God’s Wrath – Our Hope

There are some pretty horrible lies out there. One that I’ve recently been seeing a lot of is this one: God has no wrath. He is only love.

Truth: The Bible nowhere states “God is wrath” the way it does state “God is love.” (1 John 4:8, 16) What is God? Well, the Bible says He is love. When it comes down to a climactic and critical moment of defining Himself to Moses and thus to His people Israel, in Exodus 34:6-7 its important that God does NOT say “The LORD, the LORD, a God angry and wrathful, slow to love, and abounding in vengeance and hatred, keeping anger against thousands and reluctant about forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty…” No, no, no. It does not say that! If it did, we would have a god like the gods of all the nations. But we don’t have a god like theirs, and it does not say that. It says “The LORD, the LORD, a God MERCIFUL and GRACIOUS, SLOW to anger, and abounding in STEADFAST LOVE and FAITHFULNESS, keeping STEADFAST LOVE for thousands, FORGIVING iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.” Whew, what a relief!

And the pages of Scripture are heavy with many such lavish declarations of God’s love in all its scandalous reality. BUT. Wait. How does wrath figure in? If we listen to the liars and the false teachers out there who have made it their mission to re-interpret Scripture so they can look and sound good to the un-read people they are taking to hell with them, then we would just ignore the MANY, yes many, statements of God and about God in Scripture that convey a clear and unmistakable message that He has wrath and that He will judge. Get out your sharpie and start highlighting.

There isn’t room in the blog post to include all those verses. If you read your Bible at all, you know they are there.

So, the pivotal question…Is God wrathful or is He loving? First, put aside the notion that these are mutually exclusive ideas. That has to be our first step in understanding, because Scripture unapologetically speaks of both.

It says “God is love.” And He is. It never says “God is wrath” or anything like that. It says He has wrath. That’s different. Way different. God has wrath BECAUSE He IS love.

God has wrath BECAUSE He IS love. Wrath is a result of love, or whatever you suppose is love, is not actually true love. What if you loved – really loved someone, and you saw them doing something that was going to destroy them. Would you say, “Well I love you, so if it makes you happy, let me not stand in your way”? Of course not! That would be, simply put, to hate that person. So with God. But, because the thing we ought to love and that ought to make us happy is HIM – and we just don’t because we are sinners – we think its hateful and wrathful for God to say, “If you don’t worship Me, I will punish you.” We – in our sin – don’t think of that as loving. But you know…it is loving. God’s wrath revealed from heaven against sin (Romans 1:18) IS a result of His great love. He made us for Himself, to be satisfied and happy forever in knowing and worshipping Him – that was our created purpose. We rebelled, said “No thanks” and decided to worship a lot of other things. God would be HATING us if he said, “Well I love you, so if it makes you happy, let me not stand in your way.” He knows it will not make us happy, that only He can. He knows we – in our sin – choose our own destruction. And He loves us enough to stand in our way.

One page over, in Exodus 34 (at least in my Bible 🙂 ) God talks about this. “Take care lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD your God, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God)”. Verses 12-14. In this case, God being Jealous is a very good thing. If God wasn’t jealous, He wouldn’t care less if His people worshiped Asherim and ended up without Him. In fact, God being jealous is the only hope that we, His horrendously idolatrous people have. God makes it his business to oppose anything that stands between Him and His people. We should be so glad! We should also recognize this for what it is…LOVE.

So – God hates because He IS love. His wrath against sin is our only hope for being kept from sin. And sin keeps us from God.

 

Impressions

If you want to have your breath taken away, read 1 and 2 Chronicles in 4 days or less. 🙂 I have never thought that there might be anything breathtaking about Chronicles, but there definitely is. I have a few deep impressions after spending this short amount of time in two books of the Old Testament that I truthfully have never gotten excited about before. I would like to briefly share them for your consideration, and to hopefully leave you with a greater interest in these books and a greater love of Scripture and the God of it!

1. God is engages in an patient, merciful pursuit of His faithless people through sending them prophets. 

2. Not repenting is more serious than the sin God calls one to repent of.

3. God relents from planned disaster in response to sincere prayer.

4. God is reached and moved by the humility, repentance, and prayers of even the most wicked of people (Manassah).

5. God is unwilling to completely destroy His people because of His promise. His own word binds Him and defines His actions more than His provocation at sin.

6. God always responds to prayer and is always found by those who set their hearts to seek Him.

7. Every righteous and reforming leader has a moral downfall of some degree which gets exposed.

8. God is faithful and direct in fulfilling everything He speaks.

9. “Normal” events that might not seem “supernatural” are actually divinely ordained means to accomplish divine purposes.

10. The stage is further set for a Deliverer and Redeemer. Clearly, no one is righteous or without sin and there is no lasting peace or security in the government of people – not even the people who had a God so near to it as the LORD their God was to Israel, a people to whom were given the promises, blessings, deliverances, prophets, and covenants. SomeOne must save us from the evil that is within us.

