Thursday, November 28, 2013

Count Your Many Blessings

One of the hymns I grew up with was "Count Your Many Blessings".  And, since this is the Thanksgiving season, I think I will attempt this feat, in no particular order:

  1. Being a part of God's creation
  2. Knowing the creator
  3. Jesus
  4. Having a wonderful life partner
  5. My son
  6. My daughter
  7. My son's fiancee
  8. Being a part of Kitsap Lake Baptist Church
  9. Having the opportunity to be a Bible teacher
  10. Being a part of the Olympic Baptist Association
  11. Being retired
  12. Having a retirement income that lets me enjoy life
  13. My house
  14. My gardens
  15. My home - combination of #4 & #13, although mostly #4
  16. The Olympic Mountains
  17. The Pacific Crest Trail
  18. Backpacking
  19. Running
  20. Generally good health
  21. Senior discounts
  22. Friends
  23. The United States
  24. Washington (the state)
  25. The view out my front window
  26. All the electronics in my life (laptop, phone, kindle, TV, etc)
  27. The internet, Facebook and other ways to keep in touch
  28. Blogging
  29. The Bible
  30. National Geographic
  31. Football (Seahawks)
  32. Good food
  33. Iced tea
  34. Science, especially cosmology
  35. Our military, police & fire crews
  36. Hammocks
  37. Wild animals in the woods
  38. My mother-in-law
  39. Rain, snow and sunshine
  40. Parents and grand-parents, long gone but not forgotten
  41. Music
  42. Quiet times
  43. Sleep
  44. Being warm and dry on cold, wet days
  45. A dependable car and truck
  46. Health care
  47. J. R. R. Tolkien, for feeding my imagination
  48. Patrick McManus, for making me laugh
  49. C. S. Lewis, for making me think
  50. You, for making it all the way through this list.
There are so many things in my life to be thankful for, blessings both small and great.  I am truly blessed!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Jesus, Lord and Christ

Who is Jesus?  If you were to ask a sampling of your non-church friends this question you would get a variety of answers, ranging from myth, to good teacher, to God.  But more important, who is he to you?  When Jesus asks his disciples this question, Peter quickly responds with “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Peter later reaffirms this declaration at Pentecost, when the church explodes with the coming of the Holy Spirit.  During his inaugural sermon Peter declares:
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” - Acts 2:36 NIV
The people of Jerusalem had rejected Jesus and had seen him crucified.  They had turned their backs on him and his claims over their lives.  But Peter boldly declares to them that God had taken the one they had crucified and made him both Lord and Messiah, or Christ.  Regardless the peoples response to Jesus, he was God's anointed one, his chosen one, the one that God had promised for so long.  And, in spite of their rejection, he was lord, the one that God had put into a place of authority over them.

I do believe that this verse forms the foundation of what we see take place in the book of Acts, as the apostles accept Jesus as God's anointed, and their Lord, and in doing so are used to transform the Roman world.  That transformation did not happen overnight, but it did begin there, and quickly spread out to the rest of the known world.

Today, I call Jesus Lord.  But is he?  When I am honest with myself, I must admit that too often that is just lip service, and I am still in control.  I follow and obey when it is convenient, and ignore his claims when they are inconvenient.  What would my world be like if only I would let go of self and truly embrace Jesus as Lord?  Someday I hope to be brave enough to find out.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Two Men Went Up To Pray

Pharisees were the fundamentalists of Jesus day.  They were very concerned with strict adherence to the Old Testament Law, as well as maintaining separation from pretty much anyone who wasn't a Pharisee, especially Gentiles and those they considered sinners.  I am sure you have met modern day Pharisees, although they more commonly go by the name of Baptist or some other fundamentalist denomination.  Note that not all Baptists are fundamentalists, but many are.  It is also worth noting that I mostly hang out with Baptists.

Tax collectors are not popular today.  In Jesus day they were despised, collaborators with an occupying force (Rome), and a general waste of oxygen. At least that's what the Pharisees of the day considered them as being.  While the Pharisees were considered to be holy, the tax collectors were thought of as low life scum, folks that a good Pharisee would go out of his way to avoid.

With that in mind, Jesus tells an interesting parable whose two main characters are a Pharisee and a tax collector, and their dissimilar approaches to God in prayer.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14 NIV
The Pharisee pats himself on the back and tells God how lucky he is to have such a wonderful person on his team.  He compares himself to the tax collector and is confident that he is superior in every way; quite the catch for God.

The tax collector knows his value, at least to the world around him, and makes no assumptions concerning his standing with God.  Instead, with mourning and humility, he pleads with God for mercy, something that he knows he does not deserve.

I wonder if the Pharisee had any idea that God didn't even know he was there, but had all of his attention focused on the repentant tax collector?  While the Pharisee felt good about himself, and enjoyed the acclaim of others who looked up to him, he failed to realize that God didn't care about what he thought of himself, but was instead looking for those who who humble themselves before him.

Somehow I don't think things have changed today.  While us modern day Pharisees are generally not so blatant about our self righteousness, we are too often guilty of comparing ourselves to the 'sinners' around us, and then feeling good about ourselves, secretly knowing that God is proud of us.

But how much better to approach the God of all creation with humility, beating our chest and realizing that we are totally unworthy of him.  Thankful that he has made us, redeemed us, and brought us into his family.  We should never forget that it is not because of what I am, but because of who he is.

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  So glad that he did ... and still does!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tips for Being an Effective Apologist

As a disciple of Christ, I am called on to always be ready to answer anyone who asks me about the hope that I hold on to.  And it is not just me, but all who call on his name who are expected to be able to do this (see 1 Peter 3:15-16).  Below are some tips that may be helpful to you in being able to successfully give a defense for your faith.

1. Be a Believer:  An essential step to being an apologist is that you have a relationship with God; that you are a follower of Jesus.  If not, you will be trying to defend something that is outside of your experience.

2. Be Active in your Faith:  It will be very challenging, and not too effective, to share the reasons for your faith if you are not personally living it.  You really need to believe, and be obedient to, the truth you are trying to defend.

3. Know What You Believe:  Can you explain to someone else what you believe?  It is not enough to say that you hold to the doctrinal statement of your particular church or denomination.  You are not really called to defend a doctrinal statement.  You are called to give answer to anyone who asks you why you believe.  And to be able to do that, you need to know what you believe.

4. Know Why You Believe What You Do:  Knowing what you believe is really only a first step.  You also need to know why you believe it.  It is generally not sufficient to claim the belief because it is what your church teaches, even though it likely does teach that.  It is much better when you can put into your own words just why you believe some truth about your faith.

5. Care About Others:  An effective apologist needs to have a concern for the people that he is sharing with.  Without that, your defense will likely be more of a sterile debate or an angry exchange.  Genuine concern for the person you are sharing with will be evident to the other person, and will make them much more likely to at least give you a fair hearing.

6. Know Your Questioner: Who is it you are providing a defense to?  Is it another believer who has doubts or an alternative view?  Is it an honest inquirer who just whats to know why you believe what you do and is open to your response?  Or is it someone who is just looking to argue and has no interest in what you have to say?  Knowing who you are talking to should impact the way you make your defense, and whether you should even bother; the last given alternative is one that most are advised to avoid.

7. Don't Get Sidetracked: It never ceases to amaze me the direction that conversations about faith can take.  And too often those detours really have nothing to do with the original discussion or question.  Sometimes that is OK.  But other times the detour was intentional; an effort to steer the conversation into an area that your discussion partner feels more comfortable debating.

8. Be Respectful: Do not attack the other person, belittle them, or act like they are stupid because they don't believe like you do.  Respect them as a creation of God.  And respect their right to hold to the beliefs they do.  That they do not believe like you is not a reflection on your value or beliefs.  Remember that they are not answerable to you, but to God.  Treating them with dignity and respect is your best shot at having them give you an attentive audience.

9. Keep Your Cool:  Remember to always maintain a gentle and respectful attitude in your defense.  If you feel you are reaching a place where you can't do that, then its time to disengage.  Lashing out may be just the response that your questioner is looking for.  While by no means applicable to all, I have found that some of those who are interrogating you are like a small boy with a stick, poking at the lion through the cage bars, trying to invoke a response.  Don't give them that satisfaction!

