1529) The Witness of a Life Well Lived

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Tim Tebow (1987- )

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By John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera at http://www.breakpoint.org, June 13, 2017.

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     Chuck Colson liked to quote Karl Barth’s observation that Christians should do theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  I’m not sure what Chuck would have thought of podcasts, but Barth’s quote came to mind while listening to a recent episode of the Tony Kornheiser Show.

     In the final segment, Kornheiser and his guests talked about two stories in the news.  The first was an article in the Washington Post about Tim Tebow playing in baseball’s Single-A minor league after his stint in sports limelight.

     Tebow was a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at the University of Florida.  And while his NFL career wasn’t nearly as successful, he still had great moments.

     But what has long set Tebow apart, of course, is his Christian faith.  It has drawn millions of people to love him.  It’s also why he has been the object of what George Weigel called “irrational hatred,” despite his many charitable efforts and the fact that he doesn’t force his faith on anyone.

     Recently, the Post’s Barry Svrluga spent a day in Hagerstown, Maryland, watching Tebow in action.  And he admitted that his initial skepticism (maybe even cynicism) quickly changed when he saw Tebow interact with fans, some of whom had driven hundreds of miles to see him.  He talked about Tebow’s “prom experience for kids with special needs” called “Night to Shine.”

     Svrluga had this to say to those who are cynical or dismissive about Tebow’s decision to now play minor league baseball and to question his motives:  Before you form your opinion about Tim Tebow, “Talk to the people who made the pilgrimage here,” he said, “and look at the smiles in right field in the early evening.”

     Everyone on the show agreed.  Kornheiser, who’s Jewish, even joked that if he had spent a few more minutes with Tebow he might have ended up converting.  He and his guests could not say enough good things about Tim Tebow.

     Then the conversation turned to a very different subject:  Harvard’s rescinding of at least ten offers of admission to members of its incoming freshman class.  Harvard took this highly unusual step because of a Facebook group created by members of that class.

     Their posts contained “offensive jokes about school shootings, the Holocaust, [sexual perversion] and the death of children and minorities.”  And these are just the ones we can mention on this commentary.

     All the guests on the Kornheiser show agreed— and so do I:  Harvard did the right thing.

     But it’s the juxtaposition of the Harvard story with Tebow that brought to mind what C.S. Lewis said in The Abolition of Man: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise.  We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.  We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

     The kids on that Facebook group represent the pinnacle of American educational achievement:  They got into Harvard.  Their problem is not a lack of “digital literacy” as the New York Times suggested.  It’s a lack of any governing sense of right and wrong, what Lewis called ‘the chest.’  The problem isn’t that they lacked discretion; it’s that they lacked decency.

     But we know that no one will ever say that about Tim Tebow.  Listening to the Tony Kornheiser podcast it’s clear that for all the cultural devotion to moral relativism these days, people still know virtue (and vice) when they see it.  The Bible calls this the law written on our hearts, and it underscores to Christians who think that all is lost— it’s not.  God’s world is still deeply embedded with God’s moral laws.  And a life well-lived still stands out.

     Now sometimes the reaction will be admiration and sometimes it will be scorn, even mockery.  But that doesn’t change the fact that the difference between virtue and vice is unmistakable, no matter how much our culture wants to deny it.

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Tim Tebow continues to impress off the field. (Twitter/Tim Tebow Foundation)

Each year the Tim Tebow Foundation hosts proms around the nation for tens of thousands of special needs individuals (32,000 in 2016, in proms held at 200 churches, with 70,000 volunteers). 

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

I Peter 3:15-17  —  But 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.  But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

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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, pafe 227.

1528) What Are You Waiting For? (b)

    (…continued)  Jesus final words at the end of the book of Revelation are “I am coming soon.”  Soon, he said.  And that is followed by this urgent prayer: “Amen.  Come Lord Jesus.”  Now, 2000 years later, the world is still suspended between Christ’s first coming as that baby in the manger, and this second coming at the end of the world.  That, says the Bible, is how it will all turn out.  Jesus will return and all will be made new and right again.  The perfection of the original creation will be restored.  But we do have to wait

    In the last days some will scoff at such prospects, said Peter (II Peter 3:4).  He wrote, quoting his critics who were saying, “Where is this coming that Jesus promised.  Ever since our ancestors died, everything keeps going on as it has since the beginning.”  Peter himself believed that “the end of all things was near.”  But he did not live to see it– and twenty centuries later we are still waiting.  Obviously, God’s timing is different from our timing.  “Soon” apparently means something different to an eternal God than it does to us time-bound creatures.   This need not surprise us.  ‘Soon’ means completely different things to different people.  Tell an eight-year-old that you will take her to Disneyland world in a year and she will say, “A year?  That’s like forever!”  But tell a 58 year old that he has only a year to live, and what will he think?  He will think, “Only a year?  That will be over in no time.”  Is it any wonder that God’s perspective on time is not like ours?  After all, the Bible says that to God a thousand years are like a day.

