Children Believe


427707_boy_and_his_grandpaChristians believe Jesus was completely God and Jesus was completely a man. I realized how such an apparent impossibility must sound to a rational mind. Or perhaps to a grown-up mind stripped of its creative wonder.

Children have that creative wonder and believe easily. I remember believing that the earth is round long before I saw a photograph of our round earth taken from space. I remember believing that one day my daddy would be President, and I remember believing that my brother could score a touchdown by dragging me across the goal line while I had the football.

When I learned that my dad had no interest in being President, I was disillusioned, I have to admit. And when I learned that my brother had figuratively, as well as literally, pulled my leg, I was disillusioned in another way. But the point for this post in recalling these childhood memories is to illustrate that I believed without requiring proof or explanation.

I believed the teacher who said the earth was round because she was the teacher! I believed my dad would be President because he was Dad. And I believed my brother’s version of the rules of football because he was my brother. Children believe easily.

Jesus said as much when His disciples tried to get people to stop bringing their children to Him.

“Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Mark 10:14b-15; emphasis mine)

Jesus was not saying we need to be childish, but childlike. Trusting. Not skeptical. That isn’t to say that skeptics can’t come to Christ.

Of His twelve chosen disciples, one was a skeptic. Thomas determined that he wouldn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he personally verified the fact with his own eyes. Can you blame him? I mean, he saw Jesus die. Most likely he saw them wrap his body for burial, put him in the tomb, and roll the stone in front of the entrance. Who wouldn’t be skeptical about this “He is risen” message?

Well, little children wouldn’t—not when they hear it from someone they trust. And adults wouldn’t if they are willing to hear what God says in the same way children hear—with wide-eyed wonder, with hope and expectation, with confident dependence.

The thing is, this kind of childlike faith does not replace reason. I believed my dad would become President up until the day when he told me why that wouldn’t happen. I didn’t keep believing in the face of contrary evidence. But here’s the important point—I learned from the very father I believed in. I went to him and asked him. The answer he gave me wasn’t the one I wanted to hear, but I knew he was telling me the truth. I knew I could still trust him.

Interestingly, God deals with us in a similar way. When we trust Him, we can ask Him all kinds of questions. We may not hear the answer we wanted, but we can be sure He won’t lie to us. We can be sure He’ll give us what we need when we need it.

I’m reminded of the story Corrie ten Boom told. She was struggling about whether or not she could handle some difficulty in the future. Her father helped her understand, by comparing the circumstance to when he gave her the train ticket she needed–not too soon but right when she needed it—that God would give her what she needed when she needed it.

Children are great question askers. They believe easily, but they also want to understand why. When Jesus said we are to become like little children, I’m confident He knew precisely what that entails, including their curious minds that want to know why. The great thing about God is that He satisfies the curious minds. In fact He authoritatively states that He is the Truth–the source for the answers to all our questions.

For people who want to make up their own truth, that’s not a satisfying statement. But like my brother who was quite inventive in coming up with his own football rules to benefit himself, there will come a day when those who live by their own truth will meet Truth. There will be no way to escape the fact that all those points they said they were scoring by using their own made up rules, count for nothing.

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

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Published in: on April 3, 2017 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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God Incarnate


Nativity_Scenes015

“And I will put enmity
Between you [the serpent] and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Rev. 12:9)

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus, not just because Christmas is approaching, though there is that, but also because on the Facebook atheist/theist group I visit from time to time, something came up about pretend Santa and “pretend Jesus.”

Jesus is not pretend, though it’s become more and more popular for atheists to say He wasn’t. However, there’s a great deal of scholarship that makes this fact clear—more even than I realized. If you’d like some specifics on that, listen to Lee Strobel and J. Warner Wallace discuss the subject.

But the fact that Jesus lived doesn’t of itself mean that everything else Christians believe, is true. The central point of the Good News is that Jesus, God’s Son, is the Seed God referred to in Genesis, Who will bruise the head of Satan. He did that by taking the form of sinful man, though He Himself knew no sin, and by bearing the punishment—death—which humankind earned. In the perfect triumphal twist, He rose from the dead, and will return at some unknown future time to claim His rightful throne as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

So. A lot going on as far as what Christians believe about Jesus. Was He a real person? Yes. Is He the Son of God? The Gospels say He is and the rest of Scripture confirms it, but they also say He IS God.

