Define Your Terms


I ran across another atheist the other day who apparently is “an ex-Christian.” In another discussion months ago, a different individual told me she had once been “just as you are now.”

Well, how in the world would she know what kind of a spiritual life I have? Did she think that all Christians have exactly the same walk with the Lord? Or was she under the impression that because she did Christian things, that made her a Christian?

It’s hard to know what any of these individuals who no longer claim the name of Christ once thought. They certainly believed at the time that they were Christians. But why did they?

Some people think they’re Christians because they go to church. Once when I was on jury duty, I met a woman who asked me about that when I identified myself as a Christian. Her daughters had asked her, and she didn’t know how to answer. They were under the impression that they were Christians because they were Americans, but they weren’t sure if they needed to go to church in order to be counted as Christians.

Some people think they become Christians by praying a prayer or by being baptized or by taking a class and learning answers to questions about God and the Bible. None of that is undesirable. In fact all those things are good and helpful, but they don’t make a person a Christian.

Becoming a Christian is quite easy, but it’s more than saying magic words or doing a list of right things, or even giving all the right answers to specific questions.

I know former students who raised their hands pretty much every year their teacher at the Christian school where I taught, asked them if they wanted to accept Jesus as their Savior. They got A’s on memory verse tests, attended good Bible-teaching churches, and today want nothing to do with God.

So what makes a person a Christian? Not a temporary assent that I’m a sinner, that I want “Jesus in my heart.” Not memorizing Bible verses, going to church, helping in homeless shelters, giving gifts to needy children, taking communion, being baptized.

Those things can all be true about a Christian, but they don’t make a person a Christian. I’d say, it’s actually pretty easy to mimic someone who is a Christian. After all, if you go to a Christian school and you go to church, the friends you make may all do those same things. Why wouldn’t you do them too? It’s part of kids wanting to fit in. If all your friends are raising their hands, you want to raise your hand, too.

Adults do the same thing. A bunch of people jump to their feet clapping at the end of a concert, and pretty soon more and more people join them. Maybe everyone, though there could be a few who don’t think the performance deserved a standing ovation. Still, they join the crowd rather than being the lone hold out who stays seated.

But that’s beside the point.

The question is, if none of those things I’ve mentioned, make a person a Christian, then what does?

When I was a kid, I was under the impression that Christians didn’t sin. But I sinned. Which was why I went for so long questioning whether or not I was a Christian.

Finally I decided to take God at His word. He said, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). So if I confessed with my mouth, and I had, if I believed in my heart, and I did, then I was just going to assume God meant what He said—I was in fact saved, whether I “felt like it” or not.

So then I tried to figure out when I became a Christian. Was it the first time I asked Him into my heart? The time I went forward in a church service? When I realized on my own what John 3:18 really meant? (“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”)

Much later, as an adult, I can look back and see how God worked in my life all those growing up years, even when I was struggling and doubting and unsure. I’ve concluded that I became a Christian when I first asked Jesus into my heart, though I didn’t really understand much about what that meant. As I gained more understanding, however, I continued to believe.

It’s continuing to believe that makes a person a Christian.

And lo and behold, that’s precisely what the Bible says. Hebrews 3:14 says it clearly: “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.”

The Apostle John used the word “abide” which simply means “stay”: “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:9; emphasis mine).

The writer to the Hebrews again: “but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.” (Hebrews 3;6; emphasis mine).

Then there is Matthew’s clear statement: ““But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

I could go on. There are many more verses about abiding, holding fast, persevering until the end, than I ever realized.

So who is a Christian? One who believes and keeps on believing.

The pretenders, who said they believed, obviously didn’t believe at the level that you could call abiding, or holding fast, or persevering.

All this reminds me of the parable of the sower and the seed that started to grow and then got choked out by thorns. Were those beginnings of a plant ever “Christians”? Not by the definition that the Bible gives.

Published in: on February 28, 2018 at 6:18 pm  Comments (6)  
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What’s So Horrible About Sin?


Well, actually, I’m wondering why some people react so negatively when they hear or read, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

You see, to them, it seems, saying they are sinners is a great offense. And we know how cruel you have to be to give offense to someone else! That’s why universities have safe zones.

It’s almost like the idea that we are all sinners is a punch in the face.

And honestly, I don’t understand. I’ve said it before—no one disputes the fact that nobody is perfect. We don’t have to witness every single person on the planet making a wrong choice or displaying a bad attitude or doing a wrong thing. But we know that all the people in our circle are not perfect. The people in the news and at the Olympics and in the movies and on the playing field—not perfect. So it’s an easy conclusion. Nobody’s perfect.

And the reverse? All have sinned.

But somehow that statement is heinous, shocking, unforgivable, even bigoted.

It’s not as if a Christian says, You’re a sinner and I’m not. On the contrary, Christians easily and readily admit they are sinners (except for a small group who believe in sinless perfection, but that’s a topic for another day.)

So why do people who reject Jesus think saying they are sinners is such a horrible affront?

I’m convinced that being confronted with their sinful condition flies in the face of the point of view of the world that Humankind is good.

We may not be perfect, they say, but we’re good.

Which means that “good” actually means “sorta good.” Not all the way good, but mostly good. More good than bad.

Which works fine in a culture that gives trophies to all the kids who participated. You don’t have to be on the best team or a starter or even one who made every practice—you still deserve a trophy. Because you’re good. And we all know you can be whatever you put your mind to.

The promise seems to hang in the air, that you might even become perfect one day.

And then along comes a Christian who says, For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Fall short? Who says?

Well, God does.

Who’s God?

That’s the question Pharaoh essentially asked Moses during their first encounter. But he wasn’t asking for knowledge. He used the question to express his disdain. He actually didn’t care who God was. He’d already made up his mind what he was going to do and he didn’t care what God wanted.

But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2)

That’s where so many are at today. Who cares what God says is good or evil. I say it’s good, so it’s good. I don’t need to worry about hitting his mark. I’ll just move the target closer if I’m falling short. Or I’ll make a bigger target. That’s it! None of this narrow road stuff for me. I want a big tent, a broad way, and a manageable target to hit.

Then I can declare with conviction, I’m not a sinner, you’re not a sinner. Actually I’m OK, and you’re OK. (Unless you’re a hypocrite Christian).

All humor aside, we’re losing our moral compass. What used to be a given when I was growing up is now up for grabs. “Sin” is now in the eye of the beholder, and repentance not needed.

But that’s not how God sees us. He has clearly stated we all fall short of His glory, which makes us sinners. And there’s only one remedy for sin.

Denying that we are sinners does not change the fact. Wishing sin away—no affect. Trying harder, doing good things to compensate, none of it can change our nature, which is the real problem.

It’s like we’re a glass of muddy water. Pouring clean water into the muddy water may dilute the mud, but it doesn’t get rid of it. Washing the outside of the glass does not get rid of the muddy water.

That glass needs a clean start, and no one can give that except Jesus Christ, the Fountain of Living Water. He washes, He cleans, He fills us with Himself.

And the sins so many try to deny or ignore?

As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

What a choice—pretend sins aren’t there or have them removed? This one seems like a no-brainer. Of course, have them removed! But for some, the idea that they have sin seems too horrible to admit, to devastating, to offensive.

The crazy thing is, the offense is not saying we have sin. Actually the sin itself is the offense. That’s what God has told us. But we humans like to have our self-esteem pumped up. And admitting sin doesn’t do that.

Kind of reminds me of my friend whose toe got infected, but he didn’t want to go to the doctor. Until he admitted that he could lose the toe, maybe the foot, even his life, he didn’t get proper treatment.

So too with sin. As long as we refuse the label of sinner, we won’t look for a Savior.

Published in: on February 27, 2018 at 6:16 pm  Comments (4)  
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God’s Word, A Lamp – A Reprise


When I was younger, I memorized a simple verse of Scripture. Later, singer / songwriter Amy Grant based a praise song on that same verse, Psalm 119:105. In fact, the lyrics of the chorus were a direct quote:

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet
And a light unto my path.

It’s a simply truth, but is that the same as simplistic? Is looking at the Bible as the lamp showing me where I should walk, a way of “treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are”?

Is trusting the Bible, trusting what it says, simplistic?

Honestly, I think it’s just the opposite. When I’m faced with a difficult issue, something clearly beyond my realm of expertise, I don’t try to tackle it anyway.

When my friend was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I didn’t dig in and research how to do brain surgery. I didn’t read up on how to administer chemotherapy or how to give radiation (she had both).

When I flew to Guatemala as a short term missionary, I didn’t study before hand how to pilot a plane. I didn’t ask to inspect the engine or study the flight plan and weather maps.

Brain surgery and flying planes are complex activities, far beyond my knowledge and proficiency. Consequently, I happily turn them over to those who have studied and gained experience—the brain surgeon, the lab techs, the pilots, the mechanics. I would be foolish to take those complex undertakings into my hands.

Am I, therefore, being simplistic?

I guess the question really is, is trusting someone who knows more than you, simplistic? Are we, in fact, supposed to rely only and always on our own abilities to figure things out?

