There’s All Kinds Of Ways Of Sinning



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Sin goes to the core of human nature, but the actual sins we commit, look drastically different from those of someone else. To the point that we might be tempted to think, I don’t want to be with all the bad people, so I’m camping out here where all the good people like me hang out. If the place we’re talking about is church, we’ve missed the point.

Church is not a place filled with good people. Rather, it’s filled with forgiven people, and we’re all in process, trying to learn how to become like our Father who adopted us into His family.

We should have special affinity for our brothers and sisters in the family of God, but not because they are good people, not because I think I’m one of the good people.

As people saved by grace, Christians should, in fact, live by grace, too. That’s what Paul says in Colossians:

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. (2:6-7)

I find it interesting that thanksgiving is an element of living in grace, but that’s not connected to the main point here. Rather, I think it’s really important to recognize God’s forgiveness. But the problem there, is this: to thank God for His forgiveness, we must also admit our sin and ask for forgiveness.

And if we think we are in the happy group of good people, it’s hard to admit we may have a life that looks different from the guy in prison. But we are both sinners, and we both can be saved by grace.

Our spiritual well-being is dependent upon God, not on the way we pretty up our lives to make us look good. I don’t think we need to turn every sin into a public confession, either, but we should definitely tell God and then thank Him for His forgiveness.

I’ll give you an example. I mentioned here a week or so ago that I’ve been struggling to stay on task. I finally realized that I was giving in to my own personal desires just as surely as if I was doing drugs or watching porn or whatever. Every time I say, I understand what you want me to do, God, but I don’t really want to do that, so I’ll do this other thing, I’m sinning.

No, I haven’t killed anyone or hated anyone or gossiped or got drunk. My sin, though, simply looks different. It is nevertheless, me saying no to God and going my own way.In other words, I am taking the reigns of my life and being my own boss. I’m essentially saying to God that I’ll get around to His agenda when I’m good and ready. Because what I do depends on what I feel like doing.

So, no, my sin won’t look like someone else’s.

But sin, it is.

Like all sin, it is saying no to God, even if I’m saying, Not now, or, Later.

Too often we think of sin as us hurting other people, and certainly there is an element of that. In fact, the consequences of sin can vary greatly, depending on the way we work out our sin.

For instance, Jesus said that to hate someone was as sinful as committing murder. But a murder has immediate and widespread consequences that hatred does not have. Sure, when you hate someone, you might ruin their lives. You might even ruin your own. But not necessarily. On the other hand, if you murder someone, they are dead.

I think of King David with this illustration, because he actually did murder a guy. He basically ordered a hit job, for one reason—he wanted to hide the fact that he was an adulterer. He slept with this guy’s wife and when she got pregnant, he tried a couple ways of covering his tracks that didn’t work. So he had the guy killed, and married his wife.

Later he repented. But the guy was still dead.

The thing that caught my attention, when David was confessing in one of the Psalms, he said, speaking to God,

Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge. (51:4)

Earlier he’d told Nathan the same thing when he confronted David about what he’d done.

All this to say, I think we too often see our sin as an offense against people. In our society, the central principle seems to be, Do no harm. So if our sin is a “victimless crime” in which no one else is hurt, we sort of have adopted the idea that it’s not so bad. Not really sin. It’s like the “little white lie” concept, as if the little lie is not really sin.

Maybe the little act of stealing, like pirating books or using images that aren’t ours, falls into this category. We tell ourselves things like, nobody cares, I’m sure they can afford it. That sort of thing.

The real issue is what James says in chapter 4 of his book: “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (v. 17)

To know the right thing to do and then choose to go our own way, not God’s right way, is sin. No matter how it might look to other people.

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Published in: on August 29, 2019 at 5:02 pm  Comments (7)  
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Beyond Reasonable Doubt


Years ago, here in California, reporting for jury duty was different from what it is now. Then when we would receive the summons, we had to report to the assigned venue for ten days, or, if chosen to serve on a jury, throughout the duration of the trial.

Part of that process was for prospective jurists waiting in the jury room, to be selected randomly to serve on a panel. This group would go to an assigned courtroom where we satin the spectators’ chairs. From the panel a number of potential jurists would randomly be chosen and called up to the jury box. Those twelve, and the two alternates, were then questioned by the lawyers and the judge.

