jasonbwatson

July 25, 2016

False Prophet (Part 2)

Filed under: Politics/Current Events — jbwatson @ 8:23 pm
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On May I posted False Prophet. Since then, that post has been viewed far more times than I would have imagined. It has also generated a few–not many, but a few–comments from individuals who felt that my comments on Mark Taylor’s so-called prophecy were off-base and full of examples of me misquoting him. I am human and I am certainly capable of making mistakes, so I took the time to listen again to the entire hour-long program on TRUNEWS in which Taylor discusses his prophecy. Having done that, and reviewed my May blog post, I do not find any examples of my having misquoted Taylor at all.

One of the comments was made by an individual identified as GHiles, who said that Taylor never said Trump would lead the church to anything. I said in my post that Taylor said Trump was going to restore the church in America. This is the closest thing to an inaccuracy I can find in my post. Taylor did not use the words “restore the church” but he did state that God was using Trump to hold off the forces of Islam and “bolster the voice of Christianity.” That is the only correction or clarification to my original post I feel is warranted.

Taylor also said, by the way, that God is using Trump “to literally split hell wide open,” and He is doing so because the church is not doing its job. The church no doubt has neglected its role in many ways. And while the Bible contains many references to God using unbelievers to judge His people for not doing what they are supposed to do (i.e., obey God) I am not familiar with any instance of God using unbelievers to battle Satan and the forces of hell because the church was not doing its job.

GHiles also stated that he has found America in the Bible. Since no specifics were provided I cannot comment specifically but to say that I disagree; I see no mention of the United States in end-times prophecies nor do I know of any Bible scholar whom I respect who suggests that America is found in the Bible.

Patsy Bates suggested that my post was full of misquotes but she failed to provide examples and, as I said above, I did not find any with the possible exception of the one I have described here. Patsy also suggested I am off balance. I am not quote sure what she means by that or why she said it, so I will have to let that go without response.

Someone identified as Woot Queen said my post was “stupid,” that is misrepresents Taylor and that my logic was nonsensical. I cannot argue intelligently with someone whose best rebuttal is call my thoughts “stupid” so I will let that go, too. I find that “stupid” is usually used as a catch-all condemnation for ideas, thoughts and opinions with which someone does not agree. If Woot Queen disagrees with me that’s fine. She did provide one specific, which is that no one, including Taylor, is claiming that Trump is a child of God let alone a prophet. Well, I did not claim he was a prophet either. And I have heard several people claim he is a believer, but since I did not say so in my original post I see no need to address that here either.

Pat Anderson said Woot Queen was right on with her comments.Pat also said later that I need to be at the altar getting my act together. I am not sure what that means or how to respond to it. The implication, to me, would be that I somehow sinned in my post, since that is the only reason I can think of for needing to go to the altar. However, I am aware of no sin in my post nor do I feel the need to seek forgiveness for anything I wrote. Pat does not want eight more years of Obama, and on that we can agree; neither do I.

Someone named Douglas said that my post “wreaks of a sour grapes Cruz supporter.” That is technically true, but not in the way Douglas intended. I was a sour grapes Cruz supporter. My grapes were sour, though, because I had to support Cruz. Due to where I live and the date of our primary there were only three candidates on the ballot from which I could choose–Trump, Cruz and Kasich. There was not even a write-in option. Of those three, I had to choose Cruz. All of the candidates I would have preferred over Cruz were out of the race before I had a chance to ever vote–and there were at least five running at one time or another whom I would have preferred over Cruz.

Douglas also asserted that everyone who has opposed Trump has suffered personal loss, but I have no way of verifying that and therefore cannot knowledgeably comment.

The most recent comment, as I write this, is from a ggerim, who questioned who I am. I answer that question in the About section of this site. I do not claim to speak for God, though, as ggerim suggests. I was speaking as clearly and truthfully as I know how based on my understanding of God’s Word, but I do not claim to speak for God. Ggerim also charges me with putting God in a little box. Far from it. I believe God is awesome in the truest sense of the word and He can do anything. I do not believe, though, that He has given this prophecy to Mark Taylor. I am, therefore, putting Mark Taylor in a little box, I suppose, but there is a real difference between saying God could not have given Taylor this prophecy (which I did not say) and saying that I do not believe Taylor (which I did say, and still say). I should perhaps clarify that, too. I could accept that Taylor may really believe God gave him this prophecy; I am not suggesting he made it up. I do not believe, however, that God still provides prophecy of this nature and even if I did believe that there are several statements made by Taylor that would cause me question the validity of this one. See my original post for those reasons.

So, to those who have commented, I thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and even to provide comments. I have read your words and they have prompted me to carefully evaluate whether or not I may have made any errors in my May 5 post, but having done so I have concluded that no, I did not. I stand by my original rebuttal of Taylor’s prophecy.

July 14, 2016

Besetting Sins

This past Tuesday, Major League Baseball held its annual Midsummer Classic, the All Star Game. I am a big baseball fan and I love watching the ASG. This year the game was played in San Diego, so there was understandably a lot of celebrating the life of Tony Gwynn, often called Mr. Padre. Gwynn played his entire career with the Padres and then, after retirement, was the baseball coach at San Diego State University, his alma mater. He was a (relatively) local guy (born in LA) who became a hero for the local team. Gwynn was well-liked, a fierce but clean competitor who worked hard and gave his best. He was a 15-time All Star and an eight-time batting champion, ending his career with a lifetime average of .338 and 3,141 hits. Perhaps most amazing of all–he never struck out more than forty times in a season over his twenty-year career. By all accounts he was also a devoted family man. He was a first-ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame, receiving over 97% of the vote. When he was inducted in 2007 I was in the crowd–because he went in with my favorite player, Cal Ripken, Jr. Both Gwynn and Ripken had clean images, clean careers and played their entire careers for their local team. Derek Jeter may well become the last player to be join the HOF having played his entire career with one team when he is inducted, but I can just about guarantee that there will never again be two players inducted in the same year who played their entire careers for one team.

I wanted to give Gwynn his just due, but this is not really about Gwynn ultimately. Instead it is about the example that Gwynn sadly left–an an example that was clearly described in a USA TODAY article in the July 11, 2016 issue. In it, Gwynn’s 2014 death from salivary gland cancer is described. His daughter Anisha is quoted in the article saying, “We tried so hard over the years to get him to quit [using chewing tobacco].” Their efforts were in vain, however. According to the article,Gwynn’s last days were unpleasant to say the least:

Gwynn had growths removed from his cheek in 2001 and 2007 and was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. He had surgery, only for the cancer to return two years later. Again in 2013, the cycle of tumors, surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy treatments started anew. Then came the seizures. Ultimately, Tony Gwynn Jr. said, there was an inoperable brain tumor.

Gwynn was in and out of the hospital for the last two months…the right side of his face paralyzed, his right eye taped shut at night so he could sleep and a walker required for him to leave the house….

Still, the article also states this: “Gwynn refused to listen, still dipping after all the tumors, seizures and radiation treatments, up until the day he died.”

As someone who has never smoked or used tobacco in any way that was hard for me to imagine when I read it. Then. though, I began to think about how I am the same way–as are so many of us. We have a natural tendency to keep doing those things we like even when we know we should not. That is really what sin is, after all–behavior from which we, for whatever reason, derive happiness, contentment, pleasure or satisfaction.By definition sin is coming short of God’s perfect standard of holiness and righteousness. Sin is missing the mark. We sin, though, because we want to. Sin is a choice we make, and it stems from pride, from wanting to do things our own way even when we know we should not. The first sin was committed when Satan tempted Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit by telling her that it would make her like God. That was a lie, of course, but Eve thought yielding to the temptation would result in pleasure or satisfaction that would not come by obeying God’s command. And that, whether we like it or not, is why we all sin today.

Thanks to the sin of Adam and Eve we are all born with a sin nature, and when we behave in the natural we do things our own way–read, not God’s way. Everyone one of us is guilty of sin; the Bible makes that explicitly clear. Thankfully, God loves humankind enough that He sent His Son Jesus to pay the just penalty for our sin, and that forgiveness is available to all who accept His sacrifice in their place. Then, sin is forgiven and bondage to sin is severed. Some people like their sin too much, though; they do not want to repent of their sin and give it up because they think that the benefits of the sin are worth it–the pleasure and satisfaction sin provides outweighs the consequences they think. Or maybe they simply deny that the consequences of sin exist, though I assure you they do. God told Adam that if he and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit they would die and they did. They died spiritually immediately and physically eventually–and death entered the world.

Still, some–sorry, all–who accept Christ continue to sin. The frequency and severity of that sin should diminish over time but it will never go away completely. Even the apostle Paul described, in Romans 7, that he continued to do those things he did not want to do and did not do those things that he did want to do. I did not know Tony Gwynn, but I suspect it would be true that he wanted to stop chewing tobacco in a rational, detached way but he could not do it because he was hooked. Like a fish jerked from the water by a hook implanted firmly in its cheek, Gwynn was hooked on tobacco. Whether it was the flavor of it, the feeling it provided or just the act of doing it, Gwynn could not stop. In an of ourselves, none of us can. Sometimes, even when we know in a rational, detached manner that we should, we keep doing it anyway.

So what do we do about this persistent sin?

In a 2008 column in Christianity Today Kevin Miller wrote that God can still work through our “unconquerable imperfections.” Pondered Miller, “Could it be that our frustratingly persistent sins, which abound, lead us to a greater awareness of God’s grace, which so much more abounds?” Sure, that could be. However, Paul also made it abundantly clear (in Romans 6) that we are not to continue sinning in order to produce more of God’s grace. The fact that God will forgive our sins is not permission to keep committing them.

Miller also suggested that persistent sin can produce humility. “So when struggling with persistent sin, take heart. God is at work, and even your persistent failings may work to your good and his glory. Let yourself be humbled by your falls.” That, too, is true; when we keep doing those things we do not want to do we should be humbled by it, frustrated by it and grieved by it. “Wretched man that I am!” Paul laments in Romans 7:24.

This past May Gavin Ortlund wrote, on the Desiring God web site, the following:

Many Christians struggle with “nagging sins” — those entrenched, persistent, difficult-to-dislodge sins that continually entangle us in our efforts to follow Christ. Sometimes we struggle for decades, with bouts of backsliding and despair recurring. Most godly Christians, who have made true progress in their pursuit of holiness, can sing with feeling “prone to wander, Lord I feel it,” or share the lament of Augustine: “I have learned to love you too late!”

I appreciate the way Ortlund stated this because he reminds us that even godly Christians struggle with sin. Like Paul did. Ortlund does not leave it at that, however. He goes on to provide four steps for eliminating those nagging sins from our lives. The first of those steps is simple: hate it.

I have no reason to believe that Tony Gwynn hated chewing tobacco. Quite the contrary, in fact. I have no reason to believe that Lot hated the sin he was surrounded by in Sodom and Gomorrah. In fact, until his angelic visitors were in danger of being gang raped by an angry crowd we have no indication that he hated their sin at all. Even then Lot offered his virgin daughters to the mob. And when the time came for Lot to get out of town before its destruction, Lot “lingered” according to Genesis 19:16. Even after Lot and his family are dragged from the city by angels Lot pleads with them to let him go to the little city of Zoar rather than flee to the hills, and more than a few scholars and commentators think Lot was referring to the fact that Zoar’s sin was not as great as that of Sodom and Gomorrah. We are all good at rationalizing sin and thinking it is not as bad as someone else’s or some other sin we could commit.

The next thing Miller said must be done is to starve sin. Gwynn kept dipping. That means, necessarily, that he kept acquiring it, keeping it handy, having it at the ready when he wanted it. We do ourselves no favors when we say we want to stop a specific sin but we keep putting ourselves in situations to yield. Recovering alcoholics don’t hang out in bars, for example. Matthew 18:9 says that if the eye causes on to stumble the eye should be gouged out. That is a dramatic and unquestionably clear reiteration of the idea of starving sin.

Ortlund goes on to talk about cornering sin and overwhelming sin. That last part, thankfully, we need not do on our own. In fact, we cannot do it on our own. In Romans 7:18 Paul writes, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Bad news… The good news is in the previous chapter, where Paul writes, “But you have been set free from sin…” (6:22).

The point of this is not to pick on Tony Gwynn. I am just like him. To my knowledge he was not a believer. But his life, which ended with him continuing to use the product that killed him right up until the day that it killed him, is an excellent example of where we will go if we try to live life in our own strength. We will continue to do that which harms us, trading the ultimate consequence for the temporary pleasure. May Gwynn’s demise be a lesson to us that we must hate and starve our sin, yield to the work of the Savior in our lives and overwhelm that sin which so easily besets us.

June 13, 2016

ὑστερέω

Back in 1992 I was thinking I was pretty big stuff. I was starting to drive and I was making some money. I had a paper route that I did with my brother, rising far earlier than any other kids I knew at school so that I could deliver my papers, get home, shower, watch SportsCenter and get to school in time for my early bird classes–a voluntary class period offered before the start of the regular school day. I also did some yard work for a few customers, mostly mowing, and seized other opportunities that came along to make some extra money. Then I got a part-time job working at the local drug store, which I did in addition to all of the above. My expenses were minimal and I had a goal in mind.

I wanted my own car. Not just any car, mind you. Despite not really being much of a “car guy”–when it came to the mechanics of an automobile I knew very little and even basic auto maintenance was beyond me–I had somehow developed a fondness for Porsche cars. I do not remember where that originated, or even when, but I knew I liked them. On the rare occasions when I would see one on the road it always caught my eye. I knew what I wanted and I was going to work hard and get it.

After a few years of the paper route, innumerable miles walked behind a lawn mower, driveways shoveled after snow storms and lots of change counted back to customers at the drug store I had accumulated a nice savings account. On top of that, I was a well-behaved young man, earned excellent grades and spent most of my free time playing sports or reading books. The most trouble I had ever been in was a police officer telling me I had to obey all traffic laws after I had failed to stop my 10-speed bicycle at a Stop sign coming home from work one day.

So, shortly after I turned 16, I went to the bank and withdrew my hard-earned $4,296.17 (including interest earned for letting it sit there!). I borrowed the family’s Chevy station wagon–you know, the one with the lining of the ceiling held up with thumb tacks–and set off for the Porsche dealer. There was not one in our town so I had to drive a ways to the big city to get there. I got a few looks when my dark blue wagon pulled onto the lot, but I didn’t care; I knew I would soon be saying goodbye to that car forever.

I walked into the showroom and there is was: a beautiful 911 Turbo S. It was a metallic navy blue, shiny chrome on the wheels and the spoiler was up, just how I liked it. I walked around the car and admired it from every angle. I think I avoided having drool spill out of the corner of my mouth, but it had to have been close. This was the car I had dreamed of and here it was. Behind me a sharply dressed man approached and said, less politely than I would have imagined from a Porsche salesman, “Can I help you?”

“I expect so,” I responded. “I am here to buy this car.”

“Is that right?” he said, the less-than-polite tone seeming to become even less polite, yet somehow mixed with a bit of incredulity.

“Yes it is,” I responded. “I have been dreaming of this car for a few years now, and I have worked hard and I am ready to make it mine.”

“Young man,” he said, “do you know how much money it would take to buy this car?”

“No I don’t,” I said. “I thought that was why you’re here.”

He smiled, but not a friendly smile. More of a you think that’s cute, kid? smile. “The list price on this car,” he then said in measured words, “is $118,935.”

I had been smiling up to this point, I am sure. Ear-to-ear smiling probably. But the smile disappeared in an instant. Somehow this caused his smile to grow wider. “Not quite what you have with you?” he asked, clearly condescending now.

“No,” I replied. “Not even close. But I have worked extremely hard for what I have. I have earned excellent grades in school, I have stayed out of trouble and I have saved every penny I could because I want this car. I have Porsche posters on the wall of my bedroom and pictures of Porsches in my locker. My favorite t-shirt has the Porsche logo on it and look,” I said, pulling it out of my back pocket, “so does my wallet.”

“That’s all very nice,” the man said, “but none of that matters much. We do appreciate your affinity for our automobiles, of course, but that does not entitle you to drive one.”

“But I have been telling everyone about this Porsche,” I told him. “Everyone! I can tell you the length of it, the wheel base, the horsepower! I know the name of the engineer who designed the original engine. I have been waiting, hoping and longing for this day. Anytime someone asked me I told them I was going to buy a Porsche! I have worked as hard as I can to save this money–almost $4,300. You can’t send me away without that car…”

“I’m afraid I can,” the man replied. “The money you have there is far short of what is required. You would need about twenty-five times more money than you have there to purchase this car. Your efforts are commendable, I suppose, but you’ve simply come up short. Waaaayyy short. Now I’ll have to ask you to leave.”

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The story above is just that–a story. There are elements of truth to it; I really did have those jobs, for example, and I really did have a police officer fuss at me for not stopping my bike at a Stop sign. I also am not a car guy, yet I do have a fondness for a Porsche 911 Turbo–especially with the spoiler up. But I am wise enough to know that I could never purchase one with forty-three hundred dollars. The point of the story is to (inadequately, I acknowledge) illustrate the meaning of ὑστερέω. That is a Greek word, rendered hustereó in English, that means “to fall short.” HELPS Word Studies says “This state of lack (insufficiency, privation) naturally results when a person misses out on what is vital.” I my story above I had missed out on the vital realization of exactly how much a Porsche would cost. But that same word appears in Romans 3:23, which says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (ESV).

