Thoughts on Prayer, Circumstances and God’s Purposes

God uses the circumstances of our lives to change us and accomplish His purpose in us.


Many of us pray to God to change our circumstances. We pray for things that we want, sometimes things that really need. We pray according to our perspective, telling God what we want and need.

He knows, of course, what we want and what we need. He knows before we ask. He knows as the words are forming on our tongues and formulating in our minds.

Jesus told us to pray and ask God for our daily bread. Jesus told us to ask, seek, knock….

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

He even illustrated with a parable:

“And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:5-13)

We are expected to ask, supposed to ask, and ask persistently. And many, many people do ask God for things, but God doesn’t seem to answer. He doesn’t give us what we want, and sometimes He doesn’t even give us the things we desperately feel we need. Sometimes it seems He doesn’t answer at all.

It’s common to human experience to ask God to change our circumstances. When the circumstances don’t change, we are discouraged, depressed, frustrated and sometimes even angry. Many walk away from God as a result.

Atheists challenge me, “Prove to me that God answers prayers, and I will believe.” As if God was a kind of vending machine in the sky, or a barterer or maybe just a slot machine. Sometimes you win with God, and sometimes you don’t. Just keep trying.

But that’s not the right way to approach God. Jesus called Him Our Father. He is also the same God who formed the universe out of nothing. If you spend any time contemplating all that science informs us about the vastness, complexity and elegant, austere beauty of the creation, you begin to understand how great God must be… mind-boggling. He isn’t a “tame lion” as CS Lewis says.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Prayer, Circumstances and God’s Purposes”

Lamentations of a Recovering Christian Patriot

The views of Christians around the world provide a counterbalance to unique bent of American Christianity.


I became a Christian in college, despite the progressive, skeptical atmosphere in the Iowa liberal arts school I attended. I learned to put into perspective the tensions I saw between what I read in Scripture and what I was learning in college. I didn’t exactly compartmentalize the differences. I was able to synthesize many of them, but some of the tensions I learned to “shelve” for later consideration.

I wasn’t very career minded when I graduated from college. I only wanted to follow and serve Jesus. I ended up packing my bags to go to Alton Bay, NH for a summer job, believing that I was going, like Abraham, to a place God was calling me. I didn’t know exactly what I was in for. I only had a summer job, but I didn’t think I was coming back to the Midwest.

I got deeply involved in the local church in Laconia, NH after the summer job ran its course. It was a dynamic church, growing out of the Jesus People movement in the 60’s, and still going strong. I was more focused on following Jesus than pursuing a career. I worked a number of different jobs over the six years I spent in NH, and got married and had two children there.

This was the time of the rise of the Moral Majority. Pat Robertson ran for President while I lived in the Granite State. Live Free or Die was the motto, and people were proud of it. Politics crept into my faith. I even rubbed shoulders with churchgoers who were members of the John Birch Society.

Then I felt called to go in a different and went to law school. That brought my back to the Midwest where I have remained ever since. Not that the change of scenery was overly influential, but law school challenged my thinking to the core. It’s designed to do that.

I compartmentalized my faith once again, as I had done in college. I set things “on the shelf” as I devoted myself to learning the law. It turns out I was pretty adept at understanding the law, leaving law school with a diploma and a standing of 2nd in my graduating class.

I was not as adept at reconciling the political and cultural influences that crept into my faith under the scrutiny of the jealous mistress of the law. They exposed and challenged under the harsh light of scrutiny, as was my biblical faith.

Years would go by before I reached a point of resolution.  My faith survived, but the political and cultural baggage did not. The dynamic church I went to long ago disintegrated into myriad pieces of broken relationships, broken dreams and broken promises. The way was difficult, but I think I am a better Christian because of it, and this is what I believe I have learned.

Continue reading “Lamentations of a Recovering Christian Patriot”

Opening the Door to Forgiveness

The part of us that opens the door to forgive others opens the door to forgiveness.


I recently wrote about how our wounds provide a model for how we relate to God and understand Him, the hurts we receive from others. That post was inspired by Tim Keller who said, “The way we distribute mercy says a lot about how we relate to God.” Because God forgives us as we forgive others (Luke 11:4), our forgiveness is tied into how we see God, understand Him and relate to Him.

The two keys are 1) how we understand God’s love and 2) how we understand our own sinfulness. Both of these perspectives are measured best by the cross, by the example of God shedding all of His power and privilege to become human, and being found in human form, submitting Himself to His own plan by sacrificing Himself on the cross for our sake. (Phil. 2) We can understand our own sinfulness in relation to the cost of redemption – the life of God’s son (God in the flesh); and we can measure God’s love by the same standard.

God loved us to much that He gave His life, the human life He took on and sacrificed for us. By the same token, the extreme cost of the life of Jesus is the a measure of the depth of our sin. We have been forgiven much!

Our understanding of the greatness of God’s love for us, and the great depth of our sin, helps us in understanding why we need to forgive others. If God loved us so much, we are free to love and compelled to love others by the same measure. In more mundane terms, if our sin was so great that Christ had to die for us to redeem us, we can certainly forgive the lesser sins others have committed against us.

In fact, to bring this home, we can only be forgiven to the extent (by the measure) that we forgive others. Our forgiveness and our forgiveness toward others is inextricably linked. Perhaps this is because Jesus and the Father (and the Spirit) are one, and Jesus calls us to be one with them (Him). (John 17:21) We can’t be one with God if we harbor unforgiveness toward others!

In some sense, then, forgiveness is formulaic. Jesus has stated for us a kind of “law of forgiveness” kind of like a law of physics. He is telling us, “This is how it works.” How do we, then, go from intellectual ascent and academic understanding to real life? I like the way NT Wright puts it when he says that the bit (part) of us that opens the door to forgive others opens the door to forgiveness.

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What is the Nothing Out of which the Universe Emerged


On a typical Sunday morning, I am contemplative, thinking about God, the nature of the world and other ultimate things. I have gotten home from church. The distant rumbling of thunder portends more rain to add to the buckets (more like vats) that came down earlier this morning. (We’ve had an unusual amount of precipitation in the Chicago area for about a year now.)

Though sunlight threatens to break through the clouds, despite the rumblings to the contrary, it’s a good day for reading and thinking.

In that vein, I raed an article from Forbes magazine that came up in my Google feed: Ask Ethan: Can We Really Get a Universe From Nothing? Ethan, is Ethan Siegel, a Forbes contributor. He is an astrophysicist, author and “science communicator” according to the short bio at the end of the article.

It just so happens that I spent my Friday evening this week with another astrophysicist, Hugh Ross, a brilliant man who is a Christian, and also a man of science. In fact, it was science that led him to his belief in God. But I digress. (You can hear the story of how science led Hugh Ross to God in his own words here.)

My meeting with Hugh Ross isn’t really relevant to the topic, other than the fact that our conversation got me thinking about science and ultimate things, things that science doesn’t really address (or hasn’t yet answered). Does God exist? Where did the universe come from?

The article suggests an answer to one of those ultimate questions: where did the universe come from? It suggests that the universe didn’t really come from nothing – at least not the kind of nothing that we usually imagine when we think of nothing. It entices the reader with a title that suggests an ultimate answer, but it doesn’t deliver.

Continue reading “What is the Nothing Out of which the Universe Emerged”

Are the Gospels Reliable?


I recently read a blog post by Brett Lunn, on his blog, Capturing Christianity, titled Why Everyone Should Believe that the Gospels are Reliable. If it were that easy, everyone would believe the Gospels are reliable. But, he makes some good points, and one in particular that sparked my interest.

The Gospels, of course, refer to the books we know as the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The earliest copies of those writings don’t actually contain a reference to authorship, which has occasioned a great deal of modern conjecture about who really wrote them. I say “modern conjecture” because the authorship wasn’t questioned for centuries.

In fact, the earliest charge from anyone raising a question about the authorship of the Gospels was advanced in the 4th Century by Faustus. Augustine, the great writer, thinker and theologian took on the skeptic, Faustus, with the response, “How do we know the authorship of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Varro, and other similar writers but by the unbroken chain of evidence?”[1] With the Gospels, we have a history of acceptance that they are authentic writings of the men to whom they are ascribed all the way up to the 4th Century. That’s a pretty good chain of title.

Further, it’s not as if the writings didn’t actually identify the authors, as people suppose. They did identify the authors, but the identification was in the titles (not in the text), and they didn’t uniformly identify the authors in exactly the same format. Some said, “Gospel according to….”, and some simply said, “According to….” Much ado about nothing?

Another criticism is that the Gospels weren’t written by the most officious people. John, of course, was a close disciple of Jesus, and so was Matthew, but Matthew was kind of suspect. He was a tax collector, and tax collectors for the Roman government were persona non gratis in the Jewish outskirts of the Roman Empire. Couldn’t a disciple with better credentials have authored a Gospel?

Mark and Luke aren’t even disciples! Luke was a companion of Paul. He wasn’t even Jewish; he was a gentile! He wrote in the Greek style of the highly educated, using Greek expressions, instead of Hebrew ones. We know him chiefly through Paul’s letters: Luke the doctor (Col. 4:14) who was the last companion to remain with Paul before his death (2 Tim. 4:10-11) among other references.

And Mark? He was a companion of Peter. He was also a companion of Paul, being described as a missionary with Barnabas and Paul (John Mark) in whose house many gathered to pray. Paul also asks for Mark to come to him in the same letter in which he laments that Luke is the only person still with him. (2 Timothy 4:11) Peter referred to Mark as his son, which most scholars take to mean a term of honor and endearment. (1 Peter 5:13)

Mark also had a falling out with Paul at some point, however. (Acts 15:36-39) Luke was a Gentile. Matthew was a despised tax collector. Couldn’t even a fledgling religion come up with credible scribes of the central story?

Sure, if Christianity was nothing but a religion concocted by the imaginations of men. Frankly, why would anyone choose this cast of characters?

I think the answer is that no one would have chosen these guys, and the story wasn’t made up. These are the men who reported what they saw, what they heard and what they knew to be true from firsthand accounts. The truth is kind of like that. It isn’t neat and clean like a story someone made up. It is what it is.

And this is the point that intrigues me by the article that inspires this piece. Continue reading “Are the Gospels Reliable?”

Welcome to the Faith Club

Our commitment to brute assertions is faith.


Here is a bold statement: faith is the foundation on which all reasoning proceeds. Tough it is a bold statement, indeed, I believe it is true (pun intended). Let me explain why.

First of all, though, I have to admit that didn’t come up with the statement. Tim Keller did, but it aligns with what I have come to believe is true. That is that we all have faith, even materialists who say they have no faith.

I have written about it from time to time, including Reflections on Confidence in Faith and Atheism, Darwin’s Faith: The Religion of the New Atheism, and  Are Reason & Faith in God Contradictory Terms?, to cite just a few examples. So this isn’t a new thought for me, but I like the way Keller approaches the topic.

Keller asks us to consider the Enlightenment premise: the only things we can really be sure of are things that are scientifically proven. This is a popular modern sentiment on faith, science and the nature of truth and reality. We have increasingly come to trust science and what science can tell us, and we have grown to distrust faith. But is that a sensible position?

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Ramblings on Faith and Unbelief

Some musings from a few years ago remain top of mind.

Navigating by Faith

Bart Eherman Quotation


I became a believer, and then a follower, of Jesus Christ in college. It wasn’t just academic for me, though the beginning of my life as a believer and follower of Jesus began in an academic environment and was shaped and influenced by academics. I think that’s why I like the academic pursuit of faith even now, over 30 years later.

It’s important for me to be mindful that faith is not purely an intellectual affair. I think I may differ from many people in that respect, but I need to constantly be reminded of it. Faith is a relationship with the Living God; faith is a life and heart commitment; faith triggers action and change or it isn’t real faith.

I know that the words intellectual and faith probably don’t fit together in the minds of some people. Some people see those terms as opposites. They aren’t, but they…

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