Randy Alcorn's Blog
September 23, 2016
People who think the New Earth won’t have a sun and moon generally refer to three passages:
The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. (Revelation 21:23)
There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. (Revelation 22:5)
The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. (Isaiah 60:19-21)
Notice that none of these verses actually says there will be no more sun or moon. (Reread them carefully.) They say that the New Jerusalem will not need their light, for sun and moon will be outshone by God’s glory. The third passage says that at the time when God’s people will possess the land forever, the sun won’t set and the moon won’t wane, yet neither will dominate the sky because of God’s brighter light.
The emphasis isn’t on the elimination of sun and moon, but on their being overshadowed by the greater light of God. Who needs a reading lamp when standing under the noonday sun? Who needs the sun when the light of God’s presence pervades the city? The sun is local and limited, easily obscured by clouds. God’s light is universal, all pervading; nothing can obstruct it.
God Himself will be the light source for the New Jerusalem, restoring the original pattern that existed in Genesis 1 before the creation of sun and moon. Light preceded the light-holders, sun and moon, and apparently God’s very being provided that light (Genesis 1:3). So it will be again—another example of how the last chapters of the Bible reestablish something from the first chapters.
Isaiah tells us, “The Lord will be your everlasting light” (60:19). But John goes further, saying, “The Lamb is its lamp” (Revelation 21:23). John tells us in his Gospel that Jesus is “the true light that gives light to every man” and the light that “shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:9, 5). He records Christ’s words, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John8:12). And John sees what Isaiah couldn’t: The God who is the city’s light is the Messiah Himself.
Isaiah says to God, “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:3). The New Jerusalem will be a city illuminated not only by God’s holiness but also by His grace.
September 21, 2016
Denny Gradin was a missionary with a big heart for Spanish-speaking peoples. In August 2012, he was initially diagnosed with cancer, and two months later wrote his “Basic Truths That Guide My Life” in response to the questions he received about how he was dealing with his diagnosis. It continued to express his heart until the Lord called him home, 17 months later.
Denny’s points also remind me of John Piper’s article “Don’t Waste Your Cancer,” another excellent perspective for those facing tough diagnoses.
J.C. Ryle wrote, “Health is a good thing but sickness is far better if it leads us to God.” May we accept health as God’s blessing and its absence as God’s severe mercy, and seek to glorify Him through both.
Listen to Denny Gradin and apply his thinking to your own life as you seek to “finish well” for the glory of God! —Randy Alcorn
In the following, I have tried to delineate the underlying principles that describe how I live. I realize that not everyone shares these same values or perspectives. Nevertheless, I write this in an effort to help others understand where I am coming from, as I deal with the recent diagnosis of a very aggressive cancer that has spread to my lymph nodes from an unknown source, as well as a recent serious infection.
1. God exists, and is sovereign over all things in the universe. Whereas God is in control of everything, and there is nothing that happens outside of what He allows, nevertheless He has created us as humans with the ability to make choices for good or evil. On the surface, there appears to be a logical contradiction between the two, but God is an infinite being. By definition, God is not limited by time or space or power or knowledge or any other factor. (For instance, with God one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.) Since we are finite beings that have these limitations, we cannot fully comprehend God or what He does, but can only recognize Him for who he is.
2. Through our first parents, mankind has chosen to disobey God; as a result, by nature we do not have a relationship with God. No matter how hard we try, we cannot live up to God's perfect standard. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ died on the cross in payment of the penalty for our sin. Through Jesus Christ each of us has the possibility of having a personal relationship with God.
3. God loves us, and wants the best for each of us. This does not mean that life will be a bed of roses or without any problems. Even though there will be difficult times, each of these is under His control, and He is present with us through it all. Some of these may be discipline for correction when we may not be obeying Him, and others may merely be part of things that He allows to prepare us for greater usefulness for Him and to others. Sometimes we may never understand it. Nevertheless, we can rest assured that He always has our best interest at heart. I have been through many very difficult times in my life that I could not understand then, only to come to a realization later on that God had His purposes in allowing it. These experiences have caused my faith in Him to grow, so that as I face new and more difficult challenges, I have an anchor that sustains me.
4. My main desire in life is to allow Christ to live His life through me. That does not mean that l am perfect, but I seek to please God in all that I do. I want to maintain a clear and open relationship between us, so that nothing on my part would hinder God in accomplishing all that He wants to do through me.
5. Since God is in control and desires the best for me, I tend to look for his fingerprints in the broader things that happen in life. This does not mean going to the extreme of trying to interpret every single thing that happens. Nevertheless, sometimes the content, extent, or timing of contacts with people, conversations, or experiences seem to have particular significance at specific moments. These things help me to notice His hand and give me comfort or guidance for present realities or decisions regarding the future.
6. Worrying about things does not really change the outcome for the better. Anxiety is the feeling that results from allowing our mind to dwell excessively on the negative, unknown, or uncertain factors in our lives. The opposite of worry and anxiety is peace. When someone's peace is based on things not under their control (the people and circumstances of their lives, having money, good health, etc.), and when these things are negative or are lost, then worry and anxiety take over.
On the other hand, the peace that comes from a relationship with God is based on His presence and control in our lives. His control and presence with us do not change, in spite of all of the other changes that may come our way. It is not sticking one's head in the sand like an ostrich, and hoping that the negative aspects are not true or will go away; it is fully recognizing the hardships but knowing that God will be with us in the midst of them, regardless of the outcome. As my thoughts and emotions are anchored in Him and His care for me, it keeps me from worry and anxiety.
7. If God desires, He is fully capable of healing me of the cancer or sending it into remission, to extend my time on this earth. He can do this with or without medical means, or He can choose not to do it at all. The fact that God does not always heal when we pray for it is not necessarily an indication of unbelief or sin in the life of the person. God remains sovereign to do what He knows is best.
For further information, the following Bible verses support these points:
Isaiah 40:18-31; Romans 8:31-39; Ephesians 1:11; 2 Peter 3:8
John 3:16-21; Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1-10
John 16:32-33; Romans 5:6-11; Romans 8:28; Hebrews 12:5-9
Matthew 6:33; Galatians 2:20; 1 John 1:5-10
Esther 6:1-14; Proverbs 3:5-6; Lamentations 3:22-23
Matthew 6:25-34; John 14:27; Philippians 4:6-7; 1 Peter 5:6-7
2 Kings 20:1-7; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9; Philippians 1:21-25
September 19, 2016
The problem of plagiarism by pastors and Christian writers is a real one, though I think it’s less widespread than some believe.
From time to time, I’m reminded of how common it is for people to believe a writer or speaker stole his or her material. Sometimes material is indeed used word for word without crediting the source, and this is unethical. But other times, people assume an idea or material has been stolen when it isn't the case.
Mark Twain wrote, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
Had I written the preceding words myself, without putting them in quotation marks and crediting Twain, I’d have been guilty of plagiarism. Had I stated the essence of it in my own words by saying “No thoughts we have can be entirely original,” that would be okay, particularly because many others have made similar observations. However, if I went on to develop Twain’s words in any similar way to his, I would need to credit him, saying something like, “To paraphrase Mark Twain…”
Were I to merely change little words here and there, altering “it is impossible” to “It can’t be done,” but still speaking of a “mental kaleidoscope” or “curious combinations” or “same old pieces of colored glass,” and if I failed to credit Twain for these distinctive phrases, I would still be plagiarizing even if the majority of the words were different than his. I would be guilty of what’s called “mosaic plagiarism.”
I just rewrote Twain’s words while retaining all three of those distinctive phrases and submitted it to an online plagiarism checker. It didn’t catch them. A student, writer, or speaker might or might not get away with this kind of plagiarism, but it would be dishonest nonetheless. If you are building a distinctive flow of thought based on someone else’s words, it’s like taking someone else’s painting, changing some things, adding some colors, and then signing it as if you were the original painter. You weren’t.
Plagiarism is a major problem with college students. Over 50% of college papers contained material plagiarized by the internet. Sadly, as I’ve written about before, plagiarism is even a problem among some pastors, in terms of their sermons and written materials for the church. (In this article, Don Carson, Tim Keller, and a few others address the problem of plagiarism among Christian leaders.)
Years ago someone contacted our ministry because it appeared I had plagiarized a nationally-known preacher’s words. They had read The Treasure Principle and informed us that part of it was identical to what they had heard from this popular preacher. It turns out fifteen minutes of his message were taken word for word from my book, four whole pages of it without attribution. His ministry had then published that message in a book that accompanied his messages. Since she read my book after hearing his message and reading his booklet, it’s understandable why she wondered if I had stolen his material. Fortunately my book had come out years before his message and booklet, so it was easy to prove the original material was mine, not his. (He later apologized to me, which I appreciated.)
However, the talk about the serious sin of plagiarism has helped cultivate a suspicion that’s sometimes unhealthy.
For instance, there's a very popular book, written by a pastor that says much that’s a paraphrase of, and occasionally nearly word for word, from portions of my book Money, Possessions and Eternity. I may or may not have been the only one to notice, but one day I won’t be surprised if someone reads my book and thinks I stole the material from him. But the truth is, I love this man and believe he was significantly influenced by my book and didn’t realize the extent to which he had drawn his thinking and words from it. That doesn’t offend me, as I’m glad he’s reaching many people who will never read my book. The brother wasn’t plagiarizing; rather, he’d taken some of my words to heart and in turn they became his.
Sometimes in my own writing I say something not identical to C. S. Lewis or A. W. Tozer, but close enough that I’ve needed to give them credit even though my words were different. And I’ll bet I’ve written things that without me knowing it are close enough to Lewis, Tozer, Francis Schaeffer, John Piper, Charles Spurgeon, and others that if I’d realized it, I would have given them credit. Unawareness isn’t the same as plagiarism.
We should be cautious in our assumptions. People have told me how parts of my book Heaven are very much like N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope, his book on Heaven and the New Earth. I use many of the same quotations he did. But his book came out several years after mine. This isn’t plagiarism at all. Dr. Wright just saw and liked some of my research (he emailed me saying he’d read and appreciated it) and then he quoted the same sources I did. Many of these he probably found in his original research, just as I did. Maybe he got some from my book, and if so, I’m delighted. I certainly got a number of great quotations from the 140 books on Heaven I read!
When I see a great Spurgeon quotation in someone's book and then quote it, I don't say “Here’s a quote from Spurgeon which I got from Phil Yancey who got it from Chuck Colson.” I just go find it in Spurgeon’s original message or writings, and cite the original source. It’s not plagiarism to quote someone whose words you first saw on Facebook or Twitter, but you better attribute it to the original person and double-check the words (they’re often wrong on social media).
I used an illustration once that someone told me was from a book of Max Lucado’s, but it was one of his books I hadn’t read. The story was one I’ve heard a number of times, and first heard as a teenager from Pastor Marden Wickman, my first pastor. Max never said he was inventing the illustration, nor did I. But the person wondered why I wasn’t attributing it to Max. Any time I’ve gotten something from Max that I didn’t hear somewhere else first, I’ve quoted Max. That’s why my books are so loaded with quotations—I want to make sure I give credit where it’s due.
Someone wrote me twenty years ago to tell me my novel Deadline was obviously based on a book he’d read, so why didn’t I acknowledge that? He told me the author’s name and the book title, both of which I’d never heard of. I tried to find it and couldn’t. I only wish I’d written it down so I could hunt it down now (easy with the internet), read it and find out how much Deadline was actually like it.
I’ve been told by several people that an illustration a particular speaker uses is an obvious adaptation of my dot and line illustration. But if so, so what? He’s read some of my books but likely doesn’t even remember me talking about the dot and line. And honestly, did I come up with the dot and the line, or did one source, or perhaps many, help implant that concept in my mind years ago? I have no doubt several similar illustrations have been used. One time I read a message by Charles Spurgeon in which he uses a distinctive illustration that Jonathan Edwards used. Spurgeon, a voracious reader who read Edwards, likely got it from him. He wasn’t plagiarizing; he just didn’t remember where it came from.
There’s been a movie and several songs called “An Audience of One” written since I first used that term in several of my books in the early 1990s. I have no idea whether anyone read those books, but I do know the expression wasn’t original with me. I remember reading an obscure book, I have no idea who wrote it, and there was a passing phrase used by the author, and it was either “the audience of one,” or something similar. I loved the phrase and started using it in my books. Some have gotten it from me, others have gotten it from whoever I got it from, and he probably got it from his pastor, Sunday school teacher, or another! So to whom does it belong? Certainly not me!
It would ruin a book to start by saying, “Here’s an expression I got from a book by Randy Alcorn, who got it from somebody he doesn’t remember.” I’m not going to start saying, “Here’s a thought that’s a hybrid of Spurgeon and Lewis, and John Owen and G.K. Chesterton said something similar (and who knows who they got it from, maybe from Paul, who got it from the Holy Spirit).”
In fact, when an insight comes from God, why should it surprise us to think that thousands of others have come up with the same idea?
I’m part of an online writer’s group where this comes up often. A movie or made-for-TV drama comes out and one of the writers feels as if it was taken straight from their novel. I know several writer friends who say entire television series match their novels in startling detail. In many cases the ideas and terminology are uncannily similar.
Sometimes there is theft, no doubt about it, but often people living in the same culture at the same time and being exposed to the same media, books, and movies, simply come up with the same ideas, illustrations and sometimes even, on a small scale, the same wording (though not four pages of it). :) This is often labeled, in creative circles, “It’s in the ether.” These are thoughts and ideas that seem to be “out there somewhere” and tapped into by multiple people. Here’s what Jim Banister says:
Many ideas simply bud simultaneously and spontaneously in multiple minds separated by vast distances. Some even argue that once a thought is manifested, it’s in the “ether” and available to anyone else in the world tuned to pick it up. Most of us have had the experience of thinking up something we believe is totally original and saying to ourselves, “Wow, that’s a great idea. I should do it.” Then you proceed to let that idea slip to the back of a closet in your mind only to see the “invention” appear in the marketplace one, five, ten years later, produced by some enterprising individual who tapped into your ether channel (or so we’d like to believe).[i]
I remember when writing Heaven “coming up” with the illustration of feeling like you're leaving the party early when you're dying, when in fact you're actually arriving at the greater party in Heaven early and everyone you love is going to follow you there. But had someone come up with this idea before I did? I’d wager they did. In all probability that illustration could be found in books written long ago. But as far as I know, I never read them. So if it’s a good illustration, why wouldn’t have someone come up with it before I did? Even when something is “sort of” original with us—that is, we didn't get it directly from someone else—it certainly doesn’t mean we were the first person to think of it!
It reminds me too that if I allow someone to heavily or directly influence me, I should be sure to say that. But the truth is, I’m sure I’ve written many things that were indirectly influenced by countless writers I’ve forgotten. When you read thousands of books, as I have, each book is like another bucket of water thrown into your mental reservoir. You draw from that reservoir every time you speak and write.
Most of us are influenced by dozens if not hundreds of people, and much of what we say isn’t original. It’s impossible to even remember when or where we heard some things. No doubt I say countless things that were influenced not just by famous authors but by obscure sources, and not only from books I’ve read and messages I’ve heard, but from personal conversations.
My policy is to credit a large number of people in the acknowledgments, knowing some of my thoughts and perhaps even specific words come from them, even though I don’t recall who said what. For sure, whenever I know I’m using someone’s words, even if they are unpublished, I always give them the credit. In the case of illustrations, I may have heard them from others or come up with them “independently” (always a relative term since I’ve been influenced by thousands of others).
I once heard a pastor preach who was almost paranoid about citing every source, to the point it was distracting. By all means, quotations should be credited. But when you use the ancient illustration of freshwater Sea of Galilee having an outlet in the form of the Jordan River, which flows to the Dead Sea where there is no outlet, and therefore no life, there is no need to try to find the source! Nearly everyone has heard that and knows you didn’t make it up.
Here are my suggestions if you think any writer or pastor is taking credit for things that originated with you or someone else you’ve read or heard:
Don’t assume the worst. It’s very possible they thought of these things independently, even if others thought of them before they did.
If the specific wording is drawn from someone else, and it’s more than, say, ten identical words, point that out and send them a link to whatever someone else wrote. Keep in mind that it may well be the OTHER person who took those words from the person you’re writing to! OR the person themselves thought the words were original with an editor or researcher assisting them in the project—therefore, they may be guilty of failing to double-check or of taking credit for what they thought were the words of someone assisting them. That is its own ethical issue, but it is not plagiarism, which is the theft from someone else’s product.
When it comes to illustrations and ideas, realize that many people come up with similar things on their own, and even those they’ve heard from others are often “public domain” in the sense that after decades of use by multiple people no one knows for sure who they originally came from. (For example, I’ve tried to find the original source of the story of the engineer whose son was crossing the railroad tracks and the man switched the tracks resulting in saving hundreds of others, but killing his own son. I couldn’t find a clear indication of who the original source was.)
[i] Jim Banister, The Word of Mouse: New Age of Networked Media (Chicago, IL: Agate Publishing, 2009), 193.
September 16, 2016
When George Müller’s wife of thirty-nine years died, he preached her funeral sermon from the text “Thou art good, and doest good” (Psalm 119:68, KJV).
Müller recounts how he prayed when he discovered she had rheumatic fever: “Yes, my Father, the times of my darling wife are in Thy hands. Thou wilt do the very best thing for her, and for me, whether life or death. If it may be, raise up yet again my precious wife—Thou art able to do it, though she is so ill; but howsoever Thou dealest with me, only help me to continue to be perfectly satisfied with Thy holy will.”
When she died, Müller said, “I bow, I am satisfied with the will of my Heavenly Father, I seek by perfect submission to his holy will to glorify him, I kiss continually the hand that has afflicted me... Without an effort my inmost soul habitually joys in the joy of that loved departed one. Her happiness gives joy to me. My dear daughter and I would not have her back, were it possible to produce it by the turn of a hand. God himself has done it; we are satisfied with him.”
Excerpted from Randy’s book If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil.
 John Piper, “A Very Precious and Practical Doctrine."
September 14, 2016
Lord willing, this Thursday, September 15, Nanci and I leave for a two-week trip to Cuba and Bermuda. Why go there? Nanci has a special interest in Cuba, and the Lord has really laid its people on her heart. She’s wanted to go, and I’ve told her I’m all for it.
We were able to make a connection to travel with a team from ACTION Cuba, a great ministry that Eternal Perspective Ministries has supported over the years. We’ve had the opportunity to meet with Cuban pastors visiting the U.S, and among other things have provided diabetic equipment, which is hard for them to access. Also, our ministry has been working with partners to get more of my material translated into various languages, including Spanish, and we certainly have a heart for what God is doing in Cuba. Some of my books have been printed in Cuban Spanish, which I’m told has a bit of a Caribbean flavor, and many more have been translated into mainstream Spanish.
We’re really looking forward to serving our brothers and sisters in Cuba through several different ministry opportunities. My prayer is that God uses those opportunities to get the Gospel to unbelievers and to encourage believers and churches. We want to be God’s servants there, to help however we can, including reaching out to the young people. (ACTION Cuba has some FAQs for those wondering what ministry in Cuba looks like.)
The Bermuda part of our trip came about last year when I spoke in Plano, Texas at Prestonwood Baptist. While signing books, I met a brother, Gary Simons, who is senior pastor of a great international church in Bermuda, composed of a lot of people from a lot of places. He asked if I would speak at his church.
When you’re already traveling over three thousand miles from Portland to Cuba, the additional thousand miles to Bermuda doesn’t seem that far. So we decided to combine the trips and say yes to Bermuda also.
I’ll be doing a Q&A on biblical finances seminar at Cornerstone Bible Fellowship, as well as a Q&A on Heaven in their Sunday services. I’ve been in international churches in various parts of the world, and there’s something very special about them. Being together with people from “every tribe and nation” is like a foretaste of Heaven (Revelation 7:9). Check out the mission statement of Cornerstone Church in Bermuda. Nanci and I will also enjoy some vacation time together while there, snorkeling for sure, and maybe some diving for me.
We would appreciate your prayers for smooth flights and customs, as well as for avoiding hurricanes (it’s hurricane season both in Cuba and Bermuda). I’d also appreciate prayer for health and stamina, as my insulin dependent diabetes and TMJ can both be a factor when I spend long hours speaking and talking with people—which, of course, I look forward to doing. And please pray for divine appointments for Nanci and me both as we minister to those we meet. As those of you who’ve traveled and ministered internationally know, it’s good to expect the unexpected, and to be ready to minister at any time to whoever God brings across our path.
Above all, Nanci and I want to experience all God has for us and both give to and receive freely from our brothers and sisters. We want the Holy Spirit to work powerfully in and through us, encouraging and teaching and learning from the church in Cuba and Bermuda. Thanks for praying. We’ve always sensed the difference it makes, especially on international trips.
September 12, 2016
The world is full of desperate people thirsting for happiness. In their quest, they eagerly drink from contaminated sources of water, mistakenly believing it will satisfy their thirst. What they long for, and desperately need, can be found solely in the one and only “fountain of living waters”—God himself. God laments over the poor choices we make: “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).
This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture because it offers a compelling picture of reality. Imagine people dying of thirst and frantically digging cisterns that cannot hold water. In their last desperate attempts to quench their thirst, driven mad by the scorching sun, they shovel sand into their mouths, choking and retching as death overtakes them. Imagine that all the while, just a stone’s throw away, there is a spring of cold, fresh water, pure and life-giving. This is the picture that God paints through the prophet Jeremiah. Every attempt to find life in anyone or anything but God is vain. It is not only wrong to seek refreshment of the heart—it is utterly self-destructive.
Are you thirsty for happiness—for meaning, peace, contentment? Jesus invites you to join millions throughout history and across the globe, and a multitude of those now living in the visible presence of the fountain of living waters, to come to Him and drink the best water in the universe—the only refreshment that will ever truly and eternally satisfy.
I find God to be pure, refreshing, and satisfying. My happiest days are those I drink most deeply of Him. I also know that if I don’t drink of Him, I will drink something else—something that will leave me thirsty, dissatisfied, and sick, for idols cannot satisfy. George Whitefield wrote, “I drank of God’s pleasure as out of a river. Oh that all were made partakers of this living water.”
My son-in-law Dan Stump, married to my youngest daughter Angela, recently preached a great sermon on this passage in Jeremiah 2. I was there when he preached it and went back to listen to it again because it really spoke to me. (I have two-sons-in-law on my short list of guys I love to hear preach!) Dan is a teacher at Ron Russell Middle School in Portland, Oregon. He and Angie are part of Gresham Bible Church, where Dan has served as an elder and Angela directs the women’s ministries.
September 9, 2016
In this post by my friend Jon Bloom, board chair and co-founder of Desiring God, he shares some helpful reflections on what humility looks like, and explains that we might sometimes be surprised by how it looks.
By Jon Bloom
Humble people aren’t always what we think they ought to be. They aren’t always modest, they aren’t always agreeable and submissive, and they aren’t always nice — at least in the ways we proud people think those qualities are supposed to look in humble people.
We do tend to find true humility attractive when we recognize it, but we don’t always recognize it. Sometimes we mistake humility for pride and pride for humility. And truth be told, we don’t always like to be around humble people.
Humble People Don’t Think Much of Themselves
Most of us would agree that humble people don’t think much of themselves. But often what we have in mind is self-deprecation; humble people think of themselves as lowly. And this is true. In view of God’s holiness and their sinfulness, they don’t think more highly of themselves than they ought to think (Romans 12:3). Their healthy, proportionate view of their own depravity causes them to consider others more important than themselves (Philippians 2:3).
But self-deprecation isn’t the primary trait of humility. The primary trait of humble people is that they just don’t think much of themselves — meaning they are not self-preoccupied. They have better, higher, more glorious things to be occupied with.
We can find this trait refreshing because humble people, seeing all things in relation to God, look for and enjoy God’s glory in all that he has made (Romans 1:20). This allows them to most fully enjoy what God has made — including us. When we’re with them they often help us do the same thing. And few things are as wonderfully refreshing as forgetting ourselves for a while because we’re absorbed in something more glorious.
But we can also find this trait convicting because it exposes our self-obsession. We are so used to people (especially ourselves) being self-conscious and self-centered that when we’re with people who aren’t, our own pride stands in stark contrast.
Humble People Prefer Windows to Mirrors
Not thinking much of themselves (in both senses) means that humble people prefer windows to mirrors. Desiring to see the glory of God in everything frees them from needing to see how everything else reflects on them.
Humble people view other people as God’s marvelous image-bearers, windows to God’s glory, not as mirrors that enhance or diminish their own self-image. But this also means they aren’t absorbed by how others view them. So they aren’t worried about reading the “right” books, seeing the “right” movies, listening to the “right” music, living in the “right” home, having the “right” job, being seen with the “right” people, etc. That’s a mirror mindset. They view these things as windows to see and savor God’s glory.
Humble People Are Authentically Counter-Cultural
This makes humble people authentically counter-cultural. A culture comprised of pride-infected people produces a lot of pressure for people to conform to cultural expectations. Even much that poses as non-conformity is really just subcultural conformity — an attempt to fit into some subgroup.
Humble people are unusually unaffected by this pressure to conform. They can be hard to categorize because they often don’t fit neatly into any cultural mold. They tend to eschew using trendy fashions or interests or social media as means of personal branding. They have preferences about those things, but they hold those preferences as ways of enjoying God’s manifold goodness rather than image-enhancers.
And it’s this lack of self-preoccupation that really runs counter to the cultures or subcultures that humble people live in. This deficit of self-importance usually isn’t considered cool by cultural cool-definers. It makes humble people odd.
Humble People Are Offensive
One of the things that can surprise us about truly humble people, which can sometimes be mistaken for pride, is that they can be quite offensive. Humble people, being without guile, say it like it is. And saying it like it is can sting, and even sound condemning.
Jesus could fling some zingers. He called religious leaders a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34) and sons of the devil (John 8:44), and he called the crowd and even his own disciples a “faithless and twisted generation” (Matthew 17:17). Humble Paul publicly rebuked Peter (Galatians 2:11-14) and told the Galatians they were “foolish” (Galatians 3:1). These weren’t “nice” things to say. Humble people don’t always say nice things. They say honest things that can have sharp edges and wound. Because of this they can be accused of pride.
But there is a qualitative difference between the offensiveness of the proud and the offensiveness of the humble. The proud offend to exalt or defend themselves and control or manipulate others. The humble offend in order to advance the truth for the glory of God and ultimate good of others. Humble offensiveness may not be popular, but it’s always loving.
King David knew this, which is why he wrote, “Let a righteous man strike me — it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — it is oil for my head” (Psalm 141:5). His son Solomon also knew this and wrote, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6). Humility can wound and pride can kiss. Kisses may feel better than wounds — at first. But later, the wounds foster health and the kisses corruption.
That’s why humble people aren’t always what we think they ought to be. They are disagreeable when truth must be valued over relational harmony. They are un-submissive when conformity mars God’s glory. And their company can be unpleasant, even undesired, when their wounding words are kinder than selfish flattery or silence.
And this is the kind of people God is calling us to be, people who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with him (Micah 6:8). He wants us to be absorbed in things more glorious than ourselves (Philippians 4:8), to prefer windows to mirrors (Philippians 2:3), to live counter to every culture we live in (Hebrews 11:13), and, when love requires it and it would give grace to those who hear, to be humbly offensive (Ephesians 4:29).
To be humble people requires much grace. But the good news is that God is able to make this grace abound to us (2 Corinthians 9:8), and he offers it to us if we will receive it (James 4:6).
September 7, 2016
The most fundamental lesson any child can learn about finances—even more important than saving—is the lesson of giving. As parents, we should teach our children to give. This is more than simply taking our own money and handing it to our child to put in the offering. In such cases the child isn’t giving—she’s simply delivering our gift. In order for it to really be giving, it must come from what actually belongs to the child.
The holy habit of giving is like the holy habits of Bible study and prayer and witnessing and hospitality. These things need to be integrated into our lifestyle. Those not raised in a home where they learn this are at a great disadvantage later trying to develop new habits as adults. Children raised in giving families would no sooner stop giving than brushing their teeth.
One man wrote to me, “My wife and I have taught our kids from the earliest days to be regular givers to God and his kingdom purposes. Our family has been blessed with four young adults who love Jesus, and I believe that our faithfulness in giving has contributed to that. God’s returns are not always financial.” Nanci and I can attest to the same thing about our grown daughters, Karina and Angela, and their families.
When I asked a group to share their giving stories, Daniel J. Arnold told me, “Giving to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and the expansion of his kingdom on earth has become the common purpose of our family, our co-mission. We test the will of God for us in prayer and come together in agreement on every gift. Giving enters us into a life of faith and trust in God.” Like everything else in the home, stewardship is caught as much as taught.
What are some practical ways you can pass the pleasure of giving on to your children? I recommend that families get involved together in special missions projects. Family members can work together to financially support, pray for, and correspond with a missionary, a needy family, or an overseas orphan. Becoming aware of needs elsewhere reminds our children of the incredible abundance in America and our opportunity to share it with the needy.
In this 4-minute video, I share a story about one of my daughters, and talk about the joy of having children who have an eternal perspective about money and giving:
[The righteous] are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing. (Psalm 37:26, NIV)
September 5, 2016
I realize this is a sensitive topic for Catholics who love Jesus and believe in salvation by grace through faith, and also for those who don’t. It’s sensitive as well to evangelical Christians who know and love sincere Catholics, as many of us do.
Certainly the face of Catholicism has changed. But the fact is that it still officially holds to and teaches a variety of key doctrines that are fundamentally unbiblical and contrary to the Gospel of the Grace of God in Christ. (This is not judgment and condemnation, it is a sincere conclusion based on reading and listening to the stated doctrines of the church, then comparing them to what I believe Scripture actually teaches.)
Many evangelicals rightly seek unity, but wrongly do so at the expense of honestly addressing the teachings of the Catholic Church that remain at odds with Scripture. The fact that you may know a Catholic who truly believes in salvation by faith, with no dependence on good works or baptism or the Lord’s Supper to give them right standing before God, does not mean this is the teaching of the church as a whole. If you know a Catholic who does not pray to Mary or believe her to be a mediator between God and humans, good for them, but this does not change official Catholic doctrine.
These days the “loving” thing is typically thought to mean that we don’t think or speak critically regarding the beliefs of others. But if truth matters—and if the Bible is right and Jesus was right, it does—then the loving thing is not to deny the reality of different beliefs and their significance. Rather, for the good of those we love, we’re to kindly engage and dialogue about these issues with our friends and family. God calls upon us to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). And we can’t do that unless we are accurately informed of what the truth is.
Certainly we should identify areas of commonality, and evangelical Christians do have much in common with Catholics, including our belief in the trinity and the deity of Christ. These shared beliefs can be the stepping stones we walk on as we address our different doctrines.
After reading the following article, if you wish to explore this further, see the excellent book Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment by my friend Gregg Allison, theology professor at Southern Seminary. This is the book’s description:
Noting prominent similarities without glossing over key differences, this book will equip Christians on both sides of the ecclesiastical divide to fruitfully engage in honest dialogue with one another.
Here’s an excerpt from Tim Challies’s blog post, “Is the Reformation Over?”
Is the Reformation over? Have the issues that divided Protestants and Catholics been sufficiently resolved that we can now pursue a return to unity? At the very end of his book Rescuing the Gospel, an account of the Protestant Reformation, Erwin Lutzer offers a compelling answer. While he admits that both Protestantism and Catholicism have developed since the sixteenth century and while he points out areas in which Protestants and Catholics are working in a common cause toward common goals, he insists that the Reformation has not yet come to an end. Any unity would come at the expense of the gospel. “On the most critical issue, namely the salvation of the human soul, Luther’s Reformation is far from over … No matter how many changes the Catholic Church makes, it will not—indeed cannot—endorse an evangelical view of salvation.”
Many make the argument that Catholicism has changed, that the church of the twenty-first century is so vastly different from the church of the sixteenth century that the old disagreements and arguments no longer hold. But here Lutzer points to 5 contemporary teachings of the Roman Catholic Church that must continue to divide us.
September 2, 2016
Tozer, one of my all-time favorite authors, makes a great analogy in this sermon, shared in the book The Attributes of God Volume 2: Deeper into the Father's Heart. (Thanks to EPM’s Stephanie Anderson for skillfully shortening the original.) Hope you enjoy this too. —Randy
The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens. (Proverbs 3:19)
He hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion. (Jeremiah 10:12)
With him is wisdom and strength, he hath counsel and understanding. (Job 12:13)
Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence. (Ephesians 1:8)
…It tells us in Proverbs 3:19 and Jeremiah 10:12 that the Lord founded the earth, established and stretched out the heavens by wisdom, understanding and discretion. Those are two of many verses in the Bible that tell us about the wisdom of God.
The wisdom of God is something to be taken on faith. …If I have to reason myself into faith, then I can be reasoned back out of it again. But faith is an organ of knowledge; if I know something by faith, I will reason about it.
For this reason I make no attempt to prove God’s wisdom. If I tried to prove that God is wise, the embittered soul would not believe it anyway, no matter how perfect and convincing the proofs I might bring. And the worshiping heart already knows that God is wise and does not need to have it proved.
…We also should not ask God to prove His wisdom. We believe God is wise because God is God. Any demand we might make on God for proof would be an affront to the perfection of His deity. …And to think low of God is the supreme degradation.
It is necessary to our humanity that we grant God two things at least: wisdom and goodness. The God who sits on high, who made the heaven and the earth, has got to be wise, or else you and I cannot be sure of anything. …We have to grant goodness and wisdom to God, or we have no place to go, no rock to stand on, no way to do any thinking or reasoning or believing.
…So we begin with the assumption—not a guess, not a hope, but a knowledge—that God is wise. But someone will ask, “If God is good and wise, how do you explain polio, prison camps, mass executions, wars and all the other evils that are in the world?...”
Let me answer by an allegory. Let us say that a man is very, very wise and is not only wise, but is rich to the point of having all the money in the world. And let us suppose he decides to build the most beautiful palace that has ever been built in the world. So in some little country, say in Europe, he gathers together the finest artists and architects, the finest designers that can be found anywhere.
…Then he says, “…Money is no object. I want the most beautiful building in all the world. I want its floors to be gold, I want its walls to be jasper… I want it to be studded with diamonds and rubies. I want it to be the epitome of all that is beautiful… When it is finished, I want it to be the talk of all the world. …Now go to work and give me the best that you can give.”
And, pooling their wisdom and genius, they built a most beautiful building—a building that makes the Taj Mahal look like a barn.
…Let us suppose that, after a year or so, the political fortunes change and a conquering army comes in and takes over that little country…and take over the palace—great, tough, barbarian soldiers with hobnailed boots. They care nothing about beauty, about art, about the diamonds and gold. Let us suppose that they stable their horses in the palace, that they spit on the floor and throw beer cans all over the place and make a wallow out of it. Eventually, the beautiful palace is filled with dirt, old rags and filth of every kind; the man who owns it and the artists who built it have fled into exile.
While the heel of the barbarian treads down the little country, one passerby whispers to another, “There’s the great palace, the greatest concentration of universal beauty known in the world.”
And the other person says, “…It’s a pigpen! How can you say it’s beautiful?”
“Just wait for a while,” the first passerby replies. “There’s been a war and this is an occupied country. The fortunes of war will change again and the oppressor will be driven out.”
And let us suppose that these bestial and brutal men are driven out. Then the rich man comes back from some far away retreat and says to his artists, architects and sculptors, “Let’s get to work and clean this up...”
After a year or so of work, the palace stands once again, shining in the noonday sun—the epitome of all beauty…
Once there was someone named God—God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. He turned His mighty wisdom loose on the making of man. He said, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26). Then he made a garden eastward in Eden and He put man in it. He said to man, “I will make him an help meet for him” (2:18).
…Then Satan came into the garden and wound himself about the limbs of the tree of life. …the fortunes of moral war changed; Satan took over and man sinned, betraying the God who made him. That which used to be the most beautiful of all gardens and most lovely of all worlds…now is turned into a pigpen and plunged into darkness.
And so the critic walks about as the passersby did by the palace. And he says, “Are you telling me that a wise God made this pigpen?”
But I say, “…God in His great wisdom and in His providential dealings with this world has allowed foreign soldiers to occupy. And this epitome of all beauty, this flying ball we call the earth…is now under a cloud, a shadow.” It tells us in Romans 8:19–22,
For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
God’s wise plans will be carried out, but God in His wisdom has allowed, for a little time, this foreign occupation. The world we live in, with its cyclones, tornadoes, tempests, tidal waves and other forces of destruction, is under occupation.
…The state of Pennsylvania, where I was born, has rolling hills, flashing streams, waterfalls, meadows and lovely forests. If you have ever driven through it, you know how beautiful it is. Near where I lived when I was a boy, money-loving men have done what they call strip mining. Instead of digging into the hill to get the coal, they strip the top off and get the coal from above. …I have seen thousands of acres of the lovely hillsides, green and beautiful, that I knew as a boy, lying wounded and bleeding.
…But do you think that God Almighty has surrendered and gone away forever? No! …one of these days the great God Almighty is going to send His Son “from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). We will be changed, raised, glorified and made into the image of God. He’s going to clean house down here and there shall be peace from the river to the ends of the earth. …Then we’ll see that God was wise. But we’re going to have to be patient and go along with God for a little while, because we’re under occupation.
If you’d like to read more related to the subject of evil and suffering, see Randy’s book If God Is Good, as well as the devotional 90 Days of God’s Goodness and book The Goodness of God (a specially focused condensation of If God Is Good, which also includes additional new material). Many people have also handed out the If God Is Good booklets.