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All Things?

When reading about God, we need to be careful not to miss the way that the Lord has allowed himself to be described. After all, inspired, inerrant, holy Scripture tells us the exact truth of who God is and what he is like. And, if we are not careful, we will let ourselves skip past the descriptions of God in one part of a sentence in order to get to the verb. We like to read about the actions of God. But we must not miss his attributes.

Note how God is described here. Ask yourself if you are willing to believe what God says about himself. Because, if you believe it, you accept a serious doctrine.

Ephesians 1:11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,

God is here called “him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Believing this requires the acceptance of the sovereignty of God in a significant way. God works all things according to the counsel of his will—all things, God’s will.

Of course, this is not a new thing in Scripture. We can look other places to see a similar truth claim (cf. Psa. 115:3; Rom. 8:28). But, ask yourself, “What changes in my worldview if I accept the fact that God works all things according to his will?”

Before you let yourself become discouraged, this is not to say that God enjoys evil. Nor does it mean that God is declaring all things to be good things. But, if we grasp that God is purposeful and not random, and Scripture is clear that God is not and has never been random, then we can trust that God has purpose even for our greatest pains and the darkest evils of history. It is a logically flawed view that declares that if God is all good and all powerful, he must eliminate all evil. In truth, the God who is all good, all powerful, and all wise has the ability to have a purpose for all things, good and evil, that is beyond our limited ability to comprehend. And that same God can use all things without himself being tainted by the evil of the actions of mankind.

What the truth that God works all things according to the counsel of his will does declare is that no event on earth, no event in the universe, no great good, no terrible hardship, nothing happens apart from the ultimate and sovereign will of God. Every cubic inch of the universe is under God’s power. Nothing is beyond God’s control. Nothing, absolutely nothing, thwarts God’s will. Life and death, kingdoms rising and falling, harvests and disasters, salvation and damnation, all things work in accord with the ultimate will of God to his ultimate glory. Yes, these include things in which God takes no pleasure. But they never include things that God is powerless to change. God is he who works all things according to the counsel of his will. And such a God is the one we are far better to serve than to think we could ever oppose.

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An Example of Mishandling Scripture to Preach Critical Theory and Social Justice

What happens when we preach on social justice without using the Scripture as the definition of what is just? We find ourselves tempted to take from Scripture, twist truth, and then draw applications that make our point look strong.

In this video, Dr. Moore declares that Israel’s temptation to worship Baal was similar to southern American Christians’ support of Jim Crow laws. How in the world does he do this? Dr. Moore suggest that the worship of Baal was an acceptance of the status quo, an embrace of the current system of power. Even worse, the Israelites called their service to Baal service to the Lord. And, similarly, American Christians who fought for Jim Crow laws accepted the present system, and even renamed it as faithfulness to the Lord.

Let’s be clear. Dr. Moore is not saying this, I do not believe, out of any evil intent to do harm to the church or to Scripture. He wants to help Christians see the evils and the lasting impact of racism. That is good. Dr., Moore understands that racism is an evil to be repented of. That is good and biblical. Dr. Moore understands that people are often willing to baptize the current form of immorality as biblical if they think it will profit their platform. He is right—more right than I think he would admit. (we’ll come back to that).

But, in order to make his point, Dr. Moore is mangling the truth. Baal worship was not simply an embrace of a present system of power politics. It was the bowing to a false god. It was The participation in perverse sexual rituals in order to bring the harvest. It was the indulging of human depravity as the people bowed to a demon rather than to the Lord who made the earth. It was pure evil, not merely a systemic failure. It was the rejection of the clear word of God.

The problem here is that Dr. Moore is so passionate about presenting critical theory, so passionate about making us see that we must oppose what he understands as systemic racism, that he is willing to read systemic racism and critical theory back three millennia into the Old Testament. There is simply not a hint from the Lord that Baal worship is a failure to recognize the insights of critical theory and oppose the presenting power structure. Baal worship was about, get this, Baal worship. The sin to repent of was Baal worship. The sin to repent of was not a power structure sin.

The ironic thing here is that critical theory is becoming so popular that to preach it is no longer to oppose the current power structure. To preach critical theory, to stand opposed to systemic racism—however you define it—is to virtue signal that you are on the side of the loudest voices of the day. Earlier I suggested that Dr. Moore understands that people are often willing to baptize the current form of immorality as biblical if they think it will profit their platform. Is it not then fascinating to watch believers baptize intersectionality and critical race theory, allying themselves with many who have no grasp of the gospel or respect for the word, and then read back into Scripture notions from said theory with no biblical warrant?

Sadly, in order to speak to the charges that are raised against anyone who speaks about this issue, I must say, with clarity, that racism is evil. To hate or hurt any person because of their color of skin is a violation of the word of God. To build a society in such a way that you intentionally disadvantage people because of their skin color is wrong. To side with anyone toward injustice—siding with the rich against the poor or the poor against the rich, siding with the seemingly advantaged against the seemingly disadvantaged or the seemingly disadvantaged against the seemingly advantaged—is a violation of the principle of biblical justice. Oh, and to pluck an some folks’ pet peeves, I do not see skin color. Seriously, get to know me—I can prove it.

The bottom line, Christians, is that we must not read into Scripture what God did not put there. When we attempt to help the Lord by adding to his word principles he did not prescribe, we behave as did the Scribes and Pharisees who hated and opposed Jesus. God’s word is sufficient. God’s word tells us that we must not do anybody injustice. And God’s word tells us what justice looks like. God’s word shows us that pre-judging any person, of any color, or of any social status, outside of their actions and the attitudes of the heart is wrong. God shows us that punishing children for the sins of their parents is wrong. And God’s word tells us that, when we come to faith in Christ, we become new creations in a new family where there is no distinction in our identities based on nation of origin, language, or color of skin.

God’s word, if we would follow it, is clear enough. WE need not baptize secular critical theory to make a biblical point. And we surely need not somehow pretend that Baal worship and Jim Crow are twin brothers. Yes, both are evil, but they are not the same thing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwfrzlAYUiw

Striking a Scoffer

I want to share with you a place where I find myself corrected by the word of God in my read through the Proverbs. This one is interesting, because it is nuanced. It all involves how we speak and write.

One of the things that I try to do in my communication is to write and speak with gentleness and kindness. I find myself uncomfortable with some of the things I read on blogs or social media threads that appear to me to be harsh or aggressive. And, for the most part, my view there is not changed. But something I read in Proverbs has caused me to stop and be sure that my own way of thinking is informed by the word of God.

Proverbs 19:25

Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence;
reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge.

The point of this parallelism in Proverbs is to compare the scoffer and the prudent. Wise men learn from reproof. Men of understanding will get it when you make a clear, respectful, fair, gentle argument. But the scoffer, that person requires something else.

What is a scoffer? The scoffer is the person who mocks the things of God. This person is not at all interested in really understanding the claims of the word of God. Nor is this person interested in fair and civil discussion. This is the Internet troll. This is the ill-intentioned person who only looks for ways to make fun of truth and who utterly refuses to be civil toward a righteous argument. It is the person that Psalm 1 declares that the blessed man will not sit with.

While the thrust of the proverb here is to say that you want to be a man of understanding, learning from simple reproof, the opposite is also true. The scoffer may learn from being struck. No, I’m not at all promoting violence here. But what I am recognizing is that, in some cases, the gentle and reasoned response that I most prefer may not make a dent. Instead, there is a place for a sharper, verbally rougher argument.

No, I still do not want to ever become an Internet troll. Nor do I think that we gain much ground in most cases by writing or speaking harshly. But there is a place when we realize that we are dealing, not with an honest interlocuter, but with a scoffer. In that instance, to make an impact, with humility toward the Lord, we need to write or speak with an edge.

The reason that I think this is nuanced is that, for the most part, I believe that people who write with an edge do so far too often. Many enjoy how pointed their own wit is. Many like to crush opponents. Many come off as purely mean-spirited. Many are not able to speak the truth in love. We do not want to be like that. But we must not be so weak that we cannot breathe fire when the situation demands it. For the good of the scoffer, for the good of others watching the conversation, and for the glory of God, we sometimes must hit hard with truth.

Why Some Rage Against the Lord

One thing to love about the book of Proverbs is that it contains nuggets of wisdom that show up from time-to-time. Even though I’ve read this book many, many times in the past, there often seems to be something I have not seen before. Here is one.

Proverbs 19:3

When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin,
his heart rages against the Lord.

Nothing about that verse, in times past, has stood out to me. Perhaps it was not as pithy to me as other proverbs. Perhaps it is the fact that this verse is not an antithetical parallel—those often catch my attention for some reason. But this verse contains a simple truth that we need to have in mind.

The first line gives us a circumstance. A man’s folly has brought his way to ruin. It is significant that we understand that the man in this proverb has done something through his own foolishness to hurt himself. His life choices and his refusal to follow the ways of the Lord have brought him to brokenness.

What happens when this takes place? There are really two options. There are those, blessed of the Lord, who recognize it when they have ruined their own lives. If the Spirit of God is at work on the heart of such a person, their ruination can be the point that drives them to their knees in surrender to the Lord. Such a person, by the work of the Spirit, sees their sin, sees its consequences, sees their inability to run their own life, and repents. This, of course, is a good thing leading to salvation.

But there is another person out there. This is the person who is not given by God the gift of repentant faith. Instead, this person is allowed by God to be exactly what they want to be. And such a person, when his choices lead to his downfall, doubles down on his godlessness. Instead of recognizing that it was his own folly that hurt him, such a person rages against the Lord. HE will become aggressive against God and the things of God because he has not gotten from life what he wanted. He believes that God has treated him wrongly.

Wisdom requires that we recognize that what the proverb here describes is a real thing. And we should learn from it. We should learn that it is foolish to rage against God. It is especially foolish and dangerous to rage against God when the suffering we are facing is the result of our own refusal to obey the commands of God. While God does not promise us lives full of health, wealth, and prosperity, his word and his ways are good. Following his law does not lead us to self-destruction. Obedience to the Lord might lead us to persecution, but that will certainly not be a life ruined by our own folly.

And, if you find yourself tempted to rage against God, it would be wise to examine yourself honestly. It is possible that you are facing hard circumstances that have nothing to do with your own failure. We live in a fallen world, full of sin, full of sickness, full of people who would harm us. That is true. And we do often suffer because of things that have nothing to do with us. But, if we are honest, we also know that we often suffer because of choices we have made, self-destructive choices that lead to our sorrow. In all of those instances, raging against the Lord will not help. But coming to him in repentance and faith seeking grace, that leads to life.

When God’s Word is not Your Authority

I was having a conversation with someone recently about Christianity, and I found it sad to continually need to speak to the difference between a biblical Christianity as opposed to so much else that is out there. That led me to think about how sad it is that so many organizations and groups put on the word Christian as a title even when they clearly oppose the fundamentals of the faith.

Then I read through a few chapters in Judges, and I saw a thread that helps me understand how in the world this has happened in the modern world.

In Judges 17-18, we read a very dark, very ugly story. A man named Micah steals money from his mom. When he gives it back, his mom blesses him. That actually makes some sense. Mom is proud of her boy being honest. But look what she tells him to do with the money.

Judges 17:3 – And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.”

Wait a minute. She said that she dedicated the silver to the Lord. Thus, she is saying that what she is doing is something she fully expects the God of the Bible to be pleased with. But in her next breath, she says that the silver should be used for the fashioning of a carved image. She would call her religion faithful. But she is violating two clear commands of God.

