The Falling Leaves of Doctrine and the Root of Unbelief

Image result for dying tree

I have a metaphor in my mind that I want to share. Would love your feedback on it – all 3 of you who will read this! I see you.

We have a tree that’s dying in our front yard…there is nothing that we can do about it. Even if we spent thousands on it, the arborist has declared it a waste of time. Here’s the deal, it’s still got some leaves. The bark looks good on it. It’s not in danger of falling down. You could look at it and have no idea it was, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Now, the only outward sign that this tree is doomed is that during the summer, when it should be in full leaf, it’s actually quite bare. The missing leaves give it away. It’s why I first called the arborist.

This has gotten me thinking about the reality of people “leaving the Christian faith.” My first thought goes to the parable of the 4 soils and how a couple of them seemed, at first, to be alive, but in reality, they were (like my still leafing tree) already dead. I have been wondering if perhaps we ought to see signs of this death beforehand – if there are indications of the absence of true, saving faith. Any visible indication?

And that’s caused me to think about recent friends or famous people who have rejected their faith. Long before they abandon Christ, I wondered, were their signs of missing leaves? And I began to realize that, YES, there are signs. No one moves from fully committed follower to apostate over night. It is gradual. So, what are these signs? In short, missing leaves. Or less cryptically, the rejection of Christian truths, whether doctrine or Biblical worldview or ethics.

It may be different for everyone, so here are a few examples. When my seminary buddy begins to say things like, “I’m not sure about the deity of Jesus” or “I don’t think we have to argue that Jesus is the only means for salvation,” that’s a sign of missing leaves, it’s a sign that death is present or imminent.

Another friend may say something like, “I’m not sure that the Bible understands the complexity of modern gender ideology,” rejecting clear Biblical teaching that’s be embraced for 2,000 years, then death is not far off. The root could be withering already.

Still a third person seems to simply reject Christianity through living out a scattered, fear of missing out fueled life. They make decision after decision that seems to smell of foolishness. They may not be open sin, but simply a life void of Biblical conviction, growth, and purpose. Whereas others run from the faith, these people simply float away. One day we look up and they’ve disappeared. Death came slowly, but come it did.

When people say or do things like the above, it should not surprise us when these people walk away from the faith a few months or years later. Look at resent de-conversion testimonies. Often, the person telling the story says that their journey away from Christianity began by rejecting one or two Christian truths that they found troubling. One or two doctrines or ethical positions that didn’t feel right to them, that didn’t make sense, that didn’t square with how they view reality. And, then, after rejecting some of God’s truth, it doesn’t take that long to reject all of it…the root was dead and the leaves fell to the ground.

So, what are we to do. I hope we compassionately call out our friends when we see leaves falling from their faith. I hope we winsomely say something like, “I’m really worried about this, about you. We cannot stand as judge over the Word, over God Himself. He is true though every man be found a liar. Repent and believe the good news!”

I’ve heard Ron Frost ask, “Was Adam and Eve dead when they walked out of the garden?” The Bible says, “yes.” They were dead, even though they looked alive. So, too, many around us. They leave because they never were alive, John writes in 1 John 2:19. But, it’s also possible that those who seem to be losing leaves can be called back from the brink (James 5:20). For these, they look like they are dying, but the divine Gardener knows they only need some pruning. We can’t know who is who until we are willing to call them back.

So, be on the look out for falling leaves. Take seriously your calling to have the hard conversation with those around you about the leaves they seem to be losing. Let us not grow weary, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9)! We will reap! We will see more leaves than we could have imagined! Leaves fed by the strong roots of Scripture!

Christian Parents, give this gift to your children

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What is the best gift parents can give their children besides the Gospel?  This question came home forcefully to me recently.  I had a friend say, “my parents don’t know the Lord, and part of the tragedy is that I see them making the same mistakes again and again, now for 40 years.  They are the same people today as they were when I was a kid.”

Sadness for this friend swept over me…what a tragedy!  As I thought about it, I have concluded that, one of the greatest things parents can give their children is a life-long vision of sanctification.  Imagine the power of seeing your parents becoming more like Jesus over 20, 30, 40 years or more!  Imagine seeing them confess their sin and repent year after year.  Seeing confession becoming more natural, more complete, with less blame shifting and less reticence to own all of their responsibility for sin.  

At the same time, imagine seeing them have victory over sin.  For some of those sins, maybe it took decades of hard fought battles to finally win the day.  Overcoming other sins maybe seemed easy, at least looking from the outside.  Imagine this – the power of transformed parents on your faith!

Imagine that as they get older, your parents become more kind, more gentle, warmer people.  They laugh more and cry more.  They celebrate the victories of others – including you – with greater enthusiasm and joy.  They increasingly step in to carry the burdens of others with them – again, including you and your burdens.  The older you get, the better they get.  You want to be around them more and more.

Now imagine none of that.  Imagine the lost opportunity.  Imagine lives that are only testimonies of sin and lostness.  For those of us with parents who are alive and growing in Christ, be thankful!  And share stories of their impact on you because some of us need to hear about it.  Soak it up.  Talk with your parents about it.  Make sure your kids start to notice it too!

For those of us whose parents do not know Jesus yet, take heart.  The Lord is even sovereign here.  I think a holy jealousy of others’ blessings in this is OK.  Sometimes we can even borrow the parents of others and benefit from their growth in Christ.  That’s a beautiful thing as well, but we continue to pray for our own parents. And, more than that, we remember that we are NOT orphans.

Christ promises us not only a multitude of sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers through the Church in this age and the one to come, but also that we know God as FATHER now and forever. Though our parents disappoint or even disown us, the Lord will receive us (Psalm 27:10). We have a Father who want to sweep us up into His love, into His fellowship. Hallelujah!

Finally, why don’t you commit to being a parent who is passionately pursuing becoming like Jesus.  Live in front of your kiddos in a way that they see the struggles and the victories.  Demonstrate confession and repentance in front of them.  Let them know how you are struggling, in appropriate ways, and let them know when you see victory.  Eventually, they’ll see it without you mentioning it.  

Imagine the ways they will be blessed by watching you.  Imagine the depth of relationship that will develop.  Imagine the impact your sanctification will have on your kids.  What a gift you will give them!

The Problem with “It’s a Gospel Issue”

Perhaps you’ve heard someone say recently, “this is a gospel issue.” Maybe it was said about a secondary or tertiary theological topic like baptism or church leadership. Maybe it was said about a social issue, such as race or creation care. Connecting anything to the gospel means we need to be clear with what we mean, and certainly different things can be meant by this phrase. Here are two such meanings:

  1. In some instances, you may mean, “If you get this topic wrong, then you distort the gospel.” For instance, if you get sanctification wrong, you might end up with a works-righteousness false gospel. If you get suffering wrong, you may end up with a prosperity theology false gospel.
  2. In other instances, you may mean, “The gospel has implications on this topic.” For instance, the gospel breaks down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile (and all ethnicities), and therefore, it calls for unity within the body of Christ across such ethnic lines.

Now, these are two very different ideas. You can think of it this way, the first set of “gospel issues” are like streams that flow into the gospel, they are upstream. If those streams are poisoned, they poison your gospel. They alter and shape the gospel you believe. These are areas in which we must be very careful because they affect the gospel itself.

The second set of “gospel issues” are different. The Gospel isn’t affected by them, but instead speaks to them. They are downstream from the gospel and, therefore, ought to be shaped by the gospel. Having a poor view of creation care or economic disparity, while sad and possibly sinful, doesn’t altar the gospel like having a misunderstanding of good works in the life of the believer.

Now, if you haven’t been living under a rock, you will have noticed that many times the phrase “this is a gospel issue” is stated, it is often followed by an anathema (“you don’t have/know/believe the gospel”) against people who see things differently. Here’s where discernment is important. If the issue is upstream from the gospel, then indeed, the accusation could be true. However, if the issue is downstream from the gospel, that’s a different ballgame.

For instance, currently we have been hearing that racial injustice is a gospel issue. If what is meant by that is that it’s downstream from the gospel and that the gospel shapes what we think and do about it, then I agree. If, however, we are saying that what you think and do about this topic changes the gospel (and therefore our standing in the gospel), I disagree. This doesn’t deny the fact that many who call themselves Christian are, in fact, not converted, and their racism (for example) illustrates that. It does, however, guard the gospel from any of our additives and preservatives – other ideas, stances, and opinions that we, in our flesh, want to add to Christ alone, faith alone, and grace alone.

The gospel should shape what we think and do about racial injustice, but it may do so in a variety of ways. There are, perhaps, many outlets for the gospel river as it flows into the delta of racial reconciliation. The gospel may lead one person saying, “Christ came to me when I was dead in transgression, so I will go to those who need reconciliation.” It may, however, lead another to say, “Lord, if there is any hidden/dormant racism in my heart, purify me.” It may lead to some lobbying against the abortion of thousands of black boys and girls, while leading others to seek reform in the penal system to bless black men who find themselves there.

Here’s the deal. All of those things can be good, if it’s done as an overflow of gospel love. However, all of those can be from the pit of Hell if they flow out of, “you have to do some/all of these or you aren’t a believer.” That’s a false gospel. That’s making an issue that is downstream into one that is upstream of the gospel.

This is how the Church has, in her better moments, throughout history dealt with disagreements on secondary and tertiary issues, including many social, economic, and political issues – those downstream issues. Even during unbelievably tumultuous times! There’s charity, there’s generosity towards our brothers and sisters who differ from us. They knew the difference between upstream and downstream gospel issues. I think we could benefit from remembering that once again.

9.5 Theses for 21st Century Christian Thinking

The 95 Theses: A reader's guide – The Lutheran Witness

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind a break from the craziness in the US surrounding political, social, and ethnic debates. There’s so many people using the same terms, but meaning different things. There’s so many folks talking past each other. There’s elements that are trying to foment unrest on all fronts. In the midst of this, I’ve been thinking. As a Christian, how should I think about these things? What questions should I be asking as someone whose only true allegiance is to King Jesus? As a believer, are there principles that I can keep in mind as I engage with others in loving dialogue or counsel?

So, below is my attempt. You might call them theses – short positional statements that help me think clearly in crazy times. I hope they help you. Also, whether you want to comment or email, I’d love to hear your thoughts, concerns, questions!

  1. Any solution that pits one group against another must be rejected. The Gospel tears down the dividing wall.
  2. Any solution that affirms EVERYTHING about any group or rejects EVERYTHING about another group must be rejected. The Gospel affirms what is good in every culture and condemns/judges the evil that is in every culture.
  3. Any solution that does not include the Gospel as THE solution must be rejected. Holiness can’t be legislated, not even in the Old Testament. Yes, let’s have holy, righteous laws, but only the Gospel, and the new birth it brings, transforms people.
  4. Any solution that primarily targets behavior, instead of the heart, must be rejected. As Christians, if someone is kind and respectful but unconverted and bound for hell, how can we be OK with that?
    • Similarly, any solution that dictates what generosity looks like. We can all agree that some in the early church sold everything they had to share, but we don’t see all churches, everywhere in the NT doing that. So, yes, call for generosity. And then leave it God and the individual to decide what that looks like. To mandate or even legislate this, I believe, would be sin.
  5. Any solution that doesn’t have the Church as the central player must be rejected. The halls of congress don’t have the message that can change hearts.
  6. Any solution that sees the use or distribution of power as the answer must be rejected. The greatest shall be servant of all. The last shall be first. Jesus emptied himself, and we are told to imitate Him.
  7. Any position that calls for undivided attention OR fullest commitment other than Christ must be rejected. That’s called idolatry. Besides Christ’s invitation, any other can be ignored if needed and/or good.
  8. Any position that requires “adherence or anathema” (support/believe/affirm/vote this or you’re not really a Christian) must be rejected (unless we’re talking about the actual Gospel). Those whom God foreknew, He justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies. He determines your salvation from start to finish…no one else has a say, and your advocacy for any policy or position doesn’t top-off what is lacking in the blood of Jesus.
  9. Similarly, any position that equates your commitment to it AS your commitment to Christ must be rejected. That is called syncretism – when the faith is polluted with elements form the world and actually becomes a false religion. When you add race or politics or anything else to the Gospel, you create a false gospel.

Lessons from the Global Church in this American Moment

This could easily turn into a book length post, or a series, but for now I want to keep it short and offer up some thoughts to help answer this question. I believe the global church has much to offer us as we walk through this divisive and contentious days. Here are 6.

  1. Holiness for revival in the midst of ungodliness – perhaps you look around and wonder how long the Lord will wait to judge the U.S. for our sins. Brothers and sisters living in Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist contexts understand that feeling. They cry out with us, “how long, Oh Lord,” and “will not the Lord of all the earth do right?!” One brother from Southeast Asia said to me, “Justin, Americans think that if person X or person Y is elected president, that God will judge your nation. What you don’t realize is that when these are the sort of people you have to choose between, that God has already judged your nation.” Let us grieve and lament before the Lord. The global church can teach us how.
  2. Healing to love and partner across race and ethnicity – Hutus and Tutsis are working together to heal blood soaked wounds in Rwanda, and the surrounding areas. Palestinian and Israeli Christians are working together, worshiping together, and loving one another well. The ethnic violence that we may see in the West today, while it shouldn’t be minimized, is nothing compared to what some countries have witnessed even in the last few years. The global church can help us love those who look, live, and vote differently than us.
  3. Hope in the midst of (real and potential) cultural and political opposition – Many American Christians are concerned that the direction our culture is going, and perhaps the direction of our government, that persecution of Christians will begin or increase. Our Chinese brothers and sisters suffering under a truly oppressive government, Nigerian brothers and sisters suffering at the hands of their Muslim neighbors, and Arab believers navigating a reality in which they seek to witness to Jesus despite all that it may cost them…they have so much to each us.
  4. Humility to admit our flaws and mistakes – We can stop describing the global Church, in any place, as a mile wide and an inch deep. If nothing else, recent events have exposed the Church in the U.S. – on both sides of our recent debates – as shockingly shallow in our conviction, character, and care. I’ve found so many of our African, Asia, and Latin American brothers and sisters to be humble, teachable, and hungry to grow, learn, and have more of Jesus. They are often quick to ask for help and counsel. We need a renewed spirit of humility and teachability in the American church.
  5. Hunger to proclaim the Gospel despite the current reality – look around the world and somewhere you will see famine, pestilence, sword, persecution, degradation, disease, hardship, and natural disaster. In all of those places, the church is proclaiming Christ. Across Africa, the Movement for African National Initiatives is a network partnering across denominations, cultures, languages, and ethnicities to reach the remaining unreached people groups on the continent. COMIBAM is doing the same in Latin America. Amazing partnerships in Asia trumpet, likewise, the need for the Gospel for all peoples. American Christians have so much to learn from this missional mindset despite the turmoil in their nations and, even, in their churches.
  6. Honestly about sin’s impact in our culture – the global church has helped us see that the Gospel is at home in every culture. It comes in, takes root, and transforms a people. And every culture it encounters then can express their faith in the Gospel in culture-specific ways, bringing unique gifts and glory to God that only they can. That’s what missiologists call the “indigenous principle” of the Gospel. But, there’s also the “pilgrim principle” of the Gospel which condemns sinful practices in every culture. It declares, all cultures are welcomed before the throne, but you are ultimately citizens of a new kingdom. The Gospel is at home in every culture, but also calls all cultures to bow the knee to King Jesus. EVERY CULTURE, TRIBE, RACE, PEOPLE, DIVISION OF HUMANITY. That is true of the American church, whatever culture or color.