There is so much more than these, but these are the things which stand out to me the most clearly. I would encourage anyone who hasn’t to undertake a read-through of the Bible in a specific time frame. I was unconvinced of the helpfulness of such a discipline until I started to do it for the first time just this past month. Its difficult to keep going when a text is rich with treasures that you want to explore and examine up close, but I’ve been discovering that there are treasures there which you can only see in the panoramic view. To my shame, I admit that I have often heard this said, but always smugly dismissed it, thinking that I couldn’t possibly have a better grip on the “big picture” of Scripture. What an arrogant and foolish assumption. I was very wrong. There is so much more than I could have ever imagined in this for the purpose of seeing God and invoking my worship of Him. 

What Terrifies Me

I’m frankly terrified by these honest, not-very-palatable words of Jesus.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13-14.

It wouldn’t be so terrifying to me if we didn’t have thousands of people filling protestant, Bible teaching-church buildings all over the world who genuinely think they will have eternal life, but who are not Biblically alive.

Yes. Jesus did say this. The fact that I don’t hear them in the verbage of the Christian world concerns me more than the words themselves. Jesus said other more pleasant things that we repeat all the time. But we are taking those things out of context if we never repeat the other “less pleasant” things He said. 

Jesus did us the gracious favor of telling us – warning us that the way to eternal death would be easy and resistance free. He didn’t say this because He wanted to be “radical.” He said this because He loves people. “Enter by the narrow gate!” He calls to sinners. If He hated us and just wanted to cause us trouble and pain He would have said nothing. In fact, He probably wouldn’t have bothered leaving heaven or stumbling down the road to Calvary.

People don’t wake up every morning and think to themselves: “Let’s see. I’d like to come to eternal destruction when I die. Which is the best way of getting there?” People are more likely to wake up and say: “Let’s see. I’d like to avoid eternal destruction. But I’d also like to avoid difficulty and discomfort in my life today and next year too, so I’ll just take the path of least resistance so I can be as comfortable and happy as possible today and next year.” And in so doing, they enter the wide gate and walk down the easy way. But, they do so, having to deny the reality (or because of ignorance of it) that this is the way that leads to eternal destruction.

If our “Christianity” is focused on our comfort and ease and getting our problems solved, there is a big problem with our “Christianity” – as in, its not Biblical. If its not Biblical, its a fantasy…or more accurately, a lie from the pit of hell that is leading us straight there.

Friends, I know this is not “feel good” kind of stuff. But I feel compelled to bring it up. Something compelled Jesus to bring it up. He loved people too much to let them live an illusion and believe a lie that would destroy them. He said, “Many” will enter by the lie. Many. Do we hear Him? Because they wanted to be destroyed? No! Because it was easier, fun, and more comfortable. For a little while.

People don’t generally get excited about “narrow” and “hard.” People tend to think of “life” as the 80 or so years they spend on this planet. So naturally, they aren’t going to gravitate toward the way that leads to REAL life. Proverbs 14:12 says it another way. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” We have to be like Jesus and urge people that what seems and feels right to them is a soul-destroying lie. We have to be honest with would-be followers of Jesus that its a hard thing they are considering to do, but that the reward of it is eternal life- and that eternal life is not just about living forever – but of doing so (starting now) knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent. (John 17:3)

We have to, have to, have to get this idea we love so much out of our thinking: this idea that is not in the Bible…anywhere. This idea that there are three categories of people in the world – Unbelievers, Christians-who-live-for-themselves-but-just-got-a-pass-out-of-hell, and Christians-who-just-get-a-weird-kick-out-of-difficulty-and-take-Jesus-literally. There aren’t three. Nowhere does the Bible give us a warrant to believe that Jesus is the Savior of those of whom He is not also Lord.

Its a matter of life and death, and the difference between hatred and love.

The Gospel Is For Real

What’s with all these “Christian” movies coming out lately? I’m specifically thinking of “Son of God,” “Noah,” and “Heaven is for real.” There might be more. I haven’t seen any of these movies – except for about 40 minutes of “Son of God.” There’s so much controversy about these movies in the Christian world. At the risk of spending forever just repeating stuff others (who actually saw the movies, or know enough to not have to) have already said and written about each one, I just want to bring up something that really bothers me in this whole thing.

Some Christians are saying “We should embrace these movies as a way to start conversations with unbelievers, or as an occasion to spend time with them – hoping and praying that it will result in conversations that we can quickly take to Scripture.”

Personally, there are quite a few objections I have to this, but my objections for their own sake aren’t very important, so I don’t want to waste your time. I just want to try to make one simple point.

