Atheist Arguments: God Is Cruel


Often atheists claim that God, if He exists, is cruel, even evil, because look at the people who died in the flood (which they also don’t believe in), or how about all those Egyptian soldiers who died when the Red Sea closed over them (another account atheists claim is nothing but myth). A third example are those Amalekites Saul was supposed to wipe out (yes, those would be people atheists don’t actually believe ever lived). The war against the Amalekites, according to these atheists, shows that God is genocidal.

Taken out of context those examples do make God look bad. But here’s the truth.

First, God’s nature. Scripture reveals the character of God throughout. He identifies Himself as merciful and true, good and kind. There are many other traits revealed and demonstrated, but most pertinent to this question raised by the atheist argument is that God is righteous and He is just.

Psalm 7 contains one such revelation:

The LORD judges the peoples;
Vindicate me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me.
O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous;
For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds.
My shield is with God,
Who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge,
And a God who has indignation every day.
If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword;
He has bent His bow and made it ready.(vv 8-12)

Notice that God’s job as judge is actually a hedge, a safeguard, a shield for the upright, to protect them from the wicked.

Here’s another passage in the Psalms that makes the point that God deals with the wicked. He won’t let them hurt others with impunity:

The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked,
And the one who loves violence His soul hates.
Upon the wicked He will rain snares;
Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup.
For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness;
The upright will behold His face. (11:5-7)

See? some atheists might say. There God is, hating and raining fire on people. Such a view misses the context again. The recipient of God’s wrath is the wicked who loves violence. As it happens even we fallible humans, with our imperfect laws and legal system and law enforcement officers, sometimes use deadly force to stop a violent person. We should not be shocked if God treats unrepentant oppressors and violent men in the same vein. After all, His knowledge is complete. His judgment is never wrong. So He doesn’t sometimes bring down His fire on innocent people. He gets the judgment right every single time.

The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. (Ps. 19: 9b-10)

Psalm 119 repeats the truth about God’s righteousness more than once:

5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
Yes, our God is compassionate.

75 I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous,

137 Righteous are You, O LORD,
And upright are Your judgments.

Psalm 145 declares a number of God’s attributes, including His righteousness:

8 The LORD is gracious and merciful;
Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
9 The LORD is good to all,
And His mercies are over all His works. . .
17 The LORD is righteous in all His ways
And kind in all His deeds.
18 The LORD is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
19 He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He will also hear their cry and will save them.
20 The LORD keeps all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.

These last lines bring up the next salient point in the answer to the atheist argument that God is cruel. In His righteousness, in His justice, He saves those who call upon Him, which obviously pits Him against those who are doing harm. How can you keep people safe who are being oppressed without dealing with the oppressors?

As it happens, in the three Biblical examples atheists like to use to claim God’s cruelty, He did in fact deal with oppressors.

First the people in Noah’s day. Too often we forget why God sent a flood. Yes, judgment but why did the people have to be judged?

Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. (Genesis 6:11-12)

As I read this, I think, Man would be extinct today if God had not stepped in and saved Noah and his family. Maybe not, but why wouldn’t Noah have eventually become a target for these violent people whose thoughts were only evil, all the time?

Then there were the Egyptians. These would be the people who ordered and enforced the killing of the Hebrew male babies, who kept them under slavery for 400 years. They would hardly qualify as innocent. When God judged them, He did so as part of the process of freeing His people from captivity. They were no match for the trained Egyptian army and chariots. So God intervened and stopped the potential slaughter of all the descendants of Abraham.

Which brings us to the Amalekites. This people group harassed Israel on their way to the Promised Land. Waited and watched and picked off the weak and the vulnerable. God did not send judgment on them right away. He gave them time to do the right thing, to turn from their wicked ways. He gave them a good 200 years! But throughout the exodus, throughout the time that judges ruled Israel, the Amalekites oppressed Israel. When God allowed Israel to select a king, He turned the punishment of the Amalekites over to him. As it happened, Saul didn’t complete the job. As a result, years later, a descendant of the king Saul had spared—a guy named Haman—hatched a plot to wipe out any and all Jews. He would have succeeded, too, if Queen Esther had not intervened.

Atheists see God’s intervention, His judgment of evil, His protection of the ancestors of the coming Messiah, as cruel?

