Saved: to Spare

This morning I made my first search on the term “saved.” I found over 231 verses with some form of the verb(s) used that mean something to the effect of “to save.”

painting1The earliest reference to saved that I can find is in Genesis 19:19 & 20. This surprised me since I would expect to find this term in Genesis 3 after Adam and Eve sinned or especially in Genesis 6 when God saved Noah. I would also expect to find this term in Genesis 12 when God spared Abraham from Pharaoh’s hands after Abraham lied about his relationship with Sarah his wife.

In Genesis 19, there are two messengers sent to Lot. The messengers warned lot about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for its wickedness. I am not sure how righteous Lot was in the land he lived that was filled with such wickedness. But we know his wife was more attracted to her lifestyle in Sodom than her life of rescue to the mountains. For that reason, she turned back and was turned into a pillar of salt.

Lot’s decisions in this passage, however, are dumbfounding. When the townsmen came after the messengers in Lot’s home, Lot offers his virgin daughters to them to appease their barbarism. I am not sure if there is any cultural information that we are missing that would explain this in any satisfying kind of way, but I am better satisfied just assuming that Lot’s mind was nearly as warped as the culture he lived.

At the last job I worked there was a sign that read, “If you witness an offense but do not report it, you are just as guilty as the offender.” We never want to be in a place were we live complacently with sin. We know that Lot and his wife were comfortable enough in the culture they lived, that they did not try to escape its sin. Lot’s wife gazed back at her lifestyle she was expected to leave behind. Consequently, she died in it.

But Lot was different. He ultimately went where the messengers instructed without gazing back. So, we have in vs. 19, “You have shown me lovingkindness by sparing my life.” And then in vs. 20, Lot petitions the messengers that he should flee to the small town of Zoar that as he states, “my life may be saved.”

In a word, this use of the term salvation connotes the idea of being spared. Lot wasn’t necessarily rescued. Though he was. This passage is emphasizing life that had been spared to Lot. Or, Lot’s life was spared. Also, Lot’s salvation was brought about by two messengers (Angels). God’s gratuitous gift (lovingkindness) was brought about by means of two people who warned Lot of the judgment to come. The messengers also gave the means of escape and Lot listened. The result of Lot’s decision was that his life was spared.

Notes about how this relates to salvation today:

  • When we speak of salvation today, we normally refer to our eternal state and deliverance from judgment and damnation for living in rebellion to God. While this is not directly what this current passage refers to, we know that the eternal life of those who trust in Christ will be spared because God’s justice was served on the cross, His wrath was satisfied and our sin was expiated (atoned for) allowing for the opportunity for God’s righteousness to justly live in those who walk with Him.
  • Second, there may be times in our life when God sends us people who warn us to leave the circumstance we are in so that we do not live under the judgment and experience the ultimate consequences that our decisions are rendering, which ultimately could be our death. For example, God continually warns the addict to flee from his destructive behavior. This is accomplished through messengers such as Christians who minister or even secular institutions who have common sense about choices and consequence. When one flees from his addiction in time, his life is spared.
  • Third, the Christ follower can say his life is spared because of the ministry of a disciple of Jesus who told him about the coming wrath and day of judgment, and that deliverance from the said wrath was possible by walking the path of faith and life in Christ. King Jesus will spare the one whose heart is loyal to him.
  • I picture it like living in a city that is in the land of the King. While the King has been away, I have at times lived in a way that is contrary to his law. But someone brought to my attention, “Hey dummy, the King is coming back. You might want to think about what you are doing or it will not go well with you.” Well, the King knows of my rebellion, and he has executed his judgment (I’m guilty). But because my heart and life turned back to His laws, His Kingdom, His people, His plans and His ways once I heard about the return of the King and was faced with the reality of my rebellion, God showed mercy on me and poured out His wrath on Christ instead of me (substitution) and was satisfied (expiation) and graciously has allowed me to serve Him and be in right relationship with Him again (salvation).
  • And when that happens with any of us who rebel against the King and turn back to Him, Scripture says that heaven rejoices. Our life is spared in this life (We might avoid sins that can lead to our destruction) and the one to come (We will enjoy life with Christ forever).

Wow! That’s not bad for day number one. I was highly encouraged by God’s word. Praise the Lord!