To me that question is a bit scary because I think some people might say, yes, we are to figure it out on our own; it’s the responsible thing to do. We get second opinions, we research, we get the best surgeon we can, we pay attention to FAA reports and only fly with the most reliable airlines. We do our homework.

But in the end, don’t we trust that the surgeon we choose, the pilot sitting in the cockpit of the plane we’re on, will do their jobs?

At some point even things here on earth, having to do with our temporal lives, depend on us trusting someone else. How much more so should we trust when it comes to spiritual issues? I mean, talk about complex!

And yet, with spiritual issues, there’s a growing belief that the things of God are mysterious and complex and incomprehensible, and really can only be known if we look inside to our own reason and consciences. In other words, if we figure out things on our own.

In fact, part of this approach is that the way we figure things out might not be the way other people figure them out, and that’s OK. After all, we have different cultures, different geographic locations, so surely we won’t all have a common spiritual experience.

Lost in this is the simple truth that God’s word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Lost is the fact that God’s word is tried, that it is sure, that it has been given to us from the omniscient Spirit of God.

For some, tackling complex spiritual issues with our own finite mind is wiser than trusting in the infallible, imperishable, undefiled word of God that will not fade away. The idea seems to be, the spiritual issues are so big we can’t rely on a simple truth from Scripture.

Sure, God’s word is a lamp, the thinking seems to be, but so is general revelation, and by following our conscience and reason we can arrive at the truth.

Except, what happens when our conscience and reason lead us to believe something different from what the Bible says? Do we decide that the Bible is too simplistic? That the clear, repeated truth statements can’t really mean what they say? That they don’t address the complexities we see and therefore can’t be trusted?

Or, is it possible that the Author whose understanding is inscrutable, in fact, weighed the complexities and determined that His truth statements covered all the bases. That, in reality, the wise thing when faced with matters we can’t resolve, is to trust that God knows what’s right and therefore has given us the lamp of His word.

This post first appeared here in May 2014.

Published in: on February 26, 2018 at 6:02 pm  Comments (3)  
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God’s Plan And The World—A Reprise


For God so loved the world, John 3:16 says. And yet there are people who think Christians are some kind of exclusive club looking to keep out people who aren’t like us.

First, Christianity doesn’t belong to Christians. It belongs to God. Second, it isn’t a club, though it is a relationship—first with God.

Jesus told a story to illustrate how His plan of redemption and reconciliation works.

A rich ruler decided to put on a banquet. He sent out invitations, but one after the other the people he wanted at his feast sent their regrets: A new responsibility needed attention. Another important relationship had to take priority. Too busy to squeeze in the time.

Fine, the ruler said to his servants. They don’t want to come, then they don’t get to come. Invite people from all walks of life, no matter what their status, what their occupation, even the beggars.

When everyone arrived, there was still room for more people, so the rich man sent out his servants again, this time to the places where criminals were apt to hang out, and told them to compel the people to come.

At last the banquet got underway, but one person wasn’t dressed appropriately. Why aren’t you wearing banqueting attire? the host asked. The guest had no answer, so he was put out.

The banquet is a metaphor for the “marriage supper of the Lamb,” the great celebration God has prepare for His people. But “His people” aren’t necessarily who you’d expect. They aren’t an exclusive set handpicked for their charm, wit, intelligence, skill, power, prestige, or money. They are simply those who accepted the invitation. In contrast, those who are too self-important, too determined to go their own way, won’t accept the invitation. And some might accept but won’t come prepared.

This story, this word picture (actually two versions—one in Matt. 22 and the other in Luke 14—which I’ve compressed into one), makes several things clear. First, those who ended up at the rich man’s table, enjoying the feast, did nothing to earn their invitation.

Most of them were going their own way, expecting to do something different, be somewhere else, and suddenly the invitation comes—there’s a banquet, and you’re invited.

To accept such an invitation, it seems to me a person would have to realize what an honor, what a privilege had come their way. If they thought, No big deal; I can throw my own banquet if I want to—then chances are, they wouldn’t put a great deal of priority in attending. If they had plenty of food and weren’t particularly hungry, they could easily have thought ill of the invitation—what a bother, in the middle of the work day? he can’t expect me to drop everything and come just because he’s throwing a party.

But for the people who were out of work, who begged just to buy a scrap of food, who had never sat at a banqueting table in their lives, this invitation had to be the best news they’d ever heard.

Of course, there may have been some who didn’t think the invitation was real. What, you think you’d be invited up to the mansion for a party? You’re deluded. Or someone is scamming you. You’ll show up and somebody will jump out from the bushes and shout, April Fool, and you’re it. I mean, no one, no one in their right mind, invites a bunch of riffraff to share their table.

So the people who benefit from this invitation don’t earn it, but they must trust that the invitation is true.

The_Marriage_Feast_by_MillaisThe part of the story that has long given me trouble is the part about the guy getting put out for not wearing the proper clothes. I’d think none of those beggars or poor or the ones coming in from the highways and the byways would have the proper clothes either. I can only conclude, the banquet attire was something the host provided for his guests, so the man who was dressed inappropriately had no excuse. Which his silence would seem to corroborate.

So there’s God’s plan for the world. He invites, and we either accept or reject. Nothing exclusive about it. In reality, none of us can provide our own banquet. We might think we can, but that’s delusional. Only God can provide what we need. Our role in the matter is to recognize our need and His provision, then trust that He will give what He said He would give. That trust, I believe, is the proper clothing we need. Trying to go to His banquet all dressed up in our own rags of self-righteousness will surely get us barred from the table.

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in April, 2015.

Hard Hearts


My church is reading Exodus together. Daily we read the selected passage and one of us writes a short response. Today’s portion details the plague of hail.

I’ve noticed a progression in the plagues, from inconvenient and annoying to dangerous and deadly.

Hail might not sound like one of the deadly plagues but it was, because the hailstones were apparently large and could kill anyone who was not in a covered space. Essentially that meant farm workers and others who did manual labor.

There was more. The hail also destroyed the crops, which meant a famine was around the corner.

You’d think for sure that by this time Pharaoh would see that he couldn’t continue standing against God. Up til now he and his people had dealt with a three-day water shortage brought on by the water-to-blood plague, an inundation of frogs, gnats, flies, disease on the animals, and boils on people. Now hail.

And still Pharaoh hardened his heart. Then the incredible. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. In essence there came a point that God simply gave Pharaoh what he wanted—to say no to God. God seems to have said, You want to say no to me? Fine! Then that’s what I’ll make sure you do.

The point is simple. Pharaoh couldn’t control God. He couldn’t stand against Him, refuse to go His way or do what He wanted. Time and again, at great expense to his people he proclaimed independence from God. He was not about to free those slaves because, who was the LORD?

God answered that question. He is the God who is greater than all the Egyptians’ gods. They worshiped the Nile, so God had Moses and Aaron turn the water to blood. They worshiped the cow goddess, and God brought pestilence to the cattle. They worshiped the sun god, and God brought a period of darkness over their land. They worshiped the god of the dead or the underworld, and God sent His avenging angel to take every Egyptian firstborn son.

Did Pharaoh get the message? Nope. Sure, he relented a couple times, but as soon as God removed the plague, he reverted to his old position. The Israelites were under his control, and he wasn’t about to let them go.

One thing that I’ve hardly ever heard addressed is that Moses wasn’t even asking if the people of Israel could be set free. He was asking if they could go on a three-day journey away from Egypt so that they could hold a worship celebration to the LORD.

Pharaoh tried saying yes-but. Yes, they can go but only the men. Yes, they can have their worship celebration, but they have to do it here. Yes, they can go but not their animals.

In the end, the people of Israel just left.

Pharaoh never agreed, never liberated them. In fact he realized after they’d been gone for a few hours that his land was in a sorry state—plants thrashed by the hail and later by locusts, most of the animals dead, their carcasses rotting. Families deprived of the son who should have carried on their legacy. And a good percentage of his work force had just walked off the job.

What to do but try to get them back. That’s what a hard heart does.

There’s no consideration that yes, the LORD is indeed the Almighty, the Creator of the ends of the earth. There’s no consideration that perhaps the wise thing here would be to obey, to listen, to relinquish his own will.

Pharaoh’s own advisors were begging him to let the Israelites go. They saw what he could not see. Perhaps they got out of the palace more and knew how desperate things were throughout the land—everywhere except in Goshen where the people of Israel lived.

But the thing about a hard heart, it resists reason, good advice, what logic says. It was all right there in front of Pharaoh—the Lord said to let His people go or A, B, C and so forth would happen. He didn’t let them go, and all of those warnings, or threatens, or promises, happened. Did Pharaoh finally admit, Maybe I can’t hold out against this God.

No, he was impervious to such clear thinking. He saw things the way he wanted to see them: all those people are on foot and unarmed. I can catch them with my horsemen and my chariots. They’ll come back if it’s the last thing I do.

He didn’t actually say that, but chasing down the people of Israel was, in fact, the last thing he did. He couldn’t defeat God and that’s actually who he was trying to resist.

He learned the hard way that God is in control, but that’s precisely what everyone who hardens his or her heart will learn. And I think that’s what Pharaoh and people like him can’t stand. They want to be master of their own fate, captain of their own soul, even if it means denying they have a soul.

But God is God. He will not give His place to another.

And He should not.

The one in control should not abdicate. That leads to confusion and chaos. The one who knows what’s right and good and best, should not give way to the one who only does evil.

The thing is, when people resist God and He sends them warnings and difficulties and affliction, He’s giving them a chance to stop and turn around, to yield to Him, to submit to Him. That’s a receipt for disaster because hard hearts like Pharaoh’s will ultimately face God’s judgment.

Published in: on February 22, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Comments (6)  
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Billy Graham: 1918-2018


Billy Graham with son Franklin Graham

One of the first things I heard this morning on the Christian radio station I listen to as I’m getting breakfast, was that Billy Graham had passed away. He was 99. Would have turned 100 in November. I admit, I didn’t quite know how to feel. I haven’t thought of the man for . . . maybe months, possibly years, because he’s been out of the public spotlight since he stopped preaching.

Besides, I have confidence, based on what he preached, that he is rejoicing in, what Paul called “a very much better” life in Christ’s presence.

And yet, I felt strangely sad. I’ve never met the man, heard him on TV but never in person. Read part of his autobiography but never finished it. But the sadness was undeniable as the radio played a short tribute to him.

I decided I was experiencing a sense of loss of his role more than anything. He fearlessly, consistently, unwaveringly preached the gospel.

I expected to read quite a bit about him on the internet today, but his name didn’t come up on the posts I saw on Facebook or at the blogs I regularly visit. That changed later in the day.

One friend posted a moving announcement by Rev. Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, on Facebook. Then I got a newsletter from Jerry Jenkinks about his own blog article containing personal memories of Rev. Graham when he worked with him on his autobiography.

Lastly, I watched a video clip that might be the best testimony of Billy Graham’s life and legacy because it is an example of what Anne Lotz said:

And it’s [the gospel is] a message of genuine hope for the future, of love for the present, of forgiveness for the past.

It’s a message, when received, that brings a fresh beginning, unshakable joy, unexplainable peace, eternal significance, meaning and purpose to life, and opens Heaven’s door.

It was this message, which Daddy carried to the world, that penetrated my own heart as a young girl and has created in me a personal, passionate resolve to communicate it myself to as many people as possible. And so, even as my tears seem to be unending, I silently rededicate my life to picking up and passing on the baton. Would you do the same?

Well, Kathie Lee Gifford did, right on national TV.

When I read Anne Lotz’s conclusion, I was reminded of Psalm 145, particularly v 4:

One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.

Which brings me back to why I was especially sad when I heard that Billy Graham had died. He was such a clear voice of truth and reached so many people—of all ages and stations and races and cultures. Yet he really only had one simple message. Who, I wondered, is there to take up his mantle, as Elisha did Elijah’s?

Essentially Anne Lotz said, we all should. She’s right.

Published in: on February 21, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Grown-Up Christian Is …


I admit it—I’m a sucker for pictures of babies. But there is method in the madness today. We can’t really talk about grown-up Christians without at least mentioning newborns. Below is an article on the subject that first appeared here in June 2012. I’ve made a few changes here and there.

– – – – –

“Man is sinful and in need of God alone who can save us.” So I stated in a post about the problem of sin.

Unfortunately, too many people don’t understand what God’s work of saving us means on a practical, everyday level. There might be an idea that we start attending church and that we will go to heaven, but little else.

Even new Christians may not be clear on the “what next” part of things. Are we supposed to clean up our language? Start doing “holy” things? Put on a serious expression and stay away from anything that’s fun?

Well, no.

The grown-up Christian life is actually characterized by abundant joy, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who came to Him privately to ask questions, He said that to come to God we must be “born again.” Jesus created this metaphor to illustrate that coming to God is the beginning of life, and just as we grow physically from immaturity to maturity, we do the same spiritually.

So coming to God through Jesus Christ is the “birth.” From that point, when we confess with our mouth and believe with our heart that Jesus Christ is Lord, we have a new life.

How great if God waved His hand over us at spiritual birth and changed our desires, so that what we once hated, we now love; what offensive things we once loved, we now hate. But life doesn’t work that way. Babies don’t settle in the day they come home from the hospital and begin driving—or trading stocks on E-trade.

Instead, they have things to learn. They need time to grow. They need proper food and abundant rest, and yes, they need their messy pants changed. Eventually they need to be potty-trained. It’s a process.

