God Is Able


I wrote this piece six years ago for my church, but I don’t remember the occasion. Thing is, I feel more strongly about this subject now than when I wrote it.

I’ve seen God answer prayer in ways that surprise me. Even when I believe. Even when I know He is able.

When He shows Himself faithful, it’s just pure delight. Kind of like knowing the roller coaster ride is going to be a thrill, but then actually going on the ride and being thrilled!

Anyway, this article fits with my desire to grow in my prayer life. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. There are too many things to pray for. Sometimes I feel bored. There are too many things I’ve already prayed for. Sometimes I lack compassion and sometimes I get so emotional it’s draining. Sometimes I’m praying for people I will not ever know, this side of heaven, and have no way of learning how God has answered prayer.

But all this simply shows me how weak I am when it comes to prayer. So I’m posting this article as a reminder to me.

Ephesians 2:20 makes a bold statement about God—He is able: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think . . .”

I can’t help but notice that this description of God comes without limits. It doesn’t say, God is able when the economy is sound or God is able when you’re young and healthy or God is able when the right people are in government.

Despite the fact that we know intellectually God is able, when difficult times bare their poison-filled fangs, we may be tempted to depend on our own strategies rather than on God. Too often the philosophy that appeals in the midst of tough circumstances is, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Actually, like most false teaching, there is a fragment of truth embedded in that maxim. We are to be responsible and obedient. We are to do the job or ministry God has called us to do. But a self-help worldview obliterates the lines between our responsibility and our dependence on God.

In contrast, Abraham illustrates an uncomplicated trust in God. Genesis 12:1-9 records that God told Abraham to leave home and go to a new land. His response? I’m on my way. He did not wrest control from God and say, “Okay, God, I’ll move when my family situation is stable, when I’ve sent ahead to find a good plot of land we can buy, when I can afford this move or have figured out the safest route.” No. Scripture says, “He went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb. 11:8b).

That kind of obedience was possible because Abraham believed God was able. He could lead him, protect him, give him a miracle son, raise that boy from the dead if necessary, and make Abraham the Father of nations.

God is able, beyond what we ask or think. Of course, if we never ask . . .

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Published in: on September 10, 2018 at 4:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Joseph, The Clueless?


I love the story of Joseph. I just think too often in the past I idolized him. I think I did that with a lot of the Bible people if at some point they shone forth as heroes of the faith.

I now see Joseph differently. After all, he was an ordinary human like the rest of us.

Here’s what we know: he was his daddy’s favorite.

All the brothers knew he was, to the point that they became so jealous they could hardly speak to him.

His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms. (Gen. 37:4)

Funny thing, Joseph seemed clueless about their attitude. Once he had a dream that could only be interpreted as Joseph ruling over his brothers, and he didn’t hesitate to tell them about it.

Their response was exactly what you’d imagine:

Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

But clueless Joseph wasn’t done. He had another dream, this one showing that not only his brothers would worship him but his parents would also. You’d think he would have seen his brothers’ response the last time he told them his dream, and maybe kept this one to himself. But no. He couldn’t resist, which earned him a derogatory nickname with his brothers: That Dreamer.

I have to wonder, actually, if Joseph was so clueless. Perhaps pride would better explain for his actions.

After all, Joseph was young and handsome, the favorite of his father, blessed with spiritual insight that allowed him to have prophetic dreams, and those showed him ruling over his older brothers and his parents.

So maybe Joseph wasn’t so much unaware of his brothers’ reaction to him and to his dreams as he was proud to “share.” Scripture doesn’t tell us Joseph was proud, but his actions suggest either a cluelessness or a prideful heart.

Is it possible to know which? Perhaps. I think we can see something true about Joseph later in life that contradicts the idea that he was clueless. Of course, it’s possible that he had changed. Who wouldn’t, after his brothers sold him into slavery, after his master’s wife accused him of attempted rape, and after getting thrown in prison unjustly? Joseph definitely did change, but perhaps not in the way many would expect.

If Joseph had lived today in western society he likely would have clamored for justice and perhaps revenge. Instead, the real life Joseph simply went about his business doing the best he knew how to do. As a result, God blessed him, first as a servant, as a prisoner, and eventually as a ruler.

There came a day, however, when two of his fellow prisoners woke up troubled. The important thing here is that Joseph noticed.

When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold, they were dejected. He asked Pharaoh’s officials who were with him in confinement in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?” (Gen. 40:6-7)

Mr. Clueless didn’t need someone to jab an elbow in his ribs and point to the two miserable servants of the king. He didn’t need someone spelling out that these two were upset about something. Rather, Joseph had changed—one way or the other.

Either he’d grown some sensitivity in Egypt, or he’d never been clueless in the first place. In fact, he might have been a discerning guy all along. In which case, his telling the brothers who couldn’t even speak in a friendly manner to him, all about the “I’ll one day rule over you” dream just might have been little brother Joseph rubbing their noses in his favored standing and future greatness.

