Darkest before the Dawn


I don’t know if the expression “darkest before the dawn” has a bases in nature or not, or if darkness is even a measurable quantity. But we’ve all heard the adage, and we understand it because there seems to be experiential truth.

Novelists often take characters into the “black night of the soul” before a climactic reversal and triumph. And readers accept this as “real.”

Scripture chronicles a number of instances when the darkness got darker before God moved.

Lazarus got sick, seriously sick, and then … Jesus came? No, then Lazarus died. And was entombed for four days. Darkness at it’s darkest before Jesus showed up and said, Come out.

Or how about the enslaved Israelites, crying out to God because their burden was grievous. At God’s command, as a direct result of their cries, He sent Moses. And things went from bad to worse.

Keep making bricks, their slave masters told them, only now you have to collect your own materials because you’re so lazy. And when they didn’t meet their quota? Their leaders were beaten.

Darkness turning darker. And then the exodus.

Or how about Gideon. Already out manned, God reduces his fighting force, not once but twice. Darkest darkness. And then God intervened to defeat the enemies.

And even for those saints who died. The thief on the cross had Jesus’s promise that he would be with Him that day in paradise. Stephen, as he was dying, had a face that shone like an angel’s.

But here’s where I’m glad I have the Bible. I think of Abraham hiking up to the mountain with his teen son Isaac, ready to sacrifice him on the altar they would build. He didn’t know how that darkest moment of his life was going to turn out. He just knew he needed to trust God completely and obey.

The Israelites didn’t know that Moses was indeed the one who would lead them out of slavery. They thought he was, when he showed them the miraculous signs from God. But then the slave masters’ demands came and the beatings came. Suddenly, Moses’s own doubts resurfaced:

O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people; and You have not delivered Your people at all.

The thing was, God intended more for His people than just release from slavery. When Pharaoh finally sent them away, they had acquired silver and gold from their neighbors. They had a reputation as a people blessed by God, so when they arrived in Canaan, the locals were scared to death.

My temptation, when the darkness comes, is to find my own way into the light. I’m impatient and don’t want to wait for the fullness of God’s time. If I would only remember, dawn follows the darkest of the dark.

This post first appeared her in August, 2009.

Published in: on May 27, 2016 at 6:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What Makes Good News Good?


reading_newspaper_276396976Since I’m a fiction writer, let’s pretend.

You’re rich. Not just comfortably middle class, but within reach of Bill Gates. We’re talking loaded, filthy rich, a billionaire. One day, you get an email notification that you have won a new car, the latest low-end Nissan—a stripped down car with no radio, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, or automatic transmission. Did you receive good news?

But let’s pretend you’re a twenty-year-old college student with mounting loans, and the only way you can get to work from school is public transportation — if the professor lets class out five minutes early, and then you have to make a dash for the bus stop. One day, you get an email notification that you have won a new car, the latest low-end Nissan—-a stripped down car with no radio, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, or automatic transmission. Did you receive good news?

I suspect someone in scenario number two would be ecstatic with such wonderful news, but why? It’s the same news the person in scenario number one received. In all likelihood, that individual would either look at the prize as just one more thing to have to deal with or more probably, as something to hand off to an assistant to dispose of. He might not give the matter a second thought.

Clearly the different reactions are based upon the differing circumstances.

In the spiritual realm, while we all have identical circumstances to deal with, our perception might be that we don’t.

All mankind labors under the weight of our selfish, prideful, self-righteous hearts that want to see us enthroned, not God; that want to see us first, not our neighbor. Our condition leaves us separated from our Creator and at odds with the people around us.

Some of us have learned to mask our disappointment at our isolation and some have learned to numb it by activity or some destructive behavior. Some try to overcome it, thinking it is possible to do enough good things to crawl out of the abyss. None of it works, but we keep trying because we think perhaps we just haven’t found the right key.

On the other hand, some seem to have it all figured out. They are successful, on the way to fulfilling all their dreams, happy in the truest sense of the word. They are the spiritual billionaires.

But the truth is, they are no less dead in their sins, destined for destruction. They just don’t know it. Their perception is, All is well. Their reality is, The wages of sin is death.

If I were to come up to one of these spiritual billionaires and say, God loves you; His grace is available for you; His forgiveness is free—that individual would most likely think I was offering him the equivalent of a cheap car he doesn’t want, a burden he’ll have to get rid of as soon as possible.

It takes thirsty people to want water, hungry people to want bread. It takes lost people to want to be found.

Enter God’s law. Scripture calls it a tutor. Without the law I wouldn’t know that my covetousness or lust or hatred is not OK.

Jesus Himself expanded the Ten Commandments. In fact one of His first public discourses was all about how the Law was not only external but internal—lust was the same as committing adultery, hatred the same as committing murder. In the end He said, Be perfect as My Father is perfect.

As if!

When you put it in the terms Jesus did, we all know we aren’t perfect, can’t be perfect. And therefore, that we stand in need of a Savior.

We—all of us—need the good news, but it will only seem good if we know we need it.

This post, a reprint of an article that first appeared here in February 2011, is a follow up to Who Believes In Sin These Days? and Sin Is Not The Problem.

Published in: on May 26, 2016 at 5:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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Prayer Changes People


Christian prayingThis past week I heard something distressing. A Christian in a leadership position handled confrontation by telling the other person that perhaps they should leave the organization. That’s the second instance of this kind that I’ve learned about. The first time was years ago and the organization was an entirely different one, but a person in leadership handled the criticism he received in exactly the same way.

Such a conclusion, especially from someone in leadership, seems so contrary to Scripture. After all, the Bible gives us instructions for handling a situation in which a fellow Christian sins (see Matt. 18). It also is full of exhortation to be reconciled with other Christians, to forgive, to be at peace with one another, to be unified.

Paul had a conflict with his partner in ministry, Barnabas, because of John Mark, who initially accompanied them on their first church-planting trip. Half way through their travels, the young man deserted them, however, so when Barnabas wanted to include him on their second trip, Paul said, NO WAY! So Barnabas and Paul parted company.

But that’s not the end of the story. Rather, Paul at some point reconciled with Mark, to the point that he told the church at Colossae to be sure to welcome him. He also said this to Timothy in his second letter: “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” (4:11b)

He went a step further in his advice, however. In verse 16 Paul says to Timothy, “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.” Paul went from holding Mark’s desertion against him to praying that the Lord would not hold these other people’s desertion against them.

Paul was a changed man. And he ended up with a changed relationship.

The secret passed on in Philippians is for us to have the attitude of humility Christ had, which is the way we can follow these commandments:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3-4)

The thing is, the only way to do what is so opposite to our instinctive reaction to others is by prayer.

I had occasions when I was teaching and coaching in which somebody would rub me the wrong way—whether another teacher, a student, an opposing coach, a parent, an administrator—and the only way I could face the day was by praying for the individual. OK, sometimes I prayed for the circumstance, too, but inevitably, when I prayed for the person, God changed me. My heart. Not them necessarily. He changed me!

Suddenly, things that had bothered me in the past didn’t seem as awful as before. In my dealings with such a person, I now wanted to be on the same page, not at odds, so I communicated in a more positive, encouraging way.

In several instances, what had been a relationship fraught with friction, turned into one of closeness and caring.

That’s God answering prayer. Not in the way I might initially think.

I can pray, God, please make this person leave, but that doesn’t solve MY problem. I need to learn to love the unlovely, to be kind to the unkind, to give God room to work. After all, He says that a gentle answer turns away wrath. But if I don’t turn to God and ask Him to give me His gentleness in my answers, I’ll never see the turning His word promises.

Commonly we say that prayer changes things, and it may. But it also changes people, and from my experience, the person it changes most is the person praying.

Published in: on May 25, 2016 at 6:30 pm  Comments (4)  
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Morality In Fiction


Reading_Jane_EyreIn response to “Fiction Isn’t Lying”, a number of people, here and at Facebook, said they had experience with people who thought of fiction as a form of lying. Once again I was shocked. The thrust of the article, however, dealt with the Christian’s responsibility to speak truthfully about God in our fiction.

I’ll say again, Christians do not have to speak about God, directly or indirectly, but should we choose to do so, we have an imperative to be truthful. But “truthful” doesn’t mean we must tell all about God. First, it’s not possible to do so, and second, so much theology would overwhelm the story so that it would cease being a story.

I’m convinced that many readers and writers alike stumble over theology in stories because they confuse it with moral teaching. Two years ago I wrote a short series about that issue, and I’m re-posting the concluding article which sums up more completely than the final paragraph in yesterday’s article, what I believe about morality versus theology in fiction. Here is that article:

– – – – –

In my recent brief series, Theology Versus Morality, (Parts 1, 2, and 3), I essentially took a stand for theology in Christian fiction while calling into question the validity of judging a novel by its morality. For example, in part 2 I said,

I tend to think too many Christians put the cart of morality before the horse of theology. In fact we advocate certain behavior without the foundational belief system that can rightly shape a person’s actions.

Later I added

When it comes to fiction, I think there’s a segment of Christian readers who want their brand of morality mirrored in the stories they read. In fact, for some, the morality might be more important than the theology.

I think that position is bad for fiction and bad for Christianity.

Does that mean that morality has no place in fiction? Should we write the story of adultery with nothing but a suggestion that a way of escape exists? That would be truthful to the way the world is and truthful to theology.

But is it sufficient for the needs of society?

I look at western society, and I see a growing cesspool of immorality. We have TV programs with titles like Scandal and Revenge and Betrayal. Others focus on the criminal mind and blood splatters and entries wound, with the intent to show the process of catching those who perpetrate psychotic and cruel behavior.

We have TV news magazines discussing yet another school shooting, one many people forget because “only” three children died.

Last night’s news carried stories of an old man struck down with intent by a hit-and-run driver in a gas station as he walked toward the office to pay for his gas and of a twelve-year-old and his mother living next door to a state senator (i.e., not your usual violent-crime neighbor) who were bound and gagged while a crew of four robbed their home on a Sunday afternoon.

Further, an NBA athlete was celebrated this week as the first openly gay player in any of the four major sports in the US.

Then on Facebook today, one topic of discussion revolves around an article about the growing advocacy for “polyamory” especially by the media. Clearly, if marriage is no longer allowed to be defined as a relationship between a man and a woman, why should it be limited to a single person with another single person, instead of multiples?

There’s more, from the LGBT community successfully advocating here in SoCal for children to pick the bathroom, locker room, gender sports team, based on how they feel, not on their biology, to the new idea for losing weight based on Yoga meditation and fasting during certain phases of the moon.

The muck and mire of the world is thick and growing thicker.

So do Christian novelists simply tag along, showing society as it is, without addressing morality in our stories? Do we write to the edge, and when the edge shifts further from us, scurry along behind in an effort to catch up? Quite honestly, I think that description fits too much Christian fiction.

Many of the strictures that writers complained about are gone. Christian fiction has characters that are divorced, have affairs, drink, see ghosts, see demons—all things that once were considered taboo. But as general market fiction played at the edges, Christian writers begged to be allowed the same latitude.

The problem, as I see it, is that this move toward a reversal of moral constriction is built on the same error as that which established the legalistic mores in the first place—theology does not undergird the view of morality.

Prager-ZachariasInterestingly, apologist Ravi Zacharias, in a discussion Saturday with radio personality Dennis Prager, identified three levels in which philosophy is passed on: (1) argumentation—reason; (2) art—the imagination; (3) “kitchen table conversation”—the daily statements of belief. To influence society, then, Zacharias says we must argue from reason, illustrate in our art, and live out our beliefs. The problem he says, is that we try to do number three without number one and number two.

Exacerbating the problem, I believe is something G. K. Chesterton identified:

Nothing sublimely artistic has ever arisen out of mere art … There must always be a rich moral soil for any artistic growth.

So if society has lost its “rich moral soil,” how is art to illustrate the theology (philosophy) that underpins our beliefs?

In other words, we are in a downward spiral—a morally vacuous society that cannot produce art which will show us how to live morally.

There but for the grace of God are we all.

But God does give a greater grace. He is “opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble,” Scripture says.

So, what if Christian novelists determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified? What if we painted theology into every corner of our art—and won awards doing so? What if we stopped fighting to get cuss words into our stories or stopped counting the number of times the characters say golly or disobey their parents, and started writing to show what God is like, to show His Son, to the best of our ability? What if we gave stories that illustrated the power of forgiveness or love for an enemy, neighbor, or stranger, or for God? What if our stories show what we say we believe?

Wouldn’t that be a step in the process of influencing our society to get out of the morass we are making?

Fiction Isn’t Lying . . . Until It Is


booksSome Christians, apparently, don’t think it’s OK to read fiction because fiction is all about made up characters, places, and events. In other words, it’s all lies.

I had never heard that point of view until I got on the Internet, and then mostly other writers said they’d been confronted by others who chastised them for their lies. I did read a post once by someone who took that extreme position, but it was new to me.

For one thing, appealing to the definition of lie explodes that view, the key being the intention of deception. No one who writes fiction pretends their story is factual. No one who reads fiction is unaware that the story is pretend. So no one is deceiving or being deceived. So fiction isn’t lying.

In addition, authors of fiction use the pretend to make statements about reality. In all my literature classes throughout college, we analyzed stories to determine, among other things, what the author was saying, what he wanted readers to take away or to believe about humankind or the world or God. Thomas Hardy, for example, wrote stories to show that humankind is pushed and pulled by fate. On the other hand, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol which showed that a person can change his ways and isn’t locked into beliefs by chance circumstances.

Those two views which are in opposition to one another can hardly both be true. One might be truthful or they both might be false, but they both can’t be true.

It’s still probably incorrect to say that one which is not truthful is therefore a lie. I’m certain Thomas Hardy believed he was truthfully showing readers the way the world worked, but he was wrong. In his made up stories Hardy revealed his own belief system, one that replaced God with the ‘unconscious will of the Universe’ (see Wikipedia).

My question is this: ought not a Christian writer who knows the truth, reflect truth in any story he or she writes? I want to be clear: I do not think any story can tell ALL truth. For one thing, we don’t have all truth. The Bible, though complete, doesn’t show us all there is to know about God. It is our view of the world through that dark mirror I Corinthians 13 mentions. Second, ALL truth would not fit into one story, even one the size of The Grapes of Wrath or Gone With The Wind.

So what “truth” is a novelist supposed to show in his or her story?

That’s the beauty of writing. An author can open the door for readers regarding all kinds of important truths.

I’m thinking of one novel, for instance, a fantasy, in which the God of that world was worshiped by both factions in an owner/slave society. Both believe this God figure provides for them. Which brings up all kinds of interesting questions: does God provide for the wicked as well as for the victimized? Are those enslaved believing in this God in vain? Is the ruling class worshiping in hypocrisy? Is there anything similar going on in our world?

I could go on to discuss ways in which a novelist can show truth by developing their theme, but the point I want to make is this: a Christian writer, while not burdened to show all truth (an impossibility, but an attempt at such would clearly necessitate the entire plan of salvation), should show truth.

Of course it’s possible to leave out any direct reference to God and still show truth. J. R. R. Tolkien did that. He had Christ figures, but not a direct reference to God or to Jesus.

What Tolkien did not do was mislead people about those Christ figures. He did not have Gandalf decide to take the One Ring for himself. He did not have Aragon desert the forces of Gondor. The one who would sacrifice himself for the fellowship did not turn evil. The returning king did not forsake those who trusted him.

Thus, what an author chooses to show about truth is really up to him, but he must do so faithfully. He would be lying to portray God or a God figure in his world to be selfish or greedy or blood-thirsty or immoral or weak. Any of those would be a lie. A Christian who knows God must portray some truth about Him if He or a representative figure shows up in the story.

Non-Christians who turn God into an it with an unconscious will or who make Him out to be evil, as I understand Phillip Pullman did in his fantasy series, aren’t lying about God in the same way a Christian who knows the truth would be. Rather, they have rejected God and are trying to make sense of the world without Him. They are more to be pitied, though readers must beware so they see the ways their views deviate from the truth.

In short, the Christian is really the only one who can lie in fiction. We know the truth. If we purposely misrepresent God, how can that be thought of as anything but a lie?

Who Else Is There? You Have The Words Of Life


With_His_Disciples023Dissent among the followers! That’s what Jesus experienced as He proclaimed that He was the bread of life. Like the bread of life given to the people of Israel during their exodus, Jesus clearly stated that He came down from Heaven.

Well, that was a deal breaker, at least for some. Jesus was the carpenter’s son, the neighbor boy who played with our kids, the squirrely twelve-year-old who got left behind in Jerusalem one year. And he was saying he came down from Heaven?

Jesus explained further, finishing with this:

I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh. (John 6:51)

Well, that made the bad, worse. Was he saying they should eat his flesh? What kind of a kook were they following? Time to make a hasty exit. The things he was saying were just too hard. Too hard to be believed? Too hard to obey? Too hard to understand? One commentary at least says the followers understood what he was saying, but they couldn’t accept those statements. Whichever way, many left. So many, in fact, that Jesus turned to the Twelve and said, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” (John 6:67b)

That’s when Peter came through, as he did from time to time. What teacher, what Messiah claimant could we possibly go to? You’re it. “You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68b)

Peter’s declaration is as true today as it was in the first century. Our postmodern society with its relativistic view of reality postulates that there are many ways to god, that what your culture has taught you to believe is no more “right” than what someone from India or Saudi Arabia or Chad or Taiwan or Costa Rica has come to believe because of their culture and history and heritage. “Truth” is a malleable thing based on our understanding which has been molded by our culture. So Americans are likely to claim the Christian god, Indians, the many Hindu gods, and so on.

But Peter’s question seems to cut through the relativism. Where are we supposed to go? You have the words of eternal life. Implying that no one else does.

Jesus spoke authoritatively, and His followers, then and now, believe with assurance, conviction, standing in contrast to those who hope one day to reach Nirvana or Enlightenment or the highest level of Paradise or the third Heaven or the place of the 144,000. Have they done enough, they wonder? Have they been good enough? Have they been generous enough? Kind enough? Have they done enough religious activity?

The Christian has no such concern. We know the answer—we haven’t done enough and, in fact, can never, if we lived life over again a thousand times, ever do enough. We are not banking on our own actions, because that’s futile. Instead, we are counting on Jesus Christ, the one, the only one, who has the words of eternal life.

Without Jesus, we are exactly like everyone else. With Jesus we are changed because we are forgiven. Not on the bases of anything we’ve done from our own store of good deeds. No. We’re made new because Jesus gave us the robe of righteousness. Our stinking garments made up of our best efforts that got us nowhere, are done away with. Now we are clothed in Christ’s clothes.

It is on the basis of His provision for us that we have the assurance of Heaven. We don’t sit around wondering who’s good enough to get in. We glory in the fact that all who have been baptized into Christ’s death will be united with Him in the likeness of His resurrection. (See Rom. 6)

After all, there’s nowhere else to go, no other god to give us salvation. God alone is LORD (Nehemiah 9:8).

For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
He also is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the LORD made the heavens. (1 Chronicles 16:25-26)

Published in: on May 18, 2016 at 6:34 pm  Comments (2)  
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Eyes On The Prize


Peter014I don’t know how other Christians feel, but me, I get tired of living in a world that is so broken. When Jesus said, the poor you’ll always have with you, He wasn’t kidding.

The poor, the brokenhearted, the insecure, the lonely, the abused, the misused, the victim, the addict, the spiritually poor, the deluded. And then there are the wicked—the greedy, the covetous, the murderous, the takers, the users, the immoral, the bullies.

Honestly, it gets depressing. The news tells us all about the people who have been displace or injured or killed by the latest storm/earthquake/fire/flood/war/terrorist attack. It tells us about the spread of diseases we don’t know how to cure, about people who have been in horrific accidents, about people robbing or raping or brutalizing others.

The news is not fun!

And the longer I live, the more I realize I’m going to hear bad news from my friends and family too. Loved ones die or get sick or lose their jobs or face disappointment.

Without a doubt, life is also filled with many, many joys, but in the end, after the Super Bowl parade, comes free agency and the loss of well-loved teammates. In other words, our joys are temporary.

Except for one. The joy of the LORD is not fleeting. Instead, it is everlasting because its source is not circumstances or stuff or even people or my well-being. The joy of the LORD is based on the LORD, the King of Heaven, whose works are true and whose ways are just.

Because of who He is, we can have joy here and now. We can have joy because God is with us and will not leave us or forsake us. We can have joy because He is faithful to walk with us through the waters, through the fire, through the valley of the shadow of death.

We can also have joy because we don’t carry the weight of sin and guilt. We don’t have to look over our shoulders to see if we’re about to be caught in the midst of our sin. God’s Holy Spirit is in us and He will guide us and convict us and teach us. Further, God has forgiven us. That’s not a future thing for Christians: If we sin we have to come groveling back to Him and beg Him to let us return to the banquet table. NO! We are in right standing with God because of what Jesus did at the cross, and our sin doesn’t change that fact.

Granted, sin can disrupt our joy because it disrupts our fellowship with God. But that’s the key: the friendship we have with God is the source of joy. When we pray about the things that trouble us, God doesn’t snap His fingers (generally) and change the circumstances. But He does take us by the hand and tell us He’ll go with us wherever those troubles take us. We aren’t alone and we can trust Him to turn ashes into joy.

