Donate to Support

Support the church that supports this blog. Donate at - Click the donate button in the upper righthand corner.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Living In Between

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.  Advent is a season of waiting and preparation.  We are preparing for Christmas—the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  But we are also waiting for the second coming of Christ, for it was promised Jesus would return to judge the living and the dead, and to right all that is wrong with the world.  Then God will recreate the heavens and the earth, and we will live with God forever in Paradise. 

But in the meantime, we are waiting.

Waiting is an important part of God’s plan for His people.  It can feel like nothing happens while you wait, but God is at work. This series will examine what happened to God’s people in the period in between the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament while they waited for the Messiah to be born.  This series is also design to help you in those times when you feel stuck in between, waiting.

Timeline of the Old Testament
The Bible is divided into two Testaments – the Old Testament & the New Testament.  The Old Testament primarily deals with God’s covenant with Israel.  The New Testament primarily deals with God’s new covenant with all people, made possible through God’s only begotten Son, Jesus, who was the Messiah the Jews longed for.

Here’s a quick review of the Bible.  
First there was Abraham (circa 1900s BC).  About 400 years later, one of Abraham's decedents, Joseph, went down to Egypt.  Then the Israelites became slaves in Egypt for 400 years.  Next, Moses delivered the Israelites (circa 1300s BC).  About 400 years later, David was annointed king of Israel followed by David's son King Solomon (900s BC).  After Solomon, there was a civil war between the northern and southern tribes of Israel.  Israel split into two kingdoms--Samaria in the North and Judea in the South (we get the name "Jews" from Judea).  In 586 BC, Judea was conquered by Babylon and all the inhabitants were taken away into captivity in Babylon.  about 70 years later, the captives were allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem & the Temple (515 BC).  Finally, the last book of the Old Testament was composed about 475 BC.

Nothing else was added to the Bible until the New Testament detailed the events from the first century AD after Christ was born.  What happened during the 400 or so years between the Old and New Testament?  We find a clue in the Book of Nehemiah, which was written close to the end of the OT.  In particular, Nehemiah 9:36-37 was written about events that happened about 515 BC.

Nehemiah 9:36-37
“So now today we are slaves in the land of plenty that you gave our ancestors for their enjoyment! We are slaves here in this good land. 37 The lush produce of this land piles up in the hands of the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They have power over us and our livestock. We serve them at their pleasure, and we are in great misery.”

Nehemiah Rebuilds Jerusalem
Nehemiah was living as one of the conquered Jewish exiles in Persia when the king of Persia (Artaxerxes) decided to let the Jewish exiles return home to Jerusalem.  The king of Persia  commissioned Nehemiah to govern Jerusalem and help oversee the rebuilding of the city and the Temple.

It was a time of great hope for Jews.  They hoped that Jerusalem might return to the glory of Solomon’s days.  They hoped to achieve religious freedom, peace, and prosperity.  They longed to rebuild and worship in their own Temple once again.

Unfortunately their hopes were never fully realized.  The Temple was rebuilt, but it was a shadow of its former glory.  In fact, the Bible record that the people who had known the glory of Solomon's Temple wept because the new Temple was only a shadow of it's former glory.  The reality is the Jews were “slaves in the land” of Israel (Nehemiah 9:36). They remained vassels, subjugated to the more powerful Kingdoms around them.  Throughout the 400-500 year period between the Old and New Testaments, the Jews were passed around between the various empires that rose to power in the region.  They were not treated with dignity or respect. They were merely pawns in an international chess match. They were disposable, vulnerable, and a commodity to be used by more powerful people.  Nehemiah 9:37 says, “We serve them at their pleasure, and we are in great misery.” And that about sums up the Jewish people’s 400 year experience from the time they returned from exile until the time when Jesus was born—the entire period between the Old and New Testaments.

And while in former times, God had sent prophet's like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Hosea and Micah to speak His word to them--words so powerfully inspired people collected them in our Bible--no one spoke inspired words worthy of being included in the Bible for 400 years after the completion of Malachi.  It seems as if God was silent.

This was not the first time God was silent.  It also wasn’t the first time God’s people had to wait.
Remember, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 400 years before God sent Moses to deliver them.  At least during the intertestamental period they were slaves in their own land.

