Tag Archives: bible

Making Sense of Psalm 119:71

In my pursuit to reveal God’s goodness and true character to the world, I often spend more time studying passages of scripture that seem to contradict his goodness, than those that validate it.  To put it another way – I focus on studying what I call the “problem passages”, so that I can understand them in context and help people see that God is in fact, better than we think he is.

In my recent book, Good God, I dealt with literally dozens of these problem passages, such as: the book of Job (yes, that’s right, the whole book), James 1, Hebrews 12, John 9, Romans 9, and so many more.  Although I tried to make Good God as exhaustive as possible in dealing with the questions that people might have about God, every now and then, I come across an additional verse that didn’t make the cut.  Perhaps I’ll release an updated version down the road that might include some of these, but in the meantime, that’s what my blog is for.

One such verse is Psalm 119:71.  It states,  “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.”

Out of context and by itself, it’s easy to spot the apparent contradiction to the character of God that I present in Good God.  It appears that the writer is thanking God for afflicting him, so that he could learn his ways.  If you’re a student of the message of grace, or if you’ve read my book, then you know that this can’t be the true intention of the writer.  So what’s going on here?  What does the passage really mean?

As usual, context is king.

Let’s take a look at the full passage from a different translation.

Before I had trouble, I strayed from the true path, the path of righteousness, but now I live according to Your word. You are truly good, and Your acts are too; teach me what You require. The proud smear me with their lies; I will keep Your instructions wholeheartedly. Their hearts are dull and callous; I am delighted to study Your teaching. It is a good thing that I was humbled because it helped me learn Your limits.
-Psalm 119:67-71 VOICE

In context, the writer clearly states that his pain was as a result of his own choice to stray from God’s path.  Never is he accusing God of doing anything to him, but rather he is simply acknowledging that he was thankful that he experienced humility during his rebellion, otherwise he wouldn’t have turned back to God.  God didn’t bring him through bad things to humble him, but because he went through bad things and humbled himself – he was thankful.

Just another perfect example why context is so important in reading scripture.  Remember, when you come across a verse or a passage that seems to contradict what you know about God; take the time to study it out and see what it really says.

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Why America is in love with the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty.

In my book, Good God:  The One We Want To Believe In But Are Afraid To Embrace, I tackle one of the most widely held false notions about God – his sovereignty.

For some time the church has held to this idea that God is divinely controlling all things – the bad and the good – and that our lives are the result of his choice, will, and dominion.  Although this might sound spiritual, it’s actually a form of Gnostic teaching and rooted in pagan mythology.  The Gnostics believed that “god” was both light and dark; that is that he embodied both good and evil.  In fact, they taught that the father was “dark” and the son was “light” and that the son came to save us from the father.  This is why John writes in 1 John 1:5, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”  This would have been revolutionary to the Gnostic people.  John proclaimed that the God of the true gospel is all light and that there is no darkness – no confusion, nothing hidden, no ill intention.  From his biblical understanding, in Christianity, we understand that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all one in the same – God in three persons.  Gnosticism taught their separate identities, much like the various deities that dwelt together on the Greek’s Mt Olympus.

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Today, this Gnostic teaching, has resurfaced in Western theology through the doctrine of extreme sovereignty.  I believe one of the reasons why sovereignty teaching (and hyper-Calvinism) is so attractive is because of its removal of personal responsibility on the life of the believer.  As Christians, many are frustrated today by the continual devaluation of personal responsibility in our society.  According to today’s world, crime is due to guns and not criminals, sexual perversion is due to nature and not sin, the list goes on and on.  So removed is the idea of personal responsibility that in several countries in Europe pedophiles actually received disability benefits.   But it’s important that we see that this loss of personal responsibility does not exist only in the world today – it’s also in the church.  Through the doctrine of sovereignty, adherents distance themselves from the power of their own decisions and behavior, by claiming things like God “has them in this season”, “is leading them through a desert time”, or “trying to teach them something”.  Cloaked in spiritual language, religious minded individuals unable to come to grip with their own depravity, cling to the idea that God is in control of the outcome of their lives, and hide from the reality that, outside of the impact of others’ freewill and the result of a fallen world, their lives are the summation of the choices they make.

