Who Is the Christian to Love?


A few years ago I had the embarrassing experience of getting kicked off someone’s blog. The irony was, I was trying to make the case that a Christian is to behave the way Christ called us to behave.

Sadly this was not my first experience of getting kicked off a blog for trying to convince the proprietor it was wrong to malign others. My error was to react by speaking the truth without love.

And yet the main thrust of my argument became this: God’s guiding principle for our relationships is love.

Yep, I who wanted to be faithful to Scripture did not follow Scripture in defending it.

I hope I don’t have to get kicked off any more blogs or withstand rancorous name-calling mockery before this lesson stays home.

Who is the Christian to love?

I’ll answer with another question. Who did Christ love?

  • “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son …” (Jn 3:16a)
  • “Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end (Jn 13:1).
  • “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35).
  • “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (Jn 14:21).
  • “but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me” (Jn14:31a).
  • “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love” (Jn 15:9)
  • “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:12-13).

If I did the same kind of study in the other gospels, I’d find Jesus’s instructions about loving our neighbor and loving our enemies, even those who persecute and mistreat us. I’d find stories that illustrate loving the lost, the wayward, the prodigal. I’d find Jesus’s own example of forgiving those who crucified Him.

Some people point to Jesus’s harsh words to the Pharisees as evidence that we are therefore allowed to speak harshly to false teachers. However, Jesus was concerned about the Pharisees’ spiritual state. He never spoke harshly to them because he didn’t like the color of their robes. He didn’t speak harshly to them because they had leprosy or were short or gave taxes to Caesar.

He reserved His wrathful actions and statements for their open disobedience to the Law (buying and selling in the temple), their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Jesus cast out demons by Satan’s power), and their hypocrisy (coming to be baptized without “bear[ing] fruit in keeping with repentance”).

I’m sure that’s not an exhaustive list, but here’s the point. Jesus was bold in calling sin, sin when it came to the people who thought they were without sin. But He lived a life of servanthood.

He gave the time of day to people who were pushed aside and disrespected by most of society. He also sought out the rich and powerful whose hearts were hungry for the Bread of Life. He wasn’t a respecter of persons.

He didn’t hesitate to tell Peter off when he was blowing it (Get behind me, Satan), but He didn’t stop loving him, didn’t stop serving him.

Who, then, is the Christian to love? I’m pretty convinced I’m to love whoever God brings across my path—in my physical world and in cyberspace. In real life the consensus seems to be that it is harder to love those we know best. In cyberspace it might be harder to love those faceless strangers with whom we disagree.

This post is an updated version of one that appeared here in August, 2010.

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Published in: on August 7, 2018 at 5:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Jesus, Progressive Christians, And The Bible—A Reprise


Some years ago a number of people began identifying as “Progressive Christians,” meaning, essentially that they were spiritual but didn’t believe the Bible to be infallible or inspired or authoritative. In fact, it’s hard to distinguish in what ways their view is different from atheists’. One such pastor who self-identifies as a Progressive Christian, Roger Wolsey, begins a definition of Progressives by saying,

What has come to pass as “conventional/popular Christianity” — isn’t what Christianity is actually about. Friends, Jesus isn’t God.* Jesus didn’t “die for our sins.” Jesus wasn’t killed “instead of us.” None of us living today killed Jesus. God didn’t “need” Jesus to be killed. God isn’t wrathful or vindictive. There isn’t a hell (other than ones that we create here on this earth). Going to heaven after we die isn’t what the faith is about. There isn’t going to be a “rapture.” And it isn’t particularly necessary for Jesus’ resurrection to have been a physical one for it to be a real and meaningful one. (“A Definition of Progressive Christianity“)

[By the way, the asterisk refers to this note:] *UPDATE: I do believe that Jesus was divine, and that he’s the 2nd person of the trinity. Christians rightfully honor and celebrate Jesus as a unique and fully incarnate manifestation of God. I don’t believe that he’s literally God (at least not what most people tend to mean by that word). We live and move and have our being in God, so did Jesus. The trinity as [sic?] a beloved Christian poem of who God is to us. But poems don’t literally define things. Like all art, and theology, they point to what is beyond them.

In his article “16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible,” he explains how he looks at Scripture. As another Progressive Christian recently reminded me, these PCs are not united in their specific ideas about God and Jesus and the Bible. Nevertheless, some, including Wolsey, “employ a ‘canon within a canon’ lens” when studying the Bible, meaning that some books are more important and all others should be understood based on those.”

