Category Archives: Bible
One of the primary gifts of the Protestant Reformation was confidence – confidence that God loves us, chose us, redeemed us, saved us, and will never leave us. For many people, the Roman Catholic Church had lost or neglected to communicate that confidence. People lived with the hope of heaven and the terror of hell. Both were real possibilities. We are grateful for the rediscovery of the biblical truth of confidence in God that came down to us through both Luther and Calvin.
Confidence, properly placed and focused, is a good thing. The surgeon needs to be confident in her abilities to excise disease. The gardener needs to be confident in his horticultural knowledge. The sailor needs to be confident in her navigational skills. A degree of confidence is necessary to complete almost any task successfully.
But there is also danger in confidence. Confidence can easily degenerate into arrogance.
The great gift of the Pietistic Movement in Methodism, the Second Great American Awakening, among some Anabaptists, and, later, in the Pentecostal Movement, was a reinvigorating of the awareness that God has called us to holy living.
Personal holiness is so needed in our culture – a holiness that sets the captives free, loves, cares for, respects, and serves others while keeping oneself unspotted from corruption.
Piety, personal holiness, is a good thing. God designed and redeemed us so we could become free of addiction and sin – good, kind, compassionate, loving, holy people.
But there is danger in piety – piety can become self-righteousness.
The confidence that some of the Pharisees of first century Judea had in their ability to understand and interpret scripture became prideful arrogance. “I thank Thee that I am not like this tax collector.” Their piety degenerated in to legalistic self-righteousness.
Both Luther and Calvin eventually condemned those who disagreed with them and sanctioned violence against them. Both encouraged the brutal persecution of Jews, Anabaptists, and Catholics. Equally confident and pious, the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformationists returned the favor. Everyone thought it their God-ordained duty to eradicate the “pagans” – Moslems, Buddhists, indigenous people groups of all sorts. Popes and pastors sanctioned slavery and genocide.
Today there are seven distinct generations living together in America:
- The World War II generation is now in their late 90s or older.
- The Builders are mostly in their late 70s to early 90s.
- The Boomers are in their 60s and early 70s.
- Gen-Xers are in their late 40s and 50s.
- Millennials range in age from their late 20s to mid-40s.
- Gen Z persons are in high school, college, and graduate school.
- And, finally, we have the Alpha generation kids.
By and large, much of Gen-X and most of the Millennials and Gen Z women and men have rejected the institutional church. Why are the majority of those under 40 turning their backs on church and identifying as “none” on religious surveys?
Many Builders and Boomers blame public education, or the “liberal media,” or “secular humanism,” but secularism is not nearly the threat to Christianity that hypocrisy is.
Too many Americans over 60 claiming to be Christians confident of their doctrine, certain of their salvation, and convinced of their piety, have allowed their confidence to sink into arrogance and their piety to degenerate into self-righteous judgmentalism. They champion civil religion that homogenizes flag and cross, participate in environmental destruction, support wars and capital punishment, condemn the LGBTQ community, stockpile ammunition and weapons designed only to kill other humans, display xenophobia, support institutionalized racism, censure science, resist helping immigrants, the homeless and the poor, think it their duty to forcefully legislate their moral interpretations, and support corrupt immoral (or amoral) politicians. Claiming to follow Jesus, they support policies diametrically contrary of what Jesus taught. Claiming to follow Jesus, they act exactly the opposite of how He acted.
Mega-churches are so 1990s. The future of the church (and I believe the church does have a future) belongs to small communities of genuine faith meeting in homes and coffee shops. Younger Gen-X’ers, Millennials, and Gen-Z’ers are leaving the big institutions in droves; they long for authentic community in which persons care for rather than judge one another, and seek to rectify rather than excuse injustice.
I read recently a Tweet from someone who said he often wondered what he would do if he knew he had only a day to live. Then, he said, it hit him – Jesus really did know that. And He washed feet.
Why would God create COVID-19? Well, God did and God didn’t.
Life as we know it on planet earth would be impossible without bacteria. Bacteria in our guts helps us digest foods. Bacteria creates soil for plants. However, there is so much bacteria and it reproduces so quickly that if it were not kept in check, bacteria would take over everything and make all other life impossible.
Along come the viruses. A virus is a piece of genetic material (either DNA or RNA) encased in a protein shell. A virus cannot reproduce on its own. It has to invade a cell and hijack that cell’s machinery in order to reproduce. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 1031viruses on planet earth. That’s more than the number of stars estimated to be in the universe.
The vast majorities of those viruses are not only harmless to humans and animals, but are beneficial. The majority of viruses never invade people, animals or plants – they invade bacteria. Without the viruses, bacteria would overrun all other life. Thank God for viruses.
But, of course, there is a small minority of viruses that make people sick. Some of them can kill you. Those are the ones we hear about. Where did they come from?
God created the physical universe using a method of evolution via natural selection. Creation is free by God’s design to develop. Originally, all God created was perfectly good and there was nothing created that would harm, hurt, or cause illness. Then, two rebellions occurred.
The first was the rebellion of some of the angelic beings God created with freewill. They wanted to be gods, fell, and became satanic principalities, powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places. The devil is the satan, the accuser, who goes about seeking to destroy and kill. That rebellion apparently happened long before God created the physical universe, as we know it.
When God created the earth, it was entirely good – there was nothing in it that would harm or kill. Nature is God’s temple. God crowned creation with humans who bear God’s image and placed them in God’s temple/garden with the instructions to expand Eden until it filled the entire world, and to guard it from the Destroyer.
The humans failed to do so. They allowed the Destroyer into God’s garden, God’s temple, nature, and, when they did, death and destruction infected the system. Its affects are visible everywhere – killer storms, xenophobia, war, poverty, racism, and killer viruses such as COVID-19. Don’t blame God. Don’t blame China, or “foreigners,” or the government. Blame Satan.
