God And The Impossible


At Christmas, it’s more common to talk about Jesus as a little baby, as the Incarnate Christ who came to humble living circumstances, even noting that putting on flesh was perhaps the most humble of circumstances that He faced. But all the while, we kind of forget that Jesus, as God, rules and reigns supreme.

One of the mysteries of the trinity is Christ’s “dual identity.” He is God and He is a baby in a manger, wrapped up in cloths, and in all likelihood, fast asleep when a group of shepherds stop by.

How can this be?

Well, the Trinity, Christ’s divinity, are not the first hard things that confront us mortals. There’s prayer and how it “works,” free will and how it co-exists with God’s sovereignty, creation and the whole idea of speaking everything into existence from nothing.

Atheists often think Christians are fools, as if we don’t see the difficulty in these beliefs. Ironically many atheists also claim that Christianity came out of the imagination of some humans who simply made it all up.

Made it up?! Who would think up some idea of Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit actually being One? Crazy talk. Anybody who can count can read that sentence and arrive at three, not one. But no. The Bible is clear. Jesus said He and the Father are One.

And the God-Man thing? Really? Jesus had two natures? Well, no, but kind of, yes. So He had a split nature? Definitely no. Then what? Well, all God and all man, but not two. Uh, the math isn’t adding up again.

This makes no logical sense, the atheist says. Which does call into question the idea that some finite mortal dreamed it up. Wouldn’t it seem more likely that if someone was coming up with a new religion, they make it seem clear and reasonable and easy to grasp? That’s what I’d do.

But instead we have a God who is both just and merciful, Judge and Savior, King and carpenter. How can this be?

There’s really only one way. All these claims can only be true if God is more than we are. If He is transcendent. If He can do the impossible.

And as it happens, that’s precisely what the Bible says about Him. The statement comes as part of the pre-Christmas story.

An angel appeared to the not-yet-married young girl living in Nazareth to tell her that she was going to have a baby, that this boy “will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Just one problem, Mary said. I’m a virgin. She was not some dumb brunette, that one. She understood all about how babies were made.

No worries, the angel responded. God’s power is at work here. And just so you know, your cousin Elizabeth, who is barren, who is past childbearing years, she’s pregnant. Has been for six months. Because, you see, Mary, “nothing will be impossible with God.”

So, if nothing is impossible with God, what in the Bible does not make perfect sense? A cataclysmic world wide flood? Yes, God can do that. Stopping a river and making a dry path to the other side? God can do that too. Closing the mouths of hungry lions? Yes, that’s on the list of impossible that God can do.

If nothing will be impossible with God, the most logical position to take is that some impossible things are going to take place.

Mary got that right away. Her response was, I’m God’s servant. I’ll do whatever you say. She accepted the impossible. She wasn’t pinching herself or trying to wake up. She wasn’t questioning what bit of bad cheese had she eaten the night before.

Granted, later she would have her moments of uncertainty when Jesus began His public ministry, but there, before His birth, she knew—God’s in charge, and I’m not. His ways are not my ways. And I’m not going to pretend mine are better. Because He, not I, can do the impossible.

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Published in: on December 7, 2017 at 5:08 pm  Comments (2)  
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What Does It Mean To Be A Christian?


I know it’s getting close to Christmas, so this post should be more traditionally about things like shepherds and wisemen or bells and Christmas trees. Those will come. But Christ’s birth began what we now call Christianity, so I thought it might be important to answer the question: what is a Christian?

In the early days after Jesus rose from the dead, after Peter preached his first sermon, Christianity was not considered a new world religion. Some of the Jews called it a cult. Christians themselves referred to it as “The Way,” and many continued keeping the Jewish Law. In fact many thought all Christians should keep the Law, even those Gentiles who joined hands with them in fellowship.

Because Gentiles were included in Christianity. The book of Acts details how God’s Spirit convinced the church leadership that just like Jews came to faith by God’s grace, not by works which they did, so Gentiles too were coming to faith by God’s grace and not their good deeds done in righteousness.

Women became Christians too, not just men. And some poor, some rich. In other words, Christians didn’t look a certain way. There was the Greek woman Lydia and the unnamed Ethiopian man who Phillip baptized. There was the educated Jew, Paul, and his half Greek/half Jewish disciple, Timothy. There were believers in Rome and believers in Ephesus. There were kings and there were slaves.

Christians didn’t have to be from a certain background or come out of a similar belief system. What they needed was belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. That was the necessary ingredient.

Nothing has changed.

