Appreciating the Love, Patience, & Mercy of God

Our God is a righteous God. His righteousness demands that sin be punished; it’s only “right,” “just,” and “fair” that each person is treated according to his deeds. Yet He is also a God of mercy, another aspect of His righteous character. The Cross is how God is able to be both just and merciful at the same time.

Some people emphasize God’s wrath over sin; others go in the opposite direction and see only mercy, thereby downplaying judgment.

I want to be balanced in my view of God’s character. From both my Biblical exegesis and my personal experience in relationship with God, here’s where I’ve arrived on the issue of balance.

God seeks to be merciful whenever He can; He judges when He has no other option in order to uphold His righteousness.

Why do I think this is the proper perspective? My study of Scripture has led me here. Let me explain.

While some think the Old Testament is just one long harangue against sin and God is eager to bring judgment, I disagree. He would have wiped out the entire human race, yet He was willing to start again with Noah. He would have cast away the children of Israel and restarted His plan with Moses, except Moses prayed He would not do so. God was willing, in answer to that prayer, to continue working with a disobedient people.

In Ezekiel 18:30-32, we get a glimpse into God’s heart when He says to His people,

“Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.”

Does that sound like a God who is eager to bring judgment?

When we turn to the New Testament and see Jesus as the embodiment of the Godhead—the One through whom we understand better the heart of the Father—we see again a desire to show mercy. Only man’s rebellion stands in the way. As Jesus looks over the city of Jerusalem, we’re told in Luke 13:34-35,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’”

Nearly everyone is familiar with John 3:16, which makes the point that “whoever believes” will have eternal life, but it’s the next verse that once more highlights the heart of God:

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”

Judgment wasn’t the inspiration for the coming of Jesus; salvation was.

And in 2 Peter 3:8-9, we see why the Second Coming hasn’t yet occurred, and the reason is God’s desire that as many as possible will be saved.

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

He doesn’t want anyone to perish; He earnestly desires all to come to salvation and is providing as much time as He deems appropriate to bring more souls into His Kingdom.

So, yes, God judges. One day that judgment will be fierce, without mercy, total toward those who have stubbornly rejected His love and commands. But until then, He is the Shepherd who seeks the one lost sheep while maintaining the ninety-nine.

Personally, I am deeply grateful—let’s make that eternally grateful—that He showed mercy to me when He could just as easily have condemned me in my sins. He gave me time to come to my senses and repent.

He is a loving God.

Every Secret Will Be Brought to Light

I’ve been letting this whole FBI-Trump Dossier-Russian Collusion episode play out before attempting to comment much on it. It’s always best not to jump into something in the middle while it’s all still a muddle.

I naturally want to trust the FBI in the hope that it is fair and impartial in its investigations. It’s clear now that some agents haven’t lived up to that standard, yet it’s not an indictment of the entire organization, even if some people think it is.

What’s also pretty clear is that the Hillary campaign was behind the infamous Trump Dossier, thinking it would derail Trump in the election. There’s nothing surprising about that since integrity has never been a Clinton trait.

The Mueller investigation into whatever influence Russia had on the election has become a center of controversy as well, with partisanship on both sides seeming to overrule sound judgment. While I have my own concerns about whether this investigation is being conducted with all rectitude, I heartily concur with the aim of bringing everything to light.

One burning issue is whether the president will be called to give testimony. Apparently there is a division among his own lawyers as to whether that would be wise and/or appropriate. At the very least, it could be entertaining.

Politicians and political operatives tend to believe that they can get away with almost anything. Too often that has been the case. But they need to know that there is One who sees everything, no matter how cleverly they try to hide what they are doing. Jesus noted,

For everything that is hidden will eventually be brought into the open, and every secret will be brought to light. Mark 4:22

And there is that Day coming when nothing will be hidden ever again:

For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:14

Justice doesn’t always prevail in our day, but on God’s Judgment Day, He will have the last word.

