Divinely Orchestrated

This year of 2020 has certainly turned out to be a year we won’t soon forget, and we are only half way through it right now. This past week I was thrilled to discover that the  Barnes & Nobles Booksellers “brick and mortar” stores are back open again after being closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as I looked over the books on their bargain shelves, I came across a book titled, Blessed in the Darkness(2017), by Joel Osteen, senior pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston, TX.

That book has a very appropriate title for this particular year with the coronavirus pandemic changing the way we live practically overnight starting in mid-March 2020 when lock downs and stay-at-home orders went into effect around America (and in other parts of the world), and then with the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, that lead to peaceful protests and also violent rioting and looting in many cities across America the following two weeks and in the middle of the pandemic.

It’s all been enough to frazzle the nerves of even the most resilient among us.  You might even be one of the millions who have been left unemployed by the pandemic, or your business was forced to close either due to the pandemic or the rioting that took place in which many businesses, restaurants, and other establishments were burned down, looted, and destroyed. And we are all wondering what America will look like once we are finally on the other side of this pandemic. Will social distancing become a permanent way of life? How long will we need to wear face masks? What will happened to the millions who are unemployed? And the questions go on and on.

To those who have been severely affected and are wondering when the “light at the end of the tunnel” will show up, there is a section in Chapter 12 titled, “Trouble is Transportation,” in Joel Osteen’s book, Blessed in the Darkness,” that I’d like to quote. It is found on pages 135-137, and the section is titled, “Every Step Divinely Orchestrated”:

I wrote about Joseph in the previous chapter. When he was a teenager, God gave him a dream that he was destined for greatness, but before the dream came true, he went through a series of very dark places. There were many years when he did the right thing but the wrong thing happened. It didn’t seem as though the dream would ever work out, but Joseph understood this principle: as he kept being his best, the trouble couldn’t stop him–it was moving him toward his destiny. When you study his life, you can see how God connected the dots. Every step was divinely orchestrated. If you left one step out, the others wouldn’t work. If Joseph’s brothers had not thrown him into the pit, he would have never been taken to Egypt as a slave and sold to a man named Potiphar. If he had never been sold to Potiphar, he would never have met Potiphar’s wife, been falsely accused, and put in prison. If he had not been put into prison, he would never have met the butler and the baker and interpreted their dreams. If he’d never interpreted their dreams, Pharaoh would never have called on him to interpret his dream, which led him to put Joseph in charge of the nation.

If you isolate any of those steps along the way, they don’t make sense. It was just one bad break after another. But you have to believe, as Joseph did, that what looks like a disappointment, a betrayal, or a setback is all a part of God’s plan. It’s transportation. It’s moving you little by little through the darkness into your destiny. God knows what He’s doing. God knew that He was going to need somebody in charge in Egypt who would show favor to the Israelites. So years earlier, He’d started this plan to move Joseph into place. What looked like trouble was really the hand of God. Joseph’s brothers took away his coat of many colors, which represented their father’s favor, but they could not take away the calling on his life. What people take from you doesn’t stop your purpose. What’s on the inside is more powerful than anything on the outside. You keep doing the right thing despite the trouble, despite the betrayal, despite the bad break, and one day God is going to connect the dots for you just as He did for Joseph. He’s going to take you to your throne, so to speak. You’ll say, as Joseph said, “They meant the trouble for harm, but God used it for my good.”

The Scripture says, “God will deliver us from trouble.” That means that God will stop the trouble. But consider it in a different light. The post office picks up a package in New York, and drivers deliver it to California. “Deliver” means they transport it; they move it from one location to another. It may have to go through five different stops along the way. The regional post office sends it to the city post office, which sends it to the neighborhood post office, and the mailman brings it to your house. It is “delivered.” In the same way, right now God is delivering you from trouble. You’re en route, the process has started, and there may be some stops along the way. But don’t worry, you’re not delivered yet. Like Joseph, you may be in a pit or a prison, but the palace is coming. You’re in debt, but God is delivering you into abundance. You’re dealing with depression, but God is delivering you into joy. You’re facing an illness, but God is delivering you into healing, wholeness, and victory. When those thought tell you, “This trouble is permanent. It’s never going to change,” just answer back, “No, I’m being delivered. I’m en route. This trouble is not going to stop me; it’s going to transport me.” (Quote source: “Blessed in the Darkness,” pp. 135-137.)

In Chapter 16 titled, “I’m Still Standing,” the opening three paragraphs on pp. 239-241 state the following:

The Scripture says, “Rain falls on the just and on the unjust.” No matter how good a person you are, there’s going to be some rain in your life. Being a person of faith doesn’t exempt you from difficulties. Jesus told a parable about a wise man who built his house on a rock. This man honored God. Another man foolishly built his house on the sand. He didn’t honor God. Then the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the houses. What’s interesting in that the same storm came to both people, the just and the unjust. If the story stopped there, you’d think that it doesn’t make a difference whether we honor God or not. “The same thing happens to me that happens to everyone else. I built my house on the rock, yet I’m in this storm. I got a bad medical report, my child is off course, and I lost my biggest client.” But that’s not the end of the story. If you judge it too soon, it will seem as though faith doesn’t make a difference.

Jesus went on to tell that after the storm was over, the house build on the rock was still standing. The house built on the sand collapsed and was completely ruined. The difference is that when you honor God, the storms may come, but you have a promise that the others don’t have–when it’s all said and done, you’ll still be standing. In tough times you have to remind yourself, “This is not the end. My house is built on the rock. The enemy doesn’t have the final say; God does, and He says that when it’s all over, I’ll still be standing,” You may get knocked out. You may suffer a setback and have to go through some dark, stormy times, but don’t get discouraged or bitter–that’s just a part of life. It rains on everybody. If you’ll stay in faith, you have God’s promise that when the smoke clears, when the dust settled, you won’t be the victim, you’ll be the victor. You’ll still be standing.

All of us can look back and see things that should have defeated us. You may have gone through a divorce or a breakup that could have given you a nervous breakdown, but look at you–you’re still standing, still happy, restored, and whole. That’s the goodness of God. That addiction, all that partying, should have killed you, but because of your praying mother, you’re still standing–clean, sober, and free. The medical report said you were done, that sickness would end your life, but God said, “I have another report. It’s not over. You’re still standing.” Maybe you’ve lost a loved one and didn’t think you could go on, believing your best days were over; but God breathed new life into you, lifted you out of the pit, put a new song in your heart, and here you are still standing. You’ve been through some difficult, dark places, but you’ve also seen the goodness of God. You’ve seen Him lift you, restore you, heal you, and protect you. When you have this history with God, and you remember what He’s done, you don’t get discouraged by every difficulty, you don’t get upset when people talk negatively about you, and you don’t fall apart when you have a disappointment. You know that God brought you through the darkness in the past, and He’ll bring you through in the future. (Quote source: “Blessed in the Darkness,” pp. 239-241.)

In a brand new book titled, Acres of Diamonds (2020), by Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor of Free Chapel, a multi-campus church in Georgia, there is a story tucked in Chapter 5 titled, “Hell in the Hallway,” in a section titled, “Thank God for Doors that Didn’t Open,” regarding the story of Esther in the Old Testament (pp. 89-92):

In the story of Esther, we learn about a feast begun to celebrate this very idea [e.g., God protecting and delivering us from things that didn’t happen]. God established seven feasts in the Old Testament so His people would always remember certain events in their history. Human beings have a tendency to forget. This was God’s way of making sure the people of Israel always remembered what was most important.

Before I get to the story, I want to share a couple of interesting things about the Feast of Purim. First, it is not one of the original seven feasts, and it was not commanded by God. It was a divinely inspired feast authorized by King Ahasuerus

The other interesting fact is that the book of Esther is the only book in the Bible in which God’s name is never mentioned. You won’t find one Hebrew name of His. Not Elohim, not Jehovah, nothing. And yet God’s fingerprints are all over this record in Scripture. (Side note: Seasons will come in life when you have zero evidence to believe God is working, but when you look back on that time, you will discover He was there all along. Active behind the scenes. From the shadows. Undercover. God is always at work in your life.)

Here is a quick summary of the story.

The Jewish people were on the verge of destruction because of the evil conspiracy of Haman, one of King Ahasuerus’s advisors. Haman hated Mordecai because he did not bow down to him. Instead of just killing him, however, Haman decided to kill every Jewish person in the kingdom. So Haman cast lots, similar to a lottery, to determine on what day this would happen. Once he established this date, Haman approached King Ahasuerus to make the genocide official. He got his permission, and a decree was sent to everyone in the kingdom, notifying that all Jews, young and old, men, women and children, were to be killed on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month.

You need to understand the significance of this. In the moment that Haman cast this “lot,” he was officiating the worst day in the history of the people of Israel. On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the Jews would face annihilation. Do you see how precise the enemy’s plan is? He operates the same way today.

Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy (see John 10:10). He hates you because you reflect Jesus Christ. And he sets up certain times and events to destroy you, to take your kids out, to cause your marriage to fall apart, to crush your dreams, to steal your job, to kill your faith. Hell in the hallway.

The word “pur” means “lot,” as in the casting of a lot. Purim, as in the Feast of Purim, is the plural of “pur” with means “lots.” Evidently, the enemy had planned to do one thing on one day, but an unseen party was watching, and He said, “I know you cast your lot, devil, but I’m about the cast lots. And what I cast is going to overcome what you planned and strategized against My people.”

Back to the story.

The people of Israel were about to be slaughtered. Eradicated. Butchered. Massacred. Wiped out. Mordecai sought help from Queen Esther, asking her to appeal to the king on behalf of the Jews. His request meant Esther would have to literally risk her life, for it was very dangerous to approach the king without being summoned first. Consequently, Esther called a fast. Those 72 hours of fasting changed the history of the world.

When Esther finally approached the king on behalf of her people, they became a nation not of defeat, annihilation, suffering and shame, but of favor. Not only did the king abolish Haman’s decree, he also bestowed upon the Jews honor and promotion. The king allowed a holiday called the Feast of Purim to be established, which is honored in Israel still to this day, to celebrate this reversal–to celebrate what didn’t happen. The Jewish people threw a big party. They ate. They drank. They danced. They exchanged gifts. What the devil had marked as a day of massacre, God turned into a time of gladness and joy.

God has a way of canceling the verdict of the enemy.

The enemy may have planned for them a day of destruction, but God, through Queen Esther, determined for them a day of deliverance. God can turn your day of destruction into a day of deliverance.

We often talk about being grateful for what we have and the wonderful things that have happened to us, but when was the last time–if ever–you thanked God for what didn’t happen? We ought to stop whatever we’re doing and throw a party for the door that God didn’t open. For the guy you didn’t marry because years later he would have been a deadbeat. For the girlfriend who broke up with you because she would have gone back to her ex-boyfriend. For the job that didn’t work out because you held out for the one God wanted for you to have. For the business deal that went sour before it would have bankrupted you.

Often, when God shuts a door, it is for our protection. Am I ever glad the Lord is my doorkeeper and not me. I can’t tell you how many doors I would have kicked in, thinking I was supposed to do something that in reality was not part of God’s plan. If something doesn’t work out after you have prayed about it, guess what? God just shut a door. Not to punish you or hurt you, but to protect you.

Like Esther, there are times in our lives when God protected and delivered us from things that didn’t happen. He shut the door and locked it. He kept us safe. He said that no weapon formed against us shall prosper. It should have happened. It almost happened. But because of God’s hand of protection, it didn’t happen.

Hasn’t God been good to you? Where would you be today without Him? Before you take a step forward today, take some time and give thanks to Him for all the things that could have happened, that should have happened, that almost happened, but because of His unseen hand of protection didn’t happen. Think about an opportunity that didn’t pan out for your good, or a situation that could have proved destructive but left you unscathed. Start celebrating all the doors that closed in your life.

When you are in the hallway, God can turn things around. You might not see Him. You may not feel Him. You may think He is not even there. But He is. The enemy may have cast one lot to destroy you, but God casts another lot in your favor. It just takes a door. Whatever it is you are facing, decide today to trust that He who began a good work in your life is faithful to complete it.  (Quote source: “Acres of Diamonds,” pp. 89-92.)

In these very challenging times that we are all going through right now, I hope the above quotes will be of great encouragement to help us get through these trying times. God is not silent, nor is He missing in action. He is very much present each and every day, just like He was back in Esther’s time. God is there for us, too.

I’ll end this post with the words from Paul found in Philippians 4:6-7Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding…

Will guard your hearts . . .

And your minds . . .

In Christ Jesus . . . .

YouTube Video: “Miracle” by Unspoken:

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Photo #2 credit here

What I Learned in the Dark

Okay, I have a confession to make. The title of this blog post did not come from me. It is the title of a blog post (actually, a monthly letter) written by a friend of mine whom I have, on several previous occasions, posted about regarding a few of his books as they were published (see here, here, here, and here). His name is Steve Brown, and in April, he wrote his monthly Steve’s Letter,” for his ministry website, Key Life Network, that isn’t actually published until  a couple of months after it is written. With everything that is going on right now here in America, I thought it would be good to include some of what he has written in this blog post. You can read his entire letter at this link. Here is part of his letter for June 2020:

I’m writing this in April and you’ll read it in June. It’s the same way with the broadcasts I record and the books I write. Most of the time that doesn’t matter. Truth is truth whenever it’s spoken. And the general themes of these letters, the broadcasts, and the books concern biblical truth that is, like God, the same yesterday, today, and forever….

As I write this, we are still in quarantine because of the coronavirus. Who knows where we’ll be when you receive this in June? I hope everything will be getting back to some kind of normalcy, but maybe not. Some have said we might have months of social distancing and even the quarantine. Other than how hard it is to smoke my pipe wearing this stupid mask, that irritates me and I don’t know what to do with the irritation. But the real difficulty is that it’s hard to say something relevant about the crisis if, in fact, when you read this, it might be over.

You’ve probably heard Christian teachers say about difficult times that you shouldn’t doubt in the dark what God taught you in the light. That works for me. But let me tell you something else that is also true. Don’t doubt in the light what God taught you in the dark. In other words, this pandemic¾as horrible as it is¾can be a place of growth and learning. As a friend of mine says, one has the past to look forward to. Not only that, one has the past to learn from.

Do you remember the two guys walking on the road to Emmaus after Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24)? Jesus showed and they didn’t even recognize him. After Jesus taught them and then disappeared, Luke wrote that they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” They almost missed it…and him. Just so, if we aren’t careful, we could miss stuff too. It’s important (at least to me) that I not waste the aloneness, fear, and worry by missing the reality that God was in the midst of it all. Paul was, of course, talking about salvation when he wrote to the Ephesians, “Therefore remember…that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12). However, the memories aren’t just about salvation, but often about what God taught us in the dark.

For instance, I was quite busy almost all the time before the pandemic and now I’m not busy at all. Makes me wonder how much of all that was just busy work. Nothing has fallen through the cracks, Key Life is functioning the way it always has, and I have a whole lot of time on my hands without hurrying to do anything. How much of what I was doing wasn’t altogether that important? That’s one of the gifts God gives us in a crisis. We can now see more clearly what is important and what isn’t. I’m a man of prayer and I spend considerable time with Jesus each morning. (I’ll repent of my self-righteousness in telling you that after I finish writing you.) But that time was always hurried and harried because of my long to-do list. That’s not as true during the quarantine and I sense God saying, “Settle down, be quiet, and let’s just sit together for awhile. Where do you think you’re going to go and what do you think you’re going to do…play golf?”

Jesus told his disciples in the midst of a very busy time to come apart from the crowd and to “rest a while” (Mark 6:31). What he didn’t say and should have (I know, but it would have been appreciated) was, “If you don’t come apart and rest, I’ll send a pandemic, and then you won’t have a choice.” If we ever get back to some degree of normalcy, I plan to throw away my to-do list and just be still. Well, at least more still than I was before.

But there’s more. The more you want something and can’t have it, the more you want it. Losing something important is often the way we see its value. Someone has said that we never know the value of something until it becomes a memory. I remember after Hurricane Andrew, when we had lost everything, and we were thirsty and hot a lot of the time, just how good the frozen orange juice was at McDonald’s. They were the first fast food restaurant to open after the hurricane, and they served only hamburgers and frozen orange juice. That orange juice was the best orange juice I ever had and, even to this day, I value and love orange juice more than a Floridian should. (Quote source and his letter is available at this link.)

Steve goes on to write about what he has learned in the dark during this pandemic, but I don’t want to spoil it by quoting the entire letter in this blog post. You can read the rest of it at this link.

Also, during this time since the coronavirus pandemic started in mid-March (and after he wrote this letter in April), America has become embroiled with the controversy concerning racism and racial inequality that have been systemic in America’s history from the horrific death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, at the hands of the police (see articles/videos at this link), and the peaceful protesting and violent rioting and destruction that has following and is still ongoing in cities across America.

2020 is not a year we will soon forget, and it’s not even half over with yet.  It has been compared to one of the worst years in recent American history, 1968. James Fallows, a staff writer at The Atlantic,” has written an article published on May 31, 2020, titled, Is This the Worst Year in Modern American History?” comparing 2020 to 1968 that offers “some disquieting lessons for the present,” at this link. He opens his article with the following:

The most traumatic year in modern American history was 1968. But what is now the second-most traumatic year, 2020, still has seven months to run. The comparison provides little comfort, and several reasons for concern.

How could any year be worse than the current one, in which more Americans are out of work than in the Great Depression, and more people are needlessly dying than in several of America’s wars combined?

How could the domestic order seem more frayed and failing than it has in the past week—when the filmed record of a white Minneapolis police officer calmly killing a black man, George Floyd, as other officers just as calmly looked on, led naturally to protests? Protests in some cities decayed into looting or destruction. Then in many cities, police and troopers kitted out as if for Baghdad circa 2003 widened the violence and hastened the decay with strong-arm tactics sure to generate new protests.

Most of the objects of police roundups have been civilians. But in a rapidly expanding list of cities—first Minneapolis, then Louisville, Seattle, Detroit, and elsewhere—reporters appeared to be singled out by police as targets, rather than caught up by accident. In Minneapolis, CNN’s Omar Jimenez was arrested while in the middle of a broadcast to a live national audience. Also in Minneapolis, according to Molly Hennessey-Fiske of the Los Angeles Times, Minnesota State Patrol members approached a group of a dozen reporters, all bearing credentials and yelling to identify themselves as press, and “fired tear gas … at point-blank range.” In Louisville, Kaitlin Rust, a reporter with WAVE 3, an NBC affiliate, yelled on camera, “I’m getting shot!” as her cameramanJames Dobson, filmed an officer taking careful aim and firing a pepper-ball gun directly at them. In Detroit, the reporter JC Reindl of the Free Press was pepper-sprayed in the face, even as he held up his press badge. The examples keep piling up. (Quote source here.)

In comparison with 1968, he writes:

“… here is what anyone around at that time will remember about 1968: The assassinations. The foreign warfare. The domestic carnage and bloodshed. The political chaos and division. The way that parts of the United States have seemed in the past week, in reaction to injustices, is the way much of the U.S. seemed day after day. I think I can remember every week of that eventful year.” (He describes all of those factors in his article).

I remember 1968. I was a sophomore in high school when the year started. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April that year followed by Bobby Kennedy, who was assassinated in June (he was a candidate for President on the Democratic ticket). They were 39 and 42 respectively at the time of their deaths. The Vietnam War was raging as was the death count, and there were the protests against that war on college campuses all across America.

There is a big difference between seeing the world through the eyes of a 16-year-old and seeing it through the eyes of a 68-year-old, which are the ages I was back then and I am now during the turmoil of 2020. In between the two has been a lifetime of experiencing the massive changes that have taken place in America during the past five decades. Dark times come in all shapes and sizes, individually and on a national scale. And to use a well worn phrase, it would seem when reviewing history that, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

In answer to a question on Quora.com, “What does ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’ mean?” in May 2017,  John Soroushian wrote:

The quote “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is a reference to situations where there appears to be a meaningful change, but many underlying fundamentals are still the same. It nicely catches peoples thoughts in a diverse array of matters including:

  • A drug lord is arrested and people think things are improving, then another drug lord takes his place and things stay the same.
  • A new government promises change but reverts back to the policies of its predecessors once in power.
  • When a person knows the sun will rise everyday, regardless of what else is happening in her life. (Quote source here.)

That is not to say that there aren’t actual changes going on. A case in point is noted in an article titled, The 10 Most Important Revolutions of All Time,” by Joseph Kiprop, published on May 28, 2018 in WorldAtlas.com. Listed among the top ten revolutions in the world, and coming in at #2, is The American Revolution which took place between 1765 and 1783 (the official start is 1775 but it was preceded by a decade of unrest). Coming in at #1 is The Russian Revolution that occurred in 1917. Indeed, the sun still rises everyday even in the midst of revolutions taking place.

Individually, we all have dark times that we go through regardless of whether or not they affect the rest of society and/or the world (as is the case with the current coronavirus pandemic which is still ongoing around the world). In an article titled, 7 Things You Can Learn in Hard Times,” (subtitled “a pink slip, a medical diagnosis, the loss of a loved one–finding meaning in it all”), by Michelle Cox, published on August 14, 2017, in GuidePosts.org, she writes:

I’ve never heard of anyone attending a “Congratulations on Your Difficult Times” party before. Maybe that’s because job losses, health situations, messed-up family relationships, and disappointments are just plain hard to face.

So how can we cope when we’re reeling from the pink slip we’ve just received, or we’ve just gotten one of “those” phone calls from the doctor, or we’re grieving the loss of a loved one?

Here are some things God has shown me when I’ve taken one of those unplanned—and unwanted—journeys: 

1.  I am never alone when I go through hard times.

2.  His grace is sufficient. It will be there when I need it.

3.  He will provide all that I need.

4.  What I learn from those dark days isn’t wasted. God can use me if I’ll let Him.

5.  Even when I don’t understand what God is doing, I can still trust Him.

6.  Hardships draw me closer to Him in a way that often doesn’t happen when times are good.

7.  Hugs, cards, a casserole or dessert, or some heartfelt words go a long way to help soothe a breaking heart.

Have you ever been reading your Bible and felt like God put a spotlight on a verse? That’s what happened recently as I read Psalm 119:71, “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.”

Wow, I’d never thought of it like that before, “My suffering was good for me.” That phrase was a sweet reminder that God has a purpose in all that He does. And if He has a difficult circumstance for me to go through, I’d be foolish to complain about it.

“Lord, during difficult moments in life, help me learn the lessons you want me to learn. Help me find the nuggets you want me to discover. And when I get to the end of those hard times, help me look back and see how those days of suffering were truly good for me. Amen.” (Quote source here.)

During the dark times in which we all find ourselves in right now, the Message Bible translates Jesus’ words found in Matthew 11:28-30 as follows:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

For those who like a more standard version I’ll end this post with the words from Matthew 11:28-30  from NKJV: Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls….

For My yoke is easy . . .

And My burden . . .

 Is light . . . .

YouTube Video: “Come to Me” by Vineyard Music:

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Predictably Unpredictable

Back on February 25, 2017, I published a blog post titled, Divine Appointments,” and I quoted a section from a book titled, The Grave Robber (2014), written by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. I picked up that book again this afternoon, and when I ran into that particular section quoted in the blog post above, I thought to myself, “This would great to include in a blog post.” That’s when I discovered that I had already written a blog post on that exact same section back in 2017 (you can read it at this link).

Déjà vu…

So, I continued looking through the book and I came upon two back-to-back sections titled, “Critical Realism” and “Eleven Dimensions,” in a chapter titled, “The Rule Breaker.” But before I quote those two sections, let me say that I have always been one to follow rules. I was called a STRAC trooper (STRAC is US Army slang for “a well organized, well turned-out soldier, pressed uniform, polished brass and shined boots. A proud, competent trooper who can be depended on for good performance in any circumstance”) by my Commanding Officer when I was stationed in the U.S. Army in South Korea back in the 1970’s, and I’ve been the quintessential “rule follower” for most of my life. I figured if I always followed the rules, I’d stay out of trouble and I’d have a relatively straight forward life, but as my life moved forward, I discovered that is not always the case. Life is unpredictable no matter how hard we might try to control it, and I discovered what Mark Batterson states below.

In the first section titled, “Critical Realism,” on pp. 129-130, Batterson writes:

According to the research of Rolf Smith [author ofThe 7 Levels of Change: Different Thinking for Different Results”], children asked 125 probing questions per day. Adults, on the other hand, ask only six probing questions per day. That means that somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose 119 questions per day! At some point, most of us stop asking questions and start making assumptions. That is the day our imagination dies. It’s also the day miracles stop happening. If you want to experience the miraculous, you need to quit making assumptions.

In the philosophy of science, there is a concept known as critical realism. It is the recognition that no matter how much we know, we don’t know everything there is to know. In the words of Russell Stannard, “We can never expect at any stage to be absolutely certain that our scientific theories are correct and will never need further amendment.” What if we borrowed the concept of critical realism from science and applied it to theology? I’m not suggesting that we question any of our orthodox doctrines as revealed in God’s Word. But 1 Corinthians 8:2 is a good theological starting point when it comes to the study of God: “Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.”

