Donald Trump, Political Peeves, the Old Serpent, and a Critique of My Own Inner World

Is it just me or does it feel like some of us good Christians folk are trying to swim to a shore of sanity, respectful dialogue, and faith in our King while struggling against an irresistible undertow of confusion, verbal diarrhea, and fearful doubt?  As the title of this blog post suggests, I’m referring to to current state of American politics.

Some of you who know me may think that I’m about to unleash all my pent up frustrations concerning Donald Trump. It would make perfect sense, seeing that the presidential candidate’s name is in the title and the dreadful word “diarrhea” is in the opening sentence. While I certainly have some strong opinions when it comes to Mr. Trump and his supporters, I’m not going to do that here. Whether or not my opinions are correct or not, I really want to take a step back and get God’s perspective on this whole crazy situation.

I need to do this because lately I’ve spent far too much time, energy, emotions, and breath on the controversial figure known as Donald Trump. I think many Christians have. I’ve read the statements of respected Christian leaders like Max Lucado and nodded enthusiastically in agreement. What he said was succinct and spot-on. I’ve passionately declared to argumentative co-workers how vile Trump is and how I simply cannot comprehend how he is wooing “evangelicals” to his side. 

I’ve intentionally gobbled up any and all negative press about the man’s life so that I would have some righteous ammunition on hand when I discuss how he might “ruin” our country. I even found myself vehemently defending Jeb Bush for being the only Republican in the race that seems to have compassion for illegal immigrants. In other words, I found myself caught up in the undertow. It stinks and it’s exhausting. I wanna be done.

I came to the realization of my frazzled spiritual and emotional state while posting an edited section of Brennan Manning’s book, The Wisdom of Tenderness  on my Facebook account. I wanted to use his words to proudly declare where I thought I stood in this year’s electoral drama. My aim was to point out how many Christians today have taken an “us against them” mentality when it comes to those who don’t share our values or who strongly oppose our way of life. My specific target audience was certain conservative Christians – the one’s who find themselves appreciating what “the Donald” has to say.  Here is what I posted:

Another issue bewitching God’s people these days is the tendency to gratuitously give an monopoly on evil to a single person, a single nation, or a single institution. When one person, nation, or institution is declared to be Satan, logic rules: eliminate the source of all evil, and everything will be alright; when Satan is localized in a finite reality, the end of evildoing is just around the corner. And yet, as you know, one lesson we’ve learned from the history of civilized humanity is that when we kill our particular ‘Satan,’ evil doesn’t disappear from the face of the earth. In fact, it may reappear in the place we least suspect: ourselves. Labeling someone Satan gets the labeler off the hook. The face of evil has a specific face and shape. Many Christians today have discerned the speck in the eye of another, and they think they need look no further. Everyone has a pet peeve, a favorite target, a personalized ‘what’s wrong with the world’ speech. The villain may be televangelists, racism, the welfare system, the immigration system, the worldliness of the church – whatever. No one of us is immune from spreading evil, including those who pontificate about what the real problem is. American Christians revel in this kind of declamation. The tragedy is that the scorching words of Jesus in Matthew 23, ‘Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites,’ are now directed at other churches, authority figures such as the pope, the presiding bishop, politicians of the opposing party, the ACLU, and so forth. You and I know that we miss Jesus’s message entirely when we use his fierce words against anyone other than ourselves. Those words must be understood as directed to the self; otherwise, they’re perverted.

Stirring isn’t it? I believe Donald Trump has certainly inflamed this kind of attitude – one that seemingly thrives in some professing Christians. I thought I would generously provide “those types” with a bit of well-written and highly relevant food for thought. I realized fairly quickly, however, that I was guilty of the very same attitude Manning writes about, though it manifests itself differently from both Donald Trump’s verbiage and the specific conservative/liberal peeves Manning mentions.

What started as an attempt to shed some needed light on the unbiblical thinking of certain professing Christians ended up being a critique of my own inner world. While trying to make a bold statement about what the “real” problem is, I clearly missed Manning’s point about how we often take the teachings of the Bible or Christ’s words and direct them at anyone but ourselves.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t speak out against a man who calls himself a Christian and then displays a lifestyle that completely contradicts that statement. We have a calling to do that. We’re supposed to judge those who are supposedly in the church but act like heathen. Their eternal lives are at stake. As John Piper says, “Eternal security is a community project.” 

What I’m saying is that we need to guard our hearts from ascribing to any person a “monopoly on evil.” It seems that a whole bunch of us believe that if Trump can be stopped then this country will survive and a cataclysmic disaster will be averted. I think we attribute far too much power to this man and I think this kind of labeling is a great indicator that our trust in God may be wavering.

Even if Trump loses the Republican primary or the big election in November, the “end of evil doing” is not just around the corner. Like Manning says, we’ve given evil a specific face and shape. Donald Trump certainly has. Just listen to what he’s said about Mexican immigrants and Muslims. Are we any better than Trump or his supporters when we make them the target of our “what’s wrong with the world’ diatribe?

I believe this is a gross error on our behalf. I think it makes our witness ineffectual. No matter what candidate we decide is going to bring the world to ruin, if we are born-again Christians, that kind of fear and frustration makes our faith in Jesus look extremely shaky. Let’s not play the same game as Trump. 

Trump is not the real enemy, nor is any world leader, no matter how much power they have. Donald Trump is not Satan. And for that matter, neither is Hilary Clinton. I think it’s important for us Christians to examine our hearts when it comes to our political murmuring. We need to pay attention to what kind of attitude fuels our zealous crusades against this or that candidate.

If fear or dread is the primary drive in our daily lives, even if politics isn’t at the root of that apprehension, then perhaps we need to dust off our bibles to remind ourselves of who is sovereign, who loves us, who is on our side, and who has actually already conquered the “real problem.” First spoiler alert: it’s not Donald Trump! Second spoiler alert: if we are God’s elect, we have nothing to fear.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV)

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel. Genesis 3:15 (NKJV)

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39 (NKJV)

I could list several more passages of scripture that are relevant to my point. But for the sake of brevity I want to focus on these three amazing statements. You may think that these verses don’t have much to say in the arena of politics, but I think they speak volumes to the confusion and dread we may feel when we dwell on the possibility of our country being placed in the hands of a person we don’t like and don’t trust.

There are powers of darkness that we must wrestle with. While the scriptures say that we don’t fight against flesh and blood, we do interact with and are influenced by a world of people that are under the sway of dark powers. We are all, at times, susceptible to the schemes of the devil. All of us constantly sin and fall short of the glory of God. Politicians are no exception. The things they say and do as well as the policies they create and promote can be influenced by a being that hates those who are made in the image of God.

I’m not saying that all politicians are consistently incapable of passing laws or promoting causes that are for the good of our country as well as other nations. Good things sometimes do come out of Washington D.C. I’m simply saying that we all live in a world that has, for the most part, consistently listened to and believed the subtle lies of that old serpent, the devil. And unless we’ve made Jesus our treasure we will continue to believe the lie that there is good apart from the God revealed by and in the crucified and risen Lord and that we should seek our own happiness and fulfillment at the cost of everyone else.

The good news is that the dark power we wrestle against has already been defeated. We don’t have to live that way. After our ancient parents were deceived by this dark power, God mysteriously foretold of a day when the “seed” of the woman would “bruise” the head of the serpent. While the serpent would certainly do damage to the seed of the woman by “bruising” or “striking” his heal, the wound to the head of the serpent would be a mortal blow. The NIV employs the word “crush.” I love what Matthew Henry has to say about this text:

He shall bruise his head that is, he shall destroy all his politics and all his powers, and give a total overthrow to his kingdom and interest. Christ baffled Satan’s temptation; by his death, he gave a fatal blow to the devil’s kingdom, a wound to the head of this beast, that can never be healed.

When I came across these words from one of the best known bible commentators of all time I was delighted to see that he used the word “politics” when referring to the devil’s kingdom. Henry’s words have helped me see that Satan really holds no power apart from what has been permitted by God in order to accomplish God’s purposes. Satan has never been in control and this fact is most evident when we consider the slaughter of the Son of God – the “seed of the woman.”

God allowed the serpent to strike the heel of his Son. The crowds, religious leaders, and politicians had their way that day. God allowed the world to unjustly sentence Jesus to death. But it was in that very “strike” that the serpent’s head was crushed! God is absolutely sovereign over corrupt politics, religious hypocrites, and hateful crowds. He knows what he’s doing. He can use Satan’s politics for the good of his people.

Romans 8:31-39 is one of my favorite sections of scripture. In this text Paul’s offers a far better way of saying what I’ve been attempting to get across. As I said before, if we are God’s elect then we have nothing to fear. Who can be against us if God is for us? Nothing can separate us from the love of the One who was delivered up for us all. He prays for us even now. If we are his then we are already conquerors because of his love. We have everything.

There is no dark power in the universe that can condemn us or bring us to ruin. Jesus has provided a way for us to rise above the ridiculous fear that politicians like Donald Trump hold our well-being in their hands. Satan’s kingdom is dying. Jesus has wounded him in a way that means certain death. He is bleeding out and he will not recover. Let us not be afraid when he temporarily rears his ugly head in the form of any politician.

Whether you consider yourself conservative or liberal, a Republican or Democrat, or someone like me who is simply having a difficult time navigating dark waters of anxiety over who might win the presidency, we’ve got to have more faith in God than we do in the political system. No matter who or what has been the target of our lofty “what’s wrong with the world” speeches, lets put more energy into trusting Jesus and demonstrating his self-emptying love.







Jesus Faced His Worst Nightmare Alone

It’s so easy to imagine that Jesus never had any real struggles. After all, he was and is God, right? The idea of him walking around with an aura of holy light floating around his head, speaking and acting out of a permanent state of perfect tranquility, always thinking positive thoughts and always displaying a cheerful attitude, is almost certainly how many people visualize the Lord as he walked this earth. Thank God we have the Bible to correct that kind of naivety. While it’s absolutely true that Jesus was without sin, he was not immune to temptation and struggles.

For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15 (RSV)

In every respect? Really? This is a familiar and very dear verse for many Christians. We rightly find comfort in the fact that Jesus knows what we are going through. Our problems are not at all foreign to him. And yet, for many of us, it can be a bit unsettling to think of Jesus finding himself in a situation where it was possible for him to yield to something other than the Father’s will. It’s hard for many of us to let our imaginations go there. In every respect? Really?

I’m reminded of the 1988 Martin Scorsese film, The Last Temptation of Christ, which was based on a book of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis. When I finally got around to watching the film a few years ago I was quite surprised. The backlash that the movie received from the evangelical wing of Christianity in the year of its release was, understandably, tremendous. Much of what Scorsese depicts of Jesus is simply way outside the boundaries of what we read in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John’s accounts. It’s fairly easy to see that Scorsese’s Christ was not divine.

I won’t go into detail about the film, but what I found intriguing is the way it explored the possible immoral avenues that our Lord (because he was a real, flesh-and-blood man) could have traversed had he not always said “Yes” to the Father. In the film, Jesus does take those roads, yielding to the passions of the flesh that all human beings are born with. Though just a vision, the film depicts him as choosing to come down from the cross because he is deceived by Satan into believing that God only desires his happiness. He gets married to Mary Magdalene, consummates the marriage (a scene worthy of fast-forwarding), and goes on to start a family, living life as a full mortal man.

While I simply don’t agree with much of the way the film portrays Jesus, it at least gives me a disturbingly vivid picture of what Hebrews 4:15 is suggesting. If Jesus Christ was truly tempted in every human respect, then choosing a normal, happily-married life, with sex, children, a home, a career, and no cross was a very real possibility for him. It’s almost too much to think about isn’t it? The idea of Jesus being in a constant state of peaceful, temptation-free contentment is simply ridiculous. In fact, if he was at all like me then there must have been days that he felt tortured by his flesh.

The biblical account tells us that Jesus was and is Emmanuel. We all know what that name means. God couldn’t be truly with us if he had never experienced inner turmoil, fear, anger, sadness, and even sexual desire. Herein is one of the reasons why he is worthy of our highest praise and allegiance. He overcame all of the temptation he encountered, always said “yes” to the Father, and went to the cross willingly to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. This is what it looks like when the unconditionally loving God takes on a human life and nails our sinful natures to a cross. That said, it’s frightful to consider the possibility of him backing out of the mess we got him into.

There is, however, one feature of our Lord’s temptations that we could never possibly comprehend. Though Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus could sympathize with our weaknesses, there was one unique struggle in his earthly life that we cannot relate to. Because he was and is the Son of God, this one inexplicable aspect of what he endured on the cross, as well as the tremendous stress of discovering exactly what his short life was destined for, will always remain a mystery to us. As the gospel writers convey in their records of his final hours, Jesus endured far more than we can imagine. I’ll return to this thought in a few minutes. For now, consider these verses:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him. Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” John 12:24-28 (NASB)

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying,“O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. Matthew 26:36-43 (NKJV)

The first thing that jumps out at me in these verses is the word hour. There are several places scattered throughout the gospels where Jesus mentions his “hour.” If you want you can reference those verses in your Bible concordance. If you do you will discover that each time Jesus mentions his “hour” he is referring to his suffering and death. From what I can understand, Jesus refers to this event as a specific hour because he knew it would be (or was discovering it would be) the defining moment of his full disclosure. The cross would be the ultimate declaration of what Jesus’ mission was.

Although it’s abundantly clear that Jesus knew what was his purpose was in this so-called hour, its obvious that he was strongly tempted to not go through with it. In fact, when he told the disciples that “the flesh is weak,” he most likely referring to himself? As he prayed in the garden Jesus must have been haunted by his knowledge of the scriptures and how they foreshadowed his life and death. In John 12, as he contemplated asking the Father to “save me from this hour,” was the horrible suffering of God’s servant in Isaiah 53 pressing down on his troubled soul? In Matthew 26, as he asked the Father to let “this cup pass from me,” was he thinking of how his body would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our sins?

As I mentioned before, I think Jesus suffered far more than we can imagine. What I’m getting at is that I don’t believe that the uniqueness of his suffering stemmed from the physical pain that he experienced by being beaten or crucified. Although crucifixion was and is a tortuous way to die, thousands of people were put to death in this way during Jesus time. In  Jesus – Safe, Tender, Extreme, author Adrian Plass writes,

There is a sacred mystery at the heart of the suffering that Jesus was about to go through. The cross was an appalling instrument of torture, but others, before and since, have suffered as much and considerably more in a physical sense. No, there was an element or species of pain in the crucifixion of Jesus that I am incapable of even beginning to comprehend. We know that he went through the agony of being forsaken by his Father, and that may have been the darkest, most bitter moment of them all. Is it possible that in that supremely awful instant, his worst nightmare of all appeared to be coming true?

Jesus worst nightmare, according to Plass, was the momentary separation from the Father that he would endure as he was nailed to the cross. If there was any aspect of the crucifixion of which Jesus was truly tempted to escape, it was primarily this and not the physical pain. His words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?,” indicate that he had made David’s words from Psalm 22 his own. This was the hour he saw coming. This was the cup he knew he must drink. He completely yielded to his Father’s will knowing full well that the One who called him “my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” wouldn’t be there to answer his cries of anguish. Apparently, God the Father couldn’t look upon or even respond to his Son as Jesus became sin for us.

This is where my thoughts have taken me this Easter season. I want what Jesus did for me and for you and for the whole world to be more dear to me than ever. I said before that one of the reasons that Jesus Christ is so worthy of our praise and allegiance is the fact that he overcame every human temptation and weakness and said “Yes” the physical “cup” of suffering that he was destined to drink. But what’s more awe-inspiring and worthy of our undying adoration is the fact that Jesus still said “Yes” to all of this while the very source of his life was momentarily absent. He took on all our sin when there was no consolation to be found. Jesus faced his worst nightmare alone when he very well could have taken a road that led him away from the horrors of the cross. His obedience was that perfect. Let us praise him.

Favorite Songs – Part 1 – Man of No Reputation (Rick Elias)

He was a man of no reputation
And by the wise, considered a fool
When He spoke about faith and forgiveness
In a time when the strongest arms ruled

But this man of no reputation
Loved the weak with relentless affection
And He loved all those poor in spirit just as they were
He was a man of no reputation

Music is a huge part of my life. I enjoy writing songs, playing guitar, and singing. Having said that, I think I actually like listening to music more than composing or performing it. I’ve had a passion for music for as long as I can remember, as well as a knack for recognizing a well-written tune. Friends often ask me what my favorite band or musician is and I always have a hard time answering them because I’ve enjoyed so many different genres of music through the years. Its much easier for me to talk about favorite songs.

A band or artist can often have both excellent, mediocre, and even horrific songs on the same project. Whether the genre of the composition is folk, pop, hard rock, heavy metal, film score, or praise & worship, I have many favorites and I will be blogging about these songs over the next few months. But, if someone were to ask what my all-time favorite song is right now, at this moment, as I sit at my computer typing, I would have to say Man Of No Reputation by Rick Elias.

Its no coincidence that I selected this song to blog about first. Lately, I’ve been reading a book called Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. Its properly subtitled Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ. I’m not even half way through the book and I’m already convinced its one of the most Christ-honoring books I’ve read. One of Sweet’s and Viola’s major points is that Jesus Christ is the preeminent subject of the entire Biblical canon, both Old and New Testaments. He is the visible expression of God Almighty and therefore, the center and circumference of our faith. From the first day I started reading this Christ-exalting book it has daily reminded me of Elias’ magnificent song.

Man of No Reputation is found on track 7 on the second disc of Rich Mullins’ posthumously released project called the Jesus Record. The first disc of the album is a collection of demos that Mullins recorded just nine days before his tragic death. He never got the chance to record these songs in a professional studio. Mullin’s group, A Ragamuffin Band, with Rick Elias taking the helm, would go on to record this collection of songs with several other Christian artists who were Rich’s friends and associates. The only songs on the project that Mullins had no part in writing is Elias’ Man of No Reputation and a song entitled Surely God Is With Us by Mark Robertson and Beaker.

In my opinion, Man of No Reputation is, by far, the stand-out track on the whole project. If Rich were still alive he would probably agree. Even though the whole project is musically superb and thoroughly Christ-centered, Man of No Reputation touches something in me that the other songs fail to reach. It obviously touched Rich as well. I’ve heard from various sources that Rich loved the song so much that he was actually unable to perform it because he couldn’t get through it without crying. It’s easy to understand why. The song lifts up our omnipotent Savior not by focusing on his mighty attributes (like being able to still a raging storm), but by mentioning how he chose to lay aside his power to show the unconditional love of God to the weak, the poor in spirit, and those held captive by sin.

Anyone who owns a King James Version or New King James Version bible and has read Paul’s letter to the Philippians will recognize where the title of this song comes from.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

Philippians 2:5-11 (NKJV)

This has always been one of my favorite passages of scripture, so it’s no wonder I like this song so much. Some translations simply say that Jesus emptied himself or made himself nothing.  The Amplified Bible beautifully expounds on the literal Greek to say that Christ stripped himself of all privileges and rightful dignity. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines reputation as a good name; the credit, honor or character which is derived from a favorable public opinion or esteem. However this verse is translated, words cannot adequately express the great lengths (or perhaps I should say depths) that Christ went to manifest God’s love for sinners. In unwavering obedience to his Father, this man, who was himself God-incarnate, the one to whom every knee will one day bow, laid aside the honor that was his by right in order to take on the status of a slave and die a criminal’s death.

To me, this song encapsulates the Gospel. It truly is good news that when God came to dwell among us he chose to use his hands to heal. He could have used those powerful hands to exploit people. It is truly good news that he was willing to be considered a fool by those who were “wise” even though he was wisdom-enfleshed. He could have made the wisdom of Plato or Socrates sound like kindergarten mathematics. It is truly good news that he loved the weak with persistent tenderness. A man as holy as he was certainly under no obligation to invite sinners to enter into friendship with him. It is truly good news that Jesus spoke about faith and forgiveness in a violence-ruled and power-hungry world very similar to our’s.

While doing a little research on Man of No Reputation I came across a video of Rick performing it back in 2011. He gave a short introduction to the song that I found quite compelling: “Every songwriter has one song that they say just kinda fell out of the sky into their lap. Its a lot of work but there’s always one song. Sometimes its a famous one. Sometimes it’s one you haven’t heard. If you make yourself available, there’s one that will just happen. This was that song for me.” I’m grateful to God for giving Elias this song. It’s a great reminder of the Philippians 2 passage as well as a stirring meditation on the compassionate humanity of the God who dwelt among us. The fact that this song just “fell into his lap” tells me that it’s probably from heaven. Thank you, Rick, for making yourself available to receive it.

Check out the links below. The first one will take you to a page that has all the lyrics to the song. The bottom link will take you to a YouTube video of Rick Elias performing the song at A Ragamuffin Band concert in 1997.


A Parent’s Perspective on God’s Anger, Discipline, and Love

There are plenty of places in the Bible that talk about God’s wrath. The psalmist said that God is a righteous judge, a God who is angry at evil every single day (Psalm 7:11 CEB). In Exodus 32:11, Moses said that the Lord’s anger burned against his people. Moses also told us in Deuteronomy 32:21 that God’s people angered him with their worthless idols. Ezra 10:14 and 2 Chronicles 30:8 both mention God’s fierce anger.

These are only a few examples, but anyone who has perused the Old Testament will know that God’s people were quite capable of persistently arousing their Father’s rage. From my own parental perspective, he certainly had every reason to be upset with his children for bucking his authority. It’s very frustrating to feel disrespected.

I have memories of my own father yelling at me when I was just a little guy and it still makes my uneasy to this day. He was far from being an abusive man, but it was always frightening when he raised his voice and shot me an intense glare. I no longer remember what it was that caused him to get stern with me, but I’m sure he had every reason to be upset.

Though I don’t really enjoy the thought of God being this way, the Old Testament seems to abound with this depiction of him.  Add to this the plethora of preachers in Christendom that appear to take pleasure in the idea of God’s wrath and its quite easy to see how someone might get the idea that God revels in punishing those who disrespect him and his rules.

After reading the sixth chapter of the book of Genesis, however, I’m beginning to get the feeling that God’s anger isn’t like human anger at all. Our anger is often self-centered and is usually contingent on personal inconvenience, frustration, or because we feel disrespected. I know this is true because I’ve yelled at and spanked my children out of exasperation and annoyance several times in the past.

My disciplinary measures have often resembled an angry tantrum that has nothing to do with a loving concern for my kids. I’m sure my dad had those moments too. And that’s exactly where the difference lies between God and us. If God is love, as the Bible tells us, then all of his actions are rooted in absolute love. Unlike us, there is never another motive for his actions.

Sometimes I actually get it right and discipline my children in a godly way. They may interpret that discipline as something I’m doing to them because I’m angry or annoyed. They may even think I don’t love them. What they often don’t understand is that the discipline I’m carrying out is actually intended to help them become better human beings, because I value their God-given humanness.

When I discipline them in a godly way then their welfare is my primary concern, even if their behavior makes me extremely upset. Merely making them “pay for it” should never be my desire. What they also don’t understand is that it actually makes me sad when I have to forcibly correct them, especially when I decide that it needs to be severe. That sadness, however, must never override my determination to do what’s best for them.

We all know the story of the biblical flood. It’s perhaps the most severe example of divine discipline in the Bible. The feeling I get from Genesis 6 is that because God is pure, untainted, unselfish love, beneath the hot surface of his fierce wrath must lie an ocean of divine sorrow that causes him to act in ways that are always in accordance with his providential care for his creation. I’ve heard several bible scholars say that Genesis is foundational to understanding the rest of scripture. If this is true, then the emotions displayed in the sixth chapter reveal a lot about what the God of love must have felt wherever we read about his anger in the rest of the Bible.

To put it in one long sentence: Though some will find this difficult to accept, I believe its possible that, from Genesis to Revelation, every reference to God’s wrath and the subsequent ramifications thereof were manifestations of love for his children and/or the world at large because of their disordered passions that had led them away from being his image-bearers.

The Lord saw that humanity had become thoroughly evil on the earth and that every idea their minds thought up was always completely evil. The Lord regretted making human beings on the earth, and he was heartbroken. So the Lord said, “I will wipe off of the land the human race that I’ve created: from human beings to livestock to the crawling things to the birds in the skies, because I regret I ever made them.” Genesis 6:5-7 (CEB)

In God’s sight, the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. God saw that the earth was corrupt, because all creatures behaved corruptly on the earth. God said to Noah, “The end has come for all creatures, since they have filled the earth with violence. I am now about to destroy them along with the earth.” Genesis 6:11-13 (CEB)

Perhaps I’ve used too many words to arrive at what I was really wanting to say in this post. In my opinion, this fundamental story shows that God was never interested in people following some rules simply because God is God and it offends him when people don’t do what they’re told. There is no law at this stage in the biblical narrative. There was no commandment being broken that made God feel disrespected enough to destroy all living things. The only thing being broken was God’s heart because the crowning achievement in his supremely good creation had become completely bent toward evil.

Evil can be such a broad word. Fortunately, God clarifies himself a few verses later by narrowing it down to widespread violence as the primary catalyst behind his actions. The word violence may require some “unpacking” for some of us. I’ve read this section in Genesis several times over the years and thought I understood what God was saying about the earth being filled with violence. In my mind the word violence denotes murder or bloodshed of some sort. I pictured a bunch of people running around stabbing, choking, or stoning each other. Understanding violence as deadly force is only part of the picture.

The Hebrew word for violence can also indicate oppression, enforcing one’s will, violating someone, and even rape. It can even denote placing a heavy burden on someone or lording over them, thereby debasing a person’s God-given humanness. In other words, the earth was filled with people who only thought of one thing all day long: “How can I get what I want out of life at the cost of everyone else around me?” 

It was this rampant inclination to utterly seek one’s own advantage that the unconditionally loving God had to annihilate in order to start over. Somehow, this is what was best for the world. We may interpret his actions as being brutal, but we should be grateful he did what he did. Can you imagine how awful things would be at this point had he taken no action?

God was not angry, sad, and regretful merely because his image-bearers were resisting his authority, as if he were throwing a haughty, “this-is-what-you-get-for-not-respecting-me,” tantrum. No, the anger, sorrow, and regret he expressed in all its severity was caused by the zenith of his creation completely wandering away from his design for them. The distrust of God that had started with Adam and Eve had grown into something so monstrously wicked that it had to be destroyed.

When I think about what angers me the most as a parent, it seems like God isn’t all that different. While my “in-the-heat-of-the-moment” impetus for punishing my kids may sometimes be askew (i.e. venting my frustration), my overall zealous disapproval for certain behavior is godly as far as I can tell. Like God, my “design” for my children is that they treat each other with respect, care, and concern for one another’s well-being. I want them to learn put each other first and to take on a reciprocal attitude of humble service. In other words, I want them to love each other.

I am most angered as a parent and likely to choose a more severe form of discipline when my kids blatantly choose to not treat each other well. There are times when they are selfish towards one another, refusing to share toys or games. Sometimes they try to lazily shirk their daily chores or dinner cleanup, thereby causing one of their siblings to have to do extra work. Often, they simply argue about who is better, or smarter, or who got to play longer on the computer. Once in a while, they even shove or hit each other when a disagreement escalates too far. One of the worst things is when one of them displays an obvious bit of pleasure when their brother or sister gets injured or in trouble.

Obviously, these things pale in comparison to what God condemned in Genesis 6, and I’m certainly not going to kill my children when I think they’ve become impossible to correct. However, whenever my children exhibit behavior that shows they really couldn’t care less about a sibling’s feelings or well-being, concerning themselves primarily with getting what they want at the expense of others, then, like God, I must act in lovingly-severe ways that are in accordance with my concern for who they are and who they are becoming. While I don’t enjoy being disrespected or having my patriarchal authority resisted, the point is the good I desire for the offspring in my charge, not the irritation I feel when my authority is resisted. I think the same can be said for God.

Many people who read the Bible end up asking, “What good did the flood accomplish?” Its a good inquiry and one that I’ve asked myself a few times. After all, it seems that people went right back to being just as “violent” as before. Even Noah wasn’t perfect. I have no concrete answer. Perhaps God was simply giving us a picture of his stance toward sin, whether the story is historical or not. If we are to take the Bible as one long narrative that culminates with the coming of God’s Son, then perhaps God was giving us a glimpse of how far mankind would sink into corruption without the influence of the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.

Thousands of years down the road there was a man who successfully exhibited God’s original design for how people should live. Jesus was the one and only human being in the history of the world to be consistently and perfectly well-pleasing to the Father. I’m a sinner. My kids are sinners. You’re a sinner. Adam and Eve were sinners. We have all exhibited attitudes or behaviors that are somewhat similar to the “violence” described in Genesis 6. But not Jesus. He was the one person that didn’t deserve the wrath of God, and yet he took it on himself because of his love for us. That, my friends, is an amazing human being!

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!  

Philippians 2:3-8 (NIV)

Some of you will think it strange that I’m ending this post by suddenly talking about Jesus Christ. After all, most of what I’ve said here has dealt with God’s anger and the way I view it as a parent. I mention Jesus not only because he is the center and circumference of our faith, but also because he faithfully exhibited an attitude that was the polar opposite of the corrupt people in Genesis 6. If the behavior of the people who were wiped out by the flood displeased God (and it obviously did), then Christ modeled precisely what God wanted in a human being. And because we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, he is our one and only hope. We desperately need his life in us.

When it’s all said and done I want to point my children toward the Jesus we read about in Philippians 2. While I would love for them to be responsible, talented, smart, well-educated and moral people, my greatest desire is for them to be like Jesus, who laid his life down like no one else ever has. He was God incarnate for goodness’ sake! From this point on I will discipline my kids with this in mind, believing this is the greatest way to show my love for them. They need this from me even though it may seem painful to them. And I know that God will lovingly discipline me as well, slowly conforming me to the image of his Son. I need this from him, though it may need to be severe at times.

Romans 8:28 In The Old Testament

2015 has arrived. It’s insane how fast this year went by. Actually, the same can be said for the last several years. The older I get the more aware I am of this strange phenomenon. Life goes by so darn quick! The following post is actually something I wrote a couple of years ago. I recall deleting it from my blog because I became discouraged over my lack of confidence in it’s topic. It’s not that I didn’t want to believe what I wrote. I just felt that my life didn’t reflect a genuine trust in God. Nonetheless, the other day I found it saved on my computer and discovered that I wholeheartedly believe in what it says. Or perhaps I should say, I still fervently desire to believe in what I wrote. I mention how swiftly 2014 has disappeared because of the subject of this post. I don’t want 2016 to find me in an all-too-familiar state of unbelief. I don’t want another year to go by without having settled on the beautiful truth of Romans 8:28.


As long as I’ve been reading the Bible I’ve actually only read straight through it one pathetic time. Certain Old Testament narratives capture my imagination, causing me to slow my pace to the point of stillness as early on as the opening chapters of Genesis. So while I‘ve often had the grand objective of reading through the scriptures over the course of a year, it very rarely happens. Recently I’ve started to speculate as to why specific parts of the Bible have this effect on me. Is it that I just adore a good tale, with interesting characters, a complicated plot, valor, a nice bit of violence, a tinge of romance, and sacrificial love? Or could it be that God is actually communicating directly to me though a dusty piece of ancient Hebrew literature? Is it possible that I’m detecting a personal message from God in these stories? Is that why they tug at my heart time after time?

I believe the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis was written down not only for the children of Israel, but for people like me as well; people who have mastered the art of unbelief. This is one of those heart tugging stories I was talking about. And if there’s one central message in the story of Joseph, it’s that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. See Romans 8:28. It’s a story that leaves absolutely no vacancy for unbelief to reside. Though Joseph goes through some very challenging situations that seem enormously bleak, terribly confusing, and completely undeserved, we see in the end that God had an astounding plan not only for the godly Joseph, but also for his devilish brothers who had treated him like trash.

If Joseph’s tale was simply made up, I would have to say that its author did a masterful job. Everything is tied together in the end. All the scary, unjust, deceitful, and disappointing pieces of Joseph’s tale are suddenly all wrapped up in an astonishing, jaw-dropping conclusion. It’s definitely not something one would anticipate. We find out that God caused all those crazy events to transpire in Joseph’s life so that people would be saved from the worldwide famine. The most astounding part of the story is that God saved the lives of Joseph’s contemptible brothers by a sequence of events that their own evil dealings had set in motion! It almost seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? But that’s just how God works. In fact, you could say that Joseph’s fourteen chapter saga is a foreshadowing of the Gospel.

Whether I think it’s too good to be true or not, the story haunts me for days after I read it. It mercilessly and unapologetically beckons belief in the providence of God. It calls me to move to a higher plane of faith where, like Joseph, I can look at my life and know that God is doing something with all the scary, unjust, deceitful, disappointing and even nonsensical parts of it. Like Joseph, I can forgive those who I feel have wronged me, knowing that God is ultimately the one in control. After all, what if God was allowing mistreatment or calamity in my life to bring about something amazingly good, not only for me, but also for the very people who mistreated me? Is this what God is saying to me at this point in my life? Is this something God wants me to learn now before I encounter “real” trials? Is that why this story has always tugged at my heart? “But the Lord was with Joseph,” is a recurring phrase in Joseph’s roller coaster of a story.  Will I choose to claim this promise for my life too?

Gratitude and Hilarious Giving

I somehow stumbled upon a YouTube video the other day on the subject of gratefulness. In the video a man named Dr. Dan Allender was giving a talk at the 2012 Donor Appreciation Dinner at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. I had inadvertently clicked on the link to the video while looking for a sermon by Larry Crabb. It was a fortunate mistake. While I had heard of Dr. Allender before, I had never read any of his books or heard him speak. I quickly discovered that he is certainly worth listening to. His sincere communication captivated me almost instantly. And although his intended audience was a room full of people who had contributed monetarily to the school he had help establish, I believe the Holy Spirit directed me to this video because of my heart’s deplorable and frequent inability to say “thank you.”

In his brief talk, Dr. Allender makes a couple of profoundly convicting points.  First, he mentions the significance of keeping track of what we are grateful for. He says that we probably won’t grow in our capacity to be grateful people unless we take the time, as often as we can, to reflect on and jot down every little thing that makes us want to say “thank you” to God or people. He illustrates how enormously important this is by comparing it to a person who is trying to lose weight for potentially serious health reasons. A person on a diet must keep track of everything they consume by maintaining a “food journal.” While not guaranteeing success, it will assist the dieter in seeing where they may be going wrong or what’s actually moving them toward their goals. In a similar way, while not automatically guaranteeing the evidence of a thankful heart, keeping a “gratitude journal” can help a person call to mind what they are grateful for, especially in those moments when he or she doesn’t feel much appreciation for anything.

Regrettably, I have regularly found myself in that place over the last several years. Things that I should have counted as blessings from God’s hand I’ve somehow seen as curses to whine about. My perspective has been frighteningly similar to the Israelites after they left Egypt. After escaping slavery because of God’s awesome display of power against Pharaoh, the Israelites began to complain when things got a little stressful. In fact, no matter much God took care of them in the desert, it seems that a few of them always found something to gripe about. At one point, these ingrates become so dissatisfied with their wilderness journey that they audaciously verbalize their idiotic desire to return to the bondage of Egypt. The blessing of being a free nation becomes a curse to them. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! God was rightfully vexed with them.

I knew that what Dr. Allender was advocating was something I should to try. There are literally entire days where I am hijacked by depression or stress or worry so much so that I can’t locate even a smidgen of appreciation in my heart. Somehow, the discomforts of my personal “wilderness journey” override what I know to be true about God’s love, provision, and providence. What worries me the most is that my wife and even my children seem to have the uncanny ability to discern when I’m in that place. What often results is that they can’t seem to find much to be thankful for either. I have to admit, this sickens me. I desperately want to change this in the coming year. I plan on starting a “gratitude journal” with my wife and I hope to get my kids to try it too. Though I may still face depression, stress, and anxiety, I want to intentionally keep my “spiritual eyes” wide open for daily glimpses of God’s goodness.

Another compelling observation Dr. Allender makes pertains to the word cheerful in 2 Corinthians 9:7. While almost every translation I consulted uses the word cheerful, Dr. Allender says that this rendering doesn’t quite do justice to the Greek word ἱλαρός (hilaros), from which our English word hilarious is derived. One definition of hilarious I found intriguing is to be boisterously merry. Paul told the Corinthian church that God didn’t want them to give because they felt pressured, like their arms were being twisted. Having your arm twisted is anything but hilarious. From my experience, its very difficult for a person to have unrestrained joy in their giving if they aren’t grateful people. Giving will feel more like a burden to them, and that’s the kind of offering that Paul says God doesn’t want. You might call it “inconvenienced giving.” On the other hand, God prizes hearts that give because they really want to. God treasures the kind of giving that is born from a desire to express our gratitude to him for what he’s done for us.

I think its those “daily glimpses of God’s goodness” I mentioned that are going to change me into a cheerful or hilarious or boisterously merry giver. But, like I said, it will require me intentionally keeping my “spiritual eyes” open. I have no doubt that instances of God’s love, provision, and providence have been manifold in my daily life for years. I’ve just not had the self-discipline to see it. I realize as I sit here that this is going to take work. I’m sorry to say it, but gratitude is very unnatural to me. Lord, I realize my need to grow in my capacity to be a grateful human being. I’m asking for your help. Open my eyes so I can see your daily blessings. Allow those glimpses of daily blessings to plant seeds of gratitude in my heart. Nourish those seeds so they sprout into something beautiful – a sincere desire to be a cheerful giver. Amen.

Imputed Contentment

With the exception of Hebrews, Philippians is my favorite letter of the New Testament. The other day I watched a video commentary that focused on just a fragment of this letter. Referring to chapter four and verse eleven, the commentator called attention to the thought that Paul had to learn contentment. This struck me as odd. I had never observed the word learn in this particular section. I inspected this verse in a number of Bible versions and discovered that learn was in every one of them.

If I am to take what is written in the scriptures at face value then I must accept the fact that the man who penned most of the New Testament had to receive training and guidance when it came to being satisfied and at rest in the Lord. Contentment wasn’t magically imputed to him when he was knocked on his rear on the way to Damascus. The Holy Spirit had to educate him. For some reason I find this to be immensely consoling. Is it really possible that one of the holiest men to ever walk the earth wasn’t faultless upon conversion? Did he really have to fight an intentional war with his flesh on a daily basis in order to progress?

The Greek word for content is defined as self-complacent in my Strong’s concordance. That is literally how it translates into English. This strikes me as peculiar and almost the opposite of how I’ve been taught. While most standard versions of Philippians 4:11 say something like, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances,” the insightful New English Bible seems to hit the nail on the head by rendering it, “I have learned to find resources in myself whatever my circumstances.” While at first it might sound arrogant for Paul to suggest that he was self-satisfied, he was anything but conceited. He truly had learned to locate within himself the needed assets for any situation. But how?

The confidence that Paul exudes is because of the God he had come to experience; the God who had graciously given him strength to draw on in time of need. What gave Paul the power to be content was the experiential knowledge of God as the loving Father that would always supply his every need according to the riches found in Christ Jesus. I think the word learn is imperative. It gives me great encouragement to know that it takes time and experience to be a great Christian. Contentment is not immediately ascribed to us. The Spirit has much for me to learn about the Father’s goodness.

While any nominal believer can rattle off a list of essential doctrines, memorize a set of Judeo-Christian values, or recite lines from a catechism or creed, nothing can compare with the genuine satisfaction and ease found in a disciple who recklessly trusts in God because of the learned experience of his faithfulness. You know these kinds of Christians when you see them. They are rarely disturbed or disquieted. They have learned to listen to the Spirit tell them who they are because of who God is. I want to be like that. I have to confess that I haven’t been one of those people.

In his book The Importance of Being Foolish Brennan Manning says that the greatest crisis for American Christians is “Spirit versus flesh.” If our lives are centered on security, pleasure, and power, then we are only playing games with religion and our constant search for the inner resources Paul talks about will always be futile. Those resources will never be there if we don’t let the Spirit do his work of showing us just how good our Father is. We can either let our Father take wonderful care of us and let it blossom into contentment or we can go on trying to fill ourselves up with whatever we can grasp. The daily Spirit-given recognition that we are children of the Creator of the Universe is what will sustain us and help us to stop being motivated by our most terrestrial inclinations. According to Manning, “…this kind of focus cannot happen without a daily – even hourly – decision to surrender to the sway of the Spirit.”