“This is Your Life”

The day was hot and dusty.  The sun beat down mercilessly on the hills, the rocks, the long-parched dirt.  The people were standing in the sun, sweating.  There were a lot of people!  Maybe half a million, maybe a million, perhaps more, unimaginably many people.

And they were on the move.  They had been walking for years with their tents and their families, their goats and their sheep.  More than years, it had been decades.  Most of them were not old enough to remember when they started; they had only heard the stories, terrifying stories what life was like before- before…  They didn’t even have a word to call the crazy events that had set them moving all those years ago, which only the oldest few among them now remembered.  But they knew the heat and the dust, the tents and the rocks, the animals and the sacrifices.

Their old leader, the last of his generation, the oldest one among them still alive, remembered those days, and he knew where they were going.  He said they were getting close, that in just a few more weeks now, they would get to their new home.  But he did not expect to live that long himself.  He looked healthy for one so unimaginably old, still sharp-eyed and walking around.  But he had already named his successor, another one of the oldest among the people (he was over eighty years old!), who remembered when it all started.  Their oldest leader warned them that he himself would not arrive with them to where they were going.

And so, on this hot, dusty day, they stood outside in the heat and the sun, in their sweat and their thirst, to listen to their old leader for what might be the last time.  He had a lot that he wanted to tell them!  He had been talking to them for days, preparing them for the future, but also reminding them of what happened in the past, before most of them were born.  They needed to know where they came from, and where they were going, and most importantly, why.  And they listened, because they knew he was speaking the words of their God to them.  Their old leader was the spokesman for the God who had rescued them back then and who walked with them now, the God whose tent was among them, who had come with them all these years and decades, the God who was with them here in this hot dry place, and who was soon going to bring them to their destination.

Their old leader struggled up a slope, helped by some of the younger men, so that his voice could carry above their heads.  When he finally reached a spot where most people could see him, he turned around slowly, and everyone hushed except for some of the babies scattered among the crowds.  The people waited in silence for his words.

But unlike previous times, when he had told them of their God’s care for them, had warned them to avoid evil, and instructed them how to live good lives with their God, this time he… sang.  He sang!  His voice, surprisingly strong in one so old, echoed off the rocky slopes above him, and the beautiful, mysterious words echoed in their hearts.  It was a song about their God and about his people – about them!  It was a confusing song about worship and rebellion, about their God and other gods, about how awe-inspiring their God was, in both his kindness and his unique perfection.  The oldest among them listened most intently, and tried to save the words in their hearts; they knew they would need to think about this more later.  And after the old leader sang, his appointed successor repeated it after him, just to make sure that it was remembered, that it would not be lost.

Moses finished speaking all these words to all Israel.  He said to them, “Pay attention to all the words which I am warning you today, which you will command your children to keep doing all the words of this Law.  For it is not a meaningless message to you, but it is your life, and by this message you will prolong days upon the ground which you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (Deut. 32:45-47)

Over three millennia ago on a hot dusty slope overlooking the Jordan River, Moses, the servant of God, taught a prophetic song to the Lord’s people and encouraged them to remain faithful to God and to pay attention to his message.  God’s message to his people is not just good advice, not just beautiful poetry, not just rules to live by.  God’s message to us is our life.  “For this reason, we must pay attention all the more to what we have heard” (Heb. 2:1).

Is Donald Trump God’s “Chosen One”? An Advent Reflection on God in Politics

There has been a lot of discussion over the past week of Rick Perry’s claim that President Trump is God’s “chosen one” to be president.  Obscure points of Christian theology have spilled over into mainstream media, and political commentators have felt obliged to weigh in on doctrines of predestination and election.  The two most common talking positions seem to be shaping up as “God has nothing to do with politics” and “Of course God chose our president; get over it.”  But the analysis has focused primarily on politics, and I think reflecting on the theology may be more helpful.  In particular, what the Bible says about God’s involvement in selecting leadership may be useful for adding the nuance lacking in the public discussion, and may serve as a useful reminder of what Advent is about. (more…)

Psalm 131: A Confession of Humility

Moses gets a bit of flack sometimes for writing, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3).  Indeed, some people even make that into an argument that Moses could not have written this verse, although the argument presumes a surprisingly narrow realm of psychological possibility.  I’ve often thought that if God tells you to write something, the humble thing to do is to write it.

Humility is not often praised in American churches, not often held up as a model to emulate.  And this is despite the explicit blessing of our Lord Jesus: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).  Most sermons I have heard on this text take great pains to assure the audience that “meek” doesn’t mean “doormat.”  That is an accurate observation, but when the caveat dominates the message more than the positive meaning of the text, perhaps it is indicative of a vitamin deficiency in the churches with whom I have worshiped.  Humility is a virtue that we need more of. (more…)

An Open Letter to President Trump From an Evangelical

Mr. President:

I do not write to you today about politics, because you know more about politics than I do.  Instead I write about something much more important: your future, and where you will find yourself within thirty years.

The God who created the skies and the ground also created humans, so that they might worship him and enjoy everything good thing with him forever.  This includes you.

But humanity, from our first ancestors onward, rejected God and rejected his promise of eternal enjoyment.  We humans have set ourselves up as our own gods, and the result of this sin is separation from God, now and forever.  Separation from God is what causes our death, both our physical death and our eternal spiritual death deprived from the source of our life.  This includes you.

But God loved the world so much that he sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to become one of us, to live a sinless life in poverty, to die a blameless death on a Cross, to rise again to new life since it was impossible for death to hold him, so that everyone who puts their faith in Jesus should have eternal life, not eternal death.  This is not automatic, but is an opportunity available to everyone, including you.

But do not be deceived; God is not mocked.  The free gift of forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ requires only that each sinner acknowledge their sins and turn away from them to the powerful gracious love of Jesus.  But it does require turning away from sins; any attempt to claim the forgiveness of Jesus without acknowledging the sins committed is doomed to failure.

I expect you know your sins better than anyone, but you said in 2016 that you do not ask for God’s forgiveness.  That made me worried that you were deceiving yourself, since all of us need God’s forgiveness every day.  As I have watched your presidency, it has become increasingly clear that you are in the bondage of deceit, ceaselessly peddling lies about yourself and your enemies, so that I fear you have even come to believe these baseless falsehoods yourself.  To pick examples only from the last six months, your deliberate deceptions include insisting that the Mueller report exonerated you, when in fact the Mueller report explicitly stated that it did not exonerate you (vol. II, p.8).  You have claimed your July 25 phone call to the Ukrainian president was “perfect” and legal, when you obviously set up the withholding of military aid for the sole purpose of pressuring him to help you in your reelection campaign, which is illegal.  In order to distract the news media, you ordered a poorly considered withdrawal from Syria in order to allow the Turkish armed forces to attack the Kurds, at the cost of hundreds of lives.  Just as David killed Uriah by the sword of the Ammonites (2 Sam 12:9), you have murdered Syrian Kurds by the shells of the Turkish military, all for the sake of your political benefit.  You have not saved lives; you have destroyed them.  No doubt you have other sins, but these sins are obvious, and they will be condemned by God who is righteous and accomplishes justice.  Your only hope to escape eternal condemnation is the forgiveness offered by Jesus.

It is claimed that you are a Christian.  That is a good name which I am glad to wear myself, but the label alone does not get you anything.  What matters is not what men call you, but what you are in the sight of God.  The benefits of Christ are not for those who call themselves Christians (Matt. 7:21-23), but for those who trust in Jesus, follow him, serve him, and love him.  You must ask yourself if this is what you are doing.  The Lord Jesus said, “You will know them by your fruits…  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 7:16, 19).  Lying, corruption, and murder are not good fruits, but the fruits of the devil which lead to death.

Even now you have the opportunity to escape from the damnation that your sins deserve, if you will turn away from your sins to Jesus and place your trust in him for forgiveness.  If you do so, he will take command of your life, fill you with his Holy Spirit, and guide you along the path to eternal joy.  The Lord Jesus Christ, in command of your life, will lead you to apologize to those you have wronged and to begin to live rightly, which is better for you and for everyone.

There is no other way.  You may be able to escape human punishments for your crimes, and you may be able to continue spreading lies, but you will not be able to escape God’s judgment.  He cannot be tricked.  He cannot be manipulated.  He will not “make a deal.”  God has made known the only opportunity for salvation, available to you and to everyone, in his son Jesus Christ.  Be warned: Jesus himself said, “Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of Heaven like a child will not enter it at all” (Mark 10:15).  The apostle Peter said, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  Your name and your wealth will not help you on the day of judgment (Psalm 49:16-20), only humbly acknowledging your sins, renouncing them, and turning to Jesus in submission.

You may not have many more opportunities.  You are already seventy-three years old, and none of us knows how long he will live.  You might have a heart attack and die tomorrow, or you might live for another twenty-five years; we do not know.  But we do know that when you die, whenever that might be, it will be too late then to seek forgiveness.  The opportunity to renounce sin and run to Jesus is an opportunity only in this life, and your time is running short.  Within thirty years, less than half of the length of time you have already lived, your eternal judgment will be determined.  I encourage you, by the mercy and love of Jesus Christ, not to let this opportunity go by; you may not have another.  Repent and believe in the good news!  Be cleansed from your sins, and live!

I pray for you to recognize the truth, and that the truth would set you free from the deception and lies which you perpetuate, which now bind you.  I pray for your repentance from sins, for you to accept the eternal well-being in the forgiveness which only Jesus Christ provides.  I pray for the evil you have done to be struck down and overcome by the goodness of God, who loves truth and justice, and he is merciful to you, giving you the opportunity even now to leave behind the deceit and death you have worked, and turn to his light and his life.

There is nothing more important than this.  The Lord Jesus himself said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).  Don’t be a tough guy.  Don’t be a fool.

May the Lord have mercy on your soul.

Theophiletos

Grace With Whom? A Text-Critical Exploration of Revelation 22:21

At the end of the book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, John wrote, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with…” whom?  The manuscripts, and the English translations, widely disagree on the conclusion of that verse.  We need to look at the evidence and consider how the different possibilities arose in order to figure out what the most likely original text was.  (This is what makes textual criticism so fun!) (more…)

Contentment in Christ, Not Settling for Less

I have often heard Christians say that we ought to be content in Christ, and not ask for anything outside of Christ.  I think they are on to something important, but I worry that they might be misunderstood.  Yes, Paul “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil. 4:12), and the letter to the Hebrews commands, “be content with what you have,” linking that to God’s presence: “because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you'” (Heb. 13:5).  But if this is the case, why do some people hear “you should be content in Christ” as a disappointment? (more…)

Xerxes’ Wife

I’ve been particularly interested recently in Ancient Near Eastern history, and in particular how the Old Testament interacts with its context.  I have been repeatedly told by academics and intellectuals – including some Christians! – that the Old Testament is just a collection of myths and fictions with no connection to what really happened.  This seemed fishy to me.  So I’ve been digging over the past few months, and found many more connections even than I expected to find.  One, which illustrates the challenges and the possibilities, is the question of the wife of the Achaemenid Persian shah Xerxes I (r. 486-465). (more…)

Hell and the God of Love

Hell is a problem.  It makes compassionate Christians uncomfortable.  It makes hateful Christians gleeful.  Some people say that hell is unfair.  Others say a loving God could never create people to send them to hell.  How can hell be reconciled with “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8)?

Let us be careful.  Jesus, who revealed God’s love, discussed hell more than any prophet. (more…)

Christ is Risen!

Christ is Risen!  Happy Easter!

It’s been almost three months since I posted.  The explanation is not that I gave up blogging for Lent (at least not intentionally), but I have been working on other things.  Like learning a new language.  (Okay, a *very* old language.)  And inwardly grumbling about my work.  (Not healthy.)  And various other things.  In time there will be new posts in a couple new directions.  In the meantime I am busy repenting of my sins.

But God forgives us and saves us from even ourselves, as we see most powerfully in the death of the Son of God on a Roman cross, followed by his vindication on the third day because death could not hold him.  Jesus died for our forgiveness and rose for our redemption.  Because he dies, our sins our dead; because he lives, we live even if we physically die.

Christ is Risen!  Happy Easter!  Forever and ever, amen!

Israel and the Church

Last month’s decision by the US president to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel brought out the full range of responses, as usual.  Such responses always dismay me as to how poorly both sides understand what the Bible says about Israel, land, and the Church today.  Here are some notes for a discussion I led on the subject, specifically for Christians; the notes have been somewhat edited since the original version. (more…)