I see the violent men in Noah’s day as the cruel ones. I see the Egyptians who were exposing babies and keeping a people in subjugation for 400 years, as the cruel ones. I see the Amalekites who were intent on destroying the Hebrews, starting with their weakest people, as the cruel ones.

I see God as He’s described in the Psalms and elsewhere: He is a righteous judge, who administers justice, which He always gets right.

Advertisements
Published in: on February 15, 2019 at 5:31 pm  Comments (9)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

What Satisfies


Years ago I read a book by author, speaker, psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb that left a lasting impact. He based his thoughts on Jeremiah 2:13.

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.

God gives living water. We need living water. But instead of staying beside that Fountain that provides in abundance, we take another tack. We go to our own wells which we have to dig for ourselves and which are actually broken and can’t keep any water in them.

This is a great picture of what we humans do.

God offers, we reject. But we still have our basic needs, so we turn to our own solutions.

Just recently I found another passage of Scripture that basically says the exact same thing. This one is in Isaiah:

Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without cost.
“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance.
“Incline your ear and come to Me.
Listen, that you may live (55:1-3a)

I’m guessing not many people know the word ho appears in the Bible. It’s an interjection and the Hebrew transliteration of the original is howy. It’s most often translated as woe but sometimes as ah or alas or even O. The point is, it’s not a happy word. It’s drawing the reader’s attention to something that isn’t really a happy circumstance.

I had been reading the first lines as a carnival barker might call out to the crowd: “Listen up, people. Step right up! I have a special you don’t want to miss.” But the following lines are not in that cavalier vein.

Rather, this portion of Scripture is sober and sobering. The offer of water is there, but this is more than water. It’s nourishment. It’s fulfilling. And it’s free. But then the questions upon which the verses turn: Why do you spend money (when you’ve been offered something for free) when it isn’t even anything that will sustain you? I mean, you need food. You need water. But you’re paying out for stuff that will not keep you alive.

It gets worse. You’re working long hours to turn your earnings over to someone selling stuff that gives you no satisfaction. In other words, you’re just as hungry, just as malnourished, when you finish eating as when you started.

Just like the broken cisterns.

What is it with us humans that we pursue empty goals, empty pleasures, empty dreams, empty relationships. If it’s empty, we’re all over it, like a miner panning for fools gold.

We bite on every offer for the next new shinny thing. We buy lottery tickets because, you know, instant millionaire! It looks so inviting. We drink too much because for that moment we feel so good about ourselves. We do drugs for the next high. We dabble or dive into promiscuous sex because it’s candy to our appetites.

On and on. We think we know what will fulfill us. Maybe it’s a younger wife. Or taking a little money under the table. Or cheating on our income taxes. Or a church that says God wants me to be rich.

Who wants a “follow me” message that involves denying myself and taking up a cross. My cross. A place where I am to die to myself. That sounds counter intuitive to fulfillment.

I suppose it is. God is that way. In fact He says as much later in that Isaiah passage:

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

This is where trust comes in. The way things look to me: if I want water, I need to go look for some, dig a well, collect it. What God says: Come to Me. Listen to Me and live.

My efforts give me mud, at best. Zilch, nada, nothing, at worst. In truth, we can’t live that way.

Then why do we spend money for what is not bread and our wages for what does not satisfy?

Are we afraid to trust God? Do we think Jesus was wrong when He said we should take up our cross daily? Do we really think we can do better than God?

The thing is, some people do look as if they are doing fine without God. They appear to have it all together. Except when we look at increasing instances of divorce, drug use, prescription drug use, anxiety, suicide, pornography, abortion, mass murders, homelessness—things that should not be in society if we were all happily fulfilled with our marriages, our jobs, our homes, our friendships.

It really is kind of astounding. As the anonymous quote says, “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” That’s where mankind lives. We know going our own way does not satisfy, but we go our own way regardless.

I’d say that could be a result of a person not knowing there’s a different way. Not knowing seems unlikely in our western culture, at least. But I’m coming to understand that many who think they know about God and His way, really are mistaken. They have believed a lie. So they keep rolling the stone up the hill, trying to reach the top, even though it continues to slip into reverse and come down upon us as it returns to the bottom of the hill.

Why do we do it?