We’re too quick to explain what we don’t really understand. And God is at the top of that list. You can know Him, but to think you know everything there is to know is the epitome of hubris. To know God is to enter the cloud of unknowing–the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know.

Scripture says that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13) , so the words, “I can’t” should never leave our lips! But “I don’t know” should come out of our mouths which great regularity and humility. You aren’t omniscient. In fact, you aren’t even close! Your best thought on your best day falls at least 15.5 billion light-years short of how good and how great God really is. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” pp. 129-130.)

Batterson continues in the next section titled, “Eleven Dimensions,” on pp.130-132, with the following:

A hundred years ago, we thought we lived in a four-dimensional world. Then along came Albert Einstein and his theory of general relativity. He threw science a curveball by positing that the space-time continuum isn’t as linear as we once thought. Then string theorists extrapolated the existence of more dimensions than meet the eye–ten dimensions in the case of superstring theory theory or twenty-six dimensions according to the Bosonic string theory. In either case, this critical dimension is necessary to ensure the vanishing of the conformal anomaly of the world sheet. And if you have no idea what that means, I’ve made my point. If the universe is infinitely  more complex than can be imagined with the human mind, then how much more so the Creator Himself? His infinite complexity demands a degree of critical realism called humility.

If string theorists are right, then God is operating in at least eleven dimensions of space-time. and therein lies our greatest shortcoming: putting four-dimensional limits on the Almighty. In the words of Dr. Hugh Ross, “Orthodox Christians potentially underestimate God’s nature, powers, and capacities by at least a factor of a trillion in one time dimension.” Multiply a trillion by a minimum of seven additional space-time dimensions, and we begin to understand why Scripture states that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)! We can’t even imagine one extra dimension!

Half of faith is learning what we don’t know. The other half is unlearning what we do know. And the second half is far more difficult then the first half. That’s why Jesus repeatedly said, “You have heard that is was said… but I tell you.” He was uninstalling Old Testament assumptions with New Testament revelations. Going the extra mile or turning the other cheek was more than behavior modification. Jesus was reverse engineering the old rules and installing new ones (Matthew 5:38-48).

In 1932, a German physicist named Werner Heisenberg won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum mechanics. His discovery ranks as one of the greatest scientific revolutions in the twentieth century. For hundreds of years, determinism ruled the day. Physicists believed in the clockwork universe that was measurable and predictable. Heisenberg pulled the rug out from under the scientific community. Here is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in a nutshell: we cannot know the precise position and momentum of a quantum particle at the same time. Here’s why. Sometimes matter behaves like a particle–it appears to be in one place at one time. Sometimes matter behaves like a wave–it appears to be in several places at the same time, almost like a wave on a pond. It is the duality of nature. So the imprecise measurement of initial conditions precludes the precise prediction of future outcomes. Simply put: there will always be an element of uncertainty.

Here’s my translation: God is predictably unpredictable.

You never know exactly how or when or where God might show up and show off. But you can be sure of this: He will probably ask you to do something unprecedented, unorthodox, and unconventional. And if you have the courage to do something you haven’t done in thirty-eight years, you might just experience something you haven’t seen in a long, long time. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” pp. 130-132.)

In a blog post published on January 27, 2016, titled, Predictably Unpredictable,” by Dave Henning, Director at Crown of Compassion Ministries, a ministry to downsized workers, he writes:

“I have come to expect the unexpected because God is predictably unpredictable.” — Mark Batterson

Mark Batterson concludes Chapter 6 ofThe Circle Maker by reflecting on a favorite saying of his grandmother: “You can’t never always sometimes tell.” Translation: “Anything could happen.” The same is true when you circle a promise in prayer. Prayer adds an element of surprise to your life that is more fun than any other kind of surprise. Mark explains:

“When you draw a prayer circle, even if that circle is limited by your ignorance, you never know how or when or where God will answer it. One prayer leads to another, which leads to another, and where they will take you no one knows except the One who knows all.”

Pastor Batterson notes there is one caveat: you have to give up control if you want God to surprise you. Although you’ll lose a measure of predictability, this frees God to move in uncontrollable ways. Meanwhile, you live with holy anticipation, understanding that coincidences are providences and that any moment can turn into a holy moment. Mark observes it is at this point many of us become spiritually bogged down:

“It’s at this place where God wants to do something unprecedented that many of us get stuck spiritually. Instead of operating by faith, we switch back to our default setting of logic. Instead of embracing the new move of God, we fall back into the rut of our old routines.”

Mark’s solution? Don’t simply brainstorm, praystorm.

Today’s question: How difficult is it for you to give up “control” of your situation? (Quote source here.)

Lately–in fact, more times then I can count–I keep coming across a verse that speaks to the “control” issue many of us have when it comes to our sometimes very perplexing life circumstances. The verse is found in Psalm 46:10 (NASB):

Cease striving  and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

In the past decade since I lost my job in April 2009, I spent the first several years searching for another job that never materialized, and I had to apply for Social Security at 62 to have any income again. At the time I applied for Social Security, I lost the apartment I had been living in for over four years when new owners purchased the house where my apartment was located, and they wanted to use my apartment for their own purposes. That has now lead into a five-plus year search for low income senior housing that has still produced nothing in the way of affordable housing.

I can attest to the fact that it isn’t easy to “cease striving” when perplexing circumstances keep going on and on after a decade of waiting for an answer to show up. Yet, what I have learned and experienced during this past decade is priceless even though what I thought would happen long before now (in fact, a decade ago) is that I would find another job and move on with my life.

God is predictably unpredictable, and He is also sovereign over everything that happens on this earth. What Mark Batterson describes above regarding our own understanding of God is right on when he states:

We’re too quick to explain what we don’t really understand. And God is at the top of that list. You can know Him, but to think you know everything there is to know is the epitome of hubris. To know God is to enter the cloud of unknowing–the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know. (Quote source: “The Grave Robber,” pp. 129.)

This is where Psalm 46:10 is so important. Since we can’t ever totally understand what God is up to we are clearly told to cease striving (be still) and know that He is God, and that He will be exalted among the nations and in the earth. GotQuestions.org gives us an understanding of what this verse means:

This verse comes from a longer section of Scripture that proclaims the power and security of God. While the threat the psalmist faced is not mentioned specifically, it seems to relate to the pagan nations and a call for God to end the raging war. Here is the whole psalm:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Notice that the majority of the psalm is written in the third person as the psalmist speaks about God. However, God’s voice comes through in verse 10, and the Lord speaks in the first person: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Be still. This is a call for those involved in the war to stop fighting, to be still. The word “still” is a translation of the Hebrew word “rapa,” meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” In some instances, the word carries the idea of “to drop, be weak, or faint.” It connotes two people fighting until someone separates them and makes them drop their weapons. It is only after the fighting has stopped that the warriors can acknowledge their trust in God. Christians often interpret the command to “be still” as “to be quiet in God’s presence.” While quietness is certainly helpful, the phrase means to stop frantic activity, to let down, and to be still. For God’s people being “still” would involve looking to the Lord for their help (cf. Exodus 14:13); for God’s enemies, being “still” would mean ceasing to fight a battle they cannot win.

Know that I am God. “Know” in this instance means “to properly ascertain by seeing” and “acknowledge, be aware.” How does acknowledging God impact our stillness? We know that He is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), omnipotent (all-powerful), holy, sovereign, faithful, infinite, and good. Acknowledging God implies that we can trust Him and surrender to His plan because we understand who He is.

I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. It was tempting for the nation of Israel to align with foreign powers, and God reminds them that ultimately He is exalted! God wins, and He will bring peace. During Isaiah’s time, Judah looked for help from the Egyptians, even though God warned against it. Judah did not need Egyptian might; they needed reliance on the Lord: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

When we are still and surrendered to God, we find peace even when the earth gives way, the mountains fall (verse 2), or the nations go into an uproar and kingdoms fall (verse 6). When life gets overwhelming and busyness takes precedence, remember Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Run to Him, lay down your weapons and fall into His arms. Acknowledge that He is God and that He is exalted in the earth. Be still and know that He is God. (Quote source here.)

What better way to end this post then by quoting Psalm 46:10Cease striving and know that I am God…

I will be exalted among the nations . . .

I will be exalted . . .

In the earth . . . .

YouTube Video: “Be Still and Know” by Steven Curtis Chapman:

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Freedom of Religion

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” ~President Ronald Reagan

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America (and the Bill of Rights which contains the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution) states the following:

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. (Quote source here.)

In the United States of America, religious freedom and the expression of such beliefs is a Constitutional right of all citizens, but what about beyond the law? What about everyday life in America for the everyday citizen who has religious beliefs that others around them might not agree with, believe in, or share? 

Here in America we often look in horror at the persecution experienced by others that is taking place around the world for their religious (and often Christian) beliefs. However, we tend to think of persecution as taking place “over there” in some distant country without the benefit of religious freedom. However, what if, especially in recent decades, a type of persecution has invaded our own shores that often goes unnoticed by the public-at-large because it doesn’t “look” the same as the persecution that is going on in other countries around the world, and it is often disguised in other types of more “normal” type events like chronic and prolonged unemployment or even homelessness? What about our skyrocketing health crises and opioid and drug addiction epidemic, and rapidly rising obesity rates? Other factors include economics as mentioned in articles like What’s Killing the American Middle Class? by Richard Eskow, writer, former Wall Street executive, and radio journalist, on BillMoyers.com. Perhaps we just don’t see any connection at all because we don’t want to see it. Subterfuge is never obvious, and that’s the whole point.

And maybe Ronald Reagan was right after all. . . .

I came across a 2015 article on Patheos.com, titled, Yes, There is Christian Persecution in America, and Here’s What It Looks Like,” by Benjamin Corey, a cultural anthropologist and public theologian; a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and recipient of a Doctor of Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He admits to having been one of the “naysayers” regarding Christian persecution in America until he started to encounter it (see his article published in July 2017 on his personal experience with Christian Ghosting at this link). Here’s what he had to say in that 2015 article:

I’ve often written about the American persecution complex that tends to see anti-Christian persecution under every rock, and have long been a proponent that such claims of persecution are often simply a loss of privilege or the ability to persecute others. Each time I say something along these lines, I usually get a flood of comments and messages/e-mails telling me how wrong I am and that Christianity in America is under attack. One commenter even said recently that “Jesus” is the only name you’re not allowed to speak at work without getting fired.

Secretly I’ve had some misgivings about my position and these doubts have now given way to a change in position. So, this post is a capitulation to my critics and a public admission about how wrong I’ve been. Yes, Christians are bullied for their faith in America– and it happens on a daily basis. Yes, Christians can lose their jobs simply because they believe in the teachings of Jesus. Yes, some Christians in America are hated on account of their association with Jesus. Real persecution just happens to look differently than what is often claimed as persecution. Case in point:

A few weeks ago, MidAmerica Nazarene University chaplain and Vice President of Community Formation Dr. Randy Beckum spoke at the student chapel services. Dr. Beckum gave a short sermon during the chapel service that is being billed as “controversial” and something that really upset the student and faculty population at MidAmerica Nazarene (see/read full text here). What was so controversial and offensive you ask? Well, let’s take a look.

At first, Dr. Beckum starts off by saying,

“In my life, I have struggled with some things that Jesus said, (pretty plainly), that go against the grain of what is accepted as normal, or OK or even a sign of a being a good Christian in this part of the world.”

Seems like something I’ve heard a thousand times in my life–we’re repeatedly told that just because something is widely accepted as being okay or normal, such acceptance doesn’t mean it’s okay for a Christian. And, I totally agree.

Except, and here’s where Dr. Beckum got himself into some serious problems: he wasn’t speaking about listening to rock and roll or wearing skirts that weren’t knee high– he was talking about the golden calf of American Christianity. He went on to say,

“Anyone who has made a decision to follow Jesus realizes that the goal of a being a Christian is to become Christ-like.”

Sounds good so far, but starting to get edgy with this Jesus-likeness stuff. But here’s where he went completely off the rails:

“I am extremely troubled.  I have been for a long time and I have hesitated to address this subject publicly, but I cannot keep silent about it any longer… I don’t think it is an under-statement to say that our culture is addicted to violence, guns, war, revenge and retaliation. Unfortunately, so are a lot of Christians… So, what does Jesus have to say about it.  Again, if you are not a follower of Jesus you can relax.  This doesn’t concern you. But Christians have to do something with this.  I have to do something with the words of Jesus and his actions… We have to be very careful about equating patriotism with Christianity. We never say God and…anything.  God is above all, everything else is underneath… We have put “our way of life”/freedom on the top rung. If you mess with it I’ll blow your head off. For a Christian what is on the top rung? Love for all.”

Dr. Beckum ended his sermon by reminding the students that not only did Jesus teach radical enemy love, but that we should serve them, and forgive them as well.

In many Christian circles you can talk about the Bible all you want, and you can speak as much Christianese as possible, but as Dr. Beckum has now learned, you cannot talk about what Jesus taught regarding enemy love. That is off-limits and heresy.

The sermon on enemy love sparked an outcry at the University, with some furious that he’d have the audacity to call into question the issue of Christians using violence against enemies. The MNU president was quickly forced to issue a statement distancing himself from the teachings of Jesus, saying:

“At MidAmerica Nazarene University we encourage the exchange of ideas and individuals are free to express their individual perspective and opinions, even when those opinions may not reflect the official policy or practices of our university, our core values or our affiliations.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough– speaking out against bloodshed in American Christianity often requires bloodshed of some sort, and such was the case with Dr. Beckum. On February 3rd the President relieved him of his duties as Vice President of Community Formation, citing that Beckum had previously requested to be removed from that position, something his own daughter has publicly called a falsehood.

In my opinion it’s easy to see what happened here: a Christian leader saw our lust for violence and military conquests, and decided to speak out on it. Since quoting what Jesus said on enemy love is so offensive within American Christian culture, he had to pay a price–and lost his position.

And so here is where my critics have been right all along: there is anti-Christian persecution in America. The chief difference however, is that it’s not the secularists or atheists who are persecuting us–it’s “Christians” who are doing the persecuting.

The best way to understand the cultural scenario is to realize (as someone astutely mentioned on twitter recently) that there are “two different types of Christianity.” One is a movement of people who want to live and be like Jesus. The other (and far more common, far more powerful) is a civil and political religion that is simply named Christianity. The civil political religion named Christianity is addicted to both political power and violence, and thus finds the message of Jesus offensive. When they encounter the other kind of Christian–the kind that actually believes in following Jesus–they have an immediate need to persecute them in some form or another, as we see in the case of Dr. Beckum, who actually did lose his job because of speaking the name of Jesus.

So, yes, there is Christian persecution in America- and for saying there is not, I do apologize to my critics for such an error. People do get bullied for speaking about Jesus. People do lose their jobs for it. Dr. Beckum is one of them.

But as it turns out, it’s actually the critics attempting to defend the violence-loving political religion named Christianity who are persecuting the people of Jesus

Don’t believe me? Just try teaching “love your enemies,” and see which group of people will be the first to mock and bully you. (Quote source here.)

Corey’s article mentions a type of persecution coming from within the ranks of Christianity itself (Jesus referred to it as tares and wheat,and he often experienced it at the hands of the Pharisees and other religious folks), but the persecution we’ve heard about on a worldwide scale does not often come from within genuinely Christian circles, but from others who stand against it. However, here in America it’s also coming from a growing secular intolerance (e.g., atheists, agnostics, “Nones,” etc.). They can also be disguised in the church since many of them have grown up in a Christian culture and they have learned how to pass “under the radar” as Christian. A blog post I wrote in July 2017 on the subject of Christian ghosting titled, These Are The Times,” contains one technique they use. This type of behavior gets blamed on supposedly “Christian” folks who are doing it (as with the mobbing and bullying mentioned in Corey’s 2015 article above). However, genuine Christians don’t “ghost,” mob or bully anybody. It’s not in their DNA.

In a 2016 article published on Christianity Today titled, Are American Christians Being Persecuted (subtitled “If our overseas brothers and sisters say we are, then we probably are”), by K. A. Ellis, doctoral candidate at Oxford Center for Mission Studies, and a speaker and writer on the theology of human rights, African-American culture, understanding Islam, and the persecuted church, Ellis states the following:

Anti-Christian hostility is on the minds of many American Christians these days. Each new legal challenge to religious liberty at the state and federal levels raises the issue afresh. It seems that today, Christians must think through their cultural position more carefully than at any other point in US history.

Still, given the terrible persecution of Christians overseas, I wonder whether it’s accurate to say that American Christians are “under persecution.” When I discuss the rise in anti-Christian hostility in the States, I avoid the “p word,” and I don’t make comparisons to other parts of the world.

But listen to a Middle Eastern underground house church leader: “Persecution is easier to understand when it’s physical: torture, death, imprisonment…. American persecution is like an advanced stage of cancer; it eats away at you, yet you cannot feel it. This is the worst kind of persecution.”

A Syrian remaining in the region to assist Christians and Muslims cautions, “It wasn’t only ISIS who laid waste to the church; our cultural compromises with the government and our divisions against each other brewed for a long time. We are Damascus, the seat of Christianity; what happened to us can happen to you. Be careful.”

When persecuted Christian leaders overseas warn about how seriously US Christians are marginalized, it’s time to listen.

Of course, persecution in countries like India and China looks different than it does in Vietnam or Nigeria; the methods of oppressors and survivors vary dramatically. Often, other religious minorities suffer as well. In some regions, the disdain is cultural; elsewhere, hostility manifests itself in legislation. In places like Pakistan and North Korea, believers experience both.

In America, we see two groups: hostility deniers and hostility seekers. “Hostility deniers” believe the church has been the greatest agent of oppression in history, making no distinction between faithful Christians and those who exploit the Bible for selfish gain. To them, Christians are not being persecuted but rather getting what they deserve. “Hostility seekers” see persecution as a mark of “true Christianity,” as if it holds salvific value—usually expressed as, “If you’re not persecuted, you’re not being a faithful Christian.” They exaggerate threats in order to keep the “persecution industry” alive. They forget that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, not by suffering. Christ rebukes these believers by modelling how to resist suffering, from his prayer in Gethsemane to submitting to his Father’s will at Golgotha. In “Tortured for Christ,” Richard Wurmbrand reminds us that “the true martyr seeks nothing for himself—not even the glory of martyrdom.”

Today, a third group is emerging. Hostility realists understand that anything is possible. Rarely does a nation move from freedom to oppression overnight. Realists understand that while the US Constitution promises inalienable rights to all citizens, those rights are not always guaranteed for the church. As an African American, I understand this well. In the early 1600s, Africans arrived in the New World on equal footing with other settlers. By the century’s end, though, freedoms had been steadily chipped away, race-based slavery established, and the worship, speech, and activities of black churches and gatherings were repressed. Still, the persecuted black church remained active underground, meeting in secret “hush harbours” of slaves and among free, believing abolitionists. Today, cultural disdain toward Christianity is increasingly palpable. Whether we are talking about a group of nuns providing services for the marginalized, an educational institution that wishes to maintain faith-based standards for faculty and students, or a medical provider exercising conscience in right-to-life decisions, I believe we will continue to see more constrictions for people of faith. This is not a cause for despair. We may never experience what the global church faces, but it teaches us that the culture cannot despise us more than we can love its people. While religious liberty is worth protecting, it is not our ultimate goal. Our true goal is perseverance and faithfulness in showing forth the kingdom of God. (Quote source here.)

The comment above by a Syrian who remained in the region to assist Christians and Muslims sends us in America a warning: “It wasn’t only ISIS who laid waste to the church; our cultural compromises with the government and our divisions against each other brewed for a long time. We are Damascus, the seat of Christianity; what happened to us can happen to you. Be careful.”

In ending this post on a topic nobody really wants to read or talk about, there is a strong reminder for those of us who are Christians (and not in name only). It is found in her last two sentences: While religious liberty is worth protecting, it is not our ultimate goal. . .

Our true goal is perseverance . . .

And faithfulness in showing forth . . .

The kingdom of God . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:

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Who is God?

Years ago, J.B. Phillips (1906-1982), an English Bible scholar, translator, author and clergyman who is most noted for his version of The New Testament in Modern English, wrote a small book titled, Your God Is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike (first published in 1952). A PDF of the book is available at this link.

Amazon.com gives the following brief description of the book:

“Your God is Too Small” is a groundbreaking work of faith, which challenges the constraints of traditional religion. In his discussion of God, author J.B. Phillips encourages Christians to redefine their understanding of a creator without labels or earthly constraints and instead search for a meaningful concept of God. Phillips explains that the trouble facing many of us today is that we have not found a God big enough for our modern needs. In a world where our experience of life has grown in myriad directions and our mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and scientific discoveries, our ideas of God have remained largely static. This inspirational work tackles tough topics and inspires readers to reevaluate and connect more deeply with a God that is relevant to current experience and big enough to command respect and admiration. (Quote source here.)

This goes along with the topic of my last blog post titled Worldviews.” In that post I quoted from an article titled 8 Questions Every Worldview Must Answer,” by James W. Sire, PhD, “who has been an officer in the Army, a college professor of English literature, philosophy and theology, the chief editor of InterVarsity Press, a lecturer at over two hundred universities in the U.S., Canada, Eastern and Western Europe and Asia, and the author of twenty books on literature, philosophy and the Christian faith. (Quote source here.)

I was intrigued enough by that article that I went looking for a copy of Sire’s book that was mentioned, The Universe Next Door (5th ed., 2009), and I found it at a used bookstore. This 5th edition of the book “has been translated into over a dozen languages and has been used as a text in over one hundred colleges and universities in courses ranging from apologetics and world religions to history and English literature.” It also gives “easily understood introductions to theism, deism, naturalism, Marxism, nihilism, existentialism, Eastern monism, New Age philosophy and postmodernism, and includes a new chapter on Islam.” (Quote source: back cover of the 5th edition.) The book has sold over 400,000 copies.

In a section titled “Modern Deism” in a chapter titled, “The Clockwork Universe,” of particular interest was the following statement regarding “Popular Deism.” See if this doesn’t ring a bell with much of the general beliefs about God in our culture today:

Popular deism is popular in two senses. It is both a simple, easy-going belief in the existence of an omnipotent, impersonal, transcendent being, a force or an intelligence, and it is a vague belief held by millions of Americans, and I suspect, millions more in the Western world.

In its “cold” versions, God is simply the abstract force that brought the world into existence and has largely left it to operate on its own. My guess, and it is only a guess, is that many well-educated people, especially academics and professionals, would acknowledge the probably existence of such a being but would largely ignore his existence in their daily lives. Their moral sensitivity would be grounded in the public memory of common Christian virtues, the mores of society, the occasional use of their own mind when dealing with specific issues, such as honesty in business, attitudes to sexual orientation and practices. They live secular lives without much thought of what God might think. Surely a good life will prepare one for the life after death, if, indeed, there is such a thing.

In its “warmest” versions, God clearly is personal and even friendly. University of North Carolina sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton recently conducted a massive study of the religious beliefs of teenagers [“Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers,” New York: Oxford Press, 2005, pp. 162-163]. Their conclusion was that most of these teenagers adhered to what they calledmoralistic therapeutic deism.” They summed up this worldview as follows:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularity involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

God, ultimate reality, in this view makes no demand on his creation to be holy, righteous, or even very good. “As one 17-year-old conservative Protestant girl from Florida told us [the researchers], ‘God’s all around you, all the time. He believes in forgiving people and whatnot and he’s there to guide us, for somebody to talk to and help us through our problems. Of course, he doesn’t talk back.'” When asked what God is like, a Bryn Mawr College student drew a big smiley face and wrote, “He’s one big smiley face. Big hands . . . big hands.” This form of deism is certainly not limited to youth; it is, I suspect, very much like that of their parents and adult neighbors. (Quote source: “The Universe Next Door,” 5th ed., 2009, pp. 63-64.)

In answer to this rather dicey “feel good” way of viewing God known as “moralistic therapeutic deism” found in popular culture, GotQuestions.org give us a very clear answer from a biblical perspective of who God is. Their answer starts off with the definition of moralistic therapeutic deism (which is stated in the 5 points listed in the above article so I’m not repeating them again here) and continues with the following:

The beliefs of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are “moralistic” in that they place a high value on “being good” as found in #2 and #5, above. “Good” is really defined by popular culture rather than the moral imperatives of the Bible. So tolerating behaviors the Bible calls sin might be seen as “good” while calling those behaviors “sin” might be seen as intolerant or hateful, which is bad.

The beliefs of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are “therapeutic” in that the primary value is feeling good about oneself as articulated in beliefs #3 and #4, above. God’s “job” is to take care of us.

The authors used the word “deism” because, in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, God exists as the Creator, but He is relatively uninvolved (beliefs #1 and #4, above). Deists have objected to this use of the term because, in true deism, God never intervenes in human affairs. He created us, but He leaves us alone. For this reason, some have suggested that theism would be a better term. Theists believe that God exists and that He can and does intervene from time to time when needed, in answer to prayer, etc.

The most important point concerning Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, however, is not the difference between theism and deism, but how far removed from biblical truth some young people are. The beliefs of MTD are not isolated to Millennials, either. It seems that many people simply view God as a “cosmic genie,” a “divine bellhop,” or a roadside assistance mechanic—you don’t know Him or need to, but you can call Him when you are broken down and He will come and get you going again. The most important thing, according to MTD, is to be good, nice, and tolerant, and God will ultimately receive you into heaven. This view is probably held by a lot of Americans and seems to be becoming the dominant “civic religion,” which emphasizes the horizontal relationships with other people but minimizes a relationship with God. In short, MTD puts humanity at the center and, ultimately, each individual at the center of his or her own belief system.

Biblical Christians will have problems with all 5 key points of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:

1. Not just “a god” exists, but the God of the Bible, who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Whoever does not honor Jesus Christ as God does not honor God (see John 5:23).
2. God does not just want people to be “nice” but commands that they obey Him. He is the One who defines “good” and “nice.” He calls sin “sin” and promises to judge it (see Romans 1:18–32).
3. The central goal of life is to give glory to God. A by-product may be that we feel good about ourselves, but that is not the goal (see Romans 11:36).
4. Our primary goal as believers is to be constantly in tune with God, following His leading and in daily fellowship with Him. We are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
5. No one is good enough to go to heaven. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23); no one is good enough, and that is why we need Jesus. He lived the perfect life that we could not, and He died to pay for our sin so that we might be made acceptable to God. “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’” (1 Peter 2:24).

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an official religion. Probably no one would ever identify himself as a “Moralistic Therapeutic Deist.” The real problem is that moralism is not Christianity, and most people who hold these beliefs are likely to identify themselves as Christians when in fact they are living to glorify themselves! (Quote source here.)

So who is God? The following answer comes from GotQuestions.org:

Who is God? – The Fact
The fact of God’s existence is so conspicuous, both through creation and through man’s conscience, that the Bible calls the atheist a “fool” (Psalm 14:1). Accordingly, the Bible never attempts to prove the existence of God; rather, it assumes His existence from the very beginning (Genesis 1:1). What the Bible does is reveal the nature, character, and work of God.

Who is God? – The Definition
Thinking correctly about God is of utmost importance because a false idea about God is idolatry. In Psalm 50:21, God reproves the wicked man with this accusation: “You thought I was altogether like you.” To start with, a good summary definition of God is “the Supreme Being; the Creator and Ruler of all that is; the Self-existent One who is perfect in power, goodness, and wisdom.”

Who is God? – His Nature
We know certain things to be true of God for one reason: in His mercy He has condescended to reveal some of His qualities to us. God is spirit, by nature intangible (John 4:24). God is One, but He exists as three Persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16-17). God is infinite (1 Timothy 1:17), incomparable (2 Samuel 7:22), and unchanging (Malachi 3:6). God exists everywhere (Psalm 139:7-12), knows everything (Psalm 147:5Isaiah 40:28), and has all power and authority (Ephesians 1Revelation 19:6).

Who is God? – His Character
Here are some of God’s characteristics as revealed in the Bible: God is just (Acts 17:31), loving (Ephesians 2:4-5), truthful (John 14:6), and holy (1 John 1:5). God shows compassion (2 Corinthians 1:3), mercy (Romans 9:15), and grace (Romans 5:17). God judges sin (Psalm 5:5) but also offers forgiveness (Psalm 130:4).

Who is God? – His Work
We cannot understand God apart from His works, because what God does flows from who He is. Here is an abbreviated list of God’s works, past, present, and future: God created the world (Genesis 1:1Isaiah 42:5); He actively sustains the world (Colossians 1:17); He is executing His eternal plan (Ephesians 1:11) which involves the redemption of man from the curse of sin and death (Galatians 3:13-14); He draws people to Christ (John 6:44); He disciplines His children (Hebrews 12:6); and He will judge the world (Revelation 20:11-15).

Who is God? – A Relationship with Him
In the Person of the Son, God became incarnate (John 1:14). The Son of God became the Son of Man and is therefore the “bridge” between God and man (John 14:61 Timothy 2:5). It is only through the Son that we can have forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7), reconciliation with God (John 15:15Romans 5:10), and eternal salvation (2 Timothy 2:10). In Jesus Christ “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). So, to really know who God is, all we have to do is look at Jesus. (Quote source here.)

So who is Jesus Christ? Again, GotQuestion.org answers:

Unlike the questionDoes God exist?” [click on that link if you want to know the answer] very few people question whether Jesus Christ existed. It is generally accepted that Jesus was truly a man who walked on the earth in Israel 2000 years ago. The debate begins when the subject of Jesus’ full identity is discussed. Almost every major religion teaches that Jesus was a prophet or a good teacher or a godly man. The problem is that the Bible tells us that Jesus was infinitely more than a prophet, a good teacher, or a godly man.

C.S. Lewis in his bookMere Christianity” writes the following: “I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus Christ]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.”

So, who did Jesus claim to be? Who does the Bible say He is? First, let’s look at Jesus’ words in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” At first glance, this might not seem to be a claim to be God. However, look at the Jews’ reaction to His statement, “‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God’” (John 10:33). The Jews understood Jesus’ statement as a claim to be God. In the following verses, Jesus never corrects the Jews by saying, “I did not claim to be God.” That indicates Jesus was truly saying He was God by declaring, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). John 8:58 is another example: “‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” Again, in response, the Jews took up stones in an attempt to stone Jesus (John 8:59). Jesus’ announcing His identity as “I am” is a direct application of the Old Testament name for God (Exodus 3:14). Why would the Jews again want to stone Jesus if He had not said something they believed to be blasphemous, namely, a claim to be God?

John 1:1 says “the Word was God.” John 1:14 says “the Word became flesh.” This clearly indicates that Jesus is God in the flesh. Thomas the disciple declared to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Jesus does not correct him. The apostle Paul describes Him as, “…our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). The apostle Peter says the same, “…our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). God the Father is witness of Jesus’ full identity as well, “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.’” Old Testament prophecies of Christ announce His deity, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

So, as C.S. Lewis argued, believing Jesus to be only a good teacher is not an option. Jesus clearly and undeniably claimed to be God. If He is not God, then He is a liar, and therefore not a prophet, good teacher, or godly man. In attempts to explain away the words of Jesus, modern “scholars” claim the “true historical Jesus” did not say many of the things the Bible attributes to Him. Who are we to argue with God’s Word concerning what Jesus did or did not say? How can a “scholar” two thousand years removed from Jesus have better insight into what Jesus did or did not say than those who lived with, served with, and were taught by Jesus Himself (John 14:26)?

Why is the question over Jesus’ true identity so important? Why does it matter whether or not Jesus is God? The most important reason that Jesus has to be God is that if He is not God, His death would not have been sufficient to pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Only God could pay such an infinite penalty (Romans 5:82 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus had to be God so that He could pay our debt. Jesus had to be man so He could die. Salvation is available only through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ deity is why He is the only way of salvation. Jesus’ deity is why He proclaimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). (Quote source here.)

And there you have it–who God is, who Jesus Christ is, and whether or not we choose to believe it to be true. As Revelation 1:8 states: I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God . . .

Who is, and who was . . .

And who is to come . . .

The Almighty . . . .

YouTube Video: “He Reigns” by Newsboys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Worldviews

“We live by what we believe, not by what we can see.” ~2 Corinthians 5:7 NCV. In Max Lucado‘s latest book, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World(2017), he makes the following statement regarding our belief system:

Your belief system is your answer to the fundamental questions about life: Is anyone in control of the universe? Does life have a purpose? Do I have value? Is this life all there is?

Your belief system has nothing to do with your skin color, appearance, talents, or age. Your belief system is not concerned with the exterior of the tent but the interior. It is the set of convictions–all of them unseen–upon which your faith depends. If your belief system is strong, you will stand. If it is weak, the storm will prevail.

Belief always precedes behavior. For this reason the apostle Paul in each of his epistles addressed convictions before he addressed actions. To change the way a person responds to life, change what a person believes about life. The most important thing about you is your belief system. (Quote source: “Anxious for Nothing,” page 22).

Our beliefs come from our worldview, so let’s define what is meant by “worldview.” The following is taken from an article titled What’s Your View of the World? (Part 2) in a three-part series published in 2006 titled, What’s a Christian Worldview? by Dr. Del Tackett, former president of the Focus on the Family Institute and a former Senior Vice President of Focus on the Family, creator of Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project, and professor:

What is a Worldview?

Charles Colson said a worldview is “the sum total of our beliefs about the world,”1 while James Sire says it is our “set of presuppositions . . . about the basic makeup of our world.”2 Webster defines it as “a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world.”3 A worldview is something much deeper than your personality or how you hold a golf club. It defines your beliefs about reality and your outlook on life.

In order to better understand the concept, it’s important to know that there are two different kinds—or two “levels”—of worldview. Allow me to explain.

Formal Worldviews

A formal worldview is a major system of ideas that orders human hearts and minds. To visualize this, picture a bookshelf with twenty or thirty books on it. Some are old, some are new. Some are thick, others thin. Each book has a title: Christianity, Islam, Marxism, Pagan Mysticism, etc.

If you were to study them, you would find that each builds a case that the things it claims are true (its “truth claims”) accurately reflect reality. Some are better defined than others, but each one asserts that it has discovered or crafted the real truth about everything important in life. Marxism, for example, basically claims that the secret of life lies in economics and, as a result, reality consists in the clash between those who control the means of production and those who don’t.

A formal worldview is usually comprehensive in scope, offering its proponents a lens they can look through to formulate universal beliefs about life, from philosophy to science, from anthropology to politics, from economics to social order.

Personal Worldviews

If we camp out on this definition, we might begin to think that our personal worldviews are in one-to-one relationship with the established formal worldviews. We would be wrong. There is a huge difference between a systematic set of truth claims and the complex, fragmented, and elusive beliefs of most human beings.

If someone claims to be a Marxist, what does that mean? Can we assume that his personal beliefs exactly match the Marxism book on the shelf? Or what if someone claims to be a witch? It’s hard to say what that means in terms of her assumptions about life. Likewise, when someone says, “I am a Christian; therefore, I have a Christian worldview,” it’s not necessarily true.

Late in 2003, pollster George Barna attempted to determine how many Americans held a “biblical worldview.”4 He asked people questions taken straight from Scripture, to find out if they really believe what is written there.5 The results were dismal: Only four percent do. When he looked at the born-again6 believers in America, the results inched up to an anemic nine percent. How can this be? Instead of adopting the formal framework of a biblical worldview, it seems that “Christians” have accepted a hodgepodge of individual truth claims that come from everywhere.

Life on a Smorgasbord

Look back at the bookshelf for a moment. On the end, you will find another, very large book titled “Miscellaneous.” In here we find all of the unconnected truth claims that simply float around our culture. They may be distant cousins or distortions of a formal worldview or unexamined claims that don’t at all reflect reality.

For example, if you listen carefully to what people are saying and read between the lines, you will hear this belief: “I am stupid and worthless.” Where did that come from? I can think of several “formal” worldviews that give rise to this truth claim, but not directly. People in our culture are perhaps more influenced by these miscellaneous truth claims than by any formal worldview.

So what’s wrong with that? To begin with, living with a hodgepodge of unexamined beliefs makes our lives purposeless and fragmented. On top of that, when our beliefs don’t accurately represent reality, we end up acting in ways that hurt ourselves and our relationships.

I challenge you to examine your worldview. Do your personal beliefs really come from a biblical framework, or are they collected from various belief systems and your own (perhaps inaccurate) interpretation of reality? If we say that our God, in Jesus, is truth, we would do well to live lives that are based on the truth He has revealed to us in his Word. (Quote source here.)

The following is taken from Part 1 in the series titled, “What’s a Christian Worldview,” by Dr. Del Tackett:

What’s a biblical worldview?

A biblical worldview is based on the infallible Word of God. When you believe the Bible is entirely true, then you allow it to be the foundation of everything you say and do. That means, for instance, you take seriously the mandate in Romans 13 to honor the governing authorities by researching the candidates and issues, making voting a priority.

Do you have a biblical worldview? Answer the following questions, based on claims found in the Bible and which George Barna used in his survey:

  • Do absolute moral truths exist?
  • Is absolute truth defined by the Bible?
  • Did Jesus Christ live a sinless life?
  • Is God the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe, and does He still rule it today?
  • Is salvation a gift from God that cannot be earned?
  • Is Satan real?
  • Does a Christian have a responsibility to share his or her faith in Christ with other people?
  • Is the Bible accurate in all of its teachings?

Did you answer yes to these? Only 9 percent of “born- again” believers did. But what’s more important than your yes to these questions is whether your life shows it. Granted, we are all sinners and fall short, but most of our gut reactions will reflect what we deep-down, honest-to-goodness believe to be real and true.

How does a biblical worldview get diluted?

Here is the big problem. Non-biblical worldview ideas don’t just sit in a book somewhere waiting for people to examine them. They bombard us constantly from television, film, music, newspapers, magazines, books and academia.

Because we live in a selfish, fallen world, these ideas seductively appeal to the desires of our flesh, and we often end up incorporating them into our personal worldview. Sadly, we often do this without even knowing it.

For example, most Christians would agree with 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and other Scriptures that command us to avoid sexual immorality, but how often do Christians fall into lust or premarital and extramarital sexual sin? Is it simply because they are weak when tempted, or did it begin much earlier, with the seductive lies from our sexualized society?

Why does a biblical worldview matter?

If we don’t really believe the truth of God and live it, then our witness will be confusing and misleading. Most of us go through life not recognizing that our personal worldviews have been deeply affected by the world. Through the media and other influences, the secularized American view of history, law, politics, science, God and man affects our thinking more than we realize. We then are taken “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

However, by diligently learning, applying and trusting God’s truths in every area of our lives — whether it’s watching a movie, communicating with our spouses, raising our children or working at the office — we can begin to develop a deep comprehensive faith that will stand against the unrelenting tide of our culture’s non-biblical ideas. If we capture and embrace more of God’s worldview and trust it with unwavering faith, then we begin to make the right decisions and form the appropriate responses to questions on abortion, same- sex marriage, cloning, stem-cell research and even media choices. Because, in the end, it is our decisions and actions that reveal what we really believe.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). (Quote source here.)

One last item regarding worldviews comes from an article titled 8 Questions Every Worldview Must Answer,” by James W. Sire, PhD, a Christian author, speaker, and former editor for InterVarsity Press:

If a worldview can be expressed in propositions, what might they be? Essentially, they are our basic, rock-bottom answers to the following questions: 

  1. What is prime reality—the really real? To this we might answer: God, or the gods, or the material cosmos. Our answer here is the most fundamental. It sets the boundaries for the answers that can consistently be given to the other six questions. This will become clear as we move from worldview to worldview in the chapters that follow [see “The Universe Next Door,” 5th Edition, by James Sire]
  2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us? Here our answers point to whether we see the world as created or autonomous, as chaotic or orderly, as matter or spirit; or whether we emphasize our subjective, personal relationship to the world or its objectivity apart from us.
  3. What is a human being? To this we might answer: a highly complex machine, a sleeping god, a person made in the image of God, a naked ape.
  4. What happens to a person at death? Here we might reply: personal extinction, or transformation to a higher state, or reincarnation, or departure to a shadowy existence on “the other side.”
  5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? Sample answers include the idea that we are made in the image of an all-knowing God or that consciousness and rationality developed under the contingencies of survival in a long process of evolution.
  6. How do we know what is right and wrong? Again, perhaps we are made in the image of a God whose character is good, or right and wrong are determined by human choice alone or what feels good, or the notions simply developed under an impetus toward cultural or physical survival.
  7. What is the meaning of human history? To this we might answer: to realize the purposes of God or the gods, to make a paradise on earth, to prepare a people for a life in community with a loving and holy God, and so forth. 
  8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?

Within any given worldview, core commitments may vary widely. For example, a Christian might say, to fulfill the will of God, or to seek first the kingdom of God, or to obey God and enjoy him forever, or to be devoted to knowing God or loving God. Each will lead to a somewhat different specific grasp of the Christian worldview.

A naturalist might say to realize their personal potential for experiencing life, or to do as much good as they can for others, or to live in a world of inner peace in a world of social diversity and conflict.

The question and its answers reveal the variety of ways the intellectual commitments are worked out in individual lives. They recognize the importance of seeing one’s own worldview not only within the context of vastly different worldviews but within the community of one’s own worldview. Each person, in other words, ends up having his or her own take on reality. And though it is extremely useful to identify the nature of a few (say, five to ten) generic worldviews, it is necessary in identifying and assessing one’s own worldview to pay attention to its unique features, the most important of which is one’s own answer to this eighth question.

Within various basic worldviews other issues often arise. For example: Who is in charge of this world—God or humans or no one at all? Are we as human beings determined or free? Are we alone the maker of values? Is God really good? Is God personal or impersonal? Or does he, she or it exist at all? When stated in such a sequence, these questions boggle the mind. Either the answers are obvious to us and we wonder why anyone would bother to ask such questions, or else we wonder how any of them can be answered with any certainty. If we feel the answers are too obvious to consider, then we have a worldview, but we have no idea that many others do not share it. We should realize that we live in a pluralistic world. What is obvious to us may be “a lie from hell” to our neighbor next door. If we do not recognize that, we are certainly naive and provincial, and we have much to learn about living in today’s world. Alternatively, if we feel that none of the questions can be answered without cheating or committing intellectual suicide, we have already adopted a sort of worldview. The latter is a form of skepticism which in its extreme form leads to nihilism.

The fact is that we cannot avoid assuming some answers to such questions. We will adopt either one stance or another. Refusing to adopt an explicit worldview will turn out to be itself a worldview, or at least a philosophic position. In short, we are caught. So long as we live, we will live either the examined or the unexamined life. (Quote source here.)

A song sung by Michael Jackson (1958-2009) titled, Man in the Mirror,” came to mind as I finished writing the above information on worldviews. “Man in the Mirror” peaked at number 1 in the United States when released in January 1988 as the fourth single from Michael Jackson’s seventh solo album, Bad (1987) (source here). I’ll let the song and the words speak for themselves (YouTube video is below, and lyrics are available at this link). I’ll end this post with a few words from the song . . . .

If you want to make the world a better place . . .

Take a look at yourself . . .

And make a change . . . .

YouTube Video: “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

From the Inside Out

I ran across a statement recently that gave me pause for thought: “Christians are often known for their squabbles and divisions.” However, that statement needs to be taken in the context of the article for a clear understanding since “squabbles and divisions” can happen in any group of people and not just among Christians. The article is titled, Why Are There So Many Christian Denominations? published on StartingPoint.com, which is a part of North Point Ministries founded in 1995 by Andy Stanley, communicator, author and pastor. The article is quite informative:

During Jesus’ ministry, he prayed that his future followers would exhibit a special kind of unity that would be a testimony to the world. So what happened? Rather than unity, harmony, and cooperation, Christians are often known for their squabbles and divisions. Even when they appear to get along, they divide up into hundreds of different groups, churches, and denominations. For those who are not Christians, it seems confusing. Why can’t they agree on anything? Why are there sometimes four different churches on the same street? Even for believers, the question often arises: Why are there so many Christian denominations? Before we explore this issue, let’s survey the landscape. Within Christianity, there are three main branches: Eastern Orthodoxy (which is chiefly practiced in Russia and Eastern European countries), Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. In the United States, we’re most familiar with Roman Catholic churches and Protestant denominations. While virtually all Roman Catholic churches have the same beliefs, form, and structure, Protestant denominations can vary. These include Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, and numerous other groups. In addition, some churches consider themselves within the Protestant stream, but do not affiliate with any specific denomination (such as Bible churches or community churches).

So, why are there so many different denominations and types of churches? There are several reasons. For starters, let’s not forget that denominations are made up of churches and churches are made of people; and sometimes people just don’t get along. After all, just because people are Christians doesn’t mean they always agree. Moreover, Christians still struggle with pride, selfishness, and stubbornness, and this means they sometimes respond to relational conflict poorly. This has often led to debates and divisions within churches and denominations, which in turn leads to the creation of new churches and denominations. It’s an unfortunate situation, but a reality given human nature. Maybe this is why Jesus focused so much on unconditional love and forgiveness as an expression of the kind of people he wants us to be.

Another reason Christians are sometimes divided is legitimate disagreements about secondary areas of belief or practice. What does baptism mean and who should get baptized? How should local churches be structured? Who should fill leadership roles? How often should communion be practiced? How should certain passages in the Bible be interpreted? These are good questions and the answers aren’t always clear in the Bible. Perhaps this is the reason the Bible exhorts us to exercise wisdom and humility when it comes to secondary issues where genuine differences exist (Romans 14-15).

A third reason that so many different groups of Christians exist is differences in personality, passions, and talents. Some people are more inclined to worship God through the exercise of their minds. They therefore focus on analytical thinking and biblical knowledge. Others are more artistically or creatively wired and the way they express their faith is quite different. Still others are more engaged in their relationship with God when they serve others. They find the greatest fulfillment when they can work with their hands or actively serve people with special needs in their communities. While all of these things are important, it’s no surprise that different churches and even whole denominations would emerge in light of the unique personalities of their adherents.

Another example relates to the role of tradition. Certain types of people appreciate the structure and heritage of worshiping God according to traditions passed down over generations or even centuries. Thus, a more traditional church in the Episcopal or Lutheran denomination might feel more comfortable to them. Other people, however, prefer to explore fresh, innovative ways of growing in their relationship with God and often feel boxed in by long-standing rituals or traditions. Therefore, a nondenominational church might suit them best. Of course, these are not the only reasons that different churches and denominations exist, but such practical matters like the role of tradition in a worship service can often play a large role. A lesson we can learn from such diversity is that various churches and denominations can learn from each other and that together, they make up the larger community of faith known as the people of God.

Finally, people from different cultures will express their faith and worship God in their own distinctive ways. It shouldn’t surprise us if churches in a middle-class Midwest American city are extremely different from those in a war-torn, poverty-stricken village in Africa. Consequently, various churches and whole denominations will vary greatly depending upon the geographical location and cultural values of the people themselves.

Despite these differences, there are a few central tenets that bind all Christians together, regardless of their particular church, denomination, culture, or geographical location. Christians believe in God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), that all humans are sinful and in need of grace, and that only Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to have a relationship with God through his death and resurrection. Christians also believe that the Bible most clearly reveals who God is, how we can have a relationship with him, and how we can extend God’s love to other people. While other beliefs and practices are important, and often the cause of disagreements, they are secondary. God’s story is bigger than our differences, and if we continue to seek him according to the longing and desires that he has given us, we can all begin to find our places in his grand story. (Quote source here.)

“God’s story is bigger than our differences, and if we continue to seek him according to the longing and desires that he has given us, we can all begin to find our places in his grand story.” And that is the key to our relationships within the Church and with each other. The causes of our disagreements are secondary and should never take “front and center stage.”

One area of confusion among Christians today centers around the difference between legalism and grace. Matt Slick, President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), gives us the definition of both in the following statements on CARM:

What is legalism?

In Christianity, legalism is the excessive and improper use of the law (the ten commandments, holiness laws, etc). This legalism can take different forms. The first is where a person attempts to keep the Law in order to attain salvation. The second is where a person keeps the law in order to maintain his salvation. The third is when a Christian judges other Christians for not keeping certain codes of conduct that he thinks need to be observed. Let’s examine each one more closely.

The first kind of legalism is where the law of God is kept in order to attain salvation. This is a heresy, a completely false doctrine. We are not able to attain salvation by our keeping the law. Rom. 3:28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Rom. 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.” Gal. 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” It is simply not possible to keep the Law enough to be saved. Therefore, to try and gain salvation through one’s efforts is a false teaching. It is so bad that those who hold to it cannot be Christians since it would deny salvation by grace through faith.

The second kind of legalism is where a person tries to keep or maintain his salvation by keeping the law. This is also a false doctrine. We receive our salvation by faith (Eph. 2:8-9), not by our ability to be good because no one does good (Rom. 3:10-12). As Rom. 3:284:5, and Gal. 2:21 clearly show, we are justified by faith, not by faith and works. Furthermore, there are strict warnings about attempting to keep the law in order to maintain salvation: Gal. 3:10, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” And James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” So, if a person is seeking to be either saved by his works (Law) or maintain his salvation by his works (Law), then he is under obligation to keep all of it, and if he does not then, he is guilty before God. Furthermore, consider Jesus’ words in Matt. 7:22-23, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Jesus condemns them because they were appealing to their salvation based on their faith and doing good. So it should be obvious that we do not keep our salvation by our efforts.

The last kind of legalism, where a Christian keeps certain laws and regards other Christians who do not keep his level of holiness with contempt, is a frequent problem in the church. Now, we want to make it clear that all Christians are to abstain from fornication, adultery, pornography, lying, stealing, etc. Christians do have a right to judge the spirituality of other Christians in these areas where the Bible clearly speaks. But, in the debatable areas, we need to be more careful, and this is where legalism is more difficult to define. Rom. 14:1-12 says that we are not to judge our brothers on debatable issues. One person may eat certain kinds of foods where another would not. One person might worship on a particular day where another might not. We are told to let each person be convinced in his own mind (Rom. 14:5). As long as our freedom does not violate the Scriptures, then everything should be okay. (Quote source here.)

What is grace?

Grace is the unmerited favor of God. It is where God shows us mercy, kindness, and patience instead of the judgment that we deserve for sinning against him. God’s grace cannot be earned by our actions or sincerity. It cannot be lost by our rebellion or sin. Grace is based on the character of God and not on our sincerity, performance, or ability to keep the law of God. Otherwise, grace would not be grace.

  • Rom. 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”
  • Gal. 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
  • 2 Timothy 1:9, “who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”

If it were not for God’s grace, we would never be saved from his righteous judgment. It was the grace of God that worked in Christ who bore our sins in his body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24), so that we might be forgiven and justified by faith (Rom. 3:285:1). Because of God’s gracious kindness, all who put their trust in his work on the cross will receive forgiveness, salvation, regeneration, and the eternal love of God. Again, God’s kindness to us is based on his character not on ours. His grace to us is completely and totally an act of his free will and not based on any ability, merit, or performance of our own.

God’s grace is manifested to unbelievers also. Ultimately, all people deserve the judgment of God because all people have sinned (Romans 3:23). However, God does not execute his judgment upon all people right away. Instead, he is exceedingly patient and kind towards them. Please consider what Jesus said regarding loving our enemies even as God loves the unrighteous in Matt. 5:43-48:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Quote source here.)

One last item I want to mention comes from a book titled, How Now Shall We Live? (1999), by Charles Colson (1931-2012), founder of Prison Fellowship, and Nancy Pearcey, Professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University. It has to do with the difference between Christians who actually practice their faith as compared to Christians who primarily use it for their own purposes. The following is taken from Chapter 32 titled, “Don’t Worry, Be Religious,” on page 314:

Gordon Allport (1897-1967) [Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, 1930-1967], the great psychologist of religion, drew a distinction between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” religion. Extrinsically religious people use religion for external purposes, like the politician who attends church to gain respectability or the person who prays for purely materialistic benefits. But intrinsically religious people serve God without ulterior motive: They pray in order to communicate with him and understand his truth; they give without utilitarian calculation. In Allport’s professional experience, improved mental health [one of the topics in this chapter] correlates only with intrinsic religion. The benefits go to those who genuinely believe, not to those who use religion for ulterior purposes. (Quote source, “How Now Shall We Live?” p. 314.)

So the question we should ask ourselves is this one: “Are we intrinsically or extrinsically motivated?” I’ll end this post with the refrain from the song, From the Inside Out,” sung by Phillips, Craig and Dean: And my heart and my soul, well, I give You control . . . 

Consume me from the inside out, Lord . . .

Let justice and praise become my embrace . . .

To love You from the inside out . . . .

YouTube Video: “From the Inside Out” by Phillips, Craig and Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Playing Favorites

Nobody likes to be the one who is left out. Yet showing favoritism to some people while ignoring others is commonplace in this world of ours including in church settings, in the workplace, schools and colleges/universities, in the military, in politics, and in any other type of social setting including families, relatives, among friends and even strangers. And it is often done with such frequency that we don’t even give it much thought or even realize on a conscious level that we are doing it. At other times we are quite aware of what we are doing. “Favoritism is partiality or bias. To show favoritism is to give preference to one person over others with equal claims. It is similar to discrimination and may be based on conditions such as social class, wealth, clothing, actions, etc.” (Quote source here).

This evening I ran across an editorial written by A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) on this very topic of favoritism. Tozer was a pastor, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor from my grandparents’ generation. This particular editorial is titled, “Beware Respect of Persons,” and is Chapter 26 in the book titled, We Travel an Appointed Way (originally published in 1988 and republished in 2010), compiled and edited by Harry Verploegh (d. 1999) which contains a collection of 39 editorials written by Tozer during his fourteen-year tenure as the editor of Alliance Life,” the official magazine of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Tozer wrote in the early-to-mid 20th Century so keep that in mind as you are reading this editorial:

Beware Respect of Persons

There is an evil which I have seen under the sun–one that grows and does not diminish. and it is all the more dangerous because it is done without evil aforethought but, as it were, carelessly and without wrong intent.

It is the evil of giving to them that have and withholding from them that have not. It is the evil of blessing with a loud voice them that are already blessed and letting the unblessed and the outcast lie forgotten.

Let a man appear in a local Christian fellowship and let him be one whose fame is bruited abroad, whose presence will add something to the one who entertains him, and immediately a score of homes will be thrown open and every eager hospitality will be extended to him. But the obscure and the unknown must be content to sit on the fringes of the Christian circle and not once be invited into any home.

This is a great evil and an iniquity that awaits the judgment of the great day. And it is so widespread that scarcely any of us can claim to be free from it. So we condemn it only with utter humility and with acknowledgment that we too have been in some measure guilty.

No observant man will attempt to deny that a vast amount of Christian money is being spent on those who do not need it, while the poor and the needy and such as have no helper must often go unnoticed and unhelped, even though they too are Christians and servants of our common Lord. (The modern church would appear to be as blind and partial as the world in this matter.)

Our Lord warned us against the snare of showing kindness only to such as could return such kindness and so cancel out any positive good we may have thought we were doing. By this test, a world of religious activity is being wasted in our churches. to invite in well-fed and well-groomed friends to share our hospitality with the full knowledge that we will be invited to receive the same kindness again on the first convenient evening is in no sense an act of Christian hospitality. It is of the earth, earthy; its motive is fleshly; no sacrifice is entailed; its moral content is nil and it will be accounted wood, hay, stubble (see 1 Corinthians 3:12-15) before the judgment seat of Christ.

The evil here discussed was common among the Pharisees of New Testament times. In chapter 23 of Matthew, Christ mercilessly exposed the whole thing, and in so doing earned the undying enmity of those who practiced it. The Pharisees were bad not because they entertained their friends but because they would not entertain the poor and the common among the people. One bitter accusation which they hurled against Christ was that He received sinners and ate with them. This they would not stoop to do, and in their high pride, they became seven times worse than the worst among the sinners whom they so coldly rejected.

In spite of our lip service to democracy, Americans are a decidedly class-conscious people. The very politicians and educators and church leaders among us who sound abroad the praises of the common man and plead for equal rights for all are in private practice as aloof from the plain people as the proudest monarch could ever be. There exists among us an aristocracy composed of famous people, rich men, social lions, public figures and headliners of one kind or another, and these are the class apart. Beneath them, standing off in wide-eyed admiration, are the millions of anonymous men and women who make up the mass of the population. And they have nothing in their favor–except that they were in the heart of Jesus when He died on the cross.

Within the church also there exists a class consciousness, a reflection of that found in society. This has been brought over into the church from the world. Its spirit is completely foreign to the spirit of Christ, utterly opposed to it, indeed; and yet it determines to a large degree the conduct of Christians. This is the source of the evil we mention here.

Gospel churches which mostly begin with the lowly are usually not content till they attain some degree of wealth and social acceptance. Then they gradually fall into classes, determined largely by the wealth and education of the members. The individuals that comprise the top layer of these various classes go on to become pillars of the religious society and are soon entrenched in places of leadership and influence. It is then that their great temptation comes upon them, the temptation to cater to their own class and to neglect the poor and the ignorant that make up the swarming population around them. They soon become hardened to every appeal of the Holy Spirit toward meekness and humility. Their homes are spotless, their clothes the most expensive, their friends the most exclusive. Apart from some tremendous moral upheaval, they are beyond help. And yet they may be among the most vocal exponents of Bible Christianity and heavy givers to the cause of the church.

Let us not become indignant at this blunt portrayal of facts. Let us rather humble ourselves to serve God’s poor. Let us seek to be like Jesus in our devotion to the forgotten of the earth who have nothing to recommend them but their poverty and their heart-hunger and their tears. (Quote source: “We Travel An Appointed Way,” pp. 73-76).

Tozer was not a man who was afraid to tackle the tough topics in the church of his day. And often his words from 70-80 years ago hit right at the heart of the matter in today’s churches, too. In another book titled, Culture(published in 2016) which contains another twenty-four selections by Tozer, the publisher’s note at the beginning of the book states, “A.W. Tozer was a man who understood his times and who knew what to do. The twenty-four selections that follow are a small sampling of Tozer’s writing on what it means to be a Christian in a world that is largely uninterested in Christ” (quote source, Culture,” p. 7). The following is taken from Chapter 15 titled, “Are We Evangelicals Social Climbing?”:

Are We Evangelicals Social Climbing?

Traditionally, Christianity has been the religion of the common people. Whenever the upper classes have adopted it in numbers, it has died. Respectability has almost always proved fatal to it.

The reasons back of this are two, one human and other other divine.

Schleiermacher [Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834) was a German theologian, philosopher, and biblical scholar] has pointed out that at the bottom of all religion there lies a feeling of dependence, as sense of creature helplessness. The simple man who lives close to the earth lives also close to death and knows that he must look for help beyond himself; he knows that there is but a step between him and catastrophe. As he rises in the social and economic scale, he surrounds himself with more and more protective devices and pushed danger (so he thinks) farther and farther from him. Self-confidence displaces the feeling of dependence he once knew, and God becomes less necessary to him. Should he stop to think this through he would know better than to place his confidence in things and people; but so badly are we injured by our moral fall that we are capable of deceiving ourselves completely and, if conditions favor it, to keep up the deception for a lifetime.

Along with the feeling of security that wealth and position bring comes an arrogant pride that shuts rightly the door of the heart to the waiting Savior. Our Very Important Man may indeed honor a church by joining it, but there is no life in his act. His religion is external and his faith nominal. Conscious respectability has destroyed him.

The second reason Christian tends to decline as its devotees move up the social scale is that God will not respect persons nor share His glory with another. Paul sets this forth plainly enough in his First Corinthians epistle:

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Corinthians 1:25-29, NKJV)

When God sent His Son to redeem mankind, He sent Him to the home of a workingman and He grew up to be what we now call a peasant. When He presented Himself to Israel and launched into His earthly ministry, He was rejected by the respectable religionists and had to look for followers almost exclusively from among the poor, plain people. When the Spirit came and the church was founded, its first members were the socially unacceptable. For generations the church drew her numbers from among the lower classes, individual exceptions occurring now and again, of which Saul of Tarsus was the most noteworthy.

During the centuries since Pentecost the path of true Christianity has paralleled pretty closely the path Jesus walked when He was here on earth: it was to be rejected by the great and accepted by the lowly. The institutionalized church has certainly not been poor, not has she lacked for great and might men to swell her membership. But this great church has had no power. Almost always the approval of God has rested upon small and marginal groups whose member were scorned while they lived and managed to gain acceptance only after they had been safely dead several score years.

Today we evangelicals are showing signs that we are becoming too rich and too prominent for our own good. With a curious disregard for the lessons of history we are busy fighting for recognition by the world and acceptance by society. And we are winning both. The great and the might are now looking our way. The world seems about to come over and join us. Of course we must make some concessions, but these have almost all been made already except for a big of compromising here and there on such matters as verbal inspiration, special creation, separation, and religious tolerance.

Evangelical Christianity is fast becoming the religion of the bourgeoisie. The well-to-do, the upper middle classes, the politically prominent, the celebrities are accepting our religion by the thousands and parking their expensive cars outside our church doors, to the uncontrollable glee of our religious leaders who seem completely blind to the fact that the vast majority of these new patrons of the Lord of glory have not altered their moral habits in the slightest nor given any evidence of true conversion that would have been accepted by the saintly fathers who built the churches.

Yes, history is a great teacher, but she cannot teach those who do not want to learn. And apparently we do not. (Quote source: “Culture,” pp. 119-122.)

Do remember that these words by Tozer were written in the mid 20th Century. When I read them this evening I was struck by how true they still are, and maybe even more so, today.

Back in 1992, the musical group 4Him came out with a song titled, “The Basics of Life” (YouTube video is below). I’d like to end this blog post with the words from that song as they are even more relevant today:

“The Basics Of Life”

We’ve turned the page,
For a new day has dawned
We’ve rearranged what is right
And what’s wrong

Somehow we’ve drifted
So far from the truth

That we can’t get back home

Where are the virtues
That once gave us light

Where are the morals
That governed our lives

Someday we all will
Awake and look back

Just to find what we’ve lost

[Chorus:]
We need to get back
To the basics of life
A heart that is pure
And a love that is blind
A faith that is fervently
grounded in Christ
The hope that endures
For all times

These are the basics,
we need to get back
To the basics of life

The newest rage is to reason it out
Just meditate and you can
Overcome every doubt

After all man is a God, they say
God is no longer alive

But I still believe
In the old rugged cross

And I still believe
There is hope for the lost

And I know the
Rock of all ages will stand

Through changes of time

[Chorus]

[Bridge:]
We’ve let the darkness
Invade us too long

We’ve got to turn the tide
Oh and we need the passion
That burned long ago

To come and open our eyes
There’s no room
For compromise

Lyrics compliments of AZLyrics.com

Those words speak truth to us today. May we be willing to listen . . . .

These are the basics . . .

We need to get back . . .

To the basics of life . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Basics of Life” by 4Him:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Bigger Picture

The new year is just over a week old now, and already I’ve started it out on a very positive note. Most of us are familiar with the expression, “Out with the old and in with the new,” especially at the start of a new year. In the past three days I’ve read one new book published on December 5, 2017, and I’m currently in the middle of a second new book published on January 3, 2018. Both have been informative and they have definitely captured my attention. For anyone looking for a challenge on expanding their current mindset, reading one or both of these two new books is a great way to get started.

The two books are (in the order I’m reading them as neither book outshadows the other): Unimaginable: What Our World Would Be Like Without Christianity,” by Jeremiah J. Johnston, Ph.D., President, Christian Thinkers Society, and Associate Professor of Early Christianity, Houston Baptist University; and Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality,” by Nancy R. Pearcey, M.A., Director, Center for Christian Worldview; Scholar-in Residence; and Professor of Apologetics, Houston Baptist University. She is also editor-at-large of The Pearcey Report.

Starting with the first book, from the many endorsement for the book, Unimaginable: What Our World Would Be Like Without Christianity,” here are just a few of them (source here):

“Western culture is under assault, and it may not survive. That’s why ‘Unimaginable’ is so critical to this moment in history. I encourage you to share it with someone who thinks the Christian faith is outdated and irrelevant, because what comes after Christianity may be the end of us all.”

Phil Cooke, PhD, filmmaker and author of “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media”

“As we live in a world desirous of scourging religion from life, Dr. Johnston shows that without difference-making believers in Jesus, many of the greatest elements of our world would be missing. Atheist, agnostic, or lifelong churchgoer–read this book and realize the importance and power of Christianity.”

Gregg Matte, Pastor, Houston’s First Baptist Church

“‘Unimaginable’ is one of those rare books that successfully combines cutting-edge scholarship on the origins of Christianity with meaningful and thought-provoking reflections on the place of religion in the contemporary world. In a bold way, Johnston presents the strong and unflinching case that in terms of ethics, social values, and human equality the world is a better place because of the contributions of Christianity.”

Paul Foster, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh

“Always the scholar who keeps his finger on the pulse of real-world society and culture, Jeremiah Johnston has produced a volume that addresses the myriad of blessings Christianity provides. It immediately reminded me of the ‘New Atheist’ complaints in recent years that religion never produces good results. Read this book and you’ll have more answers than you’ll ever need!”

Gary R. Habermas, Distinguished Research Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, Liberty University

“For the past few decades, Western society has been on a path to purge itself of Christian influence. If the trend continues, will progressives want what they get? Engaging and informative, this timely volume considers what our world and even modern Western society might look like without the tremendously positive impact of Christianity. I love the concept! Christian and non-Christian readers alike will walk away with a conviction similar to that of militant atheist Richard Dawkins: ‘Christianity may very well be the barrier preventing the world from becoming a place where freedom and justice are things of the past.'”

Michael R. Licona, PhD, Associate Professor of Theology, Houston Baptist University

“More than one hundred of the foremost atheists, agnostics, secularists, and philosophers have filmed interviews with me. Collectively, their accusation is that Christians do not know how to think critically. Jeremiah Johnston not only refutes the error, but presents the positive, seismic, irrefutable changes Christianity has brought to our world. Every Christian needs to know the crucial truths in this book.”

Dr. Jerry Johnston, jerryjohnston.com

“Many say Christianity is outdated and bigoted, based on a book of ancient myths. Jeremiah Johnston beautifully and biblically outlines that from politics to education to the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ, Christianity is actually the world’s greatest force for good.”

Janet Mefferd, radio host, “Janet Mefferd Today” and “Janet Mefferd Live”

The following is taken from the inside front cover of the book:

Is God Dying?

That’s what some people think and want. They say Christian beliefs and our way of life aren’t relevant anymore. But what critics and even many churchgoers don’t realize is the life-changing importance of Christianity.

Showing how the world would be a dark place without Christianity, “Unimaginable” guides you through the halls of history to see how Jesus’ teachings dramatically changed our world and continue to be the most powerful force for good today. Learn . . .

· How Christianity has stood against the evils of slavery (more than once), racism, eugenics, and injustices toward women and children

· Why democracy, freedom as a universal value, and modern education and legal systems owe much to Christianity

· How Christians throughout the ages have demonstrated the value of human life by sacrificially caring for the sick, handicapped, marginalized, and dying

· How people of faith are extending God’s kingdom through charities, social justice efforts, mental health initiatives, and other profound ways

This provocative and enlightening book is for anyone concerned about where our world is heading. (Quote source here.)

Regarding the second book, Love Thy Body,” I found a couple of reviews online. The following review is by Tim Challies, co-founder of Cruciform Books, a book reviewer, and author:

It is always a big deal when Nancy Pearcey releases a new book. It’s a special pleasure when that release is timed for the beginning of a new year. Such is the case with “Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality.” In this new work she brings her unique voice to some of the most pressing moral issues of our day. “’In Love Thy Body,’” she promises, “we will move beyond click-bait headlines and trendy slogans to uncover the worldview that drives the secular ethic. By learning the core principles of this worldview, you will be able to engage intelligently and compassionately on all of today’s most controversial moral challenges.”

And, indeed, that is exactly what she does and exactly what she delivers. As in all her works, she shows that the prevailing worldview around us is one that involves a two-tiered reality that places theology and morality in the realm of what is private, subjective, and relativistic while placing science in the realm of what is public, objective, and valid for all people. Thus secular science reigns supreme over all other matters, including faith. This then leads to a fact/value split where values are placed in the first realm and facts in the second. Your values are for you to live by, perhaps, but they have no bearing on the rest of humanity.

In “Love Thy Body” she shows how this very divide is at the heart of so many of today’s moral issues. The world around us neglects the core unity of human beings and instead divides us into two-tiered beings. “Christianity holds that body and soul together form an integrated unity—that the human being is an embodied soul. By contrast, personhood theory entails a two-level dualism that sets the body against the person, as though they were two separate things merely stuck together. As a result, it demeans the body as extrinsic to the person—something inferior that can be used for purely pragmatic purposes.”

After a thorough introduction that will get you caught up if you have not read Pearcey’s previous works, she turns her attention to six key issues, each of which can be explained and combated through a right understanding of the secular worldview that underpins them. In “The Joy of Death” she shows how body/person dualism is behind arguments for abortion and infanticide while in “Dear Valued Constituent” she looks at euthanasia, stem cell research, and even the growing movement toward transhumanism. “Schizoid Sex” shows how the hookup culture so prevalent on campuses today claims to set the body free, but actually diminishes its important. “The Body Impolitic” and “Transgender, Transreality,” turn to homosexuality and transgenderism. The final chapter, “The Goddess of Choice Is Dead,” turn from the individual to wider society.

Put together, this is a powerful book that brings Pearcey’s unique and uniquely-helpful voice to crucial issues. “We live in a moral wasteland,” she says, “where human beings are desperately seeking answers to hard questions about life and sexuality. But there is hope. In the wasteland we can cultivate a garden. We can discover a reality-based morality that expresses a positive, life-affirming view of the human person—one that is more inspiring, more appealing, and more liberating than the secular worldview.” Read this book to grow in your ability to do that very thing. (Quote source here.)

The second review of the book is much longer and it is by Bill Muehlenberg at CultureWatch. I’ve included excerpts from that review below:

Life and death. Sex. Just a few of the massively contentious issues of our time. Whether speaking of abortion, eugenics, assisted suicide, pornography, homosexuality or transgenderism, these are the hard-core topics occupying the attention of so many today – both in theory as well as in reality.

How we are to understand and assess all these hot potato ethical issues can be very difficult indeed. The problem is, most folks simply look at an individual issue and try to wade their way through it, instead of seeing the bigger picture. As noted Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer said decades ago, “The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.”

Thus when dealing with individual moral topics, one needs an ethical model (be it utilitarianism or whatever) with which to assess them, and this in turn should come out of one’s overall worldview. So the proper way to assess an issue such as euthanasia is to see it in terms of one’s worldview.

Worldview thinking was of course one of the chief emphases of Schaeffer, and it has been as well for one of his better-known students: Nancy Pearcey. She has already demonstrated her more than capable grasp of such matters in her earlier important volumes, including Total Truth (2004) and Finding Truth (2015).

In her brand new volume she looks in detail at these contentious ethical issues, and takes us back to see the bigger picture: “The problem is that many people treat morality as a list of rules. But in reality, every moral system rests on a worldview. In every decision we make, we are not just deciding what we want to do. We are expressing our view of the purpose of human life.” . . .

And this is no mere book of philosophy or lofty ideas. It is a very practical book that reminds us of the importance of ideas, and how bad ideas can harm us so very much. But the book is one of hope as well. It not only demolishes faulty worldview thinking, but it points the way forward.

Says Pearcey, “Christians have to become familiar with secular worldviews and learn to uncover their dehumanizing and destructive implications. Only then will the other person be open to considering Christianity as a credible alternative.”

The concluding paragraph nicely sums up the heart and spirit of this book, and of where Pearcey wants us to take all this:

Christians must be prepared to minister to the wounded, the refugees of the secular moral revolution whose lives have been wrecked by its false promises of freedom and autonomy. When people are persuaded that they are ultimately disconnected, atomistic selves, their relationships will grow fragile and fragmented. Those around us will increasingly suffer insecurity and loneliness. The new polarization can be an opportunity for Christian communities to become safe havens where people witness the beauty of relationships reflecting God’s own commitment and faithfulness. (Quote source here.)

As Christians in our society today, we often don’t recognize how much the secular worldview has become a part of our own lives. These two books give us a very clear picture of the differences between a Christian worldview and lifestyle and a secular worldview and lifestyle.

I’ll end this post with the words Jesus said to those who believed in him. He said in John 8:31-32If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. . .

Then you will know the truth . . .

And the truth . . .

Will set you free . . . .

YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa:

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My Wish For You

On this first day of a brand new year (2018) I thought I would share something short and sweet to get us started off in the right direction. Back in April 2006, the American country music group Rascal Flatts released a new album titled Me and My Gang,” and the third single on that album was “My Wish.” By December 2006 it had hit #1 on the U.S. Country music charts . . . And as of May 2016, the song had sold 2.927 million in the U.S., and in August 2016, a re-recorded version of the song was released to celebrate the song’s 10 year anniversary (source here). Background information on the song can be found at this link.

Here are the words to My Wish (YouTube video is below):

“My Wish”

I hope the days come easy
and the moments pass slow,

And each road leads you
where you want to go.

And if you’re faced with a choice
and you have to choose,

I hope you choose the one
that means the most to you.

And if one door opens
to another door closed,

I hope you keep on walkin’
’til you find the window.

If it’s cold outside,
show the world the
warmth of your smile.

But more than anything,
more than anything…

[Chorus:]
My wish for you
Is that this life becomes
all that you want it to.

Your dreams stay big,
your worries stay small.

You never need to carry
more than you can hold.

And while you’re out there
gettin’ where you’re gettin’ to,

I hope you know
somebody loves you,

And wants the
same things too.

Yeah, this is my wish.

I hope you never look back
but you never forget,

All the ones who love you
And the place you left.
I hope you always forgive
and you never regret,

And you help somebody
every chance you get.

And you find God’s grace
in every mistake,

And always give more
than you take.

But more than anything,
yeah more than anything…

[Chorus x2]

This is my wish
I hope you know
somebody loves you.

May all your dreams
stay big…

Lyrics compliments of AZLyrics.com

So as we travel through this new year of 2018, may your dreams stay big . . .

Your worries stay small . . .

And you never need to carry . . .

More then you can hold . . . .

YouTube Video: “My Wish” by Rascal Flatts:

Photo credit here