I tend to think the latter was true, but God still had a lesson to teach Joseph. After he accurately interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s two servants, Joseph asked the one returning to the palace to remember him. In other words, he’d done this guy a favor and was asking for a little back-scratching in return.

But God didn’t want Joseph depending on his own ways, his own manipulations. Consequently, he sat in that prison for another three years.

When at last Pharaoh’s servant did remember Joseph, it was because his master needed someone who could interpret dreams. Notice the difference in Joseph’s two responses to people asking for dream interpretations. First to the two servants three years earlier when they were in prison:

Then they said to him, “We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.”

In his response was Joseph claiming to be God?

Surely not. I mean I never thought so in the past, but I know how the story ends. I believe he took a further step forward three years later, because his response to Pharaoh requesting an interpretation of his dream, was completely unambiguous:

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Gen. 41:15-16)

Joseph the clueless became Joseph the humble. Later he even said to his brothers, with no animosity in his heart,

And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Gen. 50:20)

Joseph was in a position of power and could have brought the wrath of Pharaoh down on his brothers. He could have said, Told ya so! Instead, he wept when his brothers, fearful of Joseph’s revenge, asked for forgiveness. Then he assured them that they had no reason to fear him: “But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?” (Gen. 50:19).

He certainly wasn’t clueless at that point, if he’d ever been. But more importantly, he was walking humbly with his God.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in August, 2014.

Published in: on August 31, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Comments (4)  
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Walking With A Limp


I’ve walked with a limp from time to time. I injured a tendon when I was in Guatemala years ago, and walked with crutches. Before that I sprained an ankle playing basketball, and could hardly walk the next day. And after my stroke I didn’t exactly limp. More like lurched and then staggered, tottered, weaved, always moving closer to walking without any noticeable difficulty.

On the other hand, Jacob limped, for life.

Jacob, Isaac’s son. Isaac’s youngest son who duped his older brother out of his birthright and deceived his father into giving him the blessing that didn’t belong to him. He didn’t limp back in those early years, and he didn’t limp when he made the trek to his mother’s home town to search for a wife.

Irony of ironies, after he worked for seven years to marry the women he wanted, his uncle deceived him into marrying her sister. The uncle then offered him the right girl, too, if he’d work seven more years for her. After he completed that service, his uncle squeezed six additional years of labor from him, changing his wages ten different times. In other words, the deceiver met his match.

But still he wasn’t limping.

The limp didn’t come until Jacob headed home after the twenty-year hiatus with his uncle. He’d gained a fortune, two wives, two concubines, eleven sons, but he could tell his uncle and cousins were not as friendly as they had been. And what’s more, God told him to go. Not directly. He had a dream in which God said, leave. So he headed back home.

As he, his family, his servants, his livestock, got close to his destination, he had to solve one more problem: his angry brother had said he was going to kill him. Remember, the birthright issue, and the blessing issue.

But that was twenty years ago. Would his brother really carry a grudge that long? Jacob apparently thought he would. He did what he could to protect his family and his stuff, and he basically sent his apology to his brother in the form of a substantial gift. The night before he was to encounter his brother, he was alone.

Until an angel confronted him. Or as some scholars think, he encountered the pre-incarnate Christ. I have to admit, I have been confused about this event for many, many years. The angel, or Christ, didn’t sit down and have a nice talk with Jacob. He engaged him physically—got into a wrestling match with him.

Apparently they struggled together through the night, and Jacob was winning! How can that be? I haven’t understood how God could strive with a human and not win. Well, Jacob’s apparent victory was short lived. With one touch the angel/Christ threw his hip joint out of place and disabled him, so that he walked with a limp.

Still Jacob held onto his opponent, saying he wouldn’t let go until he received a blessing. Another odd thing. His father had blessed him twenty years earlier, and God had given him a blessing—the covenantal, Messianic blessing—when he left home. So why was he fighting for another blessing? Perhaps the blessing he wanted here was nothing more than that he would live, since his brother and 400 of his men were heading his way.

What’s interesting here is that the angel/Christ asked him his name. Years ago, when he stole his brother’s blessing, his father had asked him his name and he’d lied. He pretended to be his brother. But now, twenty years later, the same question—what’s your name?—and he answers truthfully. He’s Jacob.

But not for long. The angel/Christ told him he would now be Israel, he who strives with God.

It’s not a great name, I don’t think. It’s not like, father of nations, or beloved of the Lord, or any of the other cool names he could have been given.

And what’s the point? He wrestled God, and came out of it with a new name and a limp.

The limp, I think, is more important than I realized. One commentator pointed out that Jacob appeared to be winning in his fight against God, but with a simple touch, he was incapacitated, to the point that he limped, likely forever after.

That limp is a reminder who is really in charge. Too often we humans think we have God wrestled into a “manageable” Sovereign. But the truth is, all He has to do is bring one finger to bear on our lives, and we are at His mercy.

We really are at His mercy at all times, but we just don’t know it. We are deluded. We think we know, but we don’t know. We think we’re winning, but we aren’t because God is still working with us, renaming us, remaking our walk.

In the end, I have to ask, what does Jacob teach me here? Is striving with God a good thing? In one sense it is. Up to this point, Jacob’s encounters with God had been in dreams. Not so his grandfather Abraham. He had personal conversations, even an argument of sorts (though a really polite, respectful one), and that as part of a personal visit. So Jacob wrestling with the angel/Christ was a more intimate encounter with God, though a painful one, than any he’d had to date. I’d have to say, I’d take an intimate encounter with God any day.

Well, I have. I did. I do. As a believer I really do have the advantage Jesus said we’d have—the Holy Spirit with me and in me, reminding me of my new life in Christ.

My hope is, though, that I don’t wrestle with Him. Instead I want to be quick to say yes. That was Abraham. Quick to listen, quick to obey. And I don’t think he every limped.

Paul Was A Creationist—A Reprise


Some time ago, during my personal time in the Bible, it dawned on me that the Apostle Paul must have been a creationist.

Clearly he viewed Genesis as a historical record. He drew parallels in numerous places between Christ and Adam (Romans 5; I Corinthians 15). None of those analogies would carry any weight if Adam was a mythical character, not an actual historical person.

Come to think of it, the writer of the book of Hebrews (some think that was Paul, too, but some think it might have been Barnabas or even Peter) also believed in the historicity of Genesis. The fundamental comparison in Hebrews is between Christ and a little-known priest/king named Melchizedek. Genesis 14 mentions him briefly, almost in passing, but clearly the New Testament believers understood him to be a historical figure and highly significant in helping people (especially Jews) understand Jesus’s role as High Priest and King.

I suppose, more important than all is that Jesus Himself understood Genesis to be history. After His resurrection, He is the one who spent time with His disciples explaining how He figured into the Law and Prophets—how the Old Testament Scriptures pointed to Jesus.

Before His crucifixion, He made numerous references to David, Moses, and Abraham. In fact, in connection to Abraham, He taught about life after death. If He had used a mythical character for these lessons He would have destroyed the very point He was making. Instead, He referenced historical figures, and mentioned their motives, their choice of a verb tense, their use of words. If Jesus knew these Old Testament people to be figments of someone’s imagination, He would have been partaking in a great fraud.

No, He, along with the writer to the Hebrews, along with the Apostle Paul, viewed the Law and the Prophets as grounded in historical fact.

So how do I get from that point to Paul was a creationist? If Paul believed Adam was a historical figure and that sin came into the world because of what Adam did, which is precisely what he says in Romans 5:12 (“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned —”), he must have believed that Genesis 3 was historical. That’s the passage in the Old Testament that relates how sin entered into the world because of one man.

Do we have reason to believe Paul thought Genesis 3 was factual but Genesis 2 or Genesis 1 was mythical?

Actually there’s no evidence that Paul thought any of the Old Testament was mythical. He’d spent his life as a Pharisee, and he’d been a student of one of the most learned men of the time. Clearly he took the Law and the Prophets to be the word of God, and he was zealous to do what he believed God would have him do.

But God stopped him. And changed him. From the time of his conversion, Paul did a 180°. Instead of persecuting Christians, he spent his time reasoning with non-Christians so that they too might believe. Despite this change, he still based his instruction on the Word of God. In every city, he began his church planting by reading and discussing Scripture.

Sure, today some may dismiss Paul as scientifically ignorant. But one thing we can accurately know—he was not spiritually ignorant.

So the question is, does rational thought negate the power of God? If after all our scientific discoveries, we say, God couldn’t have created the world the way Genesis says, isn’t that actually a reflection of our own beliefs, rather than what really happened?

I mean, what we’re really saying is, I don’t see how these scientific facts and the Genesis account can both be true, so I choose known science (even though unknown science might someday prove me wrong). Science is ever-changing, shaky ground. God’s word is authoritative, infallible, accurate, and true. To choose the fallible over the infallible is not a wise decision.

What’s more, God Himself is all powerful, so to conclude that God couldn’t create the world (because it’s billions of years old, we know, and evolution does away with the need to believe in creation) is a bit silly. God could create a grown man, so certainly He could create a fully developed universe. Scripture never said He was creating the beginning of stars. No, He created stars. Fully formed stars. And they undoubtedly looked a whole lot older than one minute. Just like Adam undoubtedly was not an infant and had never been an infant.

