God loves the Naughty List

We modern Americans are tempted to think those who are “nice” earn gifts from Him. Those who are “naughty” … well, they get spiritual coal in their stockings.

Here we are at Christmastime, listening to herald angels sing glory to the newborn king. But listen to the angels more closely. In the center of one of the Bible’s most glorious promises of peace, we find an opposite of a promise, too:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14 ESV)

So, wait. Those with whom God is not pleased have no promise of peace from Him? So how do we know with whom God is pleased? Who gets peace, and who doesn’t?

We modern Americans are tempted to think the above verse is about God keeping a list of who’s Naughty or Nice. Those who are “nice” earn gifts from Him. Those who are “naughty” … well, they get spiritual coal in their stockings. And then we water down our definition of “nice” to something bland and easy to perform.

But what does God consider pleasing? Is being “nice” all He wants? Not at all:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)

Pleasing God requires faith. Specifically, it requires faith that we were in dreadful need for God the Father to send Jesus to earth and to do what He came to accomplish:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)

If you believe yourself nice and good enough for God with your own efforts, and not in any real way a sinner, then the angels’ proclamation of peace is not for you. God does not grant you peace, because God says you are a sinner and need a savior, and you disagree.

But if you see yourself as you truly are, and know you are unworthy of anything from God except for His judgment, then and only then is this promise of peace for you. God is well-pleased with those who look on His Son and recognize that Jesus alone brings peace between God and man.

You cannot earn your way onto God’s Nice List. He freely offer admission to those who repent and believe in Jesus.

Jesus came to save sinners. He came to save the Naughty List.

Gungor: The Hipster Pharisees

“Gungor drifts from Biblical orthodoxy,” says the erroneous headline in World magazine. It’s erroneous because the leaders of the Christian worship band called Gungor were never that orthodox to begin with.

To be clear, the members of Gungor are not heretics or apostates. They walk under the banner of Jesus Christ. Instead, and perhaps ironically, the leaders of Gungor are exactly what they accuse the rest of the American church to be. They are Pharisees.

Some background

For those who don’t know: Gungor is a musical group led by Michael and Lisa Gungor that has won a Dove award (that’s like a Christian Grammy) and has seen its songs “Dry Bones” and “Beautiful Things” brought into worship services across the country. The Gungors create music that is truly, objectively beautiful, as Christianity Today said of Gungor’s album “Ghosts Upon the Earth”:

Michael and Lisa Gungor flesh out these alternately joyful and solemn songs with fluttering woodwinds, mandolin and banjo freakouts, jazzy instrumental codas, rich orchestral arrangements, and heavy electro-synth that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Muse album.

But suddenly the greater evangelical church has discovered what Gungor has believed all along about Scripture (“Award-Winning Worship Leader Generates Controversy for Rejecting Genesis as Literal”) and is beside itself.

I’m frankly surprised that everyone is so surprised. Continue reading →

Gender, Christians, and men of straw

This post is intended to address some comments that were made on a recent Facebook post, and hopefully to give some clarity by answering the people who made them.


In April 2014 I posted an article on Facebook that made reference to a comment made by actress Kirsten Dunst, in which she said, “We all have to get our own jobs and make our own money, but staying at home, nurturing, being the mother cooking – it’s a valuable thing my mum created.” She continued, “And sometimes, you need your knight in shining armor.“

Anticipating some push-back, she said: “I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman.”

Of course her comments engendered vitriol from the feminist Twitter community. But I felt the article was worthy of sharing, being an expression of some good ol’ fashioned common sense not usually found in secular discussions on gender roles.

Initially there were a few kudos from Facebook friends who were right there with Kirsten, and general agreement that the feminists who tweeted Kirsten were over-reacting and out of line. But the discussion that followed on FB was anything but civil and devolved into a wholesale dismissal of the New Testament’s teaching on the subject of men and women and their respective roles. Continue reading →

The three marks of the forgiving heart

“Those who refuse to forgive others will not be forgiven by God.”

Hard words from Pastor Nate Harlan this past Sunday as he preached on Matthew 18:21-35. But behind these hard words is a demonstration of God’s great love for his people and God’s great promises of reconciliation.

The passage is Christ’s parable of the unforgiving servant. The servant owed the king 10,000 talents and was readily forgiven the debt. Then minutes later, the servant angrily tossed a fellow servant in prison because he was owed 100 denarii.

Immense debt, immense ingratitude

Let’s put the debts in modern terms: A denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer. To make the math easy on me, let’s make that $50. So, the unforgiving servant was owed about $5,000 by his fellow servant.

