Israel and the Phoenix

israelWatching the news this week reminded me of the phoenix.

Ancient Greek literature contains references to a phoenix, a beautiful bird that would live for hundreds of years, die in flames, and rise from its own ashes to live anew. Later references can be found in Dante’s Inferno as well as Shakespeare’s Henry VIII.

Of course, the phoenix is a myth. Still, anyone who has been paying attention to the news in recent weeks might have experienced a similar reminder.

IsraelIt’s difficult to not think of a phoenix as we watched the celebration of Israel’s 70th anniversary as a nation. Now, 70 years may not seem like much in light of the history of other nations. Even the United States is a relative juvenile on the world stage compared to many European nations.

But Israel’s birth as a nation 70 years ago is not so much a birth as it is a rebirth. Approximately 4,000 years ago, God promised to give the land to the descendants of Abraham. Several hundred years later, Moses led the fledgling nation out of Egyptian slavery to take possession of their new homeland. That trek should have lasted 40 days. But because of unbelief, the Jewish nation wandered for 40 years before being led into the promised land by Joshua.

Various empires would repeatedly scatter the Jews from their land throughout history. It wasn’t until 1948 that Israel once again formally possessed the land promised to Abraham 4,000 years earlier.

From the moment Israel was reborn, neighboring nations determined to destroy her. This piece of land, slightly larger than the size of New Jersey, became the focus of hostility for all 70 years of her existence and continues today.

Sadly, the rebirth of Israel has also meant suffering for many displaced Palestinians. First, they lost the land they occupied for centuries when the Jews were a scattered people. And second, these refugees have become pawns in a political and religious war, a war in which many of the combatants demand nothing short of the annihilation of the Jews.

It’s a conflict almost as old as time…one that began with the birth of two brothers: Isaac and Ishmael. As Proverbs 18:19 (ESV) tells us, “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.”

Still, Israel remains. A national illustration of the phoenix, rising from the ashes of history to take and hold her promised place among the nations.

A story is told of Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia in the 18th century. During that time, he asked his chaplain, “Can you prove to me in one sentence that the Bible is true?” The chaplain said, “I only need two words to prove that the Bible is true and that God doesn’t lie. Those two words are ‘The Jews!’”

Israel’s 70th anniversary as a nation proves God keeps His promises to them and to us.

And that’s no myth.


 
God Wink

God winkEver have God wink at you?

You’re going along through your routine day, and something unusual or special happens.

Others might call it a coincidence, but the sense of joy you receive tells you it wasn’t merely a convergence of random circumstances. Rather, it’s a personal reminder that our loving God is actively involved in the lives of His children.

It could be the most ordinary of events. Or it could be something extraordinary. Sometimes it’s not so much about the event as it is about the timing.

For example, hubby and I were talking about how we haven’t seen much wildlife around our home in the past several weeks. We usually see rabbits, snakes, sandhill cranes, and other birds and animals, but the fauna had been hiding lately. Then, within two days, I saw 2 large rabbits hop across our lawn, a shiny, 2-foot black snake slither across the grass, and our family of cranes strut across the backyard.

Coincidences, you say? Then how about this one…

Hubby’s mom lived with us for most of our marriage. You’ll never meet a sweeter woman. Sadly, in her last years, she suffered from a variety of illnesses, including dementia. We struggled to find things that would bring a smile to her face and make her eyes light up the way they used to.

One day, during an outing to the local mall, she saw a store selling electric organs/pianos. The joy that lit her face was almost tangible, so we purchased a small organ and she loved playing with it for the remaining months she had with us.

Well, for the past 18 years, that organ sat in a corner of our home, unused. We finally decided to sell it earlier this year. I listed it on various marketplace sites, to no avail. I displayed it at a garage sale—it almost sold, but the buyer changed her mind at the last minute.

Finally, I listed it on Craig’s list. Within 2 days we received an email that said:

I’m interested in this because my 85-year-old grandmother has dementia and all she talks about is how she played the piano in church when she was younger. She lives in a mobile home, so we’re looking for something small that will fit there.

A day later, the buyer picked up the organ and that evening texted a picture of her grandmother sitting on the piano bench, hands on the keyboard, and smiling the broadest smile you would ever want to see.

God orchestrated events so that the electric organ that brought joy to someone with dementia would be held in reserve until it could bring joy to another person with dementia 18 years later.

Coincidence? I don’t believe that for a minute.

I recently completed a Bible study of the Book of Romans. The last chapter is one many people skim through, or often skip altogether. Why? It’s filled with a list of names—most of which mean little or nothing to us today.

But those names tell me that God cares about individuals. He knows your name and mine. He is actively involved in the lives of His children. Sometimes He does it as His Holy Spirit gives an extra measure of peace in a difficult situation. Or He might do it by opening an opportunity you thought was closed.

Sometimes He does it with a wink.

Have you experienced a God wink? Share it in the comments!


 
Queering God?

God's character

Just when I think our culture can’t shock me any more than it has…

it does.

When you consider God’s character – the character of the God of the Bible, which of these descriptions come closest to your belief?

  • God is the supreme creator of the universe.
  • He’s one god among many gods.
  • God is a fable or myth believed by ignorant people.

I recently learned of yet another proposed view of God’s character and nature. Two college courses in particular attempt to label God’s character in a way that leaves me

concerned

alarmed

shocked

angry

sad

furious

and brokenhearted.

Swarthmore College is an institution of higher learning founded by the Quakers in 1864. U.S News & World Report ranked Swarthmore in a three-way tie as #3 of all national liberal arts colleges.

But this school seems to have departed from its origins. And in doing so, from a traditional biblical perspective it has entered dangerous spiritual territory.