More than once I was included in a panel and sat in the courtroom listening to the lawyers explain law, ask questions, and dismiss various individuals from the box. (Those folk then returned to the jury room until they were impaneled again.) A new name was then chosen and the potential jurist would take the vacated spot in the box and would undergo the same questioning.

During my ten days, first in the criminal court and then later in the civil, I learned a lot about the legal system. But my point here is not to critic the various things I saw then or have seen since from sitting on other juries.

Rather, one of the most memorable learning experiences I had was from one defense and one prosecuting attorney who explained the term “reasonable doubt.”

The trial was of someone accused of murder, so these lawyers wanted to be sure the members of the jury would understand this important term, reasonable doubt.

The defense attorney explained by using an example. Let’s say there’s a swimming pool at a park or somewhere with a sign that says, Stay out of the water. On the side of the pool are clear footprints leading from the pool to your chair. Is this evidence beyond reasonable doubt that you have violated the law? At first blush, it might seem so. But what if there was a shower stall at the edge of the pool? What if there was the possibility of rain that day? I’ll add this one: what if there was a hose lying on the grass or various other people with water bottles that may have spilled? Suddenly there are more possibilities than just the one idea that the person did in fact enter the water when they weren’t allowed to do so.

The way the law reads, according to this lawyer, the jurist was bound to assume innocence—meaning that, if there were these other possible explanations, they were obligated to assume one of them, not the one indicating a law had been broken.

I was a little stunned (so much so that I remember the illustration all these years later). Who could ever be found guilty? Almost, it seemed, you needed an eye witness—well, more than one, and a camera would even be better—if you were to find a defendant guilty.

Then the prosecutor took his turn. He stood behind a podium with a microphone so everyone could hear. As all the attorneys, he looked the part of the professional: neat; nice shirt, tie, suit coat; well groomed. He had not walked to the podium because it was positioned in front of his table. In addition, he faced us. He brought our attention to his clothing, then said, What if someone told you I was wearing boxer shorts and not my suit pants, would you believe it to be true? We didn’t have eyewitness evidence that he was not in his boxer shorts. It was a possibility. Did that mean that we now had doubt that would prevent us from making a decision about how he was dressed?

No, he said, because of he word “reasonable.” There were no other attorneys in boxer shorts. In fact no other people in the courtroom or jury room or anywhere else in the courthouse wearing boxer shorts. To think that he was doing so, stretched the concept that there was reasonable doubt as to what he was wearing. In other words, he said, jurists can and should use deductive reasoning and not think they had to be at the crime scene and witness the crime if they were to arrive at a guilty verdict.

That long explanation applies not just to jurists. It applies to anyone who wants to know if God exists or not. There is abundant evidence that God exists, just not eyewitness evidence. I’ve written on this subject countless times (here’s one I recommend: “What Creation Tells Us About God”).

In one recent-ish post, I made a list of things that point to God’s existence. The first item is the intricacy, the complexity of life—of all the world, the universe, really. Nothing we know of, anywhere, came into existence unless something or someone made it. When we see a canyon, for example, we don’t think, Wow, an anomalous dent in the earth. No, we ascribe a means by which it was formed: by erosion from a river, by a flood, by wind or a meteor. Something.

Only the universe, according to atheists, has no cause. Oh, sure, the “Big Bang.” But what initiated the thing that initiated all the universe? Science has no answer. We don’t know, they say.

Which brings us back to reasonable doubt. I can see that atheists doubt God’s existence. But is it reasonable?

All known complex things — created by someone or something;
the universe — no idea how it came about (but it wasn’t God.)

Is the latter a reasonable position? I don’t see how it could be considered reasonable. Like the attorney who was in fact wearing suit pants, we potential jurists could make that conclusion without having to see him. It simply was not reasonable to believe otherwise. Logical deduction makes it clear.

Published in: on August 28, 2019 at 5:40 pm  Comments (9)  
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Not An Accident


Structure of DNA double helix

Some atheists tell us that life is an accident and any circumstantial evidence humans come up with to the contrary is simply a trick of the mind that wishes to find patterns where none actually exist.