Job went through horrific loss, but God gave him a glimpse of Himself, then restored what he’d lost. Ruth suffered the loss of her husband, then gave up her homeland and her native culture, and God replaced her loss with a husband and a son in the Messianic line. Abraham “lost” his son Isaac who he’d waited for, for decades, only to have him restored and become the beginning of nations. Peter was a miserable failure, unable to stand up to the jeering crowd, but instead denying his Lord and Savior. Yet, the risen Christ restored him to his place as one tasked with feeding God’s sheep and proclaiming the truth about Jesus as Messiah. I could go on and one.

The point is simple: our circumstances don’t have to dictate our level of joy. God has given us His forgiveness. God is giving us His presence. And God will give us our future inheritance—the joy from the ashes. We have the hope of heaven and an eternity with God. That’s the greatest source of joy a person could ever want.

But there is a catch. It’s easy to take our eye off the ball. Ask any athlete. When you are anticipating what comes next or when you’re evaluating what you need to change, it’s easy to be distracted by past mistakes or at expected successes. Either one can cause you to drop the ball that’s right in front of you.

We need to keep our eye on the prize which is Jesus Christ Himself. He will not disappoint. He will not fail us. He will not forsake us.

I found a very, very cool verse in Zephaniah (the minor prophets are filled with little unexpected gems) which lets us know more about God:

The LORD your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. (3:17)

A victorious warrior! How cool is that! But how amazing that He rejoices over us, that His emotional response to us is love and joy. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it hard to be in the presence of joyful people without some of their joy infecting me. How much more so God, who lives in my heart and who exults over me with joy.

Can I turn my back on Him and put on my grumpy face and say, Leave me alone! Well, apparently so, because Scripture tells us not to grieve the Holy Spirit and not to quench the Holy Spirit. So when we take our eye off the prize, when we stop looking into the face of Jesus, we can fall into the tumult of our circumstances. Ah, dear Peter also gave us a great illustration of that when he bravely stepped out of the boat to walk on water to Jesus. But he took his eyes off the prize and started to sink. It’s easy to do, what with the wind and the waves swamping the boat. But it’s certainly not inevitable. We can keep our eyes on the prize instead.

Published in: on May 13, 2016 at 5:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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If I Could Only Take One Book With Me


Bible2

Usually, when I get questions like, What are your ten favorite books or what books have influenced you most, in a meme circulating on Facebook, I don’t include the Bible. I simply don’t think of it like I do other books. But . . . if I were stranded on a desert island or put into prison and was allowed only one book, it would be the Bible.

First, it’s so varied, I’d never get bored. There are love stories, biographies that read like adventure stories. There are stories about war and sacrifice and shipwrecks and the beginning of the most amazing organization ever. There is history and poetry and prophecy. There are all those different authors, so the tone of the individual books is diverse. There are different heroes and different villains. There’s surprise and the miraculous. Definitely the Bible is not boring.

The biggest thing, though, is that God reveals Himself in the pages of the Bible. If I were stranded by myself, I’d want, more than at any other time, to know the things God says about Himself. In black and white I’d have His assurance that He would not leave me or forsake me, that nothing could separate me from His love, that He won’t fail me, that He is faithful and true, that He keeps His word, that He is the friend of sinners. I’d be so happy to have a book that reminded me of who it was that sat by my side.

The Bible would also be the perfect book to give me hope. I mean it lays out the future in God’s presence for those who believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior and Lord. It spells out the inheritance His children will receive, the commendation of “Well done, good and faithful servant” those who follow Him will receive; the crown of life, the unfading crown of glory, the crown of righteousness that He’ll give one day; the joy in His presence; the banquet we’ll be a part of; the meaningful work He’ll give us; and on and on. The future without the problems which sin dumps on us, is indeed hopeful.

The Bible also would be great to have with me because it’s mentally stimulating. Nothing interprets the Bible so much or so well as the Bible. So Paul says in Ephesians, “By grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works so that no one may boast.” And James turns around and explains what faith actually is:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. (2:14-17, emphasis mine)

So there would be lots to think about, lots to compare and study.

