The Gates Are Open

Sin

The Secret Sins of Human Sexuality

Joanne has had sex many times with men that were not her husband.

Jimmy has drugged many women with date-rape substances and then sexually assaulted them.

Mark is a pastor who has slept with several of his parishioners.

Brian watches pornographic videos and acts them out with prostitutes.

Tom and Lucille have joined a Swing club and to date have switched partners dozens of times.

Each of these is a Christian I have counseled, and each is sinning against the God they have chosen to serve. Very few Christians would disagree with my assessment that every one of these people has violated some of God’s directives regarding human sexuality. As followers of Christ, we believe there are limitations and restrictions on the practice of sex. Though there are elements of our culture that believe that anything is allowable, this is not in alignment with the Bible. There are other cultures where certain actions are considered ungodly and sinful, but that list might disagree with the list compiled in other countries.

However, in the 40 years of giving people counsel on their sex lives, I’ve seen a number of sexual sins that hardly ever get mentioned by anyone. Yet these sins are alluded to in the Bible and we are warned about their dangers. Let me quickly outline each one, noting the different manifestations, what the Bible says about them, and what consequences  follow each one.

  1. The Judgmental Virgin:

    Definition: The attitude adopted by a person who has not ever had sexual intercourse, toward those who have had sexual intercourse outside of marriage. This attitude believes that there is a position of moral superiority by the virgin over the non-virgin.

    Description:  Virginity, or the state of never having had sex, is somehow prized in Christian culture. Some would say this is because the Bible places a high premium on saving sex for marriage, and I won’t disagree with that. But there is nothing in particular that makes someone righteous for abstaining from sex. Just because you haven’t done a deed doesn’t mean you have lived righteously. Righteousness is BOTH doing the right thing and resisting doing the wrong thing. And it is wrong to feel morally superior to anyone. This is something Jesus taught on more times than he did on sexuality.

    Scriptural Principle: Matthew 7:1-2 is pretty clear. We are told not to “judge” others. The Greek word means to be both judge and jury, looking down your nose at another person for their actions. Also, in many cases, Jesus warned the Pharisees that their judgmental and legalistic ways were making them fit for hell. When Jesus confronted a woman caught in adultery he told them all to examine their own lives first without casting a stone in judgment. He then also told her that he didn’t condemn her. Many virgins violate this and sin against non-virgins in this way.

    Long-term Effect:   We are told in Matthew 7:2 that the measure with which we judge (i.e. the intensity of our judgment) will be in line with how severe the consequences are. I have personally found that  judgmental virgins later have a good deal of trouble experiencing joy in their own sex lives.

  2.  Deceitful Daters:

    Definition:  This is the person who gives every indication they are deeply committed to another person so as to lure them into a sexual relationship. In reality, this person has no intention of making a long-term commitment and simply wants sex. They instinctively know they need to give some kind of promise that the relationship is going to go further in order to have intercourse.

    Description: It used to be that this was how many men approached sexuality. If you read Shakespearean comedies like “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Romeo and Juliet” (which is part comedy and part tragedy) you will see this has been around for a long time. But it is not just men practicing this any more. There are women who do it also. Groupies and predatory women who want to claim famous or well-known men among their sexual “prizes” have been known to do this. But the majority still are men. Some people have been known to do this just to score points with other people, almost like sexual conquests.

    Scriptural Principle: There are those who claim that anything that goes on between two consenting adults cannot be sin (apart from adultery). I disagree. One of the reasons that people in positions of authority are legally discouraged from having sex with their clients or students is because the authority relationship is hard to say no to. In the book of 1 Timothy 5, Paul instructs Timothy about the dangers of putting young women on a widows list. A widows list was a list of women whom the church financially cared for. In return, these women agreed to remain single and celibate,  and work out helping other women with their families. Paul warns Timothy that these women often go running after a man or are deceived by a man. A lot of deception happens in these relationships.

    As anyone in today’s online dating world knows, deception is practiced by many. If you are the one deceiving another person to gratify your sexual desires, this sin is grievous indeed.

    Effects of this sin: Any time you begin to deceive others, you find that you yourself are deceived inside. You begin to believe your own lies. At the very least, the Bible tells us the deceptive heart becomes calloused. You will find it harder and harder to hear God and obey God.

  3. Abstaining On Purpose:
    Definition: This is when a spouse deliberately pulls away sexually from their partner. Regardless of the reason, this puts an undue hardship on their partner.

    Description: Because God never condones adultery, and because a person does not stop being sexual just because their partner pulls away, this is the case of being doubly deprived: They cannot have sex with their chosen partner, nor with anyone else. Both men and women are capable of doing this, though traditionally, women do this more than men. Many women justify this by stating that they do not feel sexually attracted to their husbands because of how badly they have been treated. But this is not the way to deal with problems like criticism, neglect, violence, narcissism, workaholism, substance abuse etc. Instead of passively pulling away physically, address the problems in counseling or in conversation. In extreme cases, go to the police. But pulling away sexually solves nothing and creates another layer of problem.

    Scriptural Principle: Once again, Paul is pretty clear on this one. He says this in 1 Corinthians 6:3-5:

The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

So, unless you agreed not to have sex for awhile to devote yourselves to prayer and intense study of the Word, you are disobeying the clear teaching of Scripture. Having said that, let me be clear that this does not stipulate how often you are to be sexual. That is something negotiated with every couple. But remember to be open about it with each other.

Effects of this Sin: For the most part, this sin causes a separation between two people that can often become permanent. In almost every case of divorce I have met, at some point, one or both people in the marriage stopped being sexual. And it was always one person to begin with. This sin violates the covenant promise you made to each other. When you do that, you are causing serious spiritual harm to your souls. You are open to the attack of the enemy constantly.

 

The Blind Man’s Elephant: Over-examination of Kim Davis

elephant-parableAn old Indian proverb tells the story of six blind men examining an elephant. One touches the elephant’s ear and tells the others this animal is “like a fan”. Another man touches the trunk and concludes, “no, it is just like a snake.” A third blind man examines the tusk and tells them the elephant feels like a spear. The man who touches its leg concludes it is like a tree, the man who grasps the tail says a rope and the one who feels the belly concludes the elephant is like a wall.

This story has long illustrated the difficulty of relating the Truth you understand to others. All of us have limited perspectives and all of us communicate those perspectives from our own limited experience. All of these men are right in what they observe, and all are wrong when they say their conclusion is the entirety of what an elephant is.

This is the difficulty of many things modern society argues about. It might be a Muslim boy bringing a homemade clock to school, a police officer shooting a teen at a suburban party, a military hostage who might have deserted, a President’s birth certificate or Donald Trump’s hair. Everyone has a perspective on all these things and depending on which angle you are viewing these issues from, the results will differ greatly.

I’m not telling you anything new. But allow me to show how important it is to reserve judgment until you  have taken time to examine all the facts and opinions.

In this case, I want to use the Blind Men’s Elephant story to re-examine an already well-hashed-over issue: That of Kim Davis the county clerk from Kentucky. Here is essentially what happened. The Supreme Court declared that gay marriage is legal. Kim Davis is an elected official whose signature needs to be on all marriage certificates. She refuses to sign the certificate for same-sex couples in her office. The courts order her to fulfill her duty as the County Clerk. She refuses to sign them, citing only her Christian belief in marriage as between a man and a woman as the grounds for her refusal. As a result, she is thrown in jail..

Several days later, she was released from jail and told to do her job or allow her co-workers to do her job.  She agreed to allow her deputies to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as long as her name is not on any of them. For the moment, this ends the most dramatic part of the story, though I’m sure comedians and political pundits will continue to make hay with this issue.

I am bringing it up for a completely different reason than most people. In order to get to my point, let me look at some of the Blind Men viewpoints that have been expressed about Kim Davis.

First, Kim Davis’ viewpoint. Here it is in her words, given through her attorney last week:

In addition to my desire to serve the people of Rowan County, I owe my life to Jesus Christ who loves me and gave His life for me. Following the death of my godly mother-in-law over four years ago, I went to church to fulfill her dying wish. There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.

I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s Word.  It is a matter of religious liberty, which is protected under the First Amendment, the Kentucky Constitution, and in the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

She claims that this is a Heaven and Hell issue for her. (She never clarifies this, not noting whether she means the couples she would be marrying are going to hell or that she would go to hell if she issued the licenses). In her mind the issue is simple: If she issues the license, she is violating a “central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage“.

There are some who agree with her viewpoint on marriage who point out that she could have just resigned her post and it would have accomplished the same thing. She claimed that would have been a slap in the face of those who elected her. Please note: She could not be fired since she was elected, not hired.

