Monday, June 23, 2014

What Purpose, Apart From God?

Does your life have purpose, a reason for being?  The answer to that question is really dependant on the existence of an intentional creator; a creator for this universe, and so, indirectly, you.  Is this universe and all it contains the product of a creator; God?  Or is it just the product of random chance?

Most people I have talked with seem to feel like their life has purpose; purpose gives meaning to life, and it keeps me going when life isn't fun. Google defines purpose as "the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists."  My purpose as a human is based on the reason for which I exist.  So just why do we exist?

I am convinced that this universe, and my life, were created by God, and that he had a reason for doing so.  I believe that reason has to do with preparing me, and others like me, for a life with him that extends beyond this universe.  God's purposeful creation gives my life purpose, a reason for being.  I exist because God made me, and he made me for a reason.

But what if there is no creator?  What if all we see is the product of blind chance?  Naturalism is a philosophy that operates under the assumption that all that is, is the result of natural processes, that there is no supernatural agent responsible for creation.  This is the position of atheists, as well as others who reject that the universe was intentionally created.

Now if naturalism is true, and we are simply the product of blind chance operating through natural processes, does life have any purpose?  To the naturalist, life is nothing more than a series of complex chemical reactions, that just happen.  It has no reason for its existence, and thus no purpose.  We are fundamentally no different than a bug or a rock.

But does it really matter if I have a purpose for being or not?  I believe it does.  If I have no purpose, then does it really matter what I do or how I live my life?  After all, my life is really little more than an accident, and will soon be over.  And nothing I have done, or failed to do, will really matter.  If I was to find a cure for cancer, or go down in history as the worst mass murderer, what would it matter?  If I, as well as those around me, are nothing more than minor blimps in cosmic history, with no purpose and no significance, then it does not matter whether I lived or not.  My life has even less purpose than the science experiment performed by a high school chemistry student, which at least is conducted for a purpose.

But it is hard to live like that.  I want to believe that my life has some purpose, that what I do really matters.  And so I invent purpose for myself.  I convince myself that I need to leave the world a better place than how I found it.  Or I set my purpose to be enjoying life to its fullest, experiencing all that the world has too offer.  But regardless the purpose I set for myself, whether self centered or others centered, it is not really the purpose that I exist for.  That purpose simply does not exist, at least not if we are only the product of blind chance.

Trying to live life as if it had purpose, while at the same time holding to naturalism is irrational, an incoherent worldview.  The only way ones life can have any real purpose is if it exists for a reason.  And there can be no reason for our existence apart from an intentional creator.  It is the creator who gives us purpose.  There is no other way.  We cannot give ourselves real purpose.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It's a Matter of Perspective: Looking Ahead

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV
"Takes a licking and keeps on ticking".  While this was originally an advertising slogan for Timex watches, it could well be used to describe Paul's life as an apostle.  Beaten repeatedly with rods and whips as well as being stoned.  Shipwrecked multiple times, experiencing hunger and cold as well as abuse at the hands of both Jews and Gentiles.  Experiencing lengthy prison times, mob violence, a corrupt judicial system and, ultimately, beheading.  Paul suffered for the gospel like few others.  Paul's use of "light and momentary troubles" to describe all that he went through seems to be a dramatic understatement.  There seems to have been nothing either light or momentary about most of it.  Was Paul just masochistic, or is something else going on here?

It seems that Paul had a different perspective on life than most of us manage to adopt.  He had his focus on the eternal, the future that awaited him once this life ends.  His vision of that future was real and something that he looked forward to.  And he realized that the glory of that future was far greater than the troubles of this life, even one with as much trouble as his.

I try to run quite a bit.  And the running can be hard.  But I do it to a large extent because it enables me to travel further and easier when out on the trail.  I know what the miles spent running will buy me later on.  Paul's attitude towards his suffering was similar.  He knew that his troubles were achieving for him an eternal glory, and so he endured, fixing his eyes on the eternal unseen world.

Lord, help me to have a vision of the eternal and to have that life fixed in mind as I travel through this world.  Not growing attached to the temporary possessions and pleasures here or being discouraged because of rejection or abuse because of your name.  Thank you for what you are doing and have prepared for me.

Friday, June 13, 2014

What God Is Like

Everyone has some kind of a picture formed in their minds concerning what God is like.  Even those who do not believe he exists have a mental image that they argue against.  That picture is likely not very well defined, and may not be coherent, but it exists for each of us, and is reflected in how we believe or expect God to act in the world and towards us.  The thing that all of these pictures have in common is that they are all inadequate.  It is not possible for a finite mind to comprehend the infinite God.

As a Christian, most of what I know and believe about God is based on his revelation of himself in the Bible.  And is there really any other way?  If he chooses not to reveal something to me, I can really do no more than guess.  Fortunately he has chosen to reveal some of himself to us, although necessarily in terms that are meaningful to us.  The Bible, inspired by God, tells us, among other things, that God is the creator of the universe, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, loving, good, righteous and holy.

But there is a danger here if we try to picture him as being the way that we understand these words.  One of the most common examples of this I see concerns God being good.  For most people this conjures up the idea of being moral, and that is not necessarily wrong.  But when we do that we too often expect God to act according to our human morality.  But should we?  We can judge a dog as being good without expecting it to conform to human morality, so why should we expect the creator of the universe to conform to our morality?  It is not really logical to expect God to conform to our ideas of morality, or goodness, especially since we ourselves cannot even decide what is moral.

In the Genesis creation accounts we are told that God made man in his own image.  But we seem to have generally turned that around and formed God in our image.  While I have never heard anyone actually say it, in listening to people talk about God it appears like they view God as almost human, just bigger, stronger and smarter.  And God seems to like the same things we like and hate the same things we hate.  Thinking along these lines is essentially constructing a box that we put God into, placing limits on who he is and what he can do.  Again, I have never met anyone who would admit to doing this, but it seems like most of us do it to one extent or another.

I do believe that God is not like me in any significant way.  He is not just a super powerful human like being.  He is the creator and sustainer of a universe that is beyond my comprehension, both at the largest and smallest scales.  I cannot begin to conceive of the power and intelligence it took to pull that off.  He exists outside of time, at least as I know it.  So much of what I am and how I understand the universe around me is centered around time, something that does not apply to him.  When I try to think about existing outside of time I end up just spinning my wheels.

Isaiah 55:8-9 expresses that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God's ways and thoughts higher than my ways and thoughts.  As much as I try and understand why God did something in a certain way, or allows something to occur, it is really beyond my comprehension.  I crave understanding of God, and I believe that is OK.  But I have to satisfy myself with getting no more than a glimmer, knowing that I am not capable of understanding him.

I do believe that he has a purpose in his creation and that he is working out that purpose.  I do not believe that humanity is capable of frustrating his purpose, although we do have a part to play in that purpose; a purpose will not be fully realized until we have left the restraints of this universe behind us.  In other words, I believe that this creation, and our presence in it, is only a temporary step in a much larger plan.

It would appear from the Bible that humanity does not have 'just a part' to play in God's purpose for creation, but has a central part.  It would seem that the primary reason this universe was created was to produce a redeemed church, not just for life here, but for his purpose in eternity.  And if that is true, then God has a special interest in humanity now, caring about us and our development.  We can express that as his love for us, but need to be careful that we don't try to limit him to love as we know it.

While there is a part of me that wishes I could completely understand God, I am really glad that he is beyond my comprehension.  I am afraid that if I could get my mind around him that it would make him smaller, at least in my mind.  I really like God being mysterious and far above me.  It makes him worthy of worship

So what is he like?  Unimaginable and far above my comprehension.  Not limited in space or time.  A purposeful creator.  Interested in his creation and caring about humanity.  Worthy of my honor and worship.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Worship in Spirit

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.
John 4:24 NIV
To worship God is to show reverence or adoration for him.  Worship should be the natural response of a person who has encountered the creator of the universe; their own creator.  But for some reason worship seems to come hard for me.  I look forward to 'worship services' with the church body and enjoy both the older traditional hymns and many of the newer chorus'.  But how often do I actually worship God during these 'worship services'?  I am afraid that it is not nearly often enough.  And the fault is not with the worship team.

I am afraid that my motive for 'worship' is all too often selfish; I do it for my own benefit, for what I get out of it.  If I come away from the time recharged, then I would say that the worship experience was good.  If I come away empty, then the worship experience was bad.  Now I am not saying that real worship won't impact me.  But I do believe that the measure of worship should not be how I feel when done.

While I may indeed be recharged by true worship, I could also be recharged when no real worship is taking place.  Meeting together with other believers, singing some catchy songs about God and listening to his word can all change my mood and make me feel better when leaving.  How often do I come home Sunday afternoon feeling good because of the mornings experience, and have not actually worshiped the one who I claim as my Lord?

Worship is really about expressing reverence and adoration for God.  He needs to be the focus of my thoughts and feelings.  If I am not joining the chorus in Revelation chapters 4 & 5, falling down before the one who sits on the throne and praising him, then I am not really worshipping.

Jesus tells us in the passage at the top that true worship is a spiritual exercise.  It is not just a matter of saying or singing an appropriate set of words.  Worship only occurs when I fall on my face before the one who alone is worthy of my adoration, and praise him for who and what he is.

Worship for me is primarily an individual experience, even when I am surrounded by other people.  And it is an experience that is not nearly common enough in my life.  I long to worship more naturally.  And I yearn to be able to be a part of a koinonia that can worship together, not only in song, but also in prayer; that worships in spirit and in truth.

Because He is worthy!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Evolution of the Phone

The first phone I can remember was an old rotary dial job that sat on a little shelf cut into the hallway.  This magic little device allowed us, actually mostly my parents, to call other people at their homes or businesses and have a quick conversation with them.  You could only talk to them when they were home, and could not leave a message if they were not.  No caller ID, no redial, no contact lists, and you didn't even own the phone, it was rented from the phone company.  But it allowed you to reach out and touch someone from a distance.

The location of this phone is instructive as well.  It was in the hallway.  You stood there and made or received your call.  That meant that you did not talk for long.  You were in the way of others using the hallway, as well as standing up throughout the conversation.  That phone was something that was used occasionally.  It was not a featured part of home life.

I am somewhat foggy on the order of changes, but as time went on, that old rotary dial phone become a pushbutton phone, became smaller, moved into the living room beside a chair, and became a commodity you could purchase at many local stores.  Caller ID and answering machines also became accessories you could add to your phone to make it more useful and convenient.  And cordless phones became popular, allowing you to move away from a central location without having a long tether trailing behind you.

At some point I started seeing TV shows where detectives or business executives had phones in their cars.  Phones the size of a brick that plugged into the car.  But now, if you could afford it, you could talk on the phone while driving down the road; assuming you happened to be near a cell tower.  But while I saw the usefulness of caller ID, answering machines and cordless phones, I could see little value in adding a brick that would allow me to talk on the phone while I drove around.  Talking on the phone was just not that important to me.

But eventually the time came when cell phones became small enough, and cheap enough, that the wife and I decided to take the plunge and invested in a cheap clamshell phone apiece.  While the phones had calendars and a few other basic apps, they were primarily phones with the ability to send text messages.  I found that I did not really like talking on a cell phone any more than I did on a landline, although it was more convenient.  But I did discover text messaging and found that to be more useful.  I don't really send all that many texts, but it did allow me to communicate without having to talk; a small victory.

And that really led to the next phone, one with a full keyboard to make it easier to text with.  In theory that seemed like a good idea.  But the keys were so small, and my fingers so big and clumsy, that texting remained a slow and tedious operation.  Still, it was an improvement over the clamshell and the requirement to hit a key multiple times to get most of the letters.

About 5 years ago I started seeing adds for a new phone on TV, the Droid.  And I had to have one.  I am normally pretty immune to television advertising.  But for some reason this one got through.  And so, about 4 1/2 years ago, I took the plunge into the world of smartphones, as, surprisingly enough, did my wife.

I am on my third smartphone now, a Galaxy S5, and really like it.  But is it really a phone anymore?  Yes, it does include phone capabilities that I use occasionally.  But it is so much more.

  • I use it to read and send email from both of my accounts
  • I use it to do Facebook
  • I send many more text messages than I do phone calls
  • I .maintain my calendar and get calendar alerts on the phone, helping me to keep appointments
  • I have a Bible app on the phone with several translations
  • I read books stored on the phone
  • I listen to my music
  • I look up information on the web, like ferry schedules and word definitions
  • I get weather forecasts and alerts
  • I use it to track my running, showing me where I have gone as well as the distance, pace and time
  • I use it as a GPS enabled map, showing me where I am and giving directions to some distant location
  • I have several backpacking apps that can keep me on the trail and provide information about the trail ahead as well as communicate with home
  • I can take pretty decent pictures and share them easily
There is actually little my laptop can do that my phone cannot also do, although the full sized keyboard on the laptop is a definite plus when generating large documents.  But my phone is much more portable and nearly always with me,and actually does much that the laptop will not.  Plus, I can use it to make the occasional phone call.

It is really hard to believe how much the phone has changed even in just the past 10-15 years; going from a simple communication device, to a tool that has been integrated into so many areas of my life.  I cannot think of anything that has changed more during that span of time.  10 years ago I could have easily given up my phone.  But today that would be much harder for me to do; it seldom leaves my side.  Am I addicted?

Monday, June 2, 2014

And They Crucified Him

  • When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. - Matthew 27:35
  • And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. - Mark 15:24
  • When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. - Luke 23:33
  • There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.- John 19:18
Without a doubt, at least for the Christian, the crucifixion of Jesus is only rivaled in importance by his resurrection a couple of days later.  Through faith in what he did, I can experience forgiveness of sin and experience a relationship with my creator.  The gospels look forward to this event, and the epistles look back at it.  Removing the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus from the scriptures would gut them, making them no more than one of a myriad of other ethical & moral guides.

And so it strikes me as strange how simply the crucifixion of Jesus is described; "they crucified him".  No details or elaboration.  Not sure there's even enough information in the Bible to really know what crucifixion is without external sources.  Did the gospel writers leave out the details because of how horrific it was, or because they assumed their hearers would know what crucifixion was?

I don't know why we only get 4-5 words in each of the gospel accounts.  It's so easy to miss it when you read through a gospel, or even the events of that day.  But it is well worth our time to stop at this expression when we come across it and meditate on what it is saying.  That the creator of our universe, who had taken on human form, has allowed himself to be executed by those he had created.  When I stop to consider just what those few words say, I am amazed and humbled.