Author: DwightClough

Why I don’t (typically) debate atheists

When I was a young Christian, I couldn’t wait until I learned all the arguments so I could defeat any atheist in a debate. Now that I’m an older Christian, I know all the arguments I need to know, yet I rarely, if ever, debate atheists.

Why?

Good reasons.

To begin with, suppose I could, in the space of an hour, dismantle your entire belief system—whatever that belief system may be. Would you want me to do that to you?

I wouldn’t want someone doing that to me.

Our belief systems form an armor that protects something very vulnerable inside us. To tear apart someone else’s belief system simply because I can would be a form of bullying.

And I’m not a bully.

“Wait a second!” I hear you saying. “Our belief systems have eternal consequences. And some belief systems are wrong.”

Yes, that’s true, and yeah, they are.

But how will I persuade someone to abandon the armor of their current belief system, enter that very vulnerable place where they are intellectually and emotionally defenseless, before they take on a new belief system?

Will I persuade them by arguing or debating with them?

Almost certainly not. Even if I win every one of the debates.

No. But I may persuade them by helping them feel safe enough to give God a try.

In the Psalms, David writes, “Taste and see! God is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

Why do people reject God?

In their minds, they tell themselves they have looked at the evidence, and the evidence supports living in a universe without God.

But at a deeper level, here’s the real reason: They don’t feel safe with God.

And I don’t blame them to be honest with you. Almost all of us have life experiences that seem to tell us God is a monster. Figuring out that He’s not a monster is a journey for each of us.

I used to think my dad was a monster. But over time, I figured out that he wasn’t. He was a broken man trying to be whole just like all the rest of us, but he was a good guy who was trying his best. I’m grateful he was my dad, and I look forward to being reunited with him in heaven.

Our journey with God takes us through a similar process.

As we begin to experience the real God, His goodness and His love melt away all these defenses we no longer need. We no longer need to “prove” He doesn’t exist because here He is, right in front of us.

Maybe this is why Paul says to Timothy, “Don’t argue with people. That destroys relationships. Instead, be kind to everyone. Don’t take it personally when people insult you. Instead, gently help others see the possibilities of truth, hoping that God will empower them to experience the change in perspective that will open up the real world of His love.” (My paraphrase of 2 Timothy 2:23-25.)

Would I ever debate an atheist?

I don’t know.

For the reasons outlined, I don’t really want to. I just want to be a friend.

Have a great week!

Dwight

Filed under: Uncategorized

The eternity no one deserves

Spoiler alert: This may change the way you think about heaven and hell, God and life.

Heaven is an amazing place. You can talk to God any time you want. You’ll be surrounded by people who love you, reunited with people you love. All broken relationships will be healed. Never once will you experience an unkind word, a thoughtless action, any sort of impatience. You’ll be forever young, pain free, healthy, energetic, working on important projects you love. Everything on your bucket list and more—all those unfinished dreams will now be available to you.

Do you deserve that? Have you earned it?

If you’re like me, you know the answer is no. I’ve tried to be kind to people, but I’ve failed. I’ve tried to honor God, but I’ve fallen short. It would be arrogant for me to pretend that I deserve heaven. I could not march into God’s presence and demand that He give me access to heaven because I’ve earned it.

It is an eternity I do not deserve. Neither do you.

Here’s where we enter murky waters.

Many people assume that we must deserve the other place. The wages of sin is death, right? That must mean that a holy God is required to sentence us to eternal torment even if we sin just once.

That’s what I thought for many years. But then I read and reread and reread the Bible, I experienced God, and a different picture emerged.

This too is an eternity I do not deserve. Neither do you.

Do we deserve a day in torment for our sins? Maybe. A month? A year? A thousand years? I don’t know. But I know this. No matter how evil you or I may be, we are not infinitely evil. There is a limit to our sins. Therefore, if punishment should be imposed, that punishment should be finite, limited, not eternal.

How then could a just God sentence anyone to this horrible eternity?

The answer is: He doesn’t.

We sentence ourselves.

Let me explain it with a story.

A mom told her little boy not to go out into the busy street. But the little boy disregarded her instructions and went out into the busy street anyway. Mom, filled with rage, beat the little boy so bad he had to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair and in constant pain.

What do you think?

The mom is monster, right? She deserves to have her parenting rights terminated, and probably should go to prison.

But what if I told you I lied?

That’s not how the story went at all. The mom was doing her best to keep that little boy out of the street, but one day—despite her best efforts—he squirmed out of her grasp and ran into the road. There tragedy happened. He was struck by a car, and, as a result, had to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair in constant pain.

What do you think now?

Can you feel some of that mother’s pain?

Let me explain the parable:

Mom = God
little boy = you and me
busy street = sin
wheelchair and pain = hell

That place we don’t want to think about and talk about comes from sin; it doesn’t come from God. God is focusing all His efforts on keeping you and me out of there, and the only way to do that is to keep us out of the busy street of sin.

God is often portrayed as a criminal court judge who will—at the end of the age—sentence everyone to the eternity they deserve. But that’s not who He really is. He is instead the Physician who wants to remove the cancer of sin from our souls so that He can give us the gift of the good eternity that we also do not deserve.

When we invite Jesus into our lives, the contract we are signing is this:

Jesus, I choose You rather than sin. I don’t have the ability to remove sin from my life, so I invite You to come in and do it for me, and I’ll do my best to cooperate with you in that process.

And it is a process. It does take time. We are all a work in progress.

But that work will be completed before we pass through the gates of heaven because we cannot carry our sin with us into heaven.

Eternal life is a gift from God. It is ours if we’re willing to take the hand Jesus offers, invite Him in, and allow Him to remove everything connected with that place we don’t want to be.

Dwight

PS. This is a big topic, and I’m leaving questions unanswered. I go into it more deeply in some of my recent books such as Strap In! and Am I Going to Heaven When I Die? I’m planning to release a book with a deep dive into this topic in 2024.

Unsplash images by Danist Soh and Felix Weinitschke

Filed under: Uncategorized

How the Kingdom of God fixes everything

Many are threatened by the Kingdom of God because it messes with their private utopia—the one they are trying to force onto the rest of humanity.

Pause and let that sink in.

The Kingdom of God is measured first by how much real estate God occupies in your soul and in mine. When God’s “market share” within increases, life improves. We calm way down. We are happier; the technical term is “joy.” We feel gratitude, and we look around at our fellow human beings with wonder, respect, compassion.

People say religion should be private, but no, God cannot be confined by the borders of our inner selves. He will break out. From that home base, He will venture forth to transform our relationships.

We will make amends. We will forgive. We will repair relationships. As our own souls travel further into the transformation the presence of Christ necessarily produces, our addiction to dysfunctional relationships falls away. We bring Jesus—and with Him—understanding, respect, trust, and love into marriage, family, and friendship. Health comes to all these relationships.

The abuse and misuse of power is pandemic in our world. But as our relationships improve, so does our management of power. As we get to know God as He really is, the cure for the misuse of power comes more and more into focus.

It becomes clear to us that politics and economics cannot bring salvation, but salvation will transform politics and economics.

It starts within. It starts by finding that line inside your heart where you haven’t yet said yes to God, and figuring out why.

Jesus, I would say yes to You here, but…

What do You want me to know?

It comes down to this: Who should be the architect of a transformed world? If you want it to be you, then you don’t need God. You will think you are bringing salvation to mankind and in the end six million Jews will die, or 100 million will die in gulags and labor camps. If you want it to be God, then put your money where your mouth is, and let Him come in and design the utopia for the inside of your soul first before you dare fix even one other human being.

###

BTW, the picture is Kim and me on that boardwalk along the lake between Madison and McFarland on a beautiful November day.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Thinking Theistically

My wife shared a video with me in which a Christian apologist was debating an atheist. The atheist brought up a story of a woman who was locked in a dungeon for 24 years, raped most nights by her father, had seven children, one of them died. She begged God to rescue her, and He did not. Then he asked the question, “How could God allow this?”

The apologist went through his arguments which were all good, but I think I would have approached this question differently.

The challenge before us is this: How could God allow horrible things to happen to innocent people? If these horrible things happen, then that must prove that God (a) is not good, (b) is not strong enough to intervene, or (c) does not exist, right?

The first thing we need to understand is this: There is no slick answer. You can’t string together 50, 100, 30,000 words that will settle this question once and forever. That’s not how questions like this work.

But what we can do is this: We can start to think theistically, and in so doing maybe our world will make a little more sense.

Here’s how I would do that: First of all, can we all agree that what happened to this woman was horrible? It was terrible. It was horrific. In fact, our words fail us. We don’t have strong enough words to draw a circle around the evil that happened here.

We need to acknowledge this because if we deny it at any level, we’re not seeing the world as it really is.

And what would be the appropriate human emotional response to this? Shock. Horror. A deep, deep sense of hurt for this woman who was victimized. And anger at the injustice that was perpetrated against her.

Horrible things happen to people. And I think if we were honest with ourselves, we would say this: At some point, we need to look away. To protect ourselves, we cannot take in the full picture of evil that takes place in this world. We can’t handle it. Our psyches aren’t strong enough. The hurt is too deep; we cannot take it in.

But here we find the first difference between God and us.

He never looks away.

He feels the full measure of your hurt and mine. Every moment of this woman’s 24 year ordeal is etched in the heart of God. He never looked away. He feels all of the hurt. And He feels the full load of anger at the injustice that was committed against her.

To be fair to God we must acknowledge something else. Sometimes—maybe most of the time—He does prevent or stop evils like this from happening. There are people in this world who would love to see you suffer. To see you suffer and slowly die would be like candy for them. If they had the power to make that happen in your life, they would use that power today.

But something stops them.

One time, years ago, I was in a bad place. I made the decision to do something evil—something that would have hurt many people that I care about today. I was on my way to commit this sin when God sent someone to stop me.

Hundreds of times I have thanked God for intervening and saving me from my own stupidity and sin.

But other times I have done wrong. I have hurt people. I have damaged relationships. And God did not intervene to stop me. I have regrets. But God allowed me to do those things even though He knew that people He loved would be hurt in the process.

Maybe you can say the same thing.

So why is it that God sometimes intervenes and stops bad things from happening to people and sometimes He doesn’t?

Is it because He likes some people more than others that He protects them from harm?

Apparently not because who would God like more than Jesus, His only Son?

Even though Jesus asked to be spared, God stood off to the side while evil men stripped Him, mocked Him, beat Him, tortured Him, and finally murdered Him.

I think any of us would beg God not to allow what happened to Jesus to happen to us. But Jesus wasn’t spared.

And if the story ended there, then I think it would be safe to conclude that we live in a meaningless universe where God—if He exists at all—has lost all interest in His creation, and has abandoned us.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Jesus stepped out of the grave. And when He did, He made a statement about God:

There’s no hurt I cannot heal. There’s no damage I cannot fix.

Back to the woman who suffered: What would be the appropriate human response? To rescue her, right? To bring her tormentor to justice. To protect her from further harm. To begin the long process of trying to heal the injury that took place to her soul.

We would use our limited power to do what we can to undo the damage.

But God has power that we do not have. He can heal hurts we cannot heal. He stands on both sides of life and death. He holds eternity in His hands.

And when God brought Jesus back from the dead, He made a promise to all of us:

Whatever has gone wrong in your life, whatever hurts you have endured, I can make them right. I will make them right if you come to Me.

Thanks!

Dwight

PS. For those of you who follow me on YouTube, I hope to have this post up as a video in the next day or so.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Why I value silence and solitude

Five years ago, I moved from a suburb to a quiet rural area about 45 minutes north of Madison. Our real estate agent was confused. “Why would you want to do that?” he asked.

Why indeed.

I notice something when I return to Madison. A certain aggression in the driving—fighting for one’s place in line at the next traffic light. A cold suspicion as people walk by one another in parking lots or on the sidewalk.

Anonymous disconnected humanity. Neighborhoods that once felt safe no longer do.

Not everywhere and not always, of course. But it’s there.

I ponder this.

Not that long ago in human history, you might live your entire life and never encounter more than 500 people. Now you probably see 500 people on your morning commute.

Years ago, the only way I could find out what’s happening in your life was to sit down and talk over a meal, or chat as we plowed a field together. Now, I see your photos in microseconds as they scroll past in social media.

This changes us in ways that I don’t think we fully understand. It has conditioned us to think of other human beings as disposable objects—morons who drive too slow or maniacs who drive too fast—idiots on the wrong side of the political divide, objects of ridicule and scorn.

And we can afford to scorn because people are replaceable. They’re not in short supply; they’re everywhere.

I can tune into my favorite news media and listen to them crucify people I disagree with, and think it’s okay. Because, come on, those people aren’t really human are they? Not like me. They’re disposable, expendable, cheap.

Not long ago, if I wanted to know something, I needed to find a teacher or a book. Now I can consume video after video after video. And when I come up for air, I don’t even remember what I watched.

I no longer need to think because others will do my thinking for me. I—I’m speaking for the mass of humanity here—no longer know how to think because every few seconds my phone dings and tells me what to think.

There must be an antidote for this, right?

I find it in silence and solitude. I find it as I’m washing my dishes, taking a walk along a deserted road, or sitting alone with my thoughts.

In the vacuum of silence, I’m forced to face all the monsters inside. My fears. My anger. My guilt. My doubts. My tangled up thoughts.

And, yeah, that’s a good thing…because it drives me back to God, and allows me to find healing.

Silence is to the soul what a good night’s sleep is to the body: healing, restoring, calming, strengthening.

I find that silence allows me to think—to connect one thought to another, and to see things that maybe other people aren’t seeing.

And then when I come back to the world of noise and people, I’m a better person. By the grace of God, I’m a little more patient, a little more kind, a little more loving.

Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks…

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks.

A friend asked me to drive him down to Florida. He’s moving; he doesn’t like to drive, and he doesn’t have a smart phone, so he asked me to drive his car with him in it and fly home. I was looking forward to the trip. On the way, I hoped to visit my friend Tyler Hames in Georgia.

As we were getting ready to leave, there was a hurricane and then I got sick. So we needed to scramble to find a place for my Florida bound friend to live. My pastor graciously allowed him to stay in his camper on our property.

Meanwhile, I went to the doctor. I was diagnosed with a variety of ailments including (to my surprise) a hernia. (At least I don’t seem to have cancer, so that’s a good thing.)

Somewhere in there, my wife Kim Rohrer Clough and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary.

We’re working on adding an apartment onto our home so my mom can live with us, so the concrete guy came along to excavate a space to pour the concrete. That was fun to watch.

Then I spent a day trying to navigate through airline and travel insurance bureaucracy to get my friend refunded for the airline ticket he purchased for me. Outcome: unclear.

I was on my way to meet with the surgeon when my daughter had an emergency. (I’m not free to share the details, but you could pray for her.)

My mom was getting rid of some old clothes, so I hung them out on the line to get the basement smell out of them before donating them to Goodwill. Then, at 7:00 one morning, a perfectly healthy tree broke in half and fell on the camper.

By the grace of God, no one was injured and damage to the camper appears to be very light. But when the tree guy came to safely bring the tree to the ground, it fell on the clothesline.

Then my wife started noticing strange sounds in her car. My mechanic neighbor took one listen and said, “Sell the car!”

You gotta just laugh. This is life. A kaleidescope of adventure, celebration, disaster, and setbacks. I feel fine, though it’s 4:30 in the morning when I was originally posting on Facebook instead of sleeping so who knows… Anyway, wherever you are, and whatever you’re facing, I wish you well. May the grace and peace of God be with you.

By the way, my son went to Florida in my place. Prayers for his safe return are appreciated…

And there’s this:

A few weeks ago, after torn and defaced pages of a copy of the Quran were allegedly found near a Christian area of Jaranwala, Pakistan, local mosques put out a call for revenge — a call amplified on mosque loudspeakers and through social media.

In an attack that continued for more than 10 hours, thousands of angry Muslims rampaged through the city. 400 homes were destroyed—with possessions looted and burned in the street. 27 churches were attacked. Multiple reports say police watched the ongoing violence rather than intervening to protect Christians. In the end, arrests were made including the arrest of two Christians accused of defacing the Quran.

I have a dear Christian friend who lives not far away. As you can imagine, this is terrifying.

To be a Christian in Pakistan is like being a person of color in South Africa back in the days of apartheid.

Christian organizations like International Christian Concern and Voice of the Martyrs are on the ground helping people rebuild their lives.

I don’t normally do this, but I would like to ask you to prayerfully consider helping these Christians get back on their feet. I’ve donated what I can and hope to give more.

Thanks!

Dwight

Filed under: Uncategorized

My life as a prophet

Hi, I’m a prophet…

Imagine saying that at a party, or putting that on your business card. It doesn’t really work does it?

Prophets have never been well understood, so I thought I would share this post to talk a little bit about what it’s like for me to be a prophet.

I’m a prophet. No, that doesn’t mean that I predict the future (although, honestly, it’s not that hard to see), and no, I don’t typically get a “word” for you (I’d much rather you get your own “words” from God).

Rather it means God has given me a message for my world.

I think of myself as a prophet of kindness. The message God has given me is not one of doom and gloom, terror and woe, but rather one of hope and healing if we will avail ourselves of it.

God has given me a message in the form of big ideas that aren’t that difficult to understand, but they force us to think differently, and they pull us out of our comfort zones.

For example, do you know that you have a wall in your mind? I would say most people have a primitive understanding of this, but 99% don’t know what to do with it—and, as a result, they cut themselves off from much of the profound transformation God offers.

Or do you know that it’s relatively easy to end poverty in the United States? (And, no, I’m not smoking something.) It really is. But doing so forces us to step away from our deeply entrenched political beliefs (Left or Right) and think outside the box.

The best thing about being a prophet is I get to hang out with God. I feel like God has become a really good friend—my best friend. I don’t know; maybe that sounds strange, but that’s what I like.

The worst thing? Knowing you have a message that could transform lives and transform nations, and seeing that message ignored, misunderstood, run over on the highway of cultural noise.

I’m a prophet. That’s the role God has given me in this life. What about you? What role has God given you? What do you like about it? And what do you find challenging about it?

Let me know…

Dwight

Filed under: Uncategorized

Another reason Jesus died on the cross*

Another reason Jesus died on the cross*

*and how it affects us during election season

Jesus died for our sins.

End of story, right?

I’m not so sure. I think there are several reasons Jesus died on the cross, and here’s an important one that’s often overlooked:

He took the place of sin.

Let me put that a different way.

What should have been on that cross?
My sin. Your sin. Our sin. Humanity’s sin. We should be actively crucifying everything within us that misses the mark, that offends God, that hurts others.

What have we done instead?
We crucified God.
God the Son.
God in the flesh.
Vulnerable God.
Hurtable God.

We found an opportunity to do what we as a species secretly wanted to do all along: Kill God. Rid our universe of Him. And we did it.

(But God is not so easily killed, is He?)

Ever since then, the cross has been a line of demarcation.

What will we crucify?

Will we crucify sin? Will we crucify all that has gone wrong—first inside ourselves and then inside our world?

Or will we crucify God? Will we crucify the people God loves? Will we hate? Will we smear? Will we slander? Will we look for their every fault?

This is one reason why I stopped watching the news years ago. The whole purpose of the news media has degenerated into teaching us to hate.

Do you know how you can tell if they succeeded?

We will become fully convinced in our own minds that the people we hate are the true haters. We will be blind to our own paranoia and contempt, and fully focused on theirs—real or imaginary.

This is why I go into mourning during the election cycle—because so much of politics has degenerated into character assassination and stirring up hatred.

And let’s not pretend it doesn’t happen on all sides.

Who or what will we crucify?

Our sin?

Or God in the form of the people He loves?

Dwight

(Cross image by Diana Vargas on Unsplash)

Filed under: Uncategorized

My story and how it affects you

It was 2:30 in the morning on a hot summer’s night. My wife was pregnant, and she woke me out of a sound sleep.

“Dwight, I can’t breathe!”

My mind was groggy and her words made no sense. What do you mean you can’t breathe? Just open your mouth and breathe.

My thoughts were interrupted when she threw off the covers, jumped out of bed, and ran down the hall.

I staggered after her trying to shake myself awake.

I found her in the living room with her mouth pressed up against our window air conditioner taking in great gasping breaths of air.

Weird, huh?

