Deal Or No Deal — A Reprise


A number of years ago a pastor, Mike Erre, spoke at my church from Ephesians, explaining that the book can be divided into two sections—the indicative that makes statements about who the Christian is and how we relate to God, and the imperative that gives us commands to do to live up to our identity.

In the section that enumerates the believer’s standing as a child of God, there is only one command: remember. I think that’s cool! First, before all else, we need to be grounded in who God is and who we are as a result of our relationship with Him.

The book pivots in chapter four when Paul shifts to the imperatives. This, by the way, is a common pattern in the Pauline epistles.

In verse one of this section Paul says

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called

So here’s where the commands start. But it’s easy for us to get off on the wrong foot. We can take this idea of walking in a manner worthy of the calling as our marching orders to pay God back for the kindness of salvation. He gave so much to us, so now we owe Him.

No. Christ’s “death on our behalf was a gift, not a deal.”

Love that!

The pastor illustrated the point then, with the analogy of a man becoming a husband. At a wedding, as soon as the minister pronounces the couple, husband and wife, the man doesn’t start doing husbandly things in order to become a husband. He already is a husband. From that point on, he’s trying to live up to the role he already has.

Same with becoming a father. When his baby is born, he is a father. His doing his fatherly duties is not his attempt to earn his place as his child’s father. That is his already. Instead, he wants to learn to do fathering the right way.

So too with the believer. We are in Christ, part of the body of Christ, and with that position come many awesome advantages. Then Paul says, we are to walk worthy of the calling. We are to learn how to live the role, “child of God.”

One last thing. The command in Exodus 20:7 about not taking the name of the Lord in vain, connotes in the original text the idea of carrying His name. I found that to be interesting because the Jews literally did wear the Scriptures. But for us, the idea is that we bear the name of Christ, and we are not to do that in a worthless way.

I thought of several things, one being those people who will say to Christ, Lord, Lord, we cast out demons in your name and healed in your name, but He’ll say, depart, I never knew you. Those, I would think, are people who have Christ’s name on their lips but their hearts are far from Him.

But I also thought of how I live my life covering up my identity. I used to refer to my teen years as ones in which I lived as an undercover Christian. The pastor said that living worthy of our calling means we give up the privilege of being anonymous.

When I first started teaching, it was disconcerting when I was out and about with my friends and ran into some of my students or their parents. I’d flash back to what I was doing right before I realized they saw me. Had I done anything stupid or un-teacherly? Had I lost respect because I was clowning around or grousing at some store clerk?

In essence, I was living anonymously, not as a teacher who should set an example for her students, until I realized I’d been recognized.

As a Christian, if I’m walking worthy of my calling, I won’t take time out to live anonymously. I’ll happily bear the mark of Christ, carry His name with me wherever I go.

This post is a revised version of an article that first appeared here in June, 2012.

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Published in: on July 16, 2018 at 4:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Nasty Consequences Of Dehydration


It’s July, so no surprise that summer weather has arrived with a vengeance. Here in SoCal, that means heat. Desert-like heat. As the temperatures soared around the Southland, various of my friends and I posted on Facebook the temperature they experienced: 112° at one place, 110° at another place, 106° at my place (at the time; it’s since gone up), further north, 100°.

In response to my report, a cousin who lives back east commented, “At least it’s not humid there.” Or something similar. And she’s right. The humidity, according to my weather app, is 13%. These conditions are clearly more like the Mojave Desert than the Pacific coast. The problem is, we live between those two land features.

Usually we enjoy an onshore breeze. Depending on how close you live to the ocean, the temps range from mild to mildly warm. But when the wind shifts and we experience an offshore breeze, we have conditions such as we’re experiencing today.

Wikipedia has this to say about the Mojave: “The Mojave Desert is an arid rain-shadow desert and the driest desert in North America.” Not hottest. Driest. Little to no moisture. And as it happens, this is the “dry season” here in SoCal. Well, most months are “the dry season,” but rain in July is pretty much unheard of.

So we swelter, but we don’t really sweat, which, of course, is the body’s way of cooling itself. Generally when it gets this hot we’re reminded to drink lots of water and stay inside. Preferable in some place air conditioned.

Of course, not all of us have air conditioning. Consequently, it’s a good idea to double down on prevention of dehydration. The general rule is to drink water and do so before you get thirsty. At the same time avoid caffeine and alcohol or any other diuretic.