Back to the Apostle Paul. This learned man who had a direct revelation of Jesus Christ, wasn’t encumbered with the restrictions of modern philosophy or with the uncertainties of postmodern ideas or with the chaos of post-truth thought. Undoubtedly his vast study, his reliance on and belief in the authority of Scripture, led him to be a creationist.

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here July, 2009.

The Prophetic And The Miraculous—A Reprise


Elisha011In debating the existence of God, presupposition is everything.

If you presuppose there is no God, as atheists do, then you demand evidence but rule out anything that smacks of “flying monkeys,” or the like, because whatever defies natural law is simply myth.

This approach eliminates fulfilled prophecy as evidence of God’s work in the world. It also eliminates miracles—those will be dumped on the myth pile as nonsense believed only by the delusional.

I thought about this fact as I read the account in 2 Kings of the amazing miracles that occurred during the reign of unbelieving kings. These were not atheists but rulers who no longer worshiped the one true God, or Him exclusively. They believed in prophecy and they experienced miracles. In some cases, the phenomenal work of God changed these kings, but more often than not, they went on acting as they had before—either taking God’s work for granted or crediting it to one of the false gods they worshiped.

The thing that I’ve overlooked in the past is how much prophetic and miraculous activity there was during those times. They did not have the Bible, but they were not short on God’s revelation. There were schools of prophets, and when Queen Jezebel, known for her worship of Baal, tried to eliminate the prophets of God, at least a hundred survived. A hundred! Survived!

For ages and ages, I’ve thought there were Elijah, Elisha, and the prophets who wrote the books of the Bible. Period. Well, not so. Scripture records the names of some twenty prophets who were actively communicating God’s message during the era of the Kings of Judah and Israel, but there is also mention of various schools of prophets or sons of the prophets living together in a kind of collective it would seem.

I’ve wondered about those. Did they inherit their job or need to be instructed in order to hear God’s voice? Did they volunteer to be prophets? Or were they “schools of prophets” like geese are gaggles? Just kidding on that last one.

Mostly the prophets recorded by name seemed to be called by God though Elijah apparently called Elisha to be his disciple, his heir apparent. I suspect those in the schools or the collection of sons of the prophets, then, would also have been called by God.

And the miracles seemed to be plentiful. Elisha was God’s instrument for an abundance of supernatural activity. He gave direction for Naaman, the Aramean military leader, to wash and be cleansed from his leprosy. Conversely, he spoke a word and his greedy servant Gehazi contracted leprosy. He gave a widow directions to gather many jars in order to collect a miraculous multiplication of oil to provide for her financial needs.

He spoke a word and a barren couple conceived. Years later, the son who was born died, and Elisha prayed and he was brought back to life. During a famine, he saved the lives of a group of those prophets by miraculously countering a poisonous ingredient inadvertently thrown into their stew pot. He even made iron float so that one of those sons of the prophets could retrieve an ax head that fell into the river.

There’s more—he repeatedly told the Israelite king where the Arameans were planning an ambush so he could avoid them. When the Aramean king sent a force to capture Elisha, he prayed and God opened the eyes of his servant so he could see the amassed forces of God surrounding the enemy. Then he prayed again and God blinded the eyes of the Arameans so that they didn’t know where they were and meekly followed Elisha where he wanted to take them.

I could go on. The point is, during this one period of history, there was an abundance of prophetic and miraculous activity. If people needed signs to believe in God, He gave those in abundance.

And yet, this period was one of great apostasy and ultimately of judgment. The various Israelite kings led their people astray. Baal worship was not just tolerated, but the religion of the ruling house. They instituted male cult prostitutes and prophets of Baal and sacrifices to Baal. They branched out to include worship of female fertility deities.

All the miracles and all the prophecy didn’t change the hearts of the kings bent on disbelief. Nevertheless, God was faithful to make Himself known. He gave them chance after chance to turn to Him in repentance. He allowed enemy armies to assail them, then miraculously delivered them; He brought famine then sent rain to relieve their drought. He foretold what He was about to do so that there would be no doubt His hand was on them. He wanted them to know that He is LORD.

And still, most went their own way.

All the evidence in the world can’t change a hard heart or make a blind man see. Instead, a person away from God must cry out to Him to give him sight, to soften his heart.

God alone can heal and save, but He doesn’t force anyone to come to Him. He pursues with everlasting love, and His abundant revelation—His prophecies and His miracles—testify of His faithfulness

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in November, 2014.

The Call Of God


Paul_the_Apostle_conversionThe apostle Paul received the call of God. So did any number of other people in Scripture—Abraham, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah, Samuel. The thing about Paul’s call was that it was so public.

He saw a light so bright it blinded him for days. In fact, he needed a man sent by God to restore his sight. In the midst of that light, Paul heard a voice and what this Person said was a distinct message for him. First a question: Why are you persecuting Me?

Paul’s answer was natural: “Who are you, Lord?”

