God Helps Those Who Help Themselves?


888698_my_new_bicycleI’m not sure where the adage “God helps those who help themselves” got its start. It sounds very American, very responsible, very “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”—and God would approve of this, so He’ll lend a helping hand.

I picture a parent running along side his son or daughter who is learning to ride a bike. The dad has a hand just behind the seat, keeping the bike in balance until the child gets the hang of it and takes off. Then Dad lets go, stands back, applauds when Daughter weaves her way back to him.

God is like that, right?

No, He’s not.

First, He does not exist for our sake; we exist for Him. He isn’t our bodyguard, cheerleader, or fix-it man. He is God!

Amazingly, He wants a relationship with us—friendship, familial interaction, shared love. He also wants us to obey Him, worship Him, serve Him, glorify Him. He, in turn, wants to shepherd us, strengthen us, even exalt us at the proper time.

But help us?

Not surprisingly the Old Testament wisdom literature, particularly Job and Psalms has a great deal to say about God as our help. In any number of verses, the writer says he cries to God for help. In other passages, God is praised for being a help.

A number of different words are used, most conveying the idea of “succor”—assistance and support in times of hardship and distress. Psalm 27:9 is a good example:

Do not hide Your face from me,
Do not turn Your servant away in anger;
You have been my help;
Do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation (emphasis mine)

There are also verses that state God’s intention to help His people:

“For I am the LORD your God, who upholds your right hand,
Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ ” (Isaiah 41:13)

Is it significant that this concept is almost non-existent in the New Testament? I think so. When Jesus walked on earth people asked Him for help—mostly to help a physical ailment, but even to help with the problem of unbelief.

He explained to His disciples that when He went away, He would send a Helper, a paraklētos. According to Strong’s, the term is used

of the Holy Spirit destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after his ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom

No longer, then, do those who are God’s own need to plead for Him to help. He already has, by giving us the Helper to live with us and in us.

It seems to me, the times I plead for God to help—and there have been times—I am less aware of God’s presence and provision. Of course, in emergencies, it’s hard to keep a level head, to think through the truths of God’s word. I suppose that’s the very reason it’s important to “practice the presence” of God daily.

I’m not sure I really like that phrase. It seems as if I have something to do with God being with me or not. The truth is, whether I am aware or not, He is with me. But my awareness influences my decisions and my attitude. I am much less inclined to worry, for example, when I remember that God is with me, that He is sovereign and omnipotent and good.

All this to say, God isn’t running along side me as I struggle on my own to accomplish whatever I wish, so He can be available if I cry out when I’m about to crash.

Rather, God has taken up residence in my life. I am His. I don’t need Him to help me—I need Him! He is sufficient no matter what my circumstances. In fact, because He is infinite God, limitless in His attributes, He loves and gives, provides and protects like no one else could.

That includes anything I could do for myself. 😉

This post is the final article in the short series of Evangelical Myths, first appearing here in June, 2013.

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Published in: on February 6, 2018 at 4:38 pm  Comments (4)  
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God Loves Us Because We’re Special?


George Herbert

George Herbert


This post first appeared here in June 2013 as part of the Evangelical Myths series:

– – – – –

Another myth that has crept into the Church is that God loves us because we’re special.

Western culture influences the evangelical Church. One evidence of this influence is in the development of a Man-centric worldview. Humankind has grown in importance, at the expense of God.

A literature professor of mine gave a generalized view of the philosophical shift that has taken place.

For centuries the culture was God-centric, to the exclusion almost of Man’s responsibility for his sin. God was over all, created all, engineered all, and Man was little more than a puppet or, as the hymn writer said, a worm.

During the Renaissance there was a shift toward valuing Mankind in a different way—in a balanced way. Writers such as John Donne, George Herbert, and a number of others known as the Metaphysical Poets wrote of God in a more intimate, personal way, and some also wrote of their own personal experience.

Today, the pendulum has shifted further so that Humankind is now the chief object of exploration, and God is less so, seen as a mere sidelight, or even thought to be dead or non-existent.

