Three Myths about Grace

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1980s: How are you doing? Fine, thank you.

1990s: How are you doing? Great.

2000s: How are you doing? Awesome!

2010s: How are you doing? Epic!!!!!!!

Over time, words lose their meaning. Like cars hooked together on a train, words carry freight. That freight consists of meaning and emotion (denotation and connotation, to be showy). Apparently, for some words, the freight leaks out. We use and overuse words to the point they have little meaning. If you tell me your day has been awesome or epic, I am sure you mean neither “that which produces jaw-dropping awe mingled with dread at powers beyond comprehension” or “worthy of universal acclaim and a big fat book like the Odyssey.” What you mean is “fine,” as our grandparents would say.

Word deflation. Continue reading

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Legalism’s Knockout Blow, pt 2

[This is part two of a two-part entry. Click here for Legalism’s Knockout Blow, part 1]

Mural, St. Sulprice, Price

The Encounter: Wrestling with God

Jacob prepares for dawn’s showdown with his fraternal Grim Reaper. He splits his family into two caravans, hoping one will survive. He sends forth his bribe. He waits in solitude by a brook.

Enter an Unnamed Somebody who picks a fight with dispirited Jacob. Later, he will worship that Somebody, identifying him as God (v. 28). God comes down to wrestle Jacob.

Why would God kick a guy when he’s down? Isn’t he supposed to be loving and kind? Why would he pick on Jacob at the lowest point in his life? Is he that uncaring?

Or could it be that he’s lovingly trying to condense a lifetime of legalism into a single encounter that he might uproot it once for all?

Verse 25 makes the stupefying claim that puny, frightened Jacob prevailed against infinite, Almighty God. What’s going on? These Scriptures present an acted parable—depicting how legalism stretches its tentacles into every area of life with God.

First tentacle: the idea that we are on equal footing with God. Legalism, by nature, demotes God to our own mercenary level and imagines we can go nose-to-nose with him. Was Jacob indeed on equal footing with God? Of course not. God wrestled him the way a father wrestles his five-year old. And, like the five-year old, legalists don’t get it. Like Jacob, they imagine themselves “winners” in the eyes of God; they believe they can, by human effort, merit his approval. Continue reading

“But God…” A Dozen Reversals of Life’s Heartaches, pt 2

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Fussy grammarians identify the word “BUT” as an adversative conjunction; something like the word “and” with a contrary attitude. When a decent “but” drops into a sentence, it turns the world upside down. How true, especially when the “but” unveils a divine operation — a heaven-sent miracle for life’s darkest hour.

This crabby but beautiful adversative conjunction invites your faith in a God who is the adversary of all that breaks your heart.

Today’s post is part two from an earlier post which you may find here. I hope you find comfort, strength, peace, and hope in a half dozen more “BUT GODS.”

