Tag Archives: Lord

Spotting a Fake

I’m going to be a millionaire! All I have to do is send my bank account information and social security number to a prince in Nigeria, and he is going to send me 5  million bucks.  Or not…

Don’t believe every email you get; there are bad guys out there who are trying to deceive you.  Don’t believe every preacher you hear, either, for the same reason.  Lots of preachers – even famous preachers with huge followings – are bad guys, trying to deceive you.  If this surprises you, it should not.  We were told to expect it:

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.  (1 John 2:18 )

The “last hour,” as John uses the term, is the time between Jesus’ first coming and His second coming.  No one knows how many years will be included in the “last hour” but we have been told several things to expect during that time.  One of them is false preachers, who seem to be following Jesus, who claim to be following Him, but who are in fact working against Him.  John calls these guys “antichrists,” whose work opposes Jesus.   They follow the same spirit and same purpose as the antichrist, who will come one day.   There were many antichrists in John’s day and there are many antichrists today.

How can you spot a fake preacher?   Just as with email scams, there are telltale signs to watch for.  The first thing John mentions is that a fake preacher, one who is working against Jesus, won’t be one of us.  He will separate himself from the rest of us.

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained  (made their home) with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:19)

If you see a preacher who is larger than life, who holds himself aloof from the rest of the people, who struts about on the stage as though people should worship him, who adopts an opulent lifestyle that few in his congregation could match – watch out.  He a fake.  He is an antichrist.  Here is what Jesus said about these guys:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them.”  (Matthew 7:15-16a)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’   Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’  (Matthew 7:21-23)

It’s no proof of authenticity for a preacher to seem to pull off miracles or to boldly prophesy.  A real preacher will make his home (remain, abide) with us who follow the One who was humble, was gentle, who had no place to lay His head.  A real preacher will be filled with humility because he is overwhelmed by Jesus.

But let’s face it: some of these guys seem really persuasive.  That is true.  But there is another way to discern who is real and who is antichrist.  Stay tuned.

How to Live Forever

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17)

The world  promises, if you just eat this, drink that, try this, buy that, build this, own that, then you will be fulfilled and happy.  The promise is a lie.  All those things of the world pass away; they are temporary.  That word, temporary, slaps us like the word, condemned, spray painted on an abandoned building.  Temporary.  They won’t last.

English: Artist's illustration of one model of...

English: Artist’s illustration of one model of the bright gamma-ray burst GRB 080319B. The explosion is highly beamed into two bipolar jets, with a narrow inner jet surrounded by a wider outer jet. Русский: Художественная иллюстрация одной модели яркого гамма-всплеска GRB 080319B. Взрыв представляется в виде мощных полярно направленных выбросов плазмы, состоящих из узких внутренних и более широких внешних струй. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over coffee this morning, I read in the paper about a gamma ray burst that happened recently in space.  Astronomers calmly reported that it was so massive that, had it been closer to the earth, we would have been incinerated in an instant.  Thanks, guys…   Maybe I’ll get another cup…

The lusts of the flesh do not satisfy, except for the shortest of moments.  The “pause that refreshes” ultimately leaves you thirsty.  The finest meal is ultimately chewed, swallowed and eliminated.  The promise of sexual thrill can leave you stumbling around in the dark basement of self regret.  The newest computer quickly becomes too slow.  The bigger house soon becomes filled with junk.  Then it needs to be repainted.  Beauty, that comes at such high cost, ultimately slips away, cackling with cruel laughter.  The greatest achievement is quickly surpassed.

But the man who does the will of God, lives forever.”  More literally, He abides forever.  He “makes his home” in God forever.  Jesus enables those who trust Him to connect to God like that – forever.

Doing the will of God is not a matter of knowing a list of things you should not eat, drink, say, do or buy.  It’s a matter of living in close harmony with God, naturally responding as He reveals His purposes in real time.  Living in the world, but not being consumed by it, is a matter of making your home, your true home, in God.  It’s a matter of knowing God and acknowledging God in all things, responding to His direction and looking ahead to His promises.  It’s receiving both good things and challenging things from His hand with the same attitude of trust and humility.

The one who hears and does God’s will discovers that:

Cravings are replaced with contentment.
Covetousness is replaced by gratitude.
Boasting is replaced by amazement.
“I need” is replaced by “I shall not want.”
“I want” is replaced by  “Thank You, Lord.”
“I matter” is replaced by “God shows His strength in my weakness.”
Sliding inevitably into death is replaced by abiding in God forever.

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17)

God’s Hot Buttons

If you want to know what makes God mad, there is a pretty clear list in the 5th chapter of Isaiah. Each one is marked by the word, Woe! That’s Biblespeak for “Beware! Bad, bad things are coming unless big, big changes are made. When God says “Woe,” He’s upset about something.  God is angered by human behavior that, if left unchecked, will destroy His Creation. He says “woe!” with the same tone of voice that a homeowner uses when he sees termites destroying his home.  And for the same reason.

The first “woe!” in Isaiah 5 had to do with unchecked greed (See: “What Kind of Termites Anger God?”.)  The next one reads like this:

Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands.  (Isaiah 5:11-12)

Perhaps you are thinking, “It’s official: God is a killjoy and hates it when people party.”   No way!  If that’s what you think, you will be surprised as you read through the Bible.  God loves celebrations. Jesus provided the wine for one.  No, the problem here is that this drunkenness is constant (from early in the morning until late at night), it has become the new normal.  Beyond that, it has obliterated their capacity to appreciate and respect God and the wonderful oasis He created and provided.  

Imagine that you had inherited a beautiful mountain cabin that was carefully and lovingly built by your great-grandfather. It is nestled among pine trees, alongside a crystal clear, spring-fed lake. From childhood, you have forged deep and satisfying memories at his cabin and you consider it to be a precious and sacred refuge. Can you picture it?  Now, how would you feel if your kids hold a party up there, inviting their friends, who proceed to get drunk and wreck the place?  They break the windows, smash the plates and park their old and leaky pickup in the garden. Mad yet?  That’s how God feels when He sees insensitive, drunken louts trashing His garden.

But let’s look at the nature and extent of the damage:

Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; their men of rank will die of hunger and their masses will be parched with thirst.Therefore the grave enlarges its appetite and opens its mouth without limit; into it will descend their nobles and masses with all their brawlers and revelers. (Isaiah 5:13-14)

This warning was written to a people God had given special, privileged treatment.  He intended to use as the Jewish nation as a model, to show others how much better life could be if you loved God and lived according to His design and principles. He had set them up with their own land, and promised to provide for them and protect them.  But these privileges would only continue if they cooperated.  Their irresponsible behavior wrecked the place.  Consequently, instead of being protected in their own place, they were exiled to a foreign land. Instead of being physically and spiritually satisfied in God’s presence, they drank to find satisfaction and wound up with an unquenchable thirst.  Instead of finding life, they fell into death. Woe!

This warning, specifically written to the people of Israel and Judah, was tragically fulfilled in their history.  But it contains a principle that pertains to us all.  You and I live amid God’s amazing and beautiful Creation.  The more you pay attention, the more you seek to appreciate it and harmonize with the One Who gave us all this, the more wonderful life will be.  The key to living like that is given to us by Jesus.  Find Him and find real life.

Or, you could just get drunk and miss it.  Woe!

Why Does God Seem So Angry?

For some reason, it seemed like a good idea at the time: get a few of my toys together and spread them out to play with them – – – in the middle of an intersection near my home. Who knows why? For that matter, who knows why toddlers do most of the strange stuff they do? As you can imagine, my mother was pretty upset when she discovered me, happily sitting and playing out there. Probably heard the squeal of brakes before she saw what was going on. Can you understand why she might have hollered and screamed at me, might have sounded pretty angry? But at the time, it was a mystery to me. Why would a good mother get so furious?

When you first start reading Isaiah, God seems pretty cranky. He sounds pretty worked up:

Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. (Isaiah 1:4)

Whoa… This sounds like fodder for the angry, pinch-faced, bony-fingered, fire and brimstone preacher, thundering and screaming with flecks of spittle flying off his beard. Why would a good God get so furious? People make the mistake of thinking that God has changed. The God of the New Testament is pretty nice, but back in the old days, He needed some anger management counseling. Not true. God is not bipolar. God was angry for the same reason my mother was. Continue reading:

Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil. (Isaiah 1:5-6)

God hates it when He sees us doing things that endanger or hurt ourselves. Think about it: He originally created a perfect garden for us humans to live in. That is His desire for us. Unfortunately, gardens degenerate pretty quickly if you don’t what you are doing, if you don’t follow the rules. I’ve had some gardening experiences that would have frightened Maurice Sendak.

We humans turned away from God and tried to run His garden by our own ideas. We wrecked the garden and wound up hurting ourselves. But God yearns for His people (that’s us…) to turn back to Him and do things the way they work best. He hates it when we keep getting hurt. God’s plan is to ultimately restore the garden, making it available to everyone who will learn from Him and live in it peacefully and productively – and safely.

If you keep that understanding fully in mind, Isaiah is a fascinating and wonderful read. God loves to see us playing – just not in the middle of the street.

