Thursday, January 2, 2020

Guest Post: Reflections on a Reasonable Faith

A false idea exists in both the world and in the church that faith and reason do not go together when, in fact, one cannot exist without the other. When God called out, “Adam, where art thou?” it was not Adam’s physical location He was asking about but his moral and spiritual relationship with his Creator. As a bumper sticker says, “When you feel far from God, guess who moved?”
We move on to the prodigal son, who demanded to receive his inheritance before the designated time, which would have been after the death of his parents. Instead of investing his inheritance wisely, he spent it all on harlots and wild living. It could be when those he thought were his friends saw that he had exhausted his resources, they deserted him, leaving him destitute, thus showing what kind of “friends” he had accumulated on his downward path to poverty and shame.
God wants to get our attention. “Come now, and let us reason together,” says God to His wayward children. His Word has much to say to us in regard to this exhortation. He wants us to meditate upon it day and night. My earliest memories of my father were of seeing him on his knees with his open Bible. I never had to try to memorize the Bible. I had heard it so many times in our family devotions and had read it so often in my personal study that it became a part of me.
A wedding is coming. It will take place in heaven. As the hymn says, “What a day that will be, when my Jesus I shall see. When He takes me by the hand and leads me through the Promised Land...what a glorious day that will be!” This should be our eager anticipation.
When someone asks, “How soon do you think the Rapture will be?” I often respond, “How soon do you want it to be?” The story is told of a preacher asking his audience, “How many of you want to go to heaven?” All the children raised their hands except one small boy sitting in the front row. When the meeting ended, the preacher sat beside the lad and asked, “Don’t you want to go to heaven?”
“Oh, yes, sir,” he replied.
“But when I asked all those who wanted to go to heaven to raise their hands, you didn’t raise yours.”
“Oh, sir, I thought you meant right now.”
Of course we want to go to heaven, but there is so much we want to do on earth first that we lose our sense of urgency. We are the Bride of Christ. How tragic if we lack the eagerness of anticipation that the bride ought to have as the day of her wedding draws near! On the one hand, we desire to be with Christ. We know that the Lord loves us, but to think of standing before the I AM is awesome beyond belief. May we all look with renewed longing for His promised coming.
It is amazing that God wants to reason with us, His creatures. The Word speaks much of understanding. What does this mean? God may explain why He has done certain things, but He will not consult with us about anything nor debate issues. He does not look to us for advice but delights in our obedience. We are to love God with our whole heart and love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus said this was the essence of the law and the prophets.
God has no obligation to explain Himself to us. Even so, God says, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah:1:18). I think this is His way of trying to share His heart with us. I often think of how great God is and marvel that He would desire our fellowship, but such is His heart. With salvation, all things are become new, and that includes the beginning of an intimate relationship as between father and child.
Scripture says, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Proverbs:4:7). God is not trying to force anything upon us, but he wants us to understand and to delight in the relationship that He desires to have with His children.
Of course, faith is not a leap in the dark  and the hope of a soft landing. We must seek to know where God wants us to go and what His will is for our lives. He wants us to know. He wants us to understand. He does not wish to treat us as slaves but as dearest friends. How astonishing! How glorious! Abraham was called “the friend of God.” Jesus said to His disciples, “Henceforth I call you not servants...but friends” (John:15:15). This is hard to fathom—that we could be God’s friends, and not only His friends but the dearest objects of His heart’s affection.
How well George Matheson expressed this truth, which came, as he said, “like a dayspring on high”:
Oh, Love that will not let me go!
I rest my weary soul on thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flick-’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there
            blossoms red
Life that shall endless be. Amen.
We are commanded to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. This is not a suggestion from God but a command. Jesus said, “When you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, or your heavenly Father will not forgive you.” That’s hard for us to face, but the language is clear. Jesus goes on to explain that “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew:6:15). This is part of what we know as the “Sermon on the Mount.” It pierces our hearts. I remember a long cab ride when I was trying to explain the gospel to the driver. He claimed that he had never sinned. I quoted the same scripture to him and asked him if he had followed this admonition: “Do you love your neighbor as yourself?”
With a short laugh, he said, “I haven’t done that for one second.”
“Well,” I replied, “the words of Christ are clear: if you hold anything against anyone, you must not expect God to forgive you any of your sins.” Of course, without the new life that Christ’s death imparts, such forgiveness was beyond his ability. What was impossible for the cab driver is incumbent upon us as followers of Christ.
This is difficult to face. What we call “The Lord’s Prayer” is really the prayer that Christ gave to His disciples and to us as well. We can address the Almighty God: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matthew:6:9-13).
I often think how amazing it is that we could have a personal relationship with God and that He should call us His friends. This is awesome! I often tell God, “We are such pitiful creatures. You are so great. How can we even dare talk to You? You are without beginning or end; You are infinite in power and wisdom, yet You call us Your friends. What gracious condescension! O give me the ability to respond in like manner!”
The psalmist said, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet” (Psalm:8:3-6).
Why should God want us to love Him? What could our love mean to Him? He really doesn’t need anything from us. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwelt in perfect harmony, complete in fellowship with one another for all eternity past. There is no question that man was made not only in the image of God but for a unique companionship with Him. That’s too much for us to even begin to understand!
Surely God didn’t need a companion in man. It was a special relationship that He desired. That relationship was lost when man sinned and God could no longer have fellowship with him. We don’t understand this loss, but I believe that every human being feels it. How deeply God himself must have felt that loss!
There is an emptiness in every human heart that only God can fill. God and man were meant to dwell in fellowship—in companionship. The angelic beings who did not follow Lucifer in his fall could never have this relationship with God, for as sinless beings, they could never experience the redeemed sinner’s debt of gratitude. Only man could (Luke:7:47).
The breach between God and man affected the entire universe. Romans 8 says that the whole creation groans in travail, waiting “for the manifestation of the sons of God.” I believe every human being knows that something is wrong with this universe that goes deeper than the headlines about war, murder, rape, robbery, and all of the evils in human society. There is something else behind all of this.
The old writers knew this and tried to express it. Dickens put it into his writings, as did Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and many others. In contrast, the vast majority of films that Hollywood turns out today are not only repulsively immoral but generally shallow in their expression of what humanness is all about, and fail to reveal the emptiness in man’s heart. Many of our older writers presented the evil of man’s heart and, although they were not Christians, their writings were filled with examples pitting good against evil. That does not come out in the popular novels and movies of today, where God is not honored but often derided. They reflect God’s sad commentary: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm:14:1; 53:1).
When we present the gospel, we must be prepared to reason. We know that the Word of God is living and powerful, the sword of the Spirit, yet we are given the privilege of sharing it with others. We must share the reasons for believing in God: “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter:3:15). This raises a question. Why would anyone ask us for a “reason”? It presumes that we must have given some occasion to arouse the question—hopefully, the personal witness of our godly life.
We often hesitate to share the gospel because we don’t know how to begin. I think of the illustration my father used. He told of the barber who was shaving a man and raised the open blade above his head and said, “Are you prepared to die?” The man ran out of the barbershop in terror. Obviously, this is not a good opening in presenting the gospel!
I remember a well-dressed, well-coifed, and obviously wealthy woman sitting next to me on a plane. I tried a couple of times to open a conversation, but she remained aloof. I prayed to the Lord, “I have tried twice to find a way to talk with this woman so that I could present the gospel to her. If anything is going to happen, this woman is going to have to open the door.” I was reading Richard Dawkins’s book, The Selfish Gene, and had it in the pocket of the seat in front of me. I pulled it out to read it, and my seat companion looked at it and said, “Who would write a book like that?” That was the opening I was waiting for, and we had a wonderful conversation. She turned out to be a seeking soul.
There are those all around us who are waiting for someone to present the gospel to them. I once sat next to a man who was contemplating suicide. He was certainly ripe for the gospel. If we want to share the Good News with someone, the Lord will open the door. I do not advise trying to force the gospel on anyone. Let the Holy Spirit do His work. We must seek God’s direction if we are to be about His business effectively.
Modern man has no time for God. An old hymn asks, “What will you do with Jesus? Neutral you cannot be. One day your heart will be asking, ‘What will He do with me?’” For all eternity, lost souls will be haunted by the realization that heaven’s door could have been opened to them by the Savior they rejected.
Happily, we can still proclaim that the door remains open and whosoever will may enter in. How much longer this may be the case we cannot tell. While there is still time, every true Christian ought to be alert to eagerly seize every opportunity that presents itself to share the good news of the gospel. It is our Lord’s “reasonable” expectation.