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God and Evil, and Human Beings

A blog I recently read made the point that evil is the absence of God. I responded to it, and I thought I’d also share my answer in this blog. So here it is…

Evil as an absence of God. This is certainly true. But the presence of God would also be the absence of evil. The two thoughts in tandem explain why human free will is so risky. By acting in an evil fashion, a human takes himself out of the presence of God. He is too holy to tolerate evil in his presence. However, does choosing good automatically bring a person into the presence of God? Perhaps not. It at least allows God an opportunity to admit the human being to his presence, but something more appears to be required: a cleansing. The evil that was chosen must be purged, because it has left a mark upon the human soul. Christ enters to provide this cleansing, along with the Holy Spirit to help maintain the purity and expand it throughout the whole human character. This is a signal of the sovereignty of God. By his trinitarian actions, he restores the human to relationship with himself and makes possible a consistent choosing of the good. Yet this work of deity is not completed until a period beyond human time-bound experience. Until then, we continue to struggle with good and evil.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in FaithLife

 

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Is God Ever Mean?

Now this is a loaded question: Is God ever mean? People, whether Christians or not, don’t like hearing that God might be hard to get along with. They want the divine to be manageable. They like a God who obeys the laws as they understand them, who doesn’t get frustrated or angry. Unfortunately for such people, God’s own revelation of himself is different. God can appear to be very mean to us humans who become subject to his wrath, even if we live according to all the rules.

I’m not speaking of his wrath focused on people who don’t choose to follow Jesus Christ. I’m thinking of how mean God can seem to those who do choose God’s Son as Savior and Lord. When adversity comes upon them, Christians sometimes ask, “Why me, Lord?” After all, if we have faith in Jesus Christ, we’re redeemed people. So where is the power and gift of redemption when fatal illness comes over you or unemployment overwhelms? Adversity seems to fly in the face of promises that life goes better with Jesus in it.

Yet God promises to be mean to his rescued people if they should sin. To the Israelites of Moses’ time, he declared,“Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you” (Dt. 12:47-48, NIV). There is no way around it: God is mean to his people when they need it. If they sin, he will punish them.

“Wait a minute!” you say. “That was the Old Testament. God isn’t like that now. Saved in Christ now, our sins are all forgiven. Grace is ours always.”

Do you really believe that it makes no difference how you live after coming to faith in Christ? Does your conduct not matter? Can you do anything you want? I doubt it. Our activities must line up with God’s grace in Christ. If Jesus has redeemed us, we have to live as redeemed people. When we don’t, God is good and right to be mean toward us. He can send—actively send—trouble our way.

The adversity you experience may be the simple result of living as a faithful Christian in a world that wants nothing to do with godliness. You’ll have to grin and bear such trouble. Yet it is possible that some of your adversity is God’s deliberate action toward you which is aimed at dealing with a new or recurrent sin in your life. You should not grin and bear this trouble. You should examine it and learn if you have transgressed. You ought to admit whatever sin brought this trouble from God. Indeed, the only way out of the trouble, could be confession and repentance.

The apostle Paul taught this clearly in Romans 2:9-11, when he wrote, “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism” (NIV). Adversity comes to everyone, to the Jew first, that is, to those who are chosen and blessed, to Christians. Hard times are not only for faithless people. The faithless get what they deserve, but the believer who sins gets what he needs, help toward repentance.

Will God not judge the actions of those whom he loves and calls according to his purpose? I believe he will. I believe he does.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Have you read Amos lately?

Have you read Amos lately? It’s a good prophetic book because Amos was an average person who was called by God to proclaim a tough message to people who lived selfishly in prosperous times. Amos was a shepherd and dresser of sycamore-fig trees. He was a working man, a regular “Joe” whose conscience was moved by the Lord. He saw the selfish character of human beings in other countries and in his own. He was so moved that he spoke out against the “me-ism” of his day.

One by one, he indicted Israel and Judah’s neighboring nations for their self-centered conquests and horrible treatment of the peoples around them. Then he turned the tables of Israel, the northern half of God’s people, and Judah, the southern portion, indicting both for being led away from the Lord, for beating down the poor, for sexual sins, and other immorality.

Through Amos, God called nature to witness his people’s sin. He summoned the Philistines from Ashdod and the Egyptians to observe their judgment. He  ordered, “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria; see the great unrest within her and the oppression among her people” (Am.3:9b, NIV). His people didn’t understand what was right; they amassed goods and weapons for protection, but their refuges would be plundered. God recounted how he sent famine and disaster, yet they hadn’t heeded his warnings. Israel was about to encounter their God, the Judge, and the meeting was to be calamitous.

In chapter 5 of his prophecy, Amos urged Israel to think and to repent with honesty. “Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is” (Am. 5:14, NIV). National confidence felt as if God would not forsake them. All was well. It was not, and the Lord would stand against them if the people did not mend their ways. The people felt the day of the Lord would vindicate them, but Amos did not think so. “Why do you long for the day of the Lord?” the prophet asked. “That day will be darkness, not light” (Am. 5:18b, NIV).

The complacent were warned, and Amos delivered a series of visionary episodes which were designed to announce God’s measurement of his people. A brief section of the book of Amos recounted how he was opposed by a priest at Bethel because his message opposed the king and called for repentance and change. Then he resumed his warnings, ending with an announcement of what later became a reality—the Dispersion. Israel was to go into exile! But she would be restored in time to come (see 9:9-15). Even in judgment, there was hope.

