If We’re Thankful, Why Aren’t We Content?


Photo by Nancy Lowrie from FreeImages

This Thursday those of us in the US will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. It seems quite common to hold a genuine feast on Thanksgiving Day, even pause to pray and thank God for the bountiful blessings, then scurry out the next day and shop to the dropping point.

So how thankful can we actually be if we must always buy more? Granted, I realize much of the after-Thanksgiving shopping is connected with Christmas, but the American way of life has become that of the consumer. Once, not so long ago, we made things. Now we consume things.

And what’s more, that’s considered the good life. During the Great Recession, the powers that be seemed to believe the solution to righting the ship was to get America away from saving and back into spending.

While I’m not saying that spending is “bad” or that our spirituality should be measured by how much we save, I do think there’s a point where we should evaluate our attitude to see if we care more about living the life of abundance rather than living the abundant life.

Not long ago I read the Biblical account of the exodus—God’s people leaving Egypt for the Promised Land. On their journey God provided their food—manna:

The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey. (Ex. 16:31)

Wafers with honey. Yet a bunch of people who enjoyed this gracious provision as they traveled across the wilderness found fault with it.

The sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” (Num. 11:4b-6)

For the moment, give them the benefit of the doubt—they were tired of the same diet, meal after meal, day after day. But look what they were doing—remembering what they’d enjoyed in Egypt.

Never mind that Egypt had just experienced devastating plagues that had wiped out virtually all vegetation. Between the plague of hail and the plague of locust, were there any cucumbers and melons and leeks and onions and garlic left for them to go back to?

The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled in all the territory of Egypt; they were very numerous. There had never been so many locusts, nor would there be so many again. For they covered the surface of the whole land, so that the land was darkened; and they ate every plant of the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Thus nothing green was left on tree or plant of the field through all the land of Egypt. (Ex. 10:14-15)

Granted, the hail did not fall in Goshen where the people of Israel lived. Let’s say for the moment that the locusts didn’t go there either, though the text doesn’t specify this. How was it that Israel had the food they remembered so fondly when the rest of Egypt was decimated?

Obviously the answer was, God.

What they had in Egypt, then, came from the hand of God, and what they had in the wilderness came from the hand of God. Consequently, when they cried discontentedly against the manna they were “forced” to eat, they essentially were telling God He wasn’t doing a good job of caring for them.

In other words, discontent is actually an accusation against God.

Yet our entire existence seems to be made up of striving and struggling and trying and working. Oh, wait. Wasn’t that what God told Adam life would be like outside the Garden?

So the striving and all isn’t the problem per se. That’s the condition into which we’ve been born. But responding with discontent seems to me to be a choice—one that clashes with a genuine spirit of thankfulness.

Minus a few editorial changes, this post first appeared here in November 2010, then again three years ago.

Published in: on November 25, 2019 at 5:12 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Anatomy Of Thanksgiving


Soon we in the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving Day, so I want to take a closer look at the nature of thanksgiving.

My first observation about thanksgiving in general is that it is a responsive action. People give thanks because they have first been given something or have benefited from some condition or in some other way have experienced favor or provision. In other words, we don’t start out being thankful. We become thankful as we realize what we have received.

Thanksgiving, then, requires a level of humility. If we think we have earned all we have, if we aren’t acknowledging the fact that we received from another’s hand, we won’t be in a mindset to give thanks.

In that regard, Thanksgiving also requires a measure of reality. We need to see the truth about our circumstances. We need to have clarity of vision so that we realize both what we have received and what we would be like if we hadn’t received.

True thanksgiving, having been properly caused, seems to erupt from within. As someone on another site noted, thanksgiving can’t be mandated. No one can be thankful by order of the President, even if that President was Abraham Lincoln. Rather, thankfulness flows from a heart of love and relief and appreciation, not only for the thing received, but for the person who made it possible.

Third, thanksgiving is expressed. Real thanksgiving has legs. It moves from being an emotion to being a demonstration, through words or actions. People giving thanks aren’t silent and they often aren’t still. Thankful people give smiles and hugs; they pack bags and fly hundreds of miles across country; they send cards and presents; they sing songs; they put offering into the plate at church; they get up a half hour early to pray. In short, thanksgiving is not passive.

I can’t help but think of the story Jesus told Simon, the Pharisee who hosted him for a meal.

“A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41-42).

Jesus didn’t say, which will be more thankful? He said, which will love him more? Thanksgiving isn’t passive. It turns into love and service and shameless adoration. At least, real thankfulness does–the kind that recognizes the great gifts which have been bestowed and receives them in humility.

In the end, I guess that explains why we so often take time on Thanksgiving Day to think about the things we’ve been given. An awareness of what we have that we did not earn puts us in a place where we can experience thankfulness and then respond.

So let the count begin of all the blessings God has bestowed upon us. Let’s not forget the things God has revealed about Himself that are treasures in and of themselves: He is infinite in love, His mercy extends to the heavens, He is abundantly trustworthy to the point that He will never fail us or forsake us, He is righteous in all His works, His goodness is untainted with even a shadow of wrong doing.

And the list goes on!

This post is a reprint of one that appeared here in November, 2013.

Published in: on November 15, 2019 at 4:35 pm  Comments (2)  
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Living With Guilt


Convict_Chain_GangThere’s a perception among many that Christians are the most tortured, guilt-ridden people on the planet. After all, our God has all these rules, and He judges everyone and is probably just waiting to zap whoever he catches breaking one of his commandments.

That picture is a sad caricature of what a true Christian is like. Don’t get me wrong. I know there are people in a number of arms of the Church that have the perception that their salvation rests on the works they do. But that’s a misconception of the truth.

In reality, Christians are wonderfully freed from guilt, sin, the law. We freely acknowledge that we’re failures. No matter how we might like to live in obedience to God’s mandates, we admit we can’t—not a hundred percent of the time. We’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we become so engrossed in our own lives and projects and comfort and well-being, we sometimes don’t even know who our neighbors are.

We know we’re supposed to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but sometimes it’s just so hard to get out of bed in the morning to have that time reading the Bible and praying that we know will bring us closer to Him. And doesn’t the church already have enough Sunday School teachers?

I could go on about pride and grumbling and judging and greed and gossip and selfishness and hatred in our hearts—you know, the kind Jesus says is as bad as murder. We Christians are a bunch of sinners, like all the rest of the world. But there’s this important distinction. We don’t bear the burden of our sin any longer.

No guilt.

No shame.

No secret desire to sneak into a tiny monastery cell and engage in self-flagellation.

We’re also not boasting about the sins we’re chalking up. We aren’t bragging about getting out of a speeding ticket by lying to the cop or planning how we can cheat the IRS when we file our taxes.

The truth about Christians and sin is this: Jesus Christ paid the debt we owe for all our sins—past, present, and future. The guilt that we were rightly bearing is off our shoulders.

yokeWhat we know now is God’s love and mercy and grace and forgiveness. Out of hearts filled with gratitude, we want to love God better, obey Him more perfectly, follow Him where He takes us. We simply owe Him our lives and we don’t want to let Him out of our sight.

Happily, we don’t have to!

And that’s such great news, we don’t want to keep it to ourselves. We want to let other people know how Jesus will also take the burden of guilt they’re lugging around off their shoulders.

I can hear people now: What guilt? I don’t have any guilt. That only comes from crazy religious people with their lists of do’s and don’ts. That whole sin thing is a religious construct to force people into their churches.

Well, actually, it’s not. First we have these natures in us bent to glorify ourselves instead of glorifying God and serving ourselves instead of serving others. In other words, our bent is to reject God’s authority and to live for ourselves. Some people deal with this by saying God doesn’t exist and we have to learn empathy. But the fact is, we never learn it perfectly. So even if we set aside our rejection of God and just looked at how we treat others, we can see that bent nature in us all.

Most people are quite aware they aren’t perfect. However, they have allowed society to talk them out of recognizing that not-perfect state as sin. It’s kind of like these criminals caught on security cameras in the act of stealing the packages or dog-napping the puppy or passing the note to the bank teller, then standing up in court after they’ve been arrested and pleading not guilty.

