23 December 2013

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

There’s a recurring theme I have observed from too many Christians:  their God is too small, and their devil is too big.  They seem to believe we’re engaged in some type of cosmic celestial battle between two equal powers: the power of good and the power of evil.  Where do we get such ideas?  They certainly aren’t from the Bible!

The Bible clearly depicts the devil as a defeated foe.  His future is to be bruised beneath our feet as we discover that “greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.”
If we were given the challenge to overcome the forces of evil, what weapon would we choose?  How would we defeat the devil?  The human response is always to look for the strongest thing available.  But not God’s; God chose to send a baby!  A baby!  How could a baby defeat the forces of hell?  Nothing seems more helpless than a baby, totally dependent upon His mother.  Not only was He dependent; He was born in a germ-infested barn.

Yes, I know, in our retellings, the stable always has clean hay and the animals are kept at a safe distance away from the baby, but Jesus was born in a dingy cave surrounded by stinking animals.  The dirt floor was encrusted with dung and urine.  It didn’t smell good, and it wasn’t clean!  I hope I’m not being too graphic in describing the stable in Bethlehem, but the truth is this wasn’t a hygienic place for a baby to be born.  There was no disinfectant to sterilize the manger before they could lay the baby down.  Why would God do such a thing and send His “only begotten Son” as a helpless baby into such a terrible situation?

I believe He was giving us a strong Christmas message: “Your devil is too big, and your God is too small.”  God wasn’t threatened by the devil.  It’s almost like heaven is rejoicing in the devil’s face.  He knew the devil had no power over Him.  He trusted a teen-age girl with her maternal instincts to take good care of the baby.  He wasn’t afraid that the baby would get sick and die; no, the baby would live to accomplish His purpose of overcoming the power of evil.  The life inside the baby was greater than the death in the cave.

The Bible tells us we should “overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)  The greatest force in the world is love.  No, not some warm fuzzy emotion that makes us feel good.  This type of love is described as “tough love.”  It’s the kind of love which isn’t afraid to get its hand dirty.  It’s the kind of love which invades darkness and conquers because of its fearlessness.  It’s the kind of love which can look the devil in the eye and not blink.  It can invade a germ-infested cave filled with dirty animals and conquer death, hell, and the grave.

I believe one of the greatest messages of Christmas is “your God is bigger than the devil.”  Why are we afraid of the big bad wolf?  Jesus has already conquered both hell and the grave.  Jesus is Lord!  We need to come as the magi did two thousand years ago and bow at the feet of the little child.  We need to bring our most precious gifts and lay them at His feet, because the baby has won.  He has defeated the devil.  We don’t have to be afraid of the darkness because the light of God’s truth has shown in the face of the Christ-child.  The angels have sang and we can rejoice because “greater is He who is in us, than He who is in the world.”

Merry Christmas!

10 December 2013

The Death of Freedom

The United States is called “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  This is no longer a true statement.  A US federal judge just ruled that a Christian baker must create a wedding cake for a homosexual wedding regardless of his religious convictions or pay fines for failing to do so.  The baker is free to practice his faith at home and at church, but he can no longer take his faith to the marketplace.

The case was based on discrimination.  I would agree that the baker discriminated against the same-sex partners because of his religious beliefs, but now the court has discriminated against the baker because of his faith.  You can’t have your cake and eat it too!  The judge says the baker can have his faith, but he can’t practice it; only the homosexual has the liberty to do that.  The baker only has the choice of abandoning his faith or abandoning his business.  That is not freedom of religion.

It’s not just the baker who is hurt by this ruling.  Every person who serves at weddings has just been told to begin promoting homosexual lifestyle or go out of business.  Every wedding planner, florist, and photographer will now have to use their creative abilities to promote weddings which are not according to their beliefs.  And what about the preachers? I’m effected by this decision also.  According to this judge’s ruling, I don’t have the right to promote heterosexual marriage as the only marriage God intended.  It doesn’t matter what my Bible says or I personally believe.  I’m now guilty of criminal discrimination against the homosexual because I believe heterosexual marriage is what God designed.

Both the homosexual and the heterosexual cannot be right.  As I said before, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too!”  The judge has thrown out the religious freedom of the majority for the sake of the sexual preference of the minority.

The words I am writing at this moment are considered by many to be “hate language.”  However, I am not saying them because I hate.  Jesus taught us to love people, and that is what I always attempt to do.  But because I disagree and refuse to endorse the homosexual lifestyle, I am accused of bigotry and hatred.  Homosexuals can say anything they want about me; they can curse me and revile me, but this is my own fault because of my supposedly bigotry.  What absolute nonsense!  The United States has ceased to be a country with religious liberty.

I love the response of Billy Graham when a reporter asked him what he would do if his daughter were to declare herself to be a lesbian, “Would you still love her?” she asked.  Rev. Graham wisely answered, “I’d probably love her the most because she would probably need it the most.”  That is the right answer.  As Christians, we must always love; but there is a drastic difference between acceptance and approval.  I accept the homosexual as a person created by God who will spend eternity either in heaven or in hell.  I will treat him with respect as a person, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything he practices.  And my disagreement with his lifestyle does not mean I have become an intolerant, religious bigot.  I agree that intolerance must go, but that rule must apply to everybody, including the homosexual.  The homosexual must accept and respect me as a person who, though I disagree with him, will do him no personal harm.

But the homosexual “hates” what I’m writing because he wants me to admit that he is right and that I am wrong.  In the case of the Colorado baker, the baker offered to make other deserts for the homosexual men or sell them the products in his bakery.  No, they wanted him to create a special wedding cake for them, and since they couldn’t have their way, they went to court.  There were other bakeries which would’ve accommodated them, but they wanted to make an example of him and force him to admit they are right or go out of business.

Why aren’t preachers everywhere crying out against this injustice?  Don’t they realize we are the next target on the homosexual agenda?  Religious freedom is at stake, and if we don’t speak up now there will be no choice tomorrow.  We will face the same options of the baker: Do what the judge says, or go out of business.  I understand that homosexuals are a minority in the US, but the Christian majority has become passive.  A militant minority always rules over a passive majority.  We sit silently when others are attacked hoping that no one will bother us.  The attack on the baker is an attack on every Christian in America.  If we fail here every other religious freedom which we cherish will eventually be taken away.

There is a famous saying from Pastor Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant voice against Nazi Germany, that should make us all think very carefully about saying issues don’t effect us. 

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- 
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

24 September 2013

Grouchy Ol' Baldy

For many years I’ve heard people complain about God and the Bible because it contains stories like grouchy old men sending bears to attack annoying little children.  These people pretend to be intellectuals and biblical critics, but clearly, barely know enough about the Bible to mention out-of-context stories; so, please indulge me while I try to straighten out a few of the grossly-overlooked facts in this specific "bear-trap" of a story.

The story is found in 2 Kings 2:23-25.  Elisha is traveling through Bethel, when a gang of young men come out of the city and begin following him down the road, jeering.  He, in self-defense, curses them in the name of God, and two bears come from the woods and maul forty-two of them.  (You can read the actual text here.)

First of all, this story isn’t about little boys.  The Hebrew words are very clear.  These were teenagers who were taunting Elisha, which perfectly fits the immature language used, “Go away, baldy!”  And this was not a small handful of teens; this was a huge gang of at least forty-two that followed him out of town.  Everyone knows how dangerous gangs like this can become because of their immaturity and high hormones.  They can quickly escalate from having a little fun to vandalism and physical assault.  Elisha was simply walking down the road, trying to get to his next appointment and not doing anything to provoke them.  And, no doubt, he tried to avoid them, but they probably surrounded him, blocking his exit.  Also, from the placement of the story in Elisha's ministry timeline, it's clear this event took place very early in his itinerant ministry because he was still traveling alone.  He learned quickly here that this wasn’t a wise practice, and after this incident, he always traveled with an assistant.