  1. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NKJV). As the argument goes here, you might help out a friend; you might do something good for a decent human being. We find it far easier to help a person who is decent, thrifty, brave, and clean. BUT GOD is different. He embraces us with a love that knows now bounds when we are at our worst. While we were still sinners — moral train wrecks, fallen, helpless, and still shaking our collective fist in his face — the Son of God paid the ultimate sacrifice by shedding his precious blood on Calvary’s hill. He did not fold his arms and wait till we had our act together. Christ died for us, God proved his love for us, and the invitation to heaven’s banquet was sent to us long before we ever deserved it. But God…
  2. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; (1 Corinthians 1:27, NKJV). The earliest Christian churches weren’t pretty. They attracted society’s lower classes — not many mighty, not many wealthy, not many educated saints sang the praises of God. From all outward appearances, Christianity was a rag-tag assemblage of life’s last in line. The upper-crust occupants of Downton Abbey would look down their patrician noses and scoff. Who are these rabble? Must they be so noisy? What do they matter? BUT GOD delights in choosing life’s B-Team and using us to turn the world upside down. It is not the size of your portfolio, but the quality of your heart, that puts a smile on the face of God. Not your social rank, not your Klout score, not your Amazon ranking, and not an elite pedigree that fits you for service to the kingdom of God. It is your humble receipt of grace and your glorious identity in Christ that chases away the devil’s darkness and makes the angels stand and cheer.
  3. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV). This is one of my favorite verses. No matter what adversities assail you, God is faithful. The night may be dark, the wait may be long, the news may be bad, the hope may unravel, BUT GOD will never let you go. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
  4. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. (Galatians 3:18, NKJV). Hi. My name is Bill and I am a recovering legalist. Having spent half my life straining every fiber to measure up to God’s impossible demands, I so love the reversal in this verse. At question is the nature of God’s way of granting heaven’s immeasurably rich inheritance to God’s people: how does this happen? What is the nature of our great salvation? Paul offers only two choices: law or promise. These two choices determine the human response. If God offers salvation based on law, then the response must be obedience, compliance with the laws of God. If that’s the case, bend over backwards and kiss heaven’s inheritance goodbye; you’ve already screwed it up. BUT GOD offers salvation, not as a law to obey, but as a PROMISE. How do you respond when a promise is made? Simply BELIEVE. Your legalistic demons may peck you into bondage and despair, BUT GOD will keep his promise: he will save you freely and forever based on the finished work of Jesus Christ if you will only believe.
  5. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, (Ephesians 2:4, NKJV). Spiritual corpses, sinful, seized by diabolical forces beyond our control, slaves to lust and passion, and “children of wrath…” That is our dossier, by nature, before the court of heaven. The slimy pit of human depravity offers no escape. Any right-thinking judge, any decent, self-respecting God, would hurl javelins of judgment our way without batting an eye. Condemnation is our due. BUT GOD, who is rich him mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sin, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… that in the ages to come, He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. It just doesn’t get better than that. Thank God for the shed blood of Christ!
  6. But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, NKJV). “Image is everything.” “It’s not the truth that matters, but the perception of truth.” Every day we swim in a sea of philosophical sharks ready to shred our hope, our self-esteem, and the deepest truths about who we are in Christ. Religious pretense. Social climbing. Outward conformity to the peer group. Fit in. Be cool. Dress just right. The world’s philosophies will squeeze you into a mold that can only lead to the death of your dreams and a cold and bitter heart. The world says we must boast in our conformity to its death-dealing system. BUT GOD opens a way of escape, inviting us to glory in the Cross of Christ, to stand secure in the robes of righteousness, to rest in the grip of his hand, and to wait for his glorious appearance. Your search for significance is over — you have found it in the approval of God gained once for all by the matchless grace of the Cross.

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How has God reversed your fortunes? Are there any BUT GOD moments, big or small, you can point to? You can encourage us all in the comments below. 

“But God…” A Dozen Reversals of Life’s Heartaches, pt 1

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One of my pastors mentors me from the grave. For inspiration, learning, and direction, I often turn to the late, great pastor, Ray Stedman (click here to learn more: Ray Stedman). Today I read this from him, and thought I’d give it a try:

If you want a wonderful experience, take your New Testament and use a concordance to look up the two little words, “but God.” See how many times human resources have been brought to an utter end; despair has gripped the heart and pessimism and gloom has settled upon a people; and there is nothing that can be done. Then see how the Spirit of God writes in luminous letters, “but God,” and the whole situation changes into victory. (Ray Stedman)

God is the Lord of Reversals. He can turn around the darkest moment, reverse the bleakest fortunes, and upend the devil’s most diabolical plan. When life falls apart, God reaches down with his mighty hand of grace to mend, to heal, to fix, to help, to win the day. Life is hard, “but God…” Here are a dozen great promises, a dozen “But Gods” to cling to in life’s toughest hours.

