The Tribulation of the Cross, Part 1

Do you ever get so frustrated with the world that you just want to check out?  I certainly do.  For example, as a blogger who posts to both Facebook and on WordPress, for me it is a lot easier to keep up with WordPress, since I can choose to see only what I want to see.  Facebook, on the other hand, exists to sell advertising and sometimes the best advertising is the kind that sparks emotion – even (or especially) bad emotions.

While Facebook is great for keeping up with friends and family, it recently started adding a ton of posts with statements like “The time is coming when good people will have to do bad things to very bad people,” along with other sarcastic, angry, and bitter political posts.  After a few days they must have tweaked their method again, and most of these went away.  Like many, I like to have my comfortable space where I’m in control, and I didn’t want to be on Facebook while knowing they were trying (and, sadly, succeeding) at manipulating my emotions.  I started feeling sarcastic, angry, and bitter, which was by their design.  Sometimes I ask myself why I am even there?

Some surprising advice comes in Philippians 2:6-8, where Paul writes about Jesus that, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  In times when I want to check out from the uncomfortable parts of living in this world, these verses remind me that Jesus, as God, might have taken an attitude of preferring to stay in a comfortable space where He could be in control, but instead He jumped into the mess that is this world we see every day to show the world what love is.

Another verse that calls this to mind is the familiar John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

When I’m struggling to face the world as I see it, I ask about 3:16, “Exactly which world did Jesus love enough to die for?”  The answer is this one.  The world He died for is the one where sex, anger, bitter tribalism, and political partisanship sells.  The one with a lot of sarcastic, angry, and bitter people.  The one with a lot of people who are more like us than we’d usually like to admit.  The one where it’s easy for our love to grow cold if we focus on the problems, and not on the cross, where God took the punishment for all of it.

To be continued tomorrow

Consecrate Yourselves (aka Don’t Do It for Johnny)

Have you ever used the phrase “Do it for Johnny”?  When I was about 10, I yelled this slogan in a soccer game, after one of our best players (named Johnny) left the game with an injury, not even knowing where the line came from.  Only recently I found out the line is from the movie version of The Outsiders, based on the book by S.E. Hinton.  As the character Dallas, Matt Dillon’s delivery of the line (9 second clip below) is classic and everyone should give it a try at least once.  I’ll wait if you want to do it now.

Now let’s return to the scene of yesterday’s post, where Joshua was about to lead Israel over the Jordan.  Imagine someone in the crowd yelling “let’s do it for Moses!”  In The Outsiders, Dallas was rallying his troops to action against a rival gang, who had killed Johnny, so maybe remembering that Moses didn’t make it would inspire Israel?  Sadly, that would be completely missing the point.

Knowing why has to do with knowing why Moses wasn’t there.  While leading Israel, he decided out of frustration to add his own input to God’s easy instructions.  The story is from Numbers 20, where Israel was in the wilderness, but there was no water (that they knew of).  Moses and Aaron, responding to the ongoing grumbling of the people, went to God asking for a solution.  God responded not with anger or judgement, but with a provision for His people.  Moses was told: “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.[1]  What Moses actually did was to say “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”  Then “Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.[2]  Therefore, God told Moses he would die before Israel made it to the promised land “because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.”[3]

Why exactly Moses actions deserved such a harsh rebuke is debated, but it’s clear that Moses mixed what he wanted with what God told him to do, and therefore tried to take glory that belonged to God for himself.  Moses led God’s people for a time, but their success was from God.  Moses learned, and we learn through him, that honoring God first, above all others, is necessary to receive God’s promises.  No honor for God; no promised land.

In Joshua 3:5, Joshua tells the people before miraculously crossing the Jordan to “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”  He was not telling them to consecrate themselves to Joshua as Moses’ replacement leader.  The point wasn’t to transfer loyalty from Moses to Joshua, but the point was to eliminate all loyalty other than to God.  Israel wasn’t supposed to consecrate itself to Moses, then when he was gone, consecrate itself to Joshua.  Israel needed to focus on glorifying God alone and eliminate any other motives from their hearts.  The first time Israel tried to enter the promised land, mixed motives resulted in 40 years wandering the wilderness.

So, whatever your preferred slogan, whether it’s: “Do it for Johnny”, “Do it for [insert any leader]” or “Let’s go [fill in the blank],”[4] it will be replaced with only one in eternity, where God will welcome His people from all tribes and nations:

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
            who was and is and is to come!” – Revelation 4:8

Therefore, “Consecrate yourselves” because although none of us will achieve perfection this side of paradise, Jesus declared in Matthew 10:33 that “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Crossing the Jordan was hard, and sometimes life is hard on purpose.
Sometimes if we want to cross a river, God wants to teach us first how to trust Him and Him alone.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] Numbers 20:8-9
[2] Numbers 20:11-12
[3] Numbers 27:14
[4] Yes, dear Americans, I’m including that sarcastic slogan in this too.

