Blowin’ In The Wind

For those of you who do not know me, I was born and raised…and still live in Northeast Ohio…near the shores of Lake Erie. I know Chicago is called “the Windy City,” and rightly so. But there are plenty of times where those of us who live in and around Cleveland would likely say we could give Chicago a run for their money in that category. And I will say this, over the last two weeks or so, the winds have been whipping here almost everyday. I don’t know if I can remember a time where the wind was that strong for that long…and that got me thinking.

Over the last few months, we have seen wildfires in Northern California, up in Montana and now down in Southern California…all driven by high winds. So it seems pretty obvious that wind can make fires spread rapidly. But wind can also make things much colder than they would otherwise be. Up here in Ohio, we know all about “wind chill” and “lake effect.” Those winter winds can really get moving, as they come across a chilly or frozen lake. As a good friend of mine would often say, “It’s cold enough to make a snowman order up a hot chocolate.” And trust me, he has a point.

Like I said earlier, all this talk about wind and the good and bad things it can bring, it got me thinking. In each and every one of these instances mentioned above, apart from the wind, these places and people were just fine. Buildings, utilities, roads and bridges, forests,  animals and of course, humans can go from being “safe and secure” to “severely threatened” in a matter of minutes when the winds turn wild. The results can not only be destructive, but very deadly, as well, as we saw with the recent wildfires and, of course, the hurricanes that devastated the good folks in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In fairness, wind is not always a bad thing. We can harness it to lift planes into the air, propel watercraft, produce electricity and need I say that on a sizzling hot afternoon, a bit of a breeze can be very welcome. But once again, in these situations, the presence of wind changes things…from a plane sitting on a tarmac…to a sailboat sitting in the middle of the lake…without the wind no one gets where they want to go. Wind makes a huge difference on virtually everything it touches, that much we know for sure.

In 2016, I wrote my first book called “Unlocking Creation.” The basic premise of the book was that when we look at the things God has made, if we look close enough, we often see aspects of His nature woven into the fabric of those created things. For instance, light vs dark is often used as a metaphor for good and evil. Hot and cold often points to when things go to the extremes, beyond that which is comfortable, and how would God have us respond to that. How about male and female? We are taught that God made man in His own image, so I guess He could have made only one gender that was self-sufficient and could even reproduce on it’s own, if He chose to do that. But, of course He did not, and I believe that was because He wanted to show us how much value He places on relationships. He wanted us to understand that being human is meant to be a team sport, more like curling than golf, let’s say.

So in the same way, especially with all the wind related events happening around us, I though it would be fun to ask the question…”Why wind, Lord?” What was He revealing to us about Himself, through the creation of wind and how should we apply what we learn from wind to our lives, both physically and spiritually. As usual, I can think of no better place to begin this study than the Bible. Afterall, it is God’s Word. It’s always good to go to the source, I believe. So let’s go back to the very beginning, the Book of Genesis, when God made Adam, the very first human.

Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being. [Genesis 2:7 CSB]

First of all, I would point out that the Hebrew word for wind is “ruach” and the Greek word for wind is “pneuma”…and those are the same Greek and Hebrew words for “breath” and “spirit.” So it should be no surprise, just as with the other things we talked about, that before God applied moving air, here, or breath or wind or what have you….Adam was merely a lifeless pile of dust formed into the shape and size of a man. But once God breathed into his nostrils, all that was changed dramatically for Adam and everyone who came after him. They became living creatures. And wind-powered ones, at that, not unlike that sailboat. So it appears God did not just want to make us in His own image, in appearance only. No, that would be a statue, basically. He desired that we should be “made alive” and He used the movement of air to accompish that. Pretty interesting, right?

He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man. Say to it: This is what the Lord God says: Breath, come from the four winds and breathe into these slain so that they may live!” So I prophesied as he commanded me; the breath entered them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, a vast army. [Ezekiel 37:9-10 CSB]

Here in the Book of Ezekiel, God is telling Ezekiel to “prophesy to the breath” and that this breath would enter the dry, lifeless bones of the slain and that they would spring to life, stand on their feet and become a vast army. Pneuma…ruach…wind does it again. Are we beginning to see a pattern here? I’d say so. But wind can not only make people alive, it can cause them to die, too, as we see below in the story of Jesus calming the raging seas.

They came and woke him up, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to die!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves. So they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were fearful and amazed, asking one another, “Who then is this? He commands even the winds and the waves, and they obey him!” [Luke 8:24-25 CSB]

This one is very interesting,  because we get to see both sides of the coin. First, we see the storms are raging and the disciples were very afraid. Remember, some of these men were fishermen. They knew the equation…strong winds + a larger body of water = danger (maybe even death). So they wake Jesus up and He simply commands the winds and waves to stop, and what do you know, they do just that.  So this Jesus, who the Bible tells us is the Son of God, was with God in the beginning and the One who created all things including the wind, tells it to stop and it does. So in some cases, we see the Lord applying wind to  bring about a positive change to things that were otherwise lifeless. And in this case we see the Creator turning off the wind to keep other people from dying. Mind-boggling…to say the least.  But in the Bible, wind is not just something that can either bring a lifeless creature to life…or cause a living one to die. Apparently, it can also be something that either blows someone onto the path that leads to truth or off of it, as the Apostle Paul describes below.

“As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…” [Ephesians 4:14 NASB]

Like Bob Dylan wrote many years ago, “The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind…the answer is blowin’ in the wind”  (those of you who read my book “Unlocking Creation”, you know that as a long-time musician and songwriter, myself, I often like to refer to classic songs in my writing…it is kinda my thing). It is true, not only with physical things, but in the spiritual realm. You might refer to it as “inspiration”…and so it is. But keep in mind that in the Greek and the Hebrew…..wind, breath and spirit are all synonomous.  When we are inspired, or when we feel that tug or nudge to do something good (or maybe not so good), it is a spiritual breeze, of sorts, that I believe is “tossing us here or there” as Paul puts it. He was saying that if you are grounded in Christ and in God’s Word, you will be able to withstand those “winds of change” that try to blow us off course. 

“The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” [John 3:8 CSB]

And I will close with this verse from one of my favorite chapters in the Bible…John 3. It is the chapter where we get so many priceless quotes from our Lord as He has this memorable discussion with a Jewish Priest named Nicodemus, who came to Jesus in secret to find out what message this man from Nazareth was preaching. Nicodemus realized that Jesus was sent from God, and he came wanting to know more, even though most of the other Jews saw Him as a threat.  Jesus told him, “You must be born again.” He told him that we are born once of the water (physically), but if we want to find the Kingdom of God, we must be born of the Spirit…in other words…God must breathe life into us, spiritually, by empowering us with the wind of God….the Holy Spirit.

Once again, the breath of God…the ruach…the pneuma must come upon us and change us from being “lifeless” (spiritually speaking), to being “made alive” by a wind that we “know not where it comes from or where it is going,” as Jesus told Nicodemus. 

Now one might ask, “Why would God want to empower us with a Spirit that we know not where it comes from or where it is going?” My answer would be, “We do not need to worry about where we have been in the past or where we shall go in the future. Jesus simply asks His disciples to follow Him. He is fully able to get us where we need to go, now and in the future. Have faith and do not fear, His wind will carry us there, if we are willing to let Him.

So then, only one obvious question remains..”How can a person receive or become empowered by this miraculous wind of God that Jesus referred to as the Helper (John 14:26) or the Holy Spirit.” Well, He actually tells us how in Chapter 11 of Luke’s Gospel:

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” [Luke 11:13 CSB]

There’s our answer…just “ask Him”…ask your Heavenly Father. He is a “Good, Good  Father,” as the song says. He loves to give good gifts to His children.

BOB PALUMBO                                                                                                                                           

(author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)

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The Truth Meter

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post called “The Sin Scale” and it brought a lot of interesting comments. As always, I really enjoyed hearing your responses. Keep ’em coming. So this week, I thought I would take a look at the other side of the coin…truth (since it is believeing a lie that most often leads to more sin, in the first place).

Back in the early days of television, long before my time of course, there was a very popular show called “To Tell The Truth” (OK…since this post is about truth…I probably should not start off with a fib. I was two years old when the show debuted in December of 1956 and I do remember watching it many times). The show featured four celebrity panelists and three “challengers” (two who were lying and one who was telling the truth…what a concept, huh?). The one challenger who was telling the truth usually had some unique talent or had accomplished something pretty incredible. The panelists got to question these three challengers and then had to vote on who was telling the truth. Prize money was divided among the three challengers, so they often did work together somewhat to advance the ruse. It actually was an entertaining show and stayed on the air for many years. It even has surfaced more recently for few brief runs.

But I have to tell the truth (you knew I would go there sooner or later), as I watch the news these days or even just look at the world around us, it often feels like we are living in one big episode of “To Tell The Truth.” There seems to be a lot more liars than “truth-tellers” and those who are not telling the truth (intentionally or otherwise), for some reason, end up being the ones who are believed more often than not. In fact, you just might say, “Truth is hard to find…and rarely believed.” Pretty strange, huh?

You know, though, we really should not be all that surprised as the Apostle Paul talked a lot about the problem of disappearing truth even back in his day:

They (we) exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen. [Romans 1:25 CSB]

It seems Paul was suggesting that we, as humans, made a choice. Truth was available, but mankind traded it for a lie. Of course, this is really nothing new either. Isn’t that what Adam and Eve did, essentially, when the serpent offered them the forbidden fruit? They abandoned the truth that God had told them…and by desiring something created by God instead, they bought into a lie. And that has been happening ever since.

The interesting thing about this is that the Bible teaches that when we start rejecting the truth that God offers us, we gradually become desensitized to the lies and eventually we are no longer able to see the truth, even when it is right in front of our noses. Here is how Paul explained it:

And because they (we) did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, He delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right. [Romans 1:28 CSB]

But there is a very important point to be made here. Just because we may have wandered so far off the path that our eyes can no longer see it or even find our way back to it, that does not mean the path no longer exists. Oh, it is still there. It is just as real as it ever was. The problem lies not with the path. The problem has more to do with our eyes, or in this case more specifically with our hearts. The eyes are just the camera. It is our hearts that decides what to see or not see. And not surprisingly, it is our hearts that decide whether to believe the lie or to embrace the truth.  As King David describes it, again, we are given a choice. If we decide to seek God and His unchangeable truths, it usually becomes much easier to follow through with that decision. If we decide not to, it becomes increasingly harder.

I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws. [Psalm 119:30 NIV]

In the verse above, David bring’s it all into focus by reminding us that it all starts with a decision to place God on the throne of our lives, removing ourselves as the final authority. If we are willing to put our trust in God rather than ourselves, as with a doctor or a surgeon, we are signing the release form that allows Him to do the necessary work that gives us the best chance at being whole…and restored to health again. 

Many people do not realize this, but the fact that God gave us “free will” means He will not intrude into our lives without our permission. As with the doctor when we are sick, we must give Him permission to treat us. Only then can we truly be well. 

It all comes down to who are you going to believe? A choice. A decision. It’s your call. No one else can make it for you. But this is not a “follow the crowd” type of thing. Quite the opposite it true, actually, as Paul explains further:

Let God be true, even though everyone is a liar, as it is written: That you may be justified in your words and triumph when you judge. [Romans 3:4 CSB]

Take a look at the story of Noah. God told him it was going to rain and there was going to be a great flood (which is interesting, because up until then, it had never rained). But, everybody and their brother told him he was nuts and mocked and taunted him constantly. 

Oh sure, he could have chimed in with the crowd after many years of seeing the rains had not come saying, “Maybe you’re right? Maybe I am only kidding myself. It never has rained before. Why now?” But what did he do?  He hung on to that which he knew to be true, inspite of tons of people telling him otherwise.

All of that is fine and good, of course, provided we are able to determine that which is really true and that which is not. If we are unable to do that, we are just “grasping at straws”.  It is important that we be able to find “true North” (to describe absolute truth another way). Our moral compass needs something stable and constant to lock on to, if we are going to be able to make good and decent decisions in a day and age where truth seems to have become whatever people want it to be. King Solomon talked about this many, many years ago when he wrote, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 21:2). How true is that, today?  But where do we find this real, unchanging truth?

For starters, earlier Paul told us to “let God be true,” which is fine if you know God and have a relationship with Him. But what if you don’t, what then? Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had a “truth meter” that we could use sort of like a Geiger counter that would sniff out the truth and point us to it?  

King David had a pretty good idea of where to find it:

“For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.” [Psalm 33:4 NIV]

Then, the Apostle Paul wrote these words in his letter to his disciple, Timothy:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” [2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV]

And last but not least Jesus, Himself, believed God’s words were absolutely true:

“Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.” [John 17:17 NIV]

So it seems pretty clear that all through the Scriptures, there is evidence that the people who knew God intimately were thoroughly convinced that His every word was completely true and worthy of their trust. The Apostle John certainly did. He talked about truth a lot.

But while we are talking about John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (as he sometimes referred to himself rather than calling himself by name), I want to take this discussion one step further, if I may. John started off his Gospel with a truly amazing revelation. He taught us that Jesus was the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. [John 1:1,14 NIV]

So, long before the world was created and long before God inspired holy men to write down the words that have now become the Bible, “the Word was with God and the Word was God.” But then, at the appropriate time, God allowed His Word to take on human form in the body of Jesus Christ and just as John wrote, He dwelt among us. God’s truth came down to us from Heaven and was revealed in His Son, just as Jesus, Himself, confirmed a bit later in the Gospel of John:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” [John 14:6-7 NIV]

So you see…absolute, unchanging and trustworthy truth is available to us, today, in this crazy world where “truth is hard to find…and rarely believed.” It is readily available to us, both through His written word, the Bible…and by having an intimate relationship with “the Living Word,” God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you still need a little more icing on this “truth cake” I am baking, here, I would suggest we turn to the final book of the Bible, also written by John, the Book of Revelation. It contains the instructions as to how this world will end, at the sounding of the last trumpet and how Christ will return to take His children home. As John sees one of the final visions, the one where he first sees the Returning King appearing in the clouds upon His white horse, we should not be surprised by the name this rider is given:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True…He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. [Revelation 19:11,13 NIV]

Yes…we do have a “truth meter” by which we can measure the truthfulness (or lack thereof) of the things we see and hear around us…the Word of God…Faithful and True.

Whether it is the written form or through the Living Word, Christ our Savior, it is unchanging, trustworthy and most of all…TRUE.

Take heart, my friends. Truth is not dead. It’s just no longer fashionable.

But, hey…I was never one to follow the latest fashion trends, anyway.

BOB PALUMBO

(Author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)

The Sin Scale

It seems, today, we cannot turn on a TV or hop on the Internet (I would have said “pick up a newspaper”…but it seems that those have become a thing of the past for many people nowadays) without hearing about the latest sex scandal to hit Hollywood or Washington D.C. Of course, those are not the only two places these things happen. They are all around us wherever we are, these days. But those are the two places that seem to get the most attention, thanks to the 24/7 media that talks about this stuff endlessly as if they have these stories on a constant loop. While I realize these types of scandals are really nothing new, if my perception is right, they seem to be accelerating at a staggering pace. But what is most troubling to me, is that there apparently is a “domino effect” with this type of behavior. The more immorality we tolerate, as a society, the more it produces. My guess is if we want this downward spiral to stop, we need to draw the line somewhere, do we not?

I remember a friend of mine (who was not a believer in God…btw) telling me, “Listen, Bob, you can’t legislate morality. People are going to do what people are going to do.” While I understood the point he was making, immorality has been around since the beginning or time and it is not likely to stop anytime soon, just because we pass a few new laws. My response was, “I hear you, but if we, as a society do not set moral guidelines for people to live by, we are actually legislating immorality.” When we tolerate (or even encourage) immoral behavior, we become desensitized to it and that only leads to further desensitization down the road. I tend to think that if one form of immorality does not offend us today…even greater immoralities will likely not offend us tomorrow. It’s a slippery slope, if you ask me.

Just look at the last 100 years or so. We’ve seen a slow but steady “moving back of the fences” for what offends us morally. For example, just look at how morality in movies has changed over the last century. Wow. And it has pretty much gotten to the point where not much shocks us anymore. We are now almost at a point of no return, where “anything goes” and there is no such thing as “absolute right” and “absolute wrong.” It has all become relative….right and wrong is what each person or group now perceives it to be in their own eyes. And for the entertainment industry, I’d say whatever sells tickets or gets good ratings is, in their eyes, morally acceptable. They don’t cross the line much anymore, well, because there really is no line. That is what happens when people decide for themselves what is right…..or wrong.

Welcome, my friends, to “the sin scale.”


A long time ago, I heard a story that within the prison system, there was sort of this hierarchy of wrongdoing…that what each prisoner saw as bad behavior was measured against their own crime, with it either being not as bad or worse than their own (again in their own eyes). For instance, a person who robbed a bank (and did not harm anyone in the process, let’s say) would view someone who molested a child or committed rape as being really bad, but they did not view what they did as being quite as bad because no one was harmed. I think you get the picture.

And if we look around us, I think most of us see examples of that in our everyday lives with people we know and love. One person might be rude or disrespectful to others, but that is not as bad as the alcoholic and that might not be as bad as the drug addict. Then, the drug addict might not be looked upon as being as bad as someone who commits adultery and the adulterer may not be considered as bad as the man who physically abuses his wife. More examples of “the sin scale”. Whatever is worse than what you or society is willing to tolerate becomes the new “bad behavior.” And where does it all end? Ask the Romans.

We human beings have always had a habit of grading “wrongdoing,” with some things being less wrong and others being more wrong, based on our own experiences. Those may be born out of our family relationships, religious upbringing (or not) or just by how we have evaluated the world around us as we were growing up. Most of us tend to be much more influenced by what happens around us than we would likely admit. This tendency is often referred to as “the herd mentality.” In other words, if everyone else seems to be fine with something, it must be OK. The opposite is also true, if the majority thinks something is wrong, it must be.

But there is a problem with using the opinions of the majority to form our own opinions, the majority is often wrong. Jesus said it this way:

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” [Matthew 7:13-14 NASB]

There you have it. And it was this same principle behind the thinking of our Founding Fathers when they decided to make our nation a “representative republic” instead of a true democracy. It is precisely because of the power and dangers of the “herd mentality” that true democracies tend to fail. It is easy for a handful of persuasive individuals to fire up a crowd to the point where they want to overthrow those in power. But usually that does not end well. It tends to only benefit the persuasive few who started the ruckus and it usually only lasts until the next handful of troublemakers come along and get the crowd fired up again.

Many years ago, I heard a great story about tuning pianos. If you had the job of tuning 100 pianos, what would work better…tuning the first one, then tuning the second one to the first, then the third one to the second and the fourth to the third…etc..etc.? Or would it be better to tune the first one first…then to tune the other 99 pianos to the first one?  Most would say, and I believe it is correct, that the second method would work best. It is the only way to maintain consistency between all the pianos. If you did it the other way, even if you were only off by the slightest variance from one piano to the next, by the time you got to the last piano, you could be pretty far off.

This is why so many people these days, especially those who believe in God, speak out about their belief in the need for an absolute, unchanging and unwavering standard of right and wrong. If the standard is not fixed and unchangeable, it becomes a tool in the hand of whatever person or group seizes power at any point in time. You probably have heard this referred to as “moving the goalposts,” a football analogy that suggests whoever has the ball (or power) can, at their own discretion, move the posts in such a way to make it easier for their team to score. How convenient, right?

That is why God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to give us an “Owner’s Manual” quite early in human history to make sure the goalposts we call “right and wrong” were dug deep enough and firmly cemented in place so that they could not be moved around to benefit whatever tyrant was in power at the time.

Now, I do want to stop for a second and make one point really clear because it is something I get hit with all the time whenever I talk to folks about this stuff. In no way am I suggesting that we should desire to change our nation into a theocracy (where a society decides to adopt God’s Laws as the “law of the land”) or am I saying we should set up a “state religion,” where everyone would be expected to accept the tenets of that religion or face punishment. Absolutely not and may it never be (at least until Christ returns and sets up His Kingdom on Earth…but that is a different story altogether).

God, Himself, the ultimate law-giver, does not force us to obey His commandments. Rather, He has given His children free will. Yes, there are clearly consequences for those who obey and for those who choose to disobey (and those consequences were clearly stated far in advance, no moving goalposts here), but the decision to believe in God or not is our own decision. So, I believe it should be no different with an earthly government or religion. They can set their standards of right and wrong and clearly state the consequences of non-adherence. But the decision to comply, or not, should ultimately left up to the individual. “Pick your own poison”…as they say. 

Besides, it is important to note that the way that God looks at wrongdoing or sin is completely different than the way most humans look at it. As I said earlier, we humans have this thing called “the sin scale” to help us determine the wrongness or rightness of a particular action or deed. God looks at it completely differently, in a much more binary manner, if you will. Something is either sin…or it is not sin. Pretty simple really.

Let’s take a look at what the Apostle James (the half-brother of Jesus) had to say:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. [James 2:10 NASB]

“So wait,” I hear you saying,” you mean if I only tell one little white lie in my life, in God’s view of things, I am just as bad as someone like Hilter or the Boston Strangler? That doesn’t seem fair.”  Ok, I hear you. But let me ask you this, have you ever taken or heard of a test that is graded only as either “pass” or “fail?” Well, it is sort of like that.

Since God is holy, He is unable to stand in the presence of sin…period. So, whether we have committed one sin or ten thousand, we are unable to enter into His presence. It is either we are “sinners or sinless”…..”pass or fail”….the exact score or number of infractions does not matter. God does not have a “sin scale” and most certainly not a sliding one.

But the Good News, of course, is this is precisely why Jesus, the Son of God, came to Earth and became the payment for all of mankind’s sin. Here is how the Apostle Paul explained it:

He (the Father) made Him (the Son) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. [2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB]

Hopefully, then, what seemed to be extremely unfair before…now seems completely fair once we see the bigger picture. God is always more interested in redemption than judgement. So like the Bible says..keeping score…or “keeping a record of wrongs” is really not His thing.

But God knew it would take one who had truly earned a passing grade, Jesus Christ, to be able intervene on our behalf causing our failing grade to be changed to “pass”…but not based on what we have done, but rather what He has done.

And it is purely because of Christ’s willingness to step in for us and take the punishment we deserved upon Himself, eternally speaking here, that the “sin scale” will one day go the way of the newspaper and become a thing of the past….THANK YOU LORD!!

All that will matter on Judgement Day is “In Christ” or “Not In Christ.”

Pass or fail…there will be no scale of varying degrees of right or wrong.

And for that….I am eternally grateful.

BOB PALUMBO

(author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)

God of the Valleys?

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a three day Men’s Retreat based on the eye-opening book by John Eldredge called “Wild At Heart” (which is why I was unable to put up a new post last Sunday…so I apologize for that…I was busy “refilling my tank”). It was mostly about helping men to get in touch with the man that God created us to be. You probably have noticed (I know I have) that the world around us and modern society has created these false concepts of manhood and masculinity.  The results of all this societal pressure has been like a double-edged sword in a lot of ways, as so many men have not only had a hard time living up to these skewed images of manhood, but whenever they did try to fit into these more modern male images, it felt a lot like wearing a straight jacket. It probably made other folks happy to see it on…just not the one wearing it.

Needless to say, it was refreshing to hear that we don’t have to be Captain America or Captain Kangaroo….or anyone else for that matter. We just have to discover who God made us to be, as individuals, and do our best to walk in those shoes and we will be just fine. But enough about all of that. That was last week. I really wanted to talk about something a little different this week….mountains and valleys. 

Say what? Mountains and valleys? I know…but there really is a connection. Trust me.

So, every morning I take one chapter out of the Bible and I choose a portion of it and make a post on our Men’s Group Facebook page….and make a few comments about it….sort of like a casual online Bible study for the guys at our church. It has been a blast…I have really enjoyed it and I have learned so much by doing that on a daily basis….it has been amazing.

Right now, we are going through the Book of 1 Kings, which was written by the prophet Jeremiah. We were in Chapter 20, one day this week, and I came across this amazing passage. It was amazing because, at first, it did not seem to make any sense. But the more I studied it and pondered it…I began to see something that I think is pretty darn cool. Here is the passage:

At the turn of the year, Ben-hadad mustered the Arameans and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. Then a man of God came near and spoke to the king of Israel and said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Arameans have said, “ The Lord is a god of the mountains, but He is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord .’” [1 Kings 20:26,28 NASB]

So there was this king of Aram. His name was Ben-hadad and he was going around to all the little tribes and nations around him….just “kicking butts and taking names”.  He was the “bully on the block”, you could say. And he was lookin’ to go after Israel next. He even sent a messenge to the king of Israel that they were coming to take their gold and silver, and their women and children too. And at first, it seemed that the king of Israel was going to agree to it (I’m guessing out of fear…since he saw what happened to all those other tribes and nations).  But when he took it to the council of elders, they loudly objected. So he agreed that they would fight Ben-hadad’s armies and God actually gave them the victory.

After that battle, Ben-hadad’s officers came to him and said, “Israel’s God is a god of the mountains. We cannot beat them there. We need to draw them out to the plains, away from their God. Then we will be able to defeat them.” So, they did try again and this time they were defeated even more decisively. Then, they decided to go and see if Ahab, the King of Israel, would be willing to make a peace deal with them and let King Ben-hadad live. And believe it or not, Ahab agreed and made a covenant with Ben-hadad and let him live.

What happens next is pretty bizarre (as if what has been happening up until now has been routine or normal). A prophet shows up and concocts this elaborate scheme to show Ahab the error of his ways….and Ahab walks right into it.

As it turned out, God was prepared to make Ben-hadad pay the ultimate price for saying the God of Israel was only a “god of the mountains”…and not the valleys, too.  So God was not pleased that Ahab was ready to make peace with an enemy of Israel, one that God was ready to judge for his unbelief. It turns out that Ahab, then, would be the one to be judged…and he knew it. After all, it says that Ahab did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than any of the other kings (and most of them were no peaches, either). Plus, we know Ahab was married to Jezebel…and she was no Mother Teresa, herself.

But it raised a question, at least in my mind. Why was it so important to the Lord to be recognized as both the “God of the mountains and the God of the valleys?”

Well, for starters, let’s see what King David had to say about the subject:

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. [Psalm 24:1 NASB]

It seems pretty obvious that King David, a man who was said to be “a man after God’s own heart,” saw the Lord as much more than just a “god of the mountains.” He actually believed (and so do I) that the whole world and everything in it belongs to God, including all the creatures and all the people who have ever lived here. So, it seems that at the very least, the Arameans view that God was just a “god of the mountains” was an attempt at doing what so many still try to do today…to minimize who God is or cut him down to size and make us all, as the famous movie title suggests, “Children Of A Lesser God.”

If a person has spent anytime in church or reading the Bible, it probably did not take them long to begin to understand that God is not big on compromising who He is or “going along just to get along.” No, He is pretty firm on the whole “Lord of all or not at all” line of thinking.  But there is another facet of this whole “mountain and valley thingy” that I really want to touch on, if I may.

It has often been said that it is easy to praise God when you are on the mountaintop (when things are going good…let’s say).  But it is not always easy to do that when life drags you down into the “valley of death” (as David called it)…and it seems you are all alone in your pain and there is no end in sight.

Some have referred to this as the “dark night of the soul” and those who have experienced it might tend to agree with King Ben-hadad and the Arameans by saying, “God might exist on the top of the mountain, but He is nowhere to be found down here in the valleys of life.” Based on my experiences, interacting with God over the years, I would have to strongly disagree with that view. When I was going through the most difficult times in my life, I found that if I would quiet myself and listen, God was not only there with me, He was speaking to me quite clearly in His gentle and comforting voice. I was definitely not alone. That much I know for sure.

Another portion of Scripture from 1 Kings confirms this, as well:

So He said, “ Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord ; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.” [1 Kings 19:11-13 NASB]

You see, God was not speaking to Elijah through the strong wind, the earthquake or the fire. He spoke to Elijah through the “gentle blowing” and it says Elijah heard it and went out of the cave. God provided him with that “light at the end of the tunnel.” He did not leave him alone in his time of trouble and the Lord does not abandon us then, either.

While it is true, it may be harder to see Him or hear His voice when those strong winds are blowing or the ground is shaking beneath our feet, but He is right there working on our behalf every bit as much as when we are rejoicing on that mountaintop. I have no doubt.

Those who know me, know that I have a fondness for many of those classic, traditional hymns of days gone by.  The words and messages of those old hymns were so clear and so powerful, they never fail to touch my heart or, sometimes, even bring a tear to my eye.

One of those is a beloved song made famous by the gospel group, The McKameys, and has been sung by just about every other traditional gospel artist or group since. It is a song called “God On The Mountain.” I recently saw a documentary on this classic hymn and I was not surprised to find that the songwriter, Tracy Dartt, was in a pretty dark and deep valley in his life when God woke him up in the middle of the night and gave him the words to this amazing song in about twenty minutes, start to finish. Here are the words to the chorus of this famous hymn:

God on the mountain, is still God in the valley

When things go wrong, he’ll make them right

And the God of the good times, is still God in the bad times

The God of the day, is still God in the night

How’s that for putting a little icing on this cake. Now I can’t say for sure, but I would not be surprised to find that Tracy had been reading 1 Kings Chapter 20 around the time that these beautiful words to this hymn were penned. 

Isn’t that just like the Lord, who sometimes allows His children to go through a valley, so that they may come to know Him better and He can lead them back to the mountaintop, if they will only put their trust in Him?  I can confidently say from experience…yes..it is.

So how does this relate to the things we learned at the Men’s Retreat last weekend?  Oh yes, thanks for reminding me.

We heard from dozens of men, down there, who had spent much of their life “in the valley.” Poverty, bad neighborhoods, abusive parents (especially fathers), you name it. We heard it all. Some had spent their entire childhood there, feeling hopeless and seeing no end in sight. But God continued to love them (even if they did not know it at the time) and eventually He reached out to them and opened their eyes so they could follow Him out of the darkness and into the light.

And now that they know the truth, they have absolutely no doubt He was with them every step of the way.

They know first hand, He is certainly “God of the valleys,” every bit as much as He is “God of the mountains.”  But they had to go through the valley first, to see it.

BOB PALUMBO

Author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”

A Protest of Historic Proportions

Over the last fifty or sixty years or so, starting with people of my generation with the Civil Rights protests and later the Viet Nam protests, here in America we have become a nation littered with and, to some degree, paralyzed by too many protests to count. The sad part is that while we have a right to protest peacefully, to make our voices heard, many of the protests nowadays have become violent. And to me, it negates the purpose of the protest in the first place, because all anyone focuses in (after that) is the violence.

This Tuesday, October 31st, is Halloween of course. But that day also marks another very special anniversary, one from exactly 500 years ago.  On October 31st, 1517, a Catholic monk named Martin Luther (as the story goes) nailed a letter to the door of the church at the Wittenberg Castle, in Germany, containing 95 complaints against the seemingly ever-increasing power of the Pope, the use of indulgences (which are payments people would make to the Church to get special prayers…like getting loved ones out of Purgatory, for instance) and the idea that anyone other than God, Himself, can forgive sin (indulgences or not). It was these “Ninety-five Theses” (as they were called) that became known as the start of the Protestant Movement….a movement that is still going strong today, resulting in countless churches and denominations putting the emphasis back on the Bible (as the guiding doctrines) rather than church laws created by men. But what many people (myself included) have sometimes overlooked is that the word “Protestant” is derivative of the word “protest.” 

So yes…Martin Luther is considered the initiator, or father of a protest, one that became a world-changing movement that has continued for 500 years. That is pretty amazing…is it not? 

Before I continue, I do want to make it very clear that this in no way is meant to be an anti-Catholic post. My intent, here, is to focus on the boldness and bravery of a man who saw what he perceived to be injustice and the negative effects of unlimited power, even if that power was seated at the center of the most powerful religious organization in the world. Churches, not unlike people (since churches are made up of people), are never perfect. We have plenty of examples of this over the last 2000 years since Christ walked among us and I believe it is no less true today. So, this post is about those people, actually one man in particular, who have the courage and conviction to stand up and shine a light on those imperfections when they arise (as they most certainly will).

Let us, then, dig into the history and backround of this extremely pivotal figure of Christian and Church history:

Martin Luther (no middle name was given) was born on November 10th, 1483 to Margaret and Hans Luder (later it became translated as Luther) in Eiselben, Germany. Later his father, Hans, moved the family of ten to Mansfield, Germany, where he worked in the copper mines and later became a part owner and quite influential in the mining community. 

His father had big plans for Martin. He actually hoped he would become a lawyer and even sent him to a special school where he could study Latin at an early age. However fate, or as I prefer to say….God, had other plans. The following is from a great article on the life of Martin Luther that was printed in Christiantiy Today:

Then in 1505 his life took a dramatic turn. As the 21-year-old Luther fought his way through a severe thunderstorm on the road to Erfurt, a bolt of lightning struck the ground near him. “Help me, St. Anne!” Luther screamed. “I will become a monk!”

The scrupulous Luther fulfilled his vow: he gave away all his possessions and entered the monastic life. Luther was extraordinarily successful as a monk. He plunged into prayer, fasting, and ascetic practices—going without sleep, enduring bone-chilling cold without a blanket, and flagellating himself. As he later commented, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.”

It was that kind of laser-focused passion and discipline that lead to quotes like this one:

“At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God, I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”

How interesting is that? Raised in a very strict and ritualistic educational and religious environment for most of his early life, basically “doing all the right things,” it wasn’t until his journey of faith became more internalized, strengthened by a life filled with prayer and fasting and quietly seeking God directly and intimately, that as he said….he felt “entirely born again” and like he had “entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.” I don’t know if any of you have felt something like that, but the only thing I can compare it to (apart from my own “born again” experience in November of 1979) is when I first met my wife, Lauri Lee, in January of 1978. From that moment on, everything changed. All my dreams, my aspirations and priorities were still there, of course. But it was pretty clear they no longer were at the top of my “wish list.” She was.

And I suspect that is how Luther felt when those gates into God’s presence were flung open, as he said. The more time he spent in God’s presence, the more he wanted to be, I’m sure. There is nothing like it, not on this earth anyway. But, there was something else happening during this time of spiritual awakening in this young German monk’s life. The closer he got to God, with the help and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the more he began to see and understand that some were using the power and authority of the Church to manipulate the people into going along with rituals and practices that were not ordained by God, but by men for their own purposes. And I believe it was this intimate relationship with God, that God initiated through a well-timed and targeted bolt of lightning, that made it hard for Marin Luther to stand back and not, at least, address these practices. And as we know, he did not remain silent.

But the “Ninety-five Theses,” as they have come to be known, were not Luther’s resignation letter. He was not informing them that he was leaving the monastery, quite the contrary, actually. His intent was to make his concerns known, while making it clear that what he was looking for was continued discussion and hopefully some resolution on these very important matters of faith. But what happened, as you might expect, was quite the opposite. Luther was quickly dubbed, by the powers that be, as a “troublemaker” and even was called a heretic.

A year later, in November of 1918, after there was much “dust kicked up” by Luther’s assertions among the political and religious elite in Rome, he was summoned to appear, thoroughly and harshly interrogated, and subsequently determined to be in serious conflict with the teachings of the Church. His complaints had risen to the level where Pope Leo insisted that Luther be instructed to no longer speak in public about his beliefs. It is also fair to say that the instruction sounded an awful lot like a threat and Luther had good reason to believe his life and well-being was hanging in the balance, should he choose to ignore their instructions.

What is interesting is that while Luther reluctantly obeyed their request, many others who sided with Luther, took up the fight for reform. A fire had been started and it was not one that the Church could easily extinguish. But Martin Luther was quite different than many of the other reformers of the day. While most of them were pointing at the corruption and sin among the Church leaders, Luther was primarily focused on the doctrines and practices. His fight was not one of “personal attacks and accusations.” He only wanted get back to honoring God’s Word as the guiding principles of the faith, not the rules and laws of man (which are subject to the winds of change). The commandments of God, of course, are not.

Luther returned and remained as part of the monastery in Wittenberg for many years after the protest began and I have to say that is one of things about Martin Luther I was most impressed with. He strongly protested against the practices of the Church, but he was not intent on tearing down the walls or the people who reacted so bitterly against him (which, again, I suspect was a byproduct of that deep and intimate relationship with the Lord through the Holy Spirit). No, he continued to quietly write and work towards resolution and continued to try to go through the proper channels to voice his concerns. 

Unfortunately, the Church was not willing to change and the seeds of reformation had already taken root and spread to England, Scotland, Ireland other parts of Europe. It was these seeds of reformation that set the stage for others like John Calvin, John Knox, Huldrych Zwingli and many others to step forward over the next 100 years or so.

But, there was one other story (a good story..not a bad one) about Luther and his relationship with one of the nuns, Katherine of Bora, who also stayed in town long after many others had fled because of the controversy. But, I will let the Encyclopaedia Britannica tell the story because they did so much better than I can:

On June 13, 1525, Luther married Katherine of Bora, a former nun. Katherine had fled her convent together with eight other nuns and was staying in the house of the Wittenberg town secretary. While the other nuns soon returned to their families or married, Katherine remained without support. Luther was likewise at the time the only remaining resident in what had been the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg; the other monks had either thrown off the habit or moved to a staunchly Catholic area. Luther’s decision to marry Katherine was the result of a number of factors. Understandably, he felt responsible for her plight, since it was his preaching that had prompted her to flee the convent. Moreover, he had repeatedly written, most significantly in 1523, that marriage is an honourable order of creation, and he regarded the Roman Catholic Church’s insistence on clerical celibacy as the work of the Devil.

Martin would go on to live another 21 years after marrying Katherine (which showed he had compassion for those who were negatively affected by his activities, I think) before passing away in 1546 and being memorialized and buried at the Wittenberg Castle, where the protest began (which is pretty incredible too). But in those remaining years he continued to write and teach others and even worked on his own translation of the New Testament in the German language, which further solidified his stance that God’s Word, the Bible, is the only reliable measuring stick for church doctrine, not rules and laws contrived by fallible men or women who may have their own well-being at heart.

Today, one only has to drive down the streets of any town or city to see the ongoing effects of Luther’s peaceful, but persistent protests. You will see Protestant churches of many different variations such as Lutheran, Presbyterian, Calvinist, Reformed and many non-denominational churches all united by one core belief…the Bible is foundation and the blueprint for our faith. 

As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, his disciple:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” [2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV]

BOB PALUMBO

(author of “Unlocking  Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)

Life…”Leased” or “Owned”?

So, the other day, I stumbled upon on the phrase, “new lease on life.” Of course, I had heard it a million times before as most of us have, I’m sure. But this time, it made me stop and think, “Really? Does life come with a lease? Is not my life my own?” Good questions.

This commonly used idiom (I know it’s an “idiom” because I found it on a “list of commonly used idioms”…lol) is often used when a person discovers a “renewed zest for life” or after bouncing back from a life-threatening accident or disease and they begin to embrace life in a way they had not previously…at least in a long time. At any rate, while I had a pretty good idea what the phrase meant or implied, I was still curious why folks would use the words “new,” “lease” and “life” in the same sentence.  I mean, if I am thinking correctly, you really have no need of a “new lease” on anything unless there was an old one that has expired or is about to, right? Well, you know me, that’s all I needed to get me off and running looking for answers to these questions. 

What could one possibly have to do with the other, I thought.  The word “lease” means there is an owner of whatever is being leased and they are just agreeing to let someone else use it for a period of time, in exchange for payments usually. You might lease a car or an apartment, especially if you cannot afford to buy it outright. It is very similar to renting, actually, in that you pay for it while you are using it, but you never fully take ownership of it. It, then, must be returned to the owner, when the agreed-upon time comes.

While most of us understand the concept of renting or leasing, I’m sure we rarely have ever thought of it in regards to this human life we enjoy for a little while, here on Planet Earth. And that is what is prompting me, today, to ask the sixty-four thousand dollar question…”Is life…human life…this life we all have experienced…owned (by the one living it) or leased (from someone else).” And, of course, if it is leased from someone else, is there a cost or trade-off associated with it?

If we listen to the modern-day prophets, such as Eric Burdon or Jon Bon Jovi, you are likely to hear things like….”It’s my life and I’ll do what I want…” or “It’s my life….it’s now or never…I ain’t gonna live forever…I just wanna live while I’m alive…” Even if you listen to such revered voices as Frank Sinatra or Billy Joel , you’ll hear…”I planned each charted course…each careful step along the byway. And more, much more than this..I did it my way” or “I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life. Go ahead with your own life and leave me alone.”  My intent is not to criticize these popular singers who sing popular songs. That is all well and good. Over the years, I have sung most of these songs, myself. But you get the idea, from the lyrics, that “being the master of your own destiny” or “being true to yourself, first and foremost” are concepts that many people embrace these days.

But is that why we are here? I guess that question leads to a greater question, how did we get here, in the first place? You see, from the very beginning of time (speaking of earthly time), there was this duality of ideas regarding our origins and our allegiances. Did we just come into existence as a result of a series of random events that were not planned or designed by someone or something that may have existed long before what we call “the beginning of time?”  If so, then maybe “looking out for number one” is a logical development since we, then, would not indebted to anyone for our existence or well-being.

However, there is another train of thought that suggests there may have been a plan, a design, or intentionality to the appearance of life on Earth. King David, who penned many of the Psalms, summed it up this way:

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas And established it upon the rivers.” [Psalm 24:1-2 NASB]

What pops out to me, almost immediately, from this famous portion of Scripture is the idea of “ownership”.  It does not say that the Lord used to own everything, but somewhere along the line He willed it to us, His children, and now it all belongs to us to do with as we wish. No, David clearly pointed to God as the past owner, present owner and future owner of all things. He has not relinquished His ownership. Therefore, we are not owners of this world or our own lives. It all belongs to Him.

If we go back to the creation of all things, we see as early as the second chapter of Genesis, God imparting life to us, as humans, by breathing into Adam’s nostrils causing him to “come to life.” Let’s take a quick look at the words Moses wrote, regarding the creation of the first human being:


“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” [Genesis 2:4-7 ESV]

For those who may not be Greek or Hebrew scholars (I am not either, but over the years I have learned just enough to be able to pretend I am), it is interesting that the Greek word for breath and for spirit is the same….pneuma. And it is also thought by many that the body, by itself cannot be considered “alive.” It can only “come alive” once it is indwelled by a soul or spirit which happens (at least in Adam’s case) as a result of breath entering the body. No breath. No life. 

So you can see why the telling of how God breathed into Adam’s nostrils was such an important part of the creation story. For God not only formed Adam’s body out of the dust of the earth, He breathed life into Adam’s lungs and human life began. It is why we often refer to the Lord as “the giver of life.”  He was involved in every phase of creation, not just the planning and designing of how things should work, but He formed them and breathed life into them, as well. No wonder, then , that David said, “All things are His.”  Without the Lord’s desire to create the universe and all that is in it, none of us would exist.

“All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” [John 1:3-4 NASB]

Here, John is talking about Christ being with God in the beginning and being the One through whom God created all things. Once again, we are taught that life was “in Him” and apart from Him there was no life. So once again, God is the source of life, the originator and the sustainer of life. 

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. [Romans 11:36 NASB]

Sometimes, I like to think of the life-giving power of God as an electrical circuit. Think of God as the battery or the source (apart from being connected to the source of the power, the circuit could accomplish nothing on it’s own). But as the power flows out from the source and through the circuitry, overcoming some resistance along the way…(a little electrical joke, there)…it can accomplish some amazing things. 

It seems only fitting, then, that we should get another life-giving quote from David and his psalms: 

“You are the giver of life. Your light lets us enjoy life.” [Psalm 36:9 NCV]

So, to sum up what we have talked about so far, David made a case for God as “owner” of all things, Moses relayed the story of creation and how God breathed life into Adam, portraying Him as the “source” of life itself, John taught us that life was “in Him” (Christ) and that it was the light of men. Paul added that life was not just from Him, but through Him and would eventually return “to Him,” just like the electricity in that electrical circuit we talked about. And lastly, David chimes in again by referring to the Lord as “the giver of life.” 

But like the Apostle Paul said, all things are not just from Him, but also shall eventually return to Him. They are all still His possession. It was God who chose to share the miracle of life with us, here on Earth, for a little while.  You see, not unlike a lease, life is only given to us, here, for a brief period of time. Then, it shall return to it’s rightful owner, God Almighty.

So if that is true, what was the purpose? Could it be that the Lord wanted to see what we would do with this life, before making a long term and permanent commitment to us?

Would we use our time on Earth to advance our own agendas, grab all the gusto we could for ourselves….as if there is some prize at the end for the one who dies with the most possessions? (NEWSFLASH…you can’t take it with ya!!). Lord, I hope not. may it never be.

But in closing, I would like to mention one other aspect of many lease agreements. Often, there is an option included in a lease agreement that makes it a “lease with option to buy.” That means at the end of the lease, as with my leased car, I have the option of paying off the remaining balance of a pre-determined price to buy the car. If I choose to do so, then the car would no longer be leased. I would own it. I would not have to turn the car back in to the owner. I would get to keep it.

Well, what do you know, if we look at the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it seems there may be an “option to buy” included in the lease agreement that God issues on our lives:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. [1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NASB]

But wait, it gets even better (if the words of the Apostle Paul, here, are true):

1) Yes….I believe our lives “are not our own”…it  is a lease arrangement, if you will, with God as the “lessor” and you and I as the “lessee.”

2) This lease agreement between us and a God apparently is a “lease with option to buy.”

3) The “good news” is that you and I do not have to come up with the full remaining balance to take  permanent (eternal) ownership and no longer be under the terms of the temporary lease agreement. Jesus Christ has already “paid the price…in full.” As the Apostle Paul said, we have been “bought with a price”.

4) You see, Paul also said in His letter to the Romans, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The full “payoff” for the sins of the world was allocated through the Cross of Calvary. Our part, in this transaction, is simply “believe and receive” this miraculous gift.

5) Once Christ’s blood is applied to the “lease agreement” over your soul, you no longer owe a single penny…the “buy option” has been enacted and you get to keep…wait it gets better still…God is not going to just let you keep this old body (with all the mileage, scratches, dents and rust)…when you enter His Kingdom, He will issue you a brand new one…one with zero miles and one that will never deteriorate…that you get to keep forever. There will no longer be a “lease termination date.”

Is that cool or what? No wonder we Christians get all excited and want to share the “good news” with everyone we know.

It is the best “lease agreement” the world has ever known.

And the “buyout option” is truly……..out of this world!!!

BOB PALUMBO

(author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)

C. S. Lewis and “The Great Trilemma”

Back in the early 1940s, world-renowned scholar, beloved author and one of the most quoted Christian apologists ever (at least of the modern age), Clive Staples Lewis gave a memorable series of BBC radio broadcasts that were later collected and formed into what has become one of the most read and revered books on the foundations of Christianity ever published. The radio messages entitled, “The Case For Christianity” (1942), “Christian Behavior” (1943), and “Beyond Personality” (1944) were originally published as three separate pamphlets, before finally being released as the book “Mere Christianity” in 1952. The book is still widely read, debated and taught today….and mostly loved as a true Christian Classic.

Three things, in my opinion, make these messages quite special:

1) They came at the height of World War II, while the world was looking for answers and, more importantly, some form of hope that would endure beyond the darkness that surrounded them at that time in their lives.

2) They came came at a time when Lewis was a highly regarded professor at Oxord University in London.  The interesting thing about Lewis’s journey was that he came to be one of the most famous Christian authors and philosophers after spending most of his life as an atheist. 

3) And so for me, the icing on the cake was that this book became the “go to book” for those who were new to the faith and those who were seeking to know more about God and the one we call our Savior, Jesus Christ. In these messages, Lewis focused on the core values and basic principles of the faith to make his case (and he did so quite convincingly), while shying away from the more controversial aspects which might only cause more confusion and skepticism.

But there is one section from this book that seems to get quoted and debated as much as any other theological quote I can think of. He proposes a line of reasoning regarding the central issue of whether Jesus Christ was actually “God in the flesh” (as it appeared He often claimed to be) or was He something else altogether. Lewis presented what he saw as three possible views of Christ’s words and by boiling the possibilties down to these three options, I’d say it was a masterstroke of genius because the reader is quickly relieved of the need to sort through a much larger basket of possibilties by focusing on just a few choices that neatly bundle all the others together, making a final choice easier to arrive at. And is that not the primary goal of these messages, to bring the reader closer to a decision that is not only spiritually wise, but logically wise, as well?

What is also interesting about this “three-pronged theory”, or “The Great Trilemma” (as it has come to be known), is that Lewis was not the first to offer up these three options as a way of helping us to zero in on the truth. Around 1860, a Scottish preacher named John Duncan formulated what he called “the trilemma.” His three choices were “a fraud, self-deceived or Divine.” Then, in 1936, famous Chinese preacher and author Watchman Nee (in his book “Normal Christian Faith”) gave us three similar choices…”madman or lunatic, liar or God.”

But what makes Lewis’s version so memorable and endearing, I believe, is his frank and relatable way of writing (or speaking, in this case since these were originally radio messages). There was way in which he made his thoughts clearly understandable to the common man (pretty amazing for a man of his intellect and stature, I think), while sharing some pretty deep thoughts in the same breath. Here is his version for you, in case you never heard or read the whole thought process before. It is pretty entertaining, if you ask me:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [that is, Christ]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse…. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” [C. S. Lewis from “Mere Christianity” 1952]

So, I thought it would be fun to do a deep dive on these three possibilties and see not only what we can make of them, but what the people of Jesus’s time thought about Him, as well.

1) Jesus was a lunatic, a madman or just plain crazy.

Well, in the days when Christ walked the earth, there were all kinds of fanatics spreading all kinds of “belief systems”. Not just the Jews, of course, but many others as well. And many of them were not thought to be “playing with a full deck,” if you know what I mean. There were spiritualists, conjurers, magicians and makers of potions…all claiming to have some inside track on revelations regarding God and how we were to relate to Him.

There had been golden cows, graven images, goddesses, false prophets and just plain old “false dieties” that could be found and worshipped in the days leading up to and during the time of Christ. So I guess we could not really blame some of the people and the Pharisees for trying to pass him off as just another “flavor of the month.” But, many of them sure hoped He was.

Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. [Luke 11:14-16 ESV]

So, if nothing else, they were trying their darnedest to “cut this guy down to size” (as many still are today), because if His claims of being God in the flesh started to get traction with the people, their traditions, their feasts and the religious stranglehold that the Jewish hierarchy had over them would all loose their power. The gravy train would be over and they were not about to let that happen.

2) Jesus was a liar, both intentional and flagrant.

The word they used back then for misrepresenting God, for claiming to be sent from God (when you were not) or especially claiming to be God in the flesh, without valid proof of such claims was “blasphemy.” It was a charge that was punishable by death and, in fact, it was the charge that the Jewish leaders used to turn Jesus over to the Romans to be put to death.

You see, when He said things like “I am He” to the Samaritan woman at the well or “Before Abraham was, I am” as He did in John Chapter 8, plenty of eyebrows were raised by people saying, “Who does this man think he is? God?” Keep in mind, in the Old Testament, the words “I AM” (short for “I AM WHO I AM”) were known as the name of God, the name God revealed to Moses [Exodus 3:14]. So yeah, people did not say “I AM” loosely (at least in references to God) for fear of being charged with blasphemy. If, in fact, you did not have evidence to back up your claim, you did not want to go there. And Jesus knew this, of course, but He also knew the truth and He was well aware of his fate. He had a mission to complete and nothing on Earth or in Heaven was going to keep Him from accomplishing that which He was sent to do. But none of that, of course, kept the people or the Jewish and Roman leaders from doubting His words.

3) Jesus is who He claimed to be, Lord and God (“Immanuel..God with us” from Matthew 1:23).

The people who walked among Christ in those days certainly had a daunting task ahead of them. Could they afford to quickly write him off as a liar or a lunatic? Afterall, their eternal fate depended on their decision? And for that matter, so does ours, today. What about all the miracles, the healings and raising people from the dead? What about the power and authority that seemed to accompany His words of wisdom to those who heard Him speak (and for us..when we read them even today)? What if He was God? Refusing to believe Him would probably not end well, in the long run.

This was and is, in fact, a great trilemma….and the stakes could not be higher. Our place for all of eternity depends on which answer we choose to believe. 

If nothing else, I would think a close and thorough look at all the facts is merited.

You certainly would not want to find yourself before the judgement seat of God saying, “Yeah, you are right, God. I should have probably looked into it all a little deeper. My bad.”

C. S. Lewis closed out this famous quote with a pretty convincing final point, if you ask me:

“But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher (or just a liar or a lunatic). He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

No…if you look at the whole Gospel message and consider the complete body of work of Jesus Christ, the first two options seem verily flimsy with very little evidence to back them up.

The third option, though, that Jesus is indeed Lord and God seems extremely credible. His divine words and His miraculous works, not to mention the fact that He walked through this world without committing a single sin or dishonoring His Father even once…makes it all pretty hard to just toss aside. I am fully convinced that the evidence bears Him out. 

And if, in fact, He is who He claimed to be…..what choice do we have but to “fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God?”

I see no other choice. And after thirty-eight years of contemplating this “great trilemma,” the choice has only become clearer and clearer over time…to the praise of His glorious name.

I believe it with all my heart.

BOB PALUMBO

(Author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)