Do you ever think about the subject? Heaven, that is. I’m not just talking about the times when we wind up sitting in solemnity at the funeral of a loved one. If this whole God thing is true, then I wonder if the high hope of Heaven is something to be paid attention to a bit more. There are divine moments when Heaven comes to mind, such as when I’m reading C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien or watching one of their great masterpieces on film. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and The Lord of the Rings totally set the stage for another realm beyond what we can touch today.
Heaven comes to mind when I’m scanning the dial on a road trip, and something like U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” comes on. I’m again reminded that I’m part of something so much bigger than the here and now. Sometimes, Heaven comes out of my plea for God to make things right. I see the evil and rebellion in the world, and my heart cries out for justice. Then, I know that justice will come someday. (more…)
That is the question of the hour, the day, and the reality of our present culture. Established contracts are killed, marriages are mutilated, and churches are crucified by the question of what I am going to get out of something, even at the expense of others. When I was a junior in High School, Janet Jackson quarreled with the question, “What have you done for me lately” and in a Presidential Town Hall debate, a college-aged woman rose to ask the then-candidate, George W Bush, what he would do for her if he were elected.
Suppose I were on stage that night and had been asked that question. In that case, I’d probably have responded with something along the lines of, “Well, I’m going to challenge you to take hold of every opportunity you have as an American citizen and get up and do something great.” I would have followed the call of JFK, who broadcasted in his Inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country.”
That is what I would have said if I were on stage running for the Presidential gig that day. But honestly, who am I kidding? (more…)
As I stink at football, I don’t have many temptations to be an armchair quarterback. But sometimes, with self-assurance, I read the Bible and say, “I’d never do that.” When you think about it, the scriptures are full of examples of people doing dumb things and making horrible choices. Sometimes it’s a lack of knowledge or simple rebellion. Others stumble because of weak faith in the face of tremendous pressure to reject God’s plan.
The other day I was thinking about Jeroboam, the first king of divided Israel after God split it away from Judah, which Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, ruled. The inner cause of the kingdom’s breakup was the sin of Solomon in his later days of rule. So as God elevated Jeroboam to lead the northern kingdom of Israel, He made it clear that He would build an enduring dynasty for Jeroboam if he trusted and followed God.
Sounds excellent and straightforward. The problem arose when the king feared potential political ruin and attempted to fix things with his fleshly wisdom and strategy instead of trusting God.
The chronicler tells us that Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam, king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.” After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:26-28). Rehoboam knew the promise of God, but when the pressure was on, he thought he could do a better job.
I want to think I would have acted differently than Jeroboam, that I would have trusted God and remained faithful. But I’m not so sure. The truth is that while I am often clear on God’s promises and the reality of His kingdom and will, my flesh sometimes panics under worldly pressure. Therefore, I must remind myself and listen to the reminding of others of what is true about God and his promises. If Jesus is preeminent above everything and his eternal kingdom, though not completely fulfilled yet, is expanding today, then I ought to be able to trust him and live differently than the world around me.
Instead of “thinking to myself” about ways to control and fix life, I will live in hopeful trust and obedience. Trust and faith affect how I deal with money, work, and relationships. Faith and trust will govern my emotions when doubt closes in on my soul like a San Francisco fog. By conviction and obedience, I will stand steadfast with hope, knowing that God is in control even if I can’t see it.
We can learn from Jeroboam, and I hope we will. We can encourage each other in our walk. We must encourage each other in the fight. We can get back up, repent, press into His grace, and then go forward when we doubt and fall.
Yes, if Jesus is preeminent and his promises are true, if this is so, then we can, and we must live differently. We must live as though this is all so. Though this may force us to make decisions that seem odd to the world around us, the life of trust will pay off, and God always keeps his word, even if not on our timetable.
So be encouraged, my friend; God is trustworthy. It is so!
Evangelical, Evangelist, and Evangelism. They are words with mixed emotions today, yet they may be precisely what the world needs at their root meaning. In its worst usage, the term evangelical is often hurled by the political left to depict a category of white males with a Christian background who voted for President Trump. Of interest, though, one Gallup study found that 61% of Non-Hispanic Blacks identified as Evangelical compared to only 38% of Non-Hispanic Whites. So an honest consideration of these terms must press further down than surface political rhetoric.
But even within professed general Christian subgroups, there appears to be debate over the help or hindrance of evangelicals. In one recent high profile podcast, the host rightly pointed out the problems with some specific individuals wearing the name evangelical. However, he was slow, even avoidant at times, to shine the light on the glory of these ancient terms. It seemed that he was not only cautious toward the title in question but also conveyed the idea that those who walked with evangelism as a priority in their lives were somehow less enlightened than more advanced thinking Christians. On a personal note, a few months ago, I was criticized by someone in this progressive camp as being a mere evangelical because I was not cheering for his chosen social issue of the day. Because I refused to jump on his societal bandwagon, I was labeled among the problems of America and the world today. For him, my prioritizing evangelical above social was a profound problem.
But maybe without straying too much, it would seem logical to step back and calmly research academically what these terms mean instead of allowing the latest social talking head to define them. In short and at root, the terms combine two Greek words conveying the idea of good news. Thus, an evangelical believes and stands on this good news. An evangelist is someone who announces this good news, and evangelism is the act of announcing that good news.
Religion brings a burden. Jesus and his work bring hope. This hope is precisely what all these words convey. On a very primordial level, all of our issues are connected to a brokenness in our hearts, our lives. The answer to that is somehow found in God and not us. The answer is found in the good news of what God did for our hearts in Jesus Christ. The hope is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which brings forgiveness and healing for our sins. The good news is that we can be healed from the brokenness of sin. Then, the picture gets better. Because I can have peace with God and myself, I can also have peace with the world around me. Is that not what we are looking for?