This is Kim Davis and her perspective. Obviously, the same-sex couples wanting to receive a marriage license from her see her differently. They see her as a religious bigot who tries to prevent them from doing what they are legally allowed to do. Their position is just as clear as Kim Davis’ position in the matter. Few people can misunderstand either Kim Davis or the couples wanting to have their marriage recognized, regardless of which of these you agree with.

Enter, everyone else! The rest of us observe all of this and have our own slant on it.

First, there are the preachers, teachers and religious leaders of various denominations. To them, Kim Davis becomes a symbol. For the preachers who believe gay marriage is a violation of the Bible, Kim Davis is their spokesperson. She is a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Or, at the very least, she is a sacrificial lamb being hoisted upon a misguided Supreme Court decision.

There are other preachers and teachers who are in favor of gay marriage who see Kim Davis as a caricature of Bible-belt conservatism, of Kentucky Bible-thumping. They are saying that Kim Davis and others like her are a dying breed and that their brand of Christianity is now completely marginalized and should be abandoned.

In this circus of opinions, you will always have the clowns. These are the ones who mock what they disagree with and treat every social issue as an opportunity to rip others apart. Primary among these are the late-night talk show hosts and their ilk. Every host took a shot at Kim Davis and every one of them used her as their whipping girl in one fashion or another. The Social Media jury also weighed in, creating several different memes. One of the most popular was the “Still Did Their Job” meme.

Here are two examples of this buffoonery:

job2

job1

Then, the politicians got involved. Senators, a Governor, several Republican presidential hopefuls all traveled to the jail where Kim Davis was being held to show their support and encouragement. When she was released from jail, many of these politicians stood there and held up her hands, applauded her and told the world how proud they were to be associated with her. Not surprisingly, now that her issue has died down, they don’t book any more flights to Kentucky. She may never hear from any of them again.

Civil Rights and Gay Rights groups continue to pummel Davis. Conservative Christian groups are inviting Kim Davis to come and speak at rallies, conferences and churches. We all can see that no matter what Kim Davis is doing right or wrong personally, all of these groups are using her to further their own agenda. That is not surprising or news but it does bring up an issue for all of us who read, listen to or watch the news.

The wrong thing to do is to jump on the bandwagon for or against anyone too early. The wrong thing to do is probably to jump on any bandwagon. And with the Internet, that is getting harder to resist doing every day.

During the week of 9-11, I was taking a class in Creative Writing from a local community college. Two days after the twin towers were demolished, we sat stunned in the classroom trying to make sense of it all. Our professor, a noted poet laureate and wise woman had a caution for us that morning. She warned us not to write about the event itself for a long time. “This is the kind of thing that will prompt you to fiery diatribes or cries of indignation. Try to resist writing down any of those thoughts for now” she offered.

Instead, she urged us to write down what each of us was feeling inside. If we were wrapped up in anger, grief, pain, confusion, racism, revenge, sadness, etc., those were the things she counseled us to focus on. Not to put too fine a spiritual point on what she said, this is similar to what Jesus said to his closest friends on the night he was betrayed. He told them to watch and pray so each one of them would be able to stand firm in the disaster that was coming. He didn’t wax eloquent on the injustice of the moment. He didn’t give them reasons to be indignant, reasons to be sad, reasons to be hopeful. He instructed them to deal with their own stuff.

I did write about how I felt during that season. I had the additional pain of my brother-in-law’s death, which happened two days after 9-11. All of that grief and pain ate up my mind during those days. Writing helped me to put it all in perspective. I waited two years before writing my feelings about what happened when New York, Washington, D. C. and Pennsylvania were attacked on 9-11. Those two years opened my eyes to so many things, most of which I never would have seen in the first week after the attack.

Let’s bring this around to Kim Davis. Every person who takes a position on what she is doing has a part of the equation correct. Kim Davis is trying to live out her faith. She is not living up to the Law. She could have resigned. She is not doing her job. She has a right to protest a law she does not agree with. Davis is allowing her subordinates to issue marriage licenses.

But those are always going to be the surface issues here. There are much deeper ones involved and they are not obvious. Let me give you an example. In her lawyer’s statement to the press, she says this:

Following the death of my godly mother-in-law over four years ago, I went to church to fulfill her dying wish. There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.

Kim Davis has been married four times and divorced three times. There are many bible-believing Christians that would say every time she divorces and remarries, she commits adultery. Many of the same preachers that say homosexuality is sin also say divorce is sin. So, when Kim Davis went to church four years ago and surrendered her life to Christ, it was because of the message of grace and forgiveness that led her to God.

Does that same grace and forgiveness extend to her job and the people she believes are sinning? I can’t say, and I can’t say what that would look like. There are some who would say that it is hypocritical of her to take a stand against gay marriage but not against serial divorces. If she acknowledges that her sins can be forgiven, does she also acknowledge that the sins of the same-sex couples can be forgiven?

I am not proposing what is right or wrong in this situation. What I am encouraging my readers to do is to always take every news story and ponder it before jumping to conclusions. There are hundreds of issues we may be attracted to and count ourselves part of. Most of the time, we take the position that fits with our worldview at that moment. Or, we adopt the position of the news outlet we most often view. Or, we form an opinion based on the position we already hold.

Instead, perhaps we should reserve opinions on the actions and inactions of others until we have thought about and meditated on the entire issue. This is wisdom. It also helps keep us from dying on every mountain and championing causes that will be here today and gone tomorrow.

What Will the Judgment of God Look Like

In this teaching series, I started out by asking the question “Will God Judge America for Abortion and Gay Marriage?” As I have tried to show, this is a complex question with many parts–which is why I have done a many part teaching on this.

Let’s review what I have already said:

Part 1This issue of Judgment is complex and not as easy as some would like

Part 2 – The Principle of Delayed Consequences

Part 3 – Why is Judgment Delayed (the concept of God’s patience and grace)

Part 4 – Quick Judgment teaches that God can judge quickly if it suits His purpose

Part 5 – It is often difficult to interpret circumstances in light of God’s judgment. This is because you can interpret events many different ways and still sound credible.

Some readers have observed I have not spent a lot of time in the Old Testament in this study on Judgment. I have mentioned various incidents from the Old Covenant writings, but it is correct that a full theology of Judgment should be based on the New Covenant and the writings associated with it. There is a solid reason for this.

In John 5:22-23 we read,

22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

This must have been a brutal thing for Jewish leaders to hear. Of all the things Jesus says to the religious stalwarts of his day, this was among the hardest. Essentially, this says that the Son (Jesus) is not only the Messiah, but also will be the Judge over all creation. And, his teaching emphasizes that the Father (i.e. 1st member of the God/Trinity) will not be the Judge. The entire understanding of how God’s Judgment would work was all based upon their understanding of Jahweh the one who brings Justice and fire.

But Jesus changed the entire equation in this fifth chapter of John. He begins by calling God his Father, hinting at a deep, intimate relationship that no Jews would ever claim. Then, he continues deeper into heretical territory by stating that this “Father” of his shows him everything he does. This means that Jesus is an active partner and collaborator on all the works of God the Father. It is a miracle they didn’t take up stones to kill him that moment.

But the crowning glory of this teaching is Jesus’ insistence that he now is the Judge, the Arbitrar of all men’s deeds. It is upon this teaching of John’s Gospel we start to piece together the various elements of the Judgment of God.

First, notice that John 5:23 gives us the purpose of Judgment. “That all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.” Most people reading this verse will probably be confused. How does the concept of “honor” relate to Judgment? And since Jesus has died, come back to life through the Resurrection, ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God the Father, how can any judgment in this world bring honor to Jesus?

The simple answer is this: It can’t. This is because the kind of judgment Jesus is referring to here will not take place on this earth. This is not the judgment of man against man. This is not the judgment of circumstances. It is not even the quick judgment to deal with egregious error and potential disaster. The Judgment of Jesus is of a different nature.

We come back to something mentioned in an earlier article. The word for judgment refers to the entire process and not just the end result. It refers to the gathering and pronouncing of all the evidence. It refers to the declaration of the Judge concerning his decision and deliberation. It refers to the carrying out of that Judgment. It refers to every part of this process. And since we read here in John 5 that all judgment is now given to Jesus and that this will all be done so all creation can honor the Son, it must be done by Jesus publicly and decisively. Does the Bible have anything to say about Jesus’ public and visible judgment time?

The Book of Revelation is about many things. One of my theology professors , Dr. James Cheung, used to say that Chinese Christians who had endured decades of intense persecution for their faith, read the book of Revelation differently than Westerners. He said, to the Chinese Christian the phrase “To him who overcomes…” is the key to the book. This is about enduring to the end, not about trying to determine when the end will come. But he also told us that Christians who go through persecution throughout history have been comforted by one other theme in the book:  That Jesus Himself will judge every person for their deeds, and there will be no evil deeds that go unpunished.

