Turning To God


If it’s true that the problems the US faces today are not going to be fixed by government, that they actually need a spiritual answer, that such an answer starts with turning to God, what does that mean? What does it look like?

I’ve talked to a number of atheists over the years, and clearly their belief (although they say they don’t believe anything) is that there’s no evidence for God. What they are actually saying is a refutation of Romans 1, and an agreement.

Paul says in the first chapter of this letter that “that which is known about God is evident within them because God made it evident to them.” This, he explains, has been so since the creation of the world, in which God’s invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature have been clearly seen through what He made.

So the atheist starts by denying creation.

Paul addressed that, too, saying that though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God. So we refer to “Mother Nature,” not God. Maybe Mother Nature will give us a break in the weather so the fires will be brought under control.

In the same breath, many of the same people declare that humans are in control of that which has been made. So everything will be fine if we just don’t screw it up. All the climate warming and the resulting floods and hurricanes and fires, are our fault because we aren’t doing a good enough job.

So, on one hand, Mother Nature is in charge and we’re just along for the ride, but on the other hand humans are in charge of not making a mess of “our home.” How this Earth became our home, doesn’t ever seem to cross their minds.

But the bottom line is this: those who do not believe in God claim there is no evidence for His existence, then distort that very evidence, suggesting instead that this world and our place in it happened randomly and yet in an orderly progression of random events that can’t be replicated. But it was random. Not a result of an intelligent mind or a loving Father who chose to bring the world into existence and chose to put us humans in charge of it.

Interestingly, I had one atheist tell me she kept the Ten Commandments. Clearly she didn’t really know what they say, because they start with “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Mother =Nature is another god. And so are we humans, if we credit ourselves with what only God does.

I don’t want to get too far from the point. If we are to turn to God, we first have to acknowledge that He is. The writer of the book of Hebrews says that: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

So the first part of turning to God, I think, is to live what we say we believe. If we believe God is, then we need to trust Him, even when things don’t go the way we want. We need to trust that He sees the end from the beginning, that He knows what’s right.

I remember playing as a kid that I was a pirate looking through a telescope (usually the cardboard tube after all the Christmas wrapping had been used up). The problem with looking through a narrow cylinder is that you don’t get the panorama. You only see one small portion, and sometimes that is so close up it seems as if it is everything, or at least all that is important.

Unlike that kind of limited perspective, God sees and knows what we need, today, ten years from today, what our neighbor needs and our nephew we see at Thanksgiving. God can be trusted, if He is God. And if believers want to lead the way for our nation to return to Him, we need to trust Him, even when we don’t understand what He’s doing.

The prophet Habakkuk had the same issue. He wanted the nation Israel to turn back to God. God told him He was about to send a far more wicked nation to put them into captivity. That made no sense to Habakkuk. Until God told him about the remnant and the Messiah which was part of this overall plan.

So, too, for us, we don’t know what God’s plans are for the world or even for us individually. But we can count on His promises and we can turn to Him as our shield, our refuge, our safety net.

Published in: on October 1, 2020 at 5:12 pm  Comments (9)  
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Sending The Wrong Message


What message should Christians be spreading during a time of pandemic, when much of the world seems to be in semi-quarantine? A couple weeks ago I addressed this issue in the article “Speak Lord, For Your Servant Is Listening.” Since then, I’ve heard a number of Christian leaders speak to the topic.

I’ve been pleased with some, disappointed in others, and surprised at those who have remained silent.

The latter shouldn’t surprise me, really. They are the preachers who push the health and wealth message. What can they say when Christians actually do come down with the virus? What can they say in response to the social distancing policies designed to limit the spread of the virus? No, we don’t have to do that because we have God’s promise of health and wealth? There are serious Biblical problems with that position, and of course we know that all of us, Christians included, will one day die. So apparently God isn’t keeping His promise, if we read into the Bible that idea. So, silence. What message can they give their friends and neighbors when Christians like everyone else can contract Covid-19 and can be carriers of the virus?

The first group of leaders who have turned to the Bible and are addressing today’s circumstances in light of what the Bible says, seem to me to be seizing the opportunity. People who are afraid or who feel like they’re losing control, who were counting on a job that disappeared over night, who no longer have the comfortable retirement package they once had, need to hear what God says about crisis and about how he works through trials and suffering, how He is sovereign and will not leave or forsake His children. That’s the message those leaders have delivered.

