Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Being the Light


The question recently came up at a Bible Study I attended as to whether Christians really are being the light Jesus called us to be.

There was a moment of silence as we all pondered that question.

Eventually, a discussion arose and there were mentions of how the media portrays Christians and its general unwillingness to portray followers of Jesus in a positive light, so most people really don’t know what those being Christ’s hands and feet are truly doing.

While that’s true, it’s also important to remember that one of the principles Christians adhere to is:

"So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:2 NIV)

So, our giving and our work is intentionally outside the spotlight—as it should be.

At the same time, that makes it easy to believe Christians really don’t do much to help others.

That’s simply not true.

Internet searches to try and nail down exactly how many dollars are given in Jesus’ name or how many lives are benefitted by people being His hands and feet don’t bring forth raw data very readily at all.

Only when I pulled up a list of America’s top 50 charities did I find that the vast majority are either Christian now or were when they originated—but that information doesn’t reveal itself until you start digging into the history and the mission statements of the individual charities.

When I started really digging into it, I found charities like Compassion International, Food for the Hungry, World Vision, Samaritans Purse, and many, many others that feed millions and millions of starving children all over the world. And, they don’t stop there. Those same organizations cure disease, bring clean drinking water, shelter and clothe people, educate and house the needy, fight injustice, lift people up, fight abuse and violence, offer disaster relief, and help in thousands of ways all around the world, seemingly without end.

And those four organizations are just a tiny fraction of the organizations out there being the light. There are thousands more.

Dr. Alex McFarland, a Christian author and religion and culture expert, points out that the majority of the hospitals and school systems (including America's ivy league schools) – were all originally founded by churches and Christians.

Sure, people calling themselves “Christians” have done some pretty lousy things over the span of human history, (The Crusades and The Inquisitions come to mind.) but let us not forget that the Abolition of Slavery was a Christian movement and that Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership of the Civil Rights Movement was based on his Christian beliefs.

And, when it comes right down to it, the real light that shines from Jesus isn’t about mass-market numbers anyway. There are no billboards that say, “Have Salvation Your Way!” or “You Deserve Eternal Life Today.”

Jesus died for everyone on that cross, but souls come to Him one at a time, on a personal level.

It could be from our own witness, from the joy and love evident in all we do and say, from preaching in your local church, from the pages of the Bible, and even from what goes forth over the airwaves of a Christian radio station.

Yes, there are polls and research that say we don’t know enough about God’s Word and we could certainly give a lot more of our time and financial support to the cause of Christ, and they are true.

We can and should so better.

But, take heart my friends. Jesus is alive and well. The light does still shine in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

Today’s Praise

He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. (Titus 2:14 NLT)


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why Evil?


One of the most common arguments from atheists is that all of the evil, pain, and suffering in the world proves that God does not exist because a loving, omnipotent God would not allow these things to exist.

Many apologetics have addressed this and the best explanation (as stated in the movie “God’s Not Dead) comes down to two words: Free will.

A loving God would not create a race of robots who had no choice in obeying Him. We are given free will precisely because if we were not, we would be nothing but machines programmed to do only what is right and good.

Our obedience to God would be meaningless because we would have no choice.

Sin and evil therefore exist for the same reason God put that tree in the garden: so we have a choice.

As a result, all of the evil in the world falls squarely at our feet--because we choose it.  

But the argument often stops there, falling far short of the real fullness of its meaning.

And that’s because if we had no free will, love would not exist.

Imagine that you get up every morning, click on your computer or turn on your smart phone, and the machine before you boldly announces, “I love you.”

That would be meaningless. These machines have no capacity for love. They are inanimate objects capable of doing only what they have been programmed to do.

And when it all comes down to it, sin entered the world because Adam and Eve chose pride and selfishness over love. Eve knew what God had said about eating from that tree and I believe Adam did too.

But when they wanted to be like God--to know the difference between good and evil, they put themselves ahead of God. They didn’t want to be like God, they wanted to be their own gods. They wanted to decide what was right and wrong, not God. And that’s the opposite of love because perfect love never puts “me” first.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-6 ESV)

And in that night before the crucifixion, when Jesus was praying in the garden (Does anyone else see the “coincidence” that this scene takes place in a garden?) on His knees, sweating blood because He absolutely knew what was about to happen to Him, God in the flesh did not choose pride or selfishness, but submitted Himself to have all the sin of the world leveled against Him when it was you and I who deserved it.

"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42 NIV)

Yes, Jesus chose love in that moment.

And in that moment when all the past, present, and future free will choices of everybody who would ever be hung in the balance, the God of the Universe, of His own free will, chose not His own life--but ­ours.

Today’s Praise

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19 KJV)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


“Day Well Done” comes on Kinship Christian radio at 10:30 p.m. and is characterized by music outside the mainstream and some deep Christian thinking at right about the same time my brain is shutting down for the night.

Recently, announcer Jim Park was talking about what it meant to be a slave in Jesus’ day.

Unlike what we think of as slavery in this day, back then slavery was a paid position that included not only laborers but also personal advisors, businessmen, teachers, personal advisors and other positions of prominence. Slaves did not live in shacks out back, but in the home with the family.  Roman laws required slave owners to provide food, shelter, and clothing. There were penalties for mistreatment of  slaves and they were often trusted friends and companions.

And, a slave could save up his wages to buy not only his freedom, but also coveted Roman citizenship. Or, a master could adopt a slave as son, granting him full legal status under Roman law.

It was a much different system than the slavery practiced just prior to Abolition or the slavery of the Jews in Egypt.

As Park pointed out, it was our perception of slavery that led translators of the King James Version to use the word “servant” where “slave” had been used.

I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. (Romans 6:19 KJV)

The ESV presents that same verse like this:

I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

Knowing the difference in the historical context sheds a whole new light on other verses as well:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 ESV) –emphasis added.

Then, there’s also:

Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God's slaves. (1 Peter 2:16 NIV)

But, we do not remain as God’s slaves:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36 ESV)


For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8: 15-17 ESV)

So, thanks to Mr. Park for that insight into Scripture, although I’m not sure we came to the same conclusions … because I fell asleep before I heard the end of the program.

Today’s Praise

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8: 20-21 ESV)




Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Power of God


It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens. Jeremiah 10:12 ESV

The power of God is amazing, awesome, and inconceivable.

Scientists tell us that all things in the universe are made up of molecules; which are made up of atoms; which are made up of protons, electrons, and neutrons; which are made up of quarks and gluons.  Nobody has ever seen even a picture of a quark because the smallest ones are calculated to be 500,000,000,000 times smaller than the most powerful electron microscope in the world can see.

At the same time, scientists calculate the size of the known universe at 93 billion light years. In round numbers, a light-year is about six trillion miles.

The Milky Way Galaxy is a measly 120,000 light years across, which is still a thousand trillion times larger than Earth. Stated another way, Earth is a million, million, million times smaller than the Milky Way.

Granted, all of that is absolutely inconceivable to our minds. (The math involved alone gives me a headache.)

But not to God.

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:14 ESV)

Not only does God understand all of that, He spoke it all into being. By His understanding, He stretched out the heavens. He established the world by His wisdom and the earth by His power.

It’s a good thing to ponder both when my problems seem insurmountable and when I think I’ve really got something figured out. It puts things in perspective. records the following about one of our most legendary presidents: William Beebe, the naturalist, used to tell this story about Teddy Roosevelt. At Sagamore Hill, after an evening of talk, the two would go out on the lawn and search the skies for a certain spot of star-like light near the lower left-hand corner of the Great Square of Pegasus. Then Roosevelt would recite: “That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun.” Then Roosevelt would grin and say, “Now I think we are small enough! Let’s go to bed.”

By the way, Teddy Roosevelt never had a college degree. (And, as long as we’re talking about being humble, that little factoid is something I read inside the cap of a bottle of iced tea.)

Today’s Praise

By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. (1 Corinthians 6:14 NIV)



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The List

I have just returned from ten days of vacation in Itasca County.

It was a grand and glorious time for me and I was greatly blessed by tall pines, beautiful lakes, and memorable sunsets. There was plenty of “beauty so brilliant I could hardly take it in.” (Thanks to Sarah Groves’ for that phrase from her song “You are the Sun.”)

One of the things I have learned to do prior to vacation is to make a list of things to take along, AND to review that list upon returning home. That cuts down on taking along unnecessary stuff next year.

As I reviewed this year’s list, I got to thinking about the stuff I took along but never had to use, including:
Triple anti-biotic ointment
Car repair tools
Life jackets.

With the exception of the life jackets, all of those items are things that were not on the list at some point, but were added over the years because of experiences when one or more of those items was very much needed and I did not have it. I’m sure you can understand how a sixty-mile round trip late at night to fetch Pepto-Bismol® can seriously detract from the enjoyment of one’s vacation.

So, just because I didn’t use any of those items this year, I’m certainly not going to delete them from the list. The space they take up is negligible compared to the benefits they provide if they are needed.

It’s also abundantly clear that not having used them was reason for thanks and praise to our great and loving God. (Especially the life jackets!)

Not having used those items is evidence of answered prayer for protection from harm, danger, equipment failure, and illness. Thank you, LORD!

And that got me to thinking about all the things that don’t happen to us on a daily basis. When was the last time any of us woke up and thanked God that we didn’t come down with a summer cold while we slept? Or that the car didn’t break down yesterday?

We have so much to be grateful for, it’s impossible to comprehend it all at once.

My deepest gratitude is for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and His triumph over death when he rose from the dead and paid for an eternal home with the Father.

Come to think of it, none of those items or anything like them will ever be needed there in the city where the streets are made of gold and the river of the water of life flows from the throne.

And someday, when I stand on the banks of that river, I am very sure there will not be a list in my back pocket with “life jackets” checked off.

Today’s Praise
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)






Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Paraclete


And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, (John 14:16ESV)

John Donne, a 17th-century cleric, is credited with the phrase “No man is an island.”

It’s true. Despite those who would wish to secede from society and go live on a mountaintop or a desert island somewhere, we all need each other—not just for our physical well-being, but for our emotional and spiritual health as well.

I’m sure many of you have heard of a condition called, “Failure to Thrive.” Many years ago, it was found that babies who were not held and touched were less healthy and grew more slowly than babies that were picked up and cuddled and spoken to lovingly.

Our spiritual life is no different. We cannot go it alone.  Yes, other believers are essential in our spiritual life, but because we battle against rulers and authorities and spiritual forces, we also need help from God. Only then can our souls thrive.

The verse above is the ESV version, but if you compare other versions, there is a wide variety of words used to translate “another Helper” including Comforter, Advocate, and Counselor. The Douay-Rheims version uses the word “Paraclete.”

“Paraclete” is a Greek word which is formed from “para” (meaning to be close beside) and “kaleo” (meaning to be called.) So, the literal meaning is for someone who was called to be close by your side. It was used to refer to a legal advocate, someone giving evidence that stands up in court, and also a comforter, a helper, a counselor, and an intercessor.

But, there’s another use of the word.

In ancient Greece, each soldier was paired with a paraclete. The two were inseparable in battle. They fought back-to-back, each watching out for the other so that no enemy could sneak up on the pair. Neither would ever be given a different mission than the other. They were a team that could not be split apart. In battle, neither one would ever leave or abandon the other, even if it meant certain death.

I couldn’t find anything in my studies to confirm it, but I would not be at all surprised if that’s where the phrase, “I got your back” came from.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of the Holy Spirit swinging the sword of truth back-to-back with me as my own paraclete in the daily spiritual battle gives me great encouragement and peace.

Today’s Praise

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Great Minnesota Grasshopper Miracle

Assumption Chapel, on a bluff above Cold Spring, Minnesota.
I am currently reading “Partners in Prayer” by John Maxwell. In it, he describes a very interesting event in Minnesota history that I was not aware of.

From 1873 to 1876, hordes of grasshoppers (They were actually Rocky Mountain Locusts but everyone called them grasshoppers at the time) descended on Minnesota crops and caused major agricultural and economic devastation. As the growing season of 1877 approached, State entomologists studying the situation found billions and billions of grasshopper eggs were just waiting to hatch. Over 50,000 of the state’s 80,000 square miles were affected. The entomologists warned that the previous four years of infestations would be considered minor once the new hoppers hatched.

This was taking place less than 20 years after Minnesota had become a State. Most farmers were truly still pioneers, living in log cabins or rough plank houses. They were by no means wealthy. There were no pesticides, no insecticides and no effective way to control the bugs that often stripped whole fields bare overnight. The most effective method of controlling the pests was the “hopperdozer”—a sheet of metal coated with coal tar dragged through the field like a large piece of fly paper. Even though certain counties paid bounties per bushel of dead hoppers, nothing could control the ravaging plague.

In 1877, the Governor of Minnesota was John S. Pillsbury. There were no farm programs or crop insurance at the time to help farmers recover from their losses. Most were deeply in debt from the previous four years of grasshopper plague.

Governor Pillsbury proclaimed April 26, 1877 as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer and urged every man, woman, and child to ask God to prevent the impending scourge

Pillsbury even donated $10,000 out of his own pocket to build a chapel. (That’s over $222,000 in today’s dollars.)

Even though we think of society being much more godly 137 years ago, history records that Governor Pillsbury’s plan and his generosity were mocked by some. They called the idea “Pillsbury’s Best”—a spoof on the motto of his family’s baking flour. The Liberal League of Minneapolis issued a statement: "We hold that the belief in the power of prayer is palpably untrue, its influence pernicious, and in this day, a marked discredit to the intelligence of Minnesotans..." Then they finished off their comments with the statement "From the beginning down to this day, outside of so-called Sacred History, there is not one well-authorized instance of such prayer having been answered, not one."

Reporters from all over or young nation descended on Minnesota to report the latest in the controversial idea of praying for deliverance.

Nonetheless, on April 26, 1877 all schools, shops, stores, and offices in Minnesota were closed. An article in the Nov. 9, 1975 Milwaukee Journal recounts the day by saying, “Saloons and theaters seemed strangely silent. Streets were deserted except for the steady streams of churchgoers moving slowly and silently to and from their places of worship.”

April 26, 1877, was also unusual in that it was a warm, sunny, spring day. In fact, it was unseasonably warm—perfect for grasshopper eggs to hatch and the little larvae to come wiggling to life.

Then, late that night, another unusual thing happened. A cold rain began to fall. The wind shifted from south to north. Rain changed to freezing rain, to sleet, and then to snow. The snow and freezing temperatures continued for two full days and then, on the third day (a Sunday) a full-fledged blizzard swept down out of Canada and hit the state.

When the storm cleared and the sun came out again, the same entomologists who had predicted an impending disaster found that billions of little grasshoppers had been frozen to death shortly after hatching.

Farmers harvested a record crop of wheat, corn, and small grain that year. Entomologists scouring the fields that autumn failed to find even one new grasshopper egg in the entire state.

There is no recorded response to these events by the Liberal League.

The chapel Gov. Pillsbury helped build was destroyed by a tornado some years ago, but residents of Cold Spring rebuilt a beautiful granite chapel in its place. A stone carving featuring grasshoppers, originally made for the altar shortly after the miracle, now rests above the entrance.

There has been no serious grasshopper infestation in Minnesota since 1876.

Today’s Praise

And the LORD turned the wind into a very strong west wind, which lifted the locusts and drove them into the Red Sea. Not a single locust was left in all the country of Egypt. (Exodus 10:19 ESV)


Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Having read the title and realizing that you are on a website that is supposed to be about the Kingdom of God, you are probably wondering what socks, (specifically my socks) have to do with that.

Allow me to explain:

Sometimes, when I sit down to write a blog for you, I have a certain topic and all the details all figured out in my head. 

This is not one of those times.

Other times, I have a plan and the Holy Spirit radically changes where I had originally intended to go with it and we both end up learning something.

This is not one of those times, either.

All I know is that for some reason I feel compelled to write to you about my socks. I readily confess that at the very moment I am typing this, I have very little idea where this is going to end up when I’m finished. We will both have to trust the Holy Spirit that it all works out. So, here we go:

Some years ago, I came up with the Genius Sock Plan.

See, I am an inherently lazy person and I hated using all that time on laundry day sorting my socks into pairs. (Yes, I am male and I wash my own socks. Long story for another blog.)

Ever since the invention of the sock, humanity has dealt with the seemingly unanswerable question of why there is always one sock missing from any given load of laundry. Philosophers and sages have conjectured that there is another dimension in time and space or an other-worldly black hole which draws odd socks into it, never to be seen again. This has caused immeasurable consternation and frustration for generations of human beings.

I didn’t solve that deep question of where those missing socks go, but I did find a way to deal with it.

I gathered up every sock I owned (aside from one pair of navy blue socks reserved only for funerals and my heavy wool ice-fishing socks) and threw them all in the rag bag.

Then, I went out and bought two-dozen pair of identical, plain white socks.

Now, (provided I had not gone ice fishing or to a funeral) every sock I owned matched ever other sock I owned.

What this means is that I am absolutely free of ever sorting socks again! I can take all my socks out of the dryer and simply throw them in a bin and any sock I grab on any given morning will match any other sock I grab. If there are 13 socks in the bin, it doesn’t matter.  I have successfully banished sock-consternation and the associated wasted time from my life forever!

Plus, when the socks began to wear out and another batch of brand-new matching socks replaces them, the supply of rags for my shop is automatically replenished!

Mwuahhahahahha! (Yes, that is the laugh of the mad scientist in the 1950’s sci-fi movies right after he says, “And then, I will take over the world!”)

Okay, back to the kingdom of God and a seemingly unrelated event:

About a month ago, I was asked to preach in my church while the pastor was on vacation. For someone who never attended seminary and had drifted away from God like I had years ago, being asked to preach was something I wanted to do and even looked forward to doing. I wanted to bring glory to God not just for all He has done for me, but because He is so worthy of all our praise and of my very best effort.

As such, I “kind of” obsessed over doing a good job.

I admit I was a pain to my family as I tried to get every part of the service and the sermon just right.

And, praise the Lord, it did turn out quite well. Many members of the congregation thanked me and congratulated me. And, not one person complained!!

Later that day, while enjoying a restful Sabbath among my loving relatives, I looked down at my feet and found… (Yes, you guessed it.)

My socks did not match.

One was a plain white sock from my last mass sock purchase and the other was white with a gray toe with the word “Hanes” on it—from a previous  sock purchase! Clearly, this old, worn-out and discarded “Hanes” sock had somehow escaped the confines of the rag bag, avoided being used to wipe up an oil spill, and made its way under its own power into the current stock of “acceptable” socks just waiting to cause the perfection of the Genius Sock Plan to come crashing down all around me.

And, all the time I had been standing before the congregation preaching about the glory of God and His grand plan to restore the infinite into the lives of finite human beings, I had been standing before the people of God on feet robed in mismatched socks.

Okay, I get it God. It’s a lesson in humility. Yes, Lord, got it. Thank you.

Then, last Sunday as I dressed for church, I pulled a sock onto my right foot only to discover that the entire toe area had been cut off.

As I wiggled my naked toes in the air, all I could do was chuckle.

Today’s Praise

Oh, how great are God's riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! Romans 11:33 (NLT)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

That Bug-Eating Guy

John the Baptist confuses me.

He himself baptized Jesus in the Jordan River and saw the Holy Spirit descending on Him like a dove. He heard the very voice of God proclaiming “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17. Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22)

He announced Jesus as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Only the Messiah would fit that description.

Even from before birth, John the Baptist knew who Jesus was and he knew who he was. (Luke 1:41)

Jesus called him the greatest of prophets and, if we are willing to accept it, the Elijah who would announce His coming and call people to repentance in preparation for the kingdom of God. (Matthew 11: 11-14)

And yet, when John is asked point blank if he is Elijah, he denies it. (John 1:21)

Furthermore, when John is in prison, he sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus if He really is the Messiah. (Matthew 11:2-3)

What gives here?  Was John conflicted? Did he wallow in doubt in prison and question God? Did he not know who he was in God’s plan? Did he lie about being Elijah?

Or are there other answers?

No, John was not conflicted or lying when he said he was not Elijah. The confusion arises because prophecy that foretells the coming of Elijah is a dual prophecy. (Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 4:5-6)

The first coming of Elijah would be a coming of the spirit of Elijah at the first coming of the Messiah. John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah, not the actual person of Elijah. The second appearance of Elijah will be his physical return at the second coming of the Messiah in “the great and terrible Day of the Lord” which is described in Revelation.

So, John the Baptist was telling the truth. He was not Elijah. It was the people asking the question who were confused and had the prophecy wrong.

And, when John the Baptist sends his disciples out to ask Jesus if He truly is the Messiah, he is not asking for himself. He is sending his disciples out to see Jesus in action for their benefit, not his. He said it himself: “I must decrease. He must increase.” (John 3:30) John probably knew he would be executed in prison and his disciples needed to become Christ’s disciples.

I didn’t figure any of that stuff out myself. People smarter than me have spent lifetimes looking into things like this and I am grateful for them. The answers are easy to find via an internet search, or in the notes of a good study Bible.

The amazing part is the Bible is deeper, more real, more significant, and more miraculous when you dig into with a shovel than when you skim over it with a spoon.

It’s almost as if the Bible was designed to be studied.

Today’s Praise

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)