Our Amazing God

Blogger friend InsanityBytes recently posted an article entitled “Moving Mountains” in which she discusses the difference between wishful thinking and prayer. My immediate thought was—God. The difference is dreaming of something and asking God for something.

That thought started me thinking about answered prayer. I’ve had atheists before challenge me to name an answered prayer. I don’t generally write my prayers down. I’d be writing all day. And a lot of times I don’t know how God has answered prayer. But once in a while, He is gracious and gives me a peek into what he’s doing with my requests. Mine and others, no doubt.

Note, these answers to prayer are not because of me. They are because of God, who laid the need on my heart (and likely on other believers’ hearts) and prompted us to pray, because He delights in including us in His work, then answered those prayers in a powerful way.

For instance? Some time ago, because of a prompt in a prayer journal I was using, I started praying for believers who live in places that persecute them. As part of my prayer, I started asking for the pastors of those churches to receive training in the word of God so they don’t get sucked into false teaching.

So not long after I started praying for this, a particular pastor here in the US said he was leaving his ministry because he felt the need to go abroad and help train pastors in places where they don’t have great study tools or easy access to schools that will train them.

Today I learned that a whole ministry has begun with one pastor here making his study tools available for use—by anyone but especially by pastors around the world. The UK arm of his ministry is heading this up and undoubtedly these “how to study the Bible” tools will equip hundreds and hundreds of pastors from China to Iran and beyond. What an incredible answer to prayer.

Another prayer was from years ago. In 1990 missionary Luis Bush with Partners International referred to the 10-40 window, by which he meant people living between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator. Generally the countries in this window have limited access to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ironic, since it includes the Middle East where Jesus lived.

According to Wikipedia,

Roughly two-thirds of the world population lived in the 10/40 Window, and it is predominantly Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, animist, Jewish, or atheist. Many governments in the 10/40 Window are officially or unofficially opposed to Christian work of any kind within their borders.

Back those 30 or so years ago, the idea was to pray because we could not go.

Well, a great deal has happened in that region since 1990. How many of those technological changes and regime changes and wars and revolts have allowed the gospel message to penetrate this closed window? More than we may be aware of.

But I want to highlight one specific, from God only, answer to this prayer. Many Muslims have reported having dreams that have brought them to the Bible or to someone who had a Bible and could explain it. These personal reports are especially powerful because as Nabeel Qureshi explained in the expanded edition of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Muslims place a great deal of emphasis on the meaning of dreams. Nabeel himself reported having several confirming dreams that convinced him God was the God of Christianity, not Islam.

He was careful to add that dreams are not replacements for Scripture. But God uses them to draw people to Himself.

And why shouldn’t He? In Biblical times, God spoke to Joseph, Mary’s future husband, in a dream, more than once. He spoke to King Nebuchadnezzar through more than one dream, and to Joseph. He spoke to Daniel through dreams, and the magi when they were about to return home.

My point is, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Why shouldn’t He communicate with people today through miraculous means? I know this is controversial for some Christians who believe the “ecstatic gifts”—the miraculous things the Holy Spirit does—ceased to take place once we had the Bible.

But evidence seems to be on the side of increasing dreams that open people up to the truth of the Bible. And these people just happen to live in the 10-40 window. Is that not an answer to prayer of God’s people?

Why would we relegate this amazing phenomena to the the trash heap of coincidence? Why should we suspect that these people turning to Christ are lying about their dreams and about the reason they are turning to find the truth about Jesus?

Someone who does not believe that God hears and answers prayer can pooh-pooh a dramatic change in the fortunes of the people in the 10-40 window that allows people who once had no contact with Christianity to now have access to the internet, to have missionaries in their country, to travel to countries that allow Bibles and preaching. But believers should know better.

Would these things have happened without prayer for the 10-40 window? We can’t know. But we do know God hears and answers prayer. He prompts us to pray in the first place because He wants to do a work that includes us.

Think about it. We can pray for God to move a mountain, then when He does, are we going to say, Well, it’s probably a natural phenomenon that caused it to move and it would have done so even if we hadn’t prayed.

If we believe God answers prayer, why would we question the answers we can see? Sure, God does use all kinds of means to answer prayer, but that fact should not mask His involvement. He is as amazing today as He was when Jesus turned water into wine, when He multiplied the loaves and fish so they fed more than 5000 people, when He calmed the wind and waves. That’s the God who lives in the heart of every believer. Pretty amazing, isn’t He!

