Hard Hearts


My church is reading Exodus together. Daily we read the selected passage and one of us writes a short response. Today’s portion details the plague of hail.

I’ve noticed a progression in the plagues, from inconvenient and annoying to dangerous and deadly.

Hail might not sound like one of the deadly plagues but it was, because the hailstones were apparently large and could kill anyone who was not in a covered space. Essentially that meant farm workers and others who did manual labor.

There was more. The hail also destroyed the crops, which meant a famine was around the corner.

You’d think for sure that by this time Pharaoh would see that he couldn’t continue standing against God. Up til now he and his people had dealt with a three-day water shortage brought on by the water-to-blood plague, an inundation of frogs, gnats, flies, disease on the animals, and boils on people. Now hail.

And still Pharaoh hardened his heart. Then the incredible. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. In essence there came a point that God simply gave Pharaoh what he wanted—to say no to God. God seems to have said, You want to say no to me? Fine! Then that’s what I’ll make sure you do.

The point is simple. Pharaoh couldn’t control God. He couldn’t stand against Him, refuse to go His way or do what He wanted. Time and again, at great expense to his people he proclaimed independence from God. He was not about to free those slaves because, who was the LORD?

God answered that question. He is the God who is greater than all the Egyptians’ gods. They worshiped the Nile, so God had Moses and Aaron turn the water to blood. They worshiped the cow goddess, and God brought pestilence to the cattle. They worshiped the sun god, and God brought a period of darkness over their land. They worshiped the god of the dead or the underworld, and God sent His avenging angel to take every Egyptian firstborn son.

Did Pharaoh get the message? Nope. Sure, he relented a couple times, but as soon as God removed the plague, he reverted to his old position. The Israelites were under his control, and he wasn’t about to let them go.

One thing that I’ve hardly ever heard addressed is that Moses wasn’t even asking if the people of Israel could be set free. He was asking if they could go on a three-day journey away from Egypt so that they could hold a worship celebration to the LORD.

Pharaoh tried saying yes-but. Yes, they can go but only the men. Yes, they can have their worship celebration, but they have to do it here. Yes, they can go but not their animals.

In the end, the people of Israel just left.

Pharaoh never agreed, never liberated them. In fact he realized after they’d been gone for a few hours that his land was in a sorry state—plants thrashed by the hail and later by locusts, most of the animals dead, their carcasses rotting. Families deprived of the son who should have carried on their legacy. And a good percentage of his work force had just walked off the job.

What to do but try to get them back. That’s what a hard heart does.

There’s no consideration that yes, the LORD is indeed the Almighty, the Creator of the ends of the earth. There’s no consideration that perhaps the wise thing here would be to obey, to listen, to relinquish his own will.

Pharaoh’s own advisors were begging him to let the Israelites go. They saw what he could not see. Perhaps they got out of the palace more and knew how desperate things were throughout the land—everywhere except in Goshen where the people of Israel lived.

But the thing about a hard heart, it resists reason, good advice, what logic says. It was all right there in front of Pharaoh—the Lord said to let His people go or A, B, C and so forth would happen. He didn’t let them go, and all of those warnings, or threatens, or promises, happened. Did Pharaoh finally admit, Maybe I can’t hold out against this God.

No, he was impervious to such clear thinking. He saw things the way he wanted to see them: all those people are on foot and unarmed. I can catch them with my horsemen and my chariots. They’ll come back if it’s the last thing I do.

He didn’t actually say that, but chasing down the people of Israel was, in fact, the last thing he did. He couldn’t defeat God and that’s actually who he was trying to resist.

He learned the hard way that God is in control, but that’s precisely what everyone who hardens his or her heart will learn. And I think that’s what Pharaoh and people like him can’t stand. They want to be master of their own fate, captain of their own soul, even if it means denying they have a soul.

But God is God. He will not give His place to another.

And He should not.

The one in control should not abdicate. That leads to confusion and chaos. The one who knows what’s right and good and best, should not give way to the one who only does evil.

The thing is, when people resist God and He sends them warnings and difficulties and affliction, He’s giving them a chance to stop and turn around, to yield to Him, to submit to Him. That’s a receipt for disaster because hard hearts like Pharaoh’s will ultimately face God’s judgment.

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Published in: on February 22, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Comments (6)  
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Love In The Wake Of Another Shooting


Happy Valentine’s Day! Oh, and at least 17 people died today at a Florida high school because a shooter committed mass murder.

I think it’s time we stop treating love as if it is some trivial sentiment, some result of the sex drive, or some meaningless emotion expressed by tingles and butterflies in the stomach. Perhaps worse is the idea that God is love and by that statement the person means, God is ONLY love.

Sadly we have turned love into permissiveness and toleration, when, in fact, love is not that at all. We’ve even come up with the adjective tough to differentiate love that goes beyond the lenient, indulging, pandering kind we so often mean.

Fewer and fewer people in our society understand that “spoiling” a child is actually a bad thing, meaning we are doing damage, wrecking, ruining, destroying.

I’m not saying the Florida shooter was spoiled as a child—I don’t know anything about him. Except that clearly he has no understanding of love. He can’t love his family or the kids he once went to school with or the teachers, his community, state, country. He did a selfish, destructive, hurtful thing that has far reaching ramifications, and love was nowhere in his actions.

God’s love stands in stark contrast. He cleans up our messes, holds our hand through the valley of the shadow of death, and takes our punishment in His own body. He draws us, woos us, holds us, seals us. His love isn’t going to break down, and it isn’t going to let go.

There’s nothing trivial about God’s love. It sent Him to earth in a backwater town to an unwed mother where he was wrapped in cloths meant for a burial shroud and stuck in an animal feeding trough. And that was just the first few hours of his earthly existence. Things didn’t get noticeably better. But He came, lived, and died “for the joy set before Him.”

We’re that joy. Us, His people, whom He loved and determined to save.

I kind of think that’s the message we need to be teaching in our schools and churches, in homeless shelters and hospitals.

People are afraid and lonely and losing hope. We promise them falsely that this government program or that will solve the problem. If we just change marriage laws, allow whatever “loving” relationship a person wants, then we’ll all live happily ever after. But no amount of change in our outlook on “family” is reducing the growing problem of senseless shootings.

“It’s a mental health issue,” one commentator said. And maybe it is. Maybe all the shooters are simply mentally ill. But I think God loves the mentally ill, too. Jesus Christ died, even for the mentally ill. Shouldn’t we find a way to show the love of Christ to the most needy among us?

Of course, no one walks around with a sign that says, I’m a potential shooter because I’m mentally ill.

Rather, we’d actually have to take a risk and love someone we don’t necessarily find lovable.

Kids aren’t really in a position to do this, though they should start learning. Adults in the lives of troubled young people need to do this. But I don’t see it happening apart from God. It simply isn’t natural.

That’s why God’s love is so extraordinary. He loves us “while we were yet sinners.” He doesn’t demand we clean up first, meet His perfect standards, and then He will share His love with us.

On the contrary, He gives His love to us when we have done nothing to earn it. Because it’s a gift. I want to say, with God every day is Valentine’s Day. But His love goes beyond the hearts and flowers and special dinners. His love falls into that tough love category, so that what He gives us is what we actually need.

Sometimes that means a serious talking to or a time out or forty years in the wilderness. God knows. He’s not going to pander to us because He’s not going to do something now that will lead to our eternal destruction. Better to teach us, mold us, shape us in the image of Jesus Christ so that we can enjoy eternity with Him.

Of course some people ignore Him or actively push Him away. Those, He does what He so often did in the Old Testament—He gives them exactly what they want. Nothing could be sadder, because their end is destruction, their god is their appetite and their glory is in their shame. They simply set their minds on earthly things. And they miss the love God wants them to receive.

His love is so great because He knows us so well, because He’s invested in us to the point of going to the cross for us. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” and that’s precisely what He did.

God’s love is far from trivial, far from indulgent, far from silly and sentimental. His love is actually infinite. It’s complete. It’s life soaked in love.

Published in: on February 14, 2018 at 6:16 pm  Comments (22)  
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The Wonders Of Creation – A Reprise


Today was one of the glorious days in southern California that come after rain has washed the sky and watered the earth. Words don’t really do it justice nor do pictures, but that’s true about pretty much all the things God has made. It seems fitting today to re-post this article about creation.

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Sometimes I think I prefer the mountains to every other place on the planet. That usually lasts until I spend a few minutes on the beach. I never think I’d want to live in the desert, but on the occasions I’ve had to drive through a place where the rock formations are unique and the colors vibrant, where there are flowers in the most unexpected spots and the trees are the most unusual shapes . . . well, it makes me realize, the world God created is wondrous no matter where you look.

I think that about the night sky too. The moon is the most glorious sight . . . until I find a place away from city lights and view the starry host, so vast, so breath-taking.

Then there’s falling rain, sunsets, snow-covered anything. There’s no end to the beauty. And “beauty” doesn’t quite do creation justice. It’s awe-inspiring. Magnificent. Breath-taking.

No offense to architects or engineers, but the best man-made stuff doesn’t hold a candle to . . . well, a candle flame. Or a rainbow. Or a rose.

“And God saw that it was good” might be the greatest understatement in history. Unless you understand “good” to mean perfect, matchless, complete, a reflection of the nature of the One who created nature.

Psalm 104 is a grand description of God’s wondrous creation:

Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, You are very great;
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak,
Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain.
He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters;
He makes the clouds His chariot;
He walks upon the wings of the wind;
He makes the winds His messengers,
Flaming fire His ministers. (vv 1-4)

The fact is, creation is an announcement of God. In the words of the Keith and Kristyn Getty song, “Creation Sings ”

Hallelujah! Let all creation stand and sing,
“Hallelujah!” Fill the earth with songs of worship;
Tell the wonders of creation’s King.

It’s the only proper response to what He has made. Praise God for His wondrous creation.

Published in: on February 13, 2018 at 6:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Christianity Starts And Ends With Grace


I was listening to a radio sermon today and the pastor said all of Christianity could be summed up in the word obedience—obedience to Christ, submission to His will. That caught me off guard a moment. It’s not the word that came to me at once.

I didn’t have to think very long before I came up with the word I’d say encapsulates Christianity—grace. Or maybe forgiveness.

Obedience? Especially obedience when it’s tied to submission? I wouldn’t say that pastor is wrong, especially in the context of the series of sermons he is airing. But obedience for a Christian is way different than it is for someone in a different religion or for someone outside of all religions,

For the Christian, doing what God wants us to do is like a wife making her husband his favorite dinner or a husband bringing his wife flowers. Maybe a better example is a husband shoveling snow so his wife won’t have to wade through it to get to her car. Or a child making her daddy a get-well card when he’s sick.

The point is, none of these things are mandated. The wife doesn’t cook the special dinner because she has to. If the government passed a law that all husbands brought their wives flowers every Tuesday, the bouquet would soon become meaningless. The wonderful thing about doing little acts of kindness is because they say so much, and one of those statements is NOT, “I’m doing this because I have to.”

Rather, a husband takes his wife’s car to get the oil changed, not because she’s incapable of taking it in herself, but because he wants to save her the aggravation.

He’s saying, I want to make your life a little easier, I’m thinking of what’s best for you, I want to care for you, I love you.

If the Department of Motor Vehicles required husbands to take cars for oil changes, would his actions say any of those things? Of course not. They would say, I’m doing this because I have to.

The point here isn’t really about husbands and wives or parents and children. The principle is true for donating to charities or helping friends. Do we cheerful pay our taxes or send money to victims of disasters? Do we joyfully go to the office party the boss requires us to attend or to our granddaughter’s soccer game?

Clearly, whether we give a gift of money or time or goods, the meaning behind it is greater and the attitude we have in the giving is dependent upon our freedom to give. If we’re simply meeting a requirement, or even an expectation, the statement is not so meaningful and the accompanying attitude is not so great.

But if the gift is given freely, if there is no expectation, then the act accomplishes a great deal, for both giver and receiver.

But what if the giving isn’t a one-time event? What if it becomes a habit? Everyday the wife gets up at 4:00 to make her husband breakfast. Everyday the friend takes the trash out for her neighbor. Everyday the husband scrapes ice off the windshield of his wife’s car.

Aren’t the habits of love and thoughtfulness and concern even greater than the one time surprise events?

Well, in some measure these human examples approximate a Christian’s relationship with God. First God showers us with His grace and forgiveness. In loving response—not because God commands it—we worship Him, we pray, we read His word, we attend church. Of course, we know those things, and any number of other things, like being honest, not swearing, being kind to one another, we know will please God because they are in His word.

We can actually look at those things as mandates. But if we love God, doing the things that will please Him becomes a joy. We want to do what He wants us to do. Not because we are under law but because we are under grace.

Someone who looks at God and thinks they have to obey Him to earn His favor might do the exact same things as someone who looks at God and chooses to do what will please Him because they are so grateful for His grace. The outward appearance might not differ at all, but the inner attitude of the heart, where God looks, is vastly different.

Sometimes it’s easy to understand why God wants us to be a certain way—loving to our neighbors, for instance. Other times, what pleases Him is hard to understand and hard to do—loving our enemies, for instance.

The secret to life in Christ is to create the habit of obedience, of pleasing God, not just when it makes sense to us and feels good, but when it’s hard to understand and hard to do.

Trust God through suffering? Yes, that pleases Him. But it’s not so easy. Doing so, not because He’s commanded it but because we love Him, now that brings joy.

Published in: on February 12, 2018 at 5:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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God Helps Those Who Help Themselves?


888698_my_new_bicycleI’m not sure where the adage “God helps those who help themselves” got its start. It sounds very American, very responsible, very “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”—and God would approve of this, so He’ll lend a helping hand.

I picture a parent running along side his son or daughter who is learning to ride a bike. The dad has a hand just behind the seat, keeping the bike in balance until the child gets the hang of it and takes off. Then Dad lets go, stands back, applauds when Daughter weaves her way back to him.

God is like that, right?

No, He’s not.

First, He does not exist for our sake; we exist for Him. He isn’t our bodyguard, cheerleader, or fix-it man. He is God!

Amazingly, He wants a relationship with us—friendship, familial interaction, shared love. He also wants us to obey Him, worship Him, serve Him, glorify Him. He, in turn, wants to shepherd us, strengthen us, even exalt us at the proper time.

But help us?

Not surprisingly the Old Testament wisdom literature, particularly Job and Psalms has a great deal to say about God as our help. In any number of verses, the writer says he cries to God for help. In other passages, God is praised for being a help.

A number of different words are used, most conveying the idea of “succor”—assistance and support in times of hardship and distress. Psalm 27:9 is a good example:

Do not hide Your face from me,
Do not turn Your servant away in anger;
You have been my help;
Do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation (emphasis mine)

There are also verses that state God’s intention to help His people:

“For I am the LORD your God, who upholds your right hand,
Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ ” (Isaiah 41:13)

Is it significant that this concept is almost non-existent in the New Testament? I think so. When Jesus walked on earth people asked Him for help—mostly to help a physical ailment, but even to help with the problem of unbelief.

He explained to His disciples that when He went away, He would send a Helper, a paraklētos. According to Strong’s, the term is used

of the Holy Spirit destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after his ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom

No longer, then, do those who are God’s own need to plead for Him to help. He already has, by giving us the Helper to live with us and in us.

It seems to me, the times I plead for God to help—and there have been times—I am less aware of God’s presence and provision. Of course, in emergencies, it’s hard to keep a level head, to think through the truths of God’s word. I suppose that’s the very reason it’s important to “practice the presence” of God daily.

I’m not sure I really like that phrase. It seems as if I have something to do with God being with me or not. The truth is, whether I am aware or not, He is with me. But my awareness influences my decisions and my attitude. I am much less inclined to worry, for example, when I remember that God is with me, that He is sovereign and omnipotent and good.

All this to say, God isn’t running along side me as I struggle on my own to accomplish whatever I wish, so He can be available if I cry out when I’m about to crash.

Rather, God has taken up residence in my life. I am His. I don’t need Him to help me—I need Him! He is sufficient no matter what my circumstances. In fact, because He is infinite God, limitless in His attributes, He loves and gives, provides and protects like no one else could.

That includes anything I could do for myself. 😉

This post is the final article in the short series of Evangelical Myths, first appearing here in June, 2013.

Published in: on February 6, 2018 at 4:38 pm  Comments (4)  
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Suffering And God’s Blessing Are Incompatible?


Uh, I don’t think so. Suffering is very much a part of the experience of a child of God who also experiences His blessings. I explored this myth in a June 2013 post which I’ve revised below.

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Most people probably wouldn’t want to admit it, but if they’ve taken the time to read the book of Job, they’re inclined to think his friends make a lot of good points. I mean, can we really disagree with Eliphaz when he says,

According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity
And those who sow trouble harvest it.
(Job 4:8)

Of course, we have the prologue in the first chapter that tells us Satan is testing Job, but without that information, what would we honestly think about him?

He was rich beyond measure, well respected in the community, generous to the poor and needy, godly in every respect. And then one day, his world collapses. He loses practically everything he owns, his children die in a freakish storm, and then he himself gets sick. Horribly, painfully sick.

Would we conclude that God’s favor is on this man?

Again, I understand how the idea that suffering and God’s blessing are incompatible got a foothold in evangelical circles. After all, there is some Biblical foundation. Take Psalm 1, for example.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish. (emphasis mine)

Clearly, in this contrast between the righteous and the wicked, God is saying there are advantages for the righteous. Those advantages could easily be interpreted as here and now.

However, there are also any number of passages that indicate suffering has nothing to do with wickedness. Christ Himself suffered, and we are to experience the “fellowship of His sufferings.” Peter and John suffered because they wouldn’t stop preaching about Jesus. Paul suffered a “thorn in his side” which God would not heal. Stephen suffered to the point of death.

In the end, the Christian who believes the Bible and doesn’t just give lip service to it, must take into consideration its entire counsel if we are to understand what God wants to teach us about suffering.

A brief summary shows that suffering

    * may come as a part of persecution
    * can be a blessing
    * may be a result of Satan’s opposition
    * sometimes exists solely to bring God glory
    * is something in which we can rejoice
    * is experienced by our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world
    * can be experienced by those who are doing wrong

One thing that seems absent is the idea that suffering is a sure sign of sin. Peter says it’s far better for us to suffer for doing right rather than for doing wrong, and he commands believers to make sure they don’t suffer as “a murder or thief or evil doer or a troublesome meddler.” But if we suffer as Christians, he says we’re not to be ashamed.

So Peter highlights the fact that suffering can be a consequence of sin or a result of persecution. In other words, there is no automatic, “this is what suffering means” answer.

Peter actually seems to look favorably on suffering. In his first letter, he starts chapter 4 by saying, “Therefore since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”

I’m not sure exactly what he meant by that last line, but clearly, he was looking at suffering in a completely different way than do most western evangelical Christians.

I think about the newly converted Paul having to leave Damascus in a basket because his fellow Jews were trying to kill him for preaching Jesus. I suspect today if someone had a similar experience, they’d write a book about being disappointed with God for not smoothing the path for their preaching or they’d give an interview about how they lost their faith because God couldn’t be counted on.

The fact is, we put God on trial and judge Him based on whether He gets us, out or keeps us out, of uncomfortable, hard places. When we walk through the fire, we think God has messed up, but the prophet Isaiah said,

When you pass through the water, I will be with you
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you. (Isaiah 43:2)

There’s no promise there that the waters won’t be overwhelming or that the fire won’t come near. Instead, God does give the promise of His presence, His direction, and even His protection in the midst of suffering.

James says, “When you encounter various trials,” not if you encounter various trials.

The real question doesn’t seem to be “will we face suffering,” or even “why do we face suffering,” but “how will we face suffering.”

As long as western evangelical Christians buy the myth that suffering is incompatible with God’s blessing, I don’t see how we can respond with the kind of joy Peter and James both talk about.

Published in: on February 5, 2018 at 4:45 pm  Comments (3)  
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Good And Evil And A Moral Law


On the atheist FB group page where I’m a member, the question came up about the existence of evil pointing to the existence of a moral law and therefore a Moral Lawgiver. The discussion stemmed from something Ravi Zacharias said in response to a question from a student.

Not surprisingly atheists in the group quickly dismissed the notion on the grounds of relativism—good and evil are just relative, therefore there is no fixed standard, no actual absolute, no “law.” Hence, no Lawgiver.

I don’t think I realized just how insidious relativism is until I read those comments. Sure, I knew that the denial of the absolute allowed people to live a life that freed them from those things they simply didn’t want to do. So “what’s right for you, might not be right for me” was born. And a dear friend could say she was divorcing her husband because she knew God wanted her to be happy—clearly His idea about marriage wasn’t working for her. Therefore, it must not actually be for her.

Now I see that line of thinking is only the tip of the relativism iceberg. The atheists who claimed the idea were using it against God. Humans decide what’s good and “bad.” (They didn’t even want to use the word “evil.”) So if something causes pain, that’s bad. If something makes you feel good, that’s good.

How ironic that these same atheists proclaim over and over that Christians depend on our feelings. Can they not see that the belief in absolutes is not a dependence on feelings but on revelation? Relativism, on the other hand, depends completely on what you’re feeling like today. You feel like a man inside? Then you’re a man. You’re feeling like pornography is free speech? Then it’s free speech, not perversion.

One of the evidences of the advance of relativism is the old TV program MASH. On that show, set during the Korean War (and produced during the Vietnam War), one soldier who did not want to be in the military but who had been drafted, tried to get out by claiming a Section 8: “Section 8 is a category of discharge from the United States military, used for a service member judged mentally unfit for service.”

How did this character attempt to give evidence that he was mentally unfit for service? By wearing dresses. Because back then, when the show was made, men were understood to be not thinking correctly if they wanted to dress like women.

Today men can not only dress like women, they can become women. A little surgery, a little hormone therapy, a little make-up and hair styling, a new wardrobe, and wallah. Based on what? Feelings. Not facts. Not absolutes. Not science.

Now I understand where this kind of relativism leads. It’s a sad departure from reality because those who hold to it want to get away from a moral standard and the obvious conclusion that if we have a moral standard, we must have Someone who gives that moral standard.

Relativism is a philosophy that allows for escape from God.

What is baffling to me is that relativism is so paper thin, anyone ought to be able to see through it.

Torture a child, and universal cries for justice will be heard. Who sides with a child abuser? I know of no one. Where does that clear idea—to hurt a child is wrong—come from?

One atheist said it’s empathy. That’s similar to the pain answer. But do we put doctors in jail for inflicting pain when they give shots? Of course not. A little pain is necessary to vaccinate a child from an illness that could disable them. How do we differentiate between the “good” pain and the “bad” pain? Not via empathy. Empathy would say, you’re hurting that child when you give them vaccines, so you should just stop.

An understanding of what’s good, however, undermines that concept and says, there’s a higher good than pain avoidance at stake.

Of course we do not always agree on what’s good and what’s evil. Ask conservatives politically and they will likely tell you that President Obama was not good. Ask liberals politically and they will likely tell you that President Trump is not good. Both groups have a sense that there is a good.

Where does that idea come from?

Humans also clearly believe in evil. Wars and mass shootings and terrorist attacks are considered tragic and wrong. Why?

Because they are. They do not square with what we know, innately, to be right. A mother isn’t supposed to drown her children. A human is not supposed to kill and eat other humans. No one has to teach us these things. The standard of morality, of good and evil, exists because God exists. He’s stamped a love of justice on our hearts.

Evil, then, is actually a problem for those who do not believe in God. They have no explanation for the existence of a moral law, one that people live by even though they try to do away with it by adopting a flimsy philosophy like relativism.

Published in: on January 30, 2018 at 6:03 pm  Comments (33)  
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Hagar


Not important enough to merit more than a black and white picture.

If the book of Genesis was a novel, Hagar would be considered a minor character. If it were a play, she’d be a bit actor. In truth, she has very few scenes and even fewer lines. And the thing is, the lines she does have, the scenes she is in, don’t show her in a very good light.

First off, Sarah gives Hagar, her Egyptian maid, to her husband to be a concubine. Stop right there. Hagar is of “foreign” descent. She’s a maid to a nomadic woman. I’m not thinking she has much standing in the world.

And then she becomes a concubine. As a servant, she apparently has no say in the matter when her mistress hands her over to the head of the house, Abraham.

But to Hagar’s delight, her union with Abraham bears fruit. In fact, she’s so delighted that she’s pregnant, she looks down on her mistress. That’s the start of some serious domestic problems. Sarah ended up treating Hagar so harshly, she ran away. To the desert. She had to be desperate.

There she encountered an angel who told her she was pregnant and should return and submit to her mistress. And here’s the turning point in her life:

Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”

Just a servant girl, one who was apparently a bit haughty and given to flight, but God saw her.

She returned and gave birth to a son who she named Ishmael—God will hear.

Sounds to me like Hagar—the Egyptian, the maid, the concubine—had a relationship with God. She knew He saw her. She knew He heard her. At her lowest point, God came to her.

Well, maybe not her lowest point.

When her son was a teen, and no longer an only child—Abraham had a son by his wife Sarah—he did what boys will do. He teased, and probably bullied, young Isaac. So much so that Sarah persuaded Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. All they had was a “skin” of water and some bread. And God, watching out for them.

When the water ran out, Hagar really did reach her lowest point. She couldn’t stand the thought of watching her son die, so she left him under some bushes and went off alone. Once again God rescued her. He opened her eyes so that she saw a well, and He gave her a promise that her son would also be the head of a great nation.

She gave Ishmael the drink that he needed to live and they settled there in the wilderness until he grew to be a man. Then Hagar arranged for him to marry an Egyptian, and he did in fact fulfill the prophecy God gave his mother during that “dark night of the soul.”

The main thing I learn here is this: in the midst of Abraham’s story and the promises and miracles God performed for the man who was later referred to as “a friend of God” (see James 2:23), God also took care of a lowly maid, someone not in the Messianic line. And as some would be quick to point out, a woman.

God is no respecter of persons. He really isn’t. I think it’s easy to lose sight of that because the Jewish nation is referred to as “the apple of His eye.” They are “the chosen people.” But in truth, God chose them, not because they were numerous or strong or great in any sense of the word, but because they were weak and few in number so that His grace could shine through.

He wanted the world to see Him through His relationship with the nation of Israel, just as He now wants the world to see Him through His relationship with the Church. The point is and always has been to give a picture of what everyone can have. After all, God didn’t just start loving the world when John 3:16 was written.

So in Christ’s genealogy there’s an adulteress, a woman who slept with her father-in-law, a foreigner from a nation that was banned from entering the temple, and an unmarried virgin. Why?

God wants the point to get through to us: salvation is not for an elite group of special people who do things just the right way. It’s for the Hagars of the world who reach bottom and who look up to the God who hears, to the God who sees.

He, in turn, pours out His grace and rescues those who recognize their need for Living Water.

Published in: on January 29, 2018 at 5:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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Pollen—A Reprise


I was a hay fever kid. Every spring, especially during recess or P.E. class, newly mowed grass gave me fits. I was also allergic to ragweed, but apart from those two plants, I managed.

Unlike others, I neither out-grew the condition nor became worse, though I discovered one more thing I’m allergic to—more than anything else I’ve ever encountered. And it so happens I am living right next to it.

Just beyond the fence is a beautiful tall, full tree that offers wonderful shade in the summer. In the fall, which is usually in December here in SoCal, the tree begins to lose its leaves. Sometime after the first winter rain, it starts growing little blossoms which eventually produce new leaves. In the process those tiny yellow flowers release a fine yellow pollen, visible on our car windshields, porch, stairs.

It is that pollen I am allergic to.

Mind you, I’m not complaining, though some times I fall into a bit of a grumble. Except, I don’t want that tree gone. How many people live in the Los Angeles basin and can look out a window without seeing another apartment building or house? Plus there’s that extra shade which makes a ten to fifteen degree difference in the summer temperatures. I like this tree. I just don’t like its pollen.

Except, of course, the tree would have no leaves if there were no pollen. And Science 101 says pollen is important for bees and such—the whole Eco-system. I’ll have to take the word of the experts on that one. I just know, I have to take the bad if I want the good. And I do want the good.

This whole pollen thing seems a bit like an illustration of all of life. Things happen—a broken wrist, a rejection notice from an agent, a promotion that goes to someone else, a fender bender on the way home from work, a minor stroke. All such things are much like the pollen—those are not things anyone wants. Except without them, we don’t have the growth needed that can get us through the days when the temperature rises. The tough things train us spiritually.

“Consider it all joy,” James says, “when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).

Peter says positive things about hard times too:

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7)

For a little while things might be hard, but rejoicing is still possible because there will be a reveal.

Writers like reveals. It’s something we need to put into our novels to create those A-ha moments for readers. And of course the biggest and the best reveal is saved for last. So too in real life.

Now the days of pollen will serve as more than a reminder that new leaves are coming on the wonderful shade tree that will cool my place in the summer. Now I have one more reminder that God makes joy and rejoicing out of the various trials He allows because the great A-ha is coming!

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in February 2012 and again in February 2015.

Man’s Way Versus God’s Plan – A Reprise


One View Of God's Sovereignty

Some time ago I saw a humorous depiction of what Man expects in life versus what God gives us, similar to the one I recreated above(though I don’t remember the captions).

I suspect the point, besides the humor, was to show how we believe our way with God will be easy, free of suffering and hardship, when, in fact, God never promised such a thing.

When I saw the original, I laughed, but then I thought, How unlike God. My thinking was that the picture, not identifying any reason why God would take us into rough terrain, makes Him seem arbitrary and cruel, even masochistic, as if He’s yanking our chain simply to see us suffer.

But also, the first panel shows Man in the most positive light. Yes, he expects an easy path, but he’s steadily moving forward, growing, improving, reaching toward that final destination.

Actually, I don’t think either panel captures reality clearly. First, the truth about Humankind is that we wander, take wrong turns, leave the path, go our own way. We aren’t focused on moving further up and further in as we should be.

Man's Actual Plan

The above diagram is a more accurate depiction of the path we take. But there’s another version.

God's Work To Move Us Toward Him

God, because of our waywardness and because of His love for us, directs us back to Himself.

That’s it. Like a loving Father, He spanks our hands or puts us in time out or grounds us or takes away our cell phone or car keys or whatever it takes to move us away from our willfulness because He loves us too much to see us go the wrong way. He is most definitely not capricious and He is NOT cruel.

But His kindness and mercy mean He will sometimes withhold the rain or let the Philistines conquer the land or keep us in the wilderness because He wants us to know Him, follow Him, trust Him, love Him instead of going our own way.

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My apologies to any actual artists! 😉 This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in May 2014.