1583) Remember Your Creator in the Days of Your Youth (a)

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In the summer 1989, Shenendoah, Iowa eighth-grader Brent Foster had a leg amputated because of cancer.  Brent went on to play high school baseball, basketball, and tennis.  He was elected president of the student body.  The cancer reappeared with tumors in his lungs during Brent’s senior year.  In the Fall (1993) he entered Harvard University.  The day before Thanksgiving 1994, test results showed that inoperable bone cancer had spread throughout his body.  “I guess I’m realizing that dreams don’t always come true,” Brent reflected.  Brent concentrated his studies in history because, he said, “I like to learn about people in the past, and what they lived and died for.”

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“Facing Death, Embracing Life” by Brent Foster (1975-1995), in Finding God at Harvard, ed. by Kelly Monroe, pages 129-132, Zondervan, 1996.

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     My old friends and acquaintances back in rural Iowa would describe me as a very bright person with an even brighter future.  In fact, the largest paper in the state covered my graduation, calling me “the most accomplished, polished, and courageous student ever to wear the maroon and white” (my school colors).  Success followed me everywhere in high school.  My peers elected me president of just about every major organization in school, and my academic might won state and nationwide recognition.  I more than once found myself in the governor’s office accepting official recognition for my achievements, and locally I was famous for playing high school basketball on an artificial leg.  All of this culminated in being made a valedictorian my senior year and gaining admission to the most prestigious college in the nation (according to U.S. News and World Report, anyway), the first person of my school ever to have done so.  Now, here I am an accomplished Harvard student, the world seemingly at my feet.  However, there is one little catch to all of this success: I have widespread bone cancer and only several weeks left to live.

     These were supposed to have been the best days of my life.  Instead I am at the losing end of an eight-year battle with cancer.  And although only twenty-one, my body has grown extremely weak and will soon fail me altogether.  In fact, every breath has itself become a struggle.  After a total of eleven surgeries, a year of chemotherapy, and a month of high-dose radiation, the doctors can do nothing more.  From my experiences, I have sometimes wondered if humans were created with more capacity for pain than happiness.  Solomon’s words from Ecclesiastes often ring in my ears (along with the other ringing noises I constantly hear from chemotherapy damage):

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them” —before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain… “Meaningless! Meaningless! ” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!”

   For me, the days of trouble came early, and I have found little pleasure in them.  I know now that the crosses we are sometimes allowed to bear in this world would not be worth the pain if not for Christ.  During my darkest hours, such as while lying in an intensive-care bed with seven or eight tubes protruding from my ravaged body, all the neat Sunday school answers I had learned as a kid seemed terribly hollow.  There are no pat answers for many terrible and contradictory things in this broken world.  Mere words are meaningless, especially in the face of death.  At such times as these, the only respite for me is to “remember my Creator.”  For in Christ there is a meaning deeper than our understanding and ability to formulate into human speech.  As Paul so correctly wrote in I Corinthians 4:20: “The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.”

     God himself suffered much more than even I could imagine when he became a man, and can therefore understand our deepest sorrows.  I am always moved when I read the account of Jesus visiting the tomb of Lazarus.  After seeing the considerable grief that death had inflicted on his people, Jesus himself wept.  Even though he would soon revive Lazarus, Jesus was overcome with sorrow that humanity had been reduced to such a state and consequently forced to endure such pain.  I have always placed my hope in the promise that, just as Christ revived Lazarus, he will come and fix our brokenness also.

     It is easy to forget this compassion of Christ’s, even though he actually chose to save mankind by subjecting himself to suffering.  There is a mystery in God’s use of suffering to bring renewal and redemption which I don’t completely understand.  But this redemptive quality of suffering and tribulation is alluded to many times in the Bible and then underscored by numerous examples.  For in the words of Paul, “We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.  And this hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 3:3-5).

     He even tells us that weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties are necessary “so that Christ’s power may rest” on us (II Corinthians 12:9-10).  My life has certainly shown these words to be true, filling many with hope.  Through my hardships, much of God’s glory has been revealed to me and to others.  But if the only good that had come from my hellish years painfully fighting off death was for healthy people around me to passively be inspired, then I would consider God to be the cruelest villain in the universe.  Quite the opposite though, God has used suffering primarily to help me, to remake me into someone capable of knowing him better.  Although outwardly wasting away, yet inwardly I am being renewed day by day (see II Corinthians 4:16).  The operation has been very painful, but the Great Physician has begun to heal my spirit.  It is impossible to describe in a logical manner this transformation, especially to someone who has never been tempered in God’s furnace.  But all the same, I have come to know a Creator who loves me so much that he is not even willing to spare me a great amount of pain so that I might have real life with him.  (continued…)

1582) Saying Grace

     A visiting pastor was attending a men’s prayer breakfast in a Mississippi Farm County.  He asked one of the impressive older farmers in attendance to say grace that morning.  After all were seated, the older farmer began:  “Lord, I hate buttermilk.”

     The pastor opened one eye and wondered to himself where this was going.  Then the farmer loudly proclaimed, “Lord, I hate lard.”

     Now the pastor was worried.  However, without missing a beat, the farmer prayed on, “And Lord, you know I don’t care much for raw white flour.”

     Just as the pastor was ready to stand and stop everything, the farmer continued, “But Lord, when you mix ’em all together and bake ’em up, I do love fresh biscuits.  So, Lord, when things come up we don’t like in our lives, when life gets hard, when we just don’t understand what you are sayin’ to us; we just need to relax and wait ‘till You are done mixin’, and probably it will be somethin’ even better than biscuits.  Amen.”

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Romans 8:28  —  We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Jeremiah 29:11-12  —  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”

Psalm 119:71  —  It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

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Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they may unite my heart more closely with you.  Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness.  Amen.  

–Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John and Charles Wesley and 17 other children

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1581) Church Growth and Basic Truths (1972)

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By Albert Mohler, April 25, 2011, at:  www.albertmohler.com

     By the late 1960s, liberal Protestants began asking a rather difficult question.  Why were the conservative churches growing?  In retrospect, one aspect of the liberal Protestant crisis was reflected in that very question.  The mainline Protestant denominations would have been better served by asking why their own churches were declining.

     Commissioned by the (liberal) National Council of Churches, researcher Dean M. Kelley set out to find out why conservative churches were growing, even as the more liberal churches were declining.  In his 1972 book, Why Conservative Churches are Growing: A Study in Sociology of Religion, Kelley argued that evangelical churches grow precisely because they do what the more liberal congregations and denominations intentionally reject — they make serious demands of believers in terms of doctrine and behavior.

     “Amid the current neglect and hostility toward organized religion in general,” Kelley noted, “the conservative churches, holding to seemingly outmoded theology and making strict demands on their members, have equalled or surpassed in growth the early percentage increases of the nation’s population.”

     With amazing insight and candor, Kelley spoke for mainline Protestantism when he noted that it had been generally assumed that churches, “if they want to succeed, will be reasonable, rational, courteous, responsible, restrained, and receptive to outside criticism.”  These churches would be highly concerned with preserving “a good image in the world” — and that meant especially within the world of the cultural elites.  These churches, intending to grow, would be “democratic and gentle in their internal affairs” — as the larger world defines those qualities.  These churches will intend to be cooperative with other religious groups in order to meet common goals, and thus “will not let dogmatism, judgmental moralism, or obsessions with cultic purity stand in the way of such cooperation and service.”

     Then, Kelley dropped his bomb: “These expectations are a recipe for the failure of the religious enterprise, and arise from a mistaken view of what success in religion is and how it should be fostered and measured.”

     Kelley then presented his considerable wealth of research and reflection on the phenomenon of conservative growth and liberal decline.  “Strong” religious movements make demands of their members in terms of both belief and behavior.  These churches demand adherence to highly defined doctrines that are to be received, believed, and taught without compromise.  They also understand themselves to be separate from the larger secular culture, and the requirements of membership in the church define a distance from secular beliefs and behaviors.

     The liberal churches are, by their own decision, opposed to these very principles.  The mainline Protestant churches desired to be taken seriously and respected by the intellectual elites.  They wanted the benefits of cultural acceptance and esteem.  They lowered doctrinal and behavioral requirements and made membership more a matter of personal preference than of theological conviction.

     Kelley concluded: “To the person who is concerned about the future of the ecumenical churches, this theory can offer little encouragement.  The mainline denominations will continue to exist on a diminishing scale for decades, perhaps for centuries, and will continue to supply some people with a dilute and undemanding form of meaning, which may be all they want.”

     …In a recent column in The New York Times, David Brooks raised similar issues…  He noted that many Americans “have always admired the style of belief that is spiritual but not doctrinal, pluralistic and not exclusive, which offers tools for serving the greater good but is not marred by intolerant theological judgments.”

     And he is right, of course.  This is an eloquent description of the religious disposition so well documented by Dean Kelley almost 40 years ago.  This describes the mainline Protestant aspiration — to be seen as serving the public good without the taint of theological judgment…  But, says Brooks, “Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn’t actually last.  The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False… 

     Note that Brooks defined the “strong” profile of belief with terms such as “rigorous,” “arduous,” and “definite.”  With considerable insight, Brooks informed his readers that rigorous theology “provides believers with a map of reality,” “allows believers to examine the world intellectually as well as emotionally,” “helps people avoid mindless conformity,” and “delves into mysteries in ways that are beyond most of us.”  Meanwhile, arduous codes of behavior and conduct “allow people to build their character.”  Brooks explains that “regular acts of discipline can lay the foundation for extraordinary acts of self-control when it counts the most.”

     Brooks concludes with a look at Africa, where conservative Protestantism is thriving.  He writes:  “I was once in an AIDS-ravaged village in southern Africa.  The vague humanism of the outside do-gooders didn’t do much to get people to alter their risky behavior.  The blunt theological talk of the church ladies — right and wrong, salvation and damnation — seemed to have a better effect.”

     In the span of just a few paragraphs, David Brooks made the same argument that Dean M. Kelley made in his book-length report on research four decades ago.  There is a wealth of insight in both analyses.  In the present context, evangelical Christians face many of the same questions asked by the liberal Protestant denominations in the 1960s and beyond.  The main question is always deeply theological: Do we really believe that the message of the Gospel is the only message that offers salvation?  

     …In the end, sociology can get us only so far and no further.  The rigor, ardor, and energies of evangelical churches must not be held merely in a desire to hold to a form of religion that will grow, but in a biblical commitment to hold fast to the truth of the Gospel and to share that saving truth with the whole world.

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I Timothy 3:9  —  They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.

Revelation 14:12  —  This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.

II Thessalonians 2:15  —  Stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

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Most gracious Father,
we pray to you for your holy Church.
Fill it with all truth;
in all truth with all peace.
Where it is corrupt, purge it.
Where it is in error, direct it.
Where anything is amiss, reform it.
Where it is right, strengthen and defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, heal it and reunite it in your love;
for the sake of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.

–William Laud  (1573-1645), Archbishop of Canterbury

1580) Church Growth and Basic Truths (2016)

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By Tyler O’Neil, December 2, 2016 atwww.pjmedia.com/faith

     A five-year study of growing and shrinking churches in Canada revealed that theology is critical for church survival, and even for attracting younger people.  Beliefs based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, the importance of converting people to Christianity, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ are strongest in growing churches, and weakest in churches on the decline.

     “If we are talking solely about what belief system is more likely to lead to numerical growth among Protestant churches, the evidence suggests conservative Protestant theology is the clear winner,” said David Haskell, lead researcher in the study Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy.   This declaration is powerful, but the numbers are even more striking.

     A whopping 93 percent of clergy and 83 percent of worshippers at growing churches agreed with the statement, “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb.”  In shrinking churches, only 67 percent of worshippers and 56 percent of clergy agreed with this statement.

     This finding echoes Saint Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 15:14: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”  This statement seems to contradict many allegorical interpretations of the resurrection of Christ in vogue among “liberal” Christians.

     But the study goes even further in providing evidence that “conservative” beliefs about the literal interpretation of scripture correlate with growing churches.  In declining churches, only about 50 percent of clergy agreed that it was “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians,” while one hundred percent of clergy in growing churches agreed with this statement.

     A full 71 percent of clergy in growing churches read the Bible daily, compared with just 26 percent of clergy from declining churches.  This trend is the same among worshippers: 46 percent of those attending growing churches said they read the Bible once a week, while only 26 percent who attend declining churches reported reading scripture that often.

     A full 100 percent of clergy at growing churches (and 90 percent of worshippers there) said that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers.”  In contrast, only 44 percent of clergy at declining churches agreed.  In a fascinating twist, almost twice as many congregants (80 percent) of pastors at declining churches believed in God’s ability to answer prayers with miracles.

   These findings come from a large sample of mainline Christians in Ontario, Canada.  The study surveyed 2,225 churchgoers, along with 29 clergy and 195 official congregants.

     At a common-sense level, these correlations make sense.  If Jesus literally rose from the dead, if it is important to convert non-Christians, and if God has the ability to answer prayers, attending church would have more spiritual value.  If you believe that heaven exists, that Jesus’s death and resurrection allow Christians to go there, and that the only thing required to save someone from eternal torment is to convince them to believe in Jesus, you will find more motivation to go to church and to bring others with you.

     And if clergy and congregations read the Bible less, they would likely be less committed to spreading the truths revealed by Holy Scripture.

     Haskell told The Guardian that growing churches “held more firmly to the traditional beliefs of Christianity and were more diligent in things like prayer and Bible reading.”

     “Conservative believers, relying on a fairly literal interpretation of scripture, are ‘sure’ that those who are not converted to Christianity will miss their chance for eternal life,” Haskell told Britain’s The Guardian.  “Because they are profoundly convinced of [the] life-saving, life-altering benefits that only their faith can provide, they are motivated by emotions of compassion and concern to recruit family, friends and acquaintances into their faith and into their church.”

     Christians who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible prove to be more unified on priorities and morality as well.  “That also makes them more confident and, to those on the outside looking in, confidence is persuasive all on its own,” Haskell added.  “Confidence mixed with a message that’s uplifting, reassuring or basically positive is an attractive combination.”

     While the findings of the study are remarkably clear, Haskell suggested they were likely to be controversial.  “If you’re in a mainline church and that church is dying, and you’ve just heard that the theological position that you have is likely what’s killing it, you’re not going to be very happy about that.  Theological orientation cuts to the very core of the religious practitioner.”

     On another note, the study found that two-thirds of congregations at growing churches were under the age of 60, while two-thirds of those at shrinking churches were over 60.

     While the “liberal” theology of many mainline churches dates to a more recent origin and often accommodates many ideas considered contrary to orthodox Christianity, some might argue that the “liberal” versus “conservative” terminology in theology is misleading.  The key beliefs here involve the literal interpretation of scripture — most especially the belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ and the importance of converting others.  These are universal orthodox Christian beliefs.  They are the kernel of the Christian faith, the reasons to be a Christian and not something else, and while some may consider them “conservative,” the thing they conserve is nothing more or less than the “Mere Christianity” presented so effectively by C. S. Lewis.

     The study did not involve “conservative” versus “liberal” issues like church positions on abortion, same-sex marriage, evolution, or Darwinism, but rather on pivotal beliefs that make up orthodox Christianity…  These issues are less important than the resurrection of Jesus or God’s power to do miracles.

     In fact, one might ask, “If Christians who believe that God can do miracles and that Jesus bodily rose from the dead are to be considered conservative, what sort of Christians would be called liberal, and in what sense are they even Christian at all?”

     The results of this study are clear.  Churches which champion the literal truth of the Bible on the key issues at the center of the Christian faith are growing, while those which do not are shrinking.  (Tomorrow’s meditation will describe a much more extensive 1972 study done by the liberal National Council of Churches that came to the same conclusions.)

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I Corinthians 15:14  —  If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

John 14:6  —  (Jesus said), “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

II Timothy 3:16  —  All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

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Most gracious Father,
we pray to you for your holy Church.
Fill it with all truth;
in all truth with all peace.
Where it is corrupt, purge it.
Where it is in error, direct it.
Where anything is amiss, reform it.
Where it is right, strengthen and defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, heal it and reunite it in your love;
for the sake of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.

–William Laud  (1573-1645), Archbishop of Canterbury

1579) Proof That Barbers Do Not Exist (b)

     (…continued)  The little story in yesterday’s meditation provides a simple response to a very complex question.  It is not a complete response, and much more needs to be said; but it does point to at least a part of the answer.  The man on the street had long and messy hair because he did not go to a barber to do anything about it.  In the same way, many of the troubles in our world and in our lives are the result of not coming to God, not obeying his command, not seeking his guidance, and not taking comfort in his promises.  There is a connection between what we believe, and, how we live and what happens to us and how much we suffer.  This is not a direct connection.  The book of Job, many Psalms, the life and words of Jesus, and many other sections of the Bible make it clear that the correlation is not a precise one.  So to say that there is a connection is not to say that those in the hospital are less godly than those who are healthy, or, that the wealthier you are the more faithful you are.  Many times the wicked do prosper and many other times the good and righteous do suffer.

     But the Bible also makes it clear that there definitely is some connection.  Much of the suffering in the world is indeed brought on by people ignoring God and his commands.  Greed leads nations into war and makes individuals lie to and cheat each other.  Lust can break up homes and families and lead to terrible crimes.  Lying destroys the trust necessary for decent public life and personal relationships.  Lack of gratitude makes contentment impossible and destroys peace of mind.  Lack of faith leaves one without hope for the future, without a firm foundation for life, and without the most perfect source of strength to endure life’s inevitable hardships.

     On the other hand, those who do believe in and obey God do avoid of much that could cause them pain, and, at the same time, they do experience many blessings of God because of that obedience.  Honesty leads to better relationships and greater confidence public institutions.  A spirit of unselfish good will leads to the ability for nations and individuals to settle their disputes peacefully.  Mutual forgiveness moves people toward reconciliation instead of unending hate and bitterness.  And faith in God gives one the strength to endure even life’s greatest tragedies with courage, along with an eternal hope that nothing in this life can destroy.  Life is best lived when it is lived with God and in accordance with his commandments.

     In Jeremiah 17 God says: “Cursed is the one … whose heart turns away from the Lord.  He will be like a brush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes.  He will dwell in parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.”   That’s poetic language describing how things will not go well for the one whose heart turns away from the Lord.  “But,” it goes on to say, “Blessed is the man who does trust in the Lord and whose confidence is in Him.  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.  It does not fear when the heat comes, and its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and it never fails to bear fruit.”

     Then Jeremiah states his point bluntly when he says, “The Lord searches the heart and examines the mind, in order to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”  Jesus also talks about rewards for righteousness, saying, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.”  We don’t want to leave it at that.  The Bible itself doesn’t leave it at that, but adds some important clarifications and qualifications.   But neither do we want to disregard this message.  These are God’s own words, here, and in many other books of the Bible.  God’s Word says that there are some connections between how we live and the blessings or troubles that we receive.

     God created this life and designed this world.  His commandments are instructions on how our lives can be best lived in this world that he has created for us.  When we sin and break those commandments, we bring trouble onto ourselves and others.  In the same way, trouble and sadness come to us by the sins of others.

     In the early chapters of Genesis we also learn that when sin came into the world, all of creation became tainted.  Now, tragedy can strike randomly by illness, bad weather, or freak accidents.  These tragedies are not the result of anyone’s particular sin, but result from the general presence of sin in the world, as we all together share in the guilt of a fallen creation.

     Both the barber and the customer saw the same sad world.  The barber saw the suffering of the world as proof that God did not exist.  The customer saw that same suffering as the result of a world full of people that have turned away from God and the goodness he had intended for us.  If we had nowhere else to look at other than at the world, we would have no way to decide between the two opinions.   Any solid and true answer to this question has to come from God himself.

     God has given us that answer in the person of Jesus Christ.  In Christ, we believe we have the presence of God.  In Jesus, we see both the suffering of the world that the barber could not ignore, and the restoration of God’s creation to all who will believe.

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II Corinthians 5:19a  —  God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.

Romans 8:18-19  —  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.

Psalm 1:1-3a  —  Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lordand who meditates on his law day and night.  That person is like a tree planted by streams of water.

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1578) Proof That Barbers Do Not Exist (a)

     A man went into a barber shop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed.  He and the barber had a good conversation on a wide variety of subjects.   After a while, they got on the subject of God.  But as soon as that topic came up, the barber said abruptly and firmly, “I don’t believe God exists.”

     “Why do you say that?” asked the customer.

     “Well, it’s easy,” said the barber, “all you have to do is walk out that door and onto these city streets, and any logical person will come to the conclusion that God does not exist.  Think about the hospital on the other end of this block and all the pain and disease and suffering that goes on there.  Listen to the sirens all day every day.  The police are always on the way to some terrible crime or hideous accident.  Right here I’ve been robbed twice in the six years that I have had this shop.  And look at the beggars out in the street.  Why doesn’t God provide for them?  Then there is our city politics– nothing but greed and corruption there.  And go to that newsstand and buy a newspaper, and what do you think you will read about?  You will read about still more trouble and pain and heartache all over the world; wars and earthquakes and famines all the time.  There is trouble everywhere.  I just can’t believe that if there was a God he would allow all this.  If God existed, there would be no suffering or pain.”

     The customer listened carefully to all that the barber was saying, but did not respond because he did not want to get into an argument.  The barber finished the haircut and the customer paid his bill and left.  As he was walking out the door he bumped into a man in the street with long hair, all dirty and matted, along with a straggly beard with small and large bits of food embedded in it.  You could tell it had been a very long time since a scissors touched his hair.

     The customer went back into the barbershop.  His barber was still standing by the door, and had seen his collision with the long haired man.  The customer said to the barber, “You know what?  I do not believe that barbers exist.”‘

      “What?” asked the surprised barber, “What do you mean?  You were just in here for a haircut.”

      The customer said, “Well you can see that man outside.  That man proves that barbers do not exist, because if there were barbers, there would not be any men with long dirty hair and a straggly beard like that, would there?”

     “How can you think that?” asked the barber.  “You know that barbers exist.  But the problem is that many men, like that man, do not come to us.”

     “That’s exactly right,” said the customer, “and in the same way many people do not come to God or look to God at all; and that is the reason for much of the suffering and pain in the world– not all, but much of it.  And that trouble does not prove that there is no God any more than that unkempt man out in the street proves that barbers do not exist.”  (continued…)

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcFi-MQl32U

OR:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cce-_y8Av8

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This looks like a man who needs a haircut.  Actually, it is actress Cate Blanchett in make-up for her new (weird) movie Manifesto.  (This has nothing to do with proving the existence of barbers, but it does prove there are some really skilled make-up artists in Hollywood.)

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Luke 13:34  —  (Jesus said), “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Malachi 2:17  —  You have wearied the Lord with your words.  “How have we wearied him?” you ask.  By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”

Isaiah 29:16  —  You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay.  Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”?  Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?

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Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled.  My Lord, fill it.  I am weak in the faith; strengthen me.  I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent that my love may go out to my neighbor.  I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you at all.  O Lord, help me.  Strengthen my faith and trust in you.  In you I have sealed all the treasures I have.  I am poor, you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor.  I am a sinner, you are upright.  With me there is an abundance of sin, in you is the fullness of righteousness.  Therefore, I will remain with you from whom I can receive, but to whom I can not give.  Amen.

–Martin Luther

1577) C.S.I. and C.S.Lewis

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C. S. Lewis  (1898-1963)

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            Some, of the most popular types of books, movies, and television programs have to do with crime.  Within this type of programming there are specific types of shows.  There are the stories that focus on the policemen who are out there pursuing the bad guys.  There are the shows that focus on the courtroom, the judges, and the lawyers, and what they do with the bad guys once they are in custody.  And for many years on television was the popular CSI program– Crime Scene Investigation.  This series focused on those men and women who use the most sophisticated scientific technology to sort through the smallest bits of evidence for clues to what really happened.  From whatever angle the story is told, all of these types of programs have the same central theme and goal– the gathering and evaluating and then judging the evidence in an attempt to get at the truth of ‘who did what.’

            This all makes for interesting television because the viewer is in on the search, able to sift through the evidence as it comes in, and then make their own conclusions.  Science, technology, intuition, knowledge, common sense, experience, a wisdom and justice all play a part in-the investigation and prosecution of a crime.  And good, solid evidence is always essential.

            By any standard, C. S. Lewis was one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century. He wrote with amazing intellect and insight on such varied topics as literature, science, education, theology, politics, culture, and history.  He was a giant among giants at Oxford and Cambridge where he spent his life teaching.  Lewis loved to debate and seldom lost an argument.  His books are still best-sellers a half century years after his death, and still proving challenging to readers who may disagree.  And many who have read what he has written about religion have decided to not disagree, but have become believers in Jesus Christ on the basis of Lewis’s powerful arguments for the truth of the Bible and the Christian faith.

           C. S. Lewis approached religion with the same intellectual rigor that he approached everything else; with the same methods as a detective would approach a crime scene, as a lawyer would approach an investigation and prepare for a trial, or as a jury would approach a case they had to decide. Lewis wanted to look at the evidence, evaluate it on the basis of his logic, knowledge, and wisdom; and, come to a reasonable conclusion. 

            Lewis did all that as a young man.  At that time, he came to the conclusion that there was probably no God, and if there was, God wasn’t good.  The evidence, Lewis then argued, was this whole world, filled as it is with violence, illness, pain, sadness, despair, and death.  This could not be the work of a good God.  The evidence was there.  The verdict was clear.  Case closed.

            When Lewis was a bit older, he was prompted to reconsider the question.  He had some very intelligent friends who were Christians.  Not only that, but in his vast reading Lewis began to notice that most of his favorite writers were also Christians; writers like the novelist George MacDonald and the journalist G. K. Chesterton.  These were smart people; had they not looked at the evidence?  How could they have come to such a different conclusion?  Lewis could still beat anyone in a debate on purely philosophical grounds, but then he began to see that there was perhaps more to the evidence than he first thought.  Maybe there was more to consider than just the world he could see.

            Lewis’s Christian friends and his favorite writers were always pointing to the Bible as evidence.  But Lewis had long ago dismissed the Bible as merely another form of ancient mythology, with no more basis in historical fact than the stories of the Zeus, Hercules, Jupiter, and all the other ancient gods.

            Nudged along by his friends, Lewis took another look at the Bible, reading it with all his critical abilities as an expert in literature, history, mythology, and logic.  As he looked into it deeper, Lewis began to see the Scriptures in an entirely new way.  He later wrote how he came to believe they were true, and provided important additional evidence by which to evaluate the world God created.  Lewis first came to a general belief in the existence of some kind of God, and then, later came to believe in the Christian belief that God had revealed himself to the world in the personal appearance of his Son, Jesus Christ.  Here, Lewis said, was a story like so many ancient stories of a God coming to earth and becoming a man and defeating death.  But only in this case, Lewis would begin to argue so persuasively, the story is true.  From then on C. S. Lewis viewed the world from an entirely different perspective.

            The Bible talks much more about faith than it does about evidence, and faith certainly is the greater part of it.  But it is not just faith for the sake of faith.  Biblical faith is faith in someone who is there, and in something that really happened.  Therefore, it is not out of line to look at the evidence and ask the historical and logical questions.  The answers one finds will only take them so far, but it will take them beyond the ignorance of a girl who wrote a letter to the editor of a magazine I recently read.  The point of this girl’s letter was that Jesus did not ever exist, so no one needs to be concerned about what he really did or did not say.  Well, there are some significant historical realities that she is not aware of, and even a little evidence might remove for her a barrier to faith.  

            Then again, maybe not.  I once read the story of a student in a classroom who was about to lose an argument, but confidently said to his teacher, “Well, just because it’s true, doesn’t mean I have to believe it!”  For many people today, personal opinion matters more than truth.  What chance does faith, reason, or logic have with such confused thinking? 

            Yes, we are saved by faith, and not by proof; but it is faith in something that we believe really happened, and such faith requires a certain amount of clear thinking.  We have in the New Testament a reliable historical document, that tells the story of some people who lived with Jesus, saw him teach and do many miracles, saw him killed, and then saw him alive again.  They tell of what they saw and heard, and they give good reasons for us to have faith in the Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Lord and Savior.

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See also:

https://emailmeditations.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/873-a-detective-examines-the-evidence-for-god/

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II Peter 1:16  —  We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Luke 1:1-4  —  Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

I Peter 3:15a  —   In your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

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Lord, I believe.  Help Thou my unbelief.

–Mark 9:24

1576) A Real Weirdo

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By Joshua Rogers, August 2, 2017 blog at: http://www.joshuarogers.com

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     A few years ago, I had this new coworker who came off as weird — really weird, and within a couple of weeks of his arrival, a lot of people in the office were making comments about him behind his back.

     I didn’t gossip about him, but when a coworker told me the guy was getting on everyone’s nerves, it gave me a sense of relief.  He was just as annoying to everyone else as he was to me.

     One day I had to work with him on a short assignment, and with every passing minute, I was increasingly eager to get away.  He kept trying to engage me in scatterbrained chit chat, and even when I tried to keep things focused, he started making all of these awkward observations about his favorite movie.  I just gave a tight-lipped smile and looked down, avoiding eye contact.

     When I finally got away, my previous evaluation was confirmed:  This guy truly was a weirdo.

     A couple of days later, I saw my new coworker walking down the hallway and noticed some things I hadn’t seen before.

     He looked nervous as he briskly walked back to his office.  And when he awkwardly tried to make conversation with other coworkers, he sounded like that kid at school who tries so hard to be cool but just ends up looking desperate.  He kind of reminded me of another guy I know very well who sometimes struggles with awkwardness when he’s in threatening social situations.  That person is me.

     I hate my socially awkward side and I do everything I can to avoid it.  And because I’m so sensitive to my own awkwardness, I’m just as sensitive to it in other people — if not more.  So basically, looking down on my coworker was my way of making myself feel better by thinking, Thank goodness I’m not like that guy, when actually, under the right circumstances, I can be socially awkward as well.

     My attitude towards my coworker began to change as I recognized myself in him and realized he felt just as scared as I do in uncomfortable social situations.  But the biggest change came when I began praying for him.

     If I saw him in the hallway and felt tempted to evaluate him, I instead asked God to give him peace.  When I overheard him nervously talking to another coworker, I prayed that he would be able to find confidence in God’s love for him.

     I gradually started looking him in the eye when I saw him and could say hello to him with an effortless smile.  Compassionate prayer had begun changing me, regardless of whether my coworker was changing yet.

     Sometimes it’s hard for me to grasp how Jesus can love us right now, knowing what He knows about our deep insecurities and darkest thoughts, which are far worse than our occasional bouts with social awkwardness.  I think this is one of His secrets:  “He lives forever to intercede with God on [our] behalf” (Hebrews 7:25).

     When we pray for someone it changes the way we see them, and opens chambers of grace for them in our hearts.

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Romans 12:3  —  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

Philippians 2:3-4  —  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Luke 6:36-37  —  (Jesus said), “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

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Have mercy on me, O Lord, as I muddle my way through this sad world, on my way to you and your perfect home.  I make myself miserable and my life difficult by my many sins.  We have so much trouble getting along, as we are always sinning and being sinned against.  Give me the grace to forgive others as I have been forgiven by you, and may they receive the grace to forgive me as they have been forgiven by you.  I pray this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for the forgiveness of all our sins.  Amen.

–Source lost

1575) Feeding Your Soul (b)

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By Jon Bloom at:  www.desiringgod.org

     (…continued)  This living soul food is more vital to our ultimate health than bodily food.  But learning to eat well for the sake of our body’s well-being has valuable lessons for eating well for our soul’s well-being.  And one of those valuable lessons is that our taste preferences can be changed.

     Our tastes are conditioned by habits and wrong ways of thinking about food.  Like eating healthy food, eating healthy promises requires more work to plan — new habits of discipline that aren’t as convenient and entertaining as junk promises.  And if we’ve become conditioned to heavily processed, sugary, empty-carb promises, artificially engineered to be addictive, we may find the taste and texture of true food less enjoyable at first.

     But these habit and taste preferences will change as we stick with it and increasingly experience the benefits of substantial, hope-sustaining and deepening benefits.

     The only way to break a habit of eating junk food promises is cultivating a taste for rich, nourishing, long-lasting, deeply satisfying, and true promises.  It takes eating real food to develop the taste for real food.  We must be patient.  Old tastes do not diminish and new tastes are not acquired overnight.  We might find it helpful to change some bodily food habits at the same time, and let that experience illustrate the spiritual reality.  But as we press in, God will meet us and help us “taste and see” that he is good (Psalm 34:8).

     “The God of hope” wants us to feast on his promises and be filled “with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit [we] may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

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John 6:35…51a  —  Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty….   I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Psalm 34:8  —  Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Romans 15:13  —  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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O Almighty God, grant that we may ever be found watching and ready for the coming of Thy Son.  Save us from undue love of the world, that we may wait with patient hope for the day of the Lord, and so abide in him, that when he shall appear we may not be ashamed; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Methodist hymnal

1574) Feeding Your Soul (a)

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By Jon Bloom (at http://www.desiringgod.org)

     Hope is to our soul what energy is to our body.  Just like our bodies must have energy to keep going, our souls must have hope to keep going.

     When our body needs energy, we eat food.  But when our soul needs hope, what do we feed it?  PROMISES.

     Why do we feed our soul promises?  Because promises have to do with our future, and hope is something we only feel about the future — about ten minutes from now, or ten months, or ten thousand years.

     We’re never hopeful about the past.  We can be grateful for the past.  The past can inspire or even guarantee a hopeful future for us.  But all the wonderful things that have happened to us in the past will not fuel our hope if our future looks bleak.

     However, if our future is promising, our soul will be hopeful even if our present is miserable, because hope is what keeps the soul going.

     So, we “eat” promises, which our soul digests (believes) and converts to hope.

Toxic Soul Food

     When feeding the body, there is “healthy food” and there is “junk food.”  Both will, in the short run, produce energy.  But healthy food provides the right kinds of energy, enhances the operation of the body’s complex systems, strengthens its resilience against disease, and increases its durability and longevity.  Junk food, on the other hand, has essentially the opposite effect in all these areas, and contributes to the breaking down of the body over time.

     Similarly, there are “healthy promises” and “junk promises.”  Both will, in the short run, produce hope.  But healthy promises provide the right kind of hope and promote health throughout the complexities of the human soul.  Junk promises prove ultimately toxic and lead to soul-death.

     Both physical and spiritual nutrition are important, because we always become what we eat.  We must take greater care, though, in what we feed our souls, because so much more is at stake.

     The world and the devil are very aware that we feed our souls promises, which is why, like junk food, junk promises are everywhere.  They are heavily marketed (notice every temptation to sin is a promise of some kind of happiness), attractively packaged, tasty (though not truly rich), convenient, and have a particular allure when you’re running low on hope.  They deliver a fast buzz of false hope and ruin your appetite for truly healthy promises.

     But junk promises always disappoint because their buzz is followed by a hope-plunge into guilt, shame, and emptiness.  They never deliver the happiness they promise because our souls are designed for a far better hope.  And yet, junk promises can be addicting, because our hope-plunge can send us back seeking another fast, false buzz.

Living Food

     “Man does not live by bread alone, but . . . by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Matthew 4:4).  Our souls are designed to be nourished by God’s “precious and very great promises” (II Peter 1:4).

     But these promises are not mere human words; they are living and active (Hebrews 4:12), proceeding directly from the living Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:1).  He is the Word of God and “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (II Corinthians 1:20).

     What could possibly give more hope to our sinful souls than Jesus’s promises to forgive all of our sins completely, to remove all of the Father’s judgment and wrath against us, to always be with us (Matthew 28:20), and to give us eternal life in God’s presence with full joy and pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11)?  Only in him do we find “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

     This is why Jesus called himself the bread of life (John 6:35).  The past grace of his death and resurrection guarantee a never-ending stream of hope-giving future grace for us extending into eternity.  To ‘eat’ these promises is to eat this living bread and live forever (John 6:51).

      And Jesus has made the Bible the storehouse of nourishing, living soul food for his people.  It is stocked full of promises, and he invites us to come eat our fill for free (Isaiah 55:1).  (continued…)

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Matthew 4:4  —  Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”  (see also Deuteronomy 8:3)

II Peter 1:4  —  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

John 6:35…51a  —  Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty….   I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Isaiah 55:1  —  Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

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Heavenly Father: thank you for sending your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to be the Bread of Life for the world.  Forgive us for elevating earthly appetites above devotion to you.  Feed us with the knowledge of Christ so that we recognise our sin and gladly repent in his name.  Amen.