As part of the prevention issue, knowing the symptoms is premium:
dry mouth, tired or sleepy, headache, dizziness, a few others.

What’s ironic is that my next door neighbor just had to tend to her father in Las Vegas who experience heat stroke, essentially another name for dehydration.

The truth is, dehydration can sneak up on a person if he’s not staying aware, being intentional. I see a lot of parallels with a person’s spiritual life.

What happens when someone “dries out” spiritually? The symptoms will vary, but they are pretty deadly, all of them. If we aren’t hydrated by God’s word, we’ll grow cold toward Him, not responsive to the Holy Spirit. We’re putting ourselves at risk, and we might not even realize it. After all, the people who die of dehydration don’t intentionally set out to put their lives at risk. They just lapse into a dangerous condition because they were careless, forgetful, unaware of their deficiency, of their need.

Staying hydrated spiritually needs to be something we are willing to do as a first priority, not as an optional exercise. If, of course, we want to live healthy spiritual lives.

Published in: on July 6, 2018 at 5:38 pm  Comments (4)  
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Injustice—Thoughts On The Eve Of The Fourth Of July



I originally wrote this post in 2012, but not much has changed, so I’ve made some revisions and am re-posting. After all, the main point that becomes clear at the end of the article, is timeless.

– – – – –

Injustice? We’re all against it, aren’t we? No one is willing to stand up and say, I think we should band together in support of injustice. That’s not going to happen.

And yet injustice keeps climbing to the top. It’s Hitler or Uganda’s General Idi Amin, Chairman Mao, the Roman emperors, the corrupt Church of the Middle Ages, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Or the American government today.

OK, I know that’s not a popular thing to say, especially as the US is about to celebrate the Fourth of July—our Independence Day—but why should Americans think we’re immune to injustice in government?

I know a lot of Christians think the US is blessed because our government is founded on the bedrock of Christian principles, but that’s only true to an extent. As our detractors are quick to point out, “all men are created equal” referred, at the time it was written, only to men and only to white men. That’s a fact.

I’m not of the school that thinks we ought to start handing out reparations to African-Americans or giving land back to Native Americans or to Mexico. Neither am I of the school that believes the evils of slavery or the land-grabs of the 19th century (1) didn’t happen; or (2) were good.

All that to say, from our early history America hasn’t been a paradigm of the just nation. But I’m concerned for today, understanding that what’s gone before has had its effect on where we are now.

Six years ago the news here in the Los Angeles Basin included a segment about some tax called the gross tax (isn’t all tax gross 😆 ) that the City is lifting on car dealerships. The point is to create a climate that is friendly to Ford, Nissan, GM, et al. so that they’ll bring their business back to LA.

But what about other businesses, the astute reporter asked. Why only car dealerships? Oh, the Mayor answered, car dealerships will bring in a substantial amount of revenue through sales tax, so that’s why we’re favoring them.

OK, I added the “favoring” part, but that’s what it is, isn’t it? Other businesses who don’t have the lobbying power or the promise of greasing the City’s coffers significantly will just have to grin and pay the gross tax. Is that just?

Or what about what’s going on in Washington, D. C.? The notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff, in a rebroadcast of “The lobbyist’s playbook,” a 60 Minutes segment that first aired in November, 2011, did a tell-all that exposed the illegal practices rampant in our Congress, all connected with bribery, some legal and some illegal. Yes, you read that correctly, some legal bribery.

And we wonder why so little meaningful business gets done in our Federal government. We moan and wring our hands about problems that Congress pretty much ignores because no one is sliding money over or under the table to get the necessary legislation started.

Here’s part of Abramoff’s exchange with Lesley Stahl:

Abramoff: At the end of the day most of the people that I encountered who worked on Capitol Hill wanted to come work on K Street, wanted to be lobbyists.

Stahl: You’re telling me this, the genius of figuring out you could own the office by offering a job to the chief of staff, say. I’m having two reactions. One is brilliant. And the other is I’m sick to my stomach.

Abramoff: Right. Evil. Yeah. Terrible.

Stahl: ‘Cause it’s hurting our country.

Abramoff: Shameful. Absolutely. It’s the worst thing that could happen. All parts of the system. (60 Minutes transcript or video)

I could go on—why, for example, do oil companies get government subsides? What are we doing to stop the banks from gamboling with our money? What became of the General Services Administration (GSA) scandal uncovered just prior to the FBI scandal?

Why do I bring all this up? Because if American Christians don’t see the truth about our nation—we’re just like everyone else—we aren’t going to pray for fundamental change: the revolution that needs to happen in the hearts of people.

It’s great that we have concern for those without Christ living in far away places, but it’s past time we show concern for the lost right here in our backyard. We are a nation in which, apparently, 90% of the people believe in heaven, but only 8% believe the Bible to be true and Jesus to be who He said He was.

And we wonder about injustice in America.

Thus says the LORD, “For three transgressions of Israel and for four I will not revoke its punishment,
Because they sell the righteous for money
And the needy for a pair of sandals. (Amos 2:6)

Published in: on July 3, 2018 at 5:27 pm  Comments (6)  
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Rejecting Jesus


All three of the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—recount the parable Jesus told about the landowner who rented out some property to a group of vine-growers. At harvest time he sent a servant to collect what was due him—likely a percentage of the proceeds.

Instead of paying up, the renters beat the servant and sent him away empty handed. The landowner sent another servant and another and more. Some, those vine-growers beat, some they even killed. At last the owner decided to send his son in hopes that the tenants would respect the son.

They didn’t.

Instead they thought they saw an opportunity. If they killed the son, they reasoned, the inheritance would be theirs.

The key points here are these: the people listening to Jesus tell this story, recognized themselves as the bad guys who killed the son; they also missed the part about what happened to the tenants after they killed the son.

First, those corrupt religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus, and who finally succeeded in manipulating Pilate into declaring the death sentence upon a man he had determined to be innocent, knew they were the vine-growers in the story, making Jesus either a servant or the son they were planning to kill. In other words, they knew Jesus had come from God, and they didn’t care!

That’s the ultimate rejection.

In dealing with Jesus, people can respond in a variety of ways”

  • Jesus? Who’s Jesus?
  • I’ve heard of Jesus, and he’s a good man, but I follow _____.
  • Jesus is not a real person.
  • Jesus is the Son of God, and God is a tyrant. What does that make Jesus?
  • Jesus is the Son of God, and I bow before Him in humble submission and repentance.

Likely there are others, but only the latter is the response of the follower, the person who wants to be brought into relationship with God. The others, if they go nowhere else, are simply forms of rejecting Jesus.

The thing is, there’s no reason for the person who asks, Who is Jesus? to stay in a place of ignorance. There’s no reason for the person who thinks Jesus is a myth not to learn the truth about Him instead. In reality, it’s the person who has his eyes wide open, who hears the truth, who understands the truth, and then who denies the truth, that is digging himself a hole he may never be able to climb out of.

That position is the same as those wicked religious leaders of Jesus’s day. Not only did they not want to respect the Son or give Him what was due, they did what they could to prevent others from believing in Him and following Him. That’s why they plotted against Him and had Him killed. They mistakenly thought that would bring an end to their problem.

But it didn’t. Rejecting Jesus was just the beginning of their real problem.

“When the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?”

They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.” (Matt. 21:38-41)

The crowd listening to Jesus tell this story actually supplied the ending. Jesus simply confirmed what they said, tying it with Scripture:

” ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED,
THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone;
THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD,
AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’?
“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” (Matt. 21:42b-44)

This story reminds me of Adam. He knew that God had told Him not to eat of the fruit from the special tree, but he ignored God and did what he wanted instead. He rejected Him just as surely as those religious leaders rejected Jesus knowing that He was in fact the messiah.

In fact, what did they tell Pilate during Jesus’s final public trial? We have no king but Caesar. In other words, Messiah who is to come and reign is not over us; God is not over us. That was their way of taking the Son out and killing Him in the hope that they’d get the prize—they’d get to keep the power and authority they had taken for themselves.

Today people reject Jesus so they can keep their own rule and authority over their little lives. They don’t want God to tell them what to do, so they reject the Son in hopes that the kingdom of their heart will be all their own.

News flash: It won’t be.

Published in: on June 26, 2018 at 5:44 pm  Comments (1)  
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Jesus And The Government


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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 (3)  
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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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