  1. “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. (Genesis 50:20, NKJV). Though great evil came Joseph’s way, God’s hand of power never let him go. God is able to convert life’s tragedies into blessings no words can describe.
  2. And he said, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the LORD to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. (2 Chronicles 20:15, NKJV). I know, this one does not fit the mold grammatically, but how could I skip it? The great promise on the eve of battle rings true forevermore, in every struggle, every trial, every loss, and every distress: the battle is not yours, but God’s. Whatever giant you face today, go forth in the power of God; be at peace in his perfect promise.
  3. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalms 73:26, NKJV). We come to the end of our resources, we want to quit, give up, fall into despair… but God comes in with strength from above and love that knows no bounds. He will strengthen you, uphold you, encourage you, comfort you, and fortify you for the battles ahead.
  4. The nations will rush like the rushing of many waters; But God will rebuke them and they will flee far away, And be chased like the chaff of the mountains before the wind, Like a rolling thing before the whirlwind. (Isaiah 17:13, NKJV). For all who fret over the global political scene, here is hope. Your God is greater than the mightiest nation, ruler, or king. He will work through them and in spite of them to accomplish his glorious plan. He lifts them up, and when the time comes, he brings them down. The rulers of this world may seem almighty, but your omnipotent God towers above them forever.
  5. Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. (Acts 10:28, NKJV). Here, God reverses Peter’s lifetime of religious bigotry and the whole kosher system of the law. The law rendered us unclean, but God, by his mercy, washed us, brought us to his banqueting table, and made us his own.
  6. “But God raised Him from the dead. (Acts 13:30, NKJV). The ultimate victory. Here is hope for life’s darkest hour, peace in life’s fiercest storm, comfort in life’s saddest moments, and faith for life’s biggest obstacles. If God can conquer death, he can conquer whatever foes assail you today.

Click here for part two. If this blessed you, please use the share buttons below to share on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Thanks. 

How has God reversed your hardship? Has a bad situation turned into something good for you? Share in the comments your own “but God” story… 

Lessons from the King Who (Almost) Killed Christmas

Who was he? Herod the Great, as he liked to be called, was the not-so-great king of the Jews about the time when Jesus was born. By today’s standards he was a bad guy’s bad guy — ruthless, cunning, violent, vengeful, opportunistic, political, murderous. Herod ruled by fear. He has been called “the incarnation of brute lust” (ISBE). When the wise men came to visit the newborn King, Herod took offense; who else could be king but himself?

Following political customs, the wise men from the east (Persia) paid King Herod a visit. “We’ve come to see the newborn King of the Jews,” they said.

“Very nice,” he said. “Let me know when you find him, so I may also come and, er… uhh… worship him.” To death, but he didn’t say that part out loud.

To maintain his kingship against this usurper, Herod did the unthinkable: he ordered the slaughter of every baby boy in Bethlehem, ages two and under. No violence is “unthinkable” to a power-monger that denies the sacredness of human life.

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18, NKJV).

Because Bethlehem and its suburbs were small, it is estimated between 8 and 50 were killed. Even one makes heaven weep.

What can this ancient mass murderer teach us for today?

1. We are ultimately defined by what we do with Jesus. As the gospels tell the story, a train of characters came face to face with the claims of the newborn king. The SHEPHERD raced to see him. The WISE MEN travelled to worship him. The INN-KEEPER displaced him. MARY pondered him. JOSEPH sheltered him. The ANGELS went wild over him. HEROD envied him and sought to kill him. Each one responded in their own way.

What is your way? What is your response?

The most important thing about you is not your portfolio, not your looks, not your social status, not your grades, not your muscles, not your house or cars, not your human relationships. The most important thing about you is what you have done with Jesus Christ. Who is he to you?

It was infinite love that brought him into the world to save us. It was infinite condescension by which he fully identified with life in this fallen world. It was infinite mystery that he became our sin bearer. It was infinite mercy that he received the just penalty for your sin and mine. It is infinite grace that offers you the gift of eternal life — forgiveness of sins, love everlasting, a new start every day, and all the goodness that Jesus brings.

Have you received him as your own? Have you said yes to his gift of life? His arms are open wide — run to him and pin your hopes on him.

If Jesus is the God-man, then what you do with him is the central issue of your existence. God will only ask, Who was Jesus to you? Did you treat him as just one of many details in your busy life, or did you see in him your all in all? Was he something to your salvation, or was he everything?

God designed heaven as a place to launch the fame of Jesus beyond the stratosphere forevermore.

