Education, God, and fools

College seminar

College seminar

A university professor recently wrote to the editor of my local newspaper to denounce the state legislature’s failure to fund state universities adequately.

It’s a Republican legislature, and in the professor’s eyes they’re afraid of education, and especially that getting an education will expose students to ideas that would make them question religion.

Society, religious or otherwise, would do well to be afraid of that sentiment. It’s quite a leap from naming a political party to the assumption of its religious motivation and a bigger leap from ideas that question religion to the implication that they will disprove religion and convert all the students to good Democrats. Continue reading

Fire, quail, and a worldly church


complaining agains Moses

The Manna Harvest / Giuseppe Angeli (18th century), but doesn’t it look more like the griping before the manna came?

Have you ever noticed that some people just like to complain? They don’t even need a legitimate reason. Alas, you can easily find them in churches.

But here’s a better question. What is the effect when griping goes into overdrive? It would try the patience of a saint. Or in the case of an Old Testament illustration, Moses. Nobody comes out looking good in the sorry story told in Numbers 11.

We often refer to the people Moses led out of Egypt as the children of Israel. They never acted like grownups, did they? But according to Exodus 12:37-38, 600,000 Israelite men left Egypt, plus the women and children—plus a large number of other people. In Numbers 11 various translations refer to them as the mixed multitude or the rabble. Continue reading

Not peace, but a sword

Jesus with sword

Jesus with a sword. 14th-century fresco, Monastery of the Ascension, Kosovo

Have you ever noticed that Jesus can be downright offensive?

Even many people who don’t claim to be Christian find Jesus very attractive. As a great moral teacher, he told some wonderful stories. He was always kind and compassionate to people in need. He “spoke truth to power” in taking on the religious establishment.

But then he says things like

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’ [quoting Micah 7:6] – Matthew 10:34-36 (NIV)

How do Christians today respond to passages like that? How should we?  Continue reading

Sanctification: Perfection in Christ

Worship service--sanctificationThe story of Job begins with the statement that he was blameless and upright. That’s NIV. KJV has “perfect” for “blameless.”

As I pondered that, I wondered, who else does Scripture describe in that way? King Asa of Judah, for one. And that sets the bar awfully low.

So what does it mean that Asa was blameless (or perfect)? And what does Asa have to do with Christian perfection and sanctification? Continue reading

Did God Command Genocide in Canaan?

Joshua and Israelites

Joshua and the Israelite People / Korolingischer Buchmaler, ca. 840

A lot of atheists are deeply offended by the God they don’t believe exists.

He commanded Joshua and Israel to obliterate Canaanite civilization by killing every man woman and child within their promised boundaries. At least one has asked, “How is it possible to believe in a good God after reading the book of Joshua?”

Read the rest of the Bible!

God did not command Israel to commit genocide. He commanded Israel to execute capital punishment. Canaanite society finally disappeared from history at the hand of the expanding Babylonian empire centuries later.

More people died during those centuries because of Canaanite practices than Israel should have killed in a single generation. Continue reading

God’s Redemption of a Filthy Priest

clothes-line--2Have you ever felt unfit to stand before God?

If so, you’re absolutely right. You are unfit. We’re all unfit to stand before God, but he invites us anyway.

The prophet Zechariah had a beautiful vision of God’s gracious response to the unworthiness we can do nothing about (Zechariah 3:1-5).

It begins with Joshua, the high priest, standing before God, with Satan ready to accuse him.

The accuser cleared his throat and God rebuked him before he could utter a syllable. The name “Satan” means accuser, but he can’t make his accusations stick before God. Apparently, God won’t even let him utter them in his presence.

Zechariah prophesied after the Israelites returned from the Babylonian captivity. They had been purged of the idolatry that had stirred up God’s wrath. In particular, the priesthood had been purged of idolatry. Joshua was not one of the priests whose wickedness helped bring on the captivity.

