Wednesday, April 24, 2013

(Thanks for) An Unfathomable God!

The current world's population is estimated at over 7,080,000,000 people. Depending on your "origins" beliefs you can estimate from that how many people have ever lived on the earth over its life. It is a stunning number and yet, as the man performing a wedding I attended last weekend said, each and every one is different—no two are ever alike—and we are all made in God's image.

Setting aside the theological differences about what it actually means to be in His image, we can say that every person who has ever lived is different and yet every person reflects God's image in some way. Isn't it an awesome comfort to know that our God is so big and so vast and so unfathomable that billions upon billions of people can each represent a facet of Him and we still don't have a complete picture of Him?! I am so glad that God is so huge. I wouldn't want to trust my life to a god who was so small I could fully grasp and understand Him. It is so comforting to know that the God I trust and serve and depend on is so big that I will spend eternity discovering more and more of the riches of the knowledge and mystery of Him.

Friday, April 19, 2013

"Yes, but . . ."

I think a fair question to ask ourselves as Christians is, "Where does the true emphasis of our thoughts, hope, and expectancy lie?" As one person recently shared at a men's gathering I was at, "You can tell a Marine!" talking about their shaved head, huge stickers on their trucks, and the way they carry themselves. We all laughed but then he asked, "Why is it so hard to tell a Christian man who is supposed to be light and joy against a dark world?" The room got a lot more quiet.

We are supposed to be different. Not Polyanaish or naive but different. People of words of hope and joy and other-focused instead of people of grumbling and complaining and anger and bitterness and self-focus. After all, we have the Creator of the universe loving us, saving us, and living in us sealing us for an eternal relationship with Him in a home He's prepared for us free of all sickness and tears and death and sorrow.

One of the ways I have found in myself and others to see what the true emphasis of our thoughts, hopes, and expectancies is comes from looking at what comes in a sentence after the word "but." (I read something like this some time back and I can't remember where. It struck me at the time and I was reflecting on it again today. I wish I could remember the source so I could credit it, but God knows. I'll share my memory with my reflections included. I am not saying this is in any way hard and fast, but it does bear noting.) What I mean is this: do our sentences contain the structure, "God is so huge, God is so wonderful, God loves me, God is with me, but . . . " and then follow the "but" with a list of all our problems which give the problems the biggest emphasis and leave the problems as the last, trumping thought and memory and focus? Or, do our words follow a structure of, "I am struggling with this and that and facing this or that, but . . . " and then go into praises of God and His faithfulness and love and power, leaving a sense that God is truly the biggest emphasis and focus and final thought?

Maybe you've seen this in yourself or others. I know I have in me. Statements that seem to give the "proper," courtesy theological nod to God but then truly dwell on the problems and obstacles and negative possibilities versus the statements that acknowledge the problems and issues but then put their true weight and expectancy and hope and joy on a deep recognition of who God is and what He promises us. There is a big difference. As Christians we sometimes seem to feel this "obligation" to mention God and His love and control, etc., but too often are really consumed with our problems and simply giving an obligatory nod to God because we, as Christians, are "supposed" to. The weight and emphasis of our words often reveal that. But then you meet that amazing person who has problems and doesn't sugar coat them or pretend they aren't real but whose words reveal that the genuine joy and hope and power of their thoughts and life is their amazing God and His love and power and promises.

Maybe, in a slightly different way, you've experienced the person with major issues who seems to want to talk and talk about them and when you offer to pray for them they let you and are quiet long enough for you to but then, almost before you finish the "amen" they are back into all their problems and horrible expectancies, etc. It is as if they were holding their breath through the whole prayer, letting you pray because as Christians that is the thing to do, but in reality they aren't even hearing or believing in the prayer and are poised to jump in talking about themselves and the problems they face as soon as the prayer is "out of the way" and the Christian "duty" done. I am not trying to be callous in that but if you've experienced it you know what I mean—you pour your heart into praying for someone for their medical or other issues and you believe you are connecting with God and you are appealing to His awesome, star-breathing, love and power and you are barely done and it is as if you just shared the weather or sports score for all the impact your prayer had on their expectancy or attitude. I feel for these Christians, and I've been that Christian, and it is so hard to be in a place where we intellectually nod at God but our heart is overwhelmed with, and consumed by, our problems and life.

Faith has an object, and the object of Christian faith is God. Abraham, Sarah, and others are given in the Bible as examples of people in faith because they considered the One promising faithful. God is the object. God is why we are confident and hopeful and joyous. God. And that is why I think we are encouraged to "be still and know that I am God" by God. Faith as some "thing" we are supposed to have and we intellectually talk about because we feel guilty not talking about it is empty. Faith is not a "thing." It is our confidence and trust in God and His love and power and promises and Word. Our words can be a real clue to the condition of our faith. The same sentence can describe our problems and describe our God, but the placement of the word "but" can reveal a whole lot about the heart.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Where Do Rights Come From?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . .   (Declaration of Independence)

All the arguments about whether our founding fathers were true Christians or just Bible readers, etc., aside, please don't tell me they didn't recognize and found this nation on the principle that we have certain rights which originate from God, our Creator. Therefore the whole concept of moral relativism, of rights being determined by majority vote, of each culture being right for itself, etc. is incompatible with our foundation.

It is simple, basic common sense that if we are given rights by our Creator then the only place to determine what those rights are is that same Creator. He defines them and, inherently and necessarily following from that, defines right and wrong as well. It is, truly, simple. Our nation can change that (and is in the process of doing so) as the majority walk away from that recognition of God as the source of both rights and of right and wrong. They can move into the wishy washy realm of men instead of God deciding right and wrong based on their own opinions, but they should at least have the courage to stand up and state that they are rejecting the concept of a Creator (and that He is the source of rights) instead of trying to pretend they are doing it and staying true to who we are as a nation.

If our rights came from our Creator then there is only one place and way to determine them. Go to the Creator. Simple. Foundational. Logical. Reject it if you will, but recognize you are rejecting God in the process, and have the courage to state it. Quite trying, Christian, to pretend any form of deciding right and wrong by your opinion in opposition to God's Word is compatible with God. Either He is real and hence the source of all rights and standards and morals and ethics or He's not, and if He's not then anyone's opinion is just as valid as anyone else's—be it slavery, Nazism, eugenics, abortion, gay marriage, euthanizing the elderly, or any other subject that falls into the category of right or wrong. There is NO legitimate basis for declaring something to be absolutely right or wrong unless you appeal to something above all the parties involved that is absolute and removed. If it is not God then there is no thing that is universal that works, and we descend into moral relativism and an anything goes society and world where each person determines what they think is right and lives by it, even at the expense of anyone else who doesn't agree. Simply look through history . . . you truly don't want to live in a society where right and wrong is determined by the majority opinion or by the leaders independent of God as the higher, absolute source!

Option 1: Creator. Therefore created. Therefore we are His and He determines our rights and what is right or wrong.

Option 2: Evolutionary accident descended from animals and cellular blobs in some accidental cesspool of chemicals on our accidental planet in our accidental universe with no spiritual real or afterlife. Therefore no absolute right or wrong, no meaning or value to life above anything else or beyond the grave, and no basis for declaring anything morally wrong because there is no absolute to define morals by (unless you adopt survival of the fittest as your causative absolute and I doubt anyone in their right mind truly wants to live in a society that is logical in the implications of that! Of course, how do we even define "right mind" in that foundation?).

I understand the non-Christian who vacillates on moral decisions and tries to determine individually in their opinion what he or she thinks is right or wrong. But, I can not understand the Christian who does—who professes to believe in God and the Bible and yet continually makes moral assessments independent of Him and it. The world may not agree with our stand, but at least it should see us have the courage to take it, no matter the cost.

Just some thoughts.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

We are His

The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them. Psalm 89:11 ESV
The heavens are His. The earth and all that is in it is His. He made them. He made us. As Christians we'd all acknowledge that intellectually, and yet how easy it is in this self-focused society and Gospel we often hear to shift that around and not even realize we are doing it—to "sell" God like a product based on His benefits, or come to God for what He does for us. Or to look around and to say, "I have this and that and I have God and I have a family and I have a car and I have . . ." lumping Him in with everything else we "have."

But there is a reality that we must come to realize if we are ever going to truly surrender to Him. It begins with realizing—meditating on—that before all "this" around us was, there was God and God alone, perfectly complete and sufficient in the Trinity. Spend some time simply imagining and reflecting on that—God and nothing else. God, completely complete. Perfect. In need of nothing.

To often we ask questions that suppose there is a purpose for God or for the Trinity or that God came to be or took a certain form for a reason. The true place to begin and to realize is that God doesn't exist for a reason, or He is not the Trinity for a reason, He simply is that way and always has been. He is the start of everything. It all begins in Him. There was nothing that created Him, or came before Him, so any question that implies there is a reason for God or for the form God takes is wrong because it presupposes there was cause for God or a decision in how God would be—that God serves a purpose. (For an excellent discussion on this read Chapter 2 of Fred Sanders book The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything.)

God simply is, in the form He is, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, from everlasting to everlasting. He is, and always was, and always will be. EVERYTHING else finds its origin and start and beginning and life and source in Him, from Him. And, realizing that He is totally COMPLETE and WHOLE in and of Himself we realize He needs nothing . . . therefore EVERYTHING He does is from His desire and pleasure, not because He needed something and had to.

Beginning in this place—having had that reality go from our head to our heart through pondering on it—we then realize that the ONLY, the SOLE, the SINGLE reason we exist is that at some point (after He had already existed for eternity without us) He decided and wanted to create us. That is it. There was God, and being God He needed nothing. He didn't have to create us. He wasn't incomplete without us. He was God, perfect, complete, eternal. And from that place, as a free gift, He DECIDED to create us and all that is around us. Every one of us, and everything around us, exists SIMPLY and ONLY because He decided it would, for His own reasons or pleasure. There is not a single tiny thing we offer to God that He needed that obligated Him to make us or left Him imperfect without us. It was 100% His free desire.

When I can reach that point where I realize this—that the only reason I exist is because He decided to create me for His own desire or pleasure—I then realize that, logically, because of that, I am His. He is my Creator and He created me for Him. I am the clay and He is the potter. He made me, formed me, designed me, molded me, breathed life into me. From that realization it is then a tiny step to realize I am not my own, but I am His, and He has all rights to me.

This RIGHT of God to all of us makes perfect sense and takes hold of our heart when we fully and completely realize that there was NOTHING that obligated Him to makes us or that He is indebted to us for. There isn't even a tiny iota of anything that made Him have to make us. We are ENTIRELY His creation of HIS own free gift and choice. And realizing that helps us to internalize at our core that being His entirely—our entire existence depending on and drawing from His gracious free-will gift—we are truly His, for His pleasure and will. To say it again—from that realization comes the realization that He has ALL rights to us. It is not a two way street. We don't also have rights or any basis of leverage or demand on God. Our existence is entirely one way which means we have no claim on it. We are His, and His alone. May we live as surrendered vessels recognizing that right of His over us. It will be the most joyous place we can ever live when we stop kicking against the goads and surrender.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Friday at Noon

In a recent post I mentioned a film Mary Ann and I had just gotten on DVD that we were looking forward to watching. It is called Friday at Noon. Last night I got home from our fire department drill earlier than I expected and we curled up to watch it. I wanted to share my thoughts about it and the issues it brings up. (I am not profiting in any way from recommending it, other than maybe playing a small part in encouraging the family that produced it and in strengthening the faith and defense of anyone who might watch it on account of my recommendation.)

As I mentioned in my previous post, the movie explores the issue of how we define or determine right or wrong in the absence of a God. While this is an issue I have enjoyed discussing, and one that played a strong part in my conversion, it is one I have rarely seen handled in a fictional format. This movie does a wonderful job of it, taking a man grieving over the murder of his son by young men who were acting out the evolutionary implications of life and having him kidnap the daughter of the professor who taught them the theories they lived out and telling the dad he can save his daughter only by answering one question, "Why shouldn't I do evil to her?"

As the professor struggles to give answers beyond the shallow and not thought through surface answers most people would give he realizes how inadequate the canned answers are, and how few people actually think through the implications of what they claim they believe. I don't want to spoil the ending or the conclusion, but suffice to say that it would be a very strengthening film for older youth and for adults to watch to either strengthen their conviction in God and how we can defend his existence, or to challenge non-believers to see the horrible, logical, moral extensions of their atheism. The movie does a great job of systematically demolishing the intellectual arguments for morals that sound so good in the "hallowed" halls of academia, but, when carried to their logical conclusions, end in horrifying places.

Made by a homeschooling family and the church the father pastors, the film is surprisingly well done considering what I can only imagine was resources at their disposal that were nothing like what a feature film can throw at a production. Do you laugh at a few scenes and see a few places the "Hollywood" experts would pick apart and criticize? Yes. Of course. But I can tell you that if my family, or our fellowship, produced anything remotely close to this I would be very proud. I'd recommend you get a copy of this to show your friends, to initiate discussions, to strengthen yourself, and to encourage a family and church who are seeking to glorify God in all that they are and do. I would not let Bethany and Abigail watch it yet as we have shielded them from more violent or stark scenes and a little of the imagery might scare them right now, but it won't be long until I do and I would certainly encourage it for high school and above.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Who Decides?

I just received a DVD I am looking forward to watching with Mary Ann when we have an evening where we can sit and do so. As best as I understand it, it is produced by a homeschool family and the church the father pastors. It is called Friday at Noon and one of the quotes associated with the movie's promotions is from Fyodor Dostoyevski, and it says, "If there is no God, everything is permissible." My understanding is that the movie will use a fictional story to explore if atheists can call anything wrong.

I think it intrigues me so because at West Point, in my pre-Christian days, I concentrated in philosophy and once considered myself a moral relativist (I believed that what was right for some was right for some, and what was right for others was right for them). My enjoyment of academic intellectual arguments was rocked when a professor there (who I many years later found out to be a Christian) told me that if he really believed I was he would do all he could to have me kicked out of the academy. It was too dangerous to him to have someone preparing for an officer's position of leadership and authority who didn't recognize there are absolute rights and wrongs.

I think that my encounter with that professor (which I have written about that encounter and moral relativism before in this blog) rattled me so much because up until that time things like philosophy, religion, etc., were just intellectual things to have fun arguing. But his intensity and passion was new to me. He really believed it mattered and had consequence and wasn't just fun and games.

Later in my journey toward Christ the argument for absolute right and wrong was a strong factor in my conversion. I came to realize that at my core I had a strong sense of right and wrong—it was one of the things that led me to West Point and the military—and if I was honest I couldn't explain that, or defend it, without an appeal to authority in it . . . God.

Tonight I had fun with our girls at dinner. I asked them to explain to me why some things are right or wrong without appealing to God. Needless to say it was quite a conversation! Each time something was brought up as right or wrong I could simply ask, "Why?" and then not let them use God in their argument. As we talked back and forth they came to see that, without an absolute authority, there is no true right or wrong. Some might say it is defined by popular vote, or majority opinion, or the strongest, or ??? But the reality is that there is no way to say one person is more right than another, or one thing is more right or wrong than another, without some appeal to authority that is higher than them all. Even a country that decides right and wrong by votes on moral issues or laws can be overrun by a country with a stronger army that decides right or wrong on its own moral compass—and the invaded country has no basis to say that they are right and the invaders are wrong.

It is truly a scary thought when someone denies there is a God by Whom absolute right and wrong is defined. If they are consistent in their logic from that point on then they have entered a realm where anything goes, and they have no basis or standing or appeal to say someone is wrong, even if that someone intrudes on their rights or safety. It is, I believe, a powerful approach to witnessing because it is a very rare person who will not acknowledge that inside them they have a sense of right or wrong. To pursue where that comes from and if it is absolute or relative is a powerful door to begin to talk about God, being made in His image, and His transcendence over all.

So, sit back, pour yourself a good cup of coffee, gather some friends, and try and define absolute right and wrong without including God. It should be an eye opening time! I'd love to hear about it! Blessings, and thanks for reading. —Erick

Foolish Brilliance

Bethany & Abigail beneath the shuttle.
Last week our family was blessed to be able to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. I can't effectively describe the awe and emotion Mary Ann and I felt when we entered the room and there it was, sitting about 10 feet off the ground. We just stood there. I felt almost choked up. There was something about seeing that massive craft, and the brilliance that it took to engineer that program, and to see the wear and tear on it, and to realize it had been in space over 25 times and it was only feet away. Simply hearing a guide describe the process of re-entry and landing in and of itself left me in awe, and that was just a tiny fraction of the thought and research and intelligence that went in to making that program possible (or sending men to the moon and back for that matter). Having watched many Shuttle launches on TV, and having read so much about it in displays before actually seeing it, just enhanced how moved I felt to be there. I was actually caught off guard by how much it affected me.

And then, in the gift shop, they have a mug for sale (I wish I'd thought to take a picture of it!) which shows, wrapping around it, the "evolution" of apes into neanderthals into men into men wearing space suits. It was a stunning contrast to see in that mug both a picture of the utter brilliance of man, and a reminder of the utter foolishness and lack of wisdom of man. It was one of those pictures that show so clearly that you can be very intelligent and not be very wise—that you can be very smart and still be very ignorant. Some times I am stunned that many of the same minds that can create a space program can believe that from nothing and by nothing something happened and from that something, accident upon accident upon accident billions of times over, all this ended up happening without any divine guidance or hand . . . including their own brilliant minds!

Our family at the shuttle exhibit.
Yet, I remember all to well the years of my life I was lost in my intellectual arrogance and pride, thinking myself smart when I was a fool—mocking God and Christians and the Bible. That mug, in a hall of science that showcased some of man's most brilliant moments, was a strong reminder to me, in a culture that almost worships college degrees and those scientist who believe in evolution, that we can have an amazing mind (we ARE made in God's image!), and still be fooled and foolish. Once again I find myself reminded that the "wisdom" of the world and the wisdom of God and His written Word and in conflict, and I must not be surprised when the world mocks what I believe . . . nor must I be ashamed of what I believe, or shrink back from it. Will following and believing God always require faith? Yes. But the more I look at the claims of evolution the more I realize that the faith required to believe in that dwarfs the faith I need to believe in God and His Word.

Maybe I should have bought that mug. Putting it in my office would be a strong reminder to me that while we are in this world, we are not of it. I should never be surprised when the world mocks and rejects my faith. To the contrary, I should probably be concerned about my walk and testimony when the world is too comfortable around me.


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