Evangelical Protestants have not been untouched by this change. Writing friend Mike Duran addressed this topic in his article “On Worm Theology,” in which he used the term “worth theology” to describe the current thinking (emphasis in the original):

On the other hand, consider that there is a movement afoot, both in Christian and secular circles, to overemphasize Man’s inherent goodness, giftedness, esteem, and worth. This view swaps worm theology for worth theology, defining God’s redemptive actions in terms of our intrinsic goodness and worth. Rather than self-loathing, worth theology affirms our nature, destiny, and latent abilities. Of course, it can also lead to ego-stroking, gauzy positivism, and an inflated sense of self. Not to mention, denial of the concept of “sin.”

As I understand the rationale for this “worth theology,” it revolves around sentiments like “God don’t make no junk” and “if we are to love our brother as ourselves, then we first have to learn to love ourselves.” Ultimately, we must understand how worthy we are because Christ died for us. Certainly He wouldn’t have died for us if we weren’t worth dying for.

Well, actually He did. He died for us while we were yet sinners.

As I understand Scripture, our great worth does, in fact, come from our creation. The “God don’t make no junk” idea is pretty accurate. We learn in Genesis 1 that all God made, including Humankind, was very good.

But if we go no further in our understanding, we are still not better than worms. What we’ve too often overlooked is that God elevated Humans in a way that forever separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom: He fashioned us in His likeness and breathed His breath into us. We, then, are God’s image bearers!

He also gave us dominion over the rest of creation—not for us to despoil or waste or misuse, but to enjoy, to maintain, to care for. It’s a high and holy charge that God has not rescinded, despite what Humankind did next.

In Adam, we turned our back on God. WE created a barrier between us and God; because of OUR sin and transgressions, God has hid His face from us so that He does not hear. We marred His image in us. It is this state—the absence of the presence of God, the spoiling of the good He made—that makes us wretched.

Some of us are conscious of our state and others deny it with their every breath—still fighting God for control. We want to prove we don’t need Him, that we can do life on our own.

Denial doesn’t change things.

The insidiousness of the “worth theology” is that Christians climbs into a position of control in a similar way as those who choose to deny Him. Individuals, like finicky cats, deign to respond to God’s pleading, as if we are adding worth to His kingdom by coming to Him.

Christianity, then, becomes all about our best life, our health, our wealth, our comfort and ease, our safety and welfare.

But that’s not what God intended.

Christianity is about God. That we have been created in His image is a reflection of His creative power. That He saved us is a reflection of His love and mercy. That we have the ability to walk in newness of life is a reflection of His grace and goodness.

Life, even life here and now, is not about us. It’s about God. And wonder of wonder, He turns around and includes us and blesses us and elevates us yet again.

– – – – –

    Love

    by George Herbert

    Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
    Guilty of dust and sin.
    But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
    From my first entrance in,
    Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
    If I lack’d anything.
    ‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
    Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
    ‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
    I cannot look on Thee.’
    Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
    ‘Who made the eyes but I?’
    ‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
    Go where it doth deserve.’
    ‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
    ‘My dear, then I will serve.’
    ‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
    So I did sit and eat.

Is Self-Confidence A Good Thing?


2011_medal_ceremony

This post first appeared here in June 2013 as part of a short series of “Evangelical Myths.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, self-confidence means “a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment.” Is there any conflict between that trait and what Scripture admonishes in Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him
And He will make your paths straight. (3:5-6)

Clearly, self-confidence and God-confidence are two different things and they hardly seem compatible. How can a person trust God with his whole heart and trust in his own judgment?

It’s hard to let go of the idea that we are to be self-confident, though. After all, public education has spent long hours drilling into the heads of school children the need to believe in ourselves.

Could it be that all that education is paying off, to the point that Christians now consider whether or not they will do what God says or do what they think is right?

How many young people claiming the name of Christ are having sex with people they aren’t married to? Do they do this because they’re convinced the Bible has been misinterpreted all these years? Or do they do so because they are leaning on their own understanding, and their own understanding says, where’s the harm, everyone else is, it’s what I want.