But I have to wonder—how do they know that no pattern exists? It seems to me, the belief that no pattern exists is a result of believing that there is no designer to formulate a pattern. Otherwise, when element after element after element aligns in a pattern, why would you think, Yeah, but that’s just a coincidence.

For instance, “DNA is a three-billion-lettered program telling the cell to act in a certain way. It is a full instruction manual.” (See “Is There a God?”) What are the chances of such an intricate “instruction manual” just happening to develop—for each cell of the human body?!

But DNA is a quite new discovery. Long before technology allowed us such a close look, we saw designs. Humans have a small set of eye colors and hair color and skin colors, but we have an infinite number of finger prints. Can that uniqueness happen by accident?

We could look at seasons and the hours of sunlight in the day and the rings inside a tree and weather patterns and the digestive system and breathing—we’d see evidence of design at every turn. All these particulars have such a long shot probability of happening accidentally, we might as well say it’s impossible.

Why is it a plane can fly? Because air pressure is a constant.

Why is it that meteors don’t fall to earth and crush us? Because our atmosphere is the right thickness to protect us.

How can we measure time? Because the earth rotates at a constant speed and travels around the sun at a rate that doesn’t fluctuate.

In fact, we have a set of “natural laws” that allow us to predict and study the way our universe works, including our bodies. We know that gravity pulls things toward the earth’s core. That’s an immutable law. Drop a pencil ten times, a thousand times, a billion billion times, and it will fall to the ground.

We have laws of physics, laws of biology, laws of chemistry, laws of botany, laws of geology, laws of meteorology. And then there is math. Two plus two is always four, not sometimes four and sometimes six.

Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winner for quantum electrodynamics, said, “Why nature is mathematical is a mystery…The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle.”
(Ibid)

There is order to the world that points to anything but an accident.

Accidents don’t produce advanced technology. As many times as those automobile safety tests have a car hit a brick wall, not once has the car come out in an advanced state.

This just scratches the surface. I haven’t mentioned moral law or aesthetics. Each would need a post of its own.

The fact is, order exists in our world. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves.

And order does not come from disorder—that’s actually one of those laws of science.

So something (or Someone) ordered—not randomness, chaos, chance, or accident—brought an ordered world into being. It’s only logical—which is also based on immutable laws. That someone looks at order and says, Caused by chance, reveals more about that someone than it does about the world.

What kind of person would look for an answer to the question, How did an ordered world full of intricate life—balanced ecosystems and complex organisms and natural laws—and conclude that the aggregation of it all came about by happenstance? Is that a logical conclusion? Or is that a conclusion someone would reach who has already ruled out the possibility of Someone great enough to design it all perfectly?

Take a look at just one fact about our planet, its distance from the sun:

The Earth is located the right distance from the sun. Consider the temperature swings we encounter, roughly -30 degrees to +120 degrees. If the Earth were any further away from the sun, we would all freeze. Any closer and we would burn up. Even a fractional variance in the Earth’s position to the sun would make life on Earth impossible. The Earth remains this perfect distance from the sun while it rotates around the sun at a speed of nearly 67,000 mph. It is also rotating on its axis, allowing the entire surface of the Earth to be properly warmed and cooled every day. (Ibid)

What are the chances?

Well, some will tell us, given the vast number of galaxies in the universe, there’s a pretty good chance that there’s another planet just like ours with all the properties necessary for life.

And if there is such a place, why would we think it accidentally came into being any more than the Earth? If it’s unlikely that an accident produced one orderly biosphere, how much more unlikely would it be if there are two? In other words, a second habitable planet would increase the likelihood of design, not decrease it—given the incredibly improbable odds of all the right components being present to allow for life with respiratory systems and circulatory systems and digestive systems and cognition.

In all seriousness, I believe it takes wishful thinking to conclude that our planet, the solar system, the universe came about as a result of an accident instead of as the creation of an all powerful designer.

This article is a copy of one that appeared here in July 2015. So if you recognize it, you’re right, you have a good memory, and you’ve been stopping by for some years now. Thank you!

Published in: on August 26, 2019 at 5:08 pm  Comments (5)  
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Saying No To Free Gifts



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When I was a kid, we had a mother cat that delivered six or seven beautiful kittens. We couldn’t keep them, of course, so we put an ad in the newspaper for free kittens. No one came to claim one.

