Tag Archives: God

Who created the blind watchmaker?

“What Dawkins does not seem to appreciate is that his blind watchmaker is something even more remarkable than Paley’s watches. Paley finds a watch and asks how such a thing could have come to be there by chance. Dawkins finds an immense automated factory that blindly constructs watches and feels that he has completely answered Paley’s point. But that is absurd. How can a factory that makes watches be less in need of explanation than the watches themselves?”

-Stephen Barr

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Why do people fight with each other?

On the day after Thanksgiving in 2008, Jdimytai Damour was trampled to death at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, New York. The crowd had lined up for a sale, and Jdimytai was in the way, so they pushed him down and trampled him until he died. When the crowd was told they had to leave because someone had been killed, they didn’t respond in horror–they responded by complaining about how long they’d waited in line.

“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” –James 4:2 (ESV)

Think of the last argument you had. What was it about? What did you want that you didn’t have? All quarrels come from wanting. All of them. My last argument was with my wife–I wanted her to go to a movie, but she didn’t feel like it. I’ve seen people argue about being first in line, because they both want the first spot.

There is only one first spot in line. Everything you could possibly want is limited in supply. The items on sale at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart on Black Friday in 2008 were limited in supply. My wife’s time is limited in supply. If you want something that’s in short supply, you need to compete for it. You need to quarrel for it. You have no other choice.

So, how do we end quarreling? How do we create peace in the world? The only way is to stop wanting the things that are in the world, because all of these things are limited, and all of them will require us to quarrel with other people in order to get them. The only way to create peace is for each of us to want nothing.

The problem is that we all want things. It’s difficult to want nothing–in fact, it’s impossible to want nothing. We can’t create peace by wanting nothing.

We can create peace by wanting something that’s not limited. But the only not-limited thing is God–the eternal, all-knowing, infinitely-loving God. We can all want God, and we don’t need to quarrel for Him, because He’s available to us in unlimited supply. Actually, the Lord wants us to want Him: “He yearns jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in us.” (James 4:5, ESV)

He has made a spirit of wanting to dwell in us, and that spirit can only be peaceably satisfied when it wants Him and nothing else.

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But…a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions… Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”

-James 3:16-4:8 (ESV)

when through you I vindicate My holiness before their eyes

God created us in His image. We were, originally, intended to be “shadows” and “pictures” of God Himself. He made us to display His holiness, power, and glory to each other and to everything on earth (see Genesis 1:26-31). But Adam sinned, and since him, each of us has sinned. In sinning, we’ve profaned God’s name. We’ve done terrible, unloving things, and instead of seeing God’s holiness in us, people around us have seen our greed, pride, and selfishness.

The beauty of redemption is that God will undo what we’ve done. Not only will He forgive us, but if we believe in His Son, He will use us to glorify Himself–to “vindicate” His holiness:

And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

-Ezekiel 36:23 (ESV)

This passage was written for ancient Israel, but I believe it applies directly to modern Christians. We are the fulfillment of this prophecy. We are sons and daughters of Abraham. We have inherited the ancient Jewish privilege of being God’s people. We’re not yet perfect, but we’re being sanctified each day by the Spirit. The closer we grow to the Lord, the more He can show “the nations” His holiness in us. This is tremendously gracious. God is working for His own glory so that people can know Him, but He using us in the work. What a privilege.

If you’re redeemed, are you allowing God to vindicate His holiness through you? If you are not redeemed, why don’t you let Him begin undoing what you’ve done?

I will put a new spirit within you, but not for your sake

These are the themes in Ezekiel 36:22-38.

  1. In order to glorify Himself, God would restore Israel. Israel did not deserve to be restored, but by restoring Israel, He would demonstrate the holiness of His name. “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned.” (vs. 22)
  2. God would make Israel clean again. He would change their hearts, bending their thoughts, desires, and inclinations to do His work. God’s Spirit would come to dwell within His people, and He would restore them inwardly. “I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you…And I will put my Spirit within you.” (vss. 25-27)
  3. All the nations would see God’s restoration of Israel, and they would know that God is God. “Then the nations that are left around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” (vs. 36)

Lectio divina: Ezekiel 36:22-38

Awhile ago my pastor spent a bit of time talking about lectio divina and suggested that it was a good way to study the Scripture. I’ve tried this a few times, and the Lord has used it in my life. I would encourage you to try it as well if you’re looking for a different way to structure your quiet time. For me, it just involves reading a text repeatedly over a few days or weeks, praying about the text, and writing about the text. The idea is to spend a prolonged period of time in a small section of Scripture, so that God uses the Scripture to transform your mind and focus you on Him.

I’m going to spend a bit of time on this Scripture, and I’ll be writing my thoughts here as I do so:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.
“Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the LORD; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it.
“Thus says the Lord GOD: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock. Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the LORD.”

-Ezekiel 36:22-38 (ESV)

Behold I am sending for many fishers

God is a God who pursues us. He pursues us with friends, with preachers, with experiences, with His Word, with thoughts and feelings that come to us in our quiet times. He pursues us to make us His, to bring us back to where we belong, where we will be most satisfied. He won’t relent, because He loves us. We’re in trouble in this world, and we need Him more than we know. So He pursues us relentlessly, into our darkest hours and our saddest times. God is a God who fights for us, and when He’s rescued us from our sin and self-interest, He makes us fishers of men, so that we can pursue, fight for, and rescue others, just as He has rescued us.

“For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.
‘Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the LORD, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.'” 
-Jeremiah 16:15-17 (ESV)

Obedience is a sign that you love someone

God wanted a relationship with ancient Israel. In fact, God wants a relationship with each of us today. Because of this, He gave Israel–and us–His Law. But people have trouble understanding why we have the Law. They think of these rules as burdensome, unnecessary, and archaic. Why should what happens to us when we die depend on whether we’ve obeyed the minutiae of an ancient moral code? The fact is, obedience to the Law doesn’t save us today, and it didn’t save anyone in ancient Israel either.

The Law God gave Israel through Moses didn’t sanctify them. To sanctify means “to set apart for a sacred purpose” and “to free from sin” (from Merriam-Webster’s). The Law didn’t free the people of Israel from sin. God freed the people of Israel from sin:

“I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.”

-Ezekiel 20:11-12 (ESV)

The people would “live” if they obeyed the Law, but it was God who sanctified them. This is exactly what we’re told as Christians today–Jesus saves us from our sin (sanctifies us) and then we obey His commands because we love Him, but not because obedience saves us.

Read Ezekiel 18. The same idea occurs there.We’re told that if a person who’s done evil stops doing evil and obeys God, that person will live. If an Israelite person had sinned, that person could still have been sanctified if they stopped sinning and obeyed God–their previous sins didn’t condemn them to hell. But also, their current obedience didn’t get them into heaven. God sanctified them; they didn’t sanctify themselves.

Obedience was merely a symbol that a person was accepting God, rather than rebelling against Him. You see, the entire Old Testament is a history of Israel’s relationship with God. Obedience is an important part of healthy, loving relationships. We often think of obedience in relation to authority: children obey their teachers, people obey traffic laws, employees obey their supervisors. There is, obviously, an element of authority in God’s relationship to us, but I think it’s often more valuable to think of God as a friend or a spouse. The entire book of Hosea depicts God as a faithful husband and Judah as an cheating wife. In Ephesians Paul uses Jesus and the church as an example of the relationship between a husband and wife.

If my wife asks me to clean the kitchen, and I don’t do it, I have wronged her. She’ll be disappointed. She may wonder if I’m upset with her. It’s not a matter of whether I’ve obeyed or disobeyed some insignificant rule (e.g. “Thou shalt keep thy kitchen clean”), it’s a matter of whether I love my wife enough to do something she would appreciate. Do we love God? If so, we’ll do the things He tells us to do in Scripture. We’ll undoubtedly fail, but that’s okay as long as we try, because God sanctifies us, and our sanctification isn’t dependent on our obedience, but rather on our willingness to accept God’s invitation to be in a relationship with Him.

The same thing was true in ancient Israel. God had spoken to Abraham, Moses, and other Israelites. Would Israel obey the Law given to Moses and thereby show God  they were accepting His offer of a relationship? Or would Israel dismiss the Law as full of insignificant, unnecessarily-burdensome rules?

The Law was merciful. The Law was God’s plea with Israel to be His people, to be His bride on this earth, to be protected and loved by Him. There were provisions in the Law for failure. The sacrifices and Sabbaths were there to remind Israel that God saved them even though they didn’t always obey. Obedience to the Law was a symbol of love, not a mechanism of salvation. Just as I demonstrate my love to my wife by doing things she appreciates, Israel demonstrated their love to God by obedience.

Today, things are no different. Jesus has come to earth to plead with you, to ask you to follow Him, to ask you to be His disciple. You only need to pray and accept His offer. If you love Him, you’ll begin to obey Him, and it won’t be burdensome. When I do things for my wife, she gets excited. Her eyes sparkle, she gives me a big hug, and I feel loved. But God loves me so much more than she–or anyone else–ever can.

The major rift between Christianity and culture is not belief or disbelief in absolute truth

I’ve often heard that the major rift between Christianity and US culture is this: Christians affirm absolute truth, but culture affirms that truth is relative and not absolute. That is, Christians affirm that we’re correct about God and that contrary thoughts are incorrect. Culture at large affirms that there is really no truth, and that people can choose their own truth, follow their own religion, and that it’s most  important for us to all get along.

However, I don’t think this is the fundamental discordance between US Christians and US culture. The idea of relative truth is certainly in our culture, but the silly thing about this idea is that it’s self-refuting. To claim that “there is no absolute truth” is to claim that the statement itself isn’t necessarily true. Because there is no absolute truth, the statement that “there is no absolute truth” can’t be absolutely true. Disbelief in absolute truth is an obviously inconsistent and illogical thing to believe.

I don’t think that most people in the U.S. are actually this dense. Common, everyday people are intelligent enough to see that disbelieving in absolute truth is nonsense. I’m sure you can find a number of philosophy professors who would take issue with this, but I doubt you can find very many everyday people to agree with them. People are smart enough to believe in absolute truth, and I don’t think this is the major rift between Christianity and U.S. culture.

Rather, I think the major discordance is between our values. The general culture in the U.S. believes that the most important virtue is to avoid causing harm to other people–whether that harm be physical, psychological, social, or otherwise. Some particularly virtuous people might say that the most important virtue is to do good to other people and that nothing can be more admirable and moral than to seek the good of others.

The difference between these values and the values of Jesus seems slight if you’ve never thought about it before. About 2,000 years ago, Jesus told us what our chief virtue as His disciples should be:

“And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” -Matthew 22:35-39

As Christians, our most important virtue is to love God. Secondly, we’re to love people. The central truth of being a follower of the Messiah is that God can satisfy us more than anything else on earth. If we have faith in Jesus’s sacrifice, we can be made spiritually alive, and in this redeemed state we can love the God who saved us.

But our second imperative is to love other people–and this means telling them about God, about Jesus who came to die for us, and about how they too can be made spiritually alive. For each and every person who lives, loving and knowing God is the most satisfying thing they can do. Because of this, there’s nothing more kind than to tell another person about Jesus, and about how He can save them as He has saved us.

And this is where Christians clash with most non-Christians in the US. If you tell someone to seek God, they may not like hearing that. They may want to go on believing that there is no God, or at least that God doesn’t matter. If you tell someone to seek God, you may cause them to be uncomfortable–and this is counter to the number one imperative of our culture: do no harm to other people.

As followers of the one true God, there is no way we can get around this disagreement. It’s the core of our faith to believe that by knowing God, any and every human will be infinitely better off than if they did not know God. If we ourselves know God, then we’ll tell our friends, family, and acquaintances that they should know Him too. It is secondarily important that we all get along and be kind to each other, but it’s far, far more important that as many people as possible come to know Jesus as their Savior.

Holy

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.

Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty,

God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

 

Holy, holy, holy!  All the saints adore thee,

casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;

cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,

which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

 

Holy, holy, holy!  Though the darkness hide thee,

though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,

only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,

perfect in power, in love and purity.

 

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!

All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.

Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty,

God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

 

-A hymn by Reginald Heber, 1826. Too often, we forget God’s holiness.

Someday, troops will till corn fields

“Daddy, did you fight in a war?”

“Yes son.”

I scrambled to catch up with my father in the grocery store parking lot, but my 7-year old legs were very short. I didn’t mind doing a bit of a run in my cool new velcro-strap tennis shoes. He must have slowed down for me.

“Was it exciting?”

“No son. War is not exciting. It’s terrible.”

I remember this clearly. He said it forcefully, almost as if he was annoyed. There must have been at least a few moments of silence while I processed the information he’d just injected into my developing mind. We walked through the sliding glass doors. I don’t remember what we talked about next–I probably asked if we could buy some candy.

I grew up in a town that exists largely to serve a military base. Many of my other friends also had dads who fought in Operation Desert Storm. Our fathers left, and then returned several months later. I remember playing “army men” in a field with one of my friends–we wandered the farm field in the back of his house with our plastic helmets and plastic guns, shooting imaginary enemies. F-16 fighter jets used to fly drills over my house and then far out over the wheat fields at night. I remember finding the doppler-shifted roars vaguely comforting as I fell asleep. To my 7-year old mind, I just wanted to be like my dad. He put on camouflage in the morning, so I did too. Jets soared overhead, so I flew my toy jets over my Lego figures. It was innocent. But that conversation with my dad in the grocery store parking lot was the first time I realized that people die in war. What had seemed fun was beginning to seem obscene–and rightly so.

War is apalling. I believe that some wars are just, and some are unjust, but war is apalling. Hopefully, the UN action in Libya will bring justice, prevent huge loss of life, and allow the country to improve, but that doesn’t change the fact that people–people who may have been trying only to make money, or to keep themselves safe, people who may have been caught up in something they didn’t understand–have died.

I grew up far, far away from any of the horrors of war. The armored vehicles I saw were not rolling through smoking battlefields, but through miles of wheat fields swaying in the breeze, through rolling prairies with grazing cattle.

God is tired of war. He’s tired of people dying, of children starving, of women losing husbands. Like in the time of Noah, evil makes God sorrowful. And eventually, like in the time of Noah, God will destroy the destroying. He’ll save those who belong to Him, and the world will be transformed. Vehicles once used for violence will be useless. Someday, the Lord will harvest His people like the farmer harvests the wheat in the fields, and the only use for our instruments of war will be for peace–perhaps tanks will carry hay bales and helicopters will dust crops.

“It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.”
-Isaiah 2:2-4 (ESV)