Doubt And Uncertainty


More and more I’ve encountered people who elevate uncertainty and doubt to the level of virtue—at least when it comes to God. I suspect those same people don’t want any uncertainty or doubt when it comes to the planes they fly in. They want assurance that they have a fully trained pilot and crew, that the vehicle has been properly maintained and inspected. Doubt and uncertainty about the plane aren’t virtues. They are red flags.

The same is true about the money in their bank account. When they deposit funds, they want to know with certainty money will be available to them when they write checks or make withdrawals.

Or how about doctors? Not many people stand out on the street with a sign: “Doctor wanted, anyone willing to try will be hired.” Quite the opposite. When it comes to medical care, we want some assurance—doctors who have attended medical school, for instance–because we want doctors who oversee our treatment to know what they’re doing.

Few people are up to the task of building their own homes. They know they don’t have the expertise in electricity, plumbing, and basic architecture. When it comes to a house, they want something they have reasonable assurance will not collapse, or leak, or blow up—and that isn’t going to be a structure of their own concoction.

So why is it we are willing to accept the murky, the questionable, the uncertain, or the self-made when it comes to spiritual things? I can think of three possible reasons.

  • 1. People who embrace uncertainty don’t believe certainty exists.
  • 2. People who embrace uncertainty don’t believe certainty matters.
  • 3. People who embrace uncertainty believe there’s freedom in it.

Undoubtedly some people who find virtue in doubting and questioning when it comes to spiritual matters, do so with the idea that they are being intellectually honest, not uncertain. After all, are we really supposed to take the word of some musty book written thousands of years ago?

The thing is, true intellectual honesty will dive into that “musty book” and study it to see if there’s truth within its pages.

Once I read a comment online that gave this advice: question everything, “and I mean everything. Make a note of your question and Google each and every one. Read Richard Carrier and the early works by Bart Ehrman, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, Jerry Coyne, Neil Shubin.”

I find that pronouncement to be odd. Why would someone who wanted to know about democracy dig into Hitler’s writing or Stalin’s philosophy or look at China’s Cultural Revolution? I mean, I suppose a person could come to the idea of democracy by rejecting opposing systems, but wouldn’t it make more sense to study the thinkers and writers who played a part in establishing democratic societies, and beyond that, the actual tenets of democracy itself?

Intellectual honesty will also embrace the possibility of finding answers. Doubt and questioning won’t be virtues for someone who is honestly looking for answers. Why would you look for what you don’t believe you’ll find?

A second group embraces uncertainty because they don’t believe certainty matters. These people, I suspect, haven’t thought deeply. They don’t want to think about what happens to a person when they die or whether or not people have souls. They would rather feel good.

They want pleasure, not pain, and thinking about death and dying is painful, or scary, at least. Thinking about God is scary, too, especially the idea that He can be a judge who ensures people receive just consequences for their actions. So, frankly, it’s easier not to think about God, and one way to dismiss Him is to say He can’t possibly be known. So why try?

Which dovetails to the third position. Some think there’s freedom in uncertainty. If I don’t know for sure that God is and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him, then I can fashion a god who will reward me for my doubts instead of for my belief, for my pursuit of my own pleasures instead of his glory. I can sound spiritual without having to deal with any unpleasant repentance business, without any “denying self” stuff.

So, yes, for some, uncertainty sounds like the preferred path when it comes to spiritual things. In the same way, some people “invested” their life savings with Bernie Madoff and his fraudulent Ponzi scheme. Others “bought” homes they couldn’t afford when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were greasing their credit wheels.

We can look back and say, why didn’t those people pay attention to what Madoff was doing with their money? Or why did those people not pay attention to the details of their loans? They could have known. They should have known.

And so should each one of us know with certainty what God has made apparent about spiritual things. He is not hiding. Quite the opposite.

He announced ahead of time, what He was doing. He painted pictures with the lives of any number of people—Joseph as a savior of his family during a time of famine, Moses as a redeemer leading an enslaved people to freedom, David as a king freeing his people from oppression.

In addition, God sent spokesmen to prepare people for what He had in mind. Throughout generations He announced His plan, and when His Son fulfilled His work at the cross, He broadcast the fact that God completed what He’d foretold. And now He has a people who once were not a people, all commissioned to be His ambassadors, repeating the announcement—God is; His Son Jesus shows Him; and by His death and resurrection, believers can know Him.

Doubt and uncertainty? Those are not virtues when it comes to choosing someone to baby-sit your children. Why would they be virtues when it comes to thinking about God?

This post is a revised and updated version of one that appeared here in October, 2013.

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Christians Should Not Be Silent


African_sunsetWhen I say Christians should not be silent, I don’t mean Christians should complain more or rail against our culture more or even call out false teaching more. We do those things with some frequency. I’m one of those who does.

Some time ago, I was reminded that I’d much rather be known for what I believe rather than for what I oppose. In a discussion on another site, I made a comment that included these words: “Christ offers healing. He gives us grace. He made a way of escape from sin and guilt. His plan and work is Good News.”

However, I also pointed to things with which I disagreed, and consequently, the ensuing discussion, as far as concerned me, centered on my opposition (not on what I was opposing but on the fact that I was opposing). That taught me a lesson

I should talk more about Christ—the Way, the Truth, the Life—and how He came to show us the Father. I should talk about how Luke compiled his report for Theophilus “so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” I should talk about how John ended his book by saying, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

In essence, the issue at stake is the certainty or uncertainty with which we can know God. One perspective is that we cannot know with certainty and it is arrogant to say we do know with certainty. Somehow knowing is assumed to contradict faith. Never mind that the Bible defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

The assurance. The conviction. About what do I have assurance? These are the things I think Christians should chat up. We are too often silent about the things about which we have assurance. Why? Do we think everyone else already knows and believes the things about which we have assurance? Or the opposite? No one believes as we do. Neither position provides sufficient grounds for us to remain silent. The first is false and the second is the very reason we need to speak the truth in love.

So, what am I assured of? First, that God is.

I had occasion years ago to do some hiking in Colorado. One adventure was supposed to be a short mile hike to a small lake, but my hiking buddy and I both agreed when we arrive, it was far too short and there was too much day left, so we headed for the high country. At the end of our trail we stood on a glacier field looking up at rocky spires more glorious than any cathedral I’d visited. Over our heads was a canopy of blue, so rich and pure. Everywhere I looked, I saw God’s fingerprint.

I’ve seen His creative glory when I looked at the stars from Catalina Island or watched the sun sink below the western horizon of a Tanzanian sky as a full moon rose in the east. I’ve marveled at bull elephants protecting their herd and ostrich scampering across the grassland.

Who is God, but the LORD?
And who is our rock, except our God? (Ps. 18:31)

I know God is. I’ve seen His work.

I’ve also experienced His presence. His Spirit has taken up residence in my life. I am now one of those living stones Peter talks about:

You also as living stones are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).

I know God is. I’ve read His Word. The Bible is a lamp, a light, and what it illumines is God’s person, plan, and purpose. Where creation paints the general outline of God’s existence, the Bible fills in the details.

It shows through the narrative, from beginning to end, His love and power, His mercy and justice, His patience and faithfulness. He shows His redemptive purposes in His dealings with Israel. He shows His plan to rescue the condemned in His provision of the ram for Abraham to substitute for his son. He shows His patience when He rescued Jonah on his way as far from God as he could get. He shows His faithfulness in holding back a pride of lions from devouring Daniel when he refused to back off from his worship of God Most High.

The Bible is rich, so rich—filled with the greatness of the Author and Finisher of our faith.

I know God is. Jesus showed Him to His followers. He is the image of the invisible God. It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him. In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form. Look at Jesus, and you see God.

So yes, the first thing about which I have assurance is that God is!

This post is an edited and updated version of one that appeared her in October, 2013.

Published in: on August 15, 2018 at 5:34 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Bible Plus …


Most obviously, if someone wants to know what Christians believe, they need to read the Bible. But some people don’t seem to be content with letting God reveal Himself through the words given through the Holy Spirit.

In the past I’ve read that people would do well to read a particular book (which I am not naming) in order to understand how language and argumentation work, because it serves as a model by which to actually understand what Scripture means.

Earlier, from a different source, I was told repeatedly that I needed to get in touch with a Jewish rabbi in order to understand the Old Testament as it was intended to be understood.

All this troubles me.

Has the Bible stopped being good enough for the average person to understand?

Have we decided that something else needs to come alongside God’s authoritative Word to make it make sense? Do we no longer see it as sufficient? Or perhaps it never was really authoritative and we need to find some other source that gives the final word on who God is, how we should pray, and how we should understand Scripture itself.

But if someone needs all these extra-biblical helps, why did Jesus say we should come to God as a child?

“Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Mark 10:15)

How complicated must the way into the kingdom be if we are to come like a child? Must we learn Greek and Hebrew in order to accurately handle the Word of God? Or can we trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth as Jesus said?

Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God wants to be known. He isn’t hiding and hasn’t made His plan of reconciliation hard to understand.

Rather, it seems that I am the cog that makes coming to God impossible. Where is that humble, child-like attitude Jesus said I must have? Where is my trust in what He has said? Where is my willingness to obey because my Father has told me so?

I’m not saying other books, articles, blogs, sermons, or conversations aren’t helpful. God can open the eyes of my heart to see Him more clearly in any number of ways. But it seems to me, people are becoming too eager to search other sources rather than the primary one.

It’s not a good research technique.

 

This post is a revised and updated version of one that appeared here in August, 2010.

Published in: on August 10, 2018 at 5:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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God’s Patience


Back in the first century, some of the new converts to The Way, were starting to get antsy. I mean, Jesus said He’d be back, but so far, nothing had changed. Wasn’t that a sign that they’d simply believed a lie?

The same accusation gets thrown out today, more likely from atheists, though: If there really is a god, where is he? Why hasn’t he showed himself? Didn’t he say he was coming?

The truth is, God specifically said in His word that He was not delaying His return as some people think, but He is actually waiting.

Waiting? Waiting for what?

For the completion of the Church. He’s been waiting for us and for any people who come to Christ after us:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 2:9)

Some people see God as intolerant and impatient, but the opposite is actually true, as Paul clearly stated in Romans:

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Rom. 2:4)

If the problem is not God’s, then it must be us people. Paul makes that clear, too:

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS (Rom. 2:5-6; emphasis mine; all caps indicate a quotations of an Old Testament passage)

It’s really silly for people to point the finger at God and say that the mess we’re in is His fault. Suffering, for example, or evil, death, hell. God’s fault, they say. He’s too cruel to be believed.

But these kinds of indictments against God are actually a sign that we are getting closer and closer to the end, to the judgment. Scripture makes it clear that as we move further from God we will flip the script and call evil, good, and good, evil. So our good and holy God? With more and more frequency people say that He is the opposite of who He actually is.

It’s bad enough that what psychology—not religion or theology, though those disciplines undoubtedly concurred—used to call deviant sex, is now legalized, protected, celebrated, promoted. Evil, good.

Or how about the strange idea that a person can simply decide what sex they are. Never mind that there are all these physical gender markers. Never mind that once upon a time feminism faulted society for creating gender attributes. Now a person can simply declare that they “feel” like a male or like a female, never mind what gender they actually are. Never mind that they mutilate their bodies in order to become who they feel like they are. This too is nothing but the script turned on its head.

I haven’t mentioned abortion or sex trafficking or pornography or greed (it’s just business) or anxiety or addictions or any number of issues that are no longer sin. They have either become good or they are a sickness, out of our control—certainly not sin.

At different times when God was going to bring judgment on a place, He waited until “the fullness of time”—until sin had become the operating system that dictated the cultural behavior and beliefs. Nothing’s changed.

God is in the process of giving Western 21st century culture exactly want we want—enough rope to hang ourselves. Which is good news and bad news. It’s good news because it means those who God’s been waiting for are almost all in the fold. It’s bad news because we are surrounded by the sins of a culture that no longer believes in sin.

Our job is cut out for us, I think. As long as God delays His coming, He’s showing His patience and His kindness toward those who need to repent because “[He] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4)”

That’s the God Christians serve, not the false caricature thrown out by those who don’t know Him.

Published in: on August 9, 2018 at 5:46 pm  Comments (10)  
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Seeking To Deceive


Paradise Lost

Satan hasn’t changed. He’s the same fallen angel in revolt he was that first day when he decided he wanted God’s place. He’s not inherently creative as God is, so all he can do is mimic and lie. Of course he had pretty good success the first time he donned the skin of another creature and called into question God’s integrity, so he may have little motivation to experiment with different tactics.

The point is, Satan’s purpose is the same today as it was thousands of years ago when he confronted Eve: he seeks those he can devour and he uses deception as his chief weapon.

“Be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8b).

“he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44b)

In seeking to devour Eve, Satan told her first that surely she would not die, even though God had said the opposite.

Today, Satan continues to whisper that lie into the ears of all who will listen. Reincarnation, for example, promises endless numbers of lifetimes, but is nothing more than a form of Satan’s old lie.

Satan also told Eve that if she ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree she would be like God, knowing good and evil. Today he lies to Mankind by saying we already are like God. We are innately good, we have power within us, we can achieve enlightenment.

Another one of Satan’s favorite lies, a corollary to his “you won’t die” fabrication, is that you won’t face judgment. It’s a way of saying there’s no “second death,” no spiritual death. False teachers who claim that God has “repented” of his wrath displayed in the Old Testament, and now is loving and kind and would never be so heinous as to torment people in hell for eternity, are playing right into Satan’s bag of tricks. Satan himself undoubtedly wishes this one were true, but the worst part about this tactic is that he is impugning the character of God.

His unspoken indictment of God when he was talking with Eve, was that He cannot be trusted. God, according to the inferences Satan made, wanted to keep all knowledge of good and evil to Himself for some selfish purpose so that He could lord His power over men and women. Hence He was not beneath giving warnings that weren’t true just to keep Adam and Eve away from what He wanted exclusively for Himself. If any of that were true, then God would not be good, His word could not be trusted, and He would not love His creation.

Today, of course, nothing is more under attack than whether or not God spoke the truth when He revealed Himself in the pages of Scripture. His word, His authority is at question to the point that people naming His name still decide whether or not they will believe and/or obey what He has said.

So not much has changed. Satan is still seeking to devour and his number one tactic is to deceive.

Interestingly, the spiritual weapon the Christian is equipped with, according to Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, is the sword of the spirit, the word of God.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God,. . . and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:12, 13a, 17b)

How can we use our Sword if we’ve listened to the enemy whispering that it isn’t reliable, that it has parts and places where it’s corroded?

We must not give him quarter. We must not allow him to ding our weapon. We must not let him pull the same scam he did with Eve. God is not a liar, His warnings are true, His judgment is sure, and His word can be trusted. It is Satan who has proven himself false.

This post is a revised version of one that originally appeared here in August 2012
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To read more about Satan and his tactics see “What’s Satan Doing These Days?”

God Means What He Says


In truth, faith can be defined very simply as believing that God means what He says. That’s the same kind of faith other people have when they say they believe the earth is round or that the Stock Market ended the day at such and such closing price or that George Washington was the first President of the United States.

Most everything we believe, someone else told us and we simply take their word for it. That “someone” might be a parent or a school teacher or a boss or a news reporter or Wikipedia.

Of all the people we should trust, you’d think God would be the One people would listen to first and have the greatest amount of belief in what He says. But in reality, that’s not the way it works.

Oh, sure, lots of people say they believe in God, but then it turns out, they qualify this statement by referring to “their idea of God” as if He morphs to suit each person’s taste. I have a commenter on my Facebook page (a hacker, I believe) who said, “Religion was created by man, simply that. God CAN be whoever each individual person wants him to be.”

Of course if humans invented god, then they certainly could decide he was whatever they wanted—a cosmic force; a universal savior absent of any judgment; a kindly but impotent grandfather; an indifferent clock maker that put the world in motion and now has nothing to do with it; one of a pantheon of gods; nature itself; and many, many more possibilities.

The problem there is that none of these is what God said about Himself. Now it’s true that I haven’t read all the holy books of all the religions in the world, even all the major religions. But I know Judaism’s tradition and I know Christianity. The Scriptures of the two overlap, to be sure, but in both and for both God “spoke, long ago to the fathers, in the prophets, in many portions and in many ways” (Heb. 1:1b).

In those many revelations of God about Himself, we have a pretty good picture of Who He is. The greatest statement of His identity may be His declaration to Moses of His name: I AM WHO I AM.

What in the world, or out of it, does that mean?

It means that God is self existent. That He is present, and always present. That He is when nothing else is or was.

There’s so much else that we learn about God from the things He spoke, but He also said, “In these last days [He] has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:2a).

So we all have a decision to make—do we believe what He said, or not? If we do, it’s hard to say, I believe in God but I hate my neighbor. It’s just as hard to say, I believe in God, but Jesus can’t be the only way to Him. Those statements and many, many more indicate the person making them doesn’t actually believe in God. They only believe in the god of their own imagination.

I find it hard to imagine a reason for so many people down through the ages all believing in God or gods, if God did not actually exist. How could a person with no experience of God come up with the idea of God? And not know that he was intentionally imagining someone who was not real? And sell it to lots of other people? And people across the planet imagine and sell as real the same concept? It’s like a giant conspiracy theory.

It’s much more believable that God exists, revealed Himself to people, and some believed and continued to believe, while others decided God should do things their way or for their benefit, so they tweaked what God had said about Himself until they believed a copy which we call an idol.

Of course it’s possible that some people had encounters with evil spirits and adopted them as their god or gods.

The fact remains. The God of the Bible tells us He alone is God. We can believe what He says, or not, but faith demands that we take God at His word.

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Photo By Gilbert Stuarthttp://www.clarkart.edu/Collection/7577, Public Domain, Link

Published in: on August 1, 2018 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Redeeming Work


Sunday’s sermon from Proverbs was about work, which our pastor defined as more than what we do to earn money. Basically he said it is whatever we do that is productive, meaning that it accomplishes something. So taking out the trash is productive, and therefore it is work. And so on.

First, Pastor pointed out that God gave Adam work to do before the fall. So work is not a result of sin! It’s actually God’s plan for us and something that we will do in our lives with Him in the future.

What we are faced with today, however, is that work is hard. And that is a result of the fall. Pastor didn’t say this, but I’m pretty sure this is why we try to avoid work.

Of course, we’re pretty good with work that give us joy—golfers like to golf, those who love to tinker with old cars have no problem working on an engine for hours, shoppers can spend just as long looking for that perfect bargain, and so on.

We also have a tolerance level for the work that will benefit us in some way—painting the house to enhance its value, putting in new roses, mowing the lawn.

Even more, we work out and we diet if we think it will do us good—maybe so we can fit into that dress for our friend’s wedding or so that we won’t be embarrassed when we go to the beach. Or so we can avoid the disease our parents died of, so we can live to see our kids get married and have kids.

We’ll work, too, in order to provide for those we care about—private school, a college fund, life insurance, daily food and a roof over our heads.

But because work is hard and we don’t always get to do what we enjoy, we so often look forward to the weekend when we don’t have to do the any work except that which we choose to do. Too often conflicts between husband and wife lie within that have to space of.

Pastor pointed out that a good number of verses in Proverbs address the matter of work, the necessity of work, but he chose as his text 16:3—

Commit your works to the LORD
And your plans will be established.

The idea he stressed is that we can intentionally do our work as to the Lord. By way of cross reference he cited Colossians 3:22—“Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.”

Then there is Eph. 6:7 that says, “Render service as to the Lord and not to men.” Or how about 1 Cor. 15:58—“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”

Another from the Old Testament. The context is what a prophet told a king of Israel who was restoring worship to the Lord: “But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work” (2 Chron. 15:7)

So there’s a choice we have. We can do our work to get paid—not a wrong motive, surely. We can do our work because it needs to be done: the groceries have to get bought and put away, for instance. Again nothing wrong with doing what needs to be done.

But we can also do our work to be people pleasers. We can work to win the award, get the bonus or the promotion. We can complete our tasks on time for the approval of our boss, we can strive to excel at our job so people will tell us what good workers we are or how much they appreciate our attention to detail.

We humans love that kind of encouragement, and honestly, we don’t give it to each other often enough. But if we are working for those things? It those are our motives?

I think we’re missing what Proverbs 16:3 is saying.

Generally we have a goal in sight, and we work toward attaining it. This short proverb says, if we commit our work, whatever that might be, to God, He will make sure it meets the goal. His goal. What He wants to accomplish in and through us.

I think this concept goes hand in hand with Matthew 6:33: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things [food and clothing] will be added to you.”

I know we tend to be skeptical about this. But how many times does God have to say it in His word. Seek His kingdom, His righteousness; render service to the Lord; abound in the work of the Lord; commit your work to the Lord; don’t lose courage for there is reward for your work.

In other words, we don’t have to worry about someone else moving ahead of us in the promotion line or winning the contract we had also sought. All we need to worry about is committing our work to the Lord. He’s got the results in His hands.

Published in: on July 30, 2018 at 5:19 pm  Comments (2)  
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Loving God Means What Exactly?


IconsMore than once I’ve heard or read people saying they love God but want nothing to do with religion. I can’t help wonder what those who hold this position mean when they say they love God.

Is loving God some kind of emotion we generate toward an icon, an idea, or even toward a person? I guess that question puts the focus on the main thing: what do people removing themselves from the constraints of organized religion mean when they say “God”?

I wonder if there is anything close to a consensus. I mean, without organized religion—people coming together in agreement—can’t “God” mean whatever a person wants? So God could be an impersonal force, like fate or destiny. Or God could be the Perfect or Enlightenment to which we all can strive. God could be nature or the universal good or a great pool of consciousness or a spark within each person or … well, you get the idea.

It seems to me, no one can love God unless they know Him. By definition, God is set apart as Other. So how can we know what is transcendent?

Sea_Goddess_of_MercyThe monotheist understands God to be supreme, the ruler, even the creator. Those of a pantheistic mind set see god in all things and all in god. In between are those who believe as the Greeks did or the Hindus do, that there are many gods, each needing to be kept happy in his or her own way.

With all these ideas floating about, how does someone come to an understanding of God?

One common approach I’ve heard is to say, To me, God is …

That approach strikes me as odd. We wouldn’t do that with any other person we know, and we criticize others if we think they are inventing things about someone else. In fact we even have slander and libel laws to punish people who make up harmful stuff about other individuals.

People do repeat false statements about celebrities and politicians, and we wrangle about lines like President Obama is a Muslim or Donald Trump is an idiot. Whether or not the public realizes it, they don’t arrive at these false ideas on their own. They’ve been fed those lines by a propagandist who wishes to influence public thought.

So too with God. Average people did not independently arrive at views such as, To me God is loving and would never care about a person’s sexual orientation; or, To me God is a cosmic force that put the world in motion; or, To me God is a divine spark in each of us. They’ve been fed these lines by an individual who “takes his stand on visions he has seen”—meaning, a spirit has put it in his head—or who is “inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (quotes from Col 2:18).

God, being God, can’t be known unless He discloses Himself. In virtually all the definitions of God, he is understood to exist “apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe” (Oxford American Dictionary). How, then, could people subject to those limitations study, grasp, comprehend, or know One who is outside the confines of our experiences and abilities? The only way to know God is if God would choose to disclose Himself to us.

And He has done precisely that.

So when it comes to loving God, the first and foremost definition of love, as I see it, is recognizing God to be who He says He is.

The online site LinkedIn allows individuals to endorse others with a click of the button. From time to time I get endorsed by people in subjects which don’t reflect what I do or who I am. I appreciate the fact that the endorser was thinking of me, but I also know the person doesn’t really know me or they wouldn’t have back-slapped me in an area in which I have no expertise.

God, of course, has unlimited expertise, but people who don’t know Him put limits on Him, essentially denying who He is. They’ll say He’s loving but not a just judge; He’s powerful but not powerful enough to create the world with a word; He’s good but not so good that the hard things could actually be part of His plan.

How can we get past our limitations? Only by accepting God’s revelation. He, like any artist, poured His heart, His personality, into what He made. So we can look around us at the world—the parts that Humankind hasn’t tainted—and draw conclusions about God. He’s beautiful. He’s interested in the smallest details. He’s cosmic. He’s orderly. He’s nurturing. And so many others.

In addition, He’s disclosed Himself directly to people and has had them pass on His messages to the rest of us. Ultimately He put on skin and became one of us to show us His heart.

Because God made it possible, we can know Him. To love Him means we accept Him for who He’s told us He is.

Loving God also means agreeing with Him. Disagreeing with God is just another way of not recognizing Him to be who He says He is. How could He truly be transcendent and wrong? or just and wrong? or good and wrong?

In short, anyone who loves God will want to do as He says. This, I believe, is a response of the will and not one of the emotions. The funny thing is, where the will goes, the emotions are sure to follow.

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

Published in: on July 26, 2018 at 5:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Not The Verse We Think It Is


Like most people, I have a few pet peeves. One is people taking verses of Scripture out of context and making them say something they don’t actually say. For instance, in the atheist Facebook group to which I belong, an atheist says that according to good Hebrew rabbis, Jesus saying He fulfilled the Law means that we too are to obey the Law.

Well, actually it doesn’t mean that at all as the rest of the New Testament makes clear. Take Paul’s letter to the Romans, for instance. I could quote any number of verses, but these should suffice:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4; emphasis mine)

Sadly, atheists are not the only people who take Bible verses out of context and make them say something they don’t actually say. Christians do that too. Well-meaning, God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians. I can postulate why that happens, starting with the fact that we are fallible, and moving on to the fact that not enough of us know the Bible, so we’re ignorant of the context of many of our favorite verses.

It’s one of these favorites that I want to address.

The verse is Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” In truth, the verse fits well with our doctrine of God. Christians believe that God is omnipotent, that He can do the impossible. Consequently, it seems quite logical that God’s strength can also enable His followers to do the impossible, or as this verse says, “all things.”

But what are the “all things” that Paul was referring to here?

I mean, if we think about the verse logically we know that “all things” can’t possibly mean anything we can imagine or wish to do. I can’t fly, for example, or shed 20 years off my age. I can’t become an Olympic star simply because I believe I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Rather, I think Olympic stars need to be considerably younger than I am, that they need to dedicate their lives to their craft, and work hard.

This reminds me of a story my pastor told us. He was with a group of Christian school kids on a science camp kind of trip. At one point he was in a boat, but ended up in the water. With lots of kids watching, he tried and tried to get back in that boat. As he struggled, some of those kids began calling out, You can do it, Pastor. You can do all things through Christ. Except, he never was able to get back in that boat.

So, is the Bible not true when it says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”?

Actually the Bible is always true. We can be sure of that. When something in Scripture doesn’t fit with our perception, we can know that our perception is off—our perception of God or the world or the Bible itself.

In this instance, by taking this verse out of context, our perception of the Bible is actually the thing that is off. Our perception of God is fine. He can do the impossible. Our perception of the world is fine. There are hard things that we can’t do without help. But what about our perception of the Bible, of this verse?

That brings us right back to the meaning of “all things.”

Paul had just finished thanking the church in Philippi for their financial gifts, but he qualifies his statement by saying, he’s not bringing up the issue because he’s hinting that they give him more–not because he’s needy. Rather, he says, he’d learned to get along no matter what economic conditions he encountered. Sometimes he had lots. Sometimes he had little. No matter, because he could do all through Him who strengthened him.

In other words, the verse kind of means the opposite from the meaning many Christians give it.

Paul’s point: even when I don’t have a lot, God gives me the strength to endure not having.

Sadly, contemporary Christians generally quote the verse meaning, if we don’t have something we want, God will give us the strength to get it.

I think the latter presumes upon God. We want something, so we tell God He needs to give us the strength to get what we want. Of course, we will sing His praises if we succeed, but all too often, like my pastor, we’re left in the water when we wanted to get back into the boat. In those cases, it’s easy to see a bit of doubt creep in. Does God really give us strength? Is the Bible really true?

In short, we do no one any favor by taking a verse like this out of context and “claiming” it, as if we’ve got God lassoed now, and He has to do what we want. That’s the definition of presumption—as if I know what God should do for me, better than what He could know.

On the other hand, it really is sweet to realize that no matter what circumstances I find myself, God will strengthen me to endure. I’m sure that’s what got Paul through all those beatings and ship-wrecks and imprisonments.

Published in: on July 19, 2018 at 5:52 pm  Comments (5)  
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Let There Be Light


In this case, “let there be light” does not refer to part of God’s act of creation. Rather, as part of my church’s Scripture reading program, we have been going through the book of Exodus, including all the instructions about putting the tabernacle together.

The cool thing about writing these short devotionals or meditations is that they require me to think more about the passage than I most likely would have otherwise. I mean, putting the tabernacle together is not the most action packed, gripping section of Scripture. This is the passage I was assigned for July:

Then he made the lampstand of pure gold. He made the lampstand of hammered work, its base and its shaft; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers were of one piece with it. There were six branches going out of its sides; three branches of the lampstand from the one side of it and three branches of the lampstand from the other side of it; three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in one branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. In the lampstand there were four cups shaped like almond blossoms, its bulbs and its flowers; and a bulb was under the first pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the second pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the third pair of branches coming out of it, for the six branches coming out of the lampstand. Their bulbs and their branches were of one piece with it; the whole of it was a single hammered work of pure gold. He made its seven lamps with its snuffers and its trays of pure gold. He made it and all its utensils from a talent of pure gold. Exodus 37:17-24)

My thoughts:

For the longest time I’ve struggled matching pictures of the Menorah with this description of it here in Exodus. I mean there are two branches and then three cups, but four bulbs and flowers and then six branches, only to conclude with seven lamps. Usually when I finish this section, I feel quite befuddled, and I’m glad that someone with a bit more visual acumen than I, has been able to translate these words into an actual object.

Of course Moses had the heavenly pattern, so he knew before he gave the artist the description, what the holy light was to look like.

Now I have the internet, so at long last I think I understand how all the parts fit. More importantly, I see this: perpetual light. Many parts fashioned as one lamp. Function and artistry in combination. Another of God’s “perfect sevens.”

All of these are important, but I am drawn to the fact that God wanted the things of worship to be beautiful. Yes, they all had a purpose, an important function. And yet they were all created in beauty. Beneath each lamp was not a block or a slab. Rather the casing was a bulb and a flower.

In the same way, I believe God wants the writing or editing I do to fulfill a purpose, and He wants me to do it in a way that displays His glory. It’s not enough for me to meet a deadline if I grumble the whole time. The beauty is as important as the function.

Published in: on July 18, 2018 at 5:22 pm  Comments (1)  
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