Our Awesome God


Romans 11:33-36

It’s not often that a book title tells the whole story. Usually titles are chosen because they are catchy, not because they are informative. But occasionally you stumble on a title that both catches your attention and also tells you exactly what the book is about. A generation ago J. B. Phillips wrote a book called Your God Is Too Small. The title says it all. So many of us struggle because our God is much smaller than the God of the Bible. We have him neatly defined and kept in a box of our own making.

If your God is too small, perhaps you need to take another look at the God of the Bible. Over the centuries theologians have used certain words to describe His essence: Sovereign, Almighty, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Infinite, Eternal, and Immortal, to mention only a few. But no list of adjectives could ever adequately picture the immenseness of God. He is so big that we don’t even have the proper words to describe his bigness. He is bigger than our biggest words and grander than our grandest conceptions. Because he is God, no words or thoughts of mortal men and women could ever compass his greatness. He is far bigger than we imagine, his presence fills the universe, he is more powerful than we know, wiser than all the wisdom of the wisest men and women, his love is beyond human understanding, his grace has no limits, his holiness is infinite, and his ways are past finding out. He is the one true God. He has no beginning and no end. He created all things and all things exist by his divine power. He has no peers. No one gives him advice. No one can fully understand him. He is perfect in all his perfections. Our best efforts fall so far short of his divine reality that we flatter ourselves to think that we truly understand him at all.

It is against that backdrop that we must consider the meaning of verses such as “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29) and “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). There is a fundamental category difference between God and his creation. His thoughts are “higher” precisely because he is God and we are not. Therefore it shouldn’t surprise that God does many things we don’t understand. Or that most of our questions about life will go unanswered. Job discovered this when God engaged him in a long series of questions starting with “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4) and ending with “Who dares to open the doors of his mouth, ringed about with his fearsome teeth?” (Job 41:14). The answer to the first question is no, the answer to the second is “not me.” And the answer to every question in between is also in the negative. It’s as if God is playing a game of Celestial Jeopardy and has managed to sweep the board before Job can answer a single question.

In dealing with our deepest struggles it helps to remind ourselves of who God really is. The greater our view of God, the more strength we will have to face the trials of life. Similarly, the lower our view of God, the more likely we are to be blown away when tragedy strikes.

With that background, let’s take a look at Romans 11:33-36. Of all the passages in the Bible that speak to God’s greatness, perhaps none contains so much truth compacted into only four verses. This passage has been called a “doxology of theology” and an “explosion of praise.” The words are bracing, hopeful, and breathtaking. No Bible expositor ever feels adequate when faced with a marvelous paragraph like this. It contains depths of truth no one can hope to fully explore, much less to understand. For our purposes we can arrange the major thoughts of these four verses around simple statements.

First of all, these verses teach us …

Three Facts About God

1. He Knows Everything There Is To Know.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (33a) The Apostle Paul was as well acquainted with God as any man ever was, yet he confessed himself at a loss to know the depth of God. How deep is God? So deep that Paul could only stand at the edge and peer into the deep. When a man wades into the ocean, he feels safe as long as he can feel the sand beneath his feet. But let him proceed farther out, and he will feel the sand disappearing. Eventually a wave comes and hurls him into the surf where he is tossed this way and that. As the current carries him outward, he cries out, “Oh, the depth.” This is what Paul felt as he came to the end of his contemplation of God’s sovereignty, man’s sin, and God’s eternal plan to shut up all men in the prison house of sin so that he might show mercy to all. Finally, he says, “Let us stop reasoning and simply praise our God for his incredible plan of redemption.” Theology must eventually become doxology or else we will be guilty of thinking that we truly understand God.

Oh, the depth of God’s wisdom.

Oh, the depth of God’s justice.

Oh, the depth of God’s grace.

Oh, the depth of God’s forgiveness.

Consider this hymn from the pen of Samuel Francis:

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!

Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!

Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love

Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

The best and brightest men and woman must eventually come to the same conclusion. The astronomer gazes at the stars that fill the night sky. As the most powerful telescopes take us to the edge of the universe, the wise man bows his head and exclaims, “How great Thou art!” Robert Jastrow founded NASA’s Goddard Institute. In his book God and the Astronomers, he comes to this conclusion:

This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have always accepted the word of the Bible: In the beginning God created heaven and earth… [But] for the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; [and] as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.

Though Jastrow is no creationist, his words remind me of Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (ESV).

Those who know most must confess how little they actually know. If a man claims an intimate knowledge of God, we must suspect that he knows God no better than he knows himself. For God is deeper than our minds can fathom. Not only is His wisdom and knowledge deeper than we know, it’s deeper than we can even imagine. We have no mental category for the depth of God’s character. We simply know that it is, and that we know nothing about it except what God has chosen to reveal. Trying to understand God is like trying to empty the ocean with a tiny bucket. Dip your bucket in a thousand times and you haven’t made a dent in the vast expanse of water. Your bucket is too small, your arms too weak, and the ocean is too large, too wide, too deep. So it is with God. We can’t begin to comprehend the depths of his being. When I was preaching in Kentucky several years ago, I heard a Southern gospel song on the radio. It went like this: “Has it ever occurred to you that nothing has ever occurred to God?” That sounds odd at first because things occur to us all the time, but it’s true: Nothing has ever “occurred” to God. He never wakes up and says, “A great idea just occurred to me.” In the first place, he never sleeps, therefore he never wakes up. In the second place, all his ideas are great. In the third place, nothing ever occurs to him. He knows all the great ideas all the time from the beginning of time.

Our text suggests that he knows everything that could ever be known. Not only his knowledge deep, it is also wide. He knows everything that has been, everything that is, and everything that will be. He even knows everything that could have been, or could be, or could ever be. Not only does he know it, but he has known it all from the beginning of time.

Several years ago I came across an article about “the prevenient grace of God.” The phrase–which was new to me–refers to “the grace that goes before.” Here’s a working definition: “In every situation of life, God is already at work before I get there. He is working creatively, strategically and redemptively for my good and His glory.” Wow! So many times I limit my thinking to the fact that God’s presence goes with me as I move through life. That’s true, but it’s only part of the story. He’s not only with me now, he’s already way up the road ahead of me. Think about this way. While I am struggling with the problems of today, God is at work providing solutions for the things I am going to face tomorrow. He’s already there, working creatively in situations I have yet to face, preparing them for me and me for them.

Or to say it another way: While I’m in Tuesday, he’s clearing the road for me on Friday. That’s what Proverbs 3:6 means when it promises that “he will make your paths straight.” God is already at work providing solutions for problems I don’t even know I have yet! Are you worried about next week? Forget it. He’s already there. What about that crucial meeting next Monday? Don’t sweat it. He’s already there. What about that surgery your oldest daughter faces in a few days? Fear not. He’s already there.

It would be enough if God simply walked with you through the events of life as they happen. But he does much more than that. He goes ahead of you, clearing the way, arranging the details of life so that when you get there, you can have confidence that God has already been there before you. That’s the prevenient grace of God. He goes before his people. He’s at work in the future while we live in the present. He can do that because he knows everything there is to know.

2. He Makes Plans We Can’t Understand.

“How unsearchable his judgments!” (33b) Other translations use the word “inscrutable”, which means “beyond human understanding.” Eugene Peterson (The Message) offers this version of verse 33: “Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.” I like that phrase–”It’s way over our heads.” Not only does God make plans we don’t know about, even if we did know about them, we couldn’t understand them. That explains why some things remain unexplainable forever. It’s not that God is unwilling to explain, it’s that our little minds can’t begin to comprehend the infinite purposes of God. John Wesley said it this way: “Show me a worm that fully comprehend a man, and I’ll show you a man that can comprehend God.” It can’t be done.

3. He Alone Knows Why Everything Happens.

“And his paths beyond tracing out!” (33c) Matthew Henry has a helpful word about this. The main things God wants us to know are clear and plain. They are, he said, like a highway open for all to travel. But the judgments of his hands are dark and mysterious. That road is closed forever to us. We must not pry into the mysteries of God, but rather bow before him in adoration for things we don’t understand. Then he added this sentence: “God leaves no footprints behind him.” You can’t tell where he’s been or where the Almighty is going. He leaves no track or trail that we can follow. That means that in life many things will happen that we simply do not understand. Sickness, accidents, violent crimes, sudden financial collapse, divorce, crumbled dreams, cancer, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, famines, war, broken promises, evil triumphing over good, lost jobs, ruined lives, children dying, others promoted while we are passed, our ideas stolen and used by others, and good works we do that others take credit for. The list is endless and heartbreaking.

A few years ago Michael Gartner wrote in USA Today about the sudden death of his 17-year-old adopted son Christopher. “He died on Thursday. He was a healthy, robust boy on Tuesday. He got sick on Wednesday. And he died on Thursday.” Then he said, “You would have liked him. Everyone did.” Father and son didn’t look alike at all. Michael Gartner is five-foot-eight and weighs 160. Christopher was close to six-four and weighed around 300 pounds. “He looked like a cement block with a grin.” He died of a sudden attack of juvenile diabetes. Despite heroic medical efforts and fervent prayers Christopher was suddenly gone. “It is awful and horrible and sad, and no words can comfort his four grandparents, his brother and sister, his friends or his parents.” The day after he died, a friend called and said the only thing helped get him through the terrible tragedy: “If God had come to you 17 years ago and said, ‘I’ll make you a bargain. I’ll give you a beautiful, wonderful, happy and healthy kid for 17 years, and then I’ll take him away,’ you would have made that deal in a second.” “And that was the deal. We just didn’t know the terms,” Michael Gartner said. He’s right. That’s always the deal. And we never know the terms in the advance. God gives us life, health, happiness, our children, our friends, and says, “Enjoy it while you can. Someday I will come back for them.” And we never know the terms in advance.

Only God knows why things happen. Most of the time we can only wonder.

Second, this text tells us …

Three Things No One Can Do

Verses 34-35 contain three rhetorical questions, each one expecting a negative answer. They all begin with the same two words … “Who has … Who has … Who has?” The answer is always the same: “No one … No one … No one.”

1. No One Can Explain God

“Who has known the mind of the Lord?” (34a) Lots of people think they know what God is like, but the only thing we know about God are things he has chosen to reveal to us. I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the six blind men who were trying to describe an elephant. The first man felt the tusk and said, “An elephant is sharp, like a spear.” The second man touched his massive side and exclaimed, “No! An elephant is like a wall.” The third man stroked his wiggling trunk and concluded that an elephant was most like a snake. The fourth man tried to wrap his arms around one of the elephant’s legs. When he couldn’t, he said, “He is like a tree.” The fifth felt the expanse of his huge ears and said, “It’s easy to see that an elephant is much like a fan.” The last man felt the tiny tail and said, “You’re all wrong. An elephant is shaped like a rope.” Who was right? They are were. Who was wrong? All of them. We are all like those blind men when it comes to knowing God. Who among us can claim to fully understand the infinite and Almighty God of the universe? No one knows enough to fully explain God.

2. No One Can Counsel God.

“Or who has been his counselor?” (34b) I love the way Eugene Peterson puts it: Is there “anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?” He needs no counselor for he is infinitely wise. In high schools there are trained professionals called guidance counselors. They help students make wise decisions about the future. They gather data from report cards, test scores and detailed interviews, combining the student’s strengths and weaknesses with the available opportunities. Such counselors are indispensable because life is filled with so many possibilities. But God needs no guidance counselor. Indeed, he is the ultimate Guidance Counselor. He guides every being in the universe, but no one guides him. He counsels all creation, but no one is his counselor. For a mere man to counsel God would be like a candle trying to give light to the sun .

An ill-prepared college student was struggling through his final exam in economics. He happened to be taking the test just before Christmas. In desperation he scrawled across the bottom of the paper, “Only God knows the answer to these questions. Merry Christmas!” When he got the paper back, the teacher marked it: “God gets 100. You get 0. Happy New Year!”

No one knows as much as God does, no one can explain God, and no one can be his counselor.

3. No One Can Accuse God of Unfairness.

“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” (35) This question comes from Job 41:11 where God asks Job, “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” No one can ever say, “God, you owe me something,” because the Lord will be no man’s debtor. No one can say, “You cheated me,” because God cheats no one. No one can say, “I’ve earned your favor,” because everything this side of hell is mercy, and everything this side of heaven is grace. Consider what our God does:


1) He restores rebels by granting them his righteousness.

2) He redeems transgressors and takes away their rebel hearts.

3) He promotes his own glory by saving those who ought to go to hell.

Let us be very clear on this point. God saves those he is in under no obligation to save. He could have destroyed the human race and started over again with better raw material. But he didn’t. What he did was quite literally unthinkable.

The Infinite became finite.

The Almighty became a tiny baby.

The Deity was wrapped in diapers.

Luther put this way: “He whom the worlds could not enwrap, yonder lies in Mary’s lap.” No one but God himself would ever have dared to think of that. And then in the Father’s wisdom, the Son died a miserable, humiliating, excruciating death on a Roman cross–the just dying for the unjust, the Sinless One bearing the sins of the world. In order for Christ to be our Savior, three conditions must be met:

1) He must be a man. An angel could not die for our sins. He must truly share our humanity.

2) He must be an infinite man. A mere mortal could not bear the infinite price that must be paid for our sins.

3) He must be an innocent man. A sinner could not die for the sins of others.

God has done everything necessary for you to go to heaven. No one can accuse God of unfairness because his offer of salvation goes out to the entire world. No one who believes in Jesus will ever be turned away.

No one will end up in hell except those who truly deserve to be there.

No one will end up in heaven except those who have been saved by God’s grace.

Everything this side of hell is mercy, and everything this side of heaven is grace.

Finally, this text gives us …

Three Reasons to Praise God

It is as if Paul can contain himself no longer. He means to show that God is all in all. Everything comes from him, everything exists by his power, and everything will ultimately answer to him. James Montgomery Boice calls this verse the secret of a “Christian worldview” because it dethrones man and puts God on the throne of the universe. He makes his point by asking a trivia question: What was the last song recorded by the Beatles before they broke up? Answer: “I, Me, Mine.” Dr. Boice comments that the Beatles’ last song is also the first song as well as the last song of the unregenerate heart. But the song of the redeemed is Romans 11:36!

1. He is the Source of All Things.

“For from him” (36a) He is the source of all things, which mean that all things flow from Him. I saw a wonderful illustration of this truth when I spent a few days at Camp Nathanael in Emmalena, Kentucky. The camp itself is something of a miracle. A man named Garland Franklin was the first director. Back in the 1930s he was driving along the dirt road next to Troublesome Creek when the Lord spoke to him and said, “I want you to build a camp here.” The land wasn’t for sale right then, but Mr. Franklin began praying about it. Several years later the land came up for sale and the mission raised the money to buy it. This of course was in the heart of the Great Depression when money was scarce everywhere, but nowhere scarcer than in the coal-mining country of eastern Kentucky.

Then in 1936 they decided to dig a well on the property. After saving up their money, they found that they only had $75 to pay for the well–the digging, the installation of equipment, and any other associated expenses. When the man came to dig the well, Mr. Franklin asked him where he would like to dig. The man said, “Mr. Franklin, I can see into the ground as far as you can.” So Garland Franklin pointed to a spot and said, “Dig right there.” So he started to dig and hit water after going down only 75 feet (most of the other wells in the area go down at least 200 feet). After putting in the pump and the permanent casing, enclosing the wellhead and attaching the pipes, the contractor totaled up his bill and presented it to Mr. Franklin. The exact amount was $74.99. They had one penny left over!

But that’s not the end of the story. The well they dug in 1936 is still there and still pumping water. But that’s not the most amazing fact. In 70 years the well has never run dry. Never. Not even for a moment. “It’s like there’s an ocean of water under there,” the camp director told me. Several years ago when a severe drought hit the region, most of the local wells went dry, but not the one at Camp Nathanael. They had so much water that they let the local people come and fill their water barrels.

The well is still pumping water, and it shows no signs of running dry. Is that a miracle? Yes, but behind the miracle well stands a miracle-working God who can speak a word and an ocean of water comes gushing up through the ground. He is truly the source of all things.

2. He is the Sustainer of All Things

“And through him.” (36b). Not only do all things flow from Him, but he is the reason for the continued existence of the universe. He alone understands the purpose for everything that he created. One of my favorite stories involves George Washington Carver, the man who discovered 255 different things you could do with the lowly peanut. Dr. Carver is revered for his years of work at the Tuskegee Institute in my home state of Alabama. Because of him, the South began to move away from a cotton-based economy to one based on other crops. George Washington Carver was a devout Christian who had a deep knowledge of God. When he was asked where he came up with so many uses for the peanut, he told this story. He said that when he was a young man, he went for a walk in the fields and while he was there, he and the Lord had a conversation. When he asked the Lord to show him why he had created the universe, the Lord said, “Son, that’s much too big for you. Ask me for something you can understand.” So he tried again. “Lord, show me why you created the world.” “Still too big for you. Try again.” George Washington Carver dropped his eyes to the ground and happened to see some peanuts on the vine. “Lord, could you tell me why you created the peanut?” “That’s a good question. Now we’ve found something you can understand.” The Lord showed Dr. Carver the secrets of the peanut, and he used what God showed him to change the world.

All things come “through him.” All knowledge, all wisdom, everything we have comes “through him.” He is the Sustainer of All Things–even the peanut!

3. He is the Supreme Purpose of All Things

“And to him are all things” (36c). This is a breathtaking statement because Paul includes “all things” in his exclamation. Nothing is left out, no part of creation excluded. God is the beginning, the middle, and the end of “all things.” Everything comes from him, everything continues by him, everything finds it ultimate purpose in him. Life is like a giant jigsaw puzzle, and we are like children trying to put the puzzle together with only a handful of pieces and someone took the box that has the picture on the cover. So we’re left trying to fit our little handful of pieces together and trying to figure out the big picture at the same time. No wonder we struggle to figure out what life is all about. As the years pass we pick up more pieces to the puzzle and things that once troubled us now seem to fit into place. And we have a new appreciation for the wisdom of God because nothing is ever wasted. Everything “fits” somewhere.

Or we are like ants crawling across a painting by Rembrandt. When we come to the darker colors, it seems as if the entire painting is dark, somber, forbidding. Everything around us is dark brown or dark blue or midnight black. But if we could only stand back from the painting, we would see that the darker hues are offset by lighter colors—red, green, yellow, blue and orange. It is the darkness of the darker hues that makes the brighter colors stand out so vividly. So it is with life itself. We may spend days or weeks or years in the dark tones of life. Sickness, heartache, tragedy, mistreatment and betrayal may cause us to think that there are no lighter tones. But God is painting a masterpiece in your life and before he is finished, he will use every color on his palette. If you do not see the final product on earth, you will see it clearly in heaven.

I am reminded of Augustine’s famous words, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” All things are made by him, and through him, and for him. He is the source, the means, and the goal of all creation. They are part of the “all things” of Romans 11:35.

To Him Be the Glory Forever!

What is left for us but the words of Paul in verse 36? “To him be the glory forever! Amen” (36d). The mysteries of God lead us in one of two directions. Either you give up your faith altogether and become a skeptic or you bow the knee before the God who is too great, too vast, too awesome for you to fully comprehend.

God always leaves us with a choice, doesn’t he? You can believe and be saved or you can doubt and be damned. But either way many of your questions will never be fully answered. If you choose to believe, then we are left with these final words: “To him be the glory forever!”

In life and in death–To him be the glory forever!

In joy and in sorrow–To him be the glory forever!

In good days and dark nights–To him be the glory forever!

In sickness and in health–To him be the glory forever!

In your career and in your home–To him be the glory forever!

In your marriage and in your children–To him be the glory forever!

In your prosperity and in your poverty–To him be the glory forever!

In days of peace and in times of war–To him be the glory forever!

In gentle breeze and in gathering storm–To him be the glory forever!

In the classroom and in the boardroom–To him be the glory forever!

In moments of victory and in darkest defeat–To him be the glory forever!

In prayers answered and in prayers unanswered–To him be the glory forever!

In yesterday’s tears, today’s rejoicing, and tomorrow’s adventures–To him be the glory forever!

In heaven and on earth–To him be the glory forever!

Whatever comes, whether tragedy or triumph, in the midst of the years, with the changing of the seasons, when we know enough or nothing at all, when hope is gone and all we have left is God,

To him alone be the glory forever! Amen.


Listen to this sermon (40:18)

Original here

How God Revealed the Ingratitude of My Own Heart

The First Thanksgiving by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (Photo by Barney Burstein/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Romans 1

“Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.” (Romans 1:21 NLT).

This is not the sort of verse that is likely to make you feel happy on Thanksgiving Day. It is more like the anti-Thanksgiving verse. Not too many people will read this verse before carving their turkey and sharing a big meal together.

It’s not as if other translations give you any help or solace either. It’s pretty bleak no matter how you translate these words. The real problem here is that Paul is talking about all of us, the whole human race, not just some “pagan” part of it that never goes to church and doesn’t read the Bible. He makes that pretty clear by saying, “Yes, they knew God.” That has to include all the Baptists and Methodists and Catholics and Lutherans and Orthodox and all the Brethren and the Pentecostals and the Presbyterians and all the what-have-yous that fill up the Yellow Pages. It certainly includes me. Whoever else Paul has in mind, he’s definitely including all the religious types in his list.

Whenever we study Romans 1:18-32 we usually do it under some such heading as “the Condemnation of the Gentiles,” and we trace Paul’s argument this way:

1) God’s wrath is revealed against the whole human race because we are all born with an innate knowledge of God which we willfully suppress (v. 18).

2) God has made himself plain to all men so that they are without excuse (vv. 19-20).

3) By turning away from God, we turned to idolatry (vv. 21-23).

4) Result # 1: Moral Impurity (vv. 24-25).

5) Result # 2: Dishonorable Passions (vv. 26-27).

6) Result # 3: Total Social Breakdown (vv. 28-32).

Those three results can be clearly seen in verses 24, 26 and 28 in the repeated phrase “God gave them up” which speaks of a judicial act of God whereby he hands man over to the natural consequences of his own disobedience. Paul’s burden in this passage is to show that the whole human race is now under God’s wrath, justly deserving of his punishment, and that we are all “without excuse” in the eyes of God (v. 20).

As I said, it’s not a pretty picture, and virtually every evangelical preacher has used this passage to paint a portrait of a rebel world gone far astray from God. Paul paints his portrait in the blackest terms possible because he later wishes to show the glories of the gospel of Christ set against the backdrop of human sin.

A Closer Look at Verse 21

But tucked in there is a verse I had not really considered until a few months ago. It’s the verse I mentioned at the start of the sermon. That particular verse explains a key stage in humanity’s turn from the true God to idolatry. Let me quote it again: “Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused” (NLT).

Just to be fair, I’ll give it in several other translations:

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (NIV).

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (NASB).

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (ESV).

This is one of those occasions where the translations all say the same thing.

They knew God.

They did not honor God.

They did not give thanks to God.

Their thinking became futile.

Their hearts were darkened.

That means the problem with the human race is not a lack of knowledge. The deeper problem is ignoring the knowledge we already have. Truth always demands a response. No one can be neutral in the spiritual arena.

Paul goes on to spell out what happens when we become indifferent to spiritual truth:

1. We refuse to glorify God.

2. We refuse to give thanks to God.

At this point it is helpful to recall Question 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Truth demands a response, and the truth about God demands that we the creatures glorify him as the great Creator. When we don’t, we fail in the great purpose for which we were created.

It didn’t start with us. It started in the dim mists of the earliest days of the human race when Adam and Eve willfully rebelled against God. They should have glorified God by obeying him, but they didn’t. That was and is the chief sin of the human race. From Eden to your hometown a bent toward disobedience has entered our spiritual genetic code.

Spurgeon on the Unthankful Man

But it was this one little phrase that burned into my mind. “They did not give thanks.” When Charles Spurgeon preached on this verse, he offered this comment:

I cannot say anything much worse of a man than that he is not thankful to those who have been his benefactors; and when you say that he is not thankful to God, you have said about the worst thing you can say of him.

In typical 19th-century fashion, he goes on to show how God is treated by unthankful creatures:

He is despised.

His day is ignored.

His book is neglected.

His Son is refused.

His deliverances are forgotten.

Then warming to his topic, he remarks on how we tend to ignore God’s providences:

Why, look at some of you! You never missed a meal in your lives. When you went to the table, there was always something on it. You never had to lose a night’s rest for want of a bed. Some of you, from your childhood, have had all that heart could wish. If God has treated you so, while many are crushed with poverty, should he not have some gratitude from you? You had a good mother; you had a tender father; you have gone from one form of relationship to another with increasing comfort. You are spared, and your mother is spared; your wife and children are spared.Indeed, God has made your path very smooth. Some of you are getting on in business, while other men are failing; some of you have every comfort at home, while others have been widowed, and their children have fallen, one after the other. Will you never be grateful? Hard, hard heart, wilt thou never break? Will any mercy bend thee? I do appeal to some here, whose path has been so full of mercies, that they ought to think of God, and turn to him with sincere repentance and faith.

Then he says even more than this:

But one says, “I have had good luck.” What can be worse than that? Here is unthankfulness to God indeed, when you ascribe his good gifts to “good luck.” “Well, you know, but I have been a very hard-working man.” I know you have, but who gave you this strength for your work? “I have a good supply of brains while others do not.” Did you make your own brains? Do you not feel that any man who talks about his own wisdom, and his own wit, writes “FOOL” across his forehead in capital letters? We owe everything to God; shall we not give God nothing? Shall we have no gratitude to him from whom all our blessings have come?

I wonder how many of us this Thanksgiving morning should have the word “FOOL” tattooed on our own forehead for taking God’s blessings for granted?

Two Signs of an Ungrateful Heart

In another sermon on the same verse Spurgeon says, “I fear there are thousands who call themselves Christians, who are not thankful, and yet they never thought themselves very guilty on that account.” He points out that we express this ungratefulness in at least two distinct ways:


1) First, we receive from God’s hand daily blessings without ever giving thought as to where they come from. God’s mercies are new every morning—life and breath and health and friends and food and clothing and the kindness of others and a job to go to and money enough to meet our needs—all of it comes every day and it is as if we run to the back door and let in those blessings because we are afraid to let them in through the front door. We receive all that God has given, but we don’t acknowledge the Giver.

2) Second, we grumble about what we don’t have. If it is manna, we wish we had quail. If it is cereal, we complain because we want eggs. If our black suit is not ready, we complain because we have to wear brown. If we have $500, we complain because we do not have $1000. If we have $1000, we grumble that it is not $5000. If we do not have cancer, we complain about our arthritis. If we have a car, we wish we had another one. We dream of a better job because we could be doing so much better than we are now. Complaining, one supposes, goes back to Adam who told Eve that the fig leaves made him itch.

I meant to say how God revealed the ingratitude of my own heart, and that I will now proceed to do. God did it in a way most unexpected and one that, frankly, embarrasses me to speak of it, but I am determined to rid my soul of this vice and so I say plainly what God has done for me. In the last two years the Lord has in his mercy led us in paths that are quite different from anything we have traveled in the past. For 27 years I served as pastor of three different churches—one in Los Angeles, one in Dallas, and one in Chicago. Of those congregations I wish only to remark that they were filled with good and kind people who graciously listened to me speak week after week. All three churches were very generous toward us. For more than sixteen years I served a congregation in a Chicago suburb. When in God’s timing that ministry came to an end, Marlene and I announced that we were moving to Tupelo, Mississippi, there to seek God’s will, sensing deep within a new call of God upon our lives. And so we set off to follow the Lord as best we could. Like Abraham of old, we went out, not knowing where we were going. And I don’t think we found it any easier than it must have been for Abraham to leave the known for the unknown. But be that as it may, we learned along the way that God’s plans and ours are rarely the same.

Here is one fact that I have never mentioned until now. For a full year we went without a salary of any kind. This came at a certain point after the kind provision of the church in Oak Park came to an end. When I say that we had no salary, I mean quite literally that for a year we had no regular or stated income of any kind. We lived off the land, so to speak. Of that year I wish to say two things very plainly. First, that was not part of my plan at all. I never envisioned a moment when we would be without a salary. That’s the sort of thing you venture to do when you are young and full of vigor and just starting out. I had no such desire and no such plan. But God’s plans and ours are rarely the same. So it came to pass that for twelve months we lived from day to day and week to week, waiting upon the Lord. Second, God never failed us, not even one time. We saw things happen that seemed to us to be miraculous answers to prayer. God’s provision came down from heaven just when it was most needed. Never too much but always just enough, and always in the nick of time. And this we did not see clearly until the year was finished, and we tabulated our income and saw that God had provided all our needs, some of them in ways that simply astounded us. If you will, we had “missionary-type” answers to prayers that had never happened during all those years when we had a regular paycheck.

My Ungrateful Heart

At length the year came to an end, and God provided a partial support through our ministry that has now become full support. And for that we are very grateful. But God spoke very clearly to me and showed me something about my heart that I had never seen before. During all those years when I received a regular paycheck as a pastor, I never once stopped to give thanks to God for his provision. In particular during the years in Oak Park when the church took such good care of us, I was quick to cash those checks but did not say “Thank You” to the Lord. Never one time can I remember being grateful to God for his provision for our needs.

I am certain that I would never have seen it but for that year with no salary at all. During my years as a pastor, if you had asked me, “Are you thankful for your paycheck?” I am certain I would have answered yes because that would be the right answer and who would answer no? I would have mouthed the right words, but my heart would have said, “This is my money. I earned it. I worked hard for it. It is what is owed me for my labor.” Never would I have said those words but that was the attitude of my heart. And is that not how we are all taught to think? A paycheck is money earned. It is not a gift. We work hard for what we get paid. You do not say thank you for what is yours by virtue of many hours of hard work.

Now I never saw that at all, never realized how I had come to take for granted the generous supply of our needs by God’s people. It shames me to think of it now. But God has his ways of humbling his servants. And so during that year without a salary, if I went to preach somewhere and they gave me a small gift for preaching a sermon, I was profoundly grateful to God. Thus does God even the scales. I learned to say thank you to the Lord for his provision for what I had once taken for granted.

A few years ago if you had asked me, “Are you a grateful person?” I suppose I would have said that I am about as grateful as the next person. And from the standpoint of our text, that would be a true statement. We are all unthankful by nature because we all take for granted the goodness of the Lord. We think God owes us something when in fact he owes us nothing at all.

Every good gift comes down from the Father of lights above.

What do you have that you did not receive?

God showed me that in my own heart, I was guilty of the sin that lies at the heart of all other sins—ingratitude. When we are not thankful for what we have received, we open the door to every other sin imaginable.

The final point I wish to make is that gratitude is first and foremost a matter of the heart. It’s not about what we do or don’t do. It is the heart that must be changed. After all, we may do many good deeds and yet do them grudgingly, out of a sense of duty, or in order to win God’s favor, as if mercy is earned and not given. I have learned and am learning that gratitude is a gift first and foremost, a matter of the heart, and it flows down to us, dropping like the gentle rain from heaven. In fact, mercy and gratitude always go together. What starts as mercy in heaven ends as gratitude on earth.

And so on Thanksgiving Day 2007, I wish to give thanks to God for showing me the true state of my own heart. I pray to become more grateful for all his gifts. And I humbly ask the Lord to give me a grateful heart for all his blessings—seen and unseen, that I might take nothing for granted, and to open the eyes of my heart to appreciate

All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all.

When Spurgeon came to the end of his sermon, he finished with these quaint words. I find them comforting to my own soul, and they make me happy early on this Thanksgiving morning.

And then, next, let us begin to be very thankful, if we have not been so before. Let us praise God for common mercies, for they prove to be uncommonly precious when they are once taken away. Bless God that you were able to walk here, and are able to walk home again. Bless God for your reason: bless him for your existence. Bless God for the means of grace, for an open Bible, for the throne of grace, for the preaching of the Word. You that are saved must lead the song. “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”Bless him for his Son. Bless him for his Spirit. Bless him for his Fatherhood. Bless him that you are his child. Bless him for what you have received. Bless him for what he has promised to give. Bless him for the past, the present, and the future. Bless him in every way, for everything, at all times, and in all places. Let all that is within you bless his holy name. Go your way rejoicing. May his Spirit help you so to do!

On that note, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving Day. Amen.


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‘Grinch’ group bullies elementary school into canceling live Nativity

Judge: Artistic performances don’t ‘establish’ a religion

December 11, 2019

A live Nativity scene in Stuart, Florida (Photo by Joe Kovacs, used with permission)

A “grinch” organization that flexes its influence each year during the holiday season, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, has “bullied” a school district in Oklahoma into canceling a live Nativity scene that had been part of the school’s annual Christmas celebration.

Liberty Counsel said it’s prepared to represent the school if officials decide they want to restore the holiday display.

LC said FFRF not only was wrong to insist such displays aren’t allowed, it mischaracterized a court ruling on the dispute.

FFRF wrote to Supt. Bret Towne of Edmond Public Schools in Edmond, Oklahoma, declaring “the Chisholm Elementary School Christmas program may not include a live Nativity scene in the performance.”

Liberty Counsel, which has handled many such disputes, said that while FFRF cited a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, the atheist organization failed “to accurately describe” the decision.

“The 7th Circuit simply did not make the sweeping ruling claimed by FFRF. FFRF has once again selectively related what actually happened in a suit, in order to frighten a school district into compliance,” Liberty Counsel explained.

The ruling stated clearly, “We are not prepared to say that a nativity scene in a school performance automatically constitutes an Establishment Clause violation.”

FFRF had said, “While a public school can hold holiday concerts, religious performances and instruction that emphasize the religious aspects of a holiday are prohibited.”

It continued, “Please note that including a live nativity performance in a school’s holiday concert remains illegal even if participation in the nativity scene is ‘voluntary.'”

FFRF cited a previous dispute in which it wanted to ban a 20-minute Nativity within a program that covered about 90 minutes.

The appeals court said: “The district court found that the Christmas Spectacular program. … A program in which cultural, pedagogical, and entertainment value took center stage – did not violate the Establishment Clause.

One judge wrote: “It is not sound, as a matter of history or constitutional text, to say that a unit of state or local government ‘establishes’ a religion through an artistic performance that favorable depicts one or more aspects of that religion’s theology or iconography. [The school] would not violate the Constitution by performing Bach’s Mass in B Minor or Handel’s Mesiah, although both are deeply religious works and run far longer than the nativity portion of the ‘Christmas Spectacular.’ Performing a work of art does not establish that work, or its composer, as the state song or the state composer; no more does it establish a state religion.”

“Liberty Counsel therefore stands ready, along with our affiliate attorneys in Oklahoma, to provide assistance at no charge to Edmond Public Schools, if the district desires to resume a live Nativity in a school Christmas program,” the organization promised.


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The Ministry Of Lament

What many churches lack, our culture desperately needs.


As a child, I understood that being a Christian meant being involved in compassion work. My parents consistently created avenues for me and my siblings to engage in the wider world: volunteering in classrooms for people with severe disabilities; serving Thanksgiving dinners at homeless shelters; creating and running summer programs in a Native village off the coast of Alaska; starting a music venue at our church for high schoolers to play and listen to Christian punk rock; and for people with nowhere else to go, randomly having them live with us for weeks, months, or sometimes years at a time.

These experiences, coupled with the myriads of missionary biographies I read, changed how I viewed the world and my role in it. The formula, in my young mind, became rather simple: Go out into the world to preach the gospel, become immersed in the lives of the people and their problems, and do everything you can to help.

Lament allows us to draw near to God and articulate both our deepest griefs and our flickering hopes.

Perhaps, at first blush, there is nothing terribly wrong with this formula. But the limitations of such a framework become increasingly clear once we find ourselves immersed in problems too big to be easily solved, recognizing that there are policies and systemic realities we’ve all had a hand in, either directly or through complicity (or silence). It’s when we’re overwhelmed by a broken world and our own inability to fix it that despair, judgment, and even apathy can set in for even the most well-intentioned souls.

Some problems will never be fixed through positive thinking or sheer grit. Instead, there are unjust realities that need to be voiced, within the safety of a loving community and relationship, and there are systems and policies that need to be confessed and repented of. Lament allows us to draw near to God and articulate both our deepest griefs and our flickering hopes. And this is precisely what the Christian church can and must offer to a world that is drowning in violence, suffering, and despair.


I can remember the first time I started to feel overwhelmed at the problems facing my refugee friends. I had volunteered through a resettlement agency to be a mentor for a recently arrived Somali Bantu family. I was 19 years old but knew I could be useful and help them. Armed with English worksheets, I soon discovered no one in the family could speak English, or even read. Slowly it became apparent that both the mother and the father in the family had issues with memory retention and learning new information (signs of trauma, I would find out much later in life). Whatever English conversation we practiced one week would be completely forgotten in a few days. What I thought would be a quick and fun learning process turned into a reminder of failure, week after week.

I had engaged in charity work but was unprepared for the circumstances, systems, and policies that lead to deep brokenness and inequality.

I started to notice more signs of how hard life was for my new friends: the various bills piling up on the countertops, including the thousands of dollars this family owed for their flights to the United States; the phone calls, interrupting the afternoons in the apartment, from fast-talking hucksters claiming to be the bank, offering free money, and trying to scam my friends out of their newly minted Social Security numbers; the cockroach infestations ignored by landlords; schools that didn’t have the resources or training to help children from non-literate, rural, and traumatized backgrounds. Or perhaps I became truly overwhelmed when I realized this family received resettlement assistance for only eight months, at which point they were expected to be fully functioning members of society, no matter what barriers they might face—like racism, classism, and little to no understanding of non-Western cultures in the public sector.

My faith started to flounder. I had engaged in charity work—trying to help this family—but was unprepared for the circumstances, systems, and policies that lead to deep brokenness and inequality. Did God see what was happening to my friends? Did He even care?


These questions, while frightening, are not new to God. If one is alive and paying attention, questions regarding divine sovereignty in response to evil, suffering, injustice, and death will naturally be raised. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann refers to these kinds of questions as pressing forth into the pain of God, which is a rich biblical tradition, evident in the work of the prophets as well as in the psalms (40 percent of which are classified as lament).

John Swinton, author of Raging With Compassion, writes that “lament is … a very particular form of prayer that is not content with soothing platitudes or images of a God who will listen only to voices that appease and compliment. Lament takes the brokenness of human experience into the heart of God and demands that God answer.” It encourages authentic engagement with God, which is a prerequisite to actually being in relationship with Him. And it has a purpose, says Swinton. Ultimately, lament exists to give voice to suffering and to reconcile us to the love of God.

Brueggemann, in his book The Prophetic Imagination, spends considerable time articulating how the values of the world exist to make people numb to the realities of the world. We can see this in our own culture’s obsession with accruing material possessions and outrunning death, living in the perpetual now. But Brueggemann writes that “the riddle and insight of biblical faith is the awareness that only anguish leads to life, only grieving leads to joy, and only embraced endings permit new beginnings.” Or as Jesus declared in the Sermon on the Mount, it is those who mourn who will one day be comforted. People who run away from mourning are also running away from the spiritual benefits of lament.


Jeremiah, Nehemiah, David, and Jesus Himself all had what Brueggemann calls the ministry of “articulated grief.” But lament not only soothed suffering communities with honesty and an ultimate hopefulness in the work of God; it also served as a way to invite people to confess and repent. For people involved in compassion work, this is a vital understanding.

Lisa Sharon Harper, author of The Very Good Gospel, told me the meaning of the word compassion is to be “moved from the bowels” or to feel the suffering of another in the depths of your being. She desires to see Christians move from charity and compassion work (individuals and communities giving out of their abundance) and towards community development and even justice work, where oppressive systems and policies are changed. Instead of handing out sandwiches to hungry folks twice a week, what if a church helped start a food co-op in the community? This kind of approach requires relationship, listening, asking questions about the conditions that create hunger and food scarcity, and then changing those systems. Inherent in this type of work is the desire for justice, which can often look like privileged communities recognizing how they have been complicit or even profited from inequality.

Nehemiah is an example of this. He fasts and weeps from seeing what caused the walls to come down—the breaking of God’s covenants and laws, including exploiting the people and designing laws to restrict who could enter God’s presence. Explaining how that led Nehemiah to confession and public lament, Harper draws parallels to our time: “We are seeing how our sin causes the brokenness out there. We see how we actually believe in meritocracy, that God loves some more than others, and we see how we have made two-tiered structures of hierarchy.” This fundamental breakdown—the lies we believe about ourselves, others, and God—is actually what causes the need for charity. So whenever we engage in helping others less fortunate than ourselves, we have an opportunity to lament and mourn the breakdowns that got us there.


  1. Engage in compassion work with an eye for systemic factors. Does your church have a food ministry? A Thanksgiving food box program? What are ways you can start to become aware of and involved in reshaping the policies and systems that create a lack of access or resources for food?
  2. Pray. Prayer walk your neighborhood or parts of the city where you see the need for resurrection. Practice listening, paying attention, and sharing your laments and hopes with God.

The Bible is certainly full of these kinds of writings—which look at suffering and the complexity of the human condition—but it seems as if current Western culture has lost the art of lament. As Dr. Soong-Chan Rah writes in his book Prophetic Lament, the West has developed a theology of triumphalism that is echoed in our worship and our liturgies. Of the top 100 Christian worship songs from 2012, only five could be classified as lament. Walter Brueggemann explains the disconnect this way: “The ‘have-nots’ develop a theology of suffering and survival. The ‘haves’ develop a theology of celebration.”

For people involved in justice or compassion work, this is an important dichotomy to recognize. If we have been raised to view God as blessing and taking care of those He loves, what happens when people suffer—when they experience trauma, or war, or famine, or systems of poverty that will never allow them to escape?

In my case, this put an end to my own prosperity gospel and the neat formulas I had created for how God worked in the world (which, no surprise, tended to benefit people who looked and thought and lived just as I did). When my life slowly became entangled with the lives of people who’d suffered globally and continued to suffer in my own country due to disparity and inequality, I woke up and started to change. I listened to stories and saw hardships with my own eyes. Ultimately, I came to believe in a God who is sovereign and who sees and suffers with us. In the process, parts of the Bible that had previously meant nothing to me (which were written by and for a people who were suffering) started to unveil riches of comfort to me personally.

My Christian theology gave me a framework for compassionate involvement, but it didn’t equip me to deal with the suffering I opened myself up to when I engaged in compassion work. And this is what lament in the Bible does. It gives language for the suffering that people experience. It encourages authentic engagement with God. It invites us to both listen to suffering communities and engage in confession and repentance. And lastly, it reveals the ways we try to numb ourselves to the realities of the world.

I still see my Somali Bantu refugee friends regularly. It has been over a decade, and life is still hard for them in the U.S.—compounded by the traumas of the past and the barriers in the present. But every day I see signs of hope. The young woman learning to read, checking out novels from the library; shared meals made with love and compassion; people making progress one step at a time. I try sometimes to tell them how they have changed my faith, how it is through them and their suffering that I truly discovered who Jesus is. But perhaps they will never know. The lament they brought to me matured my faith. It allowed me to identify ways in which we are connected to each other, and ways we fail each other. But most importantly, it allowed me to hope in a God who will redeem us all, and who in the meantime is asking me to seek and act for justice whenever I can.


Illustration by Eleni Debo

Are you pure in heart?


November 27, 2019 Nehemiah Zion


Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)

Only the pure in heart will see God. The heart filled with the lusts of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, cannot see nor begin to understand the goodness or purity of heaven.

God is Holy. Holiness is His standard. Purity is not attainable by man, on his own.

“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” ‭‭James‬ ‭4:8‬ ‭

When our hearts are purified, the work of our hands and the words of our mouth will be pure. God will be near. We will live without fear. What we express comes from the depth of our hearts (Mark 7:22,23). It will be well-pleasing to God.

How to purify our heart? By walking in the two commandments of love through the power of the Holy Spirit. Loving God, and loving everyone in our lives, specially brethren.

“Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:” 1 Peter‬ ‭1:22‬ ‭

Purifying our heart requires daily exercise. All Word (scripture) based exercises sanctify the heart. When Jesus prayed for the disciples, He asked God to sanctify them by the truth. How does the truth sanctify a believer? Exercising the truth in our walk purifies our lives from all carnal, old natures that attack us during everyday spiritual warfare.

Obedience to the word of God produces heavenly natures in us. God creates in us a new heart and renews our mind daily. This new heart and fresh mindset, powered by love through the Holy Spirit produces a faith that overcomes all double minded behaviour.

How to stay pure in heart?

“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;” 1 Peter‬ ‭1:13-15‬ ‭

Moses met the Father on mount Sinai, before that by the burning bush. This wasn’t the Moses of the palace. This was Moses who was humbled after 40 years herding sheep. This was Moses, the meekest man on the planet at that time. It takes a meek, poor in spirit and a pure person to get that kind of an audience with God. God made it possible for Moses. God is holy, we need to be covered by grace to be at his throne. In Jesus, we are covered like the shittim wood that was covered by brass, created for the ark of the covenant.

We are called to be examples as youth, and Paul cites 6 areas including purity when he writes to TimothyLet no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)

The two blind men were pure in their heart when they believed in Jesus. No matter who hindered them to meet Jesus, they cried out in all earnest. After they were forgiven and healed, they were able to see Jesus and follow Him.

Peter who denied Jesus, was a changed man after he started to walk according to the leading of the Holy Spirit. At the temple, Beautiful, the people around were shocked by the miraculous healing of a lame man. Peter clarified that it wasn’t he who performed the miracle, it wasn’t his holiness or power. But the power of the Holy Spirit that works in a believer. Where there is a purity of faith and belief, we will see the glory of God.

We cannot define purity however we want. God has a standard, and the Word of God is replete with instructions for us to abide by daily. May God heal our hearts from the corruption of the times and enable a Spirit led walk daily for us to enter into His eternal glory.

And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)

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Chick-fil-A Should Take A Lesson From The Salvation Army And Stop Bowing To The LGBT Left

In the left’s crusade against the Christian faith, it harms the people it purports to defend. This means good people must ensure no one in need is left behind, and for the record, The Salvation Army is very good people.

Chick-fil-A Should Take A Lesson From The Salvation Army And Stop Bowing To The LGBT Left

Nov 21, 2019 by By Chad Felix Greene

Chick-fil-A stated Monday that starting at the beginning of the year it will no longer donate to The Salvation Army, to which the restaurant franchise gave $115,000 in 2018. This decision came shortly after LGBT groups pressured Chick-fil-A into closing its first location in the United Kingdom.

Chick-fil-A was accused of donating money to, as CNN reported, “anti-LGBTQ” organizations, including The Salvation Army. GLAAD, an LGBT organization, argued LGBT people should “greet today’s announcement with cautious optimism,” while LGBTQ Nation dismissed the change as merely a PR move to make more money. The accusation of The Salvation Army as an “anti-LGBTQ” organization, however, requires a deeper dive.

If you read The Salvation Army’s page dedicated to LGBT concerns, you might imagine it was from any major LGBT advocacy website. The first posted statement concerns housing obstacles for some LGBT people. It states, “Because LGBTQ Americans living in poverty often experience unacceptable homophobia and transphobia, many become homeless.”

Arguing that nearly one-third of transgender people have been rejected from homeless shelters around the country, The Salvation Army provides details about a dorm in Las Vegas it built specifically to help this vulnerable group. Their messaging addresses substance abuse, access to food, job training, and suicide prevention.

Stating that a donation to its cause can provide three nights of shelter, the charity assures the reader, “When a transgender person seeks help from us, we serve them in the same manner as any other person seeking assistance.” It even offers rental and utility assistance, arguing on behalf of LGBT Americans, which it states are more likely to be poor.

This information is not buried deep within the website, either, to be found only through dedicated searching. On its What We Do page, The Salvation Army includes “Serving the LGBTQ Community” right alongside “Love the Elderly” and “Stop Domestic Abuse.” It clearly communicates that the burdens of LGBT people in need are just as urgent and important as everyone else’s.

Pop Culture Clashes with The Salvation Army

Yet British singer Ellie Goulding recently told her fans she would refuse to participate in the Dallas Cowboys versus Buffalo Bills game on Thanksgiving Day, sponsored by The Salvation Army, saying, “[S]upporting an anti-LGBTQ charity is clearly not something I would ever intentionally do.” Goulding previously worked with The Salvation Army and posted on her Instagram the work she had done.

She did so with pride. It was only after fans began inundating her with outrage that she changed her position. One fan lamented, “A little disappointed considering the salvation army has a long standing history of anti lgbtq+ rhetoric. i appreciate the positive things they do but there are other, better organizations that don’t discriminate against others.” Another said, “They only help *certain* people. Very homophobic, transphobic, anti-LGBTQIA+ organization. Please do your research before endorsing a company that continues to hurt our community.”

Goulding gave The Salvation Army an ultimatum. “Upon researching this, I have reached out to The Salvation Army and said that I would have no choice but to pull out unless they very quickly make a solid, committed pledge or donation to the LGBTQ community,” she said.

Jon Rich, a Salvation Army commander in the area serving the upcoming football game, quickly responded: “It brings attention to how inclusive we are as an organization and serving everyone no matter who they are, what their sexual orientation is, what their station in life is. We serve without discrimination.” After reaching out to Goulding and reassuring her of The Salvation Army’s equal treatment of all people, she agreed to do the show.

The Salvation Army Northern Division FAQ page provides insight, addressing concerns related to how it engages with LGBT people. The page firmly states, “Any person who comes through our doors will receive assistance based on their need and our capacity to help.”

The organization investigates and takes action in cases of alleged discrimination. It has spent $300,000 on diverse lobbying efforts in the last two decades, 0.0009 percent of its income. As Rich stated regarding same-sex employees, “Now, nationwide we offer health benefits to same-sex couples, no questions asked.” He continued, “But we think everyone should have access to healthcare. So why wouldn’t we do that?”

LGBT Media Goes After the Salvation Army Regardless

Despite this overwhelming assurance that The Salvation Army in no way endorses or engages in discrimination or hatred toward LGBT people, LGBT media overwhelming include it in lists of “anti-LGBT” organizations. ThinkProgress in 2019 argued, “The Salvation Army has a long record of opposing legal protections for LGBTQ Americans.” The Huffington Post cited the same reasoning, “The Salvation Army, which has an extensive record of anti-LGBTQ advocacy.”

Transgender activist Zinnia Jones published a list of the organization’s anti-LGBTQ history on the Huffington Post back in 2013, and it has been referenced ever since. The list begins in 1986 and covers the organization worldwide, which is active in 130 countries.

The official list includes five examples. In 1986, the New Zealand Salvation Army helped collect signatures to oppose a law that would decriminalize homosexuality and issued an official apology in 2008. In 1998 a branch in San Francisco chose to turn down money from the city that included a requirement to provide benefits to employees with same-sex partners.

In 2000, the Salvation Army of Scotland submitted a letter to Parliament opposing the teaching of homosexuality in public schools. In 2001, the U.S. branch lobbied to protect religious institutions from being held liable under anti-discrimination policies. The Salvation Army addressed this, saying, “[T]he effort was solely focused on allowing our clergy and those involved in our religious activities to work on federally funded social service programs without having to compromise core religious beliefs.”

In 2012, the only stated accusation of discrimination, Danielle Morantez, a case worker for the office in Burlington, Vermont, claimed she was fired after coming out as bisexual. The story’s latest update appeared in 2012 on the GLAAD website. Jones recognized then that The Salvation Army had already set up pro-LGBT pages and removed reportedly offensive information on its site.

Confusion Over Biblical Teaching on Sexuality

Also in 2012, a controversy arose, as the Washington Blade reported, “[A] Salvation Army spokesperson told an interviewer that gay people deserve death, according to scripture.” The Salvation Army addressed this as well, stating, “The officer was responding to a question about a Bible passage which most Christians understand to be a discussion of spiritual death, meaning a separation from God, their creator.” The organization widely condemned the statements shortly after the interview was reported.

Essentially, the issue for LGBT activists, despite the information the organization has provided over the last two decades, is as Jones puts it, “These statements completely ignore the reality that the Salvation Army continues to maintain anti-gay theological stances.”

Time and time again, the biblical belief system of the organization itself comes up as a fundamental argument used to demonstrate the hatred and bigotry the organization represents: “The Salvation Army states clearly they believe, The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and that they only constitute the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice.” For many on the left, this alone is enough to dismiss the organization as hateful.

In 2013 Jones made the plea, “Supporting the Salvation Army this season, whether by tossing your change in their red kettles or donating your used goods to their resale shops, means assisting an aggressively anti-gay church in furthering its goals of discrimination.”

In 2018, LGBT author James Finn wrote, “Did you know that when you give money to the Salvation Army, you’re giving money to a church? Did you know that the Church is viciously homophobic and transphobic, fighting all over the world for the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people?” This reasoning, in part, motivated Noah Michelson to pen his 2018 Huffington Post article titled “If You Really Love LGBTQ People, You Just Can’t Keep Eating Chick-fil-A.”

The Good Guys Shouldn’t Bow to the Outrage Mob

Regardless of the factual information, the context of several decades, scattered accusations firmly condemned by the core organization, and the open welcoming of LGBT people, all that matters for the left is the idea of Christian faith behind it all. As CNN reported, “The Salvation Army has said in the past that the Bible forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex, that gay Christians should embrace celibacy and that scripture does not support same-sex marriages.” This on its own seems enough to justify the left’s hatred.

The thing about attempting to appease those who hate you is that whatever you do will only deepen their suspicion of you. As GLAAD’s director of campaigns and rapid response Drew Anderson cautioned, “In addition to refraining from financially supporting anti-LGBTQ organizations, Chick-fil-A still lacks policies to ensure safe workplaces for LGBTQ employees and should unequivocally speak out against the anti-LGBTQ reputation that their brand represents.” It will never be enough when the opposition views you as a threat based on what they think you believe rather than on what you express to the world.

Christians should follow The Salvation Army’s lead and continue to stand for their faith while speaking to the accusations against them and opening their arms as they would anyway. But we cannot underestimate the power of propaganda and simply hope Chick-fil-A realizes the mistake it has made. The Salvation Army argued, “When misinformation is perpetuated without fact, our ability to serve those in need, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or any other factor, is at risk.”

In the left’s crusade against the Christian faith it refuses to understand or tolerate, it harms the people it claims to defend and protect. This means good people must step up to ensure no one in need is left behind in the meantime, and for the record, The Salvation Army is very good people.

Chad Felix Greene is a senior contributor to The Federalist. He is the author of the “Reasonably Gay: Essays and Arguments” series and is a social writer focusing on truth in media, conservative ideas and goals, and true equality under the law. You can follow him on Twitter @chadfelixg.


I am a Salvation Army volunteer, including for  Katrina, and a former Board Chairman and former Board member 

Knowing God’s Love is Impossible

At least for us. But for God, nothing is impossible.


Knowing God is maybe the most central thing in the Christian life. Also, possibly the hardest.

The other day I was talking to a student, relatively new to a life of discipleship, who confided just how frustrating it is that he’s taking so much time to grow. He lamented how much he struggles to trust God when others seem to do so with ease.

As I struggled to think of how to encourage him, I remembered one of the most curious prayer requests in all of Scripture, found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which I had just been working through.

Towards the end of chapter three, Paul asks “out of his glorious riches may [God] strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all God’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16-19).

We’re tempted to glance over this and think, “Okay, great, Paul prays that they understand God’s love. Typical Paul prayer. What’s the big deal?”

I was stopped short, though, when I realized Paul is asking that they be strengthened, that they have “power” to be able to know this love that surpasses all knowledge.

Now perhaps it’s because I’m a grad student who happens to study the doctrine of God, but if I were writing Ephesians, I might have rendered the relationship differently. I might have said that coming to know God takes weakness (and not just because you spend all your time in the library and not the gym). It requires a humility, a pliability, a weakening of our arrogance to sit before Scripture and come to know the infinite God as he has revealed himself. At that point, though, the answer becomes, “Try harder. Humble yourself!”

But that’s not the route Paul takes. Paul’s paradoxically encouraging assumption is that we are simply too feeble to be able to grab hold of the love of God. We don’t need to be weakened—because from the start we don’t have the “spiritual grip strength” to grasp God’s love.

Paul is asking that they be strengthened, that they have “power” to be able to know this love that surpasses all knowledge.

To steal an image from Plato, it’s as if we’ve dwelt in a cave of sin and our spiritual eyes are too weak to withstand the brilliant light of God’s glorious love. Our own hearts are too frail with sin and selfishness to grasp the shape of it, our muscles too cramped and atrophied from curving in on ourselves to imagine the gracious extension of God’s love, which surpasses the boundaries of the cosmos.

I hoped my student would find encouragement in this prayer for at least three reasons.

First, it clarifies that, inevitably, strengthening takes time. Being “rooted and established in love” requires time spent experiencing the love of Christ when you are your most unlovable. It requires time seeing the love of Christ extend towards those it would never occur to you to love. Indeed, we will need an eternity to begin to plumb the fathomless love of God.

Further, coming to know God’s love is not something we’re meant to do alone. Paul teaches us that we come to know God “together with all of God’s holy people.” Coming to know the immeasurable love of God is a group project in the church, not a competition we engage in all by our lonesome.

Finally, that this is a prayer to God is the big tip-off: Paul is asking for something that ultimately only God can bestow by his grace, as a gift. He doesn’t preach a gospel of salvation by grace only to slip back into making knowing God a matter of intelligence, native smarts, efforts, or achieved goodness.

No, it is only by God’s gracious condescension into human history as the Son of God Incarnate, and by his atoning self-offering on our behalf, that God demonstrates the depths of his love beyond all doubt (Rom. 5:8). And for that reason, we can all take heart. A God whose love is strong enough to overcome sin, death, and the devil will surely answer any prayer to enlighten the eyes of our hearts, by his indwelling Spirit, to know that love (Eph. 1:17-18).

Derek Rishmawy is the Reformed University Fellowship campus minister at UC-Irvine and a doctoral candidate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.