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.”

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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.

Does God Speak Through Nature?


Photo by Genaro Servín from Pexels

Weather across the US continues to be extreme, including here in SoCal. An hour ago, we had a downpour that flooded the streets and left puddles in our back yard. Now the clouds have moved off toward the mountains where there will likely be a snow storm before the day is over.

Oddly enough, the extreme weather makes me think of Exodus, the Egyptians, and the plagues they endured when God pried the Hebrew slaves from their control. I wonder how much the average Egyptian, without email, Twitter, or Facebook, knew about Moses and his demand to Pharaoh that he let the Israelites go to worship God.

When the first plague hit—the water-to-blood event—did the people think it was some sort of anomalous extreme they had to work around? Extra work, sure. They had to dig beside the Nile to get water fit for consumption, but not, surely, an act of the Israelite God.

When the frogs came, did the people revise their thinking? Or did they see a cause/effect connection—the bad water had chased the frogs onto the land and into their homes.

Then the gnats or lice followed and the swarms of other insects. And we know that insects can carry diseases, so no surprise that pestilence followed. Or maybe the Egyptians, who may not have known the connection between bugs and disease, were surprised.

At what point did they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was bringing these “natural disasters” on their land? Was it when Goshen where the Israelites lived became exempt from the effects of the plagues? Was it when Pharaoh’s magicians could no longer replicate what God did through Moses? Was it when boils appeared on humans and animals alike after Moses stood outside and threw ashes in the air?

At some point, Pharaoh’s advisers got the picture that God was behind all they experienced, and they urged their supreme ruler to capitulate. Eventually the everyday people got the picture, too, because they eagerly gave the Israelites their gold and silver and valuable cloth just prior to their exodus.

In fact, after the final plague, when the Egyptians awoke to find the eldest son in each house slain on his bed, they “urged the people, to send them out of the land in haste, for they said, ‘We will all be dead.'” (Ex. 12:33.)

I’m just silly enough to believe that blizzards and monsoonal floods and wild fires and tornadoes and earthquakes and hurricanes and outbreaks of measles and chicken pox, while certainly not plagues, are nevertheless from God—“natural” events He uses to press us to His side.

The Egyptians were disbelieving until they couldn’t not believe. They may not have concluded that God was God and Ra was not, Pharaoh was not, the Nile was not, but they knew that Moses’s God must be obeyed.

Are we like the Egyptians? We know all about weather patterns now and, via satellite, can see hurricanes forming. We can track jet streams and air currents and the movement of high or low pressure zones. We aren’t like Pharaoh’s magicians in that we can make nature happen, but we can predict it. Which gives us a sense of control over it.

So I wonder if we don’t miss what God might be doing to press us to His side, to call us to repentance, to summon us to obey Him and not the idols of the world. I wonder if all our accommodating of the cold and the rain while we go about our daily business, is us sticking our fingers in our ears and saying, I don’t want to hear you, God.

Would that we could be like the boy, Samuel, who, when he heard God calling, responded by saying, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.”

This article is the “face-lift” version of one that first appeared here in September 2014.

Published in: on March 21, 2019 at 4:39 pm  Comments (8)  
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Spring Has Sprung



Photo by Valeria Boltneva from Pexels

Ready or not, here it is. Today, being the spring equinox in which days and nights are the same length, marks the official beginning of spring.

Here in California we have had the last hurrah of winter rain. I know other parts of the US are dealing with horrific flood conditions. Still other places may be recovering from a late winter blizzard. But spring, it is.

Weather doesn’t seem to pay attention to the calendar.

The most notable evidence of spring here in SoCal is the incredible “super bloom” in the local deserts, particularly noticeable because of the fields of poppies.

When I was a kid, my dad, who loved all things outdoor, took us to see a “super bloom” before anyone was calling it that. In addition he took picture after picture, none of which we have. At the time I was initially wowed and then quickly bored. I mean, all it was, was acres of flowers. Brilliant orange flowers, mostly. I didn’t understand that this abundance was not typical.

Interestingly, this year’s super bloom is the second we’ve had in the last three years. I don’t remember as much attention focused on it in 2017, but that might be because I was busy having a stroke that year. At any rate, this year we have had so many people “sightseeing” in the desert that there have been traffic jams.

Not only the ground has been thirsty during the drought. We who love the outdoors have been starved for the beauty of nature.


Abundance is the key word here. One wild flower by itself is not all that impressive. Not like a rose or an orchid or even a tulip in its simplicity. But when a hillside is covered with these blossoms . . . There’s really nothing left to say. It is breathtaking.

What strikes me spiritually in all this super bloom, is that God promises a life of super bloom—an abundant life. Not at some future time. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). In other words, for believers, the abundant life is already underway.

Jesus went on in the John passage to describe what He would do for the sheep in His care. The most notable action was to lay down His life.

Sort of like all those flowers that were dead, that had no life in themselves until the rains came. The desert went from barren to blooming not on it’s own. It could not, by itself, produce the abundance we see and enjoy today, no more than a sinner who does not receive the Savior can experience the abundant life.

Contrary to what some may think, the abundance Christ was talking about was not long life or fame or riches. It was really beauty—that which comes from reflecting Christ Himself.

The more we hang around someone, the more we become like Him. So too, for the Christian who spends time with God, who abides in Christ, who does not quench the Holy Spirit living inside. How can we not experience abundance if we are the mirror image of our Savior?

Published in: on March 20, 2019 at 5:38 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Issue Of Identity


Setting aside the upheaval that the gender identity crisis has created, especially among the young, I realize we’ve been having an identity crisis of a different sort for years, even decades.

I don’t have the exact timeline, but at least for two decades according to one blog article I read, kids have been receiving participation trophies for involvement in youth sports. One article in the Baltimore Sun ties the proliferation of trophies to the push for self-esteem. “In the 1980s, self-esteem building became an educational priority really kicked off by the state of California.”

Apparently there is some debate about how healthy receiving these awards have been. I mean I read articles in the Washington Post and New York Times that discussed the subject, and the one above is reporting on a league that has decided not to give them out any more. Then there are bloggers defending Millennials who have been called The Participation Trophy Generation.

The argument seems to be entitlement and learning from not coming out on top versus low self-esteem.

All this has much more far-reaching affects than what anyone may have realized when they first came up with the idea that it would be cool to give all the kids a trophy—win or lose. For instance, some of this “everyone wins” thinking may explain why socialism seems appealing to a certain age demographic. But I have something even more serious in mind.

I wonder if there aren’t serious spiritual ramifications, not just from participation trophies, but from the entire self-esteem push. I wonder if we aren’t training kids to lie to themselves.

I’ve heard more than once, contestants on some “reality” TV game show, like Survivor—people who did something mean or really, really foolish that caused them to get kicked out of the game—say that no, they didn’t regret how they played; they were actually quite proud of themselves for their involvement. At the time, I was confused. I thought, You made such horrible mistakes and you don’t regret even one of them?

But now I’m thinking that’s what we are teaching our kids, and the adults who grew up with this self-esteem emphasis.

What’s also interesting is that teaching our kids to love themselves and that they all deserve a trophy for being on the team doesn’t seem to be producing happier people. Teen suicide hasn’t gone away. According to the CDC, teen suicide has increased in the US by 30% since the year 2000.

Mental Health America, in an undated article, reports,

Adolescent depression is increasing at an alarming rate. Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression.

Science Daily reported a year ago that “More than 1 in 20 US children and teens have anxiety or depression.” We’re talking kids aged 6-17. Six!

Off hand, I’d say, the push for higher self-esteem isn’t working. I mean, what I see is closer to people feeling bad about themselves but unable to deal with the cause because they’re supposed to be winners.

I realize that’s an oversimplification. Like any problem, it undoubtedly has multiple contributing factors. But I don’t think we should ignore the fact that we are living in a culture that tells kids they aren’t sinners, that they do deserve . . . pretty much whatever they want. The word deserve continues to be advertisers’ favorite, I think.

But here’s the truth about each and every one of us. We are made in the image of God, though marred by sin. Not the individual acts of sin we do—those are results, not causes. The sin that we inherited from Adam makes us wonderful image bearers who walk away from the One who created us. We are, in essence, kind of schizophrenic.

But for the grace of God.

He was not content to let us turn our backs on Him without putting into motion a rescue plan. A plan that declares how loved we are, how forgiven, how washed, how renewed, made alive.

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14)

We are the princess, saved by the knight in shining armor. We are the citizens of Metropolis rescued from destruction by the Superhero who saved the day. We are the servant girl pursued by Prince Charming.

The point is, our identity comes because of our relationship with God.

Some years ago I attended a Dodger baseball game with some friends, and our seats were one level up, right behind home plate. They were the very best seats. But I only sat there because my friends had company tickets. I was ushered into the primo section of the stadium, not because of my standing, not because I was someone special. I got there because of who I was with.

That’s an incomplete picture, to be sure, but spiritually speaking, I am not in relationship with God because of my merit. I’m in relationship with God because I am in Christ. I’m with Him.

And where is He? Seated “at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Heb. 1:3)” And I’m with Him.

That’s actually a transforming identity. No longer dead in my trespasses and sins, but alive, living in freedom from sin and guilt and the Law.

Funny how I could never enjoy this identity if I didn’t first admit that I can’t get there on my own.

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