Friday, 18 April 2014

Abandoned by God?

Credit: Erik Mauer,
Flickr Creative Commons
This morning I came across a verse that made me stop and think a while:

For this reason God gave them over and abandoned them to vile affections and degrading passions” (Romans 1:26; Amplified)

Does God abandon people?

What a frightening thought! Three times in the same paragraph Paul said that God gave them up. Does that seem odd to you? I suspect that many of us quickly pass over verses like these.

Perhaps the problem that many of us have with this is that we would argue that, since God is love, He could not possibly abandon anyone regardless of whatever other baggage we come packed with. After all, did God not say, “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5)? Could it be, however, that many of us miss the bigger picture of God’s holiness and justice? God will never abandon a true child who comes to Him with faith in the Lord Jesus, but He will ultimately abandon those who continually refuse to accept Christ by becoming His sons and daughters. God is the Creator of all, but He is not necessarily the Father of all.

As I thought about this some more, I began to wonder if there are not at least two different ways to look at abandonment by God. There is a situational abandonment and a positional abandonment. Both are unfortunate, both involve non-Christians, but only one has eternal consequences.

Situational Abandonment

In Romans 1:26 Paul is referring to a situational abandonment. These people have rejected God’s truth and believed a lie. They essentially worship themselves (Romans 1:25) and do whatever they want to do, regardless of what God wants for them, and regardless of what God’s holiness demands of them. Ultimately there is no excuse for this (Romans 1:20), but by their actions they prove that they simply want their own way more than they want God’s way. Such people, some of which ironically also claim to be Christians, have in truth turned their backs on God and become little more than idolators. Harsh? Maybe.

Donald Grey Barnhouse once said, “Man away from God is always an idolator.” As we all know, idolatry can take all sorts of forms, and as such there are many things in life that can cause us to be guilty of idolatry. Essentially, if God plays second fiddle to anything else in our lives, that then makes us idolators. This is not about being legalistic and preaching Law instead of Grace; it’s about discerning God’s heart. While God is love, He is not into idolatry. He wants the first place, not the leftovers.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:5-10; NIV)
Does God abandon people who deliberately keep on ignoring the teaching in verses such as the preceding, and thus, ignoring His will? I think He does in the sense that He gives them over to their own will. The thing I find strange is that many of us still look to God to bless us and answer our prayers when all the while we’ve deliberately ignored His will. When everything is going well, many folks ignore God. However, when things begin to go amiss, they superficially come running back, at least until the crisis of the troubling situation has resolved itself. But God is not fooled; He knows the heart.

Still, like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), God is always looking for our return, but He doesn’t force our hand. In situational abandonment God simply gives us a free will to do our own thing and leaves us to face the consequences for our own choices and depravity. It pains Him to see us in the cesspools we’re in, but He will not force a Saviour upon us that we do not really want with all our hearts.

The offer of adoption into the family of God, and all the blessings that go with it, is unfortunately often left on the table by many who prove by their lifestyle choices that they prefer to be idolators and not give God the glory and worship and thanksgiving that is due Him. “For this reason God gave them over and abandoned them to vile affections and degrading passions” (Romans 1:26; Amplified). Still, there is hope; repentance can still happen, and that is my prayer.

Positional Abandonment

At the risk of sounding like a “hell-fire and brimstone” blogger (which normally I am not), left unrepented, there then ultimately follows a positional abandonment. This is eternal and happens at the individual’s physical death. God is now no longer looking for the return of the prodigal, yet they will briefly meet again at the final judgment following death (Hebrews 9:27). Salvation is now no longer even an option if we wanted it, as there now is a “great chasm” (Luke 16:26) permanently fixed between heaven and hell. In positional abandonment a form of Russian Roulette has been played and lost, as the player’s deathbed caught up with him before he took the time to make peace with God through Jesus Christ. Now it’s too late, and as someone once said, there’s all eternity to live with the regret of it all.

Positional abandonment is a horrible thought, and yet the Bible does teach it. It is not a popular message, and maybe it’s even become a politically incorrect message, but as Christians we would all be negligent if we did not seek to help our friends and loved ones to avoid this positional abandonment by God. How do we do that? We do it by genuinely and unpretentiously loving them and introducing them to life in Jesus. There is no other way (John 14:6). It is not about “fire insurance,” as some have suggested, as much as it is about helping others to discover the love of God in Christ Jesus that you and I cherish so much.

Is God unjust?

I know there are a lot of folks who still struggle with this. They prefer to only look to the love of God at the expense of ignoring His holiness and justice. And yet ironically, we often cry to God for justice when we’ve been wronged. As the old saying goes, “we want our cake and eat it too.” We want His love, but we seem not to want His sovereignty. We want salvation for all, but we don’t want to have to give up a sinful and worldly lifestyle in the process. We want it our way, and we do not want anyone else to tell us how to live our lives, including God.

But then we’re faced with these verses: “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:14-16; NIV). What are we to do with that?

Maybe God’s abandonment of some is a blessing for others.

I do not want to dwell on positional abandonment, for it scares the daylights out of me. But maybe God’s abandonment of some is His justice and blessing for others. What do I mean by that? Imagine a heaven in which everyone equally is destined to the same eternity. The murderers, the thieves, the evil dictators, the Hitler’s and Stalin’s, the child molesters, not to mention everyone who has ever rejected Christ, are all seated with you and me in heaven. If anything would seem unjust of God, perhaps it would be that. If that were the case, it might then even beg the question of why someone should even bother being a Christian at all. To make matters worse, the way I see it, such a heaven would essentially make Jesus out to be a liar when He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Perhaps such a heaven would actually be more of a hell for those faithful believers who here on earth faced all sorts of atrocities by evil men, and who in eternity now have to face them all over again. Such a heaven would ultimately even have room for the devil himself. But we do not believe in such a heaven, for even the souls of the martyrs under the throne of God are depicted as crying out, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10; NIV), we too cry out for deliverance from evil.

God is love, and through Christ He gives us the choice to receive that love. However, let us not be so na├»ve as to think that God’s love means that we have license to ignore His holiness and justice by continuing in a deliberate lifestyle of depravity and rejection of His only provision for our sin, Jesus Christ.

So where do we go from here? We ask one final rhetorical question: What have we done with Jesus? Each of us alone must answer that. Peace & Blessings.

Recently I purchased yet another Casting Crowns album, “Thrive.” While I would be hard-pressed to name a song on that album that I do not like, one struck me as quite profound and is perhaps among my favorites. As I listened to the lyrics over and over again, it occurred to me that perhaps this song is the perfect conclusion to what I’ve felt God burden me to say in this post. Enjoy, and God bless.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Adultery and the Cocktail Hour

Do you ever wonder about the account of the woman caught in the act of adultery? What happened to the man who was caught with her?

I’m sure many of us have asked that question. If, as the old adage says, “it takes two to tango,” where was her dance partner? Was he not equally guilty? Of course he was. According to Leviticus 20:10, “both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.”

Picking up the story

Jesus went across to Mount Olives, but he was soon back in the Temple again. Swarms of people came to him. He sat down and taught them.

The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery [talk about embarrassing!]. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.

Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”

“No one, Master.”

“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.” (John 8: 1-11; The Message)

The cocktail hour

As some of us reflected upon this story one evening, we found ourselves also discussing a related passage of Scripture that in some Bibles has been subtitled as “The Test for an Unfaithful Wife” (perhaps there also needs to be a test for an unfaithful husband).

To paraphrase this, basically the way it worked was, if a husband suspected that his wife was unfaithful, he could take her to the priest who would mix up a concoction of holy water with the dust from the tabernacle floor. The priest would then put the woman under oath as he pronounced a curse. She was then made to drink the cocktail of holy water and dirt, and if she was guilty of adultery, her thigh would waste away and her abdomen would swell as proof of her infidelity. If, on the other hand, she was not guilty of being unfaithful to her husband, no harm would come to her from drinking the muddy water (Numbers 5: 11-31).

Suddenly we noticed that here was Jesus writing in the dirt, perhaps in some of the same dirt that had once been carried out of the tabernacle floor by the sandals of countless people. Let’s take this a step further. Here was Jesus, the Living Water (John 4:10), stirring up the dirt and making the poor woman’s accusers drink their accusations. Wow!

Sit down and have a drink … of Living Water

Philip Yancey once said, “Christians get very angry towards other Christians who sin differently than they do.” C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” Are you sinless? Do you have something to forgive? Hmm.

Maybe in one way we’re all guilty of adultery. Jesus said, “You heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But as for myself, I am saying to you, Everyone who is looking at a woman in order to indulge his sexual passion for her, already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28; Kenneth Wuest, “An Expanded Translation”)

If I even look at another woman with lust in my eyes, Jesus says I am an adulterer. Likewise, if a woman even looks at a man with lust in her eyes, she too is an adulteress just as surely as if she had actually slept with him. That’s a somewhat sobering thought, isn’t it?