Announcement: PhD Acceptance

I wanted to share that I have been accepted into the PhD in Christian Mission program at Southern Seminary. Thankful and excited to be further equipped to serve Christ and His Church around the world! Would love your prayers for growth, understanding, wisdom, and fruit that lasts!

I have had a few folks ask, “Why do you want to do this?”  Some have, likely, meant it this way: Why more study?  Others, perhaps, wondered, “Why any study?”  Both are fair questions.  Here’s a few thoughts, moving from general to specific and personal.

  1. Some of the best missional, Biblical, and theological breakthrough and understanding for the Church has come through intensive, rigorous study and research that would not have happened without formal, graduate level programs and opportunities.  Could God have done that in other ways?  Absolutely, but what does it say when God continues, throughout the centuries, to lend his blessing to this sort of work.
  2. I love to teach.  I don’t have a desire, at this point, to teach full time, but I’d love to teach a couple of classes each year.  Not only is there a need for this at some of our best Western institutions, but at many emerging and established institutions in the Majority World as well.  What if I could help raise up a new generation of missiologists, Biblical scholars, Church historians, and theologians in one or two places in the world?   That would be worth the effort, in my mind!
  3. I have served now for about 20 years in the “mission” world, whether as a mobilizer, trainer, missionary, or partnership/initiative builder.  The LORD Himself has done this.  This is my calling, my vocation.  Therefore, I want to learn, grow, and know as much as I can so that I might BETTER serve Christ’s Church worldwide.  If I’m going to do this the rest of my life, why wouldn’t I do whatever I could to do it better?  Are there other ways to be equipped?  Yes, and I’m taking advantage of those as well!
  4. I have questions that I want to answer.  I think they are important missional and theological/Biblical questions.  I don’t know anyone else asking them or answering them for God’s people.  This program will both equip me to answer them better as well as give me the time and space to do so.  What Bible/Mission/Theology questions do you have?

There are other reasons, some specifically related to the particular program that I’m joining, some related to my calling, but I’ll stop there for now.  Thanks for reading.  Thank you for those that have already congratulated me on making it this far.  I’m excited for the days ahead!

 

Does God Care? Comfort in Crisis

BBC World Service - The Documentary Podcast, Darkness at Noon

Hey friends, I hope you are all doing well.  No doubt, you find yourself in some sort of scenario you weren’t expecting.  This coronavirus outbreak has all of us at least, somewhat, quarantined.  Perhaps it also has us wrestling with the Lord in these days.  As the number of folks near to us, whether a direct connection or once-removed, who get the virus increases, and perhaps even death touches us, we will be tempted to wonder about the character of God and His concern for us.  That’s natural.  So, what we need is super-natural clarity on the heart of God for the struggler, the sinner, and the scared.  To that end, I wanted to share with you two sermons.  The first is a sermon that I preached over two years ago.  I think it is a timeless word because it dwells on the question of who is God in the midst of suffering.  I hope it is a soothing balm for you.  The second is a sermon I preached in 2018 simply asking, “How does Jesus feel about us?”  As we look to Jesus and ask that question, the response is so amazing!!!  Let us remember His love!

The God of Love Floods the Earth

So, this is a subject that I’ve been wanting to write on for some time.  If you haven’t read Genesis 6.1-4 in a while, here it is:

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

So, when you read that, do any questions come to mind?  Perhaps, you first wonder who/what are the Nephilim?  They are apparently a race of giants.  There are a few different peoples in the Bible, races of giants (think 8-9 feet tall, not 20-30), including the Nephilim, Anakim (decendents of the Nephilim), Rephaim/Zamzummim (perhaps a larger category of peoples including the Anakim and Emim), and the Emim.

That being the case, what are we seeing here in Gen 6.1-4.  Well, let’s see?  Genesis 6.1 takes us back in time from Genesis 5, back to when “man began to multiply on the face of the land.”  That’s our timing.  Over time, what began to happen?  The “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.” Tons of ink has been spilled over what is meant by the “sons of God” and “daughters of man.”  It is a huge deal!  Maybe pulled out like this, it seems simple enough, but here is why this is a big deal: These are the verses leading up to the flood.  Verses 1-4 are the reason for the flood, with verse 5 simply commenting on what the result of verses 1-4 is.  Here’s verses 5-7:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

So, all of a sudden these marriages are very important.  Who are these sons and daughters.  Many have speculated that the sons are angels/demons.  The comment about the Nephilim, then, would imply that angels and humans have gigantic children together.  For one evangelical case for this, you can read William Cook’s post over at The Gospel Coalition.  I would like to argue that the “sons of God,” however, are not angels, but instead are variously called “Sons of Seth” or “Godfearing Men” or what I called “sons/offspring of Eve.”  The reason I believe this is because these verses occur in the book of Genesis.  We can’t look just at the vocabulary used (for more than you want of that, you can check out the definitive book on this controversy here), we must look at the wider context.

After the Fall, the Lord says to the serpent, who had tricked Adam and Eve in Eden, in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  This sets the direction for all that will follow, not only in Genesis but throughout the Bible.  In this short verse, we see three realities.  First, a redeemer will come, a savior who is an offspring of Eve.  Second, there is an enemy who wants to destroy this promised seed/offspring.  Third, all of humanity is divided now.  Every person is either, now, an offspring of Eve or an offspring of Satan (that sounds harsh, but think of verses such as John 8.44 and Ephesians 2.2-3).  Of course, physically, they are ALL Eve’s offspring, so what differentiates some as Eve’s offspring and others as Satan’s?  It’s all about the seed, the ultimate Seed.  Are their hearts aligned by faith with the purposes of God for the salvation of humanity through a descendant of Eve?  Or, have they aligned themselves with Satan, the enemy of Eve, the enemy of God, the one seeking to destroy the promised Seed?

Now, it’s clear that all of Genesis is structured around a series of Toledoth statements.  Leithart introduces this concept this way: “As many commentators point out, Genesis is structured by 10 uses of the word toledoth, “generations.” The word means something along the lines of “begotten things,” and the toledoth statements head the various sections of Genesis.”  So, you see, all of Genesis, ALL of it, is about begetting, about generations, about child-bearing, offspring, and a promised Seed.  Genesis 3.15 tells us there is an offspring coming who will save us all…therefore, the rest of the book is tracking these two families (Eve’s offspring and Satan’s offspring), especially noting progressive revelation related to the promised Seed, the savior.

Following Genesis 3, we see Cain and his genealogy in Genesis 4.  It’s a pretty rotten group of people, living not in light of God’s promise, but like their father the devil.  Then we meet Eve’s offspring through Seth.  Remember what Eve says at his birth: “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.”  Physically, she already had another offspring, Cain.  But, according to the promise of 3.15, she was childless.  As we track her offspring through Seth, Genesis 5, we meet men who “call upon the name of the Lord (4.26)” and who “walked with God(5.22).”  These are men of faith…men longing for the promised Seed to come.  They are Eve’s offspring.

Now, if you were Satan and you wanted to prevent the savior’s coming, and you knew He would come through the offspring of Eve, what might be one thing you would do to thwart God’s plan?  You might defile the seed, right?  You might pollute the lineage.  So, we get to chapter 6 and we see that “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.”  This is bad news, friends!  Eve’s offspring are intermarrying with Satan’s.  What will God do?  What would a loving God do if, in fact, there was only one remaining offspring on planet earth who was, by God’s grace, waiting for the Seed to come?  Only one family left through which the Savior could come?!  The loving God who is seeking to redeem all that went wrong in Eden will flood the earth in order to preserve the Seed.  That’s why this intermarrying leads to the flood.

OK, so what are the implications? First, it should be noted that all of this is the reason that Genesis is obsessed with childbearing.

“Oh no, Sarah is barren!  But, the promised Seed is meant to come from Abram!  What will God do?”

