Who Is God But The LORD?


Idols were everywhere when David wrote these words from Psalm 18:

As for God, His way is blameless;
The word of the LORD is tried;
He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
For who is God, but the LORD?
And who is a rock, except our God,
The God who girds me with strength
And makes my way blameless?
He makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
And sets me upon my high places.

Idols are everywhere today, too, but they come in different guises. Mostly what Americans worship today is the human spirit or human ingenuity or strength within or however it’s phrased. In short, many worship human ability. Consequently, the thinking goes, humans are right to judge God for heinous things like killing off the people in Noah’s day. He should have told the people Himself that a flood was coming. He should have had Noah build a bigger boat. He should have kept the door open so that all the people who came to the realization that this flood business was serious, could get on board. In other words, God, not the people who turned away from Him was at fault for all those deaths.

Because after all a) ignoring God is not a capital offense; and b) everyone deserves a second chance.

So ironic. Ever since Adam sinned, all humans, all life, was under a death sentence. By ignoring God, those people were ignoring the one chance they had for safety. They were turning their backs on the only refuge in the storm that could save them.

And a second chance? They had all those years that Noah was building, building, preaching, and building. They undoubtedly had more chances then a second or a third. The thing about saying no to God—you forget how to say yes. I heard Christopher Hitchens in a debate once and read an interview with him shortly before he died. He clearly stated that he had no intention of making a deathbed conversion, that he didn’t want to spend eternity with a God who would always call the shots.

His view of God was so thoroughly different from David’s.

I find that to be true today. People who believe in God see Him through the lens of His revelation; people who do not believe in Him see Him through the lens that Satan passed on to Eve. Basically the deceiver told her that God wanted to keep all the good things for Himself. He didn’t want her to enjoy the wonderful tasting and pleasant to look upon fruit. More than that, He didn’t want her to have the capacity to judge good and evil, because then she and Adam would be like God. And above all, God didn’t want to share His throne, His glory.

What Satan missed was that no one can share in God’s sovereignty, for the simple reason that no one but God is sovereign. So I can get on the throne and I can claim glory for myself, but that does not make me sovereign.

Because who is God but the LORD?

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Adapting


seven_of_nine_speaks_for_the_borgI write fantasy and love the imaginative. It should come as no surprise, then, that when H&I started airing reruns of all the Star Trek programs, I eagerly began watching (except for the original—I’m less of a fan of those). Seeing them one after the other has been enlightening on many levels. One thing I’ve noticed is that the theme of adapting or even assimilation arises over and over.

Assimilation is a result of one species, The Borg, taking over the bodies of those they defeat by turning them into cyber-humans with only a collective conscience, not a sense of individuality. As the various Star Trek crews encounter The Borg, their major goal is to avoid assimilation.

But with considerable frequency a parallel theme surfaces—these space explorers from Earth had to adapt.

There’s a lot of talk in our day about adapting. We need to adapt to the changing technology, to the twenty-first century, to postmodern thought, to a global economy, to the realities of science.

The church in America seems to have bought into the idea that we need to adapt to the greater culture in which we live. So we need to find a way to make peace with feminism, we need to become relevant for the next generation, we need to tap into the way people today consume information.

Some changes are subtle, some innocuous. Some correct error from an earlier generation. For instance, I grew up in churches that looked down on drinking and smoking and dancing. In fact, the Christian college I attended required us to sign a pledge saying that we would not engage in such activities. They apparently overlooked premarital sex, however.

I say that tongue in cheek, but the truth is, while we were trying to hold the line against dancing, there were major breaches of a much more serious nature. Breaches in matters that the Bible stands against.

Change needed to be made so that we were no longer concerned with law-keeping while overlooking the point and purpose of God’s righteous demand for holiness. Legalism is not holy living, and my early church experience didn’t do a good job of differentiating.

The course corrective was not to adapt to the culture, though. The course corrective was to return to what the authoritative word of God says.

Of course, in order to do that we first need to know what God’s word says.

Oddly—I say “oddly” but it’s not really odd because I believe Satan, who hates God and wants to undermine His plans and purposes, is behind it—oddly we are not, as a western Christian culture, working hard to learn what God has to say in His word.

I’m fortunate that my church has once again instituted a Scripture reading program for us. As a body, we read a passage of Scripture together and one member of the congregation writes a meditation on the text. We also have preachers (still no senior teaching pastor, but that’s OK—I’d rather we find someone by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, who God wants for us) who instruct us from God’s word.

Currently we have Dr. Gene Getz preaching, and while he was teaching on Sunday, it hit me that I hardly know the Bible, so much greater was his knowledge and scholarship than my own. I’ve long thought the Bible is an inexhaustible source of wisdom and knowledge, but that idea was strongly re-enforced Sunday.

But I’m getting away from the subject of adapting.

It dawned on me this week that adapting is really a voluntary form of assimilation. It’s slower, though. We decide what we wish to change, and accordingly we move a little left or right. Sometimes there’s a bit of a pendulum movement that swings us from one extreme back to the other. But often, each new swing leaves us a little closer to the ideas and patterns to which we’re adapting.

I’m not talking about the issues of the 60s—boys’ long hair and girls’ short skirts—though things that seem so trivial undoubtedly did have an affect on culture. I’m not even talking about things like accepting abortion or moving homosexuality from the abnormal psych part of our text books to redefining marriage so that gays can be part of “normal society.”

The real adaptations we’re making have to do with our relationship to God.

Israel faced the exact same issue. God gave them His covenant and then His Law. They agreed to both. They would be God’s people and they would keep His Law. But once they settled in to their promised land, once they had some stability and security and prosperity, they started looking around at the nations surrounding them.

Look at their gods, at their religious activity, at their power structure. We want to be like them!

King Manasseh was probably the worst. He ruled for over a half century, and under his rule Judah adapted quite well to the nations around them. They started worshiping their gods, erected idols like theirs, practiced witchcraft like they did, instituted child sacrifice like they did. All the things the Canaanites had done which caused God to kick them out of the land, the people of Judah copied.

They adapted.

After all, worshiping one god was passé. Following His law, observing His feast days, making sacrifice to Him because of their sins was just so yesterday.

In the same we, we adapt today.

Is the Bible really authoritative? Might it not be simply a collection of myths, some infused with good, moral teaching? The rest, of course, is thoroughly forgettable because it is so passé. One God? One way to Him? Certainly all ways are equal. After all, we believe in egalitarianism. How could one way be better than the others.

And so it goes as we listen to “higher criticism” and progressives and univeralists and a host of other false teachers who show us how we can slice and dice the Bible until it says what the rest of the culture says. So of course abortion is OK, and homosexuality, and women preachers, and people ignoring their contractual commitments—in business or in personal relationships. Of course a little pandering to the wealthy is acceptable, a little bribery, a little lying. After all, it’s just business.

What’s more, what matters most is not God and His righteousness. What matters most is that we are not offensive to anyone, even as we push our way to the top. We must love, at the expense of truth if necessary, so that people will like us and accept us and support us.

That’s a snapshot of Christians adapting.

But The LORD


While we live in the physical world, we simultaneously live in a spiritual world. For starters, we have spiritual natures. In addition, whether we recognize it or not, God is not the only supernatural person. Other spiritual beings exist all around us. This is why Elisha could say to his servant in 2 Kings 6:16, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” The “those who are with us” consisted of chariots of fire filling the mountain which the servant couldn’t see until God opened his spiritual eyes.

In talking about creation, Paul refers to rulers and authorities, thrones and dominions, the latter being part of the invisible world he mentions in Col. 1:16.

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.

Who all these spiritual beings are is of interest to a good many people, but the truth is, the Bible tells us very little about them. We know there are two basic camps, however—those who do God’s bidding and are good, and those who stand in opposition to Him and are evil.

These spiritual forces have real power. Two angels, for example, were involved in the destruction of Sodom. Satan himself apparently decimated Job—destroying his property, killing his children, and striking him with disease.

Of course these beings are not operating independently. The angels are carrying out God’s commands, and Satan is doing only what God has given him permission to do. He was, for example, expressly forbidden to take Job’s life.

But still, Satan is active and so are any number of evil spirits. The New Testament records one man with evil spirits who had supernatural strength so that he could break free of chains meant to restrict him. Then there was the girl who had an evil spirit which made it possible for her to tell fortunes. Others caused a person to be mute or to lose control of their body so that they would be thrown into the fire.

The fact that we don’t see overt manifestations of evil spirits as a part of normal life here in North America doesn’t mean they don’t exist or aren’t active.

The Bible tells us we need spiritual armor, so my supposition is that much of the spiritual activity we face has little to do with the physical, though possibly there is far more than we recognize as coming from spiritual causes. But that’s going astray from the point I want to make in all this.

Men and women throughout history have worshiped, but many have chosen a god instead of the LORD. For much of their history, the Jews dabbled with polytheism, though the LORD had specifically told them to have no other gods before Him. Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome—they all worshiped various gods. They were religious, and they recognized the existence of power that was beyond the physical.

The problem was, they credited created beings with supreme power and authority—whether Zeus or Baal or Molech or some other idol.

Interestingly, Isaiah wrote a stirring passage about idols being nothing but a man-made construction with no power. In chapter 44 he describes the process of cutting timber, burning half for fuel or for a fire to cook over, then fashioning from the other half an idol he bows to and worships:

No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, “I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!” (v. 19)

So which is it—are idols blocks of wood or are they evil spirits with actual power? I suppose spirits can inhabit the blocks of wood, but why would they? The wood itself, as Isaiah pointed out, is blind and dumb. Regardless, I conclude the physical idol, whether possessed or not possessed, is nothing but a chunk of matter. The people who worship idols however, are indeed worshiping a spiritual being—a false god.

So I came across this verse, and I thought, here’s the line of demarcation, the point that clearly separates false gods from the One True God:

For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the LORD made the heavens. (Ps. 96:4-5—emphasis mine)

Creation, as Romans 1 states so clearly, points to the One True God. It is in what He has made that His invisible attributes can be seen:

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. (v 20)

As I realized anew the significance of God’s creative work, I understood more clearly why Creation is such a battlefield. To discredit God, Satan aims to distort the work that inexorably points to Him.

There are a few key issues like that—the Bible as God’s authoritative word, the person of Jesus, and creation. Isn’t it interesting that these are the critical means of God’s revelation of Himself to Mankind, creation being the first and Jesus being the final and ultimate revelation, with the Bible being the authoritative source that explains both.

Praise God for loving us so much He has made Himself known.

This article with some revision is a reprint of one by the same name that appeared here in February 2012.

Published in: on March 2, 2016 at 6:35 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Existence of God Wasn’t Always A Question


Bible-openSome years back I had an amazing revelation when I was reading Psalm 115 related to the existence of God—not whether He exists but how to digest the arguments against His existence by those who do not recognize Him. In Psalm 115, the writer includes a section about idols:

Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.
They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
They have eyes, but they cannot see;
They have ears, but they cannot hear;
They have noses, but they cannot smell;
They have hands, but they cannot feel;
They have feet, but they cannot walk;
They cannot make a sound with their throat. (vv 4-7)

The thing is, this is written in juxtaposition to “But our God is in the heavens.” In other words, by implication, the psalmist is saying, God is all that these idols are not.

My thought was, how did the psalmist know? Did he see a vision of God? Or accept that God had spoken through the Torah? Did he believe the stories passed down from father to son about God in the midst of Israel’s camp for forty straight years—or was he one of those older children who witnessed God’s presence? Was he, perhaps, a high priest who had seen the tablets written by the finger of God? Or had he heard a prophet and witnessed the fulfillment of his words?

Interestingly, this statement that God is in the heavens seems to be unquestioned, not the introduction of a topic to debate.

Years later, Jeremiah said something very similar, but the fact that he was a prophet would indicate to me that he had first hand knowledge of the fact that God lives.

First, reciting what God said, he describes the inanimate idols of the nations, ending with:

“Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they,
And they cannot speak;
They must be carried,
Because they cannot walk!
Do not fear them,
For they can do no harm,
Nor can they do any good.” (Jeremiah 10:5)

The next verse, and this would appear to be Jeremiah’s conclusion, says “There is none like You, O LORD;/You are great, and great is Your name in might.”

All this to say, it doesn’t appear that the Israelites had any question about God’s existence. Their problem was His identity.

Moses’s question was this: When the people ask me for Your name, what should I tell them?

I used to have trouble with the answer: I AM WHO I AM. What did that even mean?

Now I realize it is most profound. God is and always has been. He is before anything else was and He will continue to be, without end. He is the creator and sustainer of the world. All things find their being in Him and without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him is life and breath. And He has no end.

So my revelation? Questioning the existence of God seems to be a very modern thing. The psalmist and Jeremiah had no problem identifying false gods as nothing, but they knew quite well that God lives.

This article, minus some minor editorial changes, first appeared here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction in December 2007.

Published in: on January 14, 2016 at 6:53 pm  Comments (13)  
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The Golden Calf Syndrome


Golden calf idolIn revisiting unholy habits yesterday, I didn’t deal with the root issue—the idols we worship.

For some of us, we need to face the fact that we have accepted false gods into our lives, just as Israel accepted the gods of Egypt or as they adopted Baal or the Asherah of the Canaanites and the other neighboring peoples. We put in the highest place things like our desire for pleasure or for power, our desire for position or for prestige, even our possessions or the people we care about. These things are gifts from God, but when we let them rule in our lives they become idols.

But there’s a more insidious idol—of the kind that Jeroboam built. He set up a golden calf—two, in fact—and told the people that here were the gods who brought them up from Egypt. In other words, he decided to create god in the image he wanted him, with priests and festivals and worship ceremonies to his liking.

He didn’t want his people traveling to Jerusalem for Passover or any of the other feasts God had instituted through Moses. His reason for re-imaging God and redirecting the worship of his people was personal:

Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will return to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:26-28)

Jeroboam was afraid he’d lose his position as king, that his people would turn against him, so he decided he’d make god the way he wanted him. He ignored the commandment against making an image to represent God. He ignored the Law that required worship in the one place where God would establish it—Jerusalem, as it turned out. He ignored the feast days God established. He ignored God’s choice of the Levites and particularly of the descendants of Aaron as the priests who were to stand before Him.

In other words, Jeroboam wanted God to be who he said he was and he wanted to worship him how he chose to worship him. He simply wanted to be in charge of god.

Sadly we see the same thing today with people who pick and choose from the Bible what they decide they want to believe. God is loving but he’d never judge a nation to be so sinful its people needed to die. And the very idea that god would flood the earth to judge the wicked—horrible. Can’t believe that notion because MY GOD WOULDN’T DO SUCH A THING.

People following that train of thought are simply fashioning their golden calf. They don’t want God to be a just judge who declares that the wages of sin is death, so they fashion a god who looks away from sin because he’s tolerant and loves too much to declare anyone guilty and deserving of hell.

The grain of truth in such a false image is, of course, that God is loving, but His love provided the motive for Him to send Jesus to the cross to die for our sins, once for all. That great act of sacrifice is such a far cry from the false notion of tolerance, it’s hard to conceive of the idea that they’re talking about the same God I know.

And in fact they’re not. They’ve fashioned their own god. They’ve decided who god is, and it’s not the God who says He is jealous or who says vengeance is His or who reproves and disciplines. Some fashion a god who doesn’t call Jesus his son, others a god who added later revelation that contradicts the Bible.

Each of these methods of altering what God has disclosed about Himself are simply golden calves—the results of people making god into what they want him to be, not who He actually is. Jeroboam didn’t want Yahweh to be God because his people would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the Pharisees didn’t want Jesus to be the Messiah because they didn’t want to lose the power they had over the people.

I can suggest reasons why other people groups decide to re-image God, though I don’t know why for sure, but the bottom line is, whoever does so is replacing the One True God with a golden calf. In this day and age a host of religious people seem infected with golden calf syndrome, whether they as individuals decide that God didn’t really mean this or that which He said in the Bible or whether as a group they believe something more radically other than what the Bible teaches.

The result is the same: an idol, as displeasing to God as any Israel created.

Published in: on October 30, 2015 at 6:09 pm  Comments (4)  
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Reprise: Unholy Habits


Jeroboam and the golden calfFor some reason, holy habits seem hard to put in place. The unholy ones, not so much.

I’ve been thinking about the unholy habits cultivated by the kings of Judah and Israel, the divided nation that came from a split after Solomon’s death.

In the north, Israel began unholy habits in an intentional way. The king, a man named Jeroboam, was at the forefront of the civil war. He held power tenuously, or so he thought, and was especially fearful that his subjects, should they make their required pilgrimages to the temple of the One True God in Jerusalem, would decide they wanted to rejoin the south. His solution was to build two worship centers in Israel–one in Bethel and one in Dan. In each of those places, he erected a golden calf, assigned priests who were not of the tribe of Levi as God required, and told the people they were to bring their sacrifices to the altars at these high places.

From then on, Scripture records that not a single Israeli king departed from these sinful habits that Jeroboam instituted intentionally. Some of them added their own sins, but even the best of them–Jehu, for example, who got rid of Jezebel and all the Baal worshipers–continued in the ways of Jeroboam.

In Judah, the southern kingdom, the situation was a little different. The unholy habits of those kings seemed to creep in rather than being superimposed by a leader who intentionally and willfully decided to make worship what he thought rather than what God said.

One of the unholy habits was the practice of worshiping God in “high places.” As near as I can tell, these were local altars built on a hill where people sacrificed to the One True God.

However, Mosaic Law said they were to sacrifice only in the place God would designate. For years that meant they were to take their sacrifices to the altar that was part of the Tabernacle–the mobile worship center God had instructed Moses to build there in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. Later that meant taking their offering to the Temple which Solomon built to replace the Tabernacle.

Such a little thing. I mean, it was more convenient, I’m sure, for people to go to the high place right around the corner rather than making the long journey up to Jerusalem. And yet that habit led to any number of other departures from God’s Law.

This habit of worshiping on high places became so ingrained in the culture that an Assyrian military officer suggested King Hezekiah had turned from God because he had removed the high places. Right in the eyes of this man, was wrong, simply because wrong had become the entrenched, cultural habit for hundreds of years. Never mind what God said about how He wanted people to worship Him.

What today, I wonder, might be the entrenched unholy habits of the Church? There’s really only one way to know. It’s the same way the kings of Judah and Israel were to know.

Part of God’s requirement of each new king was for them to read and copy the Law. I’m pretty sure that rarely happened. Too many kings were completely ignorant of the existence of the Law. King Josiah, for instance, ruled for thirteen years before they found a copy of the Law in the temple. When he read it, he recognized how offended God had to be because His people had wander so far from His plan for them.

I don’t suppose Christians today need to copy Scripture. 😉 I don’t think we’ll find that anywhere in the Bible. It does seem as if reading it and obeying it is in order, however. It’s the only way, I think, to unseat those unholy habits.

Published in: on October 29, 2015 at 5:25 pm  Comments (6)  
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The US National Day Of Prayer (A Reprise)


867434_prayer_at_sunrise

Today is the National Day Of Prayer here in the US. In a country with the freedom to worship when and how and who we please, it seems a little odd that we have a designated National Day of Prayer. I’m glad we do because it makes me think more about the subject, but part of my thinking is that, for most of us, the National Day of Prayer means very little.

For one thing, prayer, as an activity in and of itself, has no efficacious value. Isaiah illustrated that most clearly in a passage about idols:

Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend. No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, “I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!” (Isaiah 44:14-19)

Praying to a block of wood, Isaiah is saying, has no value. Clearly, then, value is not in the act of praying.

Consequently, in a country with people of many faiths, telling us all to pray on a certain day, accomplishes nothing. The only prayer that matters is the one offered to a Person interested enough to listen and powerful enough to do something about what He hears.

But should we limit ourselves to pray to such a Person on one day out of the year? Surely, if we knew President Obama would take our phone call every morning and would do all within his power to answer our requests, we wouldn’t limit ourselves to a phone call one day a year. Why then would we make prayer a one-day event?

Clearly it should be a regular part of our relationship with God—the One who commands us to pray, who promises to hear us, and who delights in giving us what we ask. Anything, that is, which we ask in His name, according to His will.

No, that isn’t a formula for getting what we want. The specifics God laid down about prayer are relational doors. We are to ask “in Jesus’s name” not as a cool way to bring a prayer to an end or as a magic mantra to insure that God has to come through and deliver on His promises. We ask in Jesus’s name in the same way that we might go to an exclusive “by invitation only” dinner. We reach the door and give our name. Oh, but we’re not on the list. Rather, the guest of honor invited us to be in His party, so we give His name. Because of His name we are ushered into the banquet hall and seated at the head table. In the same way, we ask God for things, not because of who we are but because of who Jesus is.

Consequently, we can’t ask Him for things that would contradict who Jesus is. Well, we can ask, but God isn’t going to hear us if we ask for selfish things in His Son’s name. Jesus is not in the business of rubber stamping all the selfish requests people make of the Father.

Which brings us to praying according to God’s will. Jesus Himself before He went to the cross asked for something He didn’t get–to bypass the sacrifice set before Him. But God actually did answer Jesus’s prayer because He stipulated that He wanted God’s will more than He wanted what He wanted. It was Jesus’s way of prioritizing. He wanted A and if God wanted A for Him, then Yea! But if He wanted A and God wanted B, then Yea! Jesus would change His mind and want B also. Because God’s will mattered more to Jesus than His own will did.

In praying according to God’s will, essentially we are stepping back and agreeing that God knows more than we do, is good, loves us, and won’t make any mistakes. It’s as if we’re looking at our lives and our circumstances through a straw, but God sees the entire picture. From our straw perspective we ask God for what looks like the thing we need or want. God answers from his entire picture perspective, however, which means we don’t always get what we thought we wanted.

Joni Eareckson Tada is a good example of this principle. When she broke her neck as a seventeen year old, she prayed to be healed. She was an active, athletic teenager who couldn’t imagine how God could possibly want her to spend her life in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. Eventually, however, she bowed before His will, and today, forty-seven years later, she gives testimony of her willingness to do whatever He asks of her, no matter how hard it seems. That has included living with chronic pain and the onset of cancer.

So Joni is an example of answered prayer? She is, because she testifies of God’s love and goodness and mercy for her as she has gone through suffering. He has given her according to His will, and as a result, Joni has reached thousands upon thousands of hurting people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Her impact for eternity is far beyond anything she could have imagined as a teen.

So, a day of prayer? Sure, it’s good to be public about our thoughts on prayer. But it’s much better to make prayer a key ingredient in our relationship with God. We wouldn’t think of limiting conversation with our spouse to one day a year. So, too, a strong relationship with God is built by talking to Him each and every day, not just once in a public forum because it’s the US National Day of Prayer.

This article, sans some minor editing changes, first appeared here in May 2013.

The Prophetic And The Miraculous


Elisha011In my recent discussion with atheists Arkenaten and company, I realized something critical—in debating the existence of God, presupposition is everything. If you presuppose there is no God as atheists do, then you demand evidence but rule out anything that smacks of “flying monkeys” or the like because whatever defies natural law is simply myth. This approach eliminates fulfilled prophecy as evidence of God’s work in the world or miracles because those will be dumped on the myth pile as nonsense believed only by the delusional.

I thought about this fact as I read the account in 2 Kings of the amazing miracles that occurred during the reign of unbelieving kings. These were not atheists but rulers who no longer worshiped the one true God or Him exclusively. They believed in prophecy and they experienced miracles. In some cases, the phenomenal work of God changed these kings, but more often than not, they went on acting as they had before—either taking God’s work for granted or crediting it to one of the false gods they worshiped.

The thing that I’ve overlooked in the past is how much prophetic and miraculous activity there was during those times. They did not have the Bible, but they were not short on God’s revelation. There were schools of prophets, and when Queen Jezebel, known for her worship of Baal, tried to eliminate the prophets of God, at least a hundred survived. A hundred! Survived!

For ages and ages, I’ve thought there were Elijah, Elisha, and the prophets who wrote the books of the Bible. Period. Well, not so. Scripture records the names of some twenty prophets who were actively communicating God’s message during the era of the Kings of Judah and Israel, but there is also mention of various schools of prophets or sons of the prophets living together in a kind of collective it would seem.

I’ve wondered about those. Did they inherit their job or need to be instructed in order to hear God’s voice? Did they volunteer to be prophets? Or were they “schools of prophets” like geese are gaggles? Just kidding on that last one.

Mostly the prophets recorded by name seemed to be called by God though Elijah apparently called Elisha to be his disciple, his heir apparent. I suspect those in the schools or the collection of sons of the prophets, then, would also have been called by God.

And the miracles seemed to be plentiful. Elisha was God’s instrument for an abundance of supernatural activity. He gave direction for Naaman, the Aramean military leader, to wash and be cleansed from his leprosy. Conversely, he spoke a word and his greedy servant Gehazi contracted leprosy. He gave a widow directions to gather many jars in order to collect a miraculous multiplication of oil to provide for her financial needs.

He spoke a word and a barren couple conceived. Years later, the son who was born died, and Elisha prayed and he was brought back to life. During a famine, he saved the lives of a group of those prophets by miraculously countering a poisonous ingredient inadvertently thrown into their stew pot. He even made iron float so that one of those sons of the prophets could retrieve an ax head that fell into the river.

There’s more—he repeatedly told the Israelite king where the Arameans were planning an ambush so he could avoid them. When the Aramean king sent a force to capture Elisha, he prayed and God opened the eyes of his servant so he could see the amassed forces of God surrounding the enemy. Then he prayed again and God blinded the eyes of the Arameans so that they didn’t know where they were and meekly followed Elisha where he wanted to take them.

I could go on. The point is, during this one period of history, there was an abundance of prophetic and miraculous activity. If people needed signs to believe in God, He gave those in abundance.

And yet, this period was one of great apostasy and ultimately of judgment. The various Israelite kings led their people astray. Baal worship was not just tolerated, but the religion of the ruling house. They instituted male cult prostitutes and prophets of Baal and sacrifices to Baal. They branched out to include worship of female fertility deities.

All the miracles and all the prophecy didn’t change the hearts of the kings bent on disbelief. Nevertheless, God was faithful to make Himself known. He gave them chance after chance to turn to Him in repentance. He allowed enemy armies to assail them, then miraculously delivered them; He brought famine then sent rain to relieve their drought. He foretold what He was about to do so that there would be no doubt His hand was on them. He wanted them to know that He is LORD.

And still, most went their own way.

All the evidence in the world can’t change a hard heart or make a blind man see. Instead, a person away from God must cry out to Him to give him sight, to soften his heart.

God alone can heal and save, but He doesn’t force anyone to come to Him. He pursues with everlasting love, and His abundant revelation—His prophecies and His miracles—testify of His faithfulness

Published in: on November 6, 2014 at 6:35 pm  Comments (4)  
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The US National Day Of Prayer


867434_prayer_at_sunrise

In a country with the freedom to worship when and how and who we please, it seems a little odd that we have a designated National Day of Prayer. I’m glad we do because it makes me think more about the subject, but part of my thinking is that, for most of us, the National Day of Prayer means very little.

For one thing, prayer, as an activity in and of itself, has no efficacious value. Isaiah illustrated that most clearly in a passage about idols:

Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend. No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, “I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!” (Isaiah 44:14-19)

Praying to a block of wood, Isaiah is saying, has no value. Clearly, then, value is not in the act of praying.

Consequently, in a country with people of many faiths, telling us all to pray on a certain day, accomplishes nothing. The only prayer that matters is the one offered to a Person interested enough to listen and powerful enough to do something about what He hears.

But should we limit ourselves to pray to such a Person on one day out of the year? Surely, if we knew President Obama would take our phone call every morning and would do all within his power to answer our requests, we wouldn’t limit ourselves to a phone call one day a year. Why then would we make prayer a one-day event?

Clearly it should be a regular part of our relationship with God, who commands us to pray, who promises to hear us, and who delights in giving us what we ask. Anything, that is, which we ask in His name, according to His will.

No, that isn’t a formula for getting what we want. The specifics God laid down about prayer are relational doors. We are to ask “in Jesus’s name” not as a cool way to bring a prayer to an end or as a magic mantra to insure that God has to come through and deliver on His promises. We ask in Jesus’s name in the same way that we might go to an exclusive “by invitation only” dinner. We reach the door and give our name. Oh, but we’re not on the list. Rather, the guest of honor invited us to be in His party, so we give His name. Because of His name we are ushered into the banquet hall and seated at the head table. In the same way, we ask God for things, not because of who we are but because of who Jesus is.

Consequently, we can’t ask Him for things that would contradict who Jesus is. Well, we can ask, but God isn’t going to hear us if we ask for selfish things in His Son’s name. Jesus is not in the business of rubber stamping all the selfish requests people make of the Father.

Which brings us to praying according to God’s will. Jesus Himself before He went to the cross asked for something He didn’t get–to bypass the sacrifice set before Him. But God actually did answer Jesus’s prayer because He stipulated that He wanted God’s will more than He wanted what He wanted. It was Jesus’s way of prioritizing. He wanted A and if God wanted A for Him, then Yea! But if He wanted A and God wanted B, then Yea! Jesus would change His mind and want B also. Because God’s will mattered more to Jesus than His own will did.

In praying according to God’s will, essentially we are stepping back and agreeing that God knows more than we do, is good, loves us, and won’t make any mistakes. It’s as if we’re looking at our lives and our circumstances through a straw, but God sees the entire picture. From our straw perspective we ask God for what looks like the thing we need or want. God answers from his entire picture perspective, however, which means we don’t always get what we thought we wanted.

Joni Eareckson Tada is a good example of this principle. When she broke her neck as a seventeen year old, she prayed to be healed. She was an active, athletic teenager who couldn’t imagine how God could possibly want her to spend her life in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. Eventually, however, she bowed before His will, and today, forty-five years later, she gives testimony of her willingness to do whatever He asks of her, no matter how hard it seems. That has included living with chronic pain and the onset of cancer.

So Joni is an example of answered prayer? She is, because she testifies of God’s love and goodness and mercy for her as she has gone through suffering. He has given her according to His will, and as a result, Joni has reached thousands upon thousands of hurting people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Her impact for eternity is far beyond anything she could have imagined as a teen.

So, a day of prayer? Sure, it’s good to be public about our thoughts on prayer. But it’s much better to make prayer a key ingredient in our relationship with God. We wouldn’t think of limiting conversation with our spouse to one day a year. So, too, a strong relationship with God is built by talking to Him each and every day, not just once in a public forum because it’s the US National Day of Prayer.

Broken Cisterns


Cistern_getting_waterAccording to Wikimedia “a cistern is a tank for storing water, usually covered. It may be as small as a toilet cistern or large enough to be essentially a covered reservoir.”

God, through the prophet Jeremiah used cisterns as a metaphor to show His people’s relationship with Him.

For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

696415_mountain_waterfallI don’t know about you, but if I were in need of water and had to choose between “living water”–the kind that flows freely, abundantly, cleanly–and water stored in a cistern, I’d take the former every time.

But God didn’t just accuse His people of choosing cistern water over living water. They were making for themselves broken cisterns–ones that couldn’t hold water at all. In other words, since we need water to live, they were abandoning the source of life in favor of their own empty effort.

What a great picture of Humankind’s attempts to make it without God. We dig and work and build and produce and save, but in the end we go out like we came in–alone.

Our own efforts to provide the love, security, purpose, sense of belonging that we all need, net us dry ground. Furthermore, one person’s attempt to do religion is no better than another person’s rejection of religion.

Water isn’t found in man-made activities. We can’t give up enough for Lent or fast often enough or even serve in homeless shelters often enough to get the water we need.

The Jews Jeremiah was talking to had left worship of the LORD their God and were serving false gods, made with their own hands. They couldn’t see how silly it was for them to pray to a statue that they had carved from a block of wood, one that could not walk or talk, and certainly could not give them Living Water.

But people in contemporary Western society aren’t any smarter. We think happiness will come if we just have enough money, just get the right job, just marry the right person, just have freedom or protection or safety or health. We go all in on things that are temporary, ephemeral, over which we have little control.

God tells us we can’t do it, that He’ll provide. But like little children we say, No, no, let me, I want to do it. So we’re hacking away to dig out these systems we think will make life make sense or fill up our loneliness or at least get us through to the weekend. It’s a sad way to live, trying to squeeze water out of the muddy mess we make.

Especially when we can turn and enjoy Living Water in abundance.

Published in: on April 4, 2013 at 6:42 pm  Comments Off on Broken Cisterns  
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