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.
– – – – –
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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The Extent Of The Mercy Of God


Lots of people underestimate the severity of sin. In turn that propensity turns into a similar response to the mercy of God: we underestimate it also!

One of the things that makes God’s mercy so great is that He covers all our sins, not just the socially acceptable ones. So He can forgive gossip, and He can forgive mass murder.

I know some people don’t think that’s fair.

I think this idea of “not fair” comes from a) not grasping the fact that all sin, any sin is open rebellion against God, and therefore a major problem. No sin is minor. No sin is not serious.

But “not fair” also comes from b) believing we are capable of covering over, at least in part, our own sin. That we can earn most of our way to heaven and only need God’s help with that last little part. People who aren’t as good might need a little more of his help, and I might actually need him to give me a boost at the beginning, or to set the foundation for forgiveness, but after that, I can take over.

Both those ideas miss completely what is truly happening.

Instead of committing minor infractions, all of us have made ourselves rebels. We are spiritual terrorists. We would usurp the King’s rule if we could, and install ourselves in His place. That’s the truth about a).

The truth about b) is that we have a bomb vest locked around our waist, and we simply cannot take it off on our own. We can pretty it up, make it look like a special accessory, but that doesn’t make it less deadly. We can hang out with the bomb squad, but that doesn’t get that killer-vest off. We can run as far from all the major population centers in our state in order to minimize the damage to others, but we’re still going to blow ourselves up if we don’t let Someone who is able, disarm the monster we are wearing.

Our merciful God comes to us, takes the vest from us, and throws Himself over top, taking the blast Himself. For us. In our place. To protect us. And to protect all the people we would harm.

It’s the most selfless act anyone could ever do—to die in someone else’s place. But God in Christ died, not for a buddy who He was fighting with. He died for a terrorist who wanted to sit on His throne and to rule in His stead. He died for the enemy.

Paul spells it out in a clear way in Romans:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (5:6-10)

What does that say about God’s mercy? First that it’s limitless. He doesn’t have a cut-off line where any who commit too many sins or ones that are too horrible, are no longer able to obtain forgiveness.

He also extends His mercy to the most undeserving: not to friends or people who like Him or who are on His side. We may fool ourselves into thinking we are one of those, but the truth is, as long as we refuse Him kingship in our lives, we are His enemies.

Then too, God’s mercy does what we cannot do for ourselves. Paul says it this way in Titus:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. (3:4-6)

Our glitzy resume of good deeds doesn’t change the fact that in our hearts we are terrorists until we accept God’s love and kindness which will do for us what we so desperately need: to be freed from the burden of sin and of guilt strapped around us.

When we take God at His word, when we believe what He says, then this truth becomes our reality: “[Christ] Himself likewise also partook of [flesh and blood], that through death He might rendered powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” (Heb. 2:14b-15)

God’s mercy is not only vast, not only available to the undeserving (which is all of us), but it is deeply personal. He sent Christ to the earth because He loves the whole world, but not in a generic way.

Jesus showed us that. His mercy is for the woman with five husbands he encountered at the well, for the cheating tax collector, for the Jewish leader bent on capturing Christians and dragging them to trial. He came for the prostitute and the leper and the children even His own followers tried to shoo away. He came for the thief who hung on a cross next to His at Golgotha. Jesus may have fed crowds, but He didn’t give mass absolution. He dealt with people one on one. As He does today.

It’s part of God’s mercy. He sees us. He knows us. He cares for us, as individuals, with personal needs and questions and even doubts. Ask Thomas.

Published in: on May 14, 2019 at 5:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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God’s Not Good Enough


Índios

What a bizarre statement—God’s not good enough—and yet that’s precisely what some people believe. Before he passed away, atheist Christopher Hitchens said if the Christian God did in fact exist, he would want no part of such a tyrant. Some time ago I read a comment stating we are better off outside Eden [away from God].

Why would anyone hold such an opinion? Then again, why would people say they thought they might be nicer than God? Why would others claiming to be Christians say the God of the Old Testament is murderous?

Last I checked, murder was a sin, as is wielding authority in a cruel way, and not being as “nice” as the creatures He created. So, apparently, God is under indictment by some, while others simply want nothing to do with Him.

And yet, there’s a sizable group who proclaim Humankind’s innocence. God might be a monster and society is seriously messed up, but humans are innocent bystanders who get caught up in the craziness.