The solution to our cracked and broken wells, to our cycle of buying what is not bread and what does not satisfy, is not so complicated.

Seek the LORD while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the LORD,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

Published in: on February 14, 2019 at 6:05 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , ,

What Constitutes Sin?


Photo by Kris Schulze from Pexels

One of the tenets of Christianity that cause people to stumble, it seems, is the idea of sin. After all, according to the prevailing thought in our western culture, people are good. All of us. We might have an addiction or a mental illness or we might be coming out of a life of abuse. But none of that is our fault. Really, people only do bad things because we have been raised in a dysfunctional environment and have learned anti-social responses. If we simply teach and train a person what is beneficial for them and for society, we will eliminate the undesirable behavior. Like terrorism. And mass murders. And drug trafficking. And kidnapping. And fraud. And blackmail. And pornography.

Oh, wait. That last one has been moved out of society’s list of anti-social behaviors into the column of normal and … well, not “beneficial,” but at least “acceptable,” conduct.

I suppose, if the world lasts long enough, whatever a person wants to do, even if it does harm to others, will still be considered an expression of their self-hood, and therefore, acceptable. The point is, we are eliminating sin.

The Church ought to help here, but it seem we are emphasizing happiness over holiness, so we don’t talk much about sin. Sins are things that don’t make us happy. That keep us from our goals.

A six-year-old study by the Barna Group examined a women’s faith self-assessment, and discovered that most of those in the survey group reported spiritual fulfillment and an absence of anything the Bible identifies as sin. You know, things we once called “the seven deadly sins”: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.

The Bible addresses all those things, but Jesus took the concept of sin a step farther in His Sermon On The Mount. He said that murder wasn’t just murder, but hatred or anger was also murder and just as deserving of punishment. Same with lustful or greedy thoughts. In other words, not just sinful actions deserve punishment, but sinful thoughts do, too.

So which of us is without sin?

But we’re like the guy speeding down the freeway at 85 MPH where the speed limit is posted at 70 MPH. He’s not worried about “getting caught” because everybody else on the road is going just as fast, or faster. If we’re all doing it, it must not be wrong, or at least it must not be a punishable offense, the reasoning goes.

God doesn’t work that way. He actually treats us like adults. He tells us what’s what and expects us to do the right thing. If we don’t, He may remind us, warn us, or let us suffer the natural consequences of our actions. But He doesn’t baby us. He also doesn’t spoil us. He doesn’t look the other way.

Because He doesn’t correct us immediately, a lot of people think God doesn’t care or that He must not have noticed our sin or that He doesn’t think it’s so bad. But no. Isaiah addressed this issue:

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable. (40:27-28)

God knows and He understands exactly what we’re thinking.

In truth, God is gracious and gives us time to turn to Him. Another passage from Isaiah:

For the sake of My name I delay My wrath,
And for My praise I restrain it for you,
In order not to cut you off. (48:9)

In other words, He purposefully waits so that all who wish to come to Him, will have the opportunity.

In addition, He waits to bring judgment until the Church is complete. Think about it. It God had brought the world to an end 500 years ago, or 1000, a lot of believers would not have been born, let alone had the opportunity to come to God through Christ. No Billy Graham. No Martin Luther. No Jonathan Edwards.

How many of us would be missing from the banqueting table?

Among other metaphors, God compares the Church to a temple, whose cornerstone is Jesus Christ. But we are the “living stones” that go into the building. Think about that structure with all the missing stones if God didn’t wait patiently for us to come to Him.

The point is, delayed punishment for sin does not mean canceled punishment for sin.

Well, actually the debt of sin has been canceled by Jesus. But we must claim the free gift, and God waits for us to do that.

The fact is, He won’t wait forever. At some point a person who has chosen against God will die, and he simply will have run out of time to do an about-face. In addition, at some point God will bring this whole process to an end and say, Time to party, those who are My adopted children, those who make up the temple, those who have accepted the invite to the feast.

So what is sin? I guess the simplest way to understand it is, going my way instead of God’s. Going my way in my thoughts and my actions. Going my way in my desires and in my dreams.

The truth is we all sin, so we are all sinners. But the cool thing is, because of Jesus we who know Him, are sinners saved by grace. And that makes all the difference.

