The Tale of Two Gods?

There was a heresy in the second century AD named after Marcion of Sinope (ca. 85-160) that claimed the God of the Old Testament was not the same deity as worshipped by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Marcion believed that the Yahweh of the OT was a “demiurge” (subordinate to Supreme God) which had created the material universe; a tribal God of Israel characterized by wrath and jealousy. He also believed that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed in the NT as a God of love and compassion. (See Marcion’s work Antitheses)

Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, has a similar perspective on the God of the OT: “petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, blood thirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” (p. 31) Wow! Sounds like an all- round bad guy.

I would not place Andy Stanley, Pastor of North Point Church in Georgia, into the same category as either Marcion or Dawkins, but he nonetheless has walked onto thin ice having suggested that Christians need to “unhitch” the OT from their understanding of faith and solely focus on the Resurrection of Jesus. He believes that we need liberation from the Law of the OT to the grace and mercy of the NT.

Perhaps you have shared similar feelings as you’ve read through the OT. You’ve run across things that God said or did that just rankled your senses. What are we to make of this, especially as we compare it to the NT? Not to over simplify, but I would like to point out two things for you to think about that may help you work through this supposed discrepancy:

First, it is important to read the Bible (OT and NT) over and over on a regular basis— from beginning to end, from front to back, in order to gain a sweeping view of God’s character and actions. Most of us find ourselves (naturally) put off by babies being slaughtered and tribes being eliminated because of the sin of one of its members. However, if we focus just on these and ignore context then we can make as wrong an assessment of the OT as the arborist who judges the health of a forest on the basis of one or two trees. While I still struggle with some passages in the OT, the more I read the more I see God revealed progressively as a God of compassion and mercy. For example, I read through the book of Jonah this morning and saw this clearly portrayed. Jonah was commanded by God to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, the great enemy of Israel, and to preach judgment. Jonah ran away from the task. Why? Because he was a chicken? No. Look at Jonah’s response when God suspended his judgment because Nineveh repented: “That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing (initially) to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents in sending calamity” (4:2). Jonah knew the character of God and he thought it was just plain wrong that God’s mercy should be available to any nation other than Israel. (Aren’t you glad Jonah is not God?)

I also think of the example of Moses in Exodus 33–34, whose view of God was deepened by the events surrounding the punishment of Israel for worshipping the golden calf. Poor old Moses was frustrated. He felt caught in the middle between an unruly people and a God who threatened to abandon them because of their disobedience. In hindsight, we see that all of this was a test of Moses’ faith to bring about the desired effect of making him yearn for a deeper knowledge of God… “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (33:13) And so, God brings Moses back up on Mount Sinai where he puts the frustrated leader in the cleft of a rock while the “backside of God’s glory” passes by: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished….” (34:6–7) A God of justice- absolutely! A God of compassion and mercy- yes!

Second, and this is basic, there is no indication that Jesus ever adjusted the thinking of his followers to worship any other God than Yahweh of the OT. Instead, he came to further reveal his Heavenly Father. Jesus’ stinging rebuke of the Pharisees and his call for sinners to repent were just as poignant and powerful as any of the OT prophets. In fact, he did not come to set aside the OT and its call for obedience and righteousness, but to fulfill them—to show what obedience and righteousness looked like. What seems to soften the NT for us is that God becomes personalized in Jesus Christ. We see Yahweh’s compassionate and loving nature more clearly hallmarked in the life and sacrifice of God’s very own Son because of his great love for us. And we receive his open invitation to receive the forgiveness of our sins and to enter into the Family of God through faith in Christ’s work for us.

Does that mean justice and righteousness are set aside in the NT by the work of Christ? On the contrary, “he (God) did it to demonstrate righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 3:26) Christ died, the righteous for the unrighteous, so that the just demands of the law might be satisfied. Justice being accomplished, God showed his mercy in justifying (putting in the right) those who have faith in Christ. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

No, the OT and NT do not contain the tale of two Gods. They contain the story of one God who progressively revealed himself to his people Israel as they grew in their understanding of him; ultimately revealing himself to the whole world in his Son. Someone described the OT as a house standing without the roof and the NT as the roof without the house. The OT ends somewhat abruptly, begging to be completed by something new that God was going to do. The NT begins somewhat enigmatically with a Jewish remnant again captive to a foreign power, waiting for a new Moses to deliver them. Jesus appears as that Deliverer—not only of Israel, but of all the nations who would believe—”For God so loved the world….” The Bible is a well-built house where justice and mercy meet in both Testaments and whose doors are open to anyone who repents and believes in Jesus.