That thinking is so flawed, it’s hard for me to grasp. Society is made up of people. The only way society could become messed up is if people are messed up.

And God is perfect—perfectly good, kind, loving, just, omniscient, powerful, merciful, sovereign, infinite, wise, and more.

Humans are imperfect. We all know it about ourselves and about every person we’ve ever met. We make mistakes, get facts wrong, forget, become confused, lie. And yet, we think humans see things correctly and God does not?

Especially spiritual things.

So when God says, all have sinned, there is none righteous, humans counter with, “What about the innocent who have never heard?”

Apparently, all have sinned, none are righteous now refers only to people in western culture because we are the people who are privileged to know and to hear. No longer are people groups who kill their enemies and ritualistically eat their flesh, considered sinful. They are the innocent who have been deprived of knowledge about the One who can save.

I don’t understand. I truly don’t understand. Romans 2 spells out that those not blessed with the written word of God, the Law, are responsible before Him for the law written on their consciences, so that “all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law” (Rom. 2:12a).

The only way, then, for a person to be considered innocent according to Scripture is for him to live a perfect life. And only One Individual in all time has done that.

Yet there’s still this idea that God would be unfair to judge those who have walked away from Him, who live in rebellion to Him, who rape and abuse and worship idols, because they haven’t been given “explicit knowledge” of Jesus, the Messiah.

Does God need to see them spit on Jesus to know they have rejected His Son? No! He is omniscient. Why is it we twenty-first century Christians have such a hard time believing that God actually knows what He’s doing? Or that He’s powerful enough to reach down among the “unreached,” and proclaim the gospel to them?

He found a way to turn the Apostle Paul 180 degrees, from a murderer to an evangelist. He found a way to bring the rebellious prophet Jonah to Nineveh to preach repentance so that they would turn to Him. He found a way to bring Paul to the isolated people on the island of Malta. He sent Philip to an Ethiopian and created an earthquake that led to the salvation of a jailer in Thyatira. What can’t God do to bring His gospel to all the world?

We act as His judge. We declare Him unfair, because we don’t know. There might be someone out there who wants to repent, we say, and it would be unfair for God to judge them without giving them a chance to know Him.

So we think God does NOT know whose hearts are His? That somehow His knowledge stops with western civilization?

The two greatest evils in our society are these: we think so little of God, and we think so much of ourselves.

But isn’t that really what the prophet Jeremiah said centuries ago (he in a more poetic way, to be sure):

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

When we think we know better than God, we have forsaken Him. When we think what He’s told us in His word is unfair and do a tap dance around it to get to a more user-friendly position, we are digging our own leaky wells. We will not come up with the water we need.

The fact is, we are smaller than we think, and God is greater than we imagine.

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

To Please Or To Become Pleasing, That Is The Question



Photo: Three Crosses © Mellow Rapp | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The distinction I am making is between doing good works to become pleasing to God (works done because of law) and doing good works to please God (works done because of grace).

There’s nothing I can do to become pleasing to God. Not only would my motives be wrong in doing good, my efforts would be futile. My nature is sinful, and all the cleaning up I do amounts to rearranging dirt, not genuine washing.

For the person who believes, the work Christ did on the cross changes everything. Before, as Romans 7 says, the wanting to do good was in me, but the doing ended up being that which I hated—and that which God hates too, I might add.

Because of the new nature God gave me, because of the Holy Spirit in me, and because of the strength Christ provides me, I can now do the good I want to do. And why do I want to do good? To earn points with God? Get jewels for my future crown? Earn a spot closer to the throne?

No. The issue is still not about me becoming good or better or pleasing. Who I am in Christ is fixed. But because of what Christ has done, my response, as is true in any love relationship, is to want to give to Him in return for what He has been given to me.

In one of the most amazing aspects of God’s love for us, He who needs nothing from us, asks something of us so that we can joyously give to Him as an expression of our love. Hence, my desire—a growing desire, not a fully mature thing—is to please Jesus.

Here are some favorite verses that touch on pleasing God:

I Thessalonians 4:1 – “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.”

II Corinthians 5:9 – “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”

Colossians 1:10 – “so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

Ephesians 5:8-10 – “for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”

Pleasing God, as I see it, is all about getting to know Him.