But even though God refused to hear any accusation against him, Joshua had a huge problem, and he couldn’t do a thing about it. As high priest, he stood before God as representative of the entire Israelite community. All Israel had a huge problem, and not a one of them could do a thing about it.  Continue reading

Same-sex marriage, false prophets, and apostate priests

Dark cloudsA small but vocal minority of people have managed to redefine marriage in the United States by judicial fiat.

Justice Kennedy excused his setting aside all of human tradition on grounds that most Americans now accept same-sex marriage.

Ten years ago most Americans rejected it. Why the change?

Because the church failed to be the church. It followed the sorry pattern of Old Testament prophets and priests.

Judgment is coming. It will not be pleasant. “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17

Someone on social media sarcastically noted that God did not send anyone to hell because of slavery, so why would he send anyone to hell because of same-sex marriage? It’s a good question that portrays a common misunderstanding of judgment.

Nowhere does Scripture equate judgment with going to hell. And where it does say that hell exists and people will inhabit it, it does not refer to anyone with a heartbeat. Judgment is coming to America for its descent into immorality, and it will be visible and evident to any of the living with eyes to see.

What is judgment?


Society acts like it’s a good thing!

Slavery as practiced in this country was indeed a great sin. God always sides with the oppressed.

Thomas Jefferson mocked his stirring phrase “all men are created equal” by owning and mistreating slaves.

Those opposed to slavery made multiple compromises with slaveholders until the election of Abraham Lincoln as President.

And where was the church?

Half of it sided with the slaveholders, citing the “curse of Ham.” Get a concordance and search the whole Bible. There is no curse of Ham.

So how did God judge America and the church in America for slavery?

  • We had a Civil War.
  • Congress rejected Lincoln’s conciliatory strategy for reintegrating the South into the Union.
  • Stung by Northern vengeance, Southerners began to oppress the former slaves as soon as they had opportunity.
  • Race riots broke out in cities across the country.
  • The Civil Rights movement prevailed, but only partly, and only by overcoming more violence and strife.
  • A hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, we still have racial divisions and mutual suspicion. Judgment for slavery continues.

All the arguments that equate gay rights with slavery and the Civil Rights movement are phony, by the way, but even church leaders try to link the two issues. There is no scriptural basis for slavery or racial inequality. Scripture explicitly proclaims that homosexuality is sinful.

Lest anyone believe that the Civil War and its aftermath do not signify God’s judgment, consider the whole sweep of Old Testament history.

  • Child sacrifice to Molech

    Child offered to Molech to be burned alive. King Solomon built a temple to Molech.

    Moses presented the law to the people, and the law contained a curse. (See Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28.)

  • The law forbade idolatry.
  • God commanded that the Israelites completely destroy the Canaanites in order not to be corrupted by them.
  • The Israelites failed to destroy the Canaanites and adopted Canaanite idolatry, child sacrifice, and sexual immorality.
  • Israel started losing wars with its neighbors and suffered oppression at their hands.
  • The prophet Samuel began a revival and called the people away from idolatry.
  • God established a strong kingdom under the rule of the imperfect but very godly David.
  • David’s son Solomon erected pagan temples to please his overabundance of wives.
  • Therefore God divided the kingdom and gave most of it to Jeroboam, who promptly established a new idolatrous religion.
  • For a while, the southern kingdom remained faithful in worship, until one of the kings arranged for his son to marry the daughter of the most ungodly man ever to rule the northern kingdom.
  • God sent prophet after prophet to call the people back to repentance and to warn that otherwise they would suffer the curse of the law.
  • Instead, the people became more and more idolatrous, which included sexual debauchery. They called down the curse upon themselves. First the northern kingdom and then the southern kingdom fell to tyrannical empires.

(Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law. He has not redeemed us from judgment.)

Israel had three major positions of leadership: prophet, priest, and king. By the end of the southern kingdom, all had become irretrievably corrupted and enemies of God. Unfortunately, they never recognized that they had become enemies of God.

The American church has no equivalent of the king, but we can understand prophets as those who proclaim and teach God’s word. We can understand priests as those who lead God’s people in worship. The pastor of a church takes on both roles. Other church leaders from seminary professors to Sunday school teachers and choir directors take one or the other.

How did the ancient prophets and priests fail?

And more to the point, what is the danger for their American counterparts?

False prophets

The kings of the southern kingdom all came from the tribe of Judah and could trace their lineage back to David. The priests all came from the tribe of Levi and could trace their lineage back to Aaron.

Prophets could come from any tribe. God raised up numerous individuals to speak for him. But being a prophet also seems to have been a career choice. 2 Kings 2:3-7 refers to the “company of prophets.”

When King Ahab of the northern kingdom asked King Jehoshaphat of the southern kingdom to join him in war, he had no trouble producing 400 prophets. Jehoshaphat had to make a special request for a prophet of the Lord, but all of the false prophets presumed to speak in the name of the Lord. This story is told in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18.

To keep this post to a reasonable length, I will not enumerate other scriptures that refer to the multitude of prophets or how they ministered. I will also limit myself to one of many passages that describe false prophets:

Then the Lord said to me, “Do not pray for the well-being of this people. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.”

But I said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! The prophets keep telling them, ‘You will not see the sword or suffer famine. Indeed, I will give you lasting peace in this place.’”

Then the Lord said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds. Therefore this is what the Lord says about the prophets who are prophesying in my name: I did not send them, yet they are saying, ‘No sword or famine will touch this land.’ Those same prophets will perish by sword and famine. – Jeremiah 14:11-15

The teaching leadership of the church ought to teach everything Scripture says about any topic. It doesn’t.

About 30 years ago I was involved in a church’s singles ministry. The husband of one of that church’s pastors pastored another church, and we had occasion once to visit him there. In order to answer someone’s question, he had to present the church’s teaching on sexual morality.

The people in the group were all in their 30s, but most of them had never heard it! They might have been vaguely aware that the church disapproved of certain kinds of sexual behavior, but they had never learned why.

Today the children of preachers shack up, never having learned why it’s immoral—or even that it’s immoral. Adulterers join churches, take up leadership positions, and never hear from the pulpit that adultery is sin.

Gay rights parade

Gay rights parade

Too many of today’s preachers are too afraid of offending someone to lay a foundation for the congregation to understand biblical sexual standards—and why they are a benefit and not an imposition.

Worse, the Rev. Joseph Fletcher published Situation Ethics in 1968 to teach against biblical sexual standards.

After nearly 50 years of silence and deliberate rebellion regarding sexual morality in general, is it any wonder that the church was unprepared and often unwilling to deal biblically with the gay rights movement?

(Some preachers became notorious for gay bashing and proclaiming gays and lesbians will all go to hell. Not exactly “speaking the truth in love,” is it? Issuing judgment without grace does not count as dealing with any issue biblically.)

Apostate priests

King Ahaz inherited a strong kingdom from his father and through cowardice became a vassal of the Assyrian empire. That meant accepting and worshiping Assyrian gods. It would have been a good time for the priests to stand firm against the king. Instead, here’s what happened:

When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria. He saw an altar in Damascus and sent to Uriah the priest a sketch of the altar, with detailed plans for its construction. So Uriah the priest built an altar in accordance with all the plans that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus and finished it before King Ahaz returned. . . King Ahaz then gave these orders to Uriah the priest: “On the large new altar, offer the morning burnt offering and the evening grain offering, the king’s burnt offering and his grain offering, and the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their grain offering and their drink offering. Splash against this altar the blood of all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. But I will use the bronze altar for seeking guidance.” And Uriah the priest did just as King Ahaz had ordered. – 2 Kings 16:10-11, 15-16.

The only prior complaint in the Bible against priests in general came under Joash, four kings before Ahaz, when they took an offering to repair the temple and didn’t do the work.

After Uriah chose to follow the king’s orders instead of God’s law, the priesthood began its long descent into apostasy. It was thoroughly corrupt by the time of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah, Sistine Chapel ceiling / Michelangelo

Jeremiah, Sistine Chapel ceiling / Michelangelo

I brought you into a fertile land
to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land
and made my inheritance detestable.
The priests did not ask,
‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who deal with the law did not know me;
the leaders rebelled against me.
The prophets prophesied by Baal,
following worthless idols. Jeremiah 2:7-8

And yet the priests offered all the prescribed sacrifices. They thought they were doing their jobs, just as the prophets thought they were proclaiming God’s word.

But God does not want perfunctory, formal worship that looks and feels impressive to people. He wants worship in spirit and in truth.

The teaching and worship leading functions of prophet and priest are united in our pastors. No one who has turned his back on the standards God has proclaimed is capable of leading anyone in true worship.

This is not a new problem in the church. C. S. Lewis, mourning the false teaching rampant in his day, noted that the sheep could only gather together and bleat until the shepherds returned.

The church’s only hope is for another “great awakening.” The only choice is revival or ruin.

Judgment will fall upon the United States for its slide into immorality just as it did for slavery. Will the church seize the opportunity to repent? If not, how how many church people will, like Jeremiah, have both the spiritual sensitivity and courage to continue to proclaim God’s word even after most of the church, along with society as a whole, no longer wants to hear it?

Photo credits:
Dark clouds. Some rights reserved by Jo Naylor.
Sin. Some rights reserved by Corey Balazowich.
Child sacrifice. Source unknown.
Gay rights parade. Some rights reserved by Guillaume Paumier.
Jeremiah, Sistine Chapel ceiling / Michelangelo. Pubic domain from Wikimedia Commons.

Don’t Ignore God’s Gift Wrapping

Gift wrappingYou have a gift from God. You are a gift to the church from Jesus. You do the gifts of the Holy Spirit as he chooses.

The Bible describes these varieties of gifts in Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Corinthians 12-14. Ordinarily, when you get gifts, you rip off the paper and discard it.

With God’s gifts, the gift wrapping is as valuable as the gifts themselves, except you don’t have to rip it up to get to what’s inside.

The first time I taught a class on gifts, I pointed out three subjects that also appear prominently in all of these chapters. The class promptly found about half a dozen more topics that always or nearly always occur in the context of gifts. I noticed something else while preparing to write this post.

God has special gifts for you and me, and high expectations, too.

The Body of Christ

As Rick Warren famously wrote as the first sentence of The Purpose Driven Life, it’s not about you. It’s not about me, either. It’s not about any one person in isolation, even though so much modern teaching focuses attention on applications for individuals to take to heart. We’re all in tbis spiritual jouney together as the body of Christ. Continue reading

Now Concerning Spiritual Gifts

God-given gifts. . . I do not want you to be ignorant (1 Corinthians 12:1). Despite Paul’s stated desire, most of the church is indeed ignorant, even fearful, of spiritual gifts. The New Testament described gifts in three passages: Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Corinthians 12-14.

Some years ago, my church at the time bought a course on spiritual gifts, which was available in a version for congregations that chose not to acknowledge tongues. Why would anyone censor any part of Scripture?

The authors noted that each of these passages has some gifts apparently in common with other passage, and some unique to itself. They proceeded to eliminate the “duplicates,” and since it appeared that none of the lists was complete, searched to find additional gifts. Then they tried to provide guidance so people could figure out which one or ones they had.

What a complete waste of time and paper! 

Reading the three lists in context shows that each is complete in itself without duplicates. Each has a distinct significance within the body of Christ. The gifts in each are given by a different person of the Trinity. Continue reading

Cornelius: Anyone Can Be Saved


A historical reenactor in Roman centurion costume. Note the transverse crest on the Galea (helmet).It was worn to indicated the wearer’s rank in regimental ‘triumph’ and honorific parades. It purpose was purely symbolic. In ordinary events, it was not part of the standard battle-dress of Roman soldiers in the field.

Just before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In Matthew 28:20, he specifically said to “make disciples of all nations.”

It took a while for them to understand that he meant for more than just Jews to become disciples. Finally, God prepared a very special person, Cornelius, to become the first gentile Christian.

The Jews had long suffered under Roman occupation. So isn’t it just like God to choose a Roman centurion to hear the gospel first? Continue reading