Published in: on February 13, 2019 at 5:57 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , ,

Trusting God Doesn’t Mean Things Will Be Easy


God cares about His people, but He does so on a much deeper level than we realize. He cares about what happens to us into eternity. His goal for us here and now is to make us like His Son. We are being conformed—molded, shaped, fashioned—into the likeness of Jesus.

This process of trimming and pruning is quite different from what most people think of in connection with the Christian life. I dare say, there are those who think once a person becomes a Christian, God is on their side. Once I even stated, “Apparently God chooses sides.”

By that, I did not mean what many people think, however. A Christian hasn’t simply added to his team the biggest and best person around. He hasn’t ensured his chances of success because he now has someone greasing the wheels to make his plans work.

And despite players making very public display of praising God during their football games, God doesn’t want my team to win more than He wants your team to win just because I’m a Christian. (The truth of this becomes clear when two Christians want different, opposing teams to win).

The Christian life, then, is not about getting God to give us what we want to be happier, healthier, richer, more comfortable, stable, protected, or respected than the next guy. A person who claims the name of Christ is not getting a pass when it comes to hardship.

Christians still lose their jobs and have car accidents. Their computers crash, and their loved ones die. They get cavities, acne, cancer, strokes. They have rebellious kids and unfaithful spouses. Bills pile up. Colleagues stab them in the back. Muggers stab them in the chest.

And they die. We die.

The point isn’t that God steps in and saves us from human tragedy or suffering or trouble, though He sometimes chooses to do so. But He always walks through life with us, maximizing the joys and minimizing the sorrows.

Isaiah 43:2 says it well:

When you pass through the water, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.

I find it interesting that God said those words, through Isaiah, to Israel. In the preceding verse, He identifies them in this way:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!”

So I have to think, in what way is the Christian different? We have been redeemed, called, and claimed. This promise, then, is for us as much as it was for Israel. God isn’t going to let us pass through floods except that He’ll be with us. And when we walk through fire He will protect us.

We’ll still have to experience the fire, though. The difference is that we’ll come out the other side un-scorched.

So Christians don’t have things easy—but it might be a little more comforting to go through hard times with Someone rather than alone, knowing that there’s a grand purpose for it and a sweet end waiting.

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in January, 2014.

Faith And Hope In Christ


Today’s western culture believes humankind is good and advanced and capable. We can do whatever we put our minds to, be whoever we want to be. So much so, that there are countless preteens and teens becoming transgender individuals. They have decided, in the midst of the confusion of adolescence that they know what’s best for their lives, from that point on! As a result, they mutilate their bodies, condemn themselves to a lifetime of hormone treatment, walk away from the life they had and into the mindset of the opposite gender, as if it were their own. In other words, they are no longer from Venus. They are from Mars. Or vice versa.

The problem is, our thinking is not clear. When we are apart from Christ, we deceive ourselves. We say things like, Nobody’s perfect, though we also affirm, There is no sin nature.

Excuse me, but if there was no sin nature, wouldn’t at least one person down through history have managed to actually live without sin?

No, our muddled thinking says, because society messes us up. We’re good, but society isn’t. Which is just another one of those deceptions. I mean, how can people be good, but those same good people create a wicked society?

The problem today, first and foremost, is that we refuse to start where God starts: He is holy and we are not.

Well, we are not holy now. Before humankind fell by embracing this “We can be like God” approach, we were holy and pure and right before God. Now, not so much. One day, we who enjoy adoption as His children will again enjoy the sanctification God has in store for us.

But the “one day” all depends on whether or not we do an about-face. Essentially, we need to turn away from trusting our own understanding and turn to Jesus and the truth God has revealed about Himself and about salvation.

We need to resign as kings of the universe, which includes kings (or queens) of our own lives, and we need to enthrone God as the Lord of all.

Why would we do such a drastic transformation?

On an intellectual level, it makes sense:
God is all knowing; we are limited in what we know.
God is eternal; we are finite.
God is all powerful; we are weak.
God is good; we are largely out for ourselves.

There are many more, but the pattern should be clear.

On the practical level, we can see what trusting ourselves accomplishes. No, those who are separated from God are not miserable only and always. But even they can see that the not-holy state in which we live, has problems. There’s violence in the world and cruelty and greed and selfishness and pride and lying and sexual perversion and abuse. The world is not a place where anyone can find a “safe place” away from the offensive things that threaten us.