Well, of course they’re guilty! What they’re hoping for is to escape punishment by some technicality.

I don’t know if people who say they don’t sin are angling for the same escape or not. But I will say, if they don’t own their guilt now, they will one day.

The ONLY people who are living without guilt are those who have accepted the grace of God poured out on us as His gift through His Son Jesus who took our sins on Himself and paid the penalty we deserved.

Simply put, we’ve been forgiven.

I’ll add that we also have a virulent enemy who tries to make us feel guilty even though we’ve been forgiven. He throws our past in our faces and tries to shame us by our failures. He loves to discourage us so we don’t face each day remembering how accepted and loved we are by God.

We’re in a battle, but not against people who don’t believe like us or against a certain political slant or law. The battle we are waging is “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12b).

These are the forces that hate God and don’t want us to lift up His name, who want to see us stumbling under guilt we’ve imagined still belongs to us. These forces would love to see us fall into sin and besmirch the name of Christ by which we are known.

Sometimes we fall, but God is the One Who holds our hand. He won’t let us pitch headlong out of His loving care. He’ll bring us back into His arms and carry us if that’s what it takes.

It’s God’s amazing love that drives us forward. Now, instead of hating on God, we want to do His will. We don’t have a list we need to check off because it’s in our heart to pay attention to what pleases Him.

So for the Christian, living with guilt has been changed into living for the delight of pleasing God. The Chris Tomlin song “Amazing Love” says it well:

Amazing love,
How can it be
That You, my King, should die for me?
Amazing love,
I know it’s true.
It’s my joy to honor You,
In all I do, I honor You.

This post is a re-print of one that appeared here in February, 2015.

Veterans’ Day, AKA Armistice Day


One hundred years ago today, the US celebrated the one year anniversary of the end of World War I, which was known at the time as the Great War. Seven years later Congress passed a resolution calling for an annual celebration. Then, in 1938, Armistice Day became an official national holiday.

Fittingly, after World War II and after the end of the Korean War, in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name of the holiday to Veterans’ Day.

This particular holiday differs from Memorial Day in one significant way: the commemoration in May honors those who died serving their country, whereas Veterans’ Day honors all military personnel living today, those who are still in the service and those who have matriculated from the service.

Sometimes I think we do some nutty things with our holidays, and this was one. Back in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill (and apparently President Johnson signed it) which moved Veterans’ Day to the fourth Monday in October! President Gerald Ford returned it to November 11, six years later, largely because of the historical connection to the end of WWI.

I’m glad he did. I had a hard time with changing Abraham Lincoln and George Washington’s birthdays to the nearest Monday, and even more trouble with the combined celebration calling it now Presidents’ Day. It’s kind of like celebrating the 4th of July on the first Monday in July, or something. That would be so wrong because you know, the 4th should be celebrated on the 4th.

So thankfully Veterans’ Day has been returned to its original anniversary. The problem is, a lot of the history of Armistice Day has been lost, I fear. I mean, there’s been so much history that has happened in the last 100 years, it’s easy to crowd out what at the time was a momentous occurrence.

What we here in the US may not realize, the First World War lasted from 1914-1918. Over 9 million people died. The conflict started as “the European War” but soon became a global war. Although President Woodrow Wilson campaigned, and won his second term in office, by running on the slogan “He kept us out of war,” the US joined the war efforts on the side of the Allied Powers in April 1917 by declaring war on Germany.

In many ways, it’s ironic that we celebrate the armistice that was signed to bring an end to the conflict because historians point to the conditions of peace and the punitive terms imposed on Germany as one cause of World War II. But of course, back in 1919, no one knew that a worse war would almost dwarf the mayhem caused by “the war to end all wars.”

But even though the armistice was sketchy, at best, the point and purpose of a day set aside to honor veterans, is not. It is only right that we should acknowledge and thank the many men and women who have and are serving us, which they do by serving our country. And many times their families are required to make sacrifices, too.

