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Have I taken God for granted?

Written By Leslie Koh

After spending a number of years in the media, Leslie finally decided to move from working with bad news to good news. He believes in the power of words (especially when they’re funny). He works as an editor in Our Daily Bread Ministries.

I’m back in court again.

No, not that one. This one is an internal court of conflicting thoughts and feelings about my faith and my actions. It’s where I have to face accusations, and it’s where I sometimes try to defend myself. It’s a court I visit often.

I’m there again because I’ve just read yet another article warning me not to take God for granted. Yes, one of those pieces filled with stern warnings:

“Don’t take God for granted.”
“Don’t think you can get away with sin just because salvation is yours to keep.”
“Don’t test God’s patience.”

Et cetera, et cetera.

To be honest, I don’t like these warnings. I don’t like them because . . . I know I’m guilty. I know these warnings are meant for me. I don’t like them because they inevitably send me on a guilt trip—which I then try to escape by defending myself:

“Won’t I risk thinking that I need to earn my salvation by trying to be holy?”
“Isn’t God merciful if I repent sincerely?”
“Isn’t salvation mine to keep? If not, then what does grace mean?”

And that’s where the court proceedings begin.

 

Guilty! I do take God for granted . . .

First, the accusations:

You take God for granted. You go ahead and sin and sin and sin, thinking that it’s okay because you can be forgiven the moment you ask for forgiveness. You do this because you think salvation is yours, and that excuses you from trying harder to live a holy life. You think you can simply fall back on God’s mercy and grace, and get away scot-free. What about your responsibility to resist temptation and sin? Aren’t you testing God’s patience? Aren’t you devaluing grace?

I nod, remorseful. “Guilty! I know I’m guilty!”

I’ll be honest and confess: Sometimes (far more often than that, in fact), I do think that I can get away with sin because God will forgive me. I take His mercy for granted. I quote Jesus’ instructions to His disciples to forgive 490 times, and cite the Bible’s description of God’s endless mercies. And so, at the back of my mind, I excuse my behavior and proceed with my sin, thinking, “I’ll repent sincerely later, and it’ll be okay.”

I’m also guilty of not putting a lot of effort into being holy and living the new life that Jesus has given me through His death and resurrection. That’s because I hold on to the idea that I shouldn’t try to change on my own strength. After all, isn’t God the one who will transform me? And so I proceed as usual, doing what I normally do. Of course, I do take precautions to avoid I what think are “worse” sins, but I’ll readily admit that deep inside, I leave it to God to help me overcome the “small” ones. That makes me guilty of forgetting that my walk with God is not just one of faith, but a journey of discipline too.

And finally, I tend to forget that things like my life, my relationship with God, the open access I have to Him, and my salvation are privileges. Oh yes, I’m well aware that I don’t deserve them and that God has given them to me out of His grace. But like I do with most gifts, I’ve come to see them as mine to keep forever—no matter what I do. I forget that they remain a privilege and they didn’t come cheap—it cost Jesus His life, and God, His Son. I fail to treasure these gifts and make the most out of them.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”—Matthew 7:21

 

Not guilty! I’m doing all right—really . . .

But then the little defense lawyer inside me stands up and responds:

God’s grace and mercy are boundless. Don’t make the mistake of being legalistic about your faith. Yes, you must seek to live a holy life. But you shouldn’t doubt your salvation whenever you fail (for you will, inevitably). If you keep going back to the fundamentals, you’ll never be able to step forward in your faith. You’ll end up hobbling your spiritual growth. You need to accept God’s forgiveness, and forgive yourself. You need to move on.

I raise my head, hoping that he’s right. “Really? Am I not guilty after all?”

Isn’t it true? If I were to doubt God’s forgiveness even after confessing and repenting, then I would be doubting His character as a merciful and forgiving God, His promise to forgive, and the effectiveness of His Son’s sacrifice on the cross. Of course, I need to ensure that I am sincere in my confession and repentance. But if I keep holding on to my shame and guilt, wouldn’t I be belittling Jesus’ sacrifice and the power of the cross? Don’t I need to move on, relying on the fact of God’s unconditional love and mercy?

Besides, if I focus too much on trying to be holy and being a “good” Christian, I may fall into the trap of legalism. Now, that would be cheapening grace. I may forget that I am saved by grace, not by any works I can do. Oh yes, I am called to put aside my old self and my old sinful habits. But I shouldn’t confuse that with trying to win God’s favor by being good. Only He can make me holy and righteous in His sight. What I need to do is to submit to His transformation.

And, finally, my favorite defense: There’s no doubt that I’m flawed and far from perfect. And I still struggle with sin and holiness. But the very fact that I still battle with guilt and feelings of inadequacy shows that I don’t take God for granted; it shows that my conscience is still very much alive—kept alive by the Holy Spirit in me. If I was really guilty of taking God for granted, then I wouldn’t even think twice about going ahead with my sins, nor about whether I need to live in a more holy manner, right? In fact, I won’t even wonder whether I’m taking Him for granted. So the very fact that I’m worried about taking God for granted . . . shows that I’m not. You know what I mean!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.—Romans 8:1-2

 

And the verdict is . . .

I hate to leave it hanging, but the answer is . . . I can’t tell you for sure. Only the judge can decide, and in this court, God is the judge. Only He can determine whether or not I’m guilty of taking Him for granted.

To be honest, I haven’t heard a clear voice telling me the final judgment. But I personally believe that it is . . . BOTH. Guilty—because I have taken God for granted. And not guilty—because He is always ready to forgive me, and Christ’s death has paid for my sin. It’s almost as if God is saying:

Yes, sometimes you ARE guilty of taking Me for granted. That’s why I send you reminders and warnings, and My Spirit fills your heart with remorse. But I don’t want you to just feel guilty; I want you to do something about it. And I want you to repent and move on, so that you become NOT guilty. And that’s why I send you comfort and assurance, too. I want you to know that when you truly confess and repent, it puts you on the right track.

So what does that mean for me, the accused? It means that I’m going to have a constant struggle with guilt. And it means that I’m going to be coming back to this court, again and again, to hear the same accusations and defenses.

But maybe that’s the whole point. A friend once told me something that has stuck in my mind, and it is simply this: Christianity is a struggle.

If we stop struggling, then something’s wrong. Yes, we shouldn’t allow doubt to whittle away at our faith until nothing’s left. But we also need to keep checking ourselves to make sure we’re not becoming complacent in our walk with God. The constant questioning, reviewing, and wrestling with spiritual issues—all these show our faith is alive.

Perhaps that’s why Paul urged believers to present themselves to God as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1)—the thing about a living sacrifice, you see, is that it can crawl away. Every day and every moment, we face the temptation to crawl away from the altar and to seek our own desires and ways; it takes a conscious effort to stay there. But it’s a struggle that I believe God appreciates.

So now I’m out of court. I’m guilty, but because of Jesus, I’m not guilty. Guess I’ll be back again soon.

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?  And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.—2 Corinthians 13:5

 

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What Should Christians Make of Evolution?

Written By Michael Van Dyke, USA

Michael is a Professor of English and teaches courses in American literature, writing and philosophy. He is also an elder at Mars Hill Bible Church and he and his wife Beth have two children, Caleb and Emma. In his spare time, Michael likes to paint, lift weights, and watch Michigan State basketball.

Evolution. The word carries with it connotations and meanings that overspill its dictionary definition. In the public mind, it often serves as a litmus test to divide backward, Bible-believing Christians from the enlightened, liberal majority.

Though other issues like miracles, or even belief in an invisible God, mark Christians as intellectual slugs in the minds of many educated people, evolution remains at the core of the basic conflict between a biblical-theistic worldview and a secular-scientific one. One side sees all hesitation to accept evolution’s explanation of human origins as a sign of stupidity; the other side sees evolution as entirely incompatible with belief in a Creator-God.

Some Christians have adopted compromise positions like intelligent design, theistic evolutionism, or process theology in order to try to bridge the divide; however, the basic conflict has not gone away. This leads me to wonder whether both sides have been approaching the issue in a misguided way.

 

The Lesson of the Galapagos  

I remember a college history class in which Charles Darwin’s book, The Voyage of the Beagle, was being discussed. The professor—a man for whom I had great respect—talked about how Darwin found species on the Galapagos Islands that were radically different from anything to be found in the rest of the world. Darwin’s explanation for this, the professor explained, was that these species had evolved and adapted according to the unique environment of the islands, developing characteristics that were specially fitted to it.

At first I thought, God could have just placed them there like that; but the more I listened to the lecture, the more I became convinced that my simple explanation involved a sort of intellectual cheating—especially as it didn’t really explain anything about the tangible, beautiful complexity that Darwin encountered.

Moreover, I found Darwin’s myriad speculations to be inspiring and beautiful in themselves, displaying the power of human thought to delve into the hidden mysteries of Creation. Thus, I left the class conflicted, unable to dismiss Darwin’s powerful logic out of hand; yet also unable to let it contradict my belief in God.

And that is where I remained for a number of years: conflicted.

 

What is the grass?         

Then, several years ago, I was reading Walt Whitman’s great epic poem, “Song of Myself”, when I was suddenly stopped in my mental tracks by the beginning of section 6, which goes:

“A child said What is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands;

How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

“I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

“Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,

A scented gift and remembrance designedly dropt,

Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

“Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.

“Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,

And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,

Growing among black folks as among white,

Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

“And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.”

The child’s simple question, “what is the grass?”, followed by the poet’s inability to answer it in a clear and straightforward manner, began the process of transforming my way of looking at the whole creation/evolution debate.

I began to see that it was in fact a pitiable enterprise from the start, with neither side willing to dwell long enough on the child’s simple yet wonder-filled question; and with neither side willing to acknowledge the ultimate thinness of their opposing answers. And as an English professor, it was satisfying to me that a poet was able to get closer to the heart of the matter than either the scientists or the theologians were.

 

Transcending the Debate

In his poem, Whitman demonstrates that the most common thing in the world—grass—carries within its very existence a panoply of meanings and significances. To study it scientifically, and to give it names like elymus elymoides (squirreltail grass) or echinochloa muricata (common barnyard grass), is to understand it in a certain way.

This way of understanding it is powerful and useful, but it is only one approach. In no way does it exhaust the possible means of approaching the reality and existence of grass. And if this can be said about grass—again, one of the most common things in the world—what does it say about the vast spread of the cosmos itself, not to mention all of the non-material aspects of Creation like language, music, and a penchant for gardening? So while a scientific approach to grass is to be valued and certainly not discounted, the tendency to look to it as the only way to know is actually foreign to the very nature of things.

Most Christians who oppose the very notion of evolution do so, I think, because it violates a particularly deep and powerful way of apprehending the universe which has been opened up to them by their belief in God as Creator. In other words, to see the universe as Creation is to see the personal aspect of everything that exists. It is to apprehend that everything carries with it a sense of the holy. The purely scientific approach too easily discounts the ineradicable feeling in the soul of the believer that everything matters, and that to see everything as merely matter is insufficient.

On the other hand, for Christians to see science as the enemy is a terrible overreaction to science’s violation of their deepest feelings. Yes, science is usually biased against supernatural explanations for phenomena; but perhaps one big reason for that is because science has been continually involved in discovering just how exhaustless, intricate, and indeed, almost supernatural, nature itself actually is. For even if evolutionary theory generates some powerful insights into the development of biological life, it has still only gotten to the third line of Whitman’s poem.

And perhaps this is where believers—along with the poets, artists, and endless leagues of curious children—can join them for the rest of the journey toward the Creator.

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When I Don’t Agree with the Bible

Written By Lim Chien Chong

Chien Chong joined Singapore Youth For Christ (SYFC) full-time in 1998 after a six-year teaching career in a local junior college. In 2005, he became SYFC’s National Director. He currently serves in the pulpit and Bible class ministry in church, and also preaches, trains, and teaches in different churches and youth groups in Singapore. He has been married for 15 years and has two young lovely boys, Joshua (11-years-old) and Elijah (8-years-old).

Recently, a Christian friend of mine shared that she was going through a very rough patch in her life. Why would God, described in the Bible as the God of love, allow her to go through all that? she asked. What added to her disappointment was that God did not answer her prayers. The God of the Bible didn’t seem to match up to her expectations.

Another Christian friend told me he was in a relationship with someone; it was a relationship which the Bible clearly spoke against. Both of them were truly in love with one another and the relationship meant a lot to him. To him, God was unreasonable in the way He spelt out His expectations in the Bible, especially in terms of whom believers can have a close relationship with.

These are just two of the many others I know who struggle with what the Bible says. For these two friends of mine, it is especially tough because the disagreement is not just about a conflict of ideas; it involves a clash of expectations, interests and lifestyles.

What do we do when we don’t agree with the Bible? To answer this question for myself, I’ve learned to first review the basic assumptions and convictions I have about myself and God respectively.

 

Assumption #1: My ideas and feelings cannot be wrong

Disagreements (of any sort) between individuals occur when both sides are certain that they are right. I find it hard to accept things that are different from what I have learned from young to be true. This is especially so when I am very certain about my views and convicted about how I feel.

Naturally, when there is a conflict between what the Bible says and how I feel, what I think and what I want, my most instinctive reaction is to say that the Bible cannot be right.

But if I am honest with myself, I will have to acknowledge that there have been numerous occasions in my life that I have been proven wrong in the way I look at things, the way I feel, and the way I respond. The reality is I can be wrong—even though I may not like to admit it.

I remember the time when my application for medical school was rejected. Unlike some of my friends who wanted to be doctors for personal reasons, I really wanted to “save” lives. So I thought God got it wrong. It has been a humbling journey since, but as I look back on this time in my life, I realize God knew better. Many have affirmed me in my role as a teacher. And as I teach the Word of God and share the gospel of Christ, I am in fact “saving” lives for eternity. I thank God that while I was wrong about myself then, God wasn’t wrong about me.

 

Assumption #2: I know my Bible well enough

For those of us who have been Christians for many years, we would have heard many sermons and done much reading and studying of the Bible for ourselves. With all this head knowledge, we may come to understand God and life in a certain way.

Inevitably, when God and life do not turn out the way we understand, we struggle. But, if we read our Bible more carefully in its proper contexts, we will realize that we have misread our Bibles and misunderstood the character of God all along.

I used to think that God would answer every prayer I said if I ended it in Jesus’ name. But that is not what John 16:24 meant at all. You can imagine the numerous occasions when I felt disappointed with God for not answering my prayers. But that was because I understood Him wrongly. On hindsight, I realize He must have been the one who was truly disappointed with me instead.

 

Assumption #3: God must act in a certain way

We expect our close friends to understand and accept us, and we hold certain expectations about how they should act and respond. As such, we become very disappointed when they don’t. So, if God doesn’t act in a certain way according to our expectations, we believe that something must be wrong with Him.

But we cannot look at God in the same way we look at our friends, because He is not a mere human who has to pander to our desires and expectations. He is the great God who rules with absolute authority and wisdom. In Isaiah 40:12-26, we read of how the Israelites had to grapple with some mind-blowing metaphors about the incomparable greatness of God. The reality is, if we can “sort God out” and tell Him what He should do, then He can’t really be God because He is under our control.

 

Therefore, for myself, here are three foundational pillars that I choose to stand on:

Pillar #1: God defines everything, not I

The most fundamental issue I must address is whether or not I accept the fact that in spite of what I think and how I feel, God—who is perfect in power, love and knowledge—defines what is right and wrong, good and bad, true or false.

I can choose to be proud and stubborn because I think I know better since I have read, seen and experienced a lot. Alternatively, I can be humble and accept the reality that God, being the great God, does work beyond my scheme of things.

When Job was tested, his wife and his friends offered many “reasonable” explanations as to why he had to suffer many afflictions. But God does not work or have to work within our scheme of things. In the climactic end in Job 38:1-40:2, God reminded Job that He is the great God; He knows how to run the universe He created and His wisdom is greater than human wisdom.

I have found that on many occasions, my perception and judgment are limited and biased. There is still much I do not know. In fact, I need to learn, unlearn and sometimes even re-learn some things. Guess what? My children are my teachers when it comes to this aspect. Their seemingly innocent questions like, “How did this come about?”, “Why must it be like that?” and “Why did you say this but do that?” often show me that I don’t know as much and I’m not as loving, wise, patient and fair as I like to think I am. It will be foolish to think that I know better.

 

Pillar #2: God is God of the Word

There are truths and issues I must accept simply because they are clearly written in the Bible. At first glance, I may not understand or agree with certain truths or instructions. But it does not change the fact that God has written them in the Bible.

My response is not to un-write, erase or gloss over these things; rather, I need to take time and effort to learn and understand them. At times, I may need to simply accept these truths even if they don’t make full sense to me. Maybe we don’t quite understand fully the Trinity or the idea of predestination. Maybe we can’t answer the question of why a good God allows sufferings. Maybe we cannot comprehend why God didn’t answer our prayers. Nonetheless, we can hold on to these questions and wait to see how God will help us work through them along the way. When Habakkuk found God’s ways confusing and sometimes mysterious, God’s answer to him was: “The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab 2:4). So, wait for His deliverance.

 

Pillar #3: God is God of the world

Instead of focusing on the differences between what the Bible says and what we see, why not take comfort and be encouraged by the many instances of congruence between the Bible and the world? This should not surprise us at all, since the same God who gave us the Word is also the same God who made the world.

One good exercise is to constantly look for and marvel at examples of how God’s character and truths are seen in the world we live in and in the experiences we go through. For example, love, mercy and justice (or for that matter, even choice and consequence) are not just abstract concepts. These are important principles that are being displayed and lived out in our lives and societies. They do demonstrate in some ways (though imperfectly) how God interacts with the world. But God will necessarily differ from and transcend human applications of these principles because, unlike man, He is perfect in all His ways.

So what do I do when I don’t agree with the Bible? I think I am ready to answer the question now.

 

When I don’t agree with the Bible . . .

  1. I will re-visit my pre-suppositions, ideas, desires and interests and face the possibility that my ideas of the world, life or even God and my feelings may be incorrect.
  1. I will re-look what the Bible says in its contexts once again, as I could have misread and misunderstood what it says.
  1. In areas where I am able to work through the clashes and see my mistakes, I will re-align myself and learn to put away my pride and stubbornness.
  1. In areas where I still cannot sort it out, I will re-establish my basic trust in this great and awesome God with the anticipation that He will make things clearer in time to come.

These ideas seem rather obvious, don’t they? Yet when we are faced with real issues, they are harder to grasp than they appear. And that is probably why my two friends struggled. While I’m glad that one of my friends is learning to understand and accept that God has a much better and bigger plan for her, my other friend has to now work through extremely difficult issues in the relationship that God has spoken against.  My prayer for him is that he can re-align himself back to God in due time.

5-Ways-to-Become-the-Most-Eligible-Bachelorette

5 Ways to Become the Most Eligible Bachelorette

Written By Chia Poh Fang

Poh Fang never dreamed of being in a language-related profession; chemistry was her first love. The turning point came when she received Jesus as her Savior as a 15-year-old and expressed to Him that she would like to create books that touch lives. She serves with Our Daily Bread Ministries in the Singapore office as Managing Editor.

Yes, you can congratulate me. I am finally getting married.

The wedding will be held in a church, and will be followed by a fabulous lunch reception. And nope, we won’t be having a wedding banquet. My parents are so happy that I am finally settling down that they will concede to any arrangement I want. My father even said, “I’m okay even if you just publish the wedding announcement in the papers!” I am tempted to do just that, but for the sake of my non-Christians relatives and friends, as well as others who are looking for a reason to purchase nice, new clothing—you know who you are—I will hold a church wedding and pray that God will touch their hearts as they witness my holy matrimony.

And of course, I would be too busy, and probably too emotional and nervous, to hold a decent conversation with you on the wedding day. So I would be arranging small group gatherings with close friends following that so that we can laugh, talk, and simply, have a great time together . . .

I have dreamed about my perfect wedding numerous times, and this is just one of the many musings. They occur more during the seasons of Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day. Sometimes, when watching a nice rom-com, I’ll start fantasizing too.

Now you’re probably wondering if I have a boyfriend. Nope. Though I have received a few love letters in the past, I’ve never dated anyone. And I probably missed some opportunities too—because I was too dense to recognize the guy’s interest or because I was too preoccupied with my pursuit then to make time for the relationship to blossom.

But anything can happen. You’d never know what tomorrow may bring, right?

Whoa, such optimism, you may say. Aren’t all the good guys attached or happily married once you’ve passed a certain age? And yes, I’ve passed that age. Well, the Bible contains numerous examples of how some people’s lives took extraordinary turns as they were doing ordinary things.

Isaac was having his devotional time in the fields, when he looked up and saw his future wife (Genesis 24:63). Ruth was looking for a place where she could work in order to bring bread to the table, when she walked into Boaz’ field (Ruth 2:3-11). Subsequently, Boaz her boss becomes Boaz her man.

So, even though you can’t envisage any change to your current status now, don’t despair. Today does not mean forever. Anything can happen.

Meanwhile, as you wait, there’s plenty you can do. Here’s a list of what I’m personally doing. You may want to try them too.

1. Keep growing in grace as God adds days to your years.

The book of Proverbs contains several wise sayings about how insufferable it would be to live with a quarrelsome wife—and I believe it applies to a grumpy husband too (Proverbs 21:19, 25:24). Will you be “worth more than rubies” (Proverbs 31:10) or will you be like “the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm” (27:15)? It has been said: Who you will be is who you are becoming. So measure your character growth every once in a while. Are you more gracious or critical than last year?

2. Live healthily.

If you want to enjoy life—married or single—you need to be healthy. So eat well and exercise regularly. Many chronic illnesses such as diabetes are due to poor diet and lack of exercise. And if you wish to start a family in future, you would definitely need the health and energy to run after your children and to manage a household! Live a healthy lifestyle, so that you won’t become a burden to your future spouse (if you get married) or to your family and friends (if you remain single).

3. Learn to relate with people of all ages—the young and the old.

It has often been said that marriage is not just between two people—you marry into each other’s family too. So learn to relate to children, teenagers and seniors. You don’t have to learn how to be a parent only after you have kids of your own. The church presents many opportunities for us to learn these precious lessons. For example, you can offer to help a young mother babysit her toddler for a few hours, or volunteer your time in the youth or elderly ministry. The Bible exhorts, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10, emphasis mine)

4. Live each day with purpose.

Be the best you can be in your studies or at work. Sometimes, I wonder how my life would pan out had I been married. Knowing my nature and inclination, I would probably become a housewife and do part-time work. But now as a single, I can travel overseas whenever my job requires—without feeling guilty for neglecting some important duties at home—and use my after office hours for self-improvement activities.

5. Get to know people.

If a friend wants to introduce you to someone, gamely take up the offer. Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with exploring Christian dating sites. You are not signing your life away. Just remember to exercise wisdom. Invite your friends and family into the process. Get their opinions; consider their cautions, and receive their blessings—and even critiques. It doesn’t mean that you must marry whomever you meet. It’s okay to part amicably if things don’t work out. In the meantime, continue to build strong relationships with friends and family. There may come a day when you can’t spend as much time with them anymore.

 

Sounds pretty busy, doesn’t it? After all, it takes effort to become the most eligible bachelorette (haven’t we heard much about not simply waiting for the right one, but being the right one?) And regardless of the outcome, whether you remain single or get married, you can say: I have lived a fantastic life!