Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

The Great Dilemma

May 29, 2008

   Whenever I talk to people about God, Jesus, the Bible and so on, I often ask them what they think God is like. Several answers pretty much cover it all. 

   “He’s loving, forgiving, and very understanding.” 

   “He’s angry at us and can’t wait to send us all to hell.” 

   “He’s out there somewhere, but I don’t think anyone can really know for sure.” 

   And, “I don’t think he exists. If he did, our world wouldn’t be so messed up.” 

   Those are honest answers, but I wonder if many people, even Christians, have really thought this through. For instance, if you take the God revealed in the Bible, one thing you will find out quickly is that he’s just, righteous, and holy, holy, holy. What do those things mean? 

   That he’s just means he must deal justly every person who has ever done anything wrong – stealing, lying, killing, committing adultery, cursing his name, etc.  – and ultimately to mete out justice for the crimes they’ve committed. Nothing can be overlooked. Everything must be considered, including that person’s situation in life – “he stole because he couldn’t get a job and had to feed his children and he had no money.” “He committed adultery because his wife hated him and cut him off.” Or, “He was a nasty guy and hated everyone and decided to kill people for no good reason.” And so on. God, being just, would consider every variable, nuance, problem that the person had, and so on. Only then would he pronounce sentence. 

   That he’s righteous means God himself would never commit a sin, or do something wrong and against his own laws, himself. He would never cheat, obfuscate, deceive, or manipulate, no matter how exercised he might have been at the time over Lucy’s incessant talking late into the night in prayer, or whatever.

   That he’s holy means he is utterly separate from all evil, sin, and unrighteousness. He can’t even look at a person who is sinful or evil. He has to hide from that person and go somewhere where he doesn’t have to see them, because if he did, he’d immediately have to destroy them and wipe every vestige of them off the face of the earth. 

   Now look at that rather short list: God has to judge human sin, would never commit sin himself, and can’t even look on a human who sins. So the question is how can he have anything to do with us? 

   Okay, you see part of the problem. But let’s go the other way for a second. God has other characteristics that seem to negate some of the above. For instance, the Bible explicitly says, “God is love”(see 1 John 4:8 and 16). He is loving. He loves everyone, everything equally, without partisanship or partiality. He doesn’t prefer Jennifer Aniston because she’s better looking than Phyllis Diller. God doesn’t bless George Clooney because he’s the coolest guy in the universe, and shun Jerry Stiller because he plays idiots on TV. No, God loves them all deeply, totally, and forever, because that’s who he is, love itself. 

   He’s also merciful. That means he wants to show mercy to anyone and everyone, whether they ask for it or not. He wants to let them off the hook, give them a free ride, overlook the latest drunkenness spree, and flush the nasty pictures out of his mind. In other words, he wants very much to give all of us a big break, and especially if we do ask for. 

   Another thing: he’s forgiving. He has forgiven people when they repented of their sin and asked for it(all of the disciples), when they didn’t(the paralyzed man in Matthew 9:1-8), and when they didn’t even expect it or want it(the Romans who nailed Jesus to the cross). God wants to forgive us more than we’re even willing to ask.

   Most of all, God is gracious. That means he wants to give us everything he has, can make, and be to all of us. Every blessing. Every good thing. Just pile it all on. That’s his nature. He literally wants to give us the greatest birthday party every day for eternity.

   Okay, all that’s very encouraging. But do you notice the dilemma? 

   If God’s just, righteous and holy, he can’t forgive anyone, love anyone, be merciful or gracious. No, he has to judge them and send them off on a permanent vacation in a very dark place where they won’t be able to inflict themselves on anyone ever again. 

   But if he’s forgiving, loving, merciful, and gracious, he wants to shower us with every good gift.

   The dilemma is: How does he do all that and not compromise his character in any way? In other words, if he’s just he has to be absolutely just and can never forgive anyone. On the other hand, if he forgives, he can no longer be just. 

   It’s a pretty big problem, don’t you think? But the reality is, God solved all this rather simply: He sent us Jesus. 

   What did Jesus do? He lived a perfect life, satisfying God’s requirement to be perfect. Then Jesus died on the cross, paying the penalty for every sin that was ever and will be committed, and satisfying God’s justice, righteousness, and holiness. 

   Do you see it? Jesus lived the perfect life in our place and by faith gives it to us so when we exercise faith in him. When God looks at us, he doesn’t see us – sinner, foul-up, idiot, jerk, genocidal maniac, serial killer, or whatever – no, he sees Jesus in us by faith and he treats us as if we truly were perfect.

   At the same time, he takes all our sins and puts them on Jesus. Jesus pays for every one of them, and when we accept that payment by faith, God forgives us forever, releases his mercy and grace, and loves us perfectly. 

   How can it be that simple?

   Why shouldn’t it be? Think about it. No matter how much you might try to be good, righteous and perfect for God, you could never do it. Sooner or later, you’ll foul up. So God says, “Believe in my Son; he’ll pay for your sins, and you get his perfection. All by faith in him.” 

   Some people say, “Well, why doesn’t God just forgive us all and leave it at that?”

   That’s the dilemma: he can’t just forgive us all because someone or something has to pay for those sins. If God’ just says, “I forgive everyone,” he has seriously compromised his justice and all those great truths about his greatness, goodness, and holiness.

   You might say, “Well, I guess he should just punish us all.” 

   Sure, but he’s loving, remember? Gracious? Merciful? He doesn’t want to punish any of us. 

   So he made a way for him to be himself completely and for us, by faith, to get everything he wants to give us: forgiveness, eternal life, heaven, and the resident Spirit.

   Some will say, though: “You mean, Jesus had to die that horrible death just so I can be forgiven?” 

   Right. That’s the price of sin. That’s the price we should pay ourselves. If God was to be just with us, he’d put us on that cross and leave us there until every sin we ever committed was paid for. God wants us to see in Jesus’ death just how bad our sin is.

   Some say, “But I just curse a little. I don’t get drunk. I’ve been faithful. I haven’t done a lot of sin.” 

   Maybe you’d better ask your family about that one. If you really examine yourself, you’ll probably see a lot more sin than you ever imagined – in thought, word, and deed. I have never met a person who truly was perfect. Nice? Sure. Decent? Of course. But perfect? Can you name one besides Jesus? 

   God solved the Great Dilemma in Jesus. That’s why he’s the way, the truth, and the life. No one else did what he did. 

   Ultimately, you can take him or leave him. But remember one thing: if you do reject him, God will have to deal with you in perfect justice.

    Are you sure you really want to take that doorway when forgiveness, eternal life, joy, love, peace, and every good thing comes with faith in Christ, who is the Door to all of it and more?  

The Atheists Are Coming!

April 26, 2008

             I’ve been reading with much interest the books and ideas of various atheists: Richard Dawkins, the renowned evolutionist; Sam Harris, the atheist Christianity-slayer; and Christopher Hitchens, the spouter of all things horrible against religion. It was with some trepidation that I picked up Sam Harris’s book first at my local Borders, called, “Letter to a Christian Nation.” His stated purpose was to pound the final nails into Christianity’s coffin. He seemed very confident he had the arguments, logic, and facts to finally put the whole Christ-myth into the dirt for good.

            As a Christian, I read with some anxiety. What would he say that might derail my faith of more than thirty years?  I’ve always worried somewhere in the back of my mind that someone would come along who would blast Jesus to pieces.  They’d find the real tomb he was buried in and his bones would still be there with his coat – “Jesus” stitched over his chest pocket. Or some “gospel” that had the true story of him being just a regular guy who did nothing but hang around with fishermen, but who told such great tales that the fishermen had to write him up and embellish the book. 

            Nothing like that has ever happened, although a recent movie documentary and book tried to show someone had found Jesus’ bone in a crypt in Nazareth. Sorry, that one didn’t fly, although the media made much of it.

            Yet, as I delved into these atheists’ books, I worried that they’d made some incredible discovery that would do just that: prove the whole history of Jesus was bunk! 

            So I read avidly searching for what it was. Nonetheless, when I put the book down, I sat there absolutely stunned. I said out loud, “This guy doesn’t have anything. Not a thing.” 

            I moved on to Richard Dawkins’s latest, “The God Delusion.” When I finsihed, again I was astonished. “How can these educated men believe this swill?” I asked myself. It really was startling how feeble their arguments and “proofs” were. I’d heard many of these ridiculous arguments in my first few years in seminary and had them debunked years ago.

            For example, Dawkins made much of St. Thomas Acquinas’ argument from causation, that every effect demands a cause equal to or more powerful than itself. Dawkins poses the question, If everything goes back to the first cause—God—then what caused him? Dawkins seems to think this sophomoric argument quite potent. The problem is that Acquinas argued that an “Uncaused Cause” was the first cause: God himself, the one who was never caused, made, or created, but always was. Dawkins seems quite satisfied that he has destroyed Acquinas and God in his little question, but really it’s all quite foolish. Just about anything that exists today had a “first cause” or “uncaused cause” in some sense. The lightbulb’s first cause was Edison. Many of the peanut’s first “inventions” came from George Washington’s Carver’s discoveries. Even Post-It notes has a “first cause,” if you want to look at it that way.

            When Dawkins uses his evolutionary beliefs, he stretches it even further. He admits the “beginning of life” should cause some real “awe” that it happened. Unfortunately, he has no idea how it happened, but he’s sure one day we’ll find out, without the need to invoke God. In the recent movie, “Expelled,” Ben Stein even gets Dawkins to admit that perhaps the first cause of life in our universe was caused by elite beings from another universe, who themselves came about through some evolutionary process! How convenient. Dawkins goes on like this page after page: “they’ll find the evidence” for the tremendous gaps in the fossil record. And, “those gaps will be filled.” And, “we’re seeing more every day that shows the truth.”

            Unfortunately, he never quite arrives at the “facts” so indisputable that everyone would heartily agree to them. 

            I only read a little of Hitchens. He sounded like a cross between a little boy having a tantrum and the Cowardly Lion, screaming, “I won’t believe. I won’t believe. I won’t. I won’t. I won’t. “ 

            Nonetheless, these books are big bestsellers. People rip them off the shelves of Barnes and Noble, and Borders like cancer victims in search of the cure. After reflecting on them, my conclusion was that anyone who knows anything of history, theology, and Christian faith, it’s all twaddle, to say nothing of illogical and without any real facts to back up their so-called research. However, I also see that if you know little to nothing about the Bible and the God portrayed in it, these works would be very convincing — especially if you’re just looking for a reason not to read the Bible or pursue the truth or not repent of the sins you know to be sins but would be happy to learn from the atheists that those are “just choices we all make, nothing wrong at all.” 

            More recently, I read Dinesh D’Souza’s, “What’s So Great About Christianity?” another bestseller. It annihilated the arguments of these atheists, showing the logical and factual fallacies in their writings. A fascinating read, D’Souza repeatedly shows that the very foundations of western civilization hearken back to Christianity, from it’s influence in scientific discovery, to education, to health care, and so on. D’Souza shows that if atheists succeeded in their stated mission of eliminating Christian truth from the world, they would be knocking the foundation of human freedom, discovery, and exploration out from under them. This would undoubtedly lead to a world like that under Hilter, Stalin and Mao who used the “truths” of Darwinian evolution and atheism and a rejection of all things religious to murder millions and create a world as backward and evil as any we’ve ever seen.  

            Thus, I’d like to challenge you. If you’re looking for reasons to reject God, Jesus, the Bible, and all things Christian, any one of the atheists’ books will probably satisfy you. They provide just enough supposed “truth” to let you feel you’re okay and don’t have to ever worry about heaven, hell, judgment, God, Jesus, or any fire-breathing Christian cornering you at a party ever again. 

            On the other hand, if you want some real truth and “meat” to chew on for the rest of your life, as well as spiritual grist that may ignite faith in you or bolster your present faith, try D’Souza.

            In the Bible God invites all of us, “Seek me while I may be found.” His promise is that “you will find me if you search for me with all your heart.” But if you really want an out, if you demand, “No, I want nothing to do with you, God, and I want some reasons to justify that conclusion,” then God will let you find it in Dawkins, Harris, and the others.

            God simply will not force himself on anyone.  

Life-ology: Where Real Life and Theology Meet

February 7, 2008

I Still Have Dreams Even Though I’m Homing in On Sixty

            One night as we sprawled in bed, my lovely wife Jeanette posed a question as she often does at such times. “Honey, did you . . . “       

       “Yes, I took out the trash.” 

            “No, darling. What I meant to ask was, do you still have dreams?” 

            My nose stuck to a book (not “in”) as I fought to stay awake, I answered, hoping she didn’t expect me to go into the lurid details of my typical dreams. They usually involved machine-gun fire, hulking mutants, and Arnold Schwarzeneggar, before he was governor of California. Lately, though, Arnold has been replaced by The Rock. “Sure. But I don’t remember most of them when I wake up. Except for the blood and guts. I remember that.” 

            She shook her head. “No, I mean goal-dreams, hope-dreams, pipe-dreams, those kinds of dreams.” 

            For the first time, I perked up at the thought of one of our scintillating late night conversations. At fifty-seven years old, I occasionally get such questions from her, because she is always trying to find out what really goes on inside my head. I’ve tried to tell her many times that at twelve-midnight there’s nothing going on inside my head, unless it there’s a tie in the final game of the World Series, the chance of winning a free shopping day at Home Depot, or perhaps the idea that we might soon be taking off all our clothing. For some reason, none of that usually stokes up the fire of passion in her soul.

            “Sure, I have a lot of them,” I finally answered with a yawn. “Of course, they’ve changed over the years.” 

            She propped herself on her elbow and gazed at me with her mysterious green eyes. “Tell me about them.”   

            I thought way back, so far back my head ached. “When I was about six years old, I dreamed of becoming Superman.” 

            “Really. Why?” 

            “Well, I wanted to fly. And also have X-ray vision.” 

            “Really?”

            “Yeah. I wanted to be able to see through walls to see what other people were doing in there without them knowing I saw them. And flying, well, what could be more fun for a kid?”

            She shook her head with amazement and, gave me that look I always get when she says to me, “You are so hopeless”.

            I went on to catalogue many other dreams. There was the one about being a middle linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles. Clearly, that never happened. Another revolved around every woman I ever dated (no need to go into what that was about).  Then there was the all-important vision of marrying the love of my life, which I quickly assured her had been fulfilled with her. Many others about being pastor of a mega-church, speaking all over the world to crowds of thousands, and even having a radio ministry like the pastors I revered who spoke every night on stations everything. But finally I got to what I have always thought as the BIG ONE.  

            “It started in late high school and college. I really got into poetry, not sure why. But I dreamed of being a poet, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and becoming the Poet Laureate of the U.S.A. As I got into writing nonfiction and then fiction, I started to dream about writing a New York Times bestseller.”

            “You writers certainly shoot high.” 

            “Of course.” I went on, “I also longed to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, a couple Oscars for the movies I’d write based on my bestselling novels, having a state dinner in my honor at the White House, and having my picture taken with on Oscar night with all the multiple winners. “ 

            She rolled her eyes.  “Do you ever think in realistic, it’s-possible terms?” 

            “Well, what should I say? ‘Yes, I hope my next book sells seventeen copies. I long that several of those buyers actually read a few pages. I even dream of reading a chapter or two Joe’s Crab Shack on all-you-can-eat shrimp night. Is that what you think I should want?’” 

            “Okay, okay. It’s good to dream big, I’ll admit that. So that’s still your dream – that bestseller?” 

            “Yeah, I guess. Do you think it will happen?” 

            “You never know, honey,” she said, touching a finger to my nose. “We serve a God who can do the impossible, after all.”   

I nodded.   

            “Anyway, you’ve answered all my questions,” she said, bonking her behind against my torso. “Now I can go to sleep in the happy knowledge that my husband actually thinks something at night besides about the World Series and Arnold Schwarzeneggar.” 

            “The Rock,” I corrected. 

            “The Rock?” 

            “Nothing,” I said, sinking down under the covers, suddenly feeling miserable. “Just some guy.”  

*****

            Have you ever felt as though your highest dreams were long ago laid in the dust o foolish early career musings? Do you ever look back on your life like I do – at the age now of nearly sixty – and tell yourself, “Guess it’ll never happen now”? 

            In this blog, I plan to explore those dreams, early-life, middle-life, and late-life, and offer some real hope to those of you who face the retirement years and have to admit little you ever really hoped for has been accomplished. As a writer, I recall reading how some of the great writers of our age came down to their last years lamenting that little they wanted to do had become reality. Some of them did win the Nobel Prize, the Oscars and Pulitzers, and so on. How could they believe they’d achieved nothing great or lasting? 

            The truth is that few people in any generation leave behind a legacy that truly lasts. Remember Jack London? The highest paid writer of his time? The first ever to make a million dollars in one year? He died a drunk, deeply depressed.

            I think of Freddie Prinze, star of the hit show, “Chico and the Man.” in the 1970s. He became rich, married a beautiful woman, and brought a son, Freddie Prinze, Jr., who has become a well-known and successful actor. But at the age of twenty-two, despondent and feeling lost, he took his own life while high on Quaaludes. What a waste, many would say. And truly, such an exit from life was. 

            How about Ronald Reagan? Despite all he accomplished, he spent his last years a victim of Alzheimers, having little idea of who he was, let alone anything he’d ever done. 

            If life turns out this way, why is it even worth trying to make a mark, or attempting to build a legacy? 

            I deeply believe that without God in your life, for many such an outlook will be hard to deflect. It’s like the biblical story of the rich young ruler, found in Mark 10:17-27).  He came to Jesus asking what he needed to do to qualify for eternal life. Jesus told him to sell all he had, give the proceeds to the poor, and then come and become a disciple. This rich man found the answer both mystifying and discouraging, and he went away unsaved and undone. When the disciples asked Jesus what had gone wrong, he replied the classic answer: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples, stunned, asked, “Then who can be saved?” To them, being rich, young, and powerful was the epitome of a person blessed by God. They were perfect candidates for God’s kingdom, weren’t they?

            Not quite. Jesus answered them, “With people it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 

            While Jesus spoke with respect to salvation, I believe the same principle applies to us, our dreams, our hopes, our greatest longings. Right now all may look impossible. But not with God. He is a God who makes the impossible possible.

            In many respects, that’s what I want to show you in this book. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that I plan to tell you your dreams of being rich, owning that resort chalais in the mountains, attaining the top position in your company, or whatever is what God wants most to do in your life. In fact, your dreams may be the problem. I want to point you to God’s dreams for you.

            Those are the only dreams worth obsessing about.  So I hope you’ll come along in the pages ahead to find out what they might be. 

 

 

This blog is written by Mark Littleton, a Christian author with many books in print. You can find most of his books at Amazon.com under his name.

 

Mark Littleton is represented by Glass Road Public Relations.  For additional inquiries, please contact Danielle Douglas at  danielle@glassroadpr.com.

 

To interview Mark Littleton also, please contact Danielle Douglas. 

 

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