Perhaps next time we’re inclined to be a little too self-righteous, be it concerning sexual sin or some other sin that we think we see in others, we may need to stop and have a cocktail of Living Water and tabernacle dust. What is the Lord saying to us as He writes in the dirt of our lives? Before we throw too many stones because of our perceived shortcomings of others, stop and have a drink of what Jesus is offering. If He has not condemned, then dare we?

May they go in peace and sin no more, and may we do likewise. Something to think about.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Celebrate With Us

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born …” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2; ESV).

Celebrate with us!

Today Rethinking Faith and Church has moved into new and uncharted territory. Like with Facebook, it now officially also has its own Google+ page, which we would invite you to check out. Be sure to also notice the snazzy new badge on the blog. We think it's pretty cool.

With so many of our friends now on Google+ it seemed logical that we should be able to join them there too. We’re excited about this new addition to the Rethinking Faith and Church family and look forward to how God might use it to His glory and honor. For those faithful friends on our Facebook page, rest assured that we’re still there with you as well.

Peace & Blessings.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Love: Lost in Translation?

Today Christian Book Distributors (CBD) came through once again with yet another treasure: “Kenneth Wuest's Word Studies in the Greek New Testament.” It is a four-volume collection that includes his own translation of the New Testament that he calls “An Expanded Translation.” Until recently, I didn’t even know this translation existed.

I quickly turned to John 21 and the passage where Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me.” It’s an interesting passage in which most English translations completely miss what is really being said in the dialogue between Jesus and Peter, mostly because of our limited words for “love.” In the Greek there are three main words for our English word “love.” They are Agape, Phileo, and Eros. The first two of these appear in this text.

Agape is a form of love that is focused on giving and is completely unselfish and independent of the worthiness or merit of the one being loved. It is the way that God in Christ loves us. It is the love of John 3:16.

Phileo is probably a little more distinguishable in that from it comes our word “Philadelphia,” and which is known as in the city of “brotherly love.” It is the response of the human spirit to someone that it finds appealing or pleasurable, as in a friendship.

The third word is “Eros” from which we get our English word “Erotica.”

Back to Jesus and Peter. You know the story. They just had breakfast on the shore of the lake and Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter answers, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” But is that really the way the conversation went? No, it isn’t.

The first time He asked, Jesus said, “Peter, do you agape me?” Peter answered, “Yes Lord, I phileo you.” The second time, Jesus asked, “Peter, do you agape me?” Peter answered, “Yes Lord, I phileo you.” The third time Jesus asked, “Peter, do you phileo me?” Peter answered, “Yes Lord, I phileo you.”

This conversation is completely lost in the English. Prior to today, I have only ever found its distinction alluded to in the Amplified Bible, which is one of the reasons that I enjoy that verson so much.  But now I also see the distinction in Kenneth Wuest’s, “The New Testament: An Expanded Translation.” Notice how he deals with John 21:15-17. He writes,
Then when they had breakfasted, Jesus says to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, do you have a love for me called out of your heart by my preciousness to you, a devotional love that impels you to sacrifice yourself for me? Do you consider me more precious and thus love me more that these [fish]? He says to Him, Yes, Lord, as for you, you know positively that I have an emotional fondness for you. He says to him, Be feeding my little lambs. He says to him again a second time, Simon, son of Jonas, do you have a devotional love for me called out of your heart by my preciousness to you, a love that impels you to sacrifice yourself for me? He says to Him, Yes, Lord. As for you, you know positively that I have a friendly feeling for you. He says to him, Be shepherding my sheep. He says to him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, do you have a friendly feeling and affection for me? Peter was grieved that He said to him the third time, Do you have a friendly feeling and affection for me? And he said to Him, Lord, as for you, all things you know positively. You know from experience that I have a friendly feeling and affection for you. Jesus says to him, Be feeding my sheep.
Did you see the distinction there between Agape and Phileo? What was really being said? Hmm. Clearly there is much more going on here than the boring English, “Do you love me?” Such is the nature of the Greek New Testament; there are so many delicate shades of meaning that are simply lost in translation, and thus lost to us, which is why I am excited to delve into this new reading adventure.

Having said that, we do not need to be Greek scholars to understand the mind of God; we need simply to be His children, filled with and taught by His Spirit. "But as for you, the anointing (the sacred appointment, the unction) which you received from Him abides [permanently] in you; [so] then you have no need that anyone should instruct you. But just as His anointing teaches you concerning everything and is true and is no falsehood, so you must abide in (live in, never depart from) Him [being rooted in Him, knit to Him], just as [His anointing] has taught you [to do]." (1 John 2:27; Amplified)

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons: Steve Jurvetson