I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous or extortioners or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. (I Corinthians 5:10)
They accuse me of stirring the pot, of introducing subjects sure to draw fire, of intentionally being controversial. Nothing I say convinces them otherwise, even when all I did was to state something God’s people hold dear.
Almost all the key doctrines of the Christian faith someone will find objectionable and some will take offense at.
If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. –I Corinthians 15:17
“What If?” is a series of best-selling books put together by Robert Cowley, in which historians look at key events in history and try to imagine what if things had not happened that way.
What if Pontius Pilate had spared Jesus?
That is the title of the chapter by Carlos M. N. Eire, chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. The subtitle reads, Christianity without the Crucifixion.
Eire imagines Pontius Pilate heeding the warning of his wife whose sleep had been disturbed that night by thoughts of “that righteous man.” Her message to the governor said, “Have nothing to do with him.”
So, he asks, what if Pilate had done the right thing and resisted the religious leaders and the rabble who were crying for Jesus’ execution; what if he had released Him?
On one page, underneath a 13th century painting of Pilate with the Jewish leaders is the caption: “The Decision That Made a Religion.” (We can insist that it was the resurrection that “made” the Christian faith, but we won’t quibble over the importance of the crucifixion.)
Eire asks, “What if Jesus hadn’t been nailed to a cross at Pilate’s orders? What if he had lived a long, long life? Or even just ten more years? Or one? What if his person and message had been interpreted differently, as they surely would have been?”
Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your rightful due. For among all the wise of all the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. (Jeremiah 10:7)
Fear may be the greatest motivator in the world.
Fear makes the pilot do one more last-minute check before taking off. Fear makes the passengers buckle up and pay attention to the flight attendant’s instructions. Fear keeps the air controller attentive to the blips on her screen.
Fear restrains us from driving too fast or following too closely on the highways. Fear causes me to replace my tires before they get too bald, to slow down in school zones, and not violate that downed arm at the railroad crossing.
Fear drives us to take our vitamins, see our doctors, and keep making those insurance payments. Fear gets us out of bed and into our sneakers for our exercise.
Fear is a great motivator.
For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. –Acts 20:27
A friend going through a difficult time sent a message concerning a situation she was facing. Toward the end of the letter, making a case for straight-shooting from my direction, she said something I will not soon forget.
Pray for me if you like. Send me scripture if you like. Put me on a prayer chain if you want. But please don’t lie to me about God.
She was not trying to be dramatic, only to convey how strongly she wanted the truth. Even if it hurt, even if it went contrary to everything she was doing and believed, she wanted to know.
You have to respect that.
My impression is that so many doctrinal inquiries we preachers get are merely asking us to confirm what the questioners are already doing, to endorse all they have previously believed.
God help us not to lie to others about God.
“And they went and made the sepulcher sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” (Matthew 27:66)
For good reason, God’s people learn to rejoice in adversity and to thrive under persecution.
Fire burns brighter under pressure. Ask any ninth grade physics student.
Sometimes those intent on stamping out Christianity end up assisting it.
Scripture teaches that the opponents of the Lord remembered that He had predicted He would rise from the dead. (Matthew 27:62-63) It appears the wrong guys were taking literally the things Jesus had said! The poor disciples, forgetting the Lord’s promises, were mired down in their sadness and grief, all of it the direct result of not understanding and believing Jesus’ promises..
When the opponents of the Lord went to such lengths to secure His tomb, they inadvertently provided additional evidence for His bodily resurrection. Note their three actions: they made the grave secure, they put a Roman guard in place, and they set a seal on the stone.
“Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Luke 22:42
God sends no road map to His obedient; we walk by faith. He gives no GPS to the faithful so they will always know where they are and what’s going on. They will see “through a glass darkly,” but walk on.
Thy will be done will be their guide.
Those four words.
Take the Lord Jesus, for instance…
In novels, every loose end must come together and be tied up. In real life, they almost never do.
My friend Holly, a wife and mother and piano teacher, was telling us about her son Andrew’s snowglobe. The music it puts out “drives me nuts,” she says, “as a musician with certain OCD tendencies.” The snowglobe’s music apparatus plays “White Christmas,” but not completely.. After the line “May your days be merry and bright….” it just ends, then repeats itself. Holly asks, “What evil genius in the music box factory decided they couldn’t put in those final nine notes? Gaaaah!!!
I smiled. Holly’s father is a pastor and her heart belongs exclusively to the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why I felt comfortable in sending her my little lesson on Andrew’s snowglobe music box.
“What a great metaphor for life, where maybe ten percent of anything ‘resolves.’ Novelists must make all the threads come together at the end, but in real life, that rarely happens. So, Andrew’s globe is sending him a message: ‘Get used to it, kid.’
“Only at the end, the ‘real end,’ will all things come together and all accounts be settled. When that happens, every eye shall see Jesus, every knee bow before Him, and every tongue confess Him as Lord. Amen.”
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
So, what have I learned about how God works over nearly six decades of ministry?
In two sentences, it’s this:
When God gets ready to do something great and lasting, He loves to a) start small, b) with ordinary people, c) using any methods He pleases, and d) taking HIs own good time about it.
Only people of faith will work with Him on this and still be there at the end to see what God has done and to behold His glory.
Two sentences that encompass a thousand things God has done and is doing.
It’s important to note that these principles are illustrated all through scripture.
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. –C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”
God rarely does anything as we would have done it or expected it.
In the 8th century B.C., God told Israel, “Your thoughts are not my thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
So, when God got ready to put His earth-saving plan into effect, we may expect it to be different. Vastly different from how we would have done it.
The problem is spelled out in Psalm 50:21. God says the people lied and cheated and did a hundred bad things. Then, “These things you have done and I kept silent. And you thought I was just like you.”
We think God is like us. The ultimate folly. We expect Him to do what we would do. It just seems reasonable.