Look at several things Revelation tells us about Judgment:

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10)

This is what Dr. Cheung was referring to. It is easier to endure hardship and torture when you know there will be justice meted out by Jesus Himself.

Revelation 11:18 says this about Judgment:

      18 The nations were angry,
and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

This verse explains quite clearly that there is a time for judging the dead and for rewarding God’s servants. By implication, this is a Judgment and a Reward that has been delayed and put off for the proper time. This teaches us that Judgment is not a continuous thing.

Revelation 14:7 carries that thought further:

7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

In this verse, we are told about the “hour” of judgment. This word is used to refer to a point in time rather than an ongoing event. Judgment is seen as an “hour” not as a lifetime.

The Book of Revelation also explains what will happen in this “hour of judgment”.

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” p He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:11-16)

This is the final battle on earth between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. At the end of that battle, Jesus (King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Word of God etc.) will triumph over all the armies in the land and set up the Millennium. Though this is certainly the Judge bringing his rule and reign upon the nations, there are several elements missing from the concept of Judgment. Where is the deliberation of wrongdoing? Where is the evidence?

Could it be that this is not even the Hour of Judgment? No, this battle is but a precursor to that day.

In Revelation 20:11-15 we read,

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

This portion of the Bible fits all the descriptions for Judgment. Everyone will stand before this throne. Books will be opened. Because all are judged by what is written in the books, we can safely assume this is evidence of wrong and right behavior. Then we are told every person will be judged according to what they have done.

This is called “The Great White Throne Judgment”. This is Jesus’ judgment day. Why do we refer to it that way? Because there are two books opened on that day. The first book is the aforementioned recording of every good and evil deed. Just as this forms the basis of evidence in a court of law, so too in Jesus’ court, we will each hear of the things we have done. Even for the best of it, this moment will be hard to bear.

The good news is there is a second book. This book is called the Book of Life. Anyone who has asked God to forgive their sins in the name of Jesus (or a facsimile thereof) has their name in this book. This book guarantees that someone else–Jesus Christ the Righteous One–will have been punished for those sins. It is called by some, “the great exchange”. Jesus gives us his righteous deeds and takes upon himself the punishment for our evil deeds.

This is the Day of Judgment. This is when God, through Jesus, will judge the earth. Until that day, God records all the good and evil deeds of every man.

In the final article in this series, we will answer the questions that we asked in the first one. Will God judge America for those sins we as a nation have committed?

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Expose Ever on The Ridiculous Prosperity Gospel

Posted on August 25, 2015

In the listing of comedy styles, satire and sarcasm should be near the bottom of everyone’s list. These stylistic attempts to entertain are always based upon a deeper level of anger and frustration. They are the venue of the passive-aggressive.

However, when wielded against things that ought to make us angry, they are both effective and devastating to the objects being attacked.

This video is dedicated to attacking one of Christianity’s most heinous copycats: The Prosperity Gospel Copycat. It is 20 minutes long and certainly irreverent. However, Christians have been way too nice to these charlatans in the past. John Oliver on his show laces his attack with profanity and sarcasm. But he also has some excellent proof of what is happening. After watching the video (or as much as you can) come back here and I’ll give you my personal take on all of this:

Many years ago, when I was pastoring a church, I invited a man to come and speak in our church. He was known to have certain powerful gifts and I was curious to see his ministry up close. He never identified himself as a Prosperity teacher, but I found out soon that this was his schtick.

On the second night, he spent almost 20 minutes on a financial appeal to seed money into his ministry. He used the same blurring of biblical texts to back up his doctrine. At the end of that service, I politely told him this was not what I or our church believed. I asked him to stop doing it.

Two nights later, he did the same thing again. In the middle of his appeal, I got up and asked him to sit down. Even though we had two more nights of meetings planned, we were done that night. I wasn’t going to endorse his shenanigans any longer.

I later learned in four days he had raised over $25,000 for himself. I was incensed and called him to let him know I thought he should give back that money to people. He laughed at me over the phone.

Cut to ten years later. The same Prosperity Teacher called me up (i was living in a different town) and asked to see me. I refused. I wanted nothing to do with his trickster approach to life. He assured me he didn’t want anything from me or my friends. So I agreed to meet him.

He wanted to apologize. He told me that he had raised a lot of money for himself in the few years he toured as an “evangelist” asking for money. He admitted it was in excess of a million dollars. Most of it went into gambling, drugs and jewelry. He was now broke, divorced and fighting addiction problems. He was going through a treatment program and part of his recovery was to make amends to those he had hurt. I was on that list.

In our conversation, he told a number of stories about men and women who had been part of his Prosperity Gospel movement. He told me that very few of them are followers of Christ and even less of them have any sense they are serving God. They know a great scam when they see it. He especially focused on men he knew: Creflo Dollar, Bob Tilton and Charles Capps. These three had taught him so much about how to raise bucks from unsuspecting rubes.

They are out there people. And they laugh at you while you send in money. Maybe, even with as crude as his presentation is, we should all be required to listen to John Oliver’s presentation just to remind ourselves that there are many “wolves in Shepherd’s clothing.”

Quick Divine Judgment–What it Means and What it Doesn’t

Posted on August 11, 2015

Uzzah was a nice guy. Everyone said so. Whenever someone needed to move, Uzzah got his 3/4 ton donkey and helped out. He was just one of those guys who was always looking for a way to be supportive and useful.

So when his dad asked if he and his brother would help move the contents of the big box that had been left in their back yard, he didn’t think anything of it. He had been willing even to help lift it onto the big cart they would be using to haul it to Jerusalem, but his dad had a worried look on his face and told him not to touch it. That day, a bunch of Levites showed up to load it onto Uzzah’s cart. Uzzah had a beer while he watched the other guys work. He had no trouble taking a break when there was nothing to do.

Dad told him to walk beside the cart  and make sure the oxen didn’t take off into the fields. Right before they left, Dad explained that this was the Ark of the Covenant, one of the most important items in Israel’s history. Uzzah heard the words, but they meant nothing to him. He just liked to help.

About 4 miles up the road, one of the oxen slipped on a smooth rock and stumbled. Uzzah was walking by one side of the cart and saw the Ark begin to slip off the side. He quickly reached out to steady it.

The second his skin touched the Ark, he was dead. He will forever live as the poster-boy for the Quick Judgment of God.

In the last article, we saw that God is slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness. Except when He isn’t. There are some notable examples of God very quickly enacting Judgment. Let me mention just a couple:

  • In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of land and brought it to the care of the Apostles. They told Peter they sold the land for a lot less than they actually did and kept back some of the money for themselves. As soon as Ananias lied to Peter about the amount of money, he dropped over dead. When his wife came in later, Peter asked her the same question and she concurred with her husband’s account. She too died immediately.
  • A sorcerer named Elymas or Bar-Jesus opposed the Apostle Paul when he was preaching. He immediately became blind until Paul touched him and prayed for him.
  • King Herod stood up to give a speech one day. The crowds were trying to butter him up for a favor they were going to ask, so they kept calling him a “god”. He didn’t refute this. Immediately, the book of Acts tells us, he dropped over dead because worms ate his insides.
  • The ten plagues that God struck Egypt with came in rapid succession. However, in this case, God gave lots of warning and even took away the plagues when Pharoah begged him to.
  • In 2 Kings 2, Elisha the Prophet is walking up to Jerusalem when a bunch of street kids starting taunting him about his bald head. He curses them in the name of the Lord. Immediately two bears rush out of the woods and mangle 42 of them.

There are other instances of this, but these suffice to make the point. Sometimes, the God of the Bible does enact judgment quickly. There are several things to note about all these scenes.

1. For the most part, when God enacts quick judgment, people die. .

2. When God judges quickly, he rarely uses a human intermediary for the judgment.

3. Quick Judgments never get repeated in the same way. This is a crucial point I want to explore. It will tell us a lot about what quick judgments mean.

Let’s go back to Uzzah. Nowhere in the story do we see the heart condition of Uzzah. He was just this guy. The Ark of the Covenant was a visible reminder of the sublime relationship between Israel and Jehovah God. 20 years earlier, the Philistines captured the Ark, and kept in their land. But the presence of the ark caused rats and cancerous tumors for the people living where the Ark was. So they begged Israel to take the Ark back. Israel took it back but no one wanted it. They were all afraid. So the leaders of Israel asked Uzzah’s father (or clan leader) to care for it at Kiriath-Jearim. While it was there for 20 years, God richly blessed that town. King David noticed this blessing and thought to himself, “I should bring the Ark back to Jerusalem, the center of the Kingdom”. So he arranged for some Levites to bring it back. According to the Law of Moses, only a Levite could work with the Ark.