Still, it’s hard to patiently suffer and wait on God when it feels like He is being silent and doesn’t care.  God does care, but sometimes, He has to let us wait and ripen until the time is right to fulfill His plan.

In the meantime, we have to be patient and wait on the Lord.  Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.”

And James 5:7 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return.”

Even if you suffer while you wait, God can use it to bless you when you trust Him & are faithful.  God gives you time to think and grow while you wait for the right opportunities and pass on the wrong ones.  God helps you when you are really hungry and waiting for good food. He teaches you, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God."  Waiting for God gives you time to realize, He is Your only hope.  

Sometimes, people pause for effect before they say something really important.  After the Old Testament, God paused to let people know He was about to speak the most important Word He woudl ever give--the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

The Israelites had to wait for 400 years before their Messiah came, but that 400 years was time for important work in the hearts of HIs people.


First, the pause between the Old and New Testaments gave Israelites time to exhaust all their own schemes and realize, they were hopeless without God.

Israel was a small, insignificant land stuck in between massively powerful empires.  They were never going to have enough resources or a powerful enough army to dominate others.
Their only hope was the Lord.  
Again and again the Jews tried to establish their own kingdom by their own hands, but again and again they failed.  By the time Jesus came, most people realized their only hope was the Lord.  It would only be by the direct intervention of God Almighty that they would find salvation.  The name “Messiah”, means the one chosen by God to save.  Jesus is the Messiah.


What about you?  Do you realize your only hope is the Lord?
Have you been trying to make your own plans work by your own hand?
Don’t you realize, any “kingdom” you build will not stand.  It will fail.
But the plans of the Lord will last forever.  Learn to wait on the Lord.


Second, the time of waiting in between the Old and New Testaments gave the Israelites time to discover their “line in the sand”.

Since Israel had to compromise on many things in order to survive in a hostile world surround by more powerful nations, they really had to learn their core values—the essentials of being faithful to God that they could not compromise.  Not everything is worth fighting about.  But some things are worth dying for.  It's critical to know the difference.

What about you?  Do you know who you really are? 
What are the core values you can’t compromise?  What are the deal breakers for you? 
How do you deal with people who cross the line?
Romans 12:18 says, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” 
How do you live that out?  How do you know if it’s time to compromise or take a stand?
How do you avoid sin and honor God when you take your stand?

Third, the time of waiting in between the Old and New Testaments helped many Israelites grow closer to God.

Waiting for something important can either drive you away from God or draw you closer.  Some Israelites tried to build their own kingdoms.  In the weeks ahead, we will learn about some of the different political and religious groups in Israel and how they tried to build their own kingdoms of Israel.  Thanksfully, there were also many people (like The Wisemen in the East, and Simeon and Anna in Luke 2) who grew closer to God by waiting on God, praying, worshiping, and patiently trusting God's plan.

How about you? 
How can you grow closer to God as you wait faithfully through prayer, study, fasting, and serving?

Closing Thoughts to Contemplate
Contemplate how
you can grow closer to the Lord as you prepare for Christmas?
What will it take for you to finally realize you are hopeless without God?
What are your core values?
What practical steps could you take this season to truly depend upon God, discover who you really are, and prepare for the coming of the Lord?


Monday, November 22, 2021

This Sermon Might Get You Stoned

Next Sunday is the beginning of Advent—a season of waiting and preparation as we prepare for Christmas.  Next Sunday, we will begin a new series titled “In Between”, which considers those times in life when we feel stuck in between; and it also considers what happened to God’s people in the 400 years in between the completion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament.

But in order to prepare for a sermon series about the time in between the Old and New Testaments, we need to summarize the Old Testament.  And so, my first thought was, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to do a sermon where you cover the entire Old Testament in 25 minutes or less!” Yeah, that was my first thought.

My second thought was, “They’ll kill you.”

A lot of people shy away from the Old Testament.  It’s ancient material and it can be difficult to read.  But the Old Testament makes up 85% of the Bible. 
If you read the entire Bible in one year and you start reading in January, you won’t even get to the New Testament until November and then you’re done at the end of December.

And so I thought, How can I summarize the entire Old Testament in 25 minutes? And if I can, they’ll probably stone you to death like they did in the Old Testament!  Then I realized, there actually was a Christian in the New Testament who preached a sermon that summarized the entire Old Testament today.  And they actually did stone him for it!

And so for today, I want to read this mans sermon to you.  His name was Stephen.  He is known as the very first Christian martyr who died for his faith in Jesus.  According to Acts 6:8, “Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people.”  Stephen was one of the first deacons of the Christian church, who did pastoral visits and helped run a program to feed the poor, orphans, and widows in the community.  But the Jewish leaders of the town were jealous of Stephens wisdom and influence so they accused him of blaspheme and brought him before the high council of Jerusalem.  This is the sermon Stephen preached in his defense.

Acts 7
1Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?”

This was Stephen’s reply: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he settled in Haran. God told him, ‘Leave your native land and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’ So Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran until his father died. Then God brought him here to the land where you now live.

“But God gave him no inheritance here, not even one square foot of land. God did promise, however, that eventually the whole land would belong to Abraham and his descendants—even though he had no children yet. God also told him that his descendants would live in a foreign land, where they would be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. ‘But I will punish the nation that enslaves them,’ God said, ‘and in the end they will come out and worship me here in this place.’[c]

“God also gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision at that time. So when Abraham became the father of Isaac, he circumcised him on the eighth day. And the practice was continued when Isaac became the father of Jacob, and when Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs of the Israelite nation.

“These patriarchs were jealous of their brother Joseph, and they sold him to be a slave in Egypt. But God was with him 10 and rescued him from all his troubles. And God gave him favor before Pharaoh, king of Egypt. God also gave Joseph unusual wisdom, so that Pharaoh appointed him governor over all of Egypt and put him in charge of the palace.

11 “But a famine came upon Egypt and Canaan. There was great misery, and our ancestors ran out of food. 12 Jacob heard that there was still grain in Egypt, so he sent his sons—our ancestors—to buy some. 13 The second time they went, Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers,[d] and they were introduced to Pharaoh. 14 Then Joseph sent for his father, Jacob, and all his relatives to come to Egypt, seventy-five persons in all. 15 So Jacob went to Egypt. He died there, as did our ancestors. 16 Their bodies were taken to Shechem and buried in the tomb Abraham had bought for a certain price from Hamor’s sons in Shechem.

17 “As the time drew near when God would fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt greatly increased. 18 But then a new king came to the throne of Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. 19 This king exploited our people and oppressed them, forcing parents to abandon their newborn babies so they would die.

20 “At that time Moses was born—a beautiful child in God’s eyes. His parents cared for him at home for three months. 21 When they had to abandon him, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and raised him as her own son. 22 Moses was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was powerful in both speech and action.

23 “One day when Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his relatives, the people of Israel. 24 He saw an Egyptian mistreating an Israelite. So Moses came to the man’s defense and avenged him, killing the Egyptian. 25 Moses assumed his fellow Israelites would realize that God had sent him to rescue them, but they didn’t.

26 “The next day he visited them again and saw two men of Israel fighting. He tried to be a peacemaker. ‘Men,’ he said, ‘you are brothers. Why are you fighting each other?’

27 “But the man in the wrong pushed Moses aside. ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ he asked. 28 ‘Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 When Moses heard that, he fled the country and lived as a foreigner in the land of Midian. There his two sons were born.

30 “Forty years later, in the desert near Mount Sinai, an angel appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush. 31 When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight. As he went to take a closer look, the voice of the Lord called out to him, 32 ‘I am the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses shook with terror and did not dare to look.

33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. 34 I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. Now go, for I am sending you back to Egypt.’[e]

35 “So God sent back the same man his people had previously rejected when they demanded, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and savior. 36 And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years.

37 “Moses himself told the people of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own people.’[f] 38 Moses was with our ancestors, the assembly of God’s people in the wilderness, when the angel spoke to him at Mount Sinai. And there Moses received life-giving words to pass on to us.[g]

39 “But our ancestors refused to listen to Moses. They rejected him and wanted to return to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us some gods who can lead us, for we don’t know what has become of this Moses, who brought us out of Egypt.’ 41 So they made an idol shaped like a calf, and they sacrificed to it and celebrated over this thing they had made. 42 Then God turned away from them and abandoned them to serve the stars of heaven as their gods! In the book of the prophets it is written,

‘Was it to me you were bringing sacrifices and offerings
    during those forty years in the wilderness, Israel?
43 No, you carried your pagan gods—
    the shrine of Molech,
    the star of your god Rephan,
    and the images you made to worship them.
So I will send you into exile
    as far away as Babylon.’[h]

44 “Our ancestors carried the Tabernacle[i] with them through the wilderness. It was constructed according to the plan God had shown to Moses. 45 Years later, when Joshua led our ancestors in battle against the nations that God drove out of this land, the Tabernacle was taken with them into their new territory. And it stayed there until the time of King David.

46 “David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob.[j] 47 But it was Solomon who actually built it. 48 However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,

49 ‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
    asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?
50     Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’[k]

51 “You stubborn people! You are heathen[l] at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! 52 Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. 53 You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”

Summary of the Old Testament
In this long passage, we see a short summary of the Old Testament.  It is not all inclusive.  You may have noticed some key stories missing like the creation story, Noah and the Ark, and several others.  You're not going to get everything in the cliff notes version.  If you want the full story, you have to read the whole Old Testament, but Stephen gave a good summary.

The Old Testament is the story of how people turned their backs on God and God began working to restore the relationship.  God chose Abraham to represent God to the world.  Then God raised up a nation from Abraham's descendants, Israel, to bring God Light into the world.  When Israel became selfish and forgot about God, God sent the prophets to remind them.  But ultimately, Israel failed to represent God to the world.  But God would still use this broken vessel to bring about the world’s salvation through Jesus, a Jew of Israelite ancestry.  God would send His Messiah to be His perfect representative, to be all that Israel failed to be, who would restore the broken relationship between God and people.  Jesus is that Savior. 

Acts 7:54-59
The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand.
 56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

57 Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him 58 and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.

Some Take Homes for You
What and incredible, tragic, and yet somehow also hopeful story!  From it, I want to give you three practical takeaways for your life.

Don’t stop up your ears. 
If you’re so dead set on drowning out the voice, you might do something terrible.

Stephen’s murders weren’t thugs.  They weren't excons.  They weren’t gang members or murders.  They were religious people, holy men, priests, prophets, and healers.  Unfortunately, they were so wrapped up in their own ideas and passions and politics they would rather murder someone that have their beliefs challenged.

They remind me of a lot of people I see in America today.  We are so divided, with everyone clinging to their own tribes of people who believe just like they do.  And if anyone in their tribe dares to change their mind about something, the people in their own tribe will be the first ones to destroy them, because you can't dare challenge the beliefs of the tribe.

This way of thinking (and not listening) leads people to say and do the most horrendous things.  People are mocking others who don't believe like them, giving death threats to politicians who dare to go against their tribes, and even acting out with violence and domestic terrorism.  People do terrible things when they stop up their ears.

What views do you hold today that are so sacred for you that you won’t give them up no matter what—even if God himself challenged you on them? I implore you to ask God to examine your heart and reveal anything there that is wrong and needs to change.  I I implore you to listen to Him; don't stop up your ears.

When trouble is raging all around you – look up.
Stephen looked up to Heaven and saw the glory of God.

When life has got you beat down or when real trouble surrounds you, look up and find hope and refresh your attitude.  Things are not as bad as they seem.  When you are sad or angry or depressed or overcome by any strong negative emotion, it can darken your perception of reality to the point that you feel nothing is good or right and there is no hope at all.  You can't see clearly to make good decisions and our attitude makes everything seem wrong.  Look up to Jesus and find hope and He will help you put things into proper perspective so you can find hope and make better decisions.

Even Stephen—who was literally surrounded by an angry mob about to murder him—was not as bad off as it seemed on the surface.  Stephen looked up saw the glory of God and it put everything in perspective to the point he could pray for his murders.  If we can do that when things are really bad, we may see God is still in control.  He’s still sitting on His thrown.  We have already won the victory.  And that ay help us find a way out of our bad circumstances.  But even if it doesn't, the worst thing that can happen is we die, but then we enter the glorious eternal life God gives His children through Jesus Christ where there will be no more suffering or sickness or sorrow or pain, forever.  Whatever sufferings we face now is nothing compared to the eternal glory Christ has in store for us.

Pray for your enemies.
Stephen prayed for the very people who stoned him.  That’s what God’s people do.  We should follow Stephen’s example and learn how to live as a Christian in a hostile world.  We should stand up for our beliefs and clearly articulate what we believe and why and even challenge others when they are not  living right.

However, w must resist the urge to become so angry and enraged we act like murders.  The solution?  We must do what Jesus said--sincerely love and pray for our “enemies” and the people who persecute us.  Otherwise, we become no better than the enemies of God.  Some will say, “Well that doesn’t do any good.”  Look at Saul.

Acts 7:58  says the people who stoned Stephen laid their coats at the feet of a man named Saul.  Saul spent the first half of his life on a mission to stamp out Christianity.  He traveled around the world having Christians arrested and killed.  Then, one day, the risen Jesus appeared to Saul in a light that blinded him.  He was unable to see until a Christian prayed for him and healed him (see Act 9).  Saul became a Christian and spent the rest of his life as the greatest Christian evangelist of the New Testament.  That %15 of the Bible people like so much (the New Testament), half of it was written by Saul.  You and I are probably sitting here as Christians today because of Saul.  And this episode of Stephen's murder and the way Stephen prayed for his murders is partially the cause of Saul's conversion.

So, don't stop your ears up to God's voice.  When things get bad, look up to God.  And pray for your enemies.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Does God Really Know Everything?

Introduction If God knows everything, do we really have the freedom to make our own choices?

I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve been a pastor for 2 decades--thinking about the mysteries of God, the Bible, and the Christian faith.  So in this series, I’ll do my best to share something that will help you grow and be fruitful.  

Post your questions in the comments and I may answer them in future articles.

In this post, I want to answer the question:

If God knows everything, do we really have the freedom to make our own choices?

So let’s get into it.

This question deals with 2 Christian teachings that seem to contradict each other. One is God’s omniscience:  which is a fancy way to say God knows everything.

The other teaching is free willthe idea that God gives people the freedom to make their own choices.

But…  If God knows everything (is “omniscient”) how can people really have free will to make their own choices?

This is a question Christians have debated for thousands of years.  I’m not going to solve this mystery in one short blog. Sorry. I can, however, give you the major ways people deal with this delimah and share some of the ramifications of each school of thought. Finally, I will share the way I personally think about this problem.

The first school of thought is predestination.

Predestination says God knows everything that’s going to happen because

He has already planned it and predetermined it. This is the way someone is thinking when they say something like, “God gives everyone a certain number of days to live and when it’s your time to go, it’s just your time. You can’t do anything about it.”

Predestination is pretty straightforward and easy to understand, and it also preserves a view of God as all-knowing and all-powerful. However, it also creates quite a lot of problems.  For instance: What do you do with terrible tragedies like natural disasters, earthquakes, and tornadoes?  And even more troubling, what about school shootings and genocide? Did God purposefully plan and cause all these evils to occur? What kind of God causes a mass murderer to shoot up an elementary school?

People who reject predestination would say: "That’s not any kind of God who can truly be called “good” or “holy” or “loving”.  That’s more like an evil devil than a good God."

Now, there are indeed places in the Bible where God causes disasters. However, it is in response to people’s bad behavior.  People are being evil and God is punishing people’s evil behavior. So the people are the ones responsible for the disaster, not God.

There are even more problems with predestination. If a person can’t change their predetermined fate, then God has already decided if they will spend eternity in Heaven or Hell. There’s nothing people can do to change their eternal destination. That would mean God created some people to burn in hell for eternity knowing they can’t do anything to change their tortuous eternal fate.

People have no responsibility for their punishment.  Only God is responsible.

So why should Christians even try to evangelize? It doesn't do any good.

And if predestination is true, why should we worry about eating right, exercising, or wearing a seatbelt? Why should we go to the doctor? If God has already determined how long you will live and nothing you do can change it, why should we take any responsibility for our own personal health and  safety?  And why should we help others?

Predestination also cripples a person’s freedom to love God. You can’t force someone to love you. Coercion negates authentic love. Under a scheme of predestination, people are more like computers or robots that are pre-programed to either obey or disobey God.  There is no free choice or responsibility and thus no real love.

The opposite view of predestination is Free Will, which says, 

“God gives everyone the freedom to choose what they do”.  According to the Free Will viewpoint, our fate is not predetermined.  We determine our own future by our own choices. This view takes the ultimate responsibility for evil off the shoulders of God and puts it squarely on our shoulders.  If bad things happen, it’s because people do bad things. Either their personal bad behavior causes bad consequences orthe collective bad behavior of humanity corrupts God’s perfect world and leads to bad consequences God didn’t intend--like murder, school shootings, cancer, destructive tornadoes, etc.

Some will argue, “Yeah, but if God knows what choices we’re going to make, then isn’t it still predetermined? God can’t be surprised by our choices or else He isn’t omniscient.” So free will seems to weaken the notion of an all-knowing God even though the Bible clearly teaches God is all-knowing.

Is your head hurting yet?  Hang in there!

You can deal with problems caused by free will in a few ways.  The first idea is Self-Limiting Omniscience:  God limits His foreknowledge. This means God doesn’t allow Himself to know what choices you will make. (Or maybe He lets Himself know some of it but not all of it.) In this way, God limits His interference with people's free will. God may drop hints or impart grace to help people make the right choices--even nudge them right to the very edge of making the right choice--but ultimately, God let’s people make their own final decision.

In this way, God self-limits His sovereignty to allow space for free will.  This makes real love possible--since real love must be a free choice. This also means God does not plan or cause all things, but rather He uses all things for His purposes.  God did not necessarily cause a madman to shoot up a school. That kind of evil happens because we live in a broken world.  However, God can and does use bad things for His own good purposes.  This view doesn’t mean God can’t cause all things, but He chooses in some cases not to cause things and to leave them up to people’s free choices.

Another answer to problems brought on by a belief in free will is Molinism. Molinism says God can see what I will freely choose.  God doesn’t force me to choose, but He knows what I will choose given a certain set of circumstances.  

Therefore, God’s foreknowledge doesn’t cause our decision; He only knows what will happen and then when we make our choice, God uses it for His purpose. But maybe you say, “God thinks He knows me.  But I’m gonna change it up today just to surprise Him!”  But God knows you so well, He even knows if you tried to surprise Him.

None of these arguments is a perfect answer for the contradiction between omniscience and free will.  (This is why people haven’t solved this problem yet & probably never will.)

I think the truth of God’s omniscience is very complex and requires a combination of more than just one simple explanation.  All of these ideas have some truth that can be useful.

For me, Predestination is too simple--in addition to making God out to be an evil tyrant. God said in Isaiah 55:9, “For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

I think we misunderstand God and do injustice to His character when we try to simplify Him into a one neat, tidy explanation that makes us feel comfortable. 

God is not simple and His Holy Presence should make us uncomfortable.

Thinking about the infinite, unknowable nature of God should make you stretch beyond your finite, little-minded ways of thinking.

Now, I want to add one more theory about the character of God that tries to address the apparent contradiction between God knowing everything beforehand and people having the freedom to make their own choices.

(Get ready to really cook your noodle!)

This theory helps me think about God and this issue. I call this view present timelessnessbut I’m not the first person to come up with this theory. In researching for this video, I found out this view was first proposed by a Christian philosopher named Boethius in the 6th century.

Present timelessness (or the Boethian solution) says: Only the present actually exists; (sorry Back to the Future movie fans & proponents of time travel…) If God created time, God is not bound by the laws of time. Remember, God created light and darkness and the sun and moon and stars and days and all the ways we mark time. God is sovereign--even over time!

Evidence from the Bible suggests God is timeless.  He is the Great “I Am”. When Moses asked God in the burning bush in Exodus 3, “What is your name?”  God replied, “I Am” or “I AM WHO I AM.” (The ancient Hebrew word is YHWH 

and is not fully translatable into human language.) God said, “This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.”

God’s name seems to indicate God exists outside of time and is always in the present.  Such a view is mind-boggling for humans since we have always existed in a past, present, future reality.  However, if God exists outside of time, it wouldn’t make any sense to say God believed something yesterday that will turn out to be untrue tomorrow.  “Yesterday” and “tomorrow” do not exist in God’s timeless reality.  

Though this way of thinking may seem incredibly foreign to most people, I think it comes close to the truth.  If we can bring ourselves to suspend our dependence 

on human thinking of life in terms of past, present, and future, we might realize that it is really only the present that actually exists.  We cannot go back into the past.  It no longer exists. We cannot go forward into the future; the future doesn’t exist either.  Only “right now” truly exists.  What you’re doing right now this very moment is the only reality that is actually real.

By the way, think for a moment how this timelessness concept might relate to: forgiveness, healing from past trauma, and worries about future. Remember how Jesus commanded us to forgive what happened in the past and not worry about the future? It makes a lot of sense to me if the past and future are only human concepts and not true in God’s ultimate reality.

The only thing we are absolutely sure exists is right now. And God knows us right now.  He sees us completely and absolutely.  We cannot hide anything from God at this moment.  Therefore, He is absolutely omniscient in this present moment. And somehow, mysteriously, what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow is swallowed up in (or somehow incorporated into) what is actually happening right now at this very moment.

(Hey, I warned you this was going to bake your noodle!)

Now, I don’t claim this solves all our problems and apparent contradictions between God’s Omniscience and our Free Will either. But I do thing it’s a helpful concept to get us thinking and acting right.

So what’s the final answer?

Haven’t you been listening!  There is no answer!  

Well, there’s no final, conclusive answer anyway.

If you just want a simple answer, Predestination is the simplest answer, but it brings all kinds of serious problems along with it. And I believe predestination does injustice to our understanding of God.

On the other hand, Free Will arguments create problems too, problems that lead to all kinds of questions for which we only have partial answers.

But there’s something else really important and practical to consider in this debate. Consider the consequences of each school of thought because

what we think about God and human nature has serious ramifications on the way we choose to live.  For instance:

If God has already predestined everything to happen according to His predetermined plan, then we can’t do anything to change it. Why should we try to tell people about Jesus?  God has already willed some people to be saved and they will be saved.  And God has already predestined other people for hell 

and nothing we do can change it. So why waste our time trying?  In fact, if we do try, we might actually be fighting against God's predestined plan.

And if predestination is true, we can’t do anything to make the world any better or worse than it already is. God has already determined how it will all turn out.

That means, you can’t do anything to fight racism, end oppression, alleviate suffering, find a cure for cancer, stop domestic violence, help the poor, etc.

Under a scheme of predestination, people have no power and no choice whatsoever to do anything contrary to God’s predetermined plan. Not only does that paint a very dark picture of God, it also destroys people’s motivation to be the hands and feet of Jesus who said His purpose (and the purpose of His followers) is to bring Good News to the poor, release captives, make the blind see, end oppression (See Luke 4) and save souls for eternal life (see John 3:16).

As Jesus’ followers, Christians clearly are supposed to work to make the world a better place and save as many for eternal life as possible. Predestination excuses Christians from this responsibility and is contrary to God’s clearly stated mission for His people. On the other hand, if God has given people the free will 

to choose their own actions, then we have a serious responsibility to do our very best.

Yes, it might mean God has relinquished some of His power But in doing so He made it possible for a true relationship of love to exist between God and people.  We can freely choose to love God. This also means God is not sending anyone to hell. People get to choose their eternal destination based on whether or not they trust Jesus and follow Him as Lord. And it also means Christians must do everything in our power to spread the Good News about Jesus Christ so as many people as possible are saved from Hell into eternal life with God in the Kingdom of Heaven. Our effort matters and is essential.

Furthermore, our efforts to make the world around us a better place make a real difference.  And we have a serious responsibility to change our world in this life for the better.  It’s not all up to us--God is helping us, but--we can’t shrug off our responsibility either.

So which of these viewpoints do you think is more useful? Which one leads us to a better world and a more fruitful relationship with God and each other?

For me, the clear answer is Free Will.

Believing God gives people the freedom to make their own choices doesn’t necessarily mean God is not still all-knowing and all-powerful. However, I believe it is essential to emphasis Free Will over God’s omniscience. And I also believe clinging to an uncompromising belief in predestination is a fatalistic detriment to our relationship with God, eachother, and our Christian mission.

I could be wrong.

What are your thoughts?  Post them in the comments.

And also share any other questions you have about the Christian faith.

If you post a good question I can address I may answer it in a future post.