Religion and Obligation – But I don’t want to obey?…
People often don’t like religion because they don’t want to obey
A lot of people react to religion and want nothing to do with it. Not because they’ve considered its truth claims but because they feel it is constricting. Interestingly, we got our modern English word “religion” from the Latin word religio meaning “obligation” or “bond.”
So, it has been recognized for a long time that religion is binding. The question is, why? Why should anyone obey a religion?
If the religion’s truth claims are accurate then there would be a good reason to obey. Otherwise, I’m not going to be bound by a religion just because that’s what my grandma believed… No. If you’re going to tell me what I can do and not do, you better offer some good reasons why I should listen.
God demands obedience
1 Kings 8:60-61 says, “The LORD is God; there is no other. Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the LORD.” It is admittedly a big claim that “the LORD is God,” and He alone. But if that claim is true it seems to make sense that the LORD could demand obedience.
So, the question it seems we need to answer is not: “Should I obey?” But: “Is it true?” A lot of times it seems we’re tempted to go at it a different way. We’re tempted to think: “I don’t want to obey, therefore I won’t consider if it’s true.”
We can see the ridiculousness of that thinking when we apply it to a different context…
Imagine you’re driving on the highway with me. I’m going 95 when the speed limit is 70. You’re concerned because you know there are often speed traps in the area. Also, you don’t want to die. So, you say, “Perhaps you should slow down. There could be a speed trap.”
I, however, am rather content with the speed I am going. But you see a police car ahead. You very kindly warn me: “Um, that’s a police car… See it?! He’s right there! Slow down!”
But I don’t listen. I want to drive fast so I ignore the possibility of a cop car.
Religion and obligation
Ignoring information that might be pertinent because we want to do what we want to do might be problematic. Just because we don’t want there to be a cop to enforce the rules does not at all mean there is no cop.
I understand people not wanting to be obligated by a religion. We all naturally want to be in charge; we want to do what we want to do. We want to be God. But we can’t be God if God is God.
If God is, then God is in charge. He is God. If the religion is real, it necessarily leads to obligation.
That brings up the very important question: “Is God?”
Faith Fuels Faithfulness
God’s past faithfulness is a prod for my faithfulness. Faith fuels faithfulness. God has been faithful to fulfill His past promises, and His future ones will certainly come to fruition.
God’s Past Faithfulness
Mary recalled God’s past promise and praised Him for His present fulfillment (Luke 1:54-55). Zechariah remembered that God spoke “by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old” (Luke 2:70) and he realized that those promises were being fulfilled before his face. God kept the mercy (v. 72) and the oath (v. 73) He promised, and He delivered His people.
God kept His promise because He’s a promise keeper. He will keep all His promises. He does, in fact, give light to those who sit in darkness (v. 79) and He will yet give perfect and eternal peace. We know this because His word is true. He has kept it. Yes, in radical and unexpected ways—way surpassing what is suspected—He has kept it. Yes, sometimes it takes longer than fickle humans would like, but God always delivers on what He says.
Trusting God’s Faithfulness into the Future
God has been faithful in the past and He will be faithful in the future. So, I should therefore trust in His promises that are yet to be fulfilled. Just as Christ came, He is coming back! Although it’s true that He’s coming in a much different way and for a different purpose. But just as on a real day in history He came, so He’s coming back. And just as Jesus brought salvation and peace, so will He bring salvation and peace when He returns, but it will be of a different kind. The peace that Jesus will bring upon His next return will not be merely of the heart and of relationship with God, it will be whole—pervasive. God’s peace and glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Peace will be palpable. Every foe and woe will be vanquished.
So, amid a land of war and woe, and where the enemy reigns and claims his own, may I never weary or tarry or tire, because God’s promises are true. Though the battle may bruise and be scary, may I ever remember He has been faithful and true, and He is good. The reality is, soon every tear will be wiped dry, and the sun will eternally shine.
Perspective on God’s Promises
A failure of faithfulness on my part is probably a failure of faith. I have doubted God’s faithfulness. My faith faltered. I have thought of God as failing. But God has—over and over again—shown Himself to be faithful. God has not failed. My faith failed. Our faith is often frail.
When I see the past and the present with the proper perspective (one that takes into account the reality of God’s radical faithfulness), the future fulfillment of His promise is seen more clearly. That is, with faith—the assurance of things unseen. So, faith fuels faithfulness.
Prayer for Faith
So, here’s my prayer:
“God hedge me up with faith. Let me not see mainly my failings, let all be eclipsed by a vision of Your faithfulness. You have been good and faithful way beyond what I deserve. Help me see that, so I never desert in disbelief. The reality is You are good, have done good, do good, and will do good. Let the past pave the way for my future trust.”
10 Leadership Principles and Dangers
Leading is dangerous. It always has been, and it always will be. Yet, leading is required. Someone will lead. But will they lead well, and will they lead with the right convictions? Let’s look at 10 leadership principles and dangers…
1) Leading requires deep conviction
There have, however, been many successful leaders that led vast amounts of people astray. Leaders must have deep conviction; why else would you lead? Especially with how dangerous leadership is? Why lead at all unless you have the dire conviction that something must be done about something, even if you’re the someone that must do it… But it is vital that that something that we have conviction about is the correct conviction. If not, we not only risk and waste our life, if we’re an effective leader, we also risk and waste other’s lives too.
So, leading is dangerous because it requires the correct convictions. If we have the wrong convictions, we can do a lot of wrong (especially, ironically, if we’re “good” at leading). When you have conviction you lead, even if it means leading with a limp.
2) Leading requires talking well
People respect you when you can talk well, whether or not you have the character or maturity to back it up. So, talking well is important. Who’s going to follow someone that is uninspiring and doesn’t make sense? Yet, someone can talk well and amass a massive following and yet have nowhere to go, no ability to actually lead, or is only heading to a very shallow, empty place. Talking well is a blessing but can be the fancy shell that hides the hollow emptiness inside.
So, if you talk well, make sure you live well too.
3) Leading is lonely
Leading is often quite lonely. In the same way that it can be lonely once you summit a great and difficult height. It’s lonely by the sheer difficulty of the journey. But the reality is, it’s also more dangerous at the summit. So, as hard as it is and as much as you may not think you need help, if you lead, you especially need help. You need it in a way that you’re not even aware of and it’ll be harder to find than for others.
So, as lonely as leading is, you need to find people to travel with you and traverse the trails. Leading is dangerous no matter what, but it’s doubly so if you don’t have someone to help you when you fall.
4) Leading is hard, it requires leading
Part of what leading entails is setting the pace, being in front. This can be the case when it comes to work ethic, creativity, dedication, knowledge, or really all of the above. Leaders can’t and don’t know it all, and shouldn’t think they do or can, but leaders do lead. So, if they’re not always in front they’re knowledgeable and encouraging to those that are “in front” in their specific expertise. Yet, to even be competent and relevant in many fields is difficult.
So, leading is hard because it requires diligent work in various fields. It also requires wisdom to navigate what needs to be worked on and when.
5) Leading requires leading and learning
Leading requires audacity but never ignorance. It requires a type of confidence but never arrogance. It takes boldness but must never be blind. Learning must always be a part of leading and if it’s not, leading is very likely to go the wrong way. Humility should also accompany leadership. If not, followers should and hopefully won’t accompany you very far.
So, as you lead, make sure you are also learning; even from those you’re leading.
6) Leading becomes easier, letting character and integrity slip becomes easier too
As leading becomes more natural and second nature it’s easy to let character and integrity slip. When it’s more and more possible to cut corners, it becomes easier to cut corners. When the wake of your own name can carry you and you can drift on what you’ve done in the past, it can be hard to continue to deserve that name in the future.
So, as you become more competent in your leadership, don’t neglect your character. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches” (Prov. 22:1).
7) Leading requires delegation, not dictatorship
As a leader you can’t do everything. You can’t even do a lot of things. If you’re going to actually lead you have to get people to do things. Yet, what the leader is called to is wise and loving delegation, not dictatorship.
So, carefully and humbly lead others to contribute. Without them, you would not be a leader. You have the honor, steward, and privilege to lead them. It’s not about you.
8) Leading from the front is where the bullets are
To lead is to be in the front of the fight. It is to be at the front of the fray. To lead is essentially to die daily. It is to make the hard decisions, even the wrong decisions, and it is to own it. Leading means being first out of the foxhole and on to the field. Leading is difficult and costly.
So, remember when you’re in the front you are liable to get “bullets” from the front as well as “friendly fire.” The “bullet”, however, does not mean that you are a terrible person or that it was even specifically meant for you. It’s partly just that a lot of times people direct their rage at leaders.
9) Leading is failing but having the conviction to do it again and again
I’ve heard it said that “Leading is disappointing people at a rate that they can endure.” That truth resonates. Leaders don’t always get it right, but they have the conviction to continue, to endure, and to do it again until they get it right. Where the leader is leading is that important. Conviction for the cause, propels the mission.
So, have no false illusions about what leadership is. But also realize that it’s hard for every leader. So, when you fail it’s no surprise. It’s what happens when you lead. The thing is to get up again and do it again.
10) Leading effects all of life
Leading is not contained within the “9 to 5.” Leading doesn’t just happen at work. Leading is who you are and so leading goes with you.
So, ensure that as you lead at work or your organization, you’re leading and loving well at home too. If you say “yes” to something, know that you’re saying “no” to something else. Make sure you say “yes” to the right things: your faith commitments, your family, your friends.
 Notice that non-leaders get murdered and killed but leaders get assassinated. That is, people kill other people on accident and people murder people for money or as a result of someone’s rage. But leaders get assassinated because they led. Leaders literally put themselves into harm’s way in all sorts of ways.
*Photo by Mathias Jensen
If God is love, why does He judge?
If God is love, why does He judge?
The Bible says a lot about love and yet a lot about judgment, why?
In reading about God’s judgment in Joel I was struck by something in Joel 3:10. It says, “Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears.” It’s saying take the farming implements that you use during times of peace and plenty and prepare to use them for war. It’s a poetic way of saying things are going to get bad. War is coming. Instead of prosperity there will be pillaging. Instead of wine and feast, war and famine.
Joel 3:10 is interesting because it’s the reverse of two other Old Testament verses. Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3 say, “Beat your swords into plowshares, and your spears into pruning hooks.” Those verses are saying the weapons of warfare are no longer needed because peace is here to stay. So, why the seeming contradiction?
Joel, Micah, and Isaiah are all actually saying the same thing just in different ways. Here’s the pattern:
- Sin & Injustice →
- Judgment & Justice →
- Peace & Prosperity (cf. Is. 1:27-28; 2:4).
Joel 3 says the LORD will bring judgment “because they… have traded a boy for a prostitute and have sold a girl for wine” (v. 2-3). That’s an example of the injustice that was going on. So, the LORD brings justice and judgment “for their evil is great” (v. 13). And it results in peace. That’s what Joel 3:17-27 tells us. Even the desert shall bloom.
Note, therefore, that the LORD doesn’t rashly bring wrath. Sin is a rebellion and a rampage. It destroys and damages. Thus, we should see that it’s a good thing that the LORD takes sin seriously. He does not appease those who perpetrate evil, He will deal with each issue as is warranted and right. Although now He is being patient to give people time to repent (2 Peter 3:9-10).
Amazingly, He also offers to save us from the punishment that we deserve because of our sin. Joel 2:32 reassures us that “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” Judgment will indeed be poured out “but the LORD is a refuge to His people” (Joel 3:16).
So, in Joel we see judgment results from injustice and peace and prosperity will ultimately result from the LORD’s just Judgment. When the LORD carryouts perfect Judgment, perfect and eternal peace will come.
When Eden’s enemies are forever banished, Eden shall eternally bloom. Sin marred God’s good creation but our good Creator will remake the world, and He will make it so it can be marred no longer. God’s just justice to injustice is good and it alone will end injustice and bring perfect peace and prosperity. Until that Day may we call people to call on the LORD (Joel 2:32) through Jesus the Messiah and may we fight for justice and pursue peace.
The final book of the Bible points us to the great Day of Judgment, and it also points us to the great day of peace. The two go together. They follow one upon the other. To have peace is to have an end to opposition. Just as in World War II, D-Day must come before VE Day.
So, if God is love, why does He judge? Because love does not take the destruction of that which it loves lightly. Instead, to love—to love fiercely and deeply—is to protect and provide. The LORD both provides a way for all those who would come, to come; and He fiercely and furiously protects His own who do come.
What should we do now that Roe v. Wade is overturned?
What should we do now that Roe v. Wade is overturned?
This is a very divisive question. There is celebration and lamentation across the nation. While there is dire disagreement over this topic hopefully both sides can treat each other with dignity and have dialogue where needed.
There were three Justices that did not agree with overturning Roe. Their opinion, known as “the dissent,” talks a lot “about the effects of pregnancy on women, the burdens of motherhood, and the difficulties faced by poor women. These are important concerns. However, the dissent evinces no similar regard for a State’s interest in protecting prenatal life.” Why is no concern shown for “prenatal life,” or what is termed, “potential life”?
As Americans, we have super slow speed limits in school zones. Why? Because we want to protect children. We don’t know for sure that a child will die if we speed but we still have laws and don’t speed—and infringe our freedoms—to protect kids. Why? Because life is precious.
So, even if you believe that life inside of a womb is just “potential life” remember school speed zones. We infringe our freedoms all the time to protect against possible death.
Why do we do that? Because we as a country value life. So, we take precautions and inconveniences to protect it. I believe, as Roe was overturned, we turned back to that precedent. And we as a country became more consistent. And for that, I thank God.
As a Christian, I believe abortion is not morally justifiable so I rejoice at the overturning of Roe v. Wade. But I also realize the massive needs that will quickly be apparent. So, I can somewhat understand my friends that are lamenting. I disagree with them, but I feel for them. I want all those that are feeling burdened to find help.
So, what should we do?
1. Praise the Lord Roe v. Wade has been overturned!
Christians believe in the sanctity of human life—all human life. Abortion is not morally justifiable. Therefore, Christians rejoice in the ruling that was announced on June 24th. The Guttmacher Institute reported 930,160 abortions in 2020 and the CDC reported 625,346 in 2019. We rejoice that the overturning of Roe v. Wade should drastically reduce that number. Christians rejoice because they believe all lives are precious. And so, they shouldn’t be jerks to those who disagree with them. They should know and show that they too have value.
2. Pray for our country that is very divided over this issue and for states that will now have the power to make their own abortion laws.
We should pray and do what we can to see laws passed across the states to protect life. Pray also for peace and that we would be united as states. A recent Gallup survey reports that 52% of Americans consider abortion morally acceptable (though 71% say it shouldn’t be legal in the third trimester).
3. Pray that the Church and communities across America will care for mothers and their babies; that babies that otherwise wouldn’t have been in the world would receive help in the world.
Christians must continue to care for the most vulnerable amongst us. As Roe falls there’s a massive opportunity and need for the Church to rise up and love. The Church has the answer. My we employ our minds, wallets, and houses to tangibly care for those in need.
Because Christians believe in the sanctity of human life and in justice, we also care about the moms that would have had the abortion and we care about the babies that will now be born. In the U.S. in 2017, about 1 in 5 pregnancies ended in abortion. And around 75% of abortion patients in 2014 were poor (income below $15,730 for a family of two) or low-income. This shows the massive needs that will arise in the coming months. Let’s pray. Let’s also consider how we can be part of the solution and love our neighbors well.
The church has a long history of carrying for mothers and children in need. This is because Jesus modeled caring for those in need. That’s a big part of what the good news of Jesus is all about. We are sinners in need of a Savior and Jesus is that savior. And so, we love because He first loved us.
The Bible calls us to action. The Bible calls us to stand up for the oppressed (Is. 1:17) and to speak for those who cannot speak (Prov. 31:8-9 cf. 3:27). Birth rates will go up but so will infant mortality rates. But as more babies are birthed may hearts of compassion and care be birthed. May Christians meet the new challenges with Christ’s tangible love. As Roe v Wade falls, the church must rise.
4. Read the opinion on Dobbs
If you are going to be strongly for or against the ruling it would be wise to know what it says and why. So, I’d encourage you to read the opinion on Dobbs as well as the opinion on Roe. It was certainly helpful for me. The argument in the Dobbs opinion shows that “procuring an abortion is not a fundamental constitutional right because such a right has no basis in the Constitution’s text or in our Nation’s history.”
So, I encourage you to do those four things.
Now on to the work of loving and serving our communities well!
 “The church responded to the practices of infanticide and exposure through their care of exposed infants. From the earliest days of the Christian church, Christians collected funds for distribution to the poor and sick. As part of their concern for the vulnerable members in their community, the early Christians acted to protect exposed infants… Indeed, the Christian church gained such a reputation for their care of exposed infants that churches became the established site for abandoning infants” (Louise Gosbell, “’As long as it’s healthy’: What can we learn from early Christianity’s resistance to infanticide and exposure?”).
What is Pentecost?
What is Pentecost? And what’s its significance?
Did you know there’s even a day that celebrates Pentecost?
I didn’t know what Pentecost Sunday was for a long time, and I certainly didn’t understand the full significance of it. Yet, Pentecost is full of significance. Pentecost Sunday is a celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. It, however, is not widely celebrated; at least, not very much in non-liturgical churches.
I grew up celebrating Christmas and praising God for the incarnation of Jesus. And I’m thankful for that. I grew up rejoicing in the truth of Easter, that Jesus is victorious over sin and death! And I’m thankful for that. But, Jesus said something that makes me think we’re missing out on an important celebration.
Jesus—God in human form—came to earth and walked and talked and performed miracles. And this GodMan, Jesus, said, “It is better that I go away” (Jn. 16:7). How could that be true? I mean, I know Jesus always speaks the truth, but how could this be true? How could anything be better than Jesus walking and talking on earth with us?
How could something be better than Jesus’ physical presence?!
Jesus has said some pretty shocking things, but this is one of His greatest hits!
Who or what could be better than Jesus’ physical presence?! Thankfully Jesus answers that question for us.
He said, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you” (Jn. 16:7).
Jesus said it was to our advantage that He go because then He would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to us.
We rightly celebrate the coming of the Messiah at Christmas. Yet, if it is to our advantage that the Messiah go so we have the Spirit, shouldn’t we celebrate the Spirit too? Of course, one of the reasons the Spirit is not celebrated as Jesus is, is because one of the roles of the Spirit is to help us celebrate Jesus (Jn. 16:14). Nevertheless, we should acknowledge and know and praise God for His helpful presence by the Spirit.
Pentecost Sunday is a day to celebrate the powerful presence of the Spirit.
Pentecost (pentékosté) comes from a Greek word that means “fifty.” Pentecost takes place fifty days or seven weeks after Passover (Ex. 23:14-16; 34:22-23; Lev. 23:15-16; Num. 28:26; Deut. 16:9). Sometime people call it the Feast of Weeks. Pentecost is one of the three major Jewish festivals or feasts. It was a day to celebrate, anticipate, and thank God for His provisions, specifically of wheat.
For this festival, God’s people would offer the first fruits of their wheat harvest (Ex. 34:22), their new grain (Lev. 23:15-16) to the LORD (Ex. 34:23). This required a pilgrimage. And it required much planning because no customary work was supposed to be done on this feast day (Num. 28:26). “Though the holiday lasted but one day, it was a national event with elaborate rituals well known throughout the land.”
Pentecost, however, is not just mentioned in the Old Testament; it’s mentioned in the New Testament too (Acts 2:1; 20:16; 1 Cor. 16:8). Passover is the more famous festival but both Passover and Pentecost are important. “The Festival of Passover… pointed forward to the death and resurrection of Jesus, so the Feast of Pentecost pointed forward to another pivotal event in the history of the church.”
The time of Pentecost was a time of anticipation. God had promised to provide and it was a time to see God’s provision. So, “Pentecost is all about living in anticipation of a harvest that is yet to come.” With God’s provision there was life, health, and rejoicing. But, if God did not provide there would be devastation.
Pentecost in Acts 2
In Acts 2, we see God provide more than just grain. God provided the gift of His presence as Jesus said He would, and as was foretold in Joel 2:28-29. God’s people received power from on high (Lk. 24:49).
In Acts 2, we see that “something tremendous happened in Jerusalem that transformed the Apostles into men of conviction and courage and provided them with a spiritual impetus that enabled the Christian movement to expand rapidly, so that in a few decades vital congregations were in all the major cities of the Roman Empire.”
At Pentecost, there was a divine visitation, the presence of God came upon His people. In the Old Testament, we see God’s appearance was accompanied by wind and fire (1 Kings 18:38; 19:11-13; Ezek. 37:9-14). Yet, we see something new in the New Testament. God’s presence was also accompanied by the gift of tongues. So, we see at Pentecost that God is shifting His redemptive purpose from Israel, His particular people, to all people being welcomed in through Christ the risen King. People were scattered because of sin at Babel but through the much-anticipated gift on Pentecost we see God gathering and uniting His people in King Jesus.
The Spirit did not come just for us personally. The Spirit is also given for the purpose of mission: that all people might know Jesus as both Savior and King. As Glasser has said, “The spirit was not given just to enable the people of God to pursue personal holiness and joy in corporate worship and fellowship… The spirit was also given to energize corporate waiting on God for missionary outreach.”
Jesus told His disciples to make disciples, but He let them know they wouldn’t have to do it all on their own. He would be with them, even to the end of the age. But, how? At Pentecost we find the answer. Jesus sends the Spirit (Jn. 14:16–17, 26 15:26) and is with us by the Spirit (Scripture even speaks of “the Spirit of Christ,” see Rom. 8:9; Gal. 4:6; 1 Pet. 1:11).
The Spirit given at Pentecost is the “first fruits” of more that is to come (Rom. 8:23; Eph. 1:13-14). God heaps grace upon grace!
“Our redemption has begun, with the fullness yet to come. As Jesus has risen, so we will too. As we have come to Christ, more will follow. The Holy Spirit who guarantees our final redemption is the first part of her vital new relationship with God, with more to come.”
Jesus, who has redeemed the Church, will also recreate the whole earth.
On Pentecost Sunday, we thank God for sending the Helper. We rejoice in His gift of the much needed and anticipated Helper.
 It’s important to realize that Peter’s concern on Pentecost aligns with the Spirit’s concern: focus on Jesus Christ!
 Pentecost Sunday happens fifty days after Easter. Of course, Easter or Resurrection Sunday corresponds with Passover.
 David Brickner and Rich Robinson, Christ in the Feast of Pentecost, 101.
 Brickner and Robinson, Christ in the Feast of Pentecost, 31.
 Ibid., 108.
 In the Old Testament, we see God’s promise to provide crops is often in connection to His people’s faithfulness to obey Him.
 A. F. Glasser, “Pentecost,” 757 in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
 Glasser, “Pentecost,” 757. “Pentecost marks the completion of Christ’s redemptive work. Following His resurrection He ascended into heaven and presented Himself as the first fruits of the coming harvest” (Ibid., 758).
 “Missionary outreach provides the divine reversal of the scattering and hostility of the nations that fall the judgment at Babel (Gen. 11:1-9)” (Glasser, “Pentecost,” 758).
 Glasser, “Pentecost,” 758.
 Brickner and Robinson, Christ in the Feast of Pentecost, 140.
Health and Healing, Sickness and Suffering
Health and Healing, Sickness and Suffering
When it comes to health and healing, and sickness and suffering, there are a lot of questions and a lot of confusion.
This topic hits home for me because I serve as Care Pastor at Crossroads Church. But, more than that, it hits home because it is home. All the time. My wife has various diagnoses all adding up to making her chronically ill.* That is, she’s sick. She’s sick a lot; more or less all the time.
Does God want us to be healthy and happy? Then why is there suffering and sickness? And why are some people healthy and some people sick? Why is my wife sick? Did she do something to deserve it? Did I do something? Do we lack faith?
The answers to these questions are not simplistic. They are complex. And they are mysterious. It’s always good to remember that God as God is not like us. His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9). That shouldn’t be surprising for us since He’s God, but it is vital that we remember that truth.
So, why sickness and suffering?
Sickness and suffering?
First, we should acknowledge how big and how relevant that question is. People have been asking this question for eons. The Bible gives some very valid and convincing reasons (especially when understand in the context of redemptive history).
The Fall (sin in general, natural evil)
Sickness was introduced into the world as a result of sin (Gen. 3). When God made the world, it was very good (Gen. 1:31). So, sickness is an intruder. Sickness is not welcome and will not always be in the world. But it is certainly here now. Now in the natural course of the fallen world, people get sick and they die, and people die as a result of old age (Gen. 5 [notice the refrain of “and he died”], 48:1, 21).
Individual Sin (specific personal sin, moral evil)
Sometimes sickness is a result of a specific personal sin (1 Cor. 11:28-30). Of course, all sin leads to separation from God and death. But some sins bring especially pungent consequences. Some sins, as 1 Corinthians says, are against our own bodies (1 Cor. 6:18). Some sickness results from disobeying God (Ex. 15:26). It seems king David himself experienced the physical consequences of sin (Ps. 32:3-4; 38:3-5).
From reading the New Testament it seems clear that some sickness is a result of demonic forces. The Gospel of Mark talks about a young boy that has “a spirit that makes him mute” (Mk. 9:17-18 cf. Lk. 11:14). The Gospel of Luke talks about a woman that had a disabling spirit for 18 years (Lk. 13:11). Acts 10:38 tells us that Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (cf. Matt. 8:16). Yet, Luke also distinguishes between the casting out of demons and healing (see Lk. 4:40-41) and thus shows that not all sickness is due to demonic forces. When we take into account the points below, it is clear that not all sickness comes from demonic forces.
For God’s Glory
Scripture also explicitly tells us that some sickness is for the glory of God. The most cogent and explicit is the story of the man born blind. Jesus says that the man was not born blind because of sin but instead “so that the works of God would be displayed in him” (Jn. 9:3).
Even the death of Lazarus was for the glory of God, so that Jesus might be glorified through it (Jn. 11:4). And Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” whatever it was, was so that the power of Christ would rest upon him (2 Cor. 12:7-9).
In these examples, sickness was not a result of sin or a lack of faith. Sickness was for the glory of God.
We don’t always know why
At other times we simply do not know for sure what the reason for the sickness is. In Philippians 2:25-30 we see that Epaphroditus, a faithful co-laborer of Paul, was so sick he nearly died. Yet, we are not given a reason for his sickness. And we have no hint at all that it was because of lack of faith or because of a personal sin. And in 2 Timothy 4:20 we see that Trophimus is left in Miletus.
Paul was an apostle, had faith, and had healed others (Acts 19:11-12; 2 Cor. 12:12) and yet that didn’t guarantee that people—even his close and faithful co-workers—would be healed. We know God, by His Spirit, can heal and we can certainly pray that He will. But prayer and even the gift of healing is not a mechanism that we can simply push and guarantee that healing will be the result. God is sovereign over sickness. And for whatever reason, He doesn’t always heal. We don’t always know, as Paul the Apostle didn’t know, why some are healed, and others aren’t. But, just like Paul, we must trust God. He is good. And He has explicitly and repeatedly demonstrated His goodness.
So, sickness is clearly not always a result of sin or a lack of faith.
What should we do when we’re sick?
Look at James 5:13-18. Notice first that before it talks about healing it talks about patience in suffering (v. 7-11). So, even in the context of asking for healing, there is an expectation of suffering.
Next, notice that whatever situation we are in, good or bad, we are always to go to the LORD in it, with praise or lament (v. 13). Then we see what we are to do if we’re sick. First, we need to realize our need. That is what leads to the calling of the elders. So, humility is necessary. When we are sick, we should realize our need.
Second, we are to realize that our need is not just physical, but spiritual. That is why we call for the “elders of the church.” And that is why we ask for prayer. Prayer is a supernatural beseeching of God; it’s going to God as Father and asking for help.
Third, I think the “anointing” with oil could have at a least a twofold significance. In the Old Testament the king would be anointed with oil and that symbolized the Spirit’s presence and blessing. Oil was also used for medicinal purposes (Mk. 6:13) or used as shorthand for medicine as we see when the Good Samaritan took care of the wounded man (Luke 10:34). Therefore, in anointing with oil we are calling on the Spirit to work and we are also confirming the goodness of medicine and imploring God to make it effective to heal.
Fourth, sickness uniquely reveals that we are but dust, that we soon pass away and are no more (Ps. 39). Yet, the “prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (v. 15), even if it is on the last day that he is raised up (Jn. 6:39-40, 44, 54). I don’t believe this passage means that just because the elders prayed over someone, and they had faith, they will be healed. But I do believe the prayer of faith saves. I believe this because that’s what the Bible teaches elsewhere (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn. 1:9). Also, as we have said, some sins uniquely lead to sickness. If someone commits one of those sins, they too can be forgiven (v. 15), but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be healed.
But, fifth, we do have a strong encouragement to confess our sins and pray for one another that we may be healed (v. 16). We know from elsewhere that sin can hinder our prayer (1 Pet. 3:7). It is the prayer of a righteous person that has great power (James 5:16). Just because people are not always healed when we pray does not at all mean they cannot be healed when we pray. James 5:17-18 goes to great lengths to tell us that Elijah was a normal enough guy and yet God moved mightily through his prayers.
So, when we’re sick, we must realize our utter need; we certainly cannot heal ourselves. We should realize the nature of our need as well as who it is we need help from: supernatural help from God. And we should realize that medicine although good, is no good apart from God’s intervening grace. So, even in our use of medicine we must be reliant and thankful to the Lord. If we have unconfessed sin we should confess and repent, knowing that sin can lead to sickness. Lastly, we should pray in faith knowing that God can and does heal.
We should seek the Lord and medical help
I believe that it’s important that we seek the Lord and medical help. We must remember that every good gift comes from the Father (James 1:17). And so, we should receive our Father’s good gifts with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4).
Yet, it is vital that we not just seek out medical help and not seek the help of God. He’s God! He holds every molecule together. It would be utterly foolish to seek out the help from a person who has limited knowledge on a limited number of things, and not seek out God—the All-Knowing-One.
As great as Asa king of Judah was, this was one of his main sins. Second Chronicles 16:12 tells us that “Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians.” That’s sad. And that’s foolish.
We should not follow Asa’s example. Rather, we should follow what I propose is the biblical example. We should seek the Lord and we should seek out the good physicians He has graciously provided. Paul even tells Timothy to make use of wine for help with a stomach problem (1 Tim. 5:23).
Does God promise health and healing?
Yes and no
In the story of Scripture, the story of Christ’s cosmic rescue, it starts out and the world is flawless, there’s no suffering or sin. But then the cosmic problem comes in. There’s a tear in time, a warp in the world, a curse in the cosmos. And it’s all because of sin.
Yet, the story of Scripture is the story of Jesus—God in flesh—coming to fix the broken world. The story starts in the Garden with God, and it ends in the Garden with God. It starts with no pain, suffering, sin, or sickness, and it ends that way.
Revelations 21 tells us of the glorious reality of God the Father wiping ever tear from all of His children’s faces. We, however, are not at that place in this true cosmic story.
Yes, that will happen—no suffering, sin, sickness, sadness, or death. But we are not there yet.
Yes, the LORD both forgives iniquities and heals our diseases (Psalms 103:3-5), but that doesn’t mean that the effects will be fully felt at the same time. For instance, the LORD has not yet brought “justice for all the oppressed” (v. 6). But that will happen. Jesus will bring complete justice. Jesus will satisfy His people with good thingsand He will renew our youth (v. 5). But not yet.
We are forgiven and welcomed into the Kingdom in and through Jesus Christ and yet we are not yet in the full realization of the Kingdom. It is true that Jesus has “took our illnesses and bore our diseases” (Matt. 8:16-17; Is. 53:4). And our main illness and disease is that of sin and in taking that on Himself He enables access to the New Creation in which there is no illness or disease.
As Sam Storms has said, “To whatever degree we experience healing in this life, it is the fruit of Christ’s atoning death.” It is by Jesus that we receive the undeserved grace of God, and God taking our illnesses and diseases is certainly undeserved. “But it doesn’t necessarily follow that where there is atonement there is immediate healing.”
That’s a biblical and verifiable reality. Paul, Epaphroditus, Trophimus, and many other faithful Christian brothers and sisters have had their sins bore by Jesus and thus been accounted righteous (Is. 53) and yet died with various sicknesses. Therefore, Jesus’ atoning and propitiatory death does not equal healing in this life.
There’s also another real sense in which “yes, God wants us to be healthy and happy.” That’s part of why God gives His good commands, so that it may go well with us (Deut. 4:40; 5:29, 33; Eph. 6:3). Yet, following God’s commands does not in any way guarantee that things will go well with us from an earthly perspective. Just look at Jesus’ 12 disciples…
Does God promise health and healing? No. Not in this life. However, because of the love of God in Christ Jesus we know that in spite of sickness we have a surpassing hope. We know that all things will actually work together for good (Romans 8:28, in context).
“This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 4:17-5:4).
God does not promise health in healing in this life. In fact, persecution and plague are very likely to await us. That’s what Jesus repeatedly said (see The New Testament on Suffering). Yet, we are “waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). This place is not our home. And our current bodies are not our final bodies (1 Cor. 15:35-49).
As you can see, a simplistic answer to the question of sickness and healing will not suffice. Yet, God gives the answer. And the answer is Jesus Christ the Lord. But the answer may be “yes” now, and it may be “no” now, but for all who trust Jesus it’s a “yes” later. Healing will happen. Suffering will cease. But that doesn’t mean it will happen now.
*Lyme disease, POTS, EDS. And as of this writing, she has COIVD-19 which is not good to mix in with all of her other health issues.
How should I think about regret? How should I handle regret?
How should I think about regret? How should I handle regret?
Regret can come about for a lot of reasons. The word regret means “sorrow or remorse for a fault or an act.” There are certainly reasons and times to feel regret, but we should not wallow in regret. Non-sinful forms of regret (like a wrong decision) can lead to lament. Lament is essentially laying out our loss to the LORD. It’s taking our cries, complaints, and cares to Him.
When regret leads us to the Lord or to repentance it can be a good thing. Though, it still should not be an all-consuming thing. Regret, however, is often more like worldly repentance, than godly repentance (see 2 Cor. 7). There’s a sense of loss, but not the will to change. Regret, like worldly repentance, often has sadness without the solid resolve to change. Whereas real repentance leads to life change and life, simple regret is not lifegiving (2 Cor. 7:10); it’s without hope and therefore deadly. Regret doesn’t take the transforming message and good news of Jesus into account.
Repentance and regret
Repentance is a biblical word and learning is a biblical word… Like learning from the wrong we’ve done and changing. Scripture calls us to repentance when we’ve done wrong. Not mere regret.
If there was someone who you think would be lost in hopeless regret, it would be the apostle Paul and, come to think of it, the apostle Peter too. Paul persecuted Jesus, and Peter denied Him—three times. Talk about regret. They didn’t just ruin their life, they turned their backs on the Author of life (Acts 3:15). Wow.
Yet, this is what Paul says: he forgets what lies behind him and strains forward to what lies ahead. He presses on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13-14). And Peter reminds us that through Christ Jesus, we have been cleansed from our former sins (2 Peter 1:9). So, regret turned into repentance, and repentance turned into rest in Jesus and resolve to live and die for Him.
Both Peter and Paul, and you and me, have things that we regret. Yet, Jesus cleanses and recreates. If we trust in Him and repent of our sin, He makes us new. Acts 3:19 says, Repent, turn back, “that your sins may be blotted out.”
So, Scripture calls us to repent—change our ways by the empowering grace of God—and not wallow in regret.
The Bible does relate that there are consequences for sin. Yet, it also tells us we can start over. Jesus makes us new. When we sow seeds to the flesh, what grows up is fruits of death—enmity, anger, and animosity. Whereas when we sow seeds to the Spirit, we get the fruits of life and righteousness—peace with God and relational prosperity.
Regret looks inward, into self, and tries to find resources there. That perspective is fruitless and flawed. There is not help enough there. Repentance, on the other hand, looks outward and upward for help from Christ the Creator and Recreator. He—as the Boss of the universe—has resources to help us with our deepest and darkest regrets.
Three categories of regret
Think of three regrets in your own life. List them out. Now we’re going to categorize them and consider how you should respond to them. Here are three categories of regrets:
- Sinful: what you regret was flatly wrong (e.g., stealing)
- Wrong choice: in retrospect, your choice was not the best (e.g., could have chosen a career you’re better suited for)
- A confusing mix of sin and wrong choice: the situation is so extensive you can’t sort it out (e.g., a marriage that ended in divorce)
How does Scripture tell us to respond to the three categories of regret?
Sin should always be repented of
First, sin should always be repented of. Sin always leads to brokenness and is an offense to a holy God. Therefore, we should turn away from all sin and ask for forgiveness. The Bible teaches that when we do this God grants forgiveness. We, therefore, don’t need to live in shame and guilt. For those in Christ Jesus, there is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1).
If you have a regret to repent of, certainly do that! And even make restitution (Luke 19: 8 cf. Ex. 22:1; 2 Sam. 12:6) and reconciliation (Matt. 5:23-26; 2 Cor. 5:18-19) wherever possible. But God does not call us to condemn or flog ourselves. God instead makes us new creations in Christ and forgets our sin. Do not remember something God has forgotten. Do not carry something Christ has buried. If God has thrown your sin into the depths of the ocean never to surface again (Micah 7:19), why do you recall them? Could it be the father of lies bringing them up from the dark depths to destroy and condemn?
Some regrets do not require repentance, though they may require tears
Second, some regrets do not require repentance, though they may require tears. I regret not spending more time with certain loved ones that have died. I regret misunderstanding when a particular assignment was due because it resulted in a bad grade. Yet, I don’t need to repent of all my regrets because not all my regrets were the result of sin.
Some regrets are a source of frustration because we have more information now than we did when we made our choice. Or you may feel like you are a different person now than when you made the choice. Or… a thousand different things. But you did make the choice, and now, in some sense, you’re stuck with the choice. And you regret it.
So, what do you do? How should we respond to this type of regret? Trust and lament.
We trust the Lord is with us and for us and is good, even in the midst of our less than stellar situation. Even if our life never feels finally fulfilled, or it seems like it could’ve been so much better if we would’ve made a better choice, as Christians, we know that we are not home here. Nothing will actually be a perfect choice here. Instead, heaven is our home. We are strangers and exiles here.
We know the world reels and regrets, as a result of the Fall. Things are not as they should’ve been and won’t be until Jesus comes back to fix the world. So, in one sense, regret is natural now and expected because of the broken world that is our address.
We also lament. We talk to the Lord in song and prayer, and we tell Him what we don’t like and why. Yet, even as we lament and lay out our losses and regrets to the Lord, we also trust.
Sometimes it’s hard to sort through our regret
Third, sometimes it’s hard to sort through our regret. Sometimes it is hard to label it and put it in a specific bucket. Yet, we know the One who knows our hearts better than we know our own. So, we cry out to the Lord, and we ask Him to help us. We ask for direction and we trust that when we don’t know the way, He does.
We also know that even while Jesus never sinned—never made any wrong choices whatsoever—He does understand where we’re coming from. He does know and did experience this messy and messed up world (Heb. 4:14-16). So, He can sympathize with us.
When regret is a riddle that we cannot figure out, we can and must still lean on the Lord. We turn to Him (that’s really what repentance is) and away from wallowing in despondence.
So, take your regrets, categorize them as best as you can, and respond appropriately: repent, lament, or a combination of the two. But don’t wallow in self-pity or condemnation. Self-pity and condemnation forget the gospel; they forget that Jesus has promised us the Kingdom and given us His righteousness.
Ultimately, the solution to regret of any kind is trusting and remembering Jesus’ gift of perfect righteousness and His coming reign where all regrets will be washed away (Rev. 21:1-4).
Take some time and respond appropriately to your regrets.
Reflection questions to help you process regret
- Read 2 Corinthians 7:10-11. What is the difference between “godly grief” and “worldly grief”?
- Do you have places in your life where you have regret that is merely “worldly grief” but isn’t leading to healthy life change?
- What are a few actions steps that you can take to purposely and intentionally turn away from and defeat sin in your life?
- Read Psalm 51:1-7. What did king David, the author of Psalm 51, regret? (Notice the introduction to the Psalm)
- How did king David respond to his regret?
- Did David hold out hope that he could be forgiven for what he did?
- When your sin is brought to light, what is your response?
- Read Psalm 51:8-19. David clearly regretted his sin. Yet, he wasn’t totally hopeless even though his sin was terrible and tragic. In the verses you read, where do you see signs of hope?
*Photo by Nathan Dumlao
Naturalistic evolution teaches that our sense of morality evolved
Imagine I gave you a pill that made you feel morally obligated to give me money… Kinda random but hear me out. After the pill wore off, what would you think of your moral conviction to give me money? Would you regret it? Question it? Probably both.
That’s what moral conviction is if we’re simply evolved creatures. Why? How is that so?
Naturalistic evolution teaches that our sense of morality evolved
Naturalistic evolution teaches that our sense of morality evolved. That is, our “moral genes” just happened to make us better suited for survival, and thus those with a moral characteristic passed on their “moral genes.” And so, we have morality. But, so the thought goes, just as the Neanderthals died out, morality could have died out. Or certainly, a different form of morality could have won out.
In fact, Charles Darwin says in The Descent of Man that if things had gone differently for humans they could have evolved to be like bees, where “females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters.” The atheist Michael Ruse in his book, Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to Philosophy, says, “Morality is a collective illusion foisted upon us by our genes.”
So, if we’re simply evolved from monkeys, morality is the equivalent of taking a pill that makes us think certain moral convictions are right. But the reality would be different. We, based on this view, only have those convictions—whatever they are: treat people nice, don’t murder and maim, etc.—because we happed to evolve that way (“took the pill”).
Of course, just because the way that you arrived at a conclusion was wrong, does not mean that your conclusion was wrong. In a test where the answer is A, B, C, or D, I could just choose “C” because it’s my favorite letter. I may be correct in my answer, but I certainly don’t have a solid reason for believing in the validity of my answer. In fact, probability would say my answer is likely wrong.
Another problem with wholesale naturalistic evolution is if we believe it explains everything then it in some ways explains nothing. Gasp. Yeah, that’s not a good thing.
If evolution explains morality, then I’m moral because of evolution which at least in some ways undercuts morality. Some people even say that religious people, like people that believe in Jesus, are religious because they evolved that way. Believing in a higher power brought some type of group identity which led tribes of our ancestors to be more likely to protect each other and thus survive and pass on their genes. And so, religion is the result of random mutational chance.
In fact, you could argue all of our thinking processes are the result of evolution. We’re just matter in motion. We’re all just responding to random whims. From belief in morality to belief in evolution, we’re just evolved to think this way… We can’t do anything about it. It’s programmed into us. It’s the pill we were given…
But if all this is a pill we’re given—what we’ve randomly evolved to think—what should we think?… Isn’t all our thinking just built into us through evolutionary processes?…
Alternatively, Christians believe that humans are created with an innate moral sense.
So, it seems morality is either a fiction with no basis in reality or God created us and explains reality—explains why we have an innate sense that we should treat people nice and not murder and maim.
There are big implications for either view. What is your view? And why?
We Still Need the Spirit’s Empowering Presence
We Still Need the Spirit’s Empowering Presence
Moses had stood before Pharaoh, led 600,000 Israelites out of Egypt, and received the Law from the LORD Himself. If there was someone that could feel accomplished and able you’d think it’d be Moses. Yet, he was humble and knew his need.
In fact, the book of Numbers says, “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (12:3). It seems there is a correspondence between proximity to God and the weighty work He’s called you to, and humility. The more one sees God, the more one is humbled by God and sees their need for God’s empowerment.
Moses had led God’s people out of Egypt and was forming them into a nation, yet Moses knew His utter need for the Spirit’s presence and leading. He said, “If Your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:15).
Moses said that, but I fear that I, along with many other Christians, run straight into various situations without the least thought as to our need for the Spirit’s help and leading. The Spirit was given as the Helper, but very often I’m afraid we don’t seek out His help. I know I’ve been guilty of that. That, however, is foolish.
Jesus Himself said that it was better that He go because then He’d give the Helper to be with us always. And Jesus’ disciples waited for the power of the Spirit before they moved. Moses—seemingly very capable Moses—also knew his need for the power of God’s presence.
The Bible says that what brought us from spiritual death to spiritual life was the Spirit of God. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63). The Spirit was absolutely critical at the beginning, and He is all the way to the end. Galatians says it this way: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).
Here’s what comes to mind for me: we’re alive because we breathe, so we keep breathing; it’s good and keeps us alive. We wouldn’t think of just stopping breathing because it is critical for life. I think that’s basically what Moses had in mind. Moses is saying, ‘God, You brought us here, and we have no hope without You.’
Perhaps we don’t see our need for God because we don’t see what He’s done. We don’t see what He’s capable of. Perhaps we chalk a lot up to ourselves. We’re capable. We think we can manage in our own power. Perhaps we don’t feel much strain because we have a comfortable little life without many seemingly impossible goals.
But whatever the reasons, the reality is, we desperately need the Spirit’s empowering presence.
Moses did. The apostles did.
God’s Spirit is crucial at the beginning and through to the end. We need help and God has given Help.
We still need the Spirit’s empowering presence.
*Photo by Jon Tyson