On the other hand, God promises His love and peace that extends beyond anything that we would normally expect. He gives hope and a place of refuge. He helps us make sense of the world; gives us a firm identity as His children, His heirs; gives us purpose. In other words, God answers the big philosophical questions of the human heart.

He fulfills instead of tearing down.

He is the hero we long for.

The answer to our, Why?

He is our hope made certain.

Our joy when all is lost.

He is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of His nature. The word of His power upholds all things.

He is the bridge between the Father and we flawed image-bearers.

By His grace we are saved.

I see a lot more reason in trusting God who is perfect, who is over all, above all, greater than all, instead of trusting in the cloudy thinking of flawed humanity. But even that comes from Him:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8)

Photo by Nizam Abdul Latheef from Pexels

Published in: on February 11, 2019 at 6:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

The Advantages Of Knowing Jesus


Photo by Zun Zun from Pexels

Once upon a time I might have headed my list of advantages of knowing Jesus, with reception into heaven. Don’t misunderstand. Knowing Jesus does provide entrance into God’s presence for all of eternity. It’s very important. But it’s also very future. So when I think of Jesus in my life, I generally think of things here and now.

I think of His presence, through the Holy Spirit, living within my heart. In other words, I’m never alone. I think that’s huge in this day and age. Just the other day I heard a list of things that people were most troubled by, and loneliness was close to the top as one of the most difficult things they faced. But Christians are never alone, I thought. Never. Alone. We have comfort and encouragement and support and Someone to listen and a God to call in time of trouble, a God who will bring to our remembrance the things we need to know.

It’s kind of amazing to think of all that’s available inside me, every single day, hour upon hour. That I don’t turn to God more often is really the big surprise. He’s there, with me, in me.

Besides His presence, I think perhaps the biggest advantage of knowing Jesus is that He forgives my sins. Yes, that fact is closely tied to the point about entrance into heaven, but it’s more. I mean, Jesus “made purification of sins” (Hebrews 1) which has this snowball effect. His death is the means of my justification, my being set right with God, so that He now sees me as righteous, that is, as having right standing with Him. He reconciles me with God so that I not only enjoy His presence, but I enjoy His fellowship, His koinonia, which includes intimacy, partnership, joint participation, such as God including me in His work.

More than this, God’s forgiveness through Jesus, frees me—from slavery to sin, from the power of sin, from the fear of death, from the requirement of the Law, from guilt, from the devil who had the power of death (Romans 5-8; Hebrews 2). All of this sets in motion my sanctification, which is really just another way of saying, becoming like Jesus.

When I was a little tyke—I mean, not much more than a toddler—I had a toy broom, and I used to follow my mom around the house and mimic the things she was doing to clean. I wanted in the worst way to be grown up, to be able to do what my mom was doing. I wanted to mirror her.

That’s what sanctification is doing. It is molding me so that I will grow up to be like Jesus.

Just like any other relationship, if you know someone and like them, you want to be with them. Well, knowing Jesus makes me like Him more and more. The consequence is, I want to be around Him more. I want to read about Him more, hear about Him more, talk about Him more, include Him in all the stuff I do. Well, that last one—actually all of them—are works in progress. I want to include God in all I do, but I catch myself at times wondering why I didn’t pray about this or that thing I was concerned about. How much easier if I learn to take “everything to God in prayer” and not just the messes I make when I try to do stuff on my own.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I wonder what advantages of knowing Jesus you would include.

Let me conclude by stating the obvious: Jesus is my friend. When I was young, one of my favorite hymns was “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” I thought it would be fitting to find a good YouTube video of the song to put up. And I found one. A really good one. But I also found this “story behind the lyrics.” I had never heard it before. Well, it’s a story worth listening to. What an illustration of how a very present help in time of trouble our God is. Makes the words to the song that much more meaningful.

Our Amazing God


Blogger friend InsanityBytes recently posted an article entitled “Moving Mountains” in which she discusses the difference between wishful thinking and prayer. My immediate thought was—God. The difference is dreaming of something and asking God for something.

That thought started me thinking about answered prayer. I’ve had atheists before challenge me to name an answered prayer. I don’t generally write my prayers down. I’d be writing all day. And a lot of times I don’t know how God has answered prayer. But once in a while, He is gracious and gives me a peek into what he’s doing with my requests. Mine and others, no doubt.

Note, these answers to prayer are not because of me. They are because of God, who laid the need on my heart (and likely on other believers’ hearts) and prompted us to pray, because He delights in including us in His work, then answered those prayers in a powerful way.

For instance? Some time ago, because of a prompt in a prayer journal I was using, I started praying for believers who live in places that persecute them. As part of my prayer, I started asking for the pastors of those churches to receive training in the word of God so they don’t get sucked into false teaching.

So not long after I started praying for this, a particular pastor here in the US said he was leaving his ministry because he felt the need to go abroad and help train pastors in places where they don’t have great study tools or easy access to schools that will train them.

Today I learned that a whole ministry has begun with one pastor here making his study tools available for use—by anyone but especially by pastors around the world. The UK arm of his ministry is heading this up and undoubtedly these “how to study the Bible” tools will equip hundreds and hundreds of pastors from China to Iran and beyond. What an incredible answer to prayer.

Another prayer was from years ago. In 1990 missionary Luis Bush with Partners International referred to the 10-40 window, by which he meant people living between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator. Generally the countries in this window have limited access to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ironic, since it includes the Middle East where Jesus lived.

According to Wikipedia,

Roughly two-thirds of the world population lived in the 10/40 Window, and it is predominantly Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, animist, Jewish, or atheist. Many governments in the 10/40 Window are officially or unofficially opposed to Christian work of any kind within their borders.

Back those 30 or so years ago, the idea was to pray because we could not go.

Well, a great deal has happened in that region since 1990. How many of those technological changes and regime changes and wars and revolts have allowed the gospel message to penetrate this closed window? More than we may be aware of.

But I want to highlight one specific, from God only, answer to this prayer. Many Muslims have reported having dreams that have brought them to the Bible or to someone who had a Bible and could explain it. These personal reports are especially powerful because as Nabeel Qureshi explained in the expanded edition of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Muslims place a great deal of emphasis on the meaning of dreams. Nabeel himself reported having several confirming dreams that convinced him God was the God of Christianity, not Islam.

He was careful to add that dreams are not replacements for Scripture. But God uses them to draw people to Himself.

And why shouldn’t He? In Biblical times, God spoke to Joseph, Mary’s future husband, in a dream, more than once. He spoke to King Nebuchadnezzar through more than one dream, and to Joseph. He spoke to Daniel through dreams, and the magi when they were about to return home.

My point is, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Why shouldn’t He communicate with people today through miraculous means? I know this is controversial for some Christians who believe the “ecstatic gifts”—the miraculous things the Holy Spirit does—ceased to take place once we had the Bible.

But evidence seems to be on the side of increasing dreams that open people up to the truth of the Bible. And these people just happen to live in the 10-40 window. Is that not an answer to prayer of God’s people?

Why would we relegate this amazing phenomena to the the trash heap of coincidence? Why should we suspect that these people turning to Christ are lying about their dreams and about the reason they are turning to find the truth about Jesus?

Someone who does not believe that God hears and answers prayer can pooh-pooh a dramatic change in the fortunes of the people in the 10-40 window that allows people who once had no contact with Christianity to now have access to the internet, to have missionaries in their country, to travel to countries that allow Bibles and preaching. But believers should know better.

Would these things have happened without prayer for the 10-40 window? We can’t know. But we do know God hears and answers prayer. He prompts us to pray in the first place because He wants to do a work that includes us.

Think about it. We can pray for God to move a mountain, then when He does, are we going to say, Well, it’s probably a natural phenomenon that caused it to move and it would have done so even if we hadn’t prayed.

If we believe God answers prayer, why would we question the answers we can see? Sure, God does use all kinds of means to answer prayer, but that fact should not mask His involvement. He is as amazing today as He was when Jesus turned water into wine, when He multiplied the loaves and fish so they fed more than 5000 people, when He calmed the wind and waves. That’s the God who lives in the heart of every believer. Pretty amazing, isn’t He!

Published in: on February 4, 2019 at 5:37 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

God And The Why Game


When I was little, we kids used to play the “why” game from time to time. It’s not an actual, formalized game, but really a way to get under somebody else’s skin. Why? Because virtually every answer can then be subject to the question “why?” It doesn’t end until the ask-er wants it to end.

Except . . .

Eventually the answer in our house ended up being, because God made it that way.

So it goes like this:

Why do cats purr? Because they’re happy.

Why? Because they like to be petted and pampered.

Why? Because cats like comfort.

Why? Because God made them that way.

Of course there can be a lot more questions, depending on the one who is answering and how much time he wants to put in.

I realized the other day that for atheists, they’d never get to the “God” answer. I’m not sure what their end game would be. I suppose it would be something about DNA or the arrangement of molecules, though I think a good ask-er could push the question beyond that point.

But here’s the cool thing I discovered when I started thinking about this. . . well, let me show you with another illustration.

Why is snow cold? Because it’s frozen water?

Why? Because the air temperature drops so low that the water in the atmosphere freezes.

Why? Because there’s low pressure sweeping down from the Arctic and the air there is very cold.

Why? Because God made it that way. [This answer-er is in a hurry. 😉 ]

Why? Because He knew our planet would work best with cold poles, not warm ones.

Why? Because He knows everything.

Why? Because He is God.

Or, restated from His point of view: Because I AM.

This post is a reprint of an article that appeared here in February, 2013,

Published in: on February 1, 2019 at 5:02 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , ,

God Is Greater


Corruption exists in any number of societal institutions here in the US.

When I was in high school and college, I learned about Big Business and its evils which required new laws to curb monopolies and to protect labor movements. Except, the results contributed to Big Government and Big Labor.

Now we also have Big Entertainment and Big Banking and Big Media and Big Education.

Honestly, it’s easy to feel squeezed, to feel defeated. Who can fight city hall? Or cable TV? Or union dues? Or bank foreclosures? Or the department of education?

Worse still is that the operating principle in each of these Big Systems is primarily greed—get mine and make it as big as possible. The idea of cooperation, the idea of working for the greater good—those are archaic notions, nostalgically remembered but no longer practiced apart from a few mom and pop stores and a smattering of charities.

Even medicine is trending toward Big and Profitable. The prescription drug industry is right there as well.

How odd that in a country build on rights and freedoms, there seems to be less and less within the individual’s control.

In many respects, our institutions operate much like mountain runoff. It starts as a pleasant and pure stream high above timberline where it waters meadows and wildflowers, but ends up funneled into a muddy and polluted river.

Rivers can be incredibly powerful. They can overflow their banks, sweep through an area, and wipe out homes and fields. They can carve canyons from stone and generate enough force to run electric plants.

But greater than any river is God who made them all.

Too often when we see news about shootings and clashes with the police and racial tension and young girls kidnapped and thousands of people trapped on top of a mountain and public beheadings, it’s easy to forget how great God is.

Things feel out of control.

Evil seems to be winning.

It’s easy to forget that God is greater. The truth is, He rules the universe, so it’s not much of a leap to realize He’s also in control of all our societal machinations. Psalm 37 says

Do not fret because of evil doers;
Be not envious toward wrong doers
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb. (vv 1-2)

If we think of God as higher and over all the multiverse—and we should, because Isaiah 40 says He knows the stars by name, that because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing—then surely God is over the climate change on earth and the clash between nations and terrorist plots and political intrigue and all the other problems we so often focus on or hide from.

God is in control.

Psalm 37 again.

The wicked plots against the righteous
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees his day is coming.
The wicked have drawn the sword and bent their bow
To cast down the afflicted and the needy,
To slay those who are upright in conduct.
Their sword will enter their own heart
And their bows will be broken. (vv 12-15)

On the other hand, if we think of God as Ruler of the heart yielded to Him, what can’t He overcome? Greed? Not a problem. Pride? He abases the proud look and humbles man’s loftiness.

A few song lyrics are floating through my head as I think about God’s power over our sin. One is “Marvelous Grace Of Our Loving Lord,” which has this chorus:

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

The other is “The Wonderful Grace Of Jesus” with this first verse:

Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin;
How shall my tongue describe it, where shall its praise begin?
Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free,
For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me!