Looking for a New Job?

I couldn’t resist this. Sorry… 

My first job was working in an orange juice factory, but I got canned: couldn’t concentrate.

Next I tried working in a muffler factory, but that was exhausting.

Then I worked in the woods as a lumberjack, but I just couldn’t hack it, so they gave me the axe.

After that I tried to be a tailor, but I just wasn’t suited for it. Mainly because it was a so-so job.

I worked as a pilot but eventually got grounded for taking off too much.

Then I tried teaching, but I couldn’t make the grade.

I spent a few years as a Psychiatrist, but everyone’s problems drove me crazy.

 I wanted to be a barber, but I just couldn’t cut it.

Then I tried to be a chef–figured it would add a little spice to my life, but I just didn’t have the thyme.

 I attempted to be a deli worker, but any way I sliced it, I couldn’t cut the mustard.

 My best job was being a musician, but eventually I found I wasn’t noteworthy.

I was a pretty good eye doctor, but I could not stay focused on the job.

I worked a long time as a doctor.  I gave it my best shot, but didn’t have enough patients.

 Next was a job in a shoe factory; but it never touched my sole.   

The Energizer Battery Company hired me, but then expected me to keep going, and going, and going…

I became a professional fisherman, but discovered that I couldn’t live on my net income.

I managed to get a good job working for a pool maintenance company, but the work was just too draining. 

I got a job at a zoo feeding giraffes, but I was fired because I wasn’t up to it.

So then I got a job in a gymnasium (work-out-center), but they said I wasn’t fit for the job.

Of course, I tried being a secretary, but it turned out not to be my type of work.

My years as an exterminator were pretty good, but I got tired of the rat race.

Next, I found being an electrician interesting, but I had no outlets on the weekends I was off.

I was a gardener for a while, but I didn’t grow with the job even though I was raking in the money.

My career as a comedian was a stand-up success, but the critics thought I was a big joke. 

I even tried to become an astronaut, but I would often space out during training.

After many years of trying to find steady work I finally got a job as a historian until I realized there was no future in it.

I even tried working at Starbucks, but I had to quit because it was always the same old grind.

I trained to become a professional wild turkey caller, but my job got gobbled up by the recession.

Finally, I became a pastor and loved it. Unfortunately, I was transferred to a church in Berlin and became a German Shepherd.

Now I am retired but work part-time as a meteorologist because my joints are more accurate than the National Weather Service. I live in a retirement community where all my secrets are safe with my friends because they can’t remember them.

Hope you find a good job sooner than I did.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING! (gobble gobble)

Quid Pro Quo…

Something given for something expected in return…. quid pro quo. This term has dominated the media lately because of its relationship to the impeachment hearings. President Trump is accused of asking the president of a foreign country to investigate a political rival in exchange for military aid and an invitation to the White House. We will see how such an accusation plays out and whether or not it is found to be an impeachable offense. I’m sure you have your opinions.

However, did you know that many followers of Jesus are also guilty of quid pro quo? In Matthew 19, Jesus finished his interview with a very wealthy and disappointed young man who had asked how he could have eternal life. Jesus said that he needed to give up everything he had to the poor, and come and follow him. The young man’s heart was so shackled to his possessions that it blinded him to his own greed and displaced his ability to exercise child-like faith in the only one who could give him eternal life. And so, the young man walked away.

Jesus then said to his disciples that it would be easier for a Mazda RX8 to fit through the cash slot of an ATM machine than for a rich man to get into heaven (or something like that with a camel and a needle). The disciples were amazed at this because their religion and culture had taught them that prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing. So, if a wealthy person could not be saved, who could be? Jesus responded in essence, “It’s not a matter of being rich or poor. It is impossible for anyone to be saved apart from God’s power.”

