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God is at work in you

50 01 06 imageDo you ever feel like quitting?

Years ago, my little engine of spiritual energy ran out of steam. I just drifted for a while until one day I discovered this verse.

I’m confident of this: God finishes what He starts. He started a good work in you. He won’t give up on you. He will finish the beautiful work He started so you will be everything He imagined when Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6 The Easy Bible

It electrified me. I found something greater than my mistakes, my sin, my apathy, my fatigue—something greater than me. An amazing thing happened. The less I worried about how spiritual I was, and the more I concentrated on what a fantastic job God is doing with me, the easier everything got to be.

If spiritual growth were just a matter of spiritual disciplines, then the go-get-’em types would leave all the rest of us in the dust. But spiritual growth is not just a matter of setting goals and observing disciplines. We are in the hands of God.

Yeah, yeah, we gotta be willing, but it really isn’t about us, folks. It’s about Him. It’s all about what a great Father God is. Am I lazy or proud or stubborn or rebellious? If I am, these things are secondary to something that is far more important: God is at work in me.

And God is at work in you.

 

Remember, you were designed to make a difference!

Dwight

Photo credit: Adapted from a photo by Jakob Montrasio, Flickr, Creative Commons License

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God’s gift to us

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This book is about the things God showed Jesus so He could tell His followers what will soon happen. Revelation 1:1 The Easy Bible

How do we wrap our minds around the enormity of God’s plan? How do we find room in our hearts to contain the majesty, the wrath, the love and the holiness of God? I’m not sure that we can.

Yet God chooses to share His plans with us.

I remember sitting in my brother-in-law’s hot tub on a cold December night looking up into a clear starry sky trying to comprehend the magnitude of what I saw.

The book of Revelation is a gift to God’s servants. It is a gift to know that God has seen everything, and now He responds. It is a gift to know that that the full power of evil has no more ability to stop God’s plans than a blade of grass has the power to stop a lawnmower.

It is a gift to know that our prayers matter, that our suffering counts, that our deeds are measured. And it is a gift to know that we are—all of us—children before the One who towers over the earth like the stars on a clear December night.

Photo credit: Adapted from photo by Jeff Turner, Flickr, Creative Commons License

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What I Believe About You – Free pdf

what i believe about you frontHi!

I just wanted to make you aware that What I Believe About You is now available as a free pdf preview. This is a nonthreatening, nonjudgmental, encouraging and informative look at getting started with the Christian faith. In addition, it takes on questions like these:

  • Why am I suffering?
  • Prove to me that God exists.
  • How do I forgive people I don’t feel like forgiving?
  • What about Christian leaders who fail?
  • With all those religions out there, why choose Jesus?
  • How can I make sense of the Bible?

The entire book is included. No sign up, no email, no cost. It’s right here:

What I Believe About You

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They see it all

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Each of these four beings had six wings, and each was covered with eyes all over, even under his wings. Night and day, without stopping, they say, “Holy, holy, holy is God, the all-powerful ruler of the universe, who was, who is, and who is to come.” Revelation 4:8 The Easy Bible

This is the center of the book of Revelation. An unchanging God, fully in charge of the church, the pagans, the spirits, the devils, the angels, the dead and the living—takes His place as King of the universe, under the constant inspection of these super intelligent and powerful creatures.

And they are in awe.

“Why all the eyes?” I ask our Father. “Is it so they can see You, or so You can look them in the eye, and see inside their spirits?”

And then I realize they see it all. They see thousands of years of rebellion. Billions of evil men and women, legions of demons, inflicting horror on those God loves. They see the church with all its beauty and all its flaws. And they see God.

Though they’ve seen the depths of evil, they are overwhelmed, not with what’s wrong with us or with unbelievers or with demons, but rather with what’s right with God. Triumphant, holy, unchanging, sovereign God.

It’s a ray of light in our dark world. If we could see enough, we too would be overwhelmed.

Photo credit: Adapted from a photo by US Geological Survey, Flickr, Creative Commons License

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Fear God?

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If God loves us, why would He want us to fear Him? How can we love and fear God at the same time?

I got this great question today from a nineteen year old man. For me, the best analogy is semi trucks. My brother-in-law was a professional semi driver. Once or twice, I rode with him. It’s a great deal of fun. I really enjoyed it. You could say that I “love” semis.

But I also fear semis. No, I don’t lie awake at night in a cold sweat shuddering at the thought of a semi. But at the same time, I’m not stupid enough to stand in the middle of the Interstate on a foggy night waiting to take on a forty-ton mass of metal coming at me at 70 miles per hour. I have enough sense to get out of the way.

In the same way, I love God. I love hanging out with Him. I love being with Him. But I’m not stupid enough to tangle with Him. People who pick a fight with God lose. I don’t want to be that person.

Photo credit: Leland Francisco, Flickr, Creative Commons License

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Like a wave

15298537725_0a1739e17c_mThis book is about the things God showed Jesus so He could tell His followers what will soon happen. Revelation 1:1 The Easy Bible

It’s a big world out there. And things get bigger, much bigger, when God steps in to bring history to a screeching halt. Like a great wave, humanity’s hatred of God rushes in, but, like any other wave, it breaks on the shore of eternity and it is no more.

The day of evil is coming to an end.

Photo credit: Rachel Kramer, Flickr, Creative Commons License

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What does it mean to be born again?

8123521804_b77bb4db8e_zWhat does it really mean to be born again? At one time, I thought if you prayed the magic prayer, you were set. Your sins were forgiven and you were assured a place in heaven. I seesawed back and forth over whether you could “lose your salvation,” but I believed that salvation came simply by admitting you were a sinner and believing that Jesus died on the cross to take the penalty for your sins.

Over the years I became increasingly uncomfortable with this idea because it doesn’t seem to square with the Bible. I am afraid that millions of people may be thinking they bought the insurance by praying the magic prayer, but they aren’t born again, and they don’t have the assurance of eternal life.

As I re-examine the Bible, I see several things that I didn’t see early on.

First, the phrase “born again” is only used three times in the entire Bible. (John 3:3, John 3:7, 1 Peter 1:23) To truly understand what it means to have peace with God and a place in heaven, it pays to read the entire Bible from cover to cover paying particularly close attention to what Jesus says in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Second, “born again” means starting a new life. That means the old life died, a new life begins. You have a new identity as a new person. You were a sinner. Now you are a child of God. The old is dead. You simply can’t be born again without receiving a new life. This is why baptism has been such an important part of the Christian experience; it signifies the death of the old, the birth of the new. This new life may be invisible, but it is not nonexistent. It changes everything. It changes how you think, how you talk, how you live.

Third, in order to be born again, we must accept a spiritual union with Jesus Christ. We must give Him His rightful place in our lives. The Bible is very clear on this. “If you have the Son [Jesus], you have life. If you don’t have the Son, you don’t have life.” (1 John 5:12) The reason that Jesus and the Apostles emphasized “believing in Jesus” is because their First Century listeners understood the implications of that belief. They understood that believing in Jesus means the transfer of ownership of our lives over to Him (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and giving Him command over our lives (Luke 6:46). Being born again does not mean that we’ve installed a religion app in our lives, and that once in a while we will go to church or do some other religious activity. It means that Jesus now commands everything we do. While we are still free to say yes or no to Him, our inclination is to say yes. Nothing will get between us and God (Matthew 19:16-30).

This is a heavy duty decision. If we want Jesus in our lives, we need to “accept” Him as He really is: God the Son, Lord of All, King of Kings. There’s no way we can accept the real Jesus and not choose to put Him in charge of our lives. He is nothing less than Lord, and He must be accepted as such. No wonder Jesus said, “If you want to follow Me, it’s going to cost you something. Count the cost.” (See Luke 14:25-33, etc.)

Fourth, while the process of being born again may be invisible, the results are plainly visible. Here are a few of them:

If we are truly alive, we will have an appetite unless we are in ill health. If we are truly born again, we will have an appetite for God’s word, the Bible. (See 1 Peter 2:2)

We will love God and love His children, our fellow Christians. (1 John 3:14-15, 4:7-8, 4:19-21) That does not mean that we will never be angry with God or with our fellow Christians (Jeremiah 20:7, Ephesians 4:26), but we will process that anger with God, and we will forgive our fellow Christians (Matthew 6:14-15).

We will live differently. Some Christians talk about a “positional” righteousness before God, that “just-as-if-I-never-sinned” justification that makes us judicially right before God. But the Bible accents a practical righteousness (1 John 3:9, etc.) that will be marked by good deeds, caring for the needy (Matthew 25:31-46), and so on. On Judgment Day, God doesn’t want to be placed in a position where He needs to say, “Yeah, I admit he acted like a jerk his entire life, but he prayed the magic prayer so he’s in.” And we don’t want to try to put Him in that position.

But this is where many Christians seem to get confused. They assume that righteousness is something that we manufacture on our own, even though the Bible clearly teaches that we cannot and must not (Romans 4:13, Galatians 3:3, etc.). Some will say, for example, the fruit of the Spirit is patience, so we must learn three easy steps to patience. But this is wrong. Fruit is not manufactured. It is organically produced by our connection to the root. Sadly, “try harder” Christianity is regularly taught from many if not most pulpits.

Instead of standing over us with a whip, God intends to take us through a process with Him where we shed the lies we have believed, and embrace the truth about who we are, who He is, and how much He loves and cares for us. The outcome of this process is a transformed life. The supernatural result is this: Eternal life begins the moment we embrace Jesus for who He really is, and our transition to heaven at the end of this life is a natural step, because we’ve already welcomed the presence of God into every door we know how to open (Revelation 3:20).

Photo credit: Jason Pratt. Flickr

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Were rape victims punished by God?

I recently came across a post on Facebook alleging that God punishes rape victims. The person posting this pointed to Deuteronomy 21 & 22, particularly 22:23-29. He also said that Christians try to explain these passages metaphorically, but the Bible says what it says.

The Bible contains a number of passages that an honest person will find challenging. In my view, an important part of spiritual growth is to work our way through these passages while keeping the rest of the Bible in view. With that in mind, what follows was my response to the post:

In my view, all of these things need to be understood not metaphorically, but rather within the context of the culture at the time they were written. Throughout the Bible, God worked within cultures to incrementally transform those cultures. He worked with what He had, and took steps to make it better.

Women were considered to be the responsibility of men. And, yes, many men did treat women as property. God worked to mitigate this. See, for example, Deuteronomy 24:5.

With this in mind, let’s look at the passages you cite, and let’s start with the most problematic one: the rapist must marry his victim (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). I would point to several dynamics taking place here. First of all, in this culture it was in a woman’s economic best interests to be married since property, and with it, the ability to make a living, transferred to male heirs. Since marriages were arranged, most women were betrothed or pledged to be married at a young age. If a woman was not betrothed, her family, possibly due to poverty or some other issue, was probably having difficulty finding a husband for her. If she was raped, she would lose her virginity, making it much, much more difficult for her family to find a husband for her. The law, therefore, was written to discourage men from raping a woman in this situation, because he would then be required to take economic responsibility for her for life. In any case, the provisions of this passage would almost certainly be interpreted against the backdrop of Exodus 22:16-17 which gives the woman’s father veto power over a marriage. If the father felt that his daughter’s best interests would not be served by the marriage, he collected the fine from the rapist and did his best to find his daughter a different husband.

Clearly, a law like this would never work in our culture. But it wasn’t intended for our culture; it was intended for a very different culture, where a very different set of values and priorities were in play.

Since most young women would be betrothed, the provisions of Deuteronomy 22:23-27 would normally apply. Here we have a rudimentary test for consent: If the rape took place in town, did the woman scream? It’s admittedly an incomplete test, but this was the reason judges were appointed among the Israelis—to get at the intent of the law. The intent of the law was NOT to punish a rape victim.

The betrothal arrangement needs to be understood as something stronger than an engagement in our culture. The only way to break a betrothal was to get a divorce. So consensual sex between a betrothed woman and someone not her promised husband was considered a form of adultery.

Some of the punishments for offenses such as adultery were harsh, unreasonably harsh by the standards of our culture. I can’t say that I totally understand all of the reasons for that. But these thoughts have helped me: God was forming a nation, a theocracy, to represent His interests to all other nations. As such, He needed the people of that nation to abide by a certain code of behavior, and deviation from that couldn’t be tolerated.

As we come to the New Testament, several profound paradigm shifts take place. Among them: The people of God are no longer understood to be the citizens of a single nation, but rather people “called out” from every nation. In fact, the Greek word for “church” ekklesia literally means “called out.” As a result, the people of God needed to bring God’s values into every culture. Instead of laws and punishments, a personal relationship with God was meant to bring God’s values into every relationship.

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