In one of the earliest occasions of this word, the Apostle Paul noted that he was not “not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Here, the gospel is simply the English compound of the two Greek words depicting Good News or (Yuanghelidzo) – or Evangelism. The power of that statement is seen in the mysterious reality that somehow, the Jews and Gentiles of the first century were united and found peace with God and among themselves.
Their peace came not from politics, more excellent education, more money, or social enlightenment. Instead, the change in their heart came because of the transformative power of Jesus Christ. That was the good news, the gospel, the evangelism. That is what changed them and can change the human heart today.
So, yes, I am an evangelical and hope you will be one someday yourself.
How has this word touched your life?
This is not what I had in mind. My original intent was to pick up where I had left off when I returned after a summer break. Then last Thursday afternoon, I accidentally stumbled into President Biden’s address regarding the chaos in Afghanistan, and then it happened; I strayed into waters I usually don’t swim in by sharing some political thoughts in social media outlets.
While I have my opinions, my point here is not to offer political commentary. Partly because I recognize I am not all that brilliant in this realm, but mostly because I am convinced that the hope for humanity lies in a changed heart by Jesus and not a political debate. Instead, the significant angst and cause for my concern had to do with the most botched Biblical connection I’ve seen used by a President for political gain.
The past few years, I saw several people blast President Trump for his use and misuse of scriptural passages, holding up a Bible, and then infer his insertion of the sacred text was merely a political stunt. They may be correct. While I have seen a sprinkling of responses to President Biden’s complete disconnect of Biblical context, such as here, most of the media waves have been silent or focused on the political.
Biden likened God’s call of the prophet Isaiah to the American Servicemen and women responding to the nation’s call of sacrificial service for those who missed the blunder. You can read the text here or watch it here. As I heard those words, which were inserted probably by a speechwriter, I was not only shocked but wondered how in the world anyone beyond a pre-school education could believe that such a disconnected interpretation would fly.
Does Biden or his staff not see this? Do they not actually grasp the error themselves, or maybe believe no one will check up on them? I assume that someone merely inserted the phrase for Biden with the hope that his address would pull some Christian or Hebrew religious people to his side.
In short, the context of Isaiah 6 is that of God sitting above the throne of human affairs when Isaiah is confronted with God’s holiness. In this exchange, Isaiah sees the evil of his nation and his own sin and responds with fear and trembling. The Steve Hinton interpretation? – “Wow – You’re big and Holy, and I’m small and sinful – I’m dead, please have mercy on me.” From here, God extends grace and mercy toward Isaiah’s heart of repentance. God then calls for someone to carry this message of repentance and hope to the nation, and Isaiah responds. You can read the entire text here.
So why do I bring this up? To merely point out the error of those in public leadership? I have done that before. However, my drive here is to show that we will find hope for today if we correctly receive God’s Word.
As noted, the immediate context was God’s coming judgment on Israel and his prophet, Isaiah, extending an offer for grace to those who would repent of their sin. If we are to make an application today, then we must do what Isaiah did. Instead of blaming others, we must humbly acknowledge our own sin. Therein lies the big rub; we don’t like the words repent or sin when they must be applied to ourselves. But yet, repentance is what we must do.
God is indeed full of awe, and the mere insertion of the Bible periodically in our lives does not impress him. If we are going to do business with the divine, then we must come on his terms. God is both perfect in his holiness and his love, and for us to genuinely grasp grace, we must see the seriousness of our sin. We must own it and confess it.
The call of repentance also reminds me of another passage that is superficially quoted from time to time by many Christians and Jews in America and the West. In the text of 2 Chronicles 7:14, as Solomon dedicated the ancient Hebrew temple, God promised him that if “my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
The immediate context for this passage was for Israel, but if we are to apply it today, it would be for the Church and not the nation of America. Prayer is often the main thought here. However, an attitude of humility and turning from our wicked ways must accompany that prayer for deliverance. Hope for America, for any land, begins first by a revival among those who know God and then an awakening among the populace to see their need for God’s grace and respond accordingly.
That is why I have jumped back into a season of writing today on this topic. There may indeed be hope for our confusing time, but it will only come in restoration from God, not our politics. The mercy which God extended personally to Isaiah came right after his confession and repentance. For us, God’s greatest act of mercy and grace came in the sacrifice that Jesus gave us on the cross in his death, burial and resurrection. That healing grace is available for all who would come to God. For that grace to mean anything, though, we must first see our need for it.
I have no problem with politicians using scripture as long as it is in the appropriate context. In truth, I do not know their most inner motive. But when the disconnect of scripture is so apparent, it is clear that abuse of God’s word has taken place. On the other hand, healing can happen when God’s word is properly expounded to the world, and an appropriate response is realized.
Interestingly enough, while clearing out some old files in the garage yesterday, I came across some notes from my first preaching class in college that seemed so relevant. I glanced at a quote given by my professor and immediately took the providential cue from the statement knowing its application for our day. The topic dealt with clear teaching from scripture in times of need, and the quote came from the German theologian Karl Barth as he was being forced out of his home in 1935. In a final address to his students, he noted that the only hope their country had was proper “exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis!” The theological term exegesis is simply the study of appropriate interpretation and application of scripture, which is needed today.
So the call here is not merely for President Biden or other politicians, though that would be good, but rather for all of us to take up and read and head the word of God and follow Jesus with all our hearts.
One of the reasons I pray and ask God to spare America is not actually for my comfort, but that we might continue to send out missionaries to those across the waters that need Jesus and the Bible. So, yes, I do pray for awakening and revival. Yes, I believe it can happen.