God And His Mysterious Ways


Joni Eareckson Tada is celebrating an anniversary this year—a personal one. Fifty years ago when she was 17 she had a debilitating accident that left her a quadriplegic. In her honor I’m re-posting this article, with a few minor edits and revisions.

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Some people try to define God’s work, and therefore to define God—sort of like trying to photograph a double rainbow that stretches across the sky. If you could just snap the picture, then you’d have the rainbow for always.

God doesn’t operate in such a way that we can ever capture Him. Yet—and here is one of the most mysterious of His Ways—He voluntarily, willfully declares my heart His home.

I think of Joseph resisting the sexual temptations that Potiphar’s wife threw at him day after day, only to end up in prison. Well, not “end up” because he moved from the outhouse to the penthouse in a mere thirteen years—thirteen years that undoubtedly had Joseph thinking nothing would ever change, that his life was going to continue on and on and on in the dungeon. But it didn’t. God had big things in store for Joseph.

I think of the little slave girl, an Israelite captive torn from her home, probably from her family, refusing to be bitter or to seek revenge but reaching out to bless the man she worked for by telling him of the prophet of God who could cure his leprosy. As a result, the mighty Aramean officer ended up declaring, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:20).

Then there is Samson. What an amazing thing that God used that philanderer. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have chosen him. He was supposed to be a Nazarite from birth, but more than once he broke the parameters that defined that special relationship with God. He seemed self-absorbed and more inclined to use God than serve Him. But God was pleased to include him as a judge of Israel, pleased to make him a means to free His people from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

Or how about the beauty pageant that ended up sparing the lives of hundreds of Jews? I remember when I first heard about Esther, I was horrified that Mordecai didn’t try to sequester her away or make a run for the hills. Instead, he truly seemed to be encouraging her, and she seemed to want to win the role as queen. Except, unlike the fairy tales, this was no monogamous happy-together-forever story. No! Esther got to be part of the kings harem (think of all the women he slept with before he slept with her and finally decided she was queen material). And yet, God used her in that place to save hundreds, maybe thousands.

What about in contemporary times? God used the death of five young husbands, some also fathers, to save a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, at the same time turning the hearts of countless believers to become involved in missions.

Corrie ten Boom

He used a spinster lady in the latter end of middle-age, all the way to her “golden years” to teach a generation what forgiveness really means, to spread the gospel of God’s incredible power over death and destruction and hatred and evil.

He is using the humble submission of a once athletic teenage girl who suffered a catastrophic, debilitating accident, who has lived life for fifty years as a quadriplegic and who continues to tell of her love for her Lord.

I would have done things differently, I’m sure. Look how talented Joni Eareckson Tada is—as an artist, a writer, a speaker. How much more could she do if she weren’t in a wheelchair? What a silly person I am. Who would have heard of Joni if she hadn’t been the girl who drew holding her pen in her mouth? And what would she be talking about now or who would listen? Isn’t it her willing submission in the face of her adversity that makes her life so winsome?

God knows these things. He knows what it takes. But to us, because we don’t know what it takes, His ways will always appear mysterious.

God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
– by William Cowper

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This article is an edited reprint of one originally posted May 2011.

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But Even If He Doesn’t …


Joseph016I find myself drawn to heroes who faced impossible circumstances with unwavering trust. Some of them, whether people we know from Scripture or from extra-Biblical sources, died, some of them lived to recount for the world God’s miraculous provision.

The point is, going into their circumstances, none of these people knew what awaited them. The faith of both those who lived and those who died was equally strong.

Abraham was that kind of “strong faith” person—more than once. Initially God told him to go to a land He would show the then young Abram, so he went, not knowing where he was going.

Later, as an older man with the son he’d waited his whole life for, he went again, knowing where this time but faced with the task of giving up the son he loved so much.

We know this side of the event that God provided a ram to substitute for Abraham’s son and that He gave him the Promised Land to be the home of his people. But Abraham was on that side and didn’t see what we see. He made his choices based on his faith and trust in God.

That’s appealing to me.

Joseph spent thirteen years as a slave and kept his faith in God—not knowing he would end up the second in command to Pharaoh.

Daniel’s three friends had no way of knowing they’d walk out of a furnace heated so hot it killed the guards that put them inside, but they believed God was capable of rescuing them.

Daniel himself prayed even though he knew he’d end up with the lions, and didn’t know he’d survive the night.

On the other hand, Stephen died because he preached Jesus Christ as Messiah. Jim Elliott died taking the gospel to an indigenous people group in South America, Corrie ten Boom’s sister Betsy died in the German concentration camp despite her faithful witness and unselfish life.

Yet these people who don’t appear victorious are just as compelling to me. They faced death and they didn’t waver, they didn’t back down or give into the temptation to call in question God’s character.

I think the thing is, I realize that each of those people—the ones who came through the trial happily, even miraculously, and the ones who died, shared the same faith. They knew that God was trustworthy. They didn’t measure His goodness or love or mercy or provision or faithfulness based on the stuff of this world, not even their life breath.

Habakkuk said it best, I think:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

The point is, God is worthy of our exultation whether we have the stuff of this world or not. He is the God of our salvation. He has transferred us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son. What else do we need as proof of His love and care?

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in May 2013.

Published in: on September 14, 2016 at 6:52 pm  Comments Off on But Even If He Doesn’t …  
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The Compelling Quality Of Love


People write songs about love — usually the romantic kind — and make it the centerpiece of a great deal of fiction. Christ said there is one chief commandment but another close behind, and both of them involve love.

Paul narrowed things down to faith, hope, and love, only to conclude that the greatest of those is love.

Jesus said the greatest love was for someone to give his life for another:

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

Donald Maass in his writing instruction book Writing The Breakout Novel identified two character qualities that “leave a deeper, more lasting and powerful impression of a character than any other” (pp. 121-122). One trait is forgiveness and the other self-sacrifice.

Maass, who to my knowledge doesn’t profess to be a Christian, went on to say, ” As for self-sacrifice, is there a higher form of heroism? It is the ultimate expression of love and as such is about the most powerful action a character can perform” (p. 122 – emphasis mine).

Love draws us. It lures us and entices us, woos us and wins us. We are moths to its flame. If we can’t look away from an accident, we can’t stay away from love. It is compelling.

The world is moved by amazing love. Some years ago Kent Whitaker, a man I met at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, appeared on Oprah to talk about Murder By Family, the book he’d recently published.

Kent’s wife and son had been murdered and he himself had been wounded in the attack. In the days that followed, he came to realize that he needed to forgive the man who had taken those he loved. Only later did he learn that this person was his surviving son.

What caught Oprah’s interest in his story? Was it the irony? The tragedy? Or was it the amazing forgiveness of a man who knew himself to stand in need of forgiveness too.

Oprah Winfrey used Kent Whitaker’s story to highlight forgiveness even under the worst possible scenario. If Kent Whitaker could forgive his son for murdering his family then surely we can learn to forgive those who’ve done much lesser evils. (from “Kent Whitaker on the Oprah Show”)

But this brings us to the point I want to make. As compelling as love is, trying harder doesn’t make it possible for us to forgive.

Corrie ten Boom testified to this when she came face to face, after World War II and during her talk on forgiveness, with one of the guards involved in her Nazi internment.

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’

And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course — how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me.

‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out — ’will you forgive me?’

And I stood there — I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven — and could not forgive. (excerpt from The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom)

Of course the story doesn’t end there. Corrie could not forgive, but God did. What’s more, He could provide Corrie with the wherewithal to forgive as well, and He did that too.

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then. (excerpt from The Hiding Placeemphasis mine)

Love is compelling, but a self-sacrificial act or the forgiveness offered to the sinner who has wronged us does not come from within the human heart. We can’t try harder. We can’t learn it through a twelve step program or even follow the example of someone else who’s forgiven greater things than we know.

What comes naturally to us is pay back. When we’ve given as good as we got, then we’ll forgive. But that’s not forgiveness at all. That’s retribution.

Sometimes we’ll “forgive” because we’re not the one who suffered. We think it’s time to let a criminal out of jail because he’s getting old and probably won’t hurt anyone any more. So out of a magnanimous sense of mercy we let the prisoner go free. Apart from the most general sense of being wronged because we’re part of the society whose laws were broken, we’re not the injured party and therefore not in a position to actually forgive.

It seems to me, the best we can do humanly speaking is tolerance. We don’t have in us the selfless kind of love that sacrifices or forgives, so we tolerate. And we preach tolerance as if it is an answer to the hate of the world.

It’s not. Love is the answer. And there’s only one source of true love. He who knew no sin, He who gave Himself up for us all. He who IS, also is love.

When God Answers Prayer


Elisabeth and jim ElliotRecently on an atheist’s site, I think, or in the comments of another blog I follow, critics of Christianity—well, really, of God—brought up the idea that it is silly for Christians here in America to believe that God answers our every little insignificant prayer, especially in light of the fact that other Christians are in jail and have been beheaded or have had to flee their homes.

I understand that thinking, but in fact, it paralyzes the Christian so that we think we ought not pray for things. Because, the truth is, my needs are not as great as those in Indochina or in the Middle East or in Western Africa who are suffering for their faith.

But whose needs are “big enough” or “important enough” for God to hear and answer? I mean, is it only the Christian like Jim Elliot who is facing death that gets to cry out to Him? Or is it OK to pray if a friend or relative is facing death? Maybe we shouldn’t even bother about those things because what really matters is a person’s spiritual condition and eternal destiny. Maybe those are the only prayers that are “big enough.”

I think this is rather silly. God hearing our cry for help has nothing to do with the size of our problem but everything to do with Him being a loving God. He hears us and gives to us in our need because He’s delighted to provide for His children.

Do human parents only listen to their children if they’re bleeding and need to be rushed to the hospital? Hardly! They hear their child when she says, “Daddy, watch me!” Or, “Mommy, look what I can do.” Why? Because the child is so advanced, so capable? Not at all. They listen and respond because they love their son or their daughter.

God’s the same way.

But of course the critics will come back and say, So, your God doesn’t love those who are running for their lives in the Middle East?

That’s a wicked charge. God loves them and walks with them through the floods and through the fire. He’s with us in the valley of the shadow of death. Because he doesn’t swoop us away from the trials and suffering of this life doesn’t mean He’s abandoned us.

Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy may have seen God’s hand more clearly and felt His presence more unquestionably in the German concentration camp than they ever did in the comfort of their home in Holland.

Peter says those who suffer are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on them.

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:14)

Here in the US we have believers who have faced cancer and died, even as they praised God because His presence gave them comfort and peace. We have other believers who have faced cancer and lived, even as they praise God for His healing and sustaining power in their lives.

Are these Christians merely deluded, thinking that God is good no matter what the outcome? Well, not deluded. Actually Christians who see and understand and know that God does in fact keep His promise to work all things for the good of conforming us to the image of His Son, are able to see His hand at work in the trials as well as the joys.

God and sufferingThis little quote has been making the rounds on Facebook, and I think it’s one of the truest expressions of faith in God. We who know Him recognize that He’s not Santa Claus or Grandpa. And yet, He loves us, so we can ask for things that might seem trivial to other people.

To God they aren’t too insignificant to pay attention to because He loves us. What concerns us is of importance to Him.

Unless, of course, what concerns us is something we want to use selfishly or for our own aggrandizement at the expense of others. He’s not going to hear and answer prayer that takes us further from Him or is bad for us spiritually or will harm others.

The point is, God is good and not too busy for even a child’s request or an adult’s plea for something that may seem minor to others. If we’re being selfish, He’ll show us that in His time. And if what we ask for is something He’s going to say no to, He’ll still walk with us through the hardship. Because He doesn’t remove obstacles but helps us over them does not diminish His greatness or His goodness one iota.

Published in: on August 3, 2015 at 6:20 pm  Comments (5)  
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Exploring Horror Or Exploring Light


300x179xthe-walking-dead-s4-e16-zombies-636-380-300x179.jpg.pagespeed.ic.35AUmep_fuWhen I first heard the term “Christian horror,” I laughed. I thought the person was kidding. I mean, how could blood and psycho-killers and hauntings and demon possession be Christian? Since then I’ve learned that some serious writers—including some Christians—believe horror fiction holds a necessary place in understanding evil, and therefore confronting it.

A number of years ago, for example, author Brian Godawa posted a three-part apology for Christian horror at Speculative Faith. More recently author and friend Mike Duran has published Christian Horror:On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre.

While I’ve moved from a hard stance against horror (I insisted that the genre existed to accomplish one thing—produce fear), conceding that some writers and readers confront evil and explore how to counter it through fiction, I’m far from holding the view that horror is “must read” fiction for Christians, that to turn away from an exploration of evil is to isolate ourselves from the reality of the world in which we live.

I expressed my thoughts in a post at Spec Faith nearly four years ago, ideas to which I still hold. The following is a slightly revised version of that post.

Author Anne Rice, best known for her vampire fiction and her conversions to and from Christianity, has stated that her vampire books were actually explorations of the spiritual. Spiritual light or spiritual darkness?

Some may say that an exploration of spiritual darkness must precede any look at spiritual light. I suppose this might be one of those areas that differ from person to person, but I can’t help but wonder why we Christians aren’t exploring the light more than we are the darkness.

Corrie ten Boom

Certainly darkness is in the world. Yet when I think of darkness, some of the most uplifting, true stories I’ve read come to mind. Take Corrie ten Boom, for example. Without a doubt, her story contains horrific elements, including the inhuman conditions in a Nazi concentration camp and the death of her dear sister as a result.

But throughout, from the decision to help Jews, to Corrie’s release from the camp and her subsequent commitment to show the love and forgiveness of God to victim and victimizer alike, the story is infused with hope and promise and the sovereign hand of God over all circumstances.

Elisabeth Elliot

The story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, and Pete Fleming is similar. These young missionaries, so committed to sharing the gospel with a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, died at the hands of the people they wanted to save. More astounding, Jim’s wife Elisabeth and Nate’s wife Rachel returned to the tribe, lived with them for two years, and saw many come to Christ. The forgiveness and love these women lived out in the midst of tragedy and loss is a revelation of God’s love and forgiveness.

Joni Eareckson Tada’s story is equally inspirational. Injured as a seventeen year old, Joni has lived as a quadriplegic for forty-eight years.

Joni Eareckson Tada

Despite her disability, she shines the love of Jesus into the lives of hundreds of thousands through her writing, painting, and speaking. She has even put out a vocal recording and starred in the video of her life story. Perhaps her greatest work has been establishing Joni and Friends, an international disability center bringing hope and help to people throughout the world.

Hope. That seems to be a key thread that runs through these stories of triumph over tragedy. The darkness is very real in each one—Joni’s despair, the deaths of the missionaries and Corrie’s sister, the brutality of the Nazis—but triumph dominates the story.

The Hiding Place is not the story about Corrie’s sister dying but about God’s love and forgiveness manifested in an unspeakably cruel place.

Through Gates of Splendor is not a story about five twenty-something missionary men being killed but about the truth in this verse of the hymn from which the title of the book came:

We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender.
Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise;
When passing through the gates of pearly splendor,
Victors, we rest with Thee, through endless days.

Joni is not the story of a seventeen-year-old whose life caved in, but of a God who brings meaning and purpose out of suffering.

You might wonder why I’m taking a look at all these true stories in a post about speculative fiction. I see how inspirational the lives of these three who suffered greatly have been. They personally explored the light in the midst of the darkness of their real circumstances. The result has been phenomenal. They have pointed generations of people to Christ.

Why, then, would a fiction writer not want to adopt this model — an exploration of light in the midst of darkness? Why go the other route and spend pages and pages exploring the dark, even if the light comes filtering in at the end?

I personally (and remember what I said at the beginning of this post about us all being different) find hope and help to be what I want to read. Darkness, I already know. Hope and help in the midst of darkness is compelling. Why aren’t more Christian speculative novels exploring the light?

It seems to me we are becoming fixated with what is true to the human experience, and as a result we are not setting our “mind on things above” (Col. 3:2). Do we think we know all there is to know about God, so we don’t need to focus on Him as much as we do the depravity and corruption sin causes?

Darkness will be a part of fiction, I believe. But I also see there are two ways of looking at it. In one case, stories seem to explore the darkness, in the other they seem to explore the light that triumphs over the darkness. This latter type is the kind of story I like to read and I want to write.

The Atheist’s Shallow Worldview


engineers-scales-335147-mRecently in a discussion with some atheists, I asked, if all life descended from a common source as many evolutionists claim, why do atheists care for humans more than for other species?

The exchange stemmed from the oft-used assault on God based on the lack of prohibition against slavery in the Ten Commandments. Why, I asked, were atheists so intent on human rights but not on animal rights (though a growing number are moving in that direction). Now that I understand this common descent theory, I would expect those who hold to it to follow the logically consistent position that all life was worth fighting for or that no life was worth fighting for. But to advocate for human rights over and above animals seems inconsistent.

The answer I received was that there’s species identification—we treat those like us more favorably.

Of course other names for “species identification” would be prejudice, partiality, favoritism, bigotry, intolerance. I mean, if it’s OK to identify favorably and advocate for one species over the others, then why not do the same for one gender over the other, for one race over the others, one religion over the others, one language, one ethnicity, one hair color or eye color or height or weight or favorite sports team? 😉

In fact, it seems few atheists think past their assertions to the logical next step or subsequent consequences of their worldview.

In truth what ground do atheists have for ethical living? Why, from their perspective, is pedophilia wrong or murder or rape or car jacking or terrorist attacks? One atheist says the “human community decides,” but on what basis? If more people, or more powerful people, want to have sex with children, than want to protect children from abuse, would the “human community” simply change the laws as if wrong has become right? This is precisely what the movement to change the definition of marriage is doing.

Atheists apparently see nothing wrong with such a moving scale of right and wrong (unless, I suppose, the scale should move to a point where atheism was a crime). Rather, the moral imperative is simply the will of the people (or of the powerful people). This position reflects what life is like without God. There is no authoritative standard and ultimately we descend into caveman thing: might makes right.

What else is there? Self-sacrifice for others becomes a foolish act if this life is all there is. Why give to the needy instead of hoarding all we can get? After all, survival of the fittest should prevail.

And yet, there are impressively generous atheists who seem to derive some pleasure in thinking of others and not just themselves. How does that fit with their worldview?

There’s no absolute standard of right and wrong, and yet almost unanimously all peoples would stop to help a crying child, give directions to a stranger, thank the man who changes a tire deep in the American desert.

The atheist can’t explain the compunction to do what is right. They don’t believe that humans have been made in God’s image.

At the same time, they have no answer for why an atheist would gun down three Muslim students or curse Christians at every opportunity or act in other hateful ways. They don’t believe humans have a sin nature.

In essence, atheists can only go skin deep because that’s where science stops. It doesn’t examine the intents of the heart. What can atheists say about the basic philosophical questions of human existence: who am I, why am I here, where am I going, what is truth, how do I know what is right and wrong (and where did the sense that there is a right and wrong come from)?

The answers I’ve heard are these: humans are a product of chance and evolution, without purpose, ending at death (therefore going nowhere); and truth, like right and wrong, is whatever you make it to be. In that shallow, simplistic worldview, there’s no explanation for the self-sacrifice of a Jim Elliott or for the forgiveness of a Corrie ten Boom or for the selfless service of a Katie Davis. No. The best atheists can can do is rail at the God they say does not exist.

He, on the other hand, extends grace and mercy to whoever believes.

Published in: on February 13, 2015 at 6:17 pm  Comments (31)  
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Giving Thanks For The Fleas


pumpkins-912529-mIn a comment to my post decrying President Obama’s decision to create law through an executive order, my nephew reminded me to give thanks for the fleas. The line alludes to a true story Corrie ten Boom told in her book The Hiding Place.

She and her sister Betsy had been moved in the concentration camp to a room that was crawling with fleas. Their circumstances were bad enough, but the fleas made life almost unbearable.

Because of a passage they studied in the Bible, Betsy had been saying they needed to thank God for everything. Corrie could hardly believe her ears, but then she thought about it and thanked God that she and Betsy were together, that they had a Bible, that they had a sweater and a bottle of vitamins. Maybe a few other things.

After she prayed, Betsy said, You must also thank Him for the fleas. This seemed like too much, but Corrie wanted to be obedient to God, so she prayed again, this time thanking Him for the fleas.

Soon Corrie and Betsy began to share passages of Scripture with the other prisoners in their room after they came in from their work assignments. At first they were cautious, not wanting a guard to walk in and confiscate their Bible. But as days wore on, no guards came in the evening.

The number of women drinking in God’s word increased. Because they did not all speak the same language, Corrie would read the passage from her Dutch Bible, then someone would translate into Germany, Polish, or whatever other language was needed. This went on for weeks.

At some point Corrie had a chance to find out why the guards never came into the room to check on them. The fleas! she was told. None of the guards wanted to go into that room because of the fleas!

So, yes, God works even in circumstances we think are all wrong, when stuff happens and it makes life hard. In ways we don’t see immediately, or perhaps ever in this life, God works.

He sends a storm to stop a prophet from going the wrong way and a big fish to bring him to his knees and send him in the right way.

He takes a boy in prison because his brother betrayed him and his master’s wife lied about him, and uses him to save the lives of his entire family—God’s chosen people.

God uses an eight-year-old king to bring revival to Israel.

He takes an exiled Israelite boy and uses him to proclaim His name before Babylonian and Persian kings.

He assigns a virgin to birth the Messiah. He uses a carpenter to save the newborn child’s life from a power-hungry, paranoid king.

God sends an earthquake that opens prison doors.

I could go on and on. The Bible is replete with examples of “fleas” which looked so bad, no one if left to himself would be thankful. Thank God because you’re in prison? Exiled to a foreign land? Pregnant and not married? On the run to a far away place with the king trying to kill your family? On your knees in rubble after an earthquake broke apart your prison? In the belly of a big fish?

You have got to be kidding me!

These are not the things we trot out at Thanksgiving time to put on the list we write into our journals or hang on the refrigerator or pray over during our quiet time. These are generally the things we ask God to change, not the things we thank Him for giving.

The truth is, we’re short sighted and don’t realize what God is doing because of those fleas—not in spite of. Because of!

Our measure of what’s good is off. We’re using the wrong gauge. We think all is right when we’re comfortable, at ease, upwardly mobile, winning at work, and free to do whatever we want during our off hours.

Of course life is not centered on us and our wants, so we are at many, if not most, times aware that we have “fleas.” We want them gone. We rail at God for not removing them, for allowing them into our lives in the first place, and we dig our heels in and refuse to thank Him for sending us things that make our lives so much harder.

Such a perspective means we’re not trusting God. Do we think the “fleas” surprised Him, that He didn’t realize that particular room was crawling with them? Do we think He forgot about us or doesn’t care? Do we think He doesn’t hear or answer our prayers or that He’s not strong enough to do so even if he wanted to?

None of those things is true about God. But our lack of thankful hearts when the fleas are raising itchy welts all over our bodies, is a passive aggressive way of questioning God’s sovereignty, love, omniscience, compassion, faithfulness, and omnipotence.

Pretty much we’re saying with our complaints that we’d do it better than God. We’d get those fleas out. In fact, we’d never have let the guards put us in that room in the first place. Or better yet, if we were God, we’d never have been captured and sent to a concentration camp.

And then, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people in many lands, down through the generations, would not have heard about God’s love and forgiveness and power to save. They would not have learned that Jesus is the Victor, and that there is no pit so deep that God is deeper still.

Thankfully God is God, and people have heard the powerful message Corrie delivered after her release.

All because of fleas. Thank God for the fleas!

Published in: on November 24, 2014 at 5:58 pm  Comments (12)  
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God And His Mysterious Ways


Some people try to define God’s work, and therefore to define God—sort of like trying to photograph a double rainbow that stretches across the sky. If you could just snap the picture, then you’d have the rainbow for always.

God doesn’t operate in such a way that we can ever capture Him. Yet—and here’s is one of the most mysterious of His Ways—He voluntarily, willfully declares my heart His home.

I think of Joseph resisting the sexual temptations Potiphar’s wife threw at him day after day, only to end up in prison. Well, not “end up” because he moved from the outhouse to the penthouse in a mere thirteen years. Thirteen years that undoubtedly had Joseph thinking nothing would ever change, that his life was going to continue on and on and on in the dungeon. But it didn’t. God had big things in store for Joseph.

I think of the little slave girl, an Israelite captive torn from her home, probably from her family, refusing to be bitter or to seek revenge but reaching out to bless the man she worked for by telling him of the prophet of God who could cure him of his leprosy. As a result, the mighty Aramean officer ended up declaring, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:20).

Then there is Samson. What an amazing thing that God used that philanderer. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have chosen him. He was supposed to be a Nazarene from birth, but he broke the parameters more than once that defined that special relationship with God. He seemed self-absorbed and more inclined to use God than serve Him. But God was pleased to include him as a judge of Israel, pleased to make him a means to free His people from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

Or how about the beauty pageant that ended up sparing the lives of hundreds of Jews? I remember when I first heard about Esther, I was horrified that Mordecai didn’t try to sequester her away or make a run for the hills. Instead, he truly seemed to be encouraging her, and she seemed to want to win the role as queen. Except, unlike the fairy tales, this was no monogamous happy-together-ever-after story. No! Esther got to be part of the kings harem (think of all the women he slept with before he slept with her and finally decided she was queen material). And yet, God used her in that place to save hundreds, maybe thousands.

What about in contemporary times? God used the death of five young husbands, some also fathers, to save a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, at the same time turning the hearts of countless believers to become involved in missions.

Corrie ten Boom

He used a spinster lady in the latter end of middle-aged through to her “golden years” to teach a generation what forgiveness really means, to spread the gospel of God’s incredible power over death and destruction and hatred and evil.

He is using the humble submission of an athletic teenage girl who suffered a catastrophic, debilitating accident, who has lived life for forty-five years as a quadriplegic and continues to tell of her love for her Lord.

I would have done things differently, I’m sure. Look how talented Joni Eareckson Tada is—as an artist, a writer, a speaker. How much more could she do if she weren’t in a wheelchair? What a silly person I am. Who would have heard of Joni if she hadn’t been the girl who drew holding her pen in her mouth? And what would she be talking about now or who would listen? Isn’t it her willing submission in the face of her adversity that makes her life so winsome?

God knows these things. He knows what it takes. But to us, because we don’t know what it takes, His ways will always appear mysterious.

God moves in a mysterious way
his wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
and works his sovereign will.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
and scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
– by William Cowper

– – – – –

This article is a reprint of one originally posted May 2011.

The Loss Of A Dissenting Opinion


Berkeley_glade_afternoonPolitically correct speech crept up on society, but it’s starting to take over. I don’t know how or when it gained such a stranglehold on Western culture, but its grip is tightening.

I knew the climate on many universities has been opposed to open discourse for a long time. And of course laws have been passed about hate speech. Who could disagree that saying hateful things is wrong? But who defines “hateful things”?

Apparently it’s “hateful” to disagree with the prevailing attitude of society. The odd thing is, the First Amendment specifically guarantees that a person has the right to voice a dissenting view, even when that view is contrary to public policy.

Today no one seems concerned about upholding the First Amendment. It’s become much more important to stop people from speaking against prevailing attitudes.

For example, though Donald Sterling was illegally taped in a private conversation, his remarks, deemed racist, earned him a lifetime ban by the NBA.

When “the first openly gay football player” was drafted in the NFL and kissed his male partner with the cameras rolling, another athlete tweeted his negative reaction. The next day, after the media, soundly criticized him for his “insensitive” comments, he was made to apologize.

When the tape of Ray Rice hitting his girlfriend became public, another well-known person expressed his view on Twitter about how he’d respond to someone, even a woman, hitting him. The next day, after being lambasted by the media, he also apologized.

Of course these dissenting opinions involve things society, or the media which voices “accepted societal practice,” has determined to be right or wrong: gay relationships, racism, domestic violence. Hence, no dissenting opinion is allowed.

I find this troubling! Even if a person is wrong, as they have been many times—see, for example, the burning of the American flag during the Vietnam era—the Constitution and the Supreme Court have supported their right to say what they believed (or to act out their view).

Now it seems one publicly-funded school has decided that “sectarian” material, particularly books written by Christians or published by Christian publishers or about Christian subject matter, does not belong in their library. Most notably they have removed The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom about her experiences during World War II, including her involvement in hiding Jews from Nazis in the Netherlands, being betrayed, and ending up in a concentration camp.

Yes, Corrie ten Boom was motivated by her Christianity, and she was comforted and counseled by the Bible in the concentration camp, so apparently those facts earned The Hiding Place the label of “sectarian.” Should this story prove to be true (so far, every article I’ve found derives its information from the press release of a single organization), it’s an appalling event, but completely consistent with the others which point to a decline of free expression of ideas—religious ones as well as controversial private ones or public ones that a powerful organization deems to be “offensive.”

When, I wonder, will all Christian ideas be “offensive”?

Of course there’s also the story about the Christian college campus ministry, InterVarsity, which was de-recognized by the California State University school system. Or how about the Florida college that ruled the same Christian organization couldn’t require Christians to lead the group.

In all these instances, the common thread seems to be an unwillingness to allow groups or books or individuals to have a dissenting voice. We are no longer a society that encourages thought and reasoned discourse. Instead we slander those with whom we disagree.

For instance, one site, AnnoyedLibrarian, in reporting the removal of The Hiding Place from the charter school’s library shelves had this to say:

I was unfamiliar with Corrie ten Boom or her book The Hiding Place, but if the Wikipedia entries are accurate, it does seem like the book is pretty Christian. Supposedly, the entire time she and her sister were in a German concentration camp, they “used a hidden Bible to teach their fellow prisoners about Jesus,” because not enough people had told the Jewish prisoners that they were wrong to be Jewish.

And later, this:

If The Hiding Place were actually removed from the library collection, it’s likely because the book wasn’t used at all. Unused books get cleared away to make room for something else.

If you want to teach kids about the Holocaust, using the testimony of a Christian evangelist doesn’t make a lot of sense, so only teachers who wanted to evangelize their students would have used it, and most of them probably don’t teach in California charter schools.

After all, there must be some other book that might help students learn about hiding Jews from Nazis during the war, maybe one whose main audience is broader than that of evangelical Christians, perhaps a book written by an actual Jewish person who was in fact hidden from the Nazis, and maybe she could be roughly the same age as the students who are learning about her, helping the students to identify with her more.

There must be a book like that out there somewhere.

The reference, I’m assuming, is to The Diary of Anne Frank, as if that one book is all that’s allowed to tell the story of Jews and their plight during World War II. As if the story of Christians motivated by their faith to do what is right at the risk of their lives is somehow less important or trivial or insignificant in light of the startling revelations of a coming of age teen.Alexander_Yakushev,_February_2012_reading_Pravda

No, we are fast becoming a society which only wants uni-think. It reminds me of the old quip: “My mind’s made up; don’t confuse me with facts.” We don’t want debate because we have no intention of changing our minds. And we don’t want anyone else telling us we should change our minds.

If debate dies, we might as well simply ask Pravda, uh, the Associated Press what it is we should think.

The Problem Of Evil And God’s Goodness


sunrise-over-the-field-1377784-mSome atheists dismiss the existence of God in large part because of the existence of evil. One line of thinking is that if God existed He is either not good, not powerful, or not caring. He could not, they believe, be good, caring, and powerful and co-exist with evil.

What irony that these skeptics don’t turn around and scrutinize goodness. From where do acts of kindness from strangers originate, or the encouragement from a verse of Scripture or the ethereal beauty of fog wisps floating in and out of trees or pier pilings?

Who can explain the transformation of the Huaorani people in Ecuador after Jim Elliot’s death? Or the message of forgiveness Corrie ten Boom preached after losing her father and sister under Nazis cruelty? Who can explain Job’s restoration of wealth after losing all or Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt after being sold into slavery?

In other words, who can explain Romans 2:28 – “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

How could a God who was not good work all things together for good? And Christians see time and again God’s hand working tragedy into triumph, suffering into sanctification, sacrifice into salvation.

Only God’s goodness can be credited with such miracles as Ruth experienced. The widowed immigrant at the edge of poverty becomes the great-grandmother to Israel’s greatest king, in the direct line of the Messiah.

Who could write such a story? People today would think it too … good, too sappy, too sweet. But that’s God, isn’t it. He goes beyond what we think could possibly happen. He gives more, loves more, sacrifices more.

He takes brokenness and makes a vessel fit for a king, takes a wayward woman and makes her His bride, takes discarded branches and grafts them into His vine.

He hunts down the lost, comforts the grieving, answers the cry of the needy.

Above all, He gives Himself. He sent His prophets to teach the rest of us what we need to know about Him. More, He Himself came in the form of Man, then gave us His Spirit and His written Word.

God’s goodness is imprinted on the world. We have the starry sky, the harvest moon, billowing clouds, flashing lightening, crystalline icicles, yellow-red leaves, falling snow, crashing waves, the rocky grandeur of mountains, and on and on. How can we look at this world and not see God’s goodness?

How can we think that the good things we enjoy are accidents of nature or results of human endeavor? Nature is morally indifferent and Mankind is marred. God alone is good, without wavering, without exception.

May He be praised now and forevermore.

Originally posted in 2010 under the title “God’s Goodness.”

Published in: on November 5, 2013 at 6:17 pm  Comments Off on The Problem Of Evil And God’s Goodness  
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