Well, one thing has.

In those early days nobody was professing to be a Christian if they weren’t really believers. Because persecution set in fairly soon. Stephen, one of the early Christian leaders in Jerusalem, was killed for his faith in Jesus. His death sparked a wave of persecution that caused many to flee.

The “many” were not all locals. Some were. But many had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover and were still there at Pentecost when Peter got up and told them who Jesus is. They believed and stayed so they could learn more and so they could enjoy the strength they received by being in the company of others who also believed.

When they scattered to their homes or to places they felt would be safer, they took their new-found faith with them. They received instruction from traveling preachers like Paul and Silas and Barnabas and John Mark and Apollos and Aquila and Priscilla. And they studied the scriptures which gave them deeper understanding about Jesus. Because belief in Jesus set them apart.

Interestingly, as Peter noted, those scriptures included letters from Paul. And, as it turned out, from Peter himself, from James and Titus and John.

These letters were read aloud in the various churches, not just the ones to which they were originally written, and from them the new believers came to understand more about Jesus and what was required of them.

For example, James made it clear that a person couldn’t just mouth words of faith without actually exhibiting the actions that faith produced. John spelled out how a person couldn’t just say he loved God and then turn around and hate his brother. From Paul they learned the importance of unity, the purpose of the Church, the way Christians were to respond to government leaders and to each other, and so on.

The main thing to note here is that Christians believed and followed the teaching of the Apostles who had walked and talked with Jesus, and they followed the Scriptures. They were, at their core, disciples of Jesus Christ, though they now understood He came to set up a spiritual kingdom, though He would one day return as reigning Lord.

The Apostles actually warned them against following false teachers. In one of his letters, John said, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.” Deceivers. There were also some who preached that Jesus had already come back—when clearly He hadn’t. Still others preached the need to keep the Jewish Law. Then there were those like Simon the magician who simply wanted to tap into the power that made it possible for the Apostles to do miracles. He wanted to use Christ, not worship Him,

The Way was not confusing or complicated: believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. But false teachers preached different gospels in the name of The Way.

Until persecution poured down upon Christians from Rome. I think the suffering caused by the executions of Christians in the Colosseum and through other heinous means may have stopped a lot of people from simply getting on the bandwagon. After all, who would want to associate with people doomed to die painful deaths because of what they believed?

Today things are different here in the US. Not so different in other parts of the world where being a Christian may not be easy or popular. But here, Christians have enjoyed a great deal of peace and prosperity over the decades. Only until the last thirty years or so has being a Christian become a position that fewer people admit to and fewer people mean.

There are some of the same false teacher types in our society as existed in the first century. We have some people who have added “later revelations” which are simply the “different gospel” which Paul warned against. There are people who want the power of God instead of a relationship with Him, as Simon the magician wanted. There are some who think they are Christians because they were born in America, because they’ve gone to church all their life. In other words, they think their good deeds done in righteousness or their cultural heritage or some other thing makes them a Christian.

It doesn’t.

What makes a person a Christian has not changed. Someone who believes on the name of God’s only begotten Son for salvation, the forgiveness of sins, and who lives that faith—who doesn’t just say he loves God, but who shows he loves God—that person is a Christian.

Published in: on December 5, 2017 at 5:49 pm  Comments (3)  
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More About Jesus


Nativity_Scenes015As I’ve said, at Christmas time it’s appropriate to ask who Jesus is since the day set aside to commemorate His birth has become such a big deal.

Some undoubtedly don’t think past the manger scene. To them Jesus was, is, and always will be that infant wrapped up and lying amid a bunch of animals. The thing is, the baby didn’t stay in the manger any more than the man stayed on the cross or the resurrected Christ stayed in the tomb.

Others have re-imaged Jesus to be a good teacher. Sort of a Hebrew Gandhi, I think, one of the gurus who gave us quotables and an example to follow. This view is similar to the one held by a certain rich member of the Jewish ruling class who sought Jesus out.

In his exchange with Jesus, the young guy addressed Him as “good teacher.” In Jesus’s response, He separated Himself from all other teachers or examples. It defines who He is: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.”

The young ruler immediately dropped the “good.”

Quite apparently he did not think Jesus was God. Otherwise he might have answered something like, “I understand completely that no one is good except God alone. Good teacher, what must I do to be saved?”

Instead he said, “Teacher, I have kept all these things [the Law] from my youth up.” In other words, he did not acknowledge Jesus as God. In addition, he did not acknowledge his need. I’m not sure what he expected … an “atta boy,” maybe, a “keep on keeping on.” I don’t know.

In so many ways that Jewish law-keeper is like people today who identify with Jesus but who don’t realize He is God. Some have “re-imaged” him, describing all the things he did and said that fit in with 21st century sensibilities of love and brotherhood and tolerance.

What they do not look at or acknowledge are the “God things” Jesus did and said. And here I’m not referring to the many kind and seemingly miraculous interventions Christians experience today. (A good number of people have come to call such occurrences, “God things.”)

I’m actually thinking of something quite different. I’m thinking of the things Jesus said that ticked off the Jewish establishment. The things He did that made them ask, Who does he think he is?

Things like healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, or telling the paralytic his sins were forgiven, then to pick up his bed and walk–also on the Sabbath. Or how about the time when His disciples picked grain on the Sabbath because they were hungry. When the Pharisees confronted Jesus, He gave them a Bible lesson, ending with this:

“Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matt 12:5-8; emphasis is mine)

The big one that got the Jews worked up, of course, was His God claims. John records one of these:

“I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” (John 10:30-33)

Then, too, they didn’t like it much when He told them that they were of their father the devil. In that conversation, Jesus ended with another statement identifying Himself as God, and sure enough, they tried to kill Him on the spot.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:58-59)

I don’t know how people today who imagine this metro-sexual Jesus with the cool sandals and trendy long hair have missed the controversy the real Jesus brought. To His family. To the Jewish people. To the world.

He said there will be a day of sorting–sheep on one side, goats on the other. He said there is a narrow road leading to life and a wide road heading to destruction. He said guests at the bridegroom’s feast will be turned away if they’re not wearing the proper wedding garments.

And in the end, He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” That’s who Jesus is.

A version of this article originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction December, 2010, then again December, 2013.

Published in: on December 4, 2017 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Constancy Of Christ


Of all the things we talk about at Christmas, my guess is that the constancy of God is not high on the list. But maybe it should be.

First, what do I mean by “constancy”? Nothing tricky. I’m not trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat here. I mean just what the good ol’ Oxford American Dictionary has to say about the word: “the quality of being faithful and dependable.
• the quality of being enduring and unchanging”

Second, we need to understand who we’re talking about. “Christ” is another word for “Messiah,” the one promised by God. And in fact, Jesus and His followers identified Him as the Christ. But more than that, they proclaimed Him to be the Son of God. And more. They stated that He “existed in the form of God,” that in Him “all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form,” that He “is the head over all rule and authority.”

We could write it like this: Messiah=Christ=Jesus=Son of God=God. Consequently, in declaring the constancy of Christ, it’s really another way of saying the constancy of God.

God, though a triune being, is One in purpose, One in essence, One in nature. In other words, we can’t divide God and say, well, the Father is like xyz but the Son is like abc. No. Jesus Himself stipulated, if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.

There are several reasons why the constancy of Christ matters. First, some “progressive Christians” and atheists claim that the God of the Old Testament was all kinds of evil things: misogynist, genocidal, selfish, and more. But Jesus, they say, was better. The supposed Christians imagine that God learned from His mistakes, or that the writers of the Old Testament got it wrong, or some other inane explanation. Because, you see, they like Jesus; they just can’t stomach His Father.

Enter the constancy of Christ.

“Jesus is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). What God reveals about Himself in the Old Testament is true about Jesus and what Jesus said about Himself in the New Testament is true about the Father. There is no “good cop, bad cop” here.

Here’s the important point: Jesus self-identifies in John 10 as “the good shepherd.” Good. He doesn’t do evil. In fact, James says, “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (1:13b) and, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (1:17).

In other words, God is all about good. He’s also holy and pure, spotless and unblemished. All that adds up to the fact that God isn’t anything like the description put out by those who oppose Him or who criticize Him.

The problem largely stems from God’s authority and His sovereignty and His omniscience. These are traits His opponents don’t recognize. Instead, they want to be the ones in charge, and they want to depend on their own finite knowledge. Consequently, they want to judge God. They want to determine that the people who died in the flood, for instance, were innocent, and not the guilty, wayward, wicked people the Bible describes.

More than that, they want to deny the fact that “the wages of sin is death” and that “there is none righteous, no not one.” This is somehow a horrible thing to tell people, even though the nightly news confers the truth of it, and as yet no one in modern times has escaped death.

Ironically I had a crisis of doubt in my life when I was in my 30s or so, and it centered on the goodness of God. I looked around at the things that were going on in the world, in the lives of people close to me, and I asked, right out loud, “Are you good, God? Are you really good?”

All this came to a head when I drove past a convalescent hospital where an old woman sat on the sidewalk out front, alone in a wheelchair.

God didn’t tell me that of course He was good, how could I ask such a thing. He didn’t bring Scripture to mind that told me He was good. Instead, He spoke into my spirit: “You think you’re sad about these hurting people? I know each one by name.”

In other words, because God is good, the evil and pain and suffering of this world grieves His heart. Sin did this, not God. Sin made a mess of the world, not God. Sin brings retribution down on those who run from God.

And that’s precisely what we can see in Jesus:

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 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.

Jesus didn’t bring judgment because that was already in place—the wages of sin didn’t start when Jesus showed up. It’s right there in the genealogy of Genesis 5:

So . . . Adam lived . . ., and he died. Seth lived . . ., and he died. Enosh lived . . ., and he died. Kenan lived . . ., and he died. Mahalalel lived . . ., and he died. Jared lived . . ., and he died.

On it goes with the exception of Enoch, demonstrating the truth about sin. It leads to death.

But Jesus came to set us free from the “slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” He did this because He is good, He is love, He is merciful, He is compassionate, He is kind.

“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us.”

And here’s the startling fact: salvation was something God planned before the foundation of the world.

So, no, He hasn’t changed. And Jesus isn’t a different iteration of the Father. In fact, we can count on the constancy of Christ.

Published in: on November 29, 2017 at 6:08 pm  Comments (13)  
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God’s Greatest, Matchless Gift



Christmas is fast approaching, so I would not be surprised if you all expected me to write about Jesus as God’s greatest, matchless gift. But no. OK, maybe in part.

But there’s something else.

I’m actually thinking of God’s revelation of Himself.

It dawned on me today that the standard line atheists repeat simply is not true. There’s no evidence for God, they say.

On the contrary, God has given us abundant evidence of His existence. But those who reject Him simply skate around the evidence or dismiss it altogether or find reasons to call it into question.

In one thing atheists are right—there is no way for us frail and finite humans to reach God, so on our own we have no proof of His existence. But He did the unthinkable—He revealed Himself to us.

First He put His fingerprints on the world He made. Paul said it best to the Romans:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

God’s invisible attributes seen in what He made.

But the atheist doesn’t believe God made the world.

OK, God put a man and woman on earth to be His intermediaries. Then He brought forth a nation through miraculous circumstances so that the rest of the nations would “know that I am the LORD.”

All God’s dealings with Adam and Eve, then with Israel, teach us about Him. Because they broke covenant with Him, however, their special relationship with Him isn’t something we can see today.

No worries. He spoke through prophets, He gave us a lasting record of His work in the world through those developing years.

And then He gave us Jesus. Well, kind of in the middle of giving us the Scriptures. But Jesus was His exact representation, so much so that He told His disciples, If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.

Now it’s up to us. We have the natural world around us—with every amazing scientific discovery after the next demonstrating God’s order and purpose and care and power and wisdom and beauty and majesty and dominion.

As an aside, some who don’t believe in God have come up with a counter for the amazing facts that demonstrate how intricate the universe is. Some of the amazing facts include the following:

The Earth…its size is perfect. The Earth’s size and corresponding gravity holds a thin layer of mostly nitrogen and oxygen gases, only extending about 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. If Earth were smaller, an atmosphere would be impossible, like the planet Mercury. If Earth were larger, its atmosphere would contain free hydrogen, like Jupiter.3 Earth is the only known planet equipped with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain plant, animal and human life.

The Earth is located the right distance from the sun. Consider the temperature swings we encounter, roughly -30 degrees to +120 degrees. If the Earth were any further away from the sun, we would all freeze. Any closer and we would burn up. Even a fractional variance in the Earth’s position to the sun would make life on Earth impossible. The Earth remains this perfect distance from the sun while it rotates around the sun at a speed of nearly 67,000 mph. It is also rotating on its axis, allowing the entire surface of the Earth to be properly warmed and cooled every day.

And our moon is the perfect size and distance from the Earth for its gravitational pull. The moon creates important ocean tides and movement so ocean waters do not stagnate, and yet our massive oceans are restrained from spilling over across the continents.4 (“Is There A God?”)

The counter is that if mud existed in a mud hole, it would marvel at how perfect the hole is that contains it. The shape is perfect and it allows the proper amount of moisture, and so on. That analogy is supposed to explain away the reality that countless details have to be just right in order for the universe to exist. But it doesn’t.

These few examples don’t even begin to recount the numerous ways in which the natural world has to be just right in order to exist. The idea that all these intricate and balanced and nuanced details happened by chance has an overwhelmingly high probability of existence—so high it’s beyond what mathematicians consider possible.

Besides the natural world, we have the miraculous word of God that shows us God and His Son Jesus throughout—a marvelous collection of works by various writers, some separated by centuries from others, all singing a united tune: this is who God is and what He’s like. All pointing to Jesus as either the promised Messiah, the present Son of God, or the future coming King.

Then we have the Holy Spirit living in the lives of every believer. Of course, no one can see the Spirit, but the evidence of His work is apparent through changed lives. The problem here is that false teachers and false religions can put up counterfeits. I think of the magicians in Pharaoh’s court, replicating the miracles Moses performed. Up to a point.

All these claims and ideas can be tested. Which is real and lasting? Which is of true value? For example, I just heard of a snake handler. Apparently he considered his ability to pick up poisonous snakes a sign of something spiritual. Scripture can actually be misinterpreted in that way. But in testing the spirits, one immediate question comes to mind: so what? So what if he can handle snakes? Who benefits? Oh, BTW, the report was that this snake handler was bitten by the snake, refused treatment because he said God would heal him, and he died.

True evidence of the presence of God’s Spirit is not paper thin like that.

But the bottom line is this: the work of the Holy Spirit is never in contradiction to God’s written word.

God tells us He loves us. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. We would not have known about God, His love for us, or His Son if He had not revealed this to us. His revelation of Himself is, undeniably, His greatest gift to us.

Published in: on November 28, 2017 at 5:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Caution At Thanksgiving Time


When I was in school, our teacher would inevitable give us an assignment as Thanksgiving approached that required us to write down all the things for which we were thankful. From what I remember, I put the big things on my list: my parents, God, my home, my brother and sister, our cats and dog, my friends, school and teachers (OK, maybe I didn’t put those on the list. 😉 )

The point is, I was thinking of all the good things I had, in particular the ones I took for granted, but when I paused, I really was glad I had each one.

Never once did I think that Thanksgiving could be a day for digging deeper. In fact, this “count your blessings, name them one by one” approach to Thanksgiving trained me to think of the good things I was thankful for as the tangible evidence that God cared.

I didn’t stop to think that He might also care just as much for a little Christian girl in an orphanage in India who had no parents or home, and sometimes went to bed hungry.

I also didn’t realize that many, many of the people recorded in Scripture who started well, who said they would obey God, turned from Him on the heels of receiving His blessings.

King David comes to mind. He’d survived Saul’s attempts to kill him, ascended to the throne, and led his people to victory after victory. Then, as he enjoyed the fruit of his labor, he decided to stay home while his commander led his army into battle. And that’s when David saw Bathsheba, ignored the fact that she was married, and committed adultery with her.

David repented, but others never turned it around. King Asa, for example, ruler of the southern kingdom of Judah, walked with God and experienced great success against the enemies because he turned to God for help:

Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, “LORD, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; let not man prevail against You.”

God answered that prayer, and for thirty-eight years Asa ruled as a man dependent upon God. But there came a day when he decided to buy his way out of trouble instead of pray his way out.

His scheme worked, but here’s what God told him:

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the LORD your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.” (2 Chron. 16:7-9)

Asa could have repented too, but instead he threw Hanani into prison and he oppressed some of the people. He ended up sick, alone, and bitter. He had the blessing of answered prayer and God’s protection and power, and he turned his back on the Giver of all those good gifts.

I could go on and on. Solomon, Rehoboam, Jeroboam, Uzziah, Miriam, Nadab and Abihu, Jonah, Gehazi, and many more.

It seems as if the good things either became an idol that moved in front of God as the most loved, or the individual took credit for the good things and moved himself in front of God as the most loved.

When the people of Israel were in want, they turned to God. When they experienced His abundance, they turned from Him.

So it seems to me, having a thanksgiving day in which we simply tick off the good things we have is a way to set ourselves up for failure. Not that we should deny the good things, but it seems to me the true approach to Thanksgiving should be an enumeration, not of our stuff, but of God’s attributes–the things He’s revealed about Himself that give us a look into His character. And not just an enumeration, but an all out face plant at His feet, thanking Him for who He is and what He’s done.

After all, who God is lies behind what He’s given us and why. Who God is will outlast any of the stuff we enjoy today. Who God is, is a treasure that outshines any other.

It’s certainly not wrong for anyone to celebrate a national Thanksgiving Day as we are here in the US this coming Thursday, or for anyone to have a personal day of giving thanks. For myself, though, I want to change my focus. I don’t want this to be about the good things our God gives but about our good God Himself.

I wish I was clever enough to make a video that would go viral or savvy enough to get this trending on Twitter. What I’d like to see is believers unite to say, I’m thankful because God is merciful. I’m thankful because God is just. I’m thankful because God is generous. I’m thankful because God is my salvation. I’m thankful because ___ Your turn! 😀

This article originally appeared here November 2013.

Published in: on November 21, 2017 at 5:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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Why Did God Give Us Free Will?


One of the best questions I’ve heard from those who don’t believe in God is this one: If God really existed, why did He give us free will?

Usually the argument goes something like this:

Atheist: The mess the world is is God’s fault
Christian: No, what God created is good. The mess is a result of sin.
Atheist: But why didn’t God create people who wouldn’t sin?
Christian: He gave us free will. We aren’t puppets on a string.
Atheist: But if God knew we’d sin, why did He supposedly give us the free will that led to sin? He could have prevented the whole thing.

The fact is, there’s nothing wrong with that line of thinking. God could have made little robots which He programmed to say they loved Him. No one would have used a weapon against someone else. No one would give in to addiction. No one would love money or power or sex more than they loved God. All the behavior of God’s people would be as perfect as He planned for it to be. Nothing would violate His wishes. No one would rebel against Him.

There are two problems with that picture.

First, a third of the angels had already rebelled against Him. So the world of humans could never be perfect. Not as long as Satan continued to show up. The only way to achieve “perfect” was to deal with the rebellion.

The second major problem is that God had determined to make humankind in His image, His likeness. He Himself has a will, so for humans to be like Him, we also would need to have our own will.

There’s probably something bigger here. Would loving God if you had no choice but to love Him, actually be love? Isn’t part of love connected with freely doing so? I mean, God already had trees and birds and reptiles and the like. They could act in an instinctual way if that’s what God wanted. In making humans, He made more. He stamped us with His likeness and He breathed into us the thing that makes us unique.

Ironically, as I looked on the internet at some of the unsolved mysteries of science, I discovered that human consciousness is one of those things nobody understands or can explain.

5 What is consciousness?

We’re still not really sure. We do know that it’s to do with different brain regions networked together rather than a single part of the brain. The thinking goes that if we figure out which bits of the brain are involved and how the neural circuitry works, we’ll figure out how consciousness emerges (“The 20 big questions in science”)

For that matter, science has yet to answer what actually makes us humans since “the human genome is 99% identical to a chimpanzee’s” (same source). Why can we talk and reason and do science? Why can we think philosophically, and above all, why do we worship?

The Christian knows the answer to that question.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Gen. 2:7, KJV)

Unique. Different. With the capacity to relate to God as no other being could, not even the angels. Such a person could relate to the Person who created him by loving Him freely. And likewise, being freely loved.

No relationship could be more.

But creating humans in the image of God, you might say, was “high risk, high reward.” When it works, it’s the best. That’s why Joni Eareckson Tada could say that she, a quadriplegic, would rather know Jesus as she does and be in her wheelchair, than not know Him and be out.

The flip side is the possibility of people choosing NOT to love God. For them the result would be disaster. But of course, God would make Himself clearly known. He’d walk with His people and talk with them. He’d give them signs and wonders. He’d display His glory in a physical, tangible way known as the Shekinah. He’d send messengers to give His words to the people. He’d have some write those words down so they’d be widely disseminated. Ultimately, He reversed the process and came in the likeness of humans so that He again walked and talked with the people He’d made.

Oh, yeah, there was one other thing that He said was even better—He’d send His Spirit to be in us. So that we’d never be alone. Never be without His presence.

Why did God give us free will? I guess the short answer is, He wanted to. That’s what would please Him and complete us. Plus, our relationship freely given, glorifies His name.

Published in: on November 15, 2017 at 5:53 pm  Comments (10)  
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Jesus And Suffering


I’ve been thinking a lot about suffering of late because, as I mention earlier this week, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Joni Eareckson Tada’s diving accident that left her paralyzed. And, “coincidentally” a friend lent me a book that Joni wrote twenty years ago on the subject of suffering.

I checked out the book on Amazon the other day when I wrote about it for this blog, and I was stunned to find a one-star review. Stunned, I tell you! I think of Joni as the quintessential expert on the subject of suffering. I mean, fifty years a quadriplegic, but on top of that a cancer survivor and now one ravaged by the pain of a body suffering from its own immobility.

So, yes, I think Joni knows what she’s talking about when she addresses the subject of suffering.

But even what she has endured pales in comparison to what Jesus experienced.

His whole life was a kind of suffering because He “emptied Himself” when He took the likeness of Man (see Phil. 2). Scholars debate the meaning of that phrase, but one thing we can be sure of—it ain’t positive. He wasn’t enriched by the experience, He wasn’t having a picnic, He wasn’t going on vacation. In some way, the incarnation cost Him. From the beginning.

People will sometimes reference Christ’s humble surroundings at birth—the feeding trough, the stable, with the presumed accompanying smells and sounds. But I think that’s kind of missing the point. God was now a baby boy. He did all the normal things that babies do. He likely spit up, maybe sucked His thumb, slept a lot.

This is God we’re talking about—the One who sustains the universe with a word. But now His words were baby sounds. Now those are humble beginnings. And a type of suffering we can’t know.

Things never got easier for Jesus. He went from insignificant to misunderstood, rejected, betrayed, and denied. Oh, and then He was crucified.

Jesus knew all about suffering. He’s the one who shows us how God can use suffering.

I think of the Christians in Syria who are persecuted for their faith, and to the surprise of many in the West, more and more people are coming to Christ. Would they have done so it their lives were easy?

Think about the start of Christianity. After that initial response to Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, suffering set in. Persecution. Martyrdom. Exile. And things only got worse. Certain Roman Caesars set out to eliminate Christians from their empire. Their ways of killing them were horrific and painful.

Did all that suffering stop the movement of God in the hearts of people? Not at all. In truth, those who had nothing, whose very lives hung in a balance spoke out boldly and pressed themselves to the Father’s side. The only comfort and joy and peace came from Jesus, not their circumstances. And they simply couldn’t be silent.

Joni Eareckson Tada reminds me of that. Her joy and peace and contentment have little to do with her physical life. Oh, sure, things could be worse than they are. I mean she could be homeless and without the necessities of life.

Oh, wait, there are Christians like that, too, and they still exhibit the joy of the Lord. How can that be? It’s not an issue of mind over matter or us pulling ourselves up by our own positive thinking. It’s actually all about the reality of Jesus Christ—His supremacy and His sweetness.

John Piper explains in this 8-minute video entitled “What Is the Secret of Joy in Suffering?”

So Who Is Jesus?


Recently someone commented on Facebook that the Jews, Muslims, and Christians all worship the same God.

It sounds true. After all, the Jewish Scriptures form the bases of the Old Testament, and Muslims believe that God gave his promise to Abraham—just through Ishmael, not through Isaac. They refer to God as Allah, which is the Arabic word for God, and he, they say, is the creator, the one who is to be worshiped.

But if Christians worship the same God as do Jews and Muslims, who is Jesus?

As Muslims say, there is no one worthy anywhere in the universe who is to be praised other than Allah. I think Jews would probably say the same about the God of their Scripture. But Christians can only say this with the understanding that Jesus Himself is God.

The conclusion some could draw is that Christians believe in multiple gods—at least three. But that’s not the case. Rather, Christians believe in the mystery of the Trinity that reveals God as three persons in One. No, God is not three separate individuals. He is One. No, God does not have subordinates working for Him.

Rather He Himself manifests as Father, Son, and Spirit. All three in unit of purpose, unit of existence, unit of character. God did not create Jesus and the Spirit. They are not separate entities. One of the mysteries of our transcendent God is that He is like no other. Nothing can really illustrate His triune nature.

I’ve heard a few examples. One is water, which manifests as ice, liquid, and steam. The analogy breaks down because water is never all three simultaneously.

Another comparison is with an egg—shell, yolk, white. The problem there is that each is part of the egg, not the whole of it. Someone following this line of thinking could assume that Jesus is part of God, but not actually God Himself.

A third analogy I’ve heard is popcorn, though I don’t remember how it all works. I can see the unpopped kernel and the popped kernel, but what was the third of the trinity?

There are others. An apple came up in an internet search, for example. The sun was another. But with each of these there is some sort of problem. The fact is, God is like nothing in the created order. Not really. He’s only understood a little better by looking at these items that have some similarities.

The truth is that Jesus is God, that the Father is God, that the Spirit is God. But there are not three Gods. There’s only one God and He reveals Himself as a Triune being—having three persons, though His nature is One, His essence is One.

So, Jesus.

Why do Christians believe such a difficult doctrine as the Trinity? Well, simply, the Bible presents this truth in many places and in many ways.

For example Jesus made some bold statements about His existence, such as “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30).

Or there was the discussion with His disciples when He said,

“Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9)

Then there are the times that He referred to Himself by the name which God used in His encounter with Moses: I AM.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”

By the way, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’s day understood very well that He was claiming to be God. That’s why they accused Him of blasphemy and why they tried to stone Him.

John began his gospel by stating clearly, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Of course another book of the Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning . . .” That would be Genesis, and in the beginning was God.

Other New Testament writers understood that Jesus is God and they proclaimed it clearly. Paul said, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9) and earlier he explained:

[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him

To another church, Paul wrote, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil 2:6, emphasis mine).

The writer to the Hebrews made a clear statement also:

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. (emphasis mine)

All this to say, Jesus is not merely a prophet or a teacher or a healer. He did speak words of prophecy. He was a teacher. And, yes, He healed. But those were things that were actions He took, that stemmed from His personhood as God. They do not encompass Him.

Why am I making such a point about Jesus as God? Because only God qualifies as the Perfect Substitute to pay for the sins of those who believe on His name. No human being could accomplish what Jesus accomplished. No human is capable or qualifies. Only God.

And that’s who Jesus is.

Published in: on November 9, 2017 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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God Is Not Silent


I want to say, “God is not invisible or silent,” but I know that will immediately be misconstrued by those who don’t believe in God. But the truth is, Jesus came to earth as the manifestation of God. So the reality is, though God is a Spirit, He is not invisible. Jesus told His disciples that those who saw Him, saw the Father. Paul explained it this way in Colossians: “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (2:9).

God also shows Himself in what He has made. The natural world is a great way to see God. He’s the One behind the beauty and majesty and grandeur and power and complexity in this world.

In addition, God has shown Himself through His prophets and through the Scriptures He inspired. He continues to show Himself through His people as they serve one another and as they care for the least and the lost and the excluded.

I’m reading a book by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes called When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty. In the opening chapter Joni describes an encounter she had with a group of Christians in Ghana. They were homeless paraplegics or worse. Yet the joy of the LORD was so evident in their lives. Here’s a short excerpt.

Out of a shadowed alley crawled two teenagers dragging their twisted legs. Polio survivors, I thought as they joined our group. We overtook a woman in tribal dress inching along in her rickety wheelchair. An eighty-year-old man, legless and no more than three feet high, hopped up on the curb and flashed a smile my way. I stopped. He waddled over and extended his stump of an arm to shake my hand. I leaned over to press my paralyzed fingers against his stump and we grinned at our odd handshake. We were pulled on by the singing and clapping up the street. As our group approached, the orphaned and homeless parted to welcome us in under the glare of a neon light. We had arrived in the center of a sidewalk worship service.

We westerners sat upright on benches, facing the ragtag crowd. “And now, Christian brothers and sisters,” shouted the pastor, “let us give a warm welcome to our most gracious friends from America…” Cheers erupted; then, a welcome song. The full rich drone of African harmony twisted my heart, and tears fell freely as we listened to the disabled people applaud each other’s testimonies and to the readings of Scripture. A half hour of constant praise passed easily …

The amazing thing here is that while Joni and her companions went to give to people in need, they ended up giving to her in ways that can’t be quantified. How so? By the joy that their lives showed, despite their circumstances. Yes, their hope is in heaven, but their joy today is anchored in their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Their circumstances are horrible. They live in places most of us don’t want to even walk through. They have medical needs. They don’t all have wheelchairs or prosthetics. They don’t all have Bibles. They don’t all have the basics like food and clothing. But their joy is undeniable.

The world can’t understand such a thing. It makes no sense. Why would such poor people who are so disadvantaged, be joyful?

There is no answer apart from the fact that God’s love infuses their hearts, and they bubble over with gratitude for what they have.

Their Christianity is real, and because it is, others can see Jesus in their lives. God is visible, and He is not silent.

You can hear from Joni yourself. There’s a portion of this clip from Ghana which starts around the 13:30 mark. The whole video, though, speaks to the truth that God is not silent. “It’s worth anything to be His friend. Anything.”

Published in: on November 8, 2017 at 6:11 pm  Comments (6)  
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