Published in: on February 4, 2019 at 5:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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False Teaching/False Teachers

offerings to idolsI’ve been thinking a lot about the people of Israel and their propensity to copy the nations around them. God warned them time and time again to refrain from aping their behavior and traditions, particularly their worship of false gods. But the people God had chosen to be His representative among the nations simply didn’t like being “a peculiar people.” They wanted to fit in, to be like everyone else.

I think that same tendency infects the church in America, too. We don’t like being on the outs with our culture. I think our propensity to be accepted, often in the name of “reaching the lost,” leads to or opens us up to false teaching.

Any one who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If any one comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting …
– II John 9, 10 (NASB)

I’m glad the verse mentioned “the teaching of Christ” because surely Christians of various denominations, and even within the same denomination, disagree over doctrine. It would be easy to conclude that this verse means we have a green light to pick the one or two people we find who agree with us on every doctrine and disengage from every other Christian.

That in itself is a false teaching.

Once again, I am mindful that Scripture needs to be taken in its totality. There is not one verse or one principle that can become our focus to the exclusion of others without leading to error.

That being said, I do see an increase of false teaching and false teachers—teaching and teachers that do not comply with the message of Christ, whether uttered by Him directly or explained by the apostles, illustrated by Biblical types, or prophesied by the prophets.

Like, for instance? I’m glad you asked. 😀

  • Universal salvation.
  • Christ said He was the way, the truth, the life and no one comes to the Father except by Him. Throughout Scripture, that message is illustrated—from the Passover Lamb to the serpent lifted up in the wilderness to save those who looked on it, and lots, lots more.

  • God wants all His children to be healthy and wealthy.
  • Christ said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt. 6:24, NASB) Again, the principle is throughout the Bible, the biggest evidence being Christ’s clear teaching that His kingdom is an eternal one. Paul teaches that he has learned to be content in plenty or in want, that contentment with godliness is great gain. Granted, the people of Israel enjoyed conditional physical blessings, but their relationship with God pointed to the Savior. You could think of their journey as a type and the promised blessings the reward we have waiting in Heaven. Or you could think of their conditional physical blessings something unique to the Israelites. But to think of them as a pattern God wants to employ in His dealing with individual Christians is to ignore the New Testament.

  • If a person ever in his lifetime prayed a prayer of repentance, no matter if he returns to the sin and ignores God the rest of his days, he is a Christian.
  • This is nothing but a unique twist on a works gospel, the work being a prayer. People will counter this by saying that, no, it isn’t the prayer, it is the person’s faith that saves him. James says that faith without works is dead, so an unchanged life gives no evidence of the existence of faith. And doing anything doesn’t save us.

  • The Bible plus something else tells us what we need to know about God.
  • This “something else” could be the Book of Mormon, some creed, or tradition passed down through the ages. This is the very center of this topic. As early as John’s writing and also Paul’s these apostles warned about false teachers, people coming in and preaching a “different gospel.” In some cases, it was outward, like Peter not associating with the Gentiles because they weren’t circumcised and didn’t follow Jewish law (actually because he didn’t want to be censored by other Jews who looked down on Gentiles for those reasons). In some cases it was theological like the group claiming the second coming had already occurred. The point is, error comes in when human voices supersede Scripture.

  • Christ is coming back on [fill in the day/time].
  • More typically this distraction with future events has to do with figuring out who the Anti-christ is or when the tribulation will be or whether or not there will be a rapture. Oddly enough, Christ said He Himself didn’t know the day or the hour of His return. Never did He instruct His disciples to figure out these things. Rather, in parables He taught them to be ready—for the bridegroom to come, the landlord to return. Not, study to figure out when you think this will happen, but rather, do what you’re supposed to do while you wait. The only thing we are supposed to study are our times (check out Luke 12:54-57), so we can see … well, false teaching.Battleofthesexes

  • Women should be pastors too/should not be subjugated by the idea that they are to submit to their husbands.
  • The verses in Scripture that make a clear distinction between women’s and men’s roles are thrown on the heap of cultural application with no contemporary equivalent. Or they’re explained away. To fit our culture. In other words, we have to make God see things our way, rather than us seeing things God’s way. His way makes us look misogynist, so our culture tells us. And we care so very much about the opinions of the “learned.”

  • God couldn’t have created the universe(s) in seven days. Just for mankind. Hence we must adapt our beliefs about the origin of things to the science of the day.
  • I’m all for asking questions and I don’t think we should ignore science. But if science says one thing and the Bible says something else, such that the two cannot be resolved, then the Bible must be the authority we cling to. Fortunately, there are several theories that can resolve the differences. We can allow the Bible to interpret science for us, rather than the other way around.

