Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Man Who Stole God

I just met a man who committed an amazing crime… he stole God. Well, to be accurate, he stole A god. Great story!

Leonard served in WWII and wound up as a driver for an officer in Chanyi, China. Leonard’s daily route took him past many homes of the commonfolk of China. In the warm summer, doors and windows would be left open to enjoy a cooling breeze. On that daily drive, something caught Leonard’s attention. Something he couldn’t take his mind off of.

Leonard has an amazing story. He is a determined and resilient man. Coming from a dirt poor farm in rural Kansas, Leonard learned he could achieve what he could believe. He fought his way onto a local ball team to earn his dad’s admiration. In the 1930s he became a cheerleader at Wyandotte (KS) High School and kept on working until he became head cheerleader. Leonard’s entire life story is one of focus and discipline.

Never did Leonard’s determination serve him so well as when, in 1981, he found himself at the bottom of the collapsed Hyatt Regency walkway. Three of his family were killed. Leonard was lucky… you could say… he only suffered fractures in all four limbs. He was in the hospital 77 days and was the fourth from the last of the survivors to be discharged from the hospital. He fought through hours and days and weeks of tortuous physical therapy to regain the use of his badly damaged body.

Leonard appears to always succeed in whatever he sets him mind on. And in
China in the 1940s, his mind was set on a beautiful object inside one of those peasant homes. A local explained to Leonard that each family chooses a god - an icon that they worship and trust in. This particular home had chosen a powerful looking god, holding the moon in his left hand and riding on a tiger - symbolizing that this god had faced and conquered the demons, unscathed. Just the kind of god Leonard might admire… or steal.

Leonard couldn’t get his mind off this object of fascination. Like so many other goals in his life, Leonard was focused, disciplined, and determined. He hasn’t told me the details of his caper, but... there’s an empty table somewhere in China where a ceramic icon once sat.

As I often like to say here at Follow Illustrated, let’s get a word from our Sponsor:

For the customs of the peoples are delusion;
Because it is wood cut from the forest,
The work of the hands of a craftsman with a cutting tool.
They decorate it with silver and with gold;
They fasten it with nails and with hammers
So that it will not totter.
Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they,
And they cannot speak;
They must be carried,
Because they cannot walk!
Do not fear them,
For they can do no harm,
Nor can they do any good.
(Jeremiah 10:4-5)

Don’t you love that imagery? “Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot walk!” And carried away that god was!! By Leonard! I can’t imagine how disillusioned the Chinese family must have been when they discovered that their god had been kidnapped, powerless to defend himself, let alone the family who worshiped him.

I’m reminded of what Paul said to the philosophers of Athens:

The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things
(Acts 17:24-25)

We serve a God who, as Creator, asks nothing from His creation, but respect and praise. He sits above the heavens, not on a wood table in the living room. I do not mean to mock the Chinese or any other religion, but I take strength from believing that my God can’t be swiped by an American soldier and shipped back to the States in a well-padded wood box.

Leonard stresses to me, “I swear as a matter of honor, that I never have stolen any other thing in my life.” 

I shoot back at Leonard, “You stole a god, Leonard! What else could you steal!!”

A closing thought. I take solace in the fact that God forgives. He even forgives those who steal gods! I guess technically, Leonard didn’t exactly repent of his sin and return the icon to its owners. He made a lamp out of it that he reads the sports pages by. How about I leave this one in THE God’s hands?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Half A Bridge

I attended a church service yesterday that completely unnerved me. My wife and I are still at the trembling point about it. I'd like to share just a bit of the pastor's message and then share with your some thoughts to help you if you ever run into a similar situation.

We visited a mainline protestant denomination (read: Liberal) where one of my sons plays in the praise band. The pastor was beginning a new series about studying the Bible. He celebrated the "51% or more" of his congregation who were skeptical about the Bible (because it is a confusing, complicated, and contradictory book). He then illustrated the problems with the Bible by citing many verses out of context and mocking them, altogether.

What the pastor did is a very astute approach to verbal argument. It's called deconstruction. You pick apart something piece by piece until the audience feels like there is nothing reliable in it at all. Then you're free to overlay your own viewpoint on top of the rubble you've just created. Really, very clever.

The pastor's main point was that nowhere does the Bible call itself the capital 'W' Word of God. It is only the "word" of God. He said Jesus is called the Word of God and we should worship Jesus, not the Bible. Take a minute and think about that. What's your position on the word/Word of God?

Let's clear one thing up real fast… the pastor made a terrible error that would have gotten him laughed out of the first week of Greek 101 class. There are no lower case letters in Greek (the language the New Testament Bible was written in)! Lower case didn't come along for over 1000 years after Christ. So his distinction between 'w' and 'W' was a bit of cleverness that his flock was impressed with, but has no basis in reality.

Also, Jesus is called the "Word of God", but only once and that's in Revelation (19:13) and the pastor told his audience not to go reading books like Deuteronomy and Revelation.

Let's get a breath of fresh air here with a word, I mean WORD from our Sponsor:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3, 14)

This passage definitely does refer to Jesus as the Word. Notice the part about "All things came into being through Him". Remember creation in Genesis 1?

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)

“Let there be light” was the word of God… no, it was the Word of God according to John. Jesus brought the thought of God (light) into existence, into being. Jesus is just that, the thoughts of God coming into existence.

Perhaps you've heard this: All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)

Inspired means, literally, God-breathed… His words coming out of His mouth. John tells us that all those words became flesh in Jesus Christ. John does not say those words were overshadowed and rendered obsolete by Jesus!!

The last thing the pastor did was tell his congregation that they should "look at the world through the lens of love". He deconstructed the whole Bible as a mish-mosh of confusing jargon and said, "let's just focus on Jesus".

Liberals do this because they can pretend Jesus of the Gospels only is soft and fuzzy. He doesn't pick on gays. He doesn't stone anyone. He just says "love one another" and "turn the other cheek" a lot. Jesus comes off as the exact opposite of the harsh, angryGod of the Old Testament and He is someone who would gladly be our friend but never make us uncomfortable with our lives. Well, sure. If I was going to invent a deity, that's what I'd do also… and one that gives me a lot of burnt ends and chocolate malts.

But the Word of God had an edge to Him, didn't he?

And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables (John 2:15)

Not only did Jesus drive the money changers (payday loan sharks) out of the temple, he took the time to braid a whip to beat them with. Where's your soft and fuzzy Jesus now? Listen to the way He spoke to some people:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15)

“You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? (Matthew 12:34)

You can pretend that Jesus was anything you want, but in reality he was BOTH all loving and all righteous (He hungered and thirsted for righteousness – Matthew 5:6). And that brings us to the final point. We can "look at the world through the lens of love". That's a fine and dandy thing… for us. But let's remember, even at His birth, the Word of God had a date with Golgotha lying out in His future. Jesus, the Lens of Love, the Word of God, the Lamb of God got nailed to a rough wooden cross with rusty spikes and was left there to die. What do you think that was about?

Love is a fine thing. So is half a bridge. We diminish God when we only call upon Him to love us. God is Holy. In fact, He is "Holy, Holy, Holy". He is righteous – undiluted righteousness. He hates all unrighteousness. At the cross of Calvary, God did a swap – a cross-over.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

A prisoner exchanged happened on that bridge… We go free, Jesus goes to the cross. We experience the consequence God's love - forgiveness. Jesus experienced the consequence of God's righteousness – punishment. Jesus, the Gospel, the words/Word of God... none of it makes any sense unless God's absolute righteousness is taken into account. (See Romans 3:23 for example.)

Many Christians feel that because "God so loved they world" they should only love the world. But that's only half the bridge, isn't it? God also saw unrighteousness in the world and He did something about it. Christians should, too. In the WORD of God we are taught to "flee immorality" and to oppose it at every turn. Yes, this is the classic "hate the sin / love the sinner" conundrum. The problem is, "the lost" don't hate their own sin so they don't feel our love when we talk about sin – either ours or theirs.

Liberals have taken a sharp knife and paired the Gospel down to "love the sinner". Half a bridge. The Word of God (both on the printed page and walking around) speaks clearly that "hating the sin" is as much a part of our spiritual life as loving others.

The main thing I regret about the church service yesterday was that a couple hundred people heard the Bible – the WORD OF GOD – get mocked and diminished. There is nothing in Deuteronomy that scares me. There is nothing in Revelation that scares me. I like the truth and not just part of it. I want the whole truth. Jesus, the Word of God, is also the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I don't want half the Truth.
I don't want to get half of the Way to Heaven.
I don't want half of the Life that Jesus has in store for me.

All or nothing.
I'll take ALL.

Clark H Smith

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Perfect and Unchanging

A football field is perfect. It is balanced from end to end and side to side. And every American
football gridiron is exactly the same – 120 yards long (including endzones) and 53.33 yards wide. Whether oriented north or south, east or west, the gridiron is, well, cast in iron.

You know that already. So why the emphatic explanation?

In high school I was in marching band. I reckon I've marched in close to fifty half time shows and practiced another two hundred times on top of that. I loved the experience and my bandmates… except for that one girl who would melt-down every time we arrived at an away game and had to march on a field that was "backwards" (meaning the pressbox on the wrong side).

Somehow, this girl was convinced that the field was backwards because it differed from her personal point of reference.

You see where I'm going with this, right? Let's get a couple words from our Sponsor:

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17)

“For I, the LORD, do not change…" (Malachi 3:6)

What we think about God determines what we think about ourselves. If God changes (His mind, His plans, His promises, etc) then we would never know where we stand with Him. Even worse than that is to decide what we think God is like and approach Him based on our thoughts not His.

I take God at His word, He does not change. So what?

One of the most common conversations I have with people is that God does seem to change. Many people, good-hearted people with sound judgment, look at the Old Testament and see a God who is cranky, if not outright angry. He's always smiting people. Thousands and hundreds of thousands die from God-made disasters and wars. Parents are told to stone unruly sons and fornicating daughters. Many people see a smear of blood across the pages of the Old Testament.

And then in the New Testament, God has finally waked up in a good mood. He's kind and loving. He sends Jesus to be born to a virgin at Christmas surrounded by fuzzy sheep and cheer-filled singing angels and such. Jesus walks around telling people to turn the other cheek and love one another. There's even that woman caught in the act of adultery and Jesus doesn't do anything about it.

It's almost like the 1960s. Across American hippies were spreading love and flower power, while in Southeast Asia, the authoritarian and autocratic American government was burning the forests (and people) with napalm. Which one truly was America? How do you reconcile those irreconcilable contradictions?

What we all know is that nations and any group of people are "heterogenous" – a chunky stew of differences. God is and must be "homogenous" – everything He is and does has to be the same across the great span of time and eternity in either direction beyond time. Has. To. Be. “For I, the LORD, do not change…" (Malachi 3:6). If God changes, then He lacks integrity by violating what He "used to be".

Let me clean up this marching band thing. It is only our perception that suggests something is "different". My bandmate couldn't get her head around the fact that all fields are the same because she had created a reference point "off the field". We do the same thing with God when we apply our values and morality to what God does.

Let's do this? What bugs you about God in the Old Testament? The Genesis flood? God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah? God sending those horrible plagues (including nation-wide death) on Egypt? The Ten "Thou Shalt Nots"? The book of Joshua where the freed-from-Egypt Israelites slaughter all the inhabitants of The Promised Land?

If you're really interested in this, email me and I'll be happy to dialogue with you about these events. I want you to see the New Testament-style love and grace that is readily found in each of these circumstances. But let me give you one example to illustrate my point. Two verses (Genesis 6:3 and 2 Peter 2:5) tell us that before God killed everyone on earth with a flood, Noah the boatbuilder was also a "preacher of righteousness" for 120 years. He was telling the world about the coming judgment, but offered anyone who would accept God's grace a place on the ark. That's the message of John 3:16. You can perish if you want, but if you accept God's offer of grace, you'll be saved from destruction.

So way back there in Genesis 6, we see the perfect, unchanging balance of God. He is righteous (hates sin) AND He is loving (not wanting to hurt His creation). Maybe one more word from our Sponsor will help:

"As I live!" declares the Lord GOD, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33:11… Old Testament!)

There you have it. The God that supposedly was so angry in the Old Testament era was actually sad and sorry that things turned out that way. I believe He offered grace to everyone in that era just as He does today.

CHS after a Homecoming parade...
The sixty or so years covered in the New Testament is just a snapshot in time compared to the 4000 years covered in the Old Testament. But make no mistake, God hates sin just as much now as then. Ask Herod in the book of Acts if the New Testament God is only happy and gentle. Ask a couple named Ananias and Sapphira what God thinks about something simple like lying. And what about that gentle, meek, and mild Jesus who only showed the sweet, happy side of God? Ask the loan sharks who were cheating people in the Temple what they thought when Jesus braided a whip and beat them.

Let's pull back out for the big picture. That football field, regardless of where you stand on it, is the same everywhere at all times. Whether you come in from the west endzone or the east endzone, there are 50 yards to mid-field. Likewise, while it is easy to suppose that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is wholly different from the God of the New Testament, that only happens when you look at God from your vantage point, possibly with flawed perceptions or assumptions. The more we truly consider what God has done from beginning to end, the better we perceive the fullness of God. And that's all I want… to know who God really is!

Clark H Smith