This brings us to our second fact; this wasn’t a well respected Jewish community with some well-mannered little Jewish children, or the sons of cultured Jews who worshiped a holy God.  These people didn’t believe in Jehovah God and were mocking the story they had heard about Elijah’s recent translation to heaven.  (2 Kings 2:1-13)  These young men were the sons of idolaters who practiced horrible acts of debauchery in the name of worship.  Their most prominent idols were Baal and Asherah.  These two gods were supposedly husband and wife, so their followers used sex as an act of worshiping them. It’s easy to see the demonic influence on this community; these young men had grown up hearing embellished stories about the sexual exploits which took place between their fathers and religious prostitutes.  They lived in a world with little moral boundaries and did whatever they wished without restraint.  The environment would be similar for a traveler finding himself alone on the unfamiliar back streets of a slum in a large city surrounded by a gang of forty or fifty young men.  It would be a terribly dangerous situation that could end in any number of scenarios, including mugging, robbery, and rape.

The third fact we must consider was the unusual behavior of Elisha in this situation.  He was known throughout his ministry for his gentle character.  In comparison with his predecessor Elijah, he was like the gentle rain which follows the thunder and lightning.  The way Elisha behaved in this story is completely out of character for him.  So, the reader must ask why he reacted the way he did.  It’s obvious he felt his life was in danger.  We can debate whether he mad the correct choice or not, but put yourself in his shoes.  What would you do if you thought a large gang of uncontrolled young men were about to molest you?  The Bible doesn’t tell us if they were carrying any weapons, but most gangs do; and having traveled in Israel, I’m well aware of the abundance of rocks that could have been used to attack him.  In fact, stoning is still common in that area of the world.  It’s easy for us to condemn Elisha for being afraid from the security of our environment, but he clearly didn’t have the option of escape.  He was trapped by these rowdy young men who were threatening his life.  He responded as almost any person would and did what he could to save himself.  Why else would he curse them?  He never cursed anyone else.  The obvious conclusion is he believed he was in serious danger.

I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface in writing about this specific story, but I can say that the older I grow, the more my sentiments are with the "baldy."  If fact, after reviewing the story, I’m surprised that the young men got off so lightly with only a few bear scratches.

27 June 2013

Choosing Life

Before the prophet Moses died, he challenged the Israelites to “choose life.”  The recent ruling by the US Supreme Court on same-sex marriage is a good time for us pause and reflect on the fact that life is a journey, and two paths are set before us: one which leads to life and another which leads to death.  God admonishes us again and again throughout the Scriptures to “choose life.”

This court ruling is a step in the wrong direction.  First, it is a ruling of choosing death instead of choosing natural life.  Every person on planet earth owes his or her natural life to a man and a woman.  It still takes one female egg and one male sperm to create a baby; even when it is done by doctors in test tubes or fertility clinics.  It makes no difference whether it was your mother or a surrogate mother; every one of us has one mother; and it doesn’t matter whether or not you knew your father, all of us began our earthly journey when some man’s sperm fertilized some woman’s egg.  It is as simple as that.  It is a proven fact that female/female relationships and male/male relationships have never created life and never will.

Secondly, this was a decision which took another step toward the death of marriage.  Jesus said, “From the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.”  (Mark 10:6)  From the beginning of history, marriage has always been between and a man and a woman.  We see there are societies which promoted healthy heterosexual relationships which have continued for thousands of years.  However, there has never been a society in history which promoted homosexual relationships and survived; search history and you won’t find one.  There is the early example of Sodom which no longer exists, and of the Roman Empire which has long since vanished from the earth.  One of the things which distinguished these societies before their collapse was their bold promotion of homosexuality. The Bible warns us that relationships of this kind are “exchanging the natural use for what is against nature.”  (Romans 1:26)

Thirdly, it is a decision which moves us a little closer to the death of freedom of worship in America.  The homosexual agenda in the United States is to change the laws and culture of this country into a nation which openly embraces their lifestyle as the correct way to live.  In the same way that cake shops are being sued today if they refuse to bake a cake for a gay marriage, tomorrow it will be churches being sued and losing their tax-exempt status for refusing to perform homosexual marriages.  The next step will be pastors who will be forced to choose between spending time in jail or conforming to the political correctness of a country moving in the wrong direction.