Exodus 20:4-6 – 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

God is absolutely, abundantly, crystal clear. He forbids those who would worship him doing so through the fashioning of images. This woman has commanded her son, as an act of worship, worship she believes is of the Lord, to do what God says never ever do.

Exodus 20:7 – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Because the woman uses the name of the Lord in her pronouncement, she is also violating this, the third commandment. She shows us a perfect example of what it means to take the Lord’s name in vain. She is using the name of God in a way that is false. She is calling something of God that is exactly opposite. She is using the name of God in an empty and meaningless way.

The story gets worse. Micah finds a Levite wandering around the countryside, not staying put and serving the Lord as he should have done. The Levite is not holding fast to the word of God or teaching others the law as he should have done. And Micah invites the Levite to serve him as a priest. The Levite is happy to help. And now he has joined Micah in his idolatry.

Judges 17:13 – Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

Micah thinks that his sin will lead to his prosperity. Why? He thinks that having a Levite as priest is enough to guarantee him God’s blessing. He has no worry about the commands of God.

In chapter 18, men from the tribe of Dan have failed to settle in their allotted land. They want to take a spot for themselves, and they send out an armed force. ON the way, scouts discover Micah’s house and the idols therein.

Judges 18:14 – Then the five men who had gone to scout out the country of Laish said to their brothers, “Do you know that in these houses there are an ephod, household gods, a carved image, and a metal image? Now therefore consider what you will do.”

What should be the response of the men to this? They should go in with their swords drawn to destroy those idols and to execute those who are polluting the land of Israel with their violations of the word of God (cf. Deut. 13:1-18). But what do they do instead? They go in, take the idols and the Levite with them, and set him up as their own priest to those idols in their new tribal home.

Then, as the story closes, we get a revelation that ought to knock us over.

Judges 18:30 – And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land.

Woah. The Levite who played priest for the Danites, the one who helped Micah and his household worship idols, the one who was wandering the countryside instead of serving the Lord and teaching his word, he was a grandson of Moses. It is possible that he was a great or multiple great grandson, as we do not always record every single generation in a verse like this one. But, either way, this man was a direct descendant from Moses, the Moses, Ten Commands and parting the Red Sea and delivering the law of God Moses. Yet this man pretended that his worshipping of idols was somehow pleasing to God.

And again, to tie this all together, I ask, “What happened?” Why did this happen in the Old Testament? And I add to that question this one: Why do things like this happen in the church today? Why are people who claim to be Christians so easily able to promote things that are in direct violation of the word of God?

The answer is in the sinfulness of the human heart. But the answer is also in the book of Judges.

Judges 17:6 – In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

The problem is that everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes. The problem is that nobody was standing up and holding to the authority of the written word of God. No king was in the land to tell the people that they are to submit to the law of God. And so, corruption crept in.

And the very same is the problem in the broad swath of people in our land who use the word Christian as a label. If they are not holding to the word of God as the ultimate and final authority for all things related to faith and practice, for all doctrine, for all our lives, they will be just like the people who are doing what is right in their own eyes. That leads to foolish ideas. It leads to people who would bow to a statue and call it worshipping God. It leads to people who would violate the command of God and, with a straight face, declare that violation of the law of God to be the thing that pleases God.

What is your authority for what you believe and how you live? Is it Scripture? Or is your authority your own opinions? Is your authority the word of God or some teacher or collection of teachers? If you wish to be genuinely Christian, you must find your authority in the word of God rightly and clearly interpreted and applied.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 – 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Why So Weird?

I had a conversation recently that brought up the question of why some believers are so very weird. I’m not talking here about why believers are weird to the world. The lost world will never understand why we follow the ways of the Lord regarding all sorts of issues related to worship and even basic morality. But that does not answer why some believers can get so very strange, slipping way out into left field in their doctrine and practice.

