Light In A Dark Place—A Reprise


Particularly memorable for me is a scene in C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle. A group of dwarfs have followed the band of Aslan-followers into a rundown shed.

Inside Lucy, Peter, and the other Aslan-followers find sunlight and growing things. It’s like Narnia of old. The dwarfs, however, huddle in a corner, afraid and wary.

The children try to coax the dwarfs out of the huddle they’re in with some fresh fruit. However, the dwarfs grouse and complain about the dark, about the smelly hay Lucy is trying to force on them. In the end, they remain blind to the beauty around them while the children who follow Aslan move further up and further in. The walls of the cottage are simply gone. All of Narnia, newer and better, is before them.

Whatever C. S. Lewis intended with that scene, I think it accurately portrays the difference between those of us whose spiritual eyes have been opened and those still blinded—by sin, and doubt, the world, riches, worries, the idol of self-effort, what have you.

The thing is, none of us can do a single thing to restore sight. We can plead with God to restore sight, but we can’t do it. Not for ourselves and not for anyone else.

So, do we pray for the blind and walk away?

Not if we take seriously what Jesus said.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:14-16).

It seems to me our job is to shine our light—not in a closet, but out in the open where people are looking.

I think that makes some of us uncomfortable. Maybe we mix up what Jesus said about praying in secret and giving in secret with doing good works. Our prayers and our alms-giving are not supposed to be done in a way that has people noticing what we’re doing.

But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you (Matt. 6:3-6).

So prayer and giving—in secret. Good works—out in the open.

But there’s another key. When our good works get attention, they ought not earn us applause. Our good works should spur others to give God glory.

That’s the other part that makes us uncomfortable, I think. How do we get people to credit God, not us, for something we do for His kingdom?

The “ah, shucks, it wasn’t much” approach comes across as false humility and in the end belittles the good work and consequently the one receiving it and God who should receive the glory.

The Apostle Paul didn’t seem to have this problem. When he healed a lame man in Lystra, the people started calling him and Barnabas gods. Their response?

When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God (Acts 14:14-15a, emphasis added).

Perhaps we get confused about who’s light we’re shining, and that’s why it feels uncomfortable to us to deflect praise to God.

If someone handed me the keys to someone else’s car, should I stand around hemming and hawing as if somehow to refuse to take the keys that don’t belong to me is an embarrassment? Why would it be embarrassing? They don’t belong to me. It’s just a straight, matter of fact. “Oh, perhaps you misunderstood,” I’d say. “Those keys aren’t mine. They belong to someone else.”

So with praise that belongs to God.

The source of the light in this dark world is God Himself which is why the praise should be His.

This article is a revised version of one that first appeared here in May, 2011.

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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.

Published in: on May 11, 2018 at 4:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Daniel, Head Magician—A Reprise


When the first Harry Potter book came out, it quickly became embroiled in controversy largely generated by Christians who were opposed to a book about magic written for children. I understand the thinking. It’s not my intention to rehash the issue, but I can’t help but make a comparison: Harry with Daniel.

Yes, I’m referring to the Daniel-in-the-lions’-den Daniel. First, both were teens. Well, Harry was only eleven when the books started, but he grew up before the eyes of his adoring public. Daniel was a teen at the beginning of his true story and became an old man by the end.

Second, both lived as aliens and strangers. Harry was a gifted, powerful wizard living with people who hated and feared him because of it. Daniel lived with people who had captured him and held him as a slave.

Third, and this is really the point of this post, they were both gifted in magic. Harry’s magic, of course, is pretend. He could learn how to mix potions, wave his wand just so, incant spells, fly his broom—things which are make-believe. Daniel learned, too—the language and literature of the Chaldeans. Did that include their astrology, necromancy, sorcery? Hard to say.

We know he interpreted dreams, starting with the one Nebuchadnezzar wouldn’t describe. But he had already earned a spot as one of the “magicians, the conjurers, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans” marked for death, because it appeared no one could do what the king demanded.

