Anxiety In The New Year


I keep hearing about people starting 2019 filled with anxiety and a sense of woe. I’m not sure where this pessimism is coming from. Maybe it’s the usual depression brought on by winter. Maybe it’s the divisiveness currently in our nation. Maybe it’s the downward spiral some see our moral climate taking. I don’t know for sure.

What I do know is that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

That truth actually isn’t good news for people who reject or ignore God, because He has already demonstrated that when evil reaches a limit, He will act in judgment. He did so with Egypt, with Canaan, with Israel, with Judah. Why would the God who is the same from one era to the next suddenly go soft on sin? He isn’t likely to do that. But we don’t know just how or when His judgment will fall.

So those who are far from God have reason to be somewhat anxious.

But Christians? Not if we are going about doing our Father’s business.

There’s a little known verse in a little read book of prophecy, Nahum 1:7, that I’ve come to love:

The LORD is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble.
And He knows those who take refuge in Him.

There’s no false promise in the verse that God will magically take away any and all trouble. Rather, it pretty much promises a day of trouble. But God matches that with a greater promise—He is the stronghold, the fortress, the citadel, the bastion, the fortification. Not for everyone. Well, I’ll qualify that. Yes, He is the stronghold for everyone, but not everyone will trust in Him.

Those who do . . . well, He knows who those are. We can’t fool Him, or pretend we trust Him when we actually are depending on our own strength. He knows. And, as a reminder, He’s the omniscient one. As David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said in Psalm 139,

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.

God’s knowledge about each one of us is not limited, so when He says He knows who takes refuge in Him, I believe He does in fact know the real from the pretend, the “in name only” and the “all in’s.” He knows.

I find a lot of comfort in that. I won’t get lost in the shuffle of all the many, many people—those on the front lines, those in the thick of the fight. I might be nothing but a squire, delivering missives from one commander to the line of soldiers on the wall, but God knows I’m in the Stronghold, that I’m there for refuge, that I have no other “safe place” than in His presence.

I find it so ironic that our culture works so hard to keep everyone safe these days, and yet we are as vulnerable as ever. We have laws about seat belts and helmets and strollers and vaccinations and plastic bags and straws and abuse and fraud and border security and on and on, but we still face danger to our health, danger from nature, danger from individuals, danger from other nations. Perhaps most surprising is that we have become aware of danger from ideas. But instead pf arming ourselves for battle, instead of running to the Stronghold, we are drawing little circles around ourselves and declaring them safe zones. Reminds me of children playing tag but with a safe zone where they couldn’t be tagged. I mean, could they live there? Of course not. So they either had to leave the safe place or quit the game.

The cool thing is, we absolutely CAN live, or as Jesus says, abide, in our Stronghold. In fact we’re commanded to do so:

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. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

Abiding as a branch sounds even more permanent than taking refuge in a stronghold, except when you think about cities under siege. Staying inside the secure walls was paramount, just like a branch staying attached to a vine. So the images are really the same.

The point is, those without the vine, without the Stronghold, may very well be anxious, and may even be rightly anxious.

Sort of like when the 12 spies of Israel checked out the Promised Land. They reported back that there were giants in the land. Real giants. They had reason to believe that they couldn’t take down the giants—as long as they thought they were to do so alone. But they weren’t. Ever. God Had freed them from slavery and had preserved and protected them on their way. Why would they think in the day of trouble, He would abandon them? That was their great mistake.

What a difference if we take refuge in Him instead.

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God Means What He Says


In truth, faith can be defined very simply as believing that God means what He says. That’s the same kind of faith other people have when they say they believe the earth is round or that the Stock Market ended the day at such and such closing price or that George Washington was the first President of the United States.

Most everything we believe, someone else told us and we simply take their word for it. That “someone” might be a parent or a school teacher or a boss or a news reporter or Wikipedia.

Of all the people we should trust, you’d think God would be the One people would listen to first and have the greatest amount of belief in what He says. But in reality, that’s not the way it works.

Oh, sure, lots of people say they believe in God, but then it turns out, they qualify this statement by referring to “their idea of God” as if He morphs to suit each person’s taste. I have a commenter on my Facebook page (a hacker, I believe) who said, “Religion was created by man, simply that. God CAN be whoever each individual person wants him to be.”

Of course if humans invented god, then they certainly could decide he was whatever they wanted—a cosmic force; a universal savior absent of any judgment; a kindly but impotent grandfather; an indifferent clock maker that put the world in motion and now has nothing to do with it; one of a pantheon of gods; nature itself; and many, many more possibilities.

The problem there is that none of these is what God said about Himself. Now it’s true that I haven’t read all the holy books of all the religions in the world, even all the major religions. But I know Judaism’s tradition and I know Christianity. The Scriptures of the two overlap, to be sure, but in both and for both God “spoke, long ago to the fathers, in the prophets, in many portions and in many ways” (Heb. 1:1b).

In those many revelations of God about Himself, we have a pretty good picture of Who He is. The greatest statement of His identity may be His declaration to Moses of His name: I AM WHO I AM.

What in the world, or out of it, does that mean?

It means that God is self existent. That He is present, and always present. That He is when nothing else is or was.

There’s so much else that we learn about God from the things He spoke, but He also said, “In these last days [He] has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:2a).

So we all have a decision to make—do we believe what He said, or not? If we do, it’s hard to say, I believe in God but I hate my neighbor. It’s just as hard to say, I believe in God, but Jesus can’t be the only way to Him. Those statements and many, many more indicate the person making them doesn’t actually believe in God. They only believe in the god of their own imagination.

I find it hard to imagine a reason for so many people down through the ages all believing in God or gods, if God did not actually exist. How could a person with no experience of God come up with the idea of God? And not know that he was intentionally imagining someone who was not real? And sell it to lots of other people? And people across the planet imagine and sell as real the same concept? It’s like a giant conspiracy theory.

It’s much more believable that God exists, revealed Himself to people, and some believed and continued to believe, while others decided God should do things their way or for their benefit, so they tweaked what God had said about Himself until they believed a copy which we call an idol.

Of course it’s possible that some people had encounters with evil spirits and adopted them as their god or gods.

The fact remains. The God of the Bible tells us He alone is God. We can believe what He says, or not, but faith demands that we take God at His word.

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Photo By Gilbert Stuarthttp://www.clarkart.edu/Collection/7577, Public Domain, Link

Published in: on August 1, 2018 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Call Of God


Paul_the_Apostle_conversionThe apostle Paul received the call of God. So did any number of other people in Scripture—Abraham, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah, Samuel. The thing about Paul’s call was that it was so public.

He saw a light so bright it blinded him for days. In fact, he needed a man sent by God to restore his sight. In the midst of that light, Paul heard a voice and what this Person said was a distinct message for him. First a question: Why are you persecuting Me?

Paul’s answer was natural: “Who are you, Lord?”

Then, The Call: “And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” (Acts 9:5b-6)

I suppose Paul could have said no. After all, Jonah did. Balaam and an unnamed prophet also resisted God’s directions. But the fact is, Paul obeyed. He did exactly what he’d been told.

And though the men with him saw the light (not in the way Paul did—they weren’t blinded by it), and though they heard the voice (not the way Paul did—they didn’t understand what the Speaker said), this call was for Paul alone.

It was dramatic. It was personal. It was convincing. We don’t have any record that Paul ever looked back from that moment on. He had been pursuing Christians to arrest them and bring them to judgment which would lead to their executions. Now he was a Christian who other zealous Jews were trying to put to death.

Despite his calling, others questioned what he was doing. Ananias, the man God sent to heal Paul, was the first one. God told him who he was to go to, and Ananias answered, Really, Lord? This man has been actively seeking to KILL Christians.

How like so many of us. We act as if we need to remind God of the dire circumstances we’re in or the offense against us or the plans we’d made, as if God had forgotten or maybe wasn’t aware. In reality it was Ananias who wasn’t aware:

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

I still marvel that the “before the Gentiles” part didn’t throw Ananias, but to his great credit, he obeyed God.

He wouldn’t be the last person to doubt Paul’s calling, though. When this new, enthusiastic convert arrived in Jerusalem, “he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26b)

Can’t blame them really, but I think that’s typical. We don’t know what the calling is that others have received. Really? we say; you’re going to be part of a prison ministry? or an unwed mother’s Bible study? or a medical ministry to Russia? or a missionary to … shhh . . . a Muslim country.

Even more, we might say, What? You’re giving up your writing to take care of your disabled sister-in-law? Or, you’re giving up your stable job to become a writer? Or, you’re turning your back on that great guy who loves you because you feel called to the mission field?

The part that’s inexplicable is the calling. Paul knew he was called, though no one else heard what he heard, and he acted accordingly. Eventually others realized he was serious, though they may not have understood. And certainly his old Pharisee buddies did not get it.

In fact, later in Paul’s ministry when he was called to Jerusalem, a number of his Christian friends and disciples, including a prophet, tried to dissuade him. Don’t go, they said. If you go to Jerusalem, you’ll be arrested.

Paul had listened to those warnings before. After his conversion, in Damascus, when the staunch Jews were planning to kill him, his disciples lowered him in a basket outside the city wall so he could escape. Another time, when there was a near riot because of his preaching, he wanted to enter the arena to speak to the crowd, but the other Christians told him no. He left Philippi because of death threats and traveled by himself to Athens to wait for his companions. So Paul was not a stranger to heeding the warnings of others.

But he’d been called to Jerusalem, so to Jerusalem he went, regardless that this calling didn’t insure a happy end or many converts—at least not in the short term.

That’s also true about following God’s call. There is no guarantee that there will be fruit from your labor. Jeremiah, in fact, knew going in that no one would listen to him. Yet God called him to warn the people of God’s judgment.

In other words, the veracity of God’s call can’t be confirmed by results that people here and now can see. The widows of the men martyred with Jim Elliott may well have thought initially that their calling had ended in fruitlessness. It hadn’t, but they couldn’t know that at the time.

But it can be “confirmed,” I guess you’d say, by Scripture in the sense that God isn’t going to call a person to do something contrary to His written word. He isn’t going to “call” someone to have an affair, for instance, or to preach a different gospel from the one Scripture teaches.

I’ll be honest—I don’t like this notion of God’s call. I know it’s easy to act on our own, to be deluded by our own desires, to want something so much we talk ourselves into believing God wants it for us too. I feel on shaky ground when someone else says they’ve been called. But the few times I’ve known God’s call in my life, it’s been clear—convincingly clear. But maybe not necessarily to everyone else around me. Undoubtedly there are some still saying, Really? I get that. I wish I had a bright light to point to.

Or not. Some scholars think that perhaps the thorn Paul wanted removed was his poor eyesight which, though restored, was never as good as it had been. Of course his poor eyesight could just as easily have come from one of the beatings he took or the times he was stoned and left for dead.

Either way, it’s clear callings come with a cost—people not always “getting it,” some even opposing it, and lots of people doubting you ever got such a calling in the first place. That’s OK.

Like Lucy in Prince Caspian, we can respond to the call of Aslan, even though others don’t see or hear, or we can fall in line and go the way everyone else is going. It’s a matter of trust.

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so—”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I—I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that . . . oh, well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you.” (pp 135-136)

This post first appeared here in June, 2014.

Published in: on April 26, 2018 at 5:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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God’s Word, A Lamp – A Reprise


When I was younger, I memorized a simple verse of Scripture. Later, singer / songwriter Amy Grant based a praise song on that same verse, Psalm 119:105. In fact, the lyrics of the chorus were a direct quote:

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet
And a light unto my path.

It’s a simply truth, but is that the same as simplistic? Is looking at the Bible as the lamp showing me where I should walk, a way of “treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are”?

Is trusting the Bible, trusting what it says, simplistic?

Honestly, I think it’s just the opposite. When I’m faced with a difficult issue, something clearly beyond my realm of expertise, I don’t try to tackle it anyway.

When my friend was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I didn’t dig in and research how to do brain surgery. I didn’t read up on how to administer chemotherapy or how to give radiation (she had both).

When I flew to Guatemala as a short term missionary, I didn’t study before hand how to pilot a plane. I didn’t ask to inspect the engine or study the flight plan and weather maps.

Brain surgery and flying planes are complex activities, far beyond my knowledge and proficiency. Consequently, I happily turn them over to those who have studied and gained experience—the brain surgeon, the lab techs, the pilots, the mechanics. I would be foolish to take those complex undertakings into my hands.

Am I, therefore, being simplistic?

I guess the question really is, is trusting someone who knows more than you, simplistic? Are we, in fact, supposed to rely only and always on our own abilities to figure things out?

To me that question is a bit scary because I think some people might say, yes, we are to figure it out on our own; it’s the responsible thing to do. We get second opinions, we research, we get the best surgeon we can, we pay attention to FAA reports and only fly with the most reliable airlines. We do our homework.

But in the end, don’t we trust that the surgeon we choose, the pilot sitting in the cockpit of the plane we’re on, will do their jobs?

At some point even things here on earth, having to do with our temporal lives, depend on us trusting someone else. How much more so should we trust when it comes to spiritual issues? I mean, talk about complex!

And yet, with spiritual issues, there’s a growing belief that the things of God are mysterious and complex and incomprehensible, and really can only be known if we look inside to our own reason and consciences. In other words, if we figure out things on our own.

In fact, part of this approach is that the way we figure things out might not be the way other people figure them out, and that’s OK. After all, we have different cultures, different geographic locations, so surely we won’t all have a common spiritual experience.

Lost in this is the simple truth that God’s word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Lost is the fact that God’s word is tried, that it is sure, that it has been given to us from the omniscient Spirit of God.

For some, tackling complex spiritual issues with our own finite mind is wiser than trusting in the infallible, imperishable, undefiled word of God that will not fade away. The idea seems to be, the spiritual issues are so big we can’t rely on a simple truth from Scripture.

Sure, God’s word is a lamp, the thinking seems to be, but so is general revelation, and by following our conscience and reason we can arrive at the truth.

Except, what happens when our conscience and reason lead us to believe something different from what the Bible says? Do we decide that the Bible is too simplistic? That the clear, repeated truth statements can’t really mean what they say? That they don’t address the complexities we see and therefore can’t be trusted?

Or, is it possible that the Author whose understanding is inscrutable, in fact, weighed the complexities and determined that His truth statements covered all the bases. That, in reality, the wise thing when faced with matters we can’t resolve, is to trust that God knows what’s right and therefore has given us the lamp of His word.

This post first appeared here in May 2014.

Published in: on February 26, 2018 at 6:02 pm  Comments (3)  
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Is Self-Confidence A Good Thing?


2011_medal_ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah gives this perspective:

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

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

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

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

Look at what Psalm 37 says:

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on January 31, 2018 at 5:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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Man’s Way Versus God’s Plan – A Reprise


One View Of God's Sovereignty

Some time ago I saw a humorous depiction of what Man expects in life versus what God gives us, similar to the one I recreated above(though I don’t remember the captions).

I suspect the point, besides the humor, was to show how we believe our way with God will be easy, free of suffering and hardship, when, in fact, God never promised such a thing.

When I saw the original, I laughed, but then I thought, How unlike God. My thinking was that the picture, not identifying any reason why God would take us into rough terrain, makes Him seem arbitrary and cruel, even masochistic, as if He’s yanking our chain simply to see us suffer.

But also, the first panel shows Man in the most positive light. Yes, he expects an easy path, but he’s steadily moving forward, growing, improving, reaching toward that final destination.

Actually, I don’t think either panel captures reality clearly. First, the truth about Humankind is that we wander, take wrong turns, leave the path, go our own way. We aren’t focused on moving further up and further in as we should be.

Man's Actual Plan

The above diagram is a more accurate depiction of the path we take. But there’s another version.

God's Work To Move Us Toward Him

God, because of our waywardness and because of His love for us, directs us back to Himself.

That’s it. Like a loving Father, He spanks our hands or puts us in time out or grounds us or takes away our cell phone or car keys or whatever it takes to move us away from our willfulness because He loves us too much to see us go the wrong way. He is most definitely not capricious and He is NOT cruel.

But His kindness and mercy mean He will sometimes withhold the rain or let the Philistines conquer the land or keep us in the wilderness because He wants us to know Him, follow Him, trust Him, love Him instead of going our own way.

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My apologies to any actual artists! 😉 This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in May 2014.

Job’s Problem


I think sometimes we Christians idolize Job. After all, the Bible dedicates a whole book to his story, and later James, in the New Testament, commends him: “We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (5:11). Clearly he’s saying Job is one who is blessed since he’s one who endured.

Further, early in Job’s story, he’s such a great example of righteousness that the Bible states, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (2:10b).

Why, then, at the end of the book does Job say, “Therefore I retract, / And I repent in dust and ashes” (42:6).

What’s he repenting of?

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that he had any reason to repent. After all, he was the one who suffered all the loss. He was the one who his friends accused unjustly. He was innocent and yet he stood condemned in their eyes.

Reminds me of Jesus who was truly innocent, not just of the crimes His accusers leveled at Him, but of any crimes of any kind—ones with His mouth, with His actions, with His thoughts, with His will. And Peter (who was in a great position to know) tells us, “While being reviled, He did not revile in return, while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

Unfortunately, in the end, Job couldn’t say the same thing. He started out well, but a week into the mournful, silent visit from his friends, he was no longer praising God as he had initially when his kids died and his servants were captured or killed and when he lost his flocks. Back then he’d said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, / And naked I shall return there. / The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. / Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

But now? He was depressed. He wished he hadn’t been born. Even more, he accused God of wronging him.

The thing that Job understood that his friends didn’t was that God is sovereign. The friends thought God was more like a programmed machine, obligated to respond to humankind’s behavior. So sin had to be punished. Since Job was obviously being punished (suffering), he must have sinned.

Job knew he hadn’t sinned. He knew his own heart. There weren’t any secret sins such as his friends were accusing him of:

“My foot has held fast to His path;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.
I have not departed from the command of His lips;
I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food. (23:11-12)

So in Job’s mind, God had to be treating him unjustly. He attacks the idea that the wicked are always punished. No they aren’t he says. They flourish right along side the righteous. And in the end, everybody dies.

But he also says God has wronged him. He’s silent and won’t tell him why He’s unjustly causing Job such pain.

In the end, God sets Job straight. He thought he knew God as sovereign, but God took his understanding one step further, from knowledge to trust.

And so Job repented.

Is he a hero of the faith? I think so. Is he a perfect model for believers to follow in times of suffering? Not really. Not until the end when he grasped that God is transcendent and all powerful and understands more than we can ever imagine, that He can be trusted.

The interesting thing to me is that Job, although serving as a type for Christ—a person symbolizing or exemplifying the suffering of the Messiah—had the opportunity to take it all the way home. He could have “entrusted himself to Him who judges righteously.”

I guess that makes him more like us so we relate to him. Thankfully he got there in the end: he learned to trust God because He is God.

Children Believe


427707_boy_and_his_grandpaChristians believe Jesus was completely God and Jesus was completely a man. I realized how such an apparent impossibility must sound to a rational mind. Or perhaps to a grown-up mind stripped of its creative wonder.

Children have that creative wonder and believe easily. I remember believing that the earth is round long before I saw a photograph of our round earth taken from space. I remember believing that one day my daddy would be President, and I remember believing that my brother could score a touchdown by dragging me across the goal line while I had the football.

When I learned that my dad had no interest in being President, I was disillusioned, I have to admit. And when I learned that my brother had figuratively, as well as literally, pulled my leg, I was disillusioned in another way. But the point for this post in recalling these childhood memories is to illustrate that I believed without requiring proof or explanation.

I believed the teacher who said the earth was round because she was the teacher! I believed my dad would be President because he was Dad. And I believed my brother’s version of the rules of football because he was my brother. Children believe easily.

Jesus said as much when His disciples tried to get people to stop bringing their children to Him.

“Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Mark 10:14b-15; emphasis mine)

Jesus was not saying we need to be childish, but childlike. Trusting. Not skeptical. That isn’t to say that skeptics can’t come to Christ.

Of His twelve chosen disciples, one was a skeptic. Thomas determined that he wouldn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he personally verified the fact with his own eyes. Can you blame him? I mean, he saw Jesus die. Most likely he saw them wrap his body for burial, put him in the tomb, and roll the stone in front of the entrance. Who wouldn’t be skeptical about this “He is risen” message?

Well, little children wouldn’t—not when they hear it from someone they trust. And adults wouldn’t if they are willing to hear what God says in the same way children hear—with wide-eyed wonder, with hope and expectation, with confident dependence.

The thing is, this kind of childlike faith does not replace reason. I believed my dad would become President up until the day when he told me why that wouldn’t happen. I didn’t keep believing in the face of contrary evidence. But here’s the important point—I learned from the very father I believed in. I went to him and asked him. The answer he gave me wasn’t the one I wanted to hear, but I knew he was telling me the truth. I knew I could still trust him.

Interestingly, God deals with us in a similar way. When we trust Him, we can ask Him all kinds of questions. We may not hear the answer we wanted, but we can be sure He won’t lie to us. We can be sure He’ll give us what we need when we need it.

I’m reminded of the story Corrie ten Boom told. She was struggling about whether or not she could handle some difficulty in the future. Her father helped her understand, by comparing the circumstance to when he gave her the train ticket she needed–not too soon but right when she needed it—that God would give her what she needed when she needed it.

Children are great question askers. They believe easily, but they also want to understand why. When Jesus said we are to become like little children, I’m confident He knew precisely what that entails, including their curious minds that want to know why. The great thing about God is that He satisfies the curious minds. In fact He authoritatively states that He is the Truth–the source for the answers to all our questions.

For people who want to make up their own truth, that’s not a satisfying statement. But like my brother who was quite inventive in coming up with his own football rules to benefit himself, there will come a day when those who live by their own truth will meet Truth. There will be no way to escape the fact that all those points they said they were scoring by using their own made up rules, count for nothing.

This post is a revised and edited version of one that first appeared here in April 2013.

Published in: on April 3, 2017 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Hedge Of God


Maasai_people_in_a_village_on_the_A109_road,_KenyaI’ve been reading in the book of Job recently, and again I noticed the word “hedge.” Satan uses it in chapter one in reference to God protecting Job. Later Job uses it in reference to God trapping him in his circumstances. I think it’s ironic—two different ways of looking at God’s work in our lives.

I wrote about the hedge of God back in January 2013. Here’s that post again, with some rewriting, revision, and editing.

– – – – –

When I was in Africa, we visited Serengeti National Park, known for its abundant wildlife. What surprised me was that people lived there too, particularly members of the Masai tribe. In order to protect themselves at night from lions, cheetah, or any other predatory animal, the people encircled their huts or villages with a bramble fence or hedge. From Wikipedia:

Villages are enclosed in a circular fence (an enkang) built by the men, usually of thorned acacia, a native tree. At night, all cows, goats, and sheep are placed in an enclosure in the centre, safe from wild animals.

Thoroughly practical if you’re going to live in a dangerous environment.

But, then, what environment in this sin-wracked world isn’t dangerous? Here in the US, rather than thorned acacia, those who wish to put a hedge around their homes turn to fences or walls or gated communities.

I find it interesting that Satan, in his first conversation with God about Job, pointed to God’s hedge around His righteous servant as the reason for Job’s faithfulness.

“Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.” (Job 1:10)

God didn’t deny it. Instead, He essentially lowered the hedge in order to let Satan put Job’s faith to the test:

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” (Job 1:12a)

Flash forward a couple chapters. Job has suffered terrible loss, but refused to turn against God. Satan claims he’s holding to his faith because he still has his life. God gives Satan permission to touch his body but not to kill him. As a result, Job is afflicted with boils from head to foot—oozing, pus-filled, painful boils. Day after day after day. No antibiotics. They are not going away.

His friends come to sympathize with him, but they have nothing to say. Instead they take the posture of grief, tearing their clothes and putting dust on their heads. They sit with Job for a week, not saying anything.

Finally he cracks. “Why?” he cries. Not, “Why am I suffering?” but, “Why was I born?” He’s understandably depressed, but he’s slipped from trusting God into questioning Him.

Why did I not die at birth,
Come forth from the womb and expire?
Why did the knees receive me,
And why the breasts, that I should suck? . . .
Why is light given to him who suffers,
And life to the bitter of soul,
Who long for death, but there is none,
And dig for it more than for hidden treasures,
Who rejoice greatly,
And exult when they find the grave?
Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,
And whom God has hedged in? (Job 3:11-12, 20-23—emphasis mine)

Maasai_Enkang_and_HutJob recognizes, as Satan had, that God hedges him in, but in his pain and suffering he gets things backwards. He doesn’t realize that the thing he accuses God of is actually the thing God uses to bless him, not curse him. He doesn’t realize that the problem is God’s removal of His hedge rather than His construction of it.

There is freedom with God:

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15; the following verses also address the contrast between freedom and slavery)

I imagine, in the same way, people today see God’s hedge as either a blessing or a curse.

I’ll never forget the late Christopher Hitchens saying that if there was such a God as Christians believe in, he would be an insufferable tyrant. Apparently Mr. Hitchens saw God’s hedge as a curse—as a thing that would close in around him and choke out the life he wanted to live.

On the other hand, I see God’s hedge and revel in His protection. I can’t imagine living without it.

In a way, God Himself is that hedge, standing between me and the “host encamped against me.”

The Lord is my light and salvation
Whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the defense of my life;
Whom shall I dread?
When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh,
My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
Though a host encamp against me,
My heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me,
In spite of this I shall be confident.
One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to meditate in His temple.
For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle;
In the secret place of His tent He will hide me;
He will lift me up on a rock. (Psalm 27:1-5; emphasis added)

The hedge of God, given for my protection, but viewed by some as restriction. The truth is, God’s hedge provides freedom within the circle. Should God remove that hedge, all hell could break loose. Literally.

The great news is, we Christians have the Holy Spirit in our lives. Part of God’s hedge, if you will. We’re not alone when trials come our way. And the book of James makes clear that trials will come. We can face them with God’s hedges firmly in place or with hedges down so that we’re exposed and vulnerable.

My prayer is that God will hedge me in all He wants!

Published in: on January 10, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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God Incarnate


Nativity_Scenes015

“And I will put enmity
Between you [the serpent] and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Rev. 12:9)

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus, not just because Christmas is approaching, though there is that, but also because on the Facebook atheist/theist group I visit from time to time, something came up about pretend Santa and “pretend Jesus.”

Jesus is not pretend, though it’s become more and more popular for atheists to say He wasn’t. However, there’s a great deal of scholarship that makes this fact clear—more even than I realized. If you’d like some specifics on that, listen to Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace discuss the subject.

But the fact that Jesus lived doesn’t of itself mean that everything else Christians believe, is true. The central point of the Good News is that Jesus, God’s Son, is the Seed God referred to in Genesis, Who will bruise the head of Satan. He did that by taking the form of sinful man, though He Himself knew no sin, and by bearing the punishment—death—which humankind earned. In the perfect triumphal twist, He rose from the dead, and will return at some unknown future time to claim His rightful throne as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

So. A lot going on as far as what Christians believe about Jesus. Was He a real person? Yes. Is He the Son of God? The Gospels say He is and the rest of Scripture confirms it, but they also say He IS God.

Both facts are true.

So is the fact that Jesus wasn’t pretending to be a man. He actually was a man. He ate and drank, cried, got tired, slept, wept, and ultimately died.

So God, but also man.

As if those claims weren’t hard enough of themselves, throw in the fact that Jesus’s mother was a virgin at the time she birthed Him.

Anyone who dismisses the supernatural must freak out at Christmas time because of all the outside-the-box facts about Jesus. Add in the angelic announcements—to Mary that she was going to have a baby, to Joseph that he should still take Mary as his wife, even though she was pregnant, to the shepherds that the Messiah was born that very day—and the star that served as a heavenly sign declaring the birth of a King in Judea, and there’s a lot of supernatural activity connected to the birth of Jesus.

The thing that seems so obvious but so overlooked is that all these claims could so easily have been debunked if they weren’t true. Take pregnant Mary, for example. If some guy had slept with her, how hard would it have been to disprove the idea that she was a virgin.

But say he had personal reasons for keeping his indiscretion to himself, what about the shepherds and their claim to have seen angels? How else could their decision to leave their flocks be explained? Or that they “just happened” upon a baby in a manger, as they’d been told?

What about their story made people believe them? And if they didn’t believe the lowly shepherds, why wouldn’t they come forward and expose this band of frauds? If someone else made up the story about them, why didn’t they stand up and clear their name?

Well, of course, none of this was written down until years after the fact, someone could argue. But without doubt the account of Jesus’s birth was not new information when the gospels came into being. Luke, for example, who wrote one of the two birth narratives said he investigated carefully in order to compile an account “just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:2)

The implication is that people who knew what happened were still talking about what they’d seen and heard at the time of Luke’s investigation.

The more I dialogue with people who reject God and Jesus and the Bible, the more I realize that what we believe is dependent upon who we trust. Atheists trust “the scientists” and Christians trust the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the people who have also come to faith in Christ.

The odd thing is, Christians don’t dismiss science as not true. In fact, many Christians played significant roles in advancing our scientific understanding. We trust science, but we trust the Bible more.

Atheists, on the other hand, have no place in their understanding for the supernatural. They don’t believe it exists because it’s beyond their scope of study. They’ll all believe in DNA and genome sequencing and black holes and the god particle, however. Not because they’ve seen any of those things but because someone else they trust says those exist and are real.

I’ve had discussions with atheists on line before, who say, If God really exists, why doesn’t He simply show Himself—end of discussion. But the fact is, He has shown Himself. And the very people He came to, did not believe Him. In fact they tried more than once to kill Him because He claimed to be God.

I have to admit, I’m baffled by unbelief. Christianity makes sense of so much. The one problem, the only real problem, is whether or not God exists as He says He does. The only way God can “prove Himself” is by revealing Himself. He has done so in as many ways as possible, culminating in His incarnation—He took on flesh to live among us that we might know Him.

Christmas provides we who believe in God Come Down the opportunity to explain what all the ruckus about the birth of a Jewish baby over 2000 years ago is all about.

Published in: on December 15, 2016 at 7:23 pm  Comments Off on God Incarnate  
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