An Old Testament lesson in thorns and sufficient grace

One of my favorite Old Testament stories is found in 2 Chronicles 20:1-33. King Jehoshaphat and the people of Israel find themselves in a tough spot. Their literal enemies came against them in battle. Of course, this is nothing new in the Old Testament. God’s people were perpetually the target of surrounding nations who wanted nothing more to conquer those people who had some strange thing going on. Hear Jehoshaphat’s response;

Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord, from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.

And Jehoshaphat stood in the assemble of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, ‘O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you–for your name is in this house–and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save. (2 Chron. 20:3-9)

I have often considered this story in relation to those sudden calamities in life that befall us, where we feel cornered and need some divine intervention to save us from a desperate spot. Is that not what is going on here? And the response is even more incredible. Jehoshaphat, not knowing what to do cries out to the Lord, “we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (vs. 12)

But what about those areas in our lives that persist in sudden attacks, areas of grief and loss, the thorns that don’t go away. Surely this story is applicable for those sudden calamities but is it not also for the hard areas of life we may have experienced that prick at our soul when we least suspect it? Continue reading

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The real good fight: why security in Christ matters

 I confess, one of my guilty pleasures for the past few years was watching The Good Wife every Sunday evening. The series ended last Spring 2016. So I was intrigued by the spin-off series The Good Fight. One of the key characters, Diane Lockhart, played by Christine Baranski, has always enjoyed a certain security as partner in the prestigious law firm that played a central role to the story of The Good Wife.

And so The Good Fight opens with Lockhart at the top of game. She is set to retire, has millions stashed away in retirement (or so she thought) and awaits the carefree life on a French villa she has in escrow. But then it all comes crashing down. The close friend investment banker with whom she entrusted her millions, gets arrested by the FBI. It is discovered that he created a ponzi scheme, bilking several people out of hard earned retirement savings. Not only that, Lockhart had so much faith in her friend that she recommended others to invest. Her accountant tells her the best she can do is to try to hang on to what she has, namely cancelling her retirement.

Well, I think we know what happens next. On top of losing millions of dollars, she seeks to hold on to the security of her partnership but to no avail. She has already signed an exit agreement and with the scandal of losses, they don’t want her anyway. She tries in vain to secure another partnership at firms that before would have turned over tables to have her on board. But this wretched event has left her tainted and spurned. She is left with no employment, no prospects, no savings and a scarred reputation.

All the while I’m watching this, I kept thinking about how grateful I was that my trust was not in riches. Though it was a fictional drama, it was not lost on me that this kind of thing happens on a regular basis. I was smugly satisfied that my security was not in the wealth of this world but in the riches of Christ. I was mindful of my recent reading in the book of Matthew 6:19-21; Continue reading

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The unintended prosperity gospel: why tangibility matters

god-touching-manIf you’ve followed me for any period of time, you know that I abhor the prosperity gospel. As I wrote about here, the prosperity gospel has a deceptive nature in that it is not really about getting rich. Because of that, prosperity teaching flies under the radar because many who gravitate towards it would denounce that Christianity is about lining the pockets. What gets missed, is that wealth is just a by-product of the real foundation: material blessings are a sign of God’s favor. So we really can’t restrict the prosperity gospel to money but to any material blessing that we place our hope in. It’s peddler’s would have you believe that getting blessed by God in ways that make you look like you are winning (by the world’s standards) is a true mark of God’s favor. This is the very nature of the prosperity gospel, that favorable conditions are a sign that God approves of us.

And it’s not just about despising a doctrine for doctrine’s sake. But this distorted teaching actually impacts people’s lives. Either people can be lured into a false sense that God is on their side because they are “winning” in life. Or conversely, feel like God is opposed to them when suffering and loss occur and believe they are less loved by God, failed in some way to earn his favor, or basically just have insufficient faith. It’s easy to ridicule those who embraced such distortions and spurn the teachers of this dastardly teaching. After all, the Christian hope, trust and confidence is the work and person of Jesus Christ. Period.

But if we’re honest, there is something about receiving tangible results to life’s negative circumstances: the rescue from wayward happenings, the reversal of loss with a gain of something hoped for, the improvement of life’s condition with a better home, car, job or status symbol. Receiving material rewards, while not the basis of favor from God, can make us feel like God is on our side, that he is looking out for us. Continue reading

Posted in eschatology (last things), humanity, pain and suffering, reflections and musings | Leave a comment

Worst advice possible…telling Christians to look within themselves

woman hugging herselfWhile scrolling through my Facebook feed not too long ago, this statement assaulted me;

The wizard [of Oz] says look inside yourself and find self. God says look inside yourself and find [the Holy Spirit]. The first will get you to Kansas. The latter will get you to heaven. Take your pick.

Well, based on the title of the post it’s pretty obvious that I think this is this worst advice to Christians. Sadly, this came from a pastor who is telling his congregation this. I hate to say it, but it is actually sub-Christian that unfortunately has gained solid footing within Christianity. Aside from the fact that nowhere does God tell us in Scripture to look inside ourselves to find the Holy Spirit, this is problematic because it puts emphasis on the wrong person -us.

Considering the role of the Spirit, the 3rd person testifies to the Son (John 15:26) and provides the seal of regeneration for those who believe by the will of the Father (see Eph 1:3-14). It is to Christ that we look. The Holy Spirit within enables us to do this (see 1 Cor. 12:3). Consider the book of Hebrews. These Jewish Christians were tempted to go back to Judiasm because they missed the glory of the temple and prominence of their status as God’s elect. Instead of telling the troubled Christians to look within themselves, the writer instead points them to the Son. “Consider Christ.” This is the theme of the book. This is the theme of Christianity.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2 ESV)

Look at what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3 where Paul is contrasting the Old and New Covenant, he highlights where the veil imposed by the law is lifted in Christ; Continue reading

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The church in the age of MLK: the culture and us

mlk_giving-speechThanks to the memory section on Facebook, an article written by Dr. Anthony Bradley popped up from two years that I shared titled The KKK, Selma, and Southern Christianity. It was a raw reflection from seeing the movie Selma but also being from the South, he knew all too well the realities that existed for black citizens especially having parents that lived through Jim Crow.

But he makes a specific point regarding the church;

As a theologian, this is where the movie became really interesting. Those who joined King were mainly Jewish, Protestant mainliners from the North, Roman Catholics, and Greek Orthodox. Conspicuously absent were conservative Protestant evangelicals, especially those from the South. In fact, Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was the highest ranking non-black religious figure in America to join King in the Selma march. This raised several questions for me: What was different about Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions that allowed them to freely join the fight for voting rights while evangelicals chose to do nothing or join the cause to support Jim Crow? Where were the Calvinists who believed in total depravity? Where were the evangelicals? Where was Billy Graham? Where were the Jonathan Edwards fans? Where were the Presbyterians, Southern Baptists, Methodists, and so on? I am asking because I do not understand.

What is it about southern evangelicalism that prevented those churches historically from seeing the plight of blacks as connected to the Gospel and the command to love God and neighbor? Maybe there is a real deep theological flaw in what is known as “evangelical theology?” Maybe the evangelicalism of the 1940s, 50s and 60s did not really understand the Gospel as clearly as many are lead to believe. I honestly do not have the answers to these questions but if evangelicals were so blinded by these issues during the Civil Rights Movement it makes me wonder what evangelicals might be missing today.

These are great questions, especially considering the fiercest defenders of segregation were evangelical Christians. A common retort that I’ve heard is that people weren’t really Christians. I think that’s a cop out. But perhaps the answers are probably more obvious and sobering than we might think. I believe the cultural forces that saw black citizens as inherently undeserving of equal rights and treatment were so permanently entrenched in the church, that Bible reading and believing folks accepted this premise without batting an eye. How else do you explain the cognitive dissonance? Continue reading

Posted in church life, culture, ecclesiology (church) | Tagged | 19 Comments