Law And Grace – Reprise


As I’ve read in Exodus these past few days, I’ve reached the “dry” chapters. The excitement is over—plagues all done, Passover held, exodus accomplished, chase ensued, water parting miracle performed, enemies vanquished, grumbling faced, water and food provided.

And now Moses records the details of his meeting with God—the Ten Commandments, an overview of various other laws, an introduction to the offerings, and then specifics about the tabernacle. I mean specifics!

We have the ark, the table, the lampstand, the tent curtains, the outer tent curtains, the boards, the veil, the screen, the altar, the court, the priestly garments and … you get the idea.

Lots of things, lots of details.

The thing that impresses me is that in the midst of all God’s prescriptive communication handed down in the Law, grace shines like a diamond. Here are a few examples.

In chapter 22 Israel is commanded not to “wrong a stranger or oppress him.” Why? because they had been strangers in Egypt at one time. They had received help in time of need, only to have that help turn into oppression. Don’t do like those who did to you, the command seems to be saying.

There are other similar gems in this chapter. One of the many times Scripture admonishes how to treat orphans and widows is recorded in verse 22 (You shall not afflict any widow or orphan). Verse 25 spells out lending money to the poor without charging interest and returning the man’s cloak he’d given as a pledge so he won’t be cold at night.

Why all these? Verse 27 explains: “for I [the Lord] am gracious.”

Chapter 23 records the plan of planting and harvesting for six years, then letting the land rest the seventh year, also allowing the needy to glean from the fallow field.

After the people agree to abide by all these laws in chapter 24, Moses meets with God on the mountain. In chapter 25 God instructs him to start taking contributions for the tabernacle. They were going to need a lot of materials. But here’s how it was to work: “from every man whose heart moves him, you shall raise My contribution” (emphasis mine).

The key here is God’s desire for a willing heart, not just the stuff the people could give. None of it was to be given under compulsion or grudgingly.

And then the specifics of the tabernacle—precise measurements, exact numbers of items, details of arrangements. In fact, God told Moses, “You shall erect the tabernacle according to its plan which you have been shown in the mountain.”

No telling if the existence of this perfect model or heavenly tabernacle which the earthly one copied was a singular object or not. Could it be that other “Perfects” or archetypes exist, as Plato’s theory of forms suggested?

Be that as it may, God cared deeply that the tabernacle constructed under Moses’s oversight would be like the heavenly one. This does not sound like a God of mystery to me.

Why would He go to such lengths to reveal a structure built for His worship but hold Himself apart and unknowable? In fact, He did the opposite. It was only when the people trembled at His voice and begged Moses to act as the intermediary for them that God restricted His communication. And still He gave the people His Shekinah glory—His holy presence in cloud and in fire.

Yes, this was a period of law giving and prescriptive instruction, and still God’s grace shines bright.

This post originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in August, 2011.

Published in: on August 16, 2017 at 5:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Just Not Me – Reprise


Moses029When I was growing up, missionaries home on furlough would, from time to time, speak at our church. Inevitably they’d show slides I (still pictures inserted into a projector and displayed on a screen 😉 ) of their overseas ministry, usually including one or more of people suffering from a disease known as elephantiasis. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything harder to do than go to a foreign place and deal with such illnesses. And yet time and again, I thought for sure God was sending me to the mission field.

Mind you, I wasn’t opposed to missions. I thought missionaries were brave (though generally boring and quite old-fashioned). I was fine with other people going to foreign places. Just not me!

My attitude was not so different from the one Moses displayed when God called him to go back to Egypt and lead the people of Israel into their own land. His short answer? Not me, God.

Interestingly, his reasoning was similar to Gideon’s some hundreds of years later when God commissioned him to free His people from the tyranny of Midian.

Both Moses and Gideon didn’t think they were qualified, Moses because he couldn’t speak well and Gideon because he was the youngest of his family and his tribe was the least important in Israel. I don’t know if either of those assessments were true, but that’s what each man thought. They simply weren’t capable of doing the job God was calling them to do.

Actually, that’s not a bad place to be. Moses some forty years earlier had thought he was capable of ruling over Israel—protecting them and judging between them. He got a rude awakening when things didn’t pan out the way he expected. So his new position of humility was a needed step.

Both Moses and Gideon also asked for a sign. They wanted to be sure they’d understood correctly. They wanted to know that God was indeed sending them.

God gave them more than one sign. With Moses He turned his staff into a snake and back again; turned his hand leprous, then healed it; and turned water he poured onto the ground into blood.

With Gideon God produced dew only on the fleece he set out, then produced dew everywhere else except on the fleece. Further, he told Gideon to sneak into the Midian camp where he heard the interpretation of a prophetic dream recounting Israel’s upcoming victory.

Not much doubt that God was calling these two guys despite their initial “not me” reaction.

You’d think the hard part was over. They finally got the message. Yes, God really said and meant that they were to go and do . . . well, the impossible.

But the fact is, Moses first had to convince the people of Israel that God had sent him, then he had to convince Pharaoh to do what God and told him. The process was harrowing and I suspect lasted for months if not years (though we can read it in a relatively short time in Exodus).

Gideon had the cooperation of the people immediately. But God was the one who initially put up obstacles. Too many people, Gideon—send home the people who have just bought land or just got married or who are afraid. And then, after thousands left, God said, still too many, Gideon. Weed out more. After the initial, miraculous, God-orchestrated victory, he faced opposition from people: some who didn’t want to help because his numbers were so small, and some who were infuriated that they hadn’t been included in the whole operation.

No, following God was not easy.

Not everyone who God called responded as Moses and Gideon did. Samuel didn’t know God or recognize His voice, but he answered, “Here am I.” Isaiah realized he was a man of unclean lips, but once his iniquity had been removed, he answered in the opposite vein—Here am I. Send me!

Jonah was most definitely in the Not Me camp. He ran in the opposite direction from the one God had told him to go. Saul was a Not Me guy too. When the people of Israel chose him to be king—and this was after God had Samuel anoint him—he was hiding amidst the baggage.

Joseph, on the other hand, was a Here Am I guy. Daniel was too. Ruth was a Here Am I gal as was Mary.

Esther was back with the Not Me guys, though. But she had good company. All those disciples of Jesus hiding after the crucifixion—definitely Not Me guys. Peter even said, as for me and my house, we’re going fishing.

Not Joshua. He was a Here Am I guy. So was Noah and Abraham and Daniel.

The amazing thing is that God used them all. His kindness and patience were on display when He sent a storm, then a great fish, to stop Jonah in his tracks. Jesus had already appeared to Peter and had given him instruction to wait for the Holy Spirit, but Peter, being Peter, was off doing his Not Me thing. Jesus loved him back to obedience.

Esther had Mordecai’s counsel and prayer, Saul had Samuel and his instruction from God.

Sadly, Saul’s Not Me changed at some point to Not God. He decided he could re-interpret God’s commands and do things his own way. That, I guess, is the real answer to God’s call that we need to guard against.

I’m reminded of the parable Jesus told of the two sons whose father instructed them to go out into the vineyard. The one said no, the other said he’d go. However, the first relented and obeyed his father even though he’d said he wouldn’t, and the second didn’t go though he said he would. So which did the will of his father? Jesus asked. (Matt. 21:31)

In the end, that’s what God wants of us—to do His will. I’d still like to be a Here Am I gal, but the reality is, I more often than not resemble a Not Me gal.

But God deals with us in kindness and patience and mercy. He knows our weaknesses, and even promises to give us strength when we are at our breaking point. And He gives us second chances. And third. And fourth. Well, I suppose it’s more like seventy times seven.

How great is our God!

This post first appeared here in August 2014.

God’s Purpose In Man’s Suffering – Reprise


The recurring question from the time of Job until today seems to be, Where is God in the midst of suffering? The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be a single answer.

One purpose, and the one people often camp on, is that God uses suffering to punish the wicked. The best example of that is the flood that wiped out all the inhabitants of the earth except for Noah and his family. Another clear illustration, which I mentioned in “Have We Neutered God?” is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah — two cities whose inhabitants maintained depraved lifestyles.

A second purpose for suffering according to Scripture was to test a believer’s trust in God. Satan initiated such a test of Job, and God gave him permission to do so.

Abraham was tested similarly when God uprooted him from his home and told him to go to a land He would give him. Of course that test was followed by years of infertility though God had promised to make of his descendants a great and numerous nation.

When his son was finally born, Abraham then faced the test of giving him up in obedience to God. Some might not count that test as “suffering,” but I suspect the emotional and spiritual testing he endured were equal to any physical pain he could have gone through.

A third purpose of suffering is to discipline God’s people. When Israel, for example, arrived in the promised land, they lived with God as their king, but they continually disobeyed Him and followed after the gods of the nations around them. God would then bring the people of Moab or the Philistines or one of the other people groups against them. They would live under the dictates of these oppressive conquerors until they cried out to God for deliverance, then He would send a judge to liberate them.

This pattern continued, with some variation, even after God granted the people’s demand for a king. The ultimate discipline was when first Israel, then Judah, was carried into exile.

Israel serves as an example of another purpose of suffering. Having forsaken God from the beginning of its existence, the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians. Their suffering served the dual purpose of disciplining them but of warning Judah.

Luke records that Jesus used two local disasters as a means to warn his listeners of their need to repent (13:1-5).

Finally, Jesus also explained that some suffering was for the purpose of giving God an opportunity to be glorified. He said this specifically about the man born blind whom He then healed. He also seems to have allowed Lazarus to die for the same reason.

What does all this tell us about suffering today?

For one, that we don’t know what God is doing. He’s not limited to the five purposes I’ve identified in Scripture, but even if He was, I still wouldn’t know any better than Job’s friends did, what God is doing in someone else’s life.

Secondly, we should realize that He is using suffering to accomplish His purposes in the same way that He uses blessings. Though they may look un-caused or haphazard to us, they are neither, if God is indeed sovereign.

Sometimes the cause is evil. I have no doubt that Satan employed evil against Job. And Joseph said plainly that his brothers meant evil when they sold him into slavery. Certainly the people who stoned Stephen and the ones who crucified Christ had evil motives. None of that thwarted God’s purposes. Instead, He took the evil and made it good to advance His plans, or He took it and used it to convict of sin, in Job’s case, and advanced His plans.

Third, all suffering should remind us that we are not in charge. We can diagram and explain, analyze and hypothesize all we want, but in the final summation, we need to allow suffering to call us back to God. The message is never for someone else. It’s for those of us who hear. We should examine our own hearts, not point the finger at others.

And finally, suffering affords us an opportunity to reach out in the name of Christ to minister to those in need. We don’t have to be rich. We can always, always pray for those in need — for their spiritual needs as well as their physical needs. We can pray that God provides people to come alongside them. We can pray for His mercy to spare them from more tragedy. And we can pray for His mercy to save their souls.

What we shouldn’t do, is act as if He isn’t involved.

This post first appeared here in May 2011.

Published in: on August 14, 2017 at 5:21 pm  Comments (3)  
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Shoe Laces And Life Lessons


Sometimes I’ve thought, as I’ve worked to connect some electronic device or tried to find something on my map or read something I didn’t quite understand, “It ought not to be this hard.”

Those are minor examples, but I think you get the idea. The same thought might be true of something in the bigger areas of life—finding employment, getting involved in a relationship, selling a piece of property. I see other people doing what I’m trying to do, and they don’t seem to struggle as much as I am. Why, I wonder.

I know people who go through such experiences and conclude that someone is out to get them. The boss hates them or their father-in-law is against them. The store clerk is mean to them.

More troubling, some may think God is behind their troubles. Well, He is in the sense that He is sovereign and in control, but not in the “He’s out to get me” kind of way.

The other day I had an experience that clarified such situations a bit. I was getting ready to go for my daily walk, and I had slipped on one tennis shoe, but when I went to tie the laces, I tugged and tugged and couldn’t get one to move. Well, I’ve tied shoe laces nearly every day of my life since that moment I first learned how. That simple act ought not to be this hard.

I figured the lace must have gotten tangled in something somehow, so I took a closer look. Actually the problem was that in the process of putting on the shoe, I also managed to put it, with my foot now inside, on top of the end of the lace. Essentially as I pulled on the lace, I had been pulling against my own weight.

In other words, I was my own obstacle.

I wonder how many times when we’re struggling in life, that might not be the way things are.

Romans 8 gives the Christian some amazing statements about our relationship with God. Here are a few:

* God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son (from vv 28 and 29)

* If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (from vv 31 and 32)

* For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv 38 and 39)

In spite of these great promises I come across people all the time, either face to face or on the internet, who say they are mad at God or disappointed with Him or simply don’t believe in Him any more because this or that happened and they don’t think a loving God would do that.

Well, the truth is, we humans are standing on our own shoe laces. And we as individuals are often standing on our own shoe laces. The trouble isn’t with God at all. It’s with us.

God is good and wants to pour out His love on us, but we’re too intent on loving ourselves so we get in His way. We need to stop pulling against our own weight. We need to allow Him to be the God who leads, beside quiet waters and through the valley of the shadow of death. He isn’t beside us in the one but not the other. He wants to go with us through all of life. If we’ll simply get off the lace we’ve been standing on.

Published in: on August 11, 2017 at 5:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Difference Between Knowing And Understanding


I know a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean I understand them. I know my car does this piston thing, burning fuel to make it run, but I couldn’t explain much more about the workings of the engine. I know less about my computer and a tenth of that about the Internet.

Still, though I don’t understand them, I use those basic tools. I know how to drive, how to enter information into my computer, how to access any number of sites and services on the World Wide Web.

I know, but I don’t understand.

Quite frankly, I’m fine with things the way they are. There are mechanics, tech guys, and webmasters who understand these things and take care of fixing them when they break. I trust their expertise and don’t feel like I need to kibitz—they’re quite capable without my input.

There’s an idea in our culture, however, that seems to treat God differently. He, the thought goes, is a mystery and we’ll never know Him because we will never have true understanding of Him. He is, after all, so far beyond mankind that we shouldn’t expect to understand Him or to know what He’s like. Here’s an example of this kind of thinking from a comment to another blog:

For me, I find that looking for the answers is satisfying enough, even if I never find ultimate truth. Omniscience is a beautiful, holy ideal. I know I will never attain it, but why stop trying? My brain is wired, therefore, with a strange dilemma: there is no ultimate truth, yet I’m going to search for it.

Rather than critiquing or responding to that comment, I want, instead, to take what I hope is a Scriptural look at the mystery of God.

First, the Bible makes it clear that God is indeed far beyond Mankind, that He doesn’t do or think like us:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9-9).

Such a situation seems to lend itself to belief that God is in fact a mystery. However, God has shown from the beginning of time that He had no desire to be a mystery.

First He made Man in His own image, after His own likeness. Just by looking at people, even in our fallen state, we can know something about God.

Second, God was engaged with Man, walking and talking with him rather than withdrawing and watching from afar. Even after man sinned and suffered the consequences, God interacted with Abel, Enoch, Noah, Job, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Samuel, Solomon, Daniel, and many others.

He also gave His Law and for forty years gave a visible indication of His presence with the people He chose as His own. He stayed with them, fought for them, fed them, kept their cloths from wearing out, disciplined them, and fulfilled His promises to them.

Still, there was a mystery — something God kept in reserve that all those people only caught a hint of. That mystery was Jesus Christ:

Of this church I [Paul] was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col 1:25-27 – emphasis added).

All throughout the New Testament, then, the mystery is mentioned in light of its unveiling.

Mat 13:11: Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven …

Rom 16:25 … according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past,

Eph 1:9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him

Eph 3:3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery …

[emphases added]

Furthermore, we learn from Scripture that Christ is the image of the invisible God, that it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him. Hebrews spells out succinctly God showing Himself to Man:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb 1:1-3a).

Is God a mystery?

How can we say that He is when He says He is not?

Does that mean we understand everything about Him? Not by a long shot.

But remember, understanding and knowing are not the same thing. We cannot let the thinking of our time push us off of the sure knowledge of God that we have — not because of our great intellect, which is nothing in comparison to God’s infinite knowledge, but because of God’s kindness and love which spurred Him to reveal Himself to us.

What He has told us, then, is sure knowledge, the testimony of omniscience. We can know what He has revealed, though we may never understand it.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2012.

Published in: on July 20, 2017 at 5:44 pm  Comments (3)  
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Did God Really Say … ?


Adam_and_Eve019Long ago, when Humankind lived in harmony with God, nature, each other, and themselves, Satan approached Eve with a simple question: Did God really say you shouldn’t eat from every tree in the garden?

It was a question that opened up a discussion in which Satan essentially called God a liar. What’s worse, Eve bought it. Maybe not the lying part, but she may have thought Adam got it wrong–after all, she hadn’t been created yet when God told Adam to stay away from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Or perhaps she thought they were misinterpreting God’s intentions. Surely, a good God wouldn’t want to withhold something so pleasing to the eye, so able to impart wisdom.

From the moment Eve ate, men and women have been dealing with this question: did God really say …

Did God really say Abraham would be the father of nations? Did God really say David was to be King? Did God really say the people of Israel should not worship idols? Did God really say Jesus is His Son?

On and on the questions go. Today they present as a challenge to the Bible. Has God really inspired the Bible? Surly the Old Testament is little more than a collection of myths and was never meant to be a presentation of historical fact or supernatural revelation. After all, would a loving God really command genocide?

The pattern is the same as the one Satan used with Eve: We know God is X, so we can conclude that He would never do Y, no matter what He said (or you thought He said), no matter what the prophets said, no matter what the Bible said.

There is, of course, the Adamic answer to Satan’s question: Yes, God said so, but I don’t care.

King Saul responded that way: Yes, David is ordained by God to take the throne, but I don’t care. I’m still going to try to kill him.

Saul was pitting himself against God, not David. He wasn’t confused about what Samuel had said when he delivered the message that God had rejected Saul and would replace him with a king after His own heart. He quickly spotted David as the one God blessed at every turn. Instead of repenting or even stepping down, Saul fought to the bitter end to retain his throne, no matter what God said.

People today respond in the same way. Yes, I understand that God has said Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but I choose to find my own way, my own truth, and to rule my own life.

Deceived like Eve or rebellious like Adam, our response depends on what we do with the question, Has God said … ? Of course we could simply trust God to be true, believe what He says, and do as He asks. Now there’s a novel idea. 😉

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

Published in: on July 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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It’s All About Him


It’s easy to forget that life isn’t all about me. I would like it if it were. Everyone would cater to my every desire, worry about keeping me happy. They’d make sure they didn’t offend me, be quick to encourage me, tell me how kind or smart or talented or helpful I was.

OK, OK, you all can get up off the floor now and stop laughing.

The old saying is that babies are born into the world thinking they are the center of the universe and spend the next eighty years learning they aren’t.

Pretty true. Kids tend to think every toy they want should belong to them. When they’re hungry, it’s time to eat. When they wake up, it’s time to get up.

When we become adults, of course, we realize we need to take into consideration the “others” in our lives.

But if we stop with that realization, we are still woefully wide of the mark. Life isn’t all about me, and it isn’t even all about other people.

Why I am here–why we all are here–isn’t about us. No matter how great an impact a person has on society, how many people he helps, he will soon be gone, and another generation may not even remember his name.

I suspect when President McKinley, the twenty-fifth President of the US, was assassinated, people throughout the country thought he would never be forgotten, that his death was one of the most tragic events in the history of the US. Of course, that was before two world wars, the rise and fall of Communism, the Great Depression, Vietnam, or 9/11. Today he is little more than a footnote in history books. And he was the leader of the nation!

Men of wealth don’t fare much better. Once the names of Rockefeller and Carnage demanded the kind of respect we give Bill Gates and Steve Jobs today. Or what we once gave Steve Jobs.

The Apostle James is right about Mankind. We are just a “vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

How silly, then, for us to believe life is all about us?

It ought to be abundantly clear that our comfort, ease, security, happiness is transitory and cannot be the ultimate purpose of our existence since we ourselves are temporal.

Who wants to draw bucket after bucket of water to pour into the gutter? Why would we spend our time in such a futile effort?

Yet that’s what we so often do when we make life all about us. We spend our precious hours trying to shore up a sandcastle. We might even landscape and furnish it with elaborate, expensive pieces, but in the end, it all washes back out to sea.

How much better if we spend our time on what lasts!

Life, after all, is all about God, not about us. He is the Creator, and we, the creatures made in His image. We exist for His pleasure, not the other way around. We glorify Him, exalt Him, worship Him. He’s the One who is high and lifted up, whose thoughts and ways are higher than ours, whose name is above every name.

How far we have fallen, to think that we should only read the Bible or pray if we feel like it, or that we have a right to complain if in church we sing too many hymns or not enough or if we stand too long or the lighting is too low or too bright.

If life is not about us, worship is certainly not about us either. How different our days would be if we remembered that we exist for God; in fact, life, creation, all He made, exists for Him.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in June 2012.

Published in: on June 23, 2017 at 5:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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So What Exactly Happened?


On April 12th, as near as I can tell, I had a stroke. Not a massive stroke. I wasn’t paralyzed and I didn’t slur my speech. I had no horrible headache. Just a small dull one. And a loss of balance which I thought was a result of an ear infection.

As a result, I did nothing (well, not quite nothing, but I didn’t do all the things you’re supposed to do for a stroke victim, though I did take an aspirin to deal with that dull headache, and did a couple things to help with my phantom ear infection). Until two days later. By that time I was not getting better and the loss of balance now included some weakness in my left arm.

Long story short I went to the ER and was quickly admitted because I had dangerously high blood pressure. They began to monitor me for stroke symptoms and to work to bring my blood pressure down. They ran a series of tests, including a CT scan and an MRI where they discovered that I’d experienced a 1.7 centimeter infarction on the right side of my cerebellum. They also monitored my heart and gave me several tests, including a stress test, and discovered that I’d also experienced a small heart attack.

The culprit, apparently, was the high blood pressure, and for good measure, they diagnosed me as diabetic, too.

Besides a number of medicines, I went on a low sodium, constant carbohydrate diet, and I started seeing a physical therapist daily.

Each day I could see progress, and when my blood pressure leveled out to what the doctor had set as the new parameter, and when the stress test showed no blockage in my heart, they discharged me.

Ever since, I’ve been on the mend. The “weakness” in my arm, which presented more as a lack of coordination, has almost completely disappeared, which is why I can again type. My left leg was affected more, but I’ve graduated from the walker to a cane, and my home physical therapist said, the day he discharged me, that he didn’t see why I couldn’t regain full use of both leg and arm.

My endurance isn’t there yet, but it’s also getting better. I’ve had wonderful help and support, which has been such a blessing, but more on that another time. Suffice it to say, I walked through the fire, but not alone. (Isaiah 43:2) I did nothing “right,” but in the midst of my distress I did call out to God. He heard my cry for help and has sent me just the people I’ve needed. Praise Him for His provision.

Published in: on May 22, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (22)  
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No Thank You, Mr. Buffett


Suppose I decide I want to talk to Warren Buffett, the American business magnate. I hunt up a number, call, and wonderfully am answered on the first ring by one of his many assistants.

I explain I want to talk to Mr. Buffett himself. The assistant tells me he just happens to be on site and available. In seconds I hear Mr. Buffett’s energetic voice.

I eagerly identify myself, then move on to the reason for my call. “Thank you,” I say, “but Mr. Buffett I’ll have to say no. I just can’t accept a million dollars from you.”

He pauses, clears his voice, then says, “There must be some mistake. I never offered you a million dollars.”

As you know, this scenario is completely fictitious, but I think there are parts that are analogous to our perception of humankind’s relationship with God.

Jesus clearly said that

he who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18; emphasis mine)

As I understand this passage, there are only two camps—he who believes and he who has not believed. In other words, no one is in the state of my fictitious scenario in which no offer has been made.

We frequently talk about accepting Christ, yet we don’t take much time thinking about what rejecting the Son means. Instead, we assume that first a person hears about Jesus, then he “makes a decision.” That way of looking at things suggests the third category—those who have not heard.

I want to postulate that the decision to reject the Son of God has more to do with our heart attitude than it does with hearing the name of Jesus.

I realize I am walking a dangerous line here, one I think some of the universalists traverse. However, I hope I am coming at it from a Biblical perspective.

More and more, people claiming to be Christians speak of the “innocent” people who haven’t heard the gospel (as Rob Bell did some years ago in his ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos). At best that position is tapping into the “blank slate” theory, that man is born neutral and can decide to be good or evil. At worst, it aligns with the belief that man is good and something from the outside—society or government or Satan or an evil parent or traditional religion—drags him into sin.

The truth is, none is innocent. None is righteous. We are all in “reject” mode, dethroning God and enthroning ourselves.

Let me turn the page for a minute. When Jesus was teaching in the temple one day, He began a discussion with the Pharisees about who their father was. They claimed God was their father, but Jesus said no. Their father was the devil (see John 8:18-59).

Whether Jesus stood in front of them or not, their father would still have been the devil. He did not become their father because they rejected Jesus as their Messiah. The devil already was their father.

Jesus, of course, knew this about them because He is omniscient. He knew they were slaves to sin. The only thing that could free them would be His shed blood.

But today so many are coming to the issue of salvation as if it is a matter of imparting information—giving everyone a chance to hear the truth, and if they haven’t had that chance, then God is either unfair or He’ll give them that chance later or the information we thought they needed, they didn’t really need because their own belief system is a good substitute.

All of this rejects the idea that an omniscient, all powerful, good God who forms us in our mothers’ wombs can know our hearts and that He calls those who are His. It’s an uncomfortable idea.

We don’t know, can’t understand why God put us in America where we could so easily hear the gospel.

But we must marvel just as much about Tisquantum, better known as Squanto, who was kidnapped with the intent to be sold into slavery. As a result, he had the opportunity to learn about Jesus and escaped the plague that wiped out the rest of his people group.

Or how about Mincayani, one of the Huaorani tribesmen that killed Jim Eliot and the others martyred with him. His act of violence did not stop the truth of God from coming to his people and specifically to Mincayani himself.

The stories of people coming to Christ are many, varied, and no less miraculous if the miracle is about being born where the gospel is readily heard or if it is about one hearing the unexpected and unsought truth of God’s Son.

My point is this. I don’t believe anyone will be judged for rejecting an unoffered gift. God is not Warren Buffett.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in March 2011.

Groaning


This world is groaning. It’s the weight of sin that causes it, and it’s been going on for … well, since Eve believed Satan over God.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if we as human beings aren’t more aware of the groaning than at any point in history.

Terrorism has people across the globe on heightened alert. War and rebellion are tearing nations apart. Famine is on the increase, and the economy of the rich countries vacillates beyond our control. Add to all this earthquakes in places like Haiti, Chile, and Japan; the tornadoes and flooding in the US; hurricanes on the East coast.

We’re groaning.

Professing Christians are leaving the church. Government—democratic government that was supposed to have the necessary checks and balances–is self-serving if not corrupt. Marriage is being redefined. In other words, civilized institutions are crumbling.

We’re groaning.

The weight of sin is too big. Drug addiction isn’t lessening. Anxiety isn’t disappearing no matter how much we medicate. Neither is depression. Interpersonal conflicts haven’t ceased. In fact divorce is still a growing problem no matter that so many people now practice at marriage before making “lifetime” vows. Abuse continues or perhaps is on the increase. Child slavery and sex trafficking are problems that seem without end.

We’re groaning.

Worst of all, who can we trust? The person we love the most is the person who shatters our hopes and betrays us by their unfaithfulness.

We are indeed groaning.

Should I go on to mention cancer or AIDS or fears of a worldwide pandemic? I suspect it’s not necessary.

At every turn, we’re groaning.

Like any number of crises recorded in the Bible, God is standing with open arms saying, Your way leads to destruction. My way leads to life.

Over and over stiff-necked people ignored Him or shook their fists in His face, denying His right to rule. So it seems, we’re doing today.

We think if we just get the right person in the White House, if we only raise taxes or cut spending, if we only marry the right guy or girl, pass this piece of legislation or that, solve one key problem then another, use this green technology or drill that oil well, then, at last, the world will come round aright.

In that foolish thinking, we are ignoring the One who wants us to fix our eyes on His Son.

“See to it,” Paul said to the Colossians, “that no one takes you captive through philosophy or empty deception according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of this world, rather than according to Christ.”

The philosophy and empty deception of our day says we can solve our own problems, that we don’t need anything outside ourselves. We have the power within us.

And yet, with all this great power within ( 🙄 ), we don’t seem any closer to bringing the groaning to an end. We’re looking in the wrong places.

There isn’t a chemical high or an alcohol-induced haze that will mask the pain long enough, there isn’t a movie or video game or concert or ballgame that will distract us sufficiently, there isn’t a better relationship that will heal our shattered heart.

Except the one God offers through Christ Jesus. He is our Hope, and He is our Salvation.

In Him the groaning will one day come to an end. And even while we wait for that day, we find comfort and peace and joy in the presence of the only One who can see us through. The Psalmist says, “He Himself knows our frame.” And Moses in Deuteronomy says, “The Lord your God is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” God through Isaiah says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”

Paul tells us in Romans that the Spirit groans, too. For us. “The Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

The world groans under the weight of sin, but God through Jesus Christ has conquered sin. Praise His Name.

Easter, which is coming up later this month, is all about commemorating what Jesus Christ did to free us from the slavery to sin. But unless we acknowledge the weight of sin, we won’t appreciate what God accomplished through His Son.

Sometimes I think people have to be blind not to see the effects of sin. But we are so used to the things that break God’s heart and that harm humankind, we take them as “normal.” They aren’t. What God created was good. What we’ll enjoy in the new heaven and the new earth will be free from the “slavery to corruption.” And even now we can enter into the “freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

This post is a revised and expanded version of one that first appeared here in September 2011.

Published in: on April 7, 2017 at 6:49 pm  Comments (28)  
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