The Christian life is no different.

A brand new Christian is not going to turn into a mature Christian over night. We don’t transform ourselves into mature Christians by imitating what mature Christians do, no more than a toddler can become a man by using his toy tools on his toy car in imitation of his adult dad working on his real vehicle.

Don’t get me wrong. Imitation has value, but it should not be mistaken for actual maturity.

So what is maturity? If we are in need of Christ’s redemptive work because of our sin, does maturity then mean Christians no longer sin?

I’m pretty sure that’s what a lot of people believe—some Christians and some non-Christians. Why else are Christians vilified for doing what everyone else in the culture does?

According to one poll, 85% of those answering the questions said Christians are hypocrites. Meaning we don’t live according to our beliefs.

And we don’t, not perfectly. We are in a battle to accomplish that very thing. What we believe is that we should follow Jesus—we should love God and love our neighbor. What we do is, live too often for ourselves, forgetting God, ignoring our neighbors.

So how are we any different from the rest of the world? In some respects, we aren’t. We still sin. On the other hand, we are growing up to salvation. We’re taking baby steps away from conformity to the world; we’re allowing God to transform us into His image.

It’s just not an instantaneous deal, so when we mess up—and we will mess up—we stand exposed for the world to see our imperfection.

The thing is, if no one expected us to be perfect, our exposure as “not perfect” wouldn’t be a big deal.

But expectations aren’t reality. The truth about Christians is that we do sin, even though we don’t want to. Paul said it best in Romans 7: “The good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

So mature Christians aren’t instantaneous, and mature Christians aren’t perfect.

Then what’s true about mature Christians? Besides being forgiven, redeemed, God’s children, the mature part means we actually refuse to pretend that we are what we are not. We do not go into the world with the intent to sin. We do not celebrate some false notion of being free to sin since God’s already picked up the bill.

Actually the opposite is true. When a mature Christian sins, it breaks his heart because he knows it breaks the heart of his Father. He knows that he should walk worthy of his calling (see Eph. 4:1) that he should please God in all respects (see Col. 1:9).

His sin, then, will drive him to his knees. He will bring it to his Father to claim the forgiveness He has already given. He will let God teach him and correct him and shape him.

In this way his life begins to take on a distinction that marks him as someone like Christ. The cool thing is, the more like Christ he becomes, the more he’ll want to serve and repent and learn and grow. He won’t parade an imagined perfection in front of the world. He won’t take credit for what God has done. But he will rejoice in the God of his salvation.

Published in: on February 20, 2018 at 5:33 pm  Comments (4)  
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Everlasting Life Changes Everything


One of the issues that’s come up in some of the discussions I’ve had with the FB group promoting dialogue between theists and atheists, is our attitude toward life. In one thread the topic of abortion came up, though the originator of the post hadn’t intended that aspect to take center stage. The thinking of many of the atheists fit closely with their belief in relative morality—if society says abortion is OK, then it’s OK. Because . . . no soul. An aborted fetus would not know existence, so it can’t miss something it doesn’t know about.

In another conversation, the idea that the Christian has a different outlook because of the hope for life after this life, became very apparent. To the atheists, anything that God allows that brings suffering is considered His moral failure, because this life is all we have. There’s no point to suffering that conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ, because they don’t believe there’s anything beyond the grave.

The point is simple. Belief in everlasting life has an enormous affect on a person’s world view. It can dictate what a person thinks about abortion, euthanasia, suffering, the purpose of life, the death of a loved one, views on a “just war,” and more.

Because, put simply, if this is the only life we have, and it comes to an end when this body stops breathing and the brain waves cease, then this body, this life is the one we ought to value above all else. But if this body merely houses an eternal soul, then what happens to the soul should be of supreme importance.

Maybe other people have known all along that this fundamental rift exists between theists and atheists, but I don’t think I did. I’ve said more than once, we Christians are no different than any other sinner. And I think that’s true on one level. But that doesn’t mean that we think the same way.

Oh, sure we may all reason, and study, and deduce the same (though often Christians are accused of somehow turning off our logic), but our fundamental starting places are different. Think about geometry, if you ever had to take the subject in school. At some point you had to use the laws of geometry to construct certain “proofs.” You had a starting place known as a “given” and from that to a stated conclusion, you had to show how the laws of geometry, lead you to the conclusion.

But what if not everyone in the class had the same “given” statement? Could you all successfully prove the desired conclusion? Of course not. A “given” is a statement that needs no proof, either because it is fundamental, like a definition, or because it is a measurement made before hand. So a problem might start by saying, if A, B and C are points on a line (definition), and AB=BC (a predetermined measurement).