Turkey Day, Football & Ferguson: Which Side is God on?

This Thanksgiving is going to be bittersweet for many. Many will enjoy the festivities, parades, playing flag or touch football in the yard with family and friends and then watch their favorite teams battle it out on TV.  This was a big tradition in my family.

But during this Thanksgiving, many of us might have hearts of despair and bitterness. The announcement last night by the grand jury in Ferguson only further cemented perhaps decades or even generations of inequality and injustice in your life. You might wonder what there is to be thankful for. Why did God ignore my pain once again? Whose side is God on anyway?Riot police clear demonstrators from a street in Ferguson

I ask the question, which side is God on? because if God has a side, I ultimately want to be on His side. And I suspect that everyone else who loves Him desires to be on His side too. That’s a good question, but as stupid as this might sound, asking that question is a lot like asking the same question when your favorite sport team is playing their arch rival. It’s crazy because half of the debate about Ferguson thinks their side lost and half thinks their side won. Neither side won. It wasn’t even a draw. The truth is that the game is still being played and from where I’m sitting, it appears that both sides are losing.

Last night, I was disappointed at the reaction from certain leaders within the church and community- some of whom are friends of mine- as they expressed their support or grievance in the decision that the grand jury reached. There is something disturbing in the reaction that goes beyond the verdict of the jury. It is sickening to think that the decision to not indict this officer means that the case is closed and we can parade and move on. It is equally sickening in the presumption of the officer’s guilt to bring evil upon innocent by burning their belongings, destroying their businesses, and inciting retaliation birthed in hate.

We need to be clear about one thing: The fight for freedom and justice is not over. I cannot even say it has truly begun. Many churches and faithful saints were calling on God last night, pleading with Him before the verdict was announced. But if our prayers were cheering on an internal seed that was rooting for an announcement of “innocent” or “guilty” more than a cry for justice and truth to prevail, then we have prayed for this situation in the same manner that we pray for our football or basketball team to win on game night. And you are going to be disillusioned in your interpretation of last night’s verdict. You will not see clearly.

When I have prayed for my teams in the past, of course I have asked God to find favor on them and to allow them to win. Sometimes they won and sometimes they lost. But really, that is not a good prayer. Here’s why. First, assuming that God favors one side over another is also assuming that God does not love the opponent. And that is not true.

Even in God’s election and sovereign decisions, God loves everyone. His desire is for the peace and salvation and blessing of every person. He died for everyone. That is clear in Scripture, but my point is not about the theology of salvation. No matter whether your skin is black or white or red or yellow, God is for you. He is on your side. He is also on the side of that person who is different than you, whether it is because of skin color, affluence, sexual orientation or other sociological distinctions. No matter what you go through and no matter what the outcomes are when it comes to justice, God is for you. He died for you. This is the side He is on. Are you on His side?

If you are on God’s side, your feelings and emotions won’t be shaken in any court verdict. Being on God’s side means that you entrust all judgment to Him. It means that He knows better than you. It means that you will seek what He seeks. God’s side in not the side that is rooted in pride, but in humbly pursuing Gods pursuits, even when they do not agree with your thoughts.

For many Americans, whom God loves passionately, there was extreme fury and rage toward the conclusion of the Ferguson grand jury. If this is you, then you likely wonder how so many people in the jury got it so wrong. You might wonder, where is God in all of this? Does He not care about justice and equality? Does he hate me or my children? Some of you might have taken matters into your own hands – maybe you have rioted and looted in your own heart. Some of you might begin to doubt God’s goodness and love.

For many other Americans, whom God loves passionately, there was great elation and sense of justice and peace in your household because you believe that the system got it right. If this is you, then you probably have publicly affirmed the jury’s decision. You are also more affirmed in the sense of God’s justice and love for you. You might think God is for you and let this season pass without giving thought about anything else. Your position won. You won. You feel justified by what you believe to be true.

But the question remains, which side is God on? I sincerely believe that God did not side with the blacks or whites last night. He was not with the majority or minority. He just wasn’t. He was at a different game, at a different stadium, cheering on a different team. God’s team was you. God was with you. He was on your side. He was fighting for you.

God was on your side because:

  • He sent Jesus to die for your sins and all the injustice you have committed against Him and against others.
  • Jesus’ blood also covered the sins and injustice committed against you and your family and loved ones.
  • Satan the creator and propagator of injustice and inequality has been defeated through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and will one day be completely consumed in hell by the final judgment of God.
  • There will be a day in court when the record will be exposed before the eyes of witnesses. Justice will be served forever.
  • Through Jesus Christ your eternity can be full of life and infinite joy and peace.
  • You are created with significance and have been granted the authority by God to be an agent for His love and justice in our world right now.

Yes, God is on your side. He is cheering for team You. In Christ, you are his chosen ambassador to carry the torch of love, mercy, justice and truth (Micah 6:8; 2 Cor 5:17-21). You are the one who is also called to walk in the ease of his yolk (Matt. 11:30) by submitting your cares and concerns and injustices to Him (1 Pet 5:7; Psa. 55:22). Being on God’s side means that you entrust all judgment to Him. So what does this mean for you?

First, if your side won last night, you are called to do more than the customary pat on the butt and shaking of hands with the losing team that happens at the end of each game. It might be that justice prevailed last night in Ferguson. It might be that it was grossly denied in a way that makes the angels of heaven ready to storm the gates of hell.

There is no denying the injustice that happens on a daily basis to the African American community. My friend Marcus who is a respected physician grew up in a godly Christian home. His father is a pastor and his family loves Jesus. He is not a trouble maker. Yet, despite all his faithfulness and the faithfulness of his parents to raise a good home, he still faced terrible injustice and inequality in his life because of the color of his skin. He shared with me how he has been pulled over by police simply because he is black. He has been followed and harassed in ways that I will never know because my olive skin is considered to be an “acceptable” tone for society.

I’m a white man. But, I’m sure his story is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the torments of the minority. And if any person just shakes their hands and walks away from last night’s announcement and thinks everything is well, that person is severely misinformed or extremely naive.

Conversely, if your team “lost” last night I am begging and pleading with you to do more than utter an insincere “good game” that happens at the end of each game. Our country and culture needs for you to rise up and be the stronger team, the better team. We sincerely need it.

The team that God is on is rooted in humility and love, even in its pursuits of justice. Jesus was faithful to you and me even until the end of his ministry on earth. When Peter cut off the soldier’s ear, Jesus rebuked him and healed his “enemy.” Resolving to violence and anger against the innocent only affirms and solidifies the wrong and evil beliefs of racism that still permeate the fabrics of our nation.

If you were one who was calling on God last night, and if you have experienced His love for you, and if you claim the name of Jesus Christ, then you absolutely have the responsibility to love your enemy and to pray for those who mistreated you. When you follow Christ, when you claim his name, you lose the rights to yourself. This is the hardest lesson to learn, the most difficult path to follow. Last’s nights issue is not a racial issue as much as it is a spiritual issue. Are we brave enough to sign up to be on God’s team? Are we willing to join his roster?

If you want God to be on your side, then you need to be on his side. I will know, the world will know, you will know God is on your side when you love like he loves. It is up to you and me. There has to come a point where you reach out to your enemy and love them like Christ loved you.

In our community, this means that community servants like police officers and leaders of justice passionately uphold the law and compassionately represent the afflicted- no matter the color of skin. It means that education and resources continue to be freely administered to free those who are seeking relief from their injustice. I have no problem with social services when they are administered with love and responsibility.

In our community it also means that the afflicted free themselves by forgiving those who mistreat them. The greatest way to win a man is by loving him. This might sound ridiculous but if the African American community lovingly reached out to the white man with love, it would go a long way in dissolving negative feelings and racism that pervade parts of this community. White communities should reject the temptation to simply move on and instead intentionally reach out to minorities.  We love Him because He first loved us (1 Jo 4:19; Rom 5:6, 8). Enemies are crushed by love.

Racism will only be defeated by love- not retaliation. Not public policy. Not the outcome of court cases. Not by increasing entitlements. Only by love. So, as a white person, who has really done the black community no harm, but as one who has even served the black community in some of the most underserved and unloved areas in our country, I am asking you to forgive my whiteness. Forgive me. I am on your team. I am on your side. You are my brother and sister in Christ.

