In 1941, the Socratic Club was established at England’s Oxford University. The club was formed for the express purpose of encouraging debate between believers in Jesus and atheists or agnostics.
Religious debate at a secular university isn’t that unusual, but what is surprising the man who chaired the Socratic Club for fifteen years—the great Christian scholar C. S. Lewis. Willing to have his thinking tested, Lewis believed that faith in Christ could stand up to whatever scrutiny it received. He knew there was credible, rational evidence for believing in Jesus.
In a sense, Lewis was practicing Peter’s advice to believers scattered by persecution when he reminded them, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Notice the two key points Peter makes. We have good reasons for our hope in Christ. And we’re to present our reasoning with “gentleness and respect.”
Trusting Christ isn’t religious escapism or wishful thinking. Our faith is grounded in the facts of history, including the resurrection of Jesus and the evidence of the creation bearing witness to its Creator. As we rest in God’s wisdom and the strength of the Spirit, may we be ready to share the reasons we have for knowing and trusting our great God.
Guernica, Pablo Picasso’s most important political painting, was a modernist portrayal of the 1937 destruction of a small Spanish town by that name. During the Spanish revolution and the ramp-up to World War II, Nazi Germany’s planes were permitted by Spain’s Nationalist forces to use the town for bombing practice. These controversial bombings took scores of lives, drawing the attention of a global community concerned over the immorality of bombing civilian targets. Picasso’s painting captured (and horrified) the imaginations of the watching world and became a catalyst for debate about humanity’s seemingly endless capacity to destroy one another.
For those of us who feel confident that we would never intentionally shed blood, we should remember Jesus’ words, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21–22). The heart can be murderous without ever actually committing murder.
The issues of the heart are always bubbling under the surface of our actions. When unchecked anger toward others threatens to consume us, we desperately need the Holy Spirit to fill and control our hearts so that our human tendencies can be replaced by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19–23). Then love, joy, and peace can mark our relationships.
In 1889, the most ambitious private home construction project in the United States began. On-site manufacturing produced some 32,000 bricks a day. The work continued until the completion of George Vanderbilt II’s “summer house”—six years later. The result was the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. To this day, it remains the largest private residence in America, with 250 rooms (including 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms) consuming a staggering 178,926 square feet (16,226 sq. meters) of floor space.
This project, ambitious as it was, was nothing compared to the “building” intentions Jesus proclaimed to His disciples in Matthew 16. After Peter had confirmed that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16), Jesus declared, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (v. 18). While theologians debate the identity of the “rock,” there’s no debate about Jesus’ intentions. He would build His church to stretch to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:19–20), including people from every nation and ethnic group from around the globe (Revelation 5:9).
The cost of this building project? The sacrifice of Jesus’ own blood on the cross (Acts 20:28). As members of His “building” (Ephesians 2:21), purchased at so great a price, may we celebrate His loving sacrifice and join Him in this great mission.
The impala, a member of the antelope family, is able to jump up to ten feet high and thirty feet in length. It’s an incredible feat, and no doubt essential to its survival in the African wild. Yet, at many impala enclosures found in zoos, you’ll find that the animals are kept in place by a wall that’s merely three feet tall. How can such a low wall contain these athletic animals? It works because impalas will never jump unless they can see where they’ll land. The wall keeps the impalas inside the enclosure because they can’t see what is on the other side.
As humans, we’re not all that different. We want to know the outcome of a situation before we move forward. The life of faith, however, rarely works that way. Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul reminds them, “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). But that doesn’t mean we’ll know His outcomes beforehand. Living by faith means trusting His good purposes even when those purposes are shrouded in mystery.
In the midst of life’s uncertainties, we can trust His unfailing love. No matter what life throws at us, “we make it our goal to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).
It has become sadly “normal” to attack not only the opinions of others but also the person holding the opinion. This can be true in academic circles as well. For this reason, I was stunned when scholar and theologian Richard B. Hays wrote a paper that forcefully took to task a work that he himself had written years earlier! In Reading With the Grain of Scripture, Hays demonstrated great humility of heart as he corrected his own past thinking, now fine-tuned by his lifelong commitment to learning.
As the book of Proverbs was being introduced, King Solomon listed the various intents of this collection of wise sayings. But in the midst of those purposes, he inserted this challenge, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” (Proverbs 1:5). Like the apostle Paul, who claimed that, even after following Christ for decades, he continued to pursue knowing Jesus (Philippians 3:10), Solomon urged the wise to listen, to learn, and to continue to grow.
No one is ever hurt by maintaining a teachable spirit. As we seek to continue to grow and learn about the things of faith (and the things of life), may we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth (John 16:13), that we might better comprehend the wonders of our good and great God.
In November 1742, a riot broke out in Staffordshire, England, to protest against the gospel message Charles Wesley was preaching. It seems Charles and his brother John were changing some longstanding church traditions, and that was too much for many of the townsfolk.
When John Wesley heard about the riot, he hurried to Staffordshire to help his brother. Soon an unruly crowd surrounded the place where John was staying. Courageously, he met face to face with their leaders, speaking with them so serenely that one by one their anger was assuaged.
John Wesley’s gentle and quiet spirit calmed a potentially savage mob. But it was not a gentleness that occurred naturally in his own heart. Rather, it was the heart of the Savior whom Wesley followed so closely. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). This yoke of gentleness becomes the true power behind the apostle Paul’s challenge to us, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).
In our humanness, such patience is impossible for us. But by the fruit of the Spirit in us, the gentleness of the heart of Christ can set us apart and equip us to face a hostile world. When we do, we fulfill Paul’s words, “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (Philippians 4:5).
Fingerprints have long been used to identify people, but they can be faked by creating copies. Similarly, the pattern of the iris in the human eye is a reliable source for ID—until someone alters the pattern with a contact lens to skew the results. The use of biometrics to identify individuals can be defeated. So, what qualifies as a unique identifying characteristic? It turns out that everyone’s blood-vessel patterns are unique and virtually impossible to counterfeit. Your own personal “vein map” is a one-of-a-kind identifier, setting you apart from everyone else on the planet.
Pondering such complexities of human beings should prompt a sense of worship and wonder for the Creator who made us. David reminded us that we are, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and that is certainly worth celebrating. In fact, Psalm 111:2 reminds us, “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.”
Even more worthy of our attention is the divine Maker Himself. While celebrating God’s great deeds, we also must celebrate Him! His deeds are great, but He’s even greater, prompting the psalmist to pray, “For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God” (Psalm 86:10).
Today, as we consider the greatness of what God does, may we also marvel at the greatness of who He is.
When Abraham Lincoln became president of the United States, he was tasked with leading a fractured nation. Lincoln is viewed as a wise leader and a man of high moral character, but another element to his makeup, perhaps, was the foundation for everything else. He understood that he was inadequate for the task at hand. His response to that inadequacy? Lincoln said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
When we come to grips with the massive nature of life’s challenges and the severe limitations of our own wisdom, knowledge, or strength, we find, like Lincoln, that we are utterly dependent on Jesus—the One who has no limitations. Peter reminded us of this dependency when he wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
God’s love for His child, paired with His absolute power, make Him the perfect Person to approach with our frailties, and that’s the essence of prayer. We go to Him acknowledging to Him (and ourselves) that we’re inadequate and He’s eternally sufficient. Lincoln said he felt he “had nowhere else to go”—but when we begin to comprehend God’s great care for us, that’s wonderfully good news. We can go to Him!
When we think of historic, trailblazing missionaries, the name of George Liele (1750–1820) doesn’t leap to mind. Perhaps it should. Born into slavery, Liele came to Christ in Georgia and gained his freedom prior to the American Revolutionary War. He took the message of Jesus to Jamaica, ministering to the slaves in the plantations there, and served as the founding pastor of two African churches in Savannah, Georgia—one of which is considered the “mother church of black Baptists.”
Liele’s remarkable life of kingdom service may have been forgotten by some, but his spiritual service will never be forgotten by God. Neither will the work you do for God. The letter to the Hebrews encourages us with these words, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10). God’s faithfulness can never be underestimated, for He truly knows and remembers everything done in His name. And so Hebrews encourages us, “Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (v. 12).
For many who serve behind the scenes in their church or community, it’s easy for them to feel their labor is unappreciated. Take heart. Whether or not your work is recognized or rewarded by the people around you, God is faithful. He will never forget you.