The Bible also serves as a mirror, so by reading it, I get to know myself better than ever. It reveals my heart, my desire, my waywardness, my need for a Savior. It’s not a feel good book, in the sense that it’s going to tell me I’m OK, when I clearly know that’s not the case. On the contrary, it tells me I’m a sinner, but it gives me the remedy.

Above all, the Bible is Good News. The Best News, really, because it’s about eternal solutions, not some kind of quick fix that will need to be reworked in a day or two.

Most definitely, if I could only take one book to some place of isolation, I’d have no problem claiming the Bible as my one Book!

Published in: on May 11, 2016 at 5:57 pm  Comments (5)  
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Ambiguity, Thy Cousin Is Relativism


A_starry_sky_above_Death_Valley

I haven’t heard a lot about the emerging church lately. According to one source the eulogy has been given and only one hold-out pastor remains. I suspect the disaffected who identified with the emerging church have been swallowed up by Progressive Christians.

Nevertheless, the emerging church movement had an impact on traditional churches. The tell of their influence is in the buzz words that crop up in radio programs, print articles, Internet sites, and sermons—words such as truth claims, missio or missional, conversations, contextualize, and mystery. There’s a concept, also, which I’ve heard, though not necessarily stated so bluntly—ambiguity.

The thinking is, God is a mystery, life is a mystery, and there really aren’t any definitive answers.

I admit—I get a little cranky when I hear people espousing these views.

First, God is NOT a mystery. He is transcendent. The two are quite different, a topic I explored in the post “Transcendence vs. Mystery.” That God is not a mystery becomes clear when we read passages in Scripture such as Jeremiah 9:24:

“But let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (emphasis, here and throughout this post, is added)

The New Testament also affirms God’s “knowability.” For example, Paul says in Colossians 2:2b-3

attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Yes, the mystery has been revealed. Paul stated this clearly in the first chapter of the same book:

that is, the mystery which had been hidden from past ages and generations, but has now been revealed to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

On the other hand, that God is transcendent is also clear. Isaiah 40:12-14 sets the stage for a beautiful declaration of God’s transcendence by asking a series of questions:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?

The conclusion is powerful. In part it reads

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One
.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.

The Apostle Paul brings together God’s transcendence and his “knowability” in 1 Cor. 2:12-16:

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.

In that last verse, Paul quotes from Isaiah, showing that God’s transcendence is unchanged, and yet, because of Christ’s work on the cross and God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to believers, we have the mind of Christ.

In other words, Christians can know, we do have answers, we don’t need to walk around in a cloud of doubt.

Granted, the answers may not be what people want to hear. More often than not, our “why” will be answered by God’s “I’m working out my will in the world.” For some, that’s not good enough.

For others that’s too spot on. That sin and suffering, pain and heartache, have a purpose seems too unambiguous. That God is sovereignly in charge over things we wish He would eradicate makes us uncomfortable. How can we trust a God whose answer to our questions is, Trust Me?

We want more, or we want to say, more isn’t attainable. For some reason, a segment of the religious find satisfaction in a declaration that things are ambiguous. Some readily belittle faith that claims to be the assurance of things hoped for. Faith, in these critics’ way of looking at things, is actually doubt.

What I find interesting is that this embracement of doubt, of uncertainty, of ambiguity, seems to mirror the rise of postmodernism’s version of relativism. Essentially, the idea that we cannot know—because history changes facts and redefines terms, because we are constrained by our culture and our experiences to understand only within our own narrow framework, not that of the broader context—shatters the idea that there is an inerrant, infallible Word of God upon which we can rely for Truth.

The problem in all this is that those who say we cannot know, rule out the possibility that God did in fact give us a written record of what He wants us to know, that He preserved what He told us down through the ages, and that He gave us His Spirit to understand it apart from and beyond our own cultural constraints.

And why do they rule God’s transcendent work out?

They would rather believe in mystery, I guess, rather than transcendence. But in so doing, they are, themselves, drawing the conclusion that they KNOW God could not work in such a transcendent way. It’s another way of putting Man in God’s place.

This post first appeared here in June 2014.

Does God Still Speak In A Still, Small Voice?


I missed the National Day of Prayer. Again. It was last Thursday, Cinco de Mayo. I intended to write something appropriate, maybe linking the two together, but best laid plans and all . . . Today I want to re-post an article, which first appeared here in November 2011, that appropriately addresses prayer—our communication with God and His with us.

