Not A Religion


Christians are apt to tell others outside the faith that we do not have a religion; we have a relationship. It’s really true.

When I consider what is different between the beliefs of, say, my cousin who is a Buddhist or my cousin who believes in some form of Hinduism, and my faith, I come to this religion/relationship issue.

I thought perhaps our understanding of heaven and what happens after death might be a key component in our differences. After all, Christians have the hope of heaven. We don’t see eternal life as an endless merry-go-round of incarnated lives, hopefully getting better and better until we lose ourselves completely.

No, Christianity is vastly different. We have the same sad parting from a loved one who passes away, but we have the hope of a future with that person if they embrace the good news of Jesus. Our parting is temporary. Not a good-bye but a see you later, as blogger friend Wally so beautifully reminded us in his post about his father-in-law.

Certainly that is different. Different from atheists who think death ends life completely. Different from people who have no idea what happens when we die, or from ones who think we all end up in the same place, whatever that place might be.

Christians have a knowledge that leads to assurance and hope, despite the grief of parting. It’s unique, but it isn’t the only thing we have.

In truth, we only have the hope of everlasting life, which we will enjoy with our loved ones who also believe, because first and foremost we have a relationship. We have a unique connection with the God of the universe, made possible because of what Jesus Christ was willing to endure on our behalf. So here and now, in this present world, we enjoy this kinship with Jesus.

The Bible introduces all kinds of metaphors to help us picture what would otherwise be so mysterious we’d have a hard time grasping the significance and truth about our being reconciled with God.

Jesus describes Himself as a Good Shepherd, a Mediator, a Friend, a vine, and more. But most significantly, He calls Himself our brother while at the same time identifying us as children. In other words, there’s an element of kinship involved, which is really just another way of saying relationship.

I suppose the most obvious aspect of this relationship is the love of God which is poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit. His love is behind His taking care of our sin problem, and that’s something we enjoy now. The weight of guilt, gone; the fear of judgment, dealt with. Hebrews 2 says we’re set free from the slavery of the fear of death.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this relationship is that we Christians are growing up, spiritually speaking. We’re starting to want the things God says He wants. Sure, it would be nice to be rich and famous, but how much better to live in such a way that God receives glory and honor! How much better to love our neighbors, to see unbelieving people become the committed followers of Christ?

Why would we do that?

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” — Jim Elliot

We cannot lose the love of Christ.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

We cannot lose the joy and peace and patience and kindness and self-control that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Those things will only grow and fill our lives more fully as we get to know our Savoir more and more.

We cannot lose our forgiveness, our justification, our right standing before God.

We cannot lose the privilege of prayer.

We cannot lose God as our “victorious warrior.”

“The LORD your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. (Zephaniah 3:17)

I could go on. There is so much that our relationship with God through Christ gives us. Christianity is about as far from “religion” with its cold ritual and self-help efforts as imaginable. But friendship? Sonship (and daughtership)? Brotherhood (and sisterhood)? Those are the things that define our faith. And they are things we will enjoy without end!

The Problem Of Evil And God’s Goodness


Some atheists dismiss the existence of God in large part because of the existence of evil. One line of thinking is that if God existed He is either not good, not powerful, or not caring. He could not, they believe, be good, caring, and powerful and co-exist with evil.

What irony that these skeptics don’t turn around and scrutinize goodness. From where do acts of kindness from strangers originate, or the encouragement from a verse of Scripture, or the ethereal beauty of fog wisps floating in and out of trees or pier pilings?

Who can explain the transformation of the Huaorani people in Ecuador after Jim Elliot’s death? Or the message of forgiveness Corrie ten Boom preached after losing her father and sister under Nazis cruelty? Who can explain Job’s restoration of wealth after losing all or Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt after being sold into slavery?

In other words, who can explain Romans 8:28 – “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

How could a God who was not good work all things together for good? And Christians see time and again God’s hand working tragedy into triumph, suffering into sanctification, sacrifice into salvation.

Only God’s goodness can be credited with such miracles as Ruth experienced. The widowed immigrant at the edge of poverty becomes the great-grandmother to Israel’s greatest king, in the direct line of the Messiah.

Who could write such a story? People today would think it too … good, too sappy, too sweet. But that’s God, isn’t it. He goes beyond what we think could possibly happen. He gives more, loves more, sacrifices more.

He takes brokenness and makes a vessel fit for a king, takes a wayward woman and makes her His bride, takes discarded branches and grafts them into His vine.

He hunts down the lost, comforts the grieving, answers the cry of the needy.

Above all, He gives Himself. He sent His prophets to teach the rest of us what we need to know about Him. More, He Himself came in the form of Man, then gave us His Spirit and His written Word.

God’s goodness is imprinted on the world. We have the starry sky, the harvest moon, billowing clouds, flashing lightening, crystalline icicles, yellow-red leaves, falling snow, crashing waves, the rocky grandeur of mountains, and on and on. How can we look at this world and not see God’s goodness?

How can we think that the good things we enjoy are accidents of nature or results of human endeavor? Nature is morally indifferent and Mankind is marred. God alone is good, without wavering, without exception.

May He be praised now and forevermore.

Originally posted in 2010 under the title “God’s Goodness.”

But Even If He Doesn’t …


Joseph016I find myself drawn to heroes who faced impossible circumstances with unwavering trust. Some of them, whether people we know from Scripture or from extra-Biblical sources, died, some of them lived to recount for the world God’s miraculous provision.

The point is, going into their circumstances, none of these people knew what awaited them. The faith of both those who lived and those who died was equally strong.

Abraham was that kind of “strong faith” person—more than once. Initially God told him to go to a land He would show the then young Abram, so he went, not knowing where he was going.

Later, as an older man with the son he’d waited his whole life for, he went again, knowing where this time but faced with the task of giving up the son he loved so much.

We know this side of the event that God provided a ram to substitute for Abraham’s son and that He gave him the Promised Land to be the home of his people. But Abraham was on that side and didn’t see what we see. He made his choices based on his faith and trust in God.

That’s appealing to me.

Joseph spent thirteen years as a slave and kept his faith in God—not knowing he would end up the second in command to Pharaoh.

Daniel’s three friends had no way of knowing they’d walk out of a furnace heated so hot it killed the guards that put them inside, but they believed God was capable of rescuing them.

Daniel himself prayed even though he knew he’d end up with the lions, and didn’t know he’d survive the night.

On the other hand, Stephen died because he preached Jesus Christ as Messiah. Jim Elliott died taking the gospel to an indigenous people group in South America, Corrie ten Boom’s sister Betsy died in the German concentration camp despite her faithful witness and unselfish life.

Yet these people who don’t appear victorious are just as compelling to me. They faced death and they didn’t waver, they didn’t back down or give into the temptation to call in question God’s character.

I think the thing is, I realize that each of those people—the ones who came through the trial happily, even miraculously, and the ones who died, shared the same faith. They knew that God was trustworthy. They didn’t measure His goodness or love or mercy or provision or faithfulness based on the stuff of this world, not even their life breath.

Habakkuk said it best, I think:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

The point is, God is worthy of our exultation whether we have the stuff of this world or not. He is the God of our salvation. He has transferred us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son. What else do we need as proof of His love and care?

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

Published in: on September 14, 2016 at 6:52 pm  Comments Off on But Even If He Doesn’t …  
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When God Answers Prayer


Elisabeth and jim ElliotRecently on an atheist’s site, I think, or in the comments of another blog I follow, critics of Christianity—well, really, of God—brought up the idea that it is silly for Christians here in America to believe that God answers our every little insignificant prayer, especially in light of the fact that other Christians are in jail and have been beheaded or have had to flee their homes.

I understand that thinking, but in fact, it paralyzes the Christian so that we think we ought not pray for things. Because, the truth is, my needs are not as great as those in Indochina or in the Middle East or in Western Africa who are suffering for their faith.

But whose needs are “big enough” or “important enough” for God to hear and answer? I mean, is it only the Christian like Jim Elliot who is facing death that gets to cry out to Him? Or is it OK to pray if a friend or relative is facing death? Maybe we shouldn’t even bother about those things because what really matters is a person’s spiritual condition and eternal destiny. Maybe those are the only prayers that are “big enough.”

I think this is rather silly. God hearing our cry for help has nothing to do with the size of our problem but everything to do with Him being a loving God. He hears us and gives to us in our need because He’s delighted to provide for His children.

Do human parents only listen to their children if they’re bleeding and need to be rushed to the hospital? Hardly! They hear their child when she says, “Daddy, watch me!” Or, “Mommy, look what I can do.” Why? Because the child is so advanced, so capable? Not at all. They listen and respond because they love their son or their daughter.

God’s the same way.

But of course the critics will come back and say, So, your God doesn’t love those who are running for their lives in the Middle East?

That’s a wicked charge. God loves them and walks with them through the floods and through the fire. He’s with us in the valley of the shadow of death. Because he doesn’t swoop us away from the trials and suffering of this life doesn’t mean He’s abandoned us.

Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy may have seen God’s hand more clearly and felt His presence more unquestionably in the German concentration camp than they ever did in the comfort of their home in Holland.

Peter says those who suffer are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on them.

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:14)

Here in the US we have believers who have faced cancer and died, even as they praised God because His presence gave them comfort and peace. We have other believers who have faced cancer and lived, even as they praise God for His healing and sustaining power in their lives.

Are these Christians merely deluded, thinking that God is good no matter what the outcome? Well, not deluded. Actually Christians who see and understand and know that God does in fact keep His promise to work all things for the good of conforming us to the image of His Son, are able to see His hand at work in the trials as well as the joys.

God and sufferingThis little quote has been making the rounds on Facebook, and I think it’s one of the truest expressions of faith in God. We who know Him recognize that He’s not Santa Claus or Grandpa. And yet, He loves us, so we can ask for things that might seem trivial to other people.

To God they aren’t too insignificant to pay attention to because He loves us. What concerns us is of importance to Him.

Unless, of course, what concerns us is something we want to use selfishly or for our own aggrandizement at the expense of others. He’s not going to hear and answer prayer that takes us further from Him or is bad for us spiritually or will harm others.

The point is, God is good and not too busy for even a child’s request or an adult’s plea for something that may seem minor to others. If we’re being selfish, He’ll show us that in His time. And if what we ask for is something He’s going to say no to, He’ll still walk with us through the hardship. Because He doesn’t remove obstacles but helps us over them does not diminish His greatness or His goodness one iota.

Published in: on August 3, 2015 at 6:20 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Problem Of Evil And God’s Goodness


sunrise-over-the-field-1377784-mSome atheists dismiss the existence of God in large part because of the existence of evil. One line of thinking is that if God existed He is either not good, not powerful, or not caring. He could not, they believe, be good, caring, and powerful and co-exist with evil.

What irony that these skeptics don’t turn around and scrutinize goodness. From where do acts of kindness from strangers originate, or the encouragement from a verse of Scripture or the ethereal beauty of fog wisps floating in and out of trees or pier pilings?

Who can explain the transformation of the Huaorani people in Ecuador after Jim Elliot’s death? Or the message of forgiveness Corrie ten Boom preached after losing her father and sister under Nazis cruelty? Who can explain Job’s restoration of wealth after losing all or Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt after being sold into slavery?

In other words, who can explain Romans 2:28 – “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

How could a God who was not good work all things together for good? And Christians see time and again God’s hand working tragedy into triumph, suffering into sanctification, sacrifice into salvation.

Only God’s goodness can be credited with such miracles as Ruth experienced. The widowed immigrant at the edge of poverty becomes the great-grandmother to Israel’s greatest king, in the direct line of the Messiah.

Who could write such a story? People today would think it too … good, too sappy, too sweet. But that’s God, isn’t it. He goes beyond what we think could possibly happen. He gives more, loves more, sacrifices more.

He takes brokenness and makes a vessel fit for a king, takes a wayward woman and makes her His bride, takes discarded branches and grafts them into His vine.

He hunts down the lost, comforts the grieving, answers the cry of the needy.

Above all, He gives Himself. He sent His prophets to teach the rest of us what we need to know about Him. More, He Himself came in the form of Man, then gave us His Spirit and His written Word.

God’s goodness is imprinted on the world. We have the starry sky, the harvest moon, billowing clouds, flashing lightening, crystalline icicles, yellow-red leaves, falling snow, crashing waves, the rocky grandeur of mountains, and on and on. How can we look at this world and not see God’s goodness?

How can we think that the good things we enjoy are accidents of nature or results of human endeavor? Nature is morally indifferent and Mankind is marred. God alone is good, without wavering, without exception.

May He be praised now and forevermore.

Originally posted in 2010 under the title “God’s Goodness.”

Published in: on November 5, 2013 at 6:17 pm  Comments Off on The Problem Of Evil And God’s Goodness  
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Who Is A Hero Of The Faith?


