Atheist Arguments: Humans Are Animals


Of course humans are animals. We live and breath and do all the things animals do, but Christians believe humans are more. Christians believe God breathed life into us, that by doing so He gave us an eternal soul. Or spirit. It seems there’s some confusion concerning the two. Are they synonymous, does one refer to our personhood, our personality, and the other to our spiritual existence?

It is the latter, the spiritual part of us, that separates us from other animals. For instance, humans pray. Animals have no apparent awareness of God, and do not make any clear appeal to a higher power. Pets might run to their owner if they become frightened, but they might just as often run away and hide. But at no time do animals appear to appeal to a supernatural being for help or deliverance or salvation.

Animals also don’t appear to deal with guilt. Oh, sure, those pets who know their owner is not happy with their behavior, might cower when they are told, No, but this is an instinctual reaction to the displeasure, not guilt for having done what they wanted to do.

I’ve seen cats that kill birds and show no remorse.

The dog I had for twelve years showed great sorrow when I scolded him for taking his food to the carpet and eating it there rather than leaving it in his dish, but he continued to drag it out. It was his instinct to do so. He didn’t know that he was doing anything wrong—just that I was unhappy he was doing it.

Third, animals don’t worship. They have ways of showing when they are happy or irritated, like wagging their tails or hissing or barking or baring their claws or laying their ears back or licking. But worship? Since they have no apparent awareness of the supernatural, they have no apparent desire to express praise or gratitude or awe.

Here’s the thing. If humans are simply a product of evolution and we are nothing more than the most advanced version of life, where did the sense of the supernatural come from? Why do we worship? Why do we deal with guilt? Why do we pray?

Those things are not found in animals. They are found in humans.

I know some will say they are nothing but a creation of our brains. But animals have brains, too. Where is the evidence of an animals’ underdeveloped awareness of the supernatural?

Interestingly enough, the same people that think the supernatural comes from our brains, also think the supernatural isn’t real. So how is that evolution? Wouldn’t our brains develop in such a way that we would be smarter, wiser, better, more capable of coping? How does guilt fit into that paradigm?

Or worship? Certainly the atheist must think spending time with others to give praise to Someone who, they say, doesn’t exist, is not making us smarter or wiser or better or more capable. So how did we become worshiping people?

The point is humans are more than animals. We do have that God-breathed part of us that makes us eternal. Human life, therefore is precious and valuable, and we need to treat it with more care than any other life.

Some scholars speak of a “God-shaped vacuum” inside each of us. No one is quite certain of the origin of the phase, but Augustine, Pascal, C. S. Lewis, and Scripture itself have been credited with the concept, if not the wording.

The Bible clearly does identify us as people with an unquenchable thirst, satisfied only by the Living Water.

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'” (John 7″37-38)

Lewis described that “empty place” that only God can fill and actually his awareness of it was one of the factors that turned him from atheism to Christianity:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity)

The interesting thing to me is that secularists admit the existence of this hole, this vacuum.

We are all searching for something. What that something might be is never really a certainty, but it typically displays itself as a nagging sense of something unfinished or a thing undone that plagues our days and troubles our sleep. It is a restlessness within the human heart described by St. Augustine as “…humanity’s innate desire for the infinite…”

This restlessness is a metaphor for seeking after the infinite, for something larger than ourselves (“The God-shaped Hole” by Michael J Formica, Psychology Today)

Actually the author goes on to say that this “something larger than ourselves” actually is ourselves, but the point for this discussion is the fact that this realization of something beyond is not a made up Christian concept. It’s real and it sets us apart from animals.

We long for . . . more, even when we don’t know what that more is.

Where does that longing come from? Not from animals. The best answer is the one God gave us: He breathed into us life, something our sin has seriously affected so that, as the Psychology Today article went on to say, we try to fill our longings with “things outside of ourselves — objects, money, love, release or our perception of it, sex, drugs, new experiences, whatever is at hand.” And the current craze—us, ourselves.

But the very attempt to fill this “emptiness” shows that it is real, that we have in us a need that spurs us to look for satisfaction. It’s defining. We do what animals don’t do, and that, by deductive reasoning, separates us from animals. We are more. We have an awareness of God. Romans 1 says we do, though we don’t acknowledge Him:

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. (v 19)

Humans are animals? Sure we are, but God gave us something animals don’t have. He’s set us apart for relationship with Himself.