So thank you to those who spent time in whichever branch of service they may have been a part of. I mean, the Coast Guard is just as vital as the Air Force. And reservists are just as vital as career military people. All those sacrificial people desire our thanks, and much more. The deserve our support, our help, our willingness to reach out and befriend a veteran, our prayers. They deserve our willingness to listen to their stories, to share their heartache or their triumph.

May God provide and care and watch over those who faithfully put their lives on the line for us.

Published in: on November 11, 2019 at 5:10 pm  Comments (5)  
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Who Are Those Old Hymn Writers? Fanny Crosby


Years ago I read a biography about Fanny Crosby an American lyricist, but I remembered really only two things: she was blind, and there was some controversy over her choruses.

Doing a little research about her, I learned a lot more. First, born a hundred years after Isaac Watts, in 1820, she was far more prolific than he. Her songs and hymns numbered nearly 9000! Because the hymnbook publishers didn’t want a book filled by only one writer, they had her write under a number of pseudonyms besides writing under her own name.

Second, Fanny Crosby was married, even had a daughter who died in infancy (either from typhoid or SIDS). She and her husband eventually lived apart, and he died in 1902. She lived until 1915, when she was a few months shy of 95.

In her early career, she taught at the New York Institute of the Blind (which is where she met her husband—he was also blind). Later she spoke in many places, published her autobiography, collaborated on a number of hymnals, and spent much of her life as a rescue mission worker.

Crosby has become known as the Queen of Gospel Song Writers and reached a level of popularity in her lifetime that sets her apart from other lyricists. Her songs were largely simple, not lofty or grandiose. She intended them to be evangelistic in nature. “Many times literary critics would challenge the quality of her work, to which she would remind them that she was writing to be understood by the common people, not the elite.” (Paperless Hymnal)

She did not let her blindness be a hindrance. After her father died and while her mother was caring for his children from another marriage and Fanny, her grandmother took over a great deal of responsibility teaching her about the world and about the Bible. Fanny began to memorize Scripture, and eventually learned “the first five books of the Old Testament, then the first four of the New Testament, then Proverbs and many of the psalms.” (Ibid)

As it happened, her blindness was a result of a doctor’s malpractice. When she was two months old, this man treated the infant for an illness by applying a mustard poultice to her eyes. She was never bitter or angry toward this man. She is reported to have said when she was 85 that if she could have asked for something at birth it would be that she would be blind so that the first face she would see would be her Lord and Savior.

Regarding the controversy. Largely the issues revolved around her meager pay for the songs and an appeal that went public for help with her financial needs. She did not believe herself in need at all. In fact her publisher provided a stipend for her long after she was no more giving them new lyrics.

What I had recalled was some question about the depth of what she wrote, much the same as Isaac Watts faced, but if that was the case, that fact did not surface in my research today. Instead, it appears her poems and lyrics were popular, particularly when D. L. Moody and Ira Sankey included them in their crusades.

Of course, beyond her influence in her own day, Fanny Crosby’s legacy continues. Many of her hymns are well loved and are still sung wherever hymns are still sung. A list of her most well-known songs include:

“All the Way My Savior Leads Me”–1875, music by Robert Lowry
“Blessed Assurance”–1873, music by Phoebe Knapp
“He Hideth My Soul”–1890, music by William J. Kirkpatrick
“I Am Thine, O Lord (Draw Me Nearer)”–1875, music by W. Howard Doane
“Tell Me the Story of Jesus”–1880, music by John R. Sweney
“To God Be the Glory”–1875, music by W. Howard Doane

And so many others.

Here’s an all time favorite.

And here’s another.

Published in: on November 8, 2019 at 5:58 pm  Comments (4)  
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Who Are Those Old Hymn Writers? Isaac Watts


I may have mentioned that I’ve been spending time with my parents’ old hymnal. I even bought a hymnal on line because I wanted more of the spiritual songs I have sung for most of my life. One thing I like about the hymn books is that you have time to see who wrote them—lyrics and music alike.