I received a comment to my last post from Fred Warren that started me thinking. In part, he said,

I think Lewis would recoil at the suggestion that he is a “Hero of the Faith,” insisting instead that he is merely a “sinner saved by grace.”

I answered that I doubt most of the people we think of — and here I had the list of people in Hebrews 11 in mind — would have considered themselves as “heroes of the faith.”

But what qualifies one to be considered a hero of the faith?

I was thinking about “hero,” period. The other day a four-year-old called 9-1-1 when his dad cut himself severely (could have bled to death). He was called a hero.

And the staffer who helped the Arizona senator who’d been shot was called a hero, though he said he wasn’t.

Captain Sully Sullenberger who safely landed his plane in the river, saving everyone aboard, was called a hero. But so was the man some years earlier who climbed out of a plane that crashed into the water, only to dive back in and save two others before he himself perished.

Is saving life what qualifies as hero status? Or is it surviving horrific circumstances? Some called the Chilean miners trapped for months below the surface, heroes.

But this post is really about heroes of the faith — the Christian faith. Is Jim Elliot a hero of the faith because he died in his effort to tell the Waodani people about Christ? Or was Elizabeth Elliot the hero for going back into the jungles of Ecuador to carry on his work?

Is Joni Eareckson Tada a hero of the faith for enduring suffering all these years even as she praises God with everything she does?

Or how about a girl named Katie who at age 16 makes plans to do a year of mission work before going to college. Only that year turns into a ministry that continues six years later.

Here’s a snippet of the post the link above will take you to:

It is December and God has spoken very clearly about opening a ministry that sponsors 40 of the orphaned children in the village where I am working. This involves moving into a different house, ALONE. It is big and I cannot imagine how God will fill it up. I am lonely and I am anxious. But I am still trusting. He fills the house, and we now have 400 children sponsored.

The thing I notice is that faith isn’t something fearless people have. It actually is what God gives as an antidote for fear.

So that’s the faith part — fearful people trusting God regardless of their dangerous, deadly, crippling, lonely circumstances.

The hero part? I think it’s living in such a way that others want to be like you. I don’t think heroes set out to be examples for others — they just are.

Published in: on February 2, 2011 at 7:18 pm  Comments (4)  
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God’s Goodness


Men like atheist Christopher Hitchens dismiss the existence of God in large part because of the existence of evil. One line of thinking is that if God existed He is either not good, not powerful, or not caring. He could not, they believe, be good, caring, and powerful and co-exist with evil.

What irony that they don’t turn around and scrutinize goodness. From where do acts of kindness from strangers originate, or the encouragement from a verse of Scripture or the ethereal beauty of fog wisps floating in and out of palm trees and pier pilings?

Who can explain the transformation of the Huaorani people in Ecuador after Jim Elliot’s death? Or the message of forgiveness Corrie ten Boom preached after losing her father and sister under Nazis cruelty? Who can explain Job’s restoration of wealth after losing all or Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt after being sold into slavery?

In other words, who can explain Romans 2:28 – “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

How could a God who was not good work all things together for good? And Christians see time and again God’s hand working tragedy into triumph, suffering into sanctification, sacrifice into salvation.

Only God’s goodness can be credited with such miracles as Ruth experienced. The widowed immigrant at the edge of poverty becomes the great-grandmother to Israel’s greatest king, in the direct line of the Messiah.

Who could write such a story? People today would think it too … good, too sappy, too sweet. But that’s God, isn’t it. He goes beyond what we think could possibly happen. He gives more, loves more, sacrifices more.

He takes brokenness and makes a vessel fit for a king, takes a wayward woman and makes her His bride, takes discarded branches and grafts them into His vine.

He hunts down the lost, comforts the grieving, answers the cry of the needy.

Above all, He gives Himself. He sent His prophets to teach the rest of us what we need to know about Him. More, He Himself came in the form of Man, then gave us His Spirit and His written Word.

God’s goodness is imprinted on the world. We have the starry sky, the harvest moon, billowing clouds, flashing lightening, crystalline icicles, yellow-red leaves, falling snow, crashing waves, the rocky grandeur of mountains, and on and on. How can we look at this world and not see God’s goodness?

How can we think that the good things we enjoy are accidents of nature or results of human endeavor? Nature is morally indifferent and Mankind is marred. God alone is good, without wavering, without exception.

May He be praised now and forevermore.

Published in: on November 19, 2010 at 6:50 pm  Comments (5)  
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