Or how about the ones who have stopped going to church? Do they have an argument to give to Paul’s admonition to believers not to forsake assembling together? Most don’t. They stay home from church because they’re leaning on their own understanding which tells them if they are too tired or if church is boring or if church is all about rules or if the music at church is old-fashioned, then they don’t have to go.

The point is, our great self-confidence has given us to believe that we get to be the final say on all matters. After all, we’ve been taught to trust our judgment. So if God’s judgment is one thing and ours is another, then we’ll opt for ours.

God’s counsel is in direct opposition to this self-confidence instruction of the culture. He tells us to trust Him completely, to commit our ways to Him.

James addresses this issue. After telling his readers to submit to God, he says this:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. (4:13-16 – emphasis added)

Planning and living according to our own wisdom, without submitting ourselves to God, is something we do out of arrogance.

As I see it, the teaching on self-confidence has us trusting God’s gift rather than God, the Giver. It’s the same thing Solomon got caught doing. God gifted him with wisdom, and he then relied on his understanding, not on God.

Jeremiah gives this perspective:

Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. (9:23-24 – emphasis added)

When you think about it, trusting in ourselves rather than in God makes little sense. God is all knowing; I am not. God is good; I have a sin nature. God is infallible; I make all kinds of mistakes. Need I go on?

There really is nothing about my judgment that commends it over God’s, and yet so often I confidently ignore God’s counsel and commands and do what I think best, for no other reason than that it is my judgment to do so.

The point that we miss in all this is that when I trust God and don’t lean on my own understanding, He makes my paths straight. Does that mean easy to navigate, clear, without detours or delays?

Look at what Psalm 37 says:

Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it. (v. 5)

Do it? Do what? The very next verse explains:

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday. (v. 6)

Trusting God, then, actually enhances my judgment. I rely on Him, He shines the light on my ability. It’s the same concept Peter explained in his first letter: “Therefore humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (5:6).

In short, if we’re busy exerting ourselves, exercising our self-confidence, we’ll miss the opportunity to have God exalt us instead.

Published in: on January 31, 2018 at 5:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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Hagar


Not important enough to merit more than a black and white picture.

If the book of Genesis was a novel, Hagar would be considered a minor character. If it were a play, she’d be a bit actor. In truth, she has very few scenes and even fewer lines. And the thing is, the lines she does have, the scenes she is in, don’t show her in a very good light.

First off, Sarah gives Hagar, her Egyptian maid, to her husband to be a concubine. Stop right there. Hagar is of “foreign” descent. She’s a maid to a nomadic woman. I’m not thinking she has much standing in the world.

And then she becomes a concubine. As a servant, she apparently has no say in the matter when her mistress hands her over to the head of the house, Abraham.

But to Hagar’s delight, her union with Abraham bears fruit. In fact, she’s so delighted that she’s pregnant, she looks down on her mistress. That’s the start of some serious domestic problems. Sarah ended up treating Hagar so harshly, she ran away. To the desert. She had to be desperate.

There she encountered an angel who told her she was pregnant and should return and submit to her mistress. And here’s the turning point in her life:

Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”

Just a servant girl, one who was apparently a bit haughty and given to flight, but God saw her.

She returned and gave birth to a son who she named Ishmael—God will hear.

Sounds to me like Hagar—the Egyptian, the maid, the concubine—had a relationship with God. She knew He saw her. She knew He heard her. At her lowest point, God came to her.

Well, maybe not her lowest point.

When her son was a teen, and no longer an only child—Abraham had a son by his wife Sarah—he did what boys will do. He teased, and probably bullied, young Isaac. So much so that Sarah persuaded Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. All they had was a “skin” of water and some bread. And God, watching out for them.

When the water ran out, Hagar really did reach her lowest point. She couldn’t stand the thought of watching her son die, so she left him under some bushes and went off alone. Once again God rescued her. He opened her eyes so that she saw a well, and He gave her a promise that her son would also be the head of a great nation.

She gave Ishmael the drink that he needed to live and they settled there in the wilderness until he grew to be a man. Then Hagar arranged for him to marry an Egyptian, and he did in fact fulfill the prophecy God gave his mother during that “dark night of the soul.”