One name kept popping up in connection to hymns I knew well, that I’d sung in every church I attended: Issac Watts. A famous name, but who was he? I realized I didn’t actually know. So a little research and here’s what I learned.

An Englishman, Watts lived a long time ago, born and died before the birth of the United States. But he was a product of the Reformation. The Anglican church dominated the scene at the time, but the Watts family affiliated with the Nonconformists. His father even spent time in jail because his beliefs were illegal.

Watts had an aptitude for language and for poetry. He has come to be known as the father of English hymnody. The Germans had been writing hymns for a hundred years already, but Watts introduced something new in English. Many of his 600 some hymns were paraphrases of Scripture.

Still, his songs were controversial in some places, in large part because they were not Scripture.

A hymn in the most general sense is a song of praise to God, but it is distinguished from a psalm, a lyrical expression of devotion drawn from the Book of Psalms in the Bible. Psalm singing, or psalmody, was the main form of congregational musical involvement in services when Watts came on the scene. Watts’s hymns were often based on psalms, but he put them into a moving new language of personal worship that anyone could understand. (“Isaac Watts,” Encyclopedia.com)

Quoting from a primary source, CT Magazine explains further:

“Christian congregations have shut out divinely inspired psalms and taken in Watts’s flights of fancy,” protested one detractor. Others dubbed the new songs “Watts’s whims.” (“Isaac Watts: Father of English Hymnody”)

I guess music has been an issue for a long time in the Church!

Watts never married. He lived and worked in London as a tutor for a number of years, then as a pastor, and finally primarily as a hymn writer.

He was know in his day for his work and teaching in the subject of logic. He wrote the textbook that was used for years known as Logic but fully entitled he Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry After Truth With a Variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences. Some of this work departed from the standard understanding of the discipline and some was innovative as he utilized the influence of contemporary thought, including that of John Locke.

Isaac Watts was a small, frail man, but brilliant and influential in his own day. What amazes me is how long his influence has lasted. Here are some of his best known hymns:

Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed? (music: Hugh Wilson)
Am I a Soldier of the Cross? (music: Thomas A. Arne)
At the Cross (music: Ralph E. Hudson)
Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove (music: John B. Dykes)
Come, We That Love the Lord (music: Aaron Williams)
I Sing the Mighty Power of God (from Gesangbuch der Herzogl, 1784)
Jesus Shall Reign (music: John Hatton)
Joy to the World! (music: George F. Handel)
O God, Our Help in Ages Past (music: attr. to William Croft)
We’re Marching to Zion (music: Robert Lowry)
When I Can Read My Title Clear (music: attr. to Joseph C. Lowry)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (music: arr. by Lowell Mason) [List compiled by Wholesome Words]

So who was Isaac Watts? A brilliant man, a pastor who loved God and His word and wanted to make the truth of Scripture accessible to the normal person. Even to children. He had a book of hymns written just for them.

And amazingly, his influence continues today. Especially at Christmas when people of all kinds of religious backgrounds may hear strains of “Joy to the World,” not a holiday song really. It is a “for all times” hymn, as are so many others of his.

Published in: on November 7, 2019 at 5:52 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Majesty Of Music



Photo by Maggie Hazen from FreeImages

There are a few things that transport me to another level of worship. One is nature. Not just any nature, either. The ocean, with waves crashing against cliffs is pretty good, but better is the high country—beyond timberline. I’ve only been there a few times, but it’s like a different world.

Coming out of the darkness created by evergreens growing in tight clusters, you discover fields of wildflowers, glacier patches, blue-green lakes, and a sky that’s such a rich blue it looks like you could eat it. Oh, and rocky peaks that look more like cathedrals. And crystal cold streams. All I can think is, This is the world God created.

Music has that same effect on me. Not all music. Just like nature, there are pieces and then there are pieces. Some I enjoy because they are fun or they fit my mood or they are performed well. Others feel as if a piece of my soul is drifting on the sound waves. And still others feel as if my soul is reaching up to God.

Some years ago my church hosted a nearby university (California Baptist) choir and orchestra in concert. They were spectacular, and I had one of those majesty of music moments. What’s more, I bought one of their CD’s, Glory, and have played it frequently. The songs would run through my head when I woke up, and I could hardly wait to play them again.

