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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Christianity in China

Every year for Father's Day, one of my daughters has a habit of going to a Half Priced Books outlet and picking up a half dozen or so used books for me.  She knows I like non-fiction and am partial to biographies.  Some years I score better than others, as some of the books are discounted for a reason!  But this year, a couple of the books she got me were especially good.  Let me tell you about one of them - or rather let me tell you about my reaction to one of them.

I just finished reading God's Double Agent, by Bob Fu.   It's a true story of Mr. Fu's personal fight with the Chinese government over his calling from God to be a Christian evangelist.  It's a good story and well written.  Quite frankly, the level of detail that Mr. Fu is able to recall is remarkable.  It makes his story all the more believable too.  But the context of the book is disturbing to me.  It paints a picture of Christianity in China that is quite disturbing.  It leaves me in a quandary, not knowing what to conclude. 

I like to think of myself as a Christian contemporary, always staying abreast of the issues.  Moreover, I tend to dig into the issues in a search for the truth.  When radial Muslims bombed America ten years ago, I went and got myself a Qu'ran (the Islamic equivalent of a Bible).  I wanted to see what exactly Islam's position is.  (It's disturbing - but that's for another blog entry.)  When it comes to China, I thought I was fairly aware of the issues of both religion and business.  I pay attention to how our respective governments relate to each other, follow the daily business news, and have done more than a little reading about religion.

The official Christian church in China is known as the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM).  It's sanctioned by the Chinese government, runs over a dozen seminaries, prints Bibles, etc.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-Self_Patriotic_Movement)  If you're a Christian in China, it's the legal approach to worship.  But then of course we have the "house church" movement in China - where people worship informally in the homes of individuals.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_house_church)

Through the years there's been an ongoing struggle between the TSPM and the house church movement.  That struggle has been fueled by Christians in America (and the west in general), as they smuggled Bibles, held secret meetings, etc.  When you read Christian literature from places like Voice of the Martyrs (http://www.persecution.com/), the struggle with the Chinese government is justified.  Western Christianity doesn't view the TSPM as a legitimate church, asserting that the government in China (versus Jesus Christ) is the head of that church. 

After reading Mr. Fu's book, it's clear that his view is the commonly held view - that the TSPM is not a legitimate Christian church.  His story regales us of the experiences he had trying to answer God's call to evangelism first under the auspices of the TSPM, and later under the house church movement.  It is in the latter that Mr. Fu experienced his worst persecution.  He was arrested, spied on, tortured, threatened, and treated badly in other ways.  The stories he tells are really awful.  On the surface it makes you want to pick up your own cross against the Chinese government and demand reform.

The U.S. government hasn't necessarily declared that the TSPM is not a legitimate church.  Instead, the U.S. government's position has settled on the issue of human rights when it comes to how the Chinese government deals with what it would have to call religious dissidents.  The U.S. simply alleges that the Chinese government should be more tolerant of self-professed Christians who rebel against the TSPM.  Stories like Mr. Fu's provide plenty of fodder for the American assertion that it's a human rights issues. 

I don't doubt that the Chinese government is treating people badly.  Bob Fu's book is believable.  It's true.  Clearly when someone tries to spread the gospel in China outside of the auspices of the TSPM, they are likely to suffer incredible consequences doled out by the Chinese government.  So that's disturbing.  But that's the obvious. 

In Romans 13:1-5, the Apostle Paul explained to us that, "Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.   So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.   For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you.   The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.   So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience."

I know.  You're thinking to yourself, "He's crazy.  The Chinese government is evil."  You'd be right on the latter part.  But I'm not going to give you crazy just yet.  Hear me out.  The Bible also tells us that evil can be the servant of God.  Satan is serving God right now, for example.  Anyone who knows God knows that He is a purposeful God.  He allows evil to run its course for a reason.  We may not understand that reason, but we can have confidence that the (good) reason is there.  Satan is a servant of God, whether he knows it or not.  So are evil regimes and countries.  (http://www.jimmcguiggan.com/reflections3asp?status=Satan&id=30).

So that takes me to the conclusion that the Chinese government - as evil as it can be - is a servant of God.  This is true whether it wants to be or not.  This is true whether it knows it or not.  In its own perverse way, that government allows worship of the one true God.  In its way, that government allows adults - who are capable of making that choice - to turn to the one true God.  In its way, that government allows parents to pray with their children and teach them the ways of the one true God. 

It may be a communist government.  But if I lived in China, I believe I would try to see how much I could accomplish for the Lord within the Three Self Patriotic Movement church structure.  (Can you believe I just said that?)  It seems to me that more of China's citizens might be impacted if they could see more of Jesus in their daily lives.  But when Christians openly rebel against the government (and flee to America), I wonder how much Jesus the rest of China gets to see.

Like I said, I enjoyed Bob Fu's book.  It's a good read.  But the context disturbs me.  I wonder if open rebellion is the most effective way to honor God when confronted with evil.  I once heard a pastor here in the U.S. say that the best thing that could happen to Christianity in America would be for the government to outlaw it. 

History shows us that persecution has actually been good for the heart of Christ's church.  So in that context, I would have to ask Mr. Fu how many of China's people he is reaching for Christ - now that he has fled the persecution of the Chinese government and lives safely and comfortably in Texas, supported by Americans.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

True Worshippers ... Aren't Late

I'm sure I'm going to get a backlash for writing this.  Let me just acknowledge that up front.  I'm going to call out something so central to Christianity in our culture that someone will have to berate me for it.  "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."  Or, "Who are you to judge?"  "Judge not, lest you be judged."  Yes, I will get those emails for today's blog.  I fully expect to get some that will remind me that it's better to get there late than not at all.  But I am not persuaded.  After all, it is my blog.

Jesus said, "You Samaritans worship what you do not know ... Yet a time is coming ... when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.'  (John 4:22-23)

Maybe I'm taking it a bit out of context here, but what kind of worshipers do you suppose Jesus had in mind here?  What does it mean to worship "in spirit and in truth?"  Does our heavenly Father really seek worshipers at all?  And if He does, what is it about worship that particularly pleases Him? 

Psalm 99 (1-9) sets the tone for me.  "The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble ... let the earth shake.  Great is the Lord ... He is holy.  The King is mighty ... Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His footstool; He is holy.  Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy."  And that tone is set in the beginning of the Bible and it continues to the end of the Bible.  Just about every single book of the Bible seems to give me clear direction on how I'm supposed to regard the Lord, my God. 

But it's not a tone that we seem to embrace in our regular weekly worship of the Lord.  It happens in my church.  It happens in many churches.  The music starts, the worship begins --- and people stroll in.  They saunter in, quite casually.  In many American churches they have their coffee in hand, or maybe a cold drink. 

Others around them are worshiping the Lord, but they interrupt their worship to greet their friends and give them a hug.  Or they interrupt the worship to get the seat that they want.  I'm truly not judging them.  But for me, there is something going on. 


I HAVE AN APPOINTMENT WITH THE KING!  How could I consider being late?  It's an ordained time, when people whom God has called to lead me are prepared and ready to take me to a fresh encounter with my Savior.  Honestly, it feels disrespectful not to be early. 

If I have concert tickets or tickets to a sports game or a play, I always get there early.  If we're going to a movie, we always make sure we're there in plenty of time to get our popcorn and get seated during the previews.  Is not the Lord as important as the latest movie or sports game? 

I said that the tone is set in the Bible.  Listen to how it ends.  Look at those worshipers Jesus said the Father is looking for.  "Day and night they never stop saying, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty.'  Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne ... the twenty-four elders fall down before Him ... They lay their crowns before the throne and say, 'You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor ...'"  (Revelation 4:8-11)

Are these the kind of worshipers that you sit beside in your church?  My wife and I, we make it a habit to get to the church on time.  We're usually seated before the music starts playing.  Our church even starts with a song before the worship - and displays a stop watch, counting down the time until the worship will begin.  Usually this is to empty seats.  We often remark how empty the church is.  But then it fills up.  Somehow, between the time that the worship begins and the time that the sermon begins, the 'big house' fills up. 

But was God really honored?  Did He feel the love, while the worship leaders sang to empty seats and the worshipers getting their coffee, dropping their kids a their Sunday school classes, and greeting their friends? 

I want to stop people and ask them, "Do you know who God is?"  I'm teaching a class at my church right now and we recently talked about people whose God is to small.  I suspect that may be the God that most of us are worshiping.  For if we realized His true magnitude, could we dare not be in our seats and ready to give Him praise at the appointed hour?

I love my church and I love its people.  I love my fellow Christians in other churches.  But seriously folks, we are getting this wrong.  Is it possible that we are not the worshipers that our Father wants, but rather that He's being relegated to the worship we want? 

If you're a pastor or worship leader, please consider this an exhortation to confront the bad behavior that you see in your people.  (And I know that you see it!)  Don't be afraid to offend them.  They will be truly offended if God discards them because they never really knew Him.  Don't be afraid to offend them, when they are offensive to Him. 

I'm not saying you have to stop the service and rebuke the late comers.  But maybe you could preach on the subject, and then announce that "from now on," the doors will be closed when worship begins and people can only be seated late during the transitions from worship to teaching, etc. 

I remember attending Kensington Community Church in Troy, Michigan many years ago.  That's exactly what they did.  There were television monitors in the lobby and late comers could watch the worship on the monitors, waiting for a chance to join them.  You were only late once, and you realized you were missing out on something important.

I also remember worshipping at Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago.  I was amazed to see people lining up at the locked doors to the worship center.  When the doors opened, it was like a contact sport to see who to claim the seats down front.  (It was very exciting to imagine people that interested in declaring God's greatness!)

But alas, I don't attend those churches.  I attend your church, and the one around the corner.  I attend that church that wants to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable, like they matter.  But I worry that in the process, we make God feel the opposite.

Can we as true worshipers, knowing the one true God, ever afford to be late?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

That Moment ... Where Unbelief Is Overtaken

So I'm teaching a class at my church on Saturday mornings.  It's a curriculum about developing the character of Christ within you.  I actually wrote the curriculum - or rather the Lord wrote it through me.  At any rate, this past Saturday's lesson was about examining your ways. 

"Let us examine our ways, and test them.  And let us return to the Lord."  (Lamentations 3:40)

It's a simple enough Bible verse.  But even this teacher recognizes how abstract it seems.  How does one examine his ways?  How does she test her ways?  And when we return to the Lord ... what then?  Why do we return to the Lord?  What do we expect from the Lord?  What does He expect from us?

As it happens, I have considerable experience examining my ways.  You see, I've had some ways, some terrible ways.  I have had some dishonest ways, some sarcastic ways.  Many of my ways were devious and not honorable at all.  They were selfish ways.  They were conceited ways.  Quite honestly, my ways were painful.  They left me with an overall sense - for much of my life - that life wasn't really worth living. 

So anyway, I'm explaining to my class the significance of examining and testing one's ways.  I began to walk them through some examples, using some tools I'd included in the curriculum.  And then it happened.  As I was explaining head knowledge, the Holy Spirit showed up to impart heart knowledge.

Among the many ways that I have had to examine in my life, chief among them was what I believed about myself.  For much of my life, I didn't think I was worthy.  I didn't consider myself to be lovable.  My starting position with everyone was one of victimhood, distrust, cynicism, and pain. 

The Bible tells us that God loves us.  I believed that about you.  I just didn't believe that about me.  My mind could not fathom that fact that God does indeed love me.  I didn't imagine that my wife loved me or anyone else really loved me.  I assumed that my friends were either using me or they didn't really know me.  For if they knew me like I knew me - they surely could not love me. 

To make a long story short, God eventually changed my heart.  He healed my wounded, hurting heart.  But in the process, He had to convince me that I was first loved.  In working through that, I learned an important lesson about belief and unbelief. 

You see, when we believe something or don't believe something, it seems that is not really a choice.  We tend to think of it as a choice.  But consider something that you believe.  Could you imagine not believing it?  Or think of something (or someone) that you just don't believe.  Maybe you'd like to believe them.  You wish you could.  Maybe you want for all you're worth to believe them or believe in them.  But the circumstances just overwhelm you - and you can't. 

This is how it works.  Your belief or your unbelief goes along, firm in its conviction.  But then the truth swamps it.  The evidence becomes overwhelming and that thing or person that you didn't believe?  Well now you can't not believe it!  Or that thing or person that you believed in with the depths of your heart?  Well they've laid open the core of your understanding such that there's nothing you can do to believe now.  You can hope and wish.  You can pray and cry and try with all your might.  But you can't change your beliefs or unbeliefs. 

So it is with our beliefs.  We go along believing them - whether they're true or not.  And it is the same with unbeliefs - where we go along not believing them, whether they're true or not.  Of course we always like to think of ourselves as being in control of our beliefs. 

But my life experience has shown me that this is the core of my concept.  I really don't control my beliefs or my unbelief.  They are victims of truth as it gets revealed to me.  And when truth convinces me, it overtakes my belief - or my unbelief ... and they are forever changed.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Strike Me Hard ... and Often, Lord

In just a few years it seemed that I poured my heart and soul into writing this blog.  And then it was over, almost as suddenly as it had started.  It seemed as if I woke up one day and there was nothing left to say.  Is that true?  Is there nothing left in me to say?  I very much doubt it.  So from time to time I find myself examining my own journey with the Lord - seeking to understand it.

Today I had what I'd have to call a huge revelation.  It was followed by a most surprising prayer.  Let me explain.

Background
A a few years ago I was faced with a very precarious employment situation.  Unexpectedly I found myself without a job.  But the Lord was faithful and He provided for my family even better than He had before.  However, His provision was temporary in nature.  And it came to an abrupt and unexpected ending over Christmas that year.

Suddenly I was thrust back into the ranks of the unemployment.  This time it didn't even come with a severance package to help cushion the blow.  I dutifully surrendered my predicament to the Lord.  With (sometimes forced) resignation, I went about the plodding effort of looking for a job.  As always, the Lord provided.  He was faithful indeed.  This time His provision was a very tentative contract role though, for about a third less than I'd been making.  Still it was enough. 

I was in a lowly, humbling role, and I knew it could end any day.  Honestly, I felt like the Israelites must have felt when they wandered for 40 years, picking up manna from the ground each morning to eat.  They hadn't known whether they would have food the next day or not.  They just had to trust God for that.  I was in exactly the same boat!  In fact, I felt as if the Lord had me on a very short leash - just to keep me humbled.

Being in a dilemma like the Israelites were helps do something.  It helps you maintain a laser-sharp focus on the Lord and His will for you.  Every day.  Every minute.  As I read and reflect on the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert, I see clearly that (at least) one of God's purposes for having them on such a short leash was that He wanted them to develop and keep a laser-sharp focus on Him.  Would our Lord want anything less from me?

So for months I drove to work each day, praying in earnest that God would keep me safe.  I sincerely prayed and poured my heart out to Him each day, it seemed.  Often times as I drove into the parking lot tears were streaming down my face.  I'd park the car, dry my tears, and walk into the building literally praying as I walked.

Oddly enough, I never prayed for a better job.  I didn't pray for more money.  I prayed that the Lord would give me grace to honor Him in my circumstances.  I asked Him to show me how to honor those whom I worked for.  I asked Him to help me honor Him - with my words, my thoughts, and all of my actions throughout that day.  I prayed for those who would mistreat me (because they did).  I prayed for those around me, and I asked Him to use me to bless them (and He did).  Even in my painful circumstances, I guess I had enough wisdom to know that the reason(s) I was there might not be all about me.

As I look back, I remember it being a stressful time - almost terrifying in nature.  If not for my laser sharp focus on the Lord, I would have no doubt been terrified.  But we made it through, and my testimony for the Lord was every stronger.  He has been so very faithful, and never failed me.  Out of the blue I received a most unlikely job offer, making more money than before.  It seemed like a dream come true, and I rejoiced in the Lord.

Stricken By the Lord

To make a long story short, I walked out of the those circumstances.  My God blessed me and my family with a wonderful job that most of us could only dream about.  It pays well and provides us with more financial security than we've ever had in our entire lives.  But it's been about eighteen (18) months now since I made that transition - from desperate need to bountiful provision.  I'm ashamed to say that my walk with the Lord has suffered during that time.  I've found it sometimes hard to seek Him first each day.  I've found myself bitter, angry, and unloving at times (at least in my head and heart).  At times I've asked the Lord to help me come back to Him. 

So today He did.  Today the Lord allowed me to be blasted by the enemy.  I was, as they say, thrown under the bus by someone I would have thought I could have trusted.  I was blamed, accused, and deeply wounded.  It was very unsettling.  My own brokenness was raging.  I prayed in the moment, of course, asking the Lord to give me the words to respond.  He did and I got through the meeting.  But if ever there were a picture of the "walking wounded" it was me after that meeting.

Later in the day I had to go to the airport.  My first instinct was to head for the bar and load up on liquor to change the way I felt.  Instead, I found a carpeted hallway where terminal golf carts are parked for recharging.  I arranged my suitcase to give some privacy and lay down on the floor among them.  As I laid there and talked to God about what happened, the tears just started to pour out of my eyes.  My hair ended up being soaked by my own tears. 

But as I laid there on the floor of the airport, praying amidst my own tears, I had a moment of clarity.  I was suddenly laser-focused on the Lord ... like I hadn't been in months!  I talked to Him about that.  As He and I examined my heart we saw that I want nothing more than to please Him.  I don't want to be or have anything.  In fact, if it would please my Lord, I would be happy to cease to be altogether.  Really!

As I prayed and reflected, it occurred to me that perhaps the Lord had stricken me (or allowed me to be stricken) in order to get me focused back on Him.  If He did, I would be eternally grateful.  And so I prayed.  "Lord, if You need to strike me and wound me to get me focused on you and keep me focused on you, then please strike me hard.  Wound me deeply.  And do it often.  For there is no greater joy in my life than to run to You - even if it's in my pain and fear."

I have to confess that this was a prayer which surprised even me.  But I am pleased to say that it is definitely a prayer that I mean.  "Lord strike me.  Wound me.  Do whatever it takes to help me keep the sharpest focus on you, Father.  In Jesus' name I pray this. Amen."

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

God-Honoring Divorce?


I've made comments on my Facebook wall and in other places that give way to the fact that I believe we can honor God with things like sin.  Typically my Christian friends and acquaintances will grimace when I do that.  After all, the traditional Christian view is that divorce is unacceptable.  One will often hear born-again believers espousing the Biblical wisdom that "God hates divorce."  It's true, God does hate divorce.  But He allowed Moses to implement provisions for the Israelites to practice it because God knew that sometimes hardened hearts make marriage rather ungodly.

Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-2 allowed a man to divorce his wife and for her to be married to another. When Jesus was questioned about this in Mark 10:1-9, He made it clear that divorce was not in God’s order in the beginning, but was allowed because of the hardness of the people’s hearts.  Knowing the nature and character of God, it isn't a stretch to conclude that divorce isn't God's plan for His children.  One can readily imagine that divorce saddens our Lord.  Nevertheless, our human experience ... applied against Scripture and prayer ... sometimes reveals that divorce is inevitable.

Let's face it, some of the marriages that Christians find themselves in are just plain ungodly.  The respective spouses loathe each other.  They don't like each other.  They don't respect each other.  They don't enjoy spending time with each other.  Even being civil to each other can be quite stressful. 

I've counseled couples where the wife would sheepishly admit that she'd told her daughters things like, "I hope you don't grow up and marry someone like your father."  Or the husband would admit that he felt guilty for sometimes wishing his wife would just disappear --- so his life wouldn't have to be so complicated. 

Mind you, I don't advocate divorce.  But if the two have made every possible effort to salvage the relationship ... it may be time to face the inevitable.  Instead of staying together "for the sake of the children," might it be time to divorce for the sake of everyone involved.  If you can't give your kids two healthy parents, can you give them one?  There may come a time when you must submit yourself and your marriage to the Lord, and seek His counsel.  And when you do, you might not be the first person I've ever heard say that the Lord released you from this marriage.  (I think He actually can do that!)

So what happens when you come to the conclusion that the marriage is without a future.  You've prayed and waited on the Lord's leading.  You're now confident that the Lord is giving you permission to exit this marriage.  What then?  Enter my concept of a "God-honoring divorce."  To be clear, I still think divorce is the very last resort.  One should never take it lightly.  It breaks God's hear to see two people get to this regrettable place in their relationship.  But when one or more hearts is so hardened, it's time to talk about how we might go about honoring God with our divorce.

An acquaintance of mine recently sought my counsel on his own divorce.  Experiencing much pain, he asked for my opinion about how he should respond to the hurtful things he was experiencing.  It seemed from the circumstances that his wife wasn't pursuing a very Christ-like response to the situation (despite the fact that she agreed the divorce was the appropriate course of action).  What should he do?  How should he respond to his divorce and his wife's unfair attacks?  Let me share what I told him:
  1. Examine your ways and test them (Lamentations 3:40).  Make sure that you've owned your part in the conflict.  Be sure that you've taken responsibility for what is your responsibility.
  2. Your pain can speak louder than your true beliefs.  Take every thought and word captive to God's truth (Proverbs 4:23 & Proverbs 13:3).
  3. If you think your spouse isn't being fair with you, look no further than Jesus' own example.  He was accused unfairly: 
           - He made no statements on His own behalf.
           - He made no accusations against His accusers.
           - He kept no account of the wrongs of His accusers.
           - He answered questions with as few words as possible.
           - He went into the conflict trusting in the Lord.
           - He went into the conflict planning to forgive His accusers.
 
While Jesus clearly had no sin, had done no wrong, and knew how right He really was, it's clear from His example and His teaching that if He had done any wrong, He would have readily owned up to it, made whatever amends for it He could possibly make, and accepted the consequences of His own poor choices with humility and graciousness ... and not anger, frustration, fear, or retaliation.
 
If you are going to walk through your divorce in any way that honors God, you must start now to forgive your spouse for everything that he did and didn't do.  You must expect and plan to forgive or for everything that he will and won't do. 
 
For men, you committed to love her as Christ loved the church.  That would be the church that accused Him unfairly, spit on Him, beat Him, tortured Him, mocked Him, lied about Him, unfairly and wrongly accused Him, cheated Him, crucified Him, and continued to reject Him even after His human life ended.  Yes, that would be the church that He died for.  And that's the same commitment you've made to your ex-wife or soon-to-be ex-wife.  Now that the marriage is ending, your commitment to God continues.  You will still have to love her like Christ loved His church --- even after your marriage ends.
 
You will never be allowed to list for anyone, even for yourself, all the things she's done wrong.  You will never be allowed to explain to anyone, or even think to yourself, how right you are or how unjust the situation has been to you.  You will have to hang on the proverbial cross, forgiving her and asking God to forgive her --- even as she drives away with your kids, your money, your reputation, your heart, your sacrifice, your antiques, your family keepsakes, and maybe even your lawnmower.  (I know the lawnmower is a stretch ... but I'm trying to make a point here.)
 
For women, it's the same.  You love your husband as you love Christ.  You made that same commitment before God.  And divorce doesn't let you off the hook.  You promised to love and honor him - sacrificially.  If you have to sue him to get him to pay his child support, you do so without bad-mouthing him.  If he remarries a 25 year old blond, you sit with them at your daughter's graduation with love and forgiveness in your heart and eyes.  You have anything bad to say about him, you say it to the Lord in prayer.
 
It's a tall order.  If you're about to divorce, examine your heart and make sure you're up for this.  If the Lord gave you permission to exit this marriage, He gave it with these conditions.  Make sure that you're ready and willing to call on Jesus to help you pull this off.  My guess is you're going to need His supernatural power to do this.
 
If you're already divorced, even if it's ugly, it's not too late.  Get on your knees and commit your divorce to the Lord.  Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in your responses to your ex-spouse.  Plan to forgive.  Plan to obey.  And plan to walk in the confidence that the Lord has given you everything you need to honor Him with your divorce, the pain of your divorce, the losses of your divorce, and even the scars of your divorce. 
 
I can't say it too much, divorce is NOT the Lord's plan for His people.  But when it is inevitable, His people can still walk through it in ways that give honor and glory to their Lord and Savior.  The only question is whether you really want to.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hypocrisy on Facebook

It never occurred to me that I might one day find myself praying to God about Facebook.  But that day has come.  Actually it arrived last year some time, in the midst of the political campaigns for the presidency of the U.S.A.  I’ve long been a registered Republican, and had strongly disapproved of Barack Obama when he was elected the first time.  (In fact, I wrote several blogs here about him back then.)  As he was running for re-election, I didn’t see a suitable opponent.  I had initially thought Hillary Clinton would take his place, but then it became clear that the only real choice would be between Obama and Mitt Romney.
 
Of course there was no shortage of positive or negative rhetoric about either of the candidates running for President.  But I found myself with reservations about Mitt Romney.  No, it wasn’t his Mormon faith.  I actually have a lot of respect for many of the ideals and values espoused (and held to) by the Mormons.  Rather it was a sense that Mitt Romney might not be as sincere in his caring for all of the people.  Much as I hate to admit it, some of his remarks about people who are poor, handicapped, or even unemployed seemed strangely reminiscent of now-deceased billionaire Leona Helmsley who was quoted as having once said that, “Only the little people pay taxes.”
 
So I turned to Facebook to try and find worthwhile understanding other than my own.  From time to time, I would pose a question, usually about Mitt Romney.  Several times I tried to start a dialogue about the issues.  Does Mitt Romney really have a plan to bring our country’s deficit spending under control?  Do we really believe that reducing tax rates will result in increased tax revenue with which to pay for our government’s spending?  But time and time again, questions like this on Facebook would result in the exact same outcome.  The Obama-bashers would in outrage ask some stupid question like, “Would you like four more years of Obama destroying our country?”  Never once did they answer my question, mind you.  They would just try to “disarm” me with a condemning question --- resting on the assumption that I was an Obama supporter (which I am not).
 
