Everybody is making New Years Resolutions – those things we make as a fresh year begins, then don’t do after a month or two. I’m as bad as anyone else (I don’t even remember what I resolved last year), but can’t help making some every year.
Since a few years ago when I read how young Jonathan Edwards made a long list of life resolutions which he would read frequently as reminders, I made a list of my own. I would add more resolutions as lifed happened and I learned more things, regardless of what time of year it was. But that list has since become rather dusty – haven’t even glanced at it in almost a year. It’s a new year, so what a good time to resurrect the whole idea!
I won’t post them all here, but here are a few ramblings that have been hard on my mind this past week. I will turn into resolutions on my list when I figure out how to say it more succinctly!
Humility. There is too little of this in the world – it’s lack in my own life not excepted. Reject one-upmanship. Don’t make people feel inferior to you. If you suspect this happened, do and say things that will remove this.
Build Trust. Lately I’ve been thinking of a concept I heard from Marvin K. Mayers. In our interactions with others, Mayers talks about something called “the prior question of trust”: Is what I’m doing, thinking or saying building trust or undermining trust? Trust is a heavy thing. We all need people in our lives we can trust, but too often they can’t be found, or could be but we don’t know it. I hope for people to trust me – and I be trustworthy enough not to let them down. So this year I hope to build more trust with every person I meet.
Be present. Don’t dwell on the past, which is done, or suffer angst over the imaginary future. Every moment of life is a sacred gift to be kept. But don’t forget the past or ignore the future. Everything in balance!
Read more. That explains itself after looking around this blog a bit. I love to read and even review books here, but I keep starting books without finishing them. I’m in ten or so now. Time to get cracking on this! Many new books await me besides.
Who God is. It’s amazing to me how we believe in God, but lack in seeking to find out more of who he is. This is the Supreme Being here. He’s more intriguing than everyone else on earth combined, because he’s the source of it all. He formed the universe. He made you and me. He invented love, or is love. Fascinating. I’ve got to get to know this Person better.
We’ll see how this goes. What are your New Year’s resolutions?
The late Anthony Flew (11 February 1923 – 8 April 2010) was a philosopher and something of a genius. He was an atheist philosopher for most of his career and a notable one. By notable, I mean he even invented new arguments against God’s existence, writing many books. However, with increasing advances in science and philosophical arguments for God’s existence, Flew changed his mind to become something of a Deist. This book is the story of how this happened.
Flew’s oft-repeated matra is “follow the evidence wherever it leads” and maintains the importance of being open to changing your mind if the evidence blows that way. I appreciated his candor on this.
The book begins somewhat autobiographically with good bits of philosophy thrown in, an aspect I really liked. I had some schooling on philosophy and philosophers reading this book. He has great discussions on free-will and determinism, as well as some overview of his past debates and writings, all telling the story of his intellectual journey.
Then he launches into the reasons why he changed his mind: His first reason is mainly the argument from design. The new findings of science on the complexity of life and the ultimate rationality of the universe seen in the laws of nature were major proofs of a rational Designer for Flew. Another was the so-called fine-tuning argument. This says that the universe and its laws are specifically designed and tuned for human life on earth. He then goes on into the problem of the origin of life and the complexity of the DNA molecule and how impossible it is for life to come about by itself. He proceeds from there to the cosmological argument (that due to the law of cause-and-effect, the universe must have a cause, a starter for the big bang would most reasonably be God), and its further development by philosophers David Conway and Richard Swinburne that he found very sound. Flew wraps it up defending the coherency of God as an explanation and a few conclusions.
The two appendices are excellent. One is by Roy Abraham Varghese, who helped Flew write this book (Flew was in his eighties at the time), interacting succinctly and powerfully with the “New Atheists” arguments. This alone is excellent and he broke some new ground for me. The second appendix is by N.T. Wright on the arguments for the self-revelation of God in human history through the resurrection of Jesus. Flew doesn’t believe that God has revealed himself in any way (Deist), but he thought Wright’s argument was fascinating and “the one to beat.” While Flew dismissed it as deficient for him at that time, he was still open to the possibility. But again, Wright had a very hard-hitting article for how short it was.
I’m being vague though – it’s better just to read it. It impressed me enough for a 5/5. This is among the top-ten books I’d recommend to anyone (not just eggheads). It’s only a 213 page simple, yet complete, sum-total of the arguments for God’s existence. Before people make definitive decisions about theism and atheism, this sort of book is the minimum that should be read on the pro-God side, and may be all you need for this side (The door-stop books Swinburne and Plantiga write simply cannot be read and understood by everyone… or rather, your average person just won’t). It also won Christianity Today’s book award, so I’m not alone.
