The Difference Is In What We Do


These were the words I read this morning when I opened my Bible app:

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10 ESV)

As I think about this exhortation from Paul, I realize that our faith is meant to be manifested in doing good. It also occurs to me that, maybe, we have gotten the emphasis wrong.

I can understand how it happened. Common people didn’t have the Scripture to read for themselves. The church had gotten corrupted by power and wealth. Priests sold indulgences and turned faith into a religion of required observances and superstitious piety.

John Wycliffe and others made Scripture available to the common people, and Martin Luther and the people he inspired rediscovered the that salvation is received by faith. It’s a matter of grace, not of works, lest any man boast.

These things were inspired by the Holy Spirit at the time, but we always flirt with the danger of settling into religious ruts that prevent us from appreciating and considering the whole counsel of God. Western Protestantism has tended for centuries to accept the stuffy air of an academic, heady faith that gets too little exercise in the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”.[1]

This is the progression: We are “saved through faith”; this is not our own doing; “it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”.[2] But we can’t stop there. We have to realize the truth of the very next statement: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”[3]

We are saved by faith, not by works, in order for us to do the good works God prepared for us to do.

We are saved by faith, not by works, in order for us to do the good works God prepared for us to do.

Paul’s words in Galatians and the entire thrust of Scripture suggest that the hallmark of Christian faith is the good that we do that flows out of the salvation we received by faith.

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To Us a Child Was Born

We have good reason to be expectant that God will do, and is doing, what He said He would do.


“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone…. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6 ESV)

These words that are repeated often at Christmas time were spoken originally by Isaiah, the prophet, hundreds of years before Jesus. “For unto us a child is born….” These words are so ubiquitous in our western culture today that we may miss the significance of them.

At one time, people doubted the dating of Isaiah because it so accurately describes Jesus who was born around 4 BC. Isaiah lived purportedly in the 8th Century BC. Because Isaiah predates Jesus and the span of time from Isaiah to Jesus, an increasingly skeptical world that seriously doubted the predictive nature of those words begin to think that the Isaiah text was written after Jesus, perhaps in the 1st Century after his death.

People no longer doubt when Isaiah wrote those words, however, not since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. One of the most significant discoveries among the Dead Scrolls was the Isaiah Scroll. It has been dated hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, and it is nearly word for word the same as the more recent manuscripts of Isaiah that we had until that time.[1]

Isaiah contains, perhaps, the clearest and most amazing prophecies in the whole OT of the coming of Jesus.[2] For this reason, Isaiah is quoted every Christmas. Particularly the statements stating that the Messiah would come as a child.

At least one aspect of what Isaiah wrote gets lost in wonder of the predictions he spoke. We look back on them now with wonder and amazement that God inspired Isaiah to speak those words so long ago, but when Isaiah spoke them, no one listened. No one believed him.

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Is Donald Trump the King We Wanted?


Paul, speaking to the Christians in Rome, penned these words that echo today on the minds of people who seek to do God’s will: “there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1)

Lest we gloss over the historical context, Paul wrote these words from a Roman prison cell. He wrote them not knowing that he would never live free again. He would remain a prisoner until his public execution at the hand of those same Roman authorities established by God.

Not that Paul would have said anything different if he had known his fate. I don’t believe knowledge of his future would have influenced him to say anything different. In the same letter to the Romans, Paul said, “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)

I have heard many people recite the verse in Romans 13 in support of supporting Donald Trump. Many of those same people would not have given that verse much consideration during the Obama presidency. The Scripture didn’t change.

Many people who have championed Trump for President, and Trump as President, have claimed that God wanted Trump to be President. Like Daniel in the Persian palace, Trump is God’s man in the White House.

I have been skeptical of that claim. Not that it couldn’t be true. It’s that I don’t see the fruit.

I admit that I had to be cautious in my skepticism as I read the story of a fireman, Mark Taylor, who prophesied that Trump would be President dating back to 2011. This was an entire term before Trump became president. Those prophetic words echoed in the back of my mind as the election results slowly revealed a Trump victory in 2016 to the shock and chagrin of the nation’s newscasters on live television.

(I note that the same man who claimed God told him Trump would be president, claimed he would defeat Obama in 2012. He was wrong about the timing. He has also claimed a number of things that have not occurred. “Taylor’s other prophecies have proven to be less than accurate. The Guardian reported that he said a ‘red tsunami’ would solidify Republicans’ hold on Congress, and that he predicted former President Barack Obama would be arrested for treason. Taylor also says Trump will release evidence of cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.”)

Paula White, who is now an adviser to Trump in the White House, said after he was elected, “Trump had ‘been raised up by God’ and added, ‘It is God who raises up a king. It is God that sets one down. When you fight against the plan of God, you are fighting against the hand of God.’” Of course, she would have been just as right if she were speaking of Barack Obama four years earlier.

I wondered then, as I do now: does Trump’s victory mean that we (believers) won too? Did God give us what He wanted? Or did God give us what we wanted?

Continue reading “Is Donald Trump the King We Wanted?”

The First Fruits of Another World


I did a previous blog article on the radical nature of the Gospel Paul preached, a Gospel he received directly from Jesus, that was confirmed by the closest disciples of Jesus. I ended the article by noting that this Gospel was not primarily about cultural and societal change. Jesus didn’t come merely to transform culture and society, as the Zealots of the First Century supposed the Messiah would.

Jesus came preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom into which we can be born again by receiving Jesus, by believing in his name. The paradigm shift begins here and now, in this world, giving us “the right to become children of God, … born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

Though the reality of the kingdom of God begins here and now, the ultimate fruition of that new birth, that adoption as children of God, still awaits us. The Zealots didn’t understand that in the First Century. They wanted to overtake the Roman government by force and establish the reign of the Messiah then and there in the First Century. When Jesus died on the cross, not even the disciples understood what was going on. Paul understood, however, we he said:

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23)

Paul expanded on these thoughts in his letter to the Corinthians when he spoke about death coming into the world through the first Adam, while resurrection from the dead came into the world through Jesus (1 Cor. 15:20-28-42-55) First is the perishable, followed by the imperishable. What is perishable doesn’t beget the imperishable. We must be born again (the ultimate paradigm shift), from natural people into spiritual people.

This paradigm shift begins in this natural life when we are born again, but the seed of that new birth is spiritual, imperishable. When the last trumpet” will sound, “the dead will be raised imperishable”. (1 Cor. 15:52) We await in this life the fruition of the ultimate paradigm shift (from the perishable to the imperishable) in which those who have been adopted as children of God are ushered into the kingdom of God with “the whole creation” following behind in the transformation from natural world to an imperishable world where there are no tears, no pain, no sorrow – only the ultimate fulfillment of all that we could possible hope for.

We won’t see the fruition of these things in this life; rather we look forward to the resurrection from the dead and our inheritance of the imperishable life that swallows death up in victory. This is where I left off in the previous blog post: Paul… the Radical Countercultural? Picking it up from there, I want to begin here with second half of the passage quoted from the letter to the Galatians in that first article.

Paul spoke to the Galatians about the”adoption as sons” for all people who believe in Jesus. He alludes to the centuries old Greco-Roman tradition of adoption of men by men – the passing on of inheritance and legacy through the male line, which was the entrenched cultural structure of a long patriarchal society. But then, Paul did the ultimate mic drop when he said:

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal 3:27-29)

In one sentence, Paul eliminated the disparity between genders. And not only that, the differences between religious, philosophical, cultural, societal and all other things that divide people from each other.

But this was no cultural revolution. The rest of the story is found in the verses that follow in Chapter 2 of the letter to the Galatians.

Continue reading “The First Fruits of Another World”

Paul… the Radical Countercultural?

Neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female: we are “all one in Christ Jesus”

Paul Mosaic at Chora Church in Istanbul

People today don’t give Paul (or Jesus or the Bible) enough credit for “forward thinking”. We like to think that modern man has pulled himself (and herself) up by the bootstraps, a notion that emerges from our modern view of ourselves, of beings that have made ourselves after a long, doggedly determined climb out of the primordial slime.

Paul is often called patriarchal and even misogynist. He is blamed for the “backward thinking” that prevails in some areas of the church. Bronze age ideas and norms, they say, enslave the church in primitive thinking that quashes the rights of more sophisticated modern people.

There are dozens of examples in Scripture that this isn’t true. When we read the Scripture through a modern lens and don’t understand or appreciate the context of the time when it was written, we fail to appreciate the radical nature of Scripture.

I have written on these things many times in the past, but my attention is drawn to one example today. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote:

“[I]n Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
“I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 3:26-4:7)

Let’s unpack this a bit, and I think you will see what I am talking about. First, we need to consider the context of the time in which this letter was written. Then we need to look closely at what Paul is saying.

Continue reading “Paul… the Radical Countercultural?”

The Danger of Getting What We Want

We often choose earthly treasures that we can’t keep over eternal treasures that we can’t lose.


Tim Keller paraphrased and quoted a columnist back in the 1980’s in a recent sermon he gave. The columnist knew a number of celebrities personally. Keller paraphrased the columnist: “I knew them when they were working behind the counter the cosmetic counter at Macy’s, and I knew them when they were bouncers at the village clubs, and all that, and then they became famous, and they became movie stars, and then they became more unhappy then they were before.”

Keller paraphrased further: “That giant thing they were striving for, that ‘fame thing’ that was going to make everything OK, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them personal fulfillment and with ‘ha ha happiness’, it had happened and nothing changed. They were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable.”

Keller then quoted the columnist, who said, “If God really wants to play a rotten practical joke on us, He grants your deepest wish and then giggles merrily as you suddenly realize you want to kill yourself.”

God made us for Himself.

Of course, the idea of God “giggling merrily” is obviously not biblical, but the rest of it is. God made us for Himself. He weeps at our choosing to follow after the things we want instead of Him. He weeps for us because it can never fulfill us.

I write this on the heels of my last article in which I reflected on celebrity Christianity. More accurately, celebrities who have recently become Christians. In the article, I also reflected on “celebrity” Christians, people who were thrust into the Christian limelight at an early age, before a firm foundation of spiritual growth and relationship with God.

And I wonder how those celebrities turning to Christianity will fair into the future. They are used to the warm (and sometimes harsh) light of public celebrity. That is where they live, but what they need is the nutrient rich soil of God’s word, prayer, relationship to God, fellowship and all the things God must do in us in the dark recesses of our hearts, well out of the light of public life.

Like the rich young ruler who was searching, but found it too difficult to leave behind all his wealth to which he had become accustomed, celebrity  fame and fortune may difficult to give up. Even though it doesn’t satisfy the deepest longings of the soul, it is still (likely) everything they thought they wanted.

Riches, and celebrity, and comfort, and recognition become a trap. We are lured in. Our own desires propel us hard in the direction of the sunlight. We strain our whole lives with all of our effort. All of our thoughts, hopes and dreams carry us along, and the things we gain along the way, even if they turn sour in our hands, are difficult to give up…. If it was all we wanted.

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Though Every Man Be a Liar

The flaws of humanity that exist in the church negatively affect people and are a stumbling block for many.


In Romans 3, Paul asks whether a lack of faith nullifies God’s faithfulness. It’s a rhetorical question that Paul answers this way: “Even if everyone else is a liar, God is true.” (NLT)

Our faithlessness, of course, doesn’t make God faithless. Our actions don’t change God’s character. Though every man be a liar, still God is true.

This is the backdrop to this piece that is inspired by the interview of Lisa Gungor and Alisa Childers by Justin Brierley on the Unbelievable? podcast.

Alisa Childers and Lisa Gungor both grew up with evangelical Christianity. They were both Christian musical artists. They both went through a period of doubt and “deconstruction”. Alisa Childers emerged from that period of deconstruction with her faith intact, stronger than it was before, while Lisa Gungor has evolved into a progressive Christian – holding on to the title “Christian”, while letting go of nearly everything that distinguishes Christianity from other religions.

Of her own experience, Childers says that the flaws and errors in her construct of God, scripture and doctrine were removed in that process of deconstruction and replaced. Instead of giving up on Christianity, she doubled down in her testing of the faith. What could not stand up to the scrutiny, she let go. What remains is a solid foundation.

While the church, and people generally, seem to fear doubt, and shy away from it, the Bible actually encourages us to meet doubt head on. Paul urges us to “test everything” and “keep [or hold fast] what is good”. (1 Thessalonians 5:21) This is the route Alisa Childers took when faced with doubt and challenges to her faith.

More to the point of this article, though, Childers observes that many people who go through “deconstruction” of their faith often cite the behavior of the church, and the people in the church, as a primary reason for leaving the faith. It might be hypocrisy, judgmental attitudes, failure to live up to “Christian standards”, ignorance of modern science, an adherence to a blind faith that refuses to admit facts that are contrary to their understanding of Scripture.

Or worse – it might be experience with the ugliness of sin that we expect should not be present in the church. Church people can be cliquey and unapproachable. Church people can be greedy, petty, quick to get angry, lustful and worse – even church leaders. The evidence of sexual abuse and pedophilia that has come to light in Baptist churches recently reveals an ugly underside to quintessentially evangelical churches that hadn’t before come to light.

I would add that non-church people level similar complaints at the “the church” as former church people who have left.  The reasons they give for not going to church, or being “religious”, or having faith in God include apparent hypocrisy, negative personal experiences and bad behavior of church going Christians.

While people may give other reasons for “not believing” or not having faith, the examples of people who hold themselves out to be Christians is almost always one of the reasons given, if not the most compelling reason given by people who don’t consider themselves (or no longer consider themselves) “Christian” (at least in the sense of born again, evangelical (whatever that still means) Christianity).

To this point, I am reminded of what Paul says, “Though every man be a liar, still God is true!” Let me explain.

Continue reading “Though Every Man Be a Liar”