    The timing is actually only a minor detail.  Sooner or later, Jesus will come again, and that hope and promise changes everything.  To know that the end of our story is good, to know that our end is not just a hole in the ground but a new life in an eternal home, to know and be able to wait for that kind of end, makes us much more able to handle all the trials and troubles on the way.  

     G. K. Chesterton once said that the most wonderful thing in the world is to be “looking forward to something good that is just around the corner.”   Jesus promises the greatest good possible for us, and he says it will be there, just around the very worst corner, death.  Believing in that promise will give us an entirely different perspective on all our days until then.

    In a German prison camp in World War II, the American prisoners had secretly acquired a radio.  One day the news came over the radio that the German high command had surrendered and the war was over.  But because of a breakdown in communication, the German guards did not yet know that.  As word spread among the prisoners, a loud celebration broke out. 

    For three days, the prisoners were hardly recognizable.  In a moment, they had gone from dejection to elation, from agonizing and seemingly endless waiting, to eager anticipation.  They sang, they waved, they laughed at the guard dogs, and they shared old jokes at mealtime.  On the fourth day, they awoke to find all that all the Germans were gone.  The guards had all fled, leaving the gates wide open, and the American soldiers soon arrived.  The prisoner’s time of waiting had come to an end.

    Life in the prison had not yet changed immediately after the prisoners heard that good news.  They were in the same miserable condition as they were before the news.  But the prisoners knew that things would soon change and they would be all right; and that made all the difference

     As those who believe in God’s Good News, we need not respond with fear and anxiety to the daily news of one crisis after another, along with those troubles in our personal lives.  Rather, we can, like those prisoners of war act on that Good News that we have heard and believed, and live every day in the confident hope of God’s coming Kingdom.

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II Peter 3:8  —  Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

I Corinthians 15:51b-52  —  In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, we shall be changed.

Colossians 3:1-2…4  —  So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth…  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

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Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

–Revelation 22:20b

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1527) What Are You Waiting For? (a)

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            Waiting is a big part of many Bible stories.  Abraham waited for the birth of a child.  The Israelites waited centuries for deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  Moses waited four decades for the call to lead them, and then four more decades for a promised land that he would not, in the end, be allowed to enter.  David was on the run, hiding from King Saul for many years, as he waited for his promised coronation as king.  Prophets waited for the fulfillment of their own strange and terrible and wonderful predictions.  All Israel waited for the coming Messiah, and then the disciples and everyone else waited for Jesus to act like the power-hungry Messiah they had expected.  Even Jesus’ cousin and for-runner John the Baptist asked of Jesus, “Are you the one, or should we wait for another.”  The Bible is filled with hopes and fears and waiting. 

    And still we wait.  The nuclear threat from the USSR has faded, along with the USSR itself, but now we fear ISIS and terrorism.  In 2003 the whole world watched nervously as dozens of people died of SARS in Southeast Asia.  That slowly disappeared from the news and then in 2004 hundreds of thousands died in Southeast Asia from a tsunami.  In the 1970’s there were fears of advancing glaciers and a new ice age, now the fear is that the glaciers will melt in global warming and flood all the coastal cities.  The Vietnam War is now only an item in the history books, but we worry about North Korea.  How will it all turn out?  We all just have to wait and see.  Still trapped in the ‘now’ we simply do not know– and so like Abraham and Moses and John the Baptist, we wait.

     In one sense, of course, we do know how it will all turn out.  We will, one day, all be dead.  In 1923, economist John Maynard Keynes, frustrated with the indecision of other economists who were always saying ‘in the long run this, and in the long run, that,’ observed quite accurately that, “In the long run, we are all dead.”

    The Bible also takes this long range view.  The central event of the Bible is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and that has everything to do with what it is we are waiting for.  After Christ rose from the dead, he told his disciples that he would be soon leaving them for a time, but that he would be coming back.  And then he told those disciples that in the meantime they should go out into all the world and tell everyone that He was coming again, so that all may believe in Him and be ready for his return.

    As we look at all these crisis, wars, and problems of our generation we might well wonder how it will all turn out in 10, 20, or 30 years.  But whether we look back 30 years or forward 30 years or any amount of time, we see the same general pattern– some problems are solved, and new ones always arise.  The tragedies, the evil, the death, and the destruction will not ever end– unless Jesus is God, and rose from the dead, and is coming back.  Because then, just as He made good on his promise to rise from the dead on the third day, he will make good on his promise to raise all the dead and to make all creation new again.  That is the goal and promise we look forward to, and even if it doesn’t happen for another thousand years, Jesus said that he will wake us up for it and we will be there.  

