The Graceful Judge

When a world leader invokes God, it stands out. It sometimes comes across as pandering. It always takes spunk because, after all, God is so controversial.

This time, it was Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. In a speech to a political gathering, he talked about a philosophy of governance. In a rather pointed remark he said, “If one does not believe that one day (he) will have to answer for his deeds before the Lord God…he (thinks he) can do anything that is in his power.” A wise leader is a restrained leader, not unlike the American founders’ idea that government answers to the people, and the people to God. Also not unlike Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s conclusion about Russia’s political chaos during his lifetime: “Men have forgotten God.”

God is controversial if you don’t want the world to be like this: “He has established His throne for judgment, and He will judge the world in righteousness” (Psa. 7-8). Yet we live in a moral world where what’s right, just, and fair punctuate every day (especially if you’re raising children!). Each one of us enters the world with a sense of morality along with the inability to keep even our own moral standards, much less God’s. He has something to say about idolatry, adultery, honesty, theft, etc. It’s easy to stumble at any of these and if you do, you’re guilty of all (Jas. 2:10). In this age of affirmation and participation trophies, it’s hard to hear that we are guilty on all counts.

You do understand that’s why the truth about Jesus is “good news,” right? The God who judges has made a way for you to be blameless, despite your shortcomings. “If God is for us, who is against us? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:31,33,34).

The thief on the cross believed Jesus who told him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Alistair Begg imagines a dialogue between that man and the angel at heaven’s gate. “What are you doing here?” “I don’t know.” “Are you clear on the doctrine of justification by faith?” “Never heard of it.” “Then on what basis are you here?” “All I know is the man on the middle cross said I could come.” I imagine Jesus stepping forward and saying, “All charges are dropped.  This one is mine!” (Col. 2:13-14).

Orban is right. God judges. Some may hear that as an attempt to motivate by fear and guilt. But for those who trust Jesus, love and gratitude motivate us to live life God’s way. We have reason to welcome the moment we meet that graceful Judge face to face.

A Blessed Day

Dear young lady at the front desk, I wish we’d had more time to talk.

You probably tell all the guests “have a blessed day” as they leave. I’m the guy who asked, “What do you mean by blessed?” I wondered about your beliefs. “Just that good things happen for you today,” you said. I followed up, “And where do blessings come from?” It was early in the morning and you caught me off guard. “From the universe, right?” What a great conversation starter, if it really was a question. Here are a few thoughts to ponder.

For the universe to give a blessing, it must be able to think and act benevolently. Since the universe is material, does that mean the rocks of planets, burning gasses of stars, and gravitational forces in galaxies form a sentient being?

Since the universe had a beginning, wouldn’t that suggest something or Someone caused it? Such a first cause would logically have to be outside of the universe since nothing causes itself. The Someone who caused a universe of beauty and order and gave you life is the source of blessing.

You defined blessing as “good things.” Where does your sense of good and evil come from? Could a material world that just “is” produce beings that have a sense of what “ought” to be? Yet we do have a sense of what is good, righteous, and just. Once, C. S. Lewis doubted the existence of God because the world is so evil and unjust. “But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?” he wrote. “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” Lewis concluded that God created us with an idea of good because He is good.

That’s what I would have said that morning. Remember what I did say? “Jesus is the source of our blessings.” I think this sums it up even better: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).

Sincerely, A Friend.  P.S. Have a blessed day!


Forgiven and Reconciled published articles on “America’s struggle for forgiveness.” From what I read, Vox could learn something from regular Americans.

Vox writer Sean Illing offers a diagnosis. “A lot of people, with good reasons, point to social media and ‘cancel culture’ as evidence that we’re becoming a more punitive society. I do think that the internet has made us less forgiving, and I worry that the world we’ve built has supercharged our worst pathologies.” He hardly masks his bias that people of a certain policy or political bent have more pathologies to forgive than those who share his moral high ground.

Aja Romano maps out the hopeful stages of resolving toxic disagreements. “What we would hope to find after that initial period of outrage is discussion, apology, atonement, and forgiveness.” But that’s not happening per Atlantic writer Elizabeth Bruenig. “As a society we have absolutely no coherent story — none whatsoever — about how a person who’s done wrong can atone, make amends, and retain some continuity between their life/identity before and after the mistake.”

Isn’t it interesting that religious language finds its way into the discourse? These writers miss the point that theologians have known all along. Everybody needs forgiveness. None of us occupy the moral high ground and all of us share the worst pathology – the fallen human condition. And Jesus offers a coherent story about forgiveness and reconciliation.

It matters because forgiveness is a quality of life issue. It’s also a faith issue. Jesus draws a direct link between those who forgive and those who are forgiven. He wants you to offer others what He offers you. “If you forgive others for their transgressions,” He said, “your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matt. 6:14). When you understand the depth of your depravity and how much God forgives you, you become a forgiver. You leave the offender in God’s hands. It is liberating to release that pathological drive to control others and sustain outrage. Faith, love, and forgiveness make for a high-quality life.

Linda Bagley has that kind of life. In court, she had something to say to James McCleary. His impaired driving killed her son and daughter-in-law. She forgave him. Her daughter added, “Mr. McCleary, make your life right with God because that’s who we all answer to in the end.” Afterwards, Bagley gave McCleary a lengthy, tearful embrace. Her faith empowered her act of forgiveness and reconciliation.

C.S. Lewis supposed it’s easier to forgive the single great injury than the incessant provocations of daily life, “the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – how do we do it? By remembering where we stand.” By faith in the Lord Jesus, you stand forgiven and reconciled to Him. That’s the reason to forgive, something Vox could learn from you.

First Freedom

The U.S. Supreme Court continues to wrestle with religious freedom. That’s no surprise, given the secular trajectory of American culture.

The latest case involves Joe Kennedy, a high school coach in Bremerton, WA. His practice of praying on the field after football games cost him his job.  Previous cases include Jack Phillips from Lakewood, CO and Baronelle Stutzman from Richland, WA. They faced civil penalties for refusing to violate their deeply-held religious beliefs in the conduct of their businesses.

Religious freedom is the first freedom in the Bill of Rights. The founders believed Congress should neither establish a state religion nor prevent citizens from practicing their faith. On this principle the other freedoms stand. It’s the bellwether freedom, the canary in the coalmine. If America cannot find the fortitude to protect this freedom, the others are in jeopardy as well.

Religious freedom is for everyone and is rooted in the Christian worldview. In his book, Liberty in the Things of God, Robert Wilken points to three supporting Biblical themes. Faith is accountable only to God and cannot be compelled; faith carries an obligation to act; and human affairs are governed by both God and the state. These themes call for religious freedom and are worth a closer look.

Jesus doesn’t compel. He invites. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). If it’s coerced, it’s not authentic. God knows if faith is authentic. “No creature is hidden from His sight” (Heb. 4:13). You are accountable to God for what you believe, not to government or cultural watchdogs.

Beware the term “freedom to worship,” a stealthy redefinition of religious freedom. It limits faith to private practice or a house of worship. The Christian faith is personal but not private. It is an obligation to act in public. “Faith, if it has no works, is dead (Jas. 2:17). When the authorities tried to compel the disciples to change their public actions, Peter replied, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

God grants government the authority to keep public order (Rom. 13:1-7). Jesus acknowledged government’s role when He said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). So, God’s ideal is that you are a faithful believer and a good citizen of a country that restrains evil. Religious freedom is good government. I pray the U.S. Supreme Court knows that.

To make this personal, the erosion of religious freedom cannot prevent you from believing (e.g., Christians in China, Iran, North Korea). The good news is that you have every reason to place your faith in Christ Jesus, receiving the forgiveness, peace, and hope that He gives. Faith in Christ means freedom from the penalty of sin. To believers, that is our first freedom.

A Woman’s Value

William Shatner, Paris Hilton, and other celebs are buying and selling NFTs. I had to look up NFT – “non-fungible token.” I don’t understand what they are, so they clearly have no value to me.

To value something, you must first know what it is.  Take women for example. In a bizarre cultural twist, we have forgotten what a woman is. In her Senate confirmation hearing, Judge Jackson gave voice to that amnesia. Sen. Blackburn asked her to define the word “woman.” “No, I can’t,” Jackson said. “I’m not a biologist.” By denying what has been obvious and understood since the beginning of history, the culture devalues women.

Jesus never devalued women, but the Roman and Jewish cultures of the first century did. Women had lesser legal status, and men treated them as possessions. That’s one reason Jesus was a revolutionary figure. He scandalized the powers that be by respecting, affirming, and teaching women. God the Son created male and female in His own image, and He values both.

Jesus encountered a woman at the Sychar town well. He was alone with her, spoke to her, and asked to drink from her container. His disciples were shocked when they returned to find Him in a theological, intellectually-challenging dialogue with her. And for the first time, He revealed that He is the long-expected Messiah. To a woman! (John 4)

The historical record indicates that women were witnesses to the greatest news the world has ever known. Mary Magdalene, (another) Mary, and Salome witnessed His death and resurrection (Mark 15-16). In fact, all four gospels record that women visited the empty tomb of Jesus. God inspired the gospel writers to record these women’s witness to these events.

If you want to know who you are as a woman, go to the One who created, loves, and knows you. In Him, you will find your value and identity.

I value the women in my life, starting with my mother. As for an NFT, well, it’s a “unique crypto token managed on the blockchain.” It’s valuable, especially to whoever created it and knows what it is.