But look at what the servant owed the king. A talent was the equivalent of 6,000 denarii. So the servant had just been forgiven the incredible sum of $3 billion. At the servant’s wage level, it’d take more than 150,000 years to pay off such a debt. The impossibility of the debt is mind-boggling. (And underscores the ridiculous futility of paying off your sins in purgatory.)

So, the lesson from Jesus is, considering what the king has forgiven you, are you a forgiving person? Do you have a forgiving heart?

Pastor Nate outlined three marks of the forgiving heart:

The forgiving heart is broken over its own sin

The Christian should be humbled by the massive debt that he owes to God. As Jesus spoke of the woman of ill repute, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

The forgiving heart is ready to forgive

We are to let go of our running record of sins against us, because this is how God has forgiven us. He cast the remembrance of our sins into the depths of the sea.

The forgiving heart is eager for reconciliation

As Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” This really is a command that should compel us to set aside whatever pettiness we harbor for the sake of living in peace with your brothers in Christ. And not with reluctance, but with the exuberance of a father welcoming the prodigal son.

But it is true that if you don’t forgive others, God will in turn not forgive you? When Pastor Nate said this, I soon turned my thoughts to the Lord’s Prayer, in which we ask God to forgive us as we also have forgiven others. Consider how our lack of forgiveness would hinder this prayer!

Not forgiving is worse than a bad idea. Not forgiving is hatred. Not forgiving is murder. In fact, if you have an unforgiving heart that holds grudges, you have not been born again. As 1 John 3:14-15 says:

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

A lack of forgiveness is worse, much worse, than serious. It is deadly. So let us demonstrate how God has loved us by in turn loving our brothers and sisters. If we are reconciled to God our Father, it should be our glad duty to reconcile to all who are truly his children.

Image courtesy FreeImages.com

Really unbalanced: The Bible as the only source of sanity

I have a confession to make: I absolutely love God’s Word.

When we play the “desert island” game, the first book on my list is the Bible. When I wake up in the morning, the first book I reach for is the Bible. When I am confronted with the irrationality of our modern world, the singular source of sanity that I can totally depend on is the Bible. And when I am looking for knowledge and answers to life’s vexing problems, the first place I get wisdom from is the Bible.

You may say that this makes for an “unbalanced” view of things. I once overheard someone say that “…sure, the Bible is true, but there’s a balance.”

I simply can’t agree with that.

The source of all wisdom

Since God has spoken through His Word, and God never lies (Titus 1:1-3), then the Bible is the ultimate source of all “true truth” in the universe. Don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying that non-Christians don’t have knowledge—of course they do! The problem is that they have no point of integration—no infinite reference point—and no reliable foundation on which to stand firmly and from which to rightly interpret the vast amount of information that we are bombarded with daily.

The Bible, speaking of Jesus Christ, says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)

The apostle Paul almost exhausts the Greek language here in pointing out the realm of Christ’s Lordship over the cosmos. He uses the phrase “all things,” and then provides a detailed description of what he is referring to—and if that’s not enough, he goes on to say that this same all things “hold together” in Christ. In other words, the Lord Jesus exists as the infinite and ultimate integration point for everything that is created!

Paul continues this thought in chapter 2 of Colossians, where he writes in order that Christians will have “…full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Did you catch that? He’s saying that Jesus Christ, Who is not only the creator and sustainer of the whole universe (Hebrews 1:3), is also where all true wisdom and true knowledge is contained.

“Lest anyone should deceive you”

Paul goes on to say that he’s writing these things “…lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words” (vs. 4), and then admonishes us in vs. 8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

Sometime these philosophies sound plausible at first, at least until their unfounded assumptions are exposed to the light of God’s Word.

What kind of deceptions are common to our experience today?

Ideas like “man doesn’t need God to determine right from wrong” may appeal to our own vaunted sense of self-importance, but only God’s Word can give a transcendent, absolute ethic, one that is not subject to the fickle whims of humanity.

In some cultures they love their neighbors, and in other cultures they eat them—who are we to judge?

Ideas like “we can discover everything we need to know by using the scientific method” also appeal to our own sense of independence (or “autonomy”), and yes, we can sure make better cars than we used to, but science has zero basis for telling us anything regarding good, bad, right, wrong, meaning of life, purpose, etc.

Of course there are many scientists who veer into these areas, but that’s not science—that’s philosophy (or ultimately theology), and these important questions of life just don’t fit into test tubes.

Christ had a very “unbalanced” view of life—He said and taught such things as “Scripture cannot be broken,” “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away,” and “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” We must not only live like Christians, but we must learn to think like Christians.

So when you’re tempted to doubt God’s Word, when the world is screaming “You fool!” at you, or when that college professor attempts to shame or ridicule your Christianity, remember what Jesus said every single time that He was tempted in the desert: “It is written…”

This article first appeared in the Aug. 30, 2013, issue of the Milford Mail-Journal. Photo courtesy of Free Images.

‘The wrath of God was satisfied’

The Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA) recently decided not to include the hymn “In Christ Alone” in its upcoming hymnal. You can read more about it in the Christian Century.

Their reason? The hymn affirms that Christ satisfied the wrath of God upon the cross. Those opposed to the hymn’s inclusion objected that it would be a “disservice” to the PCUSA’s “educational mission” to “perpetuate” the view that “the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger.”

If I look at it from some angles, I might cautiously agree with that last statement. The cross is indeed not primarily about “God’s need to assuage God’s anger.” God has no “needs.” And I heartily agree that no one should perpetuate any view that would suggest that God has needs of any sort.

If we are to see the glorious love displayed in Christ crucified, then we must also behold the glory of God’s holy wrath.

But what about our needs as sinners?

Certainly we must affirm that the cross is “primarily about” Jesus meeting the needs of sinners, because after all, His mission was “primarily about” saving His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). And He did that by satisfying God’s just wrath against us as our sinless Substitute, our perfect paschal lamb without spot or blemish (1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 9:13-14).

Of course God didn’t “need” to “assuage” His just anger. He could’ve spared His Son and allowed us to perish and been none the lesser for it. That’s the whole point: God didn’t need to crush His Son for our sake (Isa. 53:4-5) — but He did, and in so doing, demonstrated the full power and glory of His love for His people. “…but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Christ crucified is the very pinnacle of God’s loving acts toward His children: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

If we edit God’s wrath out of the picture (or hymn), all that love-talk rings hollow. The crushing of the Son ceases to make any sense. If Jesus wasn’t propitiating (Rom. 3:25) God’s wrath on the cross, then just what was He doing up there? How was He saving His people from their sins and magnifying the love of God? Here’s the rub: if Jesus wasn’t satisfying the wrath of God on Calvary, then He wasn’t saving anyone from God’s wrath. And if He wasn’t saving anyone in particular, then we can hardly call His death a display of love. Love for whom, exactly? All those sinners His death did not save?

If we are to see the glorious love displayed in Christ crucified, then we must also behold the glory of God’s holy wrath. His wrath alone reveals the love shown on Calvary. When some attempt to sanitize the Gospel for delicate modern sensibilities by ignoring God’s wrath, they denigrate the death of Christ by emptying it of love and grace. And that is a true “disservice” to the Church, her mission, and the One who bled for her.

Photo via Flickr by Eric Lam

The case for wine in communion

Throughout the history of the Church, it is wine that has been understood to represent the blood of the Lord in Communion. This is apparent in both Scripture (Matt. 26:29; 1 Cor. 11:21) and in Church History.

This is especially evident in Matt. 26:29 when the Lord refers to the “fruit of the vine.” The phrase “fruit of the vine” was the consecrated title ascribed to wine in Jewish culture, which distinguished it from typical fruit. This may seen in the “Mishna,” a collection of ancient Jewish religious teachings. It is here that we read that wine is to be blessed in a manner that distinguishes it from normal fruit: “How does one recite blessing for fruits? For fruits growing on a tree, one says, ‘Who created the fruit of the tree,’ Except for wine; For wine, one says, ‘…Who created the fruit of the vine.’” So, whenever the Lord said “fruit of the vine,” He meant wine and only wine. Continue reading →

O! Government Nanny! (A short heroic poem)

O! Government nanny! To whom we scrape and bow.
Protect us from our stupidness, it doesn’t matter how.

O! Government nanny! With trump and harp so glad
Your bureaucrats cocoon me from the freedom I once had.

O! Government nanny! With laurels ’bout your head
Who saves me from the foreign wars and sends my wife instead.

O! Government nanny! With gold and silver hair
Come nickel, dime, and quarter us until our cupboard’s bare.

O! Government nanny! With drones from sea to sea
Strike down allegéd evil ones before they come strike me.

O! Government nanny! With hearts about to burst
We pledge allegiance to our new commandment: “Safety first!”

Photo credit: The Library of Congress