Monday, December 28, 2015

Your Backpack, and Mine

We are on the precipice of a new year as I sit down and write this article.  2016 is upon us, and with it the promise of new and exciting things.  It is a time to reflect on our recent Christmas holiday.  A time to think about what it means to have our shopping done, to be another year older, and to eagerly anticipate what God has in store for us next.  Our adult Sunday school class kicked off the week after Christmas and before the new year with a study about forgiveness.  I suppose in the same way that Jesus will make all things new when He triumphantly returns in the future, so our class discussed what it could mean to delve into the new year with an attitude and posture of forgiveness.  Making things new in the sense that past wrongs could be dealt with.  What it would mean to dare to partner with God's divine nature as we attempt to follow what Jesus tells us about forgiveness in the New Testament.  That it is an act of the Godly, and that we must keep it close to our hearts as one of the most formidable weapons in our Christian arsenal. 
 
I recently found this quote from C.S. Lewis (famous Christian author and philosopher) regarding the concept of Biblical forgiveness.  He emphasizes why it is so important to cultivate this attitude.  He said:


"Remember, we Christians think man lives forever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or hellish creature. We may kill if necessary but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must simply be killed."


It is humbling to think that what we do in this life can reflect in such detail, that higher form of existence in heaven to which we are all called. Holding grudges and keeping unforgiveness in our heart is fashionable and widespread today, and even sometimes gratifying. But why are we gratified?  Why do we sometimes enjoy hating something or someone else?  What part of ourselves are we feeding - the heavenly part or the hellish part?
 
Fortunately we have the beginning of a new year available to us which acts as a reminder that some sort of resolution is at hand.  But we have so much more to offer the world than trying to lose 10 pounds or quit smoking by end of January.  There is something much more important at stake.  If you are reading these words right now and there is still breath left in your body - then it is still possible to take God up on his offer.  We can still engage in the act of forgiving someone who hurt us, or even to allow ourselves to be forgiven as well.
 
There is an analogy that I love to employ when discussing this topic.  It involves my 

youngest son.  Well to be honest, it involves his backpack.  It is worth it to note that he has kept this backpack with him for the last two years, and I suspect that he will have it with him well into the new year also.  In his mind, it is part of him.  He wants nothing to do with any new or shiny backpack ... only his old reliable gray and blue one will suffice.
 
In the course of any given day as he goes to school or attends daycare, there are 100 different ways in which the world may cause him grief.  Every once in a while he will return home in tears.  Someone hurt his feelings that day, or maybe refused to play with him on the playground during recess.  Tough medicine to take at age 7.  A pastor and good friend of mine gave a sermon years ago where he equated any hurtful act done by someone else to that of a builder's brick.  The same type of simple brick used to construct a house or building.  Each time we go through life refusing to forgive people for the things they have said or done to us, we toss another brick into our own backpack.  As you could imagine, the bricks add up quickly.  For me it conjures up a picture of someone trying to walk down the street, barely able to stand upright under the weight on his shoulders.  Backpack fully loaded and bursting at the seams.  A truly miserable existence.  
 
I believe that we all have our own backpack you see.  It may not be gray and blue or designed especially for a 7-year-old, but we have one nonetheless.  In fact, we may be fairly proud of our backpack.  Maybe it is brand name and very expensive.  Something we love to show off to the right audience and at the right time.  But how heavy is it?  What are you and I holding onto as we go through life?  Are the bricks piling up?  Why do we feel so comfortable under all that weight?
 
There is an excellent lesson laid out for us in Matthew chapter 1, verses 18-23.  It is a unique take on the birth of the Son of God.  If we read it closely, we see a microcosm of our conundrum in the author's prose.  Matthew writes:
 
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  

It would be easy to miss all the implications and social ramifications going on here at  first glance.  God was in fact asking Joseph to endure any possible criticism from his  friends and peers by taking in a woman - who by all appearances - was pregnant with someone else's child.  This was a severely punishable sin in 1st century Palestine.  Despite these strained circumstances, Joseph decided to accept Jesus as his son anyway.  Though also an act of obedience to God (and this Scripture is rightfully taught that way also), at some point I think Joseph had to come to some kind of inward acceptance of the situation prior to taking Mary as his own wife.  I do not believe it is too much of a stretch to say that before the angelic visit - Joseph had forgiven Mary for her circumstances and decided that a quiet divorce would be best.  He didn't want to impugn her character publicly.  He cared too much about her to do that.  He had an attitude of humility and forgiveness - not of anger or spitefulness.

Would others have done the same?  Don't many relationships end today for similar reasons?  Many of us are not that generous I have a feeling. 

Children are lucky I think.  They can forgive and forget easier than grown ups.  Grudges have no room to take hold in the very young.  The predilection toward gossip hasn't taken root yet.  No, these things are saved for the older people - those who should know better.  Those who have graduated on to shinier, more expensive backpacks.  Those who have grown comfortable under its weight. 

In the Biblical parable of the unforgiving servant, Peter and Jesus discuss how many times someone should forgive others.  Matthew 18:21 records it this way:

Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.…

The implication here is that you and I have been forgiven by God more times than we can imagine, and that we shouldn't fumble around with keeping a record of past wrongs.  We are to tear up the scorecard and throw it away.  We are to forgive others in the same way that God has forgiven us.  Now this is tough medicine for you and I, even as adults.  But remember, forgiving someone doesn't mean we continue to stay in a bad situation.  Nor does it mean that there will not be consequences for those who add their bricks to our backpack.  I think it does mean, however, that we are not afforded the luxury of stroking our own egos while maintaining that we are "right" while others are usually "wrong."  We must work to lessen our load of bricks.  We must consider what would have happened if God had not forgiven humanity.  

It is nearly 3:45 in the afternoon, and my children will soon be home from school.  It is almost always a happy time.  Even our pets look out the large front window in eager anticipation.  As my youngest child walks through the door, I check his face for any signs of a heavy backpack.  He is all smiles today.  If anyone did try to hurt him, he has not retained the brick.  He shouldn't have to.  The choice whether or not to hold onto the brick was always his in the first place.  



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Monday, December 21, 2015

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Christmas in Probate

Ever get one of those terrifying phone calls?  The kind that puts things into perspective in thirty seconds or less?  I was sitting at my desk on a Monday afternoon and the phone rang.  I picked it up to say hello, and heard the following words, as if uttered into some type of macabre megaphone: "Hello this is the Sheriff's office.  So sorry for your loss."  

My loss?  What loss?  Who is lost?  Details were only forthcoming after I was able to speak again.  Visions of my children or wife in the car on the side of the road wrestling with the Jaws of Life came to mind.  But no, this news was regarding my 74-year-old uncle.  He had been found in his bed a day earlier, and the authorities were now looking for next of kin.  He had died from natural causes. 

It was shortly before Thanksgiving when I received this news.  People all around me were hustling and bustling, talking about Black Friday shopping and succulent turkey.  Soon after it would be on to Christmas plans from there: what to get the kids ... what kind of decorations to put up.  But not for my uncle.  No, uncle Steve's time on this earth was at an end.  Fortunately he lived a long life.  Steve enjoyed simple things.  A good book and a piece of chocolate pie would suffice over and above any other kind of activity, at least in his mind.  He frequented the same convenience store every day.  He had his own stool by the grill.  The staff even labeled it with a sign.  After all, it was Steve's seat.  

He was a handyman by trade, able to fix anything in a single bound.  When he used to come visit us in Des Moines my mother would always put him to work replacing or fixing some type of home appliance, lawn mower, or electrical problem. Rows of handyman books and technical manuals lined the office wall in his own house.  But there was no fixing things after he fell ill.  'It's just a cold, it will get better' people would hear him say.  It didn't get better.  Sometimes it doesn't.

In the weeks immediately following his passing I would drive back and forth to his house to sort through his things.  I couldn't help think of what a curious Christmas gift uncle Steve had left me.  I had begun the probate process, which entailed hiring a lawyer and filing the appropriate paperwork in order to be appointed executor.  It seemed all too familiar, as I had done the same thing with my mother seven years earlier. Everything he cared about was now in the hands of someone else.  One day you wake up not feeling so well, and then all of a sudden it's over.  All of the books he loved are stacked in a line as part of his middle island bookshelf on the other side of the kitchen.  In fact, he had just ordered a new set - they were stacked neatly on the mantle.  They would garner no audience now. 

All of this reminds me of a famous passage from the Gospel of John.  We are studying John this week at church.  I roll it around in my mind as I make the final turn off the highway and up to Steve's empty driveway.  Jesus was comforting his disciples in the face of his impending death under Pontius Pilate.  John 14:2 says, "In my Father's house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you."  
Steve's gift to me was his home and his land.  He had chosen my sister and I to receive it. Though a humble ranch style home, it had been in his family for years - it was his "mansion."  It held many fond memories for me as well, as my own family would travel there on occasion when we were kids.

Jesus was making a promise to his followers in this passage.  A promise that he would take care of them.  That he would come back for them.  That they shouldn't let their hearts be troubled.  But my heart is troubled, at least for now.  Lining up probate paperwork and cleaning out vacant houses is difficult work.  I now stand in the family room where I used to visit as a small child, back when my mother and father took me to visit Steve's parents (my grandparents).  How much it had changed ... how much it had remained the same.  A flood of memories enter in, as I see an old blanket that I swear was there 25 years ago. 

It is likely that my wife and I will be working through my uncle's estate well through the Christmas holidays, and even after.  There is much to be done.  He is in a better place now I hope. He had given us the only thing he had left to give.  Maybe I need to remember the verse directly before John 14:2.  It says, "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me."  

While sifting through some papers on Steve's desk in one of the bedrooms I come across a torn envelope.  Inside it are pictures of my 3 kids.  "He kept them after all", I thought.  In the kitchen on the refrigerator door there is also a picture of my sister's family.  He loved us, and in a certain way, he has also prepared a place for us.  If it weren't so, he would have told us.  We wouldn't have seen the photos ... I wouldn't be executor.  Even so, the message that Christmas is a gift for you and I now becomes that much clearer.  I am glad there are many rooms waiting for those who believe in God the Father.  I think uncle Steve would be glad also.



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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Everything in Its Place

Earlier this month my family and I were in a Goodwill store shopping for costumes that my wife could wear for an upcoming play production.  Although the performing arts building has a decent enough wardrobe from which the cast may choose, she felt that a visit to the store for some quick and inexpensive costume updates was warranted.  The theatre has been a great joy to my family, especially my daughter.  It is a chance to dress up and become someone completely different for a few hours.  And what better way to celebrate that fact than a trip to buy new clothes?  Both of them were in the play; there was much shopping to do.

It didn't take long as we were looking through the racks of clothes before my wife came across something familiar.  It appears that some of her grandmother's dresses were hanging up for sale.  Shannon's grandmother had passed away a few years back, and some of her Sunday church clothes had made it to this particular second hand store.  What a strange and wonderful feeling to see these dresses again.  Her grandmother had adored going to church and dressing up.  How neat to know that others would now have the chance to wear what she once cherished, maybe even wear them to church again.


Truth be told, it also made us a little sad.  It was such a clear reminder that everything we have, everything we own, will someday stay behind as we slip away into eternity.  But why should this make us sad?  Shouldn't this be a testament to remind us that we are to stay focused on the eternal and not just the temporal?  


1 Timothy 6:6-7 says this, "Now godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out."  The apostle Paul's words ring true even 2,000 years later.  No matter how much you have or how large your bank account - it is not destined to make its way with you after death.  No, I'm afraid the most you can hope for is to have that much more of a lavish funeral perhaps, or to extend your life a bit longer by way of being able to afford better medical care.  Save that, we are all in the same boat.  Wealth only takes you so far, and then you must face God the same as anyone else.  We are all ultimately made equal.


So why do we run after wealth with so much vigor?  Doesn't Jesus tell us in the Gospel of Matthew that we ought not worry so much about what we will eat, drink, or wear?  Is not life itself much more important than these things? (Matt 6:25-34).  If we are being honest, I think much of the time - at least for Americans - we seek after riches because we are surrounded by excess.  Black Friday after Thanksgiving yields irresistible bargains, and anything we've ever wanted is only a few clicks away on the Internet.  The world contains mountains, so climbers must climb them.  Stores contain goods, so shoppers must shop.  It is our favorite distraction.  It is keeping up with the Jones'.  


And so life goes on. We find ourselves sometimes shopping at the local Goodwill store, coming face to face with the concept of mortality.  So what is the solution to this problem of leaving what we own behind?  Is it really a problem at all?  As it turns out, Paul has some additional advice on the matter.  2 Corinthians 4:18 says, "while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal."  What is unseen?  I believe this to be God, and those eternal things which act to reflect His glory.  It has to do with where we place our hope.  It is helping a small child who is lost, or cheering on a runner who is in last place when everyone else has gone home.





What then do we do with all our wealth in the meantime?  I suppose we should give it away to those who need it more than we do.  Slowly perhaps, but also carefully.  A neighbor in need or someone in the church who has been praying in earnest for financial help.  I must be careful, however, not to give the impression that I am any better at this than others.  I love having a new smart phone or piece of electronics just as much as the next guy.  No, I would rather talk about what it's like to realize that we cannot take it with us, and money just happens to be the vehicle by which we see this most clearly.


One last story, if patience permits.  My mother also passed away not long ago.  She was a gracious and caring person, and I enjoyed her ability to see the world for what it is.  I was with her toward the end, sitting in the Hospice room and watching the nurses go in and out.  At one point as she lay down quietly in her simple little bed next to the window, she opened her wallet and handed my sister and I all the cash she had.  She told us that she had no use for it anymore.  You could hear a pin drop in the room at that moment.  What else was there to say?  After all, you can't take it with you.  Everything in its place, and that place equates to where you focus your hope.  It can (and should) be a place of eternal joy and peace with the Father I think.  And it doesn't matter if you have to give away money or dresses that grandmother used to wear, in order to realize it.  




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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

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A Grandmother's Story

Well the day I had dreaded finally arrived.  At almost 100 years old, my grandmother Kathleen passed away in her bed at an assisted living facility.  We knew it was coming, but it's funny how that never seems to help.  She was a hearty soul and a lovely person; everyone called her Kay.  She was also good natured, had a deep concern for others, and a steady faith in God - and now she was gone.  I miss her, and will continue to miss her, in ways that I cannot yet even calculate.  Driving home from the funeral service, my wife and I had an intimate conversation about death.  The kind of conversation you can only have with someone who knows enough about you to tell when you are truly vulnerable.  She knew it was time for me to talk about things.  


One part of the discussion centered around a game that many of you have heard of I'm sure, which involves stacking little wooden blocks on top of each other.  In fact, my kids and I used to play Jenga quite a bit when they were younger.  The level of excitement would build so high during this game that I thought surely they would burst at the seams.  For those of you who may not know this game, the strategy involves building a tall tower one block at a time, but in doing so, you must move the blocks at the bottom around precariously until you find an opening at the top.  At any time the whole thing may come plummeting down.  On many occasions, one of us would be forced to pull out one of the foundational blocks from the very bottom of the structure in order to progress the game.  Usually the tower would stay standing, but missing the foundational girder definitely made things more intense.  I had thought about this game  quite a bit during the car ride home.  A silly kids' game with a profound metaphor attached to it.  Grandma Kay was definitely a foundational block in my life, and now that block had been removed.  Carefully, but at the same time with the sort of dread that only an impending death could conjure up, she had been taken from us.  Our steel foundational girder had been removed from the bottom of the pile.  Would the tower still hold up?  

The priest who officiated at the service earlier that day had mentioned how human beings can build their life from early foundations of love and trust.  How important it is for the rest of us to go on living by remembering all of these things that the departed had left for us.  How certain people can put in motion for us the framework of love that we still depend on today.  The funeral didn't last more than an hour or so, and then back to daily living we all went.  How are we to manage this?  Don't the people at our jobs and out in traffic and at the grocery store realize what has happened?  Doesn't the outside world realize what has been lost?  Apparently not, it is business as usual.

It reminds me of the story of the wise and foolish builder that Jesus recounts for us in the Gospel of Matthew.  Many of us know this story, we remember hearing it in church services or at Sunday School as children.  How different it seems to me now as an adult.  Matt 7:24-27 says this:

 "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."  

Jesus spoke these words as part of a section of Scripture often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount.  The fact is, when Jesus saw that there were so many people gathered in one place, he took the time to lay out these foundational teachings.  In other words, we ought to listen especially close to this pedagogy.  

He was speaking here of the importance of putting God's teaching into action, not just listening to His commandments ... but actually following them.  He was speaking of building a firm foundation, one that the world could not wash away when things get tough.  He was speaking of girders and foundational blocks.  

Grandma Kay would often speak about the Bible and of the importance of faith.  As a group of young and impressionable kids sitting around her living room on the sofa, my cousins and I would be privy to a multitude of anecdotal life lessons about the love of Christ.  It was good medicine; it was helping to gird up our towers. I believe that in this way, Kay reflected the light of Jesus most ardently.  John 3:16 abided in her daily walk with God, and through her we absorbed His goodness by example.  But now here we are, all grieving.  But grief should really be a reflection, shouldn't it?  A vignette of how much we miss someone and the things they represented - not simply a feeling of hopelessness or loss.  No, it is more than that.  Grief should point to something greater than ourselves.  Like a signpost that clearly states for all to see: "Grandmother was here, and she mattered."  But have enough people seen the signpost?  I don't know, I want more of the world to see it.  If they saw it and understood who she was, it wouldn't be business as usual.


We should allow time for this part of life I think - for the grieving.   Heading back to work and juggling kids will try to push it's way back in soon enough.  But I think it is important to spend just a bit of time in that uncomfortable place of sadness.  It is necessary to read, and re-read the signpost - Grandmother was here, and she mattered.  There will be a time to move on in the near future.  For now it is okay to reflect and remember.  It is okay to be sad.

How do we live with a tower that is missing a foundational block?  True enough that it is still standing, but how do we steady the tower when the rain comes down and the streams rise?  We do so by looking for that piece inside of someone that reflects the Light of Christ I think.  By remembering what was contained inside of those blocks, put there by a loving God, in order to uphold and uplift us while we live out the rest of our lives.  We must build our house on the rock.

I actually interviewed Kay about 4 years ago.  I was compiling notes for a book about searching for faith.  In a chapter entitled 'The Prayer Engine', I recorded her giving the following quote: "I pray that God gives the gift of Faith to all of my children and grandchildren, and I am grateful every day because I know He will."  

You see, she partnered with God to help us build towers.  Small ones when we were young, during those days when we gathered around her sofa in the large front room.  Then larger, taller towers when we became adults.  Printed in robust signage at the top of the tower are written the words 'You are here grandson, and you matter.'  I am grateful for this memory, I will treasure it for a long time to come.

We all do the best that we can when someone we care about passes on.  We work to hold on to all of those cherished memories.  We resurrect old signposts and create new ones so that we won't forget.  I remember running around her old house back in the small town where she lived when Grandfather was still alive.  I was very young, 8 or 9 maybe.  Running through bushes and around trees, then under the clothesline next to the garage.  Always when I had finished and it was time to come in, there would be a large meal waiting.  Not microwave pizza or McDonald's mind you - but meat and potatoes.  A grandmother's dinner fit for a king, and I was always ready to eat.  And always she would serve it with a smile and a hug.  Her's was a home built on a rock, steady and indestructible.  And I am certain - though I could never quite see them - that under the basement near the outer walls, lay sections of solid foundational girders and blocks.  The kind that would keep a tower standing firm forever.  The kind that remind us that we are only here for a short while.  But while we are here, it counts.  We matter.



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Monday, August 3, 2015

Faith vs. Science: Are They Really at Odds?

I will grant you, the title of this article seems to make an assumption that at least a portion of us do think that science and faith cannot co-exist together.  It assumes that it must be either one or the other.  And in that regard, perhaps I am guilty in phrasing it in such a manner as to create controversy where this is none.  But I believe if we look at certain areas of our culture today, as well as what is sometimes reflected in the media - there is in fact room for a frank discussion on the matter.  

If I am being honest, all of this may have started from playing in the creek where I grew up as a child, looking for tadpoles.  I loved the symmetry of the half frog / half tadpole body.  This helped to start my fascination with science in general.  I mean afterall, wasnt this evolution in action?  Didn't this reflect what we were learning in the classroom?  Later, when I was a bit older, my appreciation of nature manifested itself in the form of an 11-year old miniature DNR officer.  I would catch game fish at the lake and bring them home for release in my small backyard swimming pool.  The above ground kind of pool you buy at Walmart by the way, nothing extravagant.  This then gave way to me digging a 4x 5hole in my mothers garden one warm summer's day, in the hopes of creating my own makeshift farm pond.  Such was my appreciation of the local ecosystem that I had to build a miniature one for myself!  My parents were patient thats for sure, but not that patient.  I managed to get in some trouble for that one, so naturally I blamed it on my uncle (who was a real-life DNR officer).  More on this later.



But what happens when we grow up?  What happens to this imaginative self-expression as we become adults?   Well, I think a lot of the time we start asking big questions such as how much in this world is science and how much is faith?” … or what is really responsible for creating those fish that I used to catch and release into that little swimming pool?  Did God start everything or not quite?  I think as we become young adults especially, we are thrust into certain academic environments (at high school or college), where we are subjected to curriculum and teachers who have no room for God (at least as it pertains to biology or cosmology in the classroom).  And there is sometimes no room whatsoever for theology.  It may often beg the question:  Is faith at war with science?  Or can they actually co-exist?  


Well it didnt take long for my interest to switch from what nature and science were
doing down on Earth, to what was going on up above in space.  Some of you may
remember a television personality named Carl Sagan.   I remember fondly as a child,
when my father and I would sit on the sofa together and watch the show Cosmos on public television, and Sagan would talk about how vast the universe was.  There are “billions and billions of stars out there" he would say.  The idea of the Big Bang was of particular interest to me as well: the notion that everything just shot into existence from a small, dense ball of matter called a singularity.   It wasnt until later in my life that I began to ponder questions that many of my teachers could not (or would not) necessarily answer.  Questions such as what caused the singularity?  What came before everything else?  Is there even a need to ask such questions?


Now I am no expert on cosmology or astronomy, but there is a man named William Lane
Craig - a Christian philosopher, PhD, and author - who ardently defends a theory known
as the Kalam argument.   Dr. Craig often travels the globe expounding upon, and defending this theory at major universities, as it brings together both the science of the big bang and the theology of a creator.  The argument is exquisite in its' simplicity, and it contains the following three steps:
 
1.) Nothing currently exists without being caused
2.) The Universe currently exists
3.) Therefore, the Universe has a cause


Why is this argument so important?  Because it flies in the face of a popular counter argument that has come about recently, namely that everything came from nothing that we are all total accidents.  Life has no real meaning, and the universe simply popped into being one day on its own.  Because you see friends, if we can accept the three premises of the Kalam argument - and that nothing can exist without a first cause - then even the Big Bang and the universe had a cause.  It didnt just happen” accidentally.  So then, what was this first cause?  Is it okay to discuss this?  Since no one alive today was around to witness it, does the question even matter?  I think that it does.


We can find some concepts about this first cause in the book of Genesis from the Bible. What does God say about the beginning of everything?   Genesis 1:1 says this, In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."  Read closely, as I believe this verse tells us two important things:
 
1.)  Before there was anything at all, there was something

2.)  God himself was the first cause that did the creating (and not chance or accident)


This may seem like common sense to those who were raised in the church, but let me tell you, Genesis 1 isnt held in the same high esteem by everyone, or in the same way as we do in the church.  Take Lawrence Krauss for example.  He is a high profile scientist and proponent of the idea that things can spring into being from nothing.  He says that particles can simply jump into being from a vacuum state (vacuum here meaning nothing).


The problem with this idea (and others like it) is that this vacuum state of nothing he is referring to is actually a whole lot of something.  Its a sea of fluctuating energy and violent activity, that has a rich physical structure, and is even governed by physical laws.  But many people dont want us to know that.  They dont want us to understand that these vacuums consist of observable materials and laws.  And when this was brought to light, Krauss had to acknowledge this truth publicly (at a live debate in Brisbane titled Life, the Universe and Nothing).  But the idea still sometimes persists, the damage was done.  The media spotlight turned toward this notion of a creator-less universe and went with it.  Genesis 1 it would seem, was lost in the shuffle, at least temporarily.


I promised we would return again to the account of building a make-shift farm pond in my mothers backyard.  There was actually some research that went on prior to me talking my poor friend into destroying the garden.  His name was Brian by the way, and he was a good sport.  He kept asking me, is it really okay to dig up this garden?  I assured him it was.  

You see, when all of this was still just an idea (and my pond was still a garden) - I talked at length with my uncle about how to create a farm pond (remember he was an actual DNR person).  All the while, I knew in the back of my mind that it probably wasnt a good idea to tear up the soil, but I pushed forward anyway.  I was selecting what I wanted to listen to, and since I didnt want to listen to the notion that little kids shouldn't dig up their parents backyard, I ignored it.   In this same way, I think many adults seek after only the particular type of knowledge that they select to listen to ahead of time.  They hear what they want to hear, and ignore the rest.


Ravi  Zecharius is another prolific defender of Christian foundational thought.  He is fond of the saying “intent precedes content."  This is a fancy way of saying that if someone has made up their mind already, it is extremely tough to change it.  I believe this to be true: if someone has decided that there is no God and that faith is indeed at war with science, then no amount of Kalam arguments or big bang discussions will change that.  They have locked themselves into an intellectual prison allowing only one way of thinking, and thrown out the key to the cell door.  The mind shuts firmly closed, and often only God can crack it ajar again. 


Now, what are we to do with this?  Do we throw our hands up in the air and give up?  Do we sink back into the notion that it isnt any good discussing our faith with other mindsets?  Will faith and science always be hot topics that we should leave alone, just like politics and religion?  I want you to consider one thing first.  What does Scripture say about how people are to look for evidence of God?  We know that the apostle Paul tells us in the book of Romans that “… 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.”   But given this, how is it specifically that we are to come to this realization of God without excuse?


I love the statement from the book of Acts - chapter 17:27.  It says, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”  Or also in Jeremiah, when we read, You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

You see, I dont think it is enough to take someone else's word for it.  Its not enough just to believe what I am telling you in this article. We must look and grope around for God with our whole heart and with our entire intellect.  We must look for ourselves, without selecting or filtering out the things we dont like or dont want to hear. For you and I, the hunt for God is ultimately a solo proposition.  It is our choice to seek Him, and our choice alone to accept Him.  And I think He wants it that way.  I dont think He wants it to be so black and white that we dont have a choice but to know Him.  He wants us to choose freely.


Evidence, science, the Big Bang, and even Christian apologetic books are simply
collections of statements and sayings.  They can be interpreted differently by different
people.  It is up to you and I to choose God or not.  No cheating allowed and no shortcuts  we have to make up our own mind.  So then, can faith co-exist with science?  Of course it can, there is no war.  But that isnt the real issue most of the time.  The real question is can you and I co-exist with a good and holy God?  Or are we at war with Him?  I suspect this has always been the real question.  It will always be possible to decide to filter out the truth of His existence with abstract arguments and alternate philosophies.  We may decide to believe that something can come from nothing - uncaused, or that evolution explains even the Universe and other galaxies.  But we must be careful doing so, because we may very well be using the wonderful intellect that God has given each of us, in order to crucify Him a second time by failing to really seek Him with our whole heart.


I love the story of Eben Alexander.  Do you remember him?  He authored the famous book Proof of Heaven: a Neurosurgeons Journey into the Afterlife.  This is the story of a doctor who was so entrenched in the idea that science explained everything, he abandoned God early on in his youth.

After he contracted meningitis and ended up in a coma however, he had a near death experience.  In this book he describes visiting heaven, seeing angels, and living beyond his earthly life.  There is great beauty and love awaiting us, he says.  Did he take some criticism from his colleagues, other doctors, and some scientists?  You bet!  By the way not all scientists share this unbelief.  Google Francis Collins from the genome project or Dr. Steven C. Meyer in the field of physics and molecular biology.  Or maybe Dr. Guillermo Gonzales in the field of astronomy and physics.  These are only a few prominent scientists who are also believers.  I would love to hear their perspective on Alexander's account.  In fact, this experience transformed Eben Alexander forever.  It prompted him to write a book, go on talk shows (including Oprah), and begin attending church regularly.  His filter had been removed, he was now open to think about and ponder the things of God.  

There is a verse in Colossians 1:17 that I think provides a decent enough summation for us by saying this:  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  This includes faith, and this includes science.  And it would certainly include little boys that turn their parents' garden into swimming pools.  May all of us have the courage to search for God, and find Him.





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