Then, The Call: “And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” (Acts 9:5b-6)

I suppose Paul could have said no. After all, Jonah did. Balaam and an unnamed prophet also resisted God’s directions. But the fact is, Paul obeyed. He did exactly what he’d been told.

And though the men with him saw the light (not in the way Paul did—they weren’t blinded by it), and though they heard the voice (not the way Paul did—they didn’t understand what the Speaker said), this call was for Paul alone.

It was dramatic. It was personal. It was convincing. We don’t have any record that Paul ever looked back from that moment on. He had been pursuing Christians to arrest them and bring them to judgment which would lead to their executions. Now he was a Christian who other zealous Jews were trying to put to death.

Despite his calling, others questioned what he was doing. Ananias, the man God sent to heal Paul, was the first one. God told him who he was to go to, and Ananias answered, Really, Lord? This man has been actively seeking to KILL Christians.

How like so many of us. We act as if we need to remind God of the dire circumstances we’re in or the offense against us or the plans we’d made, as if God had forgotten or maybe wasn’t aware. In reality it was Ananias who wasn’t aware:

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

I still marvel that the “before the Gentiles” part didn’t throw Ananias, but to his great credit, he obeyed God.

He wouldn’t be the last person to doubt Paul’s calling, though. When this new, enthusiastic convert arrived in Jerusalem, “he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26b)

Can’t blame them really, but I think that’s typical. We don’t know what the calling is that others have received. Really? we say; you’re going to be part of a prison ministry? or an unwed mother’s Bible study? or a medical ministry to Russia? or a missionary to … shhh . . . a Muslim country.

Even more, we might say, What? You’re giving up your writing to take care of your disabled sister-in-law? Or, you’re giving up your stable job to become a writer? Or, you’re turning your back on that great guy who loves you because you feel called to the mission field?

The part that’s inexplicable is the calling. Paul knew he was called, though no one else heard what he heard, and he acted accordingly. Eventually others realized he was serious, though they may not have understood. And certainly his old Pharisee buddies did not get it.

In fact, later in Paul’s ministry when he was called to Jerusalem, a number of his Christian friends and disciples, including a prophet, tried to dissuade him. Don’t go, they said. If you go to Jerusalem, you’ll be arrested.

Paul had listened to those warnings before. After his conversion, in Damascus, when the staunch Jews were planning to kill him, his disciples lowered him in a basket outside the city wall so he could escape. Another time, when there was a near riot because of his preaching, he wanted to enter the arena to speak to the crowd, but the other Christians told him no. He left Philippi because of death threats and traveled by himself to Athens to wait for his companions. So Paul was not a stranger to heeding the warnings of others.

But he’d been called to Jerusalem, so to Jerusalem he went, regardless that this calling didn’t insure a happy end or many converts—at least not in the short term.

That’s also true about following God’s call. There is no guarantee that there will be fruit from your labor. Jeremiah, in fact, knew going in that no one would listen to him. Yet God called him to warn the people of God’s judgment.

In other words, the veracity of God’s call can’t be confirmed by results that people here and now can see. The widows of the men martyred with Jim Elliott may well have thought initially that their calling had ended in fruitlessness. It hadn’t, but they couldn’t know that at the time.

But it can be “confirmed,” I guess you’d say, by Scripture in the sense that God isn’t going to call a person to do something contrary to His written word. He isn’t going to “call” someone to have an affair, for instance, or to preach a different gospel from the one Scripture teaches.

I’ll be honest—I don’t like this notion of God’s call. I know it’s easy to act on our own, to be deluded by our own desires, to want something so much we talk ourselves into believing God wants it for us too. I feel on shaky ground when someone else says they’ve been called. But the few times I’ve known God’s call in my life, it’s been clear—convincingly clear. But maybe not necessarily to everyone else around me. Undoubtedly there are some still saying, Really? I get that. I wish I had a bright light to point to.

Or not. Some scholars think that perhaps the thorn Paul wanted removed was his poor eyesight which, though restored, was never as good as it had been. Of course his poor eyesight could just as easily have come from one of the beatings he took or the times he was stoned and left for dead.

Either way, it’s clear callings come with a cost—people not always “getting it,” some even opposing it, and lots of people doubting you ever got such a calling in the first place. That’s OK.

Like Lucy in Prince Caspian, we can respond to the call of Aslan, even though others don’t see or hear, or we can fall in line and go the way everyone else is going. It’s a matter of trust.

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so—”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I—I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that . . . oh, well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you.” (pp 135-136)

This post first appeared here in June, 2014.

Published in: on April 26, 2018 at 5:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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Hagar


Not important enough to merit more than a black and white picture.

If the book of Genesis was a novel, Hagar would be considered a minor character. If it were a play, she’d be a bit actor. In truth, she has very few scenes and even fewer lines. And the thing is, the lines she does have, the scenes she is in, don’t show her in a very good light.