The main thing I learn here is this: in the midst of Abraham’s story and the promises and miracles God performed for the man who was later referred to as “a friend of God” (see James 2:23), God also took care of a lowly maid, someone not in the Messianic line. And as some would be quick to point out, a woman.

God is no respecter of persons. He really isn’t. I think it’s easy to lose sight of that because the Jewish nation is referred to as “the apple of His eye.” They are “the chosen people.” But in truth, God chose them, not because they were numerous or strong or great in any sense of the word, but because they were weak and few in number so that His grace could shine through.

He wanted the world to see Him through His relationship with the nation of Israel, just as He now wants the world to see Him through His relationship with the Church. The point is and always has been to give a picture of what everyone can have. After all, God didn’t just start loving the world when John 3:16 was written.

So in Christ’s genealogy there’s an adulteress, a woman who slept with her father-in-law, a foreigner from a nation that was banned from entering the temple, and an unmarried virgin. Why?

God wants the point to get through to us: salvation is not for an elite group of special people who do things just the right way. It’s for the Hagars of the world who reach bottom and who look up to the God who hears, to the God who sees.

He, in turn, pours out His grace and rescues those who recognize their need for Living Water.

Published in: on January 29, 2018 at 5:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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Pollen—A Reprise


I was a hay fever kid. Every spring, especially during recess or P.E. class, newly mowed grass gave me fits. I was also allergic to ragweed, but apart from those two plants, I managed.

Unlike others, I neither out-grew the condition nor became worse, though I discovered one more thing I’m allergic to—more than anything else I’ve ever encountered. And it so happens I am living right next to it.

Just beyond the fence is a beautiful tall, full tree that offers wonderful shade in the summer. In the fall, which is usually in December here in SoCal, the tree begins to lose its leaves. Sometime after the first winter rain, it starts growing little blossoms which eventually produce new leaves. In the process those tiny yellow flowers release a fine yellow pollen, visible on our car windshields, porch, stairs.

It is that pollen I am allergic to.

Mind you, I’m not complaining, though some times I fall into a bit of a grumble. Except, I don’t want that tree gone. How many people live in the Los Angeles basin and can look out a window without seeing another apartment building or house? Plus there’s that extra shade which makes a ten to fifteen degree difference in the summer temperatures. I like this tree. I just don’t like its pollen.

Except, of course, the tree would have no leaves if there were no pollen. And Science 101 says pollen is important for bees and such—the whole Eco-system. I’ll have to take the word of the experts on that one. I just know, I have to take the bad if I want the good. And I do want the good.

This whole pollen thing seems a bit like an illustration of all of life. Things happen—a broken wrist, a rejection notice from an agent, a promotion that goes to someone else, a fender bender on the way home from work, a minor stroke. All such things are much like the pollen—those are not things anyone wants. Except without them, we don’t have the growth needed that can get us through the days when the temperature rises. The tough things train us spiritually.

“Consider it all joy,” James says, “when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).

Peter says positive things about hard times too:

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7)

For a little while things might be hard, but rejoicing is still possible because there will be a reveal.

Writers like reveals. It’s something we need to put into our novels to create those A-ha moments for readers. And of course the biggest and the best reveal is saved for last. So too in real life.

Now the days of pollen will serve as more than a reminder that new leaves are coming on the wonderful shade tree that will cool my place in the summer. Now I have one more reminder that God makes joy and rejoicing out of the various trials He allows because the great A-ha is coming!

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in February 2012 and again in February 2015.

A Look At The “Nicer Than God” Position-Reprise


Child_survivors_of_AuschwitzAtheists are eager to dismantle the framework of Christianity and to deconstruct the Bible. Sadly, it seems some in the self-styled “Progressive Christians” crowd aren’t far behind.

One point in particular has come through in various on-line discussions by those who don’t believe in God as He revealed Himself in the Bible–the God of the Old Testament is too wrathful, too vengeful to really be God. My God wouldn’t do that or say that, is a statement I’ve seen more than once.

Often a verse in Psalm 137 gets pulled out as evidence that God is too horrible to worship or that the Bible is inconsistent and can’t possibly be taken at face value or that God had to have repented of such a heinous attitude because it isn’t in line with how He showed Himself through Jesus in the New Testament.