“Oh no, Rebecca is barren, but the promise is for Isaac and his offspring!  What will God do!?”

It’s all beginning to make sense.  We have all of those genealogies for the same reason – we must track the seed!  Genealogies record the promise of God of a Savior Seed! And that’s why the last genealogies in the Bible are Matthew and Luke’s.  The Savior Seed has come!  No more genealogies!

In fact, this is the reason God chose a singular people – Israel, and why He gave them so many cultural instructions that were at odds with the nations around them.  What better plan for preserving the seed than to choose one nation and put so many unique requirements on it that it’s almost impossible for them to intermarry with others!  And that’s why we have the prohibition against marrying foreigners in the rest of the Old Testament.  Not because God is racist, but because He’s committed to saving the world through the promised Seed!  And that’s also why foreigners like Caleb and Ruth can join God’s people by faith!  “Your God is my God.  Your people, my people.”

And now, all of a sudden, an event that seems like an embarrassment to the faith becomes one of extreme mercy.  It was costly grace that led to the flood.  While we often say, “God didn’t have to save Noah and his family.  They didn’t deserve it.  God chose to be merciful,” and that’s true, the reality is that God wasn’t just merciful to Noah, but to all the earth.  The flood was an act of sheer grace!  It preserved the Savior Seed for all peoples and for all time.

And so, what’s the deal with the Nephilim?  If what we said is true, why does Moses include the statement about these giants?  I believe it’s because the Nephilim, and the other giants, were all a part of peoples who were opposed to God.  They were the most famous sons of Satan that Moses could have mentioned that his readers would recognize.  In fact, it was fear of giants (the Anakim to be precise) that caused the Israelites to wander in the desert for 40 years.  Israel knew them well, and these were historically evil men.

It could be understood that they are particularly evil BECAUSE they are the offspring coming out of prohibited intermarrying between the sons of God and the daughters of man.  While verse 4 may sound positive, it can also be understood as negative – they’re “not just famous, but INfamous” as the Three Amigos might say.  Verse 5 drives home that point.  These were not good times.  Every thought of man was evil continually, and the presence of the Nephilim, from which Goliath of Gath – that great enemy of God’s people – was descended, proves it.

The world was in an awful situation.  It needed to be saved.  So, the God of Love floods the Earth.

A Wake-up Call for Humility

Hey friends, what a week, huh?  If you’re reading this in a year later than 2020, the U.S. has just started a fairly aggressive (especially for us Americans) social distancing policy in response to the Corona Virus.  This post is not about all the ways we need to humble ourselves in this current situation.  There are many good thoughts out there on that.  Instead, I’m going to just share something the Lord has hit me with recently, and hope that it encourages you whether you struggle in the same way that I do.

I like to be right…there, I said it.  In fact, it’s been said that I’d rather be right, than be happy, and that is true often.  It is an ugly truth.  It’s neither one to ignore, be proud of, or accept as simply my temperament.  It’s ugly…it’s sinful…it has to die.

Well, if I like to be right, then I especially want to be right about things that are important to me, things that I believe are my areas of “expertise.”  So, that may include being right in my thoughts and opinions related to Washington Nationals baseball or, and more importantly, my ideas and stances around Biblical truth and missions.  I often like to think that I’m teachable…that is, unless someone is trying to “teach me” when I already know the answer, or so I think.

Recently, I was reading a book by an author who I knew understood God’s Mission in a way different that I do.  I believed I was right and he was wrong.  I’m not saying having opinions on important matters is the problem.  It’s not.  You SHOULD have a well-formed, well thought about opinion about important things.  We’d be fools otherwise.  But, as I read, two things happened.

First, as this author was making his argument, I noticed all the footnotes in this book.  I’m the type of reader who reads every, single footnote.  I hate end-notes…they are the worst, and you’ll never change my mind about that!  😉  As I read the book and the footnotes, I kept thinking, “Interesting, I haven’t read that book,” and “Oh, that sounds like an interesting book!”  As these began to pile up, all of a sudden, it was as if the Lord was nudging me with this idea:

It’s OK to disagree with this brother, but you’d be a fool to discount his hard work, his research, his understanding.  What if you read this book to see what you can learn instead of whether he’s going to agree with you?

