Flawed in Deep Ways

Back in September, I wrote an entry on my blog after a period of silence. This particular post comes after losing myself inside of a black hole. I am not engaging in any social media fast or the like. Instead I have been buried underneath the rigors of seminary education. Greek is not easy, but neither is Hermeneutics. When you mix together these classes, it becomes quite clear that ministerial training transcends the academic aspect. There is a larger issue at stake: faithfulness to God.

With each passing day, I sense the gravity of the call. For example, the following text in James 3:1 speaks volumes: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (ESV). If this is not plain speaking, then I do not know what plain speaking is or looks like. When I think about how Moses hesitated with becoming Israel’s leader, or how Gideon resisted the Lord’s call, I find myself in good company. I sympathize with Jonah, who boarded a ship for Tarshish rather than bring God’s message to Nineveh.

Now, the responses of Moses, Gideon, and Jonah raise some interesting points. All three men refuse to pretend before the Lord. It is true that Jonah’s response is flagrantly disobedient; however, he is honest about it. This leads to to the next point. Moses, Gideon, and Jonah have a deep enough relationship with the Lord, which allows them to be honest. These men do not hide their reluctance to respond to the Lord’s call. At the risk of pressing this point too far, it seems to me that expressing reluctance to God’s call is a good sign. The last time I checked, I didn’t see myriads of people clamoring together in order to be one of the Chief Shepherd’s under-shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-5, ESV).

One last point to make is that Moses, Gideon, and Jonah were far from perfect in their obedience. Moses failed to enter the Promised Land because he let his temper get the best of him. Gideon made an ephod, which ensnared the people of Israel and his family in idolatry. Lastly, Jonah wallowed in anger toward the Lord for his deliverance of the Ninevites. All three men were flawed in deep ways, yet the Lord of heaven and earth used them to accomplish his redemptive purposes and plans. I need to remember that the Lord has not called me to perform perfectly, but to obey him. This includes owning up to any wrong words and actions.

What astonishes me even more is that the Lord knows all about my imperfections. He is aware of the ways that I can and will fail him. Still, his invitation to join him remains constant and sure. The Lord delights in using me, but I have my doubts. He is the one who encourages me in the midst of my unbelief. When I am weak, he is strong. When I can’t or won’t pray, His Spirit groans with words too deep to express. He lights my way in the dark. The Lord deserves all of the credit. Will Judgment Day be joyous? I’m sure it will, but there are no easy outs. On that day, I will face the music for how I have shepherded the Lord’s people.

People and Their Idols

The likelihood of a Westerner knowing someone who makes idols of religious worship for a living is pretty slim. I contend that it is even rarer to have acquaintances, friends, or relatives who make religious idols for use in their home. This was widespread during the days of the Old Testament (OT) and in the New Testament (NT). Due to space limitations, I will focus only on the OT. There are many OT prophecies and/or oracles of judgment pronounced against the idolatry of the nations and God’s OT people, the nation of Israel. Reading any of the four, major prophetic books, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, will bear this out. In fact, reading just one of those books is more than enough to realize that idol worship and idol-making are abominations before the Lord of heaven and earth.

For example, here is a chilling passage from the book of Isaiah:

“All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit nothing? People who do that will be put to shame; such craftsmen are only human beings. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and shame.” (Isaiah 44:9-11, NIV)

Now, the prophet Isaiah wrote these words sometime during the last decades of the 8th Century BC. Some OT scholars believe that the prophet’s ministry overlapped with the start of the 7th Century BC. The point being that Isaiah lived and ministered for several decades. During his ministry, he prophesied that the Assyrians would conquer the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He saw this take place with his own eyes in 722 BC. Why is this significant? Portions of Isaiah’s prophecies in the seventh and eighth chapters of his book place the certainty of the Northern Kingdom’s demise precisely because of their idol worship and idol-making. The leaders and the people dismissed the prophet’s warnings about their impending doom. Their destruction exemplified the truth of the eleventh verse in the above quoted text: “People who do that will be put to shame…they will be brought down to terror and shame” (Isa. 44:11, NIV).

Did the Southern tribes of Israel pay attention to what happened to their northern brothers and sisters? The answer is no. Isaiah directs most of his prophecies against the people of Judah, which comprised of two tribes: Judah and Benjamin (see 1 Kings 10:29-36; 2 Chronicles 11:5-12, ESV). They also were called the Southern Kingdom of Israel. Now, common sense would seem to dictate that the people of Judah would learn from the disaster that befell their brothers and sisters to the north. Isn’t it better to learn from others’ mistakes? The Southern Kingdom knew all about the spiritual idolatry of their northern brothers and sisters. The people of Judah heard the prophet Isaiah himself speak the words that he recorded for them, which the Lord preserved for us in Isaiah 44:9-11. These words are neither hypothetical nor cryptic. The passage is crystal clear about what happens to those cities and peoples who worship and make idols. 

The Southern Kingdom loved their idols so much that they rejected the prophet Isaiah’s warnings much like their brothers and sisters to the north. Tradition has it that Isaiah suffered martyrdom during the reign of King Manasseh, who ordered the prophet’s execution. Many bible scholars believe that the reference in Hebrews 11:37 to those being sawn in two refers to Isaiah’s manner of death. Manasseh’s reign represented the nadir and the soon coming end of the Southern Kingdom (2 Kings 21:1-9, ESV). In the OT book of second Kings, the Lord prophesies judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem because of Manasseh’s sins and his peoples’ sins, which included idol worship, witchcraft, child sacrifice, and shedding innocent blood; consequently, there was no way for them to avert the coming disaster (2 Kings 21:10-15; 24:2-4, ESV). In 586 BC, the Babylonians overthrew the Southern Kingdom. 

One terrible truth comes to the forefront at this point. No civilization wants to be told to give up its idols and idol-making. Manasseh’s bloodthirsty reign epitomizes this, which also overshadows the fact that he genuinely repented and reversed from his murderous ways near the end of his life (2 Chron. 33:12-16, ESV). Sometimes one is able to turn back from the deep darkness of idolatry and idol-making like Manasseh. There are other times when this is not the case. In fact, Isaiah spells this out near the end of the forty-fourth chapter:

“They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think…Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?'” (Isa. 44:18-20, NIV)

Those are powerful words that hit home even today. Like I said at the very beginning, most Americans do not have physical idols. What we do have are spiritual ones, which dwell within our souls. These idols may be rising to the top at all costs, pursuing pleasure for its own sake regardless of the consequences, and seeking spirituality without the Lord. There is another idol that is more insidious and much more ancient than those three. I call it the idol of the autonomous self. It lead to the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden. This idol is all about pursuing the right to live my life in whatever way I want free its creator, the Lord. I am the sole arbiter of what is valuable to me. Nearly every magazine, commercial, television show, movie, or news item trumpets the idol of the autonomous self. Social media only has made things worse. May we heed Isaiah’s warning about the ultimate end of those civilizations who worship and fashion idols.   



A Dream about an Underground City

The apostle Peter spoke before thousands on the Day of Pentecost. He taught the crowd that what they had witnessed fulfilled Joel’s prophecy about the outpouring of the Spirit upon all human beings during the last days (Acts 2:14-18; cf Joel 2:28-29, NASB). Now 2000 years later, we are still in the last days experiencing the age of the Spirit. In fact, here is a portion of Joel’s amazing prophecy: “It will come about after this that I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28, NASB).

Before I proceed a little further, I want to say up front that I am not an old man. I am in my late thirties, so middle-aged is probably the best descriptor. When the text states that “your old men will dream dreams,” I must confess that this sort of thing happens with some regularity. To be blunt, I know the difference between a dream from my subconscious mind and one from the Holy Spirit. I am never able to remember the former, but I can recall the latter down to the smallest detail. For example, sometime during this past Labor Day Weekend, I experienced an unusual dream.

I hiked through a wooded trail that reminded me of the ones in Temescal Canyon. This particular trail ended at a mountainside, which I began to climb. When I reached the top, I struggled to pull myself up. An unidentified man came to my aid and lifted me up with ease. His great strength impressed me. I followed him into a large, bustling city with automobiles, buses, sirens blaring, people walking around and on and on. The more I looked around us, I noticed that the city was populated with adults. The children were noticeably absent. I asked my guide about this detail. We waited for a few minutes. Then like clockwork, all the kids (ages K-12) streamed out of the buildings and down to the subways with joy and excitement.

At this point, something did not feel right. I wondered to myself why these kids headed below the city for fun and excitement instead of remaining above ground in order to enjoy the sun, mix it up in the parks, and so forth. I followed my guide down into the subway tunnel. My first impression was one of amazement. It was an elaborate underground mall of arcades, candy stores, game stores, and the like. When my guide and I proceeded further into the storefront, the scene shifted into one of horror. Zombie-like people began attacking and devouring the children. There was nowhere for these kids to escape. The stairways back to the surface had been locked shut as the city life continued as normal.

Meanwhile, I stood next to my guide watching in horror as every child of this city wound up devoured by these evil beings. I realized that this whole scenario unfolded by design. These kids were deceived by the adults into thinking that this underground city was safe, fun, and exciting. Instead, they ended up being chased and devoured by demonic beings. It was a massacre of the innocents. I turned to my guide and I asked him what all of it meant. He said to me, “You live in a nation that devours its children. Their blood cries out to their heavenly Father, who hears them and will avenge them on judgment day. The time is short. Warn them.” After this, I woke up. I have been unable to shake off this dream and its implications ever since.

I invite my readers and followers to pray for the leaders of our nation whether federal, state, or local. May we be salt and light in our families, our jobs, with our friends, and strangers. We are ministers of reconciliation, ambassadors of a new covenant. Holy Spirit, empower and sustain us for this work till either Jesus returns or calls us home. In his name I pray, Amen.

“In New York City, home to the largest black population of any U.S. urban area, more black babies are aborted than born. New York’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported in 2014 that black babies constitute 42% of all abortions in a city where blacks are 25% of the population.”


(Jason L. Riley, The Wall Street Journal, “Let’s Talk About the Racial Disparity in Abortions,” 15 Sept 2015)

The Big Apple, Abortion, and Racial Disparity

“Sayaka Osakabe, founder of a new non-profit outfit called Matahara Net, which campaigns for the rights of pregnant women at work, says that before ‘shining’ women just need to be allowed to work without being harassed. Matahara, (a contraction of ‘maternity’ and ‘harassment’), is illegal but rife.

“The worst examples involve bosses urging pregnant women to have abortions. One woman who now works for Matahara Net landed a prized ‘career-track’ job at a big bank alongside her boyfriend, who worked in another department. After she became pregnant, a manager told her he would ‘crush’ both her own career and that of her boyfriend if she went ahead and had the baby. In 2011 she took the hint and had an abortion.”


(The Economist, “We’re Busy. Get an Abortion,” Tokyo, print edition, 5 Sept 2015)

Japanese Workforce, Pregnant Mothers, and Abortion

Dusting Off the Cobwebs

Ok then, I have attended seminary for a little over one week. This accounts for my silence of late on the blog. I apologize to my readers and followers. It has been twelve years since I sat in a graduate classroom. At this point, I’m dusting off the cobwebs and refurbishing the rusty areas with gleaming steel. The process is not easy and the days have been long. If someone were to ask me, so how do you really feel, Matthew? My answer is rather simple and to the point. The coursework has been an overwhelming flood. It’s been hard to tell if I’ve been standing on the solid rock.

I started out with a total of twelve rock’em, sock’em units through Talbot. Now, here, at the end of this week, I am proud to say that I am down to nine units. The surgery was absolutely necessary in order to preserve my sanity and health for this first semester. One of the things that I learned through this process had to do with pride and arrogance. The Lord reminded me through prayer and interactions with fellow peers and professors that knowing my limitations is a sign of wisdom and humility. If I had continued to “muscle through my classes,” then I would have succeeded in becoming the living definition of pride and foolishness.

How many times have I heard it said that the Lord is always ready to receive those who need him? I lack the proper number of fingers and toes in order to give a full account. One thing is certain, I’m blessed to have a wife at my side who refuses to allow me to slink and slack with respect to seeking the Lord’s counsel. She does not abide with such disobedience. To that I say, Amen. I will end this short post with the words from the great hymn, “The Solid Rock”:

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand,
all other ground is sinking sand.

2 When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
in every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil. [Refrain]

3 His oath, his covenant, his blood
support me in the whelming flood;
when all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay. [Refrain]

4 When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found,
dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne. [Refrain]