First off, Sarah gives Hagar, her Egyptian maid, to her husband to be a concubine. Stop right there. Hagar is of “foreign” descent. She’s a maid to a nomadic woman. I’m not thinking she has much standing in the world.

And then she becomes a concubine. As a servant, she apparently has no say in the matter when her mistress hands her over to the head of the house, Abraham.

But to Hagar’s delight, her union with Abraham bears fruit. In fact, she’s so delighted that she’s pregnant, she looks down on her mistress. That’s the start of some serious domestic problems. Sarah ended up treating Hagar so harshly, she ran away. To the desert. She had to be desperate.

There she encountered an angel who told her she was pregnant and should return and submit to her mistress. And here’s the turning point in her life:

Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”

Just a servant girl, one who was apparently a bit haughty and given to flight, but God saw her.

She returned and gave birth to a son who she named Ishmael—God will hear.

Sounds to me like Hagar—the Egyptian, the maid, the concubine—had a relationship with God. She knew He saw her. She knew He heard her. At her lowest point, God came to her.

Well, maybe not her lowest point.

When her son was a teen, and no longer an only child—Abraham had a son by his wife Sarah—he did what boys will do. He teased, and probably bullied, young Isaac. So much so that Sarah persuaded Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. All they had was a “skin” of water and some bread. And God, watching out for them.

When the water ran out, Hagar really did reach her lowest point. She couldn’t stand the thought of watching her son die, so she left him under some bushes and went off alone. Once again God rescued her. He opened her eyes so that she saw a well, and He gave her a promise that her son would also be the head of a great nation.

She gave Ishmael the drink that he needed to live and they settled there in the wilderness until he grew to be a man. Then Hagar arranged for him to marry an Egyptian, and he did in fact fulfill the prophecy God gave his mother during that “dark night of the soul.”

The main thing I learn here is this: in the midst of Abraham’s story and the promises and miracles God performed for the man who was later referred to as “a friend of God” (see James 2:23), God also took care of a lowly maid, someone not in the Messianic line. And as some would be quick to point out, a woman.

God is no respecter of persons. He really isn’t. I think it’s easy to lose sight of that because the Jewish nation is referred to as “the apple of His eye.” They are “the chosen people.” But in truth, God chose them, not because they were numerous or strong or great in any sense of the word, but because they were weak and few in number so that His grace could shine through.

He wanted the world to see Him through His relationship with the nation of Israel, just as He now wants the world to see Him through His relationship with the Church. The point is and always has been to give a picture of what everyone can have. After all, God didn’t just start loving the world when John 3:16 was written.

So in Christ’s genealogy there’s an adulteress, a woman who slept with her father-in-law, a foreigner from a nation that was banned from entering the temple, and an unmarried virgin. Why?

God wants the point to get through to us: salvation is not for an elite group of special people who do things just the right way. It’s for the Hagars of the world who reach bottom and who look up to the God who hears, to the God who sees.

He, in turn, pours out His grace and rescues those who recognize their need for Living Water.

Published in: on January 29, 2018 at 5:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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I’m Thankful For God’s Grace


Because I want to focus more on God this Thanksgiving, I considered which of His innumerable traits I could feature the day before the actually holiday. I settled on His grace and found an appropriate post in the archives which says a good deal about this quality.

I’ve edited and revised the article a bit. After all, this is an old one I wrote in the early days of this blog. I also added song lyrics and a video, which include God’s grace.

– – – –

In fiction, I think Christians often depict God as a God of grace, too often at the expense of His other attributes.

However, one Sunday, I realized that grace itself is not a “simple” trait, any more than God is a simple person. And certainly God’s display of grace is as deep as He is.

The sermon that Sunday was from John 21 (the story of the resurrected Christ cooking breakfast for His disciples while they fished) and highlighted some ways that God extended grace to Jesus’s disciples, especial to Peter.

First, God extended grace to them by humbling them. The account begins with a miracle—implied rather than stated—of closing the disciples’ nets to fish.

The context is this: after seeing the resurrected Christ and waiting around for a week or more, Peter had declared he was going back to work. As if that was something he didn’t need God for. As if that was what would give him purpose. Instead, these professional fishermen worked all night in a place of abundant fish and came up empty. By humbling them, God showed them their need.

God’s grace also sought Peter out—Jesus first went to the bank of the sea where the disciples were fishing, and later He pulled him aside for a private talk. Peter, much like Adam in the Garden after he sinned, seemed to be in “stealth mode.” After all, the last exchange before Jesus went to the cross was a look shared between them, right after Peter swore he didn’t know the Man. How much Peter needed to talk to Jesus! But he went fishing—went back to His pre-Christ life, back to making a living using a skill he was good at.