Either you’re good with that project or not. To Herod, Jesus was an annoyance, an obstacle, a threat to his chosen way of life. Eliminate him! he said. Don’t go down that path. Reach out to him and take his hand — it is the defining choice of your whole existence.

2. We have nobody to blame if we reject him. Why did Herod hate Jesus? Was it because the wise men were hypocrites? Was there a defect in their testimony about him? Maybe the God-followers he knew weren’t loving enough. Maybe they didn’t do enough good deeds for those less fortunate. All true, no doubt, to some degree. But ultimately, Herod was to blame for his own impenetrable heart. He made that choice. When he heard of the Savior, he hardened his heart and set out to kill him. He would have no god but himself — a fatal delusion in any age.

So the Bible says we all are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

We must take 100% responsibility for our choices, our faith or lack of it, our character, and our lives. Yes, our parents, society, environment, and genetics play a role in who we become. They give us a collective shove in a certain direction. In fact, the whole Herodian Dynasty were pretty ruthless. But unless we want to define humans as robotic victims of forces beyond their control — and, hence, utterly unaccountable for their evils — we need to respect the volition, i.e., the power of free will. [*there are some with organic mental illness or mental deficiencies that render them incapable of understanding the issues of the gospel, and incapable of choice — these, by grace, are brought to heaven in the end, but that’s for another post.]

Herod had nobody to blame. Ditto for the rest of us.

3. Some will not embrace Jesus no matter what testimony we offer. A miraculous star. An epic quest by his generation’s most venerable scholars. A collection of prophecies that prove his identity beyond doubt. All this evidence, and Herod still rejected the Savior.

Jesus said that not even a man coming back to life from the dead would provide a more persuasive argument than the written Word of God (Luke 16:31).

Once again, the testimony may be powerful, the sacrificial witness peerless, and the gospel presentation flawless, and some will still stiff arm Christ. You can offer the world a Christian life as Christian as Christ, and still get the same result: “For even His brothers did not believe in Him” (John 7:5, NKJV).

The gospel will never be palatable to a heart set on being its own god. And while the people of God must “adorn the doctrine of God” (Titus 2:10) by lives of integrity and goodness, we can do that perfectly and some will still not believe. This is not to excuse Christians behaving badly. Even so, more times than not, when critics blame the church’s shortcomings for their lack of faith in Christ, it’s just a lame excuse. Truth be told, there’s a little rebel lurking in every heart, crying out, “We will not have this man to rule over us.” But who wants to admit that? Much easier to blame the Christians and wash our hands of Christ.

Herod had all the evidence he needed and still pushed aside the Savior.

4. All must be invited and summoned to him. As nasty as Herod was, God sent evangelists in the form of wise men. “Hey, King, the Savior’s born,” they said. “Thanks, I’ll kill him later,” Herod said. Even so, God sent him witnesses. The great mission of the church is to tell the world, through words backed up by deeds, of the Savior, Jesus.

The Savior was born. Everybody needs to know. Bad people, good people, and in-between people. Young, old. Near and far. Everybody who breathes needs to hear the name of Jesus.

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:14, 15, NKJV).

Christmas is God’s gift to the world of lost sinners. Even society’s Herods must hear. Even society’s worst are not beyond the hope of redemption. God is the great evangelist, and we are called to join with him, spreading across the globe like ant colonies, with the song of the angels: “Fear not, for unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”

5. You can’t break Jesus or God’s Word. You can only break yourself against Jesus and God’s Word.  Herod died a lonely, bitter, miserable old man. He was such a butcher to his own family, Augustus Caesar said, “I would rather be Herod’s hog than Herod’s son” (ISBE).

What is truth?

Truth is reality. What is truth? Truth is reality as God sees it, God experiences, and God defines it. To build a life on God’s truth is to stand on solid rock. Everything else is sinking sand. You cannot beat yourself against God’s bedrock truth and come away unbloodied. God’s truth is an anvil that has worn out many hammers. You can’t break God’s laws, you can only break yourself against God’s laws.

To fight reality… well, that’s just crazy.

Christmas proves God wasn’t content to sit in heaven and lob truth bombs onto planet earth. He wrapped up the ultimate truth/reality — his own self — into a human nature, and came into our world as a baby. His whole life radiated the reality of heaven and a life set free. Come to him. Align your life to him. Live in reality, not unreality.

Like most things in life, when it comes to TRUTH, there’s an easy way and a hard way. I suppose the only good legacy Herod the Great left this broken world is a moral warning: it’s best not to choose the hard way.

[ISBE = International Standard Bible Encyclopedia]

God Didn’t Answer My Prayer

I prayed for something, and God didn’t make it happen. Now what?

Faith. Hope. Love. 

God answers prayer better than you think. You may not always get the answer exactly as you hoped. These disappointments are the greatest test of faith. Keep the faith; wait patiently on the Lord. He is orchestrating a bigger answer than you can imagine.

-DANIEL prayed, “Lord, preserve my nation.” God answered by letting the nation be destroyed. But he used Daniel to bless three empires and to counsel rulers, and he blessed him with power and wealth beyond description.

-JOSEPH prayed, “Lord save me from slavery.” God answered by letting him be sold into slavery. But he used Joseph to save the known world from starvation, including his family, and he blessed him with riches and wisdom beyond imagination.

-ESTHER prayed, “Lord, save me from the harem of Persia.” God answered by letting her be taken into that harem. But he used Esther to save the Jews from extermination, and blessed her with a happily ever after that no words could describe.

-JESUS prayed, “Lord, let this cup be taken from me.” God answered, letting him drink the cup of death by Crucifixion down to the last bitter drop. But it is through Jesus and his Cross and Resurrection that he delivered his people into the glorious liberty of the children of God… and saved them once for all forever.

Do not fret at “unanswered” prayer. There is no such thing. We are only looking at the closed gate blocking our next steps, begging God to open it.

God is looking at the mountain towering over our lives. He’s preparing to level it.

Wait on the Lord. Keep the faith. Leave the outcomes to him. 

Word! (Chapter 7 from Four Letter Words)

Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.

Attributed to Mark Twain2

TOUCHY IDEAS

1. The Bible is the inspired Word of God.

2. The Bible is God’s only and final Word, in its own class, above all other religious literature.

3. The theology and ethics of the Bible transcend time and culture and are as applicable today as when originally written.

4. No other book has improved society or benefited mankind as much as the Bible.

TOUCHY SCRIPTURES

1. So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the LORD commanded him. (Exodus 19:7).

2. I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth More than my necessary food. (Job 23:12).

3. The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers. (Acts 28:25).

4. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16,17).

5. For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21).

6. Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book. (Revelation 22:7).

 * * * * *

EVIDENCE, VERDICTS, AND MAKING THE CASE

I’ll never forget the first time I opened Evidence that Demands a Verdict. First published in 1972, the book rocketed to best-seller status. Josh McDowell blew my high-school mind with his flawless logic and undeniable evidence for Christianity. He spoke my language. His book assembled massive amounts of data to support the Bible as God’s Word and Jesus as God’s Son. When I read his book, I felt excited. It was like an encyclopedia of unbeatable arguments for Christianity.

Surely my skeptical friends would be convinced. I was right; they were wrong. God rules! That’s how I felt, at least.

To my young mind, McDowell proved beyond doubt that no other religious book compares with the Bible in terms of the number and quality of ancient copies. He laid out proof of Christ’s resurrection that would stand in any court. He contrasted the Bible’s historical accuracy with the inaccuracies of other religious works. McDowell made the case. He put forth evidence that demanded a verdict.

I thought any rational reader would be convinced.

I was wrong.

For most people, the jury is still out on the Bible. I don’t know if it’s postmodern cynicism toward truth, or our inborn allergy to accountability. Maybe it’s a sincere disagreement with the facts, but the evidence that looks so conclusive to me is blatantly inconclusive for a whole lot of my friends.

But for me, there is something about the Bible that sets it in a class by itself. Unfortunately, I can’t prove it like a scientist can prove that a virus causes the flu. It’s hard to subject the Bible’s claims to empirical or rational verification.