The same thing sometimes happens today. Authors, from time to time, offer free things—perhaps a free ebook or a short story that someone can download for free. Some even hold drawings in which a winner will receive some cool prize.

So, why doesn’t everyone who hears about these freebies, grab the opportunity to order or download or enter?

I’ve thought of several possibilities:

1. They already have whatever is being offered and don’t think they need another.
2. They don’t want to take the time to order or download or fill out an entry form.
3. They don’t want to give the required information.
4. They don’t think the give away will be as good as it sounds or that they have a chance of winning.
5. They see so many give-aways, they are numb to them and barely notice them.
6. They don’t want the thing that’s offered.

As you might have guessed, this post isn’t about promotional giveaways. Actually there is a clear parallel between those who decide to say no to an author’s giveaway, and those who say no to God’s great giveaway: the free gift of salvation, offered on the basis of His grace through faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son.

The first reason seems to me to be common. Those who say no to God’s free gift of salvation don’t think they need salvation. Maybe they think they’re good enough or that God is such a good guy he’ll overlook their reprehensible thoughts and behavior. After all, there are so many who are worse. You know, murderers and the like, people who nobody wants to hang with for eternity. As long as they’re not as bad as those guys, then maybe they can get by without forgiveness.

Another possibility is that they think they can do enough to earn their own salvation. Maybe they ascribe to the “I don’t take charity” motto. Or maybe they think they shouldn’t need salvation and are too proud to let everyone know they actually do.

Secondly, I suspect there’s a good number who say no to God’s free gift because they’re too busy to pay attention to His offer. They don’t want to slow down to find out what exactly they would have to do and how their lives would change if they said yes. They might even promise themselves “someday,” thinking they’ll give it more thought later.

Undoubtedly there are some in a third camp—they wouldn’t mind a free gift if the price weren’t so high. You know, if there weren’t strings attached. Sure, it’s free, but there’s personal information they have to disclose—sins they have to confess, truths they have to believe. Getting to a place where they are willing to be so personal is asking too much, in their book.

Fourth, it’s possible some say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t think it’s real. They think He doesn’t exist, or that He isn’t good. Some few might think their lives have been so unutterably evil that God couldn’t possibly extend salvation to them; it just can’t be true.

A fifth reason for saying no to God is that there are so many offers on the table, each saying this about God or that or the other. He’s interested in making you healthy and wealthy, he hates gays, he will bring everyone into heaven eventually, he is one with the universe—in us all and all of us in him–and so on. Who knows if the story about Jesus dying in their place to pay for their sins, is reliable and true? There are just so many other possibilities.

Lastly, there are undoubtedly some who say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t want to see Him showing up in their house, at their place of business, at their parties, or any of the other places they hang out. Salvation, frankly, isn’t appealing because God is attached to the gift. They don’t want “such a tyrant” bossing them around.

Amazing, isn’t it? Something so valuable, so necessary, so life-changing, and yet person after person refuses the free gift. They have their reasons, after all.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This article is based in large part, on one that appeared here with this same title in September, 2012.

Published in: on August 23, 2019 at 5:12 pm  Comments (15)  
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Belief In What?


This question, belief in what, might not be one that other people ask. Maybe it’s obvious to them, but not to me, at least not when I first thought about the question. It came up again today as I looked at a passage in James. His explanation in the second part of chapter 2 is that Christians must have some action that gives life to their faith. At one point he says, “The demons also believe and shudder.” Believe in what?

Well, his previous statement was this: “You believe in God, you do well.” So the demons, apparently, “believe in God.” And that causes them to react in fear, not in faith. So “believing in God” is not enough. Saying, I believe God exists. Is not enough. I believe that God is the supreme authority in the universe—that He is One—is not enough.

So, what are we to believe?

I want to say, We are to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, because believing in Him sets apart Christians from other “faith communities.” In other words, from other people who believe something, but not that Jesus is Lord.

But what about Abraham and all the other saints of the Old Testament? Abraham is particularly easy to discuss because both the Old and the New Testaments say, And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. He believed God.

