Saturday, October 1, 2016

What Is God's Providence?

Where do we draw the lines on what God's providence is and what it isn't?

Unlike God's sovereignty, holiness, love and mystery, God's providence has something of a PR branding problem. It lacks a clear, compelling, and widely known and accepted definition. 

That doesn't mean, however, that down through the centuries biblical scholars and theologians haven't given clear definitions. On a popular level, the closest terms I've identified so far are goodness and guidance. 

Many scholars prefer to focus on the macro level of God's providence, even though many believers want to know and experience God's providence in personal, specific and tangible ways. 

So, again, Where do you draw the lines? I hope to have a much better answer in coming weeks!

I've posted a quick snapshot of my preliminary research results here:

Monday, September 26, 2016

Personal Libraries--Past, Present, and Future

Until age 52, I enjoyed a house full of bookshelves and untold thousands of books. This was true despite living in a variety of homes over the years. 

Before moving to home #11, though, a wild and almost exuberant question unexpectedly slipped from behind the curtains and took center stage in my mind.

Even today, I hesitate to write the question, let alone publish it: “Do I really want to keep lugging all of these books with me wherever I go for the next 52 years?”

This was no small question! Of course, the answer was obvious. Especially for someone who has spent his entire adult life in the book publishing world. First, as the conceptual designer and executive editor for study and specialty Bibles published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Nelson, and others. Second, as the author, co-author, editor, or executive editor for a number of Bible-related books. Third, as the editor of 100+ books. Fourth, as the literary agent for 300+ books. Fifth, as a contributor to or endorser of dozens of books. Sixth, as a judge for several regional and national book awards. Seventh, as an avid reader who writes notes in his favorite books and can’t stand to part with any.

Still, I was haunted: “Do I really want to keep lugging a ton of books wherever I go for the next 52 years?”

In the end, I gave away more than 95% of my personal library. Many of the books now reside at Africa College of Theology in Rwanda. Many more reside in other libraries, in the offices of pastors and youth pastors, and in the homes of many friends and family.

Fast-forward to a few days ago. I installed Accordance 11 and now have more books than ever--instantly accessible, instantly searchable, instantly informing me more accurately and thoroughly than any huge stack of printed books ever could.

This, I realized, is the amazing library I will take with me, wherever I go, for the rest of my life!

(I originally posted this at 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Is Anybody Out There?

This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image to the upper-right of Proxima itself. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. By ESO/M. Kornmesser -, CC BY 4.0,

Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, once said: “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

Fifty years ago, in 1966, Carl Sagan and Iosef Shklovskii estimated that 0.001 percent of all known stars might have planets capable of sustaining advanced life forms. They made this estimate by extrapolating the likelihood that two variables (the right kind of star with a planet exactly the right distance away) might be repeated elsewhere in the universe.

Twenty years ago, in 1996, the media had a heyday speculating whether extraterrestrial life may indeed exist, either on Mars or on planets around 47 Ursa Major, 51 Pegasi, 70 Virginis, and other stars. More planets were discovered that year than in the past two millennia. By then, however, the necessary variables had multiplied greatly, to more than 40.

Fast-forward to 2016. 

We’re now speculating whether life may exist on a planet circling Proxima Centauri. 

In his autobiography, celebrated early 20th century attorney Clarence Darrow remarked, “I cannot help feeling sorry for [its residents] when I think what a great deprivation they must suffer through living so far away from our glorious planet.”

Traveling at the fantastic velocity of 1.1 million miles an hour, one six-hundredth of the speed of light, it would take nearly 5,000 years to travel to Proxima Centauri.           

Regardless of distance, is it safe to conclude anybody is out there?

Ready for a surprise?

The Judeo-Christian scriptures are emphatic: yes, most definitely. God is out there—and here. Celestial beings, good and evil, are out there—and here. And for well over a century, Christian writers such as George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis, Billy Graham, and others have welcomed the idea that other mortal forms of extraterrestrial life very well may exist.

If God is God, of course it is conceivable and possible. It is no threat to classic Christian belief. Nowhere does the Bible say God created life on this planet alone. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Writing honest song lyrics

HOW ARE YOU? Fine? Just fine? Not so fine? Really not so fine? It's hard to be honest, isn't it? 

Thankfully, we can be completely honest with God, who invites us to be truefaced each and every single day of our lives. 

I learned this as a teenager and it probably saved my life. Here's the backstory: If I "own" any part of the Hebrew & Christian Scriptures, I own the middle. It's there we find the book of Psalms. It's actually a collection of 5 books full of ancient song lyrics that rhyme thoughts, not words. That's why so many of the songs still are relevant today and have been each generation for nearly 3,000 years. 

As a young follower of Jesus Christ, I read 5 psalms each day and memorized 1 psalm each week. I also wrote deeply honest "song lyrics that rhyme thoughts" to express my own ups and downs as a teenager. 

So, how are you? You can write your own psalm(s) too...

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life

NICOLE CLIFFE: I became a Christian on July 7, 2015, after a very pleasant adult life of firm atheism. I’ve found myself telling “the story” when people ask me about it—slightly tweaked for my audience, of course. When talking to non-theists, I do a lot of shrugging and “Crazy, right? Nothing has changed, though!” When talking to other Christians, it’s more, “Obviously it’s been very beautiful, and I am utterly changed by it.” But the story has gotten a little away from me in the telling.

As an atheist since college, I had already mellowed a bit over the previous two or three years, in the course of running a popular feminist website that publishes thoughtful pieces about religion. Like many atheists (who are generally lovely moral people like my father, who would refuse to enter heaven and instead wait outside with his Miles Davis LPs), I started out snarky and defensive about religion, but eventually came to think it was probably nice for people of faith to have faith. I held to that, even though the idea of a benign deity who created and loved us was obviously nonsense...

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"When God Is Strange and Awful"

QUOTE: Many of us begin doubting God’s goodness in the face of nightmarish loss. Sometimes we accuse him of evil. But this perspective is quite at home in Scripture. Between Job’s anguished cries, the prophets’ lamentations, and Christ’s screams at Golgotha, there is no retreating into a theological comfort zone where “God would never” allow atrocity.


Friday, April 29, 2016

I'm getting ready!

I'm getting ready to submit my new book manuscript tomorrow. For some reason, I've had more joy writing it than I ever expected. I hope that translates into more joy than readers expect! We'll see when Kregel releases it next year. The working title is Loving Your Neighbor: Surprise! It's Not What You Think. I have had the opportunity to present an interactive workshop by the same title in Portland (twice) and San Francisco. Now that the book manuscript is written, I'm ready to hit the road again. Next up? Flying to LA May 18-19. After that ... :-)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Word "Neighbor"

What comes to your mind when you think of the word "neighbor"? Maybe a block party. Maybe an especially helpful or elderly neighbor. Maybe Good Samaritan comes to mind. Maybe the second half of the Great Commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

The past few months, I keep wondering: If Jesus urges us to love our neighbors well, and if Jesus isn't a hypocrite, and if the Jesus stories that make us wince have a purpose, is it possible I have a few counter-intuitive lessons to learn?

Wow, I had no idea. The Jesus stories in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have come alive to me in a whole new way. The result is a new book manuscript titled Loving Your Neighbor: Surprise! It's Not What You Think. Clearly, clearly, the hero is Jesus!

If you'd like to read a sampling, give me a call, send me a text, or drop me a quick line at sanforddr]at[gmail]dot[com. Believe me, I need all the constructive criticism I can get before the manuscript is due May 1.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

IN THE NEWS: Doubts? Welcome!

“Nobody in America 
   gets listened to.”
 —Eugene Peterson

SUMMARY: Evangelicals are learning to actively listen to others, to consider their multiple points of view, and to honestly admit they don’t have pat answers for life’s toughest questions.  

QUOTE: Frank Ying, 33, works for a technology start-up. Brought up in the Dallas area by immigrant parents who had been raised amid the official atheism of the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Ying tried exploring Christianity with his high school classmates, even accompanying them to megachurches, only to be put off by their fundamentalism.

“You have all these questions,” he recalled. “And you have all these long, drawn-out conversations. ‘What do you believe? How much of the Bible do you take literally?’ And these people stop short and say, ‘You’ve just got to have faith.’ But I’ve always been more pragmatic, so that wasn’t good enough.”

Mr. Ying heard about Redeemer Presbyterian from a few acquaintances after moving to Manhattan several years ago. He dipped his toe slowly, watching a YouTube video of Dr. Keller in conversation with a journalist and a historian, emissaries of the secular world. By now, Mr. Ying is a regular at the WS Café, not because he believes, but because his doubts get heard.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Seeing life as Jesus Christ sees it

During this wonderful season, we often like to read great literature, watch a great movie, or hear a great story—and be deeply moved. 
Yet what moves us?

Among other things, point of view (POV) strongly effects how we’re moved. 

To the very finite, limited extent that a story’s POV reflects God’s POV, we can be moved to a new appreciation of Jesus Christ’s unlimited POV in our lives.

POV can be omniscient or all-knowing. It doesn’t mean the narrator tells us everything he or she knows. In fact, the best narrators tell us only what we need to know. During His public ministry, Jesus certainly didn’t say everything He knew. In fact, most times He refused to answer the direct questions darting His way. He did that on purpose!

POV can be omnipotent or all-powerful. In most stories, the narrator isn’t directly making this or that happen. Then again, that sometimes happens, especially in fantasy and mythology. Outside of the days of Moses, the days of Elijah and Elisha, and the days of Jesus Christ and the apostles, God doesn’t directly cast down plagues, blind armies, perform miraculous healings, and bend the laws of nature. Or, does He?

POV can be omnipresent or all-present or, as we might more commonly say, everywhere present. Among other places, this is seen in movies with rapidly changing points of view during epic battle scenes. Classic examples include The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Star Wars series. 

POV can be omnibenevolent or all-good. This is the classic happy ending that we love and love to hate. In the midst of a story, we want to deeply fear that all could end terribly. That terrible fear moves some to tears when all ends well. 

This last POV seems to be hard-wired into our DNA, but the term omnibenevolence wasn’t coined until the mid-1800s, and would-be theologians love to argue whether it can be properly used to describe God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. The fact is, the Bible doesn’t offer a happy ending for everyone. In that sense, it’s more true-to-life than any great work of fiction. Still, you’ll find this POV permeating most stories. Just don’t equate it with God somehow promising happy endings for one and all. Reality is far different!

Again, any story’s POV is only a small inkling of the Lord’s unlimited POV. So, don’t get too carried away! Still, look for these four points of view the next time you sit down to enjoy a great story and feel deeply moved. 

The best? Being deeply moved to a new appreciation of Jesus Christ’s unlimited POV in our own lives, here and now.