It should be noted though, Flew was not a Christian or a believer in an afterlife. Nonetheless, Christians find it useful (not surprisingly), as would Muslims, Jews, Zoroasterians, etc. But really, I think anyone would find it thought-provoking on life’s most important question – is there a God? It’s worth the investigation.
“Progress in philosophy is different from progress in science, but that does not mean it is therefore impossible… To the extent that these things are accomplished with better reasoning and greater effectiveness, progress will be seen – even as consensus and persuasion remain elusive and incomplete.” 41
“I therefore put to my former fellow-atheists the simple central question: ‘What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a reason to at least consider the existence of a superior Mind?’” 88
“Science spotlights three dimensions of nature that point to God. The first is the fact that nature obeys laws. The second is the dimension of life, of intelligently organized and purpose-driven beings, which arose from matter. The third is the very existence of nature.” 88-89
“The important point is not merely that there are regularities in nature, but that these regularities are mathematically precise, universal, and ‘tied together.’ Einstein spoke of them as ‘reason incarnate.’ The question we should ask is how nature came packaged in this fashion. This is certainly the question that scientists from Newton to Einstein to Heisenberg have asked – and answered. Their answer was the Mind of God.” 96
“Those scientists who point to the Mind of God do not merely advance a series of arguments or a process of syllogistic reasoning. Rather, they propound a vision of reality that emerges from the conceptual heart of modern science and imposes itself on the rational mind. It is a vision that I personally find compelling and irrefutable.” 112
Introducing Wright’s article: “I think that the Christian religion is one religion that most clearly deserves to be honored and respected whether or not its claim to be divine revelation is true. There is nothing like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul.” 186-187
The basic premise of the book is that there are five “postures” of life in relationship to God: Life over God, life under God, life from God, life for God, and life with God. He details everything wrong with religion (including Christianity) with the first four prepositions in relation to God:
1) Life over God is an attempt to make life controllable – follow certain principles and God will automatically bless you. “The mystery and wonder of the world is lost as God is abandoned in favor of proven formulas and controllable outcomes.” The “Church is a business” mentality fits nicely into Life over God. 2) Life under God “sees God in simple cause-and-effect terms – we obey his commands and he blesses our lives, our families, or nation.” Just find what God wants and do it so God will do good things for us. 3) Life from God is essentially an interest in God only to gain benefits from Him, not God Himself. How God can bless me is the first concern. Health and Wealth/Prosperity Teachers view God like this. 4)Life for God is a posture bent on serving God in some way, working hard for him and being “expended accomplishing great things in God’s service.” God himself is lost for the sake of the work.
The book points out the flaws in making these four postures the primary postures in life toward God, and advocates for the fifth posture – life with God. Adam and Eve were created to be with God, but the fall severed this. Then the whole story from Genesis to Revelation is God reconciling humankind back to being with Him as companions again. Jesus died and resurrected for us that we may be with him. Revelation ends with God dwelling with his people forever. Life with God is the point.
The fundamental premise of the book is so appealing: God wants a relationship with us. This isn’t something a posse of postmoderns cooked up; it’s a very ancient, biblical idea. It is amazing how frequently “with” and God are coupled together in the Bible. I noticed this little preposition more in my Bible reading since starting this book, and God “with” people is definitely very common.
At one point in the book, Skye spends some time on the “New Atheists,” writing that they’re really attacking these other religious postures, but refuse to grapple with the idea that God desires to be with us. Many objections to the Christian way and oddities in the Bible are given a hearty rejoinder when you have this perspective (as I’m finding from reading The Christian Delusion alongside With, but that’s for another day).
So many parts of this book are just beautiful. I loved the chapter “Life with Hope.” He brings out the ancient imagery of the sea representing darkness, chaos, and evil — then how God demonstrated His power over these forces, whether by saving Noah’s family from the flood or opening up the Red Sea for the people of Israel.
This book is more than about the various postures people have toward God and the one you should have. It is a book about what God is like. It portrays God as an incredibly Grand Character, whose love is big, whose desire for a real friendship with us is deep, who is the kind of friend we really need. And when you see what an incredible Being God really is, the correct posture – with God – is easier to slip into.
I think he left out some qualifiers in discussing the various postures. Some of them are clearly found in the Scripture – people are to live lives for God (2 Corinthians 5.15), and under God (1Peter 5.6). Those are completely valid prepositions to describe human relationship with God. Yes, God’s goal may be “life with God,” but this is accomplished to its fullest by living our life on purpose for God, submitting under God, etc. I wish Skye made this clearer.
For example: the “Life over God” people’s focus on principles. He criticized the view that if we follow xyz principles found in the Bible, God will automatically bless us. He contends the Bible is NOT a book of mere principles. Skye is right, but the Bible does contain principles! Cursory reading of Deuteronomy, Proverbs, and Pslams reveals this. Principles aren’t bad. The problem becomes when we make it all about principles and not about God. God has ordained reality to be a certain way, and many principles are generally true even when practiced by pagans. For instance, the Bible contains principles for a strong family. The early Roman Republic didn’t have the Bible but still gained a great and strong empire, in part because they so happened to follow good family principles.
Also, there’s repetition and a great bit of overlap between the four postures. A lot of times the chapter on “Life over God” sounded a lot like the chapter on “life from God.” But this is not a big deal. He’s using these phrases as a simple but powerful teaching tool, and there is a good bit of overlap in these concepts anyway.
Last, some parts really could have used more interaction with the biblical text. For instance, he has a marvelous section on how eternal life’s experience starts now, not when we die. He could have looked at John 5.24 or 11.25, or at least put it in parenthesis to back it up.
But in the end, I highly recommend reading it. I got this as an e-book for free from Nelson Publishers through the Booksneeze.com program, in exchange for a review of it on this blog. (I wasn’t required to give a positive review). If you have a blog, you can apply to get the e-book free. If not, get it anyway. It’s a book you will want to read.
Included here are a few of many great quotations. I cannot provide a page number due to the format of the e-book, but I’ll note the chapter.
“Fear and control are the basis for all human religions.” (Ch. 1, Life After Eden)
“Although fear and pain were not originally part of God’s creation, he nonetheless uses them to call us back to himself. These unpleasant realities of our world make us long for something better; they make us search for a beauty behind the shadows.” (Ch. 4, Life From God)
“God may be shouting with his megaphone through our pain, but consumerism would have us put on our headphones and crank up the volume on our iPods.” (Ch. 4, Life From God)
“This call to dwell or abide is an ongoing state of being, not an invitation to chat once in a while.” (Ch. 6, Life With God)
“Identity is not something that can be fully revealed in this age, and it is not a quest that we can complete on our own. Identity is something that our Creator alone can bestow on us. As we journey through this life, we may catch glimpses of who we are – sinner, servant, manager, or consumer – but these are only broken images in a dim mirror. Our true selves cannot be discovered by living under, over, from, or for God. It is something that will only be revealed when we are fully with God.” (Ch. 9, Life With Love).
Sometimes, it strikes you how much you don’t know. It’s humbling. I look around and wonder at how much there is to the people around me, my surroundings, and the metaphysical world, yet how little of it I perceive.
In a conversation between two people, do you ever contemplate how much is going on? Two people. Each thinking of things to say. Saying them. And listening to the other person — all in the same time period. They think and talk at the same time. How amazing is that? Most of the words we say are not completely pre-planned in our minds. We do both at once. Out of these electrical impulses in the brain, thoughts burst out, spoken in sentences. This is a mystery psychologists still don’t understand.
Then there’s nonverbal communication: some intentional, some subconscious. Dr. James Borg claims that 93% of a human communication is nonverbal. We move our eyes, eyebrows, and mouth in various ways that communicate what’s inside us. We hold our head at a particular tilt, put our hands somewhere, stand or sit, turn our body a certain way, etc.
But how much of this do we realize when we talk? I can’t comprehend everything that is going on in one conversation! I wish I was more perceptive. One time I heard a portrait artist talk about how much she can tell about a person’s character by looking at their face as they interact. I hardly ever notice how a person tilts their head, but she does. Again, more I don’t know. I can’t understand the fullness of the information coming at me when I have a conversation, or all the nonverbal messages I’m giving without realizing it. Can you?
Lately, in verywhere I look, in everything I do, I’m struck by my ignorance. I’m living in the Asian continent. What a different culture. I see people do and say things, but I don’t know the language and the culture is so foreign to me I don’t know why they do it. I can only make educated guesses.
Even what I look at a wall, what do I know? There is so much there I don’t see, or what I see is different from what others see. I’ve heard it said every person sees a color differently. I see a light brown wall, but another may see it a few points darker or lighter. The wall has a history — it was built and painted and glanced at by men I don’t know, who probably spoke a language foreign to me. I don’t know how it was built. The wall is currently covered with microbes I can’t see. It is made of atomic particles yet smaller.
Forgive me if this seems a mundane, ridiculous exercise, but I think it’s healthy to think about all you don’t know. We are truly very, very small creatures, even the strongest, brightest, and most beautiful of us. This is why God makes so much sense. There is One who does know everything there is to know. And if He exists, the existence of things and our limited knowledge of them is not meaningless.
And God. There’s a mystery. How can finite beings know an infinite being? We must need his help. What’s more, who are we to question God’s wisdom? It makes no sense to pass judgment on a Being who has all knowledge due to conclusions you’ve made based on your profoundly minute knowledge. But I do it anyway. I judge God all the time. This little know-nothing.
Why do I do this? I guess I don’t know…
Sometimes, a day seems like a chess match. You versus the day. Or maybe better, you versus the devil. He is someone much more skilled than you at this game. A superior thinker and strategist, smarter in every way. As hard as you play the game, as hard as you think, you’re always behind. You can’t think ahead as well as he can. You make dumb moves. Your pieces thin out on the board, or, perhaps, they stay and you’re lulled into a false sense of security as he lures you into his trap. And a chilling “checkmate” rings in your ears before you know it. You’ve been had. You tried, but it wasn’t good enough. You sit there mouth agape, dumbfounded, as this devilish dude laughs and scorns you in wicked delight. Checkmate.
But you know how when a master and a rookie play chess, there’s often some third guy watching it? He’s kind of an adviser to the rookie, an older, kinder master bent on helping the rookie, much to the chagrin of the other master-player. If the rookie listens to his adviser more often than not, he’ll win.
I think God is a lot like that Master Adviser. He knows. You don’t. He (literally) wrote the book on how to do it. He tells you how to play the day. He makes clear what are the dumb moves and what are the right moves. He cares deeply about you and you being victorious in this game. If you listen to what he says, you’ll win. If you ignore his advise, or drown it out by the loud droning of your own feeble ideas, you’ll lose.
This analogy isn’t perfect, but for sure I’ve been losing one game too many. It’s about time for me to become a better listener to the third man. How about you?
I was struck by something while reading in I/II Kings. You know that in every story you have the protagonist – the hero, the person(s) you identify and sympathize with. The antagonist is the one(s) who opposes the protagonist and does bad things – the villain. For those of you who’ve read the Book of Kings, it is very short on heroes, and very high on villains. It’s very depressing. Israel is divided into two kingdoms, evil reigns, kings follow injustice and evil, foreign powers keep attacking and oppressing the Isrealites, the men of God are persecuted, and the population has forgotten God to follow perversity and idols. The characters are mostly either bad guys or really bad guys. The good guys are few and far between, and prone to failure themselves.
What surprises me throughout is that God frequently helps wicked Israelite kings for the sake of His own Name. He helped Ahab win military victories over the Arameans because they were diminishing the God of Israel, so that they will know that He is who He is (1Ki 20). He helped Israel yet again under the wicked Jeroboam II because He saw all their afflictions and desired to show mercy (2Ki 14).
It struck me that the hero of this story isn’t Elijah, Elisha, and the other men of God in these stories. God is the hero. The prophets are just sidekicks. But God is the one doing the action, and powerfully working despite the vicious sins and failures of His people. He is the one who’s honor is on the line, who shows mercy and delivers people from trouble, causes kingdoms to rise and fall, and meets out justice to the wicked. God coolly deals with rebellious humanity with their salvation and His glory in mind, in total control of the situation.
God is the hero of your story too. Your life story isn’t about you. God is the one who gives your life significance, who delivers you out of trouble, forgives your sins, and befriends you in the best and worst of times of your life. By faith in Christ, all of this is granted to us. But too often we don’t live like this. Our life story was ordained by God, but we live as though it’s all about us. If that isn’t ridiculous I don’t know what is. Recalibration is necessary. Let’s recognize God as the champion — then our story will go as it’s supposed to go.
God tells us He forgives to the very depth of our soul, covering the worst outbursts of our depravity:
“… Through His name, everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” – (Acts 10.43)
“If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, Oh Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that you may be revered. I wait for the Lord. My soul does wait, and in His word do I hope.” (Psalm 130.3-4)
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. . . . If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. And He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for those of the whole world.” (1 John 1.9, 2.1-2).
Introspective hearts will ask, “Will this really work yet again? Will God forgive me today, just like yesterday? He can’t forgive me again. I can’t ask His forgiveness now. He’s bound to be angry. Maybe later when I’m doing better.”
This thinking is absolutely wrong! God will forgive you every day of your life! Every moment of your life! To say that God can’t forgive us because we’re “too bad,” to delay going to God in order to make ourselves “good” again — all is a kind of pride. That’s saying God isn’t gracious enough. Let’s be humble enough to accept God’s forgiveness! HE is God and has the right to forgive, and fortunately for us, He does. His Word guarantees it. God is immensely gracious, beyond anything we can comprehend! All because of the cross of Christ satisfying the penalty for our guilt, believers in Him go free forever, and when we sin now we can come to God and ask forgiveness to receive renewed fellowship with God.
Not that we deserve it. We never merit forgiveness, nor can we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and be good by ourselves, or atone for our own sins by asceticism or self-punishment or doing some kind deed. Let God be God. The cross of Christ atoned for every last ounce of your sin.
Let’s seek God for forgiveness when we’ve done wrong. This causes us to revere God, and therefore glorifies Him. And isn’t that what God wants? What else does He want you to do: to stay away from Him? Punish yourself in some way first? Our Lord is clear: He has been punished for us; so every time we sin, the only thing Christ desires is our rush back into His love and grace – and stay there.
If you believe this, you can take on anything in the world.
That’s the big question in the young Christian community. Usually we mean something specific: should I go to this college or that college or not go at all, or marry so-and-so, or which career, where should I live, etc. But it’s illuminating to survey where definitions of the “the will of God” appear in the Bible:
- “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” Jesus, John 6.40
- “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;” 1 Thessalonians 4.3
- “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5.18
- “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12.2
- “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5.15-17
- “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him . . . For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” 1 Peter 2.13-15.
God’s specific calling on your life (career choice, marriage, etc.) is irrelevant if you’re not staying in Jesus’ teaching – something you can do whenever and wherever you’re at. God has already shown his will in the most important things. Believing in Jesus for eternal life and making that truth known, giving thanks to God, staying away from sexual sin, walking in wisdom, renewing our minds with the things of God, submitting to the government and other commands of the Bible are essentials, whether you’re a plumber or a pastor, if you live in San Fransisco or San Juan, whether your single or dating or married.
To know God’s will we need to look to God’s Word. He makes it clear. So why are we so worried and anxious about it? We have great freedom in Christ. And all those specifics? That’s a topic for another day, but as my old college pastor Steve Griffin said: “Focus on being a passionate disciple of Jesus Christ. Everything else will follow in on its own.”
Have you ever had an earth-shattering moment where you realize you’re part of something that will change the world? The sort of feeling you’d get if you were at the Battle of Marathon seeing the decisive victory of the Greeks to stop the Persian Empire, or sitting with Johann Gutenburg as he demonstrates the first Western printing press?
I’ve had few.
Yesterday I went to the California Collegiate Mobilizer Network (CCMN) conference at Vanguard University. CCMN is sort of a loose alliance of missions departments within various Christian Colleges and Universities in California. They have bi-annual meetings, most of which I have been to in 2009 and this year. I was with students and staff from San Diego Christian College, sort of representing SDCC, but not really because I’ve graduated already but volunteer for missions and – well, it’s complicated. Anyway, it was a great time and really made me think a lot.
What struck me is how deeply critical and profoundly epic this task is – mobilizing young Christians to go to the least reached and poorest people in the world with the grand message of Jesus Christ. Being equipped with a college education gives the opportunities and tools needed to do the task. Being young is needed because long-term missionaries are needed to take the decades to learn the language, culture and relationships that are required to minister cross-culturally.
These student and staff representatives of missions from APU, CalBaptist, Vanguard, and Simpson University are passionate, dedicated individuals. As we talk and strategize about mobilizing students to go and the greatness of the need, and I see their dead-set commitment and realize there is no stopping them. They want to change the world. And they will. And they are. In a day when the world is falling apart, God is sovereignly working in the hearts of men and women like these to form a force of redemption and help to suffering, sinful, wounded souls. As I see this I’m caught up in amazement at the historic times these really are, and I feel as though I really were witnessing an earth-shattering battle. This is a quiet one for eternal souls in an eternal kingdom, not mere temporary political kingdoms.
I imagine it would be more impressive to be at the Lusanne Conference in Cape Town that just wrapped up, which is truly a more world-changing and far-reaching event. But this is where I am now. And in this strategic US state of California at top-notch Christian Colleges and Universities, I see God is on the move. This invisible Being who I’ve never seen, yet know and speak with daily is working in and through me – and millions of other Christians across the globe from California to South Africa – to redeem more and more people throughout the world to give the honor and recognition He deserves. And the Redeemed will see His face when it’s all over, “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” singing worship to the God who saved them (Revelation 7.9-12).
I just found this great piece by Albert Mohler, on the recent string of suicides by gay teens: “Between The Boy and the Bridge: A Haunting Question.”
These suicides make me so sad. What’s worse, this tragedy is perpetrated by those who actually claim to help gays. These young people are told in classrooms that “gay is okay,” but as Tyler’s episode teaches us, other forces in society and forces their own conscience say it’s not okay. They have horribly confused messages thrown at their soul. On the one side religious people giving them harsh condemnation to the worst dungeons without mercy; on the other side being locked inside by “good intentioned” soothsayers whispering if you’re gay you can never change but were “born that way” – with no grace, no hope, and no chance of freedom in between!
Jesus stands in between these slavish voices offering the solution of freedom, obtained by trusting in Him for eternal life after death, and for true quality of life now. Speaking of Jesus, the Bible says “… through him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed [justified, declared right in God’s sight] from all things…” (Acts 13.38b-39a). And further, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5.13 NET Bible).
God frees us from the penalty of sins in eternity future, and frees us to walk away from sin in our lives in the present by empowering us and freeing us to serve God and others. This is far better than condemnation to stay where you are, chained by guilt and fear of what ifs and what people may think. I can’t improve on Mohler’s article, from which I’ll quote these paragraphs:
What if Tyler Clementi had been in your church? Would he have heard biblical truth presented in a context of humble truth-telling and gospel urgency, or would he have heard irresponsible slander, sarcastic jabs, and moralistic self-congratulation?
What about Asher and Billy and Seth? The teenage years are hard enough to navigate. Most boys do not struggle with homosexuality, but there is not a teenage boy alive who does not struggle with sexual confusion. There is no deacon, preacher, or pew-sitter who went through male adolescence unscathed and without sin. There is not a human being who reaches school age who would not be humiliated by a well-placed webcam. And yet these boys — along with girls facing similar struggles — imagine themselves to be alone in their confusion and helpless in their anguish.
Was there no one to step between Tyler Clementi and that bridge? Was there no friend, classmate, or trusted adult who had the courage and compassion to reach into his life and offer hope? Was there no one who could tell him that the anguish of his moment would not last for his lifetime? Was there no one to put into perspective the fact that people who did not love him had taken advantage of him, but that the many who did love him would love him no less?
It has been a week now since I had a car accident. It was my first one and kind of a scare, so it has made me think a lot, mostly revolving around two things:
My life is fragile.
My Lord is a good and merciful God.
I was on my way to work last Wednesday on a back-road in Valley Center. The road was wet from a drizzle, which we hadn’t had in a while so the road was slippery from the oil. Going around a curve I slid and lost control of the car. The car skidded sideways into a ditch and somehow flipped over on end and crashed onto a chain-link fence. I climbed out of the car from the back door. I looked at my poor car, nosed in the dirt and lying on a fence with the engine idling (I was coasting) and ran up to a nearby house to call my dad who lived about five miles away. My injuries were minimal, just a cut on my face and a jammed finger (thought I had back and neck pain later). One of my dad’s neighbors, “Bill” happened to drive by and stopped to help, and another gentleman who lived nearby happened to have a backhoe and chains and pulled the car out. It was beat-up, but it still runs and drives. Even all the headlights work even though it nosed into the ground. The door has since been repaired. Other repairs are on hold for now.
God totally saved my life. In the moment I thought I was gonna die and wrap around an oak tree or something. So much could have gone wrong. One of my back-doors doesn’t open – I could have flipped on the other side, so I’d be trapped in there. I could have hit another car. I could have run into a big oak tree nearby. I could have not crashed over the oak saplings that slowed the car down before hitting the fence. The car could have blown up or totaled. I could have died or been seriously injured.
The first self-aware/God-aware thought I had was that God could have killed me – but He didn’t. Through the event itself, God spoke. He proved to me He is not only able to save my life – but does. He’s letting me live on this earth a little longer, until whatever day He plans that I see Him face-to-face. It may sound crazy, but it encouraged me, showing that God must want me alive for some purpose, for further service. My feelings are with the Apostle Paul, who wrote in Philippians 1:21-24
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
Stephen Hawking, a renowned scientist, has come out with a book that says that the universe doesn’t need God to exist. This has caused a stir, and you can read a nice article/commentary on it on DiscoveryNews “Stephen Hawking Is Such a Troublemaker.”
But what caught my attention more than this simple bit of news (I expected as much from what I know of Hawking) is this paragraph by the author of the above article, Ian O’Neill. I was struck on how many problems this statement has:
“Personally, I totally agree with Stephen’s point of view. It’s far more fascinating to think the Big Bang is purely a consequence of physics with no supernatural being influencing its creation. Alas, the human brain tends to rationalize extremely complex cosmological events as being proof that only ‘a God’ could have done it.”
On the second sentence, how is it more fascinating if there were merely natural, finite, impersonal and random processes than if there were a supernatural, infinite, personal and purposeful God? The existence of a Character who created the universe and caused me to exist who I could get to know is so much more fascinating and mesmerizing than mindless physical laws that just happen with no ultimate cause. From whatever angle you look at it, anything and everything you would ever need to satisfy your fascination is found in God yet not found in physics. Physics is wonderful and truly fascinating, but the One who invented physics must be more wonderful and truly more fascinating. I’m not dissing physics, but it’s just true when the finite meets the infinite. Thus, O’Neil’s sentence baffles me. Even if you don’t believe there is a God, you could you disagree that God would be more fascinating than physics if there was one.
Second problem, to repeat his last sentence: “The human brain tends to rationalize extremely complex cosmological events as being proof that only ‘a God’ could have done it.” I interpret this to say that humans have a natural bent toward trying to explain cosmology with God. O’Neil speaks as if he “knows better” than to go with this human tendency. But does he?
This brings up three questions – where does our ability to rationalize come from? Does this tendency mean something? And doesn’t this tendency make sense?
1) Why does our brain even try to do rationalize or use logical thinking? Rational thought coming from irrational natural processes just cries out ludicrous. If this is true, then rationality is really untrustworthy – which is what Mr. O’Neil is saying at least of this God-ward thinking tendency, but in doing so he undercuts the rationality used for even discussing physics or “knowing better” than going along with other thinking humans.
2) That a human mind would tend toward an all-powerful God seems rather odd. Why would humans conceive of something so inconceivable? Where would did our idea of God come from if no God exists? How can the finite consider the infinite when all it has ever known is finiteness?
3) Any extremely complex event needs an explanation or an originator. Whether it’s a computer, an intricate wood carving, or a science textbook, complexity is always being rationalized. That’s the nature of science itself. Finding rational explanations for what we see. Isn’t this good? Therefore if someone looks to an explanation for complexity and thinks of Someone who designed it, it is a completely rational thing to do; especially when you’re talking about the universe, something more complex than any human-created item for which we assume an originator.
Well, there’s another ramble. Any thoughts? Am I representing O’Neil fairly?
I have been meditating over Psalm 147 lately. What continually catches me is the contrast between verses 2-3 and 4-5. See if you notice it:
1 Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; For it is pleasant and praise is becoming.
2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem; He gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted, And binds up their wounds.
4 He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them.
5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.
6 The LORD supports the afflicted; He brings down the wicked to the ground.
What amazes me is the sharp change in subject. God heals broken people, then it says that He counts the stars and names them all. This blows my mind; we are very, very small compared to stars. They are so innumerable scientists today can’t even count them, and they’re so immense some stars are hundreds of times bigger than our own sun. But God knows each one of these burning spheres.
And this same infinitely powerful and knowledgeable God is also in the business of healing the spiritual/emotional wounds on these outcast, small creatures called human beings, like you and me. I’m amazed that God would care for little old us, but also confident that He is fully able to help us – problems and pains that are too big to us are not too big to an infinitely strong Lord who names the gazillions of stars. What an incredible God. It’s easily seen how it is pleasant and becoming to praise Him.
My long-time boss has recently suffered some heavy losses in his life. In one day, the warehouse for his company with over a million dollars worth of equipment burned to the ground; worse, his brother drowned in a lake, leaving a wife and five children – at a family reunion no less. My boss and his brothers are dedicated Christians – if you wanted to find the definition of a ‘good man’ it would be men like these. Generous, hospitable, friendly, excellent fathers, loving husbands. A tragedy like this can ruin your life and question everything. Some would walk away from God. But this family runs toward God – and in doing so, find a meaning, purpose, and hope in the midst of death that others simply cannot find nor understand.
Through it all, I have been impressed with how they’ve handled it. I want to have the same attitude when I come to that point. It was moving to hear how his sister-in-law is managing the loss of her husband.
To give an example: on the drive back from the reunion their younger son, (he’s five I think) would happily chat about this and that (he’s a very talkative child), but soon break down in tears. His mother would comfort and speak softly to him so that he feels better enough to chat away more; only in five or ten minutes to go back to sobbing again, and again mother comforts and loves him. This cycle continued for the drive home. She is determined to keep enough composure to put her children first and love them through the pain. My boss said something very perceptive I will paraphrase (from the best I can remember) here:
“The real test of dying to yourself is looking to help other people first – when you’re the one who had the highest loss.”
It reminds me of Jesus’ powerful words in Mark 8.34: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” In the midst of bearing the cross of suffering and loss, denying yourself to love others and love Jesus must be the essence of meaning and purpose in life.
In my passport, I have a visa. It’s marked type “ED,” for “Education.” When I applied, what I planned to do in Thailand didn’t entirely fit the category, but it was the nearest fit – going with the short-term team from San Diego Christian College for 16 days of jungle-village work projects, an “internship” for ITDP in June (but not for credit or even with a syllabus), and in July getting my TESOL certification at a Cambridge CELTA school.
But my time here has turned into something that the visa approver at the Thai consulate, nor myself, ever expected “ED” would come to mean to my stay here – I am being educated in God’s school. God is teaching me many, many things in a practical, eclectic school He built all of His own.
Things are going well with this education, but not without challenges. For example:
- I’m learning how difficult cross-cultural missions really are, but also its rewards and worthiness of making it a career. I miss my good friends and family back in the states, deal with illness, fatigue, miscommunication, language barriers, bad smells, etc. But the eternal value and good of what does happen here is breathtaking. God must be honored for Who He is among people who do not know Him, and His love is shown to the lost through missions so they may believe in Him.
- How foolish worry and anxiety can be. Things I have worried about extensively while over here have come to nothing. Statistically, most of what people worry about never happens, but beyond that, for the Christian who is held in the hands of God, even what does happen should not cause anxiety, but a greater dependence on our God who is more than strong enough to take care of it.
- Leadership! I don’t think anyone truly knows how to lead unless they do it. Even the “born leaders” out there (of which I am certainly not), need to experience leading to know what it is like and how to do lead and understand your people better. I had a leadership role on the SDCC team, and it was a much more in-depth and demanding role than I had been in before. I knew how it is vital to put those your leading first and serve them rather than serving self. I got to experience how important this servant-leadershp is! Learned my strengths and weaknesses during this time.
- How real poverty is. The areas we have been in are poor. I have never seen poverty like some of the areas I have seen, especially when we were in the village of Mae Long Thai – Low or zero-income subsistence farming, illness, lack of clothing even. And God loves them and desires they be helped. “The Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and justice for the poor.” (Psalm 140.12).
I am learning many other things – about God, missions, myself (which is scary), Asia as a mission field, the hilltribes, agriculture… God is a good teacher. I hope, while I’m in Thailand and for all my life, to be a good learner, a disciple of Him. That’s the whole point anyway, isn’t it?
Here is an informative link I found on the DailyMail:
The photographs and reports tell a really horrendous story. I don’t know how to respond. I’m very moved by it. In my heart of hearts I ask God why. Many others ask the same; in fact, in times like this God has his character impugned and insulted quite alot. But there are a few things that must be said:
1) In asking why God can let this happen, we cannot fully understand the ins and outs of why. God has the right and authority to make the decisions he thinks are the best and he knows infinately better (and more) than we do.
2) In the midst of tremendous suffering a tremendous good can come whose value far outweighs the pain. Suffering can bring us to a definitive point in our lives with eternal consequences. If through pain one decides to cast their hope in God and be eternally saved from it, then the temporary suffering is well-worth it, as many Christ-followers I know will tell you from personal experience. It also develops your character. The hotter the iron is fired, the stronger and better quality it is.
3) Lest we think that we are some experiment which God is detached from, know that God knows exactly what it is like to suffer like these people in Haiti are suffering — because he was a human Himself. Jesus was God incarnate in human flesh; he experienced the pain of loss of loved ones, being without a home, of physical wounds and death. He knows the tears those Haitian mothers are shedding, because he shed them himself. And he did it voluntarily, for her sake, so that she can be eternally redeemed from her sins.
Knowing the value pain can bring into human lives, and knowing God experiences it with us, our questions cannot become accusations. But God offers everyone a chance to both live victoriously in a world of suffering and to enter a world without suffering for eternity — acquired by trusting in Christ for your eternal destiny.
Jesus once comforted his friend Martha, a woman grieving over the death of her brother, with these words, which are appropriate to quote here: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even though he dies, he shall live. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” – John 11:25