For Mr. Wolsey, his “canon within a canon” consists of the gospels, though he clarifies that not all are equal. John, apparently, is the least of the gospels, with Mark, Luke, and Matthew coming in first, second, and third respectively.

What I don’t understand is how Mr. Wolsey can use the gospels and yet say things like this:

The hermeneutic of love seeks to see the forest for the trees and that allows the spirit of the law to trump the letter of the law (which Jesus modeled). (Emphasis in the original.)

In contrast to this notion, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matt. 5:17-18)

I understand that Matthew is only third in importance to Mr. Wolsey, but Luke also records a similar statement.

Perhaps Mr. Wolsey is thinking of Jesus’s refusal to follow the traditions the Pharisees added to the law, such as certain ceremonial washings for lay people and their definitions of work.

I’d think Mr. Wolsey would have realized Jesus’s dismissal of Pharisaical tradition was not Jesus choosing the spirit of the law over the letter since he claims Progressives believe in “interpreting Scripture with Scripture.” However, he apparently missed the fact that the Law recorded in Leviticus and Numbers spells out the specifics the Jews were to follow, and what the Pharisees tried to make Jesus do simply isn’t found in the Law.

More than that, Jesus Himself made clear His view of the Law when He rebuked the Pharisees: “But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Luke 11:42, emphasis added). In other words, Jesus was not blowing off the Law in order to serve the spirit of the Law. Rather, He was clearly saying religious activity does not replace what that religious activity was supposed to express.

Mr. Wolsey also said

We follow Jesus’ example in being willing to reject certain passages & theologies in the Bible and to affirm other ones. (He did it a lot) [emphasis in the original].

Because no specific passages or theologies are listed, the point is clearly unsubstantiated. But I suggest it suffers from something greater—it clashes with what is known from Scripture about Jesus and the Old Testament and the theology it contains.

Jesus made clear what He thought about Old Testament Scripture on more than one occasion. For instance He said after His resurrection,

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44)

Earlier, in Matthew He said

And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40)

In fact, the New American Standard Version, from which these quotes come, puts Old Testament passages quoted in the New Testament in all caps. It’s easy to tell, therefore, that with some frequency, Jesus quoted from the Old Testament, as did the gospel writers. (In fact, the gospel of Mark, the one Mr. Wolsey thinks is most important, begins with a quote from Isaiah.)

Here’s one passage from Mark in which Jesus quoted from the Old Testament:

And He was saying to them, “To you [His disciples] has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN.” (Mark 4:11-12)

I’d think this indication that God gave something to His followers that He didn’t give everyone else would be one of the theologies that the Progressives would think Jesus rejected. But here it is, quoted from the Old Testament right there in Mark.

I could go on—Jesus referenced “certain passages” such as Genesis 2-3, the account of Adam and Eve in the garden; or Jonah 1-4, the account of Jonah running from God only to be swallowed by a big fish which God appointed; or in Exodus, containing the accounts in which Moses encountered God in the burning bush, in which God gave His people manna from heaven, in which He cured them when they looked on the bronze serpent lifted up.

All these are passages Jesus clearly did NOT reject.

There’s one other passage Jesus quoted from the Old Testament which I think pertains to Progressives—this one also from the book of Mark:

And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS,
BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.
‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME,
TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’
Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men
.” (7:6-8, emphasis added)

In short, there’s not much in Jesus’s teaching that squares with what Mr. Wolsey said in his article, and yet, since it was published six months ago, nearly 57,000 people shared the post on Facebook.

I suppose the purpose of sharing it might be to help Christians understand what Progressives believe. It is instructive, but what it says about the Bible and Jesus isn’t remotely true. I hate to think anyone would read that article and think Progressives have come up with the right way of approaching the Bible.

From this short look at what Mr. Wolsey said, it’s clear that he, at least, must not even know what the gospel says which he believes to be the most important. And that, I think, is the critical issue. It’s easy to say the Bible is important and “we” approach studying it in these sixteen ways, but how many of the “we” are actually reading it?

In fact, how many of the “we Evangelicals” are reading it?

This article is a revised version of one that appeared here in July, 2014.