I need you to reach out to me and to not retaliate. Be the greater person. Speak out against the violence and retaliation we are witnessing. You will change this world. You will conquer the lie of racism. Reach out to me.

Even so, I will reach out to you. I will receive you. I will care for you. I will love you. I will fight with you and for you for truth and love in our society. I need this from you. The game clock is ticking. We are both losing when we are against each other. It is Thanksgiving and I want our team to win. We are on the same team. Can we fight for love and freedom together? Don’t come to “my side.” Let us go together to His side during this Thanksgiving. And know that I am praying for you and walking with you through this season as best as I know how. May our team win!

How to Respond to Trouble

Psalm 79:1-13

That phone call

It was my sophomore year in college when I received “that phone call” nobody wants to get. I can remember walking across the courtyard between classes when my phone rang. “Jeremiah, I just had a heart attack.” Life halted quickly to a stop. I looked up- people appeared as if they were walking in slow motion. Noise faded. People’s lips were moving and no sound. My dad had a heart attack. Would he be OK?

Panic rushed over me. My heart pounded. Sweat beads formed on my forehead and quickly disappeared as the wind whipped over me. “Are you going to be OK, dad?” I felt a headache sweep through my body. Soon, I found myself on the floor of the campus chapel pleading with God, “Lord, please be with the doctors. Help my dad to heal.”

We all have been there, or we all will be there at some point in life. That phone call will come. It will catch us by surprise. We will not be prepared.

When it comes, how should we respond?

Asaph’s Trouble

In Psalm 79:1-5, the psalmist laments over the destruction of Jerusalem. While it is difficult to know exactly who caused the chaos, it is clear that there was utter ruin and devastation. The psalmist laments that Israel suffered physical pain– corpses literally lined the streets. The city was in ruin. Israel suffered emotional pain– the utter humiliation that there was nobody to bury the dead. There was spiritual pain– God’s felt presence had disappeared.

Asaph’s Response

When the world of the psalmist had screeched to a halt, when everything seemed like slow motion, when lips were moving and it seemed like there was piercing silence, Asaph turned to God and he prayed (vv. 1, 6-13)!

Asaph prayed for justice (vv. 6-7, 10, 12) because Israel’s enemies scoffed at God’s authority and destroyed God’s property. Asaph prayed for mercy (vv. 8-9) because God’s reputation was at stake and Israel needed to be forgiven and delivered from the consequences of her sin. Asaph prayed for freedom (v. 11) because Israel suffered from bondage to her enemies. Asaph also promised to praise God (v. 13) because of God’s wonderful acts.

When you and I are in trouble

The last time I researched, I found out that 1 out of every 1 persons die. Isn’t that amazing? I don’t think that statistic will take you by surprise. So, to suggest that this world is filled with trouble is not pessimistic but realistic. I love life, yet it is reality. You and I will be sideswiped in life by troubling news. Jesus said that in this world we will have troubles, but that in him we can have peace (John 16:33).

In Christ we can have peace

Some get repulsed by prayers like Asaph’s. How can anyone pray for doom upon another? That is not the point of Asaph’s prayer. Israel was a Covenant people of God. God did not create the world to be under the curse of sin. He did not create us for eternal suffering. Suffering is the consequence of our sin. It is something we are expected to endure in this life. It is what happens when this world is in rebellion against his authority. We suffer, but in Christ we can have peace because he came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).

Asaph’s prayer

So, if we look again back to Psalm 79, what we can see is the prayer of a faithful servant of God. The psalmist’s response to trouble was turning to God and ultimately praying for God’s Kingdom to come! The psalmist was asking God to respond against rebellion, to forgive Israel for her sins, and to set Israel free from bondage. Why? For the sake of God’s reputation. And the psalmist promises to praise God. Sound familiar?

The Lord’s Prayer

6:9 So pray this way:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,

6:10 may your kingdom come,

may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

6:11 Give us today our daily bread, 

6:12 and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven ourdebtors.

6:13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. 

6:14 “For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

6:15 But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins (NET Bible).

When You Pray

I found myself kneeling over that hard oak pew. Tears streaming down my face. “God, for your glory, heal my dad. Give me the grace to make it through this. Give my dad strength. I will praise you.” Everything turned out OK. Dad got his stent. He recovered fine.

Life does not always turn out that way, but it does not change the way we should pray.

A Model, not a formula

Passages like Psalm 79 and Matthew 6 are not formulas that promise relief of our pain. Rather, they are models that demonstrate submission to God. They are petitions to the Sovereign King whose authority on this world has been usurped by Satan and sin. These prayers are really petitions for God to act, rightfully restoring His Kingdom back under his rule.

When we face trouble, we should turn to God. Pray to him. We should express how we feel. Our suffering is the consequence of living in a world subjected to sin and judgment. Pray for the sake of God’s name that he would intervene.

Pray for justice. Petition God to act against rebellion and sin. Pray for mercy. Plead for God to forgive you of your sins. Ask for freedom. Beg God for deliverance from physical, emotional and spiritual bondage. Praise God for what he will do. Give God the glory because he promises that one day He indeed will act!

This world continues to be subjected to the bondage of the curse of sin.

Please pray.

What does God think about your church?

Amos 1-5

Focus: Amos 5:21-24 “I absolutely despise your festivals! I get no pleasure from your religious assemblies! Even if you offer me burnt and grain offerings, I will not be satisfied; I will not look with favor on your peace offerings of fattened calves. Take away from me your noisy songs; I don’t want to hear the music of your stringed instruments. Justice must flow like torrents of water, righteous actions like a stream that never dries up.

In today’s culture, most of us live moment by moment for our own pleasure. We can see this in many ways. We build bigger houses and buy faster cars while the poor go hungry around the world. Because of misplaced priorities, many live in marriages that are “undivorced” where there is no mutual affection, and emotional or physical affairs are rampant. We are also people are not honest in the way we live. We get upset when someone cuts in front of us at the grocery store, but we don’t speak up when millions of babies are aborted each year. Injustice thrives in our culture like mold growing in wet places.

Our religious hypocrisy is worse. We go to a church building and call it church- and we attend it as long as it fits our needs. We sing a song and call it worship, but we have no regard for God during the remaining 6.5 days of the week. We give our money and call it tithe and offerings, but we give out of our wealth or convenience. We rarely or never give sacrificially to the point where it affects us or stirs our hearts. We say we love God, but how is that true?

When a man’s heart is stirred for the woman that he loves, he learns about what she likes and does it. His expressions of love take on new meaning in the eyes of the beloved. He buys her gifts and she accepts them because he has demonstrated his love for her.

In the same way, if we claim to have affection for God, then we must pursue God in a way that stirs His heart. In Amos 1-5, we can see that God rejected Israel’s religious gifts because of her adultery (worship of foreign gods) and evil lifestyle. God did not want Israel’s external symbols without demonstration of internal change. The same is true today.

If we want to enjoy a mutual love relationship with the Lord, then justice must flow like torrents of water, righteous actions like a stream that never dries up. Our religious hypocrisy must go. The Church needs to start being the Church and engage with the surrounding culture in a meaningful way. If the Church is marked by extending love and justice into the community, then it is probably on the right track. How is your church doing?

What does God want from me?

Micah 5-7

Focus: Micah 6:6-8, “6 With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Yesterday, I wrote about a woman I met when I was flying home from San Antonio. This woman was rejecting the Church because she witnessed the hypocrisy of her “Christian” mother who ruined several marriages through adulterous affairs. Yet her mother was one who faithfully attended church three days a week, tithed, read her bible, and was baptized. This woman, like so many, equated religious deeds with pleasing God. But that is not what God wants from her or anyone else.

In Micah 6, the people of God are in God’s courtroom. They were a nation filled with religious activity, yet God was bringing charges against his people. Dishonest individuals who demonstrated no concern for treating others fairly ruled the Israelites, and they took advantage of and neglected the poor. They also prostituted themselves to idols by having sexual intercourse with temple prostitutes who were trying to give the fertility god Baal an orgy. Israel tolerated wicked sinful behavior. Israel was in serious breach of Covenant with God. But they were really good at doing spiritual things, right? Then why was God so mad at them? After all, they prayed and sacrificed and faithfully performed their religious duties. Shouldn’t that have made up for their shortcomings?

Micah 6:8 shows us what God wanted from his people. He wanted them to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. God wanted them to be people who have been changed by His grace. Literally, to do justly simply means to do the right thing. God wanted his people to do what is right all throughout life. To love mercy means to demonstrate loyal committed love toward God and his people. The love of Israel should have been God and his people. To walk humbly with God means to have daily communion with God, much like that which Adam and Eve had with God in the Garden before they sinned. God wanted Israel to enjoy the blessings of being in his presence.

Not much has changed today. God will reject those who simply say “I am a Christian” but do not do what is right, have committed loyal love toward God and his people, and share a daily communion with Him. This is a lesson that spiritual activity does not equal transformation. In other words, if our lives are not changed, it does not matter if we go to church 1 day a week or three days a week. It does not matter if we read our Bible, fast, are baptized, or give our tithe. Our outward symbols and actions should be visual reminders of inward realities (See Deuteronomy 10:16). If our lives are truly changed and we are doing the right thing, demonstrating loyal love to God and others, and walking humbly with God, then our religious activities actually take on new meaning. That is what God wants from those who call him Lord.

What should you expect when you pray?

Isaiah 56-60

Focus: Is. 58:6-7 No, this is the kind of fast I want. I want you to remove the sinful chains, to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke, to set free the oppressed, and to break every burdensome yoke. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people. When you see someone naked, clothe him! Don’t turn your back on your own flesh and blood!

This last Sunday was a special day at Watermark Church, Dallas. The first part of our service was a celebration of all the ways God has used our Church body to minister in Dallas, greater Texas, and abroad. The remainder of the service was visiting different stations that were set up in the Town Center (foyer). There were scores of ministries that we partner with represented among the booths, and each representative shared how our Church is strategically involved with them.

After leaving the service, I was reminded of how I must value justice and mercy, especially as it relates to the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable in our society. While Watermark may not be the perfect body, it is good to know that we are on track. Time after time all throughout Scripture, we can see God’s heart for justice and mercy. We can also see His repulsion against religiosity- the act of performing religious lip service without personal transformation.

Isaiah 58 is a great reminder of what our faith should look like as it translates into real life. God is not looking for people who would just pray for justice. God does not need individuals who would only pray for those who are hungry, nor is he so much concerned about us sending up prayers for those who need clothing and shelter. It does not matter how much we pray or fast about such things if our hearts are not moved to the point were we respond.

When I say respond, I am not talking about an exclusive emotional response of compassion.  I am talking about the proactive engagement in laboring against injustice, hunger and poverty. There is nothing to pray about except that God would show you how to use your own resources – time, talent, and treasures (that he has given YOU for such a purpose!). If you should pray, then expect to act on your prayers!

While we are not all called to be the deliver of resources, we are all called to be givers of resources.

If your heart is beating and you are alive to read this, one valuable resource you have is time. How can you give of your time to act in a meaningful way? If you are uniquely gifted, talented or trained, you have talent. How can you use your skill set to be an advocate for another who is in need? Also, check your bank account. Do you have a job that brings in income? Great. You have treasure. How can you use your treasure to partner with those who are on the frontlines in this battle for justice and mercy? What can you do? What will you do?

Does God care about justice?

Isaiah 46-50

Focus: Isaiah 47:1-3, “Fall down! Sit in the dirt, O virgin daughter Babylon! Sit on the ground, not on a throne, O daughter of the Babylonians! Indeed, you will no longer be called delicate and pampered. Pick up millstones and grind flour! Remove your veil, strip off your skirt, expose your legs, cross the streams! Let your private parts be exposed! Your genitals will be on display! I will get revenge; I will not have pity on anyone.” (NET)

There are times in life when I have wondered if God cares about justice. I have often wondered if God will ever do something about the wickedness that plagues our planet. The problem of evil is not new, but it is still difficult to address. While I know that Scripture deals with the problem of evil, I am shocked at just how graphic it is as it deals with God’s plan for evil and injustice.

Isaiah 47:1-3 is a prophecy against the wicked nation of Babylon. The charge against Babylon was that she tried to appropriate the throne of God. God’s judgment against her was severe. His plan was for the ultimate humiliation and destruction of Babylon. Babylon, a propagator of evil and injustice, was going to be stripped of all the things that she gloried in. Her rebellion would be crushed.

Truly, this passage gives a glimpse of one of God’s passions. God is passionate about justice. Micah 6:8 says, “He has show you man what the Lord requires, but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Even while God has a special love towards His people, and when God disciplined them for their sin, His plan still was to restore Israel. God was vindicating His people who were thwarted by the wickedness of Babylon. God was bringing justice to Israel through His judgment and ultimate shaming of Babylon.

Babylon was stripped and humiliated because of her sin. She was charged with making a mockery of Yahweh and trying to assume His throne. This passage should give us significant pause. Are our hearts in rebellion against God? Do we have an independent spirit that has no regard for the King? Have we submitted to his authority and Lordship in our life? How are we fighting for justice on behalf of the weak and vulnerable?

God is passionate about justice. If Babylon had her day in court, so will we. If Babylon was completely exposed, stripped and utterly humbled, what will God make of those who do not turn away from their rebellion and continue to commit evil? The glory of mutiny against God’s throne will no longer be so glorious in the Day of Judgment. It will be a dreadful day for propagators of evil. It is clear and there is no question that God is passionate about justice. Are you? How are you a part of God’s mission against evil?

Where is God in Haiti?

Isaiah 21-25

Focus: Isaiah 25:8 He will swallow up death permanently. The sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from every face, and remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. Indeed, the LORD has announced it!

Yesterday the world was literally shaken by an earthquake that devastated one of the poorest nations on earth. It is going to be recorded as the greatest disaster since the earthquake in China a year ago, and the Tsunami that hit Indonesia and India a few years ago. There is no way to estimate the total loss that has raped the land of Haiti. My prayers will be with these people. Haiti shook, and the lives of tens of thousands or more are in ruin. But their cries have been heard.

The recent tragedy is another reminder that death, sickness, injustice, unrighteousness, and evil still exist. The innocent continue to suffer, and the weak are still exploited. But where is God in these “hells” on earth? Doesn’t God care?

In short, the answer is “YES!” God does care, and it will be proven by the hands of his people who respond to tragedies like what has happened in Haiti. There is no plan B. We are God’s instruments to help others in their time of need. The world will witness the hand of God restoring the lives of those who have suffered, but a greater promise is in store for those who trust in the Lord.

One day the evil and injustice that we know will be destroyed. God will swallow up death permanently, and he will drench His people with His mercy. God himself will wipe the tears from every face and he will remove the shame from his people. This is what we are living for! While we live in a world that is not yet perfect, one day everything will be made new. This is the Christian hope. This is the promise for those who trust in the Lord.

I can only imagine what it will be like to stand in the Lord’s presence in the time that he has prepared a new home for me and for those who have been faithful to Him. The guilt and shame of my past failures will be completely gone. Fear from violence and evil will no longer be. This is the Christian hope! This is what Christ offers. This is His promise. The Lord has announced it. He has spoken. It will be so.

My heart is with those who are grieving their loss. My prayer is that they will turn to Christ as they begin to witness His power and see it for the first time. To those who are on the outside looking in at the disaster that has violated the lives of others, what are you doing to help bring justice and mercy for the innocent? What are the resources you have to help? This is your time to shine. There is no plan B. You are the face of God today in Haiti, and you are the hands of God in the lives of those who suffer.

What to do when you are suffering

Isaiah 6-10

8:13 You must recognize the authority of the Lord who commands armies. He is the one you must respect; he is the one you must fear.

There is nothing more difficult than trusting God during tough times. Isaiah was a prophet that God spoke to concerning His people Israel. God was preparing to discipline his people who rebelled against Him and who broke their part of the Covenant. It was part of the deal: If Israel sinned, they would be removed from the land and lose out on protection and blessing. If they were faithful, they would enjoy the land, get protection from God, and be prosperous.

Israel was about to go through disasterous times. But what about the few who were faithful? What should the righteous do when they suffer?

1. Remember the authority (sovereignty) of God. He commands the armies. God was telling Isaiah that He was working out His plans- even through the wicked nation of Assyria who would be used as the instrument to conquer Israel. We all need to know that God is continually at work. We do not know all His plans, but we know the plans are His!

