2032) Why Faith?

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Philip Yancey  (1949- )

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‘WHY I BELIEVE’  by Philip Yancey, posted June 22, 2019 at:  http://www.philipyancey.com

(Adapted from A Skeptic’s Guide to Faith by Philip Yancey)

     Early in his pilgrimage, the literary monk Thomas Merton wrote, “Very soon we get to the point where we simply say, ‘I believe’ or ‘I refuse to believe.’”  Faith runs hot and cold over time, offering up reasons both to believe and disbelieve.

     It did not surprise Jesus in the least that some would disbelieve him, regardless of evidence.  He had predicted as much: “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”  It does not surprise me either that some disbelieve the reality of an unseen world, especially in an age which excels at mastering the visible world.  For many, God cannot possibly exist unless he makes himself visible or tangible—and God does not perform on our terms.

     Why do I believe? I ask myself.  Why do I, like Merton, continue to make that defiant leap of faith?

     I could point to a conversion experience during college days, a transforming moment that bisected my life into two parts, an age of unbelief and an age of belief.  Yet I know that a skeptic, hearing that story, could propose alternate explanations.

     I could point to shafts of light that have (rarely, I admit) pierced the veil between the visible and invisible worlds.  These, too, the skeptic would dismiss, forcing me to fall back on what the philosopher William James called “the convincingness of unreasoned experience.”

     In my own days of skepticism, I wanted a dramatic interruption from above.  I wanted proof of an unseen reality, one that could somehow be verified.  In my days of faith, such supernatural irruptions seem far less important, in part because I find the materialistic explanations of life inadequate to explain reality.  I have learned to attend to fainter contacts between the seen and unseen worlds.  I sense in romantic love something insufficiently explained by mere biochemical attraction.  I sense in beauty and in nature the marks of a genius creator for which the appropriate response is worship.  Like Jacob, I have at times awoken from a dream to realize, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

     I sense in desire, including sexual desire, marks of a holy yearning for connection.  I sense in pain and suffering a terrible disruption that omnipotent love surely cannot abide forever.  I sense in compassion, generosity, justice, and forgiveness a quality of grace that speaks to me of another world, especially when I visit places marred by their absence.  I sense in Jesus a person who lived those qualities so consistently that the world could not tolerate him, and so silenced and disposed of him.

     I believe not so much because the invisible world impinges on this one, but because the visible world hints, in the ways that move me most, at a lack of completion.

     I once heard a woman give a remarkable account of achievement.  An early feminist, she gained renown in the male-dominated field of endocrinology.  She brushes shoulders with Nobel laureates and world leaders, and has lived as full and rich a life as any I have known.  At the end of her story she said simply, “As I look back, this is what matters.  I have loved and been loved, and all the rest is just background music.”

     Love, too, is why I believe.  At the end of life, what else matters?  “Love never fails,” Paul wrote.  “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  He could only be describing God’s love, for no human love meets that standard of perfection.  What I have tasted of love on this earth convinces me that a perfect love will not be satisfied with the sad tale of this planet, will not rest until evil is conquered and good reigns, will not allow its objects to pass from existence.  Perfect love perseveres until it perfects.

     Jesus’ disciple John brought the two worlds together, in a unity forged through love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son… For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  Love deems this world worth rescuing.

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Luke 16:31  —  “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Genesis 28:16  —  When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

II Corinthians 4:18  —  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.

I Corinthians 13:8a  —  Love never fails.

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Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you, O Lord.

–St. Augustine

Lord, I do believe.  Help me overcome my unbelief.

–Mark 9:24

2031) Unanimous

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera tips his cap to

By John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera, posted February 11, 2019 at:  http://www.breakpoint.org

     Since 1936, 323 players, managers, executives and umpires have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  What they all have in common is that none of them, not even Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, or Joe DiMaggio, were elected unanimously.

     On Tuesday, that changed.  Pitcher Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees became the first player elected unanimously to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  It’s a fitting tribute to the man Esquire magazine dubbed “the Hammer of God,” for his achievements on the mound.

     Now even if you don’t like baseball, you should rejoice with Rivera and his family, because while he may have been God’s “hammer” on the field, he was and remains God’s faithful servant both on and off it.

     Rivera was what is known as a “closer.”  That means he pitches exclusively in those high-pressure situations when the game’s on the line.  He’s expected to “close” the door on the other team.  It might sound simple, but any baseball fan will tell you few pitchers, even the most talented ones, can stand up to that kind of pressure for very long.

     Rivera did it for seventeen seasons.  According to Tim Kurkjian of ESPN, the gap between Rivera and whomever is the second-best closer of all-time is greater than the gap at any other position in baseball history.

     That’s part of the reason one former player called Rivera “the most beloved Yankee,” which, given the franchise’s storied history, is saying a lot.

     But it’s not the only reason.  The other part is Mariano Rivera the man.  The Esquire profile said that “He is modest and mild.  He is neat and quiet, while other closers are not.”  He is regarded as the ultimate “team first” player who summed up his job as “I get the ball, I throw the ball, and then I take a shower.”

     Throughout his career, Rivera was as well known for his Christian faith as for his legendary “cut fastball,” which was virtually unhittable even though hitters knew it was coming.

     In fact, Rivera will tell you that his faith and his fastball are linked.  He claims God gave him the pitch.  In his own words, “I do not spend years searching for this pitch.   I do not ask for it, or pray for it.  All of a sudden it is there, a devastating baseball weapon.”

     As “devastating” as that weapon was during the regular season, it was even more so during the playoffs.  In sixteen post-seasons, Rivera allowed fewer earned runs than the number of men who have walked on the moon.

     Yet he expressed thanks to God for his most high-profile failure, too.  In the 2001 World Series, he gave up the run that cost the Yankees the series, but he pointed out that if the Yankees had won, his teammate Enrique Wilson would have been on a flight that ended up crashing and killing everyone on board.  Since they didn’t win, Wilson took an earlier flight.  “I am glad we lost the World Series,” Rivera said, “because it means that I still have a friend.”

   There’s a lot more I could tell you: from the glove inscribed with Phillipians 4:13 to his many charitable endeavors.       Then there’s the documentary, “Being: Mariano Rivera,” about his last season that aired on Showtime.  In many ways, it was one long testimony to his Christian faith.

     It’s gratifying that the first man to be unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame is celebrated as much for his character as for his amazing career. It’s even more inspiring that the first man to be unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame has never been shy about telling others about the One who made both possible.

     In an era where the word “hero” is either tossed around haphazardly, debased, or made to seem hopelessly out-of-date, the real deal has received the honor he was due, honor he will undoubtedly ascribe to his God.

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Philippians 4:13  —  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Colossians 3:23  —  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

Matthew 5:16  —  (Jesus said), “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

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O God, grant unto me such a knowledge of your will and trust in your grace that I may truly exemplify in my life the faith that I profess, so that others may see the light of Christ shining in what I say and do; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

–adapted from Service Book and Hymnal, Augsburg Publishing House, 1958, page 227.

2030) Memorize This Prayer

Christ and the Good Thief, c.1566 - Titian

Christ and the Good Thief, 1566, Titian

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By Joshua Rogers, posted April 21, 2019, at:  http://www.joshuarogers.com

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     “Jesus, remember me.”

     Every Easter I come back to those three words.   They never get old.  I invite you to pray these words often and remember the one who loves you most.

     I was five years old when I walked into my mother’s bedroom and told her I wanted to give my life to Christ.  We got down on our knees beside the bed and I asked Jesus into my heart.  After that, I proudly told everyone that Jesus had saved me, but my pride slowly diminished over the years.

     As I got older, the more I questioned the efficacy of my salvation prayer because, let’s be honest, the five-year-old motives behind it didn’t exactly demonstrate any depth of understanding about what I was doing.  On the one hand, my parents taught me a lot about the Bible, so by that age,   I really had developed a childhood affection for the miracle-working Savior who held little kids in His lap and then died to save them.

     On the other hand, I wanted to be born again because I would get to take the grape juice and cracker during communion at our Baptist Church– not to mention the most important reason of all: I would avoid going to hell.  These reasons didn’t seem like very good ones for wanting to commit my eternal life to God, so I eventually began to wonder if perhaps I hadn’t actually been saved after all.

     My insecurity about my salvation inspired me repeatedly redo my salvation prayer, but it never seemed like it was enough.  I wanted something more official.  I needed a prayer that would unquestionably provide my eternal connection to Jesus.  But there was a vignette in the Easter story that provided the security that a prayer for salvation never could.

     As Jesus was hanging there and His life was almost over, He had a brief conversation with one of the two thieves hanging on either side of Him.  The gospel of Matthew tells us that this thief had actually been mocking Jesus earlier in his crucifixion.  But Luke tells us the rest of the story.  With the clock ticking down on his life, the thief had a sudden change of heart and made a simple request: “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom.”

     The man was a low-life, a common criminal attempting a deathbed conversion, and all he could utter was a request that wasn’t exactly profound:  “Remember me.”

     Jesus didn’t do an inventory of the man’s good or bad deeds before He responded.  He didn’t ignore him or wait until the man said the perfect words.  “Remember me” was more than enough.  In the final minutes of their lives, Jesus responded,“Truly I say to you, today you’ll be with Me in Paradise.”

   Maybe you won’t go to church this Easter; maybe you don’t even want to.  Maybe you’re a believer who’s insecure about your salvation.  Maybe the idea of praying about something as monumental as your eternal salvation seems intimidating that you wouldn’t even know where to start.  Start here: “Remember me.”

     It doesn’t matter if your motives are self-interested or if you’ve never shown any desire to follow Jesus.  It doesn’t matter how many mistakes you’ve made and how many more you’re likely to make.  He’s there, willing and waiting to take you home with Him.

     Call out to Him.  Trust that He’s willing to welcome you into His kingdom.  Ask Him to remember you today.  His certain response will have nothing to do with your worthiness and everything to do with His unfailing love.

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Jesus, remember me.

–Luke 23:42

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2029) God Does Not Forgive ‘Buts’

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By Scott Hubbard, posted July 3, 2019, at:  http://www.desiringgod.org

     Very few of us fail to learn, at some point in our growing-up years, the fine art of the fake apology.

     We have spoken a careless word to a friend, for example.  Conscience lays a millstone of guilt upon our shoulders, but pride staggers forward, refusing to bend the knee.  We look for a way to satisfy both.

     “I’m sorry if I hurt you,” we say, skillfully implying that the real problem is with our friend’s fragile feelings.  Or perhaps we add, “It’s just been such a long week at work,” or “I’m always cranky at this time of night” — statements that locate our guilt somewhere outside us.  By the time we’re through, we have decorated the word sorry with enough qualifications that we somehow deserve the apology.

     Although the gospel of God’s grace goes to war with such fakery, Christians are not immune from the allure to adorn our apologies and confessions with qualifications.  “What we call ‘asking God’s forgiveness,’” C.S. Lewis writes, “very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses.”

     The trouble, of course, is that God does not forgive excuses.  He does not forgive qualifications.  He does not forgive “buts” and “I was justs.”  But he does forgive sins.

     Nowhere can we spot our fake confessions more clearly than when we confess our sins to other people.  Whether we are confessing to someone we have wronged, or to someone who simply helps us in the fight of faith, the question remains: Can we lay our sins before the eyes of another, in all their hellish ugliness, without trying to tuck part of them beneath the cover of an excuse?

     I often find that my grand ambitions to be transparent, vulnerable, and real feel much less grand as I sit across from another.  I read in my quiet times, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) and pray, “God, I want to be like that.”  But then I discover that, in the company of others, I prefer to appear spiritually rich — or at least not so poor as I really am.  Needy, perhaps, but not a welfare case.  I act as if “Blessed are the poor in spirit” actually means “Blessed are those who just need a little help.”

     And so, I often find myself tempted to adorn my confessions of sin with a variety of excuses, most often in the form of extenuating circumstances and euphemisms.

     Sometimes, we explain our sin by adding an extenuating circumstance onto the end of a confession.  We shift the center of guilt from in here to out there, and subtly cast ourselves as mere victims of circumstance.

Extenuating circumstance: “I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that; the kids have just been driving me crazy lately.”
Confession: “I lashed out at you because I felt impatient and angry.  I’m sorry.  Will you forgive me?”

Extenuating circumstance: “I wish I wouldn’t have spent the whole day watching that show, but it’s been such a long week at work; I needed to rest somehow.”
Confession: “I used entertainment as an escape from stress instead of trusting God with the burdens I’ve been feeling.”

Extenuating circumstance: “I don’t want to be bitter, but I just can’t get over what she did.”
Confession: “I’ve been holding on to bitterness lately because, deep down, I haven’t believed that God is a good refuge.”

     Other times, we blunt the edge of a confession with euphemisms.  We exchange the names of specific sins with vague, Christian-y phrases that keep anyone from looking too closely.

Euphemism: “I stumbled.”
Confession: “I lusted in my heart and turned away from Christ.”

Euphemism: “I’m having a hard time being content.”
Confession: “I envied this person’s relationship and resented him for it.”

Euphemism: “I could have been more kind.”
Confession: “I lost control and snapped at my kids.”

     To be sure, confessions of sin sometimes warrant additional information.  Our friends and family do not share God’s omniscience, so knowing the factors at play can help to clarify the situation.  But many of us, in our eagerness to “clarify,” turn our sin into something excusable.

     When we lace our confessions with such language, we are no longer confessing sin, and we no longer want forgiveness.  We’re offering an excuse, and we want someone to understand.

Such was not the practice of the psalmists.  When these holy men made public the confession of their sins, they used language that might startle us.

     When was the last time you confessed like Asaph, “I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward [God]” (Psalm 73:22)?  Or when have you, like David, lamented that your sins were “more than the hairs of [your] head” (Psalm 40:12)?  Or when have you prayed, “O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great” (Psalm 25:11)?

     Excuses were ready at hand for each of these men had they wanted to make use of them.  “But the wicked are prospering!” Asaph could have said (Psalm 73:4–12).  “I’ve just been in the pit for so long,” David could have acknowledged (Psalm 40:1–2).  “I’m just so tired of enemies boasting over me,” he could have added (Psalm 25:2).

     But they didn’t.  Where did the psalmists find the strength to confess their sins unvarnished?  How could they say to God, in the presence of others, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity” (Psalm 32:5)?  Because they loved the grace of God more than they loved their reputations.  Grace had captured them, and they didn’t dream of trying to escape with an excuse.

     The psalmists had discovered, as Charles Spurgeon puts it, that “when we deal seriously with our sin, God will deal gently with us.”  Our attempts to excuse our sin might be understandable if we had a harsh Lord, but such is not our Lord Jesus Christ.  He holds an “abundance of grace” in his right hand (Romans 5:17), and stands always ready to bestow it on all who confess without excuse (1 John 1:9).

     When we refuse to cover our sin (Psalm 32:5), Christ himself covers it with his own blood (Psalm 32:1).  And more than that: he hides us behind the shield of his righteousness; he preserves us from the condemnation of the accuser; he surrounds us for all eternity with shouts of deliverance (Psalm 32:7).  Better by far to be a poor debtor to grace, and yet belong to this Christ, than to cover ourselves with the finery of our excuses, and yet be left to ourselves in the end.

2028) “You Are the Greatest Thing That Ever Happened to Me”

From a 2018 wedding sermon:

     The text for my meditation today comes from the funny papers; from a comic strip called Pearls Before Swine.  I have a Biblical text also, but first this.  It is called “The Six Stages of Marriage” and it contains six frames.  I will describe each one to you.  The first frame is the wedding day, and the couple is holding hands, looking loving into each other’s eyes, and saying, “You are the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”  That is the sort of thing brides and grooms say to each other on their special day.  In the second frame, the next stage of marriage, the two of them are sitting on opposite ends of a couch, with their backs to each other, looking sad, and each is thinking, “You are not as great as I thought.”  Usually, after two people have been married for a while, those kinds of thoughts will come into their minds.  In the third frame, a slightly older couple are facing each other, leaning forward with angry looks on their faces, and now they are saying to each other, “You need to change.”  Has anyone here ever wished their spouse could change a few things about their habits or priorities or moods?  In the fourth frame, the two of them, older yet, are looking straight ahead, saying “You can’t be changed.”  After more than four decades of marriage, my wife and I are still working on tweaking a few things about each other; but we continue to resist such efforts, and at this point, we are both pretty sure nothing is going change.  We are moving into what is depicted in the fifth frame, where an old grandpa and an old grandma are hugging each other and saying, finally, “I accept you as you are.”  The sixth and final frame is the tear-jerker, as it depicts only one of them, the old man, standing by a gravestone, on which he has placed a bouquet of flowers.  And the words on this frame, are the exact same words as were in the first frame that depicted their wedding day.  The old man is saying, “You are the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”

     Now of course, it doesn’t always work that way.  But that is the idea.  And what the two of you are doing here today is you are making a promise to stick with each other through all six of those stages, or as the marriage vows say,“Til death do us part.”  You have to make it through the difficulties of stages two, three, and four, in order to get to the gratitude and blessings of stages five and six.  And there has not ever been a married couple on earth that has always, and for the entire time, felt like doing that.  And so the marriage vows are not about feelings, they are about a commitment– a commitment to see to it that you do make it through all six stages as so accurately portrayed in the funny papers.

     And most importantly, you are making your vows in a church, so that means you are making God a part of all this.  Here in America we are big on personal decisions and free choices and all that.  We aren’t like some countries where parents arrange their children’s marriages, so we are free to pick our own marriage partners.  But that is not all that is involved here.  Yes, you have chosen each other, and yes, you have chosen to be married in the church—but God has been a part of your relationship all along, and God is involved in the vows you make.

     So now I will finally get to the Biblical text I told you would be coming.  It is from the words of Jesus in Matthew 19.  These words are often read at weddings, as Jesus there says, “In the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  What GOD has joined together, Jesus said.  God has brought the two of you together so, Jesus says, “What GOD has joined together, let no one separate.”

     One other Biblical text, this one from the one of passages you choose to be read today.  In John 15:11-12 Jesus said, “I have told you all this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”  There is the key to getting through all six stages.  God commands both of you, and all of us, to love with a love like the love of Jesus, and that is a love that is committed, serving, self-sacrificing, and faithful.  Continue to keep God in your lives and pray for the ability to love like that, and pray for God’s wisdom and guidance, and you will be all right.

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(Pearl Before Swines, by Stephan Pastis, January 21, 2018)

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Psalm 71:9  —  Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.

Proverbs 5:18  —  May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.

Matthew 19:4-6  —  (Jesus said), “At the beginning the Creator made them male and female,  and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

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A PRAYER FOR MARRIED COUPLES:

O God, out of all the world you let us find one another and learn together the meaning of love.  Let us never fail to hold love precious.  Let the flame of it never waver or grow dim, but burn in our hearts as an unwavering devotion, and shine through our eyes in gentleness and understanding.  Teach us to remember the little courtesies, to be swift to speak the grateful and happy word, to believe rejoicingly in each other’s best, and to face all life bravely because we face it with a united heart.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Walter Russel Bowie  (1882-1969), Rector of Grace Episcopal Church, New York City

2027) Science Discovers God

   

     Robert Jastow (1925-2008) was an American astronomer and physicist.  He was a leading NASA scientist, popular author, and futurist.  He said that although he was an agnostic and not a believer, he believed the accepted scientific theory of the big bang origin of the universe supported the Biblical view of a creation by something beyond nature as we know it.  He knew that was an unpopular view in the scientific community, but he had the courage to proclaim that inevitable conclusion to which the evidence pointed.  Below are some quotes by Robert Jastrow.

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“Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth.  And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover.  That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.

–“A Scientist Caught Between Two Faiths,” An interview in Christianity Today, August 6, 1982

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“Now we see how the astronomical evidence supports the biblical view of the origin of the world.  The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same:  the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.”

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“There is a strange ring of feeling and emotion in these reactions [of scientists to evidence that the universe had a sudden beginning].  They come from the heart whereas you would expect the judgments to come from the brain.  Why?  I think part of the answer is that scientists cannot bear the thought of a natural phenomenon which cannot be explained, even with unlimited time and money.  There is a kind of religion in science; it is the religion of a person who believes there is order and harmony in the Universe.  Every event can be explained in a rational way as the product of some previous event; every effect must have its cause, there is no First Cause…  This religious faith of the scientist is violated by the discovery that the world had a beginning under conditions in which the known laws of physics are not valid, and as a product of forces or circumstances we cannot discover.  When that happens, the scientist has lost control.  If he really examined the implications, he would be traumatized.”

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“At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation.  For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream.  He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

–Robert Jastrow, The Enchanted Loom: Mind in the Universe, (1981), p. 19.

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And a bit more:

I Believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.

–First Article of the Apostle’s Creed

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“You may find it hard to believe that God made everything out of nothing, but it takes a lot more faith to believe that nothing turned itself into everything.”

–Mark Cahill

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“I felt in my bones that this universe does not explain itself.”  

–C. S. Lewis (when still an agnostic, but moving toward faith in God)

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There is nothing in observable natural law that can explain the creation of matter and energy out of nothing.  There have been many wild speculations by scientists, all of which require far more faith to believe in than Genesis 1:1.  And just because it is a scientist doing the guessing, does not mean that such guesses or speculations can be even tested by the scientific method, much less verified.  Many people have therefore concluded that there must be a God above and beyond what science can observe, measure, and test.  

Then again, as children often ask, “But who made God?”  That is an interesting question, but not one a Christian is required to answer.  It is the atheist whose explanation of the universe must be limited to the observable laws of nature.  Christians believe there is more to reality than can ever be explained.  Christians believe in a God who we cannot see, whose power is unlimited, who is not bound by any natural laws we have observed, and whose kingdom is bigger than the universe that we observe, test, and measure.  With such a God and that view of reality, anything is possible.  We will know something about that God only if He chooses to reveal Himself, and then confirms such revelations by miracles that defy natural explanation– such as a man rising from the dead.

Christians will readily admit we do not have the observable facts or the tools to explain the universe.  We confess our faith in a God beyond our knowing, who is eternal and “not made” (Nicene Creed) by anyone or anything else, and who is beyond the necessary ’cause and effect’ chain of events of our universe.  Our small minds cannot even imagine the fullness of God; just as we will never be able to explain this universe and its origin without reference to the God above it.  And the more we learn about the universe, the laws of nature, and the complexity of life, the more difficult it becomes to explain it all without reference to a power beyond what we see.   Ans as Robert Jastrow (and many others) have argued, the more scientists discover about the universe, the more they are forced to admit that need for a power beyond the universe.

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Genesis 1:1  —  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Psalm 8:1…3-4  —  Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory in the heavens…  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

Psalm 19:1  —  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

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I thank you, my Creator and Lord, that you have given me these joys in your creation, this ecstasy over the deeds of your hands.  I have made known the glory of your deeds to people as far as my finite spirit was able to understand your infinity.  If I have said anything unworthy of you, or have aspired after my own glory, graciously forgive me.  

–Johannes Kepler  (1571-1630), German mathematician and astronomer; a key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution; best known for his laws of planetary motion

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See also:

https://www.prageru.com/videos/whats-greater-leap-faith-god-or-multiverse

2026) Quality or Quantity (part two of two)

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     (…continued)  The question of why we are here and where we are going has two possible answers, one comes from an old beer commercial, and the other comes from the Bible.  You can decide which one you like best, which one has the most credibility, and which one you will live your life by.  And your answer will make all the difference, now and forever.  The message of the old beer commercial is, “You only go around once in life, so grab all you can this time around;” and the message of Bible is, “I am but a pilgrim here, passing through on my way to a better home.”

     The beer commercial says life is a party, experience all you can and have all the fun you can, until you pass on, because this life is all there is.  The Bible says life is a test, believe in God, do what is right, and keep the faith.  The beer commercial says do whatever you want, no one is watching.  The Bible says, someone is watching, and there will be an accounting and a judgment at the end.  The beer commercial makes you desperate, because there is never enough time to have it all and experience it all, and this, as we learn in another famous beer commercial, “is as good as it gets.”  The Bible promises a bigger life in a better place, and encourages us to be patient in suffering here, for the best is yet to come.  The beer commercial always disappoints, for the party is never as good as it promises to be, and all good things must come to an end.  The Bible doesn’t promise a party, but guarantees trouble and adversity.  This life, says the Bible, is not a playground, but a ‘vale of tears.’  Yes, there will be some wonderful times in this life, but we are on the way to something else, to that perfect life to come.  That’s for you, says the Bible, if you will believe in Jesus, the one who came to provide it for you.  That is where faith comes in, that is how we are tested.  We are called on to believe in and to trust in the promises of this Lord.  In the beer commercial philosophy, you are on your own.  The Bible tells you that you have a heavenly Father who created you, sustains you, and wants you to join him in his heavenly home forever.

     Here is the interesting thing about all this:  God gives us the freedom to pick how we will approach life, and allows us to live by our choice.  We can choose to live by the beer commercial philosophy or by the Bible.  If you decide to only go around once in life, with no other obligations or beliefs, God will allow you this life; but then when it is over, God will not force you to live with him in heaven.  However, if you look to him and believe in him, he promises you that when this life is over, you will not perish, but have everlasting life.

     The two different approaches to life have been compared to different types of ocean cruises.  As one ship embarks, the captain says to the passengers, “Welcome aboard, our ship is the finest in the business, we have all the best accommodations for you, plenty of good food, round the clock entertainment, and the forecast is for beautiful weather.  As you know, we have no destination, and somewhere, someday soon, we don’t know when, this ship will sink and we will all perish.  But until then folks, enjoy your cruise.  As I said, our accommodations and services are the very best.”

     On the other ship, the captain says this:  “Welcome aboard folks.  I am sorry to tell you we have some bad weather ahead of us.  Activities will be restricted, and you will face some inconveniences.  Please be patient, we are on our way to New York which I know is home to many of you, and you are all looking forward to getting there.  Even though the weather will be unpleasant, I assure we will get to our destination.  In the meantime, we will all have to endure our troubles the best we can.”

     The Biblical view of life is like the second cruise.  The Bible has a very different message from the one that says, ‘You only go around once in life.’  The Bible tells us that this life is not all there is, but is only the first part of a journey on to somewhere else.  God’s Word teaches us to keep our eyes on that destination, and on the One who has promised to bring us there.  God has not promised an easy passage, but God has promised a safe arrival in a good place, and a good refuge.

     Psalm 46 begins with these words: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”  We need not fear, we are assured, God will be our refuge, no matter what, now and forever.  If I were ever asked to give a last lecture, that is what I would want to say most of all.  I would want to talk about this last and lasting refuge.

     One more thing: did you know that Jesus himself gave a last lecture?  He did.  It was at the Last Supper, just before his arrest.  His words are recorded in the Gospel of John, chapters 13-17, and in that ‘last lecture’ he offered you a wonderful promise.  Jesus said in John 14: 1-3:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, so that you also may be where I am.”

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Joshua 24:14-15  —  Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness…  But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

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O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.  Then, Lord, in your mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–John H. Newman, based on a 16th century prayer

2025) Quality or Quantity? (part one of two)

   

     On July 25, 2008 Randy Pausch died at the age of 47.  He was a Computer Science professor at Columbia University and had been in the news several times in the year before his death.  What has made him famous was a lecture he gave at his university, a lecture that has now been viewed millions.  Columbia University has what they call a ‘Last Lecture’ series, an ongoing series of lectures in which professors appear in a large auditorium before whatever students and faculty want to attend, and they say what they would say if that was to be their last lecture.  They are free to talk about whatever they believe is most important, or whatever might best summarize their life’s work, or, whatever else they want to say.  The lecture is usually a hypothetical situation– what they would say if this was their last lecture.

     It was about the time Randy Pausch’s turn came up a year ago that he received the diagnosis that the cancer he had been battling was terminal, and would have only six to nine months left to live.  He decided that he would go ahead with the lecture, and for him, this would indeed be his last lecture.  He would soon have to quit teaching; first of all, in order to focus on the medical treatments that might extend his life for at best a few months, and then also to spend as much time as possible in his remaining days with his young family.  He had married late in life, and he and his wife had three pre-school children.  He gave this last lecture in the Fall of 2007, and although he lived a few months past the time limit doctors initially gave him, he died the following summer.

     What made his lecture so popular was his positive, upbeat attitude, even in the face of such tragedy and hopelessness.  He was open about his condition and his prospects, he faced his reality logically and calmly, he held on to no false hopes, and he imparted a lot of good wisdom about life in a energetic, powerful way.

     I read his book in which he expands on what he said in the lecture, and there is much there that I agree with and admire.  He was raised by strict, old-school parents, who were also creative, encouraging of his brilliant and inquisitive intellect, and supportive of his energetic and independent spirit.  He learned, and then expected his students to learnhard work, self-reliance, and the ability to take criticism and accept responsibility.

     Whining was not allowed in his home when he was growing up.  He was complaining one time to his mother about some extremely difficult classes and tests he was going through in college.  In the book he called that time the second worst time in his life, second only to chemotherapy.  His mother’s terse reply was, “Well yes, we know how you feel son, but just remember, when your father was your age, he was in combat, and the Germans were trying to kill him.”  So Randy learned to just work hard and not feel sorry for himself.  Later in his life, when people wondered how he got to be a tenured university professor at such a young age, he would reply, “Call me at my office any Friday night at 10:00 and I will tell you the answer.”  As I said, there is much about the book that I like.  In fact, I think it is safe to say that I liked everything that Randy Pausch had to say.  The only thing that disappointed me about the book was what he did not say.

  Randy Pausch is now dead, and I would have been interested in hearing from such a wise and optimistic man what he believed was going to happen to him when his earthly life was over.  He referred to this subject only once in the book, and that was to say he was not going to say anything about it.  He said he belonged to a Presbyterian church, but that is the only thing he said about religion.  I wish he would have said more.  Reading between the lines I have some guesses as to what he believed about what lies beyond death, but I don’t want to make too much of mere guesses.  I will, however, make some general observations of my own on the subject.

     It is often said that it is not the quantity of years you get that matters, but what is important is the quality of your years, however many you get.  There is some truth in that.  However, a last lecture by a 90 year old would not have received nearly as much attention as Randy Pausch’s, no matter how good it was.  There is something especially sad and captivating about words of this dying young man with a wife and small children, no matter how excellent was the quality of his years.  And he did have wonderful life.  Pausch’s book is filled with gratitude for what he called ‘hitting the jackpot’ in life’s lottery; having terrific parents, a great career, and a wonderful wife and family.  It was a quality life indeed; but it does matter that it ended far too soon.  We want to have both quality and quantity.

     But of course, it is not quantity of years, or even the quality of life, that is most important.  What is most important is that you somewhere along the line figure out three things: where you come from, why you are here, and where you are going when your all too brief time here will end.  All three of these questions put us squarely in the realm of religious faith, and that is the one thing conspicuously absent in Randy Pausch’s last lecture.

     The question of why we are here and where we are going has two possible answers:  one comes from an old beer commercial, and the other comes from the Bible.  You can decide which one you like best, which one has the most credibility, and which one you will live your life by.  And your answer will make all the difference, now and forever.  The old beer commercial says, “You only go around once in life, so grab all you can this time around;” and the message of Bible is, “I am but a pilgrim here, passing through on my way to a better home.”  (continued…)

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Ecclesiastes 12:1…7  —  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…” and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 

Ecclesiastes 12:13  —  Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

Psalm 23:6  —  Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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Let our chief goal, O God, be your glory, and to enjoy you forever.  Amen.  –John Calvin

2024) “It’s OK, I’m Here”

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By Joshua Rogers, October 20, 2018, at http://www.joshuarogers.com

     Last Friday night, my two-year-old son had a cold that suddenly started getting worse.  He began coughing harder and harder, and eventually, he started wheezing.

     I normally would’ve deferred to my wife on something like this, but she was out of town, so I decided to wait it out.  When his breathing became progressively shallow, I drove him to the emergency room in the middle of the night.  They told me that a virus had provoked a severe asthma attack.

     He needed oxygen immediately and it was my job to hold the mask to his face for 45 minutes.  When I tried to put it on his face, he began screaming and thrashing around, fighting me with all the strength he could muster.

     I had to wrap my arms and legs around him to keep him from clawing off the mask as he screamed, “All done!” which is what he says when he’s full.  It broke my heart every time he said it but I kept pinning him down and saying, “It’s OK, I’m here,” until finally, he gave up and relaxed in my arms.

     As I was sitting there with my exhausted, sweaty son sitting in my lap, I thought about how I’m feeling towards God right now.  There are a couple of things I’ve asked Him for – things I definitely need – and I don’t understand why He hasn’t provided them yet.

     Deep inside, I’m convinced that if I can get these particular things, they will give me a sense of security that only God is meant to provide.  But He’s too good to let that happen to me – He always has been.

     Over the years, I’ve desperately sought a number of things: a particular job, certain friendships to compensate for my insecurities, and a precise kind of wife to make me feel complete.  Those are just a few things, and while there was nothing wrong with those needs per se, it was the grasping, demanding heart behind them that was the problem.

     I eventually did get a good job, make friends and marry a really good woman, but I thank God that in the meantime, He didn’t give me what I was demanding.  What He gave me was better for me.  Yet, here I am now, and once again, He’s giving me the treatment I really need: His love through the answer “no.”

     “All done!” I scream, trying to fight Him off, but He keeps pinning me down, refusing to capitulate.  It’s just a matter of time before I give up and rest in His arms, too exhausted to demand my way anymore.  Until then, I continue fighting Him off, but it’s no use.

     “It’s the child [God] loves that He disciplines; the child He embraces, He also corrects.” Hebrews 12:6 (MSG).

     Maybe you feel the same way about your own demands that God is resisting.  It’s terrifying and confusing – we feel like if He really loved us, He would give in.  So we push back and try to force Him to succumb to our will, heaving in another breath to scream out in agony.  When we do, our lungs fill up with life-saving oxygen and in that brief moment of silence, we hear Him in our ear saying, “It’s OK.  I’m here.”

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Hebrews 12:6  —  It’s the child [God] loves that He disciplines; the child He embraces, He also corrects.

Psalm 73:21-23  — When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered; I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.  Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.

Mark 10:16  —  (Jesus) took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

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Lord, teach me the art of patience while I am well, and give me the use of it when I am sick.  In that day, either lighten my burden or strengthen my back.  Make me, who so often in my health have discovered my weakness in presuming on my own strength, to be strong in my sickness when I solely rely on your assistance.  Amen.

–Thomas Fuller

2023) Go to ALL Nations? Really? (c)

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Clean water from a well provided by missionaries

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            (…continued)  Now, back to the critics.  There are those who say we should not do this anymore.  We should not interfere with these primitive people with our modern technology and our religion.  Rather, we should respect their culture and who they are and stay away.  Brilliant university professors say this, articulate journalists say this, and enlightened people of all kinds in the modern world say this.

          Do you want to know who hardly ever says this sort of thing?  The people who are helped by the missionaries.  The mothers who no longer have to see their children die from diarrhea, or go blind because of bad water– because they can now be healed with simple and inexpensive medications brought by the missionaries.  The people who no longer have to walk three miles for clean water because a missionary organization has drilled a well for them.  The men who receive metal knives and axes for their hunting and building, instead of the old, dull stone tools.  Farmers, who with a few instructions, can improve their crops by ten-fold, and save their families from starvation.  The children who can go to school, and then to the university, and then come back and be doctors and teachers for their own people.  These people are grateful for the missionaries’ presence among them.

         I have talked to many of these people, who as children, were born into primitive tribes, but were then given the opportunity, by missionaries, to learn and stay healthy and eat well.  And they are puzzled and upset when they come this country to go to the university; and there they learn from comfortable, tenured professors about how bad the missionaries have been.  But these students are not mad at the missionaries.  They are grateful for what the missionaries brought to their people.  Of course, there have been mistakes in the mission enterprise, but these Christian missionaries, many who gave their lives like John Allen Chau, have changed the lives of hundreds of millions for the better.  And this is not yet even mentioning the most important thing they bring—the Gospel.

          As Christians, we believe it is important that everyone hear about and have the opportunity to believe in Jesus.  We believe that is important because first of all, we believe that Jesus is God, and we should do what God wants us to do.  And God wants us to tell everyone the Good News of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world.  And secondly, we believe that in Christ we have the hope and promise of eternal life.  Therefore, people like John Allen Chau, St. Boniface, and Bruce Olson believed it was worth risking their own brief earthly life to bring that message of eternal life in Christ to those who have not yet heard it.

           A wide-spread opinion these days is that all religions are the same and it doesn’t matter what you believe.  People who say that oftentimes mean that all religions are the same in that they are all equally false.  Firm believers of every faith don’t say that.  They know that different religions say very different things, they believe in the truth of what they believe, and they are willing to make the case for why they believe it.  I would much prefer a brisk debate with a believing Muslim, than a patronizing pat on the head from an enlightened modern who believes nothing, but lovingly assures us that all religious people believe the same thing anyway.  My Muslim friend and I would both say to him, “No we don’t.”

          The Church’s mission enterprise to take the Gospel into all the world is not interested in the uninformed opinions of its critics.  It might sound nice and open minded and modern and all that to say that all religions are the same and it doesn’t matter what you believe.  But as my old seminary professor used to say, “That ain’t what the book says, boys and girls.”  What book?  The only book that tells a historically true story of a man who came back from the dead, and who then said he can do that also for me.  I know of no other such book as the Bible, and no other such offer as eternal life in Jesus Christ.  Now, of course, God can and will save whoever He wants to save, and His grace truly is amazing.  But God is still God, and we should do what he says.  And God says “Go into all the world, making disciples of all nations, telling them about Jesus, and baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

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Matthew 10:42  —  (Jesus said), “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

John 15:12-13  —  (Jesus said), “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Matthew 28:19  —  (Jesus said), “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

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O God of all the nations of the earth, remember the multitudes who, though created in thine image, they have not known thee, nor the dying of thy Son; and grant that by the prayers and labors of thy holy church they may be delivered from all superstition and unbelief and brought to worship thee; through him who thou hast sent to be the resurrection and the life to all men, thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Francis Xavier, Missionary to India, Japan, and Borneo (1506-1552)