The Holiness Of Jesus


I’ve written about God’s holiness before. I’ve written about the fact that we humans miss the mark when we try to attain His standard of purity. I’ve discussed the need for Christians to take seriously the Scriptural admonition to “be holy for I [the LORD] am holy.” But I think I may have overlooked the holiness of Jesus.

I was stunned a week or so ago (stunned, I tell you!) when in the atheist/theist Facebook group I belong to, a member identifying himself as a Progressive Christian said, more than once, he believe Jesus sinned.

At the time I didn’t ask him why he thought that. The current discussion was centered on something else and he made the comment more in passing than in anything else, as a response to something one of the atheists had said.

I’ve thought about it a lot since. I don’t know why this person would come up with such a notion. Clearly he is either unaware of what Scripture says about Jesus and sin or he doesn’t believe what it says. I’m not sure which. Either way, the fact is, the Bible is very clear about the holiness of Jesus. Take 1 Peter 2 as an example:

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; (vv 21-23; emphases here and in the following verses are mine)

Of course there is also the testimony of people who observed Jesus, such as the thief who turned to Him for salvation:

And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. (Luke 23:41)

The centurion—a Roman, who would typically have hated the Jews—came to the same conclusion:

Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent” [the word literally means righteous]. (Luke 23:47)

The Apostle Paul stated Jesus’s relation to sin in the clearest language:

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor. 5:21)

The writer to the Hebrews had the same understanding:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15)

In fact, the writer to the Hebrews built one of his main points on the reality that Jesus was without sin:

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; (Hebrews 7:26)

Because Jesus did not have His own sin to deal with, He could serve as our perfect High Priest.

As if these witnesses are not enough, the Apostle John gives voice to the same truth in his first letter:

You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. (1 John 3:5)

All this to say, anyone claiming that Jesus sinned must not know what the Bible says about Him, or has decided not to believe the Bible.

The question I have for someone who makes this claim is, Why would you call yourself a Christian? I don’t understand the point of adopting the name of a religion while rejecting its main tenets.

Actual Christians believe the Bible. We hold to it as the source of authoritative truth. We also believe that Jesus died to atone for the sins of the world. But as the writer to the Hebrews said, He couldn’t do that if He had his own sins to die for. The only Person qualified to stand in for someone else is a Person who would not have to forfeit His life for His own sins. Everyone else, living under the clear truth that the wages of sin is death, would have to die for his own sins.

So if Jesus sinned, there would be no redemption in Him. No one would be saved. So why would those people claiming this false idea call themselves Christians? They can’t believe in the substitutionary atonement. That means they are still living in their sins, they haven’t accepted the free gift of grace provided through Jesus.

In short, Jesus was holy or there is no salvation and no Christianity. Such a nonsensical idea that we could have a sinful savior. Such a fallacious idea that someone could claim to be a Christian and not believe in Jesus’s saving power.

And atheists wonder why I say that not everyone who names the name of Christ actually knows Him and believes in Him.

Jesus And The Government


I just signed a petition urging the California State Senate not to pass a bill that the Assembly sent to them, but I’m not sure I should have.

We live in a representative democracy, so in that regard, I have some responsibility to shape the government as much as I can. But that’s not what Jesus did.

Of course He lived under the Roman Empire, in an occupied land with an appointed governor in charge. Yet I wonder.

After all, His counsel to the people of His day was to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” When He was interrogated first by Pilate, then by Herod, and again by Pilate, He did not revile in return, He didn’t utter any threats. What we have recorded in Scripture is either His silence or simple answers to the questions posed to Him.

What’s more, Peter instructs churches in the first century to

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. (1 Peter 2:13-14)

One more important piece of information: my hope is not in the government. I have no illusion that the government is going to fix things. The things that need fixing are a result of humankind’s sinful nature. We are increasingly becoming a nation of people who only want to do what is right in our own eyes. As a group we see humans as the arbiters of what is right and what is wrong. So if it looks good to us, if we think it might be tasty, if we think it can get us more power, more prestige, then we’re all for it. We are not thinking in any tangible way differently than Eve thought.

So government is not going to change our nature. In fact, our democratic republic was purposely designed to counter our sinful, selfish tendencies, and here we are, a scant 200 years later, considering a law that would undermine the very protection of rights our founding fathers thought necessary to include in our governing document.

Religious freedom? No, not if it’s going to clash with someone’s sexual desires. Or sexual proclivities. Or sexual perversions that they don’t even want any more. In reality, this law wants religion to shut up about sexual sin. The sin of choice in this case is homosexuality, but that’s because we have already OKed heterosexual sins. Even we in the church say very little about couples living together before marriage, or adulterous affairs, or multiple divorces and remarriage, or pornography, or pornographic entertainment disguised as TV shows or movies or books like Fifty Shades Of Grey.

Really? I’m bringing up that old book now? Well, yes, because that bit of our culture has had an influence on our attitudes—what we accept and what we think is OK.

Rather than looking to culture, though, we should be looking at Scripture and seeing what God has to say. He, after all, has our best at heart. He doesn’t give us laws to be a kill-joy. He isn’t thinking about the human experience and concluding that if He’d forbid X or Y or Z, then we’d be more miserable, so that’s what He’ll do.

Nothing could be further from the truth. God wants to give us Eden, He’s preparing a mansion. His free gift brings wholeness and healing. He sets things right. He doesn’t make life a little better. Instead, he changes our dead into life, our broken into made new, our slavery to corruption into freedom in Christ.

What does any of this have to do with me signing a petition?

If I am to emulate Christ, if I am to trust Him instead of government, am I spitting in the wind to do anything else?

Sometimes I think so. But I always come back to King Josiah who discovered God’s law and determined to bring his nation back to righteousness. In truth, a generation later, Judah succumbed to Babylon and the people were hauled into captivity. But Josiah had an impact during his lifetime. How many people found God and repented of their sins because one ruler determined to do what was right?

Shouldn’t we Christians be doing what is right, seeking to influence our government for right, all the while knowing that our trust is not in the government to fix things?

God And Culture


Culture is, according to the Oxford-American Dictionary, “manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” As a fantasy writer, I’ve learned that building a world requires putting in place the bits of culture that your pretend people have constructed including language, government, schooling, religion, entertainment, art or literature, and so on.

In our western culture, there seem to be parts of what we do as a people that are held in higher esteem than other parts. I suppose that’s true in all cultures, but I’d say these are the aspects of culture we value most: celebrity, primarily gained through sports or entertainment; wealth; political power, external beauty. A distant fifth might be intellectual standing, but that certainly doesn’t overrule any of the others.

Few people who serve others in sacrificial roles get much attention at all, and little or no emulation. In times of need they might receive some measure of appreciation from those who have been helped the most, but generally our society doesn’t lift up “serving others” as a role to be admired.

All this look at culture because I think the way we determine our values is upside down. As it turns out, God says as much in Scripture:

[Jesus concluded,] “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. (Luke 16:13-15, emphasis mine)

Think about that for a second: what men value, God finds repulsive. Essentially, God hates what we spend most of our waking hours trying to obtain. Unless we are countercultural.

I mean, it’s possible to be a self-sacrificing servant who no one notices, no one rewards or praises. It’s possible because we wouldn’t ever hear about those people.

It’s also possible that a man like Billy Graham who refused to take any credit for what God did through him, remains humble and committed to serving God, not fame or power or wealth. But there don’t seem to be many men like him. Too often the servants become the celebrities and then the wealthy, and somewhere along the line they are no longer serving but being served.

As I’ve been reading through the gospels, I’ve noted that more than once, Jesus told some person who He’d just healed, not to tell anyone what He’d done. Why, I wondered. The best answer seems to me to be the fact that the majority of the people of His day expected the Messiah to be a political figure, a military leader, even. Jesus didn’t want people to prematurely crown Him King of the Jews until He had a chance to explain, at least to His disciples, what that actually meant.

In addition, with His growing celebrity status as a healer, Jesus had fewer opportunities to preach, less time one-on-one. He wouldn’t be able to confront people about their inner life, about their sin, their need to repent.

So, more often than not, Jesus told the newly sighted blind, the healed lame person who could now leap and dance, the cleansed leper who could move back home, to tell no one about Him.

Jesus clearly was not seeking the stuff our culture values. Fame? He tried to dodge the limelight. Political power? He wanted the opposite. Status? He washed His disciples’ feet! Wealth? What He gave had no cost attached. More than once the Apostle Paul refers to the gift or even the “free gift” of grace or of righteousness, found in Jesus (see Romans 5).

I wonder. Are we Christians countercultural, so that the people we most admire are the ones rich in grace? the ones who live righteous lives? Is that what we want in our pastors? Our best friends? Our spouses and our children?

It’s kind of hard to do. We have to understand that God values suffering, that He tells us to rejoice when we suffer for His name’s sake, that we are blessed and the glory of God rests on us. So suffering for Christ—yes. Comfort? That didn’t seem to find its way into Jesus’s lifestyle very much. He had no place to lay His head. Of course He did have a place—just not one He could call His own.

I think it’s pretty clear those first Christians were countercultural. A look at the book of Acts makes that pretty clear. But where are we in 21st century western culture> Still taking up our crosses and following Jesus? Or are we looking for our 15 minutes of fame? Our piece of the American dream?

I don’t honestly know what a countercultural lifestyle will look for anyone else. All our circumstances are different. I have to be asking these questions for myself, not for anyone else. And the Holy Spirit is prompting me through the Word of God, to ask.

Deductive Reasoning


One thing that surfaces in almost all discussions I have with atheists is that they contrast faith and reason. Christians don’t, and logically the two should not be pitted against one another. Rather, the opposite of faith is unbelief.

Jesus identified “witnesses” to His identity as Messiah. In John 5 He named the following as witnesses: John the Baptist, the works that He did (such as feeding 5000 with a few loaves and fish, healing lepers, casting out demons, stopping a storm with a word, raising a dead man, and others), the Scriptures (specifically Moses’s writing), and the Father Himself.

The author of the book of Acts starts out by saying this about the resurrection of Christ: “To these [the apostles] He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.”

I could go on, but the point should be clear: God never intended people to check their brains at the door and enter into some kind of “against all reason” state in order to believe. Quite the opposite. In fact, the first five books of the Bible are history. They include genealogies and place names and natural events and historical figures that would anchor the circumstances in time for the people who lived then.

And for those of us who were not alive at the time? How are we to know that these things really happened? There are a number of tools we can use: science (much to the dismay of those who embrace scientism, or a belief in only natural phenomenon—I’ll go into this in more depth in another post), archaeology, prophecy, the unity of Scripture.

The point is this: all history has been pieced together, and the events of the Bible are no different. Some things have not been verified by some extra-Biblical source, but some things, like the resurrection, which could have easily been demonstrated to be false, has no record of such—only accounts of witnesses.

The real problem is that some approach the Bible with a bias against the supernatural. That’s scientism, not science. Science would come to the issue with an open mind, not with an assumption that the supernatural does not exist.

And yet, time and again, “experts” who oppose the Bible admit that they simply do not entertain the possibility that what they cannot see does in fact exist.

The double irony is that those same people claim that the universe came from . . . they know not where or how. But definitely not from God.

This is where deductive reasoning comes in. When someone is piecing together evidence in order to determine the truth of a matter, all the facts are considered and the most reasonable explanation is the one left standing. In other words, by eliminating the things that are not possible or reasonable, the actually can be determined.

One article that addressed the issue of the reasonableness of the universe coming into being on its own includes this statement:

A system requiring such a high degree of order could never happen by chance. This follows from the fact that probability theory only applies to systems with a finite possibility of occurring at least once in the universe, and it would be inconceivable that 10(158) different trials could ever be made in our entire space-time universe.

Astro-physicists estimate that there are no more than 10(80) infinitesimal “particles” in the universe, and that the age of the universe in its present form is no greater than 1018 seconds (30 billion years). Assuming each particle can participate in a thousand billion (10 [12]) different events every second (this is impossibly high, of course), then the greatest number of events that could ever happen (or trials that could ever be made) in all the universe throughout its entire history is only 10(80) x 10(18) x 10(12), or 10(110) (most authorities would make this figure much lower, about 10[50]). Any event with a probability of less than one chance in 10(110), therefore, cannot occur. Its probability becomes zero, at least in our known universe. (“Probability and Order versus Evolution”)

The thing about numbers, they can be massaged and manipulated to say pretty much anything. But deductive reasoning is not so easily fooled. Does life come from non-life? I have never heard of that occurring. Do matter and energy come from nothing? That postulation doesn’t seem reasonable. Does intelligence come from non-thinking? That hardly seems possible—how could something lacking intelligence even conceive of intelligence, much less come up with a way to develop it. To think that the intelligence was a mere quirk, a mutation, is perhaps as great an improbability.

In short, without going into much depth, deductive reasoning says there has to be something or Someone who brought about the universe. It simply is not credible to believe it manufactured itself.

Published in: on May 15, 2018 at 6:42 pm  Comments (18)  
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The US National Day Of Prayer—A Reprise


This coming Thursday is the National Day Of Prayer here in the US. In a country with the freedom to worship when and how and who we please, it seems a little odd that we have a designated National Day of Prayer. I’m glad we do because it makes me think more about the subject, but part of my thinking is that, for most of us, the National Day of Prayer means very little.

For one thing, prayer, as an activity in and of itself, has no efficacious value. Isaiah illustrated that most clearly in the passage about idols that I included in Friday’s article. Here it is again, with a couple additional verses.

Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend. No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, “I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!” (Isaiah 44:14-19; emphasis mine)

Praying to a block of wood, Isaiah is saying, has no value. Clearly, then, value is not in the act of praying.

Consequently, in a country with people of many faiths, telling us all to pray on a certain day, accomplishes nothing. The only prayer that matters is the one offered to a Person interested enough to listen and powerful enough to do something about what He hears.

But should we limit ourselves to pray to such a Person on one day out of the year? Surely, if we knew President Trump would take our phone call every morning and would do all within his power to fulfill our requests, we wouldn’t limit ourselves to a phone call one day a year. Why then would we make prayer a one-day event?

Clearly it should be a regular part of our relationship with God—the One who commands us to pray, who promises to hear us, and who delights in giving us what we ask. Anything, that is, which we ask in His name, according to His will.

No, that isn’t a formula for getting what we want. The specifics God laid down about prayer are relational doors. We are to ask “in Jesus’s name” not as a cool way to bring a prayer to an end or as a magic mantra to insure that God has to come through and deliver on His promises. We ask in Jesus’s name in the same way that we might go to an exclusive “by invitation only” dinner. We reach the door and give our name. Oh, but we’re not on the list. Rather, the guest of honor invited us to be in his party, so we give his name. Because of his name we are ushered into the banquet hall and seated at the head table. In the same way, we ask God for things, not because of who we are but because of who Jesus is.

Consequently, we can’t ask Him for things that would contradict who Jesus is. Well, we can ask, but God isn’t going to hear us if we ask for selfish things in His Son’s name. Jesus is not in the business of rubber stamping all the selfish requests people make of the Father.

Which brings us to praying according to God’s will. Jesus Himself before He went to the cross asked for something He didn’t get–to bypass the sacrifice set before Him. But God actually did answer Jesus’s prayer because He stipulated that He wanted God’s will more than He wanted what He wanted. It was Jesus’s way of prioritizing. He wanted A and if God wanted A for Him, then Yay! But if He wanted A and God wanted B, then Yay! Jesus would change His mind and want B also. Because God’s will mattered more to Jesus than His own will did.

In praying according to God’s will, essentially we are stepping back and agreeing that God knows more than we do, is good, loves us, and won’t make any mistakes. It’s as if we’re looking at our lives and our circumstances through a straw, but God sees the entire picture. From our straw perspective we ask God for what looks like the thing we need or want. God answers from his entire-picture perspective, however, which means we don’t always get what we thought we wanted.

Joni Eareckson Tada is a good example of this principle. When she broke her neck as a seventeen year old, she prayed to be healed. She was an active, athletic teenager who couldn’t imagine how God could possibly want her to spend her life in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. Eventually, however, she bowed before His will, and today, fifty years later, she gives testimony of her willingness to do whatever He asks of her, no matter how hard it seems. That has included living with chronic pain and the onset of cancer.

So Joni is an example of answered prayer? She is, because she testifies of God’s love and goodness and mercy for her as she has gone through suffering. He has given her according to His will, and as a result, Joni has reached thousands upon thousands of hurting people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Her impact for eternity is far beyond anything she could have imagined as a teen.

So, a day of prayer? Sure, it’s good to be public about our thoughts on prayer. But it’s much better to make prayer a key ingredient in our relationship with God. We wouldn’t think of limiting conversation with our spouse to one day a year. So, too, a strong relationship with God is built by talking to Him each and every day, not just once in a public forum because it’s the US National Day of Prayer.

This article is an edited version of one that first appeared here in May 2013, then resurfaced in May 2015.

Autonomy VS Freedom


I’m reading a thought-provoking book called Saving Truth by Abdu Murray, a member of the RZIM apologetics team. He introduces his topic by discussing post-truth and the effects on society of this mindset.

The greatest effect, Mr. Murray says, is that people now believe in autonomy, not freedom. Thankfully, he took time to explain what he means. Autonomy comes from two Greek roots, one meaning self and the other meaning rule. Thus, autonomy means self-rule, or without external control.

The problem with autonomy, of course, is that my autonomy and your autonomy may collide. And then, as Mr. Murray points out, might makes right. The stronger of the two dictates to the weaker. In other words, autonomy is actually the gateway to tyranny, with anarchy a stop along the way.

Mr. Murray likened autonomy to what Israel experienced in the era of the Judges. Scripture records this statement: “In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6).

The result was chaos and all kinds of immoral action. People abused others and reacted in violent ways. And no one was willing to take responsibility until civil war broke out.

Freedom is very different. It’s akin to liberty or the ability to stand on your own, and “implies the power to choose among alternatives rather than merely being unrestrained” (Oxford-American Dictionary). In truth, true freedom occurs when a person is guided by moral law.

I think of the example I heard years ago when I was teaching. Some experiment was done in which children were given an open field in which to play during their recess breaks. There were no walls, no fences, but the children concentrated their play near the building. Some time later, the children were provided with a fenced area in which to play, and this time they scattered to the distant parts of the designated field.

In reality the “restriction” gave the children a sense of safety that allowed them to take off their self-restraint and enjoy the area where they’d been allowed to go. Without the boundaries, however, they created self-imposed restrictions that hampered their movement.

Of course, the experiment could have taken a different direction. The children without the boundaries could have left the school grounds. They could have run into the street. They might have vandalized homes in the vicinity. They could have harassed neighbors. They might have stayed away instead of returning to school. They could have been abducted.

The point is, their autonomy didn’t have to result in self-restraint. It could just as easily have resulted in their impinging on someone else’s rights and misusing their property, even as they put themselves at risk to be harmed, accidentally or on purpose.

Freedom is something we can all enjoy. Autonomy leads only to chaos and ultimately tyranny.

Again looking to the era of the judges in Israel’s history, when society descended into chaos, the people cried for a king. They wanted someone to impose on them the rules of law that would bring order. Of course, the result was that the entire nation was then under the rule of one man who subjected them to the laws he decided to establish or follow.

As a result the southern nation was a bit of a yo-yo. When they had a king that followed God, they returned to the sacrifices and temple worship established at their beginning. When they had a king that forsook God and worshiped idols, then they built high places and indulged in child sacrifice and temple prostitution. At one point, the Mosaic Law was not just forgotten, the scrolls that contained it were buried in the temple so that the people didn’t even know what God’s standard was.

Post-truth. They lived at the whim of whoever was on the throne.

The northern kingdom fared worse. They actually went from one coup to another as particular military men vied for control of the nation. At one point in history, one man assassinated the sitting king, but the army followed a different leader. So the one who had connived to take the throne was himself ousted.

Chaos. Tyranny. By ignoring God’s law, by choosing autocracy, they actually forfeited their freedom.

Jesus says, The Truth will set you free. Of course, He also says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” So Jesus is the truth. The truth sets you free. Consequently, Jesus sets you free.

Post Truth And The Confusion It Creates


Recently I heard there has been an increase in the number of people who believe in a flat earth. I didn’t think it was true until I encountered some in a writer group who were arguing for the position. Really? I was a little floored. I mean we have pictures of the round earth, and many more facts, too numerous to mention here without getting sidetracked.

I didn’t realize until just today that this kind of “belief in the face of opposing evidence” is actually on the rise. Another example: apparently there are some people who believe that the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook never happened. I don’t know what they do with the shootings since then. But apparently, the thinking goes, the government put out this fake story with fake pictures so that they can implement gun control and undermine the Second Amendment.

There’s more. Some have held to the idea that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job, or alternatively that the government knew about them and let them happen. As one article on these conspiracies says, “This theory was, of course, widely debunked but continues to live on” (“America’s 10 Most Popular Conspiracy Theories“).

Another ridiculous claim, but one held by a surprising number of people, is that the moon landing was faked. Worst of all, in my opinion, is that the Holocaust never happened.

