Faith And The Rock


I am mystified when people who don’t believe in God refer to Christians as people who don’t think. Their argument seems to be, Since God is invisible, you are only imagining anything spiritual or supernatural. You have no proof—by which they mean, scientific evidence—so you simply believe a lie or a myth or something in your imagination.

It doesn’t matter how many times a clear demonstration is offered that “belief” is not blind, those opposed to God insist it is. And yet the Bible says just the opposite.

As one illustration of what the Bible says about faith (I couldn’t possibly enumerate every instance in which we learn more about faith—there are too many), Jesus told a story about a wise man who built his house upon the rock. When the wind and rain buffeted the house, it stood firm. However, another man, a foolish man, built his house upon the sand. The winds came and the rain, and the house fell.

Jesus had prefaced the story by saying that the wise man was the one who heard His words and acted on them. In contrast, everyone who hear His words and doesn’t act on them is like the foolish man.

The point is simple, “belief in Jesus,” the faith that undergirds a Christian, is reliant upon God’s word.

Oh sure, some false teachers have invented “other gospels” and some have twisted Scripture to say what it does not say, but in the end, the one who takes God at His word is building his house on the rock.

Romans spells out what God’s word is which leads to salvation:

the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (10:8b-9)

Pretty simple really. Jesus is Lord, Jesus rose from the dead.

Of course how can we KNOW those things? Romans gives us that piece of information, too.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”

However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (10:14-17; emphasis mine)

Clearly faith is not dreaming up something and hoping, hoping, hoping that it will come true. I could do that. I could imagine a billionaire philanthropist who wants to give away his millions, and he pulls my name out of the hat. He’ll come tomorrow with a check that will make me rich beyond my wildest dreams. Now that is pie-in-the-sky imagination.

Believing in God is nothing like that. To begin with, I don’t tell Him what He’s like. He tells me. I listen, is all. “Faith comes from hearing.”

Another important aspect of faith comes from Hebrews 11—“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (v. 1). Assurance, not guess work; conviction, not irresolution or doubt.

How can a person possibly be sure of what you hope for?

Well, the assurance comes completely from the One in whom you put your trust.

For instance, if I want to know about basketball, I need to listen to someone who knows the sport, someone who has played the sport. I would not ask someone to explain the game whose credentials say he’s seen a game once, played between two elementary teams. “But I know baseball,” he adds. “I was a minor league pitcher for five years. So I can tell you want ever you want to know about basketball.”

Uh, sorry, but basketball and baseball are two different sports. If I want to know basketball, I have to talk to someone who is informed, who knows the game, who can answer my questions. Because I will have questions, undoubtedly. So I need someone to help me who I trust.

Faith is nothing more than taking someone at his word. And for the Christian, that someone is Jesus Christ.

Atheists take scientists at their word all the time. They do not observe space phenomena or record data or run experiences that lead them to believe in a big bang theory of the origin of the universe. Instead, they let someone else study and form opinions and postulate hypotheses, and they simply put their trust in what these individuals conclude.

Here’s the thing that is difficult for me to understand. These scientists, with their list of qualifications and all, admit they are fallible. Atheists admit that science has been wrong and is bound to be wrong again. But regardless, they trust the process, the results (which will be wrong in some unknowable way).

God, on the other hand, is infallible. He isn’t wrong about what He says. And yet His word is suspect and unreliable and can’t be trusted—because it requires faith.

That would be the assurance of things hoped for. The assurance. Why can there be assurance in an unsure world? Only if Someone trustworthy, reliable gives you His word. You know, a word that is rock solid.

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Published in: on November 13, 2017 at 6:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hope And The Here And Now – Reprise


westcoast sunsetWhile I acknowledge that this world is filled with disappointment, I also recognize the beauty of God’s handiwork. Yes, there is sadness, but there are also joys. People get married, and babies come into the world. People get promotions and book deals and raises. People go on vacation and spend an evening with friends.

There are so many joys, I can’t help but be hopeful about today.

There are friends, too, bringing laughter and acceptance and companionship. How about family and loved ones—people who don’t care what our hair looks like in the morning and aren’t afraid to tell us if something is hanging from our nose. They love us in such everyday ways we sometimes overlook them, but when we list what we’re thankful for, they come to mind first.

snow_road-winter-xsYes, the joys and the people are part of God’s handiwork, but of course the natural world can’t be left out. Which of the beautiful things tops the list—the white-capped Rockies, the sunset over the Pacific, the snow-dressed forest, the green and golden fields, the woods clothed in autumn finery, the dew-kissed rose, the yellow-breasted song bird . . . the list is endless.

Joy, people, creation. God’s fingerprints are everywhere, and each one brings hope. If things are this good today, can’t tomorrow be just as good? Or better?

The greatest present hope is God Himself. The amazing truth is that God IS, though all else fails. God is the greatest treasure, so I may be poor in this world’s estimation, but if I have Jesus, I am rich. I may mourn, but joy comes in the morning. I may feel defeated, but Christ is the victor. I may be grieving, but not without hope.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places. (Hab. 3:17-19a)

God, in His great mercy, gives us memorials so that we don’t lose sight of hope. He gives us sun after the rain, spring after winter. He gives us comfort in the midst of sorrow, kindness from unexpected places.

He tells us to remember Him in the broken bread and shared cup at Communion. He established His Church as the “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” He gave us the Lord’s Day and reminded us to continue gathering together then.

He gave us His word that is sharper than any two-edged sword—the perfect weapon against the false teaching our adversary throws at us. He taught us to pray and gives His Holy Spirit to interpret when we don’t know what we ought to say.

This is the same Holy Spirit that lives in us—which is why we can truthfully say we are never alone. He is the One Jesus sent when He left earth, promising that it was to our advantage that He go.

God’s presence in the form of His Spirit, His communication with me through prayer, His word, His fingerprints all over the world—these are things I have now that fill me with hope.

Though our society is far from God, why not revival, I think. God changed my heart. He can change anyone’s heart, even atheists putting up anti-church billboards—Nebuchadnezzar was just such a man, and God brought him to his senses. Even people killing others in some mistaken view that they’re doing God’s work—the Apostle Paul was just such a man, and God opened his blind eyes.

With God, there are no limits.

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.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power. (Isaiah 40:28-29)

To him who lacks hope, I daresay, He gives that, too.

This article originally appeared here December 2014.

Published in: on November 3, 2017 at 4:39 pm  Comments (8)  
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For Me . . . What’s My Focus?



We live in such a “me” era, which started with the “Me Generation” back in the 1970s and has only escalated with the Generation Me of the following decade. So I hesitated to feature the words “For Me” in the title of this post. On one hand the phrase seems quite contemporary, but does it fit with what God’s word has to say?

Actually “For me” is the beginning of one of the Apostle Paul’s most well-known statements recorded in the Bible: “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21 – Most translations say, “For to me . . .” but the difference doesn’t seem to affect the meaning). In other words, the concept of focusing on the individual has a place in Scripture. Essentially Paul was making a declaration about his life—what he valued, what was of utmost importance to him, and the short version that encapsulated the focus and direction of who he was, could be summarized in one word: Christ.

Recently I heard a sermon that turned that question back onto the hearer, or onto those reading Paul’s statement. If I were writing the line, when I came to, “For me, to live is ___,” how would I fill in the blank?

Would a truthful answer be something like, For me, to live is being a writer? Or since I’m such a sports fan and am so excited for the beginning of the new NFL season, would the truthful statement be, For me, to live is football. There are lots of options. For me, to live is my family. For me, to live is fiction. For me, to live is reading.

Obviously there are many good things that can fit into the blank, but none more significant than Paul’s original statement. Nothing is better than Christ. Not good story telling. Not art. Not speculative fiction. Not any of the things we so often make our focus, the things we write about and value.

Paul’s statement, instead of encouraging us to fit Christ in with our passion (I can fit Christ into my passion for football by praying for the players, for example), challenges us to live in such a way that Christ becomes our main focus.

Narrowing our focus in that way can be hard. We love our family. We love our pet. We love our job. We love our community of people who think as we do and have a passion similar to our own. In short we love our speculative world.

I love storytelling. I love competition. I love to discuss and debate. I love pizza. I love fantasy. I love the Dodgers. I love the Denver Broncos. I love my friends and family.

The question is, do any of the things I love become the thing I live for? For me, to live is ___. Where does my love for my favorite things fit into the eternal scheme of things? Would I rather have Christ than football? Than fantasy?

I don’t believe for one minute that imagination is evil or that speculative stories, by nature of their inventiveness, are evil. Otherwise, we’d have to believe that Adam and Eve, who were part of the world that God called “very good” had no imagination, and there’s nothing in Scripture to tie the fall of humankind to acquiring an imagination. So I have to conclude that our imagination is God-given.

On the other hand, we know from any number of passages, that sin changed the color of our life. We don’t simply have a dirty spot that needs to be erased. Instead we are scarlet, and it colors our will and our intentions and our preferences and, yes, our imagination. But ditching our imagination does not deal with the problem. Only Christ’s blood shed on the cross can wash us so that what was scarlet becomes white as snow (Is 1:18).

He didn’t wash only our will. Or only our preferences. He washed even our imagination. But just as our will must be brought under subjection to Him, so our imagination must be brought under subjection to Him.

In fact, if we can say with Paul, For me, to live is Christ, than there’s nothing that we ought not bring under His rule and sway. In other words, for me, I’d rather obey Christ than read fantasy, than watch football, than spend time with friends. Or at least that’s where I should be.

This article is a revised version of my post this week at Speculative Faith.

Published in: on September 21, 2017 at 5:08 pm  Comments (1)  
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Abiding In Christ


My church has a candidate for senior pastor, Darin McWatters, and it turns out he was a guest speaker at our church last July. I even wrote a blog article based on one of the three sermons he preached that month.

In his first message Pastor McWatters spoke from John 15, particularly these verses:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me (vv 1-4).

I’m not going to go into everything he said (I just watched the video last week, so it’s fresh in my mind), but he gave one illustration that I think will stay with me for a long time. He came to the point where Jesus said we are to “abide” in Christ, which he said means essentially to stay. But the original carries the idea of actively staying. It’s not a passive, do-nothing role.

In other words, we aren’t to stay in the “hands off the wheel” sense of the word. But what does actively staying look like?

Pastor McWatters said it can be likened to aerial refueling of fighter planes which both the US Navy and the US Air Force use. I did a little checking and learned that there are two types of aerial refueling processes: the probe-and-drogue system used by the Navy, and the flying-boom system used by the Air Force.

It is the latter that our speaker referenced, and it certainly seems like an apropos illustration of actively staying.

With the flying-boom system, the fuel tanker goes on autopilot at the appropriate speed and altitude, but the plane receiving the fuel remains hand-flown. In other words, it’s the job of the pilot of the plane receiving fuel to match the speed and altitude of the tanker, and to stay in the proper alignment while the boom is attached and the fuel dispensed.

An article describing the process said it’s essentially the same skill needed when pilots fly their planes in formation.

In either case, the job is anything but kicking back and letting come what may. There has to be a great deal of work involved to stay at the proper distance and to maintain proper air speed and control, especially if unexpected turbulence should buffet the aircraft.

In the same way, believers are to abide in Christ. He is the constant. We are the ones tasked to “stand firm” as Paul phrased it. We are to be in proper alignment, which certainly is the work of Jesus at the cross. He spilled His blood for the forgiveness of sins. He made it possible for us to be born again, to have new life, to be adopted as children of God.

But fruit-bearing, which is what Jesus was talking to His disciples about the night before He went to the cross, requires us to abide. To actively stay.

I think about the Jewish Christians the book of Hebrews was written to. They had certain expectations about this Messiah they had put their faith in—one being that He would return soon. When that didn’t happen, some considered turning back, leaving their new faith, and returning to their old way of working to fulfill the Law.

The writer of Hebrews is encouraging them to stay the course, to keep going in the Way. One way they were to accomplish this was to take heed to God’s word:

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. (2:1)

Another way that we believers can “hold fast” is by encouraging each other. The writer of Hebrews says we are to do so day after day so that we won’t be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” I take this kind of encouragement to be more than sideline cheerleading. I think it’s a constant, continual reminder of why Jesus Christ is trustworthy. The fact that we are to counter the “deceitfulness” of sin implies that we are to offer the truth of righteousness: we have it because of Jesus Christ and would have none of it apart from Him.

In terms of the aerial refueling illustration, if we don’t abide, don’t stay aligned with the tanker, we might be able to keep going on our own for a little while, but eventually we’ll run out of fuel. Our brothers and sisters in the faith can help us by reminding us that we need fuel, that the source of fuel is within reach, that it’s worth staying where we’ll get the fuel we need.

Third, we are to “hold fast our confession.” I take this to mean we are to refuse to go back on our word. Our confession of faith is our decision to trust Jesus to forgive us our sins and to put us in right relationship with God.

For years I questioned my confession of faith. Did I really mean it when I repented of my sins? I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t sense the Holy Spirit in my life. Nothing seemed all that different. So did my confession of faith “take”? Just to be sure, I made several more confessions of faith. I was where a lot of those Jews were that the the writer of Hebrews was talking to:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

That brings me to the final point for today: discerning good and evil. We can abide in Christ when we discern which way we need to go when turbulence buffets us. Do we need to correct to the right so we won’t be carried off line? Do we need more speed because we’re headed into the wind? We need discernment. What is evil and what is good.

That could be a blog post all on its own, and maybe it will be someday. At any rate, the concept of abiding in Christ has a lot more to it than “just staying.” For starters it means to pay attention to God’s word, to encourage (and be encouraged by) other believers, to keep to the confession of my faith, and to discern evil and good.

Published in: on March 29, 2017 at 5:56 pm  Comments Off on Abiding In Christ  
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Fooled Or Foolish


In Paul’s Colossians letter, he talks a little about his struggle on behalf of the Church—that believers will gain “a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself.” He goes on to explain why he’s putting such emphasis on Christ: “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” [emphasis here, and in the following verses, is mine.]

A few verses later he adds,

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (Col. 2:8)

As if that’s not enough, he revisits the issue again:

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head (Col. 2:18-19a)

Paul is making a case for Christians to focus on Christ and who He is so they won’t be fooled by the false teaching that had begun to seep into the Church.

It’s such a timely warning for today too. Health-and-wealth Christians or name-it-and-claim-it believers pull helpless, hurting people into their wake, but so do the universalists who promise no hell. Others, with arrogance, teach that Christians don’t sin. Another group wants to re-image Jesus or lose the “angry” God of the Old Testament, and a bunch more want to ignore the entire book of Revelation.

False teaching to the left, false teaching to the right, and so many Christians being fooled.

At the same time, there are Christians holding other Christians up to scorn because their work for Christ isn’t artistic enough or profound enough or nuanced enough or purposeful enough or missional enough. It seems we’ve forgotten what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:

but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, … so that no man may boast before God. (1 Cor. 1:27, 29)

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we should purposefully go out and do a bumbling job of the tasks God gives us so that He has a weak thing with which to work. The fact is, He already has a weak thing with which to work—humans.

Some time ago, I had what was at the time, an epiphany: I am small. I didn’t realize so much that I am a small, unimportant human among the powerful rich, famous, and politically connected. Rather, I realized my smallness in light of God’s bigness, His unfathomable bigness.

Then He makes it clear in His word that His plan is to use His people—all of us small ones. Jesus, the head, wants His body the church to hold fast to Him so that we can grow with a growth which comes from God (Col. 2:19b). With growth comes fruit and the fulfillment of the Christian’s directive to make disciples.

None of it happens because we are clever or eloquent or intelligent or personable or influential. The Church grows with a growth which comes from God.

Jeremiah sums this up nicely:

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. (Jer. 9:23-24)

It seems to me, the foolish, though they may be criticized by fellow Christians for their inadequacies, are the people God can use, and the fooled—those so enamored with the “traditions of men … the elementary principles of the world … inflated without cause by their fleshly mind”—simply aren’t available because they’re distracted or unattached from the head who is Christ. They are not “seeking the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). They haven’t set their “minds on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:2).

The bottom line is that the Apostle Paul was right. Small, weak, and foolish though we be, our focus should be on Christ.

On the other hand, if we bypass Christ for the imaginings of men, we’ve been deluded, deceived, fooled.

This post is a revised, updated version of one that first appeared here in October 2011.

Thoughts About The New Year


happy_new_year_2138227696

I have to admit, when I was a teacher, I rarely saw January 1 as a new beginning. For me, the start of the school year marked the start of another year. Consequently, January 1 was more of an anti-climactic holiday, a Christmas after-thought, noted mostly for the last breather before heading into the long stretch before Easter.