So I won’t try. You can find hundreds of excellent websites and books that make the case for the Bible from logic, evidence, and history (you can find links on the Four Letter Words website). I’m all for that, and I’m convinced. But in this chapter, I’d like to take a different approach.

I’d like to look at the Bible’s beauty and love.

WHOSE GOD IS LOVE?

In the history of world religion, it is Christianity alone—drawing from its roots in Judaism—that demolished preconceptions by offering a God of boundless love. If you erase the Bible from history, good luck finding an all-loving deity.

Here are nine major religious perspectives and their core concept of god:

Buddhism

Buddhists do not proclaim a god of love, because Buddhists do not proclaim any god at all. According to BuddhaNet, a major online resource,

“There is no almighty God in Buddhism. There is no one to hand out rewards or punishments on a supposedly [sic] Judgement [sic] Day. Buddhism is strictly not a religion in the context of being a faith and worship owing allegiance to a supernatural being.”3

Buddhists, like Hindus and others, believe in karma, a soulless force that makes sure the bad guys get what’s coming to them—either in this life or the next life, or the next life after that. No doubt, Buddhists can be extremely loving people. But, if you need a God of Love, look elsewhere.

Islam

The one God, Allah, is bigger than, and outside of, creation. Though we can know his will, we cannot know him personally. Muslims do not normally speak of a relationship with Allah. Even when they speak of God’s mercy, it is usually set in the context of justice rather than relationship. One Islamic scholar states, “God does not reveal Himself to anyone.”4 Instead, he reveals his will, and we’re stuck with it. No one can question kismet—the unbending will of Allah. The God of Islam leads with authority, not love.

Hinduism

I struck up a conversation with a gas station attendant in Los Angeles. A calendar hung on the wall behind him with a drawing of a man in a golden suit. I asked the attendant about the picture, figuring it was a politician or celebrity. He answered, “Oh, that is god.” The calendar displayed a different god for each month. Scholars debate how to classify Hinduism. By offering a menu of thousands of gods, it is polytheistic. By claiming that ultimately all things dissolve into oneness—including the gods—it is pantheistic. By suggesting that all gods are aspects of a single Supreme Being, it resembles monotheism. Hindus are comfortable in all three camps. The main gods of Hinduism form a kind of trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. “They are respectively the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe.”5 Each one has a female partner-god or consort. Though some of the gods may love their people—especially Devi, the Mother-Warrior goddess—Hinduism offers no all-supreme god of boundless love.

Animism

Animists find spirits lurking behind all things, including people, animals, plants, rocks, streams, trees, and thunderstorms. When the spirits are angry, worshippers appease them through rituals, spells and sacrifice. In the past, this has included human sacrifice. The spirits of animism do not love mankind in any special sense. Most animists resonate more with fear than with love.

Deism

There is a Supreme Being who created the universe and no longer interferes with its operations. Deists threw out any idea of miracles or supernatural influence in the world. Thomas Jefferson stitched together his own Bible by literally using scissors to cut out Scriptures he judged miraculous and therefore unworthy of Jesus. He claimed the true history and sayings of Jesus shined out from the false ones, “like diamonds on a dung heap.” He left the dung heap in the dung heap, and pasted up a 48-page Bible. It told the story of Jesus from his birth (minus angels and a virginal mother) to his burial (minus a resurrection).6 Deism offers an emotionally icy God of High I.Q. who watches from a distance, like a father who left behind a pile of money, and then abandoned his family.

Atheism

There is no god of love because there is no god. Would it annoy you if I pointed out again that ideas have consequences? Strip mankind of its Creator God of Love, and the most heinous crimes become not only thinkable, but actual. It is estimated that communism – in the service of atheism – has slaughtered more humans than any other system ever devised. Death by Government author, R. J. Rummel, estimates that communism in the Soviet Union, China, and Cambodia, killed (or let die) over 110,000,000 people—almost three times the number of humans who died in all the world’s wars during the twentieth century.7

Before you accuse me of breaking the needle on the “moron-meter,” I’m not painting every atheist as a genocidal maniac. One of my good friends is an atheist, and he’s a good-hearted, thoughtful, fun-loving guy. But how can you subtract God’s love from the core of the cosmos, and expect the world’s rulers to curb their lust for power? Why should they?