Peter was a bit destabilized by all of this and felt that he needed to remind Jesus (19:27–30) how much they had given up in order to follow him. Jesus replied that God is not a piker or cheapskate. While he calls us to a life of sacrifice and suffering, he does not remove from us the capability of enjoying life’s blessings that he showers upon us. “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (v. 27). I think it was the missionary Hudson Taylor who said that “every time he gave up anything for God he found he received so much blessing that he felt himself better off for having given up whatever it was.” (Leon Morris, Commentary on Matthew, 496) This is what so many have learned about a life of ministry and sacrifice; the more you give, the more God blesses—not as a reward, but because he is graciously generous.

I’m only guessing what Peter must have been thinking, but it could have been, “well ok, if I give up everything to follow Jesus then he is going to give all this to me in return. Wow—what a deal!” Here is the very subtle quid pro quo mentality into which we can so easily slip and begin to impugn God’s generosity. If I do something for God then he will do something for me. If I have enough faith then he will heal me. If I give $100 then he will give me $10,000 because he promised right here in his Word he would give 100 fold in return for what I give. If I am faithful to God and pray every day for my kids, he won’t let anything bad happen to my family. However, when God acts differently than our “deal” dictates, then we cry “unfair!” I remember hearing Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, speak about the financial crisis of his ministry when he faced the hardest year of his life. He told God, “after all I have done for you, and you do this to me?” I also remember a dear pastor friend, who had been in ministry longer than I had been alive, telling me when he was first diagnosed with prostate cancer, “I have served God faithfully for 60 yrs. and look what he has given me?” Both of these men worked through their crisis of faith. Unfortunately, I know those who still carry a grudge against God for not upholding his part of the bargain and are still trying to impeach him.

Do you gravitate toward this kind of thinking? It can be ruinous to your friendship with God. It can lead you to treat him like an adversary. The opposite of quid pro quo is fiducia- trust, confidence, assurance, faith, reliance, and security. You don’t have to make deals with someone you trust; just …. trust him. God will take care of you even though the road is difficult and dark and not at all what you expected. He doesn’t cut deals, but honors his covenant promises in Christ. Wait for him. “Anyone who trusts in him will not be disappointed” (Rom 10:11). “Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed” (Isa 49:23).


In a moment, life changes forever…

A couple of weeks ago I was driving from Annapolis, Maryland to Strasburg, Pennsylvania—before sunrise. It was a beautiful drive once I got around the Baltimore Beltway into the countryside and onto the serpentine roads of northern MD and southern PA. As the sun was starting to bulge over the horizon, some of the houses were still mostly dark with just a light or two flickering on as people were getting up for work or school. A new day was dawning. I’m sure that most thought it was just going to be another day of doing the same old thing—at least it was Friday, relief was in sight.

I mused that for some, however, something might take place today that would change life forever. Life would never be the same. Someone might die or receive a diagnosis of a terminal disease. Someone might discover a spousal affair or get divorced. Someone might get fired or go bankrupt; whatever the event, everything would change. Life would be dominated by it—nothing would be able to contend with its significance, not only to an individual but to an entire family. How does one ever prepare for such a thing? How does one cope once it happens?

It brought to mind the lives of two of our next door neighbors. One was an older lady who had cancer and was one day being picked up by a friend for a chemo treatment. There was no answer when the friend knocked on the door or tried to call on her cell phone. I was in the yard, packing the car for a vacation trip. The friend saw me and asked if I would go into the house and see why the neighbor was not answering her door or phone. I went in, calling her name and heard a muffled “help” coming from the basement. Apparently, our dear neighbor had fallen down the cellar stairs and was lying on the cold cement floor. She was conscious but very weak. She said she had been there since the night before and could not move. I covered her up with more blankets, called 911, and prayed with her until the paramedics came and took her to the hospital. When we returned from our vacation 2 weeks later, we found out the she had died. Life suddenly changed for her entire family.

A second neighbor, a good man in his late 50’s early 60’s, also fell down his basement steps less than two months ago. His adult sons estimate he had been lying at the bottom of the stairs unconscious for 2 days before they found him. He never fully regained consciousness. I visited him in the hospital as did some of our neighbors. It was determined that he had injured his brain in the fall and would never regain the use of his limbs. When his organs began shutting down, they brought him home under Hospice care. He died last week and we had a very meaningful celebration of life service for him hosted by his sons. My neighbor and I had talked a few times about eternal things—one time being just after I received my cancer diagnosis. He was open and receptive. I pray that he continued to move towards God. Life has suddenly and radically changed for his family.

