It’s Just Across the Pond

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has assured churches worried about a ban on conversion therapy that they will still be allowed to pray for people who approach them for help or advice about their sexuality.

Evangelical churches have been concerned that the conversion therapy ban being considered by the Government will lead to pastors and churches falling foul of the law if they offer spiritual counselling or prayer to someone struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.

The Evangelical Alliance challenged the proposals in a recent letter in which it warned that any legislation could end up “restricting individual freedom and impinging on essential religious liberty – potentially criminalising Christians and common church activities”.

“The problem is that some of those arguing and campaigning and lobbying for the ban have also included discipleship, preaching and teaching and praying for other people, and that is where the issue comes because we have no clear definition,” said UK Director Peter Lynas, who penned the letter.

“When one person says they want to ban conversion therapy, if they mean extreme and abusive practices then absolutely. If they mean praying for somebody else, we would have real concerns about that.”

In response to the concerns, Johnson has told the EA that he takes “freedom of speech and freedom of religion very seriously”, and promised that adults will still be able to receive “appropriate pastoral support including prayer” in religious settings in the “exploration of their sexual orientation”, the Daily Mail reports.

Mike Davidson, of the Core Issues Trust, which helps people with unwanted same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria, has previously voiced concerns about the erosion of religious freedom if conversion therapy is banned.

“Are we really saying that a man who is married and finds himself attracted to the same sex but wants to save his marriage and protect his children is going to be forbidden from receiving help? And what about those who tell us that their feelings for the same sex arose after being sexually abused and they want help with that? Are we honestly saying that they cannot receive that help? Because if we are, that is inhumane. A ban will ride roughshod over a minority identity,” he told Christian Today.

He added, “To be frank, if it’s us now, it will be the pastors next. If the counsellors and the therapists are forbidden from doing this work, I doubt very much whether the churches will escape.”

Earlier this month, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer apologised for visiting Jesus House church in north London because of its conservative views on marriage and sexuality.

He was visiting a pop-up vaccine clinic at the church when he came under pressure from LGBT+ members of the Labour Party.

Sir Keir responded by removing a video from Twitter in which he had praised the church, and then called the visit a “mistake”.

Apology Accepted

I still remember my first real apology, mostly because of the shock. Well into my 20s and feebly attempting to shred some tiny New Hampshire surf, I’d unknowingly trespassed into a swimmer’s zone. A vigilant lifeguard’s waving arms and piercing whistle publicized my failure to the entire East Coast.

Ego bruised, I paddled in and, stalking past the lifeguard, muttered a comment snarky enough for my surfing buddy Karl to stop me.

“Hey,” he said seriously. “That wasn’t cool. You need to apologize.” (He’s an amazing friend.) Excuses immediately bubbled up in self-righteous indigestion. Karl was right, though, so I trudged back.

“Me again,” I called out. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have treated you that way. You were just doing your job.”

Her head tilted, eyebrows climbing. “Oh, sure, it’s no problem,” she stammered, her posture relaxing.

“Well, thanks again,” I offered, and trotted away, having experienced the firstfruits of a principle that has rung true ever since: apologies amaze and disarm. For believers, our apologies can be a potent means to point people toward our Savior.

Apologies’ Powerful Witness
Peter set a high bar for believers: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God ” (1 Pet. 2:12). I get that my life should be an apologetic, a reason someone would choose to follow Jesus. That word “honorable” trips me up, though. I distort Peter’s exhortation into a pole-vaulter’s hurdle, twisting it into a command to moral perfection. To have a good witness, I reason, I have to be perfect.

Peter was often in need of forgiveness. He knew better than most that a believer’s journey to Christ involves admitting our failure to meet God’s holy standard, not obsessively perfecting our image.

A believer’s journey to Christ involves admitting our failure to meet God’s holy standard, not obsessively perfecting our image.

We humans naturally tend toward legalism, justifying ourselves before God and others by proving we are “good enough.” The gospel offers a marvelously better way. We experience joy through grace and mercy—so much so that Paul has to admonish the Roman church not to “continue in sin so that grace may abound” (Rom. 6:1–2). Sadly, what happens in church often stays in church. In our everyday lives we aren’t vocal about our frequent need for forgiveness, thus keeping hidden one of the most hopeful aspects of the gospel.

Unless we acknowledge our mistakes and faults, we’ll fail our communities. Our good deeds might be perceived as legalistic striving, or worse, dubbed “fake” by a culture that mistrusts seemingly perfect people. Apologies flip the script. By humbly acknowledging our brokenness, we reveal that our confidence rests not in perfection, but in God’s grace.

Apologies flip the script.

Certainly we should still aspire to holiness and not grow comfortable in our brokenness. We should still try to love people so well that they can’t help but ask us about our faith. But in a culture so wary of hypocrisy and pharisaical religion, admitting fault and asking forgiveness can be a powerful way to open a nonbeliever to the heart of Christianity.

To live “such good lives” as to be an apologetic for Christ can be easier than we think. We simply need to become “perfect” apologizers.

If, But, and That Apologies
We should make sure we’re apologizing rightly, however. Inauthentic apologies that stem from our broken, prideful hearts can reinforce legalism and do more harm. Here’s how to spot a fake, and how to be real.

Fake apologies shift the blame. The “I’m sorry if” phrase is a classic blame-shifting tactic. “I’m sorry if my blasting bass hurt your eardrums.” The provisional if implies the real problem is the harmed person’s perception.

Another forgery minimizes or excuses our guilt: “I’m sorry, but.” “I’m sorry for being angry, but it’s been a long day.” Translation: Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Another “but” problem is when we remind someone else of their faults: “I’m sorry I was late this morning, but I’m almost always here before you.” We compare and contrast with others to minimize our offense.

Authentic apologies own the blame: “I’m sorry that I broke your table.” Explain without excusing. “I thought it would hold my weight, but I shouldn’t have taken that chance.”

There is evangelistic power in authentic apologies. The Bible tells us “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). I sin, you sin, and the Judgment Seat brooks no blame-shifting. When we acknowledge our sin and deal with it directly, we inspire others to take a diagnostic look at theirs.

Learning the Apology Apologetic
Authentic apologies contain a vital, direct, and disarming question: “Will you forgive me?” When you hurt someone—whatever the circumstances or your excuses for why it happened—simply asking forgiveness courageously exposes humanity’s need for forgiveness. By making a habit of quickly, humbly acknowledging your wrongs and seeking forgiveness, observers will be reminded of their sin and need for reconciliation.

There is evangelistic power in authentic apologies.

Ultimately, anyone who comes to Christ must be willing to ask for forgiveness. It should be an honor for us to model that need.

Learning to live the “apology apologetic” won’t be easy. It will take time to become a natural habit. Our pride and sinful nature constantly compromise our efforts to apologize well—making even a well-intentioned effort toward apology miss the mark.

To quote a language-learning maxim, “To speak well, you first have to speak poorly.” Even an awkward apology can send fresh air to the people around us—carrying the enticing aroma of the divine forgiveness and reconciliation our culture so desperately needs.

Andy Allen

Christians Dare Not Be Politically Correct

Political correctness (PC) is defined as “a term that describes language, ideas, policies, and behavior seen as seeking to minimize social and institutional offense in occupational, gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, religious belief, disability, and age-related contexts.” The key word here is offense. No individual or group is to be offended in the PC world. Certainly, as Christians, we are not to go out of our way to offend anyone personally, but the truth is that Christianity itself is offensive.

The apostle Paul references the “offense of the cross” in Galatians 5:11. The cross was an offense to the Jews because their idea of salvation was to “work the works of God” (John 6:28–29), meaning keeping the numerous burdensome Old Testament laws and rules. When Jesus came preaching salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, they were shattered. He made it plain that “by works of the law, no human being will be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20) and that all their law-keeping was of no value to them whatsoever. Especially repugnant to them was the idea that, without Jesus, they who prided themselves on their meticulous adherence to the letter, if not the spirit, of the law, could do nothing of spiritual value (John 15:5).

Truly, the offense Jesus created was a stumbling block to the Jews, as Paul explained to the Romans. He reminded them of Isaiah’s prophecy that God would lay a Cornerstone (Christ) in Zion over which many would stumble and fall (Isaiah 8:14; 28:16; Psalm 118:22; 1 Peter 2:6). Just as the Jews stumbled over the idea of their works being of no value to God, so do many today hate the idea that Christ will build His church not on human merits, but on His righteousness alone. That message is as offensive today as it was in Jesus’ day. No one likes to be told there is nothing he can do to earn his place in heaven.

Equally offensive is the necessity of dying to self in order to follow Christ. Of all the religions of the world today, Christianity is the only one where its founder tells you to follow Him and die. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me'” (Matthew 16:24). Those who heard this message knew exactly what Jesus meant; to follow Him was to die to self and give up everything they ever held dear. That’s why everyone ran away when He was arrested; they weren’t prepared to die with Him.

Correctness in the secular, political realm is not the concern of Christians or the church because “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will, by the power that enables him, “bring everything under his control” (Philippians 3:20–21).

The Spittin’ Image

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness. (Exodus 20:4)

We may not fashion our own golden calves today, but the second commandment’s prohibition of “carved images” remains surprisingly relevant to how we approach God in our daily lives and in our weekly corporate worship.

Very little time passed between Israel receiving the “Ten Words” at Mount Sinai and then flamboyantly breaking the second commandment. In Exodus, we find God’s people not only stumbling right out of the gate — grumbling shockingly soon (Exodus 15:24) after their dramatic deliverance, through the Red Sea (Exodus 14–15) — but then, immediately on the heels of receiving God’s law, they replay the fall of humanity by breaking the covenant almost as soon as it was inaugurated.

The first and second “words,” or commandments, of Exodus 20 form a pair: (1) no other gods and (2) no carved images. The first deals with whom we worship (the true God alone), while the second concerns how: not in our own preferred way, nor by adopting the practices of surrounding, unbelieving peoples. Rather, it says, worship God in the ways he has revealed — ways that are often countercultural and sometimes uncomfortable, both then and today.

How Will They Worship?
After the giving of the ten in Exodus 20:1–21, which all the people heard, Moses receives laws about altars, slaves, restitution, Sabbaths, and festivals in 20:22–23:33. In Exodus 24, the people confirm the covenant, with the shedding of sacrificial blood, confessing, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:7). Moses then goes up to the mountain to receive instructions about the tabernacle, its furniture, and the priesthood in Exodus 25–31 — how the nation will worship him. He is gone for forty days.

In the meantime, Moses’s long absence wears on the nation. They tire of lockdown and are ready to move on with their lives, toward the Promised Land, saying to Aaron, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1). Aaron, in perhaps the Bible’s quintessential display of sympathy-gone-wrong, gives in.

However confused the people may have been as to whether they were turning to “other gods” or were just too impatient to wait for God’s instructions for worship (chapters 25–31), Aaron, for his part, is clear that God (Yahweh) is not being replaced. Aaron fashions the golden calf (singular) and declares it to be the God “who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4). He makes a proclamation, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord” (Exodus 32:5).

In other words, the breach here is not of the first commandment, but the second. Aaron declares “the Lord” (Yahweh) to be the one whom they will worship (confirmed by the retelling in Nehemiah 9:18), but he and the people have chosen their own way, rather than God’s, to worship him. Like the surrounding nations, they will worship (through) a carved image, rather than wait for Yahweh to tell them how to worship.

When Moses returns, hot with anger, he says three times that the people have committed “a great sin” (Exodus 32:21, 30, 31), which he summarizes in the terms of the second commandment: “They have made for themselves . . .” (Exodus 32:31), as in “you shall not make for yourself a carved image” (Exodus 20:4).

Underneath the Great Sin
Why is this such a “great sin” if the people still intend to worship Yahweh (and not “other gods”)? In other words, why isn’t the first commandment enough? Why would God not only provide the who of his people’s worship but also the how? Is there an underlying logic to the second commandment that makes its breaking so severe?

To begin with, the second word speaks to us about the true God. He is not the God of our making or imagination, or even of our own discovery. Rather, he is the God who reveals himself to us not only in his world but in his word. He takes the initiative to speak to his people and reveal the truth about who he is, who we are, why the world exists, and how sin has corrupted it. It would be inconsistent with the nature of God, who speaks and takes initiative, to leave it to his people to dream up (or adopt from unbelieving nations) how to worship him.

The second word, however, also speaks, perhaps surprisingly, about us as humans. Breaking the second commandment is not only rebellion against the Creator but also indignifying of his human creatures. We might even say the rebellion comes precisely through this self-indignifying.

Image-Making Images
Two key words in Exodus 20:4 are image and likeness: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness.” This is not the first time this pair appears in the Bible — nor are the associations diffuse. This is the language of the creation of man. Image appears in Genesis 1:26–27; 5:3; and 9:6 — “God made man in his own image.” And likeness? Only in Genesis 1:26 and 5:1–3: “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.”

What about image and likeness together? Other than Exodus 20:4, we have only Genesis 1 and 5, Deuteronomy 5:8 (which repeats the second commandment), and Deuteronomy 4:16, which forges the connection with the “great sin” of the golden calf: “Beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female.”

In other words, the connections are striking between humans being “made in God’s image” and the second commandment. We will not deeply understand the second commandment without recalling the creation of man in God’s image and likeness. And in making the link, we see that to break the second commandment is not only to reject the revealing, initiating nature of God, but also to turn our own selves upside down.

God made man in his image to display, reflect, and visibly represent the invisible God in his created world. Yet the very nature of sin is that his creatures rejected this high calling by instead seeking to “make for themselves” an image of God (Romans 1:22–23). What was so tragically wrong about the golden calf was not that the invisible God does not choose to manifest himself in images in the world but that his people are “made in his image.” To make our own images of God for worship is to reject our calling and dignity as his imagers. They made an image for themselves instead of embracing that they themselves were made in God’s image.

David Mathis

A Victory for Life

It’s just a small, unassuming medical building nestled in an older residential part of Portland, Oregon. Commuters who stopped for seconds at the blinking light on the corner of NE 25th and Lovejoy Street barely noticed the sparsely landscaped Lovejoy SurgiCenter. But over the years, tens of thousands of women approached the front steps to the clinic, where a pregnant woman could become “un-pregnant.”

In the past, this sleepy corner has been alive with action: people holding signs, little pockets of prayer, sidewalk counselors asking the women to consider other options, often directing them to local pregnancy care centers. One man, Doc Hite, would show up almost daily for many hours even into his late 90s, holding a sign and offering help. When asked why he would do so at his age he simply said, “These are babies.”

In the late 1980s and early 90s a small ministry called Advocates for Life brought groups of volunteers to peacefully block access to the clinic by sitting in front of the doors. Two of those volunteers were Randy Alcorn and myself, Ron Norquist. On those days, the corner of 25th and Lovejoy was a busy one: there were police cars, handcuffed prolifers being dragged into waiting police vans, frustrated clinic workers who wanted to get on with their business, and women waiting for the doors to clear so they could get their abortion procedure. The invisible ones were the pre-born children carried by their mothers into that place of death.

For years prolife advocates prayed that God would do what they couldn’t: close it down. They waited and trusted and advocated for those who had no voice.

Then came word in January 2021 that after fifty years, Lovejoy was shutting its doors, ending its business as the largest abortion clinic in the State of Oregon. Local prolifers rejoiced, but their feelings remain mixed. Demand still exists, and in March, an abortion facility under the name The Lilith Clinic opened in downtown Portland and advertises abortions up to 22 weeks. Still, prolifers thank and praise the Author of Life, Jesus Christ, for hearing His people’s prayers that the building at 25th and Lovejoy would no longer house such evil.

How Long Were Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden

Genesis chapters 1—2 give us the details of God’s creation of the world, including humanity. Adam and Eve were the first human beings, from whom every other human being descends. God formed Adam from the dust and breathed His own life into the man (Genesis 2:7). God fashioned Eve out of Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:22). Both Adam and Eve, and all humans today, were made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27; 5:1). Genesis 2 describes Adam and Eve’s first home—the Garden of Eden.

We read that God planted a garden and placed Adam there to tend it (Genesis 2:8, 15). But, despite the beauty of God’s new world, there was one thing missing. God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). So God made a woman and brought her to him (Genesis 2:21–25). Adam and Eve began their life together in paradise, but how long did the two remain in the Garden of Eden until they sinned and were cast out (Genesis 3)?

The answer is that we do not know. But, based on other biblical evidence, we can assume that their time in the garden was relatively short. The couple did not have their first child until after they were banished from the garden (Genesis 3:23—4:2). Since Romans 5:12 tells us that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned,” Adam must have been childless at the moment he chose to sin. Any child born before Adam’s sin would not have inherited Adam’s sinful nature. There is no reason to believe that the man and woman abstained from sexual relations in the garden, but we can assume that Eve did not conceive her first child prior to their sin. It seems, then, that the serpent tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and the couple were expelled from the garden quite early on (Genesis 3:1–7).

In their sin, Adam and Eve decided that the Lord would not be their Lord in this situation. They would be their own gods and choose for themselves what was right for them. The world has been reaping the consequences ever since. God had given them everything they needed to thrive and enjoy life, but they soon chose to disobey Him, and they lost paradise. Immediately upon sinning, Adam and Eve realized they were naked, and they felt ashamed (Genesis 2:25; 3:7). They made coverings for themselves out of fig leaves. But God provided them with garments of skin (Genesis 3:21), demonstrating that sin leads to death, as He had said, and that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). God’s action was a foreshadowing of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, whose blood would ultimately cover the sins of all who put their faith in Him (Hebrews 10:1–18). Also in the garden, God promised a Savior, one who would crush the serpent (Genesis 3:15)—that Savior is Jesus.

Then God drove Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and placed an angel with a flaming sword to guard it so they could not return (Genesis 3:24). But God never forsook them. In fact, He had a plan for redemption before He even called the world into existence (Isaiah 46:10; John 1:1–5; Revelation 13:8). For now, the world persists in sin, marred by its consequences (Romans 1:18–32; 8:18–25). But those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ have been forgiven of sin (2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 2:13–15). We have new life now (2 Corinthians 5:17; John 10:10) and will live with God for all eternity (Luke 23:43; John 3:16–18). One day God will make new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:8–13; Revelation 21—22). The tree of life, lost to Adam and Eve, will be available to all who are a part of God’s restored creation (Revelation 2:7; 22:1–2).

Though Adam and Eve’s time in the Garden of Eden was short-lived, all is not lost. God offers us true life in Him. He is patient with this world, allowing it to continue on, because He wants all to repent and come to Him (2 Peter 3:9). He will one day bring judgment, and we must be ready (2 Peter 3:10)—we must turn from being the gods of our own lives and instead trust in the one, true God. By His grace, through faith, we can be saved (Ephesians 2:1–10). Choose life in Jesus Christ today!

A Rock That Is Struck

It should astonish us that we can walk to faucets in our homes and instantly turn on running water. Never in the history of mankind did people have water so readily at their disposal. Most of us in the Western world have never known what it is like not to be able to find water with which to quest our thirst. This is not true of those living in third world countries. It was also not true for the Israelites, as they made their way through the wilderness. In Scripture, God often draws off of the physical reality of thirst in order to symbolize the spiritual reality of how He will provide living waters for our thirsty souls through the person and work of Christ. As the Israelites progressed through the wilderness, God giave Moses instructions about providing for Israel’s thirst in the wilderness by means of striking a rock (Ex. 17:1-7). This account sets out the glorious truth of the gospel by means of redemptive historical typology.

As was true of the account of Israel with the serpents, the covenant people were found quarreling against Moses and God. One might be tempted to sympathize with the Israelites, who were in a dry and barren land where there was no water.; but Israel is not a victim, she is the offender. We soon discover that Israel was actually complaining against God and the redemption that He provided for them. The Israelites say, “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst” (Exodus 17:3)?

In the Ancient Near East a staff was a symbol of judicial authority. Even in the Roman world, juridical magistrates carried a rod in their hand. Striking someone with the rod was a symbol of justice being executed. So it was with Moses before Pharaoh. God was judging Pharaoh and Egypt with the plagues with which were symbolically executed by the rod. The rod with which Pharaoh was struck, was the same rod with which God told Moses to strike the rock.

Edmund Clowney explained the significance of the historical setting of this incident, when he wrote:

“Israel accuses God of abandoning them to die in the wilderness. They demand justice. Since God is not available to stand trial, they will accuse Moses in his stead. They are ready to stone him. Stoning, of course, is not mob violence but judicial execution by the community, with witnesses throwing the first stones. Moses understandably asks why they want to stone him. They have been brought to Rephidim by the word of the Lord. It is really against God that they are bringing charges.

Appreciation of this judicial setting enables us to understand what follows. The Lord tells Moses to take elders of the people with him, and his rod in his hand. The elders are the judges of Israel; they are to serve as witnesses for a court case. The rod of Moses is identified as the rod with which he struck the Nile River, turning it into blood. It is the rod of judgment: both a symbol of authority and an instrument for inflicting the penalty. We recall the fasces carried by the Roman lictors, a bundle of rods that were both symbols of authority and means of punishment.

Deuteronomy 25:1-3 describes the procedure for inflicting the penalty on the wrongdoer when a law-case is brought before the judges. The judges shall acquit the innocent and condemn the guilty. If the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the limit is set at forty blows.20 Moses is to go before the people with the elders to convene a public trial. He will raise his rod of judgment to bring down a blow of justice upon the guilty. Isaiah describes the rod of the Lord descending in judgment upon Assyria: “Every stroke the LORD lays on them with his punishing rod will be to the music of tambourines and harps, as he fights them in battle with the blows of his arm” (Isa. 30:32, NIV).

Israel is guilty, but the rod of Moses is not raised against Israel. Instead, we have one of the most astonishing statements in the Bible. God says, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb” (Ex. 17:6a, ESV).21 In this trial scene, Moses stands with the rod of judgment in his hand, and God comes to stand before him! In judgment, men stand before God; God does not stand before a man. The law reads, “Then both men in the controversy shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges shall make careful inquiry . . .” (Deut. 19:17-18, NKJV). Israel has called for justice, and the Lord brings the case to trial.

He, the accused, stands in the prisoner’s dock. His command to Moses is, “You shall strike the Rock.” Moses dare not strike into the Shekinah glory of God’s presence. But he is to strike the Rock upon which God stands, and with which he is identified. In the Song of Moses, God’s name is “the Rock”: “For I proclaim the name of the LORD: Ascribe greatness to our God. He is the Rock, His work is perfect” (Deut. 32:3-4a, NKJV). Jeshurun “forsook God who made him, and scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation” (v. 15, NKJV). “Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful, and have forgotten the God who fathered you” (v. 18, NKJV). “For their rock is not like our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges” (v. 31, NKJV). In two psalms that mention Massah and Meribah, God is called the Rock (Ps. 78:35; 95:1).

God is the Rock; he is not guilty, but he stands to receive the blow of judgment. “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them, and He bore them and carried them all the days of old” (Isa. 63:9, NKJV).

God who is the Shepherd of his people not only leads them through the wilderness; he stands in their place that justice might be done. The penalty is discharged: Moses strikes the Rock. The Lord redeems by bearing the judgment. From the smitten Rock there flows the water of life into the deadly wilderness. When Paul says the Rock was Christ (1 Cor. 10:4), he perceives the symbolism of the passage. Christ is present both in person and in symbol. In that incident, Christ the Lord stands on the Rock as the theophanic Angel, but the symbol of the Rock is needed to provide the symbol of that human nature he must assume to receive the atoning blow of judgment.”1

There is a very clear principle of substitutionary atonement in the account of the striking of the rock at Rephidim. The LORD took the punishment that His people deserved. Israel deserves to be struck with the rod of justice. The rock did not deserve the wrath of God, Israel did. The Lord told Moses, “I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock” (Ex. 17:6). It was a symbol given to Israel of the Lord being struck with His own rod of justice. When the apostle Paul says, “that rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:3), he was referring to the incident in Exodus 17. The rod of God’s justice fell on Jesus at Calvary. God took the wrath that we deserve for our sins. Zechariah prophesied so much when the Lord spoke through him saying, “‘Awake O sword against My Shepherd, against the Man who is my companion,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘Strike the Shepherd…’” (Zech. 13:7). The sword of God’s wrath fell on the Son of God at the cross. In the words of Dorothy Sayers, God “took His own medicine” for the spiritual healing of His people. The hymn-writer, Anne Cousins, drew together the meaning of the striking of the rock, when she wrote the words to the hymn, “O Christ, What Burdens Bowed Thy Head.” The third verse reads,

“Jehovah lifted up His rod,
O Christ, it fell on Thee!
Thou wast sore stricken of Thy God;
There’s not one stroke for me.
Thy tears, Thy blood, beneath it flowed;
Thy bruising healeth me.”

Nicholas T. Batzig

A Tiger By the Tale

A comedian jokes, rightly I’m sure, that it’s far too easy to buy a tiger. Buying a tiger “is not an all day thing,” he says, “it’s like an hour—I’ll be right back with our tiger.” We do hear about people who welcome big cats into their homes and we all have a pretty good idea of how such stories are likely to end. While we would be surprised to hear of a man being killed by his pet hamster or pet budgie, we are not at all surprised to hear of a man being mauled by his pet tiger. Why are we not surprised? Precisely because it’s a tiger!

There are a couple of problems with welcoming a tiger as a pet. The first is that people welcome them into their homes when they are just little cubs. They are tiny, helpless, dependent, adorable. Who hasn’t at one time or another had their heart-strings tugged by the pitiful mewing and playful pouncing of a baby tiger? The second is that tigers are undomesticated. They have not, over the course of many successive generations, been bred away from ferocity and toward docility. Though they may share ancestry with the common tabby, the family tree diverged far in the distant past. The best of them is just a few generations removed from the rain forests, from their natural setting where to survive they must be, in the words of the poet, “red in tooth and claw.”

Welcoming a tiger into the home serves as an apt metaphor for welcoming a sin into the life. The sins we permit to enter the doors of our lives are often very small. They are as far removed from sin in its full form as a day-old tiger is from its fully-grown father. Yet sins grow up just like tigers grow up. They gain size, they gain strength, they gain ferocity. Just as it does not take long for a 20-pound cub to grow into a 400-pound adult, it does not take long for a wandering eye to grow into adultery, for a grumbling heart to grow into theft, for an angry spirit to grow into murder. As a tiger cub is a ferocious predator in the making, what appears to be a mere peccadillo is, in seed form, a disqualifying, home-wrecking, life-altering act of depravity.

And then there is the problem of domestication. The sins we permit into our lives appear to be harmless when we first usher them in and we are easily convinced that we can contain them. No one welcomes a tiger into their home thinking that it will someday devour them. No, they are certain they can subdue its strength, coddle it into forgoing its ferocity, love it into docility. And in much the same way, a sinful heart is convinced it can look at those not-quite-pornographic pictures without being drawn into the full thing, that it can be emotionally attached to another person without eventually committing adultery, that it can dabble in gambling without going all-in. The sinful heart, like the owner of the tiger, thinks it can contain the ferocity, that it can be the one who masters its strength, who subjugates its power, who persuades it to go only so far but no farther.

I wonder if the man who has welcomed a tiger into his home is truly surprised in that brief moment between seeing it pounce and feeling its teeth close around his neck. He brought it in, he raised it up, he saw it get big and strong and powerful. He saw its claws form and its teeth grow. He knew its craving for death, for blood, for meat. It should have been no surprise that one day it turned on him, for while he may have been its owner, he was certainly never its master. And just so, we are never the masters of any sin. We introduce them to our lives on their terms, not on ours. Once we have welcomed them in, it is just a matter of time before they grow big enough to turn on us, big enough to kill us, big enough to do what sins always do.

Tim Challies

Are We Looking for Jesus in All the Wrong Places?

We are looking for Jesus in all the wrong places. We think “he was”. Our language and attitude is focused on Him as a historical figure.

  • Jesus is having none of that.
  • Jesus IS.
  • Jesus IS alive.

That is it and that is enough for today. We must focus on that. This is a big deal. Do we know who Jesus is today?

Jesus IS!

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

English Standard Version. (2016). (Mark 16:1–8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Jesus, in response to the religious leaders and elites question “Who do you think you are?” said, “‘Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.’ ‘You are not yet fifty years old,’ the Jews said to him, ‘and you have seen Abraham!’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’

  • “At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds” (John 8:56–59).
  • The violent response of the Jews to Jesus’ “I AM” statement indicates they clearly understood what He was declaring—that He was the eternal God incarnate.
  • Jesus was equating Himself with the “I AM” title God gave Himself in Exodus 3:14.

Jesus used the same phrase “I AM” in seven declarations about Himself. In all seven, He combines I AM with tremendous metaphors which express His saving relationship toward the world.

All appear in the book of John.

They are:

  • I AM the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51)
  • I AM the Light of the World (John 8:12)
  • I AM the Door of the Sheep (John 10:7, 9)
  • I AM the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14)
  • I AM the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)
  • I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6)
  • I AM the True Vine (John 15:1, 5)

Disagreeing Well

We all know the feeling. Your heart starts to race. Your palms get sweaty. Your blood rushes to your face. I’m actually not describing a heart attack. I’m talking about a disagreement.

Disagreements creep into all areas of our lives. Perhaps you made what you thought was an innocent comment on social media, or maybe you shared a seemingly innocuous opinion over a family dinner. Suddenly you find yourself in an all-out, winner-take-all brawl over the color of a dress or how toasted you like your toast. It might even get so heated you resort to turning to the sacred text of all trivial tantrums—Wikipedia.

Our disagreements cover a whole gamut of topics: Ford or Chevy, Coke or Pepsi, Calvinist or Arminian, Apple or Android, Republican or Democrat. Our differences of opinion rarely remain cordial exchanges but often devolve into violent battles of wit until the winner emerges and the loser is thoroughly castigated to the cheers of the virtual colosseum. To avoid this, many resort to the anonymity that social media provides or they withdraw from the conversation altogether.

Lifeway Research found in a 2019 study that most Americans with evangelical beliefs value civility. And if we follow certain principles in our social interactions, our disagreements can present healthy opportunities to both dispense and receive grace.

As Dr. Michael Svigel, professor of Systematic Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, observes, “Avoiding disagreement can often rob people of this opportunity for growth and grace. I’ve known people who ‘up and leave’ a church or relationship as soon as they start to feel a little friction due to disagreements. The better approach would be to work through those disagreements, if at all possible.”

Understanding the following seven principles can help us do the hard work of disagreeing well.

  1. We don’t know everything.
    Economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell once said, “It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.” Humility must precede all healthy learning and dialogue. An awareness of our own limitations will not only force us to take a more humble stance ourselves but also compel us to grant grace to our fellow human beings.

An awareness of our own limitations will not only force us to take a more humble stance ourselves but also compel us to grant grace to our fellow human beings. —
We all feel the urge to appear faultless and all-knowing in front of others. We have a natural revulsion for the three little words, “I don’t know.” We affirm intellectually that humans possess limited capabilities as a general rule, but in our daily lives we seek to maintain the aura of omniscience.

In contrast, we should approach every discussion with the assumption that we can learn something from the other person, or at the very least, their input may help expose an error in our own thinking.

  1. Unrealistic expectations hinder good debate.
    Two people don’t have to talk for long before they discover they disagree about something. And yet, disagreements always seem to surprise us. We bristle at the audacity of someone to counter our hastily drawn and tenuously held conclusions. How dare they! In reality, it should surprise us if we agree and concern us if we always agree.

We should prefer healthy disagreement to blind conformity.
Svigel even suggests we should welcome disagreement: “Though I don’t relish the experience of disagreeing, I invite disagreement as an important part of being finite, fallen humans grasping after truth.” If we abandon our unrealistic expectations of complete agreement, we will avoid the jolting shock when someone thinks differently. In fact, we should prefer healthy disagreement to blind conformity.

  1. We must differentiate between essentials and non-essentials.
    Part of the problem with our conversations lies in our inability to decide which “hills to die on.” Social media has multiplied our choices exponentially. A cursory scrolling of Twitter will open one up to innumerable opportunities to wax eloquent on even the most trivial issues.

Want to share that diatribe on the merits of biting your ice cream cone instead of licking it? Or what about that theory you have on the correlation between talking to pets and psychosis? Surely someone, somewhere waits with bated breath to hear your opinion. But what if these opinions don’t warrant sharing? Could we possibly think something but not say it out loud?

Distinguishing essential beliefs from the non-essential will do much to generate grace in our disagreements. — @historybuff50 Click To Tweet
Of course, some things should be shared and defended, but the number probably comprises a much smaller list than most of us realize. Deciding what constitutes our essential beliefs will help us avoid unnecessary conflict. Theologians do this all the time.

Svigel explains:

“I personally believe that if we can instruct the people in our churches to differentiate foundational, identity-forging dogmas of the faith from non-foundational doctrines, this wisdom will continue to pay dividends for years to come. It will not eliminate the frequency and severity of conflicts in our churches, but it will greatly decrease them. And when they do occur, it will give us a common framework within which to evaluate the urgency and importance of the disputes.”

Distinguishing essential beliefs from the non-essential in all aspects of life will do much to generate grace in our disagreements.

  1. Establishing points of agreement builds rapport and congeniality.
    Few things give us warm and fuzzy feelings like when someone agrees with us. We feel validated and appreciated. Unfortunately, human nature often moves us to skip over points of agreement and cut right to points of controversy. We shouldn’t do this. Disagreeing well begins with acknowledging what each person has in common.

Too often, we assign the worst motives to our opponents and interpret every stance they take through a sinister lens. — @historybuff50 Click To Tweet
For example, before embarking on a debate over illegal immigration, consider finding points of agreement—human rights, national security, etc. Too often, we assign the worst motives to our opponents and interpret every stance they take through a sinister lens. Instead, we should assume that they have honorable motives and quickly recognize any good points they might make. This builds mutual respect and rapport—ingredients crucial to disagreeing well.

  1. Active listening shows respect and open-mindedness.
    Have you ever gotten the feeling when talking to some people that they are just waiting for you to stop speaking so they can say something? Active listening takes hard work. It involves giving someone your undivided attention—something many of us have in short supply these days. It also means listening to what the person actually says as opposed to what your own biased interpretation hears. If their argument doesn’t hold up, you can best show this through careful reason and analysis of their position—not by mischaracterizing it.

If an argument doesn’t hold up, you can best show this through careful reason and analysis of the position—not by mischaracterizing it.
We all have a tendency to try and pigeon-hole our opponents. Once we know what category to put them in—Democrat, Republican, atheist, etc.—we can then contend with our own preconceived notions of what they probably think. Rather than think critically and respond in the moment, we move the conversation into more familiar territory. Tempers begin to flare as both sides start to spew prefabricated talking points and stop listening to each other. To avoid this, we should listen intently to what someone says and respond thoughtfully.

  1. Unchecked emotions often hamper good discussion.
    Disagreements almost always stir our emotions. We take dissension as a personal attack. No matter the topic, when someone says, “I disagree with you,” our instincts tell us to fire back with a witty slight or cutting retort. We feel anger or embarrassment, especially if an audience looks on.

Disagreeing well involves fighting the urge to allow our emotions to dictate our speech.
Disagreeing well, however, involves fighting the urge to allow our emotions to dictate our speech. After all, a dissenting opinion alone does not prove anything. By responding calmly, we can deescalate the situation and, in many cases, earn the respect of the dissenter. As the proverb says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Anger does not mix well with good debate, as it clouds our thinking and impairs our inhibitions. To disagree well, we must control our emotions and avoid seeing all conflict as a personal attack.

  1. The relationship takes precedence over winning the argument.
    Although ad hominin attacks may get laughs in movies and a pass on the playground, they have devastating effects in serious conversations. Disagreeing well requires that we distinguish between the person and their argument. Every person we come into contact with has dignity and deserves respect. Opinions may come and go, but the individual is eternal. Therefore, we must never devalue the person with whom we disagree.

Opinions may come and go, but the individual is eternal. Therefore, we must never devalue the person with whom we disagree. — @historybuff50 Click To Tweet
Svigel warns, however, against compromising too much: “Many will likely face a decision between essential, central, foundational truths and maintaining a relationship. In that case, a relationship built on falsehood isn’t much of a relationship. Yet most of the time our disagreements aren’t over the bedrock kinds of issues, so we should proceed with care.”

Disagreeing well takes grace. In a world of tweets and soundbites slander often becomes the simplest method. But if we humble ourselves and accept the rarity and value of true agreement, we can begin to listen intently to what the other person says. Rather than die on a thousand hilltops, we can check our emotions and determine our most essential beliefs. We can emphasize what we agree on and build a relationship with our opponent.

Joe Walton

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