Young people in love do this same thing. Does he like his coffee black or with cream, pie for dessert or cake, the beach or the mountains, football or golf, Hondas or Chevys, and on and on.

Why learn all these things?

In order to provide him with what he wants, in order to choose his preferences, in order to please him as often as possible.

When I stand before God washed of my sins, that should spark in me a response—more and more I should like what He likes, do what He does, speak as He speaks. When I do, I am not more pleasing to God, but He is pleased.

From the archives: this post originally appeared here in August, 2015.

Published in: on April 2, 2019 at 4:54 pm  Comments (4)  
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God, The Same Yesterday, Today, And Forever


I think most who identify as Christians believe God is the same yesterday, today, and forever—which is how the Bible describes Him. But to listen to some talk about the Bible, it would be easy to think that the Old Testament shows God as different from the New Testament.

The natural conclusion would be to assume that only one testament or the other reveals the true nature of God.

The biggest mistake in that line of thinking comes in not seeing that the Old and New Testaments show the same God. Both show Him to be sovereign, loving, just, righteous, holy, omnipotent, merciful, omniscient, gracious, forgiving, patient, and on and on.

Some people have this snapshot of God as WRATH in the Old Testament and a contrasting snapshot of Jesus as LOVE in the New. It’s a false dichotomy, and a sincere look at what Jesus taught and what the prophets and the psalms reveal, should make that clear.

But why the Old and New Testaments? In theological terms, “testament” means “agreement,” specifically God’s agreement with His people. So, while God does not change, His agreement with His people does.

Until Jesus came, the agreements or covenants God established were most often (but not always) conditioned upon humankind’s response: if they did certain things, God would bless them, but if they did certain other things, they put themselves under God’s curse.

Adam and Eve essentially had such an agreement with God. If they obeyed Him, they would live, and if they disobeyed, they would die. Abraham had a covenant with God, and so did Jacob and Moses and David and Solomon. In truth the Abrahamic covenant was with his descendants, too; the Mosaic covenant was on behalf of the people of Israel; and God’s agreement with David was with those in his lineage, culminating in Jesus.

And Jesus initiated a new covenant, a new agreement.

And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (Matt. 26:27-28)

Paul referenced the new covenant on more than one occasion. He wrote of it to the church in Corinth, for example:

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant. (2 Cor. 3:4-6a)

The writer of the book of Hebrews went to some length to explain the new covenant (8:6-10; see also chapters 9 and 10) and how it differed from the old (I’ll let you read that for your homework).

I don’t want to get sidetracked with a long explanation about the old and new covenants, but what’s important to understand is that God’s character is exactly the same from everlasting to everlasting. But that doesn’t mean that He treats every person the same way or that He deals with every people group the same way.

I think in this age of “tolerance” we’re looking for uniformity. Nothing is “fair” unless we all have the exact same hand dealt to us. Then, and only then do we think it’s fair because it’s now up to us to do with that hand whatever we can.

Such a silly notion. If that were the accurate view of justice, then none of us could be smarter than any one else. We couldn’t be more athletic or better singers or taller or ambidextrous or more mechanical or . . . well, anything that could be perceived as an advantage. We have to have that same hand to play as the next guy.

In contrast to that silliness, God seems to delight in working with people that have a disadvantage. David was the youngest in his family, Abraham didn’t have any sons, Ruth was a widow, Joseph was a slave. The whole nation of Israel, in fact, God said was not His pick because they were more numerous or stronger or more righteous than the other nations. In fact, He said the opposite was true.

He used the small and weak in order that we could all see Him at work. It’s hard to take the credit for a victory when we’re outnumbered, when the other army has more advanced weapons, and when they have the tactical advantage. In those circumstances, when God brings the victory, we can only say, Praise God!

No matter what, though, God’s point and purpose is to make Himself known. He says it over and over again. He wanted Israel to display His glory to the nations. He wants His Church to make disciples of the nations. Always God has done what He’s done that we might know Him, even when what He did was to kick His children out of the garden He’d made to be their home, or to exile them from the Promised Land, or to give His Son as a sacrifice that all who believe might be reconciled with Him.

Our ways aren’t God’s ways, so we don’t always recognize what He’s doing, especially if we expect Him to treat everyone the same, or worse, if we expect Him to act the way we would act.

