Should I be following a “religion?”

Religion, defined by Merriam-Webster, is “faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity.”  All world religions specify a deity or reality which should impact the way a person acts.  I am going to suggest that, per these definitions, all people have a religion.  No one would argue this point for the Christians, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Buddhists, or Hindus.  I’d like to show that even atheists live their life by faithful devotion to a specific deity or reality.

I have had several faith discussions with a friend and co-worker who is an atheist.  Finally, I told him, “At some point, we have to discuss your faith statements.”

Confused by my statement, he replied,  “I don’t have any faith statements.”

When he would not recognize his own life assumptions, I tried to help him.  “You believe that all of life can be explained through natural processes.”

“Well, that is the way science works,” he responded.

“Yes, but you believe that science and natural processes can explain all of life.  How do you explain the actions of the Muslim attorney who is in jail for defending a Christian pastor and other Christian groups from persecution in Iran?  He is imprisoned for defending something he does not believe in.”  On the other hand, how do you explain the “killing fields” of Cambodia, where one quarter of the 8 million population were executed for having ties with the wrong racial, religious, or political groups.  Humans are capable of such unselfish gestures and such horrific atrocity.  No other species displays such extreme evil and such extreme good.  I continued, “If natural processes have brought us this far, why abandon them now?  Why not live according to the rules of survival?”

He quickly explained that unselfish acts are seen in many situations of nature.  He then turned to a strange explanation for the benefit of multiple partners among the elite, saying that it spread the stronger gene pool more broadly.

When I asked him if he lived this way.  He said “No.”

If you aren’t willing to live your life by it, then you really don’t believe it.  This statement is as true for the atheist as it is for the Christian.

Overhearing this exchange another friend chimed in.  “There are many things I can’t explain,” he said,  “but I don’t need to create the spaghetti monster to explain them.”  His faith was all too clear.

I recall another friend who described his transition from agnostic to atheist.  “One day, I realized that I had to make a decision.”  This was not a point of revelation, but a point of decision, a statement of faith.

Religion is the reality that we believe in strongly enough to shape our actions.  It can be a gluttonous pursuit of personal pleasure, or a sacrificial gift for others, or anything in between.  Richard Dawkins has made comments that good and evil do not exist; however, his life is devoted to battling for what he believes is truth.  If there is no good or evil, why is he so passionate about his message?  Either he is fighting for something he believes in very strongly and passionately, or he found an easy way to make money.  In either case, he is faithfully devoted to his ultimate reality.

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Is our God the same God as other religions?

Another great question… and one for which my answer will have me ostracized from many groups.  I say that up front to encourage you to do your own seeking rather than rely on me or anyone else for your understanding of God.  As I have said many times, finding God is the goal rather than finding out about God.

To answer this question, I must first start with another question.  “Are all Christians following the same God?”  Jesus answered this question conclusively.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

If that doesn’t make Christians tremble in their boots, I don’t know what will.  Notice that these rejected ones had the correct name.  They even did mighty works in that name.  Yet, Jesus responds, “I never knew you.”  Chilling!  Having the right name is not enough.

So if we presume there is no other way to God other than Jesus, we are left with one question.  “What must be known about God to know God?”  Jesus promised that anyone who seeks God will find Him. Paul confirmed that everyone has God revealed to them.  What must be known about God is obvious to everyone.  All are without excuse.  None are automatically included.

Many preachers draw a distinct physical line that must be crossed for salvation – an act of admission, a prayer of invitation, a lifestyle of accommodation, or an experience of inspiration.  However, I find exceptions to all those simple rules.  David received the spirit without knowing the name of Jesus.  Saul received the spirit but had it taken away from him.  Nebuchadnezzar knew God without the law.  Jesus indicated that the Queen of Sheba and people of Ninevah will rise in the judgment with only the testimonies of Solomon and Jonah.  Cornelius received the spirit of God before baptism.  The Samaritans received the spirit long after baptism.  Judas clearly knew Jesus, but rejected him.

Instead I find all the simple answers can fall short of a sincere heart.  I also find that a sincere heart can be known by God in many ways.  I find David’s instructions to his son Solomon still adequate for today.

And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.

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Who is Jesus, really?

In my personal discussions with unbelievers, I find that there are far more people who reject a distorted view of Jesus than the real Jesus.  They have seen a Jesus presented that is not really Jesus, perhaps by unbelievers, but more often by those that claim Him.  When they reject a distorted Jesus, they are not really rejecting Jesus, but something far less, usually something that Jesus himself rejected.  Hence, the question of who is Jesus is pivotal.  Mahatma Ghandi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Jesus WAS God in human form. One miracle is all we need to make this claim, the resurrection.  If the resurrection is real, then all the other miracles, the virgin birth, and even the Old Testament claims become believable.  I have already written about how we can believe this was an authentic miracle.  Take time to read this blog if you struggle with this assertion.

Jesus is NOT another God.  God is one (not three).  Any view of God that creates another version of God is not sustainable, logically or biblically.  Just as Bohr’s model of the atom helps school children to understand the atom, the concept of trinity helps us understand God in different forms.  People struggle with a God who prays to himself, but it is no different than the hand that can only do what the brain tells it to do.

Jesus HAS ALWAYS BEEN God in human form.  Jesus was before all things.  Just as the Spirit of God was present at the creation, “moving over the surface of the waters,” so the incarnation of God was present in the garden of Eden.  Man and woman “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”  Abraham fed, washed, and bargained with God face to face.  Moses regularly met with God “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.”  He appeared to Job, Jacob, David and the prophets (Eze 1:26,  Isa 6:1).  After his death and resurrection, he appeared in the flesh to the apostles and others, as many as 500 at a time.  He appeared to Saul who became the apostle Paul.  He later appeared to John again.  He is the last thing.

Jesus was God in COMMON form.  He was born in the most ordinary place, to a poor family, in a nation ruled by another people (Luke 2).  He was homeless.  He was not particularly handsome or attractive.  He took on a common name, for no one has been given His heavenly name.  Jeshua is the Aramaic form of Jesus.  In the Old Testament priestly family line alone, we see three priests by that name.  We are also introduced to Bar-Jesus in the New Testament.  Perhaps he would have been named Mike or David or Joe if he came today.  He can be called by many other names, my lord, wonderful counselor, mighty god, eternal father, prince of peace. He suffered many things and was rejected by His generation.  He even submitted to torture and death on the cross.

Jesus IS God in common form.  Notice the change in tense.  He is the hungry beggar you pass every day.  He is the thirsty illegal alien who mows your yard.  He is the shy, lonely girl that no one accepts.  He is the naked elderly man walking down the hall at the nursing home.  He is the stroke victim that lives across the street.  He is the convict that will rot in jail. (Matt 25:31-46)

Jesus CAN BE God in anyone’s form.  To be made in the image of God is the ultimate purpose for all mankind.  The Spirit of God dwells in those who are God’s.

I find the following verse very instructional at how the ‘Son of God’ relates to the ‘sons of God’. Jesus was sent from God, but others can also be gods.

The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him.  Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?”

The Jews answered Him, “…for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”

Jesus answered them, “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came…, do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me;  but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:31-38)

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Was the virgin birth and resurrection added later?

The Encyclopedia Britannica says of the virgin birth, “it was universally accepted in the Christian church by the 2nd century (100AD).”  A good friend, an atheist, pointed to this text as evidence that the virgin birth was added later.  He added that only the gospels of Matthew and Luke have this story, and no other New Testament writers reference it.

I searched the web and early church writings for something a little more detailed.  What do the earliest manuscripts say?  How could I triangulate the origin of this story?  Here is what I found.

The best supporting evidence for his assertion was the Ebionites of the first century.  The most famous of these was Cerinthus.  According to some sources, the Ebionites possessed a manuscript of Matthew, but did not accept the birth or resurrection and contested that God did not come upon Jesus until the baptism and left him at the crucifixion.  When I told my friend about this observation, he acknowledged that the resurrection was included in his information, but he intentionally left that statement out because the resurrection might be too sacred for me to consider.

It is not surprising that these questions are so controversial.  To accept the virgin birth or resurrection means that Jesus really was from God.  To accept that God came in the flesh calls for a response from all peoples.  To reject this statement, allows Jesus to be ignored or placed in some safe corner of life without any real consequence.  The real question is not whether or not there was contention; the real question is, “Did it really happened?”

The unique thing about the first century church, compared to the start of other religions, is that it started under persecution and, yet, spread so rapidly.  By the end of that first century, the church had spread from Spain to India and into the northern parts of Africa.  There are many sources which corroborate the execution of the apostles and their disciples.  They believed what they were teaching so strongly that they died for it.  According to the gospels, they were a timid, confused group until they saw the resurrection.  From that point on, they never stopped telling that story, even when it meant their own demise.  What did they really teach?  What had they experienced?

Several independent sources corroborate the stories of Jesus’ birth and/or resurrection.  Because the church spread so quickly, manuscripts also dispersed quickly.  Changes in one region would not have made it to other places unless those changes were done at least before the destruction of Jerusalem (70AD).  In truth persecution of the church started shortly after Jesus’ death causing dispersion of the Christians, so it is unlikely that a change as early at 50AD would have propagated to all the extant scripts.  When the King James Version was translated only 6 Greek manuscripts existed and they were from very late dates.  Today over 5000 manuscripts have been uncovered and many are dated before 200AD.  Despite the fact, that these manuscripts spread across 3 continients in the first century, there is no textual basis to believe that the manuscripts of Luke and Matthew were tampered with later on.  Recent Bible translation, like the New International Version, include sub-notes for all the manuscript differences.  Most of them are inconsequential; one exception is Mark 16:9-20.  This makes it very easy to quickly see where manuscript inconsistencies have crept in.  Because the King James Version relied on such late manuscripts, there are a few phrases that indeed crept in later.  Nevertheless, the story is 99% consistent.

John was the only apostle to live a long life.  He died an old man around 100AD.  This means he was still alive when the virgin birth “was universally accepted in the Christian church”.  He was the apostle who cared for Mary, the mother of Jesus; he would definitely know about the virgin birth.  Polycarp and Ignatius were two of his disciples.  We have their writings which corroborate the virgin birth and/or the resurrection.  Both these disciples were also executed for their beliefs.  We have a story from Irenaeus, one of Polycarp’s disciples, that John once fled a bathhouse where Cerinthus, the Ebionite, was.  John said, “Let us flee, lest the building fall down; for Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is inside!”  The gospel of John includes these words describing Jesus.

The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” (John 1:14-15)

I addition to the gospels of John, Matthew, and Luke, consider the apostle Thomas.  This is the apostle who refused to believe the resurrection till he placed his fingers in the hands of Jesus and his hand in the side. (John 20:25)  Yet, Thomas was himself killed, run through with a javelin, in India for preaching this gospel.  Saint Thomas Christians, as they call themselves, trace their history to this first century encounter in India.  In about 180AD, Pantaenus, an early church theologian, traveled to India to take the gospel message.  When he arrived, he found that the church was already planted.  Eusebius, Pantaenus’ disciple, relates this story and indicates that this group had a version of the Gospel of Matthew in Aramaic.  This distinct group that was otherwise cut off from the western church, appears to be even more unified in orthodox views of the virgin birth and resurrection.  Many texts, oral traditions, and sites corroborate that Thomas planted the church in India before he was killed there in about 70AD.  It should be noted that Pantaenus reported that Bartholomew had brought the gospel to India.  This was probably a misunderstanding as “Mar Thoma” (Aramaic for Bishop Thomas) sounds very close to “Bar Tolmay” (Aramaic for Bartholomew).

It should not surprise anyone that the virgin birth and resurrection are disputed.  I have never seen one; however, something transformed the lives of the earliest apostles.  No message traveled so fast under such persecution.  It is a witness that suggests that miracles, such as reported in the book of Acts, followed the early church into these distant areas who had never seen Jesus.  The eastern church in India cut off from other western influences have consistently taught and died for this view of Jesus’ origin and destiny.  The records of the apostles deaths testifies that they were witnesses of something incredible.  They clearly taught the resurrection.  How can we explain this teaching, and their willingness to die for it.  Only two answers seem logical…

  • They really saw the resurrection; or
  • They were all tricked.

If you choose the latter, the next question should be, “What group wanted to trick them?”  Jews, Romans, and, even, the Ebionites who accepted most of Jesus’ teaching tried to shut them up.

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Why does He allow crap to happen?

“If your God exists, He is a mean SOB!”  It wasn’t really a question, so I acknowledged my friend’s pain, and did not respond immediately.

After I got back to my computer, I began searching for that phase on-line.  I went to a list of championship coaches, and began to search for similar phrases.  Paul “Bear” Bryant, Vince Lombardi, Jerry Claiborne, Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, and most great coaches I looked up had similar statements made about them.  Most of them stood for much higher principles.  Vince Lombardi often said, “Love is more powerful than hate.”  The SOB comments did not come from the players that were trained under them, but by outsiders looking in.  These coaches were about the work of pushing their players beyond what they were capable of.  They pushed them harder, expected more from them, and achieved greater goals than anyone else would have.  They earned great respect from the players that grew under them.

God is about His purpose of shaping men into His image, a pretty high goal.  He does not just allow crap to happen; sometimes he brings it.  He placed man in the garden in the context of his sin (Gen 2:8-9).  He told Satan to consider Job (Job 1:8).  He tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Gen 22).  He gave corroboration of false prophets to test Israel (Deut 13:3).  His Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tested (Mark 1:12).  Those same temptations were reiterated as Jesus hung on the cross.  Jesus spoke of the “time of testing (Luke 8:13).”

The question each person must answer is how to respond to it.  To “take up their cross and follow (Mark 8:34)” is to meet the challenge as an athlete and run the race marked out for them (Heb 12:1).

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

Perhaps this world is exactly what it needs to be.  God has a plan and a purpose.  He has good company as a “mean SOB” also.

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Why did God tell people to kill others in the Old Testament but not in the New?

Just the other day, I walked with two friends (both call themselves atheists) and discussed the possibility of God in this world.  One exclaimed, “If your God created all this, then he must be one mean s* o* b*.”  How could I respond to that statement?

  • I could get mad and rant back at him.
  • I could pretend I didn’t hear it.
  • I could try to give him logical reasons to try to make sense out of it.
  • I could listen to why he made that conclusion.

I believe my response was somewhere between trying to make sense out of it and trying to let him talk.  The question of God’s judgment is always spoken about with great passion.  It only makes sense that the topic often brings similar judgments against God.  This statement is not too different from when my preteen son ran from the room screaming, “I hate you!!”  Although my actions had been meant in love, he only saw them as spiteful and mean.  Look at the on-line discussions of great coaches.  Many of them reference a similar phrases to my friend above; yet the players who became great under their tutelage will only hold great respect.  This is where the cross and resurrection speaks volumes.  It is the only message that a god could send that makes sense of the suffering and trials that this life presents.

However, I have not yet addressed the differences between the old and new testament.  First, we must acknowledge that it would be inconsistent for a God that sees eternity to treat this physical life with as much treasure as we do.  That does not answer the question, but it sets the context to begin searching.  This blog will not deal with the questions of hell, that is a future blog.  A previous blog has laid the groundwork for this discussion in showing that the Biblical narrative follows the various stages of parenting as defined by Wayne Rice, a family counselor and author.  For a more thorough discussion see this blog.  God’s interactions with mankind fit into the parenting stages.

  1. Catering: Newborn to toddler parallels the Garden of Eden experience.
  2. Controlling: Toddler through Pre-K parallels being cast from the garden up to the exodus from Egypt.
  3. Coaching: Kindergarten through middle school parallels the Exodus through the Judges.
  4. Consulting: Middle school through high school or college parallels the time of the kings and prophets.
  5. Caring: Adult life parallels the mature message of Jesus.

What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.  The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.  So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Gal 4:1-7)

A good parent does not treat their adult child the same as when they were a toddler.  Neither does God treat mankind the same as he works toward his final purpose, “To create man in his image.”  To see the progression from controlling parent to loving grandparent is precisely what should be seen.  I’ll leave that for you to ponder.

I really want to spend our time in two case studies that are frequently cited against God: 1) the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and 2) the commanded destruction of the nations that lived in the promised land.

The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah begin with one of the most interesting statements in the whole Bible.

And the Lord said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” (Gen 18:20-21)

God has heard many people crying out to him against this city; it is no wonder.  When the two angels visited the town, all the men of the town, young and old, surrounded the house to rape the guests.  They were an insatiable crowd with no remorse and incapable of feeling sorrow or being reasoned with.  They would not take “No” for an answer and were forcing their way into the house. (Gen 19:4-10)

Imagine raising a young child in that city.  Any child would immediately be used for whatever pleasure other’s could dream up.  They would be abused in every imaginable way.  A child could only survive by becoming like the rest of the town.

God’s act of destruction is merciful in two ways.  It ends the misery of those suffering at the hands of evil men, and it prevents more children from being born into that environment.  God did not rush to pronounce this judgment.  He sent angels to find out if it was truly as bad as he was hearing.  He was willing to save the whole city if only ten righteous souls were found there. (Gen 18:33)  Perhaps one could fault God for allowing this situation to get so bad, but, as a father of three boys, I find it difficult to fault him for destroying the city.

Now we turn to the events that happened as the nation of Israel went into the promised land.  They were instructed to destroy “with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. (Jos 6:21)”  Indeed this is quite brutal; however, this was not quick.   God waited four hundred years, allowing the descendants of Abraham to be slaves in Egypt “for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. (Gen 15:16)”  Even as Israel entered the promised land, God reminded them that He would drive these nations out not because Israel is righteous but “on account of the wickedness of these nations. (Deut 9:5).”  These too were a people who burned their children to idols and did many perverse and abusive acts.  Again, some may find fault that God allows these abuses to occur, but He cannot be faulted for being to hasty.

Perhaps you know the rest of the story.  Israel did not heed God’s direction and, quickly, began practicing the same evil that these nations did.  Israel suffered far more over the following 1500 years by not obeying.  The poor were enslaved.  The widows were stripped of their land.  The orphans were sold and brutalized.  Their children were burned at the alter.  Ultimately, God sent the same destruction on Israel that they had been instructed to follow.

You should ask yourself…  What would you have God do if your own child were the victim of repeated abuse and torment?  What would you have Him do if young minds are being corrupted without the chance to choose a better path?  Remember that God sees eternity, and is consistent in valuing it above physical life.  Can you see eternity in these stories?

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Experiencing God

This afternoon I went into my closet to pray (not something I usually do).  I wanted a word from God as it had been so long.  I feel compelled to witness to others, but it always seems so fruitless.  Co-workers are unmoved.  My children are apathetic.  My wife is overburdened.  I am ineffective at even the easy tasks.  Something is missing.

I sat there picturing Jesus walking toward me by the seashore.  There were several other around, but the crowd was not dense.  As he walked toward me, I realized that I would need to come closer to the beach to encounter him.  Perhaps, I could just fall in behind the handful of others that followed him.  If he did not engage me, at least I could hear him speaking.

Finally, I ran up toward the crowd.  I fell in behind them, but Jesus had noticed me.  He looked back hastily and replied, “If you are trying to hawk what I say to others for your own gain, then I want no part of it.”

I was frozen in my tracks.  I knew he was right.  What was I going to do with it?  Tell others some great revelation so they would think I was wise.  Perhaps if enough people started listening to me, I could spend my time doing that instead of my day job.  I could travel the globe amazing crowds with the revelations that Jesus had given me.

I slowly began to turn away, dejected.  But wait!  I want to be with Jesus.  I don’t care if others ever hear what Jesus tells me.  I just want to be with Jesus.  I quickly turned to catch up with him; however, something was different.  I was no longer a grown man, but a small child.  I ran up to Jesus with all the exuberance a five year old could muster.  Jesus quickly bent down and scooped me up in his arms.  He shifted me to his right arm and continued walking.  I  was exhilarated, but it didn’t last.  Quickly my enthusiasm turned to shame.  He stopped and embraced me, but my arms stayed by my side.  I was so embarrassed and ashamed.  As his embrace loosened and I settled back onto his arm, he gently lifted my chin.  He smiled at me and said, “I love you.”

Slowly the shame began to fade.  I put my arm around his shoulder, as he again began to walk toward a distant darkness.  “Where are you taking me?” I asked.  He only smiled at me.  I felt so safe and joyful that it did not matter.

Slowly the darkness began to lift and I saw that we had entered a city.  The crowd was much heavier.  There were people walking every which way; they looked very busy.  Others sat along the streets or leaned up against the walls- the poor, the outcast.  Children ran about the crowd asking for money.  Then I noticed an unusual group of armed men.  They surrounded another man who looked strikingly like Jesus; however, this man had much nicer clothes and seemed to go where ever the group muscled him to go.

“Who are they?” I asked as I pointed toward the small band.

“Those are the religious leaders.  They act like they are protecting me, but really that is just a cheap look-alike with them.  It makes them feel very important.”

As I looked around, I took in the rest of the crowd.  “What about them?” I asked as I pointed toward those sitting along the street side.  They seemed hopeless.  Just then a young child ran up to us with his hand held open.  Gently Jesus bent toward him. “I have no money to give you, but…”  Off he ran to the next person in the crowd.  Then one of those sitting by the road mumbled something to us.  He too opened his hand for something.  Jesus gestured back with his open hand, but the man quickly put his hand down and cast his eyes again toward the ground.

“What was going on?” I wondered silently.  Didn’t they know that this was Jesus?  They didn’t even give Jesus the time to answer their questions or see what he may have given them.  It made me hurt.  Then I saw others.  They looked too exhausted and weary to even lift a hand, much less walk toward us.  “What about them?” I asked again.

“They are the reason we are here.”

I was troubled.  Then I saw a small family making their way through the crowd.  I was horrified.  My wife looked so tired.  My three teen boys kept looking up to her for strength, but she had none to give.  I hurt like I hadn’t hurt before.  “Jesus, what about them?” I pleaded.

“Look at yourself,”  Jesus said.

I looked down.  I saw Jesus, but I was no longer on his arm.  Where was I?  I could tell that I was still with him, but it was as if I had dissolved into his arms.  Was I in his bicep?  Gradually, I sensed what had changed.  I was somehow part of his body.  At first I did not know what to think about this?  Then it hit me.  “Does this mean that we can be together always?”  I began to sob great tears of joy as the realization took hold of me.  I again looked at my wife and children.  I looked down at the legs of Jesus and, suddenly, they began sprinting under my control.  My will and Jesus’ will were now one.  It was as if I had disappeared and only Jesus remained.  I ran to my wife and embraced her.

Now I understood.

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Why can’t God show himself to me unless I’m looking?

That’s a good question.  What would you like God to do?

Write a message in the sky?  Put his signature on our bodies?  Answer your questions?  Provide the healing you have asked for?  Appear in the flesh?  Raise someone from the dead?

Take your time… what would it be?  Now pretend that He did exactly that thing.

How would you know it was really from God?  How would you know if you could trust the source of the story?  If it happened to someone you trusted, would you still trust them?

Now put yourself in God’s shoes.  In every biblical example, a mere angel’s appearance brings great fear and trembling.  Just God’s speech brings the fear of death.

Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives. Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, then we will die. (Deut 5:24-24)

To see God brings death.

Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you…” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”  (Exo 33: 18-20)

To look at the solar eclipse, we must look through highly filtered means.  To see God requires significant filtering as well.  Now go back to that first question.  What was it that God could do to show himself to you.

Write a message in the sky?  We see such incredible odds presented in nature against the existence of life that scientists now hypothesize that there are an infinite number of universes.  This is the only way we could be so lucky.

Put his signature on our bodies?  Each human DNA contains ~ 500 megabytes of data.  This information is  replicated precisely through each cell in the body.  That set of DNA is intelligently manipulated to create billions of people in the world.

Answer your questions?  I have had every question that I can conceive answered by the words of God and the experience of life.  These blogs started to help others with these questions.  Jesus promised, “Seek and you will find.”  That is a promise that has held true for me, but only your seeking can test this promise.

Provide the healing you asked for?  On this one I cannot speak as strongly.  I  have prayed for my children as they went through significant back surgeries.  They are better but still struggle at times.  Did God heal them or did medicine heal them?  Did God give us medicine?  Why do they still struggle?  I can say confidently, that they grew more compassionate from the experience.  I can say confidently, that they are better young men after having gone through that struggle.  Were they healed?  Perhaps

Appear in the flesh?  Raise someone from the dead?  Well, that is the story of Jesus.  Not only that… I know of people who lived life to the fullest achieving great feats because they no longer feared death.  Dietrich Bonhoffer returned to his mother land to stand against Hitler despite fear of his eventual imprisonment and death.  Martin Luther King Jr lived under threats for decades eventually seeing his dream promoted before he was killed.  Nelson Mandela sat in prison for 27 years, but came out ready to forgive the very people who put him there.  He saw a nation reborn.  I could go on with people from every continent who have died to this life, and were then able to live above the rest of us.  They worked for reform, rescued the oppressed, built new nations, and dreamed bigger than they could see.  Their life is the gospel lived out among us.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it…” (Matt 16:24-25)

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What does science say about creation?

Science is advancing so fast, that it is difficult to keep up with.  Let me first recommend a great resource, Reasons to Believe, that keeps me abreast of developing scientific news.  It is a must for anyone struggling with this topic.  Most of what I document below will be indirectly from this resource.  Each of their articles will reference academic journals and research throughout its breadth.

http://www.reasons.org

When I was born, scientists thought that life sprang from a primordial soup billions of years ago.  Now scientists realize that there never was a primordial soup to begin life on earth and that life has only existed on earth for about 500 million years.  Hence, atheist posit that life must have been deposited from exterestrial sources.  Scientists also recognize now the difficulty required to make proteins, the basic building block of the cell. Charles Darwin expounded on the difficulties of evolution not explaining the rapid appearance and development of life at certain points in time.  Today, it has gotten more difficult.  Every phyla on the earth appeared 500 million years ago in a period of 3-5 million years.  The neanderthal is no longer assumed to be the direct ancestor of humans.  Ten years ago, scientists believed that only 1% of the human genome was useful and that the rest of it was junk left over from many stages of evolution.  Just this week, scientist now recognized that 80% of the human genome is active and purposeful.  Just twenty years ago, it was assumed that many planets would match the life-sustaining necessities of earth.  Now more and more data is present to support that earth is truly unique, that our solar system is highly specialized, and that our universe is precisely tuned to support life on our planet.   The following appendix lists thousands of fine-tuning examples for our universe, galaxy, and solar system.  The more exoplanets we find, the more unique earth’s situation appears.

http://www.reasons.org/articles/rtb-design-compendium-2009

The data is leaning more and more toward a designer rather than an accident.

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What does scripture say about creation?

The problems

Before we can say was scripture says about creation.  It is important to understand what it does not say.

Genesis 1 tells a very different story than Genesis 2-3.  Genesis 1 is the seven day creation story that starts with God creating the heavens and the earth and ends in Genesis 2:4 with God resting from all his work.  Humans are created on day six and shaped in God’s image.  The Garden of Eden story in Genesis 2-3 is typically squeezed into day six because it details the creation of man and eventually woman and the sin that resulted in them being cast from the garden.  However, the differences in the stories point to problems with this typical interpretation.

The seven day account shows everything complete and “good” at the end of each day; however, the garden account speaks in imagery of infancy and incompleteness.  The shrubs have not yet grown.  Man takes his first breath as a newborn infant would.  God says for the first time, “It is not good…” (Gen 2:18, NASB)  After the creation of woman, they were naked and did not feel ashamed, like little children sharing the tubby time.  The most striking imagery of infancy is detailed in My Story.  Evil is already present in the garden before they eat of the forbidden tree because the serpent is there.

There is no mention of man’s god-likeness in the garden account.  Man is made of dirt.  His name is derived from the Hebrew name for dirt (ADAMAH).  When God puts breath into Adam he becomes a “living being (Gen 1:7, NASB).”  This is the same term used for the creation of all the “living creatures… cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth (Gen 1:24 NASB).”  Paul confirms this interpretation.

  • So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam (Christ), a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. (I Cor 15:45-47, NIV)

It is also important to note that the text shows the creation of man before planting the garden.  Man is created outside the garden and placed there to take care of it.

“ADAM” is a very broadly used word in the Hebrew text.  It is translated “man” frequently and is used to indicate a species, family line, or individual person as the following verses demonstrate.

  • “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Gen 1:27, NASB)
  • “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” (Gen 5:1a, NASB)
  • Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam(Gen 5:2, KJV)
  • “When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son… and named him Seth.” (Gen 5:3, NASB)

As an exercise, I recommend changing the words “man” or “Adam” to mankind to see if it could fit there.  You will find in this exercise, that the scriptures can be much more broadly interpreted than the traditional view.

The solution

The solution is found when we view the Bible, from Genesis to Revelations, through a wide angle lens.  One of the biggest questions posed against the inspiration of scripture is how to reconcile the God of the old testament with the Jesus of the new.  If we can solve this problem and the assumed conflict between creation and science then we have something worth considering.

The seven day account of Genesis 1 parallels the prophetic verses of Revelation which presents seven sets of seven revelations.  Some of them are historic, some of them are prophetic.  If we look at Genesis 1 in the same way we find some surprising revelations.  The gospel of John begins its creation account with the same words as Genesis 1, “In the beginning…”  This gospel repeatedly speaks that Jesus is finishing the work that God began.  Jesus’ last words are, “It is finished (John 19:29).”  This parallels the last words of the seven day account when God finished his work and rested.  The Hebrew writer expands on this theme saying that the seventh day rest still remains (Heb 4).  Jesus also said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day. (John 5:17 NIV)”  Hence, we find ourselves still in day six where God’s purpose, to make man in His image, is still being fulfilled.

Consider now the infancy picture of the garden account.  Wayne Rice, a family counselor and author, documents five stages of parenting.  Though they are laid out here very neatly, the transition points are not so clean.

  1. Catering: Newborn to toddler – The parent must provide every need for the child.  The child makes no choices on their own.  This parallels the Garden of Eden where God gave them food, clothing, and sensory stimulation.  When the child can get in trouble, the parent must move to the controlling stage.
  2. Controlling: Toddler through Pre-K – Commonly called the terrible-twos, the child can now get into lots of trouble.  The parent must constantly and directly intervene to provide distinct boundaries.  Punishment and reward are quick.  Explanations are not useful.  Laws are only understood as No-No’s.  This parallels the events between Adam’s sin and Israel’s exodus from Egypt.  God knows how frustrating this time can be for parents for he “regretted that he had made human beings (Gen 6:6).”  Punishment is quick and seemingly without notice.  No law has yet been given except through experience.
  3. Coaching: Kindergarten through middle school – The parent can give laws.  The laws are still simplified for the task at hand.  Punishment and reward are quick and tangible and under the parents control, but are more suited to the situation.  In most cases, the training is not exactly real life.  God gave the ten commandments and hundreds of other written laws to explicitly specify every expected situation.  He then walked with them across the wilderness for forty years training them in following that law.  As they enter the promised land, God gradually begins to loosen the chains.  They make more and more decisions.  Judges are sent to rescue them and maintain order.
  4. Consulting: Middle school through high school or college – The child is now making more of their own decisions and living with real life consequences.  Laws have now been abstracted to apply to more global situations.  “Do not hit your brother” has become “Love your neighbor”.  When the Israelites wanted a king, God warned them what it would bring but allows it to happen.  Punishment and reward are now much further removed.  The prophets bring continual words of warning, but the consequences are now from outside sources and often generation removed.
  5. Caring: The child is no longer a child, but an adult like the parent.  The parent-child relationship is now about mutual respect and love, rather than a unidirectional teaching.  The New Testament is full of references to god-likeness through the work of the Spirit.  It is the final mature message, “Love God and love your neighbor.”

“What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.  The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.  So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Gal 4:1-7)”

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