Proverbs 18:1-2

1 Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
he breaks out against all sound judgment.
2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion.

These two verses at the beginning of Proverbs 18 do a great job of showing us what is a danger that some believers face. Isolation is deadly. Cloistering together with only a few believers can often produce an echo chamber leading to very dangerous thinking. Believers need other Bible-believing believers to help them to examine their thoughts and their doctrine to be sure that nobody is driving the car off a cliff.

Of course I do not assume that there is no danger in following the crowd. In America, the modern church produces a whole lot of bad doctrine and bad thinking. I’m surely not suggesting that believers need to be influenced by prosperity preachers or megachurch strategies. We need to be sure that our influence is genuinely biblical.

What I am saying, however, is that we need to be careful that we are in contact with other believers who love the word and who have the right and the ability to challenge our thinking when we suddenly develop a “new” way to understand something. If the only voice you hear is your own when you propose a new way to keep the Sabbath, to think about roles in marriage, to discuss the standards for baptism, or something similar, you are likely to walk into some strange territory. We need to hear the voices of believers from the past who helped develop solid confessions of the faith. We also need to hear the voices of trustworthy believers in the present, especially if they see us wandering off into weirdness for weirdness’ sake. And even our local churches need interaction with other local churches to make sure that we, as a group, have not gone somewhere novel.

This is true in big doctrines, and it is true in day-to-day living. Isolation is deadly for the believer. God designed us to be united together in a community, a family, a body called the local church. You need to be thinking and praying and living alongside other believers. You need to see people who hurt in different ways than you do so that you can learn compassion. You need to be around people who are smarter than you, or who are smart in a different way from you, so that you can learn from their experience and study. You need to hear solid arguments and not merely your own voice.

What I Did not Steal Must I Now Restore?

Watch the words of David here, and see if you do not find something sadly familiar with modern hot-button talking points.

Psalm 69:4-6

4 More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
What I did not steal
must I now restore?
5 O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
6 Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord God of hosts;
let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.

David is being attacked by harsh and evil men. Yet David has not wronged these men. David is no fool. He knows that he is not personally perfect. We see that in verse 5. David pleads with the Lord that his own failure not cause others to dishonor the Lord. Yet, even with his own admission of his own imperfection, David grasps that there is an injustice being done in his direction.

In verse 4, we see the question, “What I did not steal must I now restore?” That is the question that grabbed my attention today. David is clearly asking if he must pay back a thing that he, himself, did not steal. This is David clearly indicating that such a thing would be David being wronged. Biblically David should be forced to repay anything he stole, with interest. But David should not be forced to repay anything he did not steal.

Can you see the application for the modern day? Right now, as social justice is such a prominent issue among believers, there are those who would claim that many should be forced to pay for the sins of others in the past. There are many who would claim that those who have not acted wrongly should be shamed for the sins of their forefathers. There are those that believe that financial payments should be made, or that those in positions of leadership should be forced to vacate those offices to make room for others based on things that were done years ago and how those sins of the past shaped society in the present.

But the Bible does not promote such a supposed justice. David knew that he should not be forced to repay what he did not steal. Even when David knew that he was not perfect in all areas, even though David knew of failures in his life, he knew that it would not be just for men who opposed him to force him to pay for things he did not do. There would be no justice in making David a victim of injustice.

As we attempt to navigate the difficult waters of a society brimming full with social justice advocacy, formal shamings, intersectionality, and critical theory, let us not lose sight of the fact that it is not just to force one to repay what she has not stolen. It is not just to punish a child for the sins of his father. Like David, let us all be honest enough to admit our own sins and failures (verse 5). Let us ask the Lord to help us never shine a negative light on his glory (verse 6). Let us do all we can to be a just people, never repaying evil for good, never condemning people for crimes they did not commit, never judging any person based on ethnicity. Let us be careful to see to it that voices speaking truth are not silenced, regardless of the look of the faces behind those voices.