10. Know When to Quit: You need to stay aware of the effect your defense is having.  If it is being productive, then by all means continue.  But all too often you quickly reach a dead end and need to gracefully disengage.  If you have been able to explain to your questioner what you believe, and why, and have done so with gentleness and respect, then you have accomplished what you are called to do.  How they respond is not up to you, and you are not obligated to go over the same thing over and over, or chase them through every rabbit hole they go down as they seek to confuse you.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Love Your Enemies

I generally enjoy reading the scriptures and find inspiration, and challenge, within its words.  But occasionally there are times when Jesus has something to say to me that I really do not want to hear.  This morning, for instance, while reading through Luke I ran across the following.
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.  But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6:27-36 NIV
I can never remember this passage smacking me quite so hard before.  Yes, there have been people I have struggled with in my life, and  even a small handful that have hurt me badly enough that I avoid them as much as possible.  But for some reason I have never considered them as enemies and so have not applied this to them.

But that has recently changed with the realization that there are a few people around the edges of my life that I am at least treating as enemies, even though I have not given them that title before.  And with that the pretense of ignorance is gone and I am faced with having to respond to Jesus words, directed straight at me.  Will I love them?  Will I do good to them?  Will I pray for them?  Will I forgive them?  Will I be merciful?

As much as it pains me to admit it, I don't want to.  I would much rather continue to pretend like they no longer exist.  But I can't do that.  To do so would be to deny Jesus lordship in my life.  To disobey his voice would be to deny his authority over me.  To forgive would be to experience His forgiveness in my own life.

Does it matter that the harm they have done has not been directed specifically at me, but toward others that I care about, or to churches I have served in?  Does it matter that they are happy and/or content with what they have done?  Or have not repented of their actions?  I wish it did.  But I cannot see any exceptions in what Jesus says.  And even see him applying this to the worst case scenario; to those who are currently directing their enmity against me.

And so I am praying for a change in heart; for an attitude of forgiveness; for a willingness to readmit them to my world.  I know it will not be easy, but it is necessary if Jesus is truly to be my Lord.

Friday, November 15, 2013

I Was There

In Mark's gospel there is an interesting, and seemingly irrelevant, passage that is included in the account of Jesus arrest at Gethsemane, an account that is one of the few in Mark that is not included in either Matthew or Luke.
A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. - Mark 14:51-52
Jesus has been arrested by the crowd sent out by the chief priests and all of his disciples have fled.  And now we see a young man, lightly clad, following Jesus, likely as they led him from the garden and back into Jerusalem.  He is seized by the crowd, sucks his garment, and runs away naked.  As humorous as this account is, in the midst of the seriousness of the rest of the account, what possible value does it offer?

I wish I could remember where I heard the following possible explanation, but it has been long enough ago now that I have lost any inkling of where I heard it, and can only repeat it in general terms.

Jesus has gone into Jerusalem and celebrated the Passover with his disciples in the upper room of someone's home.  The gospels don't tell us whose house this was, but it is known that in Acts the early church would use the home of a woman named Mary, the mother of John, also called Mark (Acts 12:12).  It is not unlikely that this was also the home that was used in the Passover meal recorded in the Gospels.

If indeed they are the same home then it is likely that Mark would have been celebrating the Passover downstairs with his family at the same time that Jesus is upstairs with his disciples.  During the meal upstairs Jesus identified his betrayer, who then left to go inform the priests as to Jesus whereabouts.  And then, after the meal, Jesus leaves with his disciples, minus Judas, for a quiet place outside of town.

Eventually Judas returns with the crowd to arrest Jesus, finds him gone from the home and then heads out to what was probably a common place for Jesus to visit while in Jerusalem.  But Judas' visit to the house awakens the young Mark, who then hurriedly wraps up in a sheet and runs to the garden to warn Jesus, but arrives too late.

Mark is there to see the arrest and starts to follow to see what will happen when he is grabbed and flees, streaking for home.  And then Jesus is taken to the home of the High Priest to begin a series of trials leading up to his crucifixion.

So why is this passage included here?  I believe it is Mark telling us, I was there.  I saw his arrest and can verify first hand that part of the story.  Rather than being a humorous anecdote injected into the account of Jesus arrest and trials, I believe this is a stamp of authenticity from a first person witness of the event.  He is not just telling us what he heard from Peter or others, but, at least for this event, what he had seen.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Omniscience and Free Will

Omniscience is the doctrine that God is all-knowing.  That nothing happens in his creation that he is not aware of.  Omniscience could apply only to the current time as well as to the past.  But the Christian doctrine of the omniscience of God also includes the future.  And that that future was know before God kicked off the universe and the laws that shape it.  An implication of this is that God is responsible for all that happens in the universe because he knew ahead of time what the results would be based on the initial starting conditions.   And that he could have changed the future simply by choosing a different set of starting conditions.

Free will is another teaching that is common among Christians, some other religions, as well as some atheists.  At its simplest form it says that the universe is not deterministic; that people have the ability to make real choices and that the future for me is not fixed.  I can, within limits, change the future based on my choices.  Other people and circumstances outside of my control can also change my future.  In contrast to this is determinism, that our futures are fixed (or predetermined for us), that the apparent choices I make are based entirely upon factors beyond my control such as genetics and environment.  Determinism goes so far as to say that if the universe rewound and started all over again, it would end up just exactly like it is now.  There is no way to really know for sure if we have free will or not, but at the very least, it does appear that we do.

At first (and second and third) glance, this would seem to be a paradox.  How can God know the future if it is not deterministic or fixed?  Would not the ability to know the future imply that the future is fixed and unchangeable?  I will be the first to admit that for me to know the future with certainty, it would have to be.  But is this the case for God?  This is a question that believers have wrestled with for a long time and atheists have now joined us in the discussion.   This conflict is seen as an argument against the possibility of God as defined by the Bible and believed in by Christians.  While I am under no illusion of being able to provide a perfect solution to this riddle, I would like to present a potential answer to the mystery.  This argument, if successful, does not prove the existence of God.  All that it can do is to remove an argument against the possibility of an omniscient God who grants free will to his creation.

The Time Traveler
Let me start with a much briefer discussion of time than that provided by Stephen Hawking in his book, ‘A Brief History of Time’.  Time is a part of this universe and is believed to have started with it.  There may be some kind of time dimension(s) outside of this universe but they are unknowable to us.  Time is a very linear dimension that progresses along in a single direction at a generally uniform pace.  I realize that light speed travel and math tests (among other things) can potentially affect the speed of time.  But they do not affect this discussion.  I am constrained by this dimension and can only see the specific moment that I am in.  I can read about the past and I can project into the future with varying levels of clarity.  But all I can really know is now.

But what if time travel were possible?  What if I could move to another point in the future and observe events there without any interaction that would affect that time.  That point in time, from my position, would no longer be in the future but would be now.  Rather than looking into the future I would be in the future and seeing things as they were then.  The question arises then; does that glimpse of the future cause the future to become fixed.  I would argue that it does not.  What I saw was the result of the choices and events that were made between now and that future point.  If those choices had been different I would have seen a different future.  I am not seeing that 'future' time from the perspective of my normal time.  Instead I am seeing it as a part of the time that I am observing.  I am not looking ahead; I am looking at my current 'now'.  If my watching someone make choices today does not force them into those choices, why would it if I watched them in a future time.

The Transcendence of God
So how does this address the paradox of omniscience and free will? Another of the doctrines of most theistic religions is the transcendence of God.  This says that God is distinct from the universe and is not bound by it.  In other words God is outside of time and space.  The implication of this is that God's knowledge of the future is not based on his being able to look into a crystal ball and see a fixed future.  Instead he is actually in the future as well as in the present and past.  God is able to see my future because it is his now.  You might think of God as an endless string of time travelers who are in instant communication with each other and his knowledge of our future is based on his being able to see the results of the choices as we make them rather than looking ahead to the choices we will make.

For one who is limited by time, like myself, to be omniscient with regards to the future, it is indeed necessary that we live in a deterministic universe.  If the universe is deterministic, and I had a big enough computer, and understood the workings of the universe well enough, I would indeed be able to forecast the future.  And in that case there is no place for free will.  But for the observer who is not constrained by time, and able to be at any desired time, or all time at once, there is no requirement for determinism and free will is not a problem.

Observer or Meddler
But assume that our transient observer is not simply an observer, but one who actually meddles in the workings of the universe and of humanity.  Now we have one who is at least helping to shape the coming future, if not making it unfold entirely according to a specific plan.  And furthermore, assume that this one is also omnipotent, able to do anything that he desired at any point in time.  Note that we are actually talking about the Christian concept of a transcendent, omniscient, omnipotent God now.  Would not this eliminate the possibility of free will?  What chance would we have of doing something that was contrary to his plan or purpose?

The only difference we have between this scenario, with the addition of omnipotence, and the previous one, is the ability to set the future.  But having that ability is not the same as actually using it.  There is nothing that would prevent an omniscient omnipotent God from granting a certain amount of autonomy to his creation, allowing humanity to make choices that are indeed free of his interference.

God and Time
So the answer to the question here really comes down to the relationship of God with the time of this universe.  If he is bound by it, then omniscience and human free will are not compatible.  But if God transcends time, is not bound by it, then there is no reason he could not see the future unfolding long before we do; and see it without compromising our free will.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Perfume and Pennies

There are a couple of stories in the gospels that at first glance seem unrelated, and yet I think they have a powerful lesson to teach.  The first occurs when Jesus is people watching and notices what appears to be an insignificant contribution into the temple treasury.
As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Luke 21:1-4 NIV
This little old widow lady dropped two pennies into the offering plate and receives a resounding commendation from Jesus.  The second takes place while Jesus is a dinner guest shortly before his crucifixion.
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Matthew 26:6-13 NIV
 Here a woman, likely Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, dumps a jar of expensive perfume on Jesus head and then has to endure the criticism of Jesus disciples because of what they viewed as a waste of resources.

So what do these two accounts have in common?  In both of them you have a woman who gives her best.  Neither one of the gifts given were likely to make a big difference in the kingdom, or in the world around them.  After all, how much good can two pennies accomplish.  And how does pouring perfume on Jesus, no matter how good it was, help to feed the poor or bring lost souls into relationship with God?

The problem with this approach is that we are thinking like business men with profit/loss ledgers, always looking to maximize our investment.  But what was significant here is that both of these women gave selflessly out of love.  It wasn't what could be done with the gift that is commended.  It was the attitude with which it is given.  It was the love they gave with that Jesus found to be commendable.

I might be able to give much more than two pennies, and I might sacrifice a great deal to take care of orphans in a third world country.  I might leave behind everything I own and go to a strange place to preach the gospel.  But if I am not doing it out of love, what good does it do me.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NIV
Remember that what you do is not nearly as important as why you do it.  It's not the size of the gift, or what it can accomplish, or what other people think of it.  What is important is why.  Do it out of love for God.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Standing Firm

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then ...
- Ephesians 6:10-14a NIV

How badly do I need to hear and heed this message.  "Take your stand", "stand your ground", "stand", "stand firm".  How much easier is it to just "go with the flow".  Standing your ground is hard.  It takes diligence and strength.  Going with the flow, not making waves, taking it easy; all these are much less demanding.

I'm not good at standing firm.  It takes too much commitment and sacrifice.  How often do I start out standing firm, but before long I am tired, or distracted, or discouraged,  or any number of other excuses.  I long to be like a rock that never wavers or grows weary.  But too often it seems I am more like the tumbleweed, that is planted firmly in the ground, until the wind blows too hard and uproots it, sending it rolling across the landscape.

Standing firm reminds me of the tree out in the forest that endures the winter cold and storms, the flooding creeks and the ravages of fire.  And yet in spite of all that is thrown against it, it remains firmly rooted in the ground, reaching up to the sky.  All around it the forest may be littered with trees that did not stand firm.  But this tree is testament that standing firm is worth while, with crashing to the ground the alternative.

Standing your ground also reminds me of some of King David's mighty men.  Eleazar stood his ground against the Philistines while the rest of the army retreated, and was victorious. Shammah took his stand in the middle of a field when all others fled, and saw a great victory.  These men did not "go with the flow".  Instead they stood firm even when faced with overwhelming odds, and were victorious.

Standing firm reminds me of the wise man who built his house on the rock rather than the sand.  And when the flood waters rose around it, and the winds beat on it, the house stood firm.  How did he manage that?  By listening to Jesus words and putting them into practice in his own life.

I wonder if that would work for me?  Stay rooted in Christ, not watching where other people are going but keeping my eyes on Jesus, absorbing his words and letting them bear fruit in my own life!  Put on the full armor of God, recognize the real opposition, and then stand firm against it, holding to the piece of ground God has placed me on.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Followup on the Kalam Cosmological Argument

I have had some interesting twitter feedback on my recent post on the Kalam Cosmological Argument and thought it would be worthwhile to share some of it, mostly because it illustrates some of the response that you might expect from an atheist when making this argument.

Before looking at the response it is worth pointing out my position in regard to this argument.  First, I do not believe that it is possible to prove the existence of God, and I do not use the Kalam argument for that purpose.  Second, I believe in God because of my own personal experience with him, not because of any argument.  And third, I use the Kalam argument only to demonstrate that it is rational to believe in a creator.


The primary objection to the Kalam argument seems to be that there are alternatives to a creator, including:
  • An oscillating universe
  • A multiverse
  • A self created universe
  • Generated by a super intelligent civilization

I have read about all of these alternatives and find them interesting.  But they are no easier to prove than a creator.  We cannot look outside of our universe, or back before it began.  Science is driven to find answers, and all of the suggestions above, with lots of variety, have been proposed as solutions to where the universe came from.  But for none of them is there any hard evidence; only paper models.  It is worth noting that I was given a link that was supposed to provide evidence for a multiverse, but it appears to be a controversial interpretation of data rather than concrete evidence.

I have no issue with science proposing models and trying to provide an explanation for how our universe came to be.  But I also believe it is important to realize that just because science can propose a model that has some explanatory power does not make that model correct.  If so, there are multiple causes for the beginning of our universe, since there are multiple models

And even should an oscillating universe, or a multiverse be true, it does not ultimately address the issue of what started it all initially.  Only a self-starting universe could eliminate the need for a creator, and the only one of these theories I have studied proposed that ultimately we were the creators, due to some exotic properties of the quantum world.

Belief In God Is Irrational

A second point of attack is that it is just irrational to believe in God/god/gods.  But just why is never explained, apart from "there is no evidence".  Which always leaves me wondering why belief in a multiverse, with no real evidence, is rational.

Rational means "based on or in accordance with reason or logic".  So is belief in God rational?

  • A creator seems more logical than no creator.  
  • Our universe does appear to be finely tuned for life.  
  • I have experienced something in my life that is foreign to some and common to others that I am convinced is the work of God.  
  • I have seen firsthand the transformation that occurs in the lives of some who commit their lives to God.
  • I have read of similar experiences for many other people.  
  • History supports a nearly universal belief in the supernatural across cultures.  
  • Miracles sure seem to happen, and they demand a supernatural.  

None of these alone might be good reasons for believing in God.  Nor are they evidence in the scientific sense of the word.  But they are evidence, and to me at least, the logical response to that is to believe in a god of some kind, and I have chosen the God of the Bible.  Belief in God is rational.  Disbelief in God, given the evidence I have at hand, is irrational.  But it is too easy to dismiss evidence that is inconvenient.  You see it in nearly all areas of life, and everyone is guilty of it at times.  So it is not surprising that those who find belief in God to be inconvenient will dispute any available evidence and claim that there is none.

Attacks On Objectivity

When all else fails you can expect to have your intelligence, objectivity or sanity challenged.  That has not happened much with this most recent experience, but has been pretty common in the past.  And it is not something that only one side in the debate is guilty of.

Too often the assumption seems to be that if I disagree with one of your cherished positions, then something is wrong with me.  The alternative is to admit that you (or I) might not have something right, perish the thought.  It is much easier to simply disregard anything that doesn't fit with ones own particular world view, rather than evaluating it to determine if it is truth and should be adopted.  And Christians are as guilty as atheists in doing that.

And so, when agreement does not quickly happen, we too easily revert to childishness and accuse our opponent of being ignorant or closed minded.  And while sometimes that is true, more often it is simply because of how tightly we hold to our positions, a position that appears foolish to the other side.

I believe in the God of the Bible.  It is ingrained so deeply that it is hard to consider any other alternative, although I do make the attempt on occasion, mostly because I value the truth.  While I understand atheism at some level, it is so contrary to everything I hold to be true that I find it difficult to fully appreciate their perspective.  And I have no doubt that it works the other way as well.  And I try to remember that when involved in a discussion with an atheist.

I do have a moderate level of intelligence.  I make every attempt to be objective and see all sides of an issue and make decisions accordingly.  And apart from belief in God, no one has ever given me any indication that they questioned my sanity.  I am devoted to God and embrace science, finding little real conflict between the two.  And I find it both humorous and sad when people on both sides of the debate are offended by where I stand, often in the same debate.

Kalam Revisited

Whatever begins to exist has a cause:  This seems to be pretty obvious but is sometimes countered with an example from Quantum Mechanics.  QM is a field of physics that deals with the very small; sub-atomic particles.  At this level particles have been observed appearing from nowhere, similar to what one might expect if they had suddenly come into existence without a cause.  Yet those particles could just as easily be involved in a Star Trek type teleport, which is know to happen in QM.  Using this as a disproof of this first premise is at best grasping at straws.

The universe began to exist:  Few challenge this premise any longer.  The scientific evidence for the universe having a beginning is pretty overwhelming.  One thing that is important to note here is how one defines 'universe'.  Some define it as everything that there is.  Others more narrowly as the space/time and mass/energy that came into existence at the big bang, leaving open the possibility of something bigger beyond that is unreachable with our powers of observation.  And I personally use this term in the second sense.

Therefore the universe has a cause:  This conclusion seems to be one that should be unquestioned, and yet it is.  Although in all fairness what is actually questioned is what that cause might be.  While the person challenging the conclusion may just appear to be rejecting the whole argument, when you question them you will find that they readily accept that the universe probably had a cause.  They just don't like to include the possibility of a creator as a cause; preferring instead to attribute the cause to a multiverse, an oscillating universe, self creation, or some other solution that doesn't include a personal creator.

They will argue that there is no evidence for a creator, which is true, while ignoring that there is no real evidence for their favorite cause either.  They might also argue that because of the lack of evidence that it is best not to draw any conclusion, while at the same time rejecting one of them that is contrary to their world view.  And they will argue that it is irrational to accept the possibility of a creator, but rational to accept that the universe might have created itself.  And, in this most recent exchange, that it is rational to accept that some advanced civilization might have created the universe, but irrational to accept that an advanced individual being might have created it.

All in all, I still believe that the Kalam argument is a valid one when used to demonstrate the rationality of acceptance of a creator.  But do not expect to be able to use it to prove the existence of the God of the Bible.  It just does not work for that.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 
- Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV

I love the picture painted by this passage.  My life is pictured as an event in an athletic contest, specifically a long race.  The stands are filled with the saints of Hebrews 11, and many others including my parents, grandparents and others who have already completed the race.  They are watching me run the race and cheering me on.

As a long distance runner, I know the impact of the cheering crowds, encouraging you to continue, even when you feel like giving up.  It is even better when those cheering and encouraging have already run the race themselves.  They know what you are going through.  Consider the crowd of saints who have finished their race, and are now cheering you on.  Be encouraged by that when the course seems long, the wind is blowing and the rain is falling.  Don't give up.

At the finish line I can see Jesus, whose race was so much more challenging than mine.  He never gave up, grew discouraged, or became distracted.  Instead he continued to the end, finishing his race, and is now enjoying the victor's spoils.  If he didn't give up, grow weary or become distracted, then it fills me with encouragement that the race is doable, and that the reward for crossing the finish line makes the race itself worthwhile.

And sometimes, you might see Jesus, not at the finish line, but running along side you.  It always inspires me when I see a stronger runner come back to help out and encourage a struggling friend.  I have seen a number who have sacrificed their own race to stay with the friend.  And many others who have finished and then work the way back through those still running until they find their friend and then finish a second time, this time helping their friend.  It is comforting to know that I have Jesus alongside when I need him most.

Hang in there, run your race to the end, and then take your seat with the other finishers, and begin to cheer on the current runners.  Or consider running alongside a struggling friend, help them to cross the finish line.

Friday, November 1, 2013

In Jesus Name

"In Jesus Name" is a common expression in Christian circles, usually applied to our prayers and is frequently the closing phrase of those prayers.  But there is another way that this expression is used in the New Testament that is not talked about nearly as much.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. - Colossians 3:17 NIV
Here it deals with how I live my life, my words and actions.  Everything I do or say should be done or said in the name of the Lord Jesus.  I'm pretty sure this does not mean that we should verbally add "In Jesus Name" to everything we say or do.  There is no indication that Paul, the author of this verse, did that himself.

A personal representative can speak or act for the person they are representing.  And in doing so, they are speaking, or acting, in that person's name.  And this is what the expression means here, as well as when applied to our prayer.

Whenever we speak, and whatever we do, should be done as Jesus representative.  In everything I say and do, I should be saying and doing what Jesus would be doing where he in my place.   WWJD (What Would Jesus Do), is not just a cute slogan.  It does have firm scriptural basis.  I really should take the time to determine what Jesus would do or say, and then do or say that.

It is also good to recognize that even if you are not consciously speaking and acting as Jesus representative, the opinion the people around you have towards Jesus is, at least in part, shaped by what you say and do.  How many people turn their backs on Jesus because of the way that we represent him?  Don't be guilty of that; instead work at being a good representative.