Both facts are true.

So is the fact that Jesus wasn’t pretending to be a man. He actually was a man. He ate and drank, cried, got tired, slept, wept, and ultimately died.

So God, but also man.

As if those claims weren’t hard enough of themselves, throw in the fact that Jesus’s mother was a virgin at the time she birthed Him.

Anyone who dismisses the supernatural must freak out at Christmas time because of all the outside-the-box facts about Jesus. Add in the angelic announcements—to Mary that she was going to have a baby, to Joseph that he should still take Mary as his wife, even though she was pregnant, to the shepherds that the Messiah was born that very day—and the star that served as a heavenly sign declaring the birth of a King in Judea, and there’s a lot of supernatural activity connected to the birth of Jesus.

The thing that seems so obvious but so overlooked is that all these claims could so easily have been debunked if they weren’t true. Take pregnant Mary, for example. If some guy had slept with her, how hard would it have been to disprove the idea that she was a virgin.

But say he had personal reasons for keeping his indiscretion to himself, what about the shepherds and their claim to have seen angels? How else could their decision to leave their flocks be explained? Or that they “just happened” upon a baby in a manger, as they’d been told?

What about their story made people believe them? And if they didn’t believe the lowly shepherds, why wouldn’t they come forward and expose this band of frauds? If someone else made up the story about them, why didn’t they stand up and clear their name?

Well, of course, none of this was written down until years after the fact, someone could argue. But without doubt the account of Jesus’s birth was not new information when the gospels came into being. Luke, for example, who wrote one of the two birth narratives said he investigated carefully in order to compile an account “just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:2)

The implication is that people who knew what happened were still talking about what they’d seen and heard at the time of Luke’s investigation.

The more I dialogue with people who reject God and Jesus and the Bible, the more I realize that what we believe is dependent upon who we trust. Atheists trust “the scientists” and Christians trust the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the people who have also come to faith in Christ.

The odd thing is, Christians don’t dismiss science as not true. In fact, many Christians played significant roles in advancing our scientific understanding. We trust science, but we trust the Bible more.

Atheists, on the other hand, have no place in their understanding for the supernatural. They don’t believe it exists because it’s beyond their scope of study. They’ll all believe in DNA and genome sequencing and black holes and the god particle, however. Not because they’ve seen any of those things but because someone else they trust says those exist and are real.

I’ve had discussions with atheists on line before, who say, If God really exists, why doesn’t He simply show Himself—end of discussion. But the fact is, He has shown Himself. And the very people He came to, did not believe Him. In fact they tried more than once to kill Him because He claimed to be God.

I have to admit, I’m baffled by unbelief. Christianity makes sense of so much. The one problem, the only real problem, is whether or not God exists as He says He does. The only way God can “prove Himself” is by revealing Himself. He has done so in as many ways as possible, culminating in His incarnation—He took on flesh to live among us that we might know Him.

Christmas provides we who believe in God Come Down the opportunity to explain what all the ruckus about the birth of a Jewish baby over 2000 years ago is all about.

Published in: on December 15, 2016 at 7:23 pm  Comments Off on God Incarnate  
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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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Tested By Fire


Fire is a refining agent. Cheap stuff burns up–paper, straw, twigs, logs. Gold, on the other hand, purifies.

The Apostle Peter alludes to this process in his first letter to the Christians of the first century. They faced a lot of persecution because of their faith, and he noted that fact:

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

According to Peter, faith is of greater value than gold because even gold will eventually perish. But faith, even when tested by the fires of persecution ends up bringing praise and glory and honor when we see Jesus.

It’s an amazing thing. This trust in God, this dependence on Him even in the worst of circumstances actually is cause for joy. Peter again:

and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8)

How ironic, then, when contemporary Western Christians approach trials as opportunities to express anger and disappointment toward God.

I do believe we should be truthful and of course that includes truthfulness when we’re talking with God. But there’s a difference accusing God because that’s how I honestly feel and confessing to God because that’s how I honestly feel.

The first might sound something like this: God, why did you let this unfair thing happen to me? I am so mad at You right now. I thought you were on my side, looking out for me. You really let me down.

The other might be something like this: God, this bad thing happened and it makes me so angry. I know that’s not an attitude demonstrating trust in You. I’m worried and fearful and want revenge. I know none of that brings you glory. Please, God, forgive me and help me find a way out of those debilitating reactions to a place of trust. Help me to find in You exactly what I need.

One reaction makes God out to be the culprit and the other recognizes Him as the rescuer. The first pushes Him away, the second draws near to Him for help.

The bottom line is, accusing God of wrong doing, no matter how honest the person is being about their emotion, is still saying about God what is not true. James says, “For God cannot be tempted by evil and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” God does not do evil. How then is it honest to express anger toward God by accusing Him of something He is not?

I’ve heard Christians, time and time again, toss off their tantrums as something God is big enough to handle. The issue is not whether God can handle our sin. We know He canceled our sin debt at the cross. The issue, instead, is whether we should justify our sin and even applaud it as being real.

It’s much the same as the church in Corinth boasting about their tolerance of sin in their church. We today act as if we are doing some great good to hurl angry charges at God because … well, because we feel angry and we need to be real with Him.

What happened to trusting God in the midst of trial?

Here’s what the prophet Habakkuk had to say about the matter:

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. (Hab. 3:17-18)

Where’s the exultation of the contemporary Western Christian? I fear it is reserved for our honest emotions we hurl at God rather than for He who is with us when the waters and the rivers overflow, who walks with us through the fire and flame.

How sad that we rob ourselves of His comfort and presence and even protection because we’re so busy venting our honest emotion.

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

This post was first published here in June 2012.

Published in: on April 8, 2016 at 6:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Lesson Of The Bee


Some time ago, I had a bee find its way into my bedroom. I don’t relish killing bugs, and less so bees, but this one was in my bedroom! What to do?

I ran through my options as I watched the angry little critter buzz to the top of the window screen, find no opening, and buzz back to the bottom. Again and again.

At last I figured out a way to avoid killing him. From the cupboard, I pulled down a goblet, then retrieved an envelop that fit nicely over top. I held the glass stem and approached the bee still bouncing against the screen in a futile attempt to zip outside.

In one quick move, I plopped the goblet over the wayward wanderer. As he flew into the bowl looking for escape, I slid the envelop between the screen and the lip of the glass. Got him!

Earlier he seemed mad. Now he buzzed with vicious frenzy.

Poor little guy, I thought. Wasting all that energy, so mad he’d sting me if I gave him the tiniest opening. Yet my only intention was to help him get exactly what he needed, the very thing he’d been looking for.

And then it hit me. So often I act just like that bee. I find myself in a mess of my own making and try furiously to free myself, often repeating the same futile steps over and over. Then, when things seem to get worse, not better, I rail against God, not realizing that He’s using the very circumstances I hate for my good.

How much simpler if I obeyed God and refrained from grumbling and disputing, if I trusted Him instead of blaming Him, if I turned to Him in dependence instead of away from Him in stubborn willfulness. After all, my buzzing about is no more profitable than was that little bee’s.

God, on the other hand, sees the big picture, knows what’s best, and has much more regard for me—love, actually—than I had for the miscreant I set loose from my bedroom.

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” Philippians 2:14 says. Now there’s a novel idea. 😉

What does me in, though, is what Paul says next:

so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (v 15; emphasis mine).

By this one thing, refraining from grumbling or disputing, we will accomplish what Christ called us to do—serve as lights in the world, even the crooked and perverse world.

I’m thinking the first grumbling or disputing I need to eliminate is any directed at God. We’re so quick in our culture to say that it’s OK for us to rail against God. He understands. He forgives. He’s big enough to handle it. He knows what I’m thinking anyway, I might as well say it. We’re just being honest.

Actually, no. While God does understand and forgive, while He’s certainly “big enough” to handle my puny complaints, while He already knows my heart, it’s still not right for me to accuse righteous God of doing what is not good. And where in Scripture to we learn that God values our honesty more than our trust?

What I should do when thoughts of disgruntlement come into my mind, is confess them and seek God’s forgiveness.

Who am I to accuse God of wrong doing, or of falling down on the job, or of not keeping His promises? I’m really no different than an irate bee buzzing madly to get what I want, ignoring the hand stretched out toward me.

I don’t want to be that bee any more.

This post sans some small additions and revision first appeared here in August 2011.

Published in: on March 18, 2015 at 7:12 pm  Comments (3)  
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Have Thine Own Way, Lord


cryingbaby-452511-mThe lyrics of the old chorus “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” ran through my mind. It’s a song the prophet Jeremiah would have probably been comfortable singing. Isaiah too a couple generations earlier. It’s essentially a song of submission, a recognition that God is the One in charge.

I think of the many ways our culture has taught people that they are in fact in charge—over their own lives (“I did it my way”), their gender choice, their successes, their future (“you can do whatever you put your mind to”) and even over the planet (“lessen your global footprint”).

So to hear Christians say, Not my way, but God’s, must sound like insanity (nod of recognition to InsanityBytes 😉 ). It is most certainly countercultural, a statement that contradicts what people in government, education, psychology, sociology, business, law, entertainment, or just about any other field are saying.

A couple things are apparent:

1) God doesn’t run a democracy. He’s not asking us finite, mortal, limited creatures what we think He the infinite, eternal, unlimited Creator should do.

2) God’s ways and my ways don’t always sync. If they did, I could sing, Our way is the best way, or some such thing. But no. The fact is, in many circumstances I’d much prefer something different from what God calls me to. There are times, for instance, I’d like to punch people out, or at least curse them out. But God says I’m to leave retribution in His hands and I’m to love my enemy.

I can guarantee you I’d much prefer wealth over poverty, fame over obscurity, pleasure over pain, power over weakness, and other such contrasting values. But God turns what I want on it’s head. He says there is treasure in heaven, that when Christ who is our life is revealed then we will be revealed with Him in glory, that when we are weak then we are strong. In other words, what I want, He says I’ll find in an eternal way.

But that leads to the next points.

3) God’s ways are better.

4) God doesn’t think short term.

5) He isn’t trying to placate a crying child. He’s forming disciples.

Children are the ones who grab the toy only to throw it to the floor a second later. They want what they want, but they don’t actually know what they want. In fact they can scream and cry, but they can also be easily distracted so that they forget why they were so upset moments ago.

God isn’t trying to appease our demands by promising better things in heaven. What He wants to give us starts right now. He wants us to look forward to the treasure in heaven, but He also wants us to experience the riches of knowing Jesus here and now.

He wants to mold us in the likeness of His Son.

He wants us to enjoy the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives when we’re at the end of our own resources. He wants us to experience the peace that surpasses understanding when we trust Him who knows us and loves us.

So with a thankful heart, I sing, Have thine own way, Lord:

Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thine own way;
Thou art the Potter,
I am the clay.
Mould me and make me
After Thy will,
While I am waiting,
Yielded and still.

Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thine own way;
Search me and try me,
Master, today.
Whiter than snow, Lord,
Wash me just now,
As in Thy presence
Humbly I bow.

Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thine own way;
Wounded and weary,
Help me, I pray.
Power, all power,
Surely is Thine,
Touch me and heal me,
Savior divine.

Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thine own way;
Hold o’er my being
Absolute sway.
Fill with Thy Spirit
Till all shall see
Christ only, always,
Living in me.
— Adelaide Addison Pollard, 1907

Published in: on March 13, 2015 at 7:34 pm  Comments Off on Have Thine Own Way, Lord  
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Who’s In Charge, The Potter Or The Clay?


Clay_artist_workingAtheists say God doesn’t exist but then hurl accusations at Him as if He does. There’s a two-prong attack I’ve seen: on one hand it’s, why doesn’t your god stop the bad things that are happening in the world; but then they see something like His action against the Amalekites to stop them from inflicting more wickedness on the world and it’s, Why is your god genocidal?

The amazing thing is, a group identifying as Progressive Christians takes a similar approach. They wrestle with some perceived dichotomy between God’s actions in the Old Testament and Jesus’s teaching in the New Testament.

The thing is, there is no such dichotomy. Jesus didn’t soften the truth displayed in the Old Testament that God is a just Judge and sinners will one day find themselves under His judgment.

This answer is not satisfactory to these Progressives because they have determined that they know better than God. In other words, they, the clay, have determined that they know better than the Potter and that they need to tell him where he messed up.

It’s such hubris!

And yet we get people saying things like, there’s a “growing concern among a segment of Evangelicalism over this issue [God’s perceived genocide].” (commenter to Mike Duran’s Facebook Discussion) The implication is that it’s just come to light that God did such a heinous thing as to order King Saul to wipe out the Amalekites and the powers that be in that segment of Evangelicalism are looking into it more closely.

There is so much wrong with this kind of thinking, starting with the attitude toward God.

Is it really so hard to trust His evaluation of the Amalekites? Do we think we are in a better position to judge their hearts in order to determine if they deserved God’s judgment?

On top of that, do we not believe that the wages of sin is death? Why do we think God is somehow unfair for carrying out the very judgment He’s told us sin brings?

But above all might be this idea that we, the created can bring accusation against the Creator. Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, brought up the incongruity with an analogy: the potter and the lump of clay he’s fashioning.

First he addresses the atheist’s position:

Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the LORD,
And whose deeds are done in a dark place,
And they say, “Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?”
You turn things around!
Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,
That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”;
Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”? (Isaiah 29:15-16)

He followed up with a rhetorical question that could be directed at Progressives:

“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—
An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth!
Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’” (45:9a)

Jeremiah picked up on the analogy in his prophecy, using it to address the very issue these Progressives are accusing God of:

Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.

Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. (Jeremiah 18:3-10).

If that weren’t enough, Paul takes up the same analogy in his letter to the Romans, demonstrating God’s sovereignty over humankind, whom He created:

who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? (Romans 9:20-21)

These rhetorical questions carry the assumption that of course the one who makes has the right to make as he pleases.

Yet in our “progressive” twenty-first century thinking, we now believe we can hold God up to our standard and judge Him.

I remember the first time I understood this Romans passage. I was in college and a friend said something I didn’t agree with—don’t remember precisely what it was—but she said, God had the right to do what He wanted and opened her Bible to this passage. I didn’t want to believe it. I went back to my room and studied it out. I couldn’t deny the logic and I couldn’t pretend the Bible wasn’t saying God has the right, the authority, the position to do what He wants.

In the end it boils down to trusting Him to do what’s good or becoming His enemy and fighting Him over control of . . . well, of my lump of clay. Clay can’t exactly intervene on behalf of any other clay, and in actual fact, can’t do anything about its own condition either.

But here’s the thing: the more I trust God, the more He shows me the purpose and plans and power He’s ordered for me. I’m to be His ambassador, I’m to represent Him before the world, I’m commissioned by Him. In the end, it’s an assignment I know I can’t pull off—except God is the one in control. My overriding job is to trust Him and let Him work through me.

Published in: on February 18, 2015 at 6:27 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Simplicity Of The Gospel


baby-in-car-seat-893656-mSometimes I get bogged down with theology. Ought we to baptize infants or only believers? Have the “ecstatic gifts” ceased or are people who hold to that view actually quenching the Holy Spirit? Did God create using the evolutionary process or in six twenty-four-hour days?

Then there are the questions atheists ask: why would God allow slavery or unfair treatment of women or the killing of whole people groups or the suffering of Job or the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart? Then there’s the “did Jesus really exist,” kinds of questions or the “what makes the Bible different from other holy books” kinds of questions.

There are answers to a lot of these, but to get to them, a person has to understand the Bible as a metanarrative. As much as I hate jargon, that word works pretty close to perfect. Meta is a prefix meaning “denoting something of a higher or second-order” and narrative means “a spoken or written account. In other words, we can read about Adam and Eve but it doesn’t stand alone; it fits into the higher or “second-order” account.”

In thinking of the Bible as one story, a person gets a glimpse of the big picture. The sacrifices make sense as types of Christ’s great sacrifice; the priests make sense as the forerunner of the great High Priest and of the priesthood of believers; the yearly feasts make sense as the foreshadowing of the Banquet of the King. On and on.

Of course to understand Scripture at this level, a person has to think deeply, do some research (or listen to great preachers who help connect the dots), and of course, to read the Bible. Religiously!

But the problem is, someone who isn’t a student of Scripture may not like the answers to some of the questions. Yes, God predestines us and yes, we have free will.

HUH? Well, both are in the Bible, sometimes in the same verse. Sort of like Pharaoh hardening his heart but God hardening his heart. We want to say, Which came first? Who initiated this process? God says it’s both/and.

Those are hard answers to sell. They sound like we’re equivocating. But I’ve come to realize the dissatisfaction with hard answers about the Bible boils down to one point: do you trust the Author or not?

For someone who trusts God, the hard answers aren’t hard. They are what they are because God made it that way.

Remember, Jesus said, what we need is the faith of a child:

But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Mark 10:14-15)

Matthew said it this way:

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (18:3-4)

In other words, the gospel is not really all that complicated. It takes trusting God in child-like humility. It takes receiving the kingdom of God like a child.

What does that look like?

A child can sleep in the back of a car hurtling down the highway at 70 miles an hour and not worry in the least about the road conditions or the other cars or drunk drivers or debris in the road or any other thing. He trusts that his parents are taking care of him, and he doesn’t have a clue about operating a car anyway, so why be anxious?

dad-playing-with-his-baby-1-718403-mSame when her dad picks her up and gently tosses her toward the ceiling, then catches her and says, Wheeeee, or some such silly baby talk. The child laughs and cries “‘Gain! Do it, again, Dada.” She’s not thinking, What if he drops me this next time? Will I crack my head on the way down, break my wrist if I try to cushion the fall?

No, she is perfectly trusting. Perfectly.

That’s the simplicity of the gospel. We have a God we can trust perfectly. He has promised that those who believe in the finished work of Jesus at Calvary will be rescued from the dominion of darkness. We will have everlasting life. We will be with God for eternity. We have lots of promises for today too and a host of responsibilities, but the point is, the whole of the Christian life hinges on the simplicity of the gospel. If we don’t have the faith of a child, if we don’t humble ourselves like a child, we will flounder under the burden of unanswered questions or questions with answers we don’t like.

God makes it easy. He is completely trustworthy, completely good, kind, merciful, gracious, willing to forgive. Anything that would cause us to question God’s character is untrue or we have blinders on our eyes keeping us from seeing clearly.

The other part is, God doesn’t owe us an explanation. Many people point to Job and say, God never explained to him why he went through all the suffering he did. I happen to think God told him (in the white space between verses), but if he didn’t, so what. God doesn’t owe us perfect understanding. In reality, He’s told us what we need to know.

One thing we need to know is that His ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts. So no surprise that we don’t get everything that’s going on in the supernatural realm! Or even the natural realm! We are not God and do not have His omniscience.

The faith of a child, then says, “God knows and understands. I’m glad He’s in charge.” But too often we get caught up with ourselves: “I don’t know. I don’t understand. I wish I were in charge.”

How odd, isn’t it? In our prideful hearts, though we admit we’re clueless, we still want to call the shots.

The simple gospel is perhaps off-putting to CEOs and presidents and other Very Important People. Like Paul they have to say, “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Who wants their Ph.D. or their VeryImportantPerson Award to be tossed onto the rubbish heap?

As a rule, I don’t think fallen humankind does well with the simple gospel. It doesn’t leave us anything to do so we can crow later. We can’t pat ourselves on the back or work harder to get a rung closer to God by doing more or doing better.

Nevertheless, the gospel is simple. Not easy, mind you, but simple. All it takes is complete trust in God.

Published in: on February 12, 2015 at 6:27 pm  Comments (5)  
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Ambiguity, Thy Real Name Is Doubt


solid_rock_1751729Clearly I should have written this post before yesterday’s “Ambiguity, Thy Cousin Is Relativism” article, but when I started, I hadn’t realized what all I wanted to say about the topic. The more I think about it, the bigger the subject gets.

Here’s the bottom line: Satan wants to call into question what God has said. He wants us uncertain.

God, on the other hand, wants us to trust what He says. He wants us confident.

That’s why God’s word is compared in Scripture to a rock, why over and over passages in both Old and New Testament say God’s word is sure, tried, and everlasting.

Why, then, do Christians buy into “ambiguity”? Why opt for the sinking sand when a sure foundation is there for the taking?

Here are my best guesses.

* Today’s Christians, though we have access to excellent Bible translations in our own language, are ignorant of much of Scripture. We’ve fallen into the trap of letting the “professionals” do our Bible study for us. So we listen in church and maybe even read a devotion online, but we aren’t digging into Scripture for ourselves.

* We start with false presuppositions. One such idea is that God’s inspiration of Scripture didn’t mean the Bible is actually His Word. Rather, humans wrote it and copied it and interpreted it, so undoubtedly it’s changed over time and isn’t really an accurate reflection today of God’s heart (it has nasty things in it such as God’s wrath and judgment). Of course, that view completely hangs on the idea that God didn’t miraculously transmit His word to us. It requires a small view of God.

A careful study of Scripture uncovers the position which the Church has held down through the centuries—God spoke through His prophets and those to whom He gave His word in the first century, He has preserved and protected it, and His Holy Spirit continues to guide us into all truth. In short, the Bible is a miracle. This view requires an expansive view of God.

God wants us to know Him and chose, therefore, to reveal Himself to us. Otherwise, we could know about Him through what He has made, but we wouldn’t know Him since the finite cannot reach the infinite. Therefore to know God requires His initiative, His miraculous intervention.

* A third possibility is that we’ve heard people yank a verse of Scripture out of context and parade it before the world as “a sure thing,” only to end up disappointed. This kind of treatment of Scripture has happened for centuries, so it’s not new, but perhaps because of our technology, the claims of these charlatan’s or misguided teachers have reached a wider audience. The kinds of promises range from a date set for Christ’s return to miraculous healing to untold wealth to sinless perfection.

When someone believes they’re going to get a new car, like the evangelist tells them, and they trust with all their heart, but no new car comes their way, what do they do with those dashed expectations?

Even promises of a happy life if you remain sexually pure, marry, submit to your husband, might be dashed by a drunk driver plowing into your van on the way to the church retreat. Where’s the happy life now?

The problem isn’t God or His Word; it’s the false expectations created by someone reading a passage of Scripture and not plugging it in with the entire message of the Bible.

Those who have suffered know God is true though all men be liars. That’s right—those who have suffered. Suffering is often the dividing line. Some suffer, then curse God and die, as Job’s wife urged him to do. Others turn their eyes to heaven and ask God to forgive those tormenting them as Stephen did when he was stoned to death.

What’s the difference? Those who suffer and turn to God understand they don’t have to know why and their rescue doesn’t have to be now. They embrace the One who embraces them and allow Him to carry them through the valley of the shadow of death.

Those who shake their fists at God and turn from Him in anger want to rest in their happiness or their stuff or their healthy bodies, not in the arms of Him Who rescues from the dominion of darkness.

They want to walk on water, not because they want to come to Jesus, but because they want those in the boat to admire them for their ability to do what’s remarkable. Relationship? How cliche, they say. God isn’t knowable like that. He’s to be found by looking within and experiencing Him through the mystical meditation of contemplation.

Which is another way of saying, I don’t believe God is actually a person—he’s too other, too out there.

Well, yes, and no. God is Other, but because He is so much more than what we can imagine, He is also simultaneously Imminent. He is out there, but He is also near, even in our hearts. Which does not mean He is some kind of impersonal panentheistic deity.

Rather, He is very personal which we know because He came into the world as a person—a baby who grew to manhood, lived, loved, cried, died. And even in His resurrected body, He demonstrated His personhood—the marks in His body from His suffering, His repeat miracle of multiplying fish for Peter and his crew, the meals He shared, the bread He blessed.

So here’s the fact: if God sent Jesus, and if Jesus rose from the dead, then God is powerful enough to do anything and good enough to trust. Where’s the ambiguity in that? If I need to see the why or understand the wherefore, then God will show that to me. But if not, I still can trust.

And yes, trust can be scary at first. I think it gets easier the longer you go, snugged to the chest of the Good Shepherd who is gathering His sheep.

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Photograph by Rudi Winter via Wikimedia

The Call Of God


Paul_the_Apostle_conversionThe apostle Paul received the call of God. So did any number of other people in Scripture—Abraham, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah, Samuel. The thing about Paul’s call was that it was so public.

He saw a light so bright it blinded him for days. In fact, he needed a man sent by God to restore his sight. In the midst of that light, Paul heard a voice and what this Person said was a distinct message for him. First a question: Why are you persecuting Me?

Paul’s answer was natural: “Who are you, Lord?”

Then, The Call: “And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” (Acts 9:5b-6)

I suppose Paul could have said no. After all, Jonah did. Balaam and an unnamed prophet also resisted God’s directions. But the fact is, Paul obeyed. He did exactly what he’d been told.

And though the men with him saw the light (not in the way Paul did—they weren’t blinded by it), and though they heard the voice (not the way Paul did—they didn’t understand what the Speaker said), this call was for Paul alone.

It was dramatic. It was personal. It was convincing. We don’t have any record that Paul ever looked back from that moment on. He had been pursuing Christians to arrest them and bring them to judgment which would lead to their executions. Now he was a Christian who other zealous Jews were trying to put to death.

Despite his calling, others questioned what he was doing. Ananias, the man God sent to heal Paul, was the first one. God told him who he was to go to, and Ananias answered, Really, Lord? This man has been actively seeking to KILL Christians.

How like so many of us. We act as if we need to remind God of the dire circumstances we’re in or the offense against us or the plans we’d made, as if God had forgotten or maybe wasn’t aware. In reality it was Ananias who wasn’t aware:

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

I still marvel that the “before the Gentiles” part didn’t throw Ananias, but to his great credit, he obeyed God.

He wouldn’t be the last person to doubt Paul’s calling, though. When this new, enthusiastic convert arrived in Jerusalem, “he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26b)

Can’t blame them really, but I think that’s typical. We don’t know what the calling is that others have received. Really? we say; you’re going to be part of a prison ministry? or an unwed mother’s Bible study? or a medical ministry to Russia? or a missionary to … shhh . . . a Muslim country.

Even more, we might say, What? You’re giving up your writing to take care of your disabled sister-in-law? Or, you’re giving up your stable job to become a writer? Or, you’re turning your back on that great guy who loves you because you feel called to the mission field?

The part that’s inexplicable is the calling. Paul knew he was called, though no one else heard what he heard, and he acted accordingly. Eventually others realized he was serious, though they may not have understood. And certainly his old Pharisee buddies did not get it.

In fact, later in Paul’s ministry when he was called to Jerusalem, a number of his Christian friends and disciples, including a prophet, tried to dissuade him. Don’t go, they said. If you go to Jerusalem, you’ll be arrested.

Paul had listened to those warnings before. After his conversion, in Damascus, when the staunch Jews were planning to kill him, his disciples lowered him in a basket outside the city wall so he could escape. Another time, when there was a near riot because of his preaching, he wanted to enter the arena to speak to the crowd, but the other Christians told him no. He left Philippi because of death threats and traveled by himself to Athens to wait for his companions. So Paul was not a stranger to heeding the warnings of others.

But he’d been called to Jerusalem, so to Jerusalem he went, regardless that this calling didn’t insure a happy end or many converts—at least not in the short term.

That’s also true about following God’s call. There is no guarantee that there will be fruit from your labor. Jeremiah, in fact, knew going in that no one would listen to him. Yet God called him to warn the people of God’s judgment.

In other words, the veracity of God’s call can’t be confirmed by results that people here and now can see. The widows of the men martyred with Jim Elliott may well have thought initially that their calling had ended in fruitlessness. It hadn’t, but they couldn’t know that at the time.

But it can be “confirmed,” I guess you’d say, by Scripture in the sense that God isn’t going to call a person to do something contrary to His written word. He isn’t going to “call” someone to have an affair, for instance, or to preach a different gospel from the one Scripture teaches.

I’ll be honest—I don’t like this notion of God’s call. I know it’s easy to act on our own, to be deluded by our own desires, to want something so much we talk ourselves into believing God wants it for us too. I feel on shaky ground when someone else says they’ve been called. But the few times I’ve known God’s call in my life, it’s been clear—convincingly clear. But maybe not necessarily to everyone else around me. Undoubtedly there are some still saying, Really? I get that. I wish I had a bright light to point to.

Or not. Some scholars think that perhaps the thorn Paul wanted removed was his poor eyesight which, though restored, was never as good as it had been. Of course his poor eyesight could just as easily have come from one of the beatings he took or the times he was stoned and left for dead.

Either way, it’s clear callings come with a cost—people not always “getting it,” some even opposing it, and lots of people doubting you ever got such a calling in the first place. That’s OK.

Like Lucy in Prince Caspian, we can respond to the call of Aslan, even though others don’t see or hear, or we can fall in line and go the way everyone else is going. It’s a matter of trust.

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so—”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I—I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that . . . oh, well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you.” (pp 135-136)

Published in: on June 16, 2014 at 7:21 pm  Comments Off on The Call Of God  
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