Another group of Christians who have a media presence have given a non-message as their response: God isn’t doing anything different today than He did in years gone by; it’s not up to us to take the events of today as particularly meaningful. Here’s one example:

No doubt the usual silly suspects will tell us why God is doing this to us. A punishment? A warning? A sign? These are knee-jerk would-be Christian reactions in a culture which, generations back, embraced rationalism: everything must have an explanation. But supposing it doesn’t? Supposing real human wisdom doesn’t mean being able to string together some dodgy speculations and say, “So that’s all right then?” What if, after all, there are moments such as T. S. Eliot recognized in the early 1940s, when the only advice is to wait without hope, because we’d be hoping for the wrong thing? (“Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To”)

In response to that article, another leader offered a Biblical counterpoint:

Christian hope is radically different [from the hope the world enjoys], because Christianity is different from every other religion. Why? Because it’s eternally founded on the prophetic words of God, revealed to prophets who wrote down what God said about the future. The God of the Bible is eternal, infinitely above the unfolding of time. He is the “Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13). He wrote the complex story of human history before the world began. And he has revealed everything we need to know about the future. (“Surprised By Hopelessness”)

Still one more leader gives a message of repentance and hope. John Piper has written a book on the subject, Coronavirus And Christ (audio book available for free; also available for purchase in various platforms). He not only addresses hope for believers but also the need for repentance.

As I see it, the message of no purpose and hopelessness is the wrong message. I don’t believe God wastes any opportunity to draw people to Himself. More and more, people around the world are asking what God’s doing in and through this pandemic. As places begin to move back toward opening businesses, toward a bit of normalcy, the window is also beginning to close when Christians can spread the Biblical message of repentance and hope to people who have come face to face with their mortality. May many more leaders follow those who are doing so, and not those who are giving the wrong message.

Originally posted Monday at Spec Faith.

Published in: on April 30, 2020 at 3:55 pm  Comments (15)  
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Speak Lord, For Your Servant Is Listening


A year ago, almost to the day, I revised and re-posted an article entitled “Does God Speak Through Nature?” The premise was simple: God used “natural” phenomenon in Egypt to pry His people free from Pharaoh’s grip. Could He not continue to use the world around us to speak to us?

So many people today—and this includes many Christians—say, No, floods and earthquakes and hurricanes and pandemics have known, scientific causes. They occur because of natural law.

But my question is, Who created and controls natural law? Did not God hang the stars in place? Does His hand not maintain what He created? Scripture indicates He is the One who makes DNA coding and tides and mutating viruses work the way they work—and keeps them doing so.

And He [God’s Son] is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Heb. 1:3a; emphasis mine)

Then there’s this passage in Colossians:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (1:16-17; emphasis mine)

All this to say, I don’t believe things happen in the world for no purpose.

God hasn’t sent a modern day prophet to tell us why things happen as He did during Israel’s history before their exile. But we don’t actually need a modern day prophet because we have the ancient ones.

Someone has to be pretty blind not to see parallels between the world today and the world of the ancient Jews. Including this passage:

Come, my people, enter into your rooms
And close your doors behind you;
Hide for a little while
Until indignation runs its course.
For behold, the LORD is about to come out from His place
To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;
And the earth will reveal her bloodshed
And will no longer cover her slain. (Isaiah 26:20-21)

But who knows? Maybe the Coronavirus is just your run of the mill viruses and we shouldn’t think twice about it in spiritual terms.

Then again, maybe it is the wake-up call to remind us that God will bring judgment on the earth one day. Not today. Maybe not in five years or ten or fifty. But assuredly, God will bring judgment. Again, something—in this culture—that’s uncomfortable to say. I mean, we’ve heard from the likes of Rob Bell and his Love Wins best seller of nearly a decade ago. He clearly lays out his belief that no matter what a person believes, he’s on his way to paradise with God.

Well, for one thing, I know a lot of atheists who would be horrified if this were true. They don’t want eternal punishment, that’s for certain, but neither do they want to be with God for eternity.

But more importantly the “everyone’s on his way to heaven” idea is not what God revealed. Pretty much the opposite:

“THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;
THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,
THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;
ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS;
THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,
THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE . . .
THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.” (Rom. 3:12-18)

Which brings us to God’s warning and the need for repentance.

At one point God sent the prophet Jonah to the main city in Assyria, Nineveh. I won’t get into Jonah’s issues here, but the people there were known to be a warlike nation, violent and cruel. They seemed to devise ways of killing people that would cause the most pain. Jonah’s message was simple: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” He apparently didn’t even offer them any hope.

Still, the people knew what was the cause for this judgment, and they bowed before God and repented.

God’s response? “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10).

Those people in that place and for that generation, were spared God’s judgment.

The prophet Joel brought the same message to the people of Israel:

Alas for the day!
For the day of the LORD is near,
And it will come as destruction from the Almighty.

Revelation echos this idea of “destruction from the Almighty,” which Christians know as the Tribulation. Are we there yet? Not close. Jesus Himself when asked when He would establish His kingdom went into some detail about the things that will take place first, including this:

You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. (Matt. 24:6-8)

The beginning of birth pangs, not yet the end. I think that’s where we are. And these events that seem so out of the ordinary (because they are) serve as reminders that “the wages of sin is death,” that God will bring His judgment to bear on this world.