God’s Word Withstands the Fire. Always.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah faced immense opposition, and in Jeremiah 36:20-25 is recorded an interesting story of King Jehoiakim’s attempts to destroy the prophet’s words, and by extension, God’s words.  The king was unable to get his hands on Jeremiah, whose allies helped him to hide, so the king takes a different approach:

“So they went into the court to the king, having put the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the secretary, and they reported all the words to the king.  Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary. And Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king.  It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him.  As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot.  Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments.  Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them.”

This wasn’t an impulsive, knee-jerk reaction to God’s word, but a deliberate, sustained act of rebellion.  This took time, and there’s almost a ceremony to it, as if daring God to stop him.  Many Christians today would be outraged if they witnessed something like this.  People in positions of authority disrespect God regularly, but imagine if the head of your country burned the Bible publicly on TV, and nobody stopped them, or even objected?  Sure, in modern times, people might object on their blog, on social media, or even on smaller TV and radio outlets, but in Jehoiakim’s example, nobody was able to challenge him. He “got away with it.”

This brings up the question of: why does God allow things like this to happen?  I’ll suggest a question in response: Would it be a stronger testimony of God’s sovereignty if He had struck King Jehoiakim dead on the spot, or is it a stronger testimony that Jeremiah’s words exist today all around the world?  If the second option is better, the next question is why do we sometimes feel such outrage and lash out (perhaps on our own blog or Facebook page) at such acts?  Do we trust God to deal with it, or do we worry that Jehoiakim is right – maybe God doesn’t care?

Part of the scroll Jehoiakim burned may have included these words of Jeremiah about the king himself: “With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried, dragged and dumped beyond the gates of Jerusalem.”[1] And “He shall have none to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night.[2]  Therefore God knew both that justice would be done to Jehoiakim, and also that his burning of the scroll had only symbolic and temporary effect.  In contrast, God’s justice and God’s word are eternally immutable and effective.  As Isaiah said: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”[3]

There’s also another question for us: if God had chosen in His sovereignty to redeem Jehoiakim, would we be angry like Jonah at the repentance of Nineveh[4], or would we praise God for His profound and measureless grace?  The same grace that brought Jeremiah’s words back from the futile fire pot of King Jehoiakim.  The grace that was purchased by Christ on the cross.

This word of God will stand as well: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:19-21

Do we believe it?


[1] Jeremiah 22:19
[2] Jeremiah 36:30
[3] Isaiah 40:8
[4] See my earlier, short post on Jonah’s anger.

A Quint of Quotes #4: Is Democracy Good?

Fellow travelers,

Here is another “Quint of Quotes” from my collection.  Five quotes somewhat related to each other, but not exactly in agreement.  Hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

“Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.” – E.B. White

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” – H.L. Mencken

“Mankind will in time discover that unbridled majorities are as tyrannical and cruel as unlimited despots.” – John Adams

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” – Edmund Burke

“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…” – Winston S. Churchill

See previous Quints: [#1], [#2], [#3] and other posts on quotes here.

Flashback Friday: More Than Truth

Last June, I posted “More Than Truth” about how the media are “trying hard to weaponize you and I” with their own particular, filtered versions of what they call truth.    Proverbs 14:21 says “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor,” yet we are bombarded by stories grouping people into neighbors we should love and those we shouldn’t because they’re somehow causing the problems of the world through their political or other affiliation.  I struggle with the right balance, and I know others do as well, especially when the voices get louder.  The “Us vs. Them” mentality is everywhere, and while I generally stay away from commenting on daily news flow on this blog, this one couldn’t wait until Rewind Wednesday.

How should the gospel of the kingdom of God impact how we live in this bitter and chaotic environment?  Please read “More Than Truth” which is linked below, which makes a case that we must prioritize some truths over others, and that we also must not allow ourselves to “weaponized” by particular versions of truth.  Proverbs 14:20 – “The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends.” – is as true as Proverbs 14:21, but it too can weaponize if taken out of context and used as a prescription, not just a description.  “The wrong truth can make us despise our neighbor, or to support the wrong gospel.”

Don’t let the daily roar of news distract you from the love God has for you and for the people you will interact with face-to-face today.  Instead, pray that you may bring the eternal love of God into the pain of today’s world in a very real way.

Eternity matters, but life is hard. Therefore encourage each other today!