2. He is the one we must respect. He is the one we must fear. God was telling Isaiah to completely trust God with his life. While one day sin, death, and suffering will be destroyed, Isaiah lived in a time of transition. The world Isaiah knew was not the one that would one day exist. Personal suffering was a reality in his world, so he had to trust God for the world of justice, mercy and peace that did not yet exist. The same is true for us. God calls His people to unequivocally trust in Him.

Isaiah eventually was among those who was taken into exile. He lost everything he knew and was stripped of all his comforts. He suffered because of the unfaithfulness of others. Yet, Isaiah remained faithful to Yahweh. In order to make it through trials requires an enduring steadfast trust in God. We must remember that we only know only a little bit of God’s plans. If we have experienced God’s faithfulness to us, then when times are tough, let’s continue to be faithful to Him.

How to measure your spirituality

Is. 1:17 Learn to do what is right!

Promote justice!

Give the oppressed reason to celebrate!

Take up the cause of the orphan!

Defend the rights of the widow!

This last year, George Barna’s survey indicated that many churchgoers and faith leaders struggle to define spiritual maturity. In America, this should not be! We are the wealthiest nation and have the most Spiritual resources on the planet. Yet we struggle to know what it means to be spiritually mature.

George Barna’s survey revealed 5 problems in the American Church: 1.) Most Christians equate spirituality with following rules 2.) Churchgoers are uncertain about what their church expects about spiritual maturity 3.) Believers have one-dimensional views of spiritual maturity 4.) Pastors fail to give a relevant definition of spiritual maturity with objectives; they favor activity over attitude 5.) Pastors don’t know where to reference the Bible for indicators of Spiritual maturity.

I once had a mentor who gave me a great definition of spiritual maturity (See below). Notice the phrase a Christian with a life worth emulating. What does that mean? What is the Christian life?

Spiritual maturity is:

The process where a Christian with a life worth emulating commits himself or herself for an extended period of time to a few individuals who have been won to Christ, the purpose being to aid and guide their growth to maturity and equip them to reproduce themselves in a third spiritual generation.

In Isaiah 1 we can get some helpful insight about what it means to be a Christian with a life worth emulating. In this passage, God is indicting Israel- not because they did not produce sacrifices, not because they did not pray enough, not because they did not go to the temple, not because they did not tithe. They did all of that, yet God said that he hated their worship. Why? Because it was sin-stained celebration. Based off this passage alone, we can discover what spiritual maturity is not.

Spiritual maturity is not:

1. Following rules

2. Engaging in spiritual activities

3. Confessing that you are a follower of God (or Christ)

4. A single-dimensioned definition

5. Vague and difficult to discover in Scripture

Measuring spiritual maturity begins with acknowledging who God is. Today we confess Jesus as Lord. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s revelation to man as foretold as early as Genesis 3:16 in Scripture. 1 John 2:6 says that those who confess Jesus must also walk as Jesus did. When someone does this, then he has a life worth emulating.

What did Jesus do?

When John the Baptist was in prison, he sent people to Jesus to find out who Jesus is. Jesus instructed John’s followers to tell John what they heard and saw: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. Jesus had strong affinity for mercy, justice and humility.

Spiritual maturity starts by confessing Christ, but it extends to the very core of our being. It is not about being doctrinally correct so much as it is about living spiritually correct. What I mean by that is that claiming to have faith in Christ is not just verbal. It also involves communicating with your life.

Indicators of faith include learning to do what is right, promoting justice, giving the oppressed reason to celebrate, taking up the cause of the orphan, and defending the rights of the widow. Life before Christ is one that tolerates injustice, propagates evil, and has no place for mercy. Yet as we mature in Christ, we learn to live according to the Spirit. When we do that, new fruits are produced in our life. We live as imitators of Christ.

If we let this concept guide our lives, then there would be less confusion about why we follow certain rules and engage in spiritual activities. Not only that, but we would not be so concerned about confessing our allegiance to Christ so much as living for Him in a way that extends justice, mercy and righteousness. When asked how we measure our spirituality, we will be less inclined to say that we tithe, pray, read our bibles and attend church. Instead we will humbly submit our story about the new fruit that has come from a radically transformed life and has fully engaged in the person and message of Jesus Christ.