Now You See it; Now You Don’t

My wife has a can of aerosol wonder spray that causes spots on the carpet to vanish.  No, I don’t know what it is – deliberately, so I don’t have to use it.  We each have our own gifts: my gift is putting the spots on the carpet…  Anyhow, it’s amazing stuff. You should get some.  Now you see it; now you don’t.  

In Isaiah, God said this:

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall  be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

Most of us have sins we hope nobody ever finds out about, the ones that, whenever they come to mind, cause our toes  to curl up in our shoes.  We’d like to forget them but they won’t go away.  They are like bloodstains on the carpet.   But God says He will cause those to vanish.  Not just forgive them but take them away entirely.   Literally.  Isaiah knew this from first hand experience.  When he cowered before God and confessed that he, like everybody else, was a man of “unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5) God arranged a weird, supernatural ceremony of atonement to happen:

Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)

I cannot explain all the bizarre details described there.  But God (literally His angelic beings) did something to cause Isaiah’s sin to disappear.  The Hebrew word behind the phrase “taken away” means to drag off, or cause something to vanish.  Now you see it; now you don’t.   The reason that is possible is explained in the Hebrew word behind the phrase “atoned for.”  If you wanted to purchase freedom for a slave, you would pay the going rate to his master, making atonement for him.   Jesus made that kind of payment to free us from our guilt.   If you are willing, God removes it.

In the verse we began with above, God says, in effect, “Be reasonable and I will cause your sin to disappear – not just the common ones, but the whoppers, too – the ones that seem like bloodstains on your memory.”   What does He mean by “Let us reason together?”  We see it in the next two verses:

If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.  (Isaiah 1:19-20)

Accepting the Gift

Unemployed, you have missed the last several mortgage payments on a house worth less than you paid.  You are about to be foreclosed.  A registered letter comes to the door.  You sign for it and tear it open:  “This is to inform you that someone, who would like to remain anonymous, has offered to pay off your mortgage obligations.  If you choose to accept this gift, the bank has agreed to suspend all foreclosure proceedings.”  Nice letter, eh?  Nice gift.

God’s gift to us wipes out the obligations we owe for sin – completely – if we accept it.  His Son, Jesus, Who never sinned and therefore had no personal punishment due, willingly died a brutal and tortuous death to cover what I owed.  And you.  If you accept His gift, God suspends His foreclosure on your life.  God told Isaiah He would do this and told him to write it down:

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  (Isaiah 53:4-5)

If someone offers to pay off your mortgage, your first response might be something like, “What? Does he think I’m in poverty?  Does he think I can’t do this on my own?  Give me a bit more time and I will get this fixed…”  But if you hang on to that attitude, you won’t accept the offer.   In a sense, accepting his offer involves a willingness to acknowledge that you really do need his help.   In the same way, accepting the gift of Someone Who went to His death on your behalf requires a change in attitude, acknowledging that such a gift is absolutely necessary.  Most of us would rather hold to the notion that, “I got this; I’m doing pretty well on my own; I’m a good person.”   But if you do continue to believe those things, you cannot accept the gift. Do you remember how Isaiah responded when he caught a glimpse of God’s glory?

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”  Isaiah 6:5

Isaiah knew a humbling truth:  compared to God’s perfection, he was just as sinful as his neighbors.  We humans are all in the same boat of sinful imperfection.  We all deserve the same punishment.  We tend to compare ourselves with others and think, “At least I am not as messed up as that guy…”   Somebody illustrated the fallacy of such comparisons like this: “If the requirement to get to Heaven was jumping up and touching the moon, there would be no significant difference between the contestants for ‘Biggest Loser’ and a member of the Celtics.”   The requirement for going to Heaven isn’t touching the moon, it’s having spiritual life.  And everyone who has ever sinned – that’s you and me – is spiritually dead.

God is willing to correct that condition, to give us His life, His Holy Spirit to live in our souls.  But first, because He is perfectly just, He must require that your punishment for sin be paid.  Because you cannot pay, because, even if you could pay you would sin again the next day, He paid.  He allowed His Son, Jesus, to pay your sin mortgage in full – forever – if you accept.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the (punishment for the) iniquity (sin) of us all.  (Isaiah 53:6 – my explanations in parentheses)

Accepting this gift begins with understanding the words, we all.  It requires acknowledging your own personal sinfulness and complete helplessness to fix your own spiritual deadness.  That’s what being “lowly and contrite” means in Isaiah 57:15 (See “In a Nutshell”). God said He will revive (bring back to life) the soul of the lowly and contrite. He will forgive and restore a person who is lowly and contrite.   That is, He will do so once the bill is paid.  And He offers to pay the bill.  Accepting this gift is like what you would do with the mortgage letter example we began with: – you say, “Yes.”   If you understand that there is no way you can fix yourself to become perfect, no way you can pay what you owe for being imperfect; if you understand that you really need God’s forgiveness, then say “yes” to Jesus.  Probably want to say, “Thank You,” also…

Would God Forgive You?

The kidnapper in Cleveland and the bomber brothers in Boston raise an important question: Could they ever be forgiven by God?  How about you?  We have been hammering away at the meaning of Isaiah 57:15, about how the Creator of the Universe, Almighty God, Who lives beyond the dimensions of time and space, said He would live in the soul of the lowly and contrite.  If you are just joining us, go to the page listed in the menu above where the posts are listed in order.  But how about it: if the surviving bomber or the kidnapper truly became contrite and lowly, would either of them qualify?  Read what God said next in Isaiah:

I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint  before me— the breath of man that I have created.   I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways.   I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him.  (Isaiah 57:16-18)

God says He sees.  He knows.  But He is also ready to forgive.  To forgive but, even better, to restore and heal, to guide and comfort.  Who?  The lowly and contrite, the person who wakes up to the reality of Who God truly is, and by contrast, how sinful and unable to stop screwing up we humans are.  Ever watch those shows on cable where they restore old antiques?  Amazing!  Ever cut yourself badly and eventually see that it has been healed?  Imagine having the wounds of your soul healed.  Ever try to fix your computer and make it worse?  And yearn for someone who really knows to come and guide you – and restore comfort to your tangled emotions?  Read through that chunk of Isaiah again and consider those promises.

BUT, BUT, BUT!!!   If the bomber and the kidnapper get off, it just wouldn’t be right  – right?

Yes, insofar as justice is concerned.  And justice matters to God (remember: He is perfect!).  So which matters more to God – justice or forgiveness?  That question sets up a riddle about the character of God.  Here’s how God presented the riddle to Moses:

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,  maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:6-7a)

God is forgiving of wickedness, rebellion and sin but insists that the guilty be punished.  Hmmm…   How can that be?  I will forgive you, but first I have to kill you?  That riddle is solved, later in the Bible.  God gave a big hint to Isaiah.  He gave the Solution, 700 years after that.   Chew on that, and stay tuned…   

Hit the Deck

Ever bump into someone really famous?  How did you react?   I read a short clip in Reader’s Digest years ago from a lady who had been getting some  ice cream at a place in Santa Fe when  Robert Redford walked in.  She carefully told herself not to act stupid, to just pay for her cone and leave.  But when she got outside she realized she didn’t have it with her.  She went back in and said, “I’m sorry, I think I left my cone in here.”  Robert Redford said, “You put it in your purse!”

Last time (“Why Them?”), we looked at what it was about the lowly and contrite that God said He would come and live with them?  It was that the lowly and contrite understand they really need God, that they can’t achieve righteousness by their own efforts, no matter how hard they try.  But there is more to it than that.  A second quality about the lowly and contrite is that they understand God is God – not them.  When they have an encounter with God, they understand how mighty and holy and amazing He is – and respond accordingly, with absolute humility.  Like what happened when Isaiah caught a glimpse of God:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.  “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah 6:1-5 (NIV)

Isaiah’s experience was unique to him.  We can only imagine how frightening it was.  Imagine walking into your bedroom one day and seeing someone seated in the midst of a blazing nuclear furnace.  The important thing to recognize from this, however, is not so much what he saw but how he responded.  Isaiah he knew he was in the presence of God.  His response was a picture of what it means to be lowly and contrite.  Isaiah hit the deck, cowering and peering out to glimpse the train of God’s robe.  That is because, in the presence of God, he became immediately aware of how sinful he was.  In contrast to God’s amazing glory his own imperfection was devastating.  Isaiah realized, because God is perfect in righteousness and he was not, by rights he was a dead man.  He said, “Woe to me!  I am ruined!”  To be lowly and contrite before God is to be completely humbled by Who He is.  To know you need His Help and to glimpse His power and holiness.

You, right this minute, are also in the presence of Almighty God.  You probably don’t see those strange creatures flying around, you probably don’t see smoke, but He is right there, with you.  And He alone is God, perfect in righteousness.  By contrast, you and I are dead men and women.  We are ruined.  If you can see that, if you sense the truth of that in your bones, that is a good thing.  Because God says (Isaiah 57:15) He will live with those who are lowly and contrite.  That is good news.

Chew on that…