And Daniel’s reward when he did actually give the king the dream and its interpretation? He was promoted. Among other duties, he became chief of the magicians (see for example Dan. 4:9).

Think about that for a moment. He not only lived among those people who worshiped idols, but now he was head of those who used the dark arts to guide their king in his decisions. Talk about being in the culture!

But Daniel and his three friends early in their captivity made up their minds that they would not defile themselves. At issue in those days was what they were to eat. Seemingly, Daniel knew the Mosaic Law, and he intended to abide by it.

We know years later he was still maintaining a regular prayer life, one that was not secret. He lived, as he intended, in communion with God.

And yet his job was chief of the magicians.

I imagine these were people like the Egyptian sorcerers who matched miracles with Moses and Aaron for a short time. In other words, they had real power—just not God’s power.

And Daniel was their chief.

I find that incredible! Today many Christians run from reading about pretend magic, and Daniel was put in charge of real magicians, people who knew how to read the heavens.

Sure, some of what they did was undoubtedly a scam. I suspect that’s why Nebuchadnezzar came up with his impossible request: they were to first tell him what he dreamed, and only then interpret it. I imagine he was fed up with what he had detected to be party-line interpretations. He wanted to know what the dream actually meant, not whatever flattery those fakes might come up with.

But later if they were all fakes, all the time, and Daniel was their chief, why wouldn’t he simply clean house and get good, honest Jews in their place, men like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego whom he could trust? He could have turned the magicians’ arm of the government into a Christian uh, a department run by believers in the One True God.

Of course, Daniel might have been the only person God gifted with the power of divination among the Jewish exiles. But what did he think of the pagan diviners? That they were illegitimate? That they were tapping into the power of the evil one? That they were just one more evidence of the sinfulness of the nation in which he was forced to live? Did he respect them? Or did he squelch them as often as he could?

They owed him their lives because they were due to be executed, but that fact didn’t stop the from coming up with a scheme to get Daniel killed. Clearly, there was no love lost on their part.

Why all this speculation?

I think Christians today in the Western world tend to run scared when it comes to evil. I know I have. I’ve been places where offerings were made to idols, and I sensed evil in a way that freaked me out. But I think that plays into Satan’s hand. The truth is, he is not stronger than God—that would be He who resides in the heart of every Christian. Why are we running scared? it should be Satan running scared when he sees us advancing on our knees.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in May, 2012.

Published in: on May 9, 2018 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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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.

A Gentle Answer


I’m not a gentle person. I’m aggressive. As a young person I was an athlete. I guess I still think of myself as an athlete. I played on a co-ed volleyball team for as long as I could. And I coached nearly all of my years while I was a teacher.

When you have to make fast decisions and quick corrections, gentleness doesn’t always get served.

On top of that, I grew up with an older brother and an older sister, so I guess I was always trying to prove myself, trying to hold my own. At any rate, either one of them can tell you that gentle is not part of my natural make up.

And yet Scripture says a soft [or gentle] answer turns away wrath.

That verse used to trouble me. What does a person do who is not gentle? What if it’s my wrath that needs to be turned away?

My usual response to anger was anger, and I was good at it. I could raise my voice with the best of them.

But God works even when we don’t realize He is. He makes changes when we aren’t looking.

So today, when a poor girl at the atheist/theist FB group page called me an idiot and later an a$$, I knew I had a choice. I could react from the me that is quick to correct or I could respond in a gentle way that she might hear.

I say she was a “poor girl” because she was so angry. I don’t know her story. I don’t know if she is young or old. I just know she was seething with anger . . . at God. And anyone who believes in and trusts Him was apparently a target as well.

Of course I have no idea if a soft answer will turn away her anger from me, because I am not going to stop speaking the truth about God. But I think there’s a great need in this woman’s life to do so in love, not throwing anger of like kind back at her.

She actually didn’t answer my last comment to her, but I suspect when she does, it will be more of the same—no real content and more name calling.

That’s OK. After all, she isn’t mad at me. She doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know that once upon a time I would have aimed to eviscerate her with words. She can’t see that the Holy Spirit has done something in my heart that fills me with sorrow that she hates the very Person who can best comfort and care for her.

I just read today a verse in Hosea that speaks to this very point:

It is your destruction, O Israel,
That you are against Me, against your help. (13:9)

I like the way the New International Version translates it:

“You are destroyed, Israel, because you are against me, against your helper.”

That statement was true about ancient Israel, but it’s also true about a contemporary atheist or Christian or whoever rages against God. He’s the very Person who can and who wants to help.

I think of how children sometimes rage against their parents, when, in fact, the parents are the ones who want what’s best for the children and know a lot more what that looks like than they do. In fact I just read a piece for a contest that involved a child responding to a parent in anger though the parent intended to do what was best. No matter the setting, it’s a familiar scene.

That’s a picture of what we so often do in our relationship with God. And I am including Christians, because the accepted idea by so many is, it’s OK to let God have our anger, with both barrels, right between the eyes. After all, the reasoning goes, He’s big enough; He can take it.

Sure He can. But are we able to deal with our circumstances without the comfort, the help He wants to give us if we weren’t so foolish to push Him away by hurling our anger at Him? I remember a woman who’s son was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer and responded with anger toward the very God she could pray to for healing, who she had prayed to and who had answered when the doctor first discovered the boy’s cancer. Why would you do that, I wanted to say to her.

But back to the point of this post.

Does a gentle answer take away the anger? Maybe not right away, but it’s a step in that direction. It’s a safe bet that anger answering anger is not going to make a difference. But a gentle answer—that’s not expected and it just might arrest the anger enough for the person to actually hear.

The cool thing about my interaction with the person on FB, the gentle answer is clearly not from me. So she’s hearing from God from the Holy Spirit who is changing the way I normally respond. Because “gentle answer” is so not me.

Published in: on April 25, 2018 at 5:55 pm  Comments (2)  
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Christian Forgiveness: Conditional Or Unconditional?


The_Crucifixion001Some years ago I read a new thing about forgiveness—well, new to me. The idea popped up on a post at Spec Faith by Stephen Burnett, then expanded as I followed a link to a post by Kevin DeYoung. I respect both of these men, but I have to admit, I think they’re missing something important about Christian forgiveness.

As I understand the principle they’re presenting, they believe there are two ideas about forgiveness: one, a therapeutic forgiveness that is popular today even in the secular world, and two, a Biblical forgiveness that is dependent upon the repentance of the offender.

In his article about these two types of forgiveness, Mr. DeYoung goes to pains to explain that the second type of forgiveness in no way condones an attitude of bitterness or revenge:

We should always love our enemies. We should always fight against bitterness. We should cast all our cares on the Lord. We should learn to trust God’s providence. We should be eager to forgive those who hurt us and be reconciled to them.

The foundational thought to this idea that a Christian only forgives those who repent, is that we are to forgive like God forgives and He forgives conditionally—that condition being repentance.

Let me back up and explain “therapeutic forgiveness.” I’d not heard the term before, but I think it does describe a humanistic co-oping of a Biblical principle. The idea here is that giving forgiveness makes the person doing the forgiving feel better. There is no intent to reconcile, however. It’s just a way of escaping negative feelings like anger and bitterness.

Many Christians, influenced by Lewis Smedes and a lot of pop psychology, have a therapeutic understanding of forgiveness. They think of forgiveness as a unilateral, internal effort to get our emotions under control. (“What Is Forgiveness?”)

The Biblical view, according to Mr. DeYoung, is that forgiveness is the means to reconciliation. Hence, the Christian should always be ready to forgive, but true forgiveness only comes when both parties move toward one another, repenting and receiving or offering forgiveness as necessary.

Again the rationale behind this concept is the Scriptural statement that we are to forgive as Christ forgave us.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (ESV, Eph. 4:32)

I’ll admit, I have problems with this approach. First, I don’t think there has to be two choices: either therapeutic or Biblical conditional forgiveness. I think there can easily be a third option: Biblical unconditional forgiveness.

Part of my thinking is that some Bible scholars get tied up trying to think the way God thinks. Mr. DeYoung, then, says God’s forgiveness is conditional and therefore ours should be too, as if it’s possible for us to understand the conditional nature of God’s forgiveness.

Ah, but doesn’t Ephesians 4:32 say that’s how we are to forgive? I don’t think necessarily it does. I don’t read the verse as saying we are to forgive in the same manner that God forgives, but that we are to forgive because we received forgiveness.

Paul says essentially the same thing in Col. 3:13:

bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

The intent does not seem focused on forgiving in like manner but extending to others the forgiveness we received.

In other words, I see these verses mirroring Jesus’s instructions to forgive in response to the forgiveness we received. See, for example, the parable He told about the slave who received forgiveness for his debt only to turn around and withhold forgiveness from his fellow slave:

Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ (Matt. 18:32-33; see the entire parable in vv. 23-35)

It seems apparent to me that this “in the same way” is not talking about manner or even condition. In reality neither slave asked that their debt would be forgiven. They asked for more time to pay it off themselves. The act of forgiveness was an extension of mercy—the undeserved offer to cancel the debt.

This is what Christ did on the cross

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

As I read those verses, I’m convinced that God didn’t forgive us when we had put ourselves in a position to deserve it by repenting. He went to the cross while we were yet sinners.

Consequently, I don’t believe as Mr. DeYoung does that God’s forgiveness was conditional. He gave His forgiveness to anyone and everyone, but not everyone has accepted it. When Scripture says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), I think the words “world” and “whoever” remove conditions from God’s side of the equation.

When Paul instructed Timothy to pray for all men, he explained his reasoning this way:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

There are literally dozens of verses throughout the Bible that carry this same idea. But one of the most telling, for me, is 2 Thess. 2:10ff which looks at salvation and forgiveness from the side of those who do not accept it:

[the lawless one will come with all power and signs and false wonders] 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. (Emphasis added.)

These who perish did not receive, implying that they could have received. They took pleasure in wickedness, implying that they could have refrained from taking pleasure in wickedness. They did not believe the truth, implying they could have believed the truth.

All this to say, the third reason I don’t believe forgiveness for the Christian is conditional, based on the repentance of the offender, is because I don’t believe God’s forgiveness is conditional.

I understand there are believers of a different doctrinal persuasion from mine who will disagree, but maybe two out of three reasons will be enough to make the case against this idea that forgiveness needs to be earned by repentance.

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

Clinging To Wilting Flowers — A Reprise


Eight years ago, before the 2010 mid-term elections, I heard about a book by Wayne Grudem, Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. Mind you, I haven’t read the book, but I heard him speak on Family Life Today. As part of his talk, Mr. Grudem “debunked” the idea that some Christian teachers express—namely, that the Christian should not focus on the political arena because the way to change culture is to make disciples.

Both guest and hosts chuckled at this view, apparently because of the reality, that no matter what we do to present Christ, not everyone will accept Him. The implication clearly was, This view is not a practical way to impact the culture. Interestingly, Mr. Grudem made no effort to portray this position as unbiblical.

And how could he, for it seems to me to be thoroughly biblical, perhaps the only biblical approach to politics. Yes, we should vote. Yes, we should be informed. Yes, some Christians will be called by God to serve Him and others by holding elected office, which necessitates involvement in politics. But what about the rest of us? Should we be manning the picket lines, attending the rallies, writing our congressmen?

I don’t think any of that is wrong, but we believers need to be sure we aren’t clinging to wilting flowers. What do I mean?

James 1:11 says

For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

And Isaiah 40:7 says

The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.

Life here on earth is as wilting flowers. Later James says our lives are like fog. So why would we put an overemphasis on holding on to that which is so temporary?

Paul spells it out in Philippians. In talking about false teachers, he says in 3:19-20

whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven from which also we eagerly wait for a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Emphasis mine)

So I wonder if too many of us Christians don’t have our citizenship status mixed up. I wonder how many of us are actually eagerly waiting for Jesus.

I first got a glimpse of what citizenship in heaven would look like in comparison to citizenship on earth when I read C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. Here’s a sample.

I got out. The light and coolness that drenched me were like those of summer morning, early morning a minute or two before the sunrise, only that there was a certain difference. I had the sense of being in a larger space, perhaps even a larger sort of space, than I had ever known before: as if the sky were further off and the extent of the green plain wider than they could be on this little ball of earth. I had got “out” in some sense which made the Solar System itself seem an indoor affair …

At first, of course, my attention was caught by my fellow passengers, who were still grouped about in the neighbourhood of the omnibus, though beginning some of them, to walk forward into the landscape with hesitating steps. I gasped when I saw them. Now that they were in the light, they were transparent—fully transparent when they stood between me and it, smudgy and imperfectly opaque when they stood in the shadow of some tree. They were, in fact, ghosts … I noticed that the grass did not bend under their feet: even the dew drops were not disturbed.

Then some re-adjustment of the mind or some focussing of my eyes took place, and I saw the whole phenomenon the other way round. The men were as they always had been as all the men I had known had been perhaps. It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison. Moved by a sudden thought, I bent down and tried to pluck a daisy which was growing at my feet. The stalk wouldn’t break. I tried to twist it, but it wouldn’t twist. I tugged till the sweat stood out on my forehead and I had lost most of the skin off my hands. The little flower was hard, not like wood or even like iron, but like diamond.

No wilting flower, that. So why would I cling to the passing-away kind?

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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Walking The Tight Rope – A Reprise



Blondin carrying his manager, Harry Colcord, on a tightrope

A few years ago, self-designated King of High Wire, Nik Wallenda, took his act to Niagara Falls.

It had been a hundred and fifty years since anyone made the attempt to cross the raging waters balanced on a wire stretched from shore to shore.

I’m sure there would have been other attempts, but state law banned the feat inside the State Park. Wallenda, following in his famous grandfather’s tragic footsteps, was able to cut through the red tape and gain permission to make the try directly above the Falls, not further downstream where other famous performers worked.

Charles Blondin was one who successfully made the walk. A famous circus performer in the middle of the nineteenth century, he gained special fame for his “different theatrical variations: blindfolded, in a sack, trundling a wheelbarrow, on stilts, carrying a man (his manager, Harry Colcord) on his back, sitting down midway while he cooked and ate an omelet and standing on a chair with only one chair leg on the rope” (from Wikimedia, “Charles Blondin”).

Call it courageous or call it fool-hearty, these incredible performers know that one misstep may be their last, as was the experience of Nik Wallenda’s 73-year-old grandfather, Karl. There’s no place for detours or side trips, no wandering astray for a time, not even mentally. This is life or death on the straight and narrow.

What a metaphor for life. All of us can take the straight and narrow–choosing the only Way, Jesus Christ who reconciles us with God–or we can step out into the wide open spaces and float or sail or dive merrily toward destruction.

How restrictive, some say, to walk that one path, that only way. Why can’t a different path get us to the other side just as well?

The wire might look scary and the walk might be buffeted by winds, but there simply is no other way. In contrast, free falling might look like fun, but that’s a way down, not a way across.

Myself, I’d rather not make the crossing, but of course, in life, we don’t have that option. One way or the other, we will leave this shore. Knowing this, it seems imperative to learn everything I can about walking the wire.

Of course we can change the metaphor. Rather than me walking the straight and narrow, I can instead put my trust in the skilled and practiced King to carry me across. On his back, in the wheelbarrow–He can take me however He chooses. It’s His show, not mine.

This article is an edited version of one that appeared here in June 2-12.

A Personal Relationship With Jesus Christ


At my Facebook atheist/theist group, one of the atheists posted a question of sorts, asking Christians to describe their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, because, he said, if the thing is not demonstrable, then there’s some question it even exists.

I’ve thought about the question a bit. The thing is, I don’t think an atheist can understand my answer. How does a believer explain the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Or the peace that passes understanding?

As I thought about my answer this morning, I left out the “demonstrable” part, as in, what I assume he was asking for—something other people can observe.

I can say that because of my relationship with Jesus, I read the Bible and pray. The Atheist Guy (AG) would likely answer that I was reading myths and saying words to the air. Because he can’t see Jesus.

My Christian friends, those in real life and on the web all know that reading God’s word is reading words of life and praying is the greatest expression of our thoughts and needs, or potentially can be so, to Him who loves us most. But how can those outside the faith knows this?

Another thing that is “demonstrable” is my going to church, but then people without a relationship with God through Christ might also attend some place of worship. That’s just a religious thing if you aren’t hearing the truth and if you aren’t meeting with God and with His people.

I could list service things or career things, but the atheist can once again point to people of other faiths or no faith who do good and some who even alter their career to serve others. So what does knowing Jesus do that nothing else does?

It’s not really something anyone else can witness. The first thing that came to my mind as I pondered the question is a tag line from a friend’s Christian fantasy: “Never alone.” Because the Spirit of the Living God dwells in my heart, I literally am never alone. He’s with me when I see the snow-capped mountains or a rosebush bursting with blossoms. He’s with me when my friend needs prayer because of a surprise medical condition or a death in her church family.

God is with me when I read His word or listen to the preaching of it. He nudges my heart into realization that the Bible is living and active. It’s not distant and irrelevant or old-fashioned and culturally flawed. It’s vibrant and powerful, and the Holy Spirit, who is with me, brings the truth of Scripture to bear in my life and my circumstances.

I know the AG won’t get any of that.

He won’t get how important it is for me to sit at the Lord’s table or how God gives me living water, how His presence comforts me in times of sorrow and grief. How He quiets my fears, and certainly not how I can turn to Him any time of any day and know He hears my cry.

The AG can’t know how God answers my cries for help, sometimes by sending godless strangers to bail me out of a pickle, sometimes by giving a friend words of wisdom, sometimes by directing my reading to a certain article or book, sometimes by speaking to me in my spirit.

Are these things that an atheist will be able to see and understand as God working in my life because we have a relationship? I doubt it. Most often I’ve heard, “coincidence” or “imagined” in conjunction to God’s answered prayer.

The thing is, whenever I think of living without God, I can’t imagine going on. I don’t mean that to sound moribund. But I don’t understand what an atheist does when they hear a loved one is sick or has been in an accident or if he loses his job. Who do you turn to for help, I wonder. How do you get through the death of a loved one, if you have no hope and no comfort? I can’t imagine going on.

I can’t imagine life without worship. What do atheists do during the proverbial “minute of silence” in a public gathering? Who do they thank for a glorious sunset? Who do they turn to when disaster devastates a community?

The old adage is, There are no atheists in foxholes, which is kind of true if we look at the response of Americans immediately following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The problem is, as quickly as people turn to God for rescue in crisis, they turn from Him in times of security.

A real relationship with God means we aren’t foul-weather friends—we don’t just care about Him when times are tough.

I can hardly talk about a relationship with God through His Son Jesus without mentioning joy. But how can I explain that sense of well-being and contentment and satisfaction and an awareness of being completely loved, even at the most desperate times?

How can I explain how freeing it feels to be completely forgiven? How can I show AG how different Jesus Christ has made me and is making me as the years go by? How can I explain that my relationship with Him colors my whole worldview, and influences what I write, what I do, how I vote, what I watch on TV—all of it.

I guess what I’m really asking is, how can I make “demonstrable” new life in Christ?

I’m a new creature, I want to shout. Old things just aren’t appealing any more. I don’t have a certain set of ethics because I have to but because I want to. I serve God in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter of the Law.

None of this is “demonstrable,” but all of it marks me as God’s child, His heir, because I’ve been adopted into the beloved. It certainly is enough for me to be sure about my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, even though others may not see it.