The Voice paraphrases the verse this way: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” The standard God has is perfection. Absolute holiness and righteousness. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden we have all been born in sin and, try though we might, we cannot ever come close–not even one twenty-fifth as in my story above–of that standard. It does not matter how good we are, how hard we may work, how many people we tell about God, how many t-shirts or car magnets or wrist bands we have with crosses or fish symbols or John 3:16 on them. All of that combined and multiplied exponentially would still leave us infinitely short of God’s standard. Of our very best efforts the Bible uses some very vivid language–and not in a complimentary way, either! The cleaned up, suitable for polite conversation version says that all of our efforts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

Romans 6:23 tells us that the just due for our sin is death–eternal separation from God. The good news is that that same verse tells us that the gift of God–the free gift which no one deserves but which all can receive–is the eternal life. In other words, God has set an impossible standard that none of us can meet, but He has also provided a way for it to be met for us. He did that through His Son Jesus, who died on the cross in our place as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23, KJV).

That would be, by way of pathetic example, as if the salesman in the story above looked at my savings and said, “You’re not even close to being able to pay for this car. However, because I love you, I will give it to you.”

God has looked at each and every human being and said, “You are ὑστερέω. You are not even close. You could do your very best from now until you die but you will be no closer then than you are now. You simply cannot do it. It is not possible. However, I love you. And if you will accept my love, acknowledge your own inadequacy and fallenness, and accept the sacrifice of my Son on your behalf, I will give you eternal life anyway. You cannot earn it, and you do not deserve it, but I will give it to you…because I love you.”

That is the wonder of God’s love.

May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a day set aside in the United States to remember those who have given their lives in service to our country—who have served in the Armed Forces to protect the freedoms that we enjoy as citizens of the United States of America. It is, to borrow words from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”

I grew up just a few miles outside of Washington, D.C., and as someone who loves politics and U.S. history I have always loved much of what that city has to over. I have taken my children into D.C. several times, and they enjoyed it too, for the most part, though they did grow tired of all the walking. Most anyone who visits Washington, D.C. will see several of the most recognizable monuments in the city: the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the World War II Memorial. There are many others in D.C. and in other places around the country—particularly in places of historical significance. Visiting these monuments with my children provided me with an opportunity to tell my children about why the monuments had been erected, about the people and events they were there to remember and honor and about the freedoms we enjoy because of them. That, of course, is exactly why the monuments are there.

I am not going to write about the monuments to important events in our nation’s history, however, nor about the sacrifice that has been paid by the men and women who have served in our military and given their lives in defense of our nation. Instead, I want to talk to you about a spiritual memorial day of sorts.

I want to first take a look at several examples of monuments or memorials that God used in Scripture to remind His people of important truths or promises–to help them to remember those things because we are, in the natural, quite prone to forget. After we look at these examples I want to identify for you three areas where I think we should be creating memorials or reminders for ourselves and for our children.

First, the biblical examples:

* Perhaps the most prominent example is the rainbow. See Genesis 9:8-17 and note the repetition of “sign” and “remember”
* Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River and God instructed him to take twelve stones and create a monument specifically so that future children would be prompted to ask about them, thus giving parents an opportunity to tell their children what God had done. See Joshua 4:1-3, 6-7, 21-24
* The Passover was designed to create a memorial for the Israelites to remember how God had spared His people and led them out of captivity. See Exodus 12:14
* Easter, as well as the fact that Christians worship on Sunday rather than Saturday, are memorials to the resurrection of Christ, which is the most important event in the Christian faith
* Communion, or The Lord’s Supper, is designed to cause partakers to remember the love of God, manifested in the gift of His Son who died in our place. See 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Now, those are five biblical examples of memorials or monuments whereby God provided direction for remembering important events and promises. It is quite fair to say, then, that the use of symbols and monuments is appropriate and that they are not dishonoring to God in any way. (Provided, of course, that they do not become idols). Take, for example, the cross. Here is what Max Lucado has written about the cross:

The cross. Can you turn any direction without seeing one? Perched atop a chapel. Carved into a graveyard headstone. Engraved in a ring or suspended on a chain. The cross is the universal symbol of Christianity. An odd choice, don’t you think? Strange that a tool of torture would come to embody a movement of hope. The symbols of other faiths are more upbeat: the six-pointed star of David, the crescent moon of Islam, a lotus blossom for Buddhism. Yet a cross for Christianity? An instrument of execution?
Would you wear a tiny electric chair around your neck? Suspend a gold-plated hangman’s noose on the wall? Would you print a picture of a firing squad on a business card? Yet we do so with the cross. Many even make the sign of the cross as they pray. Would we make the sign of, say, a guillotine? Instead of the triangular touch on the forehead and shoulders, how about a karate chop on the palm? Doesn’t quite have the same feel, does it?

Why is the cross the symbol of our faith? To find the answer look no farther than the cross itself. Its design couldn’t be simpler. One beam horizontal—the other vertical. One reaches out—like God’s love. The other reaches up—as does God’s holiness. One represents the width of his love; the other reflects the height of his holiness. The cross is the intersection. The cross is where God forgave his children without lowering his standards.

How could he do this? In a sentence: God put our sin on his Son and punished it there.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The cross, then, is a monument, a memorial, a symbol that reminds us the God loves us—that He loved us enough to send His only begotten Son to pay the penalty of sin in our place that we could never pay. We do not, by the way, use a crucifix, because we know Jesus is alive. Yes, His death is significant and meaningful, but I He had died on that cross and stayed dead, we would be without hope.

So, I said I was going to share three areas where I think we should be creating memorials or reminders for ourselves and our children. The first is the one I just shared–the love of God, the gift of His Son, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. We cannot overemphasize that love or that atoning sacrifice. I am not suggesting that you must wear a cross necklace or hang crosses in your home or anything else, but I am suggesting that we have a responsibility to remind ourselves and—if we are parents, to remind our children—regularly of the love of God and the gift of His Son.
In an article published just before Valentine’s Day 2015, entitled “Remembering the Unquantifiable Love of God,” Christina Fox wrote,

But real love isn’t something you can measure. The love God has for us is beyond numbers and can’t be tallied. When God promised to bless Abraham with countless children, he used the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore as a metaphor. These are things people simply cannot count. Paul described the love of Christ as surpassing knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). And the psalmist wrote, “Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5).

God’s love for us goes farther than even time itself, into the deep recesses of eternity past. It stretched all the way from forever, forward to the cross, and will continue into eternity future. “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4–5).
His love for us is a love that doesn’t hold back. His love gives everything, to the point of sacrificing his very own Son. At the cross, the perfect eternal love of the triune God was shown most vividly as the Son bore all our sins for us. This is unquantifiable, immeasurable love.

We have opportunities at church, opportunities with communion, opportunities when we forgive, when we explain justice and mercy-—we have opportunities around us all the time, every day, to recognize, remember and celebrate the love of God.

The second area where we need to conscious of creating reminders or memorials is in what God has done in our lives. Each of us has stories and instances of God working in our lives, through the circumstances we have experiences, the trials we have endured, the valleys we have passed through, to see God at work and to experience His grace, His comfort, His mercy, His strength, His patience, His faithfulness. We need to be intentional about remembering those instances—and willing to tell others about them.

In Luke 8 Jesus heals a man indwelt by many demons—so many that they call themselves Legion. He casts them out of the man and into a herd of pigs. In verse 38 of that chapter we read that man who had been freed of the demons begged Jesus that he might stay with Him. But Jesus sent him away, and in verse 39 it says that Jesus said to him, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And what happened next? The verse finishes, “And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.”

Now, you probably do not have a testimony so fantastic as being freed of a legion of demons. Neither do I. And frankly, for a long time, I thought that my story, my testimony, any examples of what God had done for me, were pretty boring. But that’s simply not true. Any of us—all of us—can tell others of what Jesus has done for us. It may not be dramatic, it may not incredible, it may not be the stuff of a made-for-TV movie, but the simple reality is that if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you have a miraculous testimony. The almighty, sovereign God of the universe gave His Son to die in your place, and you are now forgiven, set free from sin, and destined to spend eternity in heaven with Him. That is miraculous!

Stephen Altrogge wrote an article entitled, “If you don’t have a dramatic testimony.” In it, he recounts feeling the same way I did—that his testimony is nothing exciting. He grew up in a loving family, was a pretty good and did not do anything terrible from which, or out of which God saved Him. That may make your life story less exciting from a human standpoint, but it is really all the more reason to be grateful and thankful to God. Altrogge writes:

Don’t be disappointed that you don’t have a gripping, over-the-top testimony. Don’t feel like you somehow missed out. Will you get to tell your story in front of large audiences? Probably not. But that’s a good thing. Be grateful that God spared you from the heart-breaking, soul-wrenching consequences of some sins. Be grateful that God saved you before you could wreck your life. Be grateful that you’re not carrying years of baggage around with you.

Those with incredible testimonies may have greater opportunities to tell their stories to larger audiences, but everyone one of us can tell others about what God has done for us. The story of our salvation itself may not be dramatic but every believer has a story of how God has worked in our lives, of how God has provided peace, provided direction, provided comfort…

Let me ask you a question—–could yousay that one or more of these describes you or where you have been at some point in your life: By the grace of God you still alive; delivered from committing suicide; delivered from addictions; no purpose in life—-felt hopeless, lost, no meaning; in the midst of incredible despair, turmoil or uncertainty and you had no idea what was happening or why, but God sustained you and brought you through; you thought you had everything figured out and God told you to do something else that made no sense from an earthly standpoint; you found strength and peace in the midst of incredible physical, mental or financial difficulty… If any of those are true of you then you have a story, you are a monument, a memorial to the faithfulness and goodness of God, and you can and should tell others what God has done in and through and for you.

The third and final area in which we need to create memorials and reminders is the way that God has worked in and through others. The Scripture is full of stories of how God has done marvelous things in the lives of those who follow Him. Look what He did with Job, with Moses, with Noah, with Daniel, with Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, of Gideon, of Esther, of David, of Peter, or Paul, of so many others—those are encouraging to us because they are examples of how God works in and through fallen, fallible human beings in order to shape us to be who and what He wants us to be and to do what He wants us to do. We should study and know those stories because they are reminders to us.

At the same time, there are many other examples post-Bible times, of how God has worked in incredible ways through very ordinary people. Some of the great individuals of Christian history–Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, George Muller, William Carey, Jonathan Edwards, William Wilberforce, Hudson Taylor, Charles Spurgeon, Amy Carmichael, D.L. Moody, Corrie Ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jim Elliot, Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Colson, and so many more. In the day and age in which we live, there are people being persecuted for Christ every day-—and we can pray for them, we can know their stories, we can find encouragement and strength and courage and hope in their willingness to stand firm in their faith even when doing so costs them their life. In Hebrews 11 we see a long list of individuals who accomplished great things for God because they obeyed “in faith.” Paul often referenced other believers in his writings. It is not the purpose of Paul or the writer of Hebrews to hold those people themselves out as examples, but rather to serve as reminders–as monuments or memorials–of what God can do in and through ordinary, fallen individuals who get out of their own way and obey God, following His direction and leading in their lives.

For the child of God, every day can be–every day should be–memorial day.

May 5, 2016

False Prophet

Filed under: Politics/Current Events — jbwatson @ 10:25 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I was both shocked and troubled this morning when I saw that an acquaintance of mine had posted a link on her Facebook page to something called “The Trump Prophecy” with the question “Could this be true?” Now this acquaintance has made no secret of the fact that she is all aboard the Trump train and, while I disagree with her on that, that’s her business and certainly her right. However, as I listened to the hour-long radio program to which she had linked I grew more and more troubled at her lack of discernment if her comment about the possibility of the story being true was made sincerely.

The link was to a broadcast of TRUNEWS with Rick Wiles. I had never heard of the broadcast or of Wiles prior is listening to this broadcast, though his comments indicated that he had previously been with TBN. (Frankly, that was a significant indicator to me by itself that extreme caution would be needed). According to the TRUNEWS web site, “Today, people around the world faithfully tune-in to TRUNEWS every weeknight for news, information, and inspiration that they can’t find anywhere else.” I do not know how many people tune in, but if the story about the Trump prophecy is anything like their usual content that we have reason to be deeply concerned.

This broadcast was an interview with Mark Taylor, a retired firefighter who says he is a prophet–and that God gave him a prophecy in 2011 that Donald Trump would be the President of the United States. Taylor gave an exclusive interview to Wiles on April 18, 2016 to discuss the prophecy–and indicated that it was his first public commentary on the prophecy God had given him five years ago. Wiles and his co-host, by the way, seemed to believe the entire thing completely.

You can read the entire prophecy on the TRUNEWS web site if you are so inclined, but let me highlight for you a few serious matters that need to be addressed in order to ensure that you are not led astray by such nonsense.

First, Taylor claims that he received a visitation from the Lord in 2006 and that the Lord assigned an angel to him at that time.Then, four years ago, another prophet, whom Taylor had never met, told him that he had an angel assigned to him to minister to him, and through him, and that the angel would only hear the words that come from the throne of God. The angel would then immediately do those words and bring them to pass. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that God ever has or ever will assign an angel to a human for any such purpose. Yes, God spoke through angels in the Scripture and revealed prophecies through angels, but those angels were heavenly messengers, not personally-assigned sidekicks who would provide exclusive insight from the Lord.

Second, Taylor claims that in 2011 he was watching television in his living room when he saw and heard Donald Trump giving an interview. “I am hearing the words of a president,” Taylor felt, prompting him to write down a prophecy from God. He originally thought the prophecy was for 2012, but when Trump never declared his candidacy, Taylor thought he had misunderstood the message from God and he set it aside. I will come back to the prophecy shortly, but let me add a few more things that Taylor shared during the interview with Wiles.

Third, Taylor claims that three months after he received the Trump prophecy he received a prophecy about a Triple Crown winning horse. He said this would be a sign to the church because Secretariat had been a sign to the end-times church (how this is so was not explained) and that this new Triple Crown winner would mean that it was time for the church to break out.

It turns out there was not a Triple Crown winner in 2012, though. The horse that could have done it, having won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, was injured before Belmont Stakes and did not run. That horse’s name was I’ll Have Another. Keep that in mind…

At some point God also told Taylor to re-write Dwight Eisenhower’s D-Day speech for God’s army. Then, in 2015, American Pharoah won the Triple Crown. God told Taylor to release the Eisenhower speech at that time,and ten days later Trump declared his candidacy for president. Taylor asked God if he had missed the prophecy in 2011 but God told him no, it was all supposed to happen in 2012 but His people were not ready. The horse I’ll Have Another One was God’s message that He would have another one coming later.

Now, one thing the Scripture makes clear about prophecy is that prophecy that is from God comes true. God sometimes used prophets to deliver messages saying that certain things would happen if they did not obey God or get right with Him, and sometimes they did–so the prophesied judgment was withheld. But there is no recorded instance of God declaring that something would happen and that it not happening because His people were not ready for it. Prophets who say “this will happen” and then it does not do get to say “I misunderstood, it will really happen at such-and-such a time.” Why not? Because a prophecy that was truly from God was unmistakably clear. Think about Harold Camping as but one example. He erroneously predicted–you might say prophesied–the end of the world and the return of Christ. It did not happen in 1994. He said he erred, it would be 2011. It did not happen then either. In 2012 he said he was wrong about the timing. Really? What else could he say, since Jesus had not returned? Camping was wrong because he was claiming something that God had not, in fact revealed to him. In fact, God makes it clear that what Camping claimed to know is known by no man.

Anyway, Taylor’s prophecy includes the following: “The Spirit of God says I have chosen this man Donald Trump, for I will use this man to bring honor, respect and restoration to America.” Later, the “enemy will quake and shake and fear this man.” Still later, Trump “will be a man of his word. When he speaks, the world will listen and know that there is something greater in him.” Trump, Taylor says, is chosen by God; he has spent his entire career to this point building his empire to prepare him for what God will use him to do.

Let me insert here that Taylor says, referring to the “quake and shake” portion of the prophecy that Trump made his announcement on the same date that the United States decided to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. That was surely a shot heard ’round the world, and that is not a coincidence. Well, Trump declared his candidacy in June 16. That is not the same date that President Truman decided to use the atomic bomb. On July 16 Truman found out that an atomic bomb had been successfully tested in New Mexico. It would be absurd to think that the decision to use the bomb had been made a month before anyone knew it would even work. According to Digital History, a research tool for historians and students operated by the University of Houston, several leading scientists announced on June 16, 1945 that they did not think that a demonstration of the atomic bomb would be enough by itself to end the war. Taylor, then, is grasping at straws. May 3, 1469 is the day that Niccolo Machiavelli was born. Does that bear some significance to the fact that on May 3, 2016 Ted Cruz dropped out of the Republican race? I doubt it. On 4, 1979 Margaret Thatcher was sworn is as the first female Prime Minister in UK history. Does the fact that John Kasich dropped out of the Republican race on that date in 2016, leaving only Trump left to oppose Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee and therefore first female presidential nominee of a major party in the U.S., have any significance? I doubt it.

Taylor went on to say that America has been chosen as the launching platform for the harvest. Every time Trump is attacked by the media or other candidates his numbers go up. Why? Because, Taylor says, he is anointed by God. Taylor claims that Megyn Kelly of FOX News was violently ill the day of the first GOP debate and that during the debate she had her legs covered with blankets and there was a bucket beside her on stage in case she threw up. Why? God was warning her not to mess with His anointed man Trump. (Kelly famously asked Trump about his treatment of women during the debate). Kelly’s questioning of Trump, said Taylor, is an example of the kingdom of darkness trying to stop Trump.

Taylor, Wiles and company say there are many instances of God using individuals who were “not choir boys” to accomplish His purpose. That is true. However, those individuals were not God’s anointed. They were not used by God to restore His people but to judge them. There were multiple references in the interview to Nebuchadnezzar. Ezra 5:12 says, “But because our fathers had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house and carried away the people to Babylonia.” Several Old Testament passages tell us that Nebuchadnezzar took gold and silver vessels out of the House of God and put them in his palace or in the Temple of Babylon.If Donald Trump is a modern day version of Nebuchadnezzar then we are all in trouble.

Yet, Taylor says that God is using Trump to split hell wide open. One of the radio hosts said he pictures Trump like a big oak log with handles and God is using Him as a battering ram against the gates of hell. He is strong enough to withstand the beating he is taking because of how God is using him. God, Taylor said, is using Trump to do what the church will not do.

What about Trump’s language? Well, Taylor says, Jesus said things like “hypocrites” and “brood of vipers” of the religious leaders of His day. Trump uses harsh language sometimes too. Uh huh. That comparison is so ridiculous as to not even warrant a response.

America’s best days are before it, Taylor says, and he is “absolutely certain” that Trump will be elected. Oh…and Trump will get to name five Supreme Court justices, too.

Donald Trump is not God’s chosen man to restore the church in America. Though he claims to be a Christian, Trump says he has never asked for forgiveness. Those two statements, of course, are mutually exclusive. If Donald Trump has never accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior then he cannot be a prophet of God. If Donald Trump has never asked for forgiveness then he cannot have accepted Christ as his Savior. God does not reveal prophecy with divine authority any more. Those gifts have ceased, because we have the entire revealed Scripture. Yes, the Holy Spirit is real and active and prompts and works in the hearts of believers, but again, Donald Trump, by his own admission, is not a believer.

So, no matter what Mark Taylor or Rick Wiles or anyone else may say, there is no Donald Trump prophecy and Donald Trump has not been chosen by God to restore the church or to batter the gates of hell. If Donald Trump is elected in November it will be because God allowed it to happen, but God did not tell Mark Taylor five years ago that it would. Of that I have zero doubt.

 

 

May 3, 2016

Good for the goose…

Filed under: Uncategorized — jbwatson @ 9:33 pm

In his lead column in the April 30 issue of WORLD Magazine Joel Belz, the magazine’s founder, takes to task Dan Schulman, CEO of PayPal, for his decision to cancel plans to build a global operations center in Charlotte, NC. Schulman’s decision was made in response to the passage of a law in North Carolina that, according to the Washington Times, was “decried by activists as being among the most extreme anti-LGBT measures in the country.” The law was passed by the North Carolina legislature, and signed by the governor, in response to an ordinance passed by the Charlotte city government to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals from being discriminated against by businesses. The state law, which of course supersedes the local law, prohibits local governments from putting in place such measures on their own. Accordingly, transgender individuals may not use restrooms according to the gender identity but must, instead, use restrooms according to their gender at birth.

This is an issue which has received plenty of attention elsewhere, including in this blog, so I am not going to go there. Instead, I want to talk about Belz’s charge that Shulman and PayPal are behaving like “neighborhood bullies” by “throwing their weight around.” Belz says the decision is a prime example of “argumentum ad baculum – or an appeal to force.” He goes on to say that “almost every time you sense that it’s happening, you should sound the alarm and note that somebody’s changed the subject and is trying to win the day using an argument where force, coercion–or, more typically, the threat of force–is its main justification.”

In other words, Belz says that Shulman and PayPal are playing unfair, using their power to withhold a proposed new project that would inject millions of dollars into the North Carolina economy and provide an estimated 400 jobs. Belz uses rather strong language to cry foul. For example, he writes:

In the current high-profile debate over the rights and privileges society should extend to people in the so-called LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) segment of our population, it would be one thing to arrive at tolerable conclusions through traditional discussion and debate–in the appropriate legislative settings, and in the political processes through which those legislative settings are staffed. … It is something altogether different, though, to have to reckon with the clumsy demands of corporate entities that have no accountability in the various settings where they have become so intrusive and noisy. Who is PayPal–and who are their corporate colleagues? How do we know what these companies’ policies are? When they come thundering in to tell us which of our policies are OK with them and which ones aren’t, what redress do we have? If they have the right to shape our future so profoundly, do we have any reciprocal rights to shape their futures as well?

Belz goes on to say that he does not deny the freedom of such companies to intrude because “that’s the price tag of liberty sometimes.” Yet, he also concludes, “neither do we have to pretend they are being anything close to helpful citizens.”

This is where I have to question the premise of Mr. Belz. Why is it being a neighborhood bully when PayPal decides not to locate a major portion of its business in a state with laws it disagrees with, but it is fine for Christians (and others) to boycott businesses with policies or practices or products they disagree with? How can we argue PayPal is being unfair by not locating an office in North Carolina yet also argue that businesses should be allowed to refuse service to those whose lifestyles they believe are sinful? Why should it be an appropriate exercise of individual liberty or religious protection for a bakery owner to refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding or for a farm to refuse to host a lesbian wedding, but it’s “throwing their weight around” when PayPal says, “because we disagree with this law, we will not locate our business in your state”? After all, PayPal did not say they would close all locations they already have in North Carolina. They did not say they will no longer provide services to North Carolina clients or residents.

If the multitudinous posts I have seen on Facebook about the number of people who have pledged not to shop at Target because of their new policy on bathroom usage are to be believed then there are hundreds of thousands of people–perhaps even a million–who say they will no longer shop at Target. Now I am just as unhappy about the Target policy as anyone else I know. I think it is a foolish policy. To the point Mr. Belz made, I suspect that Target’s policies may change if their bottom line is adversely impacted by an effective boycott. But how is it not using force for one million people to say they will no longer shop at Target because of it’s policy, but it is force for PayPal to not open a new office in North Carolina and employ 400 people there? Mr. Belz and others who are bothered or offended by the PayPal decision could certainly choose to boycott PayPal as well if they would like.

No doubt many suggest that it is not the same thing. A few people–even a whole bunch of people–cannot carry the same weight or have the same impact as a powerful multinational corporation. I don’t know, though. The use of boycotts have been quite successful in the past when there were wrongs that, through sheer numbers, were eventually righted. The Montgomery bus boycott may be among the most famous examples, but there have been boycotts throughout history. The colonists boycotted British tea and other goods during the colonial era. The United States and other nations have boycotted the Olympics as a sign of protest at different times. I canceled a subscription to a magazine in the late 1990s because it included an advertisement that was explicitly targeted at a gay audience, or at generating support for the gay lifestyle, and it offended me. The power of the purse is an effective and influential one. It is contradictory and silly, however, to suggest that it is okay for individuals to boycott businesses but not for businesses to boycott (or choose not to locate in) states with laws they do not like. It is ridiculous to support boycotts of Target but get up in arms over boycotts of Chick-fil-A. That’s the trouble with free speech–to protect your right to free speech, you have to protect the right of those who disagree with you to have their say, too. After all, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

March 21, 2016

The Triumphal Entry

Today is the day on the calendar that we call Palm Sunday. It marks the beginning of what is often referred to as Holy Week or Passion Week, and it is the day on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the cheers and accolades of the masses. It is often recognized with excitement and celebration—but I would suggest to you that it really was not. The ultimate end of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem would be cause for excitement and celebration, because the ultimate end would be, one week later, when He rose from the grave having defeated sin and death. For that reason we can recognize this day with celebration. On the day in question, however, only Jesus understood that that was what was coming. If we look at the triumphal entry from the perspectives of the various groups of people who were present on that day we will actually come away with a feeling quite unlike excitement and celebration. And frankly, when we really look at those various groups of people, we may find ourselves staring face to face with ourselves—or at least ourselves as we are and act at various times in our lives.

So we will unpack that idea more momentarily. Let us begin by setting the scene for what takes place on Palm Sunday. We could dwell on many aspects of this text but I am going to skip over some of them because they are beyond the points I want to examine here. John 12:1-2 tells us that six days before the Passover Jesus and His disciples arrive in Bethany. This was the hometown of Mary, Martha and Lazarus and it was very close to Jerusalem—two miles or so. This was where Jesus had performed perhaps His most famous miracle—raising Lazarus from the dead. They had a meal for Jesus here and Lazarus was one of those individuals reclining with Jesus at the table.

Jump to verse 9. Here we see that word got out that Jesus was in town and a large crowd flocked to see Him—and to see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. Now John says that the people wanted to see Jesus and Lazarus, but I think it stands to reason that the real appeal was to see them together. This was where Lazarus lived, so if the crowds wanted to see him in particular they could have done so almost any time. But now Jesus, the man who raised Lazarus, is in town again and the opportunity presents itself to see both the miracle and the miracle worker.

Verses 10 and 11 tell us that the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death because, verse 11, “on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” Now what about this word believe that we have here? This sounds like a wonderful thing, right—Jews by the dozens are flocking to Jesus and believing in Him. I would suggest to you that this is not as wonderful as it appears. The Greek word is pisteuó, and it means “to believe or have faith in.” However, the HELPS Word Studies explains this important detail: the word is “used of persuading oneself (= human believing) and with the sacred significance of being persuaded by the Lord (= faith-believing). Only the context indicates whether pisteúō (“believe”) is self-serving (without sacred meaning), or the believing that leads to/proceeds from God’s inbirthing of faith.” I think, based on what is about to happen in the following verses, that many of those who were “believing” in Jesus at this time were doing so in the self-serving sense. They recognized a man who could do incredible things—literally, miracles—and they wanted to be on His side. They also, no doubt, wanted what He could do for them.

Just a few chapters earlier, in John 6, we see Jesus feeding the 5,000 and then walking on water. The people were thrilled and wanted to make Him their king. But in verse 35 of that chapter Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” and proceeds to explain the plan of salvation. What happens then? In verse 42 we read, “They said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I came down from heaven”’?” Jesus proceeds to teach them further and then, in verse 66, we read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Why did they no longer follow Him? The phrase translated “from this time” means, basically, “as a result of.” In other words, because of what Jesus said, they said, “Forget this. I’ve had enough of this. This is not what I had in mind.” They were following Jesus because of what He could do for them and because of their earthly Messianic hopes, which involved defeating Rome and returning Israel to the Jews.

Now, go back to John 12 and look at verses 17 and 18. Here we see that those who had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead were still talking about and spreading the word and, as a result, verse 18 says, the crowd went to meet Him—or to see Him. There was a procession now, with Jesus coming into town riding on a donkey, and the crowds wanted to see Him. These people were impressed by the idea that Jesus could raise someone from the dead. No doubt they had also heard of many of His other miracles, including healing the sick, the blind, the lame; of feeding the massive crowds of people with a handful of food. This, they thought, could be the one who was going to lead them out of their Roman captivity!

The people, as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Sunday, began waving palm branches and carpeting the road with branches and their own clothing. The palm branches were plentiful in the area and they were often used at festivals and celebrations as a symbol of joy and victory. The people were thrilled that Jesus was coming. Now, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. The most important significance of this is that it fulfilled specific Old Testament prophecy saying that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem on a colt. There may be other significance, primarily symbolic—with the colt being a symbol of peace rather than a horse, which would more likely represent a military conqueror.

The people wanted something more like a military conqueror because they wanted a Messiah who would free them Roman oppression. But that was not Jesus. The people were shouting “Hosanna!” which literally means, in English, “Save now.” The salvation they had in mind, though, was temporal and material, not spiritual and eternal. We know the “belief” of most of these people was not sincere because, within just a few days, their cries of “Hosanna!” will be replaced instead with cries of “Crucify Him!”

Now, let’s look at a second group, the religious leaders of the day. These individuals were furious with Jesus and determined to put Him to death. Why? Because they were losing their power and their influence. Look back at John 12:9-11. We see here that because so many people were flocking to Jesus the leaders determined to put Lazarus to death as well—meaning they were planning to kill Lazarus and Jesus. In verse 19 we see the attitude, the revealed heart, of the Pharisees—they are lamenting that “the whole world has gone after Him.” This implies that there were masses of people going to celebrate the entry of Jesus and therefore leaving the leadership and influence of the Pharisees—and they found this unacceptable. They were realizing that they should have followed the advice of Caiaphas. Look back at chapter 11, verses 45-53. The words of Caiaphas here seem to allude to the death of one man—Jesus—saving a people or a nation, and therefore alluding to the salvation made possible through the death of Christ. That, however, is not what he had in mind at all. He was expressing that Jesus—whom the Pharisees viewed as stirring up sedition and anti-Roman thoughts among the people—should die so that He did not succeed in leading a rebellion which may result in the Roman army killing all of the Jews in response and, more practically for Caiaphas, in the Pharisees losing their power and influence.

This second group of people is perhaps the group with which we are most familiar and the group whose motives are easiest to discern from a first reading of the text.

Let us look at one last group of people in John 12:42-43. Apparently there were those, even among the Jewish leaders, who truly did believe on Jesus. We know, of course of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, but they did not reveal publicly their faith until after Jesus had died. What we see in these verses is that they remained silent about their faith because they feared the response and retaliation from the other Jews. They loved the position, the power and the influence they had and they were unwilling to give that up. Back in John 9:22 we see that the rulers had determined that anyone who acknowledged Jesus would be excommunicated, thrown out of the synagogue. These leaders knew the truth, and the accepted it apparently, but at this point only secretly.

So we see three groups of people among the crowds on the first Palm Sunday. We see those who were impressed by what Jesus could do and were following Him because of what they thought they could get out of it. They imagined free food, free health care, a throwing off of the Roman oppression. Reflect on your own life for a moment. Are you ever guilty of following Jesus or of seeking Jesus just for your own benefit? Do you look to Him only when you want or need something, expecting that He will come through and provide what you want, when you want it, but you ignore or reject the hard parts of His teaching, the parts about dying to self and serving others?

Next, we looked at two different groups of leaders responded differently to Jesus but for the same reasons. The majority of the religious leaders were so mad that the people, who had always been under their influence and control, were leaving them to go follow Jesus that they wanted to kill Him. If they could just get rid of Jesus they could continue to live life the way they wanted, to do things the way they wanted. There are many people in the world today, and have been many people throughout history, who have denied God, wished Him dead or claimed He was no longer relevant, because then there would be no one to whom they were accountable and they could do whatever they wanted to do—especially if they were ones in power and positions of influence and control.

The second group of religious leaders accepted Jesus, but they would not tell anyone because of what they thought it would cost them. They already had the prominence, the position, the influence that the world could offer and they did not want to give it up. They wanted to keep the riches and glories of this world while also claiming those of the world to come, of the heavenly kingdom. Take a moment to reflect. How many times do you—do I—not speak up and claim the name of Christ because we are afraid of what others will think? Because we are concerned about the social, political or professional repercussions of being known as “one of them”? Jesus Himself said, recorded in several of the gospels, “What good will it do for a man to gain the whole world yet lose his soul?” There is nothing that this world has to offer us that could possibly come close to the promise of what is waiting for us in eternity if we know Christ as our Savior. We must not allow the fear of man to keep us quiet about Him!

Interestingly, those religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus were the most honest of the three groups we have seen here. They were opposed to Jesus and they were completely upfront about it. The first group professed to follow Jesus but their following was self-centered and not sincere. The third group believed Jesus but would not admit that they did. It was a sincere but silent and secret faith. There are many today who fit those two groups. Many who profess to be Christians are following after Jesus only because of what they think they can get out of it—because of what they think He can do for them. Many others may have a sincere belief in what the Bible teaches about Jesus, about sin and salvation, but they believe in silence, preferring to keep their faith to themselves so as not to reap unpleasant consequences of making that belief known. Scripture makes it clear that God is not pleased with that kind of faith.

There was a fourth group of people present that day, and that was those who truly were followers and disciples of Jesus. Even many of them, however, were unaware of what was really happening. In verse 16 we see that explained to us, as John writes, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him.”

Here is why the Triumphal Entry is such good news, despite the mixed bag of people who were present that day. It is good news because Jesus knew exactly what was coming…and He went anyway. Luke 19 tells us that as Jesus approached and saw the city of Jerusalem He wept over it. Why? Because He knew the response of the people that was coming. Despite the fact that they were about to welcome Him with shouts of adoration and celebration, he knew that they would reject Him. As they were celebrating the Passover feast, remembering the escape from physical death for those who had applied the blood to their doorposts when the angel of death passed over Egypt, they were preparing to reject that sacrificial lamb who would free them from eternal death and separation from God. He was weeping because, as Scripture tells us, He is not willing that any should perish. He knew both that most of those in Jerusalem were about to reject Him, and He knew that many throughout history would reject Him, refusing to accept the free gift of salvation made possible through His obedience to God’s plan, His death on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, and His resurrection from the grave, proving victory over hell, death and sin.

Jesus knew what was coming and He went into Jerusalem anyway. Look at the end of John 12 – verses 44-50. Verse 44 says that Jesus cried out. This implies that He was making a public proclamation in a loud voice, likely addressed to the crowd that had followed Him. In the preceding verses we see that the people’s unbelief was revealed. Jesus is now proclaiming the consequences of believing in Him and of rejecting Him. Jesus makes it clear that believing in Him, or rejecting Him, was believing in, or rejecting, God the Father. He makes it inexplicably clear that they are one. These few verses seem, really, to be Jesus summing up all that He had done during His earthly ministry. He explains that He has done what He has done, and taught what He has taught, because it is what God the Father determined for Him to do. The audience hearing Him here was left without excuse. He made clear to them, unmistakably clear to them, that He was the Son of God and that believing in Him brings light and life, rejecting Him brings death and darkness.

We too are without excuse. Indeed, Romans 1 tells us that all humankind is without excuse. Of the groups of people we have seen here, which are you? Are you following Jesus just because of what you think He can do for you? Are you following Him but keeping it yourself, fearful of what others may think or what the consequences may be if your faith is known? Have you rejected Him, preferring to do your own thing and live your own life how you want? Or have you truly accepted Him, received the gift of salvation made possible through His life, death and resurrection? My hope and my prayer is that you are in that fourth group. If you are not, I urge you to examine your heart and your life and to get right with God. Verse 48 of John 12 says, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” You have received the truth and you are now accountable for it. You are without excuse.

For those who have accepted Christ, Palm Sunday truly is a celebratory day because we know that Jesus, recognizing and knowing full well what was before Him and the painful death He was about to endure, went ahead anyway. He obeyed. He entered Jerusalem to give His life for you and for me.

March 18, 2016

Keeping Up With the Joneses

I should state right up front that I am not a fan of rap. In fact, I would consider myself whatever the opposite of “fan” is when it comes to rap. I have been known, on more than one occasion, to ask someone what kind of music they like and, upon receiving their response of “rap,” counter with, “I said music.” So opposed am I to rap that, despite enjoying Broadway shows and loving American history, I had zero interest in going to see Hamilton while I was in New York recently. Once I learned that the show’s lyrics are rapped, I knew it was not for me. And yes, I know that it is considered the hottest ticket in town…but then that leads to the real point I want to make here.

I do not watch the Grammy’s either. It is my understanding, though, that rapper Kendrick Lamar took home five Grammy awards out of eleven nominations at this year’s ceremony. Granted, I have never listened to so much as a single line of his rap, but an article by Arsenio Orteza back in January struck me when I read it and has been rolling around in my mind ever since. Orteza’s view of Lamar’s “music” is that “herd instinct can trump better judgment when music critics move in packs.” Orteza is clearly no fan of Lamar, writing the following about his most recent album (the one that won him five Grammay’s):

[T]he verbal component of [To Pimp a Butterfly] comprisesa dim self-awareness held together with innumerable “N-words,” “F-bombs,” and other expressions of an intelligence far too limited to be taken seriously.

So whether he’s promising a race war the next time cops shoot a black man or confusing a chrysalis with a cocoon while invoking his album’s title lepidopterous imagery, Lamar sounds like a clown.

Clearly, if he had a vote, Orteza would not be supporting Lamar for any Grammy’s. He was not alone in his evaluation of the album, though. Even those who apparently enjoy rap had less-than-glowing comments about this effort. Justin Charity, writing on complex.com in November, said, “In its entirety, To Pimp a Butterfly isn’t a conventionally enjoyable record; it is, essentially, the screams of an agonized man performing open-heart surgery on himself. … To Pimp a Butterfly is, undeniably, an important album. It’s also frustrating, painful, chaotic, and wildly derivative of so many black musical influences that Kendrick Lamar barely elevates.” Billboard gave the album 4.5 stars out of 5, but even praising the concept and deeper meaning of the album, Kris Ex said, “the music isn’t the most challenging thing about the album: the lyrics are pre-occupied with race and personal identity in ways that are decidedly uncomfortable to mixed company. Rolling Stone included it as one of the 50 Best Albums of 2105, but still said, “The pleasures and rewards of To Pimp a Butterfly aren’t easy.”

Now, I am not suggesting that uncomfortable or uneasy are necessarily bad things. There are many excellent pieces of literature, music or art that are neither comfortable nor easy but that are quite valuable and thought provoking. Indeed there is much in the Bible that is neither comfortable nor easy–and that is specifically because it is so personal and direct. (Have you read James lately?)

Lamar’s rap, however, seems to have far more going against it than for it. Those lyrics from To Pimp a Butterfly that I have read are littered with language that negates any significant point he may be trying to make. Frankly, reading just one line of some of the “songs” on the album is too much for me to handle–and I do not consider myself easily offended or “Puritanical.” Is it really possible to make a meaningful point or initiate thoughtful dialogue when everyone word but “you” in a sentence is profanity?

At the Grammy’s he performed three songs, including a new verse alluding to the death of Trayvon Martin and an untitled song that refers to Martin. The Guardian said the performance was “studded with strong allusions to racial inequality, the prison-industrial complex and black identity.” The lyrics, if you can stomach them, are studded with all manner of reference to violence, anger, crime…and confusion. Not long after these lyrical lines…

The reason why I’m by your house
You threw your briefcase all on the couch
I plan on creeping through your damn door and blowing out
Every piece of your brain
‘Til your spine drip to your arm
Cut off the engine then sped off in a Wraith

He says this…

Once upon a time, I go to church and talk to God
Now I’m thinking to myself
Hollow tips is all I got

And believe me, there is plenty more I am not quoting.
Following his Grammy’s performance the Twitter-sphere lit up with celebrities tripping all over themselves trying to praise Lamar’s performance. Piers Morgan tweeted, “This guy stole the show.” Mark Ballas said he was blown away the performance, saying Lamar had “so much heart.” Katy Perry tweeted, in all caps, “THAT WAS SO POWERFUL”. Kobe Bryant said “YES!” and Ellen DeGeneres tweeted, “@kendricklamar, you are brilliant.”
Don Cannon, though, topped them all when he said, “God bless @kendricklamar. For using your gifts to teach and inspire on such a huge platform.” Teach and inspire? What was he teaching? What did he inspire? Nothing, as best I can tell, that is socially acceptable or remotely helpful. Are African-Americans overrepresented in American prisons? Yes. Is there room for a legitimate and sincere debate about the treatment of African-Americans by law enforcement? Of course. But talking about blowing out someone’s brain until their spine drips onto their arm is not constructive and is certainly not the starting point for a meaningful or productive conversation.
So why in the world do we (the collective “we”–and far more than just the twittering glitterati of Hollywood) commend and celebrate such nonsense? Well, to go back to Arsenio Orteza, I think he hit the nail on the head in his column, which was written, by the way, before the Grammy’s performance. This observation is one of the more poignant and memorable ones I have seen in a long time:
So why do critics love him? The easiest answer is that, being mostly liberal, they consider nobly savage inarticulateness to be a sign of authentic “blackness,” not realizing that in so doing they’re perpetuating a negative stereotype at odds with their putative racial egalitarianism.
That is exactly right. Somehow we have all become like the advisers to the emperor. We can see that he is not wearing any clothes, but we are not willing to say so. We go along with everyone else, not wanting to stick out or draw undue attention to ourselves. It is easier to agree, to smile, to nod, to tweet some pithy congratulatory–and insanely stupid–commendation of words and antics that civilized people with their heads on straight would never condone.
This is true of far more than a rap performance at an awards show, of course. No doubt we have all found ourselves racing to keep up with the Joneses by wearing clothes we don’t even like because it is the “in” brand, of watching shows or movies we really do not enjoy because “everyone else is doing it.” There are innumerable examples of the ways in which we refuse to stand on our own two feet and proclaim that the emperor is naked. Years ago Ryan Dobson wrote a book entitled Be Intolerant…Because Some Things Are Just Stupid. To that I would say a hearty Amen!
We cannot expect our young people to resist peer pressure and say no to the crowd when we as adults are not willing to do so. There is nothing progressive or avant-garde, certainly nothing to be desired, in celebrating or commending that which is aimed squarely at the destruction of civilization. And it’s about time we say so. Kendrick Lamar’s rap may be a good place to start, but that is all it is…a starting point. We are paving the way to our own downfall with our expanding embrace of abortion, euthanasia, transgender identity, gay marriage, marijuana use…and on and on it goes. Somehow we do not realize, as Orteza wrote, that we are perpetuating beliefs, behaviors and positions that are actually quite at odds with our own survival as a civilized people.

 

 

February 26, 2016

God’s Unbreakable Love

Filed under: Biblical Worldview,Spiritual Growth — jbwatson @ 9:43 pm
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A couple of years ago I posted a message I had preached on the love of God, a message I had entitled “God’s Love Is.” in that examination of John 3:16 and the characteristics of God’s love, I ended with the point that God’s love is unbreakable. I said that there is nothing…absolutely nothing…that can separate us from God’s love. I drew this from the closing phrase of John 3:16, which says, “whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have everlasting life.” There is no question, there is no condition, there is no fine print or exception, there is no “hope so” when it comes to the eternal life God has promised to those who accept His Son as Savior.

To reinforce this point I also looked briefly at Romans 8:38-39, and I want to unpack that verse a bit more here as a follow up. As you read this text, ponder carefully the words:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now read it again from The Living Bible, because hearing or reading it a different way can sometimes reinforce a point or reveal something you did not notice the first time.

For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are—high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean—nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us.