Or, don’t blame at all. This is an opportunity to act, not to find fault. Yes, here in the United States, our federal governmental officials knew of this threat in plenty of time to make sure we were ready with enough ventilators and personal protective equipment like masks, face-shields, gloves and gowns. And yes, they chose instead to minimize, distort, lie, and use inside trading to enrich themselves. Nevertheless, they did not cause COVID-19.
This isn’t a time for blame. This is a time to act.
This is a time for us who follow Jesus to love our neighbors enough to isolate ourselves (because COVID-19 spreads by human contact), wash our hands frequently (because COVID-19 can be killed by soap and water), and sanitize surfaces (because COVID-19 lives on things we touch). We do these things so we don’t make our neighbors sick.
This is a time to check on our neighbors and see if they need food or medicine.
This is a time to be especially diligent in caring for the homeless, the incarcerated, the addicted, the mentally ill, the sick, the dying, and those who love them.
This is a time to pray for and support our nurses, respiratory therapists, physicians, surgeons, paramedics, hospital chaplains, and those who clean our hospital rooms.
This is a time to spread God’s love and care, to remind others that with God there is no fear even in the valley of the shadow of death. This is a time for phone calls, texts, emails, and old-fashioned letters. This is a time for prayer.
A Prayer for Such a Time as This
Abba, Father, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God of Israel, perfect Triune God who is love, wrap your strong divine loving arms around the least – around the poor, the broken, the homeless, the refugee fleeing violence and poverty, the victims of cruel public policy, of xenophobia, racism, ageism, prejudice, misogyny, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, and homophobia; the victims of war, violence and hatred; the lonely, the mentally ill, the sick, the dying, the incarcerated. Wrap your strong loving arms around the caregivers, the family members, the nurses, respiratory therapists, surgeons, physicians, hospital chaplains, paramedics, first responders, and all those who care for those in need. Speak directly to the hearts of the fearful, the lonely, the sick, the confused, the dying, even to the hearts of the comatose who can nevertheless hear your voice – communicate to the souls of all in need your unconditional love, mercy, and grace; comfort as only you can; whisper forgiveness, assure of life and love everlasting. When we pray, “give us this day our daily bread,” this is what we mean. Grant it O, Lord, for Jesus’ sake who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, our God. Amen.
Psychologists assume that all of our thoughts arise from within ourselves, influenced by our genetic makeup, life experiences, families of origin, neurochemical balances, and, (perhaps) our choices. That assumption is based on the supposition that there are no spiritual forces in the universe that can affect our thoughts. Hence, it is presumed, for example, that dreams arise from within, that every character in a dream represents some aspect of ourselves and reveals something about ourselves.
Cognitive interventions are based on the premise that we have the ability to choose what we consciously think. We can learn not to ruminate on the negative and focus on the positive, to replace toxic self-talk with uplifting inner messages. Scripture seems to agree. The Apostle Paul invites us: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8 NLT)
Science and Scripture agree that our conscious thoughts are under our control and that, with help, we can learn to focus them appropriately, and my so doing enhance our mental health, increase our sense of wellbeing, and enrich our relationships.
That we have control over our thoughts does not, however, mean that taking control is always easy. The inner tapes of harsh or neglectful parents and authority figures, intergenerational trauma, neurochemical imbalances, and early childhood experiences are a few of the things that make redirecting negative thoughts difficult for many adults. We can’t just knock off the negative. Skilled cognitive therapists can be invaluable. Authentic community is essential.
Scripture also indicates, and spiritually minded people have historically attested to the reality that in addition to our own thoughts, which undoubtedly derive from within the psychological and physiological mysteries of the human mind, both God and the evil one can and do speak to us in our inner minds. In my experience, it is often hard to tell the difference. Is it I speaking to me, the devil lying to me, or God guiding me? To me, all the voices sound alike.
But they feeldifferent.
Sometimes, it’s just me talking. The feelings are generally neutral; the thoughts are usually mundane – “time to take out the trash;” “I hope the lawn mower starts.”
When the inner voice, the thoughts, are demonic in origin, they produce anxiety, fear, hopelessness, confusion, discord, bitterness, anger, disunity, hatred, violent or self-destructive ideology, depression, self-centeredness, pride, narcissist fantasy, panic, bleakness, or despair. They lead to what Ignatius called “unfreedom.”
I am not talking about demon possession. Followers of Jesus cannot be demon possessed. “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world,” (1 John 4:4) not, greater is he who is in you than he who is also in you. Christians do not need to be delivered from demons. We do, however, need to resist the devil.
(By the way, a good way to tell if an infliction is natural or demonic is to resist it in Jesus’ power. Demons flee quickly. Physiological and psychological illnesses stick around. Prayer alone cures demonic possession or oppression. Prayer plus professional intervention, plus medication, plus loving community cures the rest.)
When the thoughts are from God, they invariably bring with them feelings of wholeness, shalom, peace, forgiveness, mercy, grace, love for others, love for self, love for nature, hope, unity, connectedness, reconciliation, acceptance, humility, and contentment. God’s voice is never demanding, never coercive, never harsh, never condemning, never angry, never violent.
God’s quiet whisper in my heart does not always tell me what I want to hear, nor does it always affirm what I am doing. Conversely, it often corrects and redirects. At times, it tells me to do something I would much rather not do. But it always feels wrapped in love. It is always in my best interest and for my ultimate happiness. It always advances the Kingdom of God on earth (as it is in heaven), and always lines up with the biblical text as interpreted through the words of Jesus within the community of believers. We need each other. We were never meant to live this Kingdom life alone.