#STRask: August 7, 2017

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Published on 08/07/2017

Greg’s on a timer and answers questions about Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 139, 13-16, and Ephesians 2:10.


  • How do I tell my child’s school they’re taking Jer. 29:11 out of context by claiming it for the school?
  • Since abortion is practiced and Ps.139:13-16 says all our days are ordained ahead of time by God, did He ordain those abortions that happen?
  • If we are created for good works (Eph 2:10), does it make sense to say that God has a single plan or purpose for each person?


Melinda: Okay, I think I’m deaf now. Apparently, the guest who sat here last week had the volume way, way up, so when the music started, like, blast my ears. I’m Melinda the Enforcer. We’re here with, I’m with STRask, and Greg Koukl’s sitting next to me. Yes, folks, two weeks in a row.

Greg Koukl: Uh-huh.

Melinda: We’re on a ...

Greg Koukl: It’s a miracle, a miracle.

Melinda: Yeah.

Greg Koukl: On a roll. Well, I’m going to be here ‘til Christmas, I think ...

Melinda: Yeah, we’re actually, this is your normal time.

Greg Koukl: Yeah, so this is where I’m supposed to be.

Melinda: Yep.

Greg Koukl: Got to earn my dollar three-fifty an hour.

Melinda: Yes, that’s about it. Let’s see. I’m just trying to think of anything. I just, we sort of jumped in here, so I wasn’t totally prepared.

Greg Koukl: Yeah, we had a bunch of guests in and they’re still watching us. reTHINK, any news on reTHINK? Last number was ...

Melinda: It’s coming up.

Greg Koukl: Yeah. Last number we had ...

Melinda: Oh, nope.

Greg Koukl: 650 people that are signed up in advance, and we ...

Melinda: Dawnielle had a meeting with Calvary Costa Mesa ...

Greg Koukl: Yeah.

Melinda: So she was late getting to staffing, so we didn’t have time.

Greg Koukl: Oh, okay.

Melinda: We didn’t hear her update.

Greg Koukl: Right.

Melinda: This is the second week of August. The mentoring letter’s gone out, and so we, you know, we’ve got some changes happening at Stand to Reason. Why don’t you just briefly tell them about Brett?

Greg Koukl: Well, you know, we have a, let me put it this way. I come from a ministry perspective, from a history of people raising up other people and sending them out.

Melinda: That’s what happened at Stand to Reason.

Greg Koukl: That’s how Stand to Reason got founded, because we were in a community of Christians where, as I was serving over eight years at Hope Chapel in Hermosa Beach, you know, it just seemed that God was doing something in my life. It was time to move on, and then Stand to Reason was born, and they sent us out, you know, and we have been doing that. At Stand to Reason, we love the people that work for us.

We are happy to have them while we have them, and when it’s time for them to move on, to flourish, it’s a bittersweet parting in some ways, because we hate to lose wonderful people and wonderful talent, but we know that God is going to magnify their efforts as they move out, and to engage something new. We did this with Scott Klusendorf, early on ...

Melinda: Steve Wagner.

Greg Koukl: And Steve, and then Jay Warner Wallace in his time, and now, it’s time for us to give a launch to Brett Kunkle, who is starting a new organization called MAVEN, and it’s M-A-V-E-N, right?

Melinda: Mm-hmm.

Greg Koukl: Yeah. You can check him out on his website. That’s in development, but you can get some information there. He is going out to focus on his vision for youth, and do the thing that he has been doing so wonderfully for the last 12 or 13 or 14 years here with us. It’s a long time.

Melinda: 14.

Greg Koukl: Yeah. We are sending him out with our blessings. We will, of course, maintain contact with him and work together with him as much as possible, just as we’ve done with our others that we have sent out. We’re looking forward to watching that enterprise flourish over time, and God use it to reach so many others. The way we look at it is that we are not, in a sense, losing somebody. We are releasing that person to continue to be productive in a more effective way than they were with us. That’s our ...

Melinda: Hopefully multiply the work.

Greg Koukl: Multiply the work, yeah.

Melinda: STR is still going to be focused on students and youth and ...

Greg Koukl: Absolutely.

Melinda: We’re moving ahead with reTHINK.

Greg Koukl: That’s right. All the things that we’ve been doing, many of which that ...

Melinda: That’s not changing.

Greg Koukl: Brett gave initial feet to it, and it’s our vision as an organization, and we’ll continue to pursue that. We’re glad Brett is going to be taking his unique talents and focusing on certain things that will help him accomplish great things for the kingdom.

Melinda: Okay.

Greg Koukl: MAVEN.

Melinda: We’re already four minutes into the podcast, and you haven’t answered anything, so let’s go.

Greg Koukl: Well ...

Melinda: You’re on a timer.

Greg Koukl: I answered your first question, which was about Brett, so that was all right.

Melinda: It wasn’t one of our ...

Greg Koukl: I did it in four minutes.

Melinda: Yeah.

Greg Koukl: It qualifies. I didn’t even get dinged.

Melinda: Yeah. We should have timed you. Okay, first question ...

Greg Koukl: Oh, I see.

Melinda: Comes from Twitter. By the way, that’s where the podcast gets its name, and that’s how we get the questions, #STRask. “How do I tell my child’s school they’re taking Jeremiah 29:11 out of context by claiming it for the school?”

Greg Koukl: I’m groaning because ...

Melinda: Should they, first of all?

Greg Koukl: Yeah, I’m groaning because, partly, and here we go again, you know. One of, another abuse of that wonderful passage that had a very particular meaning to the people that it was written to, that has been virtually universally abused by Christians, who are well-meaning, but still misuse it nonetheless. Then the question is, “Okay, now what? Now what? What do we do?”

Melinda: Just tell everybody what the verse is first.

Greg Koukl: Well, the verse is ...

Melinda: Jeremiah 29:11.

Greg Koukl: Yeah, I have a mental block against it, I’m so bothered, by the way, so I can’t ... It’s something to the effect of, “’I know the plans that I have for you,’ sayeth the Lord. ’Plans for welfare and not calamity, to give you a future and a hope.’” Oh, I did it by memory. This is very encouraging to a lot of people. In fact, my brother’s wife had this, she was a widow before she married my brother, and this was one that she really clung to as a promise that she felt was one that God had given her, and was an encouragement to her during those, the time, years of grief following the loss of her husband.

Melinda: Which was it when she married your brother?

Greg Koukl: Which what?

Melinda: Calamity or ...

Greg Koukl: Oh, which was it? No, it was a future and a hope, okay? Just for the record. All right? The point is, the question is, is that what God, through Jeremiah, intended the verse to be understood as? The answer to that is no, because it’s isolated out of a larger body of information that restricts its usage. God told Abraham, “I will make you a great nation, and your name will be great, and I will protect you and all nations of Earth shall be blessed because of you.”

Can I just isolate that and say, “Look, at 67 years old, God is ...” I have no ancestor, that, from my line, from me. I have no children that are genetic children of my own. “Okay, now God’s promised me to make a great nation from my own loins,” if you pick up the detail in Genesis 18, then? Well, no. That’s for Abraham, and that’s for that certain circumstance. You have the same situation here in Jeremiah 29:11.

I can’t go into all of the detail of it, but anybody who reads the context sees that it’s very limited, and in fact, there’s a promise not only in Jeremiah 29:11 for a future and a hope, and not destruction, but a couple of verses down, there’s a promise to other Jews for no future, no hope, just destruction and calamity. Okay? There’s two promises to the Jews. Which one do we get to pick? Well, we pick the one we want. That’s the way it turns out. Okay?

Now, the question is, what do you do when people use this as a proof text to justify a promise that they think they have from God? The answer is, most of the time, nothing. The reason is because it probably isn’t going to do you much good to bring this ... Pardon me ... Bring this up. Sorry.

Melinda: Water?

Greg Koukl: It’s not going to bring too much good. It’s not going to change their mind, because people are so completely committed to this. Look, it, this is on key chains and posters and stitched onto pillows, man. It’s everywhere.

Melinda: Okay, but ...

Greg Koukl: Taken in this ...

Melinda: If he is going to talk to him ...

Greg Koukl: Particular fashion.

Melinda: And I completely agree. Sometimes ... There’s lemonade in there, too, by the way. I agree. A lot of the times, there’s just no point in bringing it up, but if you are, how would you do that? You would begin by pointing out that Jeremiah had a particular audience he was talking to, and this was addressed to that audience.

Greg Koukl: Yeah, and, I mean, there’s a ... I’m wondering the best way to do this, okay, and let me ...

Melinda: Well, we’ll never find out.

Greg Koukl: Well, I think, I’m just trying to think of the question you would ask, and I guess it would depend on a lot of people. These are people that have gone public with it, okay? When people go public with something like that, this is the model for the school, or for the school year, or graduation, or whatever, it’s very difficult for them to back down. What I would say is, maybe I’d say this. I’d ask a question, of course. “Have you ever read that passage in context?” Or, say, “What’s going on there? Who are the ’you’ that Jeremiah has in mind, or God behind Jeremiah?”

Then, “What is the justification for lifting that out and making general application to Christians?” These are all questions, or you could ask, “Does the New Testament promise for Christians prosperity and not calamity?” Of course, the answer to that is no, it promises just the opposite. In this world, you have tribulation. I think that, look, my basic answer is, if people, normally, I would just let this slide, okay, just because it’s not going to do much good, but if you are to have ...

Melinda: I’m just laughing ...

Greg Koukl: An instructive ...

Melinda: Because I don’t think I’ve ever ...

Greg Koukl: Moment ...

Melinda: Noticed a time you let it slide, but I’m glad.

Greg Koukl: Well, if you are going to address it, then I think one ought to address it with these kinds of questions that I just offered, to try to get the person to ...

Melinda: Think about it.

Greg Koukl: Think about it, yeah. Put a stone in their shoe or whatever. Part of my response is influenced by the frustration I’ve had with people who I’ve talked my face blue regarding this, and they don’t change their view one iota. It’s almost like it doesn’t matter.

Melinda: Okay.

Greg Koukl: Okay.

Melinda: We went way too much ...

Greg Koukl: That’s a double ...

Melinda: Overtime on that one.

Greg Koukl: That’s a double ding.

Melinda: Yes, which means we’re really serious. Okay, next question comes from Steve Warsa. “Since abortion is practiced, and Psalm 139 13-16 says, ’All our days are ordained ahead of time by God,’ did He ordain those abortions that happen?”

Greg Koukl: Wait. The first part of the question is, “Since abortion is ...?”

Melinda: Is practiced.

Greg Koukl: Oh, and ...

Melinda: Psalm 139 says God ordains all of our days ahead of time, did He ordain those abortions, because He ordained a very short ...

Greg Koukl: Right. Well ...

Melinda: Life in utero for those children?

Greg Koukl: Of course, what the answer to that depends on the sense of ordained, and if you take that in a strict, deterministic way, then it isn’t just abortion that’s ordained. It’s every ugly act that was ever committed by any person at any time. Okay? I don’t think that’s referring to strict determinism, because that would make God responsible for evil. What I think it means to communicate ... Psalm 139?

Melinda: Mm-hmm.

Greg Koukl: I’m going to flip there. What it means to communicate is God’s providence over all, even over evil. Okay? Even over the worst things that could ever happen to a person, which would include abortion, because that’s taking a human being’s life. Even under those most difficult, ugly, immoral circumstances, God still is God. We see this theme throughout, you know, that whatever, that God is in control of everything. In fact, this psalm itself is about the omnipresence and omniscience of God. There’s nothing that misses Him, and there’s nothing that is outside of His control.

Would I say, if God ordained it, that means He allowed it to happen? I say absolutely. Does that mean that he wanted it to happen? No, but that, in the whole complex interplay of God’s designs and desires, and human free action, this is the plan He ordained to be carried out, having all those other elements. This didn’t catch, none of these things caught God by surprise. If it catches us by surprise, then we can rest in the God who is not caught by surprise by these things. I think that’s the point of this passage.

Melinda: I have a quote, I think it’s from Paul Tripp, that I have in my reminders that comes up once a week. It says, “Peace is not knowing what lies ahead, but it’s putting our trust in the one who does know what’s lying ahead.”

Greg Koukl: Right, right.

Melinda: God. Everything is under God’s control ...

Greg Koukl: If I could just ...

Melinda: The good and the bad.

Greg Koukl: Cite a section of this psalm to underscore my point, “Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to Heaven, you’re there. If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you’re there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there, your hand will lead me.” In other words, you’re there with me, and your right hand will lay hold of me, so that there’s no place, the psalmist is saying, that we can go, and nothing end up happening, that God Himself is not going to be there with us through.

“If I say,” he continues, “’Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to you.” Those are words of hope, and I think that’s the point of the psalmist’s remark that’s in question here.

Melinda: Next question, and you’ve got two minutes for this one.

Greg Koukl: Yes, ma’am.

Melinda: Carlo 3999. “If we are created for good works, as Ephesians 2:10 says, does it make sense to say that God has a single plan or purpose for each person?”

Greg Koukl: Well, I think that one might spin that verse that way, or let me put it this way. That would be a reasonable possibility, if we didn’t have other passages that weighed in on that particular issue. The point that is being made there, and it’s made in more than one place, is that we are not saved by works, but we are saved for works. That certainly is the case in Ephesians 2.

“By grace you are saved, through faith not of yourselves. It’s the gift of God, not of works that any man should boast,” and then the verse following, that we are created for good works, so we get it in the right pecking order. Works don’t save us. God saves us. He rescues us. When He rescues us, He transforms us and creates us to be individuals that will then accomplish these good things.

We see the same thing in Titus Chapter 3, a very similar kind of characterization. I don’t think that what we take from that ... Again, I could see somebody doing this, taking, “Well, then, I have to figure out, what are the specific good works that God wants me to do, Greg Koukl, today?” Therefore, I’ve got to get my marching orders from God.

You see, if that were the case, then I wouldn’t need the rest of the scripture that gives me the very kinds of things that I should be about, if I’m to get my personal, private marching orders from God. That model that some people read out of that text is not present in other passages. Instead, what we’re told to do is to, essentially, to live the life that God describes in the Scripture, by the power the Holy Spirit gives.

Melinda: Know what all three of these questions and answers have in common?

Greg Koukl: I’m giving great answers to them?

Melinda: Besides that? Never read a Bible verse.

Greg Koukl: Oh, yeah. Excellent.

Melinda: All three of them are, the answer, basically, is looking at the passage in context ...

Greg Koukl: Right, right.

Melinda: And not just the context of the passage, but the larger Bible, too.

Greg Koukl: There you go.

Melinda: Yeah. That’s actually how Greg answers a lot of the questions. He just reads the context. Send us your questions on Twitter using #STRask. I’ll find them there and pose them to Greg, and we put them on a timer, sometimes stricter than other times. We post new episodes on Mondays and Thursdays. I’m Melinda, the Enforcer, with Greg Koukl, for Stand to Reason.