The prophet Joel said it to his generation in Israel, but I think it is just as true today:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil. (Joel 2:12-13)

I admit the word “evil” has troubled me. I looked it up and in the original, used as a noun as it is here, evil means distress, misery, injury, calamity. In other words, it does not mean wickedness. The idea is clear: repentance alters God’s judgment. His nature is to be slow to anger, to have heaps upon heaps of lovingkindess, and turn away from bringing His judgment.

Of course the New Testament paints the entire picture for us. God turns away His wrath from those who bow before Him because Jesus accepted that wrath, poured out on Him. And those of us who accept this free gift of grace? We have peace with God through Jesus.

Even in the midst of a pandemic. We’re not facing His angry judgment. Ever. We may die from the virus or from something else, but we will enter into His presence, the way the thief dying beside Jesus, did. That’s something far different from judgment.

So in one way (there are others), this virus thing is a blessing in disguise. It gives us an opportunity to face our mortality, and to repent for turning our backs on God, for living for ourselves instead of living for Him. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime, so to speak—an eternal lifetime.

Praise Is More Than Positive Thinking


A number of studies reportedly show the benefit of a hopeful attitude. Patients, for example, who expect a positive outcome in their circumstances have a higher recovery rate. Praise supposedly helps students perform better as well. So along with discouraging corporal punishment, society now pushes positive reinforcement.

This has been going on for some time. Now, in order to make all little leaguers feel loved and accepted, everyone receives a trophy. Regardless of talent or ability (or attendance at practice), all kids must play. Never mind that the idea behind competitive sports is competition—the kind that produces a winner and a loser, or a runner up, if you prefer. But clearly, not everyone playing is a winner.

Many of the kids may have shown a work ethic or the ability to cooperate or a team spirit. But in the end, some kids are better than others; one team is pronounced the champion. Others may have done their best, but their best didn’t produce enough points or enough defense to put them ahead on the scoreboard when the last out was recorded.

Praise, as it turns out, is only temporary unless it is tied to truth. I can say all day long that I’m the best basketball player in my age and gender group, but that does not make it true. I might feel good about myself because of my perceived ability, but what happens when I play against someone better than I am?

As it turns out, a study some years ago indicates a connection between “too much” parental praise and narcissism in children.

True praise will not ascribe something false to another just to puff them up.

In contrast to the fakery of parental praise—or if not feigned, then manipulative (if I tell him how great he is, then he’ll perform the way I want him to)—praise offered to God stands on the truth of God’s character. He is worthy to be praised because He genuinely is the greatest, the sovereign, the almighty.

Praising God starts with recognizing Him for who He is. He is kind, consequently He deserves praise for His kindnesses that are new every morning. He is love, consequently He deserves praise for His love that never fails. He is just and therefore deserves praise for his righteous judgments. He is merciful and therefore deserves praise because His mercies never cease.

When we recognize the truth about God—about His Person, plan, work, and/or word—either we can respond directly to Him in the form of thanksgiving (publicly or privately) or we can reflect what we see by offering Him praise (corporately or personally). Scripture refers to these responses as sacrifices—of thanks or of praise.

I will render thank offerings to You.
For You have delivered my soul from death,
Indeed my feet from stumbling,
So that I may walk before God
In the light of the living. (Psalm 56:12b-13; emphasis mine)

No, we do not live under the sacrificial system any longer. Jesus Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust so that He might bring us to God.

But God delights in our sacrifice of praise:

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (Heb. 13:15)

Jesus modeled this act of praise to God. Many who Jesus healed and even those who witnessed the miracles praised God for His marvelous work. Some of the disciples, when they were persecuted, responded by praising God with psalms and hymns.

In fact, the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is the very mark of His Church:

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 2:15)

Praising God is not wishful thinking or hoping for the best or positive mind speak or any of the other human endeavors many engage in. Praising God is anchored in the truth of His character, His promises, His acts of mercy, His way of salvation. In other words, God deserves recognition.

When the President of the US comes to California on one of his fund raising trips, nobody ignores him. He has police escorts and roads are closed off to allow his motorcade to pass. The media reports his arrival and covers his activities. People pay attention.

Recognizing someone’s existence or presence is not the same as praising them, however.

God wants more than our awareness of His existence or our willingness to meet with Him regularly. He wants us to shout our gratitude for His traits, for the wonders He performs, for the rescue He pulled off in transferring us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

The psalmist rendered thank offerings for a reason: because God delivered his soul from death and his feet from stumbling. Our praise today should be no less anchored in truth.

This article, with a few minor revisions, first appeared here in March, 2015.