I know there are those who will call me a foolish religious radical, but these words don’t come from hatred, they come from a broken heart.  I’ve no malice toward homosexuals—they are people just like all the rest of us who desperately need God—but I disagree with a lifestyle which is clearly contrary to what the Bible teaches.  I’ve been watching for a many years as the United States has turned its back on the Bible and the principles upon which this great land was founded.  It’s hard to watch a great land die but as a nation, we have been choosing death instead of life.  Please America, awake from your foolish spiritual slumber and return to God.  God is the God of life and there is no reason we can justify following the ways of death.  God offers us life if we will repent and turn from a path which leads to death.

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore, choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)  

05 January 2013

Grace and Mercy

Evelyn and I were in Mexico City recently and a brother whom I greatly respect gave me a prophetic word.  He told me he recognized my anxiety over the United States and had a word from God for me.  He quoted from Exodus 33:19 where God said unto Moses, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  This brother told me he believed God had spoken to him that He would show mercy upon the USA again; not because we deserve it, but because God is a good God.  In Exodus God was reminding Moses that none of us deserve God’s mercy or grace; it is only because of God’s goodness that we are not brought into judgment for our faults.

I confess, I’m deeply concerned about the USA.  We need a spiritual awakening in the greatest way.  May God have mercy upon us.  I read a lot of quotes and tweets from a variety of ministers but I’ve not heard anything recently which caused my heart to be so moved as this prophetic word.  Let me give you three reasons I believe this is a Word from God.

First of all, the brother who gave this Word to me has a good reputation with his pastor and home church.  As a worship leader in his church he is known for his godly life.  Those who know him best respect him highly.  The Bible warns us about listening to the wrong prophets.

Secondly, the Word he gave came directly from Scripture and wasn’t taken out of context.  Yes, these words were originally given to Moses, but God was speaking of His own nature and we know God is “from everlasting to everlasting.”  God’s nature remains the same; He is faithful, He is good, He is merciful.

Thirdly, I want to believe it.  I love this nation deeply.  I have received so many opportunities and blessings from living in this great land.  No, the USA is far from perfect, but this is a great nation founded upon godly principles.  Today, we are in deep trouble.  It is not political problems, or drug problems, or economic problems.  We are in trouble because we have left God out of our lives.  We know better than to live the way we do.  We have deliberately taken any reference to God and the Bible out of our classrooms.  Teachers cannot pray or even talk about the Christian life; and yet, the moment someone starts killing in our classrooms our leaders immediately begin to lead us in prayer.  We are hypocrites.  How dare we deliberately remove God from the classroom and then have the audacity to begin to call on God in prayer the moment our children’s blood runs on the classroom floor.  I weep over America.

But just a moment, the Word of God says, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show compassion upon whom I will show compassion.”  We are no different from the children of Israel dancing naked around a golden calf they fashioned with their own hands.  These were the same people who just a couple of months before had seen God miraculously deliver them from slavery, but now were acting like animals lusting after food and flesh.  It is a fact of life, we become like the gods we worship.  In the same way, as citizens of the United States of America we have allowed gods of gold to consume our families and destroy our marriages while we sacrificed our children for the “good life.”  We have entertained ourselves with the violence and lust of Hollywood and then we are shocked when someone acts out what they see on the silver screen.  There is only one prayer which is a fitting response to our national disgrace, “God have mercy upon us.”

It is not because we deserve it.  It is not because we are worthy of it.  It is only because God is a God of mercy and grace.  God is a good God and I choose to focus again on His goodness and cry out for His mercy.  May God awaken our sleeping hearts again and send the gently rain of His grace upon the parched deserts of our souls.  I cry out for Your mercy, Your goodness, Your forgiveness.  Please remember us and have mercy upon us.

I choose no longer to focus upon our sins but to praise the goodness of God; to worship at the altar of His grace.  With King David I cry, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.”  Psalm 51:1