    I’m sure if someone else were compiling this list they’d add other things, and maybe leave some of these off. In no way do I intend this to be an offense. But error is creeping into the Church. Too often we buy our cultural line that the highest value is tolerance. Coupled with the fact that the Bible clearly teaches unity, and we fall silent when someone stands up and preaches a different gospel.

    Perhaps instead we should reason together so that we are clear about the teaching of Christ; then we can stick to that.

    This post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in May 2007.

    Published in: on December 29, 2016 at 6:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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    The Way Of Salvation

    A recent Facebook discussion came up about salvation, particularly Inclusivism–whether or not God’s grace extends to people who, to our knowledge, have not heard the gospel preached.

    Proponents of a view known as inclusivism argue that while no one is saved apart from the redemptive work of Jesus, it is not necessary either to know about the gospel or to believe in Jesus for salvation. (“Is Belief In Jesus Necessary?“)

    Bible-openI see no teaching like this position in Scripture, so I am troubled to see this view taking hold with some Christians. Here are my concerns: are these ideas a “different gospel,” which Paul warned against? Does inclusivism honor humankind over God? Is this teaching a departure from the clear teaching of Scripture?

    Here are the thoughts I shared on Facebook (with some editing and some addition) which address my concerns to a degree.

    – – – – –

    Scripture teaches salvation is the result of God choosing us AND of us choosing God. I trust God to know the hearts of all humankind. He’s not going to hide from someone who would choose Him. I think that’s inconsistent with His nature as revealed by Scripture.

    The thing is, we don’t know who all has received God’s word in the past–and rejected it.

    I only recently learned that Church tradition says the Apostle Thomas went to India and evangelized many. How many Indians, then, went further east to spread the good news? We assume there was no missionary endeavor into places like China and Indonesia because they are not Christian cultures, but that’s merely an assumption on our part.

    What did the other ten Apostles do, the ones Scripture doesn’t tell us about? Did they sit home or did they go to the utter parts of the earth as commanded and evangelize those we think never had a chance to hear?

    We know that Philip evangelized an Ethiopian. Presumably he took the gospel to Africa. So how many African converts traveled south and west spreading the gospel? We assume none because we don’t see fruit. But that’s based on our limited knowledge.

    In addition, before the earth was divided, all men knew of God. Did they take that knowledge and teach their children to mock Him or love Him?

    And is it possible that God has a way of reaching people, preaching to people, that is beyond our understanding? 1 Peter 3:18ff certainly raises that question.

    There’s a key passage in Ezekiel that speaks to this very issue, I think:

    When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may die, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself. Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die, since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself. (Ez. 3:18-21, emphasis mine)

    I’m still mulling the divide between “wicked” and “righteous” mentioned in these verses since other passages tell us there is none righteous. But for the sake of this topic, it seems clear that those who aren’t warned don’t get a pass. They are still responsible before God for their unrighteous state.

    And even if there are people today who we think could fit the “righteous” category because of their sincere desire to seek God, this passage leads me to believe their sin, like that of all the rest of us, still separates them from God. In short, they need to be warned.

    But I’ll come back to my original point. I believe God is good, and wise and faithful and omniscient and all powerful–so He is more than capable of meeting those who seek Him, however He chooses to do so. I tend to think that is by sending someone to them to preach Christ and Him crucified–whether that’s a missionary or an angel (angels rescued Lot, after all) or the resurrected Christ Himself–He’s not going to turn His back on anyone except those who turn their back on Him.

    I personally think this issue has become hard because we live in a society that believes humans are good. We no longer think people deserve to die, though that’s what Scripture tells us. We believe people deserve to be rescued, that God was wicked for only saving Noah. But that’s an idea from the deceiver, I think.

    God certainly isn’t wicked, and He would have saved any other person who was righteous. And Noah preached that they might be saved, probably for as long as he was building the ark and perhaps for years and years before hand.

    In the end, I think it’s a matter of taking God at His word, much the way Abraham did: he believed God when He told him that Isaac would be the heir of a great nation AND that he was to sacrifice Isaac.

    So, too, I think we need to believe God means what He says that Jesus is the way, that He shows us the Father, that no man comes to the Father except through Him AND that God desires none to parish. He’s a good God and He’s not going to do wrong.

    We can trust God to deal with those we label “unreached” according to His lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness because He delights in these things.

    As I understand the Bible, those who are saved are those who believe that God gave His only Son Jesus who died once for all, the just for the unjust, that we might have peace with God.

    I believe in a big God who knows the hearts and minds of all people and who will not turn away those who draw near to Him. He’s told us in the Bible how He saves. Consequently, I believe He will bring the truth of Jesus to all who want to know Him.

    Is He limited? We in the West seem to think so. We can only conceive of God saving the “unreached people” by a means we understand–a reasoning away of clear statements throughout the Bible about humankind’s guilt and need of salvation which God provided through His promised Messiah.

    I choose instead to believe, “The Word of God stands forever” AND that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, nor His ways my ways, but that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than my ways, and His thoughts higher than my thoughts.

    Whatever ideas I have of solving the “unreached peoples” problem are tiny. God’s ways are right and best and will not violate His word. He is righteous and He is infinite, not limited nor unfaithful. He can be trusted to do what is right.

    Published in: on April 7, 2014 at 5:14 pm  Comments (17)  
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    Offensive Words And Offensive Actions

    Bill_of_Rights_Pg1of1_ACWhen the United States formed its constitution, the framers added a Bill of Rights. First on the list was freedom of speech, religion, the press, assembly, and petition:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Throughout history some definition of these freedoms was needed. For example, in the 1960s and 70s the courts determined that burning draft cards was “free speech.” Since then other illegal activity designed to protest this or that has been deemed “free speech.”

    On the flip side, more recently laws have come about to prohibit “hate speech,” which supporters want to say isn’t protected as free speech. Here’s one definition:

    “Hate speech is a communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence. It is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women” (US Legal).

    This idea that what a person says can be labeled as hate speech because it is “offensive” is a little troublesome. Might not atheists find statements by Christians that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, offensive? Might not homosexuals find it offensive if a Christian says homosexuality is sinful behavior?

    Already we have seen pro-abortion advocates take offense at the term “baby killers.” I admit, I bristle at that term too. But apparently being called a baby killer is more offensive than killing one’s unborn baby. The courts have said a woman has a right to kill her baby, but society says we do not have a right to say she’s a baby killer.

    Please understand, I am not suggesting pro-life advocates shout “baby killer” at pregnant women walking into an abortion clinic. It may be true, but it doesn’t seem grace-filled or loving, and I believe the Bible is clear that Christians should speak in a way that marks us as different from the rest of society.

    That being said, I’m concerned that “offensive words” are trumping offensive actions. Today when a Christian says homosexuality is sinful behavior, it’s almost a certainty that someone will accuse him of homophobia. The declaration that the act is sinful is offensive whereas the act itself is condoned, if not approved.

    What does that mean for the free speech of Christians who still believe in an absolute standard of right and wrong? Will there come a day when our religious liberty is curtailed because the statement of our beliefs is viewed as hateful? After all, when we say Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but through Him, isn’t that exclusive? And isn’t an exclusive attitude hateful? Well, no, not when everyone is invited to the party and those who don’t come exclude themselves, but I suspect that is a point which will be lost over time.

    The other side of the coin, of course is the part about offensive actions. How offended should a Christian be at abortion or homosexuality, pedophilia, sex trafficking, drug addiction, divorce, gossip, lying, bestiality, greed, or bribery?

    On one hand, I want to say, not offended at all. Sinners, after all, will act sinfully. Why should that offend me? On the other hand, if I love my neighbor as myself, I should care that others are wallowing in heinous lifestyles. I don’t believe sinful behavior is the best for anyone. I also believe there is forgiveness for all who repent and accept the payment Jesus made for our sin. Nothing is so egregious that He can’t cancel the certificate of debt, nailing it to the cross.

    As I write this, and struggle to figure out all the aspects of these issues, I realize that I am responsible first and foremost to God. Should I not stand up for His truth for as long as I am able?

    But what is that truth? As much as I want to see the unborn protected, the pro-life message isn’t the gospel. The overarching truth is that God loves the world and pursues sinners with the intention to bring them into relationship with Himself. He loves the unborn baby and He loves the woman about to abort her. He loves the doctor and the technicians performing the abortion. God wants them all to turn from their wicked ways and find redemption in Him.

    So how do we start? By repealing Roe v Wade? By convicting Kermit Gosnell? By pointing out the inconsistencies of abortion positions to other closely held principles? By evangelizing those who don’t know Jesus? By advocating for a discussion about abortion in the mainstream media? Yes to all of it and more because it’s all free speech and an extension of freedom of religion.

    But the true exercise of religion for the Christian means, in simplified form, loving God and loving our neighbor. Sometimes love involves a warning–the prophets are filled with warnings to the people they were addressing. Stop this behavior or that will happen. That’s loving. And I’m pretty sure, the warnings are not offensive to God, but the evil behavior is.

    Sugar-Coating Christianity in Fiction

    I listened to part of a writing instruction tape recorded years ago at a now-defunct writing conference. The author holding the seminar said first that writing, particularly for children, should be entertaining.