Depending on your translation, verse 38 begins with “I am persuaded,” “I am convinced,” “I am sure.” This word meant, in the original language, a strong and unwavering confidence or certainty. So Paul is saying, in other words, “I have no doubt whatsoever—I am 100%, absolutely, positively, no doubt about it, sure that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

At the risk of bringing you crashing down from that spiritual mountaintop, let me give you two important points before I unpack these verses a bit more, because they are full of such profound truth that we cannot miss it. First, you must always remember that the unbreakableness (if that’s a word) of God’s love has nothing to do with you and everything to do with God. You and I are not expected to maintain our connection to God’s love, nor can we. We are fallen sinners and, even after salvation, we continue to sin. That we are still loved by God is not because we are so wonderful, certainly not because we deserve it, but because God chooses to love us.

Finally, the fact that God’s love is unbreakable and nothing we can do can separate us from that love is not permission to sin. The fact that we could never mess up so badly that God would stop loving us does not mean that what we think and how we act does not matter. Galatians 6:9 says that we are not to grow weary in doing good. James 2:26 says that faith without works is dead. Hebrews 13:16 says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Ephesians 2:19 reads, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” And Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

I think it is also worth noting that just a few verses earlier, in verse 28, Paul said “we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” In verse 35 Paul rattles off another list of things that his readers might think could separate them from the love of God–or be evidence of their separation from the love of God. He writes this: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Then in verse 37, the verse immediately preceding the two verses we looked at last time and began with here, Paul answers that question like this: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Now, did Paul know a thing or two about suffering and persecution during his lifetime? Absolutely. We know, from Scripture, that Paul was stoned and left for dead. He was beaten with rods three times. Five times he received thirty-nine lashes with a whip. That was the maximum number allowed by Roman law, and it was so violent and severe that there are many instances of people dying from those whippings. Paul was attacked by an angry mob. He had to be lowered over a wall in a basket in an order to save his life. He was shipwrecked and floated at sea for hours. He was bitten by a poisonous viper. He was under house arrest for two years without ever facing a trial. So Paul knows that of which he speaks!

John Calvin commented on this passage this way: “He is now carried away into hyperbolic expressions, that he might confirm us more fully in those things which are to be experienced. Whatever, he says, there is in life or in death, which seems capable of tearing us away from God, shall effect nothing….”

Alexander MacLaren, a 19th century Irish minister, had this to say about Paul’s list:

The Apostle begins his fervid catalogue of vanquished foes by a pair of opposites which might seem to cover the whole ground-’neither death nor life.’ What more can be said? Surely, these two include everything. From one point of view they do. But yet, as we shall see, there is more to be said. And the special reason for beginning with this pair of possible enemies is probably to be found by remembering that they are a pair, that between them they do cover the whole ground and represent the extremes of change which can befall us. The one stands at the one pole, the other at the other. If these two stations, so far from each other, are equally near to God’s love, then no intermediate point can be far from it. If the most violent change which we can experience does not in the least matter to the grasp which the love of God has on us, or to the grasp which we may have on it, then no less violent a change can be of any consequence.

Rev. Rodney Kleyn addressed this passage in a sermon by recounting a story he had heard that made abundantly clear to him the power of God’s love, and I think it bears repeating since it could indeed help to grasp just how comprehensive the love of God is:

I heard an illustration in a sermon preached on this verse from one of our older ministers. That was ten years ago. It stuck in my mind. So I am going to use that illustration now so that, I hope and pray, it sticks also in your mind. This is like a child who has to sleep at night and it is dark in his room. He is crying to his parents: “I can’t sleep. I think there is a bogeyman in the closet.” And so his father comes into the room and says, “Son, there isn’t. Let me show you.” And he turns the light on. And he opens the closet door to show his son that there is no one there. And then he says to his son, “Just to make sure you know, let’s look in every part of this room.” They look in all the drawers, and they empty out the toy box—and there is no one there. Then he says to his son, “But just in case you still wonder, let me take you through the house.” He takes his son by the hand and takes him into every room in the house. They look in every closet, in every drawer, in every trash can. They go into the basement. They look in the utility room. They dig through the garage. And he says to his son, “See, you can sleep. There’s no bogeyman.”

Something like that here. Paul transports us from our experience in our life to all the expanses of the universe—past, present, and future. He takes the doubting and the fearful and the questioning child of God who is looking at his own life, and he says, “Come with me, let me show you.” Not death, not life, not angels, not principalities or powers, nothing in the present, nothing in the future, not height, not depth, and in case I missed it, no other creature, no other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of Christ. Why so? Because there is a love stronger, greater, than any creature. What a wonderful comfort that is for the child of God.

Everyone has fears. Everyone is afraid of something. For us as adults it probably is not the bogeyman. For us in America it probably is not persecution for our faith. But we still have very real fears that we face. Taking some of those fears from Chapman University’s 2015 Survey of American Fears, and adding some others that I know many people fear and think about, let me offer you a rewording of Romans 8:38-39 in very contemporary vernacular:

I am certain that neither terrorism nor nuclear attack, nor global warming nor overpopulation, nor Democrats nor Republicans, nor government corruption nor Obamacare, nor earthquakes nor tornadoes, nor unemployment nor bankruptcy, nor artificial intelligence nor identity theft, nor cancer nor heart attack, nor anything else ever created nor yet-to-be-created shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Psalm 118:1 says, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”

God’s love truly is unbreakable.

February 16, 2016

My trust and my hope

I know I am not the only one who has been thinking a lot about the unexpected passing of Supreme Justice Antonin Scalia over the past few days. His legacy will last for decades and his decisions, and minority reports, will no doubt be studied by law students, lawyers and judges for even longer. Albert Mohler was correct when he wrote, “Antonin Scalia is almost surely the most influential justice to sit on the Supreme Court in many decades. The loss of his influence, as well as his his crucial vote, is monumental.” I agree with Mohler, and I was very sad to learn of Scalia’s passing. I was sad for his family’s loss of a loved one but I was mostly sad for our country and for the impact that Scalia’s too-soon departure from the Supreme Court will potentially have on both the present and future of this nation. That is why I also found it necessary to reflect on the following thoughts.

First, the United States as a nation, conservatism as a movement, judicial restraint as a philosophy and respect for states’ rights and individual liberty as ideologies did not begin with Antonin Scalia nor will any of them end there. He was a great and influential figure in each of those areas but now that he is gone they must all go on. Someone else–or, ideally, multiple someone elses–must step up and fill the very large shoes left behind by Justice Scalia. This is much like a baseball team losing its star player. The face of the team may change, the strategy of the team may change, the success of the team may even change, but the other players do not pack up and go home.

Second, this has been a great opportunity for me to remember the importance of seeing things from someone else’s perspective. Right off the bat I was thinking that I hope there will be some way for the Republicans to delay the confirmation of a new justice until after the election. There is no guarantee how the election will turn out, of course, but there is at least a chance that a Republican will win, which would also greatly increase the likelihood of the new justice being more in line with the positions held by Scalia than any justice appointed by President Obama. Mitch McConnell announced right away that he thought the new justice should not be appointed until after the election, and others were saying the same thing. President Obama, of course, indicated that he would appoint a justice. On Sunday evening it occurred to me that if the situation was reversed and there were a Republican in the White House right now I have no doubt that I, Mitch McConnell, and many others would be advocating for an appointment and confirmation before the election. It was rather like remembering that I cannot only like and defend free speech when it is speech I agree with and approve of. The beauty of free speech is just that–it is free, meaning you can advocate whatever you want no matter how much I do not like it, and I can do the same no matter how much you do not like it. I am not saying I want President Obama to appoint the next justice, but I cannot in good conscience argue that he should not, or that his appointment should not be confirmed if qualified.

The third point is somewhat similar to the first one but is important enough on its own that it needs to be stated separately. No one’s hope is in–or should be in–originalism, conservatism or any other philosophy or ideology of man. Neither is it in any human being, politician, judge, theologian or anything else–including Antonin Scalia. Psalm 146:3 says, in the Good News Translation, “Don’t put your trust in human leaders; no human being can save you.” One reason not to put trust in them is that they, as Matthew Poole wrote, “are utterly unable frequently to give you that help which they promise, and you expect.” Antonin Scalia was a wonderful Supreme Court judge, but his power and influence was limited. He was also a flawed human being. In his Notes on the Bible Albert Barnes comments on Psalm 146:3 this way: “Rely on God rather than on man, however exalted he may be. There is a work of protection and salvation which no man, however exalted he may be, can perform for you; a work which God alone, who is the Maker of all things, and who never dies, can accomplish.” If Justice Scalia had lived to be 150 and remained on the Supreme Court for that entire time, he could not have ever accomplished anything that would save anyone, eternally speaking.

Albert Mohler was correct; a giant has fallen. But that giant was a human being. A giant in the legal realm, yes. Still–and Albert Mohler would wholeheartedly agree with me, so do not read this as me suggesting that he said anything otherwise–whether or not I like the person who assumes the seat vacated by Scalia, whether or not that person is an originalist or an activist judge, is not where my priority should be. Whether or not Antonin Scalia is on the Supreme Court does not matter, eternally speaking. What matters is that God is still on the throne–and in Him will I place my trust and my hope.

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