In all honesty, the verse is horrible. Writing about the Babylonians who took Judah into captivity and razed the temple and the walls of Jerusalem and its homes and businesses, the psalmist said

O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock. (Psalm 137:8-9)

Shocking!

That last verse in particular seems out of place in a book centered on God’s work of reconciliation and forgiveness achieved through Jesus.

As I’ve pondered this Psalm and particularly verse nine, a couple things have come to mind. First, I am reminded of some of the heinous things that came to light after 9/11–people parading through the streets of cities in the Middle East, cheering the deaths of several thousand people they considered the enemy; beheadings; hundreds upon hundreds of people unassociated with fighting, blown up as they went about living life; rulers firing upon their own people; hundreds of bodies discovered in mass graves.

All these rather gruesome modern day events make it clear that nothing has changed in the law of revenge in the Middle East from the time of the Old Testament.

Back then, God initiated the “eye for an eye” principle–one capable of stopping blood feuds before they got started. Particularly, God said sons weren’t to die to pay for the sins of their father. Such laws were necessary because people held grudges and sought to get even when they’d been wronged.

Today, nearly seventy years after the Jewish state came into being, certain countries in the Middle East have the stated objective of wiping out that nation. Simply put, they want revenge on their enemy.

To put this into perspective, a comparable situation would be England determined to wipe out the fledgling United States seventy years after the Revolutionary War–somewhere around 1850 when the US and England were becoming key trading partners. Or Mexico, seventy years after the end of the Mexican-American War–right around World War I–determining to retake the land they had ceded in the peace treaty.

My point? The Middle Eastern worldview is different from the worldview in the West.

Couple that fact with this: the Bible was written by people, inspired by God. However, God’s authorship does not mean He condoned everything recorded in those pages.

Jacob’s son Judah slept with his daughter-in-law, thinking she was a prostitute. The men in a city of the tribe of Benjamin gang raped a woman, killing her, and this led to war with the other eleven tribes. Samson, a judge of Israel, picked a Philistine to be his wife. David, the man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and murder.

The Bible records all these events and more, not as a list of things God’s children today are supposed to emulate, but as part of the grand scheme, the big picture, the overarching story showing us who God is, why we have a broken relationship with Him, and how He went about fixing it.

Psalm 137:9 is no more a statement of God’s desires than the verses that tell about Eve’s deception and Adam’s disobedience.

Let me pull some threads together. The Middle East had a culture of revenge, and in fact, much of what’s happened in the last ten-plus years would indicate that this worldview is still in place. The psalmist who wrote Psalm 137:9 wrote from that worldview. As such, the verse is not an indication that God condoned the get-even mentality.

Here in the West we have a different worldview, informed by two thousand years of Biblical teaching to love our enemies, pray for those who misuse and abuse us, refrain from vengeance, refuse to curse but give a blessing instead.

Those “nicer than God” proponents, then, are simply reflecting a Biblical worldview, whether they recognize it and embrace it, or not.

They claim God is someone he is not based on a verse or verses taken out of context, and they claim for themselves teaching He brought into the world, normalized through centuries of Church influence, so that today even atheists believe loving our neighbor is a good thing, that mistreating the weakest and most vulnerable in society is wrong, and that enemies ought to be given trials and treated humanely rather than tortured.

Surprise, atheists and progressives! You’ve embraced a Biblical worldview–the one which has shaped Western thought. You just didn’t know it. You thought you were nicer than God, but who enabled you to learn what “nice” meant? God Himself in the instruction that shaped the philosophical underpinnings of Western society for generations.

This post first appeared here in February 2013.

God And The Impossible


At Christmas, it’s more common to talk about Jesus as a little baby, as the Incarnate Christ who came to humble living circumstances, even noting that putting on flesh was perhaps the most humble of circumstances that He faced. But all the while, we kind of forget that Jesus, as God, rules and reigns supreme.

One of the mysteries of the trinity is Christ’s “dual identity.” He is God and He is a baby in a manger, wrapped up in cloths, and in all likelihood, fast asleep when a group of shepherds stop by.

How can this be?