– – –

praying_guy-429125-mFrom the beginning of time, God communicated with Man. Adam and Eve knew Him in such a close way, they talked with Him as anyone might talk to their friend. Because of sin, however, God’s intimate communication with His creation changed. He still talked with Cain and Abel, but by the time of Noah, not many people were listening.

In a later generation Abraham heard God speak, and eventually so did his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. When Joseph came along, though, he knew God’s voice only through dreams.

Moses was a throw-back — God spoke to him and even to the entire company he led out of Egypt. No still, small voice, this, however. The people were terrified of God and begged Moses to be the go-between so they wouldn’t have to hear from Him directly again.

From time to time throughout the remaining history of God’s chosen people Israel, judges, prophets, or kings heard from God, but they were now the exception rather than the rule. And still they sought Him and asked direction of Him. And why wouldn’t they? For forty years God’s presence had been with the nation in visible form. They camped where He wanted them to camp and departed when He wanted them to depart. They attacked peoples according to His direction and crossed rivers in the way He stipulated. They were used to God being in their lives in a real, tangible way.

No surprise, then, when their leaders turned to God and asked Him where they should go and who should be in the front of an impending attack.

More surprising, to Saul anyway, must have been God’s refusal to answer the king He had rejected. Saul was in a bind and wanted to know what he should do, so he went to God. No answer. He asked the priests who used some method of divination that wasn’t explained in Scripture but was referenced regularly. Still no answer. He went to the prophets. Nothing. Saul was experiencing the truth of Isaiah 59:1-2.

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short
That it cannot save,
Nor is His ear so dull
That it cannot hear;
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
And your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear.

After Saul came David, and he was unique — not in the Moses-throw-back way, but in the church-forerunner way. David, unlike, others in the Old Testament had the Holy Spirit with him permanently. Others experienced His presence on an occasional basis. He came on Saul, and He left. He came on Samson, and He left. He came on David, and He stayed:

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.” (1 Sam. 16:13a – emphasis mine)

The significant thing here is that David continued asking God what He wanted Him to do. Should He go up against the Philistines in Keilah? Would the men of Keilah deliver David into their hands? Should he pursue the Amalekites who raided his city? After Saul’s death should he go up to Judah? To which city?

And on it goes. David, filled with the Holy Spirit, asked specific direction from God — not the kind of instruction you can find in the Bible, if they had had a copy of the complete Scripture.

But here’s the thing. There is a segment of Christendom today that looks down on the kind of communication God had with David. Or perhaps more accurately, they look askance at it. Not those instances recorded in the Bible so much, but certainly any such communication a Christian would wish to have along those same lines today.

God spoke in the Bible. Period. The end. He doesn’t give people today any special or “secret” calling, they say.

I share their desire to preserve the integrity of the Word of God. I have no belief in some sort of esoteric, mystical path to God. There is only way way we can know Him and that’s laid out in the authoritative Word of God. But also laid out in the authoritative Word of God is communication with Him about very practical, mundane things. And also laid out in the authoritative Word of God is the truth about the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, for example, said that the Holy Spirit would “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26b). I wonder how He does that. Then there is Acts 1:8a — “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” I wonder how that power manifests itself.

A specific instance of the Holy Spirit’s direction is recorded for us in Acts 13:2.

While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

I don’t know how still or small His voice was there, because apparently all who were gathered together heard Him.

Two important things here: the Holy Spirit not only spoke to them but He specified that He was calling Barnabas and Saul to a particular job.

Is God’s voice audible today? I’ve never heard it so, but that doesn’t mean He won’t speak to someone audibly if He wants to. When the Holy Spirit speaks into a Christian’s life, is it a secret message given only to him that flies in the face of God’s written Word? Never. The Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible. He would not give direction to one of His that would countermand the clear instruction He’s already given.

But He does hear and answer prayer, sometimes with a sequence of circumstances that are too on point to be coincidental, sometimes with a peace that surpasses understanding, and sometimes with a still small voice that gives the same kind of direction King David sought.

This is not Gnostic or heretical. It’s the way one person relates to another. God didn’t give up His right to talk to His people because He gave us the Bible. In fact He gave us the Holy Spirit so we would have a more intimate communication with Him than a good many of those people we read about in the Old Testament.

Think about it. Israel saw the Shekinah glory fill the temple, but today believers, saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, are the temple He fills.

Published in: on May 9, 2016 at 7:10 pm  Comments (3)  
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