Second, as that happened, as my attitude towards this author and his book became one of teachability, I was able to see a couple of things.  First, his view was much more nuanced that I was giving him credit for.  I have been painting those with whom I disagree with too broad of strokes.  Second, I started to see areas where we did agree AND even ideas that were meaningful for me which I hadn’t thought about before.  I began to benefit from this author’s hard work and his articulation of his stance on the issue.

Do I still disagree with him on the question he was considering?  Yes.  But, my own understanding has grown, and I’m learning to love and respect my brother in Christ.  What if I took more satisfaction in having my own view strengthened or even changed (because if I am wrong, the best thing for me would be to be corrected!), than I do in reading as an outright antagonist?!  What if I approached mission research this way?  What if we, as a culture, approached books/articles on parenting and politics this way (or whatever other hot button topic)?

This doesn’t mean compromise on truth.  We hold Scripture as God’s Word.  We hold the Christian faith as delivered through the ages.  I’m not talking about watering down our theology.  I’m talking about the areas of life and society where we don’t necessarily have a clear word from Scripture, where we’re all trying to apply principles from His Word as faithfully as we can, where perhaps no one has definitive input for us.  Maybe we start with the areas we ought to know better than act like experts…here’s a great example!  But, we can move into other areas…areas where we may have enough information to have an opinion and maybe those where we have some expertise.  Would you rather be right than a little wiser?  Would you rather win the argument than to grow as a human?  Would you rather beat others down with your brilliance than be happy?

Always Choosing Harmful Relationships

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and beard, possible text that says 'WRONG GUY AGAIN'

I shared this on Facebook, but thought I’d put it here for you as well.

 

Do you always choose the wrong guy? Or the wrong girl? Not wanting to pick someone that will hurt you, yet always finding yourself going back, whether the same harmful relationship or a new one. Is that your story?

 

That’s actually the story of Christianity!  The rest of this post is taken from Glen Scrivener, in his excellent little book Love Storywho sums up the story of the Old Testament this way:

 

Let me tell you about one Old Testament story that sums up the whole. It’s about the prophet Hosea. He lived about 750 BC. Essentially the Lord says to Hosea, “I’ve got a treat for you. You’re going to experience what it fells like to be me in the great love story.”

 

God says to Hosea: “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.”

 

The Lord wants Hosea to share in his own experience. What does it feel like for God to be our God? Apparently it feels like being married to a serial adulterer. Hosea must marry a prostitute called Gomer.

 

Hosea does so and, true to form, Gomer does not stick around for long. Soon she returns to the brothel. Perhaps Hosea thinks he’s done his best…But the Lord tells him no, he’s only just begun. God says to Hosea: “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods.”

 

Hosea actually has to go to the brothel and pay fifteen shekels – the prostitute price – to get his wife back. Can you imagine being Hosea and banding on the brothel door? “I’m hear for my Gomer…I’m her husband…I’ll pay whatever it costs; I just want her back.”

 

He is vulnerable; he is exposing himself to great shame; he is putting his heart on the line again with a woman who keeps spurning his love. Why should he pay for his own wife? Why should he endure any of this? Because that’s what God is like.

 

God love us; he commits himself to us; he is like Hosea. But we are like Gomer. We ignore Him; sideline him; and pretend he has no claim over us. In so doing we slink back into the life we’ve always known. This is what has spoiled the world. We reject God’s love and pursue our heart’s desires in all the wrong places.

 

Yet, how does God respond? He is the God who pursues us. In fact, as we will see, he will shame himself in order to offer his love again. He will pay for us, redeeming us at great cost, just to have us back in his arms. The whole Old Testament is the promise of a great Hosea – a divine Lover – who will come to claim his people.