Having put the disciples in a situation to face their need, God’s grace guided them. It helped them with what they were trying to accomplish. Jesus told there where to let down their nets, and the result was a catch of large fish. Not just a few, not some large and some small. Large fish so numerous their nets started to break. This is the aspect of grace we see most often, but clearly not the only facet of it.

Jesus nwxt extended Himself to the disciples as a friend, as a servant. He cooked breakfast for them. So like Him—the Master who was willing to wash His men’s feet, the Messiah who sacrificed His life, Incarnate God who dressed Himself in the form of Man.

God’s grace then called Peter beyond earthly success to eternal significance. No more catching fish for Peter. His new job was to feed God’s sheep.

I’ve often wondered what happened to that incredible catch. They ate some for breakfast, but what about the rest? Did they leave them for the poor? Give them to the guys in the next boat? Stop by Peter’s house and tell cousin Daniel their were all his if he but cleaned them and hauled them away? Or did the fish stay on the bank and rot or become bird feed? Today’s fictionalized account would probably have Jesus release the unused fish back in the water. Whaterver.

The point is, the fish no longer mattered. Jesus was giving Peter something much more important to do. His grace lead Peter beyond “having it all.”

Once again, I find myself challenged to show God’s character—not merely by increasing the angles from which I look at Him, but by peering through the magnifying glass of Biblical study so that I can see more than the surface of His traits. His grace, like His love, is greater far than tongue or pen can tell.

1
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.
2
When hoary time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall;
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call;
God’s love, so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.
3
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

God And His Mysterious Ways


Joni Eareckson Tada is celebrating an anniversary this year—a personal one. Fifty years ago when she was 17 she had a debilitating accident that left her a quadriplegic. In her honor I’m re-posting this article, with a few minor edits and revisions.

– – – – –

Some people try to define God’s work, and therefore to define God—sort of like trying to photograph a double rainbow that stretches across the sky. If you could just snap the picture, then you’d have the rainbow for always.

God doesn’t operate in such a way that we can ever capture Him. Yet—and here is one of the most mysterious of His Ways—He voluntarily, willfully declares my heart His home.

I think of Joseph resisting the sexual temptations that Potiphar’s wife threw at him day after day, only to end up in prison. Well, not “end up” because he moved from the outhouse to the penthouse in a mere thirteen years—thirteen years that undoubtedly had Joseph thinking nothing would ever change, that his life was going to continue on and on and on in the dungeon. But it didn’t. God had big things in store for Joseph.

I think of the little slave girl, an Israelite captive torn from her home, probably from her family, refusing to be bitter or to seek revenge but reaching out to bless the man she worked for by telling him of the prophet of God who could cure his leprosy. As a result, the mighty Aramean officer ended up declaring, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:20).

Then there is Samson. What an amazing thing that God used that philanderer. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have chosen him. He was supposed to be a Nazarite from birth, but more than once he broke the parameters that defined that special relationship with God. He seemed self-absorbed and more inclined to use God than serve Him. But God was pleased to include him as a judge of Israel, pleased to make him a means to free His people from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

Or how about the beauty pageant that ended up sparing the lives of hundreds of Jews? I remember when I first heard about Esther, I was horrified that Mordecai didn’t try to sequester her away or make a run for the hills. Instead, he truly seemed to be encouraging her, and she seemed to want to win the role as queen. Except, unlike the fairy tales, this was no monogamous happy-together-forever story. No! Esther got to be part of the kings harem (think of all the women he slept with before he slept with her and finally decided she was queen material). And yet, God used her in that place to save hundreds, maybe thousands.

What about in contemporary times? God used the death of five young husbands, some also fathers, to save a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, at the same time turning the hearts of countless believers to become involved in missions.

Corrie ten Boom

He used a spinster lady in the latter end of middle-age, all the way to her “golden years” to teach a generation what forgiveness really means, to spread the gospel of God’s incredible power over death and destruction and hatred and evil.

He is using the humble submission of a once athletic teenage girl who suffered a catastrophic, debilitating accident, who has lived life for fifty years as a quadriplegic and who continues to tell of her love for her Lord.

I would have done things differently, I’m sure. Look how talented Joni Eareckson Tada is—as an artist, a writer, a speaker. How much more could she do if she weren’t in a wheelchair? What a silly person I am. Who would have heard of Joni if she hadn’t been the girl who drew holding her pen in her mouth? And what would she be talking about now or who would listen? Isn’t it her willing submission in the face of her adversity that makes her life so winsome?

God knows these things. He knows what it takes. But to us, because we don’t know what it takes, His ways will always appear mysterious.

God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
– by William Cowper

– – – – –

This article is an edited reprint of one originally posted May 2011.