    Then he added this piece of advice: the writing should sugar-coat the message.

    Apparently this approach is based on the assertion that readers don’t want stories heavy on sermonizing. But this author’s solution was to “sugar-coat” the gospel or the moral or whatever is the point of the story.

    Sadly, I think this approach caught on. Rather than asking, “How can I best show the truth through story,” writers adopting this approach seem more caught up with how they can wrap truth in the fad of the day, be it humor or suspense or vampires or angels.

    I want to be clear here. I believe wholeheartedly that believers need to meet our culture where it’s at—which is why I write fiction, and in particular why I write fantasy. But I’m not trying to sugar-coat the truth.

    This may be a fine line, but I think there are significant differences. For one, there’s the artistic aspect. Themes are part of stories. To say we must sugar-coat a theme is to approach the idea of including theme as if it is something we are trying to slip past unsuspecting readers. Not only “something,” but something distasteful, though good for them.

    Sorry, but I don’t see truth as distasteful. And I don’t think writers should try to smuggle truth into a story. Instead, truth should be the vital gold thread around which the story is woven. If done so with skill, the story will be more beautiful because of it.

    I also think there’s a difference in substance. A story with sugar-coated truth is either adding unnecessary sugar, thus bloating a story, or forcing truth into a story that doesn’t require such.

    Truth, whether presented subtly or overtly, should be a necessary component for the sake of the story and the characters, not for the sake of the reader.

    There’s no sugar coating in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Lewis didn’t make Aslan a tame lion so the story would be more kid-friendly. He didn’t back away from the fact that Edmond would die unless Aslan stepped in. He didn’t back away from requiring Aslan to sacrifice himself for the wayward son of Adam.

    Truth should not be sugar-coated or tacked on. What ought to set Christian fiction apart from all other is that authors who know The Author have deeper truth to tell.

    This article is reposted from November 2009.

    What Are Christians Known For?

    Saturday I watched a TV show I’ve never seen before called “Eli Stone.” The title character is evidently a lawyer, and somehow (sorry, I wasn’t watching closely at the beginning) he got pulled into a case involving a young woman in need of a heart transplant. The doctors had discovered a donor, another young woman who had been killed in an auto accident. Her parents, supposedly devout Christians, signed the papers, but then learned that the would-be heart recipient was an atheist and withdrew their consent.

    Enter Eli Stone into the fray. He met with the parents to discuss the issue, and the wife explained the decision she and her husband had reached. The atheist was going to hell. Their daughter believed in Jesus Christ as her Savior and was going to heaven. They could not permit her heart to go to hell along with the atheist.

    Say WHAT?

    I have to admit, I was horrified. Is this really what the world believes about Christians? Think about all the things that we see to be true in this scenario: 1) the Christians had no concern for the lost young woman, in particular, providing her with a heart so she might one day have the veil lifted from her spiritually-blind eyes; 2) the Christians were selfish, wanting something for their daughter’s organ for the afterlife, while ignoring the needy in front of them; 3) the Christians were more concerned for their beliefs (albeit incorrectly represented) than for people.

    But here’s the kicker. While the Christians were depicted as ignorant and selfish, the dying atheist was shown to be loving and sacrificial. You see, the twist in the story was that a close friend of the dead girl produced emails showing that she had denounced her faith and was actually an atheist. When the would-be heart transplant recipient learned of this, she told Eli Stone not to disclose this to the girl’s parents. They’d lost their daughter, she said, and they shouldn’t also lose their image of who she was. Even though refusing to tell would mean she herself would die.

    So Eli Stone goes against the wishes of his client. When he again approaches the parents, he convinces them to change because he said, the atheist, by acting in a self-sacrificing way, was in reality as Christian as Christian could be.

    YIKES! I thought. Does the world actually see Christians the way the writers of this episode of “Eli Stone” do? Are these writers purposefully distorting Christian beliefs or do they honestly think Christianity is what they portrayed?

    If the latter, then where is the disconnect? How is it that we Christians are not getting the gospel out to the world?

    Belief in an after life was clear. Some mumbo-jumbo about Jesus Christ as a personal Savior. And self-sacrificial love that apparently anyone can co-opt. Throw in self-interest and a disregard for the needs of others, and you have what these writers were saying about Christians.

    Nothing about being sinners rescued by a True Heart Transplant. What a perfect metaphor that story could have been. Except the writers don’t know what Christians are all about.

    So, shouldn’t we be telling the good news in ways the world can understand?

    It’s why I write fiction.

    Published in: on July 13, 2009 at 10:14 am  Comments (15)  
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