Hearing God’s Voice


Shepherd_on_the_way_to_Hampta_PassToday InsanityBytes posted an article entitled “God Said??” and it reminded me of a video I saw some time ago. In a busy town, perhaps in the Middle East, cars zoomed down the street. On one side stood a shepherd and on the other a small flock of sheep. When there was a small break in traffic, he would call and one sheep would cross to him. The others stayed where they were, though sheep are notorious followers. When there was another break between cars, then another, he would call again and again. One by one those sheep crossed to him, presumably when he called specifically to each one in turn.

I went to YouTube hoping to find the video, but alas, I didn’t come across it. Perhaps I saw it at church. At any rate, I did find a few other clips that show the responsiveness of sheep to their shepherd’s voice. It’s pretty impressive. The first one brings this passage of Scripture to mind:

he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers. (John 10:2-5)

The second one reminds me of the parable Jesus told about leaving the 99 sheep to find the one that is lost:

“What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish. (Matt. 18:12-14)

Not that the shepherd in this next video has to go looking for one of his sheep. Rather, it seems so clear that any sheep not hearing the shepherd could go wondering off. Then too, it appears a wandering sheep might draw away others from the flock:

I don’t know about you, but I am fascinated by sheep. They are so vulnerable, so timid, so prone to wander and so willing to follow, so in need of a shepherd. Watching them makes me understand in a new way why Scripture compares us to sheep so often. I could even see, after watching a few clips, why Jesus said He is the Good Shepherd, not just the Shepherd. There are some task-master cruel shepherds. But their sheep recognize their voice too. We really do respond to the one who owns us.

The Lesson Of The Bee


Some time ago, I had a bee find its way into my bedroom. I don’t relish killing bugs, and less so bees, but this one was in my bedroom! What to do?

I ran through my options as I watched the angry little critter buzz to the top of the window screen, find no opening, and buzz back to the bottom. Again and again.

At last I figured out a way to avoid killing him. From the cupboard, I pulled down a goblet, then retrieved an envelop that fit nicely over top. I held the glass stem and approached the bee still bouncing against the screen in a futile attempt to zip outside.

In one quick move, I plopped the goblet over the wayward wanderer. As he flew into the bowl looking for escape, I slid the envelop between the screen and the lip of the glass. Got him!

Earlier he seemed mad. Now he buzzed with vicious frenzy.

Poor little guy, I thought. Wasting all that energy, so mad he’d sting me if I gave him the tiniest opening. Yet my only intention was to help him get exactly what he needed, the very thing he’d been looking for.

And then it hit me. So often I act just like that bee. I find myself in a mess of my own making and try furiously to free myself, often repeating the same futile steps over and over. Then, when things seem to get worse, not better, I rail against God, not realizing that He’s using the very circumstances I hate for my good.

How much simpler if I obeyed God and refrained from grumbling and disputing, if I trusted Him instead of blaming Him, if I turned to Him in dependence instead of away from Him in stubborn willfulness. After all, my buzzing about is no more profitable than was that little bee’s.

God, on the other hand, sees the big picture, knows what’s best, and has much more regard for me—love, actually—than I had for the miscreant I set loose from my bedroom.

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” Philippians 2:14 says. Now there’s a novel idea. 😉

What does me in, though, is what Paul says next:

so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (v 15; emphasis mine).

By this one thing, refraining from grumbling or disputing, we will accomplish what Christ called us to do—serve as lights in the world, even the crooked and perverse world.

I’m thinking the first grumbling or disputing I need to eliminate is any directed at God. We’re so quick in our culture to say that it’s OK for us to rail against God. He understands. He forgives. He’s big enough to handle it. He knows what I’m thinking anyway, I might as well say it. We’re just being honest.

Actually, no. While God does understand and forgive, while He’s certainly “big enough” to handle my puny complaints, while He already knows my heart, it’s still not right for me to accuse righteous God of doing what is not good. And where in Scripture to we learn that God values our honesty more than our trust?

What I should do when thoughts of disgruntlement come into my mind, is confess them and seek God’s forgiveness.

Who am I to accuse God of wrong doing, or of falling down on the job, or of not keeping His promises? I’m really no different than an irate bee buzzing madly to get what I want, ignoring the hand stretched out toward me.

I don’t want to be that bee any more.

This post sans some small additions and revision first appeared here in August 2011.

Published in: on March 18, 2015 at 7:12 pm  Comments (3)  
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Puzzle Masquerading As Aslan


Puzzle pretending to be Aslan

The donkey Puzzle pretending to be Aslan

If you’re a fan of C. S. Lewis’s children’s fantasy, The Chronicles Of Narnia, you’re probably familiar with a line often quoted about Aslan, the Christ-like character in the world of Narnia. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the four children protagonists learn from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver that Aslan, the king of Narnia, is a lion. Then this exchange:

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”

As it turns out, this description of Aslan becomes important in the last book of the series, too. In The Last Battle, a greedy ape cons a weak-minded donkey named Puzzle to wear a lion skin and pretend to be Aslan.

When the imitation Aslan, through his spokesman the ape, begins to make demands on the Narnians that are contrary to all they expected based on the old stories, they remind themselves that Aslan is not a tame lion.

But the ape and his allies, the Calormenes, soon use that same line to explain the changes they attribute to Aslan’s orders—things like conscripting dwarfs to send to Calormene to work in their mines.

When Tirian, the Narnian king, rescues a contingent of dwarfs being marched away, he finds them less than excited about helping him expose Puzzle as the false Aslan:

“Well,” said the Black Dwarf (whose name was Griffle), “I don’t know how all you chaps feel, but I feel I’ve heard as much about Aslan as I want to for the rest of my life.”

“That’s right, that’s right,” growled the other Dwarfs. “It’s all a trick, all a blooming trick. … We’ve no more use for stories about Aslan, see! Look at him! An old moke with long ears!” …

“Which of us said that was Aslan? That is the Ape’s imitation of the real Aslan. Can’t you understand?” [said Tirian.]

“And you’ve got a better imitation, I suppose!” said Griffle. “No thanks. We’ve been fooled once and we’re not going to be fooled again.”

“”I have not,” said Tirian angrily, “I serve the real Aslan.”

“Where’s he? Who’s he? Show him to us!” said several Dwarfs.

“Do you think I keep him in my wallet, fools?” said Tirian. “Who am I that I could make Aslan appear at my bidding? He’s not a tame lion.”

The moment those words were out of his mouth he realised that he had made a false move. The Dwarfs at once began repeating “not a tame lion, not a tame lion,” in jeering singsong. “That’s what the other lot kept on telling us,” said one.

What a clear picture of false teaching. Some of the Narnians believed in the re-imaged Aslan—Puzzle in disguise—and others decided to believe in neither the pretend nor the real Aslan.

The only difference I see from Lewis’s imagined description of false teaching and today’s real life version is that, instead of exploiting the not safe or tame aspect of Aslan’s character, today’s false teachers capitalize on the “but he’s good” part of God’s nature.

But God is good, so of course he wouldn’t send judgment.

But God is good so of course he wants you to be rich and healthy.

Two different lines of false teaching but from the same perversion of one aspect of God’s nature.

Though the thread running through both is different from the one Lewis imagined, the effect is still the same—Puzzle is masquerading as Aslan.

This post originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in February 2010

God Is Good


"Golden sunrise" by "Fir0002/Flagstaffotos"

“Golden sunrise” by “Fir0002/Flagstaffotos”

God is great
God is good
And we thank Him
For our food.

Amen!

The quick little pray, repeated most often because of its brevity, nevertheless says a few powerful things. But are they truthful? God is great—definitely. But is God good? Really?

Evil is everywhere. A three-year-old gets cancer, and lives. But her life includes one trip to the hospital after another to treat various aliments brought on by the procedure used to rid her of cancer.

A seventeen-year-old girl, enjoying a summer swim, breaks her neck and is a quadriplegic for the next forty-seven years, and counting.

A missionary family in Afghanistan survive an attack on their compound by five suicide bombers, but three of their colleagues are killed in another incident weeks later.

A prominent Christian pastor’s son commits suicide. A prominent Christian singer’s son dies in an accident in their driveway. The adult son of a prominent Christian evangelist dies in an auto accident on his way to a crusade.

But God is good?

Well, yes, He is. As it happens, He looks at the big picture, the greater, everlasting story. He sees and knows what we cannot know.

Joseph languished in a prison after being sold into slavery by his brothers. His brothers! Then he refused to sin against God by sleeping with his master’s wife and ended up behind bars. Where he sat, year after year. Forgotten by the government official he’d helped. But not forgotten by God.

“And as for you, you meant evil against me,” Joseph later told his brothers, “but God meant it for good, in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).

And so God works, out of our view, without our understanding, to bring about results we couldn’t predict, at a price we can’t come to grips with.

Take the early missionaries, for instance, starting with William Carey.

Once Carey’s family and team had evaded and overcome the obstacles before them they endured some crushing trials. Carey’s young son, Peter, died of dysentry, his wife went insane, his co-worker squandered all their money and bankrupted the mission. Sickness afflicted them all. Furthermore, after 7 years of tireless toil in India Carey still did not have a single convert!

However, Carey provides us with an inspiring testimony of steadfast perseverance. Utterly convinced of the sovereignty of God and standing on the promises and prophecies of Scripture, Carey kept on working. The Bengali New Testament was first published in 1801 – within a year of their first convert being baptised. By 1818 there were 600 baptised and discipled church members. (“What Inspired the Greatest Century of Missionary Advance?”)

Or how about the first American missionaries?

The first American missionaries to go overseas, Adoniram and Ann Judson, endured debilitating tropical diseases and vicious opposition and imprisonment under the cruel king of Burma. They also lost children to disease and laboured for 7 years before seeing their first convert from Buddhism. Ann Judson died in the field – only 36 years old. Yet by the time Adoniram Judson had died there were over 100 000 baptised church members amongst the Karen tribe! To this day the (mostly Christian) Karen people remain steadfast in Burma – an island of Christianity in a sea of Buddhism (“What Inspired the Greatest Century of Missionary Advance?”).

Is God good? Every child who died, every husband who labored alone on the mission field, every prisoner who stood faithful to his God, every wife who went to foreign places knowing that she most likely would not see her home again—each is a person God knew from the foundation of the world and loved, so much so that He willingly chose to suffer, taking on the sins of the world, so that we might have life eternal, so that the hardship of this world, the dangers and fears and abuses and cruelties would one day pass away and we would have joy eternal.

God takes crushed reeds and releases fragrant aromas. He uses clay pots to hold water-turned-to-wine. He makes a shepherd boy into a king and a murderous persecutor of His church one of its greatest evangelists.

The truth is, the evil we decry lies at the feet of sin and of humankind’s disobedience. God alone stands before us pointing the way out of the quagmire of our own making. We stumble, but He holds our hand. The waters pour over us, but He is with us. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but His rod and staff comfort us.

The death we decry and the ruination we fear simply are not the end of the story. The enemy of our souls seeks to blind our eyes so that we do not see the goodness of our God and the eternal hope He offers.

Sunrise over waterThankfully we have God’s sure promise—He is today as He was yesterday and the day before and the day before. In fact, He is as He was when He spoke this world into being and called everything He had made, good.

Only a good God can make good things only and always. Only a good God can redeem and rescue from the dominion of darkness in order to bring us into the kingdom of His beloved Son—that would be Jesus who is the living proof that the resurrection to everlasting life is our sure hope. We will, in fact, one day walk in newness of life, encompassed by the unadulterated goodness of God.

Published in: on July 8, 2014 at 8:56 pm  Comments Off on God Is Good  
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Ambiguity, Thy Real Name Is Doubt


solid_rock_1751729Clearly I should have written this post before yesterday’s “Ambiguity, Thy Cousin Is Relativism” article, but when I started, I hadn’t realized what all I wanted to say about the topic. The more I think about it, the bigger the subject gets.

Here’s the bottom line: Satan wants to call into question what God has said. He wants us uncertain.

God, on the other hand, wants us to trust what He says. He wants us confident.

That’s why God’s word is compared in Scripture to a rock, why over and over passages in both Old and New Testament say God’s word is sure, tried, and everlasting.

Why, then, do Christians buy into “ambiguity”? Why opt for the sinking sand when a sure foundation is there for the taking?

Here are my best guesses.

* Today’s Christians, though we have access to excellent Bible translations in our own language, are ignorant of much of Scripture. We’ve fallen into the trap of letting the “professionals” do our Bible study for us. So we listen in church and maybe even read a devotion online, but we aren’t digging into Scripture for ourselves.

* We start with false presuppositions. One such idea is that God’s inspiration of Scripture didn’t mean the Bible is actually His Word. Rather, humans wrote it and copied it and interpreted it, so undoubtedly it’s changed over time and isn’t really an accurate reflection today of God’s heart (it has nasty things in it such as God’s wrath and judgment). Of course, that view completely hangs on the idea that God didn’t miraculously transmit His word to us. It requires a small view of God.

A careful study of Scripture uncovers the position which the Church has held down through the centuries—God spoke through His prophets and those to whom He gave His word in the first century, He has preserved and protected it, and His Holy Spirit continues to guide us into all truth. In short, the Bible is a miracle. This view requires an expansive view of God.

God wants us to know Him and chose, therefore, to reveal Himself to us. Otherwise, we could know about Him through what He has made, but we wouldn’t know Him since the finite cannot reach the infinite. Therefore to know God requires His initiative, His miraculous intervention.

* A third possibility is that we’ve heard people yank a verse of Scripture out of context and parade it before the world as “a sure thing,” only to end up disappointed. This kind of treatment of Scripture has happened for centuries, so it’s not new, but perhaps because of our technology, the claims of these charlatan’s or misguided teachers have reached a wider audience. The kinds of promises range from a date set for Christ’s return to miraculous healing to untold wealth to sinless perfection.

When someone believes they’re going to get a new car, like the evangelist tells them, and they trust with all their heart, but no new car comes their way, what do they do with those dashed expectations?

Even promises of a happy life if you remain sexually pure, marry, submit to your husband, might be dashed by a drunk driver plowing into your van on the way to the church retreat. Where’s the happy life now?

The problem isn’t God or His Word; it’s the false expectations created by someone reading a passage of Scripture and not plugging it in with the entire message of the Bible.

Those who have suffered know God is true though all men be liars. That’s right—those who have suffered. Suffering is often the dividing line. Some suffer, then curse God and die, as Job’s wife urged him to do. Others turn their eyes to heaven and ask God to forgive those tormenting them as Stephen did when he was stoned to death.

What’s the difference? Those who suffer and turn to God understand they don’t have to know why and their rescue doesn’t have to be now. They embrace the One who embraces them and allow Him to carry them through the valley of the shadow of death.

Those who shake their fists at God and turn from Him in anger want to rest in their happiness or their stuff or their healthy bodies, not in the arms of Him Who rescues from the dominion of darkness.

They want to walk on water, not because they want to come to Jesus, but because they want those in the boat to admire them for their ability to do what’s remarkable. Relationship? How cliche, they say. God isn’t knowable like that. He’s to be found by looking within and experiencing Him through the mystical meditation of contemplation.

Which is another way of saying, I don’t believe God is actually a person—he’s too other, too out there.

Well, yes, and no. God is Other, but because He is so much more than what we can imagine, He is also simultaneously Imminent. He is out there, but He is also near, even in our hearts. Which does not mean He is some kind of impersonal panentheistic deity.

Rather, He is very personal which we know because He came into the world as a person—a baby who grew to manhood, lived, loved, cried, died. And even in His resurrected body, He demonstrated His personhood—the marks in His body from His suffering, His repeat miracle of multiplying fish for Peter and his crew, the meals He shared, the bread He blessed.

So here’s the fact: if God sent Jesus, and if Jesus rose from the dead, then God is powerful enough to do anything and good enough to trust. Where’s the ambiguity in that? If I need to see the why or understand the wherefore, then God will show that to me. But if not, I still can trust.

And yes, trust can be scary at first. I think it gets easier the longer you go, snugged to the chest of the Good Shepherd who is gathering His sheep.

– – – – –
Photograph by Rudi Winter via Wikimedia

Jury Duty And The Presumption Of Innocence


courtroom_4As some of you may have guessed, last week when I wrote about being censured—rightly so—I was alluding to jury duty. Once a jury has been selected, the judge gives instructions that members are not to discuss the case with one another, with the lawyers or the judge himself, with any members of the media, with family, friends, or spouses. And we are not to share it on Facebook, blog about it, or put any information onto the Internet.

None of that last part of the instructions was in place the last time I had jury duty. It’s necessary and appropriate, surely, and not hard to follow for a short, two-day trial. I think I’d find it much more burdensome if I was serving on a jury for a case that ran for weeks.

All that aside, the judge of the case for which I was impaneled brought up the issue of the presumption of innocence, which is standard practice in a criminal proceeding in the US. The judge explains that the jury must not assume guilt simply because the defendant has been arrested or because he does not testify on his own behalf. In fact, he is to be considered innocent of the crime until the prosecuting attorney presents evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to prove guilt.

I understand this provision in our judicial system. It was intended to protect innocent people from falling victim to mob mentality. If the evidence doesn’t prove the defendant committed the crime, he must be declared not guilty.

The problem is that this approach has led to our present day adversarial system. No one is actually trying to find out the truth of a matter. Rather, the prosecutor is trying to produce enough evidence to convict and the defense attorney is trying to create enough doubt to acquit.

