People Are Enslaved to Whatever Defeats Them

God saves us to set us free from sin. We are meant for a freedom that empowers us to be good, knowledgeable, self-controlled, enduring, godly, filled with brotherly affection and with love.

The words that have become the title of this blog piece struck me in my daily Bible reading this morning. They are pulled from 2 Peter 2:19. I highlighted them in my digital Bible app.

We may tend to focus on the more encouraging provisions of the Bible and gloss over provisions like the one I am quoting here, but the Bible is a double-edged sword. It sometimes cuts to the marrow. It discerns and reveals the thoughts and intents of the heart. It is living and active… if we let it in to our hearts to do its job.

I am convicted today, as I should be, and I am encouraged, because God, the Father, disciplines His children whom He loves. God watches out for the ones He loves. He warns us when we are straying into dangerous territory.

If we are paying attention and willing to respond, these warnings will protect us. If we rush headlong ahead, not heeding the warnings, as we are apt to do, we find ourselves entangled in difficulties that can threaten to undo us if we fail to repent and turn around.

Even then, the going can be difficult. Bad habits are easy to form and very difficult to break. If we go too far down the road with them, we find reversing course to be very difficult, indeed. Forming new, good habits is many times more difficult than the path we followed into those bad habits.

Bad habits are easy to form because they come from a place that is instinctual. They are outgrowths of natural tendencies of people who simply do “what feels good”.

Bad habits form from desires that are common to people – not necessarily bad desires. Evil isn’t a thing in itself. Evil is the corruption of good. Bad habits for when we seek to satisfy our desires in the easiest, most accessible, self-centered and least beneficial ways.

For instance, loving God and loving our neighbors – the two greatest commandments of God – are wrapped up in loving ourselves. If we don’t love ourselves, we have a hard time loving others. If we love others, we usually have an easy time loving ourselves. Loving God and loving people are intimately related to loving ourselves.

The popular idea of “self love”, getting some “me time”, and “focusing on myself”, however, can be a corruption of what is basically good. We are naturally self-centered. We naturally love ourselves more than others. When Jesus told us that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, he was implicitly acknowledging the fact that we are naturally focused on ourselves and our needs.

We instinctually love ourselves and seek what is best for us. We have to be purposeful, intentional and self-sacrificing to consider others, and especially to consider others ahead of ourselves. It isn’t natural, and, therefore, it isn’t easy.

Loving others isn’t hating ourselves; it’s learning to love others on the same level as we love ourselves. It is thinking of others on the same level as we think of ourselves.

Many people today are self-loathing, which is also a corruption of what is good. People who loath themselves are equally as self-absorbed as people who are corrupted in self-love.

We are made in God’s image, so to loathe ourselves is to loathe the very image of God. We shouldn’t confuse loving our neighbors as ourselves with loathing ourselves.

Self-loathing is a kind of self-centeredness. People who are self-loathing are self-absorbed in a negative way. Self-absorption and self-focus are a corruption of what is good, regardless of whether the result is pleasurable or painful.

The words of Jesus are transcendent. They direct our eyes away from ourselves to God and to others. When Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”, he is speaking to the reality that our self-focus (the burden of the self) traps us into unhealthy and ultimately destructive behaviors that are more of a burden than a help to us.

Such is the burden of sin. When we are unable to overcome sin, we are enslaved to it. As Peter says, “We are enslaved to whatever defeats us.” And so, I have come back to the focus of this blog piece: these words in 2 Peter 2:19.

Continue reading “People Are Enslaved to Whatever Defeats Them”

Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes? A Tale of Scorpions and Frogs

A scorpion stings. That’s what they do. That is their nature.

Joel Furches recently posted the following on social media:

“The Aesop’s Fable I have come to most appreciate over the years is ‘The Frog and the Scorpion’ If you’re not familiar, it’s about a scorpion who asks a frog to swim him across the water. The frog doesn’t want to, because he’s afraid of getting stung. The scorpion points out that if he stings the frog, they will both drown. So the frog swims him, the scorpion stings the frog, and they both drown. Why? Because it is the nature of scorpions to sting.

“The moral: things act out of their nature, even at the expense of their self-interest. Or as my dad used to say, ‘a person will never do something that person wouldn’t do.’ Which, I suppose, could be rephrased, ‘A person’s always going to do what that person does.’ (My dad would say ‘peoples are peoples’)” 

A more modern phrase that conveys the same idea might be: “the tiger cannot change its stripes”; or “the leopard cannot change its spots”. The idea is that a person cannot change his or her essential nature or character.

My “take” on the frog and scorpion fable is that we shouldn’t expect people to be anything other than who they really are. Despite what the scorpions tells you, the scorpion IS going to sting you. That’s what they do. That’s who they are.

Fables are meant to teach life lessons. The wise, theoretically, learn from them without having to experience those lessons firsthand. In reality though, it seems most of us have to learn our life lessons from experience.

These fables are still helpful by allowing us to crystallize those hard learned lessons in graphic ways that we can remember and pass on – if only people would listen. Right?

But what is the lesson? We might “walk away” the next time someone hurts us with a lie swearing under our breath, “Once a liar, always a liar! I will never trust him or her again!”

Fables teach us something about human nature, but fables don’t always give us specific guidance tailored to our own dilemmas. We still need wisdom to apply the lessons in our particular circumstances. “A word to the wise” requires wisdom for its application in our own lives.

“Truth is truth” (wherever it may be found) is a “truism” I like to repeat. Aesop may have been a very wise man (if there really was an Aesop), and Aesop’s fables carry with them the ring of truth, but truth is often more complicated than we like to think it is.

Just when you think you understand the laws of physics, quantum mechanics comes along and turns everything upside down. Further, the wisdom needed to address our particular circumstances doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with knowledge and awareness.

The Frog and Scorpion fable rings true, but Scripture gives us a different angle on the truth of this fable and guidance that we need to deal with the scorpions in our lives. That lesson may not be immediately clear if we limit ourselves to the fable, itself.

Continue reading “Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes? A Tale of Scorpions and Frogs”

God’s Order for Living Beings, Human Beings and His Grand Design

“Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind….'”

I am starting a new Bible reading plan for the year, and so I am back to Genesis. Reading through the rich text of Genesis 1 again I am seeing some things I hadn’t really noticed before. Consider the following (with my emphasis added):

“Then God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them‘; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:11-12

“God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’

Genesis 1:21-22

“Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind‘; and it was so. God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.”

Genesis 1:24-25

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it….'”

I color-coded the various provisions that form the pattern that informs my thinking today. The provisions in each color correspond with the other provisions of the same color.

Now, let me see if I can put all my thoughts together in a coherent whole.

First of all, God ordered (in the sense of designed) all living beings to multiply after they own kind. We see this everywhere in nature: apple trees bear seeds that grow into new apple trees; asparagus plants bear seeds that grow into new asparagus plants; lions beget lions; polar bears beget polar bears; yellow polka dotted salamanders beget yellow polka dotted salamanders; bluefin tuna beget bluefin tuna; and purple finches beget purple finches.

This is the order of living things. Not only that, but we now know that something (call it evolution or something else) works powerfully within living beings to reproduce and even to adapt with changes over time.

Every living thing bears seed or otherwise reproduces more of its kind. Human beings included, but only humans are made in the image of God. (Hold that thought.)

God “blessed” the living things He created, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply” and fill the earth. (Gen. 1:22) He also blessed man who He made in His own image, and gave similar orders: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it….” (Gen. 1:28)

Note that God “ordered” (as in designed) the living things He created to reproduce after their kinds and to be fruitful and multiply, but God ordered (as in not only designed, but commanded) man to do the same. The difference is an important key to understanding what God is doing.

Unlike the other living creatures which are designed to reproduce and multiply after their kinds, humans have some agency in the matter. God designed them for the same purpose, but He also commanded them to do it because humans are created in the image of God who has agency – the ability to exercise will and to do (or not do) things.

Humans, of course, had no choice in their creation, but they do have choice in whether to “participate in God’s design” and how they would participate in God’s design. This choice was demonstrated in the one tree in the garden that was forbidden to them.

It was a real choice, and it had real consequences. It had to have real consequences or it wouldn’t have been a real choice. That choice was part of what it meant to be made in the image of God. Without the ability to choose, humans would have been just like the other living things God created. The ability to choose set humans apart.

As the story goes, humans ate the fruit of the one tree that was forbidden.

They exercised the choice God gave them. In eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, humans opened up their world to all the ways they might choose to go against the order of creation.


Throughout Genesis 1, we read over and over again that what God did “was good” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). If what God designed was good, choosing to operate counter to that design would be evil (the opposite of good).

None of this is very revelatory so far, but I am getting there.

Genesis 1 reminds me of 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul says:

God gives [all living things] a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.

1 Corinthians 15:38-39

The order/design of life – of reality – is immutable. Life is ordered the way God created it, though humans have some choice (within limits) of whether to align with God’s design or to buck against it. Indeed, the story of the fall is the story of humans exercising that choice and of an adaptation that God built into His design to accomplish His ultimate plan.

Continue reading “God’s Order for Living Beings, Human Beings and His Grand Design”

Reflections on God and Good and Evil: Inside Out

God’s image is imprinted in each person, but it’s only a reflection unless we embrace Him..

In the first century, Hebrews believed that they would be defiled by the things they ate. In the twenty first century, many Americans believe that people are generally good, and they learn to be prejudiced and hateful from their environment. I hadn’t seen the parallel until I spent some time meditating on the following words Jesus spoke to his first century audience:

“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”  …. Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” …. And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:15, 18, 19, 20-23 ESV)

Modern Americans may not agree with the list of evils Jesus mentions here, nor would they agree with the ancient Hebrews’ list of evils, but I find it interesting that they might both generally agree, perhaps, on the source of evil – coming from outside the person. Modern Americans popularly believe that all people are good, that we only learn to be bad. It’s pressure from outside of us that influences us to do evil things.

Jesus said that isn’t true. It’s what comes from within us that defiles us. Jesus might have been echoing the Prophet, Jeremiah, when he said the human heart is deceitful (and “desperately sick”). (Jer. 17:9)

We fool ourselves when we think that most people (including ourselves) are basically good. We are looking in the wrong direction when we assume that evil lurks outside of us.

James says, “[E]ach person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire …” (and, “desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin….”). (James 1:14-15) Paul says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13), and all people have sinned and fallen short. (Rom 3:23)

Scripture asserts that the thread of sin runs through all people. I think that Scripture is correct in this. The human heart tends toward evil. We have to learn to be good. Evil is what comes naturally, but good has to be learned.

But what is the essence of goodness and evil? This is where we find general agreement on some things (it’s not good to kill babies for fun) and disagreement on other things (like abortion).

Jesus breaks “being good” down to two things: loving God above all else, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. (Matt. 22:36-40) If these things are the greatest goods, then the greatest evils are what is contrary to them: not loving God and not loving our neighbors.

I think modern Americans can agree about the goodness of loving others, but we tend to reject (or be agnostic about) loving God. Ancient Hebrews generally subscribed to both precepts, but there was a disconnect for them. They got caught up in the commandments (the do’s and don’ts) and didn’t understand that those commandments pointed to something greater. Thus, they focused on what they took into their bodies instead of what came out of their hearts.

Jesus focused on the heart of the matter – human hearts. We would do well to refocus our attention in the twenty first century on human hearts as well, beginning with our own hearts. We search for ultimate truth within ourselves, but the hateful things that we detest in others are found within us also.

Continue reading “Reflections on God and Good and Evil: Inside Out”

Francis Collins on Proof of God: The Options are Simple

Which position requires more faith? The existence of God? Or the existence of a multiverse?


Francis Collins is the former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute where he spearheaded the Human Genome Project. He is now director of the National Institute of Health. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science.

He graduated from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry. He graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy in physical chemistry from Yale University. Then he earned a Doctor of Medicine degree from University of N. Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Francis Collins is best known for his work in sequencing and mapping the human genome. He has been involved in the discovery of genes associated with various diseases. Most recently, Francis Collins was announced as the 2020 Templeton Prize winner.

“The Templeton Prize is an annual award granted to a living person, in the estimation of the judges, ‘whose exemplary achievements advance Sir John Templeton’s philanthropic vision: harnessing the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.’” The Templeton Prize exceeds the value of the Nobel Prize each year and is awarded to recognize progress toward research and discoveries about spiritual realities. (See Wikipedia)

The early trajectory of his life would not have predicted a Templeton Prize in his future. Francis Collins grew up on a small farm, in a non-religious home of parents he describes as hippies. He was home schooled through 6th grade. He loved science despite his more artsy upbringing, but any notions of the possibility of a God were wiped from the ledger of possibilities for him by the time he entered graduate school.

Francis Collins was an atheist, and he didn’t give God or religion much thought until sometime after his doctoral degrees were completed and he was working in the field of medicine. He was challenged one day by a cancer patient to support his view that God didn’t exist. While he was convinced of his position, he realized his position was based on assumptions he had not explored.

Collins realized he hadn’t really considered the evidence, or lack thereof. He had not come to his position in a scientific way.

The scientist in him recognized that he should know why he didn’t believe in God. He understand at that point that he could not hold that position with integrity without considering the contrary evidence. Thus, he set out to inform himself.

Along the way, he came to the conclusion that his original position wasn’t as tenable as he supposed. Reluctantly he came to believe that God is the best explanation for all the evidence he understood through science.

Francis Collins was in his late 20’s when he found himself a believer, and specifically a believer in the Christian concept of God. (A little bit of his story is captured in Inspiration or Artifice? Faith and Reason) That position has informed his life work ever since.

Francis Collins recently sat down (remotely) with Justin Brierley, the Unbelievable? Podcast, host, to discuss faith and science. I will embed the YouTube video of the interview at the end of this article, focusing on the question: what evidence of God is most compelling? (But the whole interview is worth a listen.)

Continue reading “Francis Collins on Proof of God: The Options are Simple”