Well, the Trinity, Christ’s divinity, are not the first hard things that confront us mortals. There’s prayer and how it “works,” free will and how it co-exists with God’s sovereignty, creation and the whole idea of speaking everything into existence from nothing.

Atheists often think Christians are fools, as if we don’t see the difficulty in these beliefs. Ironically many atheists also claim that Christianity came out of the imagination of some humans who simply made it all up.

Made it up?! Who would think up some idea of Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit actually being One? Crazy talk. Anybody who can count can read that sentence and arrive at three, not one. But no. The Bible is clear. Jesus said He and the Father are One.

And the God-Man thing? Really? Jesus had two natures? Well, no, but kind of, yes. So He had a split nature? Definitely no. Then what? Well, all God and all man, but not two. Uh, the math isn’t adding up again.

This makes no logical sense, the atheist says. Which does call into question the idea that some finite mortal dreamed it up. Wouldn’t it seem more likely that if someone was coming up with a new religion, they make it seem clear and reasonable and easy to grasp? That’s what I’d do.

But instead we have a God who is both just and merciful, Judge and Savior, King and carpenter. How can this be?

There’s really only one way. All these claims can only be true if God is more than we are. If He is transcendent. If He can do the impossible.

And as it happens, that’s precisely what the Bible says about Him. The statement comes as part of the pre-Christmas story.

An angel appeared to the not-yet-married young girl living in Nazareth to tell her that she was going to have a baby, that this boy “will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Just one problem, Mary said. I’m a virgin. She was not some dumb brunette, that one. She understood all about how babies were made.

No worries, the angel responded. God’s power is at work here. And just so you know, your cousin Elizabeth, who is barren, who is past childbearing years, she’s pregnant. Has been for six months. Because, you see, Mary, “nothing will be impossible with God.”

So, if nothing is impossible with God, what in the Bible does not make perfect sense? A cataclysmic world wide flood? Yes, God can do that. Stopping a river and making a dry path to the other side? God can do that too. Closing the mouths of hungry lions? Yes, that’s on the list of impossible that God can do.

If nothing will be impossible with God, the most logical position to take is that some impossible things are going to take place.

Mary got that right away. Her response was, I’m God’s servant. I’ll do whatever you say. She accepted the impossible. She wasn’t pinching herself or trying to wake up. She wasn’t questioning what bit of bad cheese had she eaten the night before.

Granted, later she would have her moments of uncertainty when Jesus began His public ministry, but there, before His birth, she knew—God’s in charge, and I’m not. His ways are not my ways. And I’m not going to pretend mine are better. Because He, not I, can do the impossible.

Published in: on December 7, 2017 at 5:08 pm  Comments (2)  
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Why Did God Give Us Free Will?


One of the best questions I’ve heard from those who don’t believe in God is this one: If God really existed, why did He give us free will?

Usually the argument goes something like this:

Atheist: The mess the world is is God’s fault
Christian: No, what God created is good. The mess is a result of sin.
Atheist: But why didn’t God create people who wouldn’t sin?
Christian: He gave us free will. We aren’t puppets on a string.
Atheist: But if God knew we’d sin, why did He supposedly give us the free will that led to sin? He could have prevented the whole thing.

The fact is, there’s nothing wrong with that line of thinking. God could have made little robots which He programmed to say they loved Him. No one would have used a weapon against someone else. No one would give in to addiction. No one would love money or power or sex more than they loved God. All the behavior of God’s people would be as perfect as He planned for it to be. Nothing would violate His wishes. No one would rebel against Him.

There are two problems with that picture.

First, a third of the angels had already rebelled against Him. So the world of humans could never be perfect. Not as long as Satan continued to show up. The only way to achieve “perfect” was to deal with the rebellion.

The second major problem is that God had determined to make humankind in His image, His likeness. He Himself has a will, so for humans to be like Him, we also would need to have our own will.

There’s probably something bigger here. Would loving God if you had no choice but to love Him, actually be love? Isn’t part of love connected with freely doing so? I mean, God already had trees and birds and reptiles and the like. They could act in an instinctual way if that’s what God wanted. In making humans, He made more. He stamped us with His likeness and He breathed into us the thing that makes us unique.