Swarthmore now offers two courses that challenge traditional biblical Christianity in an extreme way.

The first class, named “Queering the Bible,” “destabilizes long held assumptions about what the bible–and religion–says about gender and sexuality.” That’s not my opinion, that’s the stated goal in the school course catalog. And they don’t want to simply disagree with what the Bible says, they assert that they want to “destabilize” it.

The second class, called “Queering God,” “seeks to stretch the limits of gendering-and sexing-the divine” as noted in their course catalog.

Destabilize what the Bible says? Stretch the limits of gendering and sexing God? Seriously?

I’m angry at how they treat the God of the universe. Still, I know He does not need me to defend Him. He knows the heart and will respond to every person in accordance with what He has said in His word.

I’m also brokenhearted for the students who attend these classes. Students who will be misled by those who claim to speak with authority. Students whose view of their Creator will be molded and confirmed at a young age and will shape their lives for decades to come.

I’m also confounded that those in our culture who persist in mocking, and work to “destabilize,” Christianity rarely, if ever, attempt similar action against other world religions.

The fact that the world continues to target the God of the Bible and the Christians who believe in Him is quite telling. The logical conclusion is that people attack what they feel threatened by the most. They don’t attack fables and myths with the vehemence many reserve for the God who they claim is a fable or myth.

But even as I write this, my anger is seeping away, replaced by deep sorrow. The consequences of their actions will far outweigh my own individual offense. God’s character is revealed in His Word. Someday, they will stand before the One who created the universe. May they come to know Him as Savior before they have to face Him as Judge.


 
New Lies

“It’s just fiction,” they said.

“It was never intended to be a theology textbook,” they said.

“It will show people that God is love,” they said.

New LiesIn the seven years I’ve been blogging, I’ve never written a rebuttal post. I write what I believe I’ve been called to write and then move on to another topic.

Until today.

Last week, I wrote a blog post expressing concerns about the unbiblical theology undergirding The Shack. I noted that both fiction and non-fiction can influence us toward a biblical view of God or away from it.

Of course, fiction can espouse any theology the author wants. Or no theology at all. However, fiction marketed as Christian has an obligation to uphold a biblical worldview. If not, please don’t call it Christian.

Some readers felt that I (and others who raised concerns) overreacted. And that my response demonstrated a lack of love. Surely such a story was a blessing as it addressed the pain of suffering and drew people to a loving God. A few theological discrepancies weren’t that much of a problem, were they? Besides, the movie didn’t include some of the unbiblical statements found in the book, so that makes it okay, right?

The problem is that The Shack did not draw people to a loving God. It draws people to a loving god. And no, the small letter “g” is not a typo.

New Lies

For those who believe accurate theology in fiction is not important, here’s a newsflash. This week, the author of The Shack released a non-fiction book titled Lies We Believe About God. Yes. Non-fiction. In this book, which is already a bestseller in its first days of release, William Paul Young explains his theology—the same theology that framed his novel.

What are these “lies”? He lists twenty-eight. They include:

  • God is in control.
  • Hell is separation from God.
  • Sin separates us from God.

Yes, he identifies these statements as lies. Yet here are just a few of many Bible verses that refute these supposed lies:

  • “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?” (Lamentations 3:37 ESV).
  • “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (II Thessalonians 1:9 ESV).
  • “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:15 ESV).

To be fair, just as truth was mixed with error in The Shack, so is truth mixed with error in Lies We Believe About God. Some of the lies in this new book are, indeed, lies that should be exposed, such as the lie that “Death is more powerful than God.” But will readers be familiar enough with Scripture to separate fact from fiction in this non-fiction book that is supposedly Christian?

As someone once said, the easiest lie to believe is one mixed with a grain of truth.

Would you Eat This?

I’m reminded of the following story.

Two teens asked their father if they could go see a movie all their friends had seen. He read the reviews and denied their request.

“Why not?” they protested. “It’s rated PG-13—we’re both older than thirteen!”

Dad replied, “Because it portrays immorality, something God hates, as being normal and acceptable behavior.”

“But our friends told us those scenes are just a few minutes of the total film. It’s based on a true story and good triumphs over evil.”

“My answer is no, and that’s final.”

The boys sulked on the couch. But then they heard sounds of their father in the kitchen and recognized the aroma of brownies baking. Soon their father appeared with a plate of warm brownies.

“Before you eat, I want to tell you I love you very much. That’s why I made these brownies from scratch with the best ingredients, like organic flour and free-range eggs.”

The brownies looked mouth-watering.

“But I must be honest with you. I added one ingredient that’s not usually found in brownies. The ingredient came from our own back yard. But don’t worry, because it’s organic. The amount is practically insignificant. Take a bite and let me know what you think.”

“Dad, what’s the mystery ingredient?”

“The secret ingredient is organic…dog poop.”

“Dad! We can’t eat these!”

“Why not? The amount of dog poop is very small compared to the rest of the ingredients. It won’t hurt you. You won’t even taste it. Go ahead and eat!”

“Never!”

“That’s the same reason I won’t allow you to watch that movie. You won’t tolerate a little dog poop in your brownies, so why should you tolerate a little immorality in your movies? We pray God will not lead us into temptation, so how can we in good conscience entertain ourselves with something that will imprint a sinful image in our minds and will lead us into temptation long after we see it?”

The theology of supposedly Christian books such as The Shack and Lies We Believe About God may not be immoral in the sense of the above story. But these books are as bad or worse. They mix truth with error as they mishandle the very nature of God under the guise of being Christian.

In the name of tolerance, are warnings such as this unloving? Legalistic? On the contrary. The most loving thing we can do is alert people to the danger of demeaning the nature of our holy, transcendent – and yes, loving – God.


 
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