This is the exact same belief system that Job was rebuked for in the last chapter of the book of Job.  Job, a man who faced massive amounts of suffering and loss, mistakenly thought that God was the source of his pain.  Job, overconfident in his own righteousness, was unable to see how his fear and pride (two of the biggest themes in the book of Job) affected his life.  He was also completely unaware of the existence of Satan.  Job saw all things (light and dark/good and evil) as existing in the Godhead and would rather blame God than himself, nature, or the enemy.  But in the end of the book, upon finally seeing God face-to-face, Job saw the error of his ways, repents and says, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’  My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

In reality, God’s goodness is displayed in the freedom to choose that he bestows upon his children.  Personal responsibility should actually empower us, not condemn us.  When we realize that God is not the cause of our pain, it frees us to draw near to him, rely on his grace, and seek his guidance in our life.  If the problems of life are God’s will for us, what hope do we have?  But if God is really “for me”, then I can stand firm, resist the enemy’s advances, and walk in victory.  This doesn’t mean that bad things will never happen, but if and when they do, I can rest in the knowledge that God is not the source of my pain.

Theology is simple, “If it’s good, it’s God. If it’s not, it’s not.”

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Cuba, Communism, and Codependency

Obama landed in Cuba this week and, as such, is the first US President to set foot in the country since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.  His trip included attending a baseball game with the Cuban president, as well as holding a live press conference alongside the Communist leader, taking turns sharing applause and grievances for life in both countries.

But contrary to Obama’s public admonition prior to leaving Cuba that our two countries should abandon the “last remnants of the Cold War”, the president’s actions in Cuba this week did not mark the end of the effects of the Cold War, but rather continued the already sliding progression of which side of the war against Communism our nation sits.

This was perhaps best seen in the President’s response to Castro’s criticism against the lack of social services our country provides it’s people.  Castro stated that it is “inconceivable that a government does not defend and secure the right to health care, equal pay and the rights of children.”  Instead of seizing the opportunity to encourage their nation to explore individual freedoms and personal responsibility (encouraging a move toward democracy), Obama followed this up with, “In [Castro’s] view, making sure that everybody is getting a decent education or health care, has basic security in old age, that those things are human rights as well. I personally would not disagree with him.”

It’s easy to hear comments like this and miss the real nature of the issues.  I want us to understand what this is really all about.

It’s about determining the source of our hope.

From a faith standpoint, socialism and communism look to the nation itself to do what only God can. It’s a misplaced hope and it can never produce the utopia that we are promised. While the world is hailing the uniting of two nations, I believe we should grieve for the continued and unnecessary distance that we are placing between God and man.

In Genesis 11, Nimrod wrongly commissioned the building of the Tower of Babel to fortify the people against God (in case he would decide to send another global flood) and as a result, Nimrod led the people to depend upon himself and the strength of the tower, rather than to depend upon God to meet their needs.  This is the nature of Socialism and the Communist State; a misled reliance on the institution to try to do for the people, what only God can do.

It’s time we wake up America.  This isn’t about politics, it’s about placing our trust together as one people under God.  This is our only hope for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

 

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Human Connection: Additional Thoughts 6

So far in this series we have learned the importance of staying connected to God in order to live in the fullness of Christ. We learn how to do this through his Word and by relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We also learn to glean God’s truths from the world around us.

This week we will dig deeper into the importance of salvation and how to have hearts that are a garden of good soil in which God can plant his truths in our lives.

Luke 17:20

One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs.

The kingdom of God is within you. We have Christ in us. We have the Holy Spirit as our helper in this process.

My hope is that we can see our heart more as something connected to a pathway. We need to keep that pathway open and not allow it to get kinked or turned or twisted as opposed to the heart being something that is about did we do right or wrong today.

What is our physical heart connected to? It is connected to vessels and arteries that blood flows through. If they get blocked, bad things happen. They get damaged. You don’t say, “Shame on you, artery.” It’s not like that. It’s about – are you getting life?

Romans 10:1-17

Dear brothers and sister, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.

For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands. But faith’s way of getting right with God says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead?’ (to bring Christ back to life again).” In fact, it says,

“The message is very close at hand;
    it is on your lips and in your heart.