I thought/hoped it was a one off thing. But it wasn’t. It happened again. And again. And again. Pretty soon it was happening all the time. She couldn’t stay inside because it was too confining. She couldn’t go outside because miles and miles of atmosphere were pressing down on her.

Finally, we had the sense to go to the doctor. And he gave this thing that was happening to her a name:

Panic attacks.

Medication would help, he said.

So she took meds.

Trying to be a helpful husband, I recommended Bible verses. “Fear not for I am with you.” “The Lord is my light and my salvation. I will not be afraid.”

“Stand in front of the mirror,” I coached. “Say it like you mean it.”

Lucky for me she didn’t divorce me on the spot.

After a few weeks of this nonsense, God graciously gave me a panic attack or two of my own.

Oh.

I see.

I understood now why Bible verses couldn’t touch that.

Of course, we prayed. Individual prayer. Group prayer. Prayer chain prayer.

But if my wife went off her medication for a day or two, she could think of no good reason to remain alive.

About then, an old friend sent us a cassette tape about a Christian counselor who had discovered this special technique for inviting Jesus into things like panic. He was getting amazing results.

We listened to this cassette over and over again. And we decided that if half of what he was saying was true, we needed to check it out.

So two days after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, we sat in Steve’s office. I spent the first hour of our 90 minute appointment grilling Steve because I didn’t want him to damage my already fragile wife.

Satisfied with his answers, I stepped out.

I don’t know exactly what happened in the 30 minutes that followed, but I know my wife’s panic dropped almost to zero.

She was transformed. I met with Steve, and I was transformed. I shouldn’t really say we met with “Steve.” Yeah, Steve was in the room. But we met with Jesus.

And when Jesus walks in the room, everything changes.

Since then, I’ve been trying to find a way to tell you and everyone I know what’s possible when you really invite Jesus in. Most of the 30+ books I’ve written contain some variation of this message.

Whatever is going on in your life, Jesus really can drop the panic to zero, erase the shame, heal the hurts, reverse the rage, and replace try-hard religion with a beautiful journey of love, joy, and peace.

Be encouraged!
Dwight

Filed under: Uncategorized

Does Jesus want us to set up a theocracy?

(I posted this on Facebook today; thought I would send it out here as well.)

In Matthew 28, Jesus gives us our homework assignment. We are to go and make disciples of all nations.

How do you disciple a nation?

This is a very important question, and some people get very frightened when we discuss it.

Very frightened.

Some people use terms like “dominion theology” and assume that the ultimate goal of Christians (or some Christians) is to seize political power so they can set up a totalitarian theocracy with religious police like you have in Iran or Saudi Arabia—only with a Christian flavor.

Is that what Jesus wants us to do?

Anybody who knows Jesus well would laugh out loud at that suggestion. The problem is: most people don’t know Jesus very well.

So let me explain.

No.

No, Jesus does not want His followers to set up an oppressive regime where people are compelled to follow somebody’s understanding of His religion.

That’s not how it works.

Yes, Jesus has a plan for every nation and for every culture. It begins with the transformation of people, and it continues with the transformation of cultures and systems. There’s a good version and a bad version of every nation, every culture. Jesus brings out the good.

How does someone become good? By knowing the God who is good. By experiencing His goodness and love. By being transformed by His presence.

A nation of good people doesn’t need someone to bully them into being good.

A truly discipled nation has little or no need for a government. Its people would all know God. Its people would have experienced God’s love and His goodness. They would love God and love one another.

In a discipled nation there is no crime, no poverty, no racism, no oppression. Everyone is safe. Everyone is free. Everyone is valued.

It’s critical that you understand this. Because if you don’t get this, you will always be afraid.

So yes, the Great Commission is much larger than getting people to pray a prayer that points them heavenward.

Fixing all these things that are broken in our world is part of it.

But not by top down “I-will-make-you-lose-so-I-can-win” tactics.

Rather it comes when we open the door to the God who is good.

Am I saying by all of this that Christians shouldn’t or couldn’t be involved in politics?

No, of course not.

I am merely saying that the purpose of our involvement has never been and should never be to compel people to do what they can only do voluntarily:

Love God.

###

Be encouraged!

Dwight

PS. I haven’t forgotten about the series I started a couple weeks ago. I plan to get back to that eventually…

Filed under: Uncategorized