But what about God did He believe? In the Old Testament context when the statement was first made about Abraham (Genesis 15:6), God had just promised him that he would have as many descendants as the stars of the sky, that he would possess the land upon which he stood. Then Abraham believed in the LORD. Abraham went from calling on God to believing in the LORD. I mean, he’d left his home back in Ur because God told him to do so, back when he was calling upon God.

Now, however, these years later, his belief is counted as righteousness. What did he believe? Not that God existed. He’d believed that before. But now he believed the promise of God, the word of God. He believed that God was telling him the truth, even though he clearly would not live to see all the things happen that God said would happen. He didn’t need to see God keep His promises. He believed He would.

God’s promises, essentially, can be boiled down to one: the coming of His Son, Jesus. No, He didn’t explain it all to Abraham. But He set in motion the coming of Jesus, born of a descendant of David, who was one of those many descendants of Abraham, which God promised.

So, believe in what? I guess I’d say, I believe in what God says, what He’s promised.

It’s really the fact that Adam did NOT believe in what God said that got him in trouble back in the Garden of Eden. God’s word is the thing Satan has attacked from that time until now. Further more, the enemy of our souls wants to bring God’s word in question at every turn. Has God really said ______. Fill in the blank. He even brought that same tactic to Jesus when he tempted Him. “If You are the Son of God. . .,” “If You are the Son of God . . .,” he repeatedly threw at Jesus. If You are the Word, he could just as easily have said, because that’s precisely what John told us about Jesus.

Hebrews reinforces this. God spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets, but in these last days has spoken to us in His Son. (See Heb. 1:1-2). We can essentially put in an equal sign: God’s Word=Jesus, God’s Word.

He is the promise Abraham believed. He is the promise we must believe today.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Rom. 1:16)

The gospel. The Good News the angels told the shepherds on the day of Christ’s birth. The Good News “which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son” (Rom. 1:2b-3a).

Believing God, believing in God, is taking God at His word that He would and did send His Son. John said it plainly in his first letter:

The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. (1 John 5:10-12)

Published in: on August 22, 2019 at 5:39 pm  Comments (14)  
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False Teaching And The Signs That Help Detect It


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I finished reading the book of Galatians this morning. I used to think that it was sort of a mini-Romans. I suppose there’s some truth to that, but as I read Galatians more closely this week, I realized it’s really about false teaching and false teachers and the lies that the churches in the Galatian region were apparently beginning to believe.

Paul handled the problem by drawing their attention to it and by laying out the truth.

As I see it, the Church in today’s western culture is wide open to false teaching. In fact a radio preacher recently said that’s kind of normal—that the Church is prone to take on some of what the culture believes, even things that are false.

I’d say, among the many problems western culture has—things like selfishness and pride and greed and placing a high value on personal pleasure over serving, either God or our fellow humans—is one that might color pretty much all of life. It is the idea that humans are good, not sinful, not in need of a heart change.

People bristle at this idea and many churches no longer preach this truth because they no longer believe it.

Paul was dealing with legalism in Galatia, and that’s something that the Church has faced from time to time. I’d go so far as to say, it’s been an issue in my lifetime, and many preachers teach against it. It’s a works kind of belief, valuing human effort more than the grace God has given us. So it’s sadly alive and well and something the Church must continue to guard against. But so are these other postmodern, post-truth issues. Not that contemporary society invented them, but we have given a new voice to them.

The rest of this article is a re-post, with some revision, of one that appeared here in March, 2010.

I’ve come to believe Christians should uncover false teaching in the church. A believer’s silence in the face of instruction contrary to Scripture can be tacit agreement. By and large, I feel the majority of Bible-believing Christians have been silent longer than we should have been.

I understand why—we are all too aware of what the Bible says about judging. Who am I, then, to say that this person or that ministry is engaged in false teaching?

Well, I don’t think we need to do any finger pointing or heresy hunting. Instead, I think we can see what the Bible has to say about the subject.

I used to think that deciphering false teaching was easy. Not after I read comments to a statement I made: Christians have a set of essential beliefs we hold in common—that’s what defines us as Christians. The push-back shocked me. In essence, the response was, “Who says?” In other words, those who don’t hold to those core beliefs still say they are Christians. Who are you to say they aren’t?

To me that’s comparable to saying, I live in Cuba which is near the US, so I’m a US citizen. Who are you to say I’m not?