Yes, God is greater than any of the big institutions that crowd in on top of us and threaten to distract us from what has eternal significance. And God’s grace is greater than any of the sin that weighs us down and holds us captive.

God provides hope and help—release from sin; advocacy in our need. Once more from Psalm 37

For the Lord loves justice
And does not forsake His godly ones. (v. 28a)

Great is His faithfulness. Greater is He than . . . well, anything.

This article originally appeared here in August, 2014.

Published in: on January 30, 2019 at 5:11 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Blessings


When I was a young adult, I hated the word “blessing,” especially in a song like “There Shall Be Showers of Blessing.” It seemed like an empty word, along the line of “nice.” I wanted meatier words. Something that said something weighty.

I’ve changed my tune since then. I do so often feel blessed, and it isn’t because God has been nice to me. It’s more. It has the idea of His hedge around me, His protection, provision. Like He’s watching out for me, there to catch me when I fall. There to pick me up and patch up my skinned elbows and knees. There to perform surgery on my heart whenever I need it.

Above all, He’s with me. He comforts, encourages, prods, instructs. I could go on, but what I learned today about blessings is something beyond the definition. I heard a radio sermon by Pastor Tony Evans entitled, “Why God Wants to Bless Us.”

His point was kind of revolutionary, I think. At least it had an impact on me. God wants to bless us, not just because He loves to give good gifts. He wants to bless us so that we in turn can be a blessing. In other words, He gives in order that we might give. He doesn’t give so that we can use up His gift on ourselves.

The first example Dr. Evans gave was of Abraham. God blessed him, no doubt, giving him a son in his old age. In fact, giving him many sons after his first wife Sarah died. God gave him long life and much wealth. But above all those material things, He gave him a promise. In him—that is, through his descendants—many nations would come into being, and they would also be blessed.

At this point, God flipped the script. The blessing He was talking about wasn’t just temporal. This blessing was for everyone and it was eternal.

Not just Abraham’s kids and his kids’ kids, on down the line, would receive God’s blessing. This blessing was for the nations. Galatians 3 spells it out:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”—in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

The blessing, given to Abraham, received in Christ by all who believe, even us Gentiles.

Time and time, that’s the way God works. He gives so that we may give. Think about the young guy, a teen perhaps, or younger, who gave Jesus the food he’d planned on eating that day he followed the crowds to hear Him teach. When the disciples went among the people asking if anyone had some food, the text implies the boy gave them his few fish and loaves of bread.

But the disciples didn’t accept that small blessing and start chowing down. They in turn gave the food to Jesus who turned it into a blessing for 5000 other men, plus an unnumbered group of women and children.

Of course, Christ Himself is the greatest example of this “pay it forward” approach to blessing. He came to the people in the first century, teaching and healing. He was a great blessing to many. But He turned His time on earth into much more because He gave Himself as a ransom for us all.

I think, too, of the Philippians, giving generously to the Apostle Paul to meet his needs, so that he in turn could bless many, many others through his preaching and writing. Those Philippian believers had no idea the blessing that would come from their gift to generations.

There are a lot of other examples—the Israelites, giving their gold and jewelry coming out of Egypt so they could build a tabernacle. Each giving, all receiving a blessing as a result—a blessing that lasts in the pages of Scripture.

This “receive God’s blessing so that you can give a blessing to others” seems to be God’s modus operandi. I don’t know why, but He seems to delight in involving us in His work. He could rain manna from heaven any day He wanted, but that particular way of providing for a needy people, hasn’t been repeated. But people blessed abundantly with the necessities of life—those folk—God nudges and instructs and leads by His Holy Spirit, to feed the poor and the needy. He does that throughout time and in all kinds of places.

Why? Why would He choose to involve us in His work?

I think Paul gave us one reason at least—He does it so that we might receive a blessing.

Say, what?

It’s true. When we give the blessing away, not only do others bask in God’s provision, but we receive, too. Paul spoke of it as “profit.”

Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. (Phil. 4:17)

Christ, again is a great example. Scripture says that He endured the cross for the “joy set before Him.” Yes, He gave, but as a result, He has the joy of seeing His banqueting table fill up.

It’s a continuing cycle, sort of like the water cycle, but I suspect this one is eternal.

Published in: on January 28, 2019 at 5:57 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: