Tuesday, July 25, 2017

When Jesus Disappears

I used to underline or highlight the “important” and pithy statements I found in each book I read. Years ago, I changed my routine and stated posting those statements online. Some books merit two or three tweets. A few merit a blog post. 

In the present case, however, the only thing I can do is highly recommend my friend John E. Johnson’s wonderful, rich new book, Under an Open Heaven: A New Life Revealed in John’s Gospel (Kregel). 

There simply are far too many quotes on a single page to try to post Dr. Johnson’s “important” and pithy statements. 

Then again, I want to post what he says as it relates to this blog. In his compelling chapter about Jesus healing a man who had been a paralytic for 38 years, Dr. John E. Johnson writes:

To complicate things, Jesus does not hang around to continue the conversation. Jesus does not heal to amaze the crowds. He does not pause to win applause; He knows that “miracles [do] not readily convert into life-changing faith.” As suddenly as He appears, He disappears. 

We should not be surprised. Sometimes, Jesus “disappears” on us. At least it feels that way. He upends and expands our world and leaves us to sort things out…

There is so much more, but I’ll let you read the book yourself. You can find it for sale here (Amazon) and here (ChristianBook). You can also find it for sale on other major online book retailers. Enjoy!

Friday, June 9, 2017

How Large Is Too Large?

When it comes to dinosaurs, “longest” and “heaviest” keep changing.

At what point will the public in general, and Christians in particular, reach the point of incredulity?

In 1907, the longest complete dinosaur on record was a 27-meter- long (89 ft.) 
Diplodocus discovered in Wyoming and displayed in Pittsburghs Carnegie Natural History Museum.

Over the past 110 years, much larger beasts have been unearthed around the world.

The new heavy-weight champions were discovered in Argentina. Like the Diplodocus, the fossil records are nearly complete. Argentinosaurus huinculensis is an astounding 39.7 meters long (130 ft.) and is estimated to have weighed 96.4 metric tons.

Much larger discoveries could be ahead. And new technologies may speed their discovery.

So, what happens when the scientific community announces the discovery of a dinosaur whose jaw is large enough to snap Argentinosaurus in two?

The problem isn’t what the Bible teaches. God very well could have created beasts twenty times larger than we’ve discovered to date. What we can’t do is wait—wait, that is, to stretch our own imagination—and then gently start stretching the imaginations of others.

In our lifetime, Diplodocus will continue looking smaller and smaller in comparison with the largest beasts known to have roamed the earth eons ago.  

So, how do we stretch the imagination?

1. Let’s indulge in plenty of good humor. Blaise Pascal said: “Nothing produces laughter more than a surprising disproportion between that which one expects and that which one sees.” Indeed!

2. Let’s continually cultivate humility. When new scientific announcements are made, we may want to say, “Who knew? Isn’t this fascinating? I can’t wait to learn more.” As well, we may want to add, “Imagine what we might discover in a few more years.”

3. Let’s pay attention to meta trends. The changing size of the largest known dinosaurs is one thing. The measurable size of the universe is another. True, we won’t ever reach the point of incredulity. Let’s not assume, however, that the same goes for everyone else. 

4. Let’s remind the public that these meta trends shouldn’t be seen as challenges, including challenges to the Christian faith. Newly established facts always stand atop a wealth of previous scientific findings. 

5. Let’s remind the Christian public that these trends shouldn’t be seen as threats to God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, Christianity, or the Church. Instead, let’s keep reaffirming that nothing—absolutely nothing—is too big for God to create.

Scriptures that stretch the imagination include this personal favorite from Isaiah 40. How good that we can thank God daily for his infinite greatness.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand

    and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
    and weighed the mountains in scales
    and the hills in a balance?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Glory through suffering? No, say it ain’t so, Joe...

Yesterday a friend mentioned on Facebook that he’s been meditating on the meaning of Romans 8:18, which says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

I replied: Is “the glory that is to be revealed to us” in our heavenly future only? What of the glory of God in and through us here on earth?

Our sufferings now produce glory later—days, weeks, months and, yes, years later. They produce glory because only through such sufferings can we draw the closest to God’s heart this side of heaven.

I have suffered so deeply the past few years it sometimes makes my friends wince or cry when they see me. No, my visage isn’t marred. It’s that my wife, Renee, and I are more in love with God (and each other) than ever.

I wake up every morning and thank God for who He is, for His sovereignty, providence, holiness, love and mystery.

Believe me, I can’t wait for the glory to be revealed to us in heaven. What a day to be in God’s presence fully!

Yet I experience His presence more than ever now, and only because of my deep, deep sufferings here on earth. Suffering is the portal to the greatest closeness to God we can know in this life.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Don’t you love the cover of this book?

Surprisingly, the overriding question in biblical prophecy isn’t how the world is going to end. Instead, the big question is: How are you going to finish?

Wiped out? Or a survivor?

After all, “Silently and imperceptibly as we work or sleep, we grow strong or we grow weak,” B. F. Westcott reminds us. So, how do we know which?

Author Jake McCandless aptly calls it a spiritual disaster.

I only wish I had read this book, Spiritual Prepper:Tapping into Overlooked Prophecies to Prepare You for Doomsday, before my own spiritual disaster.

My love for God, joy for life, and peace were shattered. In their place I felt angry, deceived, and desperate for a way out of my nightmare. In my despair, I doubted God’s character. Finally the day came I couldn’t read the Bible anymore. Not a single verse. I couldn’t pray, even over a meal. For days and weeks on end.

Experientially, I had lost my faith. Why? Because I had failed to heed the clear warnings of Scripture. And because I’d let the circumstances of life temporarily overshadow what I knew to be true. As a result, I couldn’t fall asleep at night. I couldn’t get rid of the stabbing pain in my chest. I was this close to my own spiritual doomsday.

Thankfully, God renewed my faith when I forced myself to open my Bible, read a verse, and honestly answer the question, “Do I believe it?” To my surprise, I said “yes.” It wasn’t a big “yes!” But it was enough to prompt me to read another verse, and then another. In time, God gave me a much stronger and more robust faith. Thanks to Him, and Him alone, a full-scale spiritual doomsday was narrowly averted.

Since then, I’ve talked with many other people about my experience. Even crazy places like UC Berkeley. Not because my story is dramatic, but because it’s true to life. 

Every Christian is seriously tempted, at one time or another, to lose his or her faith. If only I hadn’t overlooked some of the Bible’s most important prophecies.

Don’t wait until the day of crisis. Instead, push everything else aside and read this book cover to cover. Take its message seriously. And, above all, don’t put it back on a shelf. Instead, share it with your friends!  

Foreword by David Sanford, author of If God Disappears (SaltRiver, Tyndale House, 2008) and the brand-new book, Loving Your Neighbor: Surprise! It’s Not What You Think (Amazon CreateSpace, 2017). 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Love Chapter, 21st Century Version

Love. It’s not just for Valentine’s Day, marriage engagements, and weddings…
A Paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8,
One of the Bible's Most Famous Passages

If I talk about the hypostatic union of the second person of the Trinitarian Godhead, and can exegetically analyze the word “propitiation” in the original Greek, but fail to ask about your needs and truly help you, I’m simply making a lot of empty religious noise.

If I graduate from a big-name theological seminary summa cum laude and know all the answers to questions you’ll never even think of asking, and if I have all the degrees to prove it…and if I say I believe in God with all my heart, and soul, and strength, and mind, and have incredible answers to my prayers to prove it, but fail to take the time to find out where you’re at and what makes you laugh and why you cry, I’m a big fat zero.

If I sell an extra car and some of my books to raise money for poor starving kids, and if I give my life for God’s service and burn out after pouring everything I have into the work, but do it all without ever once thinking about the people, the real hurting people—lonely and depressed and orphans and widows and divorced and singles and second moms and stepdads and adopted sons and foster daughters—if I pour my life into the Kingdom but forget to make it relevant to those here on earth, my energy is wasted, and so is my life.

Here is what love is like…genuine love. God’s kind of love. It’s patient. It can wait. It helps others, even if they never find out who did it. Love doesn’t look for greener pastures or dream of how things could be better if I just got rid of all my current commitments. Love doesn’t boast. It doesn’t try to build itself up to be something it isn’t.

Love doesn’t act in a loose, immoral way. It doesn’t seek to take, but it willingly gives. Love doesn’t lose its cool. It doesn’t turn on and off. Love doesn’t think about how bad the other person is, and certainly doesn’t think of how it could get back at someone. Love is grieved deeply (as God is) over sin, but rejoices over truth. It gets excited when God’s Word is read, and learned, and believed, and lived.

Love comes and sits with you when you’re feeling down, and finds out what is wrong. It truly feels with you and believes in you. Love knows you’ll come through just as God planned, and love sticks right beside you all the way. Love doesn’t give up, or quit, or diminish, or go home. Love keeps on keeping on, even when everything goes wrong and the feelings leave and the other person doesn’t seem as special anymore. Love succeeds 100 percent of the time. That, my friend, is what real love is!

Copyright © 2017 David Sanford. David’s book and Bible projects have been published by Doubleday, Thomas Nelson, Tyndale, and Zondervan. Reprint permission is granted for free distribution of this article within places of worship and education, and within public websites and blogs, if this full credit is included. For other uses, please contact the author here.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Thanks, Dr. Brent Strawsburg!

My thanks to Dr. Brent Strawsburg for his outstanding Apologetics seminars during Mission ConneXion(Yes, people were sitting on the floor, standing along the walls, and packed into the back of the room. Amazing!)

What a delight to walk into this room yesterday, get a big huge from my good friend Dr. Brent Strawsburg, meet his wife Cheri, and then watch Brent in action!

About 18 months ago I wrote this endorsement for Brent’s first book:

In its day, More than a Carpenter was the most accessible apologetics book you could read and share with others. Today, Footprints of Faith: Defending the Christian Faith in a Skeptical Age fills that same need. With a winsome conversation style and contemporary talking points, Brent has crafted what easily is my new #1 favorite apologetics book. Whatever you do, don’t put this on a bookshelf. Read it! Enjoy it! Share it!

I was delighted to see that Brent’s newest book, Journey of Faith: Helping People Navigate 50 Key Obstacles to Christianity, has been published. 

Three of Brent’s favorite notable quotables follow below.

“God has given enough reason in this world to make faith a most reasonable thing. But he has left out enough to make it impossible to live by reason alone.” Ravi Zacharias

“False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.” J. Gresham Machen

“One of the most dangerous threats to young Christians is an honest question left unanswered... I’ve had multiple friends tell me that their beliefs began to crumble when they voiced sincere questions to a pastor or family member and were essentially told, ‘You just need to have more faith.’” William Lane Craig

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Andy Stanley: Why people leave the faith

Highly recommended reading!

The January/February 2017 issue of Outreach magazine features an in-depth (4,766-w0rd) interview with Andy Stanley titled, “The Agile Apologetic.”

Some notable quotables:

“People don’t simply leave faith; they leave a version of faith.”

“[T]hey have a skewed version or vision of God that they are leaving.”

They are “leaving versions of Christianity that most Christians would completely be against, as well. When I hear some of these stories, I think, Heck. I would have left that too!”

“We all think our version of Christianity is the right one. But we can’t all be correct. So to address people who have left the faith or are considering doing so, it’s important to understand what specifically about the faith they’re leaving.”

“Often, I might say to a person that what they left needed to be left, because it wasn’t real Christianity to begin with.”

“Nothing could be clearer in the New Testament, particularly the Gospels. Jesus invited people to follow before they believed. In our messaging, are we inviting people who are outsiders to follow?”
“Follow precedes believe.”

“People get methodology and theology confused all the time, and then get upset when you start changing methodology. They’re two different things. Theology should inform ministry, but if it limits whom you minister to, then you have the wrong theology. Just ask Jesus.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

You and I will celebrate Thanksgiving together

After more than a week in San Antonio, yesterday I was so happy to see Renée again!

Over the years, the two of us have read through the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures scores of times. 

This autumn, however, I have been doing something different. I have been reading the New Testament through twice, two or three chapters at a time. 

Today in my reading of Revelation chapters 4 and 5, I came across one of my favorite verses in the last book of the New Testament. There we read:

You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.
Revelation 4:11

Somehow until today, however, I had failed to connect the dots. 

In the immediate context of verse 10, we read that the 24 elders fall down before God, lay their crowns before His throne, and sing this beautiful worship song. But who are the 24 elders?

Because there are 12 sons of Jacob and 12 apostles, some have speculated they must be the 24 elders. That’s good math, but not a widely accepted interpretation. Many see the 24 elders representing not just Christian believers, but all of God’s family around the world and down through the millennia.

Indeed, just a chapter over, John makes the provocative statement that “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them” begins worshiping God. They sing:

To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!
Revelation 5:13

While the apostle John may not have seen himself as one of the 24 elders, “in the spirit” (4:2) he saw and heard himself, and you and me, worshiping God.

What an amazing thought!

Thanks to Renée’s encouragement, I memorized Revelation 4:11 years ago. I still deeply cherish this wonderful affirmation of worship to God.

Today, however, I realized I also should memorize Revelation 5:13. After all, you and I will sing this song of worship to God with “every creature” someday!

Will you join me? If so, here is the verse again, broken into short units with memory aids in brackets: 

To him who sits on the throne [God the Father] | and to the Lamb [Jesus Christ]
be praise and honor [think PhD] | and glory and power [think GDP]
for ever and ever!
Revelation 5:13

Monday, November 7, 2016

Francis Chan, Erasing Hell, and Two Major Disappointments

Nobody who loves God deeply, and loves others well, wants to talk about hell. Yet, talk about it we must. So, I strongly applaud Francis Chan for writing about hell with deep humility, reverence for God’s character, and a steadfast commitment to the teachings of Scripture. In Erasing Hell, I found echoes of my own key writing and teaching points. Yet...

It breaks my heart that, by making two major category errors in this book, Francis Chan and his coauthor, Preston Sprinkle, have brought untold needless grief to many. 

First, Francis Chan tells a heartbreaking story based on his 100% certainty that his mother went to hell. I believe we should not presume to say with certainty that a specific individual went to hell. Only God knows that for sure. 

Therefore, I believe Francis Chan is making a serious category error. Instead, we should pray that God may reveal to us whether or not they turned to Him in their final minutes, hours, days (knowing that in this life we very well may not know, though God has answered that prayer with certainty a week after the death of a patriarch in my wife’s family). 

The second major disappointment with this book? Francis Chan says that a person who dies without hearing about Jesus Christ goes to hell. I believe that’s an even more serious category error. There are degrees of divine revelation. Even Scripture teaches that. Those degrees of revelation bear directly on the question of who does and doesn’t go to heaven—and who does and doesn’t go to hell. 

A family member with Downs Syndrome doesn’t know the difference between an Elvis impersonator and the real Elvis who died decades ago. He also doesn’t know who the real Jesus is, let alone know the Gospel, let alone believe it, let alone follow Jesus Christ. So, this family member is going to hell? No, of course not. The Judge of all the earth will do what is right. Whether genetically or geographically, many can’t opt into faith in Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean they’re all going to hell any more than my first grandchild who died twelve years ago. 

Again, it breaks my heart that, by making these two major category errors, Francis Chan has caused untold needless grief to countless thousands of readers.

That said, allow me to affirm seven (7) beliefs that Francis Chan and I share in common. 
  1. Hell is one of the thorniest theological questions of all time. 
  2. Hell is real.
  3. Hell is not what we think.
  4. God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell (except the Devil and his demons). Yes, some people go to hell, but they have to climb over the love of God to get there. 
  5. We need to think and feel as Jesus did about the subject, with tears in our eyes.
  6. We can trust God’s sovereignty, providence, holiness, love, and mystery.
  7. Nothing we mistakenly think, believe, or do will change God’s eternal purposes and plans. 

Bottom line: Don’t take my word for it. Instead, see what others say here

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: