Atheist Arguments: Humans Are Animals


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Laurie Gouley from Pexels

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The Effective Prayer Of A Righteous Man


At the end of the book of James, there are a few verses that deal with prayer. The context is specifically prayer for someone who is sick, which seems like a lot of prayer from Christians in 21 century America. I used to take prayer requests from my students, sometimes publicly, so we could pray together, and some times privately, for my eyes only. And for God’s. The vast majority of the requests were for health issues.

But that’s beside the point, because, though that was James’s starting point, it’s not where he ended up. Instead he went to a general statement, then to a specific example. First the statement: “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

What kind of “much” can prayer accomplish, James?

He answers this question with his example:

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. (5:17-18)

I love the explanation of who Elijah was—a guy just like the rest of us. No super saint. He didn’t have angelic blood. He wasn’t special in any way. But he did have two things going for him. 1) His prayer was earnest. 2) He was righteous.

Whenever I read these verses, I think, I should be praying more. I mean—rain! We could use rain in Southern California.

But the point is not to pray for stuff just because I want to see stuff happen. Like the Dodgers winning the World Series or even something more practical like safety for a friend who is on a trip.

The key, I think, is in the “righteous” part. It reminds me of a verse in Psalm 37, one people love to quote: “Delight yourself in the LORD / And He will give you the desires of your heart.” (v 4)

Health-and-wealthers use that verse as a limitless credit card that God has to honor. Atheists use that verse as evidence that prayer “doesn’t work.”

But both groups are ignoring the first phrase: “delight yourself in the LORD.” That’s like being righteous. It’s essentially saying, enjoy God so much you would not want to be doing anything He doesn’t want you to do. So why would we ever pray for something we aren’t absolutely sure God wants?

In Elijah’s case, he prayed for no rain, then three plus years later, for rain, because God told him what to ask for. So he was sure. He knew what God wanted.

But why does God even bother? I mean, He can send the rain whether we ask or not, and usually does.

Again in Elijah’s situation, God accomplished several things. Elijah didn’t ask for these things in secret. People, particularly the king of Israel, knew why there was no rain. God was showing His power, His sovereignty to a disobedient and godless man. At the same time, Elijah’s prayer was serving as an example down through the ages to all who knew his story but who later read James’s commentary on it. And finally, God delights in involving His people in His work.

That’s believers today, just as much as it was believers in the first century.

My tendency, when I do get an idea of what God’s heart might be, is to pray too generally. When I was a kid it was, “Bless Grandpa and Grandma and all the aunts and uncles and cousins.” Today is more apt to be, “Work in the hearts of this people group or that one.”

So general. How would I ever know if that prayer is accomplishing much?

I’ve said before that the secret to prayer isn’t that it “works” at all, yet this verse in James and the one in the Psalms makes me think I’m only partly right there. I do think the biggest part of prayer is sharing God’s heart, pouring out my concerns to Him, and recommitting myself to trust Him in those circumstances. But praying for a judgment on a disobedient land? I would most certainly have to be convinced that’s what God wanted, just as Elijah was.

But that’s the point. Prayer moves me closer to God so that I actually do know what He wants. I know, for example, I am to love my neighbors. Any time I am not loving my neighbor, I can know for sure that I am not delighting in God, I am not praying as a righteous person who can expect to accomplish much.

In short, I don’t really need to worry whether or not my prayers are too general or too selfish or whatever. I simply need to pray so that I draw closer to God, so that I can be used by Him when He shows me what He wants me to pray for.

Published in: on October 5, 2018 at 5:54 pm  Comments (6)  
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Ordinary People


Christians aren’t superstars. God hasn’t gone about picking the brightest and best, the richest or most handsome. He’s not finding out who’s the best speaker or writer or IT guy or teacher or sports star or supermodel. Actually, God enlists ordinary people to be his followers.

We can see this in the Bible. Take King David, for example. He was the youngest of his family. His job when the prophet Samuel anointed him to be king was—shepherd. He hadn’t acquitted himself on the field of battle or proved himself to be an astute leader of men. Those would come as God walked with him through days of exile, through nights of hiding and running. But when God put His finger on David and said, I want him, David was just an ordinary man.

Which is fitting because his great-grandmother was sort of a nobody. She was a widow, probably a little older than most marriageable women. She was from a foreign country. And she had committed herself to the care of her mother-in-law, which was why she went to Bethlehem in the first place.

Then there was David’s great-great-grandmother. She was also from a foreign country where she was a “working girl.” A prostitute. Some might even think of her as a traitor because she helped “the enemy” by hiding the Jewish spies which had come to search out the land, particularly the city of Jericho.

Yep, neither Ruth nor Rahab were special and yet God used these ordinary women, not only in order that they would be part of David’s lineage, but that they would be part of the Messiah’s heritage.

No one could have considered himself more ordinary than Gideon, but when Israel was harassed by an enemy who stole their crops, their livestock, pretty much everything that made life possible, God called him and put him in the position of delivering his people.

There are loads of other ordinary people who God chose to become heroes or behind-the-scene workers. What about the no-name widow who gave her last coin as an act of worship? Jesus commended her and said she would be remembered for her faith. Not for her status. She had none. Not for her wealth. She was poor beyond measure. What she had was a belief in a God who would not leave her or forsake her.

Or what about the thief on the cross, the last-second convert who still gives comfort and encouragement today for those who have lived all their lives apart from Christ. What hope do they have, so many are tempted to say. There’s every hope because Jesus accepted the thief who was dying beside Him. He didn’t have to have a lengthy resume of things he’d done for the kingdom of God. He simply had to believe.

Think about the twelve men who Jesus chose as disciples. One was a dedicated enemy to the Roman government. He’d be considered a terrorist today. Another was a collaborator—a man who worked with the Romans and, in his own way, oppressed the Jewish people. Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector should have been enemies, but they gave up their former pursuits and both followed Jesus.

At least four of these guys were fishermen. They hadn’t studied with Gamaliel, like Paul had. They weren’t rich like Joseph of Arimethia. They were just guys, working for their dads’ fishing businesses.

Thomas was an ordinary skeptic. No “rich in faith” guy, he. He was of the “show me” variety, and Jesus did just that: showed him his hands and feet, and the nail prints there.

The other three guys were so ordinary we don’t really know anything about them apart from the fact that they went where Jesus sent them, did the work God gave them.

And these are the men responsible for converting the Middle East. Well, not all of it. But this small band of Christ-followers, ordinary men without anything this world values to commend them to the people they talked to, were the people God used to spread the gospel.

And that’s continued. For every Billy Graham, there’s a J. Wilbur Chapman who no one has heard of, yet introduced the greatest evangelist of our time to Jesus.

For every Corrie ten Boom, there’s a Papa ten Boom who taught her the faith which prompted her to protect Jews from the Nazis, to forgive the German guards who persecuted her in the concentration camp and oversaw her sister’s illness and death.

Who was Papa ten Boom? A watchmaker. Who was Corrie ten Boom? An unmarried woman approaching her senior years. Just ordinary people who God chose, who were willing for Him to do with their lives as He pleased.

What about Ravi Zacharias? He was a young Indian man who had tried to take his own life, whose father said he wouldn’t amount to anything. The future was bleak for this ordinary man, but God saved him and used him to speak around the world, to facilitate an entire apologetics ministry.

He was willing, and that’s really all that matters. God is happy with the ordinary people because when each of us comes to Him, it’s a testament that God is the one who saves. Not our bank account. Not our talent, our looks, our status, our strength. God saves.

And how awesome, how mind-boggling, how incredible that He uses ordinary people to get the word out.

When There’s No Water


July officially started the new rainy season, though for SoCal, that is kind of like saying, each year we start with two months of 0 inches just so we can put down figures for 12 months. This kind of “dry spell” is actually normal. The problem manifests itself if November comes and goes and we still have not had significant rain. Or if January, February, and March don’t give us some meaningful moisture.

A good year for us is around 33 inches. Compare that to the Carolinas which likely received 33 inches in this last storm.

All this to say, I know what it’s like to live in a place with no water. Except, we have technology now that allows us to bring water in from places that have more than they’re using. Not everyone is happy with this arrangement. But that’s not the point of this post.

The real subject is waking up and realizing there is not enough water to, you know, live. Because water is one of those commodities that we actually can not do without.

The descendants of Jacob, the Hebrews newly escaped from Egypt, came to a place where there was no water. And they were well over 600,000 people. The men of the age to fight number 600,000, so add in the elderly, the women, and the children, and there are probably twice as many people, conservatively speaking—all without water. And don’t forget the animals. These folks were shepherds. They had their flocks and their cattle to take care of, too.

So when they’d been on the road for a while and they didn’t come upon any water, they were concerned. Rightly so. This was not a minor issue, a little inconvenience. This was a life-and-death matter.

So what did they do? You’d think they would cried out to God. What else could you do? I mean, He’s omniscient—He’d know where they could get water. And He’s omnipotent—He could bring rain at the drop of a hat. Crying out to God would seem like a wise, intelligent thing to do.

But the Hebrews? They decided to grumble against Moses instead. You should have left us in Egypt, they said. We told you this journey was not a good idea, they said. We want to choose another ruler, someone who will take us back to Egypt, they said.

Remember. Egypt was a mess. Dead army, dead firstborn sons, dead or diseased cattle, devastated crops, people who were afraid of Moses and had driven the people of Israel from their land.

Remember also. The Hebrews had cried to God because of the harsh treatment they were receiving. The Egyptians had ordered their baby boys to be killed. Not just the first born. All of them. For how long? We don’t know for sure, but obviously long enough that the people of Israel would no longer outnumber the Egyptians. They wanted zero population growth, at a minimum.

And most of all, remember that God had promised to take them out of Egypt, so clearly that Joseph charged his descendants with taking his bones, his mummified carcass, along with them when they went.

Not only did God give them this promise, but remember He gave them His protection. When darkness fell over Egypt, it did not fall in Goshen where the Hebrews lived. When hail wiped out two crops and killed the livestock left in the field, it didn’t fall in Goshen. When the locust came, when disease attacked the Egyptian animals, when their first born sons were taken, the Hebrews escaped unscathed. They saw God’s power first hand, and they experienced His protection.

I could go on. They were receiving manna every day, they had quail to eat when they asked for meat, they’d been without water before and God surprised them by giving them miraculously and then leading them to a place of abundance.

But none of it was enough.

When is enough evidence of God’s direction, provision, protection, ever enough? Sometimes the people who cry the loudest have the most evidence in front of their faces, but they simply choose to ignore it. Instead, they decide they want to go their own way, choose their own leader, deal with their own problems.

Seems silly to me, because if they had turned around at that point, they would have continued for days without water before they arrived at that place where God had taken them before. How many of them would have survived?

But God is so merciful. Despite their grumbling and complaining, God gave them what they needed. He did so miraculously and symbolically so that centuries later we could see the Rock who is Jesus, struck to provide Living Water to a wayward people.

God had a reason for testing the Hebrews. He had an example to paint for generations who would come after them. He wanted them to see His power and trust Him, but He also wants us to see His power and trust Him.

Their need for water was real and serious. Their reliance on their own “solutions” was foolish. But our God isn’t limited by weak people who keep on doing the wrong thing. Peter could deny Jesus three times, but God was able to turn him into a pillar of the Church. Paul could chase down Christians to persecute them, but God was able to turn him into a vibrant evangelist.

In fact, none of Christ’s followers can ever boast that we have life figured out, that we’re on the road to heave because we are clever enough or strong enough or good enough to make it on our own. Rather, we are the army of second chances. God saved us because we need to be saved. We are out of water, and we can’t make it on empty. So He does the impossible. He provides Living Water so that we will never thirst again.

Published in: on September 11, 2018 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Is Salvation A “Loophole”?


At the Facebook atheist/theist group in which I participate, one of the atheists has said on more than one occasion, “god sacrificed himself, to himself, in order to have a loophole for the rules he created.” Is salvation a loophole?

The Oxford-American Dictionary defines loophole as “an ambiguity or inadequacy in the law or a set of rule.” In order for salvation to be a loophole, then God’s law would have to be ambiguous or inadequate.

Except sin entered into the world when there was just one commandment: don’t eat from this fruit or you’ll die. Nothing ambiguous there. Is it inadequate? Inadequate for what? What was the purpose of that commandment?

I have to admit, I’ve never really thought this out before. The fruit was of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but I wonder if it could have been any old fruit. Clearly eating what God had prohibited did open Adam and Eve’s eyes, but to what? The first indication Scripture gives is their awareness that they were naked. And they wanted to cover up. They hadn’t cared that they were naked before. So something changed. Their sense of morality was altered.

But Adam’s sin had already occurred. Knowing full well that he was doing what God told him not to do, Adam ate of the forbidden fruit.

I think there’s really only one explanation for this action. Adam decided he would do what he wanted to do, not what God told him to do. In short, Adam placed himself as a higher authority than God. And that’s the thing that separates humans from God to this day.

The issue, then, isn’t actually a particular rule and certainly not a set of laws, but the question, Who’s in charge?

When God told Adam and Eve what they could and could not enjoy in the garden, He also revealed to them the consequences of going their own way. They would die.

The natural order of things broke when Adam sinned. God, who upholds all things by the word of His power, was now cut off from the people He had made. They had cut themselves off. Just as surely as they wanted to cover their bodies with leaves, they also wanted to hide themselves from His presence.

In addition, they faced death—something that came about as God said it would. But not only their own death. The death of people they loved, too. Children and animals, which I suspect they became fond of as any of us do with our pets. They now died, too.

Obviously being cut off from friendship with God was the greatest penalty they could pay. When did they realize how bad it would be? When Cain became a law unto himself and killed his brother? When God kicked them out of the garden? When work became hard? When they no longer enjoyed regular personal conversations with God? I don’t know.

The bottom line is that God is the only One wise enough, good enough, strong enough, to make the decisions, to direct the world, to keep the universe in place. It’s nothing but hubris for humans to say, No, we don’t need God. But in one act of disobedience, that’s exactly what Adam said.

But back to salvation. Did God come up with a loophole to fix a flaw in His plan? No, He didn’t. Scripture makes it clear that Christ was part of the plan all along.

For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:20-21)

He was the free gift God intended from eternity past to give to us as a demonstration of His love.

Of course there is some truth in what the atheist guy says; God did sacrifice Himself to Himself. But that’s not a negative.

I remember when I was a kid, my dad would give us money to buy Christmas presents. His money, to buy him (and others) presents. Did that make the gifts meaningless? Not at all. The money came from him and the money went to him, in the form of the presents. Why would he do this? Because he loved us, wanted to teach us, wanted us to experience the joy of giving, and because we in turn had the opportunity to express our love for him and the others in our family.

God isn’t selfishly wanting sacrifice, nor is He trying to fix a broken plan. I know sometimes we believers when explaining it, because we’re limited to our linear, finite thinking, can make it sound as if that’s the case, but in truth God knew what was best, what would be the best way for people made in His image, and therefore with free will, to actually come to Him and submit to Him. That’s what makes for the best relationships. When I say, God, You’re in charge and I am not, He showers me with His love.

So, no, salvation is not a loophole!

Published in: on August 30, 2018 at 6:00 pm  Comments (8)  
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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.

God And His Mysterious Ways


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’s one of the most mysterious of His Ways—He voluntarily, willfully declares my heart His home.

As far as “mysterious ways” is concerned, I think of Joseph resisting the sexual temptations 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 him of 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 Nazarene from birth, but he broke the parameters more than once 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-ever-after 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.

He used a spinster lady in the latter end of middle-aged through 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 an athletic teenage girl who suffered a catastrophic, debilitating accident, who has lived life for forty-five years as a quadriplegic and 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 a reprint of one originally posted May 2011 and reprised in October 2014.

Christ Died for … ?


When I was young, I thought it was clear who Jesus Christ died for. In fact, most of my adult life, it never crossed my mind that this was a controversial subject. Rather, it was fact … that some believed and others did not.

But the world of the internet has put me in touch with lots more people, and suddenly the things I thought were clear, plain, easily understood from Scripture, I now realize don’t appear the same to everyone. Some professing Christians believe one thing and others believe a quite different thing, all based on the Bible. 😕

When it comes to some topics, I don’t think it’s all that surprising that Christians hold differing positions, simply because the Bible isn’t all that clear. End times comes to mind as a topic that can stir debate. Some have studied prophesies in the Old and New Testaments and believe they can create a time line, with the only missing piece the actual date of Christ’s return to rapture His church. Others don’t even think there will be a rapture. And among those who do, there is disagreement as to whether this will occur before, during, or after the Great Tribulation.

And so it goes. Other topics that generate similar disagreements are creation, the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit, church government, baptism … on and on.

But to the question at hand, Who did Christ die for? Isn’t that sort of … the foundation of what it means to be a Christian? So how can there be debate about this question? But there is.

Here are the positions I’m aware of (doesn’t mean there aren’t more):
1. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that no one will go to Hell (the view espoused by The Shack and Rob Bell’s Love Wins and the like).

2. Christ died for the whole world—literally, which means that Man’s sin nature has been forgiven, but he will be judged for the specific sins he commits. The sins of believers are covered by the blood of Christ, and the sins of unbelievers bring judgment upon them.

3. Christ died for the elect, those He predestined to be His from the foundations of the world.

4. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him appropriate forgiveness.

5. Christ died for the whole world, but only those who believe in Him, chosen from the foundations of the world, appropriate forgiveness.

The latter is my view, and the more I study Scripture, the more I believe it to be true. This position, as I see it, takes into account all of Scripture, not just a handful of proof texts. But I did come across a verse, one of a number, that shows this tension between God’s work—through His predestination and redemption—and Man’s faith.

I’m referring to a verse in I Peter 2, in which the writer declares Jesus Christ to be the cornerstone, who also is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and then says “for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed” (v 8b). There it is, in one verse: men’s response to God (in this case, rejection of Him) and God’s appointment of men to their destination. The conjunction and gives the two equal weight.

Philippians 3 has a verse like this, but from the side of faith. “Not that I have already obtained [resurrection life] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (v12).

Again, both sides. God lays hold of us and we lay hold of Him.

Too many people want to make salvation a chicken-or-egg discussion (which came first, God’s foreknowledge or God’s predestination? God’s sovereign decision or Man’s free choice). Does a person have faith because he’s predestined or did God predestine those He knew would have faith?

Those are unanswerable questions, though people seem quick to pull out Scriptures to support their view. The fact is, the Bible clearly says God foreknew. And it just as clearly says He predestined. So can we know which He did first? Many will look at Romans 8:29 (“for those He foreknew, He also predestined …”), and conclude, Yes, foreknowledge first. But those from the predestination camp can just as easily point to election verses.

Which is why I say the entire Bible needs to be taken en toto which teaches both God’s sovereignty and humankind’s unfettered responsibility to choose Him.

In the end, I think only the first view in this debate skews God’s nature and distorts His work (and therefore is false teaching). Views 2 through 4 are reasonable and could be true. They do not alter a Biblical view of God. However, as I see it, the last position best accounts for the varied statements throughout Scripture as well as passages like I Peter 2 and Philippians 3. When the Bible seems to say two different things, it’s wise to accept them both. Just because we don’t see how they mesh, does not mean they don’t. After all, God’s thoughts and ways are not limited like ours are.

This article is an updated and expanded version of one that appeared here in August 2009.

Christians Should Not Be Silent


African_sunsetWhen I say Christians should not be silent, I don’t mean Christians should complain more or rail against our culture more or even call out false teaching more. We do those things with some frequency. I’m one of those who does.

Some time ago, I was reminded that I’d much rather be known for what I believe rather than for what I oppose. In a discussion on another site, I made a comment that included these words: “Christ offers healing. He gives us grace. He made a way of escape from sin and guilt. His plan and work is Good News.”

However, I also pointed to things with which I disagreed, and consequently, the ensuing discussion, as far as concerned me, centered on my opposition (not on what I was opposing but on the fact that I was opposing). That taught me a lesson

I should talk more about Christ—the Way, the Truth, the Life—and how He came to show us the Father. I should talk about how Luke compiled his report for Theophilus “so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” I should talk about how John ended his book by saying, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

In essence, the issue at stake is the certainty or uncertainty with which we can know God. One perspective is that we cannot know with certainty and it is arrogant to say we do know with certainty. Somehow knowing is assumed to contradict faith. Never mind that the Bible defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

The assurance. The conviction. About what do I have assurance? These are the things I think Christians should chat up. We are too often silent about the things about which we have assurance. Why? Do we think everyone else already knows and believes the things about which we have assurance? Or the opposite? No one believes as we do. Neither position provides sufficient grounds for us to remain silent. The first is false and the second is the very reason we need to speak the truth in love.

So, what am I assured of? First, that God is.

I had occasion years ago to do some hiking in Colorado. One adventure was supposed to be a short mile hike to a small lake, but my hiking buddy and I both agreed when we arrive, it was far too short and there was too much day left, so we headed for the high country. At the end of our trail we stood on a glacier field looking up at rocky spires more glorious than any cathedral I’d visited. Over our heads was a canopy of blue, so rich and pure. Everywhere I looked, I saw God’s fingerprint.

I’ve seen His creative glory when I looked at the stars from Catalina Island or watched the sun sink below the western horizon of a Tanzanian sky as a full moon rose in the east. I’ve marveled at bull elephants protecting their herd and ostrich scampering across the grassland.

Who is God, but the LORD?
And who is our rock, except our God? (Ps. 18:31)

I know God is. I’ve seen His work.

I’ve also experienced His presence. His Spirit has taken up residence in my life. I am now one of those living stones Peter talks about:

You also as living stones are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).

I know God is. I’ve read His Word. The Bible is a lamp, a light, and what it illumines is God’s person, plan, and purpose. Where creation paints the general outline of God’s existence, the Bible fills in the details.

It shows through the narrative, from beginning to end, His love and power, His mercy and justice, His patience and faithfulness. He shows His redemptive purposes in His dealings with Israel. He shows His plan to rescue the condemned in His provision of the ram for Abraham to substitute for his son. He shows His patience when He rescued Jonah on his way as far from God as he could get. He shows His faithfulness in holding back a pride of lions from devouring Daniel when he refused to back off from his worship of God Most High.

The Bible is rich, so rich—filled with the greatness of the Author and Finisher of our faith.

I know God is. Jesus showed Him to His followers. He is the image of the invisible God. It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him. In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form. Look at Jesus, and you see God.

So yes, the first thing about which I have assurance is that God is!

This post is an edited and updated version of one that appeared her in October, 2013.

Published in: on August 15, 2018 at 5:34 pm  Comments (4)  
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Be Holy Because God Is Holy


One of the early surprises I received when I first stepped into the world of the Internet was that not all people who identified themselves as Christians believed what I believed. Oh, I knew there were differences, one denomination to another. I knew there were liberals and there were conservatives. But I thought people who believed the Bible would have a shared understanding, more or less.

I suppose that’s true. The Bible does seem to be a line of demarcation. But apparently so is holiness.

As I’ve shared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in a previous discussion about holiness, before I started blogging, I joined a writing discussion board. At one point I brought up the topic of holiness, with the intent of discussing how a writer can show the holiness side of edgy. Instead I got an inordinate amount of discussion about legalism. Legalism!

Color me still surprised. Legalism has as much to do with holiness as prostitution does.

How is it that a Christian can mistake a works theology for holiness?

Judaism is based on works. Keep the law, observe the holy days, offer the sacrifices. Do, do, do.

Hinduism is based on works. Everything is geared toward doing better in order to move up the reincarnation chain into a better life.

Islam is based on works. Much like Judaism, Islamic law is the guide for daily living, and failure has consequences here and in the after life.

Buddhism is based on works. Walking the path of ethical conduct, wisdom, and discipline is the way to freedom from suffering—nirvana.

Christianity on the other hand declares rather boldly, all our works get us nothing. We can’t do enough or be enough. We can’t be the kind of person we should, we can’t think pure enough thoughts or purge our desires of self. In short, we aren‘t holy and we can’t be holy by our human efforts.

Legalism, then, is antithetical to Christianity.

And yet 1 Peter 1:15-16 says,

Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

A couple things stand out to me. In the same way that God is love, He is holy. How have we lost sight of that, I wonder. So often we hear pastors giving as the rationale for a person to love the unlovely, the fact that God is love and we are to be like Him. But where do we hear the sermons about not lying to our kids or not stealing from our employer?

Enough, we say. That borders on works and we are all about grace.

Salvation is by grace, certainly. Except we are to grow up in respect to salvation (see 1 Peter 2:1-5).

Life in Christ is life—it starts with a new birth but does not end there. We are then to grow, and we do so by feeding on the word of God.

Ironically, there are some people who believe holiness is conferred instantaneously upon a Christian and that the sure sign a person is in the family of God is that he no longer sins. I say “ironically” because this belief seems to bring us right back to legalism.

A person can proudly congratulate himself that he has not sinned for years and years, missing the fact that his prideful attitude is in fact a sin.

Such a “holiness” doctrine seems to stifle all chance for growth as completely as someone who thinks all holiness is tantamount to legalism.

The bottom line is that we are commanded to be holy. That’s the second thing that stands out to me in the passage from 1 Peter 1. It’s not just an Old Testament thing that Christians can ignore.

At the same time, reality and Scripture tell us we cannot be holy. Only Christ lived a holy life. So what we who have newness of life are to do is to be imitators of Him, submit to God’s work of remolding us into the image of His Son, feed on the pure milk of the Word. And grow.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in April, 2012.