Now that I’m no longer tied to the school calendar, I find myself freed up to think about New Year’s Day in a new way. Frankly, I’m more mystified than anything. In past years I’ve watched on the late news the celebrations summary which recapped the festivities around the world, and I couldn’t help but think, What’s the big deal?

Seriously.

What exactly changes between December 31 and January 1? And why would we think this is something to celebrate?

I know some have said 2017 has to be better than 2016, so there seems to be a note of hope. Of course others are dreading what might come when President-elect Trump takes office and they may despair.

Of course we’d all like to see our personal circumstances move in a positive direction. If we’re healthy, we’d like to stay that way. If we’ve had ailments or illness, we’d like to see better physical well-being. Same with finances or relationships. Wherever we are along the “hope continuum,” we need a Biblical perspective.

Scripture points to One Hope, and only one—the long awaited arrival of the once Suffering Servant, now as the Eternal King. That’s something to hope for, look forward to, be eagerly expectant about.

The New Year? Not so much. In this world I can confidently predict that 2017 will hold political corruption, corporate greed, personal crime. Individuals will steal from friends and from strangers. Gangs will war against each other. Terrorists will plot against people who have no evil intent against them. Addicts will seek another fix and another. Drunk drivers will cause accidents. Husbands will break their vows. Wives will nag their husbands. Children will disobey their parents. And God will be dishonored in any number of ways by any number of people.

So why would we put hope in the passing of one day and the coming of another which we’ve tagged with a different numeral since nothing else has changed? I can only surmise that this idea of hope in a new year, a new President, a new collection of governmental advisers and division heads comes from those who don’t have a sense of what constitutes true Hope. The eternal kind that provides a permanent answer to the human condition.

To be honest, I’m sad for those who look ahead with excitement for the wrong reasons. They have disillusionment waiting for them, and eventually, despair. Would that those of us who know what Hope really is, use 2017 to widely disseminate the truth.

Selfishly I want to say, Maranatha—come quickly, Lord Jesus. Might He return this year? Yet, doesn’t He delay for the very purpose of bringing all those into His family who belong there? I can’t want His return to come a moment earlier than what He has planned. I can want revival in His Church, though, with accompanying testimony to God’s greatness and goodness.

May 2017 be a year in which many come to Christ and in which God’s name is glorified throughout the world, in times of suffering as well as in times of blessing.

This post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in January 2009.

Published in: on December 30, 2016 at 7:05 pm  Comments Off on Thoughts About The New Year  
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Render To God The Things That Are God’s


In a well-known passage of Scripture, Jesus responded to a group of Pharisees trying to trap Him somewhere between the Jewish and Roman laws with this principle: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:21b)

Often we focus on the first part of the principle. Yes, we are to pay taxes, to serve in the military or in an alternate service, to vote. But it seems to me the greater question is, are we rendering to God the things that are God’s?

But what exactly is not His?

Elsewhere Jesus tells His disciples to take up their crosses and follow Him. That idea makes perfect sense if we understand that we are, in fact, to give God our all. Even in our giving to Caesar, we are doing so as an act of service to God.

Some years ago, our pastor said the way of Jesus is the way of surrender, giving up my agenda for His. Yet too often in our culture we come to Jesus with the idea that He can add value to our lives. In fact, we want to negotiate with Him, create our own personal covenant with Him: I’ll do all the Christianly things, and God will then bless me as He promised His chosen people of old—promised land, abundant food, protection against enemies, success at every turn.

It’s appealing, but we neglect a fundamental point: Jesus Christ is not our risk manager. He is our Master. We are to sanctify Him—set Him apart—as Lord in our hearts (1 Peter 3:15a).

As Master, He tells us what He wants of us, not the other way around. And clearly, He wants our all. We are to lose our life so that we may find it, give our life so we might save it. We are to die to self that we might live.

The way of Jesus is surrender. And yet, look at all the finding, saving, living.

So the deal-makers are right that the Christian life promises reward. They just miss completely what that reward is—Jesus Himself. He is the one we enjoy now and will enjoy even more in the future, at His banquet.

This post originally appeared here in October 2012.

Published in: on July 5, 2016 at 5:30 pm  Comments (1)  
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