Photo by Laurie Gouley from Pexels

Advertisements

The Transcendence Of God’s Mercy


God is transcendent, of that I’ve been sure. He is higher than His creation and therefore surpasses our ability to dissect Him, analyze Him, pigeonhole Him into our compartments of understanding. In fact, if He hadn’t chosen to reveal Himself, we would be forever shut out of His presence in ignorant misery — desperately longing, incapable of reaching.

In fact, one of my favorite passages of Scripture spells out this transcendent nature of God:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa 55:8-9)

I’d never thought much more of transcendence—just that God is. But one day, I came across a passage from Psalm 103 that caught my attention:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. (vv 8-11, emphasis mine)

There, nestled in the middle of the section (it continues for several verses) about God’s compassion, mercy, lovingkindness, is the same line Isaiah used to describe how high God’s ways and thoughts are above ours: as high as the heavens are above the earth.

I realize now I’d never taken the idea of God’s transcendence to its logical conclusion. If He is higher than we, if His thoughts are, His ways are, then it stands to reason that what forms Him, what defines Him as a person—His traits—also will be higher than ours. Hence His love will be higher than ours, His compassion higher than ours, His patience, His forgiveness, His justice, and His mercy—or as some translations have it, His lovingkindness.

Sometimes God’s lovingkindness mystifies me, and sometimes His justice does the same. Why, for example, did David who had Uriah killed become known as a man after God’s own heart? Apart from God’s mercy and forgiveness, it doesn’t make sense. And why, when Ahab let his wife Jezebel murder Naboth in order to take his property, and God said Ahab and his descendants would be removed from the throne, why, I ask, did God relent and tell Ahab he would leave him on the throne after all? In fact, why did one of his sons ruled for twelve years after Ahab’s death? God was merciful, and I’m pretty sure I would have been inclined to throw the book at the whole family. At once. No delay.

Yet how grateful I am for God’s delays in my life. He gives me mercy and help in time of need. He doesn’t slam His door in my face but graciously answers prayer. Over and over and over.

I originally connected this discussion of God’s mercy with the report I heard of an agent friend wh0 was diagnosed with brain cancer. At the time he’d received an all clear from the doctor, but his cancer came back, and he passed away.

More recently, my friend Brandon Barr, who had battled leukemia for a number of years, received a doctor’s report that he had 1 to 2 months to live. He died the day before Thanksgiving.

I had specifically prayed that God would be merciful. And I prayed for healing. But God didn’t restore either man to health. Did He extend His mercy to them? How can I know?

Trying to discern what God is up to is really impossible unless He tells us, because He has the big picture in front of Him. He certainly cares for us in the here and now, but this blip of time that He refers to as a vapor, as a fading flower, a bit of grass that’s here today and gone tomorrow, is not the whole story. God cares about the whole story. He cares about our eternal destiny. He cares about the people we can influence by our dying as much as by our living, by our suffering as much as by our victories.

We are limited in what we can see, as if we’re staring at the sky through a straw. But God has no such limitation. He sees the big picture and He sees it from beginning to eternity.

So really, when it comes to understanding God’s great, transcendent mercy, pretty much all I’ve got is His word. His word and my experience of His keeping His word. His word and my experience and the experiences of believers across time and from all over the globe.

But still, when we can’t know the eternity side of things, how do we know that God is merciful to people like Jim Elliott who was martyred or Betsy ten Boom who died in a concentration camp or Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed mere months before Germany signed the peace treaty. How do we know?

Because He promised. He has told us that His mercy endures throughout all generations.

He followed that up by promising a Messiah. Then Jesus came. Died. Rose from the dead.

Could anything be a greater demonstration of God’s great mercy?

A verse in Romans explains:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:33—ESV)

God already took care of our greatest need. Is He going to overlook lesser needs now? He won’t. Our problem is that we are still looking at the night sky through a straw. More often than we like, our view of things is bleak, as if Satan is winning.

Unless we fix our eyes on God’s transcendent mercy that shows us our Savior, that shows us Himself. We can’t actually see the crowns, the glory, the joy, the triumph. But we can see Jesus. Hebrews says as much:

But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.
But we do see Him (Hebrews 2:8b-9a)

If all things were subjected to him now, no one would be dying of cancer. We’re not there yet. But we do see Jesus, the One who rendered “powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” We have His act of mercy and His promise of mercy, and that transcends anything we can see through our straw.

Some of this post is revised from an article that appeared here in December, 2011.

Published in: on November 29, 2018 at 5:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Atheist Arguments: What About Evil?


Christianity and atheism, which of necessity requires belief in evolution, are two contrasting worldviews, not only because they have opposing views about God but also because they have opposing views about humankind. While the focus of discussions and debates often concentrates on the existence of God, it is the view of humankind that leaves atheists with an unanswerable question.

There are two specific ways that Christians and atheists view humankind differently. First, Christians believe that humans are unique from animals because we have an eternal soul. Atheists believe instead in the “common descent” principle:

In evolutionary biology, a group of organisms have common descent if they have a common ancestor. “There is strong quantitative support, by a formal test”[1] for the theory that all living organisms on Earth are descended from a common ancestor.[2]

Charles Darwin proposed the theory of universal common descent through an evolutionary process in On the Origin of Species, saying, “There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one”.[3]

Second, Christians believe humans, though created in God’s image, have a fallen, or sinful, nature passed down through Adam who turned his back on God when he intentionally disobeyed Him. The only way to change society is to point individuals to Jesus Christ who provides a way of escape from sin, guilt, the law, and death.

Atheists, on the other hand, believe humans are morally neutral at worst and might even be considered “good” by virtue of the fact that what exists has survived.

Right and wrong, good and evil, then, according to this view, are not existent apart from the perception of a group or community. Hence, homosexuality is wrong until the group determines it is right.

Infants come into the world as blank slates or even as good slates and only turn toward evil if they are influenced by societal patterns (racism, for example) or errant views (such as religion). The way to change society is simply to re-educate people.

One atheist puts it this way:

So if we are determined, then how do we define evil? If our minds come from our brains, and our brain circuitry is out of our control, then is anyone responsible for anything – no matter how courageous, no matter how innovative, no matter how good or evil, that the person is? (“An atheist’s view of evil”—link no longer available.)

Another atheist discussing evil concludes with this:

For atheists, a better explanation for the presence of evil in the world is that God does not exist. (“Atheism”).

A number of others discuss evil only as an argument against the existence of God. But here’s the question that atheists can’t seem to answer: where did evil come from? If life has a common descent, if we’re born with no natural bent toward evil, what injected evil into the equation?

Seemingly, the atheist scenario is one that would seem to result in utopia: humans, evolved from a common and not evil descent, growing toward their full potential without any negative force to intercede.

Except for society. Which teaches gender differences and racism and encourages belief in mythical gods which motivate people groups to hate.

But in truth, society is nothing more than people interacting with one another. So how and why did humans start acting in hateful ways toward people who were different from them? Why did the strong decide to take from the weak instead of using their strength for the greater good?

In other words, where did evil come from?

This is the atheist’s unanswerable question, not the Christian’s.

As I mentioned, a number of professing atheists lay evil at the feet of God, then declare that its existence proves He couldn’t possibly exist: that he doesn’t eradicate evil shows either that he’s too weak to do so (and therefore, not God) or too evil himself or too undiscerning to know evil from good (and therefore not God).

The argument, of course, ignores what God Himself has to say about evil and its existence. But more so, it offers no alternative, no explanation for the virulent presence of evil in the world.

In fact, some atheists deny the existence of evil:

Atheists such as Richard Dawkins claim that evil doesn’t actually exist. In his book, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life Dawkins writes: “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” (David Robinson, “The problem of evil is a bigger problem for atheists than Christians,” Christianity Today)

Of course such a view collapses the argument that evil disproves the existence of God, because something that does not exist cannot itself be used to disprove anything. So either evil exists, or it doesn’t. And if it exists, but there is no God, then where did it come from? How did it come to be included in this mix of materialism?

Actually the atheist I quoted above, was on the right track. Evil comes from the absence of God. He does exist, but He doesn’t force Himself on our lives. Humankind, having chosen to leave God out, now experiences the world with the absence-of-God component a reality.

This post, second in the Atheist Arguments series, is a revised version of one that appeared here in January, 2015.

The World Divided


The world’s always been divided. I understand that. In Europe under the medieval system there were serfs and knights, lords and clergy, barons and kings. Essentially divisions were along economic lines which in turn created social lines. That’s why a royal marrying a commoner was pretty much unheard of.

Of course there were the natural barriers created by oceans that divided people groups. Then there was the development of nationalism and racism that divided people based on where they lived and what were their physical traits.

In the last 50 years the world has become smaller and smaller. The old dividing lines have melted away, but a new line is replacing all the old ones: worldview.

What do you believe? That’s the new dividing line. Of course nationalism, economics, social standing and race play into creating a person’s worldview, but I’m realizing a bigger aspect that forms the way we look at the world is our view of God.

People who don’t believe in God see the world one way, those who do believe in God, see the world in a very different way.

The discussion of the day at the FB atheist/theist group centered on the role of women. We are divided. Christians for the most part reflect the Biblical view of gender differences. Atheists think submission is a dirty word. One member even said that he would not EVER submit to ANYONE.

Which underscores the divide.

Christians first submit to God. Atheists, I believe, see the issue of obeying Someone who is over them in authority as the reason they reject God.

Christians submit to government. Atheists submit to government if they agree with it, if they have a say in creating it.

Christians believe in gender roles that involve love and submission. Atheists believe in “partnership,” which is destined to be unequal or contentious.

I know these are simplistic generalities, but I do think this divide—believing in God or not believing in God—is growing, at least in the US.

The fact is, our worldview dictates what we believe about various other issues, and ultimately what we do.

Lakers fans are Lakers fans. No one asks what your worldview is when you cheer for your favorite basketball team. But who smashes windows in the “celebrations” of a team’s successes? I don’t think anyone has ever taken a poll, but it seems hard for me to believe that someone who fears God would act in a destructive way. I mean, I’m not even saying, “Christian.” But someone who believes they either have to answer to God or they have to behave a certain way to please Him or they live by the command to love their neighbor, isn’t probably going to start fires, smash store windows, and loot local businesses.

Take that same idea to life in general. Who commits fraud against senior citizens, people who believe in and fear God or people who reject Him? Who hijacks cars? Steals purses? Shoplifts? Shoots people en masse?

I’m not saying there are no criminals who believe in God. As I noted earlier, this is a broad brush, painting generalities. But it makes sense to me that people who believe in a moral law, a Lawgiver, and a Judge, are much more likely to be law abiding than people who think law is whatever we make it and there is no one watching them 24/7, there is no just judge who will hold them accountable.

What’s the point?

I guess I think, there is no governmental answer that will bring us back into harmony. We can’t pass enough hate-crime laws or ban speakers or curb free speech in a way that will fix the great divide. I mean, telling one side to shut up and sit down is not fixing things in the first place. And a look at history will show that belief in Jesus has done well when the other side tries to stop the spread of His message.

The answer, I believe, is the one Jesus gave when He returned to heaven. We are to make disciples. The more disciples, the more people who learn to love God and love their neighbors as themselves.

It is a little surprising that so many look at Christianity as dangerous. And I mean, not just theism, but Christianity. I understand, for example, there is once again a crackdown in China on the unregistered house churches. And even of some of the registered ones. Specifically crosses have been eliminated in one area.

Why?

I can only think of one reason: Christians see the world differently.

Published in: on November 27, 2018 at 5:19 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , ,

Accusations Against Christians — A Reprise


There’s quite a litany of accusations against Christians these days, from both non-Christians and others who call themselves Christians. Those charges include things such as Christians can’t do art or create good speculative fiction. More seriously, some say Christians are greedy and hypocritical and hateful.

Sadly a selection of very visible individuals or groups claiming the name of Christ have reinforced some of these ideas—pastors who end up having affairs, televangelists who preach health-and-wealth rather than sacrificial giving, sign-waving funeral crashers who condemn rather than present the good news.

But then there are individuals like the owner of Chick-fil-A who became the brunt of accusations because of his stand for monogamous, heterosexual marriage. He too was accused of being hateful.

Recently, as I was reading Scripture, I realized, we might as well get used to these sorts of recriminations. All the way back in the Old Testament, people proclaiming the truth about God and man’s sinful condition were tarnished with the brush of accusation.

Even Elijah. He prophesied during the reign of one of the most sinful kings Israel would know. Ahab married a pagan and proceeded to lead his people into idolatry like no king before him. He built temples and altars and assigned priests and made sacrifices to these false gods, all the while persecuting those who were faithful to the Lord God who lead them out of Egypt.

As judgment on the nation, God, through the prayer of Elijah, withheld rain from them for over three years. Needless to say, they suffered severe drought and famine. Ahab apparently conducted an extensive search for Elijah, thinking perhaps to force him to beseech God for rain. His search failed because God kept Elijah safe and supplied with food and drink.

When at last God told Elijah to return to Ahab, his first assignment before dealing with the drought was to confront the prophets of of the false god Baal. But before he could propose a showdown, Ahab accused him of troubling Israel.

Elijah didn’t let the accusation stand. Rather, he turned it back on Ahab:

He said, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and you have followed the Baals. (1 Kings 18:18)

Of course today such a statement would be seen as further evidence of a hateful, intolerant, unloving attitude.

I think this is why New Testament writers like Paul and Peter were instructing Christians about how to handle things like false accusations and suffering. Peter in his first letter makes a strong case for suffering for the sake of righteousness, not for wrong doing:

and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. (1 Peter 3:16-17 — emphasis added)

In the end, it seems the only thing we as believers in Jesus Christ can do is live godly lives. Earlier Peter said

Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation . . . For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (1 Peter 2:12, 15)

Apparently Jesus flipped the script, and Scripture says we are to follow His example:

And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23).

“Hypocrites! Hateful! Greedy!” The accusations will come. The key is to silence our critics, not by taking a defensive stand, but by exhibiting good behavior with which the accusers cannot argue, then trusting God for the results.

With some minor revision, this article is a re-print of one that appeared here in November, 2012.

Published in: on November 26, 2018 at 4:43 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , , ,

One More Thanksgiving Post — C. S. Lewis


Yesterday was the infamous 55th anniversary of the death of three notable men: President John F. Kennedy, writer Aldus Huxley, and Christian author and scholar C. S. Lewis. I don’t see many people talking about this milestone, but five years ago, JFK was still receiving the largest slice of media attention. Aldus Huxley, a brilliant writer in his own right, seems to be fading in memory and impact. But C. S. Lewis? His words and his impact live on in every writer who was ever influenced by him, in every person who was touched and changed by his books.

I’ve just started reading The Language of God by Francis S. Collins. This famed scientist who headed the Human Gnome Project chronicled his transformation from atheism to “unshakeable faith in God.” As it happens, a big part of this change resulted from reading C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.

Collins’s story is just one example of a person who was transformed when he encountered this literary scholar who had himself come from atheism to belief in God as Savior.

Others, like myself, already believed, but Lewis deepened and clarified that belief, sometimes through his nonfiction and sometimes through his fiction.

My top four Lewis books include two fiction and two nonfiction. That’s if I set Narnia aside and don’t count it at all. Which I ought not do. How do you set aside an author’s seminal work?

When I think of the books that Lewis wrote that influenced my spiritual life most, I think of Surprised by Joy, The Great Divorce, Til We Have Faces, Mere Christianity, Screwtape Letters, and Narnia.

When I think of his books that influenced my writing, I think of Narnia. Just Narnia. I loved the idea of a secret world that existed to be discovered, of the good King who ruled. I loved each adventure that expanded the mythos of the world. I wanted to write like Lewis.

Well, not like him. I wanted to create myth like him. I wanted my stories to point to Truth like his do. I wanted to imagine memorable characters like he did. In so many ways his fiction was a map that showed me what great stories should look like.

I’m not saying I’m there. In fact, I’m not saying that any writer is there. In truth, only one C. S. Lewis has existed or will ever exist. But no doubt, God has used him to impact a generation of Christian writers for such a time as this.

Perhaps no genre has captured the imagination of the general public as has fantasy. The Harry Potter series became a nationwide hit, first as books for which readers waited in line at midnight to acquire, then as movies that showed in living color the wonderful imaginative world which J. K. Rowling invented.

Not long after came the urban fantasy of Twilight, followed by the dystopian blockbusters by Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games) and Veronika Roth (Divergent).

Countless Christian writers have made small ripples in the bottomless fantasy lake, and many, if not most, will include C. S. Lewis as an author who influenced them.

He was a great thinker and greatly imaginative. He had a grasp of the way story works, of how to make the large ideas simple enough for a child to grasp.

He was only 65 when he died, and I’d say he died too young, except Psalm 139 says our days are ordained for us, “when as yet there was not one of them.” God knew the impact Lewis would make, that dying in the shadow of the assassination of an American President actually might grow his legacy, not overshadow his accomplishments.

God knew that a set of children’s books would speak to generations of kids even when they became adults. God knew that this atheist convert would understand how to answer the objections of atheists better than any other apologist could.

I am so grateful for C. S. Lewis and his stories, his thinking, his example. May his legacy grow.

Statue photo By “Genvessel” – https://www.flickr.com/photos/genvessel/149269475/in/set-72057594139281324/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=826864

Gratitude, Day 15—Thanksgiving Day


I’ve said more many years that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There are just so many things that are right about the day.

For example it’s a celebration of those early thanksgivings our forefathers held because they lived to bring in a new harvest. I mean, life was not something they took for granted. So they wanted to express their gratitude for life and food.