In fact, I posted one of the songs some time ago with Sandi Patty performing it. The song is spectacular and Sandi Patty is … well, Sandi Patty.

But here’s the choir I listened to—not the music I have, but it kind of brings nature and music together, I think. I hope you enjoy.

This article first appeared here in April 2012 and was reprinted in November 2015.

For a little bonus, here’s one of my favorite classic music pieces, Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto in D major (especially from the 8:30 mark, then right after Perlman’s solo, around the 13:30 mark).

But what I’m really enjoying right now is a collection of pieces put together on YouTube as an autumn selection. (This one is long!)

Published in: on November 6, 2019 at 5:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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We’re No Longer Saving Daylight


I enjoyed an extra hour of sleep Saturday night, but I have to admit, each year I find this clock changing nonsense connected with Daylight Savings Time to be annoying. For one thing, I can never figure out which change of the clock shifts us into Daylight Savings Time and which shifts us out (in this one we did the “fall back” thing, but is that taking us out of or into Day Light Savings Time? I can never remember. For today I know we are on “regular” time, but I won’t guarantee I’ll know that in a month. 😉 )

Actually I find the whole time change concept to be ludicrous. I mean, who’s kidding whom, that we’re actually saving daylight by shifting our clocks an hour? For me it’s a matter of whether or not it’s dark when you get up in the morning or when you finish work at night. One end or the other, it’s dark, and as the days get shorter, it’s actually dark on both ends.

So we’re clearly not saving any daylight. No matter what we do with our clocks, the sun ignores us and rises and sets at God’s command, according to the pattern He established years ago when He put the greater light in the heavens to rule the day.

It’s really quite a reflection of Mankind’s attitude, I think—us saying we’re saving daylight.

God saved daylight once. He stopped the sun in its tracks extending the day so His people could experience a great victory in battle.

We don’t save daylight like that, and never will. But we sound so powerful, so in control by saying we’re saving daylight. We don’t want the sun to go down when it actually does, so we’ll save daylight.

That’s the old carnival huckster’s trick, selling the public a bit of swamp land based on sleight of hand. Look at how much light we have in the evening, they say, in hopes we won’t notice how much less light we have in the morning.

So now we’re done with it. For a few months, at least. Not that I think those who believe Mankind is able to manipulate time see us as any less in control now than before. I suspect they believe we are capable of pulling our planet out of climate change. If only Man had been around when the Ice Age first showed signs of becoming a thing! I mean, what aren’t we capable of doing?

Such a sad perspective.

I’ve stood on “solid” ground, with the earth bucking and quaking beneath me. I’ve been in the ocean with one wave after another towering over me so that I knew I wouldn’t have the strength to evade one more. I’ve been in the snowy mountains in the winter as the sun goes down and realized the fine line between being warm and dry and freezing to death.

Who is Man that we think we can save daylight? In truth, there’s not much we can do about God’s creation, though we like to think we can. But every hurricane and tornado and earthquake we experience should wake us up to the fact that we aren’t in charge.

Ironically, God assigned Adam the job of cultivating and caring for the earth. He was the steward, I guess you’d say. But post-fall, we want more, we want more. Now we want to manipulate what God made, for our own ends.

For instance, we develop antibiotics and believe we will eradicate disease, only to discover that in the process we’ve created a strain of germs that are resistant to our drugs. Pandemics aren’t a thing of the past at all but a thing of the future. And so is famine and a variety of other “natural” disasters.

Funny how we can save daylight but make no dent in all the blizzards and floods and tidal waves this world throws at us.

If only we’d come to our senses and run back to our sovereign Father, the Creator and Maker of heaven and earth, and admit that we have been trying to usurp His authority. The world is His, we are the mere caretakers. He gives us the good gifts we enjoy—the rain that brings the food we need, the sun that warms us, the land that produces the rocks and trees to provide us with material for shelter, the very air we breath.

Saving daylight? We might as well say we are dismissing gravity.