Clearly, if we do not agree on an authoritative source or a set of core beliefs comprising Christianity, then anyone can claim to be a “Christian” teacher, even those with a different message, a false message that contradicts what Christian orthodoxy has held to be true.

But who’s to say?

I’d have to give this one to God. He gets to say, and He’s addressed the subject in His Word.

In a sermon at Truth for Life on Nehemiah, Alistair Begg dealt with false teaching. He referenced a passage in Jeremiah about false prophecy:

But, “Ah, Lord GOD!” I said, “Look, the prophets are telling them, ‘You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place.’ ”

Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.

“Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who are prophesying in My name, although it was not I who sent them—yet they keep saying, ‘There will be no sword or famine in this land’—by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end! (Jer 14:13-15)

It struck me that these statements are similar to some of the teaching that passes as “Christian” today. I’m thinking in particular of any “universalist” teaching and any “Christianity will make you healthy and wealthy” teaching.

The first promises peace with God. All will go to heaven no matter what faith they embrace here on earth. In fact, there isn’t a hell to even worry about. This is nothing more than the spiritualized version of what the false prophets were saying in Jeremiah’s day.

The second is a peace-in-your-own-personal-world promise. Real believers, this false teaching says, will be rich and healthy. One particular TV false teacher scoffs at Christians who think God might be teaching them through affliction.

Jeremiah’s message to the people of Israel was that God was in fact teaching and punishing them through the drought they were experiencing and the war that threatened them, even though the false prophets said otherwise.

Which leads to the real sign of false teaching, according to Pastor Begg and his exposition of Nehemiah 9: God’s word—teaching that is true—will call His people to repentance. Here are two key verses in the passage:

While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God …

However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. (Neh 9:3, 33)

In contrast, look at what Jeremiah says in Lamentations:

Your prophets have seen for you
False and foolish visions;
And they have not exposed your iniquity
So as to restore you from captivity,
But they have seen for you false and misleading oracles. (Lam 2:14; emphasis mine)

God’s word read—the people confessed.

False teachers spoke—iniquity remained unexposed.

Does universalism prompt confession? Does the health-and-wealth teaching expose iniquity? Does any false teaching do so?

God Knows; We Don’t


Our sermon Sunday has stuck with me. We’re currently going through the gospel of John and have reached the chapters in which Jesus prepares His men for His crucifixion and resurrection . . . or at least tries to. The pastor who preached started by saying, God knows and we don’t, and He knows that we don’t.

That fact came through clearly in the passage we were studying (John 16:16-33). The disciples are kind of scratching their heads saying, Huh? We don’t know what you’re saying. So Jesus spells it out for them. They reply, Now you’re speaking plainly. No more vague references or metaphors. Jesus comes back by saying, Actually you still don’t really believe like you think you believe. In just a short time you’ll all be scattered and will desert Me.

As we know from Scripture, that’s precisely what happened. But the disciples didn’t know at the time when Jesus was telling them all these things. But He gave them the piece of information they needed most. This would provide them with the peace in the midst of tribulation that He mentioned in the last verse:

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

So what was this piece of information? That Jesus had overcome the world? I’m sure that was good news for them to hear, but when the tribulation hit, when the persecution would come, when they were hunkered in a room away from the crowd who had put Jesus to death, could they see this triumph Jesus talked about? Probably not.

But He gave them the information they needed:

Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. (vv 22-24)

So often the last two verses are pulled out of context and used in a presumptuous way by people who want to “hold God to His promises.” They want to ask for a mansion or to win the lottery or to marry up or whatever fills their heart’s desire.

But Jesus was talking specifically that His disciples could ask God to show them what was happening when they didn’t understand. When they would grieve for three days after the crucifixion, when they didn’t have a clue what they would do with their lives since Jesus wasn’t going to reign the way they thought He would.

They needed wisdom, and that would come from asking God. Interesting that Jesus’s half-brother, James, got this message. He said in his letter to the persecuted church,

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (Jas. 1:5)

Because God knows, and we don’t and He knows that we don’t, He tells us to ask. That’s it. Ask Him. And He will give generously, without making us feel like fools for coming to Him in our ignorance.

I’ve found myself more than once this week saying, I don’t get it, Lord; show me what You mean. Do I, in that moment, have clarity? Sometimes, but not always. Sometimes I have to wait, and sometimes I have to dig a little to understand the part that I don’t get.

