Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Ups and Downs of Rationality

Isaiah 55:8-9
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.
    "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

                One of the greatest assets that we have been given, as beings created in the image of God, is the ability to reason. This ability is one of the things that sets us apart from the rest of creation. Animals react to their environment. Humans respond to it. Over time, animals can learn that certain actions produce certain outcomes, and so they adjust their actions accordingly. But humans look at their environment and ask rational questions. Why does this happen when I do this? What would happen if I did that instead? What are the long term consequences of this action? Can I do this a different way and get a better result? This ability to reason has allowed humans to develop all kinds of things that have made life better. This is the up side of being a rational being.

                But there is a down side as well. In the early 18th century, a movement arose in England called deism. At the heart of this movement was the call for “free rational inquiry” into all subjects, especially religion. Deists embraced a Newtonian worldview that contended that all things in the universe, including God, must obey the laws of nature. This led to skepticism about miracles in general and specifically the miracles recorded in the Bible. God was seen as the first cause or prime mover of creation. He designed the world with natural laws that cannot be altered. This new theology was picked up by Thomas Paine in the late 1700’s. He wrote a series of pamphlets that were collected together under the title “The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology.”

                What this movement toward an “age of reason” did was convince people that we, as human beings, should be able to explain all things rationally. If something cannot be explained rationally, then it was to be discarded. The influence of this way of thinking still holds sway today. Many people in the science fields have elevated reason to the highest level, even above God. Science has much to teach us and much to offer, but when we expect science to be able to clearly explain all things, we have fallen off the cliff of true irrationality.

                This is what I mean. Deism actually put man on the throne and took God off of the throne. Deism views man’s ability to reason as ultimate, and subjugates God to it. But if we think “rationally”, if there is a God who has created all things, should we, as a part of that creation, think that we have the ability to understand that God or His actions completely? If God is the author of these natural laws, as Deism contends, then is He also not the master of those laws, and not a slave to them? By saying that miracles are impossible, because God must obey the natural laws of the universe, then are we not making natural law higher than God?

                As the created beings, we should not assume that we can completely understand the actions of God. As Isaiah and Paul both point out, we are but clay in the hands of the eternal potter. He has the right to do with us as He chooses, and we do not have the right to argue. Now, it is important to point out that God has invited us into a personal relationship with Him through faith in Christ. We are not unthinking, inanimate objects. God has given us the gift of understanding, but our understanding is limited. He has allowed us to come to a large, but partial understanding of our universe. But there will always be things that are beyond our grasp.

                I am using a computer to write this article. I understand how to use my computer and I understand a few things about how it works. But there are many things about my computer that I do not understand. If my computer were to stop functioning, I would be at a loss to fix it. But I am confident that there are others, who have a more complete understanding of computers, who can.

                We live in a marvelous world, with many surprises, discoveries, and wonders. God has allowed us to interact with our world in a unique way. He has given us the ability to have partial understanding of the workings of our world, but we do not have full understanding. God has given us amazing insights into who He is. He has invited us to know Him on a personal level. Yet, our understanding of God and His ways is only partial. Being the created beings, we will never have full knowledge of God and how He operates. But we can trust Him. We can trust that He is faithful, gracious, merciful, and compassionate. We can trust Him that all that He does is right. We can trust Him to set aside His natural laws, if He so desires, in order to accomplish a higher goal. We can trust Him to be God, and not just the first cause or prime mover of the universe.

                The greatest up side of rationality is the ability to think and reason about our world. The greatest down side of rationality is to fall into the trap of arrogance, thinking that we can understand and explain everything. The truly wise person is the one who understands that there are things he/she will never fully understand. There is mystery in our world, and I believe God likes it that way. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


                As I am composing this article, I am listening to the reports from yet another deadly terrorist attack in Europe. Gunman opened fire on shoppers at a busy, downtown mall in Munich, Germany. This is the third major attack that has taken place in Europe in the last couple of weeks. A man drove a truck through the crowds in Nice, France on Bastille Day, killing 82 and injuring over 200 others. There was a young man who entered a commuter train in Germany and injured five people with an ax and knife.

                In our own country, we have witnessed several black men shot by police. In response to those shootings, police officers have become targets, with the result of at least eight officers being killed and others wounded. In many ways, our world seems to be falling apart.

                All these events are disturbing, but we should not be surprised. Jesus warned us that in the last days the world will go crazy. Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
    "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:4-14.

                How are we to respond to the events of our world? Are we to live in fear? Are we to become angry vigilantes? Are we to hide and hope it all goes away? The answer to all of these questions is a definitive NO! The Bible is very clear about how we should respond.

                We are to respond with love and compassion. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus issued a call for us to take the high road in these situations. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48

                It has been said that the best way to defeat your enemy is to make him your friend. There are so many evil forces that are dividing us against one another. As followers of Christ, we need to lead the way at building bridges. The best way to do that is through genuine love and compassion.

                We are to be light in our ever darkening world. Satan is making a concerted effort to tear the world apart. He knows the time is short and he is pulling out all of the stops. But light always wins over darkness. When Jesus came into the world, He unleashed His light, in order to dispel the darkness. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. John 1:1-5 In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus enlisted us to be agents through which His light can overcome the darkness of Satan. "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16 We need to let the light of Christ shine through us in tangible, practical, transformational ways.

                We need to stay focused. As I watch the videos coming out of Germany, the overwhelming sense is one of confusion. When bad things happen, we tend to lose our balance. That is exactly what Satan wants to accomplish. As followers of Christ, we have been called to stay focused on the right things. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 The Bible warns us that, in the end times, many will compromise their faith in a effort to appease the darkness. That is the very thing we cannot do. We need to be bold and stand firm on the solid foundation of our faith in Jesus Christ.

                We need to resist fear.  Fear is an important warning system. It alerts us to potential danger. But fear is horrible master. When fear and panic take over, we run away when we should stand firm. We close our mouths when we should open them. We despair when we should be holding onto the hope we have in Christ. The message that God gave to Joshua is a message we need to hear and take to heart. It is a promise we can hold onto. "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:6-9

                The world around us is getting darker. It seems like Satan is winning, but he is not. He has already been defeated. Jesus won the victory on the cross at Calvary. So we can face the future with confidence and courage, because our hope is in the Risen, Victorious Lord! Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


                In our world today, we do not take sin seriously. In fact, many people refuse to acknowledge the reality of sin. Instead, they see it as making bad choices or being a victim of their circumstances. But they don’t take responsibility for their sinfulness. They believe that they are basically good and that God will overlook their mistakes, because they are really trying. In extreme cases, sin has become something to embrace and be proud of. In essence, by making light of sin, it takes the sting out of it. People just don’t understand how serious sin really is.

                Think of living in sin as a mud run. Mud runs are a popular event these days. People sign up for a mud run as a fun activity. They enter it in high spirits, expecting to get muddy. In fact, many people go to the extreme and try to get as muddy as possible. There is much laughter and joking as each contestant struggles in the mud, over and through the various obstacles in their way. But what if, when they got to the end of the mud run, they discovered that they could not wash the mud off. That they were doomed to live covered in mud for the rest of their lives. It would not be much fun anymore. 

                Many people view living a sinful life like a mud run. They enter it with their eyes wide open. They embrace sin as a fun activity. Along the way, some try to avoid being too sinful, while others indulge in as much sin as they can. Each one expects that at the end of their life, miraculously, all the mud of sin will be washed away and they will be fit to enter heaven. Unfortunately, it just isn’t true. If a person chooses to live their entire life in sinful rebellion, and refuses to repent and come to grips with their sin, they will spend all of eternity encased in their own sin. The difference will be that there will be no fun or laughter, only the regret of being unable to cleanse themselves.

                That is really what hell is. Hell is not a vindictive God, meeting out indiscriminate punishment. It is God removing His love and grace from the equation, and allowing people to live fully in the sin they have chosen. Hell is the just reward for a life lived in self-consumed rebellion.

                Paul clearly understood the struggle we have with sin. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:21-24) But Paul didn’t stop there. He knew the solution to the problem, and that solution is found in Christ.  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

                Like a water hose at the end of a mud run that washes away all of the mud, so the atoning work of Christ washes away our sin. No matter how immersed we have been in sin, Christ has the power to transform us into spiritually clean people.

Isaiah 1:18
"Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord.
"Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;

though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

Thursday, July 14, 2016


                Over the past 35 years of ministry, I have often found myself asking the question, why? Sometimes there is a simple answer, or at least it seems like a simple answer on the surface. I made a certain decision, and this is the outcome of that decision. At other times, there doesn’t seem to be an answer to the question. Job, for example, was never given a reason for why he had to face all of the suffering that he did. We know, but he did not. Sometimes, God gives us a glimpse of the why. That was the case for Joseph. After many years of hardship and pain, God elevated him to the second highest position in Egypt. When he finally revealed himself to his brothers, they we terrified. Instead of punishing them, Joseph put his life’s circumstances into a bigger picture.
                But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:19-20

                When we are faced with negative situations, such as what happened recently in Dallas, I fall back on the truth that we live in a sinful, fallen world, and that these are the consequences of that.    Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. Romans 1:28-32
                When Christians get caught up in negative situations, I remind myself that we are part of this fallen world and face the consequences right along with everyone else. In fact, as Christians, we can expect, at times, to be the target.
    "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Matthew 24:9-11

                When things happen closer to home, the why question begins to loom large. Although I can see the answer in the big picture, it does not satisfy me completely. I would prefer a much more specific answer. I can understand why things happen in general, but I want to know why they happen to me.

                Not all of my why questions are negative. Some of them are more questions of puzzlement. Such as, why has God allowed me to stay at my church for 29 years, when the norm for evangelical pastors is 8-10 years. Or why has God blessed our family with relatively few major problems, when other families seem to have more than their share?

                Throughout the Bible, when people have come to God with why questions, He has answered them in basically the same way. Instead of giving a specific answer to their question, He invites them to trust Him. When people ask why, God responds “I am with you. Do not be afraid.”

                When Paul, a man who had been given the power to heal others, was faced with his own “thorn in the flesh” he called out to God to remove it. Instead of removing it, God promised Paul that He was with him. Instead of complaining, Paul chose to trust God.
    To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor. 12:7-10

                Romans 8:28 is a verse that we often pull out when bad things happen. We use it as some kind of a salve to smooth over the situation. But it is really the answer to all of the why questions of life. It is a call to genuinely trust God.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

                Some day we may get the answer to all of our why questions, or we may not. One thing I can genuinely say is that, if we will truly trust God, we will experience the good, which He intends for us.