The Republican Obituary

I toyed with the idea this morning of writing nothing but Scripture passages. I will get to those, but I have to say a few words as well.

The Republican voters (and for the sake of brevity, I’ll just assume most were Republicans) have decided that a man who rejects nearly every line in past Republican platforms will be their nominee for president.

Republican voters have concluded that morality, integrity, the rule of law, and the Constitution must be discarded in their headlong dash into an angry reaction against all politicians, even someone like Ted Cruz who has fought the good fight for Biblical and constitutional principles all his life.

In doing so, they have brought this nation to the brink of near-total collapse. No matter who wins in the fall, Republican or Democrat, Christian values will be subjected to even greater governmental suppression. No matter how Trump fares in the general election, the very fact of his nomination is a dismal indication that whatever honor and principle remained in the Republican party is now in the past.

This photoshop going around this morning may be accurate:

Republican Tombstone

Resurrection of the Republican party depends on whether it comes to its senses once this debacle is over. Until then, while I will vote for good Republicans down the ticket, I will not associate myself with the man at the top of the ticket. I am now publicly declaring my political independence from the Republican party.

I’ve always said to Republican groups when I’ve spoken to them that I am first a Christian, second a constitutionalist, and third a Republican—and that I will remain a Republican only as long as the party remains true to my first two identities.

The voices have already begun: but if you don’t vote for Trump, that’s a vote for Hillary. I reject that argument, but I won’t address it today. There will be plenty of time in the coming days to explain why I cannot, in good conscience, support Donald Trump.

For now, I’ve been directed, I trust this is by God, to certain Scriptures that, to me, describe our current situation. In II Thessalonians, chapter 2, in the context of what will occur in the endtimes, the apostle Paul explains that many will be willingly deceived, and he ends with these words:

For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.

I honestly believe that many have been deceived by Trump. I don’t think this verse applies to Trump specifically, so don’t misunderstand my point. But there is a principle here that does apply. When people are so willing to believe a lie, God allows them to follow their own evil hearts into destruction.

The bigger problem, of course, is that the rest of us are dragged down with them into the consequences of their foolishness.

We’re also admonished in the third chapter of II Timothy,

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers . . . ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. Avoid such men as these.

I look at that list and see the man who is now the presumptive nominee for the Republicans. His lifestyle is pretty much drawn from this description. And you are telling me I am supposed to vote for him? I will instead take the instruction of that final sentence: avoid such men as these.

Finally, I go to Romans, chapter 1, where in a passage the deals directly with the sin of homosexuality (yes, I said sin, so I might expect some societal blowback for that), Paul then goes on to say,

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; . . . strife, deceit, malice . . . insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil . . . without understanding, untrustworthy. . . . And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Are we really at that point in our society? It’s no cliché to say that we need to pray now more than ever. Our only hope is to cry out for God’s mercy. Consequences will come first, but we hold out for mercy in the end if enough people awaken to the truth and realize we are on the path to destruction.

This hasn’t been a very uplifting post today. There are times for messages of warning and judgment. This is one of those times.

Lewis: The “Higher” Temptation

Reflections on the Psalms 2Reading C. S. Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms for the first time, I came away with some “reflections” that surely should make us stop and think for a while. For instance, when commenting on what some might call the intemperate language toward enemies found in some of the psalms, Lewis notes that it is probably because the Jews took right and wrong more seriously than others.

He did see, however, a danger in having this heightened sense of right and wrong, if someone were to let that go out of control. Here’s how he put it:

Ir seems that there is a general rule in the moral universe which may be formulated “The higher, the more in danger.” The “average sensual man” who is sometimes unfaithful to his wife, sometimes tipsy, always a little selfish, now and then (within the law) a trifle sharp in his deals, is certainly, by ordinary standards, a “lower” type than the man whose soul is filled with some great Cause, to which he will subordinate his appetites, his fortune, and even his safety.

Now, there is nothing wrong with having one’s soul filled with God’s Cause, but Lewis offers a warning, even to those of us who are striving to ensure God’s ways are the standard in our society. He goes on:

But it is out of the second man that something really fiendish can be made; an Inquisitor, a Member of the Committee of Public Safety. It is great men, potential saints, not little men, who become merciless fanatics. Those who are readiest to die for a cause may easily become those who are readiest to kill for it.

I don’t believe I would ever be tempted to kill for what God has put in my soul—that would be at odds with the love of God in my heart—but it is a temptation to strike out verbally against those whom I see destroying what God wants to do.

Lewis continues with another example from his own profession:

C. S. Lewis 13One sees the same principle at work in a field (comparatively) so unimportant as literary criticism; the most brutal work, the most rankling hatred of all other critics and of nearly all authors, may come from the most honest and disinterested critic, the man who cares most passionately and selflessly about literature.

Write a book sometime, and you will know what Lewis means. He concludes with this:

The higher the stakes, the greater the temptation to lose your temper over the game. We must not over-value the relative harmlessness of the little, sensual, frivolous people. They are not above, but below, some temptations.

Another application. I speak and write on political and governmental issues, and I share my views with vigor. There is always the temptation, as one deeply involved with the study of history and government, to lash out at those who have no idea what is going on and who, I believe, are leading us down a path to destruction.

I may be absolutely correct in my analysis (as indeed I think I am), but there is the temptation at all times to go beyond a proper critique and to lose the spirit of the Lord in my communications. I’m constantly drawn back to how God wants me to communicate His truths.

I appreciate Lewis’s insight here, and his caution. May we all take his words to heart.

The Trump-McCarthy Parallel

I admit to being amazed at the support Donald Trump seems to be getting, not only from what might be called “movement conservatives,” but more specifically, from evangelical Christians. One article indicates that he is the leading candidate among that latter group. I don’t know for sure if that’s true, but if it’s even close to the mark, it’s astonishing.

Donald Trump 2I won’t go into detail again (see a previous post) on why I do not support Trump’s candidacy, but I can offer a short summary: supreme arrogance (he says he’s never asked God for forgiveness for anything; constant boasting about how rich he is and how smart); other personal character traits (favorite words being “loser” and “stupid”; resorting to twitter jibes on an adolescent level toward those who criticize him); and his recent “conversion” to conservative policies.

On that last point, some have tried to compare his change to conservatism to Ronald Reagan’s. I’ve studied Reagan in some depth and know that his worldview changed over time as a result of intense study and grappling with foundational philosophical issues. I’m not convinced that is the case with Trump; neither do I trust him to remain true to what he now says he believes.

In fact, he’s rather mixed up on some things: he claims to be for repealing Obamacare, yet says a universal, government-run healthcare system is workable in some countries. He doesn’t quite say why he considers it unworkable here. Perhaps he really doesn’t. Perhaps, were he to attain the presidency, we might be subject to another failed promise from a politician.

Joe McCarthyI’m also seeing a historical parallel with another situation. Back in the early 1950s, Sen. Joe McCarthy made a big splash as a crusader against communism. He was bold and brash and developed a large following. Many in conservatism at the time saw him as the leader against the establishment and flocked to his bandwagon. Yet he was little more than an opportunist, seizing on a hot topic that he did not really grasp clearly.

As evidence for this conclusion, I turn to Whittaker Chambers, a genuine champion of liberty who left the communist underground, gave his witness to Congress, and suffered publicly for doing so. Yet he succeeded in unmasking the underground movement, with the climax being the conviction of Alger Hiss—who had been his compatriot in the underground and then became a top State Department official—for perjury.

McCarthy wanted to tie his crusade to Chambers. They met. Chambers came away with some rather pointed comments about the senator. In a letter to William F. Buckley, Chambers summarized McCarthy’s approach in this way: “Senator McCarthy’s notion of tactics is to break the rules, saturate the enemy with poison gas, and then charge through the contaminated area, shouting Comanche war cries.”

Chambers at DeskThese heavy-handed tactics were of deep concern to Chambers, who wrote:

I know he thinks this is a superior technique that the rest of us are too far behind to appreciate. But it is repetitious and unartful, and, with time, the repeated dull thud of the low blow may prove to be the real factor in his undoing. Not necessarily because the blow is low, or because he lacks heart and purpose, but because he lacks variety, and, in the end, simply puts the audience to sleep.

He tried not to come to a rash judgment, but concluded, “It is more and more my reluctant opinion that he is a tactician, rather than a strategist; that he continually, by reflex rather than calculation, sacrifices the long view for the short pull.”

What worried him the most was the damage McCarthy would do over time:

In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder which will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anti-Communist effort for a long while to come.

Chambers was correct: McCarthy stumbled on his own arrogance and ignorance; his actions discredited anti-communist efforts to this day.

Personally, I have those same fears about Donald Trump. Everything Chambers said about McCarthy looms in my mind when I hear Trump speak, and I am concerned that his nomination, let alone his possible election as president, may be the death knell for true conservatism, and Christians who currently look past his character failings will one day regret their willful blindness.

There are some who say that God doesn’t need a committed Christian to accomplish his purposes, that He can use someone who is terribly flawed and not in touch with Him to carry out His will.

I understand that position. God does work in all situations. He did use Nebuchadnezzar to carry out His judgments on His people of Israel. But that was for the purpose of punishment for sin. Frankly, He has a lot of politicians to choose from if He is ready to unleash His judgment on America. Trump is not unique in that sense.

Since when do we deliberately choose a spiritual renegade over a committed Christian man or woman who is seeking to do His will? Those men and women do exist, and some are running for president right now. Why would we throw our support behind someone who is more egocentric than anyone else in the political realm?

I don’t want to have to defend myself before God after making a choice like that. I’m going to give my vote to someone who at least has a heart for righteousness and the God who defines what is and is not righteous.

If Trump is the Republican nominee, we may be destroying whatever remains of principle in that party. If he should ever be elected president, we may see in that office someone who is a combination of Nebuchadnezzar and Joe McCarthy. He may be the channel for God’s judgment, but I will not willingly go that route. I still want to help save America.

My musings in this post will not be accepted by all, I know. But I hope you will, at the very least, avoid being caught up in an emotional appeal and will take some time to reflect on the concerns I have expressed here. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

Doing Away with Childish Thinking

“All politicians are the same.” “We need to fire all of the bums.” “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the parties.” “We need someone outside of politics to lead us.”

Those are the refrains I’m hearing constantly. They stem from anger and frustration with the current mess. I agree that we currently have a mess. Yet I don’t use those phrases. Why not? I find them to be emotionally driven, intellectually lazy comments.

Christians, in particular, need to forego superficial analyses like those. Do we really believe that every last congressman, senator, and governor is a bum? Should we throw out every person in government simply because we don’t like the overall direction of the country?

If we do, we will lose a lot of principled people as well. We will lose many whose experience with the system can make them effective. Novices may arrive en masse with no idea of how to make things happen. How is that an improvement?

And when we lump everyone together into the stereotype of “the crooked politician,” we are condemning the innocent along with the guilty. Christians are to judge each person on an individual basis, just as God does. The kingdom of heaven consists of individuals who have submitted to the Lordship of Christ.

Are we saying there are no such individuals in our government?

Righteous JudgmentWe are to judge, to be sure. That’s what I’m doing with these comments also. But our judgment is to be an honest one, not merely a flip statement that condemns everyone involved with politics.

Look carefully at the Republican candidates for president. Can you not find even one who has a record of achievement in politics based on principle? If you say you cannot, I would have to respond that you are not taking enough time to investigate the field.

Another problem is that we—and this applies to Christians also—are drawn to celebrity and other outward forms of “strength.” Instead, we should concentrate on personal character in the candidates, not their ability to be bombastic and anti-establishment.

We should examine what they have accomplished, not whether they know how to get attention or use catchy phrases. Neither should we be impressed by anyone who descends into juvenile behavior in response to criticism.

It seems that with every approaching election, I, and others, say that this one could be the most crucial of all. Is that the case for this next round of elections? If so, we need to be sober in our judgments and choose as wisely as possible.

“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child,” notes the apostle Paul. Then he says, “When I became a man, I did away with childish things.”

It’s time to stop acting like petulant children. It’s time to be men and women of principle and sound judgment. Truly, the fate of the nation depends on that. Christians are to be the salt of the earth. When we speak and act like everyone else, we are useless.

Happy New Year? Real Christians Are the Key

Everyone always says “Happy New Year!” Is that what we really expect, or do we look ahead with more anxiety than anticipation? Is there much to be happy about in our world?

JeremiahIn this blog, I’ve tried hard to stay upbeat even while pointing out the follies, misfortunes, and outright sins in our society. I’ve never desired to be a Jeremiah. Maybe that’s because I don’t like suffering. No one wanted to hear his words; at one point, he was thrown in a well to die. I’m not fond of wells and other pits. Not everyone gets rescued as he did.

It’s a delicate balance to maintain, pointing out the problems while remaining upbeat. There are too many who spend all their time denouncing everything. They become boring after a while. Yet there is a lot to denounce. How can we do so in the right spirit?

When I look at the world and attempt to make sense of what’s happening, I look first to the church. How is its spiritual health? What impact is it having on day-to-day life? Is it being faithful to the Message delivered to the saints?

It’s always important to keep in mind that there are two “churches” out there: one that is visible and outward, and the other that is within the visible and outward manifestation. The true church is comprised of genuine believers who may worship in many types of outward church buildings and/or denominations.

Do I have to say this? I will anyway. The true church is only a minority within the number of those who show up for a worship service on any given Sunday. The old cliché never goes out of date: going to church doesn’t make anyone a Christian any more than entering a garage makes one a car.

What the world calls “the church” is slipping away from its Biblical moorings. It has watered down Biblical authority and allowed the tenor of the times to dictate what it believes to be true. Some have even gone the entire way and have claimed that truth itself is elusive, rather relative, and unattainable.

We can never look to that external church for real leadership; we must look instead to those who labor within it who have remained faithful to the Gospel—individual salvation only through Christ and societal reform only via the salvation message.

On balance, we have both good and bad occurring simultaneously within what is normally seen as Christendom. That’s to be expected. Jesus made it clear there would be tares [weeds] growing alongside the wheat. He also said it would remain that way throughout time, until God the Father decides that our time is up.

In former decades, America saw itself as a Christian nation, at least in the sense that we honored Christian faith publicly. Those days are nearly gone. Yet, although that may cause us grief, there is an up side to it. The lines are more clearly drawn now; we cannot just rely on a civic religion that gives lip service to Christianity. We are now forced to make a choice—what do we really believe?

Atheists have lately become more emboldened. They are using the courts and putting pressure on the society to toss religious beliefs aside. The society has accepted behaviors that we never thought would become normalized.

What will the genuine church do in response to these challenges in 2015? Will that church stand tall and strong? Will it hold to Biblical truth in spite of the pressures to conform to new societal standards? Will it speak the truth in love and accept whatever persecution may come from that stance?

Salt & LightI keep coming back to this point regularly in my blog: Jesus called us to be salt and light. Salt preserves. There is much in our society that has been based on Biblical truth; it needs to be preserved. We have a responsibility to try to maintain our Biblical roots. Light shows others the way, the proper path to follow. They need this light because they are walking in darkness. If we don’t shine the light, they will remain in their sins.

Love God above all else and love our neighbors as ourselves. Those are the two greatest commandments. But we don’t love either God or our neighbors if we don’t tell the truth about sin, judgment, and how to restore a right relationship with the One who gave us life in the first place.

Will it be a happy new year? Or at least happier? The church of devoted followers of Jesus Christ is the key; we are His hands, feet, and mouth. Will we be faithful this year?