Dying bird

On my way to a Christian bookstore in an outdoor shopping center, I nearly stepped on a bird on the outside rug in the doorway.  Since I have bad posture, I often look down when I walk, and I saw the bird before stepping on him.

Though he was alive, it was just barely.  He was lying on the ground heaving, a wide-eyed look of confusion in the eye I could see.  His body was contorted.  He was truly miserable.

I was afraid he was going to get stepped on in the doorway, but I didn’t want to move him.  I was afraid he would die in my hand.  One of the workers came with a plastic bag and moved him to the mulched bush area.  I wished I’d had Ben with me.  I’d have had him kill the bird and put it out of its terror.

It was a little bird.  A plain colored bird.  I don’t know what had happened to him.  He must have had one kind of sickness or another.  His condition was only desperate from his standpoint.  From my standpoint, his fate was sealed.  I knew there was nothing any passers-by could do for him to make him all better.  From his viewpoint, he was struggling.  From my viewpoint, he was doomed to die.

In more similarity that we would like to admit, you and I are like that bird.  Our sin nature distorts us, and from the moment of conception we are already poisoned with sin’s doom.  We heave from sin our whole lives and, whether we realize it or not, we lie at God’s doorstep, helpless should He walk out and trample us.

People who truly glimpse their sin nature are sometimes led to suicidal thoughts, wanting to put themselves out of their own misery.  But we cannot put to death the soul, and therein lies the pain and the eternality of sin.  We are inflicted with an illness that does not age when we age; we are injured by a wound that never stops scarring us.  We are doomed to sin; to keep sinning; it is all we can do.

Like that little bird I saw, most of us don’t realize or don’t accept how serious the situation is.  We think if we rest awhile in the pleasures of this world, that we may revive.  If we improve family relationships, build more friendships, enlarge our fan club, or get that promotion at work we’ve been wanting . . that the plight of our soul will somehow be delayed, or improved, or that at least we’ll be distracted from it.  Like that little bird, we are too weak-minded to understand what is truly happening to us, too gullible to Satan’s lies to believe our fate, and too self-important to stop trying.

God reveals something fascinating about Himself in Scripture, something that many of us have heard so many times that we have forgotten to look at it for what it is.  He tells us this:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent?  And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”  (Jesus, quoted in Matthew 10:29, ESV)

Here Jesus teaches us:

  • God keeps up with two-for-a-penny sparrows.
  • God wants to be identified as our Father.

Just as the bird I saw that day did not escape the notice of God—in fact, God was aware of that bird lying on the mat outside the bookstore long before I approached—we do not escape the notice of God, either.  And because of who He is, He wants us to have fellowship with Him.  As He sees when even the sparrow—a bird abundant and nearly worthless in Jesus’ day—took its last breath, so He sees the state of death that sin has left us in.

Rather than passively watch, He is active.  With the sparrow, He actively chooses when to give it its last breath.

Years ago, many people used to believe “god” had created the earth with something rather like a wind-up mechanism, wound it up, and let it go.  Certainly God could have created sparrows, let them loose, and then gone off to do something else, or even passively watched.

But don’t you find it fascinating that He does not use what we call “natural processes” to determine when even a common bird dies?  He does not leave it up to chance, survival of the fittest, or even the breaking down of the bird’s body.  No, He actively chooses when that bird will take its last breath.

In the same way—though it may not be comfortable to think about—God actively chooses when we will take our last breaths.  The date of our deaths does not come as a surprise.

This knowledge alone doesn’t come too much further than one of the stories of ancient Greek mythology.   According to the mythology, there were deities assigned to the “cutting of the thread” of life.  Then, and only then, did a person die.

This knowledge alone is not comforting.  That God has assigned our deaths isn’t really anything to draw us to Him, other than that we might want to appease Him so that He gives us a longer lifespan, like the ancient Greeks tried to do with their gods.

But the second knowledge was said by Jesus to draw us to Him: He not only chooses when we receive our last breath from His hand, He also intervenes with Fatherhood.

To believe an omniscient God can control your living and dying is almost a given.

To believe an omniscient God wants to be your Father is another story.

We are like the bird fallen on a sidewalk, waiting to be trampled on.  But that’s not where our story ends.  We are remembered by God, despite our sin, and He offers each one of forgiveness and priceless worth through the sacrifice of His Son.  He gives us the right to call Him Father, and He does so out of the love of who He is.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent?  And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”  (Jesus, quoted in Matthew 10:29, ESV)

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Could God be both good and evil?

We know from the Bible and our experiences that there are two forces in this world: good and evil.   The question is, Do both originate with God?

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before You. (Psalm 89:14, NASB)

For both good and evil to have originated with God, they would have to live in harmony.  Otherwise, God wouldn’t be able to make any decisions until one or the other was destroyed.

But could God have good and evil living in harmony in Himself, something like the yen and the yang?

Let me look at this personally first. Do good and evil live in harmony in me?

Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. (Romans 2:14-15)

(God could never have had this conflict to begin with because, if God had ever had this conflict, He would not be able to judge between good and evil without condemning Himself for one or the other.)

People who see no distinction between good and bad are called pathological or, more truthfully, totally evil.

Yet we all begin our lives with a knowledge of good and evil and even a desire to do good.  The vast majority end our lives holding onto this ability, though a few totally suppress it and desire only total evil.

We all, to a degree, suppress the knowledge of good and evil in our lives.  We do this whenever we do something we know is wrong or we don’t do something we know would have been the right thing to do.  For example,

“Yes, I used the money I was planning on giving to the homeless mission this month.  But they probably don’t need the money anyway.  Probably a lot of people will give this month.  Probably there’s a lot of mismanagement of funds anyway.  Probably those homeless people are hucksters.  And I really needed that new outfit.  It will probably be encouraging to other people to see me wearing this new outfit.  In fact, they’ll probably feel better about themselves when they see my new outfit, and that really outweighs any benefit the homeless shelter would have gotten from my money anyway, what with the lack of need and all the people giving and the corruption and charlatans and everything.  Really now, I did the right thing.”

Yes, we have a very clear battle raging inside us.  We can smother it sometimes, but does it not very often come back to our minds?  Something like this:

Oh, what was I thinking?  I feel so bad wearing this outfit it’s not even worth it.  I keep thinking about that homeless shelter.  I saw that commercial for the shelter again, and I just felt so bad . .

Good and evil aren’t in harmony in us.  Either good wins out, or evil.  They are less at peace with each other than a lion and a bear in the same cage.

So good and evil can’t be in harmony in God, either.  We know God wouldn’t be able to make a decision if good and evil were equal within Him.  And if He was at war with Himself, not only would everything be in catastrophe, such as the earth would vanish and appear every split second (because He might want it to one minute, and then not want it to the next), but values would be in catastrophe, like helping the poor might be good one minute and bad the next.

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Jesus, quoted in Mark 3:35)

If everything we had in our power to do we could do, wouldn’t this world be in a mess?  One minute we’d create a huge house for our family and the next minute we’d kill them.  It’s the harsh reality of our thought life.

But the God of the Bible doesn’t have any internal conflict.  There is never an argument, because God is perfectly good.  He never acts selfishly; He never enjoys cruelty; He never rules unjustly.

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deuteronomy 32:4, NIV)

The evil in us, then, has to come from another source.  And it does: Satan.

God reigns from the Kingdom of Heaven.  Satan is the ruler of our earth, meaning that he tries to ruin everyone’s lives by the power of sin.  Why does he do it?  Surely because he hates God!

But what do we have to do with Satan’s hate for God?  Why target us?

Because Satan knows he can’t destroy God directly and he knows God loves us.

That we would even ask the question, Can God be both good and evil? reflects the handiwork of Satan.  Satan is like Golum, luring us into Shelob’s lair.  Since he cannot win against God, Satan wants nothing more than to see you and I in Hell.  But how could he possibly convince anyone to run from the Creator and Redeemer of Eden to run into the mouth of Hell?

By questioning the goodness of God.

Over and over, all of your life, Satan will try to cause you to question God’s goodness.  Satan has only two ways to destroy your soul: doubting God’s goodness and longing for evil.  In Eden, Satan tricked Eve into abandoning God’s goodness and longing for the forbidden fruit.  Ever since then, Satan plays the same trick over and over.  Question the goodness of God.  Long for the pandemic of evil.  Question the goodness of God.  Long for the pandemic of evil.  Over and over.

Logic (created by God) will tell you God is only good.  God’s Word will tell you God is only good.  The life of Jesus will tell you God is only good.  The only one who will call God’s goodness into question is Satan.  And he is not someone we should be listening to.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:15b, NIV)

 

 

The goodness and righteousness of God is the lens through which to ask all questions.

Suppose I told you that a famous murderer just murdered another person.  Would you believe it?  Probably.  You’d have no reason not to.

But what I told you that a person you dearly love just murdered someone?  Would you believe it?  Certainly not.  You’d have every reason not to.  You would go straight to that person for the facts and ignore me.

In the same way, when we have a right relationship with God–when we know that He is good and when we have received Christ’s payment for our sins so we can live in His goodness–we will not be so easily mislead and thrown down by Satan’s “best arguments”.

“As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.” (2 Samuel 22:31, NIV)

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9, NLT)

Jesus warns us there are three things Satan wishes to do:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy

(John 10:10a, NIV)

Destroy is the last one.  If Satan can destroy someone’s faith by slandering God, he’ll do it.  Any questions that doubt God’s character are from Satan.

Do we doubt that the sun will rise tomorrow?  Yet how much more faithful is God, who, from eternity past and to eternity future, always acts justly, in truth, and from a righteous heart?

There might be times when we read a Bible passage, and think we would have acted differently than God.  This doesn’t, however, point to a lack of goodness in God, but a lack of goodness in us.

One time when I was a kid, I busted my head open.  The pediatrician I knew and trusted was not in, and my mom allowed a doctor (who was on call) to stitch up my head.  I was very unapproving of this.  First off, I didn’t understand why there were scissors in front of my face and what looked like wax paper of my head.  I had no idea he was stitching up my head; I didn’t really see the needle through the paper.  I mistrusted the doctor because I didn’t know him and I decided I didn’t like him.

He sewed up my head beautifully.  I can’t even see the scar.  Had I trusted him, I could have laid still while he mended me instead of screaming my head off.  I never even thanked him.  I was suspicious of him to the end.  I didn’t know what a good surgeon he was.

This is a picture of what we do to God.  Can you imagine dying from a head wound that could be easily treated?  Yet we do far worse when we run from God’s goodness back to our sin.  God wants to help us; He knows how to help us, and He has chosen to help us–the question is, will we believe Him?

When we read something about God, and we’re not sure we understand it, we need to realize that He never contradicts His nature of light, truth, righteousness, justice, and merciful love.  He is the God who would rather Himself be tormented for our sin than us!

If we think we’ve come to something that “proves” God is unfair, mean-hearted, or cruel . . we need to look again.  As a six-year-old, I disliked the doctor who saved my life because I didn’t understand what was really going on, and I made irrational judgments about him.  In the same way, when we don’t recognize who God is–our Creator, our Judge, and, if we receive His sacrifice, our Redeemer–we miss that He is the only one who can heal us.

He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9b, NIV)

Where does this idea of God being evil, enjoying suffering, choosing people to create to occupy Hell, etc., come from? Is it true?

May I say something startling?

Hover mouse over photograph for caption.
[Photograph from Answers in Genesis Museum]

It comes from us.

We like evil.  It is a secret craving, a secret burden, and what we hate most about ourselves.  People don’t just do bad things because they haven’t been educated or because they are copying the behaviors of others.  People do bad things because they like evil.

Transgression speaks to the wicked
deep in his heart;
there is no fear of God
before his eyes.
For he flatters himself in his own eyes
that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit;
he has ceased to act wisely and do good.
He plots trouble while on his bed;
he sets himself in a way that is not good;
he does not reject evil.
(Psalm 36:1-4, ESV)

We have a perverse love for evil.  We hate this perversion, and yet we love it so much.  We try to starve it, and yet we gorge it.  We try to cast it out, but then we get so lonely for it.  We try to run away from it, but we end up following it.  We are friends with, mesmerized by, imaginative of, and focused on evil.

We are caged by it.
[Photograph by PetteriO]

The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
they do not know over what they stumble.
(Proverbs 4:19, ESV)

The love of evil saturates our culture.  It is in every joke about suffering, every taunt one TV character gives another, the smile of the cartoon villain, the gruesome massacres that sell horror films.  It is a way of thinking called the flesh.  And it leads straight to Hell.

For they [the wicked] cannot sleep unless they have done wrong;
they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.
For they eat the bread of wickedness
and drink the wine of violence.
(Proverbs 4:16-17, ESV)

What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night, thinking up evil plans. You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out, simply because you have the power to do so. (Micah 2:1, ESV)

When we are awakened to our hideous infatuation, we have a horror with how to change ourselves.  The realization of our love for evil drives people to suicide every day.  They don’t want to live with who they are or what they’ve done.

For troubles surround me–too many to count! My sins pile up so high I can’t see my way out. They outnumber the hairs on my head. I have lost all courage. (Psalm 40:12, NLT)

So we know we are evil, bent on evil, and most of us regret at least some of our evil.

But what about God?  Is God like us?  Did we get our evil from Him?  Does the God of John 3:16 exist?

Hover mouse over photograph for caption.
[Photograph by Ralph Unden]

Have you ever hesitated to go back to a favorite restaurant, because you were afraid the menu might have changed, or been afraid to visit a childhood place, because it might not be as grand as you remember it?

In a bit of the same way, many of us are afraid that, if we look too closely at God, we might actually find that He is evil.  If God is evil, all is lost.  Some think He’s better “left: in the classrooms of children’s Sunday school or in a Noah’s Ark baby nursery, or a Broadway play about a bright coat.  Some try to leave Him behind the way we leave Santa Clause behind when we become adults.  But there is something far worse at stake than when we discovered Santa wasn’t real.  We fear that God might actually exist but be evil.

If God is evil, there is no Heaven and never will be.  If God is evil, there is no source for good.  If God is evil, then the only powers in the world are powers of darkness.  If God is evil, then He is no better than Satan, only more powerful.

If God is evil, there is nothing to look forward to but pain and suffering and hurting others.

Some people look forward to pain or hurting others, but no one looks forward to suffering.  Suffering is whatever causes each of us grief.  Suffering is something we try to run from, no matter who we are, where we live, or what we believe about God.  (The person who self-inflicts pain is still running from suffering, because that person experiences more suffering from not inflicting pain than from inflicting it.)

No one wants to suffer . . but this is what happens without God.  As darkness comes in a room with boarded windows, so suffering comes in a world that rejects God.
But light makes itself known through a splinter of an opening. And God makes Himself known to us through His Son, the Light of the World.  
[Photograph by David Morris]

If God is evil, we have only Hell for the future, but we also logically only have Hell for the present and past.  But is that what we witness?  Is this earth only Hell?

If there is even one good thing in this world, then our fear that God is evil WILL BE SHATTERED.

Is everything in this world evil?  I absolutely, immediately know the answer is no.

  • It is not evil for a firefighter to pull a child out of a burning home.
  • It is not evil for a stranger to prevent a young woman from being raped.
  • It is not evil for a man to jump in the water and rescue a friend who is drowning.
  • It is not evil for a sister to donate one of her kidneys to save her brother’s life.

We see good in the world–not just evil.  Perfect goodness must come from God.  If it came from anyone less powerful than God, and God was evil, He would just destroy it.
[Photograph by Kai Schreiber]

And on and on and on.  I remember once as a teenager, my mom and I were coming inside the house through our garage, nothing out of the ordinary.  As she was talking to me, she reached through a wire shelf to shut the garage door.  There was a sudden change in Mom’s expression and almost instantly she was crying for help.  Her arm had gotten caught in the wire shelf, and the laser sensor on the garage door only worked at floor-level.  The garage door was going to either rip off her hand or throw her down to the ground as bones would surely be broken.  Because she was caught a certain way, she couldn’t even reach over to the garage door opener.

Mom’s screaming was a horror.  I couldn’t slam my hand on the garage door opener fast enough for either of us, but I did hit it in time.  Mom’s first job was to work her hand out of the shelf; then we examined her hand.  She’d hurt it, but it hadn’t broken.  For sure and certain, my hand on that garage door opener had been no evil thing.

We don’t always recognize it, but we are totally dependent on God.
What causes so many people to care about little creatures? Our Creator gave us His image, and, though we are ruined by the Fall, we still bear His image. In His image, we have a soul, capability for kindness, love, mercy, generosity, and respect. Jesus told us that He is so alert to the pains in this world that not even little birds seen as almost worthless at the time could die without God’s awareness and approval. But why did God place a curse on sin anyway? Why are we cursed to one day die? Actually, the curse of death is one of the most merciful acts of God. In a sin-filled world, it keeps people from being prisoners of war, or trapped in an abusive relationship, or with a painful disease for thousands of years. But most importantly, it reminds us that we will all one day meet our God and be judged.  God desires for us to see the consequences of sin NOW, while we can repent and be saved through Jesus Christ.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” (Matthew 10:29, NIV)
[Photograph by Melissa Gutierrez]

Even apart from human actions, we see things that are not evil in the world.  It is not evil for a flower to grow from the ground.  It is not evil for a butterfly to hatch from a cocoon.  It is not evil for a bird to shield her babies from an onslaught of rain.

Since there are things in our world that are not evil, we know God is not evil.  God is the greatest and highest source.  If God is not good, then there would never be any good, because He would immediately overrule it.

Knowing God is good is foundational to ever having a relationship with Him, and God’s goodness is absolutely proven around us every day.  We a lot of times go about our thinking of God the opposite way that we should.  We look at the bad in the world and blame it on God, rather than recognizing our choice to sin and bring calamity into the world, starting in Genesis 3 and not stopping since.

Instead of trying to blame our evil on God, we need to look at the goodness of the world and wonder how on earth it got here!  It could only have come from God.  Remember, if God is not good, then there would never be any good, because He would immediately overrule it.

The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him (from Daniel 9:9, NIV)

Hover mouse over photograph for caption.
[Photograph by Alex Parks Photos]

Without His goodness, there would be no summer days, no sweet peaches, no chirping dolphins, no puppies to curl up in our laps, no clouds to pour rain on our crops and trees and meadows, no smile of a child trying watermelon for the first time.

Even in the most desperate places, we still see an awesome remnant of goodness deliberately left there by God.  Rats and mice have been pets for prisoners.  Corrie ten Boom, in prison camp because she hid Jews in her home, found comfort in a flock of little ants coming through the cracks of her cell.  The sun rising in the morning shines on the homeless.  I am convinced that there is never a time in this world where we see a full removal of the goodness of God, no matter how terrible our circumstances.  Only Christ has seen that, because He took on the total effects of our sin.

Even things we don’t think about like shock, unconsciousness, and death itself can be graces from God to permit the worst of evils from continuing.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18, NIV)

Sometimes we look for ways to accuse God of evil.  We do it out of jealousy, to make ourselves look better, out of doubt and fear, out of sick fantasy . . for all kinds of reasons.  When we hold up self-made evidence that we’ve found evil against God, what we’re actually holding up is evidence of our own love for evil.

I was visiting the zoo yesterday with a friend.  We had climbed up a long, winding sidewalk path in almost 90-degree heat to a Jr. Mount Everest post, to be “rewarded” with a view of the head and tail of a relaxing cheetah lying in the cool shade behind a tree.

[Photograph by Matt P.]

A girl was looking through those big metal binoculars that cost quarters to look through.  Her grandparents were resting on the wooden benches, as soon was I.

“I see a cheetah,” she said.  The binoculars were pointed in the direction of a barn.  I was immediately interested.  I looked in that direction and could kind-of see the blurred outline of some animal.

Her grandparents and I talked a little bit about why a cheetah might be in a shelter, when the girl announced something like, “I think it’s a deer.  It has big antlers.  Yeah.”

This should, really, have been a tip-off to me, but remember I had just climbed Jr. Mount Everest in 88-degree-before-factoring-in-the-blacktop weather.  I talked more with her grandparents, as we wondered what kind of deer-like creature it might be.  I was feeling very wise and a bit zoological.  Not to brag, but I did get a brief letter about my pet frog published in a nature magazine once.

The girl’s voice suddenly, definitively rang out.  “Actually,” she said, “I think it’s a poodle.”

This ended our conversation about what animal was out there.

When the girl and her grandparents turned to leave, the grandfather said something like, “You might want to use those binoculars.  We didn’t put any money in, and they seem to be working just fine for our granddaughter.”

At this point, I was suspecting something the grandfather didn’t seem to suspect.  Once they were descending Jr. Mount Everest, I put my eyes up to the binoculars.

What would a poodle habitat look like in a zoo?  Probably a lot like this.
[Photograph by John Ross]

Sure enough, they were almost totally black.  There was only a pinhole of light in each one, through which the girl had ‘sighted’ a cheetah, deer, and, yes, even a poodle.

I had been had, and so had her grandparents.  We had all assumed the binoculars were working.  That imaginative little girl had been staring into darkness for all that time and making up stories.

We need to be so careful who we are listening to.  Are we only listening to what other people are saying they’ve found out about God, or are we reading His Word for ourselves?  And are we reading His Word with eyes that have been opened by the grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, or through the eyes we’ve allowed Satan to gouge at every time we sin?

Only Jesus can give us new eyes.

The idea of God being evil, enjoying suffering, choosing people to create to occupy Hell, etc., is talking like that little girl staring through black binoculars.  We simply don’t know what we’re talking about.

These wicked ideas come from us.  But do we know what doesn’t come from us?

Goodness.  Goodness comes only from God.

The kind of goodness of a God who came to pay for the lies we have told about Him.  The kind of God who

God’s light will never go out . . . all light is a gift from Him. One day, He will come gather all His people to live with Him and He will take His light with Him.  If we are not with Him, we will be without light.  Hell will have no light.  It is the place where those who hate God’s gifts will finally get what they want: a life without His presents and, infinitely worse, without His Presence.
[Photograph by Till Westermayer]

Had I understood this some twenty-two years ago, my life would have taken a very different course.  But I believe with all my heart that God can redeem my many years of squinting through black binoculars . . by His great Light of Jesus, God-the-Son.

Even in those years looking through those black binoculars, I always had at least a pinhole of light: that one day, I could know God.

If you doubt God’s goodness, look at the pinhole of light He gives to stream into even the darkest of souls: hope that they will one day know Him.

Know that if you die without receiving the goodness of Jesus Christ in His gift of the cross, you will find yourself in a place of only evil . . a place where God won’t be . . because He has no part in evil.

But if you sincerely seek God now, you will find Him.  He will put His own quarters in the binoculars, and you will see.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13, NIV)

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105, NIV)

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7, NIV)

You will see your first glimpse of His goodness through binoculars that work, and you will not believe how dark you really are.  The goodness of God that sinners like me and you see first is His wrath, because we are coming to see that the way we have thought about God, misled ourselves and others about Him, and lived apart from Him is nothing less than monstrous.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20, NIV)

Don’t turn from the binoculars here.  If you do, you will miss seeing His grace and love–and living in the mercy and forgiveness only God can give us.

I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4, NIV)

Looking at God’s justice should cause us to fall on our knees.  And from there, God adjusts the binoculars so we can see another part of His goodness, the grace and love that brought Him to give His only Son to pay for our darkness–forever.

If you could compare yourself to something else in God’s creation, what would you compare yourself to?
Did you know that one of the things God compares Himself to is light? What does that tell us about the nature of God?
James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (NIV)
[Photograph by Raven King]

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. (Romans 7:24-25, 8:1, NLT)

Every day of my life, as a believer in Christ, I wake up to binoculars that require no payment for service from me, for they have already been purchased . . and I get to gaze at the goodness of God through His Word and His love in my life.  And every time He moves the angle of the binoculars just a touch, I see infinities more goodness than I ever thought possible.

The further I graze into the love of Christ, the further I want to graze.
[Photograph by Nishant Mathur]

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV)

God is not evil.  And, praise be to Jesus, I am not evil anymore, because of Him.

Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. (Philippians 3:8-9a, NLT)

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Photograph of Adam and Eve’s fall, personal photograph.

Photograph of bird in cage by petteriO, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/51710725@N08/

Photograph of lantern by Ralph Unden, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/ralphunden/

Photograph of thorn tree by David Morris, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/revdave/

Photograph of garage door by Kai Schreiber, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/genista/

Photograph of helper, hummingbird, and feeder by Melissa Gutierrez, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/oddharmonic/

Photograph of dandelion by Alex Parks Photos, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/56278705@N05/

Photograph of binoculars by Matt P., profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/electricwindows/

Photograph of poodle by Jon Ross, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/jon_a_ross/

Photograph of dark street by Till Westermayer, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/tillwe/

Photograph of light and trees by Raven King, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/34823245@N08/

Photograph of horses grazing by Nishant Mathur, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/nishantmathur/

Photographs are under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Caged

I got a profound reminder today about the responsibility of

freedom.

A friend of mine has a pet rabbit.  I love, love, love rabbits.  So I was eager to hold this rabbit in my arms and give him a chance to breathe free from his cage.

All his life, I guess, he has lived in a cage that’s probably about three feet wide by two feet tall.  There is no way he can do much jumping or any real running.  He shares his small space with a food dish and a habitat hideaway that’s knocked over.  I guess he doesn’t think he needs to hide.  There’s nothing to hide from in his two-foot-by-three-foot cage.  And besides, the little fake cove could never hide him from view.  It’s more like a cute hideaway for people to admire than for an animal to actually enjoy.  It’s not really any rest from prying eyes.

He has plenty of food, though–all the food he could ever want.  And it’s all right there on the ground for him to pick out.  It’s the same ground he has to poop on, of course, but he’s gotten well used to that.

I thought that I could make a bit of difference in his life by taking him out of the cage, if only for a few minutes.  I thought he’d like to see what life was like on the outside.  I thought he’d want to be free.

I turned out to be wrong about that, and I have a rabbit-sized scratch on my hand to prove it.  He became frantic when I tried to carry him through the latch door.  He wouldn’t let me catch him and he made frightened squeaking noises.  I tried to befriend him.  I pet him.  I loved on him.  I hoped this would coax him out.  I even waited, with the door open, for him to decide he might want to take a peek at the outside world.

It was a no go.

Finally, I tried one last effort to carry him through the door.  When he got right to the threshold of the door, when his very face was sticking out right into the wonderful outside world of freedom, he thrashed with absolute willful determination, hit his head on the bar (but did not really hurt himself), and threw himself backwards away from the open door.

I did not bother him with trying to go back outside after that.  It was clear he had made his choice.  But I felt very sad for him.  And I thought about all the years he would probably spend eating off the cage floor, lethargically rabbitting his way from one side of the cage to the other . . . until he eventually passed away, frozen and immobile, inside a cage that no longer needed to restrain him from anything.

.          .          .           .          .          .          .           .          .          .          .

Satan had us in a cage.  All of us.

And then Christ did something impossible.

He opened the door.

Through His blood–the blood of God–He opened the door.

Now Satan is pulling his greatest trick of all.

Convincing people to stay inside when the door is wide open.

I hope he doesn’t win his game with you.

We have a profound responsibility of freedom.

Christ has given us the choice: He can lift us out of Hell, or we can scratch Him and kick frantically and stay right where we are.

The question isn’t whether or not He’ll rescue us.  The question is, will we let Him?

As I let myself be vulnerable to that rabbit–letting it scratch me when I could so easily have killed it– God allows Himself to be vulnerable to us.

He allows us to reject His rescue.

What kind of rescue would it be to bring a terrified and angry rabbit to a freedom it wanted no part of?

And what kind of rescue would it be to drag a person out of Hell and into Heaven to spend eternity with a God (s)he is terrified of and hates?

This life is God’s waiting time, God’s “vulnerable” time.

And this life is either our rescue time, or our rejecting time.

–And Satan knows all this.

No matter how dark, or how barbed, or how padlocked we think our cage is, Jesus has burst open the door.

And God is reaching into our cage.

He promised to rescue us from our enemies’ power so that we could serve him without fear

by being holy and honorable as long as we live.

“You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High. You will go ahead of the Lord to prepare his way.

You will make his people know that they can be saved through the forgiveness of their sins.

A new day will dawn on us from above because our God is loving and merciful.

He will give light to those who live in the dark and in death’s shadow. He will guide us into the way of peace.” (prophesy about Jesus shortly after His birth, Luke 1:74-79, GW)

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Somehow the grave has captured me . . .
Just when I feel my breath is running out

The earth moves and You find me, alive but unworthy
Broken and empty, but You don’t care
‘Cause you are my rapture, You are my Savior
When all my hope is gone, I reach for you
You are my rescue.
You are my rescue!

–from “Rescue” by the Seabirds

See Dan Steven’s video, “The Cell”.

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Photograph by Stephane Tougard, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/unices/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Words from one of my heroes . . .

The Bible’s First Homerun

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1, ASV)

In the very same sentence that God tells us He created a universe we cannot wrap out minds around, He tells us He created our tiny earth!  That is the kind of God we have!

He pays attention to us!  He uses one word to sum up the entire marvels of the universe: heavens.  And then He chooses to tell us one itty-bitty place within that universe He made: the earth!!!!!!   But it’s not just that He made the earth.  In this verse, the very first verse of the Word of God, God tells us He made the Heavens, and, separate from that, He made the earth!

I used to be an avid baseball fan, and when I think about Genesis 1:1, I think of God stepping up to bat and, on the first pitch of the night, slamming a homerun. I mean He just slams a homerun.  The baseball goes out past the highest bleachers, never to return.  In one verse, in only one verse, God has already revealed His grand surprise for us:

He cares about us.

He cares about us!

And, just as the crowd goes wild when the first pitch results in the first homerun of the night for the home team, our hearts should go wild for the first verse of Genesis 1:1.  Our souls should be on their feet, applauding frantically, as we witness the first sign of God’s love for us in the very first verse He says.

God didn’t just get lucky at bat, either.  We have the profound feeling that God has planned out the whole game and, as He takes His first victory lap around the bases, we will see more runs to come.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1, ASV)

Mrs. Erante

sewing machine and fabric isolated on white

I heard an Amy Grant song today and I remembered Mrs. Erante.

Mrs Erante must have liked Amy Grant, or must have thought teenage girls liked Amy Grant, because she played her Amy Grant CD every time we came over to her house for home economics.

The name ‘home economics’ did not sound inviting to me, but I had friends going, so I wanted to go, too.  I was, I had to admit, minimally excited at the prospects of being able to cook and sew by the end class, mostly because I simply believed it was “beneath me” to do such things . . . and I didn’t want to be stomped on by a husband someday.  But, then, there was a really valid reason for my avoidance, too: I was going to be terrible at home economics.  I was pretty sure.

Each week, Mrs. Erante had a different project for us.  We made jam one week.  I think we made cloth covers for the jam lids, too.  I couldn’t make mine.  Mrs. Erante made mine.

We decorated country baskets with cloth and lace on the top.  I couldn’t make mine.  Mrs. Erante made mine.

We sewed aprons for ourselves.  I spent half of my childhood in the fabric shop.  Turns out, there are a lot of choices for aprons.  I at last chose a cool frog pattern.  Mrs. Erante taught us how to estimate cutting for our patterns and how to use the sewing machine.  I couldn’t estimate cutting or use the sewing machine.  Mrs. Erante made mine.

Project after project, week after week, I couldn’t do whatever it was everybody else was doing.  So Mrs. Erante made mine.

My projects always looked really nice.  In fact, mine gave the best girl in the class a run for her money.  Mine always had neat seams.  Mine always had, well, industrial quality.  Yes, I would have made a very fine housewife, so long as Mrs. Erante came along.

One day, we learned how to cross-stitch.  Amazingly, incredibly enough, this was something I could actually do.  We had four patterns we could pick from, all animals on wheels.  I picked out the rabbit on wheels.  There was that second when Mrs. Erante actually realized I could do something.  You would have thought I had become a Betsy Ross.  Mrs. Erante was very proud of me.

I gave that cross-stitch pillow (pillow that Mrs. Erante made) to my father.  He kept it at work.  Years and years later, when I went with my mom to clean out his office because he was dying, I found that pillow.  The end of the cross-stitch was unraveling.

Mrs. Erante could have fixed that, if only I could have given it to her.  I can see it now, my eyes wide with fear of unraveling myself as I handed her a project I couldn’t handle . . . that smile on her face she somehow had for me as she fixed everything I botched or was too scared to attempt.

I don’t think Mrs. Erante knew she was teaching me about the relationship with God I would have one day.

I confess, this is my day in prayer: eyes bubbling with tears, lip quivering in disappointment with myself and rage that I cannot seem to do anything right, I hand God my projects.  At the start of this, I was as shy with Him as I was with Mrs. Erante.  I was afraid He might be mad or hate me.  But I have gone to Him enough now that I am quite over my fear.

I give Him whatever I have bungled or am way too scared to try at, and He takes it.  And time after time after time after time after time after time, when you would think He would be ready to backhand me, He mends my tatters and patches my tears.  God is really good about that.  I don’t know why.

The more I know God, the more I realize I don’t understand Him.  I would never act that way towards me.  I would never take my disasters and give back mercy.  I would never take my failures and give back grace.   And I would never take my really awful sins and give back love.

I don’t know why God is this way, but I want to thank Mrs. Erante for foreshadowing, just a bit, what salvation would be like for me.

Thank you, Mrs. Erante.

Thank you, God.

In him [Jesus] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12, NIV)

 

Robot

If you told me I had to live the next 30 years of my life in a room with a robot, that operates totally by chance, I wouldn’t be so thrilled.  It might take care of my needs.  It might not.  It has no interest in me whatsoever because it’s a robot.

A robot or chance machine doesn’t, on its own, sound so good[1].

BUT . . .

What if you told me that, rather than live with a robot, I could live a person instead–but the person would be a horrible criminal?

Robot or criminal?  Hmm . . . not a hard choice.

This is one reason why people sometimes believe in evolution and a chance universe.  When they think of the word “god”, they think of the characteristics horrible criminals have: cruelty, misanthropy, injustice, etc.  So they would prefer to believe in impersonal chance!

But for a person who believes in my God, the robot vs. person story changes.

Now suppose I could choose to be with that robot for 30 years or I could be with a Person who loves me, cares for me, treats me mercifully, and is unendingly kind to me.  Now would I rather be locked in the room with the robot or the Person?

The Person I described is Jesus Christ.  And so it isn’t any wonder at all that I would rather believe in a creator God than evolving circumstances.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13, NIV)

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. (1 John 3:16a)

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Photograph by Jeffedoe, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/jeffedoe/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.