BTW, have you noted today’s date: 02/20/20, 😉

Tornadoes, Drought, Fire, And Death


Some years ago, a handful of Christians infamously claimed that hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on New Orleans, or later that the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti was His judgment on the culture of voodoo and the occult practiced there in times passed.

But what about events in Mid-America such as violent tornadoes? That would be the area of the US famously known as the Bible Belt. A number of years ago, spring tornadoes, numbering more than a hundred strong, tore through Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, over to Nebraska and Missouri, and up into Indiana, killing and destroying.

Not to be outdone, wildfires devastated Colorado, and drought consumed crops throughout the Great Plains and over to the Appalachians. In fact, the USA Today reported that 64% of the US was experiencing drought conditions.

And of course there are the shootings that have become all to common in all parts of the US.

All this, of course, comes to mind because of the horrific fires currently devastating Australia.

In the after-math of the natural disasters, news cameras often catch survivors picking through the ruins, thankful that they lived and vowing to keep going. Some way. Some how.

After shootings, there’s talk of the gun culture and insane people trying to grab the spotlight so that the world will look at them for a few fleeting days. Undoubtedly gun legislation again comes under discussion.

All of it is white noise to the real issues that we need to talk about. God works in the world today, as He has throughout history. Because we understand and can predict weather patterns does not mean God has no part in them. Because a psychotic killer picked up a gun and attacked a theater full of people does not mean God is indifferent or uninvolved.

These events remind me so much of the things Job experienced, all engineered by Satan, but permitted by God, used by God. Why do we think He has changed?

No, He did not cause shooters to open fire on unsuspecting victims. That’s an act of evil, and God doesn’t tempt anyone to do evil (see James 1:13). But He works His will in and through these circumstances. And He does so in order that we will look to Him rather than to our own supposed strength and goodness.

God allows fires and floods and wind and drought so that we can see we are weak, not strong. He allows evil men to kill and steal and destroy so that we will see, Mankind is not good.

Only God is strong. Only God is good.

When will we look to Him instead of looking to ourselves for answers?

We are so much like Israel of old. They were a religious people, keeping their feast days, offering sacrifices in their holy cities, and God said, I’m not interested. Instead He brought war and famine so that they would turn to Him.

Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened,
And proclaim freewill offerings, make them known.
For so you love to do, you sons of Israel,”
Declares the Lord GOD.

“But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities
And lack of bread in all your places,
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“Furthermore, I withheld the rain from you
While there were still three months until harvest.
Then I would send rain on one city
And on another city I would not send rain;
One part would be rained on,
While the part not rained on would dry up.
So two or three cities would stagger to another city to drink water,
But would not be satisfied;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“I smote you with scorching wind and mildew;
And the caterpillar was devouring
Your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt;
I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses,
And I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

“I overthrew you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
And you were like a firebrand snatched from a blaze;
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD. (Amos 4:5-11 – emphasis mine)

Are we somehow beyond God’s reach, that He would not be at our shoulder, calling to us, telling us we need to return to Him? Are we so oblivious to our egregious behavior, putting to death thousands and thousands of unborn babies year after year; calling evil good and good, evil; giving credence to false prophets who lie about God and His character, that we think God is pleased with us and will continue to bless us as a nation?

What will it take for us to realize, God might be trying to get our attention because He wants us to look at Him, listen to Him, bow before Him, and recognize that He is God and we are not.

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in July, 2012.

The Wages Of Sin Is Death


What a topic for a post leading up to Christmas! I mean, this is the season for Good News and peace and God’s good will toward humankind.

All true.

The angel who announced Jesus’s birth to a collection of shepherds said this precisely. Good news for all people. Today, in the city of David, a Savior, for you. And then a host—a legion, a battalion, a company of angels joined him. I’m reminded of the legion of angels Jesus said He could ask the Father for if He wanted. (Actually, twelve legions: “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” Matt. 26:53)

Well, at Jesus’s birth at least one legion was there standing before the shepherds saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14, KJV)

But who needs peace? Or God’s good will? Or a Savior, for that matter? Only those at war, who are in hostilities, who are unable to save themselves.

I know a lot of people think that what the angels said was wishful thinking: If only we wish hard enough or try hard enough, we can bring peace on earth. The good will part seems sort of nebulous. I mean, is there a god? Does he involve himself in the affairs of mankind? Does he give a rip?

Actually, Christmas—Jesus coming to earth—proves that God is, that He very much involves Himself in the affairs of humans, and that He gives much more than a rip about us.

But the peace, the good will, the salvation may not be what we expect. We’re looking for a better life, or perhaps a wonderful life. We want the good things, the best life now. In other words, it’s all about our happiness, our comfort, our ease, our fulfillment.

