serve as our foundation? These are questions to which I continue to return. Here are biblical boulders upon which we must plant our feet:

OUR GOD REIGNS: Psalm 46:1-2, 10-11 (ESV)  God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea…“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

NO ONE CAN HURT US WITHOUT HIS PERMISSION: Psalm 91:7-10  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—no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.

NEVERTHELESS, WE MIGHT HAVE TO FACE MARTYRDOM: John 16:2  They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.

EVEN IF WE ARE MARTYRED, WE ARE BLESSED: 2 Corinthians 5:1  For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

WE HAVE AN ETERNAL KINGDOM AWAITING US: John 14:1-3  “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

WE MUST NOT FEAR OR HATE OUR ENEMIES: Philippians 1:27-29  Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,

WE MUST EVEN LOVE OUR ENEMIES: Romans 12:14, 17-19  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

BUT INSTEAD, MAKE USE OF THE GOVERNMENT, AN INSTRUMENT OF GOD’S VENGEANCE/WRATH: Romans 13:3-5  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

OUR ENEMY IS NOT OUR PRIMARY ENEMY: Ephesians 6:12  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

NEVERTHELESS, THEY ARE STILL GUILTY BEFORE GOD, SINCE THEY WILLINGLY REJECTED THE LIGHT IN FAVOR OF THE DARKNESS:  John 3:18-20 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.

NEVERTHELESS, WE MUST SHOW THEM COMPASSION, SINCE WE WOULD HAVE BEEN NO BETTER THAN THEY, HAD WE NOT BEEN GIVEN CHRIST’S GIFT: 1 Corinthians 1:28-31  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

I have found nothing as liberating as knowing these truths. I need to know that I am eternally and incredibly rich in Him(1 Cor. 3:20-22; Rom. 8:17), and that I have been privileged to love my enemies. As soon as I clothe myself with these truths, I feel unburdened by fears and angers. I am serving my Savior, and that’s all that seems to matter.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about the threats encircling us. However, we must address them in ways that honor our Lord. Lift your voice, expose evil (Eph. 5:11), vote, champion justice, and be the light of the world, but in the confidence and equipping of our Lord.

Friday, October 28, 2016


Henry David Thoreau celebrated nature. For him, the woods were “temples not made with hands.” How? Because nature was the place of Communion, the place to learn about oneself and to grow!

In contrast, according to Stephen Mitchell, Thoreau believed that:

·       Civilization trains them up to seek power and security through ownership, fostering fake and artificial appetites rather than teaching them to see and accept the riches that nature provides…[quoting Thoreau:] “Society is always diseased and the best is most so. There is no scent in it so wholesome as that of pines, nor any fragrance so penetrating and restorative as the life-everlasting in high pastures.” (Christian Research Journal, Vol.39/Number 05, 37)

What corrective role does nature play? Mitchell writes:

·       Nature, then, offers wisdom as an antidote for civilized foolishness, cleansing humans from society’s moral toxins. “For at the same time that we exclude mankind from gathering berries in our field, we exclude them from gathering health and happiness and inspiration, and a hundred other far finer and nobler fruit.” (37)

How does nature cleanse us “from society’s moral toxins?” It helps us to discover the law of our inner being, “an instinct toward a higher, or as it is named, a spiritual life.” As Mitchell puts it, it is a “life that requires self-discipline rather than social discipline”:

·       For Thoreau, he who does not hear his inner voice cannot know the law of his own being. Consequently, he will be dominated by his society. So dominated, he will make choices that circumscribe his humanity, preventing the full development of his spiritual life. (36)

It is in nature that we come to hear our inner voice, which enables us to gather “berries in our field.”

Certainly, knowing the “inner voice” – having self-knowledge – is critical, and the woods gives us an opportunity for self-reflection. This is important. Whatever we manage well we must first know well. This is true of every aspect of our lives – managing our house, clothing, car, business, relationships, and even our own lives.

However, it doesn’t seem that time for reflection in the woods is enough to produce self- knowledge. Why not? Because we have an aversion to self-knowledge! In fact, we run from it. In other words, we lack self-knowledge because we reject it. We would rather feel good about ourselves than to think correctly about ourselves.

Consequently, we live in darkness. I know that this is hard to believe; so I want to provide some evidences:

1.    We seek a psychotherapist, not to learn about ourselves, but to feel better about ourselves. Therefore, the therapist, wanting to attract customers, does not advertise, “Come to me and learn the truth about yourself.” Instead, she will advertise, “I will reduce your unwanted symptomology.”

2.    Instead, we tend to leave the psychotherapist who confronts us rather than affirms us.

3.    When we get into an altercation, it is always the other guys fault. This is because we cannot tolerate being wrong or at fault.

4.    Instead of seeking wise correction so that we can better ourselves, we flee from it.

5.    We surround ourselves with yes-men and people who compliment us.

6.    We wear a façade and try to impress others. Many will admit that they can no longer discern façade from fact.

7.    We clothe ourselves with symbols of success.

8.    Many psychological surveys affirm that we have inflated opinions of ourselves. In fact, psychologists claim that an inflated self-esteem is so pervasive that it is regarded as “normal,” suggesting that we are unable to tolerate an accurate self-estimation.

I know this very intimately and paid a tremendously high price for my inflated self-estimation, fed by a constant stream of positive affirmations. They became a drug, and I needed a continuous supply to stay afloat. However, when reality clashed with my affirmations, I crashed. This would occur with each failure. I would then run to the psychologist to build me up again on more positive affirmations.

If we are unable to see ourselves, it means our lens is so darkened that we cannot see and understand others. We are out-of-touch. An unwillingness to see and accept myself, with all my warts, made it impossible to connect meaningfully and honestly with others.

I needed more than a few walks in the woods or even a steady diet of trees. I needed the light to shine upon me, the light I had always resisted. Without this light we walk in darkness and trip on every tree-root that crosses our path.

My dilemma was the one painted by Jesus:

·       And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:19-20; ESV)

I couldn’t tolerate the exposure of either my deeds or my identity. It was only through the loving reassurances of Jesus’ acceptance of me that I could begin to tolerate the light and accept myself.

I enjoy nature, but I no longer expect more than what it is able to give. It cannot rescue me, but it can point joyously to its Creator.


The co-ideas of karma and reincarnation have become fantastically popular in the West. Theologian Douglas Groothuis wrote that:

·       About a quarter of Americans now believe in reincarnation and karma. (Christian Research Journal, Vol 39/Number 04, 28)

How do we account for their growing popularity? Groothuis cites two factors: Hope in life after death and a mechanism that guarantees cosmic justice.

Groothuis also cites logic problems associated with karma/reincarnation. For one thing, karma lacks the ability to justly and wisely weigh all of the evidence:

·       Since Hinduism and Buddhism lack belief in a creator and designer who run the universe, they cannot appeal to such a being to know and evaluate morality and assess the proper rewards and punishments for the next life….Karma requires moral knowledge and moral evaluation in order to ensure that an entity is placed properly in its next life. (30)

However, since karma is impersonal it is incapable of “moral knowledge and moral evaluation.” Justice requires wisdom, and karma is unable to deliver.

Karma also lacks the muscle to administer its just rewards. Groothuis writes that:

·       Such administration requires a vastly powerful agent to bring about these moral results. (22)

Perhaps even more problematic to the notion of reincarnation is that Hinduism and Buddhism do not acknowledge the existence of individual souls, which can be reincarnated. Hinduism, for example, maintains that:

·       To consider oneself as distinct from another self or from the Brahman [universal consciousness or being] is to be deceived, to be bewitched by maya (or illusion). The only reality is Brahman, which has no qualities at all… If all is one and if duality is an illusion, then there are no particular selves that are different from other selves or from Brahman. If so, then there is no material available to be reincarnated. (30)

Groothuis insists that Buddhism also rejects that idea of individual enduring souls:

·       Buddhism teaches that humans are aggregations of changing parts and, thus, they have no enduring soul… necessary to establish continuity between one lifetime and another one so that karma has something on which to attach. (31)

In view of these logical problems, it is disappointing that the West has largely rejected the Source of a real Hope and Justice – a God who is able to provide them, a God who has made salvation immediately available to any who call upon Him:

·       “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Why is His yoke easy? There are many reasons for this: He knows us personally and gives us just what we need; He never leaves us; He loves of so much that He has died to take away our sins and to reconcile us to Himself.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


In the official Watchtower publication, Should You Believe in the Trinity, Jehovah’s Witnesses proclaim that:

·       Jesus had an existence in heaven before coming to the earth…the Bible plainly states that in his pre-human existence, Jesus was a created spirit being, just as the angels were spirit beings created by God.

Nevertheless, they believe that Jesus died for our sins and that we have to place our trust in Him. In light of this, is His deity worth fighting over? Doesn’t doctrine divide and create acrimony? Isn’t it enough to believe that Jesus was, at least, a form of deity?

Hopefully, without any acrimony, I’d like to try to explain why this is such a critical doctrine, one that profoundly impacts our lives.

For one thing, God requires that we know, love and worship Him as He truly is. Jesus claimed that this knowledge was essential:

·       “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins." (John 8:24)

According to Jesus, faith and salvation were a matter of believing what He taught about Himself. In contrast, many today believe that a relationship with God isn’t about believing a set of teachings or doctrines about God, but rather about experiencing Him. Oprah asserted this very thing:

·       “God is about a feeling experience, not a believing experience…A mistake we humans make is believing that there is only one way…There are many paths to what you call God…There couldn’t possibly be just one way…Do you think that if you never heard the name of Jesus but lived with a loving heart…you wouldn’t get to heaven?...Does God care about the heart or if you call His Son ‘Jesus?’”

According to Oprah, a relationship with God is a matter of both experience and the quality of our heart. However, we all fail the heart test:

·       As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

This is why salvation must be by grace and not by our merit or the quality of our heart. Otherwise, we’d our “spiritual superiority” would go to our heads and make us utterly contemptible (Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 1:26-29)

Understanding God correctly is not optional. God had been angry at Job’s three friends because they failed to understand and speak rightly of Him:

·       After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. (Job 42:7)

Jesus reaffirmed the fact that we have to approach God bearing a correct understanding. He contrasted a true understanding with the understanding of the Samaritans:

·       “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the [revelation to the] Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:22-24)

Perhaps we can best understand this connection between truth and worship/relationship if we examine our own relationships. We tend to value those friends who appreciate us for who we really are, rather than people who might appreciate us but for the wrong reasons.

Correct theology really matters. This is why Paul was so intolerant of false gospels:

·       But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)

The importance of what we belief is inscribed throughout Scripture:

·       Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

If we are to boast about anyone, we should boast about what is of supreme importance – that we know and understand God. Why is God so insistent about truth and correct knowledge? It sounds so arbitrary that God would save us according to faith (including correct beliefs) rather than according to the quality of our lives.

It sounds this way because we fail to see the connection between the new heart and spirit which God grants us and the knowledge (faith) that arises once our heart is regenerated.

Knowing of Christ’s Deity also endears us to our Triune God. Scripture reveals that the cross was a monumental demonstration of God’s love for us:

·       God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10)

I desperately needed to be convinced of God’s love for me. I had experienced decades of the severest depression and then panic attacks, even into my Christian life. It often felt that God was a cosmic sadist, eating popcorn as He delighted in the freak-show He was observing below.

Even though I wanted to believe otherwise, my feelings allowed no other interpretation. One night as I walked with head to the ground, crying my eyes out, I suddenly realized that this wasn’t a freak-show, and that Christ suffered on the cross for me and even suffered for me now (Heb. 4:15).

However, how could the cross demonstrate God’s love for me? God could have created 50,000 Christs in one second, at absolutely no cost to Himself. However, if Jesus is God and not a created being, this was totally another matter. God actually loved me so much that He Himself died for me! He didn’t send a mere created being to take my place, which would have cost Him nothing. Instead, it was God Himself who had suffered and died for me. This truth alone was able to penetrate my depression with His embrace.

Jehovah’s Witnesses isn’t the only group that obscures the truth of Christ’s Triunity and His love for us. The modalists do the same thing but in a different way. For instance, the United Pentecostal Church claims that Jesus was no more than an appearance of deity, a manifestation – smoke and mirrors. Consequently, God didn’t die for us but rather an appearance of God “died” – hardly a token of God’s love.

I continue to find other evidences of this “big bang” of self-sacrifice that has changed this world. Jesus talked often of His coming moment of glory. How could anyone imagine that this moment would entail His time of pain and humiliation?

·       Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:23-24; 7:39; 13:31)

What love! He so desperately longed to show us His glory, and we thought that this had been fulfilled on the Mount of Transfiguration. However, He was pointing to something even more glorious - His torture and His death, the spit and the naked humiliation – the greatest tokens of His love.

It also served as an example for us of what our own self-sacrifice should look like. (Lord, help us!) Paul argues that if Jesus, God Himself, had humbled Himself to die on the cross, so should we do likewise for others (Phil. 2:3-8).

However, if Jesus isn’t God but rather a created, non-priceless being who was created for the very purpose of dying, this fails to both demonstrate God’s love and glory. It also fails to impress us into self-sacrificial living.

Furthermore, the death of a mere created being fails to humble us by showing us the depths of our sins. In fact, they were so weighty that the blood of animals couldn’t begin to atone for them:

·       Because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, 'Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll--I have come to do your will, O God.' " (Hebrews 10:4-7 quoting Psalm 40)

If our sins could have been atoned for in a less costly way, our Savior would have done it that way. However, nothing short of the death of the Savior would suffice! This humbles us more profoundly than would the crucifixion of a created being.

It also gives us great confidence. It demonstrates to us that if God loved us so much while we were still His enemies, how much more will He keep and protect us now that He has already paid the price and has converted us into a band of friends and worshippers (Romans 5:8-10).

Even beyond this, the cross of Christ our God communicates that we are rich beyond reckoning. Paul argued that if we have Christ, we have everything. Why? Because in Christ is everything – all Deity (Col. 2:9-10). Before making this life-altering assertion, Paul set forth the Deity of Christ – “the image of the invisible God…by Him all things were created…and hold together…all [God’s] fullness dwells in Him” (Col. 1:13-21). Therefore, we really do have everything, along with the assurance that we are co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).

Because of these surpassing riches, we should never be tempted to think that we lack anything. We need to know that we are safe and beloved as we venture forth every morning into the discouragements of this life. The fact that God Himself died for us while we were still sinners can give us this assurance, especially as we drink deeply from the truth of our own unworthiness (Luke 17:10).

Theology – the truths of God – deeply matter. They also transform.