I’m pretty sure Jesus was talking about spiritual things. I mean, the context is how the Messiah (He Himself) had to depart, had to die, all because His kingdom was spiritual. But can we ask for wisdom for the temporal stuff, too? I don’t see why not. I just don’t think God was promising to give us the temporal stuff.

When I was a kid, I used to pray regularly for a bike. No bike. Until one day I got an old second hand bike, probably as a gift from my parents. Problem was, we lived on a hill. I mean, we lived in the middle of a two-mile stretch of hill. Below us was a mile of down, and above us was a mile of up. Owning a bike then wasn’t quite what I had imagined.

But twice in my adult years, I actually had need of a bike. Both times someone (two different someones) generously lent me a nice ten-speed that I could use long term, as if I owned the bike.

I know God gives wisdom. James makes that clear. And certainly He wants us to ask for other things we need. Our wants that we think will make us happy? Not so much. But the peace in the midst of trouble? He gives that for sure. Because He knows, even when we don’t. And He knows we don’t.

Published in: on August 16, 2019 at 5:29 pm  Comments (6)  
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God And Senseless Shootings



Photo by Specna Arms from Pexels

Recently, when I was looking through the archives, I saw this post, but I assumed it was too dated to run again. Sadly, as it turns out, with the new rash of shootings (and one stabbing here in SoCal), it seems as relevant as the day I wrote it in response to a shooting in Arizona some eight years ago. So without revision here is the article that I ran in January, 2011.

When something tragic happens—man’s willful, wanton violence on man—such as happened a few days ago in Tucson, Arizona, I can’t help but wonder why everyone doesn’t believe in a God of justice.

Atheists make sense in a situation like that, their reasoning being that if God existed, He wouldn’t allow such horrific events. They, at least, accept the idea that God should be just.

But there is a group of people who claim to believe in God, even claim to believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, but who reject the idea that God is just. These people seem out of touch with reality when someone opens fire on a crowd, killing a nine-year-old, a number of senior citizens and others, and sending more than a dozen people to the hospital.

How can someone think God will overlook this?

No, these false teachers who reject God’s right to serve as Judge of the world He created, might say, God doesn’t overlook such acts. Jesus came to show a better way, and we’re simply slow learners. I’m not sure how this position helps the victims, or the criminals. Some might even say Jesus came to bear the penalty for all Mankind, so the nihilistic, chaos-seeking mass murderer is forgiven like everyone else.

The latter view overlooks the conditional aspects of forgiveness in Scripture. There is the belief requirement:

    • “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” – Acts 16:30b-31

 

    • that 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 – Rom. 10:9 [emphasis added]

 

    • But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. – Gal. 3:22

 

    • This precious value, then, is for you who believe – I Peter 2:7a

 

    • But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name – John 1:12

 

  • 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. – John 3:18

There is also the forgiveness requirement:

    • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Matt. 6:12

 

    • For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. – Matt. 6:14

 

  • And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart. – Matt. 18:34-35

In other words, a forgiven person forgives. He doesn’t go out and gun down a bunch of strangers.

Non-Christians understand and require justice, though their human efforts often turn into vengeance instead.

Finally, Christ’s death on the cross only makes sense in light of God’s justice. Unless the sinless Messiah was paying for the sins of those under condemnation of death, then He died senselessly. He would be a tragic figure—a great teacher cut down in his prime, a noble example turned victim, a caring mentor taken from those he discipled. The best anyone could say about him would be, He died well.

But the truth is that Jesus became the sin bearer who satisfied God’s just wrath. He is the substitute for everyone who believes.

Those who don’t—those who reject God’s sovereign right to rule and to judge—will stand before Him one day and receive justice. Think of them as perpetrators of cold cases that will assuredly be solved.

Need A Little Fiction Help


I originally started this blog for those interested in fiction, to discuss the way writers can show through stories the truth about the world, which of course includes the truth about God. I’ve branched out, as anyone who stops by here regularly can see. I write more now about how God works in and through us to touch the world.

But every once in a while I come back to my fiction roots. After all, I am still committed to story as a vehicle for the truth.

Today, I want to ask for your help. All of you, but especially those who love story.

At the team blog, Speculative Faith, where I write every Monday, I run a contest twice a year called a writing challenge. I give a first line, and then anyone who wants to, can enter the contest by writing what comes next, either a complete short piece of fiction or the beginning of a story. The entries are short—between a hundred and three hundred words. (A computer-generated double-spaced page is usually 250 words).

We accepted entries, had an evaluation period, and pulled out the top three stories. Monday I created a poll and readers are voting on the one they like best. All good, except at this writing, the three entries are DEAD EVEN. I mean, even, even. No difference. I said in case of a tie we’d do a coin toss, but I hope it doesn’t come down to that. So I figure, the best way to deal with this is to have more readers, more voters.

So my request: do you think it would be possible for you to take a few minutes out of your busy schedule to read the entries and to vote for the one you like best?

None is perfect. I mean, writers had only a limited amount of time and no say so on what that first line would be. Essentially I chose the verb tense and the point of view and the main character and to a lesser degree, the setting. I think it’s remarkable how the various writers pulled from their imagination and wrote such different stories or story beginnings.

But none of that helps separate who will win this year’s summer writing challenge. Please help. Please?

A big, huge thank you to all who are able to help out. Nothing helps more than readers who are unbiased and honest. You all will gain a few minutes of enjoyment, I think, but you’ll help me make this contest something that is valuable to writers. I appreciate you.

Published in: on August 14, 2019 at 4:00 pm  Comments (6)  
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Restoring The Soul


I heard a message recently concerning Christians who are “down in the dumps.” I think it was originally preached as part of a conference for pastors. The speaker, using one of David’s Psalms as a point of instruction, named several other people in Scripture who experienced a point of discouragement: Elijah, Jonah, a couple others. And he could have mentioned the Apostle Paul, too, because he faced discouragement in the face of ministry that was constantly under fire.

This message seemed timely because I recently heard from a friend about an individual dealing with discouragement. I’m not immune myself (as witnessed by my spotty blogging of late).

How great, then, to know that God has already provided for times when a person is disheartened or demoralized or disappointed. The bottom-line answer is in Psalm 19:

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.

When David (who authored this Psalm) refers to the “law of the Lord” here, he is speaking of God’s word. The passage continues, using a variety of other synonyms that add some clarity to what exactly God’s word is: testimony (or covenant promise), precepts, commandment, judgments.

The key for this post is that God’s word restores the soul. God’s word. Essentially it gives us a window to clarity. Our circumstances might be troubling. Our discouragement might come from the way the world is trending—away from God and what is morally right—we might feel alone in whatever we’re facing. The word of God reminds us that what we see when we look around is not the whole story.

It isn’t really the true story. For one, Christians are never alone because we have the Holy Spirit with us. Jesus said, He’s better than Jesus Himself remaining on earth, the most obvious reason being that Jesus, as a man, was limited in space and time so that He could never have physically been with all believers, everywhere. The Holy Spirit can, and does, reside in each believer’s heart, making available to us all His power and comfort and guidance.

Christians also don’t have to worry about the moral mess that seems to be our culture’s choice of living. This lack of righteousness will pass. It’s not a part of the end game. Heaven is. And for us personally, because Christ has defeated sin and death, we can live by His grace, not by the law of sin and of death (see Romans 8).

As for our troubling circumstances, those also will pass. They are not part of anything permanent. Rather, they are like a vapor that passes away, like a flower of the field that fades and falls to the ground. Those metaphors are actually descriptions of the human condition. We are here for a short time when we measure our lifetime with eternity. Paul calls the suffering of this world “light affliction” and “momentary” because there is no permanence in what seems hard now.

Football players right currently are gearing up for the NFL 2019 season. They are dealing with long, hot, hard practices in training camps throughout the US. They don’t love the difficulties as they compete for a roster spot. In truth, they can hardly wait for the games they know are coming soon. They’re willing to go through the “momentary, light affliction” of training camp because they understand 1) their coach wants them to become the best players they can be; and 2) they want to improve their game.

For us, the things that might discourage us are the very things that God can use to make us stronger, better, more like His Son Jesus.

All this we learn in God’s word. All this has the potential of restoring our souls as we dive into His word and let it abide in our hearts.

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