Season of Light

The nip in the air and the Labor Day weekend signal a new football season. Hope springs eternal for sports fans. For some it’s a fun game, but others look for a psychological boost from their team’s wins. The new season is their window of hope.

This year, Tim Tebow had a shot at restarting his NFL career as a tight end for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but no. Tebow and Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence have both been outspoken about something unaffected by the football season – their faith. Lawrence said, “I put my identity in what Christ says, who He says I am.”

I recently became aware that basketball standout Stephen Curry is also an outspoken Christian. Curry began his professional career in 2009. He has been named an NBA All-Star seven times and the league MVP, and has won three NBA championships. He said, “I think God has put me in this situation to change this perspective on what it is to be a man of God and a player in the NBA.  I want to uplift His name.  That’s at the forefront of why I play the game.”

What matters most to these men is not an athletic season but a life of walking with the Lord. Because they responded in faith to the gospel of Christ, they see life in the light of God’s sovereignty. That can work for you, too, as life comes at you in seasons. Your children leave childhood behind. You change jobs. Retirees contemplate what is next. Relationships change. Loved ones pass away. You have successes and failures.  But these are only temporary seasons.

Jesus said, “For a little while longer the Light is among you…While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light” (John 12:35-36). He is that Light, and He invites you to embrace this as your season of response. To believe in Him is to join Tebow, Lawrence, and Curry as a son (or daughter) of Light. Seasons come and seasons go, but the season of Light is forever.

Your Ebenezer

God help us. That’s a prayer, not a swear. How often those words escape our lips upon hearing news of Afghanistan, COVID, and American politics. You do remember He already has helped, right? You have to remember that to keep your sanity.

God’s people wanted to remember. In ancient times, God gave them a victory. He sent thunder to confuse their enemy so they could reclaim their cities. Samuel set a symbolic stone near the scene of the victory and named it Ebenezer, which means “rock of help” (1 Sam. 7:12).

One evening when I lived in Haiti, I noticed the reflection of a significant fire nearby. I went outside and saw in the middle of the dirt road a fire consuming household items and various containers. A local voodoo practitioner was burning his occultic paraphernalia. In his advanced age, he embraced faith in Christ. The fire was his public recognition of God’s help. It was his Ebenezer.

The U.S. has its Ebenezer, too. At 555 feet atop the Washington Monument, the highest structure in Washington D.C., an aluminum cap displays the words “Laus Deo,” meaning “praise be to God.” In 1885, Americans reached to the heavens with the moving sentiment. It was their Ebenezer, and ours.

We have a rock of help that is more than symbolic. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). He could promise that because as He said, “I and the Father are one” (v30). Jesus shows you a reality that is beyond what you see, beyond what happens today, and beyond the bounds of time. Your response, your Ebenezer, is to present yourself as a holy sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). The beautiful hymn lyrics say, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, here by Thy great help I’ve come. And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.”

Whenever the news makes you want to utter, “God help us!” let it remind you that He already has. Raise your Ebenezer by presenting yourself to God as a living sacrifice, your greatest act of worship.

Worldview Matters

Filmmaker Michael Moore weighed in on the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. “They’re religious nuts, but we’ve got those here too. Their Taliban, our Taliban, everybody’s got a Taliban.” His worldview sees no difference between Christians and Taliban.

The Taliban worldview and its interpretation of Sharia law has been on display for decades. They believe their destiny is to rule the world, and to die in jihad is to enter paradise. This week, Afghans who enjoyed freedom, education, and opportunity are fleeing the Taliban. Many of them had become Christians and indicated as much on their national ID cards. Now those Christians, other “infidels,” and people who resisted the Taliban are marked targets.

Moore’s worldview would also rule the world. It denies God, so its moral foundation is the soft sand of individual preference. Reason is its authority, science is its sacrament, autonomy is its practice, and cancellation is its final judgment. To create its paradise, it targets dissent. Its agenda of sexual liberation and expressive individualism creates its own victims, making Moore’s finger-pointing ironic.

The Christian worldview explains the world as we experience it, i.e. the human sense of morality, the longings of the heart, the realization of beauty, the existence of evil, and the yearning for meaning. The concept that everyone has value regardless of their race, intelligence, gender, politics, wrongdoings, or health comes from Christianity. The Christian ideas of freedom, morality, and self-denial are the foundations of Western democracy.  The historical resurrection of Jesus is the central proof of that worldview. As Paul explained to the sneering philosophers in Athens, God has “furnished proof to all men by raising (Jesus) from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

Speaking to people like Moore who would cancel any public expression of the Christian faith, atheist Richard Dawkins said, “I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.” It is better to love your neighbor and your enemy, to be a good citizen and a servant to others. Christianity advances by love and inspiration, not by the sword or newspeak. We are already witnessing something worse, over there and here.

Moore’s blind omission of the danger of his own worldview is predictable. It is encouraging that many of the refugees from his worldview are finding liberation and healing by faith in the truth the Lord Jesus has revealed to us. I pray that the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan causes America to rethink our drift away from the Christian worldview, which has contributed so much to human flourishing. We don’t need more victims of bad ideas and refugees from a culture that has lost its moorings.

He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken (Psa. 62:2).

The Reconciliation

A walk-off, game-ending home run is not uncommon in major league baseball. But this was unique because it happened in an Iowa cornfield.

On Aug. 12, the Yankees and White Sox played the unique game near the movie set of “Field of Dreams” (1989). In the movie, Kevin Costner played farmer Ray Kinsella. Ray’s father taught him to love the game. As a young man, Ray rebelled and became estranged from his father. After his father died, Ray hears a voice. “If you build it, he will come.”  He plows up corn to create a baseball field.  Soon, ghosts of famous players appeared. After the last game as the ghost players disappear into the corn, the catcher removes his mask at home plate. It was Ray’s father, who came to heal the pain of their separation.

The movie taps the human longing for reconciliation. We lament a broken relationship and wish it had not happened. We long for the way things were, for times of innocence. This is why the best gifts from a parent are healthy childhood memories. Call it lived experience or hindsight, but we prefer calm over storms, simple over complicated, acceptance over rejection.

Living with past hurt is a Biblical theme.  The beautiful city of Jerusalem, the center of life and worship, was desolate and ruined.  The Babylonians sacked the city and deported the people. “In the days of her affliction and homelessness, Jerusalem remembers all her precious things that were from the days of old” (Lam. 1:7). But the people were not without hope.  “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23). They had failed God, but He would not fail them.

Those who have experienced the kindness, forgiveness, and compassion of God have their deepest longings satisfied. “When the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us” (Tit. 3:4-5).  When you round third base and look toward home you will see your longing realized. Your Heavenly Father awaits to reconcile with you, face to face.

Real Faith

I attended a conference once, where one of the speakers mentioned the name Mo Anderson. A wave of admiration swept the cavernous hall. I didn’t know her.

The folks at Keller Williams Realty do. In 1972, the former music teacher earned her real estate license. Two years later she set up her first office. In 1995 at the age of 57, she became CEO of Keller Williams Realty.

In her book, A Joy-Filled Life, she tells about a critical time in her faith journey. Her parents raised her in a Christian home, including church attendance, family devotions, and prayer. As a university student, a professor asked her class, “How many of you are Christians?” She raised her hand. “I’m here to challenge that,” he said. After that, for five years she wandered in the wilderness of agnosticism, not sure if God exists or cares to be involved in her life.

When her son Rick was young, she and her husband took him to Sunday School. They attended an adult class she considered boring. But one Sunday a bolt of lightning struck her thoughts: “Either Jesus was who He said He was, or He was the biggest liar and impostor the world has ever known.”

The next day, she saw an ad in the newspaper. The Lutheran church was advertising a basic class in Christianity, “Is Christ real?” That is basic, because if Jesus isn’t God the Son, and if his death and bodily resurrection didn’t happen, then it is religion but not Christianity. Anderson and her husband attended the class.

The first evening of the class, the pastor explained that the Bible is two books. “The first book, the Old Testament, is the history of a nation that gave birth to a man called Jesus. The second book, called the New Testament, is about this man’s life and its meaning.” Those words gave Anderson a framework for understanding salvation history, culminating in Jesus’ death on the cross. She began to learn of the transcendent meaning of that event in terms of forgiveness of sin, new life in Christ, and the hope of eternity.

She had attended church for much of her life, but not until she was an adult did she place her faith in Christ Jesus as her Savior. She prayed, “I don’t understand all of this, Lord, but I’m going to give you my life. I’m going to do my best, based on my understanding, to give you my commitment and my loyalty from this day forward.” From that moment, her life has had purpose, direction, peace, and hope.

At that conference I mentioned, I had the opportunity to meet Mo. (She insisted I call her that!) I found her to be warm and engaging, and a woman of real faith. Is yours a story of real faith?

Returning Word

“I am an attorney and would like to speak to you.”  Those can be ominous words, but it was actually a request for help.

Please allow a biographical note. I received a theological education after becoming a licensed civil engineer. My area of expertise is stormwater. This has implications for bridges, roads, lakes, and drainage systems. I continued in practice until a few years ago when I accepted an instructor position.

The heart of stormwater engineering is understanding the part of the hydrologic cycle that predicts volume and rate of rainfall runoff. So, when the attorney called and said a business was suing the city over flooding, he wanted me to determine what happened and how to prevent it. The hydrologic science tells the story.

Do science and theology mix? Of course! The Creator reveals much of Himself through the predictable order of nature. One of the world’s greatest scientists admitted as much.  Einstein said that the pursuit of science makes you aware of “a spirit vastly superior to that of man.” He was amazed that mankind could describe the universe in mathematical formulas.  Engineers rely on that predictability.

Science and theology mix when science is an apt metaphor for a spiritual truth.  The hydrologic cycle is such a metaphor.  “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth. It will not return to Me empty without accomplishing what I desire” (Isa. 55:10-11).

What an image!  God’s word gives life, refreshes, and cleanses. It is predictable, visible, and constantly at work. And it produces what God desires. The power of God’s word is evident because it brought the universe into being. “The worlds were prepared by the word of God” (Heb. 11:3). We know that Word to be a person, Jesus, through whom all things came into being (John 1:3).

What does God’s Word accomplish? How does His Word not return to Him empty? The answer is in this: “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13). God showers compassion on you by creating you and the world you live in. He has compassion by calling you to receive His great gift from the cross, forgiveness of sins.  When you are reconciled to God by faith, the Word accomplishes what He desires. The cycle continues when others see the power of the Word in you.

God designed nature to be predictable and to reveal its Creator and His purposes. When the rain falls and the creek swells, it proclaims that God’s Word does not return to Him void. Send it forth, Lord!

Reunited By Love

Guo Gangtang suffered a father’s worst nightmare. In 1997, his 2-year-old son was abducted.

A 2015 movie, “Lost and Love,” documents the Chinese man’s epic search for his son. He traversed most of China handing out flyers and proclaiming his cause. He wore out 10 motorcycles while traveling 300,000 miles. He slept under bridges, suffered bone crushing accidents, and endured highway robbery. But his search was unrelenting. He said, “Only by searching can I feel like a real father. It’s impossible for me to stop.” The movie ends as Guo continues in his cause, driven by love for his lost son.

Guo’s persistence reminds me of Francis Thompson’s poem, “The Hound of Heaven.” These verses portray the relentless love of the Heavenly Father who pursues his children through the ups and downs of life. “Up vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated, Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears, from those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with unhurrying chase, and unperturbed pace, deliberate speed, majestic instancy, they beat…” The poem’s protagonist finally realizes what’s happening and why. God seeks because He loves.

That is the message of Jesus’ stories in Luke 15. The shepherd searched for one of his 100 sheep, then “calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ ” The story of the woman rejoicing over finding her lost coin illustrates the “joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” But the story most like Guo’s is about the father who ran to greet his lost son. The father says, “Let us eat and celebrate for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”

Now, the rest of the story. This month, Guo and his wife found their lost son, now in his 20’s. Seeing him, his mother cried, “My baby, you came back!” Their son’s abductors had sold him in a neighboring province. He was raised well and had a university education. How must he have felt when he learned that his birth parents never gave him up for adoption, never stopped loving him, and never ended their search for him! Guo reflected on the 24 year ordeal saying, “Everything can only be happy from now on!” The father’s relentless search led to a joyful reunion.

Jesus’s stories show that you, too, are the object of a great quest. Your story is God’s story when by faith in Christ Jesus you are reconciled to Him. “He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in his love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy” (Zeph. 3:17). That is the Father rejoicing because you are reunited with him by love.

Who Am I?

Jane Blasio’s search for her birth parents led her to discover a dark secret. Soon the newspapers picked up the story, and the whole world knew.

In 1997, Blasio discovered that Dr. Thomas Hicks had arranged for as many as 200 illegal adoptions during the 1960’s and earlier. Often he led a birth mother to believe her baby died, then he sold the baby to families from a distant state. Blasio was one of those babies.

Paul Reymann saw the story and noticed some similarities. He, too, had been adopted. His birth certificate listed Hicks as attending physician. He learned that his parents had traveled out of state, paid the doctor in cash, and received him at the back door of the clinic.

Using DNA testing, Reymann located his birth father who welcomed a relationship with the son he didn’t know existed. Reymann said, “He could have just swept all of (his past) under the rug and I’d still be out there wondering. He is a man of great character, strong faith in the Lord and I just knew that everything was OK when I hugged him.”

Blasio’s and Reymann’s converging stories have a common theme: the search for identity. That’s not a quest unique to adopted people. “Who am I?” is the question we all ask in some way because it is connected to ultimate meaning. Today’s world offers a menu of answers. Your identity can be sexual, political, occupational, or digital. You can even take a personality test to “discover who you really are.” These identities are incomplete at best, flawed at worst.

You will never know who you are meant to be if you remain alienated from your Creator. Jesus Christ came to fix that. You are created in the image of God but the image is marred by sin, which separates you from God. By faith in Christ, you are re-created and restored. God has “reconciled us to Himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18). The result is that sin no longer defines you. “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. You are not your own. Therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

It is touching that Reymann found peace in the embrace of his birth father. How much more your Heavenly Father offers you a place in the family! “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are” (1 Jn 3:1).

As for Blasio, her birth mother died before they could meet. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know her identity. She writes, “If there’s one thing in life I’m sure of…it’s that God loves you and knows who you are and has known you from the beginning.” She has found the answer to the question. Have you?

Honest Unbelief

If you do not identify as a Christian, have you ever thought about why you don’t? Perhaps you haven’t thought about it at all. Please let me help you with that.

Maybe you’re like the non-believer who responded on social media to the disconcerting things happening today. He said, “I’m coming out.  I’m officially Bible-curious.” That’s honest truth-seeking.  Only God knows what makes a seeker out of a skeptic or cynic.  A skeptic is unsure what is true; a cynic is not interested in what is true. You can be either or both.  You can also be changed.

You live by what you believe is true whether you realize it or not. Consider the following truth claims: People are basically good.  All paths lead to god. Nature is god. Science has all the answers. The cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. Follow your heart. People wrote the Bible and their thoughts are no better than mine. Jesus is a mythical figure. Any of these would contribute to living by something other than the truth about Jesus Christ.

You may object, “If Christianity is true, why doesn’t everyone see and embrace it?” The answer lies at the heart of the Christian gospel. Humans are good at deceiving ourselves.  St. Augustine wrote, “Because man hates to be proved wrong, he will not allow himself to be convinced that he is deceiving himself.  So he hates the real truth for what he takes to his heart in its place.” You can find evidence for the real truth about God in history, science, logic, and changed lives.

Since “the heart is more deceitful than all else” (Jer. 17:9), the solution is what the Bible calls being “saved.” It says, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).

To be saved means that “you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:22-24). It means you have a new identity!

How do you embrace the grace, forgiveness, renewal, and eternity the gospel offers? Believe in a Person.  “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Do that, and your honest unbelief gives way to saving, life-changing faith.

Keeping Freedom

The recent fireworks and our celebration of Independence Day has me dwelling on the state of affairs in America. Not current events, but the state of our thinking about the underpinnings of our freedoms. Here’s my hypothesis: Christianity can exist without freedom, but American freedom cannot exist without Christianity.

Let’s dispense with the first part of my hypothesis. Christianity is growing rapidly in China which does not allow freedom of speech, association, and religion. Christianity is expanding in the Middle East, a reaction to the more oppressive forms of Islam. The number of Christians in Iran has grown from five hundred to one million since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution. They certainly don’t have American-style freedoms.

American freedoms depend on Christian morality. Here are thoughts on that from three non-believers.

Agnostic political scientist Charles Murray believes America needs a religious revival. He says, “Highly secular societies are going to break down. If you could have a resurgence of what used to be known as a religious Great Awakening — we’ve had three of them at least, maybe four — those had very good effects. Those could change the behavior of the population in very positive ways. And that’s going to be great if that happens. If you have a new upper class that joins in a resurgence of the Judeo-Christian traditions, the United States could be great.”

Stanford University professor Niall Ferguson says, “I was brought up as an atheist. It is as much a faith as Christianity. I’ve come to see as a historian that you can’t base a society on that. Indeed, atheism, particularly in its militant forms, is really a very dangerous metaphysical framework for a society. I’m a big believer that with the inherited wisdom of a two-millennia old religion, we’ve got a pretty good framework to work with.”

Atheist Richard Dawkins likes to quote Hillaire Belloc’s poem for children. “Always keep a-hold of Nurse for fear of finding something worse.” Dawkins’ point is that an escaping child is to her caregiver what a godless country is to freedom. Both risk losing what they need most. Dawkins wants Christianity not because he believes it’s true, but because nations need a moral underpinning.

America is afflicted these days with unrestrained people who “professing to be wise…became fools” (Rom. 1:22). They cannot see that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov. 14:34). Fortunately, even non-believers recognize foolishness when they see it, and prefer a righteous nation that benefits from its Christian underpinnings. Truth is, America needs Christianity far more than Christianity needs America.

Benjamin Franklin once said America is “a republic, if you can keep it.” We keep our republic free by being a moral people, one nation under God.