Running the Race and Finishing Well

The Apostle Paul compares the life of a believer to “running the race.” It is a marathon that takes character qualities of endurance that sprinting doesn’t. Each mile provides the opportunity for developing the character for the next one. Each person’s run looks different. There will be a variety of terrain and different runners alongside who either encourage or discourage us. We run as wisely as we know how, but our race could be cut short because of unexpected tragedy or illness. So it is important to run well, while we can and be ready to cross our own finish line when the LORD brings us in.

How do we run well?

“Run the race set before you…” We cannot choose to run another’s for them. God has given us each a calling that is unique. As we fulfill His purpose for us – not someone else’s, not our own, but His – we begin well. Choosing which course to run begins with knowing Christ. By exchanging our own plans for ourselves for His and receiving His power to go on. As we run, we fix our eyes on Jesus who stands at the finish line, while His Spirit runs alongside and fills us with hope and strength.

Because we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength, when difficulties come, we are more than conquerors. If we choose to look at our own feet and become discouraged at our own ability, or compare ourselves to other runners, we will stumble. Perhaps we will fall. He is there to help us back up and get us on track – if we will let Him.

Running the race well does not mean never stumbling, but it does mean always getting back up. It does mean keeping our eyes fixed on the goal of our salvation and not becoming distracted with other goals of the world. Many start the race well, but not everyone will finish well.

Our God has provided everything we need for life and godliness. So let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author, and perfecter of our faith and run the race with endurance. Let us encourage each other as long as it is called today to run well. At last, we shall meet each other at the finish line and be welcomed home with the words, “Well done.”

Understanding God – Is it Possible?

Did you grow up in church hearing the same Bible stories every year? I did. In fact, kids get little else, from preschool through 6th grade. Afterward they are thrown into Youth Group where they tackle tough issues, with very little intellectual ammo. They are admonished to “just believe.”

Now, without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6), but without an understanding of His Word, what is our faith in? Are we doing our youth a disservice by not equipping them with more than Bible Stories? Is the study of God only for theologians? (Theology means the study of God.) Is it only for those who have studied Greek and Hebrew and have been to seminary?

Some may assert that it’s impossible to really know God.

“He is so far beyond and above us!”

We shouldn’t try to understand, just believe.” And they call that, faith. But is that what the Scripture teaches? Let’s take a closer look.

The Word admonishes us to seek to know Him and grow in wisdom and knowledge of the LORD. The prophet Jeremiah expresses this well.

Jeremiah 9:23-24
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness on the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

But if “His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts above our thoughts,” how can we say we understand Him? What about that verse?

The context is Isaiah 55 and the LORD is reaching out to and calling those who are disobedient and unbelieving, to repent and come to Him.

Isaiah 55
6 “Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
7 let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the
Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the
Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

So, the wicked man’s thoughts are far beneath God’s. But does that mean ours are at the same level as God’s? We should not assume such a thing! God is holy and we are human. His creation.

We who have the Spirit of the Living God indwelling, have a supernatural ability to know and understand the LORD. That this is not our own ability, but His, working in us.

1 Corinthians 2
1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

nor the heart of man imagined,

what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

The LORD calls us to know Him, and enables us to know Him. And it is our prayer to know Him, better, every day.

Ephesians 4
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to tthe unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to itheir hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greed and the practice of every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

So, is the study of God only for those who have studied Greek and Hebrew and have been to seminary? While we are to grow in both grace and knowledge and not remain infants – God has called the children, the uneducated, and the underprivileged to sit at His table and learn from Him. If it were not so, we would have something to boast about. But in fact, this kind of grace comes to those who humble themselves and receive what God provides, not exalting in our own ability or wisdom. The world’s wisdom is insufficient.

1 Corinthians 1:20
Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

And 1 Cor. 2
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. 26
Brothers, consider the time of your calling: Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were powerful; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

He has revealed Himself even to little children.
Luke 10:21 (and Matt. 11:25)
In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them to babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in your sight.

Those who fear the LORD and serve Him, have the privilege of knowing Him.

Psalm 25:14
The secret counsel of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He reveals His covenant to them.

2 Peter 3
17 Therefore, beloved, since you already know these things, be on your guard not to be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure standing. 18 But grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forevermore. Amen.

10 Ways to Inspire Young Learners

How can we inspire young learners? Here are 10 ways parents can develop a passion in their children for life-long learning.

 

 

1. Love learning, yourself. Be an example by spending time reading and studying what interests you. Explore things you don’t know yet and nurture your own curiosity! Your kids will see this and be curious about what excites you. When you explain it to them, use analogies or explanations they can understand at their level. If you use complicated vocabulary they will feel this knowledge is beyond their reach and become discouraged. The basic concepts of the new learning come first. As they seek to know more, you may introduce the vocabulary before delving into more complicated principles. Whenever possible, create a link from the new knowledge to something they already know. This will help them remember, understand, and be able to apply their knowledge.

 

2. Be interested in what interests them. Step into their world. If we want our children to care about our interests, we need to also care about theirs. As we step into their world of play, we gain understanding of their own learning styles and of how they process the world around them.

 

3. Take time for the rabbit trails. Sometimes the rabbit trail turns out to be the main thing. Following interests once in a while, off the preplanned lesson, may open their eyes to their own calling and gifts. Most people follow a textbook and echo back what someone else’s thoughts are on a subject, on test day. But thinking new thoughts, examining new finds, this is what creators and innovators do. Go ahead and follow the rabbit trail sometimes, and see where it leads. To never do so is to kill curiosity.

 

4. Show the integration of subjects in real life. History does not stand alone as a subject. It is dependent on geography, religion, sociology (cultures) and philosophy. Art, music, literature and culinary differences are also part of history. It’s not all about battles and conquered lands. The same can be said for other subjects as well. They are intertwined in life, so it’s a good thing to show how the subject matter you are studying crosses into other disciplines. Taste the food! Listen to the music. Create the artwork. It will make learning a richer experience.

 

5. Invite them into your world. Kids want to be like us. They want to do adult things from an early age. So let them! As you do the budget for shopping, let them see how you do it. Take them to the bank and explain the process there. When you change the oil, they can assist – measuring the levels to see how many quarts are needed and learning how to pour it in without spilling. They can learn (while you are gardening) which are weeds and which are flowers. They can learn order and structure as you clean and sort, putting things away by category. Doing real life things together is far more inspiring to a child than being sent off to do chores, alone. It also can become an opportunity for the important talks you would otherwise miss.

 

6. Make it multi-sensory. Not everyone learns well by listening, though much childhood learning is structured that way. Lifestyle learning involves all the physical senses as well as internal questions to wrestle down. When knowledge touches their emotions – reaches their heart – it will stick.

 

7. Let learning be its own reward. Stickers are fun, but should never become the motivation for learning. Neither should money. This reward system has been found to be a disincentive to learning. Eventually the child becomes trained not to care unless money is involved. Not good.

 

8. Welcome friends into the experience. Let friends of your children participate in real-life lessons too. Your own children will enjoy the lessons more and you have widened your circle of influence for good outside your own home. Often, when I wanted to teach my children something extra, I knew I probably wouldn’t get around to it or stick with it to the end. My solution? Invite other friends to learn with us. It created an accountability to finish what I started, and my kids got the extra electives they would have otherwise missed.

 

9. Let your children teach you too. Ask your child to teach you a skill they’ve learned elsewhere, tell you about a story they’ve read, explain how to construct a Minecraft world…

Teaching solidifies knowledge in their own mind and develops communication skills that will serve them all their lives. They can now teach their own friends new things!

 

10. Let them shine. When they have completed a project, post it for all to see. You can create a web page for them to display their work. You can include video recordings of their explanations and demonstrations of projects and accomplishments. If they write a story and illustrate it, you may be able to create a book of their very own to donate to the local library! Whatever they do, when they have done well – let the work speak for itself. They will be motivated to try and to excel in their work.

 

As you look through your curriculum this year, see it through your child’s eyes. What would intrigue them? What would help them understand the more difficult concepts? How can you incorporate the fun in learning and hands-on activities? Jot down the ideas you come up with, in your planner. If it will help, invite others to join you.

At a Classical Conversations practicum I heard this quote, “Children are not only minds to be taught, but souls to be nourished.” That is quite true. We want to teach and train the whole child, not merely the intellect. We don’t teach the textbook, we teach the child. It comes down to the golden rule. Do for your children what you would want done for you. Perhaps your own parents did give you this kind of opportunity and support! Pass on the blessing. As they grow up with this kind of affirmation, it will not only benefit their lives, but future generations as well.

 

Is It Ever Right To Lie?

Is it ever right to tell a lie?  We all know that “honesty is the best policy,” and have been taught from a young age that lying is wrong. We try to instill honesty in our own children and it’s easier to just make it a cut and dry issue. But the reality isn’t so simple. As we study history and learn about the Jews who were tortured and killed by NAZIs, we want to identify with the heroes who hid them and lied to the enemy to save lives. It seems natural and right to do so. But should they have confessed that as a sin to God in prayer, afterward? Even though it seemed like a good lie at the time?  We will look at the Biblical rule for honesty, but first, examine the exceptions to the rule. 

#1.  In wartime to defeat an enemy:

2 Chronicles 18:18-22  Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right hand and His left. And the Lord said, ‘Who will persuade Ahab king of Israel to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?’ So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’ The Lord said to him, ‘In what way?’ So he said, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And the Lord said, ‘You shall persuade him and also prevail; go out and do so.’ Therefore look! The Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these prophets of yours, and the Lord has declared disaster against you!.” 

Examples from our day: Counter-intelligence and undercover work, misdirection used by the military or intelligence community during war time.  …”to the devious You show Yourself shrewd.” – Psalm 18:26

 https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/05/ghost-army-the-inflatable-tanks-that-fooled-hitler/276137/

#2. To save an innocent life. 

Exodus 1:15-21  Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” The midwives said to Pharoah, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.

These midwives are also listed in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11.

A current example of this kind of righteous deception is Lila Rose, who went undercover at Planned Parenthood to expose their evil. She pretended to be a woman in need of their services and secretly filmed the discussions.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Abdvj7rPpjA&feature=relmfu

#3. To hide or protect the people of God and save your own life:

Joshua 6:22-25   But Joshua had said to the two men who had spied out the country, “Go into the harlot’s house, and from there bring out the woman and all that she has, as you swore to her.” And the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, her mother, her brothers, and all that she had. So they brought out all her relatives and left them outside the camp of Israel. But they burned the city and all that was in it with fire. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. And Joshua spared Rahab the harlot, her father’s household, and all that she had. So she dwells in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

Rahab is also mentioned in the Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11) and became an ancestor of the Messiah. Because she feared the Lord, she was blessed.

An example from history is Corrie Ten Boom. She lied as she bought supplies and forged passports for the Jews that lived in her household. She saved her own life and the lives of those under her care.

These examples represent the higher law of preserving innocent life and fearing God.

These are exceptions to the general rule of speaking the truth, and only under these kinds of circumstances would lying or deception be acceptable and right. We know that God hates lies for His Word says in Revelation 21:8 …”But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

Honesty is the rule our lives are governed by. 

Exodus 23:7  Stay away from making a false charge. Don’t put an innocent person who is in the right to death, because I will not consider innocent those who do such evil.

Leviticus 19:11  “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another.

Psalm 15

1 Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?
Who may dwell in Your holy hill?

He who walks uprightly,
    And works righteousness,
    And speaks the truth in his heart;
He who does not backbite with his tongue,
    Nor does evil to his neighbor,
    Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend;
In whose eyes a vile person is despised,
    But he honors those who fear the Lord;
He who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
He who does not put out his money at usury,
    Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things shall never be moved.

Proverbs 24:28
Don’t testify against your neighbor without cause. Don’t deceive with your lips.

Zechariah 8:16  These are the things you shall do:
Speak each man the truth to his neighbor;
Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace…

Ephesians 4:15  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

Colossians 3:9  Do not lie to each other since you have taken off your old self with its practices.

 So, we are to be honest with God and with other believers. We are not to lie about others – which is slander and perjury (when in court giving witness). We don’t use lies to cover up for our own sin, but confess what we have done and repent of it. We do not deceive to get our own way or gain profit.

It is not wrong to deceive an enemy or to conceal a truth in order to save lives or wage war in defense of our family or country. While the lines may seem blurry at times, they really aren’t. The rule is honesty, but the higher law is a greater truth – for life and faithfulness to God.

Taming the Tattling Tongue – 7 Rules for Friends

Nobody likes a tattletale. Tale-bearing breaks trust in friendship and damages the reputation of both parties. But is it always right to be silent when you see a friend doing something wrong? Here are 7 rules for friends that will clear up the confusion.

1. When they are doing wrong– (or if they are thinking about doing wrong) talk to your friend first. If you can persuade them to change their mind or make amends for their behavior, there is no need to tattle. We all make mistakes. Everyone deserves a chance to right their own wrong.

2. When it is unpleasant – if it is only something YOU don’t like them doing, but it isn’t actually wrong, let them know how you feel without blaming them. Perhaps they will be gracious enough to stop doing whatever it is when you are around if it makes you uncomfortable.

3. When they aren’t doing what you want to do – you can offer a better suggestion or just go along for now and do what you want to do later. However, if it isn’t something you want to participate in at all (a game you don’t like, or a place you don’t want to visit), politely excuse yourself and go do something else after letting them know the reason. “I’d rather not go (or play this right now), but I’ll play with you later when you’re not busy!”

4. When a friend has hurt your feelings accidentally – let them know. Again, do this without blame because they may not have been aware of it. “You may not be aware of this, but it hurt my feelings (made me sad) when you said ____.” This way, they can apologize.

5. When they hurt you on purpose – by gossip, cruel teasing or setting up a trap that caused you to be hurt, draw the line. Let them know you didn’t appreciate what they did and that you can’t allow them to treat you this way. Keep your distance until they sincerely apologize. Allowing someone to deliberately mistreat you does harm to yourself and your soul. If they continue to think this kind of behavior is okay, it will also ruin them. If they don’t repent of their behavior at this point, they were never really a friend.

6. When they are doing something to harm themselves – convince them to stop it immediately, if possible. If the threat of self-harm is serious, quickly go to their parent or a trusted adult that can really help. Let your friend know that you will be doing this. They may be upset and say they won’t be your friend anymore but a true friend doesn’t watch someone else destroy themselves, in peace. Later on, they will realize your intentions. A threat to do harm to themselves is really a cry for help.

7. When they are threatening to bring actual harm to others – Sometimes people are just careless with words and say things like, “I’m going to kill you for that!” But knowing them well, you know if they really do intend to bring harm. Violence isn’t always preplanned. Sometimes it erupts from rage. If you perceive the threat is real or could be real, run to tell others. If they are in the process of planning to bring harm to someone (bringing a weapon or planning a trap) Parents, teachers, or authorities need to be informed. If you see danger coming and don’t warn others, you are partly responsible for the harm that comes to the innocent victims. It’s time to tattle. (Ezekiel 33)

Scripture has many wise words on friendship. Here are a few on choosing and dealing with friends.

Proverbs 27:5-6  Better is open rebuke Than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.

Proverbs 12:26   The righteous is a guide to his neighbor, But the way of the wicked leads them astray.

Proverbs 13:20  He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.

Proverbs 22:24-25  Do not associate with a man given to anger; Or go with a hot-tempered man, Or you will learn his ways And find a snare for yourself.

1 Corinthians 15:33   Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”

Proverbs 14:6-7  A scoffer seeks wisdom and finds none, But knowledge is easy to one who has understanding. Leave the presence of a fool, Or you will not discern words of knowledge.

Proverbs 27:17  Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.


With thanks to my mother in law, Nancy Clark, for the valuable lessons she taught me when I had four-in-a-row and didn’t know how to manage them! Your words of advice have been the saving of my family.

My book, The Tattle Snake  https://amzn.to/2NZNB01  teaches children how to handle the tattling issue and is now available at Amazon.com.  I may receive profit from this affiliate link as well as the royalties from any purchases of my book. 

10 Commandments for Childhood Friendships

My granddaughter is in 5th grade now.

I remember 5th grade was hard. Every day on the playground, girls who were friends the day before had “unfriended” their bestie and had a new BFF. It was a minefield of competition and uncertainty!

While middle school was hard, and junior high was miserable, I had figured out how to get along with most people by high school, and let go of those who just weren’t interested. I learned to be okay with myself. Confidence over the years helped me become a better friend and also make wiser choices when selecting friends. I’m in the process of teaching what I’ve learned to my granddaughter as she navigates the rough terrain of emotions, dealing with conflict between friends.

The following are 10 Commandments for Childhood Friendships. Though these are not in order of importance, they make a good standard for relationships at any age.

1. Do not assume your friend is unhappy with you, just because they want to spend time with someone else. When they call again, don’t even bring it up! Holding on too tightly to people can become uncomfortable, and giving your friend the freedom to be alone or spend time with another friend will make you all the more welcome, later.

2. Be a caring listener, not just a talker. Friends that last are those who show interest in others, and don’t only want to talk about themselves.

3. When you disagree or feel hurt, don’t make it personal. Present your concern as an objective thing you can work on together. Assume your friend didn’t mean to be hateful. The Bible says,  “love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails,” and “a friend loves at all times.” Words like, “You never…” or “You always” are both harmful and untrue. It is fine to say, “I felt sad when you said/did that.”

4. It’s probably best not to borrow things that are special to your friend. But if you lose or ruin it, replace it or make amends. Don’t make excuses, just apologize.

5. Never talk about a friend’s weaknesses or tell their secrets to someone else. When you are away from your friend, talk about their strengths and things you enjoy about them.

6. Work out problems before they become too big. Don’t let lies complicate matters, either.

7. Be the kind of friend you would want to have.

8. When they visit your house, they are your guest. Find out what your friend wants to do and spend at least part of the time doing that!

9. Respect other people’s things. Treat them with value and don’t use anything without asking.

Economic Life Lessons For Kids

10. Be encouraging! Tell your friend what they mean to you, and what you appreciate about them.

I’m finding I need to be patient in training and not assume one correction will be sufficient! Our human nature can be so petty, but we have to overcome it. Kindness becomes a habit over time, with practice. The effort taken now will pay off in the end.

Is God Really Good?

Is God good? If so, why is there evil in the world?

The saying “God is in control” quoted after a tragedy caused by human sin, has become so common that I don’t think most people ever question it. The absolute control of God seems intrinsically tied to His being God. But this supposed axiom does bring God’s goodness, into question. The problem of evil lies in direct opposition to the very nature of God and gives atheists room to challenge us on God’s character. Looking at it logically, here is what the unbeliever’s argument for the problem of evil looks like.

(A priori assumption: Christianity claims God is perfectly good and absolutely powerful.)

The Argument:
1. If God is perfectly good, then He is always willing to prevent evil
and If God is infinitely powerful, then he is always able to prevent evil.

2. But God is either unwilling or unable to prevent evil (because evil does exist).

Therefore God is either not infinitely powerful or He isn’t perfect.

The conclusion drawn by the unbeliever is, the God of Christianity doesn’t exist!  This is a valid argument, logically. There is nothing wrong with the form. For a logically valid argument (Constructive Dilemma) to be in error, there must be a false premise somewhere.

Whatever our opinions are, they should come second to what God says about Himself. Some things to consider:

Is God honest about His will, or has He been deceptive – saying the opposite of what He means to those who seek to follow Him? Does God have absolute control at all times, or has He delegated to men and to angels, power that is genuine? Does His Word state that the wicked deeds of men are His intentional and good plan, or that He despises their deeds and would never command such a thing?

I will address the Constructive Dilemma first.

If God is perfectly good”… This claim is substantiated in Scripture.
1 John 1:5 “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him, there is no darkness at all.”

Hebrews 6:18 “God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.”

Proverbs 15:9 “The LORD detests the way of the wicked, but he loves those who pursue righteousness.”

James 1:13 “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one.”

“then He would always be willing to prevent evil.” This part is more tricky and it’s where the atheists gain the most ground. Does goodness of God necessarily mean He must intervene whenever His creation is about to go off course? Does God indicate that His will manipulates the will of mankind in every case – or does His word indicate man is given authority and responsibility for his own actions? Is volition a greater good, so that mankind can grow and learn – just as children do in a household – from their own mistakes?

The assumption that God must morally intervene is based on a view that interference is the highest good. We know God is able to influence or turn man’s heart or intervene – but does He always do so?

Deut. 30:19 “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

Gal. 6:7 “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”

Hosea 10:12 “Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.”

(If we refuse the offered mercy of God – He lets us alone, to our undoing.)

Romans 1:18-24The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…”

In a few cases, the evil that men do falls into God’s bigger plan, though He never needed to compel them to sin. Corrupt men are in plentiful supply, and have been used by God to discipline other nations or maneuver His people into place.  It cannot be said that God tempted them to do evil, but that He knowingly let them go in the direction their hearts would take them, and brought good out of it.

The next conditional begins with:

If God is infinitely powerful …

God is awesomely powerful. I will attempt to show through Scripture that though there was a time, in the beginning, when God retained all power and authority for Himself and there will be a time again when all powers and authorities will be given back, He has actually delegated powers and authorities. This delegated power is real, and not in name only.There is some power God does not retain for Himself at present. He has done this, by His sovereign choice. Those who retain this delegated power may abuse it. These powers are not absolute, but limited, by God. Whether they have done wisely or not, they will all have to give an account for what they have done with their power and authority.

DELEGATED AUTHORITIES

Angels

Daniel 12:1-3  “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

Eph. 3:10 “God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

The Church

1Cor. 6:3-4 “Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church?”

Heb. 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

The Government (Rule of Law)
Romans 13:1-7 “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.  For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.  Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Parents and Masters/employers.

Ephesians 6:1-8  Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—  “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”  Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Servants, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.  Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.  Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people,  because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do…”

Husbands and Wives (authority structure with mutual respect)

Ephesians 5:22-33 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.  “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.  However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.


*
An argument could be made that Adam’s authority to have dominion over the earth was handed over to Satan, by him. Satan is called the “god of this world” in Scripture, and Jesus didn’t deny that Satan’s offer of the kingdoms of the earth was legitimate … but that is not within the scope of this argument, so we’ll give the devil his due, another day.

All delegated authorities will give an account someday to God. He is King of kings and Lord of lords.

The last part of the second conditional is that God is able to prevent evil.

Argument: IF God has really delegated power and authority, then to prevent every evil deed would be mean He had not really delegated this power.

Question: So can man limit God by His disbelief and disobedience?

Ezekiel 18:23 “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”

Matt. 23:37 (Jesus speaking) Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets, and stone those who are sent to you! How often I would have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

Isaiah 65:2-3 “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts. A people who continually provoke Me to My face…”


As to the second part of the constructive dilemma:

“But God is either unwilling or unable to prevent evil (because evil does exist).
Therefore God is either not infinitely powerful or He isn’t perfectly good.”

By the previous verses (and there are others I could bring if needed), I have given evidence that God is not always willing to interfere, even when what is done is against His expressed will. Evil DOES exist because God condemns certain behaviors as evil.

He is not willing to remove the blessing of freedom from His creation, just to have His way at all times. He loved us enough and honored us enough to allow us choice. The choice is real and throughout Scripture, God tells us to choose wisely. We will have to answer to Him for our stewardship of this gift, but it is a gift, nonetheless.

But at this point, I must bring a clarification. Some will say that God made everything, so He must have made evil, too. They may quote the book of Job which says, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”

So, isn’t this a contradiction to my proof?

No, it isn’t.

Evil (meaning wickedness) never comes from God. In Him there is no darkness, no sin, no shadow of turning from His holy nature. But, evil (in the King James version), may also be translated – catastrophe or disaster. Not all disasters are “an act of God,” specifically. Some are just a result of a fallen world and will be so until Jesus returns and reboots nature. But when God brings a disaster in judgment, it is because of His holiness. It is right and just for Him to condemn those who are evil and unrepentant and to bless those who are good, forgiving the sins of those who turn from them (Ezekiel 18).

Scripture indicates that evil appeared when free will creatures made a decision to turn from God. Ezekiel 28:11-17, is a parable about the King of Tyre compares him to Satan. In this passage, we can see how the devil became an evil being.

“‘You were the seal of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden,
the garden of God;
every precious stone adorned you:
carnelian, chrysolite and emerald,
topaz, onyx and jasper,
lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold;
on the day you were created they were prepared.
14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
15 You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.
16 Through your widespread trade
you were filled with violence,
and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.
17 Your heart became proud
on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
I made a spectacle of you before kings.

So we can see that the devil was perfect in all his ways until the day sin was found in him.

According to Genesis 1, when God had completed all His creation, He called it very good. Evil, then, had to come about after this point.

It is likely that Satan fell from his high position at the time he tempted Adam and Eve. The curses God made on those who had sinned in Genesis 3, include a curse for the “snake” that had tempted Eve.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Gen. 3:15 This is a prophecy indicating that Satan would give a lot of trouble to mankind and in the end, Jesus would destroy the power of the devil, though he would be wounded in doing so.

So is God good? Yes, absolutely. Is God infinitely powerful? Not at present – because He has delegated some power. He is not willing to prevent the consequences of our actions, because we do learn from them, and consequences are important for justice, as well. Evil exists, and it is not God’s doing that it does. Not everything we consider evil, is really evil – since we cannot see as God does. Wickedness is evident, but disaster and suffering may have a purpose. After all, look at the suffering of Jesus Christ. That is the ultimate picture of the evil men do, and the suffering of an innocent, bringing about the greatest good. In these things, we can trust God – who knows a lot more about it than we do. We can be sure that He is constant in His nature. He is good. He is loving, but He is just and will not be mocked. Therefore, it is appropriate to honor and love and yes, even fear Him – but this is our choice. God will not force love. In fact, love cannot be forced.

As all other questions are answered, I’ll address the final two.

1. Does His Word state that the wicked deeds of men are His intentional and good plan, or that He despises and would never command such a thing? The Scripture is FULL of admonition to repent of evil and do good, and declares continually God’s anger at wickedness.

Jeremiah 32:35 “They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.”

While this section could go on for practically the length of the Bible, I’ll just add The Ten Commandments as an example. He has given a standard of morality that shows His own holiness.

2. Doesn’t He say, instead, that He is able to USE whatever happens, to His glory?
In Romans 8:28, the Apostle Paul says, “All things work together for the glory of God.”

When He rewards righteousness, God is glorified.
When people repent and God forgives them, His mercy is shown, and He is revered.
When people will not repent and cause great harm, and God brings justice, He is glorified as just.

The “problem of evil” in the world, is not really a problem after all.

And because “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” He does not always get His way.

And yet, His will IS that we choose. Free will is the greater good, with a risk, because love must be free. His ultimate redemptive will is accomplished. And for those of us who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28) all things work together for our good. Even the bad things. He who began a good work in us is faithful, and He will complete it. God is good, all the time!

A Novel Idea: Constructing the Plot

The PLOT or storyline is a series of events in the order they happen for the reader. “Hook” your reader’s interest by giving them just enough information at first. They will read on because they need to know what will happen next. Tease them from time to time with another complication that must be dealt with or an unanswered question that is a necessary part of the puzzle. Pieces of the puzzle will include both events as they occur and flashbacks to the past.


As a new writer mapping out a plan for your story, it may help think back on memories that stand out in your own life. Use an event you have experienced yourself for the basis of your tale. This will give your story authenticity. Of course, you may change the time, setting, character names and ages, position, etc., to make it a work of fiction. Even as a fictional character, you may write as the narrator, exclusively from your point of view. If you choose to write in the third person and develop motives of other characters, you will need to *step back* from the limits of your own perspective and become empathetic. How would you feel if you were in their shoes, with their background experience? Why do they act as they do? What drives them?

Begin your story in the middle of a problem or impending problem. Craft the structure based on genre. The reader will identify most closely with the hero as they face an obstacle and seek to overcome it. The action rises and falls throughout the tale but the intensity should build to the climax of the story. At that point, the main character achieves their goal and all unresolved matters are satisfied. In the end, all the pieces should make sense, as the pieces of a puzzle coming together create a whole picture!


There are two ways I used to construct a story. One is outlining and the other is Plot Mapping. If a story is linear and the end is understood when the writer begins, an outline works well. You have your character facing a problem, the building difficulties, the moment of salvation and resolution. However, if you have an idea for a story and it’s characters but don’t know how it will end yet, you need to build a plot map. Have you ever watched a detective story where either the criminal or the cop has a bulletin board with photos and newspaper clippings on it, with threads connecting various parts to each other? This is a great way to get the big picture of all the back stories and how they fit together. As I’ve said in a past chapter, at first, keep it to three or four main characters as far as detail goes. But the plot at first can look a bit confusing to the reader, like pieces of tangled thread. As the story progresses, the threads need to connect and make sense. It the end all threads tie together in one conclusion. If you physically do this, with a storyboard, you can keep track of the threads you have yet to connect. This is one way you can think through the process of the unwinding tale as you write it.

One note of caution. Writers that begin a tale not knowing where it will take them often have to rewrite whole sections. JRR Tolkien did this when writing The Lord of the Rings. It is time-consuming! This may be daunting to a beginner, but it is a great exercise. Still, for someone just starting out with story writing, it will be easier to take the perspective of one of the main characters and narrate from your point of view. It will be easier to keep track of the plot and remain consistent, “keeping in character.”

A great way to practice plot development is to base it on a well-known story, such as a parable, fable, or other classic tales. Keep the characters and setting but change the starting point or the story the direction takes. You could also write from a different character’s viewpoint. This kind of parody has been successfully done in recent years in “Wicked,” a Broadway play. It is the story of the Wicked Witch of the West (from the Wizard of Oz), telling her own story.  Also, “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, as Told by the Wolf” is a best-selling children’s story! Because these stories are loved and familiar, the new perspective lends itself well to humor.

After rewriting some well-known stories, you will have a better feel for how the plot unfolds. The longer the story is, the more complicated it can be. If you are writing a short story, you’ll want to limit the problems your hero has to one or two. Difficulties from without (a bad circumstance or impending danger) can be overcome at the same time as your hero faces inner flaws (such as insecurity or a bad temper) and rises above them! Struggle with them. Rejoice with them. The more you let the reader see their hero overcome character flaws that they wrestle with, the more your story will resonate. These are some of the “universal truths” I mentioned previously.

In Summary:

– Outline your story.
– Introduce the problem within the first page.
-Resolve the problem bit by bit, with some drawbacks along the way, to increase tension and keep the reader turning pages.
– Make the moment of salvation from their problem definitive and satisfying.
– End the story shortly after the pinnacle of victory by resolving all unanswered questions.


As you prepare to write it helps to read stories that delight you, and take note of how they develop their plot. What is the problem at the beginning? How did the writer “hook” your attention? How did they bring all the problems to a climax and save the main character? How are the loose ends tied up?

Be assured that while there are guidelines for writing an effective story, these are not hard and fast rules. Creative writing is called that for a reason. Just keep your audience in mind and be sure to bring them out of confusion to understanding by the end of the story. They will be coming back for more!

A Novel Idea – Crafting Characters

In your own life, you play the main character. Probably the hero.

One mistake young writers often make, is introducing too many characters without developing their background or reasons why they do what they do. We can only closely follow a few people’s lives closely, without losing track of who we are talking about. So, it’s best to keep main characters at three or four. Have others come and go from the scenes as supporting cast – without extensive detail about them. In fact, some of the people in the background don’t even need names.

Of our few main characters, the most likely candidates are:

1. The Protagonist.
This is our hero or heroine. The protagonist is facing a problem as the story opens, and we root for them as they struggle to overcome it! We will need to know the personality, the background, the motives, strengths, and weaknesses of this main character.

2. The Antagonist. The antagonist can either be another person (in which case, he/she is the villain), an organization, an inner fear or hatred that must be overcome, or some other obstacle standing in the way of the protagonist. Depending on the sort of problem you choose for your story, the Antagonist may have motives or not. But, if not an inanimate object, the antagonist needs to be understood.

3. The Side-Kick
This character can be helping the protagonist or the villain. He/she will bring either wisdom and assistance to the hero, or make the main character’s efforts more difficult. This role is often a catalyst, not directly but indirectly causing things to occur. In the role of assistant, the side-kick can be a lovable but bumbling idiot or a quiet genius. The side-kick should not steal the spotlight from the main characters but is just as important in their role.

4. The Love Interest
This character could be the problem to overcome such as when both the hero and villain love the same person. This could also be the side-kick to one of them. Whether you use this character depends on the genre of your story.

Your plot will determine how you develop characters. Once you decide on the type of story you want to tell, your characters need to be the kind of people that will make this story happen. Their personalities can be crafted to bring about the behaviors you want in the plot.

So, choose your plot first, before designing your characters.

Once your plot is outlined, create character sketches for each of the main characters.

In your own life, you play the main character. Probably the hero. Those who step in and out of your world are either assisting in your quest or hindering you. Some come and go without much influence. But a few people in your life have a huge impact. The first stories we write often have a bit of autobiography in them. But it is important when you write a fictional story, not to retell real-life incidents too closely or use real names. That can get you into trouble! We will discuss plot more in the next chapter and address how to safely navigate this aspect.

The character sketch for your hero, villain, sidekick or love interest will include:

Full name
Age as the story begins
Era of time they lived
Family members?
Personality traits
Talents
Weaknesses
Odd habits or mannerisms
Country of origin
Accent or manner of speaking
Who do they love/hate?
What drives them to do what they do (background for motivation).

Nobody can know everything about another person, but if you are writing about the main character in the first person… using the personal pronouns of “I” or “me” when referring to the hero/heroine, you will have full knowledge of their thoughts and motivations. So, the reader will too. You will not be able to know the inner thoughts of those around you. You want your reader to believe your character is a real person and real people don’t read minds. Of course, unless your hero happens to have this superpower… then, it’s fine.

You will want to make something about your main character, very relatable to your audience. They should find things in common with themselves, or someone they know. However, there can be aspects that are quite different or extreme. An odd habit can bring comedy to your story. A personality trait can go to an extreme, making your character more dangerous or vulnerable, raising tension or anticipation as the story unfolds. Whatever you decide, be consistent throughout the story, unless the obstacle to be overcome changes this aspect of who they are.

Next time, we’ll discuss PLOT! The driving force behind the story.

 

Who Am I Writing For?

 Some compromises are just not worth taking.

In the 1990’s I began writing children’s books. At the time, I was acting President of the North East Mississippi Writer’s Forum and had access to lots of professional advice and knew a few publishers. One children’s book publisher, who also happened to be a Christian, was interested in a new story I’d written, called “The Tattle Snake.” She asked to hold it for 6 months to consider it. As she was a brand new publisher, she wanted to be sure that the first books she published were going to do well in the marketplace.

Since this was a book I had both written and illustrated, I had high hopes for its publication. After six months passed we met over coffee. She told me that she still loved the book but wanted me to make a few changes. I had mentioned “Creator” in the story, and she thought it would be more marketable – I would have a wider audience – if I took out reference to God. She also didn’t like the way I chose to portray my characters.  “Kids won’t want to read a story about snakes,” she said. “What about using something friendlier, like rabbits?”  I was crestfallen. She was suggesting I rip the heart and soul out of my book and start over. The purpose of my story was to show the foolish tendencies of siblings to battle for position and treat one another as enemies. The entire story was told in rhyme using the S-sound to mimic the snakes. Since the Creator’s words resolved the problem, there was no way I could remove the reference. Nor, did I want to.

I wasn’t writing this book to become wealthy. I was writing it to instruct young minds in an engaging way and to honor God in the process. The story was filled with truth, and it needed to stay that way. That afternoon I made a decision to begin self-publishing. I’d also heard that children’s book authors rarely get to select their own artist or draw their own illustrations. Since my daughter loved to illustrate, this would also give her an opportunity. Thus began “Carrot Patch Productions” (named after ). “The Tattle Snake” was the first of three stories that I’ve self-published. I still have three more that need to go to press, including “Once Upon A Carrot Patch.”

Who do I write for? I write for the Lord, and I write for children. As one who was foolish, I wanted to share the wisdom that I had discovered. As one who was lost, I wanted to give direction that I had found. Sometimes, I write articles for their parents. My heart’s desire is to teach and encourage through my writing, to the glory of God and the building up of the saints. It may be that some of my work has an appeal to a wider market, but I don’t care if it does or not.  Some compromises are just not worth taking. For me, self-publishing wasn’t about vanity (some call this vanity-publishing). It wasn’t about making a lot of money. If someone couldn’t afford the book, I gave it to them. The Lord is my supply and money is a small issue compared to the great treasure of influencing a generation for good. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart give Him glory and bless many. It is my hope that my blogging and future video and downloadable products will do just that!