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If  you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced. 12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 So, faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

These verses tell us a lot about salvation and Paul’s thoughts on our need for it. The first verse speaks of Israel. If Paul understood the Gospel as everyone is saved, then he doesn’t have to write this. It takes this one verse to disprove universalism.

I want everyone to be saved. But I know that salvation comes by putting faith in Jesus Christ. The work has been done. But we have to put our faith in him. There are a lot of people in grace who are getting on this slippery slope. They are falling into universalism and reconciliation. But Paul understood the Gospel, that it is urgent because there are people who know Christ and who are experiencing him in their lives. And there are people who don’t and who are in danger. We need to take this message to them. There should be an urgency in our gospel.

He goes on to say that the man who lives by the law will live by the law. What that means is if you try to live by the law and you don’t measure up you will live by the consequences of the law. It means you are not good enough. You don’t have what it takes.

If you do good you get good.

If you do bad you get bad.

And guess what? Because the law is perfect and you’re not, according to the law, you are always going to fail. There is no curve with God. God doesn’t grade on a curve. He doesn’t say, “Well, you are better than 90% of the population. So, I’m going to let you in.”

What he does say is – it’s based upon your work or it’s based upon my work. You choose.

Paul begins sharing that you don’t have to go get God. You don’t have to find Christ.

He is in you.

 

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Human Connection: Additional Thoughts 3

As I said earlier, God is a heart God. He speaks a heart language. To better understand this it’s important to stay connected.

Jesus says he’s the vine and we’re the branches. Whoever stays connected with him has life. This is the kingdom of God that gives life. A person whose pathway is bent is not able to get the nutrients they need.

Ever sit in a certain position for too long and your leg goes to sleep? Your position is wrong. The pathway got bent and couldn’t get what it needed,

Again, these are just physical examples to give spiritual truth.

There are times in our lives when our hearts are bent and God can’t get through. God didn’t stop speaking to you. He doesn’t look at you and see you’ve had a bad week and decide to stop speaking to you. That’s immaturity. God is not immature. He is the perfect example of love. It is us – we get ourselves twisted and can’t experience fully what he has for us.

Proverbs 15:21

Folly brings joy to one who has no sense,
 but whoever has understanding keeps a straight course.

A man of understanding – his heart isn’t bent. It’s straight. It’s on a path.

Proverbs 3:6

In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.

This particular verse is from the Amplified Bible. If you ever getbored with the translation you use, the Amplified Bible expands on the word for you.

If we just acknowledge him in all our ways… There’s no “secular”. It – this life – it is all our life in Christ. It can’t be compartmentalized. And when you get that – you want to keep your heart straight. You don’t want to get crooked or take a path that you know isn’t God.

 

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Week 16 Devotional: Spirit Without Limit

“For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.”  -John 3:34 

Did you know that you have the same Spirit in you that raised Jesus Christ from the dead, that empowered Paul to preach the gospel all over the known world, and that allowed the disciples to perform miraculous signs and wonders as the demonstrated message of Christ?  I hear so many pastors today talking about the Spirit of Elijah or needing a double portion of God’s Spirit.  Perhaps teaching like this has caused you to doubt your ability or power in Christ.  Maybe it has caused you to feel like a second rate Christian. The bible teaches that God gives His Spirit without limit.  This means that you right now, have an endless supply of the life and power of God on the inside of you.  There is absolutely nothing that you are lacking. Who needs a double portion of Elijah, when you have an endless portion of Jesus Christ?  Be bold in your faith and in your proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  You have what people are looking for and you are carrying around in your hands someone’s miracle.  Don’t hesitate, for God is with you!

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Week 10 Devotional: Reconciliation

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.  (Colossians 1:21-23a)

Have you ever felt or thought that you were God’s enemy?  This passage tells us that the only place where we were God’s enemy was in our minds because of our self condemnation based upon our evil behavior.  Through Christ, it says, God has made us “holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation”.   It is a lie from the enemy and completely anti-Christ for us to think that God is condemning us.  As Andrew Wommack says so often, “God can’t be any more mad at you than he is with Jesus.”  You and I have been FULLY reconciled to God and are now holy in his sight, not because of the righteous things we have done, but because of His work on the cross.  So stop running away from God every time you fall short, instead, turn around and run back into His loving and gracious arms!

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