I am sure that you can think of more examples of how life suddenly changed for some of your neighbors, friends, and their families—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. First there was light . . . then came the night. Maybe you have had such an experience.

So, as we turn the lights on every morning wondering if this will be the day life will change, we can do so in one of three ways:

  • We can take life for granted and believe that things like this happen to others and not to us—anyway, the weekend is coming.
  • We can fear life and what it might bring to the extent we take no risks, close our hearts to others, and never enjoy the adventure of our journey.
  • We can embrace life in all its richness by daily entrusting ourselves into the care of a loving and sovereign God who will not allow anything to come into our lives that has not first passed through his Fatherly hand. A God who loves us more than we know and gave himself to us in his Son, Jesus Christ.

In the darkness and uncertainty of WWII, Pastor Helmut Thielicke wrote a small book titled, “The Silence of God.” In it there is a sentence that has helped me face my own fear and uncertainty about tomorrow. He said, “If the last hour belongs to God, we do not need to fear the next moment.”

Thoughts on Racism…

There was an article in the Daily Herald (Chicago) this week about a group of 18 mostly African-Americans being asked to change tables at a local Buffalo Wild Wings because some regular “white” customers didn’t want the group to sit near them. This blatant racist behavior was reported and 2 managers were fired; some people were calling for a boycott of BWW until safeguards such as sensitivity training, etc. were put in place.

It is true that we don’t know the whole story, which doesn’t call the incident into question, but it does raise the question of why such a thing continues to happen over and over again after so much publicity and media attention. Racism is defined as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race/ethnicity based upon the belief that one’s own race is superior.” I think that this is too narrow a definition. While such feelings of racial superiority can be part of the mix, I believe that the underlying causes for racism are far more complex and deceitful.

In Numbers 12, there is an account of an older sister, Miriam, and a younger brother, Aaron, criticizing their brother Moses for marrying a Cushite woman. Cush was a region of southern Ethiopia, where black-skinned people lived. “Can an Ethiopian (same word translated “Cushite”) change his skin or a leopard his spots? Then also you can [not] do good who are accustomed to evil” (Jeremiah 13:23). As an aside: Moses had married a Midianite woman, Zipporah, 40 years earlier whom he had met in the Sinai region after his escape from Pharaoh. The Midianites were originally from northern Arabia, but many had migrated to Sinai. Reading between the lines, there is a good chance that Zipporah had died, or that she had left him again like she did in Ex 4:18-20, and was living with her father’s family back in the Sinai. Either way, Moses’ new wife was not Zipporah. I doubt that Miriam and Aaron would have complained about her after 40 years.

So the sibs criticized Moses for marrying a black woman, who was not an Israelite. The text implies that Miriam took the lead in this family dispute. We would call this racism, but it wasn’t racial superiority that prompted the slur. The underlying cause for this racism was jealousy (especially Miriam’s) of Moses’ leadership position and the belief that she could totally do a better job (note the “plague-gate” quail issue in Numbers 11). God punished Miriam severely by striking her with leprosy that turned her skin “white.” John Piper suggests that in Numbers 12:10 God is in effect saying, “you like being light-skinned Miriam? I’ll make you white as snow.” She was not punished for being a racist but, because she was jealous of Moses and criticized the leadership of someone whom God had appointed. Aaron confessed his sin and wasn’t punished, while Moses prayed for his sister’s healing and was heard.

This text is not only a study of how a leader handles criticism with humility and restraint, but also shows that there are deeper reasons for the sin of racism than just the belief of “racial supremacy.” There could be lurking a heart of jealousy, of fear, of inferiority, or of just going along with the crowd in order to be accepted. As we have seen in the case of the Holocaust, Hitler made the Jewish race a scapegoat for the problems of the nation. There could be that same blame-shifting mentality among some people who see law and order disrupted by the “foreign element” and people who don’t “look like” they belong here. A case in point is the story of the 61 yr. old white man in Milwaukee who was arrested over this past weekend for throwing battery acid in the face of an Hispanic man while shouting, “why did you come here and invade my country?”