Uzzah was not a Levite. As I speculated above, he was there to help out with the oxen. So why did he die?

As far as I can tell, it was because he touched the Ark which was against the Law. If you also think this was a pretty harsh punishment for such a small infraction, join the team with me. In fact, it so presents a different view of Jehovah from the rest of the Bible, that many people have doubted whether this story is true. But consider a few points.

First, this is not about Uzzah. This is about the Ark. The Ark was the resident symbol of God’s abiding presence with the nation of Israel, a covenant people. They had not taken God seriously for many years. This journey of the Ark from Kiriath-Jearim to Jerusalem is a significant one. It marks a moment when the covenant people were returning back to God.

Significant moments are key to rapid judgment. Ananias and Sapphira were trying to lie to the Holy Spirit at a moment when the church was in its infancy. If they had achieved their deception, people would have heard about it and a general cynicism about the Holy Spirit would have grown rapidly. In the case of Elymas, Paul was bringing the Gospel to a new place. They arrived on Cyprus and the proconsul had asked to speak to Paul. The church in Cyprus was about to be born. And Elymas, a sorcerer stood in its way.

Believe it or not, God doesn’t work miracles or heal or intervene in human endeavors simply because He loves us. God loves us even when he doesn’t heal us. He loves us even if we suffer. No, God intervenes with His Power when it best suits the purposes He has in history. And that doesn’t happen as often as you think.

The same principle applies with Quick Judgment. When God acts quickly it is because it is a crucial moment in history. There are malevolent spirits in this universe. They oppose the work of God and often inspire people to do so. When this power encounter happens, often God needs to intervene to protect His work in this world.

Ed Silvoso, in his book “That None Should Perish”  tells of a moment in Argentina’s history that underscores this principle. He and several prayer warriors were praying over the city of La Resistencia, a hotbed of witchcraft and the occult. They could not figure out how to break the power of the enemy in that town. So, instead of fighting the enemy, they began to pray for church leaders, that God would bring unity among them. They also prayed that God himself would intervene and break the power of the occult in that town.

God moved quickly. And as often happens, it was deadly.

The news spread fast. A woman known as the high priestess of a particular occult group in town had burst into flames in her bedroom and was consumed in seconds. No other part of the house was burned. This shook the witchcraft leaders to their core. Great fear seized everyone. This is similar to what happened after Uzzah, Ananias and Sapphira and Herod all died. God had made his point. La Resistencia is now a great place of God’s work.

With Rapid Judgment, God is usually making a point, not stamping out a pattern.

During the Scottish Reformation, several people who opposed the work of God died suddenly. This was also true in Burma during the early 1800s. We could cite case after case from Church History of instances where God did intervene with a miracle–even a miracle of judgment–and the work of God went forward.

I instruct people however, never to pray this way. This is not our concern. The most we can ask God is to “take care of this however you want to.” I know people who pray God will judge others and rain down plagues upon them. Don’t pray that way; this is Witchcraft praying. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his followers to pray blessings on those who oppose them. But if God wants to judge them quickly, that is God’s job.

There is one other thing to notice. Pharaoh and Herod. Both of them died suddenly and at the hand of God. In neither case did it really help the cause of God’s Kingdom. Both of them could have gone on living and it wouldn’t have affected God’s plan.

Paul, in Romans 9, tells us that God had been patient with Pharaoh for a long time. He allowed Pharaoh to live because it suited God’s purposes. When that purpose was done, Pharaoh was dead. We all need to remember that we still live because God allows it. God holds the power of Life and Death in His hands.

I think we can conclude the same thing about Herod. God had enough of that dastardly guy. Allowing himself to be deified by the crowd was one step too far. God may be slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness, but there is a moment when God has had enough.

Remember when your mother used to say “I have had enough of this”. When my mom said it, I cleared out fast.

You don’t want to hear God say it.

Why is Judgment Delayed?

Posted on August 4, 2015

My friend asked if he could meet with me to do a Bible study. He had been a leader in our church community for several years. I wanted to honor him even though I struggled with the way he was living his life at that moment. He had become violent with his wife and had gone back to some old ways; drinking and smoking pot among them.

That day, he wanted to study Psalm 73 together with me. At the time, I had only a passing acquaintance with that particular psalm, so I quickly read it through before he came to see me.  The first verses started out well and were very encouraging:

Surely God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.

But then the meditations of the psalmist get worse from there. In verses 2-12 the psalm takes a dark turn.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
    I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

They have no struggles;
    their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from common human burdens;
    they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
    their evil imaginations have no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
    with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
    and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them
    and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, “How would God know?
    Does the Most High know anything?”

12 This is what the wicked are like—
    always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

My friend pointed out verse 11 to me. “God doesn’t punish sin apparently. I know some pretty raunchy people who are never judged, who never have to face the consequences of what they’ve done. I spent years trying to live right and my life has gone down the toilet over and over again. I finally decided to change my tune.” I looked at him curiously. His facial expression told me he really meant these words.

Together, we read verses 13 and 14.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted,
    and every morning brings new punishments.

He continued to tell me that this is the reality of those who serve God. If God isn’t going to judge sins immediately, then there is no point being righteous. He then spent several minutes explaining how he would do things if he was God. He likened it to his own children. “The longer I wait to discipline my children when they make a mistake, the less effective my punishment is” he claimed. At this point in our bible study, he informed me he was planning on living any way he wanted to and asked me not to be concerned for him. He no longer believed in God’s judgment for sin. He believed that God was the equivalent of a tottering old man who can’t accomplish anything of purpose in life.

I didn’t talk to my friend for 8 years. The next time I spoke to him, he had a totally different interpretation of Psalm 73. But we’ll get to that at the end of the article.

The writer of Psalm 73 is certainly correct. It does seem that God is slow in enacting judgment. This has been the experience of so many people, starting with Adam and Eve and continuing to the present day. Not only that, but the Bible tells us in many places that God is deliberate in sparing humans from immediate judgment for transgressions.

In hundreds of places in the Bible, we see a variation on this theme. In the Old Testament especially, we are told that God is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness”. The words “loving kindness” can also be translated “mercy” or “covenant love”. They are the translation of the Hebrew word “chesed” which speaks of the obligation someone has when they enter into a covenant with another person.

Chesed is the love that a father has for a child, a wife has for a husband, Christ has for his church, and the Creator has for His creation. It is not based primarily on reactionary emotion. Chesed is a decision to do the gracious and compassionate thing for the object of our chesed.

God’s nature is a compassionate nature. God is not eager to judge and punish. We are told that Jesus is the fullness of God in bodily form. When Jesus says “Father, forgive them” this was the heart of the Father as well. But why is this the case? Since God is a righteous judge, why does he wait so long to punish and bring judgment?

I think the Bible provides us with three clear answers for why God delays judgment, sometimes for generations.

1.  God Desires Full Repentance:  In 2 Peter 3:9 we read

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 

This was what my friend struggled with. He couldn’t see how a God of justice would wait to reward or punish based on a person’s actions. Why wait? That just confuses the issue.

But Peter tells us that God is not really slow at all. God always has the long view of everything. God is like a good coach of a sporting team. Even if things are not going well at the beginning, He does not panic and go outside of his plan. This is often why we see disasters, wars, famine, earthquakes and we see God allowing them. All of these things can happen and yet have nothing to do with judgment.

God’s purpose in delaying is that it gives people a chance to change their minds. The word “repentance” is the Greek word “metanoia” which means to change one’s mind. Human beings need time to change the mind. We are stubborn, pig-headed and opinionated. We do what we want, when we want. And God allows this. If God were to bring immediate judgment for sin, there would be no repentance. All we would know is the fear of judgment. We would never change our minds. Rather, we would be looking over our shoulder for God in the same manner as we look for police officers on the freeway when we want to speed.

I remember the story of the little girl in the classroom. She had the wiggles and didn’t want to sit down. The teacher got more and more upset that she wouldn’t take her seat. Finally, she threatened her with a detention if she didn’t take her seat. So the girl sat down. 30 seconds later she raised her hand. The teacher gave her permission to speak. “Teacher, I may be sitting down on the outside, but inside me I’m standing straight up.”

God could exert his power and force us to do what is right. But our hearts would not be changed. And God values the change of heart before he values the change in behavior. We need to change our minds in order for the fullness of repentance to take place. This means God has to hold back his full judgment so we can see how foolish our actions are. God still allows consequences of our actions, but he delays his punishment.

2. God’s Character Demands Patience in Judgment:  The elements of God’s character do not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  As God reveals aspects of his character, it is not possible for God to lay them aside. They must be integrated with every other aspect of his character.

In Joel 2:13, we read:

Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.

Joel is a book all about God’s judgment through a natural disaster. Swarms of locusts have ravaged the land of Israel and left no crops and no food anywhere. Joel pictures the locusts as the army of God swooping down to devour and judge. That is why it is curious that we read verse 13. God is not sometimes gracious and compassionate. He always is. God never takes delight in punishing and bringing judgment. He never does. He will do so reluctantly, but he delays it as long as possible. This underscores the big difference between judgment and consequences. If a person gets drunk continually, they will have problems with their liver and may die because of it. Those are not actions of judgment. They are simply what we have coming to us for our actions. But God’s judgment is a punishment that goes beyond the consequences. As we saw in the last article, this is the drought brought about by Saul killing some Gibeonites. Judgment is the death of all the first-born in Egypt. Judgment is Jehioachin being taken into captivity by Babylon even though his father and grandfather were much more evil.

However, Joel shows us the true nature of God: “He relents from sending calamity”. Even while the judgment is happening, God’s heart is not in it. He would rather not bring punishment. The second a person repents, God will work on their behalf.

Later in chapter two of Joel, it states:

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

There are many who assume that Judgment is the highest priority on God’s heart. But this is not the biblical record. God will judge because He cannot overlook anything. But he would rather forgive. It is his nature to do so.

3. God’s Judgment Requires Warnings:  There is a third reason God delays his judgment. He wants to make room for his servants to announce that people need to change their ways. Sometimes, this takes a number of generations before this can take place. And it isn’t always prophets that do the preaching. The ending of slavery meant a brave president had to be used by God. In England, William Wilberforce was God’s mouthpiece. Mother Teresa got more changed in Mumbai than most preachers have ever accomplished.

Samuel Rutherford preached one time in Edinburgh and was escorted out of the city by the order of the Catholic Cardinal. As he was leaving, he warned them: “This action to remove me will only serve to bring disaster on this city. When this happens, invite me back to preach and all will be well.” When Rutherford left the city, the Bubonic Plague, which had not been seen for a hundred years in Scotland, struck the city. Within weeks, they invited Rutherford back to preach.

I think of the reluctant prophet Jonah. God wanted him to go and preach in the city of Nineveh, the home of one of history’s most notorious and evil armies. They did unspeakable things to their victims, including Jonah’s people. Jonah didn’t want to preach in Nineveh. Why?

Because he knew God was gracious and compassionate and would forgive the people of Nineveh if he preached. Which is exactly why Jonah was being sent. Which is why Jonah ran the other direction and had to be brought back by a fishy water taxi. When Jonah announced that God would judge the city of Nineveh in 40 days, all the people changed their minds and changed their ways. They even put sackcloth and ashes on the cattle.

And Jonah was angry about this. In Jonah 4, the prophet accuses God:

Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah wanted God to judge the people of Nineveh. He didn’t care if innocent children and the mentally handicapped faced the same retribution. He wanted them wiped off the face of the earth. And God didn’t do it immediately. He sent Jonah to preach so they could change their ways; and they did.

God left you and I on this earth to warn people about the coming judgment, not to tell them it is happening now. If we’re being sent to preach, it is likely that judgment hasn’t happened yet. At least not the kind of judgment that God is part of.

8 years later, my friend returned to me. He had just got out of jail and asked if he could meet with me. In the first half hour we met, he explained how his life had deteriorated. He explained why alcoholism and violence had brought about. It was a sad story and I wept in hearing it. He had been my friend. But at the end of his story of decay, he told me God had him read Psalm 73 again. He told me he wished he had read further in the text. Here’s what he pointed out:

When I tried to understand all this,
    it troubled me deeply
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
    then I understood their final destiny.

18 Surely you place them on slippery ground;
    you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed,
    completely swept away by terrors!
20 They are like a dream when one awakes;
    when you arise, Lord,
    you will despise them as fantasies.

21 When my heart was grieved
    and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
    I was a brute beast before you.

23 Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

The psalmist realized the only way to understand the righteous and the wicked is to take the long view. God will never forget good works or bad works. And God is slow to anger because this is his purpose and his nature. The key is to do what is right and to come into relationship with God continually. That day, my friend came back to the Lord and left behind his sin. He has never been sorry he did.

So, when you consider that God doesn’t judge right away, thank Him that judgment is not his highest priority.

But sometimes, judgment is right around the corner; when we least expect it. The next article, I will lay out God’s plan for us when judgment does come down.

Is God About To Judge America? (Part 2)

Posted on July 23, 2015

November 1, 1755 was a day so many people were looking forward to in the City of Lisbon, Portugal. It was All-Saints Day in the Catholic calendar, and as such, was a day of feasting, celebrations and a parade.

But it was going to be the worst day in that city’s history. Some believe it was the turning point in modern history.

At 9:30 a.m., buildings began to shake, the water in the harbor began to recede out to sea, streets collapsed and heaved, and half of the city’s churches literally disappeared. As the next few minutes collided, the shaking got more intense and people began to die by the thousands. The receding harbor would be re-filled in a half hour by the largest Tsunami to ever hit a European city. In the end, when all the carnage was totaled, 60,000 people were dead.

1755 marked a time when the Enlightenment was nearing its first height of popularity. People were walking away from God into deism, humanism and atheism. At first, theologians rose up and declared that the Lisbon Earthquake was the judgment of God against the teachings of the Enlightenment. Their voices cried out for Europe to repent of leaving God.

But there was a problem with this theory. When Lisbon’s city’s planners went through the rubble to determine which buildings had been destroyed and which had been spared, they came upon a curious truth. Every single church in the city had been shaken to rubble, and almost every brothel and drinking establishment had been spared.

People then began to question: How can this qualify as the Judgment of God if all the churches were annihilated? This, of course, became further fuel for Enlightenment fires. Non-theists mocked Christian scholars. Voltaire, long a believer in God and champion against the inroads of the New Thought proponents, finally gave up and declared that he was an agnostic.

There had been a judgment all right, but perhaps it was not the Judgment of God.

I believe the problem with the pronouncements of the theologians was their quickness to analyze. As I am going to show in a moment from a look at the beginnings of mankind’s history, it is always a bad idea to jump too quickly to announce Judgment. Judgment is a slow formula, arrived at through patience and decided by careful deliberation. This is true of human courts and perhaps even more so in God’s court.

The American Church in recent years has been inundated with outliers who find it delightful to cry “judgment” every time there is a disaster. From Westboro Baptist Church proclaiming God’s judgment at military funerals, to Pat Robertson calling for repentance after a hurricane. From Oral Roberts saying that AIDS was a judgment against homosexuality to a Los Angeles preacher claiming that Rick Warren’s son’s suicide was proof God was judging Saddleback Church because they had grown too big.

What is the problem with these knee-jerk pronouncements? They aren’t biblical for one. And they misconstrue the character of God for another.

In Genesis chapter three, the Bible recounts how sin entered this world. God told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan, disguised as a serpent, tricked Eve into trying out the fruit. Adam, who was not deceived, watched to see what would happen. God had told him if they ate the fruit they would die. Adam wanted to see if his wife would live or die by her action. He allowed her to be the world’s first food-taster.

In this study on the world’s first sin, we see the Principle of Delayed Consequences. In order to understand this principle, notice the following details from the story:

  1. Adam is fooled by noticing Eve didn’t die. God never said they would die right away. Until that moment, they were going to be living forever. When they ate the fruit, death came into the world. But because Eve did not die right away, Adam concluded the fruit was safe. He didn’t realize that the consequences for our actions are not always swift and immediate.
  2. Adam and Eve hid from God because they expected immediate Judgment. Though God would explain the consequences of their sin, God did not judge them right away. And, in running away from God, they put a barrier between themselves and God. This would later become the pattern for mankind. We don’t seek the God we are afraid of.
  3. Death did not happen for a long time. Adam and Eve lived for almost 1,000 years. This is a longer time than anyone would have expected God’s judgment to be delayed.
  4. Both the physical and spirit realms are changed because of their actions. Death enters the world. The plants change their DNA. The animals are in hostility. Their bodies change and are no longer as healthy as they were. But, the biggest change is in the spirit realm. They are cut off from the tree of Life and from the direct presence of God. Since God is spirit (John 4:24), they, as spirit beings, do not have the complete access to God they once enjoyed. Both realms are changed irrevocably because of sin. The first part of judgment is always having to face the direct consequences of our actions.
  5. God makes promises even in the midst of explaining consequences. As we will see in later articles in this series, God almost always shows what can happen as God works to correct the mistakes we make. In this Genesis 3 story, Eve will give birth to a line of men from which will come the Savior. Adam will work the soil and through hard work will achieve great things. The devil will be destroyed by Eve’s offspring. Adam and Eve will have conflict, but they will also have God to help them with the conflict.

 

With all the talk about God’s judgment, there is so little discussion on the Principle of Delayed Consequences. There are so many examples of these an entire book could be written about biblical examples where judgment was meted out slowly. But let no one be deluded into thinking that some sins have no consequences.

All sin has a consequence to it. Some of them are just more subtle than others. And this is especially true when there is a huge delay.

In 2 Samuel chapter 21 we see a perfect example of this. Israel had been inundated by famine for several years. King David sends the prophet to ask God why this is happening. I imagine David, like most people of his day, believed the cause was recent and immediate.

He could not have been prepared for the answer God gave him. “It is because Saul killed the Gibeonites”. What? Who in the heck are the Gibeonites?

I’m not surprised if you don’t know. They only show up in one small scene in the book of Joshua. When Joshua’s forces had defeated Jericho and then the little town of Ai, the people of Gibeon knew they were next. So, they pretended to be from a far-away country, put dust on their faces and told the Israelites that they had come from a long distance. They begged Joshua to allow them to be the slaves of the Jews. Without checking with God, Joshua made a vow to them.

That’s when they discovered this group of people had pulled a fast one on them. They wanted to kill the Gibeonites, but God takes a dim view toward breaking vows. So God made the people of Israel take in the Gibeonites as servants. They served the leaders of the nation for several centuries.

We don’t know when it happened. We don’t know why it happened. But 2 Samuel 21 tells us that when Saul was king before David, he had a number of Gibeonites killed. It never says what they did wrong; in all likelihood he killed them because they were Gibeonites. In true Saul-like fashion, he probably thought he was cleaning up one of God’s messes. He liked to do that.

David asked God if this is why there was famine in the land. God told him it was indeed the reason. Broken vows have huge results in the spirit realm. The enemy of our souls loves to torture our lives and bring ruin when we do this. (Note: This should be a sobering thought as we realize how many treaties the American government has broken with its native peoples).

But this is many years after Saul did the killing. How can there be judgment now? This is the Principle of Delayed Judgment at work. You can be lulled into thinking you don’t have to make amends or change your ways because there doesn’t seem to be any consequences right away. Saul was already dead. David was nearing the end of his reign. We don’t know why the judgment had this timing, but it highlights the big problem with trying to discern judgment. We don’t know which consequence goes with which sin sometimes.

The same problem can be seen when people do the right thing and don’t see rewards right away. In Jeremiah 44:16-19 we read:

16 “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord! 17 We will certainly do everything we said we would: We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. 18 But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.”

19 The women added, “When we burned incense to the Queen of Heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, did not our husbands know that we were making cakes impressed with her image and pouring out drink offerings to her?”

This is when the Israelites escaped to Egypt to avoid being taken into Babylonian Captivity. Jeremiah had been telling them to stop sinning and get their lives together. They had been worshiping other gods and God almighty told them to stop. The logic in their answer is intriguing. They want Jeremiah to know a simple formula they figured out:

  1. When we burned incense to the Queen of Heaven, we had everything we wanted.
  2.  When we stopped, everything went wrong.

 

Therefore, by that formula, they were going to keep burning incense to the Queen of Heaven. These are people who believe that immediate reward and punishment are the way to tell if you’re doing right or wrong.

This is just as dangerous a formula to use when examining disasters like the Lisbon Earthquake or AIDS or Tsunamis or even the death of a loved one. The enemy to our souls loves to whisper in our ear that this is judgment for our bad actions. But he is a liar and seeks to deceive us into burying ourselves deeper in sin.

So why is Judgment delayed? That is the subject of the next article.

 

Is America About to Be Judged? (Part 1)

Posted on July 15, 2015

I admit it: I gave this a sensational title, but not for the obvious reasons. I didn’t do it to attract more readers or to present a unique and controversial approach to our current emotional state as a nation.

I ask the question to introduce the concept of God’s judgment and how we can wrestle with the implications of it. I don’t think many people know what the word “judgment” means and how God intends to apply it. (And yes, I can hear the words of Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride saying “I don’t think that word means what you think it means”).

As is always helpful, allow me to present my personal beliefs about God’s Judgment before delving into my question:

  1. I believe God is a righteous judge 
  2. I believe God will judge every man for the good and evil each has done
  3. I believe the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ provides enough grace to eliminate Judgment for anyone who believes in him and entrusts themselves to His mercy.

 

With those theological underpinnings, I want to present the real difficulties behind answering the above question. To do that, let me show you an important meme that came out right after the Supreme Court ruling legalizing Gay marriage.

I believe the composer of this meme is addressing a common theme in the past few decades: as America legalizes and normalizes actions which most conservative Christians consider sinful and unbiblical –abortion and gay marriage–we should expect to see God judge us as a nation. I am not exaggerating when I say I have read or heard that sentiment expressed several hundred times in the past few months.

The above meme takes a clever and poignant approach to questioning this concept. The writer notes that many Christians believe we are about to be judged for abortion and gay marriage; but apparently America was not judged for attempted genocide against native Americans, horrific slavery, rampant selfishness and greed and many other atrocities. Without asking the question, with sly sarcasm, the writer is suggesting that if those actions did not provoke God’s judgment, then recent activity won’t either.

I realize that both sides of this particular debate may have misunderstood how judgment works. Because of this, both sides are partially wrong in their conclusions. Abortion and Gay Marriage are not going to bring God’s Judgment the way people think they will. But neither did America escape judgment for all the other sins we committed.

 

First, let’s determine what the word “judgment” means. Most people who hear the word think it means to enact punishment upon someone for their actions.  When we think of “judgment,” our minds might picture the words of  the civil war hymn:

“My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, He is trampling out the vintage where his Grapes of Wrath are stored.”

But is that what the word Judgment means? Partially. To determine what the biblical word judgment implies we should look to the original idea behind the Hebrew and Greek words.

Hebrew: Mishphat. There are three different Hebrew words for judgment. But this is by far the most common one. And the others have a similar meaning. Mishphat refers to the process of deciding the merits of a case. The final verdict is not as critical as the process. It is what the judge does as he seeks to decide the truth of a matter to render the verdict.

Greek: Krina.  This word, and all its variations, means almost exactly the same as the Hebrew word. It is the word that Jesus uses when he says “Judge not or you will be judged”. A person who spends most of their days trying to decide what everyone else is doing wrong will find the rest of the world does that back to them. It is a “live by the sword, die by the sword” idea.  Krina almost always focuses on the process of determining blame or fault. To judge someone is to examine their life to determine if they are guilty or innocent.

Here is the main point.  The word is almost always followed by a proclamation of the findings of the judge. The period of judgment is not over until the judge both declares the verdict and announces the consequences. Judgment thus involves three stages:

  1. Presentation of the facts of the case.
  2. Declaration of the verdict.
  3. Carrying out of the sentence.

 

The Christians of the modern era perhaps believe God has finished the Judgment process–or at least the first two stages. Based on that belief, one could say that the execution of judgment is about to begin.

Here is how it sounds among Evangelicals. The bible is clear about abortion and homosexuality. And since the Bible tells us that abortion and homosexuality are always wrong, anyone who admits to doing either is already convicted on the facts. The declaration of the verdict has already been made, and we are just waiting for the carrying out of the sentence.

But there are serious problems with this. Let’s use abortion as an example.

First, does this mean that if a nation has any abortions that nation is about to be sentenced to retribution? How many abortions would result in Judgment? Or do the leaders of the nation have to endorse an act for the sentence to be carried out? And can we say that Roe v. Wade represented the wishes of this nation’s leaders at the time, or the general population? Or are the decisions of nine people–the Supreme Court–enough to trigger an attack from God? Are all nations going to be judged the same for their practice of abortion?

The answers are not easily forthcoming. And what if the abortion rates start to fall dramatically; does that mean that God will partially commute the sentence? 

I am not going to suggest answers to those questions in this first article. But the questions show that the presentation of the “facts” of the case may not be done yet. In the case of gay marriage, is it marriage that God will judge or acts of homosexuality? Does it matter what percentage of the population takes part in this? And since the Bible never imagined a nation would legalize gay marriage, can we assume legalizing gay relationships and calling it marriage is worse than the acts of homosexuality in God’s eyes.

These are also questions that have to be answered. I am not going to attempt those answers here.

But let’s assume that God has already decided that abortion and homosexuality in America are acts of guilt and must be punished. There are some huge questions to ask. Among them are these:

  • What will that punishment look like?
  • When will it happen? How long does God delay?
  • Have previous national sins been declared sinful? If they were, did God execute his judgment on them already? If he did not, why?
  • What other current sinful acts will God also declare worthy of punishment? Adultery, divorce, greed, taking advantage of developing countries, enslavement of youth for sex, not paying of tithes, violence against children, sexual abuse, prescription drug abuse, alcoholism (a right guaranteed by the 21st amendment), unwillingness to care for homeless, mentally handicapped, injured soldiers, ignoring the needs of soldiers with PTSD….on and on.
  • How long will the punishment last? Is there a chance for reprieve?
  • If there are 50 righteous people in a city, will God enact punishment (actually we know the answer to this one. Abraham prayed to God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were fifty righteous people. Actually, God was willing to spare that city from destruction if there were ten righteous people).
  • Has judgment already started? Would we know what it looks like if we saw it?

In the remainder of the articles, we will break down the answers to these questions and deal with some of the specifics of both the Old and New Testament teaching about Judgment.

 

Status Update on the Flesh of Man – Part 1: Meet Marv.

Posted on June 19, 2014

20140619-142110-51670026.jpgWhen statistics are presented carefully and accurately they help humanity see the direction we are heading. And even though the college Statistics courses can be mind-numbing and repetitive (for all but serious math majors), we should be thankful that someone is laying out standards for accuracy with regards to any trends.

But I’m also mindful of Mark Twain’s rubric: “There are three types of lies; Lies, damn lies and statistics.” If a person wishes to persuade the world to adopt their opinion, they can often twist collected data to say whatever they want. Fortunately, the balancing factor to statistical results is often common sense.

In his book “Thinking Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman notes that our brains have two systems for thinking. System 1 takes quick intuitive leaps, and though it often arrives at answers faster, it is much more susceptible to being suckered by the kind of conclusions it already expected. This tendency to believe something that aligns with what you already believed is called “Confirmation Bias”. It is what makes System 1 so suspect as the basis for decision-making. System 2 is much more methodical and reaches conclusions by the long route: careful study, deep thinking and more time set aside. Kahneman counsels that if one wants to really know what is happening, they should combine the findings of research with the gut responses borne from our experience.

For instance, let’s take divorce. Some statistical models claim that we have a 50% divorce rate in America. They figure this many ways, but the most common one is to divide the amount of couples getting married each year by the amount getting divorced. If say a million couples marry and a half million divorce, there is a 50% divorce rate. But does that statistical trend really tell an accurate story?

Think of ten of your closest married friends. How many of them have been divorced? Now think of another ten…and then another ten. Of that thirty, how many have been divorced. The number will probably (though not always) be closer to a third of them, much smaller than the 50%. Scientists call this, among other names, an anecdotal survey. I call it common sense.
I once heard a conference speaker claim that 50% of pastoral marriages will end in divorce. I was appalled at that number and quite skeptical when I heard it, for I counsel a number of pastors among my clients. A few hours later, I applied the common sense method to this statistic. Out of 100 pastoral marriages, I could only think of six divorces.

Therefore, the next week I called up this speaker’s office and asked him for the references behind his quote. His assistant gave me the names of two reputable Christian organizations and said they were the source of the statistics. Still doubtful, I called both the organizations in question, and they told me they had never done a study on pastoral marriages.

One person at Barna Research group asked how one could even do a study like that. Even with my rudimentary Statistics background, I knew how hard it is to get statistical models that have control groups, measurements of accuracy and redundancies. How many denominations and independent churches would readily offer up personal information on pastoral marriages?

Since I didn’t find either of his sources to be true, I called up the Speaker’s office again. His assistant eventually told me his boss had been told these two groups had done the studies from another speaker in St. Louis. I called the office of the St. Louis speaker and actually got her on the phone. She was a marriage counselor. She told me where she got the information from. She had been at a professional conference of counselors and it was quoted there and the two organizations mentioned earlier were cited as sources.

I then asked who the speaker at that conference was. It was the guy I first heard it from at my conference. Now I was back to square one and even more doubtful that 50% of pastoral marriages will end in divorce.

In relating this incident, I am being deliberately vague regarding names because I don’t want to blame anyone for this. Statistics take a life of their own once they start being mentioned. It’s possible this statistic came about over coffee in a coffee shop where one person speculated on the difficult state of marriages among church leaders – and then that speculation became a theory which then morphed into a fact.

Honestly, I never did get to the bottom of it all. But I did convince the first speaker to stop disseminating this false and confusing statistic. My point is that common sense and experience told me very few pastoral homes will see divorce. I would guess the divorce rate among clergy homes is close to 5%, though I have no statistics that have ever been done (to my knowledge) which back this up.

In researching that rabbit trail, I did come across another Barna study on divorce in America. This was done with much different parameters than the ones mentioned previously. The problem with researching divorce rates is the numbers statisticians choose to use. If they divide people who marry in any given year by the number who divorce that year, those are actually two completely different groups of people. Yes, there are a very small number that divorce the same year they marry, but essentially the common comparison is like apples with staplers. The better model is to compare the same groups of people with reference to marriage and divorce.

This is how Barna does it. They ask interviewees if they have ever been married. Then they ask if they have ever been divorced. They take the number of people who have been or are married and divide that by the number of people who have been married and divorced and from that compute the divorce rate. This more accurate rate for divorce in America comes out at 34% in almost every region of our country (except Utah). Statisticians are now beginning to adopt this method to determine divorce rates. What I fear is that someone will now claim the divorce rate is dropping, when this is not true.

Here is the most meaningful part of that Barna study for this book’s focus: The divorce rate among people who claim to have a personal relationship with God is exactly the same as the divorce rate for the general population. There is no discernible difference.

I didn’t really need a statistic to tell me that either. My gut (and probably yours as well) told me that Christians are struggling in marriage just as much as those outside of Christianity. Followers of Christ would love to be seen as a shining example to the rest of the world, but we’re not pulling it off. Our country knows we are no more ethical than they are, and if we wake up and taste the Red Bull, we can come to grips with why this is.

The problem extends far beyond divorce rates. If we look at some other statistics from Barna’s survey on morals and ethics among Christians, there are some glaring discrepancies between what we believe and how we live:

Have been divorced (among those who have been married)”
Christians – 33%; Non-Christians – 34%

Gave money to a homeless person or poor person, in past year”
Christians – 24%; Non-Christians – 34%

Took drugs or medication prescribed for depression, in past year”
Christians – 7%; Non-Christians – 8%

Watched an X-rated movie in the past 3 months”
Christians – 14%; Non-Christians – 16%

Donated any money to a nonprofit organization, in past month”
Christians – 47%; Non-Christians – 48%

Bought a lottery ticket, in the past week”
Christians – 23%; Non-Christians – 27%

Attended a community meeting on local issue, in past year”
Christians – 37%; Non-Christians – 42%

This study confirms many things about today’s North American Christian. But one conclusion I draw from it is that many Christians are firmly rooted in the Flesh; and no amount of hell-and-brimstone preaching is going to solve that. If preaching solved the Flesh, then the online proliferation of podcasts currently available would have eradicated sin from every Christian home five years ago.

The frustrating reality though is that Christians want to get out of the grip of sin’s clutches. Because this is not happening, they simply learn better ways of hiding or explaining away the fruit of the Flesh. But when anonymous surveys are done, the results are almost never good. Leadership Magazine, a journal for Pastors and Church Leaders has conducted a number of anonymous surveys since the 1980s and, without going into the actual statistics, the conclusion is that even those who preach for a living struggle with sexual sin at a significant rate. But if the survey had not been done anonymously, no one would really know this for sure.

Speaking specifically about Pastors viewing online pornography, Leadership Journal drew this conclusion:

Pastors are as vulnerable as anyone else to sexual sin. In fact, they may be more vulnerable. Isolation and loneliness are inherent to the position. And many pastors neglect their personal relationships for the sake of ministry.

The Internet feeds these. And for wired pastors, who will be in cyberspace for legitimate purposes, it’s a short journey from the sacred to the profane.

Here’s another tragic example. In the 90s, Christian teens embraced the concept of Promise Rings and instituted “True Love Waits” movements. They did this to encourage each other and dedicate themselves to sexual purity. Modern culture made fun of these groups and I was offended that people would mock such a worthy goal.

Unfortunately, this concerted effort to stay sexually pure before marriage didn’t work as well as most people hoped. In recent anonymous surveys of adults who signed up for the “True Love Waits” and other programs, the results are not good. They actually had premarital sex at a rate slightly HIGHER than their peers who did not put on promise rings and pledge before others to be chaste.

It is easy to become discouraged when bombarded by these statistics, but take heart. It is not the purpose of this book to lambaste the Body of Christ or to propose another version of the “just try harder” approach to holy living. These statistics are what they are because we have been seeking the results of Spiritwalking while walking in the Flesh.

I feel so badly for my teen friends who are trying with all their might to live up to moral standards and failing miserably at it. Many of them conclude that it is because Christianity doesn’t work or they aren’t cut out for holy living. Neither conclusion is true.

Marv met me at Starbucks on a sunny California Tuesday. But he looked as dark as winter. He didn’t even want to do small talk.
“Mike, I have given up on living like a Christian. I can’t do it.”
“Marv…what? What’s happened?”
“I’m a big joke. I go to all the Promise Keeper meetings and sing the songs and come back deciding I will never look at porn again and stop ogling my secretary. But then a month later I am back at it. I have given up pot so many times I am like a mental revolving door. Yet, I love worship and Bible study, and I accept God’s forgiveness every time I sin. I just can’t change, no matter how many books I read and how many sermons I hear. The bottom line is I can’t try any harder than I’m trying”.

I believed him. I have seen it hundreds of times with Christians. As well-meaning as many teachings and books are, their advice many times boils down to some version of “just try harder”: Do more inductive study, attend more meetings, pray better, longer, more often. Worship, fast and pray at the same time. Stop watching Family Guy and Reality Television. Wear a promise ring.

The Flesh loves the “try harder” method, because even if you succeed, you did it yourself – and that feeds the Flesh just as much. There is something inside of all people that wants to sing out in parody of Frank Sinatra: “I did it My Way.” As I said in an earlier chapter, my life goal was to live my life so I didn’t have to need anyone. That personal philosophy is tailor-made for the “try harder” way of life.

I asked Marv if he would keep going if God wouldn’t reject him no matter how little or much he viewed porn, how many joints he lit up and how often he prayed. He laughed at me and called my sanity into question. But I told him it was a serious question. What if there was a way you could live for God and not have to try harder? What if you could live for God and not have to worry about being a moral failure every day? Would it make life easier?

I had his attention.

Tomorrow: Part 2: Marv Meets His Savior…Again.

 

The Real Problem with Sin

Posted on April 15, 2014

businesswoman-and-man-on-train-with-tabletStefan takes the 6:00 a.m. train out of Sacramento every weekday morning to travel to the Bay Area. He sits in the same car, reviews the same kind of work files, and thinks about the same subjects. He also shares that car with relatively the same people. They have come to know each other as work partners, even though each of them has different employers.

They laugh together and commiserate over the common problems of cubicle workers. They agree, as the train pulls into the station, to remember all the juicy bits of gossip from the day’s events for the ride home. It’s a harmless bonding of people. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Except this ride has become anything but innocent for Stefan. He has developed feelings for one of the ladies in the train car. At home, he fantasizes about her and dreams of how he will approach her with his desire to know her more intimately.

This is a problem, for Stefan is married and is a Christian. He knows adultery is wrong but is going along with the fantasy with great enthusiasm.

Once he began to think about her, she was all he could think about on the daily commute. His adrenaline increased when she entered “their” car. He experienced profound disappointment when she occasionally called in sick. He wanted her; and it occupied all his thinking.

Eventually, he started to single her out for conversation and often moved in conspiratorially to say things much more quietly. These were not sinful things he spoke about, but they were intended for her ears only. After a few weeks of giving her special attention, she began to indicate through words and body language that she was attracted to him. Because of this, he became bolder in his approach.

This conversation took several turns after that initial flush of discovery. More and more, they held little private talks with each other instead of the group as a whole. They exchanged social media addresses: Linked-In, Facebook, email and finally phone numbers. One day, she suggested they book another car once a week so the curious ears of the others wouldn’t be listening in.

The conversation now focused on their sex life. Each of them complained about how they weren’t getting their needs met. They shared details of what they considered the “perfect” intimate life, if only their spouses would cooperate.  

Eventually, they decided to take the 5:40 train instead, figuring it would be better if no one knew they were getting closer to each other.

They sent sexy messages to each other on Facebook. This was the point Stefan realized his fantasies could actually come true, and it bothered him. At the same time, every week, the pastor’s sermon seemed to center in on the consequences of sin. This was strange, since the pastor had rarely talked about sin with judgmental overtones. But he felt convicted and ashamed every time he left church.

Stefan began to have little fights with his wife and their finances were not doing well.

Here is where the real problem with sin came out. He assumed the fights, his uncomfortable feelings at church, and the financial problems were all the result of this emotional adultery he was playing with. He knew his actions were sinful. And he was convinced that it was about to bring devastation upon his life. The longer Stefan and this woman extended out their flirting, the more insecure he felt. Areas in his life he normally handled with confidence, he floundered in uncertainty.

One morning, the woman proposed they stay in the city overnight and make it appear to be work-related. Their plan was to do dinner together and then spend the night at a local hotel. As they went on the train that morning, she was giddy with anticipation. Stefan had a knot in his stomach that would not leave. When they walked off the train, she pulled him into a little alcove before he left and gave him a long, lingering kiss. Then she walked away humming a tune.

He was miserable all day at work. The closer he came to fulfilling his fantasy, the less appealing it appeared. He was now certain the judgment of God was going to rain down upon him. At the coffee break, he had to go into the bathroom and vomit. He knew with every part of his being he couldn’t go through with this. He called her several times during the day to let her know he wouldn’t be coming, but each time he chickened out and simply told her how excited he was they would finally be together.

That night he went to dinner, fully intending to tell her he wouldn’t go through with their adulterous plans. But he couldn’t break her heart. He said nothing and pasted on a smile.

After they were done eating, they carried through on their plans and spent the night together. By 2 a.m., Stefan realized he had never felt this miserable in his entire life. He had destroyed his wedding vows and brought misery and judgment onto his soul. After spending the night awake and despondent, Stefan went out for a walk. When he came back, he did what he wanted to do the night before. He told her he had made a mistake and this wouldn’t be happening again. She cried. He apologized and cried as well.

I could tell you a lot more details of their relationship, but it wouldn’t be necessary. I shared this much so you could see the pattern Stefan followed, a pattern that many people have also lived. As a follower of Christ, he didn’t want to sin. As a man attracted to a woman, he wanted intimacy with her. The two forces do not co-exist. He was miserable because he tried to appease both desires. You cannot do that.

But the real revelation came a month after his tryst. His daughter was swinging on the monkey bars at school and fell off. She broke her arm, her pelvis and suffered severe hemorrhaging in the brain. They had to keep her sedated so the swelling could recede.

The entire time Stefan sat by his small daughter’s bed, he endured three agonies. First, of course, he feared for his daughter’s life and future. Second, he worried for his wife and the trauma she was facing. Third, and heaviest, he believed deep in his heart that his affair was the reason his daughter had been injured. With that came guilt, pain, anger, bitterness, resentment, self-loathing and suicidal thoughts.

Preachers and writers often teach a false idea that God hides his face from us when we sin. This has no biblical basis and actually defiles the character of God. After all, when Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God and God came looking for them. In Isaiah 59:2, we read:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:2 NIV)

It is we who are separated from God. It is our sins which have blinded us from seeing God and experiencing his presence. God has not done any of this and rather yearns that we be reunited with Him. Jesus told the parable about the Prodigal Son, where the son spends his inheritance on wild living. At one point–penniless and destitute–the son realizes his father would forgive him and take him back in. So he resolves to head on home.

But a long way off, his father spies him and comes running toward him. This is only possible if his father had been waiting for him, watching for his return. This is a picture of God that is much more accurate than the petulant, wounded Law-Giver who is looking to reject and annihilate us.

Stefan and I spent many hours praying together in one of the waiting rooms at the hospital. I explained that his insecurity was the direct result of his sin. The Accuser was having a heyday bringing shame and self-loathing into his mind. It was easy for Stefan to grab hold of these things and to wrongly assume God also felt that way.

I convinced him to admit to his wife what he had done and ask her forgiveness. Then to ask God to cleanse him from the self-loathing. He actually found the God part harder than the confession part. It took several sessions of counseling before he accepted God’s intimacy again.

This is why sin is so awful. It leaves us guilty, shamed, cut off, insecure, lonely and assuming that all disasters are aimed at us. His daughter took months to recover from her fall, but it took dad almost as long to recover from his mistakes. Fortunately, his wife forgave and they are working toward a better relationship between them.

He now drives his car to work. Nothing to see here now. Move along.

 

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