The Discipline of Writing Informs Belief

The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.
Gustave Flaubert

One of the reasons I have written this blog for so many years is that it helps me think, and my thinking can use all the help it can get.

Some of what I say here is just me thinking things through. I don’t encourage anyone to believe unreservedly every word written here, or every word written by anyone else, for that matter. The only ones accountable on judgment day for how they listened to me are my wife and kids.

However, knowing that people will read what I say does make me pause. I contemplate quitting this blog about 36 times a week and have done so for the past ten years. But I keep going because I keep thinking.

Writing is a great discipline and a great way to sort through the stuff running around your brain. Good writing is concise and makes the complex simple. I don’t always achieve that, but it is why I write: to get a thought concise and simple.

I have made much progress in the past ten years and this blog is partly to blame.

Forgiveness: Just Let It Go Already!

Forgiveness is tough. Forgiveness is great when people forgive me, but forgiving others? That’s when it gets annoying.

Matthew 4:20 says “and straightway they left their nets and followed him.”
Matthew 18:12 says, “will he not leave the ninety and nine to find the one that is lost.”

Perhaps you are wondering what these two verses have to do with my opening sentence. Turns out, they have a lot to do with it.

The word “left” in 4:20 and the word “leave” in 18:12 are the exact same Greek word that is translated “forgive.” To forgive means to depart, to leave. Let it go already!

I remember a lot of crummy things people have done to me. I struggle to have right emotions over a lot of it, the more hurtful the act the more difficult it is to depart from the emotions.

But the Bible is clear that I am not to take vengeance or seek my own. The Bible is also clear that if I believe I have been forgiven by Christ, which I do, then it only makes sense that I forgive others.

As a forgiven sinner myself, who am I to not be forgiving? I am even to forgive 70×7, for the real jerks in the crowd. I have often wondered about the 491st time, but alas I may be the guy asking “who is my neighbor” with that one!

“Father forgive them for they know not what they do” was said by God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, to a bunch of hateful, evil people killing Him. This is incredible that He could say and mean that while I struggle to forgive my wife for not writing a check in the checkbook register properly.

Alas and did my Savior bleed and did my Sovereign die. Be forgiving today. Everything that happens, just let it go. Depart from the emotions and the anger and release the offense on a nice little trip to the mountains. Perhaps let it go as far as the east is from the west.

Critiquing God’s Word

Not that I’m criticizing the Holy Spirit, but I think many parts of God’s word are poorly written.

I believe the Scriptures are inspired–God-breathed. These are words from His mouth and holy men of God were moved by the Spirit to write them down.

Then they were copied and translated.

Perhaps, and I’ll grant the benefit of the doubt, the confusingly worded parts of Scripture are the fault of copying and translating. I will also admit that the way ancient people thought and logically proved things is different from how my mind works.

All that being said, it sure seems like Romans 5:13-17 could have been said better.

Giving Glory to God Does Not Make God Glorious

There is a lot of talk about giving God glory. This is a fine thing, certainly not opposed to it. Although, I must say, many attempts to “give God glory” seem rather self-serving.

I think of a worship leader guy I knew who would point to heaven and say “It’s all for the glory of God” when someone would compliment him.

Now, I want to grant the benefit of the doubt that he meant that, but the way he did it made me wonder. This may be more a fault with my cynical nature than with him, however! Seems to me a simple “thank you” is the humblest way to take a compliment.

God does not need us to give Him glory. I think too often we give the impression that God suffers from a lack of self-esteem and He really, really, really wants us to give Him compliments so He can feel all good about His God self.

He doesn’t.

God is not “worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing.” He does not need glory from us.

Jesus expressed the same thought when He was on earth. He was opposed at every step, yet He trudged on, not being thwarted by man’s opposition and criticism (although one does get the sense it tired Him!).

John 8 contains a messy passage where some of His opposers are opposing Him and He says, “I receive not honour from men.” “Honour” is the Greek word “doxa,” which is translated a huge majority of the time as “glory.”

Jesus is not stating a fact here–that no man gives Him glory; rather He is saying He does not desire man’s glory. This is made clear a few verses later when He says, “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?”

If you are constantly consumed with what others think of you, rest assured you are not living for the glory of God. Scribes and Pharisees were motivated by how men received them, how much respect they got, which seems to be the most funnest part of any religion.

Unfortunately, God does not esteem what man esteems, so if man esteems what you’re doing, watch out!

