Children Believe


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on April 3, 2017 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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What Does “Believe In Jesus” Mean?


woman-praying-840879-mI’m glad I didn’t sit under some of the Bible teaching as a young person that I’ve heard as an adult. Don’t get me wrong. I respect the preachers and I believe what they say, but it’s not what I needed to hear as a young, immature Christian who often doubted my salvation.

The message these pastors are giving is undoubtedly intended to counter “easy believe-ism.” This false teaching wasn’t familiar to me, but apparently some people claim that as long as you say “the sinner’s prayer” you’re going to heaven no matter what you do thereafter. It sounds sort of like a “works” salvation, with “works” reduced to one—saying a prayer “accepting Jesus into your heart.”

I understand why pastors are standing against this approach to salvation. There’s so much it leaves out. Where’s the part about repentance, about taking up our cross and following Christ, about entering into a relationship with Him, about obeying God, loving Him first and loving our neighbor more than we do ourselves?

The truth is, though, I became a Christian by asking Jesus into my heart.

I was young, a small child. I don’t remember the specific time I first prayed to receive Christ (yes, first—I’ll get to that in a bit), but I do remember asking a Sunday school teacher how Jesus, pictured as a man on a flannel graph, could fit into my heart.

Chuckle if you must, but I think that’s a good question. It’s not normal to invite a person “into your heart.” Anyone who does so without understanding what he’s doing, very well might not actually be doing it.

That poor, dear, wonderful teacher did her best to explain that it wasn’t Jesus’s body that would come live inside me but His Spirit. So, I wondered, why don’t we say we’re accepting the Holy Spirit, but I don’t think I actually asked that question, possibly because the teacher explained that it was Jesus who died for me, Jesus who paid for my sins.

I got it. But I had another question. Again, I don’t have a clear recollection of the sequence of these events, but at some point when I was six or seven, I wasn’t so sure if I agreed that all had sinned and come short of God’s standard. I knew a few Bible stories by this time, so I figured if I could just think of one person in the Bible who hadn’t sinned, then maybe I could be like him. (I shared a little more about this incident in this post: “My Deceitful Heart.”) I mean, what evil had I done at six? Obviously I hadn’t yet learned about pride and self-righteousness.

I was probably in fifth grade, maybe fourth, when I came across John 3:18. I was playing alone in my room, pretending to be a preacher (I hadn’t learned yet what the Bible says about women and teaching in the church, either 😉 ). I opened my Bible to about the only passage I knew by heart, John 3:16, and started in explaining what it all meant to my pretend congregation. But when I got through that verse, I had more sermon I wanted to preach, so I went on to verse 17, then verse 18. And when I explained the part about Jesus not coming to condemn but that those who didn’t believe in Him were condemned already because they didn’t believe, I got it.

Salvation wasn’t about toeing the line, because none of us could. We were all condemned. Believing in Jesus gave us a pardon.

I was still confused about a lot of things—most particularly why I continued to sin. It gave me no end of doubt about my salvation and contributed to my “accepting Jesus” any number of times because I just didn’t know if it was enough that I meant it when I said it but later acted like I didn’t.

What was it I meant? That I knew I was a sinner, that I knew Jesus had died in my place, that He would forgive me if I believed in Him, and that I would have everlasting life, which meant I’d go to heaven.

I didn’t want to go to heaven particularly. Everything I heard about it made it sound kind of boring, but I knew I didn’t want to go to hell, so I pretty much just wanted to keep living on earth.

That changed, many years later when I read C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce and came to understand that eternal life is Real Life.

I could go on and tell how one by one God added to my understanding and corrected my misunderstanding. But the point is, my “faith journey”—actually my walk with Christ—started because someone asked me if I wanted to pray to accept Jesus into my heart.

Are there false conversions, people who prayed “the prayer” and who have not continued with Christ? I’m sure there are. That’s what Jesus said in the parable about the sower and the seed. Some seed sprang up, but weeds choked it. Some seed fell on the side of the road and was trampled or the birds snatched it away (Luke 8:5-7). Jesus explained it this way:

Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. (Luke 8:12-14)

So who, then, believes in Jesus? I’m convinced I was “born again” when I first put my trust in Him as a small child. My faith wasn’t grounded in theology and it wasn’t mature. It didn’t need to be. It only need to be, because the work wasn’t mine. It was and is Christ’s.

After all, that’s what Scripture says:

but these [signs] have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:31)

And after [the jailer] brought [Paul and Silas] out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Act 16:30-31a).

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in February 20011.

The Purpose Of Prayer


I don’t understand much about prayer and its purpose. In fact, for years my prayer life was … sad.

For the longest time, I prayed pretty much for no other reason than that Scripture tells us to pray. From my experience, it seemed mostly like a crap shoot as to whether or not God would give me what I asked for.

When I was a kid, I prayed for things like a bike—didn’t get one until I was in junior high and then we lived where there was no place to ride.

As a young adult, I prayed for things like our friend who mysteriously disappeared one Sunday morning, never to be found again.

Later I prayed for a spouse. I’m still single. I prayed for people to get well who died, and for others, who lived. I prayed for families to stay together that split up.

As a teacher I prayed for my classes and my lesson prep and my work load, and I was never sure when God answered. When things went well, was it because of His provision or the natural course of things? When they went badly, was He telling me I’d neglected something I was supposed to be doing?

At some point, I pretty much stopped trying to figure prayer out. I knew what it wasn’t. It was not God’s vending machine—insert faith, push the desired prayer button, wait for answer to automatically spit out.

Prayer as vending machine had been my philosophy when our friend went missing. I knew God was powerful enough to bring her back, whole and healthy, even. I believed He wanted to protect her and to return her to her role as a pastor’s wife. I asked, believing she would be found. I fully expected it. But days turned into weeks, then years, and eventually it was clear God had not answered my prayer—at least not by giving me what I requested. Now I understand that’s not the way prayer works.

In fact, prayer doesn’t “work” as if it’s a tool to fix what’s broken. Rather, prayer is our “spiritual media” (in contrast to our ever demanding social media)—our means of communicating with God.

So I guess that defines at least part of prayer’s purpose. God wants us first and foremost to talk to Him. I mean, we’re in a relationship. Healthy relationships need healthy communication. Clearly, communication involves a lot more than simply asking for things.

I find it interesting that there were times in Scripture God said He wouldn’t hear His people’s prayers. In other places, however, He seemed to promise answers. If two or three are gathered in His name, if we have the faith of a mustard seed, if we pray without any doubt, if we pray according to His will.

That last point is a stickler. How are we to know His will? Does He want my friend to be healed of cancer or does He want to glorify Himself by how she approaches death? How am I to pray? Or is my every prayer to be, This is what I want God, nevertheless not my will be done, but Yours.

If so, aren’t we back to the crap shoot idea since I really don’t know how to pray or what God plans?

Here’s the shocking thing I’ve learned in the last few years. When it comes to asking for things, God has told us in Scripture what things He wills. Over and over He’s told us.

But silly me, I persist in asking for things without having a clue what God wants instead of asking for the enduring provisions God wants to give me.

Look at this one passage in the book of James, and think how life-changing it could be if I were to pray for these things that I know are God’s will:

Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts you double-minded.

Or how about this from Philippians:

Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intend on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others.

And later in the same chapter:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.

Prayer changes things, I’m convinced. Until recently, though, I don’t think I understood what things God wants to change most of all.

Sure, in answer to prayer He could have changed Jesus’s status as the Suffering Servant who would die to redeem mankind. He didn’t because He knew the stakes. And Jesus knew to pray, “Not My will but Yours” because He knew the stakes, too.

He also knew His Father to be good, to be loving and merciful. So He put His trust in the Father’s will.

The purpose of prayer? First as communication between us and the Father. I think God wants us to pour our our heart to Him, to unload our burdens, to plead with Him for comfort or strength or even for change. We know God hears, but like a kind Father, He will only give us what is good for us.

But of equal importance, a key purpose of prayer is as a means for us to be involved with God to accomplish His will—things we know He wants because He has stated them in Scripture. These things we can pray knowing God hears and answers, though we may never see the outcome. God’s time is not ours, just as His ways are not ours. But praying with perseverance means we wait eagerly for God’s perfect answer.

This post is a an updated and revised edition of one that first appeared here in May 2011—because I still need to re-read thoughts on prayer.

Published in: on January 23, 2017 at 6:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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Why Shepherds?


Two distinct groups of people received notification that Jesus was born.

The wisemen we understand because… they were wise! And they had something to give the infant King. Three somethings: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold, the fitting mineral for a king; frankincense, the fitting incense for worship; and myrrh, the fitting perfume for embalming a body. OK, the last one may have had Joseph and Mary wondering, but I digress.

In reality, despite the many manger scenes to the contrary, the wisemen, who had some distance to travel once they recognized that a king had been born in Judea, were late arriving. The first group to show up was a collection of local shepherds.

Shepherds in first century Judea were hired workers, poor men with little future. Which is precisely why the angel announced the Messiah’s birth to them, conventional wisdom says. They fit what we now understand as Jesus’s purpose for coming to earth. He’s for the Everyman.

Maybe. Maybe that’s why the shepherds received the angelic announcement that Christ had been born. Kind of a bookend from the poor side that, along with the opposite rich wisemen, would encompass people of every station in life. It’s a good theory.

The shepherds also represented the people who weren’t doing all the religious ceremonies to make themselves acceptable to God. So some scholars have speculated that’s why they got picked.

They were lowly, they were without pretense as to their standing before God, they were poor.

All this might be true, but I think there’s something else more important, and it has to do with why these shepherds received the announcement and not another set, say from Bethel: they believed.

The angel of the LORD stood in front of them and God’s Shekinah, His glory, shone around them. Needless to say, they reacted like virtually everyone else who had an encounter with an angel: they just about passed out with fear. They may have fallen on their faces, covered their heads with their arms, ducked behind the nearest boulder. Anything to ward off this person of obvious power.

Before anything else, the angel calmed them down. They didn’t have any reason to fear him or his message. In fact he’d come to give them great news. And not just for them, but for, well, everyone. Then the announcement:

today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

He didn’t stop there. He went on to give them a sign. A strange sign, I think. I mean, God’s glory shining around them seems like a pretty powerful sign.

    More of that, please. Aimed at those owners of the vineyard just the other side of the plateau who chased away our flocks last week. They need a good dose of God’s awesome power, I’d think! Let them quake in their sandals for a few minutes. Or an hour. Just saying.

But no. The sign the angel passed along provided identifying features that would allow them to find the newborn baby. What would mark Him as different from any other baby that might be born that same night? Well, for one thing, He would be wrapped in cloths.

Some scholars say that was normal—babies in those days were all wrapped in cloths; no cute little baby outfits for them. Some say the cloths were akin to the strips used to wrap a body in preparation for burial—definitely out of the ordinary. Not sure, but I tend to lean toward the idea that this was uncommon. Otherwise, why mention it as an identifying feature? It would be like saying today, you’ll find the baby wrapped in a baby blanket.

    Well, thanks very much for all that help distinguishing this baby from all other babies!!

No matter, the second part of the sign the angel gave is irrefutably unique. The baby they’d be looking for was in a manger. Clearly, a feeding trough was not the normal bed for a newborn. Find the manger holding an infant, wrapped in cloths, and you’ve found the Christ Child.

The_Shepherds011What does all this have to do with the shepherds believing?

I mean, they saw the angel and God’s glory and then a host of other angels praising God. They were eyewitnesses.

To the announcement.

They still had to respond to what they heard. They could have sat around and debated what they’d just experienced. They could have discussed whether or not the message was true or whether any parent in their right mind would put a baby in a feeding trough.

Apparently they did none of those things. Rather they made the decision to track down this baby. They knew exactly what to look for.

So they’d need to knock on a few doors, make a few inquiries and find out what woman may have just given birth. Then they’d stop by and check out the sleeping quarters of the little guy. Shouldn’t be too hard.

I wonder how many doors got slammed in their faces. How many times they got yelled at, or ignored. But they persisted.

No matter how many people they roused from their sleep or disturbed with their questions, they needed to go to see “this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us” (Luke 2:15b).

They determined to “go straight to Bethlehem.” They did not doubt that “this thing” had really happened. They didn’t dismiss the announcement as something not intended for them.

    Some mistake. The angels got the wrong field. In fact they were probably looking for the palace. It’s a few miles west. Up the hill. Can’t miss it.

No, the shepherds believed that Messiah was born that very day, that God had made it known to them, and that they could find this baby based on the sign given them by the angel. So they went. No hesitation.

They put feet to their belief. And when they found Jesus, “they made know the statement which had been told them about this Child” (Luke 2:17).

Two reactions to their announcement: “all who heard it wondered.” Let the debate begin!

“Do you think they really saw an angel?”

“How else would they have known a baby was born?”

“But they’re shepherds!”

“Yeah, but what they said matches what we’re seeing here—a baby in a manger! Who would make that up?”

“Maybe they saw the baby first and decided to claim some oracle told them about it.”

“But why would they do that?”

And on and on.

The second reaction was Mary’s. She treasured what they said, pondering it all in her heart.

She’d take this one bit of evidence, this second declaration that her child was special, this account delivered by shepherds who said they saw an angel, just as she had when she first learned about this little boy she’d just brought into the world.

She’d think about it all, and as the years went by, in the end, after Christ’s resurrection, she’d add her faith to that of the shepherds.

Published in: on December 23, 2016 at 2:36 pm  Comments (8)  
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A Cat Claim And The Existence Of God


savannah_cat_portraitEarlier this week I spent the better part of one day in a discussion in the Facebook group for theists and atheists. One person (who I will refer to by the generic pronoun he) wrote, “If someone told you they had a cat, yet there was no evidence they owned a cat wouldn’t that be evidence against their cat claim?”

My answer was simple: their claim that they owned a cat must be considered as evidence, unless they’ve proved themselves to be liars or delusional.

His response was simply this: produce the cat.

But there’s the problem. What if the cat is an indoor cat? Or what if, for safety reasons, the owner only wants the cat to be allowed in the backyard?

Anybody claiming that the cat doesn’t exist has to doubt the word of the owner. Some might even go so far as to doubt the existence of a backyard. Oh, you say he’s in your backyard, but I’ve never seen your backyard. In fact, you don’t actually have a backyard. It’s more likely a park that lots of people share, and any cat that might have been spotted back there is likely someone else’s cat, or it’s not a cat at all. It’s probably a small dog or maybe even a squirrel. I’ve seen squirrels in your tree before, so your supposed cat is probably just another squirrel.

Those who question the existence of God operate from the same premise: what is true must be verified by an approved method—either by first hand knowledge (because eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable) or by passing the hard-evidence test.

Therefore, since I have not seen your cat, you don’t own a cat. Or, since there is no litter box contents going into your trash can, since you never bring home a new bag of cat litter, since you don’t bundle your cat into a cage and drive him to the vet from time to time, and since there aren’t cat hairs clinging to your clothes, you don’t own a cat.

Even though you say you do.

This discussion can be frustrating, especially if the cat is somewhere else at present. Suppose the owner took it with her on a trip abroad, only to have it quarantined when she returned. Roughly thirty days, the customs officials said. So day after day the owner tells the neighbor she has a cat, one he’ll see when it gets home.

The neighbor, however, refuses to believe she has a cat because he says, “Faith is no path to truth as it can be used to justify anything.” In other words, he refuses to believe the owner’s word. That would not be evidence. That would be faith, and faith is just wishful thinking.

But what if the owner’s son also said, “Yes, we have a cat.” And the vet who gave the animal shots before the trip abroad said, “I know she owns a cat.” Are three eyewitnesses enough?

To complicate things, what if the discussion was about a former cat, not a current pet. What if she told her neighbor she once owned a prize-winning Savannah she sold for $30,000. The neighbor demands proof. “Produce the bill of sale or pictures,” he says.

But then he disqualifies the bill of sale she brings out because it is handwritten. “Anyone could have forged that document,” he says. The pictures could just as easily have been photo-shopped from ones on line. So how can she prove that she indeed owned the cat? Eyewitness accounts are out, documentation is out, and “faith” in the owner’s word is out.

I don’t want to belabor the analogy. The point is, the neighbor has decided he doesn’t believe the woman owned a cat which she sold for $30,000. It’s not in his experience that a cat could cost that much, and he never saw the cat himself. He’s not going to be so foolish as to believe the woman because she could tell him anything. Is he supposed to believe any old story that she or others choose to tell?

The fact is, the man does have faith: primarily in his own knowledge and experiences. If he had seen the cat, he’d believe. Others might believe once they see the bill of sale. Still others might be convinced by the pictures. But all of them have faith in something or someone.

Faith is nothing more than trusting a source.

When it comes to God and His existence, He is the primary source. He demonstrates His existence in what He has made. He tells us of His existence in His written revelation. Ultimately He exhibited His existence by taking on the likeness of humankind. Currently He verifies His existence by His presence in the lives of those who believe Him.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled? (“How Firm A Foundation,” Timeless Truths)

Published in: on December 7, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Picking A President: What Matters Most?


zebra_02When a Christian makes a decision, should faith play a part?

I’d say, yes and no. Faith should play a part as far as we’re concerned, but it shouldn’t necessarily be a factor when we evaluate someone else. For instance, when I go to the grocery store or stop at a fast food restaurant, I don’t believe a Christian should interview the check out clerk and produce manager, or the server and cook when deciding which store or which fast food spot to visit. On the other hand, I should be a Christian in how I deal with those people—I should be kind, respectful, a person of integrity.

Like all people, Christians can and should expect others to do what they’ve said they’d do. For example, when we take our car in for maintenance, we shouldn’t expect favors, but we can expect good work and honest dealings. We aren’t holding the car mechanic to high standards because of our faith necessarily. And we ought not expect more or less from someone because of their religious affiliation. Further more, we have every right to change to a mechanic that meets the standard of excellence we expect.

When it comes to picking a President, not so much is different, I don’t think. We should pick a President because we think he or she is qualified and because we think the person will do a good job. However, there are a lot of factors that come into play—not the least of which is that we have no good measuring stick for whether or not a President has done a good job. He might do an outstanding job, but another country attacks us months into his Presidency, and the whole course of his tenure is changed. Or the economy might take a dive because of the policies instituted by a predecessor.

Presidents don’t work in a vacuum, either. They are to work with Congress. In fact, the original idea of those who wrote the Constitution was that Congress would write the laws and the President would make sure those laws got carried out. The Presidency was never meant to be about what this one leader would do. He was not a monarch or a dictator.

You’d never know it these days if you listen to what the Presidential candidates say. They tell how they’ll do this or that to bring more jobs and improve the economy, how they’ll fix the problems of illegal immigration, how they’ll stop ISIS, how they’ll cope with racial injustice. If someone from a different country heard all this, I suspect they’d never guess we had a Congress.

Listening to what a candidate says he or she will do, then, is really little more than an opportunity to discern their values and character. And do values matter? Does character? I mean, I opened this article by saying faith “shouldn’t necessarily be a factor when we evaluate someone else.”

The key to the above statement is the word “necessarily.” I don’t necessarily evaluate a car mechanic by his character unless I learn that he’s trying to con me into services I don’t really need, or is charging me too much, or says he’s changed a part he hasn’t. Then, of necessity, his values and character will enter into my decision whether to ever take my car to him again. (Thankfully my present mechanics—yes, I have two, which you need when you drive a really, really old car—are exceptionally honest!)

Most of what a President actually does is our of the public eye, so it’s hard to evaluate what kind of job he’s doing until something catches in the media which we either agree with or disagree with. What we end up judging is the over all state of the country. Is it better or worse than when the President came into office?

In the early twentieth century, for instance, President Woodrow Wilson ran his reelection campaign on the slogan “he kept us out of war.” After he was re-eleced, however, the US did, in fact, enter World War I. No surprise, then, that a candidate from the opposing party won the next election.

So what should a Christian look for in a President? For the most part, I think we should look for the same things anyone else looks for: integrity, leadership, the capacity to work well with others—which we used to call statesmanship. If a Christian is running for the office, I think that’s a plus. If someone claims to be a Christian and is not, that’s a huge minus.

I understand we aren’t to judge a person, but when someone says he’s a Christian and then clearly demonstrates he doesn’t understand what it actually means to be a Christian, then it’s not judging to say he’s not a Christian. It’s common sense.

It would be like me saying, I’m Latin American. If questioned about this, because I have no Hispanic features, I’d say I’m Latin American because I attended the University of Mexico one summer and lived in Guatemala for three years.

That’s well and good, the other person might respond, but that doesn’t make you Latin American.

And they’d be right. My misunderstanding of what it means to be Latin American would not alter the fact that I am not Latin American. Same with those who say they are Christian.

The thing is, if a President says it, then acts in a way contrary to Christian beliefs, he brings great harm to the name of Christ.

So what matters most when picking a President? Their stand on gay marriage? Gun laws? Immigration? Abortion? Terrorism? Trade? Taxes? The environment?

We aren’t going to find someone who agrees with all our positions, and even if they did, they are not acting alone ad cannot insure that their policies will be enacted.

What matters most is the person’s values and character.

It’s particularly distressing that the two leading candidates are know for their lack of integrity, bullying, and condescension.

Can any policy statements that we agree with and hold to dearly outweigh who a person actually is? A donkey painted with black and white stripes is still a donkey, no matter how much people say it’s a zebra. Same with an elephant, in case anyone thinking I’m making a statement about the Democratic candidate with that analogy. I’m not. It’s something I read that’s on an entirely different topic. But the analogy fits for candidates who say they’ll do this or that but are mean-spirited, untrustworthy, and egotistical.

No, I suggest we keep looking for a real zebra instead of settling.

Published in: on October 3, 2016 at 7:53 pm  Comments (4)  
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Faith That Moves Mountains


Brown_Mustard_SeedJesus talked about faith that moves mountains. A couple times. Matthew records one instance in chapter 17 and then a bit later, in chapter 21.

The first time Jesus mentions it, He says, somewhat surprisingly, that the size of our faith is unimportant. Maybe even immaterial. The point He’s making that the very smallest amount of faith, the size of a mustard seed, is able to move mountains. Except, He couples their mustard seed-sized faith and what it can do with a chastisement—that their faith was too small.

I can only surmise that any faith smaller than a mustard seed had to be no faith at all. This idea seems consistent with the second instance in which Jesus challenged His disciples to have faith the size of a mustard seed. On that occasion, He added an important caveat: “if you have faith and do not doubt” (Matt 21:21b).

So I’m wondering if faith that moves mountains is pure faith, no matter the size or the amount, not gobs and gobs of faith with just a little doubt.

We’re big on doubt these days. We applaud people who are “honest” about how they feel concerning God and how He’s “let them down.”

Certainly we have examples in the Bible of people who didn’t have the kind of faith that moved mountains. If fact, in the first instance Matthew recorded, when Jesus talked about mustard-seed faith, He was answering why the disciples couldn’t cast out a demon during the time He was up on the mount of transfiguration.

Peter, right after he’d declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, showed his ignorance and doubt in what Jesus said. No, no, Peter declared, you aren’t going to be killed like you just said. That can’t happen!

Jesus’s response is very telling, I think: “Get behind me, Satan.”

He wasn’t sympathetic or compassionate. He didn’t say, I know how shocking this must be for you to hear, and I understand why you doubt my word, but trust me on this.

I kind of wish Jesus had responded that way. I mean, I think Peter’s response was understandable, given what he believed about the Messiah. He was expecting a victorious king to come and defeat the Romans. But he let what he thought was going to happen affect what he believed about what Jesus told him would happen.

It sounds like such a little thing, this crack in the faith statement Peter had just delivered, but it obviously wasn’t a little thing to Jesus. He wants faith that’s untainted with doubt.

George-MuellerI’m reading a biography of George Muëller right now. When he was a young man, he became convinced that he was to live simply, and completely dependent upon God’s provision. He was a young pastor, and he gave up his salary. At the time, in the early 1830s, the church received payment from the richer congregants for pew rental, and that’s where they got money to pay their pastor.

Muëller believed none of the church members should be treated in a better manner than any other. And he believed God would supply all he needed. So he stopped the practice of renting the pews and he refused a salary.

His trust in God to provide for his needs extended to his ministry. First he started an institute that supported foreign missions, funded six Christian day schools, two Sunday schools, and an adult school, along with various outreaches to the poor. Later he added an orphan’s home, then a second, and a third. Even when he had over 100 orphans under his care, his method for raising money was to pray. He would tell God, and God alone, about their needs.

People gave generously to his work even though they didn’t know what his specific needs were. But the cool thing about what Muëller did was that he was intentionally walking by faith so that other Christians would see and believe that God meant what He said in His word.

His faith was contagious, and it continues to inspire people even to this day. It inspires me. I want to believe that God means what He says, without any doubting. He’s proved Himself faithful in the lives of so many others, in the Bible and throughout history. Why would I think He’s grow tired of caring for His children.

He who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, is certainly not going to change His mind when I bring my needs before Him. He’s not going to give me a scorpion when I ask for bread because He loves me with a Father’s love.

The thing God asks of us is to seek His kingdom and His righteousness. A la George Muëller. He wasn’t seeking for his own aggrandizement or comfort or ease. He was seeking to tell others about the love of Jesus Christ and the good news that He covered our sins with His robe of righteousness.

As a result, God expanded Muëller’s opportunities to reach people with truth. The mountain that Muëller moved was the piles of provisions needed for his ministries. When some of his workers asked, what do we do if we have no bread in the morning, he never offered a plan B. His plan A was for God to provide through the generosity of His people, and He never wavered from that plan.

The result was that his orphans were always properly fed and clothed. And that more and more people understood just how faithful God is.

Published in: on June 28, 2016 at 6:57 pm  Comments (1)  
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Grace And How It Really Works


Old_Testament008As often as I write about grace—and that’s pretty often—I can’t seem to exhaust the topic. I’m often struck by some of the same things I’ve written about, as if I’ve never heard them before. For example, I’m stunned every time I realize that Christianity is the only religion based on grace. In fact, it seems the word grace is hardly in the vocabulary of anyone who is not a Christian. It’s simply a Christ-attribute and therefore a word for Christ’s followers.

There are some people, however, ones I’ve called pretend Christians, converts of those who the Bible calls false teachers, who try to co-op grace and make it into something it is not.

For instance universalists freely admit to God’s grace, but their idea is that because God extends us grace, there is no justice. A summary of their position could be, Grace. The end. In fact, according to the universalist, all roads lead to God, including the road of unbelief. Whatever happens after death happens to all of humanity. No favorites, they would say.

On the opposite side of the continuum would be legalists. They don’t believe in grace, or if they do, they don’t believe that it’s enough. God, from their perspective, needs our help.

The sad and sometimes confusing thing is that these legalists aren’t too far off. They just have things backwards. They believe (though they may not articulate it this way, their actions indicate this is what they actually believe) that a person must clean up his act before he can receive God’s grace.

The book of James makes it clear that the things we do are important. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus that we are saved by grace through faith. James turns around and makes the case that faith isn’t faith unless it’s got some legs.

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. (James 2:14-17)

So faith, the kind that’s in action, combines with grace to free us from sin and guilt and the law and Satan’s power and our sin nature and spiritual death.

The Bible is filled with pictures of this process.

* The people of Israel are escaping Egypt, but they don’t have food for the long journey on foot to the home of their ancestor Abraham. They plead and complain to Moses, and he in turn asks God what’s to become of these people. God answers with His grace. He sends manna, a “bread of the angels,” that appeared first thing at dawn and was gone by the time the sun was fully up. A miraculous provision. One they had for forty years! But here’s the thing: they had to go pick it up. And cook it or prepare it.

God also sent them quail because they were starved for meat. When many didn’t take the time to do their part—to clean the birds and cook them–when their appetite took over their actions, God sent them a dire punishment.

God gives grace, no doubt, but the people have to appropriate it and not misappropriate it.

* Years later God gave Joshua instructions for defeating Jericho. First the priests were to walk the ark around the city with all the people following. Then seven days later after repeating this walk each day, they were to circle the city seven times and the walls would fall. They fell! God’s grace in action, remarkably! Who can imagine such a thing. But that still left all these enemy Canaanites trapped amid the rubble. The people of Israel had one less difficulty—a difficulty that made conquering the city seemed impossible—but they still had a battle to wage.

* David, fresh from the fields where he watched over his family’s sheep, faced a giant of a man named Goliath. He was over nine feet tall and he was a fearsome fighter. But David marched boldly to meet this champion of the Philistines:

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day the LORD will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. (1 Samuel 17:45-46a)

As David said, God, by His grace, delivered David and David cut off Goliath’s head.

The point is simple. Grace can’t be misappropriated like the name-it-and-claim it folks want to do or like the universalists try to do. But at the same time it can’t be treated as the ugly step-sister to obeying a legalistic set of laws.

God’s grace is The Big Deal in our relationship with Him. In fact it is the Big Deal that separates Christianity from all other religions. God saves by supplying us with His grace through the faith He freely gives us. His grace is free. His faith is free. His salvation is free.

But we’ve got to own it. Claim it. Say, Yes, that grace has my name on it. It’s my free gift from God which is the means of my salvation.

It’s a narrow road, walking between two extremes. But at the same time, this amazing balance God has created helps us to spot false teachers and pretend Christians. Because people who don’t know the love of God aren’t really clear about grace. Not that any of us actually “knows how it works.” But we do trust God to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves, so that we in turn might show Him our love by doing what He asks.

Published in: on April 11, 2016 at 6:06 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Assurance Of Things Hoped For


Anselm made Archbishop of Canterbury

Anselm made Archbishop of Canterbury

Some while ago I had a discussion on a Facebook site that brings Christians and atheists together. The question came up at once about how foolish it is for Christians to depend on faith instead of reason.

No, no, several of us responded. We aren’t choosing faith over reason. Our reason leads us to faith. Impossible, these atheists answered. Finally we backed up a step and defined our terms. It soon became clear: to the atheists in the discussion, faith was limited to blind belief, more nearly tied to what I call wishful thinking.

A light went on. No wonder those atheists were dismissive of Christians. Who wouldn’t question someone who knows something isn’t so (or who has no evidence that it is) but who wants it to be true and therefore simply declares it into existence?

To the atheists in that discussion, there was no other meaning to the idea of faith.

And yet, the Bible gives an entirely different view of the issue. Hebrews 12:1 basically defines faith for us: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

I think the last part of the definition is actually the strongest because conviction pushes the matter beyond just wanting it to be true. There’s a convincing element to the word. After all, we convict criminals—we make a strong and convinced statement about a person’s guilt, not based on wishful thinking, but on evidence.

In the same way, faith is conviction—belief based on evidence.

But doubters are quick to point out what comes next—the conviction is of things not seen. You can’t see God, and yet you’re convinced? You can’t see angels. You can’t see heaven. You can’t see the Holy Spirit or demons or hell or Satan or Jesus or a video showing men moved by the Holy Spirit writing the Bible. Pretty much everything in the Christian faith is conviction of things not seen.

How, then, does one become convinced or convicted as to the truth of Christianity? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it! If I could give an answer in a nutshell, I’d have pastors and missionaries and evangelists beating a path to my apartment.

There’s actually a lot that goes into this convincing/convicting. One element is proclamation. Like anything else that we believe, we may have first heard the statement from someone we trust and we believed it for no other reason than that he or she said it was true. Many a Christian took that first “leap of faith” because someone older and smarter and more experienced and knowledgeable told us the truth about Jesus. And about us.

Another element in the process of becoming convinced/convicted is verification from personal experience. So a trusted someone says, all people everywhere are sinners. Without much trouble, I can verify that statement based on my experiences. I see the news that shows people doing heinous things, I look at my family and friends and see their flaws and foibles, I search my own heart and find wrong attitudes and desires. So, yes, I can agree with and be convince of the truth that all people everywhere are sinners.

A third component to the process is reliable corroborative evidence—things like people whose lives have been changed or who live their lives in a way that is countercultural, Bible passages and the overarching Biblical narrative, miraculous events that have no explanation apart from supernatural intervention (or lying, but lying has been disproved).

Another part of this process is deductive reasoning. For instance, one way to arrive at belief in God is to draw a conclusion from several self-evident statements:

    1. One who creates is outside of and apart from what it creates (a painter and his painting; a watch maker and his watch)
    2. Nothing in the known world has the ability to create sentience
    3. Therefore, something outside the known world with the capacity to create sentience must exist.

That’s a somewhat clumsy effort to illustrate how deduction works, but I hope you get the idea. There are numerous others, but apparently Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury is credited with the development of this approach. Here’s his deduction proving God’s existence with a bit of explanation following:

Anselm’s first form of his argument follows:

    1. God is the greatest possible being (nothing greater can be conceived)
    2. If God exists in the mind alone (only as an idea), then a greater being could be imagined to exist both in the mind and in reality
    3. This being would then be greater than God
    4. Thus God cannot exist only as an idea in the mind
    5. Therefore, God exists both in the mind (as an idea) and in reality.

The first premise (1) that God is the greatest possible being stems from the classical attributes of God i.e. omnipotence, omnipresent, omniscience…etc. It naturally follows that there cannot be two rival omnipotent beings…etc. For Anselm (and most theistic thinkers) this understanding of God goes without saying. It is axiomatic to say that God is omnipotent…etc. Any other definition of God would not be God.

The second and third premises (2 and 3) argue that something that exists in reality is better than something that exists only in ones imagination. For example, which is better imagining that you have £1 million, or actually having £1 million in your bank account?

The conclusion (4) follows from the first three premises (1,2 and 3). Anselm’s final conclusion (5) is that if all the previous premises are true (1,2,3 and 4) then God must exist. “The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God”

Other elements that go into the convincing/conviction that is faith in what we do not see involves inductive arguments. We reason from what we “see” to what we don’t see. For instance the “Moral Argument” for God’s existence is inductive—we see that an objective morality exists and conclude that the sense of right and wrong has its origin in a Moral Being.

These various ways of becoming convicted of what is not seen are philosophical. Too often our atheist friends want to stop with the words “not seen” as if the lack of material evidence means there is no evidence. However, there’s one overarching argument against this opposition.

While atheists accept that science can discover new things to the point that scientists might refute a position that had been commonly held to be true in a past age, atheists take for themselves omniscience in regard to God by saying that since they have not discovered scientific evidence for Him, He does not exist anywhere in the known and unknown universes and possible dimensions.

To know such a thing a person would have to, well, be like God. But since, in their view, there is no God, then they can’t know if God is in some distant universe or dimension. In other words, their position is simply . . . dare I say it? . . . wishful thinking.

Published in: on January 7, 2016 at 7:23 pm  Comments (13)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The First Principle, Day 2


united-states-constitution-we-the-peopleThe First Principle by Marissa Shrock, this month’s CSFF feature, is a young adult novel, but its themes are quite adult.

In some ways, this is a warning, and in others it’s a recommendation. Warning: parents would be wise to discuss this book with younger teens. I taught 7th and 8th graders for years, and I know that as a group they are not naive. They’re aware of what’s happening in the world—movies and television almost insure that this is so.

But at the same time, they may not have thought through how their own life or the lives of those they care about might be affected by their choices. They might not have thought about what a loss of freedom of religion and freedom of speech would mean for their own lives. They might not have come to grips with what living under an autocratic government might mean.

In other words, this novel can serve as a wake up call, if parents choose to use it in this way by discussing some of the big issues the book raises. Younger readers would certainly benefit from the help of their parents as they process these themes.

Because the book does deal candidly with things like disobeying governmental laws that are wrong, adults can also benefit by reading this book and applying it to the circumstances in which we live today.

We saw so recently the flood of protest aimed at the Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis for allowing her religious beliefs to affect her compliance to a court order in regard to doing her job. Some Christians lined up with the general public to throw verbal stones at her, saying that the only way she could exercise her freedom of religion was to quit her job.

But The First Principle raises the question about complying with a law mandating abortion. Do people of faith have the freedom of their beliefs to resist such a law? And if those rights are trampled upon by the government, should Christians fight the government or comply?

In the novel, the underground movement, largely involving Christians, determines to lead a revolution. Is this where our religious beliefs should take us?

These are questions adults should think about, not just teens. Here’s a Prager University video entitled “Why We’re Losing Liberty” which gives more food for thought.

Of course, the ultimate arbiter of our actions should be God’s word and His Holy Spirit. In the case of Kim Davis and the court mandate to issue marriage licenses, including to homosexual applicants, Christians on both sides quoted Scripture which seemed to conflict, such as render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, on one hand, and we ought to obey God rather than man, on the other. How is a Christian to resolve what the Bible says when it seems to offer contradictory principles?

Then too, how do we reconcile our religious beliefs with government mandates that contradict those beliefs? In The First Principle, the word of God itself came under attack by the government and the belief that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life became branded as exclusivist and therefore hate speech.

Is this where America is headed? And how are Christians to respond?

Indeed, The First Principle raised issues that adults need to think about.

See what other members of the tour have to say about this book and the ideas it raises. You’ll find the list of participants and links to the articles I’ve read at the end of the Day 1 post.