But no mistake: God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, we need to believe what He’s told us about Himself and stop looking for Him to behave the way we think He should. After all, He is God, not an idol we can move from place to place or dress up in purple if it suits us.

He is the sovereign, and He tells us what is righteous. How dare we shake our fists at Him or tell Him He was wrong to judge people whose heart He knew intimately. Who are we in comparison to who is He?

I’m not perfect in love or goodness. I don’t know all truth. I’m certainly not sovereign or all powerful. And if it comes right down to it, I am most certainly not the same yesterday, today, and forever. I’m more like a vapor that appears for a little while and them vanishes away.

Not God. He’s as sure as His word, and His word abides forever!

From the archives: this post is a revised version of one that appeared here in March, 2015.

Which God Are We Talking About?


God, the dictionary tells us, is “the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being” (Oxford-American Dictionary).

Can there be more than one Supreme Being? Turning to the dictionary again, we find “supreme” means

• superior to all others
• strongest, most important, or most powerful

In short, there can’t be multiple beings superior to all others. Nor can there be more than one strongest, or more than one most important, or more than one most powerful.

There can be multiple claimants to the position of God, but only One truly fills the role.

Today we have pretenders, even as past cultures and past generations had pretenders. The god of the Mormons is a pretender. The Hindus worship thousands of pretender gods, none actually being God who is Supreme. The Sikhs worship one god as do the Jews and Muslims, but these too are pretenders.

I know that latter statement might be controversial, but the truth is, Jesus is the one who shows us God. Without believing in Him, a person will not know the One True God. So the Muslims and Sikhs acknowledge that Jesus lived, but they do not believe He is God. Therefore, what they know about God isn’t complete. The same is true about the Jews, as close as they might be. They do not accept Jesus as Messiah, so they only partly know and understand who God is.

In the western world, the greatest pretender is Mankind. Atheists in particular, but others also, see Man as the one who is supreme—in practice if not in ideology.

How else could a person dogmatically state that in all the vastness of the universe, or perhaps of the multiverse, God does not exist? Only a supremely knowledgeable person could know such a thing.

On the other hand, some who claim to believe in God emphatically rule out the idea that He might judge humankind and find us wanting, find us deserving of judgment. These are the people who say, God would never send people to hell. Religious minded individuals of this persuasion believe they get to decide what god is like—if they don’t want a god who is angry at sin and at the hurt to which people subject each other, well, then they declare him to be what they want. In essence, they make themselves their own god.

In the days of King Hezekiah, a commander of Assyria, who confronted Judah, made the mistake of thinking the One True God was just another spiritual being like those worshiped by any number of the other nations in the Middle East. When this military leader came against Jerusalem, he tried to talk the citizens into surrendering by belittling God:

Beware that Hezekiah does not mislead you, saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? And when have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the LORD would deliver Jerusalem from my hand?’” (Isaiah 36:18-20).

Well, sure, he’d have been right if God were one among many. Why should one be feared more than any of the others if there is no One Supreme Being? But in fact, God, the God of the Old and the New Testaments, stands above all.

He alone is self-existent. All other spiritual beings are part of His creation. King Hezekiah had a chance to declare this truth so that people for all time could know who God is:

“O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to all the words of Sennacherib, who sent them to reproach the living God. Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have devastated all the countries and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, LORD, are God.” (Isaiah 37:16-20)

In fact God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and answered him accordingly. Assyria never did conquer Judah. Their army was decimated, and the king returned to Nineveh where his own sons assassinated him.

God, the One True God, will not be mocked. He wants the nations to know Him and worship Him. I know this bothers a lot of atheists. They think it’s egocentric of God to want glory. But the truth is, to want anything less would be a falsehood. It would suggest that someone else is as deserving of praise and honor as God is. None are.

Should God lie in order to appear humble? Thank you all, you’re all too kind. I don’t deserve all this attention. Please, feel free to praise each other or one of the angels or one of the pretend gods. I want to be fair and pass the attention around so you all can experience this great feeling of being adored by so many.

That’s the kind of thinking the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have produced. We think all the Little Leaguers should get trophies; that all people, no matter what their abilities, can do whatever they want if they just put their minds to it; and that god should not be so selfish as to demand all praise be given to him.

But to whom else should we give praise?

Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales. . .
All the nations are as nothing before Him,
They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.
To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare with Him?
. . .
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.
. . .
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable. (excerpts from Isaiah 40)

God, the One True God, deserves to be treated as the Supreme Being He is!

This post is a revised and edited version of one that appeared here in January, 2015.

Published in: on March 29, 2019 at 5:31 pm  Comments (6)  
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Does God Care Who Wins The NCAA Tournament?


Even the person least into sports here in the US is likely to know that the top division in men’s basketball is holding their tournament to determine the 2019 champion. We’ve fondly dubbed this time each year, March Madness.

It’s not quite as mad as it used to be. Yes, there are still upsets which scramble everyone’s game-by-game predictions, but one TV network used to cover the games so there were split screens and much jumping from scheduled games to updates and even the endings of close games. The games, of course, started during the week, so working people were taping the games they most wanted to see and trying to avoid hearing final scores.

Things have changed. Cable TV is now part of the mix. All games can be viewed by whoever has that service. Or has the internet and enough data minutes to see the games they can’t otherwise get. In other words, there’s far less scrambling, far less madness connected with seeing the games.

Still, many people put a lot into picking winners and following the games to see how well they’re doing and what chance they have of winning office pools or more. In other words, a lot of people are interested in what a bunch of college students are doing the three weeks of the tournament.

Factor in interested parties which include fellow students at the competing universities, friends and family, alumni, teachers past and present, people who live in the communities where the different schools are located. In other words, beneath the layer of unattached fans, you have a layer of attached fans.

At the core, of course, are those intimately involved with the basketball programs—players, coaches, athletic directors, trainers, cheerleaders, ball boys, those who work the games, scorekeepers, timers. People involved are invested, some to a greater degree than others.

In all this, does God care who wins the NCAA men’s basketball championship?

That question comes to my mind in part because I spent thirty years as a coach—of various middle school, and then high school, girls sports teams, including basketball. Since I worked at Christian schools, we always prayed together as a team, but most often we were playing against other Christian schools which also prayed as a team.

Early on I confronted the dilemma—could I expect God to hear our prayers and not theirs if we both prayed to win the game? And if we prayed to win and yet lost, did that mean there was sin in the camp, that God was somehow displeased with us, that we had more to learn spiritually before He would reward us with a championship?

In other words, I wrestled with the issue of praying for a victory in a basketball game. In the end, I decided not to pray for wins.

The temptation is to conclude that God simply doesn’t care. Whether team A or team B wins certainly doesn’t change who He is or what He wants to accomplish. But I believe God cares about games because He cares about us.

In fact, one of the reasons I loved coaching so much was that I viewed sports as a microcosm of life. During a season of basketball, a team faces in miniature many of the things that they’ll have to deal with on a larger scope later on: adversity, success, hard work, togetherness, failure, discipline, teamwork, obedience, response to injustice, doing your best, bouncing back from not doing your best, and more.

Don’t get me wrong. Winning is sweet. But there’s so much that goes into winning, and I think God cares a lot more about those things. Ultimately, He cares more about the people than He does about the winning. Sometimes the greatest affect on a person comes from losing. In other words, some people need to lose to be the people God wants them to be. Some players need to forgive a teammate for making a bad decision or taking a bad shot. God cares more that they learn to show compassion and forgive than He does about their winning.

There’s a song that goes right to the heart of this matter. It’s called “Blessings”:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep

After a catalog of other things Christians have been known to pray for, the song turns and asks in the chorus, penetrating questions:

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

Sports can be a training ground for young athletes, and we who are on the sidelines, or on this side of the TV, watching have no way of knowing what God is doing in the lives of those people running up and down the court. I think God cares a great deal for each one of those student-athletes, but I don’t know if that means He’ll calm a nervous heart so a young man can play up to his potential or if He’ll prompt a player to say a kind word to an opponent or allow a TV camera to distract him so he misses a key free throw.

The book of James makes a couple clear statements about prayer:

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2b-3)

So God wants us to ask—just not with wrong motives, not selfishly.

Does He care about who wins the NCAA Tournament? In the grand scheme of things, probably not, but how the winning and losing and all that leads up to those results affects us, absolutely: God cares because He uses raindrops for His purposes. Or teardrops.

You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle,
Are they not in Your book? (Psalm 56:8)

From the archives: a reprisal is an edited version of an article that appeared here in March, 2015, which seems fitting on this first weekend of the 2019 tournament.