Ironically, as I looked on the internet at some of the unsolved mysteries of science, I discovered that human consciousness is one of those things nobody understands or can explain.

5 What is consciousness?

We’re still not really sure. We do know that it’s to do with different brain regions networked together rather than a single part of the brain. The thinking goes that if we figure out which bits of the brain are involved and how the neural circuitry works, we’ll figure out how consciousness emerges (“The 20 big questions in science”)

For that matter, science has yet to answer what actually makes us humans since “the human genome is 99% identical to a chimpanzee’s” (same source). Why can we talk and reason and do science? Why can we think philosophically, and above all, why do we worship?

The Christian knows the answer to that question.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Gen. 2:7, KJV)

Unique. Different. With the capacity to relate to God as no other being could, not even the angels. Such a person could relate to the Person who created him by loving Him freely. And likewise, being freely loved.

No relationship could be more.

But creating humans in the image of God, you might say, was “high risk, high reward.” When it works, it’s the best. That’s why Joni Eareckson Tada could say that she, a quadriplegic, would rather know Jesus as she does and be in her wheelchair, than not know Him and be out.

The flip side is the possibility of people choosing NOT to love God. For them the result would be disaster. But of course, God would make Himself clearly known. He’d walk with His people and talk with them. He’d give them signs and wonders. He’d display His glory in a physical, tangible way known as the Shekinah. He’d send messengers to give His words to the people. He’d have some write those words down so they’d be widely disseminated. Ultimately, He reversed the process and came in the likeness of humans so that He again walked and talked with the people He’d made.

Oh, yeah, there was one other thing that He said was even better—He’d send His Spirit to be in us. So that we’d never be alone. Never be without His presence.

Why did God give us free will? I guess the short answer is, He wanted to. That’s what would please Him and complete us. Plus, our relationship freely given, glorifies His name.

Published in: on November 15, 2017 at 5:53 pm  Comments (10)  
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God And His Mysterious Ways


Joni Eareckson Tada is celebrating an anniversary this year—a personal one. Fifty years ago when she was 17 she had a debilitating accident that left her a quadriplegic. In her honor I’m re-posting this article, with a few minor edits and revisions.

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Some people try to define God’s work, and therefore to define God—sort of like trying to photograph a double rainbow that stretches across the sky. If you could just snap the picture, then you’d have the rainbow for always.

God doesn’t operate in such a way that we can ever capture Him. Yet—and here is one of the most mysterious of His Ways—He voluntarily, willfully declares my heart His home.

I think of Joseph resisting the sexual temptations that Potiphar’s wife threw at him day after day, only to end up in prison. Well, not “end up” because he moved from the outhouse to the penthouse in a mere thirteen years—thirteen years that undoubtedly had Joseph thinking nothing would ever change, that his life was going to continue on and on and on in the dungeon. But it didn’t. God had big things in store for Joseph.

I think of the little slave girl, an Israelite captive torn from her home, probably from her family, refusing to be bitter or to seek revenge but reaching out to bless the man she worked for by telling him of the prophet of God who could cure his leprosy. As a result, the mighty Aramean officer ended up declaring, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:20).

Then there is Samson. What an amazing thing that God used that philanderer. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have chosen him. He was supposed to be a Nazarite from birth, but more than once he broke the parameters that defined that special relationship with God. He seemed self-absorbed and more inclined to use God than serve Him. But God was pleased to include him as a judge of Israel, pleased to make him a means to free His people from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

Or how about the beauty pageant that ended up sparing the lives of hundreds of Jews? I remember when I first heard about Esther, I was horrified that Mordecai didn’t try to sequester her away or make a run for the hills. Instead, he truly seemed to be encouraging her, and she seemed to want to win the role as queen. Except, unlike the fairy tales, this was no monogamous happy-together-forever story. No! Esther got to be part of the kings harem (think of all the women he slept with before he slept with her and finally decided she was queen material). And yet, God used her in that place to save hundreds, maybe thousands.

What about in contemporary times? God used the death of five young husbands, some also fathers, to save a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, at the same time turning the hearts of countless believers to become involved in missions.

