It Was Providential

“Everything happens for a reason” is an inarticulate way to express the providence of God. God doesn’t do evil, but He can take a sequence of events and weave something providential out of it. Here’s an example.

This story begins with a noted anthropologist, James Frazer. In 1890, he published a book in which he posits that the legend of a dying and reviving god is central to many ancient mythologies. He scandalized his colleagues and readers by denigrating the history of Jesus as just another myth. His fallacy was to disallow the possibility that God had been preparing humanity for His incarnation, death, and resurrection since the beginning; hence, the anticipation became embedded in the historical human consciousness.

Oxford don T.D. Weldon pondered Frazer’s work. Weldon was a confirmed atheist. But he had considered the evidence for the history of Jesus as recorded in the Bible. In 1926, Weldon visited a colleague’s paneled office near the iconic Magdalen Tower. As they sat near the fire on that cold day, Weldon suggested the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was strong.  “All that stuff of Frazer’s about the dying god. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.”

That comment stunned Weldon’s colleague, who had been struggling to maintain his own denial of God’s existence. That colleague was C.S. Lewis. He wrote, “To understand the shattering impact of it, you would need to know the man. If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not–as I would still have put it–“safe”, where could I turn? Was there then no escape?” Lewis sensed the “hound of heaven” in Weldon’s providential comment.

Lewis freely admitted that he didn’t want God to exist, but he became overwhelmed by the evidence. “In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed.” Two years later, he placed his faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. He described his conversion as like “when a man, after long sleep…becomes aware that he is now awake.”

Three men. A sequence of events and conversations. An awakening to the joy of faith! That’s how Divine Providence works, weaving the circumstances of life into something vital for your soul. He knows all about you. He loves you and reveals Himself to you. Whether you are seeking or not, your providential encounter awaits. He’s not far.

“He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27).

Recovering Wonder

Long before blowing soapy bubbles with a storebought kit, we had dandelions. To this day I cannot say why it was such a childhood delight to pluck the ripe blowball and send the feathered seeds to flight on a silent whistle.

To a yard it’s a weed. Its broad leaves and tall stems disrupt the tranquility of a manicured lawn. To a bee it’s candy. The sunny bloom of the lowly dandelion invites honeybees to partake of its delights. To a person it is a vegetable, so I read.

It’s a wondrous thing that a simple plant could foster such pessimism and optimism. G.K. Chesterton, the British writer and philosopher, recalled his childhood fascination with the dandelion. He used the ubiquitous plant to illustrate the lack of wonder in humans who plod the oblivious path of uninspired lives. Mankind “has no right even to see a dandelion,” he writes, “for he could not himself have invented either the dandelion or the eyesight.”

The things you never consider or take for granted are the very things that would fill your heart with wonder. The rights you assume over your personal choices and worldview, not to mention your body, values, and relationships, betray a great omission – awe of your Creator. Chesterton warned of “the strange and staggering heresy that a human being has a right to dandelions; that in some extraordinary fashion we can demand the very pick of all the dandelions in the garden of Paradise; that we owe no thanks for them at all and need feel no wonder at them at all; and above all no wonder at being thought worthy to receive them.”

What are you to do, finding yourself somewhere along the oblivious path? Look at a dandelion and all its intricate detail and ask how it got here? Ask how you got here? Why do you experience what dandelions cannot – love, emotion, thoughts? You are capable of asking with the philosopher Leibniz, “Why is there something and not nothing?” Raising your awareness of origin and meaning stirs your sense of awe, wonder, and optimism.

The Psalmist captured a transcendent moment of wonder with a lingering glance into a clear night sky. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” (Psa. 8:1,3-4).

And there you have it. The lowly dandelion, the heavenly lights, and all creation conspire to fill your heart with wonder and draw you to the One who is most wonderful. And He cares for you.

The Divine Critic

Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer-winning novella, The Old Man and the Sea, is about a Cuban fisherman, a marlin, and sharks. Or it may have been about something entirely different.

In 1950 after a 10-year publishing drought, Hemingway released Across the River and into the Trees. Critics savaged the novel. Hemingway was devastated. In response, he published The Old Man and the Sea (1952). The protagonist is Santiago who, after a long period of not catching a fish, landed a prize marlin after a great struggle. He delighted in his good fortune until the sharks circled and destroyed his hard work.

The novella reads like an autobiographical metaphor. Hemingway is Santiago and “Across the River” is the fish. The critics, well, they’re the sharks who shredded what Hemingway thought was good work. If the critics caught on, it did not prevent them from celebrating what became a literary classic.

The story about an old man fighting sharks redeemed Hemingway’s reputation as a writer. One wonders if Hemingway would have won the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes but for those critics. He embraced the harsh criticism, wove it into a story, and good things followed.

I see a spiritual parallel. You have your own critics but only one matters. It is He who criticized Job’s complaints by thundering, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Job could only respond, “I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 38:4, 42:6). The divine critic says you have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). What have you done with that criticism?

Theologians say humans are “depraved.” Sounds harsh but compared to a holy God, not so much. “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality,” writes Malcolm Muggeridge, “but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” Look at today’s headlines to verify that reality. Or look within. You could resist and take offense. Or it could prompt your greatest honor. When you embrace the criticism and the good news of God’s grace, you start a new story. It’s a story lived by faith in the Lord Jesus, the Creator, Savior, and Shepherd of your soul.

Life’s greatest honor is to know the God who laid the earth’s foundation and to be accepted into His family. By His magnificent victory at the cross, the stain of your sin (depravity) is removed, and you stand blameless before a holy God. Hemingway’s story hints at a greater truth – out of the pain and embarrassment of failure rises the realization of a more glorious reality. For those who believe, that reality is a redeemed life in right standing with Almighty God.

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).

Finish Your Course

Every life runs a certain course, including yours. To have a sense of what that course is and to stick to it is the making of a fulfilled life.

This story starts with a lady who lived across from the local high school in Wyckoff, NJ. For years, Dorothea Clapp prayed for the students to come to know the Lord Jesus. She prayed for George Verwer by name and mailed some literature to him. Verwer assumed himself to be a Christian since he attended his mother’s church.

One day in a store, he noticed a magazine featuring a young Billy Graham. He read the article and the wheels of his mind began to turn. Soon after, a man in Verwer’s neighborhood offered to bus the local teens to a Billy Graham event at Madison Square Garden. Verwer went and heard the gospel for the first time. “This is the truth,” he thought. “My search is over; this is the most important thing in life.” So it was that in 1955 at the tender age of 16, Verwer received Jesus Christ as his Savior.

That set the course of his life. As a senior in high school, he distributed 1000 copies of the Gospel of John. He led several of his classmates to trust Christ. During his first term in college, he hosted a rally back at his high school. Hundreds of students packed the auditorium. After hearing Verwer speak, over 100 people professed faith, including his own father. The next year, Verwer and friends sold their possessions to purchase and deliver Bibles to Mexico.

A few years later, Verwer founded Operation Mobilization to support churches and indigenous Christian workers in spreading the gospel of God’s grace. Today OM works in 140 countries and has mobilized over 250,000 workers for that purpose. Verwer has said this verse describes the theme of his life: “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Verwer had a sense of the course of his life.  So did Dorothea Clapp, who had a quiet but vital ministry of prayer and encouragement. Therein lies my charge to you, Christian. God has a course for your life. It is some selfless expression of glorifying God, displaying His love, and advancing His truth. You are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

Some pray. Some serve. Some even start worldwide organizations. But all of us can finish well, as did Verwer. In 2023, George Verwer left for the land of the living.  He was 84.

A Mother’s Intuition

The mother rushed to scoop up her toddler who fell on the playground. “You’re OK, I got you!” She brushed off his knees. “Everything will be OK; I promise.”

A child wants protection from harmful things beyond his control. He wants a restoration of tranquility and order. In his crisis, here comes Mom with her assurance of just that. But she cannot guarantee everything will be OK beyond that moment. The child will continue to face danger and stress. Life happens. Yet there remains something true about her words. In God’s time and in His way, everything WILL be OK. All of God’s children yearn for that.

In his book, Signals of Transcendence, Os Guinness writes about being born in China to missionary parents during WWII. It was a time when millions died in the Japanese invasion and the following communist revolution. His older and younger brothers died from hunger and disease. “My first ten years, to put it gently,” he writes, “were years of chaos, disorder, terror, fear, death, suffering, war, revolution, and loss. Everything was not alright.”

Yet in the midst of those trials, his parents’ faith in God remained. The same parents who lost two sons offered their remaining son a calm assurance. “Their faith gave them rock-solid grounds for trusting in the ultimate goodness of life and existence, despite the horror and sorrow of the immediate situation,” he writes. “The final reality behind the universe is God, who is love, and who has a great heart for humans who He has created in His own image.”

A mother’s intuition gives her reason to comfort her child saying, “Everything will be OK.” A mother’s faith offers her child the hope that tranquility and protection await those who believe, though we remain in the valley of the shadow for now. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want…He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psa. 23:1-4).

Homeward Bound

Have you noticed that certain human yearnings transcend our mortal existence?  Such a yearning saved the life of one of the last century’s noted journalists.

Malcolm Muggeridge introduced the world to Mother Teresa and her work among the poor. Before becoming a renowned journalist, he was a soul adrift. He tried living among the religious people of India. After living in the former Soviet Union, he lost interest in communism. He was a maverick, rejecting the validity of most forms of authority. He simply felt like he didn’t belong. “I have always felt myself, perhaps to an abnormal degree,” he wrote, “a stranger in a strange land.”

During WWII, the British army rejected Muggeridge’s enlistment. But he did land an assignment with the British Intelligence Corps only to be sent to Mozambique, far from the action. There, one night, hopelessness caught up with him. “Alone in the universe, in eternity, with no glimmer of light in the prevailing blackness,” he wrote. “Deprived of war’s only solace, death, there was one death I could still procure. My own.”

So, he went to a deserted beach along Africa’s east coast, and swam out into the cold, inky darkness. In what might have been his last thought, his wife came to mind. He glanced back. In the distance he recognized the glimmering lights of a restaurant by the coast. He was transfixed by the sense the light was calling him home. “There followed an overwhelming joy such as I had never experienced before.” He swam back.

It was the sudden yearning for home that saved his life. If there is one thing that can change suicidal ideation, it is the sense of belonging, meaning, and love. Muggeridge knew that such a joyful yearning must have originated beyond himself. It signaled the beginning of his quest to know its source.

A few years later by his own account, Muggeridge “rediscovered” Jesus and became a Christian. In retrospect, it is no surprise that the lost man who found his home in Christ Jesus would be the journalist who noticed a little nun making a home for Calcutta’s most lost and desperate people.

You know that yearning for hearth and home. Tired from a long trip, rest. Nameless among fellow travelers, identity. Hungry for the familiar, recognition. A place to belong, a place of peace, a place of love, that’s home. Jesus is calling you to believe and find your home in Him.

“If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going…I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:3-6).

Community of Faith

With whom are you living your life? You’ll know the real answer to that when life takes a twist.

A tornado twisted up a town in Mississippi last month. The residents learned that they are strong together. They are leaning on each other, determined to rebuild their homes, churches, businesses, and lives. I was there and spoke with them. Over and over, I was amazed at their strength and concern for their neighbors even as they stood in the debris of their own properties.

In times of crisis, belonging to a caring community is vital. God wired humans to draw strength and courage from one another. In Mississippi, I observed the strongest community and the most courage among those who share faith in Christ Jesus. Together in Christ, they overcome the divisions of class and race, share the purpose of glorifying God, and live in hope of the same eternal destiny – even as they clean up and prepare to rebuild.

The early Christians knew the value of strong community. In his letter to the Romans, Paul mentions the phrase “one another” at least ten times as he encouraged the community of faith to love and support each other. He greets 35 people by name, reminding them how they all contributed to the building of a resilient community. Less than ten years later, Emperor Nero began his persecution of the Christians. They were ready, and the church survived.

It is a mature faith that understands we live in a fallen world, infected by evil, at least for now. God has done something about it by preparing a place for you free from suffering and showing you the way to arrive there. But while you are still here, find ways to live life with friends in loving community, ready to support one another when needed. “They will know you are my disciples,” Jesus said, “because of your love for one another” (Jn. 13:34).  Dietrich Bonhoeffer may have had that idea in mind when he wrote, “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” Don’t wait until your life gets twisted to create a loving community that is more than a dream.

The lives of people in Mississippi and ancient Rome offer the same message. Your life is more resilient when you share it with people of like mind, especially the community of faith. Find your place in a church that embraces the truth, peace, and hope found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

“If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7).

Solving Life’s Mysteries

I do not know if British actor and comedian Russell Brand has arrived anywhere on his spiritual journey. But he’s saying things that might be helpful to someone looking for answers to the mysteries of life.

Brand’s tradecraft can be offensive as he entertains the disaffected, directionless younger generations, i.e., the folks enticed as children to “follow your heart” and ego-stroked to “be whatever you want to be.” As adults they wonder about life’s mysteries but look for answers in the wrong places. Some of those answers about morality and identity are harmful lies. They believe Richard Dawkins who says they are merely a random collection of DNA and can only dance to its music. They demand affirmation, shout down disagreeable on-campus speakers, and dare anyone to challenge their conclusions. They look berserk, floundering with no grasp of ultimate reality.

Back to Brand. He has been transparent about his spiritual journey, a winding tale along a rocky path. He said, “Like many desperate people, I need spirituality, I need God, or I cannot cope in this world.” That looks like a signpost pointing to answers. “My personal feeling is the teachings of Christ are more relevant now than they’ve ever been,” he said. “There’s a famous quote: ‘Every man who knocks on a brothel door is looking for God.’ Humanity is knocking on a brothel door, looking for fulfillment in things that will only leave them empty.” I hope these words mean he is considering all the truth claims of Christ. I hope his audience considers the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

You are on a quest, knocking on doors, whether you realize it or not.  That quest is to unravel the mystery of the universe and find your place in it. Perhaps the best way to characterize the question is, “Does life offer any reason to hope?” It matters how you look for answers. If you remove God as a starting point, you end up with subjective, untenable, and hopeless answers. Wrong answers lead to boredom, frustration, and even violence.

But the right answers about ultimate questions make a person peaceful, hopeful, and wise. God has unraveled the mystery for us. His Word reveals “the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints…Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him…with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Col. 1:26-28). Your only hope is Christ in you. You reach your fullest human potential only as Christ completes you. He loves you. Trust Him.

To solve life’s deepest mysteries and find meaning in life, consider Russel Brand’s words, which point to Jesus. With God, you can cope with this world.


I see the headlines and I wonder how the survivors will cope. Families lost more than 20 loved ones in the Mississippi tornado. More lost their homes. Some lost their whole town. The Nashville school shooting raises more intense questions. Do you wonder if you would find the strength to go on if your child was a victim of such evil?

That question is larger than this short essay. But I’ll say this. The Christian faith offers hope in the face of adversity. The worldview of naturalism offers no hope if, as Richard Dawkins said, the universe has “no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” Whatever happens is just random, hopeless chaos.

You build a foundation for endurance when you accept that this is a fallen world, infected by evil. “When you encounter various trials…” the Bible says, not “if.” Trials in life are inevitable. But neither trials nor evil have the final say.

People who endure know their identity and values, which adversity cannot touch. As a believer, your identity and values are in Christ Jesus. Nothing can separate you from His love (Rom. 8:39).

You prepare for adversity by adopting a growth mindset. When you face adversity, expect that you will grow in wisdom and faith because of it. The testing of airplanes and pilots increases your trust in them. When you are tested beyond your strength, you learn even more to trust “in God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:8-9).

Adversity in the believer’s life brings about a certain reminder. Pain and grief exist in this life, but you are made for another world, one where Jesus has the final say. You can endure the pain better when you know it is short-lived.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas. 1:2-4). I pray for those hurting families in Mississippi and Nashville, that God give them endurance and a more perfect result.

Resurrection Matters

Jesus Christ came back to life after his death on a cross. It is the greatest event in human history, with eternal implications for you. Have you considered this central claim of Christianity, that it actually happened? Or is Easter just a cultural event about bunnies, candy, and the dutiful visit to church?

Centuries before Jesus walked this earth, the prophet spoke in the voice of the coming Messiah, God the Son saying, “You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay” (Psa. 16:10). So before Jesus died, the plan was already in place. They pierced Him to make sure He was dead. His followers buried His body. Then for three days they wondered in fear why the One who saved others could not save Himself. But Sunday was coming.

On that singular day, Jesus returned to life. He appeared to various people in different times and places. They saw, heard, and touched Him. He even made breakfast on the beach for them.  Paul explains that Christ “was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time… Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and…He appeared to me also” (1 Cor. 15:3-8). The disciples’ encounter with immortality so dramatically changed them that they risked imprisonment for “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). They were not deceived. They had no reason to lie. They knew the Truth. They were motivated by love for their fellow man.

Jesus’ Resurrection matters because “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless” (1 Cor. 15:17). Those who dismiss this historic event as myth or metaphor are entitled to free thought, but such a view is not what the Bible portrays, nor would it have inspired those early believers. When Jesus arose from the dead, he fulfilled prophecy, validated his identity as God the Son, and claimed victory over sin and death. “He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man,” writes C.S. Lewis. “He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so.”

You have two ways to respond to this news. At your great loss you can ignore or dismiss the pivotal event in human history. At your great gain you can embrace it by repentance and faith. “Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die,” Jesus said. “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26).

The Resurrection vindicates Jesus’ claims of who He is and what He came to do. It is also a harbinger of your own resurrection to eternal life. He is risen!