The point here is that people continue to believe these things regardless of the evidence. It’s the old saying I first read back in 1967: My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with facts. Back then this was displayed on a card among other humorous quips. Today it more nearly reflects the thinking of a large portion of society

So in the last twelve months I’ve had discussions with people who claim Jesus never lived. This in the face of the evidence. From The Guardian: “The historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread. Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings” (“What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died?“).

Here’s the definitive statement that illustrates the grip post-truth has on western culture:

About 10 years ago, The Jesus Project was set up in the US; one of its main questions for discussion was that of whether or not Jesus existed. Some authors have even argued that Jesus of Nazareth was doubly non-existent, contending that both Jesus and Nazareth are Christian inventions. It is worth noting, though, that the two mainstream historians who have written most against these hypersceptical arguments are atheists: Maurice Casey (formerly of Nottingham University) and Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina). They have issued stinging criticisms of the “Jesus-myth” approach, branding it pseudo-scholarship. Nevertheless, a recent survey discovered that 40% of adults in England did not believe that Jesus was a real historical figure. (Ibid.; emphasis mine)

Postmodern thinking introduced the idea that truth is relative: you have your truth and I have mine. But post-truth basically says that truth is irrelevant. What counts is your perception, how you feel, want you want to believe.

The problem here is that truth does matter. Take the illustration I recently heard about a motorist who had discovered a “short cut.” Parallel to the road he was taking ran an unfinished highway. He crossed the narrow ditch between the two and made great time on the smooth road. But at one point he came upon big flashing lights that announced the road would end at the unfinished bridge ahead. Then followed a series of four signs commemorating motorists who had died THAT WEEK because they didn’t heed the warning.

They simply did not believe the experts because they didn’t want to believe. Maybe they thought the construction company was purposefully keeping the public away for greedy gain. Maybe they simply weren’t paying attention, though it’s hard to imagine that they didn’t see those huge, blinking signs. Whatever the reason, they didn’t believe the truth and it cost them their lives.

And here is Jesus, saying in His word, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” He’s the Truth. A living embodiment of what is True. Consequently, His witness about His Father is True. His statements about our spiritual condition are True.

But I have to wonder if our post-truth culture even cares. They would just as soon continue on the smooth, broad road that leads to destruction. Perhaps they love their sin too much to pay attention to Truth. But the chaos, the confusion that results from ignoring the Truth, is certain.

Believing the Bible Instead of Using It — A Reprise


What do I mean by “using the Bible”? I definitely believe God gave us His written word to be used, not as decoration for the coffee table or a place to record the family genealogy. But, I’m thinking here of using the Bible much the way I think of the phrase using people.

By saying I don’t think anyone should use people, I am not saying to avoid contact with people. It really goes to the issue of motive. If I use people, I am thinking of what they can do for me.

In the same way, if I approach the Bible to use it, I’m thinking of what it can do for me in the here and now. That’s the problem I have.

I believe the Bible is God’s special revelation in which He discloses Himself—His words, His work, His plan, His Person. It is not to be used like a magic wand, or like a vending machine: do this, get that.

Yes, the Bible has many, many promises, but when taken as part of a whole, it is clear that the promises point to spiritual and eternal benefits. Somehow so much of what matters most has been swallowed up in what is here and now—to our detriment.

Seemingly, we are more eager to have the Bible tell us if we should join the gym or wear our hair long or listen to a certain kind of music than we are to have it tell us of God’s majesty or His heart for the lost or His preparation for my eternal home.

Of course that’s a generalization. But it seems to me, the Bible—and prayer, for that matter—is too often looked at as a means to get what I want in the here and now.

It’s much like the treatment Jesus received from the people in the first century—a host of His contemporaries expected Him to set up a political kingdom, and when He didn’t, when He made it clear His kingdom was MORE, they couldn’t tolerate Him. They wanted freedom from the Romans, bread aplenty, instant healing, unlimited water. He said, I’ve come to give you Life—eternal, abundant, new.

Believing the Bible, I think, means understanding that the Life He offers is better than freedom from the Romans, bread aplenty, instant healing, or unlimited water. Does He impart those things to people in His family? At times. But what He gives consistently, no matter what the physical circumstances, are things like the joy of our salvation, peace that passes understanding, hope for our eternal future. Those are the kinds of things the Bible makes clear are ours—things that believing the Bible give us.

This article is an edited edition of one that appeared here in April, 2007.

Published in: on April 9, 2018 at 4:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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