Consequently, defendants with bad lawyers might go to jail even if they are innocent, while others with good lawyers might escape punishment, though guilty.

Beyond that, I started thinking today, that perhaps this approach to jurisprudence has undergirded society’s belief in the goodness of humans. If we are innocent until proven otherwise, doesn’t it seem reasonable that we are therefore good?

In fact, Scripture states the opposite–humans are guilty from birth. Oh, not guilty of breaking some law created by human institutions, but guilty in a much larger sense. We are guilty before God because our thinking, our nature, is anti-God.

That’s really what the sin nature is. From birth we are in rebellion against God. We ignore Him, refuse to accept His authority over us, choose to elevate ourselves in His place, and willfully go against what He tells us to do.

The thing about our guilt is that we don’t need someone to prove us guilty. We have the testimony of omniscient God who knows our thoughts and words before a single one makes it to our tongue.

It’s sobering to realize that God holds us accountable for our thoughts. I was talking with a friend recently about what we write. Both of us admitted to times we have put down mean, spiteful, flippant, unkind things–then deleted them. Ah, it’s as if we never had those thoughts, to the eyes of those who read the revised version. But not to God. He knows what we deleted. Those are the thoughts He holds us accountable for.

We can whitewash our behavior for other people, but there’s no whitewashing our insides which God sees and knows.

Innocent? Good?

Not when the first command is to love God with our entire life–mind, strength, heart, and soul. Who reaches to that lofty aspiration?

We know we don’t because if we did, we’d also keep the second command–to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We love ourselves so much that we make sure we have a roof over our heads and food on our table. Then why are there homeless in the world? Why are there people who don’t have enough to eat? If we were good as a people, innocent, we’d take care of other people the same way we take care of ourselves.

But we don’t.

Because we are not good or innocent.

And that’s why Jesus came.

He was the one person who didn’t have the bent toward sin. The one person who could stand before God and be declared innocent. The one truly good person who was qualified to sacrifice Himself for the rest of us guilty ones, if we but believe.

Published in: on March 10, 2014 at 7:49 pm  Comments Off on Jury Duty And The Presumption Of Innocence  
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The Problem Of Evil And God’s Goodness


sunrise-over-the-field-1377784-mSome atheists dismiss the existence of God in large part because of the existence of evil. One line of thinking is that if God existed He is either not good, not powerful, or not caring. He could not, they believe, be good, caring, and powerful and co-exist with evil.

What irony that these skeptics don’t turn around and scrutinize goodness. From where do acts of kindness from strangers originate, or the encouragement from a verse of Scripture or the ethereal beauty of fog wisps floating in and out of trees or pier pilings?

Who can explain the transformation of the Huaorani people in Ecuador after Jim Elliot’s death? Or the message of forgiveness Corrie ten Boom preached after losing her father and sister under Nazis cruelty? Who can explain Job’s restoration of wealth after losing all or Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt after being sold into slavery?

In other words, who can explain Romans 2:28 – “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

How could a God who was not good work all things together for good? And Christians see time and again God’s hand working tragedy into triumph, suffering into sanctification, sacrifice into salvation.

Only God’s goodness can be credited with such miracles as Ruth experienced. The widowed immigrant at the edge of poverty becomes the great-grandmother to Israel’s greatest king, in the direct line of the Messiah.

Who could write such a story? People today would think it too … good, too sappy, too sweet. But that’s God, isn’t it. He goes beyond what we think could possibly happen. He gives more, loves more, sacrifices more.

He takes brokenness and makes a vessel fit for a king, takes a wayward woman and makes her His bride, takes discarded branches and grafts them into His vine.

He hunts down the lost, comforts the grieving, answers the cry of the needy.

Above all, He gives Himself. He sent His prophets to teach the rest of us what we need to know about Him. More, He Himself came in the form of Man, then gave us His Spirit and His written Word.

God’s goodness is imprinted on the world. We have the starry sky, the harvest moon, billowing clouds, flashing lightening, crystalline icicles, yellow-red leaves, falling snow, crashing waves, the rocky grandeur of mountains, and on and on. How can we look at this world and not see God’s goodness?

How can we think that the good things we enjoy are accidents of nature or results of human endeavor? Nature is morally indifferent and Mankind is marred. God alone is good, without wavering, without exception.

May He be praised now and forevermore.

Originally posted in 2010 under the title “God’s Goodness.”

Published in: on November 5, 2013 at 6:17 pm  Comments Off on The Problem Of Evil And God’s Goodness  
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