Sins of the heart cannot be punished by human law, but it is fairly obvious that ignoring the deeper issues of racism yields little fruit. In fact, racism is a growing problem not a lessening one that can’t be treated as mere ignorance dealt with by prison time, lawsuits, sensitivity training, and politically correct language. In fact, such “antidotes” tend to inflame the sinful heart instead of being a remedy. Certainly a society must bring law into the picture in order to protect racial and ethnic minorities from oppression and hate crimes, but, at the same time, it cannot ignore the place of faith as a part of the solution for the racial divide because it is the function of religion (not law) to address issues of the heart. Thus instead of criticizing religion, society should encourage the practices of religious communities to challenge their membership to live out their faith and not in contradiction to it—especially as it relates to racial issues.

Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). He also told his disciples that you’ll be able to recognize the true and the false adherents to religion by their fruits, because a healthy tree cannot produce bad fruit and a bad tree cannot produce the good. (Matthew 7:15–20)

I believe that only a person in whose heart God has worked through the miracle of new birth, because of faith in Jesus Christ, can be changed from a racist to a “gracist.” This change does not usually occur overnight, but there should be an awareness of its existence in heart and attitude and a repentance that ultimately will lead to change. This repentance along with a humility to learn from and be in relationship with those of different ethnicities, brings healing of those deeper issues of the heart which often cause racial conflict, which Miriam and Aaron so vividly exemplified.

As faith communities we must continue to preach repentance and the new birth through faith in Jesus. We must also continue to examine our own hearts as well as challenge those who call themselves followers of Jesus “to put up or shut up”—to act like him, to love like him, or else they might prove to be false followers and filled with self-deceit. Jesus said, “When that day comes, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out devils in your name, and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them to their face, ‘I never knew you: out of my sight, you and your wicked ways!'” (Matthew 7:22, 23 NEB)

I am weak, but…

I want to share a page from my journal, which I write in almost every day as a discipline. The practice has helped me track my life and to hold myself more accountable for my own thoughts, attitudes, and behavior. It also helps me to remember people I am praying for, the things that I have read in the Scripture, and the new discoveries of God’s truth that I do not want to forget. So many of my sermons and blogs have flowed out this journaling practice. Finally, the practice of journaling has also helped me sift through my feelings and emotions, as well as keeping track of my “progress” with pancreatic cancer, which has been a dominating force in my life since April, 2017.

Sunday, October 20, Day 13 (after my 8th (out of 12) chemo treatment):

Woke up with the hymn “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” running through my mind. Listened to it on YouTube. I really do feel like a “pilgrim through this barren land. I am weak but Thou art mighty, guide me with Thy powerful hand . . . Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more.” Chemo sometimes makes me weepy, but this hymn brought tears to my eyes. I also listened to “It is Well with My Soul,” “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” and “I’m No Longer a Slave to Fear.” An encouraging time of worship for my sad heart—to bask in the realization of a good and powerful God, who is my Deliverer.

This reminds me, once again, how my heart responds most to songs, hymns, Scripture that magnify God and describe his greatness and power. I feel safe, like he is my Rock and Fortress; I also feel cared for because he is my strong Father. I remember when ________ (one of my sons) lost a toy down a storm drain in front of our house. The drain was covered by a very heavy metal grate that I had to dead lift in order for my boy to quickly retrieve his toy. As I was putting the grate back into position, I caught my finger underneath it and yelled in pain as I finally pulled it out. Wow, did that hurt! My boy, who was watching all of this was horrified—and ran away. He couldn’t handle seeing is strong dad, hurt.

Another memory comes to mind about how my dad and me used to wrestle when I was a kid. I always admired him for his strength and that he never used it to hurt me. I eventually joined the wrestling team in high school and started to develop physically. The day came when I realized that I could take my dad, but I continued to let him win when we wrestled. I distinctly remember the thought that I needed my dad to be stronger than me.

I will never have to worry about my Heavenly Father losing strength; I am weak, but he is mighty. . . . He is the majestic, all-powerful Creator of the Universe, and he is in control of all things. He is my “Abba,” Dad. He will never use his great strength to hurt me and nothing will ever be able to separate me from his love. My heart overflows with worship . . .

Crown Him the Lord of Years, The Potentate of Time, Creator of the rolling spheres, Ineffably sublime. All Hail, Redeemer, Hail! For Thou hast died for me; Thy praise shall never, never fail Throughout eternity! (Matthew Bridges, 1845)