Wicca

Wicca is an animist religion, and like animism, believes in the spirits of trees and rocks and birds. Through spells, incantations, and rituals, Wiccans hope to persuade these spirits to play nice. Wiccans can exhibit great love for others; I have a couple of ex-Wiccans in my church, and they are kind-hearted people. But while they were in Wicca, no one ever offered them a God of love.

Gnosticism

This ancient philosophy/religion is on the rise, thanks to movies and books like The DaVinci Code.  It comes in many flavors and gloms onto a lot of religions: Gnostic Christianity, Gnostic Judaism, Gnostic Islam (the ‘g’ is silent). It’s basically a shape-shifter, except for a few core beliefs: Gnostics taught that matter was evil (your body), and spirit was good (your soul, all the invisible stuff). Since god is good, he has nothing to do with humans made of matter, like us. So he didn’t create us, and doesn’t relate to us. Instead, he spun off legions of mini-gods, called emanations or demi-urges, who spun off their own mini-gods, who eventually spun off mankind.

In essence, the Gnostic god distanced himself from filthy humans by creating myriads of go-betweens, like clerks in a government office, whose main job is to shield the boss from rabble like us. Can you feel the love?

Ancient Pantheons 

A pantheon is a roster of gods, and the ancient world offered loads of them. Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Norse pantheons listed literally hundreds of gods. None of the big ones—Ra, Zeus, Jupiter, or Odin—could ever be mistaken as a god of love. Yes, there was love and an occasional spasm of kind-heartedness from them. But it never dawned on ancient people that an Almighty Creator God loved them and had their best interests at heart.

* * * * *

I attended three colleges and flipped through five majors to finally get a bachelor’s degree. During my stint at the University of Illinois (Chicago), I was one of a handful of “Classics” majors. We studied Greek and Roman languages, literature, and culture. I took my first classes in ancient Greek with a Jesuit priest named Father Tracy. Good stuff.

But I don’t remember ever hearing about any deity’s love in any of my classes. Credit Jesus and his people for first injecting a loving God into the theological bloodstream.

GOD IS…

The Apostle John detonated a religious explosion when he wrote, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He actually wrote it twice (v. 16). No other religion ever made love the heartbeat of God.

Christians own “God is love.”

We might not have always radiated his ideal standards, but we’ve never budged from this mother of all religious premises. We don’t simply say God has love, or that God shows love, or that God—after he’s been fed enough sacrifices—is loving. No. We say, God is love. Followers of Jesus brought that message to the world. Like the original, original, Original Pancake House, there are many copies, but only one original.

That original, found in John’s first Epistle, only echoes a thousand whispers of biblical teaching. John didn’t invent this truth; he only summarized it from all that Scripture already said.

He supremely learned it from Jesus. Jesus taught,

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13) and, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Does love prove the superiority of the Bible? Only if a loving God is important to you. Otherwise, it makes no difference.

THE MAIN THING

The love of God is the main theme of the whole Bible. The different authors of the Bible’s sixty-six books, hold up God’s love like a diamond, and make it sparkle from a million angles.

  • Moses highlighted this love as part of God’s abiding marriage covenant with his people. If God was jealous, it was only because the people he loved went after other lovers.
  • David composed songs about God’s love—friend to friend, and man to God. For David, God wasn’t just “the Big Guy up there,” he was closer than a brother, and more gentle than a shepherd.
  • The Prophets painted God’s love as a portrait of a mother nursing her child, or a lover wooing his beloved. “The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you’” (Jeremiah 31:3).
  • The Gospels depict God’s love as a fire burning in Jesus’ heart. Sometimes it was warm and tender: when Jesus ate fish with his disciples, when he turned water to wine, and when he healed lepers and embraced society’s outcasts. Other times…

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You’ve been reading an excerpt from FOUR LETTER WORDS: Conversations on Faith’s Beauty and Logic, by Bill Giovannetti.  © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

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