Light is God’s realm. He describes Himself as Light, after all. If nothing else, maybe starting or ending Daylight Savings Time can remind us who the true and eternal Light is. And that He is the One who saves.

This article is a revision of one that appeared here in November, 2013.

Talking To Atheists


“Black holes are cosmic objects that harbour a gravitational field so powerful that nothing, not even light or radiation can escape.”

Atheists and Christians look at life and the world from diametrically opposed views, so having a conversation between those who hold to those divergent opinions is not easy. On one hand, atheists, believing only in scientifically verifiable substance, are convinced that God does not exist. Some even question the historicity of Jesus. These fundamental positions lead them to dismiss the Bible as more myth than an accurate historical source.

In contrast, Christians know that God and an entire supernatural realm beyond the scope of science, exist. This fundamental position leads us to accept the Bible not only as accurate but authoritative since the words and thoughts are God’s, written by humans through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Most of that last paragraph would be nearly unintelligible to atheists. After all, from their perspective there is no God, therefore no Holy Spirit, no inspiration, leaving the Bible to be a book of made-up stories and rules.

Generally conversation between those holding the two opposing positions means one side creates a “convincing” argument dismantling the position of the other, only to have the reverse occur during rebuttal.

So does that mean there is no way the two can discuss the big issues of life? There certainly is a barrier. From my perspective as a Christian, I feel as if I’m trying to convince someone who is colorblind that the sky is blue. It’s an obvious fact to me, but he has no knowledge of blue and therefore considers everything I say to be nonsense.

From his perspective I imagine he has what seems to be the most obvious, basic, clear, tangible standards by which reality can be determined, but Christians claim truth on the basis of those standards plus something intangible, unclear, obscure, and convoluted.

If I’m right, both sides shake their heads at the other and say, how can they be so ignorant?

In reality, I as a Christian would like to learn to talk to atheists, but to do that means bridging this worldview divide. Oh, sure, we can talk at each other—I can quote Scripture, which they don’t believe, and they can quote “Bible scholars” who don’t believe the Bible. I can throw out names of Christian scientists and they can list three times as many atheist scientists. I can present archeological data supportive of the Bible, and they can point to detail after detail in the Bible for which no historical evidence exists. I can discuss cosmology and the need for an intelligent designer to explain intelligent complexity, and they can discuss evolution and the natural development of all life.

The point is, we aren’t actually talking to one another. Rather, I’d like to find out, beyond theory, why atheists believe as they do.

Some, of course, believe they have come to the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible, but that presupposes that the human mind can know all that is or is not in the vast cosmos, including the multiverse and the possible different dimensions, should string theory prove to be true.

Ah, but there lies the problem. We humans don’t know if string theory is true. We don’t know if there are other dimensions. And if there are? Why would those dimensions have to be like ours? Might not there be a spiritual dimension filled with the supernatural?

Humankind is still looking for evidence of life in space though we don’t know for sure if it exists or if it will be intelligent should it exist. Despite that uncertainty, atheists are certain God is not there. Life maybe; God absolutely not.

All the above to point out that claims to “the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible” are hardly sufficient to answer the question why someone is an atheist.

On the other hand, if someone asks a Christian why they believe as they do, I think the answer might also be categorical—something along the lines of, I’m convinced Jesus is who He said He is: Son of God, Savior, Lord.

And where’s the evidence, atheists will answer.

Where indeed? Within the pages of the Bible the atheist doesn’t believe in; by the witness of the Holy Spirit living in each Christian, which the atheist doesn’t believe in; through the power of a changed life which the atheist has no way to measure or to ascribe cause.

It seems we’ve returned to the impasse. But I keep coming back to the question why the atheist can’t accept what he can’t see for himself—at least when it comes to God. He can’t see gravity, but believes in it; can’t see black holes, but (most) would agree they exist.

When it comes to God, however, inferring His existence from the effect He has on life (which is how we know about gravity and black holes) is insufficient evidence. So “a cosmic accident” is a better explanation for the existence of life than is an intelligent designer.

Why?

Maybe if I understood that, I’d understand atheists better.

This article is a re-post of one that first appeared here in October 2014.

Learning From Leviticus


Leviticus might be the least read book of the Bible.

Almost exclusively, the book lists out laws God gave to the people of Israel who were just coming out of slavery. They didn’t have a national identity apart from their history and their servitude. They didn’t have a command structure and barely had a culture—their language was undoubtedly mixed with the Egyptian tongue; their tastes in food, Egyptian; even their religious beliefs, heavily influenced by Egypt.

In fact, when they faced difficulty, what did they want to do? Go back to Egypt. That generation of Hebrews only knew Egypt as their home. Undoubtedly they wanted the abuse to stop: they didn’t want to be forced to expose their male babies so that they died; they didn’t want to be forced to reach an impossible work quota; they didn’t want to be beaten in punishment for not doing what they were told; they didn’t want to be kept against their will. But their will often was to stay in Egypt.

God changed that. He not only freed them, but He gave the nation structure. He gave them their own government. He gave them their own religious ceremonies and celebrations. And He gave them a new home. Not new really. They were going back to the land Abraham had bought, the land God had promised to give to his descendants. To them.

But what does Leviticus have to say to Christians? We are not, Christ said, a worldly kingdom. Israel was. Our citizenship is in heaven. Theirs was on earth. God governs our hearts. But for Israel, God governed. His word was the law of their land. And the law as they traveled to that land. Leviticus is that law.

It lays out things the people were to do involving health, safety, worship, celebrations, treatment of one another, and more.

So what can Christians learn from a book whose purpose isn’t for us? I think there’s a couple things, at least.

First, God shows that He cares about daily stuff. Not just how or when to do worship, but how to deal with poop, too. Yeah, I know. It’s not something we really are particularly interested in reading—what did those Israelite traveler do about human waste? But if God cares about something so . . . human, so ordinary, so un-glamorous, clearly He cares about all of our lives.

Also, God is in charge. He made it clear He gave the laws, and He didn’t share His authority with other pretenders.

Third, God gave the people hope. He constantly referred to things that were future by saying things like, when this or that happens to your house. They didn’t have houses. They lived the nomadic life of travelers, in tents. They didn’t farm, but God told them to have a celebration at harvest time. They didn’t have cities, but God told them about refuge cities. So much of what God laid out for them had to do with the future. This forward looking dovetails with the forward looking God has given Christians. Life is now and not yet. We are looking for the return of the King. We are looking for our heavenly home. And one thing that gives us confidence in God’s promises is that He fulfilled His promises to Israel.

Another thing we can learn about God is His justice but also His mercy. More than once when the people disobeyed and worshiped and served other gods, He could have abandoned them, broken the covenant—the agreement, the pact—He’d made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After all, the people had said they would follow Him, worship Him, and they weren’t. God didn’t let the wrong go unpunished, but He also didn’t forsake them.

In comparison to these bigger issues, this next thing seems kind of trivial, but it does reveal God’s nature: He is a God of order. In reading about the various sacrifices, I’ve noticed that some were to be performed in one place in relation to the altar and others in a different place. Bulls, for instance, were to be dealt with in one place, but lambs in a different place. I can think of some practical reasons behind this, but the Bible doesn’t tell us why. It just shows us that the details mattered. The little things mattered. The where and the how mattered. Those things come from an orderly mind.

Part of Leviticus describes the process of constructing the portable worship center—the tabernacle. In those chapters, more than once God says the particular items were to be made for beauty as well as for whatever function they had. He also named the main artisan and his main helper who were in charge of crafting the utensils used in worship, the alter, the table for incense, the ark, the basin used for washing, the curtains that made up the tent, the clothing the priests were to wear—all of it. For beauty as well as for function. That says a lot about God, too. Beauty is His idea. He made beauty and He wants us to make beauty.

This list is not exhaustive, by any means, but it serves to illustrate a point: even in the parts of the Bible where we least expect to find something important, lo and behold, important truths are there. Makes me aware of just how amazing God’s word is.

Published in: on October 30, 2019 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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