What’s more they invited native Americans to join them, not as guests but as contributors and participants. They recognized the role their new friends played in making it possible for them to have success in their endeavors.

And of course they were thankful to God because they recognized that without Him, they would not have survived the ocean crossing or had the encounters with people who would help them or received the rain and the sunshine they needed to grow their crops.

With that thought, I want to share a meditation on Thanksgiving which I wrote here in 2013.
– – – – –
My first observation about thanksgiving in general is that it is a responsive action. People give thanks because they have first been given something or have benefited from some condition or in some other way have experienced favor or provision. In other words, we don’t start out being thankful. We become thankful as we realize what we have received.

Thanksgiving, then, requires a level of humility. If we think we have earned all we have, if we aren’t acknowledging the fact that we received from another’s hand, we won’t be in a mindset to give thanks.

In that regard, Thanksgiving also requires a measure of reality. We need to see the truth about our circumstances. We need to have clarity of vision so that we realize both what we have received and what we would be like if we hadn’t received.

True thanksgiving, having been properly caused, seems to erupt from within. As someone on another site noted, thanksgiving can’t be mandated. No one can be thankful by order of the President, even if that President was Abraham Lincoln. Rather, thankfulness flows from a heart of love and relief and appreciation, not only for the thing received, but for the person who made it possible.

Third, thanksgiving is expressed. Real thanksgiving has legs. It moves from being an emotion to being a demonstration, through words or actions. People giving thanks aren’t silent and they often aren’t still. Thankful people give smiles and hugs; they pack bags and fly hundreds of miles across country; they send cards and presents; they sing songs; they put offering into the plate at church; they get up a half hour early to pray. The cook dinners and bake pies. In short, thanksgiving is not passive.

I can’t help but think of the story Jesus told Simon, the Pharisee who hosted him for a meal.

“A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41-42).

Jesus didn’t say, which will be more thankful? He said, which will love him more? Thanksgiving isn’t passive. It turns into love and service and shameless adoration. At least, real thankfulness does–the kind that recognizes the great gifts which have been bestowed and receives them in humility.

In the end, I guess that explains why we so often take time on Thanksgiving Day to think about the things we’ve been given. An awareness of what we have that we did not earn puts us in a place where we can experience thankfulness and then respond.

So let the count begin of all the blessings God has bestowed upon us. Let’s not forget the things God has revealed about Himself that are treasures in and of themselves: He is infinite in love, His mercy extends to the heavens, He is abundantly trustworthy to the point that He will never fail us or forsake us, He is righteous in all His works, His goodness is untainted with even a shadow of wrong doing.

And the list goes on!

Published in: on November 21, 2018 at 4:59 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Gratitude, Day 14—Places To Go; Things To See


I’ve purposefully been avoiding the things we so commonly include on a list of “what are you thankful for?” No profound reason. I just assume everyone already knows I’m thankful for friends and family, clothes and food, a roof over my head.

I almost broke that resolution to write about my parents, specifically about my dad because today would have been his birthday. I’ve put off writing that post for a long time, but I’m getting close to the point where I will be ready to put some thoughts down. But not yet.

Instead I want to write about how thankful I am that God gave me the opportunity to travel. I never expected to do so. I didn’t even want to do so. After all, I’d moved so often when I was a kid, I didn’t see the desirability of moving to a different country or of living out of a suitcase.

Little did I know what God had in store for me.

My first move outside the US was to Tanzania, East Africa. I know. Not a typical travel spot. Living in the small town of Korogwe, between the capital of Dar es Salaam and the tourist town of Arusha at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, changed me. I saw people in new ways—rich or poor, African, English, Indian, or American, they are people. We all laugh and get hungry, have a sense of curiosity, work hard, bleed, fall in love, love our children, and on and on.

I also saw that the US is not a place to take for granted, that there are wondrous sights in the world, that traveling can open eyes.

Well, it sure did mine. I wouldn’t have articulated this then when I was just seventeen, but I had a greater understanding of what God meant when He said He loved the world.

I could do a post on Tanzania alone and what I learned, but that was just the first.

Not so long after, I had a friend invite me to spend the summer in Mexico attending summer school at UNAM—a university in Mexico City. I went. From that short trip, I learned that I had an affinity for the Hispanic culture. Except I thought it was for the Mexican culture. I knew some Spanish, loved the people, the architecture, the history, the life style. So I determined to go back.

I applied to a mission organization to be a teacher at a missionary kids’ school. Instead of going to Mexico, however, I decided on a school in the country just south: Guatemala. After all, what could be different?

Well, everything!

OK, people still spoke Spanish, but the country is poor, the terrain is rocky, the land ringed with volcanoes. But there were still wondrous sights, and adventures to experience. There was history right in our backyard. There was paganism lived out on the steps of a church and on a high place outside of town.

Again my eyes were opened—surprisingly, more about myself than anything. I lived through a devastating earthquake and survived a bike accident that gave me a concussion that wiped a day or so out of my memory. I flew in a prop plane for the first (and hopefully, last) time. I spent Christmas eve worshiping in a little out of the way church, accessible only by foot.

I haven’t mentioned the trip my sister and I took when we returned from Africa, that took us to Athens and Rome and Switzerland and Amsterdam and London.

There’s also the two weeks I spent in Tokyo one Christmas vacation—a humbling experience when you can’t even read a street sign or a menu and you can’t ask a story clerk where the tuna is or how much the bananas cost.

Each of those experiences changed me and changed my worldview in ways that are impossible to explain or enumerate. But one thing I never imagined when I first began to travel: I have a wealth of information about other people and other places that I can use in my fantasies. The fantasy world of Efrathah where my protagonist goes, has a little of Tanzania, a little of my home state of Colorado, a little of Guatemala, a little of this place or that. What a treasure trove my travels have become.

So today, I want to say how grateful I am that God gave me so many varied places to visit and so many experiences to shape me. That He also has given me the opportunity to put what I learned into my stories is beyond great. I mean, when I got on the plane heading for Africa, I had no intention of writing fiction. I had no idea how writing journal entries or character sketches of the people I met would put me on a path toward fiction. Only God could plan and prepare me for such a thing so far in advance.

He’s great, and it is really Him I am thankful for in all these varied topics I’ve included in the Gratitude posts.

Published in: on November 20, 2018 at 5:31 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Gratitude, Day 13—Prayer


I’ve written from time to time about prayer (other articles include this and this, but there are more), but I still don’t really understand it.

My atheist friends keep asking about answered prayer, as if getting what we pray for would prove that God exists. I’ve tried to explain that asking God for stuff isn’t really what prayer is about, but I haven’t been able to articulate it clearly. It always sounds so nebulous.

And still, I’m so thankful for prayer.

I have to wonder, what would I do for a friend who is having surgery if I couldn’t pray for her? What would I do for a family that is in danger from the California wildfires, if I couldn’t pray for them? What would I do for someone who just lost a loved one if I couldn’t pray for him?

I am so grateful I don’t have to find out. The very idea of prayer means I can bring all the stuff I’m concerned about to God. Somehow, trusting Him to work, however He chooses, is far more important than “getting what I want.”

Then Sunday, the pastor who preached, gave a wonderful example from our study in the book of John, tying it with 1 Peter 5:6-7.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

The incident recorded in John relates the first known public miracle Jesus performed—turning water into wine. In this case the “prayer” was Mary’s as she came to Jesus with the problem. Someone else’s problem, our pastor added; she wasn’t just praying for what she needed but for what others needed.

The “prayer” itself was simply a statement of the problem. Mary didn’t precede to tell Jesus how she thought He should handle the circumstance. “They’re out of wine, Jesus. Do you think you could have a couple of Your disciples take a cart to the farm down the road and buy some wine from them. Of course, we’ll need to take up a collection first so that we have enough money to pay for it. Maybe you should send two others to the farm just beyond that neighbor, just in case. After all, we want to be sure it’s enough this time.”

No, Mary, left the problem in Jesus’s hands so that He could solve it as He saw fit. What He chose to do was surprising and abundant and beyond what the steward expected: the wine was the best of the feast—far better than was usually served at the end of such an event.

How often do we Christians dictate to God what He should do for us when we pray, rather than presenting Him with the problem and letting Him work as He will? I know I do that. But we also have Jesus’s model when He prayed in Gethsemane. There He gave a specific something He wanted His Father to do: “Let this cup pass from Me.” But He didn’t stop there. Instead He submitted to His Father’s will.

These were not words He indiscriminately tacked on as part of religious formalism. Jesus actually was giving the Father control, even if it meant NOT saying yes to what He’d just asked. Actually, He knew His Father was not going to say yes. I mean, He came to earth for the very purpose of dying for sinners. So why did He bother to ask? Because that’s what He wanted. He didn’t want to suffer. He didn’t want to die. But He wanted to obey His Father more.

I think that’s what is lacking in a lot of our prayers. We don’t actually want what God wants if it means we don’t get what we want.