For many Americans, things are already going in the right direction. We don’t have any insurmountable problems. We’re already pretty comfortable, with the hope that we can keep making things better if we keep doing the right things.

On the other hand, there are people who have already given up. They are hopelessly mired in addiction or relationship disaster or financial ruin. They’ve lost their kids to the courts, they’ve been in and out of prison. Maybe back in again. They live in their car, but most likely, on the streets. They have no hope for a job that will help them turn things around. And peace? Good will? Salvation? Those seem like pie in the sky. Things for other people, because clearly, they aren’t having any of it.

What Jesus offers has to do with our relationship to God.

So many, many people miss Christmas. We’re not looking for peace with God or good will from Him or even salvation. But that’s because we’re confused, maybe blinded, to our real situation.

Our real problem is sin. It’s not anything else. Sure, there may be symptoms of the fundamental condition of our hearts, but a lot of people mask them. They say they’re fine. Why would they need a savior? They are healthy and happy and prosperous. Let the people who need the crutch of religion go on about a savior.

But they can’t see the gulf that sin creates between them and God. They can’t see how sin makes them God’s enemies. They don’t realize or don’t care that God requires payment for their sin.

What sin, some ask. I even had an atheist tell me she hadn’t broken any of the Ten Commandments. Never mind that she did not keep the first one, the second one, the third one, or the fourth:

‘You shall have no other gods before Me . . .
‘You shall not make for yourself an idol . . .
‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain . . .
‘Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy . . .’

This reminds me of the young man who approached Jesus and asked what he had to do to be saved. All the things from the Ten Commandments that Jesus named, he said he’d done. Then Jesus asked him to give up his idol, which happened to be his wealth. The guy left, downcast.

He thought he was good. He was blind to the fact that he actually had a huge need.

That’s so many of us today. We look at our physical situation and make an assessment as to how we’re doing: pretty good, some say. On the right track. Or, things couldn’t be better. But some may say, hopeless. I’m so far gone, nothing and no one can get me on the right track, if they even wanted to help.

In the end, we will never be able to receive the message of the angels that night Jesus was born. He is the Savior, because He acquits us of the punishment we rightful deserve. He frees us from the Law, from guilt, from the clutches of sin, from the eternal punishment that awaits. He provides the means to peace with God.

What will end the hostilities between sinners and a holy God? Jesus. And no one, nothing, else.

As far as good will is concerned, God’s good will toward us was demonstrated in His Son taking on flesh so that He could be like us—all but the sin part. He, the King of all, left His throne, submitted to a life as an ordinary human—except for the sin part. Then He died to pay the penalty of the sin that we are responsible for.

Now that is good will!

An end of hostilities, God’s good will poured out on us, His Son serving as Savior of the world. That’s what Christmas is about.

But honestly? We’ll miss it if we don’t recognize our own personal condition, in need of the things God offers.

Published in: on December 16, 2019 at 5:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone


A significant anniversary for Christians is approaching. On October 31, five hundred and two years ago, the grace of God once again took its rightful, prominent place in Christianity. Consequently, I’m re-posting this article from three years ago, with revisions, in commemoration of what God has done.

Part of my growing up included a spiritual education, so I learned early on that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. I understood that I could not do enough good things to make up for the bad. And I understood that no one could help me because they had their own sin problem. No one, except Jesus. His being the only sinless person who ever lived, qualified Him to be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world for those who believed.

So nothing I did or could do would merit me to be acceptable to God. Only Jesus, standing in my place, taking the punishment I deserved, solved my sin issue.

Because I understood the basics of salvation at an early age, I have never grasped what it would be like to live any other way.

I’ve heard Jews and Catholics and Greek Orthodox joke in a knowing way about the guilt instilled in them by their religion, or more specifically, by someone who was holding them to a strict adherence to their religion—a parent, a priest, a teacher. I’ve also heard people refer to Christians as bound by guilt.

That thought seems odd to me. I don’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt guilt-driven.

So I’ve been spoiled because I’ve believed from my youth that I’m forgiven because of God’s grace.

Christians haven’t always had this understanding. There was a period of time when grace took a back seat to doing good works, as the Church defined them. No doubt some people who were saved, gained that right standing with God because of His grace, but they were perhaps less aware of His free gift.

All that changed when Martin Luther went public with the results of his own doubts, questions, and struggles to understand God. On October 31, 1517, Luther sent a paper he’d written to his bishop: “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This document became known simply as the Ninety-five Theses. Whether Luther ever attached a copy of the document to the door of the church at Wittenberg is a matter of contention, as was the document itself, when it first appeared.

But from the thoughts, question, and issues Luther looked at, grew the bedrock of Protestantism and a reformation (though more slowly, it would seem) of the Catholic Church, which is what he intended. Luther challenged the practice of selling indulgences, by which the priests grew richer because of the desire of the poor to do what they could to insure the salvation of their loved ones.

Luther contended that salvation depended on God, not on humans:

The most important [truth of Christianity] for Luther was the doctrine of justification—God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous—by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah. “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.” (see “Theology of Martin Luther,” Wikipedia)

Luther had much Scripture to support his position, not the least of which is Ephesians 2:8-9—“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The work is God’s, Luther proclaimed. A worker giving his copper to the church would not save the soul of his dead brother.

When I was growing up, I’d never heard of indulgences or even doing something to help a dead person reach heaven. The works I knew about were the kinds of things people did to make themselves acceptable to God. And these works included good things: going to church, reading the Bible, giving money to the poor, going on a short term mission trip, and so on. Good things.

But just like Paul’s list of good Jewish things recorded in Philippians, this Christian list of good things amounts to rubbish if its considered the means to a relationship with God. Paul’s birth status, circumcision, religious affiliation, and even his personal righteousness, were nothing in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3).

Essentially Martin Luther discovered and proclaimed what Paul had learned through his own quest. The two men were similar. They both wanted to please God, and they both went about it by trying to be good enough for Him based on the good things they did. Both eventually realized that there weren’t enough good things in the entire earth to make them good enough, but that God had given right standing with Himself as a free gift through Christ Jesus.

That’s grace.

Nothing earned here.

A free gift.

Undeserved.

I know that rankles American minds—perhaps the minds of others, too. But in this culture today we have two competing philosophies—an independent, “earn your own way” mentality, and an entitlement, “you deserve it” belief. God’s free gift is an affront to both of those positions. We humans don’t get to take credit for salvation, no matter how you look at it. We didn’t earn it, and we aren’t so wonderful that it ought to have been handed to us based on our incredible merit.

Luther did the hard work of sussing out from Scripture this truth, and I’m incredibly grateful.

Thanks be to God for His free gift of salvation, and thanks be to Him for teaching this truth to Martin Luther so that he could make it widely known.

God Created


As I alluded to in my last post, I have now dived into Genesis, which of course begins with creation. I don’t know if there is a more controversial subject. In discussion after discussion and debate after debate atheists and Christians come at the beginning of . . . everything, from differing perspectives.

The bad news, or maybe the good news, is that I don’t take a traditional view of Genesis 1, starting with the first verse. In case it may be unfamiliar, here it is:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

I’ve heard traditional Bible scholars who hold to the infallibility of Scripture explain that this verse is a sort of prelude to the more detailed account of creation that will follow. The problem, as I see it, is the next verse:

The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

Followed by this: “Then God said, . . .”

In other words, before God said the things that would initiate the “six day creation” there was already something there, a formless earth, empty, water covering it, darkness. As I read these verses, it seems to me that God created before He created, if we are to limit Him to six days. I think it has to be this way, if for no other reason than that during the “six days,” God never made water. He divided the water. He gathered the water, but He never spoke and the water came into being, as He did with light and stars and fish and animals and plants. So water, I suggest, was part of the verse 1 creation. So is that formless void and the darkness.

Then there is the issue of the “days.” Some Bible scholars adamantly hold to the fact that these were 24-hour days. Except . . . the first “day,” God did not create the sun by which we determine time. In fact on the second “day” God still had not created the sun. Nor did He create the sun on the third “day.” Not until the fourth “day” did God bring the elements of the universe into being—the sun, the moon, the stars—by which we tell time.

And of course “we” have not been created yet, so who is actually calculating these 24 hours of a “day” of creation?

As it happens, God Himself explains that in His reckoning of time, a day is like a thousand years.

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. (2 Peter 3:8)

In fact, the Hebrew word for day, transliterated as yowm, not only means “day” but also “time, period (general)” and even “year.”

In truth, God didn’t even need 24 hours to create. He spoke and out of nothing, that which He commanded, came into being. “Let there be light; and there was light.” How long did that take? Twenty-four hours?

My point is this: the interpretation of the meaning of “day” is not something to fight over. It’s not a significant part of the narrative, though I’ve heard sermons that say otherwise. I’ve heard preachers say that someone who doesn’t believe in a six 24-hour day creation, doesn’t really believe the Bible. That preacher never addressed the issue of water or the void earth and when those might have been created. Because according to the Bible, they didn’t come about in the six “days.” He also never correlated the verse in 2 Peter and God’s reckoning of time as different from ours with the Genesis account.

In other words, the people who hold staunchly to a six 24-hour day creation are, in my opinion, missing the Big Picture. What Genesis teaches is that God created. He did so in an orderly manner, bringing into being that which He made by speaking those things into existence, including stars, which we know today would include solar systems and galaxies. And finally, as an example for us, He separated the creative process into six time periods which He equated with days, before resting on the seventh day.

I’m not sure what precisely that means, either. Did God pick up and continue working at the end of the seventh 24-hour period? Did He only rest from His work of creation? Does that mean He created more afterward? Or did He work at something else? Does He continue to rest every seventh day?

Those questions are kind of silly, but I think it illustrates the point: God wanted to give us an example about how we are to construct our week. What’s especially funny, I think, is that I suspect some of the very people who cling so tightly to the idea of a six 24-hour day creation, completely ignore the idea of rest on the seventh day.

Of course, on the flip side are the atheists who scoff at the idea of God creating at all, whether in six seconds, days, thousands of years, or any other time period.

The thing they miss is that the universe coming into existence is not something that science can speak to, apart from saying that yes, the universe had a beginning. But this one time, unrepeatable event is beyond the purview of science that depends on observation and repetition.

The idea that evolution is somehow part of the equation is erroneous. Evolution has nothing to say about the origin of the universe. Honest scientists agree: when it comes to how the universe started, they have no clue, though they have theories and hope that one day we’ll figure it out. Below is a short video that gives the basics in the first 1:15:

The conclusion of this scientist that something sprang into existence from nothing, is exactly what Christians have been saying since Genesis was written. But what the scientist has apparently missed is God who spoke.

The real issues of Genesis, then—the narrative that matters—is that God created and that He revealed to us what He wanted us to know about the process. How long was a “day”? God didn’t say. Where did the light come from when the sun had not yet been created? God didn’t say. Did God use evolution to bring life into existence? Well, actually, that one He did say.

For one thing, He stated that the animals were all made after their own kind. That rules out Mankind evolving from lower forms of animals or other animals doing likewise. In addition, He created in an orderly manner, which rules out the element of chance. Thirdly, in chapter three of Genesis we also learn that death came about as a consequence for sin, so the idea that various animals went through a mutation from a previous form and that they did so in order to survive, is not possible because death was not yet a factor.

In truth, Genesis gives us the only reliable account of the origins of the universe because the only person who was there, who knows how it all went down, is God. And He says very clearly, In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Published in: on September 25, 2019 at 5:30 pm  Comments (8)  
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Atheist Arguments: Intelligent Design Isn’t Needed To Explain Intelligence


Apparently the position to ridicule these days is belief in the Bible as historical fact. The most obvious point of attack is creation, but other stories in Genesis are also fair game—notably, the flood (see “Updates on the Creation Wars”).

The thing that catches my attention most is the idea that people today, because of the wonderful discoveries in science, are smarter than people of long ago who believed in supernatural claptrap—really just a form of superstition.

In the 21st century we KNOW. We know the world couldn’t possibly be created in six days. We know there was no such thing as a worldwide flood. We know that people didn’t really live for nine hundred years. We know animals didn’t live on a big boat for a year. We know serpents don’t talk. In other words, we know the Bible isn’t meant to be read as historical—at least not most of it.

And how do we know all this? Because we’ve never seen such things. They don’t fit with the observable scientific data we have.

Problem is, all these Biblical events hinge on one central point—God acted. If you posit a Supreme Intelligent Being who is omnipotent, then what could He not do?

I’ve never heard an answer to that question.

In addition, if God created Man, as He said He did—in His own image—you’d have to assume an intelligent creature, not a caveman who needed to evolve into a higher form. This current caveman-evolving view of Man is a complete contradiction to the picture Romans 1 gives of a natural world deteriorating as a result of sin.

On one hand you have Creator God saying all He made was good, that sin, entering through Man’s disobedience, started a downward spiral which has Humankind confusing good and evil and falling into decline.

On the other hand you have science which can only postulate an unknown natural phenomenon, sort of like a spontaneous combustion, to explain how we came to be and which can say nothing at all about why we are here, why we have a sense of right and wrong, or what happens after this life. And yet, according to this thinking, Man is smarter now than ever.

But which view sounds the most intelligent? A) an unexplained natural cause yielding complex life and intelligence or B) an intelligent person yielding complex life and intelligence? Never mind that nowhere in the natural world has there every been a caused element that is also itself the cause. No brick builds or designs a house. That takes someone outside the house, not something a part of the house.

I’m not sure what there is to debate.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Rom 1:19-23

Or, as is the case today, unbelieving people bypass the images and go straight to giving glory to mortal man. For the most part, no culture until the 20h century western culture left God, or at least a god, out of the equation when it comes to the issue of origin. But for the last hundred years, we have decided to plagiarize. We steal God’s glory by denying His work of creation.

Imagine an island where all the people ignore their sense of hearing. Instead of talking, they learn to communicate by signing. In fact their ability to hear begins to fade as they grow older.

One day a hearing person arrives. He soon learns to communicate with them, but when he tries to remark about the crash of the waves on the sand or the chirping of birds or the wind rustling the leaves, they say he is making up stories.