It’s of course no secret that I’m a born-again Christian.  I spend my life with great concentration on the teachings of Jesus Christ.  I work hard to reconcile my sinful nature and selfish desires to the godly standards of the Old and New Testament.  And as you might imagine, a great percentage of my friends and even my acquaintances are also Christians.  At least that’s what they would have you believe.  Frankly, the bullying and hateful disrespect that some of them displayed (on Facebook) had me wondering if they could really be following the same Christ that I do. 
 
At times I would try to point out the hypocrisy that seemed apparent to me.  I would try to re-engage them back on the original topic at hand.  After all, I really did want to discuss the issues.  But I had no interest in demonizing either candidate.  Ultimately, I failed in those endeavors.  My so-called Christian “friends” prevailed in their desire to hold on to their hatred and disrespect, demonizing Obama and trying to bully me for not joining them.  Eventually, I began to “unfriend” them on Facebook.  That didn’t stop some of them, so I had to go back and actually block them from even seeing my wall or communicating with me.  This was quite sad for me.  I’ve known some of them for nearly 20 years.  I also had thought of them as godly men.  (I don’t any more.)
 
There is plenty of Scripture in the Bible that tells Christians how we are to regard our government and its leaders.  Romans 13:1-7 says that, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. …. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the (governmental) authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
 
Did you catch that last part?  If you owe respect … then give respect.  If you owe honor … then give honor.  They are no less important than paying the taxes that you owe.  This passage makes it abundantly clear that we are to obey the government God places over us. We are to obey the government in everything—paying taxes, obeying rules and laws, and showing respect. If we do not, we are ultimately showing disrespect towards God, for He is the One who placed that government over us.
 
When the apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Romans, he was under the authority of the Roman government during the reign of Nero, who is notorious for – among other things – being quite possibly the most evil of all the Roman emperors. Nevertheless Paul still recognized the Roman government’s rule over him. Do we dare do any less today? 
 
Recently I had to “unfriend” an old classmate from high school.  I had reconnected with her not long ago, and thought it would be fun to catch up.  That didn’t turn out to be the case.  While professing to be a Christ follower, and quoting Scripture regularly, she also refers to our (now re-elected) President Obama as “the antichrist” (sic).  When I tried to point out the error of her thinking, she reacted the same way those other Facebook friends had reacted last fall.  I got a severe tongue lashing for refusing to join or support her demonizing of Obama.  I cautiously tried to discuss the issue with her, but was quickly attacked by her adult children as well.  Finally I retreated, apologized for offending her, encouraged her to review her position with her pastor, and, of course, “unfriended” and blocked her. 
 
Sadly, my self-proclaimed Christian Facebook friends don’t appear to be familiar with the context of what Paul said to the Romans.  Even if Obama were the “antichrist,” the command for Christians would not change.  Obama may have been elected by the American people, but he got his position and his authority from God.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to him not only because of the law, but also, as Romans 13 tells us, because of conscience.  You see, we honor God when we give respect to those in authority over us – whether that is at work, at church, in government or anywhere else. 
 
One of the things we mistakenly conclude is that if we don’t agree with someone then we don’t have to submit to them.  We may think that they “don’t deserve” our respect (as if anyone could).  I’ve heard people say that the politician whom they think is vile “hasn’t earned” our respect.  But who has earned our respect?  After all, each of us is so terribly flawed and bent toward sin and evil that we required the salvation of a Messiah.  It’s good to remember that when looking at those in authority over us (and others) whom we don’t agree with. 

You see, I don’t have to agree with you, support your policies, or even like you in order to submit to you, show respect for you, obey you, and even love you.  Love is patient and kind, it always forgives, it never gives up, it is never harsh, and all those other things that 1 Corinthians 13 teaches us. 

So, here’s the question:  Have you loved your politician (insert name here) today?  I started out saying that I never imagined I'd be praying to God about Facebook.  But as I've encountered this conflict and nasty business on Facebook, I've found myself bewildered by so-called Christians who were behaving so heinously that I didn't know how to react.  So I've found myself praying, asking God to show me how to respond to someone.  Fortunately, He's been willing to guide me.  In some cases, I've been able to re-focus the conversation in a more righteous direction.  In other cases, I've been led to "shake the dust off my feet" and move on. 

I have to say that in those cases, it gives me no pleasure to "unfriend" someone on Facebook.  For I realize that they are lost in their hypocrisy and have a reckoning day coming that will surely be ugly.  Because I love them, I don't want to see that in their future.  I wonder if anyone ever sees my hypocrisy so clearly.  And I wonder if they do, would they love me enough to try to call me out on it.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Should I say something?

It’s one of my favorite shows, although I’ll be the first to admit that it has a certain air of offensiveness to it.  The TV show sets up scenarios where people are presented with typically ethical dilemmas.  Perhaps someone is misbehaving in public.  Maybe a parent is badgering a teen-age daughter to get Botox.  Perhaps restaurant diners are harassing someone who’s brought in a service dog.  The guy in the gift shop broke something when the manager was in the back room and is trying to lie about it so he won’t have to pay for it.  And then the TV cameras watch to see what the unsuspecting public will do.  Will they speak up for what’s good and right?  Will they take a stand for the oppressed?
 
I’m not sure why I like this TV show that’s titled What Would You Do?  It’s really not much different than that 60’s & 70’s era show called Candid Camera.  It has some similarities to the laggard of comedienne Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.  Maybe the attraction for me is the fact that I personally tend to think that there is a right and wrong way about everything.  I don’t typically accept that truth is relative or that it can be left to each of our personal perceptions or interpretations.  You see, I tend to take truth as being something that’s absolute – meaning it’s black-and-white-and-never-gray.
 
But I have to confess that often I find myself in life’s situations where it seems there’s a dilemma.  I’d like to say that I’m smart enough and coy enough to always know what the right thing is in those dilemmas.  I’d like to say that.  I just can’t. 
 
Recently I was seated in a window seat in the first class section of an American Airlines flight from Detroit to Dallas.  The gentleman in the aisle seat next to me quickly established himself in my mind as a rebel.  And that’s putting it kindly.  For you see, my thoughts of him weren’t so kind.  The flight attendants made the announcements that all electronic devices were to be firmly switched into the OFF position until after take-off.  They walked through the aisle exhorting lax passengers to switch of their electronic devices and put them away. 
 
My fellow passenger in the neighboring seat perhaps didn’t think those rules were important enough to follow.  Or perhaps he thought of himself as the one grand exception amongst the couple hundred of us seated on the plane.  Whatever his motives, he did NOT switch of his electronic devices.  He flipped his notebook shut when the flight attendant walked by, stuffing it into the seat pocket in front of him without turning if off.  After she was seated, he proceeded to put on his head phones and power up the music on his iPhone.  When she walked by again for something, he flipped it over and pretended to be asleep with the headphones on.  Needless to say, the flight took off with my neighbor’s electronic devices fully powered – and at least one of them operating for his personal entertainment. 
 
I’d like to say that this is the first time I’ve ever witnessed such a thing.  Sadly, I travel a lot.  And I’ve seen it a lot.  The truth is that I myself don’t know how important a rule it is that all electronic devices be powered down and properly stowed before a plane takes-off.  I mean, is it a safety issue?  Could the plane crash because of it?  Or is it just annoying interference with the pilots’ radio communications with the tower?  I wanted to find a serious flight attendant during the flight and discreetly ask her what a passenger should do when we observe such a rebel endangering the lives of everyone on board.  But I couldn’t get out of my seat without asking for his cooperation!
 
About midway through this same flight, the lady in front of me violently reclined her seat in a split second.  The collision with my tray table caused my drink to spill, me to drop my magazine, and the knee of my crossed leg to be crushed in the vice-like grip of her seat pressing against my body!

So you might get the impression that I fly a lot and that I find a lot of things that offend me when I travel.  That would be true, but it’s really not the point of today’s blog.  The point is that everywhere we go, we find people doing things that are at the least – inappropriate.  They can be offensive.  And in the worst of cases, they can be harmful.  And it puts us in a dilemma.  Always.
 
It might be the guy who cuts into the line at the movies or amusement park.  Or maybe it’s the person with 37 items in the express lane at the grocery store (that only allows 20 items).  Perhaps it’s the neighbor who doesn’t take care of their lawn.  Or the teen-agers who cut through your lawn.  Possibly it’s the people who leave shopping carts strewn all over the parking lot.  Maybe the telemarketers who call during dinner time, or the solicitors who come to the door at our homes.  The point is that everywhere we go, we find people doing things that are at the least – awkward. 
 
We don’t approve.  But we aren’t sure what to say … or when to say it.  Is it our place?  What about that “judge not” business?  Is it sticking our noses into other people’s business?  Or is it sticking up for ourselves?  Or … just maybe … is it taking a stand for someone else, who might not be in a position to take a stand for ourselves?
 
As we go into this New Year, I think it’s a really good time to get serious about asking that age-old question, “What would Jesus do?”  Let’s look at the dilemmas that we find ourselves in, and let’s resolve to overcome them.  Said differently, let’s resolve to conquer our dilemmas.  Let’s step out of our comfort zones, and walk boldly into the cause for what’s good and right.  Let’s resolve to stand against whatever is wrong and offensive.
 
In short, let’s resolve be the change that we’d all like to see in this world.  And let us have the wisdom to see the opportunities to do so whenever – and wherever they happen to present themselves.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tame the Internet (and Cage It)?

I sometimes have this sense that the world is changing much faster than we may realize.  At times I will consider the world my parents lived in, for example.  It looked quite different than the world I lived in.  My mother died in 2002, and I've often envisioned myself writing her a letter to tell her about all the things that have happened just since she's been gone.  It's a long letter!

Of course the Internet has had an enormous role in changing our world.  It's impact is so far reaching it would be hard to imagine much of anything in life that hasn't been touched by it in one way or another.  From publishing to food to medicine and education, the Internet has played a role.  Even history itself has been impacted by the Internet.  We have web sites like Ancestry.com, that put together the whole of a genealogy in minutes.

Even information itself has been changed by the Internet.  Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, recently said that we now create as much information in just two days as was created in the entire history of mankind up to 2003.  That's something like five exabytes of data that we create in just two days. (http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/04/schmidt-data/)  He went on to say that he assumes that "the world is not ready for the technology revolution that is happening to them ..."  I think he's probably right about that.  I'm not sure the world could be ready.  And I'm certain that the world is largely unaware of this technology revolution.

Most of us are unaware of how large the Internet is or how far-reaching it is.  We see some of it's impact on our own personal lives ... how we shop, interact with our friends, save pictures, etc.  But the fact is that our perception of the Internet is, for the most part, limited to what we can acquire from own personal interface with it.  But it's safe to say that it's much bigger than that.  In fact, today the Internet reaches around the globe. 

There is no country on earth that doesn't have the Internet.  And most of what's on the Internet is available to everyone, everywhere.  Most of the time, we assume that's a welcome thing.  After all, who would oppose the Internet?  But indeed countries like China have been fighting with companies like Google for years.  They're fighting about content and access.  And those fights are beginning to occur elsewhere as well.

In the U.S., we take up fights about Internet content and access.  I'm doing work for a major bank right now, and am required to use the bank's computer network all day long.  Hardly a day goes by that I don't try to go to a site which the bank has blocked.  It's not just blocking pornography you see.  It's also blocking any site that the bank thinks might tempt me to waste my time.  It's blocking sites like Gmail.com or Yahoo! mail.  It blocks the messages center on LinkedIn, and all of Facebook.

I suppose that most of us don't think too much about these forms of censorship.  We assume that what China's doing to it's people - like blocking Facebook - doesn't impact us.  And of course we have ways to get around censorship at our places of employment.  We can simply go home and use our personal computer to access what we want.  But something happened recently that I suspect could eventually change all that.

There is something called the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).  It's a group of the world's leading countries that operates under the realm of the United Nations (U.N.).  It's members are the same 193 countries that comprise the U.N.  Anyway, the ITU's purpose is to manage the world's telecommunications network.  Most of this is done through an annual conference, which happened to be in Dubai this year.

The head of the ITU is a man named Hamadoun Toure'.  He is a Mali native trained in the Soviet Union.  And he deceptively led the ITU to establish a significant beachhead in censoring the Internet.  In fact, so great was his deception that the United States and it's allies were completely outmaneuvered.  Under his leadership, authoritarian regimes, led by China and Russia, schemed to use the U.N. to claim control over today's borderless Internet.  In the run-up to the Dubai conference, dozens of secret proposals by these authoritarian governments were leaked online.

 
These proposals were controversial and alarming.  When asked, Mr. Toure' assured everyone that his agency operates by consensus - and not by majority vote.  He also pledged that the ITU had no interest beyond telecommunications to include the Internet.  But he kept neither promise.  A majority of the 193 U.N. member countries approved a treaty giving governments new powers to close off access to the Internet in their countries.


The vote was called late one night at the conference in Dubai.  It was first described as a non-binding "feel of the room on who will accept" - on a draft giving countries new power over the Internet.  But the result was that 89 countries voted in favor of the draft, and just 55 (including the U.S. and it's allies) were against it.  The authoritarian majority of Arab countries, China, Iran, Russia, and much of Africa all voted for it.  This so-called "draft" suddenly became a legitimate final treaty.  It takes effect in 2015 for these countries.

The treaty document extends control over Internet companies, not just the telecoms.  It declares: "All governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance."  This is a complete reversal of a privately (non-government) managed Internet.  Authoritarian governments will invoke this new U.N. authority to take control over access to the Internet.  They now have the U.N.'s blessing to censor, monitor traffic and even prosecute those they deem to be "troublemakers."

And lest we think this doesn't impact us because we live in the U.S. --- consider how the Internet operates.  Today's smoothly functioning Internet is actually a system that includes 40,000 private managed networks among 425,000 global routes that ignore national boundaries.  We can expect this new treaty to split those networks by a digital "iron curtain."  One result is most likely to be that the Internet will become less resilient.  And of course, web sites will no longer be global in nature. 

Make no mistake about it; the world is changing.  And it's changing faster than we think.  It might be good to think about how it's changing.  It might be good to consider whether or not we're ready for these changes.  But I seriously wonder if any of us can really begin to comprehend how the world is changing ... much less actually be ready for such change.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Honor God With Your Shopping!

Many times in the Old Testament the Israelites were taken to task for their worship of false gods.  Sometimes they were called idols.  And they were worshipped ... given roles of prominence in society and in the lives of the people.  Each and every time this happened, God was angry.  It was identified as sin.  And always it had dire consequences. 

Americans have had false gods for some time.  I'm not sure what they all are, but it's easy to identify some of them.  The first one that I noticed (or that God pointed out to me) was the god of sexuality.  Elements of our society worship sex.  They say that "sex sells," and so we seem to accept that it's okay.  It seems to have some purpose, so we seem to think it isn't that bad then.  But it leads to all kinds of sexual dysfunction.  (Don't worry, I won't discuss those kinds here.  That's another blog on its own!)

I personally think this god of sexuality is losing some of its grip on our society.  Oh sure, there are elements of our society that are deeply mired in pornography, swinging, prostitution, and other elements of sexual perversion.  But I notice that today's young people aren't nearly as impressed by it as they were even in my day.  I see TV shows and even advertisements that are using other things to sell besides sex.  At least it's fair to say that the god of sex has found some serious competition.

Another false god that I've recognized in America is the god of entertainment.  Seriously.  Americans like to be entertained.  And we justify it.  It seems to serve a purpose.  Back in the days of the Great Depression and the two major World Wars, Americans described going to the movies as an escape.  People thought that was okay, because heck, Americans needed and deserved an escape.  Right?

In more modern times, we seem to be using entertainment for everything.  I mean there doesn't seem to be a part of our lives where we escape to entertainment.  Instead, we live there!  We walk around with ear buds in our ears, listening to music.  We never turn off the radio, never turn off the cell phone.  In some homes people have several televisions - which never get turned off.  And even in a bad economy, we spend a ton of money going to the movies, attending concerts, buying songs, etc. 

But lately, I'm seeing another false god emerge in our society.  This one is equally as troubling as the others.  I call it the god of the lowest price.  I'm watching TV advertisements talking about getting "the best price."  We see people setting up tents outside of electronics retailers several days before the start of a big sale --- just so they can be sure they'll be the first in line to get "the best price."  They do this, of course, at the expense of their families.

Perhaps the most shameful worship of this god of the lowest price happened on Thanksgiving this year.  Our government has set aside a national holiday for all Americans to take time out to consider how incredibly blessed we are.  We're to turn to our one true God (however we happen to see Him), and thank Him for blessing us so.  But people are happy to set that aside, sacrificing that solemn occasion so they can chase the lowest price on more crap that they don't need.

Recently someone I know posted that he found the prices on-line to be lower than the prices at local retailers, so he was swearing off retail shopping because he must have the lowest price on everything he buys.  I was saddened to see several people who I know to be Christians weigh in, declaring their own allegiance to the god of the lowest price.  Why did this sadden me?  Because it's ungodly.  Put another way, Jesus would never go out of His way to insist on the lowest price all the time on everything.

In the Bible, 1 Timothy 5:18 says, "... The worker deserves his wages."  How should we understand this?  The worker deserves to be paid for his work.  This is true even if it's expensive to pay him.  Now before you decide to rise up against me, let me say that price gauging would be equally ungodly.  I'm not talking about letting someone take advantage of you.  But let's say that there is quite a margin between the lowest price and a fair price

What's godly is good stewardship of the financial resources that God gives us, minus the greed and selfishness, plus a fair price.  This allows us to meet our needs, and the other guy to make an honest living.  All in all, not a bad way to do business really.  I remember when I was in college and sold new cars.  People would walk into the dealership and brutally bludgeon us on price.  I even sold some cars by giving up some of my own commission.  Let me tell you, I didn't feel very good about those sales.  Instead I felt resentment and bitterness that the customer was so focused on the lowest price that they would obtain at my own personal expense. 

In Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31 Jesus told us to, "Love your neighbor as yourself."  What does this mean?  It means to love your neighbor as you would yourself like to be loved.  We've culturally taken those verses to write the oft quoted Golden Rule, which says simply that we should treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated.  So here's the question, how would you like to be abused, mistreated and discarded like some piece of trash for your hard work?  Just so someone could get the lowest price?

If you're a Christ-follower, and you're ready to get serious about walking the talk, then maybe you could start by tossing that god of the lowest price out to the curb this holiday season.  Keep being a good steward of the money that God gives you.  But I promise you, the Lord will be pleased when you start paying fair prices for goods and services that you buy.  He will be well pleased when your commerce empowers and provides for other people. 

You may never have considered this before, but when we set that false god aside, we can actually honor the one true God with our shopping!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Angry God?

It happens almost every time there's some sort of natural disaster.  Some loud-mouthed evangelist will declare that the tsunami struck Japan, for example, because God is angry.  Or they'll say that soldiers were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan because God is mad at Americans for our posture toward homosexuals.  Maybe the recent recession was caused by God's anger over American greed.  I could go on listing examples, but you probably get the picture. 

There seems to be a temptation on the part of the few to try and link the most recent calamity of the day to an angry God.  There's an even greater temptation on the part of the masses to completely dismiss such claims.  We write them off as "loud-mouthed evangelists."  Or we just say that they're crazy.  Some of us just roll our eyes and look away in disgust.  Perhaps just a few of us wonder for a brief moment about whether or not it could be true.

I'm not going to take any specific event in human history and try to explain how God has reacted to it.  The truth is I just don't know.  But I find it useful to look at the character and nature of God, and the history of how He has related to mankind throughout the centuries.  Such a look reveals much to me about the range of possibilities.

Throughout the Old Testament, we have example after example of people (usually the Israelites) sinning against God.  More often than not, God would display unfathomable patience.  But eventually God would respond with some sort of unbelievable wrath.  When Egypt refused to release the Jews (at Moses' request), for example, God unleashed a series of calamities designed to not only punish the Egyptians for their sin, but to cause them to lose their will to hold the Jews as slaves.  One of His final acts against Egypt was to part the Red Sea so the Jews could cross, but then "unpart" it as the Egyptian army chased after them --- drowning all who were (sinfully) in pursuit of the Jews.

There are also many occasions where the Jews themselves sinned against God and He responded with all sorts of calamities.  I don't know if they used the term "natural disasters" back then, but much of what we read about in the Old Testament would certainly fit that modern day definition --- even though God's wrath is specifically attached to it.  When I read of these incidents and consider that fact, I wonder if I'm the only one who notices.

Perhaps one of the most salient aspects of the stories of sin met by God's wrath in the Old Testament are the places where God speaks in first person.  Many, many times, God goes on rather lengthy tirades, ranting and raving at the Israelites for their sinful ways.  He threatens severe punishment if they don't repent --- and then He often delivers on that promise when they don't (repent).  For example, "The people of Israel and Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight ... nothing but provoke me with what their hands have made ... this city has so aroused my anger and wrath that I must remove it from my sight."  (Jeremiah 32:30-31)

Can you just imagine if it was God speaking, and you knew it was God speaking.  Maybe He might say something similar about us.  "The people of New York and Washington have done nothing but evil in my sight ... nothing but provoke me with what their hands have made ... these cities have so aroused my anger and wrath that I must remove them from my sight!"  It's hard to imagine that God would ever even feel that way, much less say something like that.  But folks, that IS the character and nature of God.  It IS who God is.

One of the stories that impresses me most is the story of Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt.  God told them not to look back as she and her family fled the city that He was destroying for its sin.  But she couldn't resist, and looked out the back window of the mini van as her husband drove away.  It seemed like such an innocent act.  I mean, what could be wrong with looking back?  Nevertheless, it was disobedience.  And God moved swiftly to punish it.  She was instantly transformed into a pillar of salt!

Folks, I'm as embarrassed as anyone by the loud-mouthed religious fanatics who don't look at all like Jesus when they're spewing their hatred and judgment instead of offering a loving response to those who are suffering from a tragedy of any sort.  But there is that matter of the character and nature of God.  He simply cannot tolerate sin.  Oh sure, He may display patience for a season.  But ultimately God must respond to sin.  And it can never be pretty when He does.

The book of Joshua gives us another illustration of God's nature and character.  "For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might destroy them utterly, and that He might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses."  (Joshua 11:20)  God had commanded Moses to destroy all of the Canaanites.  He even said when to do it, "When the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them."  (Deuteronomy 7:2)  This seems more harsh than ever when we consider the fact that God Himself hardened the hearts of the Canaanites so that they would engage in a battle where they were pre-destined to be destroyed!

But let's look at the facts.  God had given those Canaanites about 400 years to repent and turn from their sinful ways. (Genesis 15:13-16)  And each new generation of them had sinned even more than the previous ones.  They were practicing every form of sin known to mankind thus far.  They had already irrevocably hardened their hearts toward God.  So now God just hardened their hearts against Israel - whom He would use to put them out of their misery.  Moreover, some would consider it an act of mercy that God would destroy these evil people before they had a chance to defile or offend anyone else. 

Somehow we have this notion that God is merely a kind old grandfatherly type of figure.  But honestly, that kind of thinking is self serving and sinful in itself.  Most of us would much rather submit ourselves to, serve, and worship the God that we want instead of the God who actually is.  But to do so would be sin.  He's loving and merciful.  But He's just as much mighty and powerful.  And we can see clearly from this example, that He can use even our own sinfulness to serve His purposes.

The New Testament tells us that God "our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29)  Have you ever seen a raging fire consume the fuel?  Next time you're huddled around the camp fire or the fireplace, notice how intentional and unrelenting the flames are.  And relate that to God's nature.

The Bible is also clear about the fact that God has already decided what sin's repercussions must be.  The "wages of sin are death."  (Romans 6:23)  That's pretty deliberate, don't you think?  So this anger issue of God's when it comes to sin?  He can't help it.  His character and nature are so perfectly holy and righteous that He cannot tolerate the presence of sin.  The price (wages) simply must be paid.  There is no alternative.

Some people would say that that's just the God of the Old Testament, and that "God isn't like that anymore."  But those people would be wrong.  For God doesn't change.  Ever.  (Deuteronomy 33:27, Psalm 102:24-27, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17)  It has been said that God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.  And that is exactly how the Bible wants us to understand it.

If you needed any more proof that this so-called 'angry God' never changes, consider the future.  The book of Revelation has much to tell us about the 'wrath of God.'  It lists a whole series of events that make contemporary notions of 'natural distasters' and 'acts of God' pale in comparison.  If you've never read it, they are more than sobering.  But even before we get to the end of the Bible, consider that, "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels.  In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ."  (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8)

So I started this piece by bad-mouthing the loud-mouthed religious zealots who are so quick to proclaim God's judgment in the midst of a crisis.  For sure, I condemn them.  Why?  Because when God spoke, when God threatened ... He also promised.  God promised forgiveness.  He promised restoration.  A bout of God's wrath would end with God restoring His people and proclaiming that "they will be my people and I will be their God."  This too is who God is.  This too is God's character and nature.  I'm confident that if God were going to appoint a modern day prophet to pronounce His judgment for our sin, He would include the promise of restoration in the face of repentance.

The thing is that I don't know if the latest natural disaster or other calamity is a case of God's wrath being poured out for our sin.  But I do know two things.  First, we are sinful.  The sinfulness of our modern society alarms me.  My own sinfulness alarms me.  Second, sin is always met with God's judgment and wrath.  There is no alternative. 

So perhaps we would all do well to ask ourselves if God might have any reason to judge us and pour out His wrath on us.  And if He does, then repentance is the only appropriate response.  There is no alternative.