However, if some of the class have a different “given,” the steps they take and the conclusion they reach will be very different from everyone else. What if their “give” stated AB=BC-2? Clearly, a starting point that is skewed, can’t arrive at the same conclusion.

In the same way, the important things in life like purpose and values and destination and significance, hinge on what a person understands about life and life after life.

In that regard, theists do have a common starting point—and that point is very different from the one atheists have.

The stark differences between theists and atheists do make for lively debate, I’ll accede to that. But I question if there’s much else we can ever agree upon if some of us believe humans have souls and some don’t.

We won’t think the same about “animal rights,” for instance, or human rights either. Although, I continue to believe that much of the beliefs that those who reject God hold, come from Christian underpinnings.

No one can tell me, for instance, why one person should sacrifice himself for another, as did those teachers at the horrific school shooting last week. Why would they do that, if their life would come to an end? Did they think a young life was more valuable than an old life? On what basis? Or did they act because of some other reason, some other fundamental belief? Would atheists ever sacrifice themselves for another? If so, why?

I tend to think Christianity has informed our society so that sacrifice is something we admire, that we incorporate into our own thinking, whether we embrace Christ or not.

As far as practical take-away from this idea, I think those who do believe that life will continue after this life (and a 2014 Pew Research study indicates that’s as high as 72% of Americans), need to think seriously about that next life, that everlasting life. What, where, and how are questions that come to mind.

Of course those are beyond the scope of scientific study. We’re trafficking now in the realm of the spiritual. And it seems to me to be a wise investment of time to nurture our spiritual life even more than we do our physical life.

Published in: on February 19, 2018 at 5:34 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Influence Of Christianity


On Tuesday apparently the panel of women on ABC’s The View made some comments about Vice President Mike Pence which included one person quipping that hearing from God is “mental illness.”

What’s so sad is that the Florida Parkland school shooter is also being scrutinized for mental illness.

Now The View person has said she was just joking, but clearly she showed what she thinks of Christianity.

I think such statements show the disconnect in our society about what Christianity is and what Christians have done. Think, for example, what organization is front and center as part of any disaster relief. Yep, the Red Cross. The symbol was chosen for a reason.

Then there is the Salvation Army—another relief organization that also provides for the needs of the homeless and the poor.

Or how about the Union Rescue Mission? Here’s their basic mission statement: “We embrace people with the compassion of Christ.” And their short description on Google: “Helping men, women, and children escape the streets of Skid Row through food, shelter, education, counseling, and long-term recovery programs.”

I’m curious. Where are the atheist organizations that reach out to help the needy? Sure, the government now does some of the same work, and government programs have helped countless people suffering from disasters of one kind or another. I’m not minimizing those at all. But that’s because the government has been put in position to care for its citizens because not enough of our citizens are taking care of those in need.

I don’t want to turn this into a church versus government discussion. But I did wonder about independent atheist groups who are actively reaching out to needy people. I suspect there are individual atheists who do so, but are there any atheist-based organizations doing this?

Maybe there are, but I’m not aware of them.

For one thing, atheism doesn’t stand for something. It stands against something. So there’s no moral compass that directs atheists to band together to help needy people.

How about the institution of Thanksgiving Day or Memorial Day or Ash Wednesday? God is an integral part of our culture, whether atheists want to admit it or not. The fact that Christianity is being squeezed from the fabric of society by media disdain, sarcasm, and slurs, does not reduce the great good that churches and para-church organizations do and have done.

Or what about the YMCA, founded back in 1844.

The YMCA was very influential during the 1870s and 1930s, during which times they most successfully promoted “evangelical Christianity in weekday and Sunday services, while promoting good sportsmanship in athletic contests in gyms (where basketball and volleyball were invented) and swimming pools.” (Wikepedia)

Then there are Good News Clubs in schools and organizations like CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) involved in colleges and universities.

But here’s the salient point: all this “mental illness” that has built into the fabric of our society is based on building values and health and hope and help. Christianity wants to pass on the love of God. That’s it. To people in need.

Wouldn’t we have fewer school shootings if we ramped up programs that taught the love of God?

As I see it, the more Christianity gets ridiculed and relegated to the privacy of our own home, the more trouble our nation is in. We are recycling old problems like racism while we have added the intensified problem of lawlessness and a disregard for authority.

Setting Christianity aside doesn’t seem to be working for us. When will the country wake up and realize, the thing we’re missing is the love of God—between our races, our genders, our economic strata. God’s love works like cement to bring groups of people together. Paul said it is Scripture—Jews sitting next to Greeks, men worshiping in the same house as women, the rich land owners along side their field hands.

It’s not the church that does this. It’s God. It’s His love in the hearts and lives of believers. And that’s the influence of Christianity.

The Power Of Forgiveness – A Reprise


joshmcdowellI heard another story of incredible forgiveness a number of years ago. A well-known Christian writer and speaker and apologist, it turns out, had a horrific childhood. His father was an alcoholic and in his between sober and drunk stages, was violent. His mother had a medical condition that necessitated the family bring in outside help. The man they hired began to sexually abuse this boy between the age of 6 to 13. When he finally worked up the courage to tell his mother, she didn’t believe him and whipped him for lying.

I’m referring to Josh McDowell, the author of Evidence That Demands a Verdict, and over a hundred other titles. This man who has been so vocal and passionate about the truth of God’s good news–his love and forgiveness–once considered Christianity worthless and identified himself as an agnostic.

What changed?

Josh McDowell met Jesus Christ.

Apparently his radical change came because of a college paper. He set out to examine the historical evidence for Christianity in order to disprove it, but instead he found compelling proof of its veracity.

He embraced Christianity, was discipled by a pastor for six months, enrolled in Wheaton College, and eventually attended Talbot Theological Seminary here in SoCal.

But the key turning point in his life, he said, was when he forgave the man who abused him. His was not a secret “in the heart” forgiveness. He actually tracked the man down, went to his home, and told him that what he’d done was wrong and hurtful, but because of Josh’s new life in Christ, he forgave him.

Of all the powerful forgiveness stories I’ve heard–Christ forgiving His crucifiers, Stephen forgiving those who stoned him, Corrie ten Boom forgiving the Nazi concentration guard, Elizabeth Elliott forgiving the indigenous people who killed her husband and four other missionaries with him, Kent Whitaker who forgave the person who murdered his wife and son–this one ranks right up there toward the top.

In all honestly, apart from Christ, this kind of forgiveness seems next to impossible. It doesn’t even seem all that desirable. Our culture wires us to be much more inclined toward revenge than forgiveness. Maybe it’s more than our culture. It’s probably wired into our nature. We want pay back.

If the guilty person is remorseful, then forgiveness doesn’t seem quite so hard. But if they remain hardened and unrepentant, forgiveness seems like an unacceptable concession.

The thing is, it’s not our job to play judge. God is the One who is ready to judge, according to 1 Peter. He is the Judge who is right at the door according to James.

For us to step back and refuse to do what isn’t our job in the first place, helps us, and it doesn’t change the fact that God will take care of the other party–either by covering them with the blood of His Son or by meting out judgment at the end of the age.

Let me reiterate what Josh McDowell experienced. Forgiving the man who hurt him, and his parents for allowing it, removed a weight he’d been carrying. It freed him to love.

Paul identifies an unforgiving attitude as a scheme of the devil.

for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes. (2 Cor. 2:10b-11)

Wow! Part of Satan’s plan of attack has to do with taking advantage of our lack of forgiveness.

That alone is sobering enough, but of course Jesus also taught extensively on our need to forgive our brothers. Understanding our own forgiven state seems to have a residual effect–it turns us into forgivers.

It makes sense. When we get the immensity of what we’ve been forgiven, we understand how cheap and petty we are to hold something against someone else.

The person Jesus died for, I’m going to squeeze a little more? To accomplish what? If that person is redeemed by the blood of Christ, am I asking Christ to do more than die for his sins? If he is not redeemed, am I saying I can punish him more adequately than God can?

My lack of forgiveness accomplishes nothing, but it’s negative effects on my life don’t end. A lack of forgiveness calcifies and turns into bitterness, resentment, hatred. Those things eat at our souls.

Josh McDowell is living proof that forgiving others made a great deal of difference in his life. God saved him and taught him what he needed so that he could be free and could heal from the hurt of his childhood. It wasn’t instantaneous, and God continues to heal all these years later. He healed and He is healing. And forgiveness is at the center of it all.

= = = = =

This post originally appeared here in July, 2013.

For more about Josh McDowell’s story you might be interested in Undaunted:

For the first time, Josh fully reveals the dramatic spiritual transformation that occurred when he faced his past head-on and put everything entirely in God’s hands. It’s a story of overcoming shame, grief, and despair and embracing real love for the first time. It’s a tale of divine grace: when the worst that life can throw at you happens, you can come out on the other side with a faith that is full, free—and undaunted.

Published in: on February 15, 2018 at 5:01 pm  Comments Off on The Power Of Forgiveness – A Reprise  
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