     God will make that happen no matter happens to this old planet earth, be it nuclear war, global warming, a meteor strike, or a new and unstoppable strain of bacteria that kills billions in a plague.  Nothing can change that promise of God.  He who created and sustains this world, has promised to bring us to a new home.  That is what we are waiting for.  (continued…)

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Hebrews 9:27-8 —  Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Revelation 21:5a  —  He that sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Revelation 21:1a…3-4  —  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men.  He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

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I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.

–Apostles’ Creed, Third Article

1526) In Good Company

John 9:1-7  —  As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.   As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me.  Night is coming, when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.  “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”).  So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

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     In John 9:1-7 Jesus goes over to a blind man without being asked, and then He spits into the dust and makes some mud paste, which He rubs onto the man’s eyes.  (Imagine someone praying for your healing and doing something like this.)  The blind man feels the fingers of the teacher on his eyes as the crowd looks on in wonder.

     What’s the Miracle Maker going to do?

     And then …  Nothing happens.

     Jesus just tells the man to go wash the mud off in a pool called Siloam.

     The crowd must have walked away feeling disappointed, but what about the blind man?  Jesus didn’t even tell him that he would be healed.  He just told him to wash his eyes, which I imagine he wanted to do anyway.

     The thing that really gets me is the man’s trip to the pool.  I don’t know if someone guided him or if he just stumbled through the crowd asking for directions, but either way, he wasn’t healed yet.

     Many of us feel like that blind man at that point in the story.  We’re in desperate need and we haven’t gotten our miracle yet.  And in response, Jesus gives us a command that often seems as pointless as washing our face in a pool:  Remain persistent in prayer, even when God doesn’t come through, “and do not lose heart” (Luke 18:1-8).

     That in-between time is hard for us to bear though.  We have to live with our unanswered prayers and blindly find the way to our own pool of Siloam without even getting a promise from Jesus as to what will happen.

     Our journey to the pool is so much longer than it was for the blind man, but it does not have to be a hopeless one.  Though we stumble forward in the dark, we can press on with the same hope he had.  If Jesus told us to keep asking and praying for our own miracle, we can trust that it’s for a purpose — that He will eventually open our eyes to what He was up to all along.                                

–Joshua Rogers, June 14, 2017 blog

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Joseph waited 13 years.  Abraham waited 25 years.  Moses waited 40 years.  Jesus waited 30 years.  If God is making you wait, you are in good company.

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“Our willingness to wait reveals the value we place on what we’re waiting for.”

–Charles Stanley

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O Lord, by all your dealings with us, let us be brought closer to you– whether by joy or by pain, by light or by darkness.  Let us judge no treatment of your grace simply because it makes us happy or because it makes us sad, because it gives us or denies us what we want; but may all that you send us bring us nearer to you; that knowing your perfectness, we may be sure in every disappointment you are still loving us, and in every darkness you are still enlightening us; just as in his death you gave life to your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts

1525) Connected

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From a funeral sermon.

          It has been said that every time someone dies it is like a whole library has been destroyed, because the accumulated knowledge, experience, and wisdom of a lifetime is lost.  I thought about when I heard Ed died.  Ed experienced so much, read so much, and remembered so much.  His memory and insight always amazed me.  We are preparing to celebrate our 150th Anniversary as a congregation.  As we have been writing our history, we have had many questions for Ed, and he usually had the answers we needed.  After all, he was here for almost two-thirds of the life of this congregation, and he remembered everything.

            Ed had a close connection to this congregation for a very long time.  He was born just a couple miles east of here.  He was baptized in the old church 94 years ago this week.  He was confirmed here in1924, and a few years later, he and Alma were married here.  When the old church burned down in 1950, he was a part of the planning for and building of this building.  Throughout that whole time, Ed was here every Sunday for worship.  Ed was connected to this place.

            Ed’s daughter showed me his confirmation certificate.  On that certificate is printed Ed’s confirmation verse, John 15:5, where Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit.”  The illustration speaks of being connected and staying connected.

            Other verses in that chapter describe how a branch withers and dies when it is not connected.  Therefore, Jesus says, ‘Stay connected to me, stay close, and keep in touch.’  Jesus said, “I will remain with you and you shall remain with me.”  That is how to live.

            John 15:5 is a good confirmation verse, encouraging young people with their whole life ahead of them to remain faithful to Lord who created them and who holds on to them.  That would have been the hope of Ed’s parents on that long ago confirmation day.

            Eighty years and two months have passed since Ed’s confirmation day.  And Ed did what Jesus said he should do.  He kept his confirmation promise and remained close to his Lord.  He remained connected by coming to this place to remember Jesus and to worship him for all those years.  In a little while he will be buried here, and will remain on this hill until that day when the Lord returns to wake us all up, on what the old Negro spiritual calls that ‘great, gettin-up morning; what a day that will be!’

            “I have prepared a place for you,” said Jesus, “and I will come back for you, and I will take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.”  Jesus said, “Abide with me and I will abide with you;” and that means forever.  The connection that Ed maintained here for 94 years will go on.

            Some people might wonder what makes a man go to church all his life like that.  Why would he do it?  I have heard that Bill Gates does not go to church, and he seems to be doing all right without it.  He says it is a waste of time.  I also heard that Bill Gates makes so much money, and makes it so fast, that it would be a waste of his time to stop whatever he is doing to stoop down and pick up a hundred dollar bill.  So certainly an hour in church every week would leave him a poorer man.  So why go to church?  Does one even need that connection Jesus describes in John 15:5?  It seems many people do very well without it.

            Thinking about that and about Ed’s life, reminded me of another old farmer who also had a wife and several children.  Joshua Travis was a poor tenant farmer in one of the Southern states.  He was interviewed by Robert Coles, a Harvard professor, social anthropologist, and Pulitzer prize winning author– a very important guy.  Robert Coles had stopped in at Joshua’s for a quick visit to get a few good quotes for his latest project.  Coles was in a hurry.  He had many important things to do.  He sat down fast, got his notebook and pen out fast, and started asking his questions fast.

            Joshua, the old farmer, looked at him and said slowly, “You know, you can get going so fast that you lose your way.  Jesus told us He’s the way, but we get to thinking we’re the way; and that’s being lost.” Joshua paused for a long time; and then went on, again slowly:

It’s only a short time God put us here, and we can’t be expected to remember every day why we are here and who put us here; only once in a while.  Mostly, my mind is on the weather and on the land, on my crops and on my kids, and wondering how I’m going to feed them all.  But come Sunday, I do try to pay my respects to Jesus.  I stop whatever I’m doing and go to church for that.  I’m there to say, ‘Thank you Lord for another week of working my burden, and thank you Jesus for giving me the chance to do it.’  And I’ll work my burden until Jesus says enough is enough, and it’s time to come home.

            Going to church was for Joshua, the one time during the week when he stopped doing everything else in order to remember; to remember why he was here, and who put him here, and where he was going when it was all over, and, to give thanks.  He was, as he put it, ‘paying his respects to Jesus.’  Ed’s steady and consistent faith reminded me of those words of Joshua Travis.

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John 15:4a…5-6  —  (Jesus said), “Abide in me as I abide in you…  I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

John 14:3b  —  (Jesus said), “I will go and prepare a place for you; and I will come back and take you to be with me, so that you also may be where I am.”

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Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens ,Lord with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

–Henry Francis Lyte

1524) Irreconcilable Differences? (part two of two)

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     On the other hand, those in the scientific world also do their share of interpreting the facts, they often disagree, and, they often-times make claims that go far beyond any facts they have discovered.

     Much of this depends, of course, on our starting point.  How did everything get here in the first place?  Well, I start with the opening verse of the Bible:  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  With that fact firmly in mind, I don’t care what the scientists discover about how old the earth is, where the dinosaurs fit in, or how life developed.  In whatever way that all worked out over time, it all got here in the first place because God created everything out of nothing, and has either directed or set in motion everything that has gone on since.  Bill Bryson tells a fascinating story of what has been discovered about that whole process, and I don’t feel the need to argue with him on every page.  But it seems incredible to me that he does not, in 478 pages, even mention the possibility of a Creator.

     Now of course, many scientists do believe in God, and I am certainly not opposed to science.  What I object to is the impression that is so often given that science deals only in facts, and religion deals only in blind faith.  Not true!  Several years ago, the popular science television series “Cosmos” began with Carl Sagan (1934-1996) saying the complete opposite of Genesis.  He spoke of “the cosmos” as, “all that is or ever was or ever will be.”  That was a deliberate, unnecessary, and unscientific put-down of religious faith.  But how did Carl Sagan know that?  How did he determine, scientifically, that nowhere in or beyond this vast universe is there a greater power?  There is no way anyone can know that.  That was a statement of 100% pure blind faith, masquerading as science.  And that is not only how that program began, that is also how the whole scientific method begins; not with a fact, but with a HUGE statement of faith.  There are only two possibilities; either the universe got here all by itself, or, someone put it here; and there is no way to test or prove either belief.  The Bible begins with a statement of faith, and so does the entire scientific method.  Don’t let anyone ever convince you otherwise.  It might be 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.  Science itself will tell you that is not how it works.  No observable, empirical, scientific experiment has ever been devised in any laboratory anywhere that has been able to create something out of nothing, nor has that ever been observed in all the universe.

     Now, it must be said that in order for the scientists to do much of their work, and for scientific method to work at all, it does have to be done without reference to God.  For example, if I am sick and go to the doctor, I don’t want him to read me Bible verses about how suffering produces character, how God afflicts us for our own good, and how we should turn to God in our time of tribulation.  I know all that, I believe in all that, that might even be the main reason why I am sick, and if it is God’s will that I not ever get better, there are promises in the Bible to give me hope and spiritual strength to face such a time.  But there are always two levels to these things, and I expect my doctor to deal with the physical, scientific level, and with what he can see– be it germs, broken bones, or a tumor.  That’s the only way the scientific method can work.  But this method has its limits, and we must not let anyone give us the impression that science can tell us more than it can ever know.

     Bill Bryson’s book, like most scientific books today, makes no reference to God or any sort of creator.  Bryson did use the word miracle twice to describe the miracle of how we are even here– how our planet earth is perfectly suited for life, how life itself began in all its complexity, and how life has developed into ever more complex forms right on up to the miracle of human intelligence.  Byrson also admits that science is not getting any closer to understanding the origins of matter and energy, the universe, or life.  He says, in fact, that the more we learn, the more we find out how complex everything is, and the farther away we get from thinking we will ever get it all figured out.

     For example, the chance of even one DNA molecule coming together on its own is impossibly small.  Bryson says that.  In fact he goes to great lengths to describe the odds against that happening.  And what are the odds?  When all factors are considered, the odds are not one in a million, or one in a billion, or even one in a trillion.  The odds against life coming together by itself, says Bryson, are one in ten to the 270th power.  In case you don’t remember from math class what that is, that is one with 270 zeros behind it.  A trillion has only 12 zeros, and that is an almost incomprehensible number.  Ten to the 270th power, says Bryson himself, is a number perhaps great than the number of atoms in the entire universe!  And yet, he is still able to say cheerfully, “Well, we are here, so it must have happened somehow.”  That’s not good enough for me, and it is not good enough for an increasing number of scientists who are saying there must be an intelligent designer of some sort behind the creation of the universe and life.

     C.S. Lewis was not a scientist, but for many years, he was an atheist.  After becoming a Christian he said, “I felt in my bones that this universe cannot explain itself.”  The natural laws we see and observe prohibit the belief that all this could come from nothing, and science has no tools to investigate beyond the observable, natural world

     Steven Hawking is still an atheist, or at least an agnostic (one who says we can’t know if there is a God).  For decades Hawking has been considered the Einstein of today.  Yet, in a rare moment of candor, when for once he was not ridiculing religious belief, he said:  “The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of nothing are enormous.  I think there are clear religious implications whenever you start to discuss the origins of the universe.  There must be religious overtones.  But I think most scientists prefer to shy away from the religious side of it.”

     As Christians, we must not claim to know more than we know.  But we also must not be intimidated by those who are claim to know more than they know, and many scientists do not shy away from that.  We are on solid ground with the first verse of the Bible:  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” 

     No scientist has ever come up with anything nearly as believable as Genesis 1:1 to explain how we got here.

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Hebrews 11:3  —  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Romans 1:20  —  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Psalm 19:1-2  —  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

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Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory in the heavens.  

–Psalm 8:1

1523) Irreconcilable Differences? (part one of two)

          The book A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson is a fascinating overview of what scientists have learned about our earth and the whole universe.  It covers everything, from the very beginnings 14.5 billion years ago (give or take a couple months) right on up to the present time.  Bryson describes what scientists believe about the origins of the universe, about the birth and the death of stars, and about the vast number of far-flung galaxies.  Bryson then turns his attention to planet earth and how it began, how we got our moon, how the seas and dry land were formed, and how, over immense periods of time, the continents have been moving around on the face of the earth like rubber ducks in a bathtub.  He also describes how perfectly our world had to be placed and fine-tuned in order to allow for even the possibility of life.  Then he describes current theories on the origins and evolution of life, in all its beauty and order and complexity.  Bryson even has a few chapters on that little sliver of time we would call the entire history of the human race.  Bill Bryson writes well, gives a wonderful account of what science has discovered about all these things, and adds a delightful human touch by telling amusing stories of the scientists who made these discoveries, and their odd quirks and eccentricities.  And he does this all in less than five hundred pages.

            Genesis chapter one could also be called ‘a short history of nearly everything.’  It also describes the beginnings of the universe and our planet earth, the origins and diversity of life, and the dawn of the human race. 

            But Bill Bryson and the first chapter of Genesis seem to tell two very different stories.  So, now what?

            This looks like a clear case of irreconcilable differences, and the last several hundred years has certainly been filled with plenty of nastiness by those on both sides of this great divide between science and faith.  What side are you on?  Christians do believe Genesis to be God’s inspired and Holy Word.  But we know scientists are really smart people, and they have come up with some pretty amazing gadgets to make our modern lives easier.  Could they be so very wrong about so many things?  What are we to think?

            This is what I think.  I believe that the Bible is God’s Word from cover to cover, and if anything any scientist says goes against the Bible, I say forget the scientist, I am sticking with the Word of God. 

            However, this all depends on interpreting what the Bible really is saying, and it all depends on what scientists have really discovered.  Good, solid, Bible believing Christians can and do disagree all the time on precise meanings of specific texts.  And scientists, all the time, come to vastly different conclusions based on the very same evidence.

          What does Genesis chapter one say?  Well, there are three basic foundational truths there that set the stage for the whole rest of the Biblical story, and which are essential to understanding your life and where you come from and where you are going.  I believe these three truths with my whole heart.  First of all, it says God created the world.  Second, it says God created it good.  Third, it says God created mankind in HIS image.  We are not just a more ‘fully evolved’ form of life, even if we share 96% of the same DNA as an earthworm.  And just because a chicken can be taught to plink out ‘America the Beautiful’ on a miniature piano for a television program last week, and chimpanzees can be taught to understand a few words, that doesn’t mean we are the same except for being just a little bit smarter.  We are different, we are special, we are spiritual, we are made in God’s image, and God created the world for us and us for Him, says Genesis.  All Christians believe these three things, and that sets us apart from many people in today’s world.  But we Christians can and do disagree on the rest of the details of the creation account. 

            In 1654, James Ussher, an Irish Archbishop using the Bible alone, calculated the creation of the world to have occurred on October 22, 4004 B. C. at 6:00 p.m., or, a little over six thousand years ago.  There are Christians today who, while not insisting on that exact date and time, do however believe the world to be less than 10,000 years old.  This is not my view, and I think it is very difficult to argue scientifically for such a timetable.  I believe in the Bible from cover to cover, but these people are interpreting the Bible to say far more than what it was intended to say.

            In my view, if Bill Bryson says the universe came to be over a period of 14.5 billion years, and the Bible says seven 24 hour days, we do not necessarily have a problem.  I don’t know how scientists come up with 14.5 billion years, but I do know that the Bible uses different types of literature, including poetry, to proclaim the truths God wants us to know.  And poetic imagery, while still telling the absolute truth, may tell it not with literal scientific facts, but with images and metaphors. 

            When in John chapter 10 Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the gate,” Peter doesn’t jump up and say, ‘Don’t try to fool us, Jesus, we don’t see any hinges or latches on you.”  No, they knew, and we know, Jesus was using a gate as an image of the way to salvation; as Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever enters through me will be saved.”

            But how about Genesis one and its seven 24 hour days; morning and evening of the first day, second day, third day, and so on?  It does seem simple and clear enough.  Morning is when the sun rises in the East, and evening is when the sun sets in the West.  Sun up, sun down, seven days– and not 14.5 billion years.

           But when we look closer at the text, we see that there are three days of mornings and evenings before the sun is even created on the fourth day.  How did that work?  No matter what your view of the Bible is, you are going to have to do some interpreting there.  Some will stick with the seven 24 hour days, saying that is what is implied in the rest of the text.  Others will say, no, it looks as if the seven day format is more like poetic imagery.  And this is not disrespecting the text, or undermining the authority of the Scripture.  It is still seeing the same solid Biblical truth of God’s Word, but simply seeing this as a different type of literary device to portray that truth.  And Bible believing Christians can come to different conclusions on this question.

            My faith in the truth of the Bible is not threatened if Jesus isn’t really a gate with hinges and a latch, nor is my faith challenged if scientists come up a different timetable than the poetic imagery of Genesis chapter one.  That doesn’t mean Genesis is wrong in any way.  God created the heavens and the earth, He created it all good, and He created mankind in His image.  Period.  But there is room here for Christians to disagree and come to different conclusions on precisely how that was done and what kind of literature this is in the Bible’s first chapter.  We must not say, “Well, I think I’ll believe this part of the Bible, but not that part;” and there is far too much of that today.  But we can disagree on how some parts should be read, and there is certainly room for differences of opinion on the creation account.  On the religious side of this question, as Christians we must not insist too much on our own particular interpretations, and thus forcing the Bible to say more than it means to say.  (continued…)

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

Genesis 1:27a  —  God created mankind in his own image.

Genesis 1:31a  —  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

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

–Apostle’s Creed, Article one

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 Earth seen rising above the moon on December 24, 1968.  As Apollo 8 orbited the moon that day, in their broadcast back to earth the astronauts took turns reading from the first chapter of Genesis.

1522) The Big Judge

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Aaron Judge (6’7″) and teammate Ronald Torreyes (5’8′)

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By Eric Metaxas and Roberto Rivera, at http://www.breakpoint.org, June 8, 2017.

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     As a lifelong New York Mets fan, it pains me to say this, but the athlete who has taken the Big Apple by storm is wearing black pinstripes, not blue ones.

     His name is Aaron Judge, and almost every piece you read about him not only tells readers about how extraordinary Judge is on the field, but also how extraordinary he is off the field.

     You can probably guess where this story is heading, but first let me tell you about Aaron Judge the player.

     Judge is a big deal.  I mean that literally.  At 6’7” and 280 pounds, he may be the largest man to ever play in the big leagues.  As ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian told his ESPN colleague Tony Kornheiser, Judge fills the entire door opening when he passes through it.

     Of course, none of this would matter if Judge weren’t good at baseball, and one-third of the way through his rookie season, he has been good– historically-good.  In May, he became the first player to hit 13 home runs in his first twenty-five games.

     As of this recording, he leads the American League in home runs, is third in runs batted in, and is second in slugging percentage.  When you combine his offense with his fielding, he’s been, by most estimates, the second-most valuable player in the American League.  This kind of production on the field is part of the reason Judge and the Yankees are the talk of the town.

     The other part is Judge’s character.  It’s difficult to read a profile of the Yankees outfielder without coming across words like “humble” and “unselfish.”  Former big leaguer and now baseball analyst Eduardo Perez told MLB radio that he was impressed by Judge’s humility and kindness.

     His manager, Joe Girardi, paid him the ultimate compliment when he said “He is a little bit like [Yankee legend Derek] Jeter for me . . . He has a smile all the time.  He loves to play the game.  You always think he is going to do the right thing on the field and off the field.”

     Words like “humble,” “unselfish,” and “do the right thing” raise the specter of what my friend Terry Mattingly calls a “religion ghost.”  They should prompt the question “why is Judge humble and unselfish?”

     For the answer, look no further than Judge’s Twitter feed.  The first words you read are “Christian.  Faith, Family, then Baseball.”  Scroll down a few tweets and you will read,  “Happy Easter to Everyone.  He is Risen!”

     The connection between Judge’s faith and family is apparent when you read what he has to say about his parents.  He says, “I’m blessed.  My parents are amazing, they’ve taught me so many lessons . . . I honestly can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done for me.’’

     ‘What they’ve done’ began with adopting him when he was two days old.  “I feel they ‘kind of’ picked me . . . (but) I feel that God was the one that matched us together.’’

     Crushing baseballs, Christian faith, and adoption— not all the news is bad.  There are things in our culture that are worth celebrating.  You just have to know where to look, and, in my case, overlook the color of the pinstripes.

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James 3:13  —  Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

Proverbs 18:12  —  Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.

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

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O Lord, without you I can do nothing.  Subdue within me all vain ambition, worldliness, pride, and selfishness; and fill me with faith, love, peace, and all the fruits of the Spirit.  To you I flee for refuge.  Reassure me by your Spirit.  I surrender myself to you, trusting in your promises and believing in the hope your offer.  You are the same yesterday, today, and forever; therefore, I will wait and trust that you shall in time renew my strength.  Amen.

–William Wilberforce  (1759-1833)  English politician and abolitionist

1521) Send Help

By Joshua Rogers at http://www.joshuarogers.com, May 24, 2017.

     Ten years ago this month, I started the day by getting on my face before God and saying, “Lord, I’m getting down on the floor because if I get up, I’m afraid I’ll do something stupid.”

     I had good reason to be concerned.

     I was a single man who was making poor choices left and right.  And although my closest friends were trying to help me get back on track, if they weren’t around, I started itching to make additional foolish decisions.  The morning I prostrated myself on the floor before God was no exception and I felt helpless.  I was my own worst enemy.

     When I finally got up, I took out my journal and wrote a prayer.  I told God that I knew I was living through one of the darkest hours of my life, and the scariest part was that I was starting to like the darkness.  I ended the prayer by writing, “Jesus, if You ever loved me, please send help now.”

     My heart remained heavy that day, as it had been for weeks.  I had always been such an optimistic person, but for the first and only time in my life, I wondered if I might be better off dead.  I couldn’t trust myself.  Plus, because of some of the choices I had made, I felt unworthy, unlovable, and undeserving of marriage, which I had hoped for since I was a child.

     Despite my depression and an intense storm that ripped through the city, I decided to go to a hat-themed dance party at a friend’s house that night.  While I appeared to be having a good time in my Panama Jack beach hat, I was aching with shame.  But then, shortly after the party started, my whole life changed.

     The front door opened, and an attractive woman walked in.  She had dark brown hair, dark skin, brown eyes; and she was wearing a red, velvet cowboy hat with white, fuzzy trim.  I kept my eye on her, waiting for her to find her date.  She didn’t.

     Instead, she moved to the edge of the dance floor and looked slightly uncomfortable standing by herself, so I came over and introduced myself.  We struck up a conversation, during which I discovered that she was deeply committed to Jesus, which made me doubt she would even be interested in a damaged believer like me.

      Even so, I took her number at the end of the night and wondered if anything would come of our conversation.  Within a week, we went on our first date.  Within six weeks, we were madly infatuated with each other.  Within four months, we were engaged.  Within nine months, we were married.  Nine years later, we’re still happily married.

     Maybe you’re going through a dark time right now.  Maybe it seems like all is lost.  Maybe you’ve failed big time, and it feels like all the momentum in your life is headed in a negative direction.

     It can turn around in a moment.

     Maybe you feel disconnected from God.  Maybe your most significant relationships lie in shambles.  Maybe you’re sick and tired and hardly have the energy to pray.

     It can turn around in a moment.

     Maybe you’re tired of crying until your head hurts.  Maybe you’re right on the verge of throwing it all away because your life seems meaningless.

     I’m telling you:  It can turn around in a moment.

     The Lord stands ready to answer the desperate prayer, “Jesus, if You ever loved me, please send help now.”  You may be too disoriented to immediately recognize His answer in the pain, but His name is Comforter, Helper, Advocate, Friend, Counselor; and you can trust that He is responding.  He is providing.

     No matter how you feel right now, He is your “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1), and He is more than able to turn it all around for your good (Romans 8:28).  Give Him a chance.  Cry out to Him.  You never know — He may just turn things around in a moment.

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Mr. and Mrs. Joshua Rogers

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Romans 7:15…18b-19  —  I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do, I do not do; but what I hate I do…  I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do— this I keep on doing.

Psalm 88:3…18b  —  I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death…  (and the) darkness is my closest friend.

Psalm 88:1-2  —  Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you.  May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.

Psalm 46:1  —  God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

I Corinthians 15:51-52  —  I tell you a mystery:  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—  in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

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O Lord our God, even at this moment as I come blundering into Thy presence in prayer, I am haunted by memories of duties unperformed, promptings disobeyed, and beckonings ignored.  

I am ashamed, O Lord, and tired of failure.

Be Thou my refuge and strength, come close to me, and help me.  Amen.

–Peter Marshall in Mr. Jones, Meet the Master, p. 48 (adapted).

1520) Just Let God

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   An often quoted definition of faith is to “Let Go and Let God.”  That is to say, let go of your fears and your worries and have the faith to let God take care of you.   It has a nice ring to it, but I was never completely sold on it myself.   Let go and let God do what?— pay my bills, get the transmission fixed on my car, and mow my lawn when I don’t have time.  I don’t think it will work to let go and let God do any of that.  So let go and let God do what?  That line certainly does not apply to everything.  I still have to pay my bills, make an appointment to get the car fixed, and find time to mow my lawn.  But those are the little things in life, and God has given me the strength and the ability to work through that sort of a to-do list all by myself.  But there are other things, bigger things, that do not fit on any to-do list that we are able handle.  Where do I go with my feelings of guilt?  What do I do about my frustration with how fast the years are flying by?  And what about the sadness of seeing loved ones dying all around me?  I’ll never get around to fixing those things because I do not have the strength or the ability or the resources to do so.  It is in these deeper, larger aspects of life that we must ‘Let go and Let God.’  Let go and let God carry you through, now and on into the life to come.  

      This was illustrated for me rather nicely in a story by Father John Powell, a Roman Catholic priest who took some time off from his parish to care for his dying mother.  Here’s his story about how that went.  He writes:     

     I remember in the last days of my mother’s life I used to carry her up and down the stairs of her home.   Her arthritis was so bad by then she could no long manage the stairs by herself.   As I would carry her up and down the stairs, she would grab onto the railing and hold on so that we could not move.  I would say, “Mom, let go, we can’t move.”  And then she would always say the same thing, “No, I am afraid you will drop me.”  Then I would say again, “No, let go.”  And she would always respond, “No, I am afraid you will drop me.”  Finally, she would let go for a while and we would start to move, and then she would grab the railing again, and it would start all over.  One day, as we were going through our little routine, I thought to myself, “Ah, what a perfect analogy for faith.  God has us in His arms and is saying “Come on, let go,” and we are saying to Him, “No, I am afraid you will drop me….”

       That is indeed a wonderful image of what it is to live by faith.  We need the faith to face all those big things in life, but we say, “What if none of this is true?  I can’t see God, what if it is just us here on this little earth?  I am so afraid of death.”  So we desperately cling to this life, trying to have it all and do it all right here, right now, and we hate to see the time getting away on us.  And God is saying, “just let go.  Take my hand and let me lead you.  Surrender your fears to faith in me, and really let go, you will be fine.”  Let go and let God forgive you, let go and let God give you an inner peace even amidst all of life’s outward troubles.  Yes indeed, live to the fullest every day that God gives you now, but be ready when the time comes to let go and trust God that he will make good on his promises for eternal life.

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Deuteronomy 31:8  —  The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Isaiah 40:11  —  He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 46:4  —  Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.  I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

I Peter 5:6-7  —  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

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God his own doth tend and nourish,

In his holy courts they flourish.

From all evil things he spares them,

In his mighty arms he bears them.

Children of the Heavenly Father (verse two), Caroline Berg (1832-1903)