A Righteous Anger

I spend a lot of time in this blog critiquing current events: our government and its policies; the unbalanced media coverage; the antichristian aspects of our culture; the way Christians sometimes go along with ungodly practices.

It’s easy to get angry when you focus on such things. I can say, though, that most of the time it’s not anger that motivates me, but anguish over the path we have taken as a society—a sadness that we are throwing away the many advantages and blessings we’ve received, and that we are trashing our heritage.

Anger is not always wrong, however. The prime Scriptural example in the New Testament has to be when Jesus took a whip and drove the moneychangers out of the Temple. I don’t think He asked them politely to move. He was angry with how they had cheapened the worship of God.

Jesus didn’t sin when he displayed His anger. His was a righteous anger. One key passage in the book of Ephesians gives insight into the anger issue when it admonishes,

In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

What does this teach us? First, anger is not necessarily sin. Second, it can become sin if it festers, so don’t allow it to direct your actions. Third, if you do give in to anger and do something foolish while angry, you’ve just provided an opportunity for Satan to use it to his advantage.

Sometimes I do worry about Christians who get involved in trying to change the society. Don’t get me wrong—we are to be involved, and God tells us to be the change agents. But we have to do so in the right spirit.

When is anger allowed?

  1. Sin should always make us angry, since the selfishness at the root of all sin destroys everything good that God has created. It devastates people and makes their lives miserable.
  2. A culture that rejects God’s standards should make us angry as well. When we see men setting themselves up as the determiners of good and evil, right and wrong, and their ways are not God’s ways, they are leading others into a horrible deception that will separate them from God and His love.
  3. Government policies that make civil government into the ultimate authority in people’s lives should engender anger. The arrogance that accompanies “government as savior” is the opposite of the true spirit of the Gospel.

Yes, for all these reasons, we can be angry. The key is to direct that anger into a God-inspired response, a response that certainly calls out sin for what it is, but simultaneously reveals the heart of God. What is that heart? More than anything else, God wants to rescue men and women from the pit into which they’ve placed themselves.

The rescue He wants to achieve must begin with a clear message that sin is sin and that repentance is required. Then it moves on to the revelation that God has provided a way for that sin to be forgiven by sacrificing Himself for humanity. The love displayed through that sacrifice can break down man’s wall of stubbornness and rebellion that he has erected against the One who reaches out to him.

What begins with anger should end with a deep desire to “salvage” those caught in deception. That’s what the word “salvation” really means. We’re involved in a salvage operation.

My admonition to my fellow Christians who want to see change is to be wise. Don’t let your anger carry you into sin yourself. Be open to how God wants you to respond and do so intelligently. Only then can we make a difference.

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.

Lewis Found Treasures There . . . & So Do I

C. S. Lewis, as a young man, and before he was a Christian, read the novel Phantastes, written by a minister named George MacDonald. He was so taken by the novel that eventually, after his conversion, he delved into MacDonald’s sermons also. He found treasures there, so many that he edited them into an anthology for which he wrote an endearing preface.

I’ve recently begun working my way through this anthology—indeed, it’s now part of my morning devotions—and have found treasures as well. Just this morning, on pages facing one another, three separate pearls stood out to me, and I sensed that God wanted me to ponder them seriously.

Under the title “First Things First,” I was cautioned, as someone who seeks to explain who God is, that something else is even more important in my life:

Oh the folly of any mind that would explain God before obeying Him! That would map out the character of God instead of crying, Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?

While the Lord does want me to explain Him to others, that explanation would be hollow if my life doesn’t match up to what I’m saying.

Another one, titled “The Author’s Fear,” mirrors my own concern as I attempt to write these blog posts and publish books:

If I mistake, He will forgive me. I do not fear Him: I fear only lest, able to see and write these things, I should fail of witnessing and myself be, after all, a castaway—no king but a talker; no disciple of Jesus, ready to go with Him to the death, but an arguer about the truth.

The possibility of being a castaway after all I’ve written over the years is a horror to my soul. I don’t want to be merely a talker/writer. I don’t wish to be only an arguer about the truth. I earnestly seek to be a real disciple of Jesus.

Then MacDonald truly hit home with this entry that Lewis called simply “Salvation”:

The notion that the salvation of Jesus is a salvation from the consequences of our sins is a false, mean, low notion. . . . Jesus did not die to save us from punishment; He was called Jesus because He should save His people from their sins.

Some people just want to escape the consequences of their sins, in this life and the next, rather than wanting to stop sinning entirely. That’s not real salvation. Only when we desire to cast all sin out of our lives are we at one with God.

We should abhor the sins themselves, not just seek to have sins forgiven and then continue in them. That is a false concept of salvation because it is not based on genuine repentance and a heart that wants a relationship with the One who made heaven and earth and our own souls.

I appreciate those reminders this morning. I needed all three.

An Exclusivity Available for All

I’m an exclusivist. That doesn’t sound good, does it? If someone says that, the image of “elitist,” “snob,” or “self-righteous” might present itself to the mind of whoever hears such a statement.

Yet I’m an exclusivist without being any of those other things. In fact, God calls us to attach ourselves to His exclusivity. The Christian faith is an exclusive faith. It makes the outrageous statement (outrageous to those who don’t like to hear it) that there is no other way to have a relationship with God and to attain to an eternal life in His presence except by believing that Jesus Christ is the only Way, Truth, and Life.

Jesus Himself said that. It didn’t originate with me. And it’s affirmed throughout the entire New Testament. For instance, in the book of Acts, we’re told, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (4:12)

That rankles many. They want to believe instead that all paths ultimately lead to God, that we all will end up at the same place in the end. They have this rosy picture that everyone, or nearly everyone (we must exclude Hitler, of course) will enter the celestial gates into heaven (and their concept of what that is will vary considerably).

I am an exclusivist. I believe instead that those celestial gates are not the final destination for everyone who passes from this life. What leads me to believe that? It comes back to another statement from Jesus:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt. 7:13-14)

That’s a sad truth, but it’s not because God wants it to be that way. His offer of salvation is not limited to those few who find the small gate and the narrow road.

[God our Savior] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus. (I Tim. 2:3-5)

[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9)

So, even though the Christian faith makes the most exclusivist of all claims—that there is only one way to God—that way through the Cross is available to all. Forgiveness, the grace to live righteously, and the promise of heaven are realities. He has done everything for us; it simply remains for us to respond.

Celebrity “Conversions”: The Trump Report

In my decades as a Christian believer, I’ve witnessed a number of claims about celebrities who recently became Christians. In my early years, each claim was very exciting, as it seemed to show how God’s mercy reaches to everyone no matter how morally depraved they have been.

Then I would expectantly wait for their lives to be changed and their testimony to be life-changing for others. Most of the time, I have been disappointed; they seemed to continue on their former path, albeit with some vague language about God that might not have been there previously.

Let me be clear: There were some reports that were accurate; some lives were changed, so I’m not discounting all such stories of conversion. However, I have become skeptical of most of these reports based on what has transpired over the years.

James DobsonThe latest celebrity “conversion” was made public a couple of days ago by Dr. James Dobson, who passed on the word that he heard from someone else that Donald Trump recently gave his life to the Lord. Now, I’ve always admired and respected Dr. Dobson, so I’m not trying to undermine all the good work he has done or the word of his testimony out of some kind of disrespect. Yet you can color me more than a little skeptical of this news.

One of the things that bothers me most about modern evangelicalism is the tendency to call someone a Christian on the basis of some kind of mental assent to the deity of Jesus or for having prayed a prayer to “accept” Jesus.

While I try to avoid such clichés, I agree with the critique of what some have called “easy believeism,” or “cheap grace.” The entrance into the kingdom of God comes at a cost. Yes, Jesus paid the price for salvation at the cross, but there are conditions we must meet before He accepts us.

First, we must recognize our sins. This goes beyond some facile statement that says, oh, yes, we’re all sinners, so I must be also—sure would like to go to heaven so I’ll admit that I’m a sinner, too.

Frankly, an acknowledgement of sin must go deeper than that. There needs to be a corresponding sense of guilt and remorse over how one has destroyed what God intended for good. There must be a great desire to turn away from sin and seek a life that pleases God in all ways.

Repentance 2Second, that desire to turn away from sin has to be manifested in a thorough repentance. The word means a total change of thinking about God and oneself. It means that from now on we earnestly want to serve Him supremely and not our own selfish interests. It means we dethrone ourselves and put God exactly where He belongs as not only Savior, but also as Lord—the One who has the right and the authority to tell us how to live.

Third, we then turn to the cross of Christ and see that He humbled Himself on our behalf and took the penalty of sin for us. The love manifested through the life and death of Jesus should then break down our rebellion and lead us into a life in which we are constantly figuring out how best to follow Him and please Him in all ways.

When those steps occur, salvation is real. Anything less is a superficial mental agreement to certain doctrinal statements without any real impact on the relationship with God or how we live. Unless those steps occur, we are still in our sins; nothing has been accomplished except stark hypocrisy.

How are we to know if Donald Trump has experienced a genuine conversion? Dr. Dobson cautions us to realize that a baby Christian doesn’t change overnight. Well, I agree up to a point. Yes, a new Christian has a lot to learn and needs to continually grow in the faith. But, as the apostle Paul noted, when a person is in Christ, he becomes a new creation.

That means that the motivation for life changes right from the start. There should be evidence immediately that something has happened. A true conversion signifies that the person now has a new humility and purpose; it’s now all for God’s glory, not his own.

Donald TrumpHere are some ways that Donald Trump can convince me he has undergone a genuine Christian conversion:

  • His hubris will come to an end. He won’t be bragging about how great he is, how wonderful he always has been, and how he is the answer for everything that’s wrong with America.
  • He will finally acknowledge that he has sinned greatly in the past and has now gone to God for forgiveness for those sins.
  • Specifically, he will apologize publicly for the many things he has done in this campaign that impugned others: his disparaging comments about Carly Fiorina’s face; his conniving to plant stories about Ted Cruz being a serial adulterer; his despicable depiction of Heidi Cruz in a photo that compared her to his own wife; his mocking of a disabled reporter by imitating his disability; his manipulative ways to undermine opponents, particularly in his silly questioning of Cruz’s American citizenship and his attempt to link Cruz’s father to the Kennedy assassination.
  • He will stop throwing out a constant barrage of personal insults via Twitter, and instead will try to point people to the faith he now has taken to heart. [Note: after writing this, I became aware of a number of snarky tweets Trump sent out about conservative commentator George Will, who announced he was leaving the Republican party because of its embrace of Trump—no change yet in Trump’s responses to people who go against him.]

If he were to do all of these things, I would be more inclined to believe a conversion has taken place. Even then, because he is in the midst of a presidential race in which he knows he needs the support of the evangelical community to have any chance of winning, I would still have my suspicions that this could all be more manipulation.

Judging OthersI can hear the voices already, putting forth the usual objection: judge not that you be not judged. Well, when you say that, aren’t you judging me?

Check out that passage again if you haven’t done so recently. It’s found in Matthew 7. The context makes it clear that judgment is supposed to take place, but only after ensuring that one isn’t being a hypocrite.

Jesus also said in that same chapter that we would know by the fruit of a person’s life whether he is genuine or not. That requires some judgment, doesn’t it?

I’m also reminded of a verse in the fifth chapter of the book of Hebrews, in which the author tells us, “Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”

We are to be a discerning people. That means we don’t accept everything we hear without first examining all reports through the lens of Scriptural truth.

Let me be clear again: I would welcome the news that Donald Trump has done a 180-degree turn via a real recognition of sin in his life, a true repentance from that sin, and a sincere faith in Christ that will transform his every thought and action from now on.

I’m just not going to believe it until there is adequate evidence for it. I urge fellow Christians not to blindly accept this news without testing it first. Love is not synonymous with naivete.

Stand for Righteousness

As a Christian I believe that salvation is offered to all who will acknowledge the sin in their lives, sincerely repent of it, and put their faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross. I believe, as Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, that we are then obliged to “go and sin no more.”

Further, I believe that no sin is outside the circle of God’s forgiveness. The sin of homosexuality is no exception. And the admonition to go and sin no more applies as well because sin is a choice—there is no homosexual gene, regardless of what you may have heard.

It isn’t the Christians, though, who have made homosexuality such an issue in our society. As a historian, I could go back and trace all the antecedents that have led us to where we are today, but the short version is to say that the cultural revolution started in earnest in the 1960s and 1970s.

Prop 8 Protest IThis revolution had many facets but sexual “liberation” was a key. The push for legalized abortion and homosexual “rights” began simultaneously. Both are the outward manifestation of the rejection of Biblical truth and the substitution of the cult of self-centeredness and licentious behavior.

Christians always have reached out to those trapped in sin. After all, that’s why God has us in this world, to be His voice, arms, and legs. I would never have a problem sitting down with individuals caught in any sinful lifestyle and helping them see the true liberation that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What has happened in the past few decades, though, and that has now accelerated beyond anyone’s expectation, is the demand by those in sinful lifestyles—particularly homosexuality—that the society not just tolerate their sinfulness but that we embrace it.

We have gone far beyond a call for tolerance into the realm of government force to make us bow to the new immorality. Christian businesses such as bakeries and photographers are fined if they won’t participate in homosexual weddings. Some have had to close their businesses over this.

Christian educational institutions are threatened with loss of accreditation if they don’t change their stance on homosexuality. The latest such threat comes from the California legislature.

The drive for normalization of what used to be considered by nearly everyone as unacceptable has now led to public shaming for those who refuse to submit to the idea that there should be no gender distinctions in bathrooms and locker rooms.

Keep Govt Out

One could easily say that plain old common sense is disappearing in the onslaught of a political correctness that is in the process of destroying what remains of our society’s Biblical basis.

This is a new militancy that already is sprouting the seeds of totalitarianism. Yet, ironically, it is those who are simply holding their ground on decency and traditional morality who are being stigmatized as the narrow-minded, the bigots, the haters.

How to respond? It’s easy to become indignant and angry over the false accusations. It’s easy to want to lash out at the foolishness and sin that is destroying us.

The Scripture says that God is angry with sin and with those who promote it. His judgment looms. Yet we also know, from that same source, that He seeks to save even those who may seem beyond saving. His mercy is everlasting. That doesn’t mean judgment won’t come, but until it does, He will continue to draw people to Himself.

We need the same outlook. Yes, be angry over the sin that is sending people into both a personal hell and a literal one. Yes, strive to replace government officials who promote a sinful agenda; there is a political side to this.

TruthBut, more than anything else, do whatever we can to showcase truth and reverse the dominant worldview that has led to this. Politics and government are not our savior; neither are they the source of the problem—they only reflect who we are as a people.

Changed minds and changed hearts provide the only solution. That’s where our primary focus must be, and there are many avenues through which we can achieve this. Wherever God has placed you, you are now His voice, His conscience, His heart.

Renewal of the mind happens one person at a time. Work within the sphere of influence you already have. Give God every opportunity to work through you to salvage a nation on the path to devastation and ruin.

Stand for righteousness and then stand back and see what the Lord will do.

A Line Is Being Drawn

In the wake of the Orlando terrorist attack, some people are making fantastic charges. I’ll come back to that in a moment, but first, a short testimony.

Good & EvilI know what it means to be in rebellion against God. There was a time in my life when I walked away from His love and rejected His ways. In short, I was lost in my sin and was on a road to perdition. God was merciful. He kept working on me despite my attitude toward Him. Over a period of a number of years, He drew me back through the Biblical path of recognition of sin, repentance, and faith.

For many years afterward, I referred to Him as The God of the Second Chance.

I share that up front today because I want it to be known that my personal experience of God’s mercy gives me a heart of compassion for others who still remain in rebellion as I was.

The reason I speak out against sin is not because I hate anyone. I speak against it because sin is what separates us from God; only through repentance and faith can the relationship with God be restored.

Therefore, it is not love that refuses to acknowledge sin in others; a truly loving person wants those involved in sinful lifestyles to be aware of the danger. Genuine love that is inspired by God points to the danger in order to rescue others and put them on the road to salvation as well.

As a former pastor of mine used to say, “A Christian is one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.”

Judging OthersWhen anyone tries to use Scripture to say we shouldn’t judge, they don’t understand the context of the Scripture. The instruction there is to first take the log out of one’s own eye—in other words, be sure you don’t have a sin that you need to repent of first—before taking the splinter out of someone else’s eye. We are to judge, but in the proper spirit of humility.

That said, let’s look at the situation in Orlando through that perspective. It is clear that the prime perpetrator of sinfulness was the shooter who deliberately sought to murder as many people as possible. In that sense, it doesn’t matter who the targets were; murder is murder and we legitimately grieve over the loss of life.

I firmly believe that homosexuality is a sin. It is a perversion of the gift of sex given by God. I also believe that those who die unrepentant of their sinful lifestyle, be it homosexuality, heterosexual sin, or a life of thievery, murder, or whatever sin you may want to list (and the Scripture gives a long list), means an eternity separated from the love and presence of God.

So, the saddest part of what occurred in that nightclub is the possible loss of forty-nine souls to the enemy of our souls. Barring a thief-on-the-cross confession at the last minute (and only the Lord knows who may have offered that), those forty-nine awakened to a terror that far exceeds what they experienced in the moments before their death.

C. S. Lewis 15What makes this so tragic is that God intended for all of us to be in close relationship with Him. We are the ones who refuse to acknowledge His ways. C. S. Lewis said, in his famous “The Weight of Glory” sermon,

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

God created each of us with inherent worth. Each person, no matter his or her lifestyle, is an immortal. We all will spend an eternity somewhere, but when we stay in rebellion against God’s righteousness—a righteousness intended for our good, not to stop us from “having fun”—we become immortal horrors.

That’s the real tragedy of what has transpired over this past weekend.

You will find, if you pay attention to the responses to the attack, that Christians have come to the forefront to offer aid and counsel for those left behind and grieving. Why? It’s because we operate out of the love of God for others, even for those with whom we disagree.

We don’t throw people from buildings or murder them because of their sins; rather, we reach out and try to help lead them out of their sins. We know what it means to have received mercy; therefore, we want to extend that same mercy to others.

Yet what do we hear from some sources? Christians are to blame for what happened because they believe homosexuality is sinful. Christians are to blame because they have pushed for freedom of religion laws. Christians are to blame for creating a mentality that leads to this.

No, no, and no.

Yet this onslaught of accusations is taking its toll. First, in public policy, we may see even more stringent controls over those of us who maintain Biblical standards of morality. Christian institutions like the one I’m part of, an evangelical university, may undergo more pressure to conform to the world’s way of thinking and acting.

Robert GeorgeThen there’s the pressure on individual Christians to lay aside their faith, to go along to get along. Professor Robert George of Princeton University penned a sad but true insight the other day, talking about how Christians are now, more than ever, tempted to follow the cultural trends no matter how antithetical they may be to Biblical teaching.

We deceive ourselves, Prof. George says: “Christians who fall in line with a trend always find ways to say that the trend, whatever it is, is compatible with Christian faith–even dictated by it!” That’s the greatest danger of all, when those who call themselves Christians fall in line with a society that has rejected Biblical norms and even try to claim that the new ideas are somehow really Christian.

He ended his commentary with this:

Being human, we crave approval and we like to fit in. Moreover, we human beings are naturally influenced by the ways of thinking favored by those who are regarded in a culture as the sophisticated and important people.

When push comes to shove, it’s really hard to be true to Christian faith; the social and personal costs are too high. We Christians praise the martyrs and honor their memories, but we are loath to place in jeopardy so much as an opportunity for career advancement, or the good opinion of a friend, much less our lives.

So we tend to fall in line, or at least fall silent. We deceive ourselves with rationalizations for what amounts to either conformism or cowardice. We place the emphasis on whatever happens in the cultural circumstances to be the acceptable parts of Christian teaching, and soft-pedal or even abandon the parts that the enforcers of cultural norms deem to be unacceptable.

We make a million excuses for going along with what’s wrong, and pretty soon we find ourselves going along with calling it right.

I’m afraid he is correct in his analysis. My approach, instead, is to follow what Christian leader A. W. Tozer once said: “I claim the holy right to disappoint men in order to avoid disappointing God.”

Take Up the CrossJesus told His disciples to take up their crosses and follow Him. He also said the way is broad that leads to destruction and the way is narrow that leads to life. We are at a point where a line is going to be drawn—in fact, is already being drawn—where we will have to decide which side of that line we are on.

Moses, upon coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, saw the Israelites worshiping a false god and giving themselves over to sexual sins. He drew a line that day; those who came to his side were spared, but the others were destroyed.

Decide this day whom you will serve. It’s a decision that determines your eternity.