On one hand, Amos’ character shows how God can use an ordinary person to call for change in a society. On the other hand, Amos’ plea reveals the Lord’s lasting desire to redeem his wayward people, along with his willingness to discipline them for a greater good. The prophet Amos raises our view of God to a higher level. The Lord is both compassionate and a God of judgment. Amos prepares us to learn from Jesus Christ, who was also of humble origin yet showed us a God who was both our heavenly Father and a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29; cp. Mk. 9:47-49).

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Behind the Bible...

 

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What’s in a Thought?

Read Matthew 26:21-28, and you’ll notice an experience that makes discipleship hard. Jesus put an idea into his followers’ minds: “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me” (Mt. 26:21b, NIV). They each questioned whether they were personally guilty of this transgression. Jesus didn’t answer them directly. He only explained that the betrayer was one who ate with him, and they were all eating at that moment. He left them uncertain. Self-doubt can make discipleship difficult, but indecision about yourself is important.

Notice that Jesus himself put the doubt into their minds. He planted the thought which disturbed the already troubled people at the meal. Why would Jesus mess with their minds at such a crucial time? To prepare and equip them for what was coming. Such training by self-doubt makes discipleship hard. Indecision about yourself leads to growth.

Does your mind become a jumbled mess sometimes? Mine does. I fill it with too much. Appointments, details of church activities, sermon preparation, blogging, family concerns, ideas I want to write about or thoughts I’m working on. When I was going to a study conference once, my mother said to me, “Someday your head is going to bust!”

As you allow legitimate ideas to enter your mind, things you ought to think about, it isn’t long before somebody asks you to consider a new thing. You’re thoughts are influenced subtly by the media. Advertising is carefully aimed at you so that in the back of your mind you’re influenced to buy a particular product the next time you need a fast-acting pain reliever or a tasty soup or an entertaining song. What you read, see on a billboard, hear on the car radio becomes part of the content of your mind. Your subconscious thinks about it more than you realize.

In The Practice of Godliness, Jerry Bridges wrote, “Our minds are mental greenhouses where unlawful thoughts, once planted, are nurtured and watered before being transplanted into the real world of unlawful actions.”

Few crimes are committed without the criminal considering whether he might get away with it. Even crimes of passion have some basis in prior thought, vague imaginings or wishful ideas. As thoughts filter into you from the outside world, you pick up all sorts of good and bad notions. This is why careful analysis of what you read in a magazine or watch on your television is critical. Expose yourself too frequently to wrong notions, and you’ll eventually act on them. Witness the child pornographer or the adulterer, the thief or tax evader. Each has been shown in courts of law to have started their bad behavior with exposure to some media that shows or discusses the wrong activity in a tantalizing light. Fill you head with too much misbehavior, and you’ll misbehave.

Jesus spoke to Peter, who was urging him not to think of dying: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Mt. 16:23, NIV). In a sense, Peter was betraying Jesus as Judas later would, and as any disciple can. Doubt yourself, and grow in self-awareness.

What’s in a thought? The germ of a deed. Sooner or later you’ll act on a bad idea to which you become insensitive. You may begin by thinking lies are evil, yet train yourself to consider some lies to be permissible, and where will your deceptions stop? The reverse is true also. Flood your mind with wholesome and valuable and praiseworthy ideas, and you’ll work hard to produce the same kind of behavior. Yet this makes discipleship difficult.

What you put into your brain sooner or later leaks back out! A good disciple is very careful about this.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2011 in Behind the Bible...

 

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Modern Christian Literature at Its Best

Jack Cavanaugh, The Colonists. $2.99. 148,530 words.

This ebook is the second in Cavanaugh’s American Family Portrait series. I bought it because I like historical fiction based in the colonial era, and I was looking for a good summer “read.” I was not disappointed. Jack Cavanaugh re-creates the colonial period in vivid detail with some surprising twists from what I’ve read in the past. The major twist is his focus on Native Americans and their part in our history, and he does it without entering into an apology for the colonials’ attitude. He presents the Indians as genuine people with families, who had a willingness to grow as individuals. He also showed them as a people mistreated, misunderstood, and feared. The colonists are revealed as a mixture of the desire to understand and relate well to Native Americans with a readiness to express prejudice. Both groups are depicted as an amalgam of good and evil, but as folks who are spiritually searching.

The Colonists is a book about Christian faith and life, the struggle of it and the wonder of it. The focal characters are three siblings whose deceased father and wandering mother were devout Christian people who lost their way. Their children travel through harrowing experiences with difficulty. They lose their Christian moorings, then gradually rediscover what faith and Christian living are all about. The characters of the Morgan children are well-developed and entertaining. Priscilla is the thoughtful, secretly educated one, who has lots of promise, but is enmeshed in the vulgar world of colonial business dealings. Jared is the carefree, rowdy son who is shanghaied but matures as a Christian while forced into piracy on the high seas. Philip is the lead character of the novel and becomes to cornerstone of the renewed family as he searches for a lost family Bible and discovers his Christian humanity among the praying Indians of the Massachusetts colony.

I found in Jack Cavanaugh a master storyteller whose language is clear and straightforward. His way with words drew me into this novel and always held my interest. He plotted the novel as an expert author and created suspense that pulled me constantly forward. My wife grew tired of my nose being always in my ereader and said, “That must be some book you’re reading.” It was one of the most engaging novels I’ve read in years. In fact, I think I’m going to back up and buy the first book in the series so that I can find out how the Morgan family came to America and why the family Bible became so important to them.

If you like good historical fiction that centers in the American colonial era and want to read a decent Christian book, I encourage you to consider Jack Cavanaugh’s The Colonists. You’ll be reading one of the best examples of Christian literary work that is available.

If you wish to purchase this book, just follow this link… Buy eBook on Smashwords

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2011 in Book Reviews

 

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