Look, Mom, No Hands


This isn’t really a Mother’s Day post about my mom who has been deceased these past 16 years, but I’ll dedicate it to her. It’s actually a devotional meditation posted originally January 2011.

– – – – –

Kids love the spotlight. They run, jump, turn somersaults, dive into the pool, what have you, then rush back to the adults close by. “Did you see me, did you see?” they ask.

Inevitably their antics get braver and bolder. When I was growing up, one such bit of tomfoolery was to walk up the stairs on the piece of each step outside the railing.

I remember, too, learning to ride a bike. For some time I had training wheels, but eventually those came off, and I was on my own. The initial fear I felt when the safety wheels were no longer in place soon gave way to confidence.

And one day there came a time when I could balance well enough that I could take my hands off the handlebars.

“Look, Mom, no hands.”

For some reason, Mom wasn’t as thrilled as I was over this new development. She knew what I didn’t — that even a small pebble in the road could upset the balance I enjoyed, and consequently upset the bike, and me along with it.

I suffered a bike accident or two in my day. One was on gravel and tore up my elbow and knee. Another gave me a concussion and landed me in the doctor’s office (so they told me).

Funny thing, I wasn’t so quick to relinquish the handlebars any more. In fact, I was more inclined to grip tight. When I was ignorant of the dangers, I showed off my perceived independence from the mechanism that kept me moving forward. But when I learned of them, through the hard knocks of accidents, I began to cling tightly.

So it is in our spiritual lives, I think. In our spiritual immaturity we may think we can manage on our own: Depend on God … for everything? Why would I do that? He’s given me a brain. Doesn’t He expect me to use it?

Well, yes, but He also delights in being involved with His children, in giving and loving beyond our expectations. And He knows our weaknesses. He knows what tares can do to wheat.

He warns us and woos us and reaches out His hands, inviting us to take hold and hang on, to cling and never let go. And we do. For a time. But then we start feeling comfortable and self-assured. I can do this, we think, and we loosen our grip, maybe even let go, just for a second. “Look, Dad, I’m on my own.”

It’s a sure recipe for disaster, except for God’s sustaining love.

The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
And He delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.
– Ps 37:23-24

I might not cling to Him as He wants me to, I might be prone to wander. But God isn’t show-boating or feeling the need for independence. He’s looking after His children, even we who need to learn our lessons the hard way.

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Published in: on May 11, 2018 at 4:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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.

Stumbling Around In The Dark


Some time ago I cut open my toe, which bled a lot, all because I was stumbling around in the dark. Granted, I was trying to get to a light to turn it on, but that doesn’t fit the metaphor I want to use. 😉

I thought about stumbling around in the dark when I read the story of Israel setting out to conquer the Promised Land. After Moses charged Joshua to lead the people, he died.

So there the people were, on the wrong side of the Jordan, and lo and behold, as God had those past forty years, He came to their rescue. First He gave them specific direction, and then He worked a miracle so they could cross the river on dry land. More than that, He told them how to go about defeating Jericho, and a week later He brought down the walls of that fortified city.

All this time God had appeared among them as a cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night. His visible Presence either filled the tabernacle—the tent where they were to offer sacrifices and where the High Priest was to meet with God—or moved away, which meant they were to break camp and follow.

I haven’t found anywhere in Scripture that says when God no longer led them in this way. I wonder if He would have continued to do so until they finished conquering the land (a process that took at least five years). But apparently the people decided they no longer needed Him to tell them were to go.

You see, after the successful campaign against Jericho, Joshua sent spies to the little town of Ai, decided they could take it with a mere 3000 men, and sent the small force off. God, however, was not with them. Those Israelites were routed. Then and only then did Joshua and the elders of the tribes fall on their faces before God. Graciously He told them what the problem was: disobedience.

He even helped them determine who the disobedient person was and then passed judgment on him. Once again God was prepared to lead His people. This time he gave Joshua a battle plan. He was to put men in ambush, then draw the opposition away from the city.

God’s strategy worked perfectly and Ai fell.

So why didn’t Israel continue to let God lead them?

After Ai fell to Israel, a neighboring city decided they didn’t want to die and they didn’t want to leave their homes and they didn’t want to forsake their gods, so they came up with a plan to fool Israel into making a treaty with them. They claimed to be from a far away place and had come to ally themselves with Israel because they’d heard what God had done for His people.

Israel bought it.

All this time since leaving Egypt, they’d lived in the light, guided by God’s pillar of cloud or fire, and now they couldn’t even seem to ask Him if making a treaty with these people was a good idea.

They abandoned the light in favor of stumbling in the dark.

Before we think too harshly of them, perhaps we should first think about our own prayer life and see exactly what we are asking God for. Already I can hear a handful of people saying, Oh, but God doesn’t work in that way any more.

Really? You mean having the Holy Spirit living in my life is less advantageous than having God’s presence fill the tabernacle? I don’t think so. Rather, I think, just as the people of Israel did before Ai and before making that treaty, we ignore the light and stumble along in the dark. Scripture calls this quenching the Holy Spirit.

I can’t help but wonder how many Ai’s we would successfully conquer or how many treaties we would avoid if we walked in the light instead of stumbling in the dark.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2012.

Published in: on October 25, 2016 at 5:43 pm  Comments Off on Stumbling Around In The Dark  
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We Want To Be Cats, But We’re Sheep


Maybe I should have titled this post, “I want to be a cat, but I‘m just one of the sheep.” After all, should I be speaking for you?

I’m a little irritated right now at social media in general because The Powers That Be decide for the rest of us what they think we want, without asking us. Today it was Yahoo. Suddenly when I clicked on a new tab, I had a Yahoo search page pop up. I had to deactivate the Yahoo add-on to make it go away.

Sometime ago Facebook decided to speak for me—or more accurately, to think for me—by selecting what they deem to be my “Top Stories.” But they’re no different than Google+ who has determined what other G+ users I would most likely want to invite into my circles.

I think these social networking sites have taken their cue from cars that not only give you directions, but now park for you, change braking capacity under certain conditions, and even give you the hands off driving experience. For some years, those with alarm systems tell you (loudly) when something untoward approaches the vehicle.

The problem is, I’d rather think for myself. I’d rather do the driving because I like driving. I’m a responsible agent and shouldn’t need to be told to put on my seat belt. I like choosing my own routes instead of having a GPS tell me when to turn, and I think map reading is a good skill to have.

But more than that, I don’t want to be told who my friends should be on social media sites or what posts I should want to read. I want to think for myself.

I kind of assumed everyone else felt the same way (which is why I said “we” in the title, but I realize I am sort of playing the role of Facebook by doing so).

Perhaps this desire for independence is part of American Rugged Individualism we hear so much about— some of which I believe to be true. I mean, for people to pull up stakes and move across an ocean or to a foreign land where few people speak their language, they have to have a bit of individualism in them, I think.

And no matter how short or how long an American’s ancestors have been here, there is some value-passing that has preserved that individualistic spirit, that determination to go it alone against great odds.

However, I think there’s some of this independent spirit in all humankind. It’s not actually a good thing, either. It’s our desire, like small children who tell their parents they want to do “it” by themselves, to tell our Father that we can live life on our own.

In spite of this drive for independence, though, we—and this is the right pronoun this time—end up like sheep. Scripture says so. Besides Isaiah 53 that says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (v. 6a), Jeremiah paints a picture I think reflects our world today:

My people have become lost sheep;
Their shepherds have led them astray.
They have made them turn aside on the mountains;
They have gone along from mountain to hill
And have forgotten their resting place. (Jeremiah 50:6)

The passage originally referred to the Jewish people, but since all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to see us Gentiles in the same light—as sheep who are lost, who have shepherds leading them astray.

Now cats—they don’t let anyone lead. They don’t allow for herding. They scatter whithersoever they desire. But us sheep, we go where we ought not go just because everyone else is going there. We don’t always even notice where it is we’re going because we’re not paying all that much attention.

This is why we need a Good Shepherd. Cats, though, even if they had a Good Shepherd, would still go their own way. Eventually they’d end up high in a tree and too scared to climb down, too ornery to let anyone near enough to help them. Maybe being a sheep isn’t so bad. 😀

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2011.

Published in: on August 1, 2016 at 6:22 pm  Comments (5)  
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Why Did God Make Us As We Are?


Freedom-watch-protestIn any number of online discussions I’ve had with atheists, a couple questions eventually surface. One purports to get at the root of sin—basically, it’s God’s fault because He made us capable of sin.

In response I’ll generally say that God made us with free will, to choose Him freely, not as a puppet with no options of our own. But the comeback then gives rise to the question: why did God make a law in the first place? Why did He “invent” something that He could hold against us?

Another way of asking this, of course, is, Why did God make right and wrong? Why did He determine wrong needed to be punished? Why didn’t He simply make us so we could choose whatever we wanted, without any consequences?

That kind of libertarian freedom seems to be what many atheists want.

In essence, this approach judges God. He was wrong to make a law we had to obey. He was wrong to judge those who broke the law. I suppose in the one element of consistency, the conclusion of such a view is that a wrong God is no God at all; thus the conclusion that God does not exist.

The argument, of course, hinges on the rightness or the wrongness of 1) God creating humans with the ability to choose; and b) God determining right and wrong.

The irony of the argument is that in declaring God wrong to do what He did, both in giving humans free will and a moral law to follow, the person standing in judgment of God is acting like God. He’s determined that his own value system is superior, that he knows what’s best for all of humanity, that life without moral judgment is best.

This view, of course, exposes the greatest sin: pride.

But it also reveals something else, something equally vile.

God determined to make humankind in His own image, in His own likeness. To create humans without free will and/or without a moral compass would have violated God’s very nature. In essence, those who think God made mistakes or created the world wrongly are repudiating God’s very nature.

They are, in fact, rebelling against their Creator. They are following in the steps of the father of lies:

“How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!

“But you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.

‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’ ” (Isaiah 14:12-14)

“Like the Most High.” I don’t think many atheists would acknowledge this is what they want. After all, they don’t believe in God. Why, they don’t even believe in belief! But behind all their spiritual anarchy—their pursuit of absolute individual freedom—is simply rebellion. It’s spitting in God’s face. Kicking against His moral demands. Turning their back to His right to rule.

Professing Christians who doctor the Bible are in the same boat. They don’t like that God is the judge of all the earth, so they invent the belief that all people will be saved at some point. One school of thought is that everyone is already saved—they just don’t all know it.

Some of these accept sin—it is pretty hard to ignore—but they reject the idea of Jesus Christ canceling the debt of sin by substituting Himself for us, by dying in our place to satisfy the requirements of the law.

I presume this latter camp is divided—some believing that they must do good, like Jesus, in order to earn their own salvation, and some believing that God simply dismisses the charges because He’s just that kind of guy.

No matter how these individuals identify, the reality is that denying God’s revelation of Himself is rebellion.

No Christian can say, We believe in God, His great love for humankind, His Son Jesus and the example He set for us to follow—we just don’t believe in that wrath and judgment stuff. That’s not how I view God.

As if we have a say in determining who God is.

Just like the atheists who so often say that humans invented God, this progressive “Christian” view has humans determining what kind of God they are willing to believe in. In fact, they are trying to make God to their own specifications. They are unwilling to believe in Him as He has revealed Himself.

Aside from the fact that they are wide of Truth, they are also missing a true relationship with God, who loves us and gave Himself up for us.

Why did God make us as we are? Because He desires relationship with us. He desires to shower us with His love and grace and kindness and generosity and sense of belonging and security and purpose and wholeness. He wants us to talk with Him and walk with Him—not for His benefit, but for ours. That’s the way love is.

Success: It’s A Hard Life


Justin_Bieber_2012I’m a fan of the TV show called The Voice. It’s one of the best talent contests out there today, in my opinion. This season there’s a young girl–only sixteen when the show started–who has survived to the top ten. Her coach has repeatedly said he thinks she might be one of the most influential artists in music–not just in her chosen genre.

What a huge accomplishment for one so young–even if she doesn’t end up winning The Voice, it’s a good guess that she’ll have recording contract by the time this season ends. Part of me is happy for her. She seems so genuine, so fresh–no one has told her yet that she needs to get a bit dirty or to lose her girl-next-door look.

But we’ve seen fresh faces before. Britney Spears comes to mind as does Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber. Or how about Lindsay Lohan?

LindsaylohanmugshotMs. Lohan was modeling at the age of 3, was featured on a TV soap at 10, and at 11 she starred in her first movie. Six years later, when she was 17, turning 18, her debut studio album was certified platinum. Three years later her legal problems began.

I’ve seen Christian “stars” experience the same kind of meteoric rise to fame and fortune, only to disappear off the radar–as the public learns later, because of private life issues. An affair. Addiction. A crisis of faith.

Of course not all those who have early success fall foul of its rewards, but enough do, it makes me stop and wonder. We have Biblical examples of successful kings and nations who ended up far from God, sometimes alone, even hated by others. It’s hard to fathom, considering that things started out so well.

A good example of this phenomenon is a young rising political star in Jewish history named Joash. He popped into the public spotlight as a hero at age 7. His grandmother had killed all the other heirs to the throne and had seized the reins of power for herself. Unbeknown to her, however, Joash’s aunt smuggled him away. She and her husband, a priest named Jehoiada, raised him and when he turned seven, they held his coronation, with all the right people backing him.

Such a good beginning. An evil, idolatrous woman pulled down from her position of power and brought to justice. And that was only the beginning.

All the people of the land went to the house of Baal, and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces thoroughly, and killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest appointed officers over the house of the LORD. (2 Kings 11:18)

Young King Joash led his people into a revival . . . until he didn’t. Despite the fact that Joash restored the temple, when his mentor Jehoiada died, he himself forsook God.

But after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and bowed down to the king, and the king listened to them. They abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols (2 Chron. 24:17-18a).

I think this last passage reveals why success for some–or perhaps, for many–leads to a hard life. This king, having experienced success and the accolades of his people, listened to those who came and bowed down to him. In other words, he started believing his own press clippings. He decided he really was as great as they said he was.

As a result, he no longer trusted God, despite the fact that He sent prophets to turn him back. Apparently, as a result of Joash’s idolatry, God brought an end to the success he’d known. One of the prophets–Zechariah, Jehoida’s son–made this clear to him:

Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus God has said, ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you.’ ” (2 Chron. 24:20)

Surely, surely this would be a turning point. I mean, Jehoiada’s son! The man who raised Joash, who brought him to power, who mentored him until his death–Jehoiada’s son!

Well, actually, no. To show how far he’d fallen, Joash had Zechariah stoned to death. At the turn of the year, the Arameans (Syrians) sacked Jerusalem, killed off a number of officials, and carried away a great deal of plunder. Joash’s own servants turned on him then, though he was already sick, and assassinated him.

Quite the end for one who started out with such promise. From Joash’s life, I think a couple things are clear.

1) God gives the breaks. Joash could just as easily have died with his brothers, but he didn’t–and it was not because of anything he did. He was just a baby.

2) God gives the means for success. Jehoiada was beside the young king, advising him. Again, Joash did nothing to bring Jehoiada into his life, but as long as he listened to and followed this man of God, he did great things.

3) Forgetting #1 and #2 leads to a downfall.

Will the downfall always be the kind of crash-and-burn Joash experienced? I don’t think so. For whatever reason, God sees fit to deal with different people differently.

Manasseh, for example, was a young king who came to power at 16 and did horrible things during his lengthy reign. Yet when he experience the kind of military defeat Joash had experienced, Manasseh turned to God–he repented, did a complete turn around, as dramatic for good as Joash’s was for evil.

So is success really the cause of a hard life? The real cause is rejecting God, turning our back on Him, deciding we’ll go it on our own, do it our own way. Whether successful in the eyes of the world or not, there’s a definite shelf life for people with that attitude.

We Want To Be Cats, But We’re Sheep


Maybe I should have titled this post, “I want to be among the cats, but I‘m just one of the sheep.” After all, should I be speaking for you?

I’m a little irritated right now at Facebook because they dare to speak for me — or more accurately, to think for me — by selecting what they deem to be my “Top Stories.” But they’re no different than Google+ who has determined what other G+ users I would most likely want to invite into my circles.

I think these social networking sites have taken their cue from cars that not only give you directions, but might park for you and change braking capacity in the rain. Those with alarm systems tell you (loudly) when something untoward is near.

The problem is, I’d rather think for myself. I like driving and don’t really appreciate being told to put on my seat belt. I like choosing my own routes and think map reading is a good skill to have.

But more than that, I don’t want to be told who my friends should be or what posts I should want to read. I want to think for myself and kind of assumed everyone else felt the same way (which is why I say “we” in the title, but I realize I am sort of playing the role of Facebook by doing so).

Perhaps this desire for independence is part of American Rugged Individualism we hear so much about — some of which I believe. I mean, for people to pull up stakes and move across an ocean or to a foreign land where few people speak your language, you have to have a bit of individualism in you, I think.

And no matter how short or how long an American’s ancestors have been here, there is some value-passing that has preserved that spirit of going it alone against great odds.

However, I think there’s some of this independent spirit in all Mankind. It’s not actually a good thing, either. It’s our desire, like small children do with their parents, to tell our Father that we can do it on our own.

In spite of all this drive for independence, though, we — and this is the right pronoun this time — end up like sheep. Scripture says so. Besides Isaiah 53 that says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (v. 6a), Jeremiah paints a picture I think reflects our world today:

My people have become lost sheep;
Their shepherds have led them astray.
They have made them turn aside on the mountains;
They have gone along from mountain to hill
And have forgotten their resting place. (Jeremiah 50:6)

The passage originally referred to the Jewish people, but since all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to see Gentiles in the same light — as sheep who are lost, who have shepherds leading them astray.

Now cats — they don’t let anyone lead. They don’t allow for herding. They scatter whithersoever they desire. But us sheep, we go where we ought not go just because everyone else is going there. We don’t always even notice where it is we’re going because we’re not paying all that much attention.

This is why we need a Good Shepherd. Cats, though, even if they had a Good Shepherd, would still go their own way. Eventually they’d end up high in a tree and too scared to climb down, too ornery to let anyone near enough to help them. Maybe being a sheep isn’t so bad. 😀

Published in: on October 7, 2011 at 6:38 pm  Comments (3)  
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