Just Not Me – Reprise


Moses029When I was growing up, missionaries home on furlough would, from time to time, speak at our church. Inevitably they’d show slides I (still pictures inserted into a projector and displayed on a screen 😉 ) of their overseas ministry, usually including one or more of people suffering from a disease known as elephantiasis. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything harder to do than go to a foreign place and deal with such illnesses. And yet time and again, I thought for sure God was sending me to the mission field.

Mind you, I wasn’t opposed to missions. I thought missionaries were brave (though generally boring and quite old-fashioned). I was fine with other people going to foreign places. Just not me!

My attitude was not so different from the one Moses displayed when God called him to go back to Egypt and lead the people of Israel into their own land. His short answer? Not me, God.

Interestingly, his reasoning was similar to Gideon’s some hundreds of years later when God commissioned him to free His people from the tyranny of Midian.

Both Moses and Gideon didn’t think they were qualified, Moses because he couldn’t speak well and Gideon because he was the youngest of his family and his tribe was the least important in Israel. I don’t know if either of those assessments were true, but that’s what each man thought. They simply weren’t capable of doing the job God was calling them to do.

Actually, that’s not a bad place to be. Moses some forty years earlier had thought he was capable of ruling over Israel—protecting them and judging between them. He got a rude awakening when things didn’t pan out the way he expected. So his new position of humility was a needed step.

Both Moses and Gideon also asked for a sign. They wanted to be sure they’d understood correctly. They wanted to know that God was indeed sending them.

God gave them more than one sign. With Moses He turned his staff into a snake and back again; turned his hand leprous, then healed it; and turned water he poured onto the ground into blood.

With Gideon God produced dew only on the fleece he set out, then produced dew everywhere else except on the fleece. Further, he told Gideon to sneak into the Midian camp where he heard the interpretation of a prophetic dream recounting Israel’s upcoming victory.

Not much doubt that God was calling these two guys despite their initial “not me” reaction.

You’d think the hard part was over. They finally got the message. Yes, God really said and meant that they were to go and do . . . well, the impossible.

But the fact is, Moses first had to convince the people of Israel that God had sent him, then he had to convince Pharaoh to do what God and told him. The process was harrowing and I suspect lasted for months if not years (though we can read it in a relatively short time in Exodus).

Gideon had the cooperation of the people immediately. But God was the one who initially put up obstacles. Too many people, Gideon—send home the people who have just bought land or just got married or who are afraid. And then, after thousands left, God said, still too many, Gideon. Weed out more. After the initial, miraculous, God-orchestrated victory, he faced opposition from people: some who didn’t want to help because his numbers were so small, and some who were infuriated that they hadn’t been included in the whole operation.

No, following God was not easy.

Not everyone who God called responded as Moses and Gideon did. Samuel didn’t know God or recognize His voice, but he answered, “Here am I.” Isaiah realized he was a man of unclean lips, but once his iniquity had been removed, he answered in the opposite vein—Here am I. Send me!

Jonah was most definitely in the Not Me camp. He ran in the opposite direction from the one God had told him to go. Saul was a Not Me guy too. When the people of Israel chose him to be king—and this was after God had Samuel anoint him—he was hiding amidst the baggage.

Joseph, on the other hand, was a Here Am I guy. Daniel was too. Ruth was a Here Am I gal as was Mary.

Esther was back with the Not Me guys, though. But she had good company. All those disciples of Jesus hiding after the crucifixion—definitely Not Me guys. Peter even said, as for me and my house, we’re going fishing.

Not Joshua. He was a Here Am I guy. So was Noah and Abraham and Daniel.

The amazing thing is that God used them all. His kindness and patience were on display when He sent a storm, then a great fish, to stop Jonah in his tracks. Jesus had already appeared to Peter and had given him instruction to wait for the Holy Spirit, but Peter, being Peter, was off doing his Not Me thing. Jesus loved him back to obedience.

Esther had Mordecai’s counsel and prayer, Saul had Samuel and his instruction from God.

Sadly, Saul’s Not Me changed at some point to Not God. He decided he could re-interpret God’s commands and do things his own way. That, I guess, is the real answer to God’s call that we need to guard against.

I’m reminded of the parable Jesus told of the two sons whose father instructed them to go out into the vineyard. The one said no, the other said he’d go. However, the first relented and obeyed his father even though he’d said he wouldn’t, and the second didn’t go though he said he would. So which did the will of his father? Jesus asked. (Matt. 21:31)

In the end, that’s what God wants of us—to do His will. I’d still like to be a Here Am I gal, but the reality is, I more often than not resemble a Not Me gal.

But God deals with us in kindness and patience and mercy. He knows our weaknesses, and even promises to give us strength when we are at our breaking point. And He gives us second chances. And third. And fourth. Well, I suppose it’s more like seventy times seven.

How great is our God!

This post first appeared here in August 2014.

Published in: on August 15, 2017 at 4:37 pm  Comments Off on Just Not Me – Reprise  
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