Bottom line point is this: Jesus nor God need glory from you to maintain His gloriousness or preeminence. God was glorious before He created anything. Should we glorify God? Absolutely, without question.

Just know that our glory is not what keeps God being God. It all reminds me of the Christmas specials where Santa’s reindeer can’t fly unless people believe. I fear this is how many view God. “God needs us in order to be God” is nothing short of humanism.

Joel Osteen Hoax

There is a new hoax going around on the internets that Joel Osteen has resigned from being a pastor and has renounced Christianity.

As much as I wish this were true, it is not.

The hoax contains shots of web sites allegedly reporting the news, including the Drudge Report and CNN, all of which are fake. Joel Osteen is still a pastor and is still adhering to his particular brand of Christ-inanity.

So, just doing my part to give a heads up to all Christian internetters who seem to fall for such hoaxes on a weekly basis.

The Bible and Going Nuts

I was having a discussion with someone today about the Bible and trying to live out what it says, in which I eventually commented, “The Bible will make you crazy without the Holy Spirit.”

We laughed, but seriously, I think that’s true!

The Word of God is a sharp sword able to fully equip people for good works and the spiritual things it says can only be discerned by spiritual people.

If you are a person without the Spirit, the Bible will enable you to cut your head off.

We are to have our minds renewed by the Spirit.

The Bible can eradicate your weirdness or, apart from the Spirit, make you certifiably insane. The response is not to stay away from the Bible for fear you’ll cut yourself; the response is to ask for the Spirit.

Trouble and Why Most Don’t Seek God

When I was a wee young lad, I heard a Sunday School lesson about Jehoshaphat. I do not remember what the lesson was about, primarily because I found the name Jehoshaphat to be so hilarious I probably heard nothing else! My mother can recall my reaction to that Sunday School lesson even now.

What a great name!

If you can get past the name and read about Jehoshaphat, he’s an interesting guy. He seems like a nice guy (he was willing to dress as a king in a battle when Ahab dressed like a commoner so the bad guys would chase him instead of Ahab, that has always struck me as naive), maybe too nice, but he has a heart of gold.

Jehoshaphat faced some trials in life. At one point enemies were piled up at the doors and Jehoshaphat knew he was done for. In times like these, there was only one thing to do: call on the Lord.

In the midst of their calling on the Lord is this beautiful verse:

“O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee.”

I love that last phrase, “We know not what to do, but our eyes are upon you!”

Ever been there?

The next verse is a beauty too.

And all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.”

Have you ever just stood there, dumbfounded before the Lord, waiting for something? Anything? HELP!

It is unfortunate that it takes incredibly bad things to get us to look to God, but I fear even then we too quickly take our eyes off Him and put them on other solutions.

Stand still and look to the Lord. 2 Chronicles 20 is a beauty of a chapter. Here’s how it goes down from that point on:

“the battle is not yours, but God’s.”

“Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you,”

“Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established”

“And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten.”

Our notion of faith today is nowhere near consistent with biblical faith. Yeah, I know, God acted differently on Israel’s behalf than He does for us today. Not telling you to wait for God to smite your enemies.

What I am saying is: I wonder how life would be different if we looked to God for solutions rather than all the other available options.

It is funny, and/or sad, how those who can prove God doesn’t do miracles like He did in the OT, consider there to be no point to look to God then!

Do we love God enough to want Him for Him, or do were merely seek Him to do our bidding? If He doesn’t do our bidding, is there any point in seeking Him? I contend there is!

Believing Lies or Believing God

There’s nothing like being in the belly of a giant fish to make a guy get religion. God, who previously could not be trusted by Jonah, is suddenly all Jonah has left to trust! Funny how circumstances will do that!

In the midst of Jonah’s prayer for deliverance (all of Jonah chapter 2), Jonah says

They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.”

Jonah knows the only God who can deliver him is the gracious God of Israel. Jonah did not go to Nineveh because he knew God was gracious and would forgive the evil Ninevites and Jonah was not interested in God’s benevolence.

Jonah’s knowledge of God’s character caused him to flee away from Nineveh and now it causes Jonah to flee back to God, knowing that God is gracious and would even forgive him.

People would rather believe a lie than believe God is who He says He is. Who God is might not work out well for all your plans, desires, and hopes. But He is who He says He is.

He probably prefers having you not like all characteristics of Him rather than have you believe wrong things about Him.

If we neglect God and rather go after a lie–we change the truth of God into a lie and worship and serve the creation more than the creator who is blessed forever–we forfeit our own mercy we could have gotten from God.

How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation and trample the Son of God underfoot?

Lies are more comfortable, we can pretend we are getting away with stuff and that justice is nigh on identical with our opinions. This is soothing and eliminates worry.

A lack of worry may, in fact, be proof you believe lies! Israel tripped to her destruction claiming “Peace! Peace!” when there was no peace.

You can believe that everyone ends up in heaven. You can believe that other people’s sins are worse than yours. You can believe that your notion of spirituality is good enough for God. You can pretend your journey is better than the destination of God.

You can believe and pretend all these things all the way to your destruction.

“The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?

The Decline of Seminary

“Neither Jesus nor any of the twelve apostles could get a job in any self-respecting mainline church in America today; none of them had a degree from an accredited seminary.”

This article details the decline of many seminaries around the country, forcing them to reduce staff, sell property and minimize degree offerings.

It all seems part of a larger trend to professionalize the clergy and the church, to make church after a business model and thus, seminaries built after a business school model.

This particular model does not seem to be working for seminaries nor the church!

“There is a lot of dead wood in American Christian institutions today, and the carters are coming to clear it away.”

(Hat tip to The Pietist Schoolman)

Loving the Brethren, Death and Many-Splendored Things

Love is a many splendored thing. or so says the old song. I actually have no idea what that means. Some people think it means that love is undefinable, it has many aspects to it. Others think it means it has a lot of splendid stuff going on, just one amazement after another.

I think it means love is way above us, so all we can do is make up words that are above meaning to describe how far above us it is.

Love is in many regards undefinable. We know it when we see it, but we can’t always boil it down to a few words. This above us, undefinable word is what we are commanded to do toward God and toward each other.

John has many things to say about love, beginning with the idea that God is love and if we don’t love Him we can’t love others and if we don’t love others it means we don’t love God.

1 John makes many people nervous. The Gospel of John gets lots of praise and everyone is cool with it. A recent bracket competition to determine the best book of the Bible was won by the Gospel of John. 1 John never does as well!

1 John says some extreme things–the man of God does not sin, he that loveth not knoweth not God, etc.–that causes sweat and mental quivering by many. Here’s one of John’s doozies about love from 1 John:

“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.”

Two big points here:

1) Love of brethren tells us we are saved. The Bible gives a number of tests to determine whether we are saved, this is one. “The brethren” are believers, there is no other definition for this term. The brethren typically go to church and, as we all know, church is one of the most unified and comforting places on earth, no? This lets us know there are lots of “dead” people in the Church.

2) Not loving the brethren is proof you are “abiding in death.” What a phrase! You have not been born again. You are not a new creation, you are still dead and spreading death.

Love cannot be faked, it will always show if it is real. Love is a willingness to put up with quirks and disagreements for the benefit of the other. Love is patient, kind, forgiving and lots of other 1 Corinthian 13 ideals.

It is a many splendored thing and means a splendid thing when it’s real.

Christ’s Righteous Deeds Are Not Imputed to You

It is a commonly held belief that in justification the righteous deeds/works of Christ are added to our account. This is repeated so often one would think it would be stated somewhere in the Bible, but it is not.

This is not some thing like the Trinity either where, even though the word is never mentioned the concept shows up. It doesn’t show up even in hinting.

I am not saved by the righteous deeds of Christ added to my account. If I were, then I would be saved by works, even if they were the works of Christ. The Bible makes it clear that we are not saved by the deeds of the law.

Romans 4 is the classic text on justification and imputation. To prove that main is justified by faith and not by the deeds of the law, Paul quotes two Old Testament passages.

The first passage deals with Abraham, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”

The second passage is about David who “describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.” However, when we look at the OT passage quoted, you will not it doesn’t talk about faith or imputed righteousness. Here’s what it says:

“Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”

Paul says both these OT passages address being counted or imputed righteousness (“counted” and “imputed” are the same Greek word–logizomia). Both passages describe the same result but different means.

Abraham was counted righteous
David’s sins were not counted against him.

Both describe being counted righteous. In other words, not imputing sins is the same thing as imputing righteousness. Not imputing sins means not counting wrong, which then leaves a guy being right!

If this explanation doesn’t make sense, here’s some other stuff I wrote on it a few years ago. Watch out for this erroneous doctrine, it shows up in lots of places but never the Bible.

Justification and Imputing Righteousness
Being Counted Righteous is the same as Being Forgiven
Imputed Righteousness Annoyance
The Merit of Christ

Annoying Others, Judgment and Giving the Benefit of the Doubt

Jesus, who was perfect, could not please everyone all the time. In fact, He pretty much annoyed everyone all the time. He pulled off this annoyance without a shred of sin.

If Jesus, who was perfect, was able to annoy so many people, what chance do we have to not annoy people?! In fact, if you are not annoying people, is it because you are conforming to worldliness too much?!

Even if we managed to annoy people apart from our sin–for instance, we annoyed others by speaking God’s Word–no doubt our response and defense would involve sin as our competitive I’m-right-you’re-wrong side takes over.

It has been a learning process in my own life to experience how little of a benefit of a doubt I am granted at any given time. Never mind I have endeavored to help, to speak truth, to be nice, to hold back much of what I desire to say, and have in many other ways limited the potential for my sin, at one slip-up, I will be pounced on.

I do not say this as a victim or as an oddity, this is life. Although I may have done all I could for you, helped you and been of benefit to you for years, if I say one thing that slightly puts you off–BOOM!–that’s it! Jeff is heretic scum!

It is for this reason, along with others, that I am glad the final judgment will not take place in front of a jury of my peers. I will be judged by God and I am so relieved at this. I at least know God is gracious, merciful and willing to forgive, unlike pretty much everyone else I’ve ever met, including myself.

I will gladly say with David, “let us fall now into the hand of the Lord; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man.”

As we progress in denying ourselves and being transformed into the image of Christ, let us grow in our mercy toward one another. Give each other the benefit of the doubt, don’t automatically interpret everything in the worst possible way. Take the whole context, including your entire relationship into account before blowing someone off.

Oh for the day when we will live surrounded by righteousness where no one will need to be taught for we will all know the Lord and knowing Him will eliminate all selfishness!

Feeding Multitudes Aint Nothing New

Jesus feeds lots of people with a little bit of bread two times in the book of Matthew. First, in chapter 14, He feeds 5,000 men with five loaves and two fish. Secondly, He feeds 4,000 men with seven loaves and a few little fish in chapter 16.

Now, this is cool! Anyone who can feed a lot of people to their satisfaction, albeit these were not grubby Americans, with just a little bit of food is pretty powerful.

I can’t even feed my three children to a point of their satisfaction with huge amounts of food.

But the disciples never seemed to catch on to the power available. But I don’t know that Jesus was just showing power, I think He was fulfilling a prophecy about Himself.

First there is the metaphor of the bread from heaven that Moses had in relation to the feeding. God can provide your food so don’t worry about it.

Secondly, Elijah’s overflowing oil that filled all the widow’s jars.

And thirdly, feeding a lot of people with a little bit of bread is something an Old Testament prophet did! I think Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy, doing a much bigger deal, showing He was even a greater prophet than the great Elisha.

Very little of what Jesus did and said was unique to Him, most of it was foreshadowed, including multiplying bread.

“And there came a man from Baalshalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof. And he said, Give unto the people, that they may eat. And his servitor said, What, should I set this before an hundred men? He said again, Give the people, that they may eat: for thus saith the Lord, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof. So he set it before them, and they did eat, and left thereof, according to the word of the Lord.”

One and Done Faith

March Madness is the term for the NCAA basketball championship tournament. It begins with 64 teams that play each other until there is only one team left who is crowned champion. If you lose; you’re done. They call this “one and done.”

“One and done” is scary for teams because every little mistake is suddenly big as it could lead to your elimination and a very good team can get eliminated by a shabby one who happened to play better for one game.

The term “one and done” could be used another way, a way that many believers tend to see faith.

Faith, or trusting Christ, is generally referred to as a moment in time, something you did once. Once you trusted or believed, nothing else matters. “I said the prayer, God only sees Jesus now, not me” and life carries on same as before.

This is “one and done” faith. I had faith once and now I’m done. But it is used in a positive sense–since I had faith I can carry on as though I didn’t and I’m still good.

The problem is that the Bible speaks of faith as a race, a fight, a walk. It is continuous, not a one time thing. Duke is not crowned basketball champions because they won the first game of the tournament.

Duke, who will no doubt, be the eventual champion, must win 6 games in a row to be champion, there can be no quit, no done, until the games are over.

The Christian faith is the same thing–patient continuance. If you think faith is a one time deal, well, you will be eliminated and you want to avoid that.

It is good to begin, but if you don’t finish, persevere to the end, there is no point and this truly is madness.

“And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciledIn the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel,”

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