Do we need a movie that presents only half-truths or that totally distorts God and His people, or that leaves Jesus out of the picture completely to find an occasion to talk to and spend time with unbelievers? I should hope not. Do we know Jesus or do we not know Jesus? Is the gospel of His love for sinners the best news in the world or is it not? Is it the only hope for sinners or is it not? If it is, we already have all the reason in the world to start talking, and start spending time with people. Shouldn’t our love for Christ, and even more – our knowledge of His love to us – birth and sustain in us a desire to share Him with those around us at any and every possible opportunity? Why should we depend on “Noah” for that? If this is what it takes, we’re doing it wrong. I think what Jesus had in mind when He commanded us to take the gospel to all creation involved a little more than going to a movie that deliberately distorts Him in hopes that it will spark conversations about Him. Come on, guys. If we know Him, we’ve already got a reason. People should know who we love and what we live for without us having to invite them to see “Heaven Is For Real” and us hoping it will come up in our hopefully ensuing discussion.

Let’s not be ashamed of the gospel. Its what’s truly for real. This is a call for discernment, but also for obedience. Much is at stake.

The Feelings-Driven Life

Image

A friend said the other day that she had read something that said: “We need to believe in the God of the Bible, not the god of our feelings.” That really stuck with me, and the truth is, I catch myself creating a god of my feelings all the time. The god of my feelings, as another friend put it, “exists in only one place – your imagination.”

The God of the Bible is the self-existant, self-revealing God who IS. That’s pretty fantastic. There’s a God who IS, and I can’t do anything about it, not if I wanted to, and certainly not by accident. I can’t make Him stop being who He is, just because I don’t feel like that’s who He is. What a relief. Seriously. How do I so easily forget this? That’s pretty much all I have to say about that for now – nothing new or profound – except that its so profound.

But on the subject of feelings, there’s another aspect that has been weighing on me over the past few months. Its what I am calling, and I dare to think – appropriately – “The Feelings-Driven Life.” I thought the trend I was seeing was just an American vice. Then I moved to Ukraine and found it is even more rampant – if possible – here. This leads me to conclude that its a thing which is not bound by geography, but is more and more a trait of my generation. And, of course, there is nothing new under the sun, so this isn’t going to be a shock, I hope.

The Feelings-Driven Life is life lived under the dictates of feelings. I don’t feel like going to school. I don’t feel like praying. I don’t feel like getting up early to read my Bible. Or to go to church. Or to keep an appointment. Or doing what I said I would do.

I see this in my own life all the time – and I know that it would totally control me if not for the grace of God. I used to never pray. I mean, I prayed – at church, in a group if someone asked me, or if I was in a special situation, but I didn’t pray in my personal life with any kind of regularity or purposefulness. Because I didn’t feel like it. I thought, “If I make a prayer list and systematically pray for certain things at certain times, I’ll be quenching the Holy Spirit. I want Him to move me to pray for the things I’m supposed to pray for and put things on my heart. I want Him to make me want to pray. Then I will.” And that never happened. And so I never prayed. And when I said, “I’ll pray for you,” to a friend, I only actually prayed for them if I happened to remember…which sadly, wasn’t often. By God’s grace, I have developed a habit of prayer in my daily life, but I still fight this problem of my feelings. Every time I think about prayer…what I find that I feel is resistance. “I am always disinclined to go God in prayer, and when I am in prayer, I am always disinclined to stay there.” – I think this is a quote from John Bunyan. I almost cried when I heard it, because I was so thankful to hear someone like him struggled like me. This isn’t to say that prayer is a joyless duty – far from it. There is nothing else that I find more joy in than prayer – but not without discipline. We don’t doubt the love the apostle Paul had for Christ, yet he admitted, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:27) He admonished his son in the faith, Timothy, “Train yourself for godliness.” (1 Tim 4:7b)

So I speak from painfully present experience, and not to just complain or be critical. We are a feelings-driven generation. Admittedly, the problem of living by our feelings is present in all people of all times, because its part of being fallen human beings, but I am just speaking about what I am observing and encountering daily in the world I live in. One girl I was am trying to encourage about growing as a believer told me that she doesn’t read her Bible. When I asked why not, she told me that she was waiting for a feeling that she should read it. She didn’t want to force herself – she wanted it to be a natural desire. Boy, did that sound like my own struggle! I really believe that if we are going to grow up as believers we need to start realizing that we are engaged in a war. We aren’t going to feel like it most of the time. That’s why its called a fight of faith. There is nothing natural about it. Truthfully, its impossible to be a Christian. We can’t do it alone, and if we don’t avail ourselves of the means given to us with which to grow and stand firm, we will be demolished spiritually. We’d like to think that we are morally sound enough to just wake up wanting God every morning. We’d like to think that this was just going to naturally come about with no effort on our parts. God is just going to sprinkle some magic dust on us while we sleep and poof – we are going to resemble Jesus and walk with Him. But the truth is, that isn’t what happened in Jesus’ case, and it is not going to happen to us. Jesus was probably the most disciplined guy that ever lived. I don’t know how many nights he spent in prayer, but don’t tell me that He wasn’t tempted to just sleep like everyone else. I’m pretty sure “He was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15b)

More and more I am becoming convinced that the greatest enemy I face on a daily basis is my own feelings. I am learning that I cannot trust my heart. Not when it tells me who God is, nor when it tells me how to conduct myself. My rule of thumb is increasingly becoming, “If it feels right – be suspicious.” And then run to the Truth – the Truth that never changes. I don’t want to live driven by my feelings, but as Paul said, “the love of Christ controls us.”(2 Cor 4:14a) And, as we know, love – is not a feeling.

It’s easy to point a judgmental finger at “mainstream Christianity,” but if I’m honest, I catch this notion creeping subtle-ly into my own expectations too: that Jesus is cool, and following Him is supposed to be popular. Jesus isn’t “cool.” He isn’t popular. He isn’t. When too many people started hanging around, Jesus was quick to point out to them what it took to follow Him. “Now great crowds accompanied Him, and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” I think Jesus did this out of love. I don’t think He was doing it to just sound “radical” or to weed out the people who weren’t super spiritual. I really think He loved them enough to tell them what they were potentially getting themselves into, and to think twice. I have pangs of regret over the people throughout the years who I have shared the gospel with, but neglected to tell them what following Jesus was going to require. I know a some of those people started building, but how many of them were able to finish? 

If Jesus applied for a position as a leader in one of our youth groups, I don’t think He’d get the job, or if He did, He’d soon be “fired.” We don’t look at a room full of thirteen year olds and love them enough to tell them that just because they go to church doesn’t mean their hearts are right with God. Jesus would do that. We try to make Jesus cool to thirteen year olds, (and thirty and sixty year olds) so they’ll want Him. Jesus turned people away, rather than offer them something that didn’t really exist. 

To be honest, I’m becoming more and more horrified of modern Christianity. I think that modern American “Christianity”(and not just American!) is the biggest threat to the true church – more than Islam, more than Hinduism, more than the cults, more than secular humanism. And I’m angry about it. I don’t know if its righteous anger, and so I’m in the process of searching my heart and God’s heart about that. I’m angry when I listen to mainstream Christian radio and almost all the songs are about a fake Jesus who came to make much of me and make sure that I’m safe and comfortable. I’m angry about all the wasted time – the other day the people on the station I was listening to were going on and on about what heaven was going to smell like. Really? We have the potential to reach people on the airwaves with the precious news of a Savior and we are using it like this? I was embarrassed because Jesus heard it.

I’m not saying we can’t ever indulge in a mirthful moment or that its unbiblical to build bridges. We should laugh, and we should strive to enter the world of those around us…but not with a fake Jesus. Not with false teaching. With the truth. As a dear brother in Christ recently prayed, “Father, there could be no greater betrayal than to build a friendship with someone and fail to tell them that they will have to give an account of their lives to a holy Judge.” (paraphrased!) This is what the real Jesus came to do. I love so much that He cried out, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world!” (Jn 12:47b) but this was because the world was “condemned already.” (3:18)

 

Aside

People in Love

I’m borrowing the idea for this blog post from a good friend’s prayer, although the idea is profoundly rooted in Scripture and something that God has caused me to think about a lot over the past months.

We recognize people in love immediately. They don’t even have to be with each other, and its obvious at once. You can tell by the stars in their eyes and the way they light up at the mention of their beloved’s name, or the way they become animated as they speak about him or her. We kind of inwardly roll our eyes and exchange knowing looks over their heads at each other and say to ourselves, “They’re behaving that way because they’re in love.” 

I want to be obviously in love with Jesus. Why shouldn’t my eyes light up when I speak about Him? This can’t be faked. This is real or its non-existent. “I know I am loved by the King, and it makes my heart want to sing.” The King. Not a king. THE King. The King of all kings. The One over all this universe for whom and by whom all things exist. Him. He loves me. He loves me. He doesn’t just have a nice warm feeling toward me. He lived a life of pain and was on my cross so that I would never have to be there. He gave his life for me. ME. The rebel. The glory thief, the hater, the idolater, the traitor, the harlot. I will always be unworthy. If there was ever a scandal, its this. If ever something SHOULD NOT BE, its that He would love me. 

This makes my heart want to sing. This makes me want to speak of my beloved to all I meet. He is the only significant part of my life. He is all I have, all I need. How can I keep silent, while the world lifts up the praises of worthless idols that only destroy and mock their worshippers, leaving them empty and not delivered, and not speak of Him whose love and beauty is beyond all love and beauty, who is sweeter than all pleasure. How can I ever speak of Him enough? How can I not make it known that I am loved?

“With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” Song of Songs 2:3-4

Previous Older Entries