Corrie ten Boom

He used a spinster lady in the latter end of middle-age, all the way to her “golden years” to teach a generation what forgiveness really means, to spread the gospel of God’s incredible power over death and destruction and hatred and evil.

He is using the humble submission of a once athletic teenage girl who suffered a catastrophic, debilitating accident, who has lived life for fifty years as a quadriplegic and who continues to tell of her love for her Lord.

I would have done things differently, I’m sure. Look how talented Joni Eareckson Tada is—as an artist, a writer, a speaker. How much more could she do if she weren’t in a wheelchair? What a silly person I am. Who would have heard of Joni if she hadn’t been the girl who drew holding her pen in her mouth? And what would she be talking about now or who would listen? Isn’t it her willing submission in the face of her adversity that makes her life so winsome?

God knows these things. He knows what it takes. But to us, because we don’t know what it takes, His ways will always appear mysterious.

God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
– by William Cowper

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This article is an edited reprint of one originally posted May 2011.

Nobody’s Perfect—Except One


When Martin Luther make his declarations that served as the catalyst to the Reformation, one of the key points focused on Christ—not His person. Not even His work. Luther didn’t disagree with the Church on those doctrines. Rather, his statement had to do with the sufficiency of Christ.

Evangelical Protestantism embraces that point while also declaring Christ’s person and work. Because, sadly, in our world many who claim the name of Christ, don’t hold fast to what the Bible says about who He is or what He has done.

Some say He was a good example, and we simply need to live the same kind of selfless life that He did. Some think He was created by God to carry out His plans. Some think “exercising faith in Jesus is vital to salvation” but they don’t see Him as God.

These positions are outside the teaching of the Bible. These false teachings use Scripture, pulled from its context, to explain what they believe, yet the essence of all these approaches is that Jesus is not God.

While the Bible doesn’t contain the words “Jesus is God,” in a thousand other ways it proclaims the divinity of Christ. The Church of old came to a settle view of Christ’s person—He is fully human and fully divine.

Any faith community that denies the divinity of Jesus Christ is simply not Christian no matter how they identify themselves. These false groups might recognize Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. They might even speak of His playing a part in salvation. But if they don’t accept that He is in fact God, they are teaching a different gospel than the one that the disciples preached.

But what was Luther on about, if not the person of Christ or His work? He was declaring that what Jesus did on the cross, needs nothing else. His work, and His work alone, paid the debt of sin. His work, and His work alone, satisfies the Father’s righteous wrath against sinners.

For centuries the Israelites took animals to the temple to make sacrifice for their sins. There were sacrifices when they knew they had sins, others when they didn’t know. There were peace offerings and thank offerings, offerings when they needed to be cleansed, others when they were celebrating. But all these sacrifices had one thing in common. They required a perfect animal, one without blemish and spotless.

In his first letter to the early Christians, the apostle Peter tied together the old sacrificial requirements with what Jesus accomplished:

you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (1:18-19)

We could just as easily fit in other things from today’s culture: you were not redeemed with good works, with going to church regularly, with taking communion, with saying certain prayers, with ceremonial washings, with a word from a pastor or priest, with the laying on of hands. In short, we are not redeemed by anything we give or do or say.

Redemption comes from Christ alone.

There it is—the sola that Martin Luther preached. Through his extensive study of the Bible, he realized the truth that salvation comes through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross, plus nothing.

The apostle Paul spelled out Christ’s work a number of times in his letters. To the church in Colossae he wrote

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (2:13-14)

In short, spiritual life comes from Christ’s work at the cross.

Because the new life has such a powerful and transforming effect on the believer, people can easily mistake the outer results with the inner cause. But what a person does because He’s received the gift of salvation, has nothing to do with how he received the gift.

Simply put, we can add nothing to the work that Christ already accomplished.

How could we? Like the sacrifices of old, only a perfect offering is sufficient. Nothing about us qualifies.

In conclusion, this fourth sola gives us this picture of salvation: “According to the authority of Scripture alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone . . .”

That leaves one more piece to the puzzle which we’ll look at next time.