So why am I thankful for this kind of prayer that is . . . not really procuring what I need? Well, what I actually need is submission to God. So it is precisely what I need. And it is communion with the Living God, which is precisely what I need. And when He assures me that He hears my cry, I am so moved, so humbled, that He would listen to an insignificant, low-on-the-totem-pole believer like me. I’m not even the chief of sinners (Paul already claimed that place). I’m not the chief of anything. I’m just a little flower, here today for only as long as the number of days ordained for me last. I’m not the chief hostess or the chief apologist or chief writer or chief evangelist. Not chief anything. And God still listens to me. Actually He loves to listen to me. He longs to listen to ME! I have no idea why except that He is God.

So I am beyond grateful for prayer. It is an awesome, awe-inspiring privilege to pray.

Photo by Ric Rodrigues from Pexels

Published in: on November 19, 2018 at 5:18 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , ,

Gratitude, Day 12—Music


I admit: a friend of mine wrote a cool piece on Facebook yesterday, about being grateful for music. Me too, I thought. That one belongs in my list of gratitude topics. (As an aside—fair warning that when you have dealings with a blogger, what you do or what you say might end up as fodder for a blog post. Just saying!)

When I was a kid, I wanted in the worst way to learn how to play an instrument. I never told my parents, though, until I was probably in sixth or seventh grade. Well, what instrument are you interested in playing, my parents asked. The violin. It was an identifiable instrument, and I loved the various solo pieces I heard. One of my favorites was Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, I think. My dad in particular was a classic music aficionado, so I grew up with the great classic symphonies and concertos and even a number from minor composers.

But the problem with me learning the violin—well, there were many issues. For one, I didn’t read music. For another I hated the idea of practicing. I knew this because there was a time when my sister took piano and she was supposed to them teach me what she learned. The few times I actually sat down and practiced did not convince me that this was something I wanted to do. My parents didn’t force me.

In truth, I wanted to have learned the violin so I could perform. I didn’t actually want to learn.

I had one short stint with the guitar. My inability to read music was not an issue, but there was still the part about me not liking to practice, so that went nowhere.

The only real success I had with music growing up was with the harmonica. Again, I didn’t read music and so I didn’t really have a clue how to play tunes I was familiar with. So, I simply made up others. I learned to string a bunch of notes together that actually sounded pretty good and expressed my heart. But I could never duplicate what I was playing. It was really only just for me.

Singing. I love to sing and I love to be a part of great congregational singing. It’s the closest thing to being a part of a choir. I imagine. I’ve never actually been part of a choir, because, you know, I don’t read music and I don’t like practicing.

But I love music.

I’m not too particular, either. Having grown up listening to classical music, I still love a number of pieces, like that Tchaikovsky concerto I mentioned. But I also grew up when “contemporary Christian music” was birthed. As songs went from the somewhat sappy and simplistic (“It only takes a spark, to get a fire going . . .) to more worshipful and challenging, I went right along with it. I bought praise tapes every chance I got. I loved Second Chapter of Acts and Keith Green and Amy Grant, then Jeremy Camp and a host of other artists.

I skipped over my “secular phase.” When I was in high school, I listened to the same songs every other teen was listening to. The thing was, the music was so far from punk or rap or raggae or heavy metal. It leaned more toward folk music, though it was transitioning to rock. I was pretty much fine with the style of the day. What I did not like was jazz or big band or country.

More recently I’ve had some exposure to country (The Voice, anyone?), and I have to say, I no longer hate it.

The point is, I’m not all that picky about the style of music I listen to. I mostly like music that touches my heart, that expresses something inside.

Not everyone agrees with me, but I think a lot of the old hymns do that for me. On top of the music that takes hold of my soul are the lyrics that point me to Christ or to the Father or even to the Holy Spirit, though I think the hymns that are Biblically accurate in their depiction of the Spirit are few and far between.

I like the hymns that have been inspired by Scripture and portray Biblical truth. “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” the classic by Martin Luther, is one of them:

1
A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
2
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His Name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
3
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

4
That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.
(from hymnal.net)

There are so many though, and not the least are contemporary hymns by the likes of Keith and Kristyn Getty.

I find that the music that stirs my soul, in combination with the lyrics that focus my thoughts on God are the ones I like best. I still like classical music, though. I just have to supply the “lyrics” myself, in prayer and meditation.

So music, though I don’t listen to it the way so many do today, is something I’m so thankful for!

Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

%d bloggers like this: