Guest Post: How to Embrace a Season of Stillness

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

Everything is still and dead. I look out on my backyard and that is what I see. My ferns are brown and droopy and my trees are bare. Had my husband not raked for endless hours, dead leaves would have created a brown carpet over the ground. In the place where the daffodils bloom is a hard bed of earth. Even the birds are eerily quiet and the bugs save their song for another time.  Now is the time of year where living things go into dormancy. It’s a time to conserve energy and not fight against the harsh conditions on the outside.

God has built into every living thing a cadence or rhythm of life. Solomon describes it in Ecclesiastes 3:1 “To everything there is a season. A time for every purpose under heaven.” He is reminding us that the Lord has a specific time for everything that He has called you to do. During this time of year, there are new ministries to join, new classes to take, New Year’s resolutions to accomplish. The idea of “getting back into the swing of things” thrills us. One more meeting? Sure, I need to be there. A playdate? Of course, my children want to see their friends (and so do I). A party to throw? Yes, a friend deserves it. A task to volunteer for? Absolutely, for if I don’t do it, who will?

We are, by nature, brilliant multi-taskers. God has wired within us the ability to accomplish a great deal for our families, our homes, and our community. We are moms, sisters, daughters, students, professionals, makers of the home, and our gift of nurturing is a vital component of who we are. However, as I look out onto my backyard, I see stillness and quietness and a silent preparation for beautiful things to come.

In God’s divine grace and wisdom, there is a time for activity and a time for rest. Rest brings a conservation of energy. In reading about daffodils, I discovered that you are supposed to remove the dead flowers immediately so energy is not wasted in making new seeds that will not develop before the dormant season. I don’t need to remind you that the activities that God has called you to require large amounts energy. Like the daffodil, we cannot afford to waste energy on unnecessary activity. We are finite beings, and it is arrogant of us to believe that our energy is everlasting. That is not God’s design.

In the life of Elijah, there were times of extreme activity. First Kings 17 begins with him predicting a drought to King Ahab. Then, in the midst of the drought he ministers to and rescues a widow and her son from starvation. Then, on behalf of the widow, God uses Elijah again to show His glory and raise the widow’s son from the dead. In a magnificent climax, Elijah calls out the prophets of Baal and, through him, God proves to hundreds upon hundreds that He is the all-powerful, one true God. And finally afterwards, Elijah is the first to notice the rain clouds that bring an end the horrible drought.

It is obvious that God is not against activity. However, let us read between the events. This is why God’s Word is so precious in its entirety; for between the amazing activities of Elijah’s life are periods of mandatory rest.

After Elijah predicted the drought, God commanded him to go and dwell by a brook. He relied on God for even his basic sustenance. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and again in the evening (1 Kings 17:5-7). He stayed there, trusting God for everything until the brook dried up. Can you see that those lessons of patience, trust, and total obedience were paramount for him grasp in order to perform the miracles that were to come? After the victory over the prophets, Elijah was once again driven into the wilderness as he ran from the threats of Jezebel. When he was exhausted and unable to run any longer, he sat down and slept only to be awakened briefly by an angel to give him nourishment. His unplanned yet God-ordained time of rest in the wilderness brought Elijah to a new level of awareness of who God is, for God spoke to Elijah clearly in a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12).  Elijah accomplished everything God had ordained that he accomplish.

In the same way, God has great plans for us and wants to use us mightily, but we must heed his call to rest. It is during the quiet times where God does a mighty work within our own hearts.

I might not know you personally, but I am almost certain that you are a busy lady. However, it is a challenge to me and, I pray, will be a challenge to you to submit our hearts to God’s calling on us to rest. Throughout the next year there will be seasons of activity and opportunities for rest. When God leads you there, embrace the season of stillness and rest. We never know what God will teach us as we lay dormant and conserve our energy for a period. It is there that we will hear His still, small voice. He will tend to us and nourish us spiritually. And only then can we burst out of the ground in a splendor of colors, praising God for his faithfulness and head back into our ministries for the glory of God.

Poll Measures God’s Approval Rating

I am a self-confessed talk radio junkie. I listen to talk radio 95% of the time I am in the car. My oldest daughter has even asked my wife why daddy always listens to people talking on the radio instead of music. I prefer local talk radio shows over the nationally-syndicated types, and I am an equal-opportunity listener to both news/politics and sports talk radio. Typically on my drive in to work each day, I listen to a local DFW talk radio show, and I get my fill of news, politics, and job approval ratings. By the time I read something online or in the paper, I’ve already heard about it on the radio. However, I came across something new yesterday that I had never seen—God’s job approval rating.

Yes, the North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling conducted a poll[1] to measure, among other things, God’s approval rating. Some of the questions included, “If God exists, do you approve or disapprove of its performance? If God exists, do you approve or disapprove of its handling of natural disasters? If God exists, do you approve or disapprove of its handling of animals? If God exists, do you approve or disapprove of its handling of creating the universe?”

What makes this poll even more interesting is that it was conducted as part of a national congressional poll. Therefore, we are able to see how God stacks up against leaders in the national government. God’s overall job approval was 52% approve, 9% disapprove (40% not sure). Compared to John Boehner (33% approve, 37% disapprove), Congressional Democrats (33% approve, 54% disapprove), and Congressional Republicans (33% approve, 55% disapprove), God fared pretty well in the poll. God’s highest rating came with a 71% approval of his handling of creating the universe. He even got a 50% approval rating (13% disapprove and 37% unsure) on natural disasters. In what is perhaps the most ridiculous statement of the entire poll, the authors of the polling results state, “Though not the most popular figure PPP has polled, if God exists, voters are prepared to give it good marks.”

It makes you wonder what possessed Public Policy Polling to include questions about God in its congressional poll. It is certainly interesting that God performed much better than our government officials (and Rupert Murdoch, who was also included in the poll), but what does a poll like this tell us?

First, we have to understand that God is not up for re-election. As Creator of the universe, God exercises sovereign rule over all aspects of creation (land, sea, animals, mankind, and the affairs of man). In Isaiah 40:21–26, the prophet writes:

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble. “To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.

God is firmly in place as ruler of the universe. Though we may think he is absent at times, he is not. Though we may think he is silent at times, he still speaks. One of my favorite book titles (and favorite books) is Francis Scaheffer’s He Is There and He Is Not Silent. This is so true about God no matter what some polling firm states. Our failure to recognize God at work is not his fault—it is ours.

Second, we have to recognize that it is not our place to judge God. Who are we to approve or disapprove of God’s job performance? Job learned this lesson the hard way when God confronted him. In Job 38:1–11, we read:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who enclosed the sea with doors when, bursting forth, it went out from the womb; when I made a cloud its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and I placed boundaries on it and set a bolt and doors, and I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther; and here shall your proud waves stop’?”

After God continued to question Job, we see Job’s humble response to God in Job 42:2–6,

I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’ I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.

Just like Job, we have no standing to judge God or give our approval (or disapproval) to his job performance. God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isa 55:9). When we declare that we know how God could have done something better, or we give our disapproval of his performance, we naïvely declare that we know more than God. What an act of hubris!

Consider these things before answering the phone for a political poll (which for some reason call our house on a regular basis). We do not judge God because he is perfect and we are far from it. So what are we to think about this poll? I believe Dino Grandoni from the Atlantic Wire said it best when he wrote, “Believers or not, it seems ridiculous for the public to categorically grade God like this, until you realize that it’s pollsters who asked the questions in the first place.”[2]

[1] Public Policy Polling, “Americans’ perception of Congress improves, but still poor.” July 21, 2011.

[2] Dino Grandoni, “Only 52% of Americans Approve of God’s Job Performance,” The Atlantic Wire, July 21, 2011.

Review of If God, Why Evil?

If God, Why Evil?: A New Way to Think About the Question. By Norman L. Geisler. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011. 173 pages. Softcover, $14.99.

The problem of evil is one of the most pressing philosophical questions facing Christianity. The task of answering why evil exists if God is good has been the focus of many apologists. Unfortunately, much of the work on the problem of evil is just as difficult to read as the problem is to answer. The average reader may find himself drowning in a sea of philosophical argumentation into which even professional academics only carefully tread. By contrast, when someone attempts to develop a theodicy that is palatable for the average reader, it typically turns out to be less than satisfactory. For these reasons, the problem of evil remains an often unanswered question in the church pew or at the coffee shop. Norman Geisler has attempted to solve this conundrum in his book, If God, Why Evil?: A New Way to Think About the Question, by presenting a very readable, yet scholarly answer to the problem of evil.

Geisler divides the book into the major questions about evil—nature, origin, persistence, purpose, and avoidability of evil. Then he addresses some of the practical applications of the problem of evil, including physical evil, miracles, hell, and exclusivism. At the foundation of the book is a free will defense of the problem of evil. If one has read much of Geisler’s other 70 books, then one is most likely not surprised that he approaches the problem in that way. Even though the chapters are not full of references to other scholarly works, it is clear that Geisler has condensed his own thoughts on the issue to make the book clear, concise, comprehensive, correct, and comforting (10).

Each main chapter of the book begins with a syllogistic presentation of a problem related to evil. Geisler first addresses the nature of evil by posing the problem this way:

  1. God created all things.
  2. Evil is something.
  3. Therefore, God created evil. (17–18)

In keeping with an Augustinian approach to the nature of evil, Geisler then argues that the second premise is incorrect and that evil is actually “a real privation in good things” (25). This conclusion leads him to the origin of evil, which he argues is based in free will (28–30). Once Geisler establishes that evil originates in the free will with which God created humans and angels, he tackles the problem of the persistence of evil. Geisler believes that the argument against God from the persistence of evil “is one of the oldest and most difficult of all arguments” (36). At its heart, this argument asks why a good, omnipotent God has not destroyed evil. In answer to this question, Geisler proposes that “the only way God could literally destroy all evil is to destroy all freedom. However, to destroy all freedom is to destroy the possibility of all moral good. All moral choices are free choices” (38). Therefore, he believes that the question is posed in the wrong way. The way a Christian should look at this question is to ask whether or not evil is defeated, and Geisler’s answer is that evil has not yet been defeated, but it will be. In answer to the question of the purpose of evil, the author concludes that humans are unable to know all of God’s purposes, and that he has a good purpose in all things, even evil. Finally, he tackles the issue of the avoidability of evil. Geisler believes, “This present world is not the best of all possible worlds, but it is the best of all possible ways to the best of all achievable worlds” (68). In essence, a world without evil would be a world without free will, and Geisler believes that free will is a necessary element for a good world.

The book then moves from the major categories of the problem of evil to address the practical applications of evil, including physical evil, miracles, hell, and exclusivism. Geisler holds that physical evil, just like all other forms of evil, is the result of human free will and that God permits the existence of physical evil in part to accomplish his ultimate purposes. In response to physical evil, some have argued that God should miraculously intervene to prevent all physical evil. However, Geisler argues that “it is not possible to have a regular miraculous interruption of the natural order” (87). This would interfere with physical life, moral freedom, moral choices, moral improvement, moral warnings, and achieving the best world possible (87–91). The author then moves to address hell as an expression of God’s judgment. Some hold that the existence of an eternal hell denies the goodness of God, but Geisler argues that God’s justice, love, sovereignty, and human dignity demand an eternal hell (98–100). He also addresses several major objections to an eternal hell that have been offered throughout history. The main chapters of the book conclude with a discussion of exculsivism and universalism. He asks the question, “What about those who have never heard?” (115). In response, Geisler posits a very orthodox view on the exclusivity of Christ and rejects both universalism and inclusivism.

After the main chapters, Geisler adds three appendices that serve as more academic supplements to the content of the book. The first appendix offers varying views of the topic of animal death before Adam. Geisler never offers his own conclusion but provides various alternatives with both their strengths and weaknesses. The second appendix is a development of some of the classical arguments for God’s existence, including the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, and the moral argument. The final appendix is an in-depth critique of William P. Young’s book, The Shack.

Overall, Geisler superbly accomplishes his task of answering the problem of evil in a very readable fashion. Of course, there will be some who are not swayed by his free will defense, but his development of that particular defense for a general audience was excellent. The main drawback of the book comes only from the intended purpose of the book. Most works on the problem of evil provide ample documentation to historical and academic sources to build a case; however, Geisler provides only minimal references to other material. In fact, many of his references are to other books he has written. This is only a problem when this book is compared to other volumes on the problem of evil that are more academic in nature. Since Geisler was specifically trying to avoid an overly academic feel, the lack of outside references is understandable.

While this book may never become the standard academic reference text on the free will defense for the problem of evil, Geisler certainly accomplished his purpose. This is an excellent resource for the average reader looking for an understandable and easy-to-read book that will assist them in tackling one of Christianity’s most difficult questions.

Old Fashioned Revivals–Yes, Some Churches Still Have Them

When I think about revivals at a church, I have memories of sitting at the Agricenter in eastern Shelby County listening to gospel music and hearing an evangelist preach. Usually, there were themed nights for youth (always included a Christian band), children (generally had a puppet show), and senior adults (most likely with a gospel quartet). The Agricenter was dusty and better suited for Tennessee Walking Horse competitions that church services. However, the church where I grew up generally had a revival like that at least once a year.

For the most part, the contemporary church has jettisoned the old fashioned revival as out-of-date and less than useful. However, there are still churches that hold them every year. The problem is that the group of circuit-riding revival preachers has dwindled, providing one more reason for churches not to hold revivals.

During spring break, scores of students from Southwestern Seminary will be scattered across North America preaching 4-day revivals at churches in all different types of settings. Some are in urban, metropolitan areas. Others are in rural, pioneer states. No matter where the church is located, these revivals provide the opportunity for students to preach God’s Word and see Him move in people’s lives.

Even though I am not a student, I also have the opportunity to preach one of these revivals. I will be traveling to Herrin, Illinois to preach at First Baptist Church. I pray this will be a great time for the church, the staff, and myself.

As with all of the revival services taking place next week, I pray that God will call people to repentance and into a relationship with Himself. In keeping with the theme the seminary has chosen for next week, I pray that God would revive the people of this nation and that many would come to Christ.

Is the Virigin Birth Important?

Last week the Huffington Post included an article on their website by Rita Nakashima Brock on “The Importance of Mary’s Virginity.” The timing was certainly critical as we are fully absorbed in the Christmas season. The message of the article is biting as Dr. Brock attempts to discredit the traditional teaching of the virgin birth as found in Matthew 1. However, she does not hope to do so in order to purge the virgin birth from Christianity. In fact, she states to the contrary:

“Actually, it is quite possible as a Christian to believe Jesus had a biological father and believe the story of the virgin conception says something important. It all depends on what you think ‘virgin’ means.”

For Dr. Brock, Mary’s virginity has nothing to do with biology; instead, she writes:

“I think the most significant meaning of Mary’s virginity is Christian resistance to the oppression of the Roman Empire.”

So the question remains, is the virgin birth (in the traditional sense) really all that important? Let me suggest a few passing misinterpretations and obvious oversights from Dr. Brock’s article, then I’ll hit the heart of the matter.

First, Dr. Brock approaches the issue of the virgin birth with an all-encompassing feminist theology. She describes the ancient pater familias where the father ruled over the family (and by extension, in her words, the emperor served as the “ruling father of the empire”), and claims that Mary was not the typical virgin under that type of system. By being different from that system through the apparent lack of a father’s influence, Brock believes:

“We might describe the story of Mary as a powerful rejection of patriarchal family systems and imperial powers that oppress everyone subject to them.”

Her theology is akin to liberationist theology in the concept that Mary is liberating the woman from oppressive patriarchal rule. In doing so, she is essentially deifying Mary as the Messiah/Anointed One/Christ/Deliverer for oppressed individuals. Wrong? Certainly. Heresy? No doubt?

Second, she totally misses the boat on Joseph. Brock states:

“Mary’s husband Joseph obviously serves her, not the other way around.”

However, according to Matthew’s account, Joseph was about to divorce Mary. In essence, he would have exercised his “patriarchal” duty by kicking her to the curb of ancient society—an unwed mother. Yes, Joseph serves her, but not in the way that Dr. Brock perceives. Joseph is not a subject serving a master—he is a righteous man lovingly protecting his betrothed wife from shame and embarrassment.

Third, she totally makes up the argument about Mary’s father not being involved. Brock notes:

“Mary was definitely not a virgin of this type — her father plays no part in her story. She is independent of a father’s rule, and by implication, of the father-in-chief, the emperor.”

Scripture tells nothing of Mary’s father. Silence in Scripture is not a license to make up stories and turn Mary into a 21st century independent feminist Messiah.

Here are a few things Brock got right. Roman emperors did demand to be worshiped as gods. It is debatable when exactly that started. It is reported that Julius Caesar allowed himself to be worshiped and Augustus permitted it only outside Rome. Caligula demanded it. How did this play out in first century Judea? Who knows?!

She also gets right how the Catholic Church elevated Mary to the status of “Mother of God.” This is an unfortunate elevation in the history of the church because Mary herself is worshiped as a god in many Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. The iconography of the Middle Ages deifying Mary is certainly heretical.

So what is the point of the virgin birth? It is more than just a story that resonates with feminist-liberation theology. The virgin birth is an essential element of Christian theology. It goes back to the doctrine of original sin.[1] If you hold to a natural headship view of original sin, then the sin nature is passed down to each subsequent generation by procreation (and directly related to the father’s role in said procreation). The only way to bypass a sinful nature in man is to bypass the natural procreative process and have conception take place by means of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if Jesus was merely another child born to Mary, albeit is seemingly conceived with the help of a visitor to a temple prostitute, then Jesus was not free of a sin nature.[2] If Jesus was not free from sin—for all people born with a sin nature sin (Rom 5:12)—then we do not have a perfect Savior who can atone for our sins. He is just a good guy who had some interesting things to say and died way too young.

Dr. Brock got it wrong—dead wrong. The literal virgin birth is absolutely essential to Christianity. Without it, we are most to be pitied (1 Cor 15:19).

[1] For a discussion on the various views of original sin, see Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 648-56.

[2] Patterson describes it this way, “By the same token, the virgin conception of Jesus, the second Adam, is necessitated since if Jesus were born with a sinful nature, then He, too, would have been susceptible to sin. As the second Adam, with no sinful nature, He was able to confront temptation, triumph over the overtures of Satan, and remain a spotless, sinless sacrifice for Adam’s race.” Paige Patterson, “Total Depravity,” in Whosoever Will (edited by David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke; Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 37-38.