At first they humor him, but when some of the children start to say they think they also can hear these sounds, the adults turn angry. You’re deluded, they sign. You’re making up stories and confusing the children. Be gone.

Sadly, he sails away.

What a fool he was, the island people sign to one another. Sounds. What a horrible thing that would be, to hear the cry of the wounded and dying. How glad we are that we’re not like that foolish, deluded man who made up stories about sound. We’re too smart, to learned, to believe such an impossible tale.
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This article first appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction March 2013

The Difference God’s Word Makes


Photo by Jenny Smith on Unsplash

People talk about prayer changing things. It does, but so does God’s word. I’m referring to the Bible. I don’t remember my whole line of reasoning, but this morning I considered writing my pastor a short email. I’m sure he’s glad that I’m opting for this post instead (although there’s no guarantee that that email won’t still happen).

Honestly, the idea popped into my mind because I was praying for him and then thanking God that we have a pastor who faithfully teaches through the Bible. We are presently working our way through the gospel of John in the New Testament, and I really appreciate the teaching. We’ve discussed some great truth, not the least of which was the fifth “I AM” statement Jesus made, which we saw this week: “I AM the resurrection and the life.”

Anyway, back to what I thought to say to my pastor. First I did want to tell him how great it is to hear God’s world explained so faithfully and clearly week after week. Being on the internet has taught me that lots of Christians don’t have that wonderful advantage. Yet here I am in the great blue leftist state whose government likely hates everything I believe, and yet I have the privilege of sitting under such godly teaching. Lots of other Californians do, too. How this has happened, I don’t know, but we are blessed by some great preachers who speak the truth in love: Dr. David Jeremiah, Greg Laurie, Philip De Courcy, John MacArthur, to name just a few.

But I’m off track again. What I thought to say to my pastor, who does have a name—Darin McWatters—is that when he finishes with John, I’d like him to preach through one of the minor prophets. I’m currently reading through Hosea, so that’s the one I thought I’d suggest. I’ve heard more than once a preacher on the radio make a joke about the congregation needing to dust off the part of the Old Testament that contains the books of prophecy, or of people not knowing where they are.

I think, really? That’s kind of an insult—basically saying, the people in your church don’t read the Bible. But then I thought, maybe they don’t.

Off my mind wandered. There’s a guy in the atheist/theist Facebook group that calls himself a Christian, but he does so in spite of the fact that he doesn’t believe the Bible. He “self-identifies” as a Christian because of the “loving community” he’s a part of. I can’t help but puzzle over this. Are these people loving because they are Christians and Theist Guy has simply felt at home with them because they are showing the love of Christ? Or are they in some pseudo-Christian group that doesn’t really even try to embrace Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, but like a good country club, enjoys each other’s company?

And what makes the difference? What makes the difference between this guy and me?

Then it hit me, as clearly as if God had answered my question Himself. Well, I think He did through the Holy Spirit. The difference is the very Bible I was holding at the time. I actually read the Bible, believe it, and want to obey what I learn from it. Not every professing Christian does. And if those pastors who joke about their congregants having to dust off the books of prophecy are right, not every actual Christian reads it either.

No wonder there are Christians who go to church and sleep with their boyfriend or cheat on their homework or lie to their boss or hold grudges.

In some ways the Old Testament is hard because the grace of God is maybe a little harder to find. It’s there in every warning the prophets gave to the people of Israel and Judah, in every miraculous rescue God engineered, in every judge or king He sent to get His people out from under bondage. But in between there’s a lot of disobedience and suffering because of the hole they dug for themselves. The prophets are more of the same, on steroids.

But I kind of think we in our comfy western culture need to hear this same warning. After all, God told us that “all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for correction, for reproof, for training in righteousness” so not just John 3:16 or Romans 8:28 or 1 John 1:9 are helpful verses. The whole Bible is helpful. More than helpful. It’s what we need.

The Timothy passage I’m referring to goes on to say that Scripture will make us “adequate for every good work.” In other words, the Bible changes us. It opens our eyes to the truth. It shows us how we should live and how we can live as we should. It shows us God and His Son, even in a book like Esther that doesn’t actually name Him.

We see Him in the sufferings of Job, in the disobedience of Jonah, in the faithfulness of Jeremiah and Hosea, in the visions of Ezekiel and of Daniel. God and His Son are both the subject and the object of the Bible. “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings,” Paul said. That’s really what the Bible reveals about God: how we can know Him. How we can know His plan. How we can know His power and purpose.

Oh, yes. The Bible is an agent of change. Those who let the Bible fill their lives, will never be the same. They will understand, as Job did, that the words of God’s mouth are to be treasured “more than my necessary food.”

Published in: on May 20, 2019 at 5:22 pm  Comments (7)  
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