Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Day #7: Reasons to Believe

This is the last of a 7 part series on Reasons to Believe.  I finish up with telling you about my own journey of when choosing to believe became more important that finding Reasons to Believe.  I pray that this helps you in your journey . . .

I was about twelve years old when I really learned about Jesus.  I had always known the 'facts' about Him (Son of God, likes sheep, wears a robe, died on the cross . . .) but I was twelve when I responded to the call to "come follow me."  Well . . . as much as a 12 year old is able to . . .

Over the next several years I learned as much as I could before I went off to Penn State University where I double-majored in Religious Studies and Philosophy.

Now, as you might guess, Penn State is not exactly a Christian school, but that is why I loved it.  I was excited to learn from the perspective of those who were critical and skeptical.  And I did.  It was a daily battle with professors over the legitimacy of faith.  I am grateful for my unorthodox education but it was a very difficult struggle going through it.

In fact it came to a point in which I had to choose.   It was my Junior year and I had grown tired of the intellectual arguments back and forth.  Like a ping-pong match I would serve an evidence from archeology or a reason why we should trust the Bible.  It was never directly refuted but always returned with more questions.  As a young twenty-something it was hard to argue with people who could write in Greek.

So I remember coming back to my dorm room all alone around sunset.  I spent some time praying and eventually came to a point where I said to God, "I don't have anymore reasons to believe."  I had come to a point in which all my intellectual arguments about God, Jesus and the Bible hadn't gotten me any closer to God.

So I saw in front of me two paths:

One path embraces my intellect and gets rid of my faith.  

The other path embraces my faith and sheds my intellect.

Neither of them seemed desirable but I knew that I had to make a choice.  I was scared because I felt like I was making a decision that would impact the rest of my life.

After some more time praying and asking God to tell me what to do (nothing happened) I took a leap of faith.  Like from a high dive, I chose to believe.   I said, "God, I choose to believe in you even though I don't have a reason to."

As soon as I said these words I felt the strangest thing - like a warm hand on my shoulder - and then I heard these words:

"There, now we can begin."

So I don't know if it was audible or in my head and really it doesn't matter - something changed in me.  It was like the entire process of being broken down intellectually had gotten me to the point where I had to make a decision to follow Christ for no other reason than choice.  I wonder if up to that point I was following Jesus because of all the convincing intellectual arguments.  And really, that is not faith.

It was like God ripped away the core of my faith (which to that point was intellectual) and replaced it with a core that was based on my decision to believe.  That is really where all faith begins - the choice to trust . . . even when you don't have a good reason to.

And perhaps that is why you have gone through this time of questioning and doubt - so that your faith can be faith - without the props of your Reasons to Believe.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Leap of fath

We have been following a series of Reasons to Believe on this blog.  Today is day 6 and tomorrow will be the last one.  Among other things, so far we have looked at how the Bible is actually very reliable as a source of history.  We have also looked at how evolution can't really explain where anything comes from and how you can't get something from nothing.

So today we want to look at the big picture - how we approach the whole idea of God and sometimes how we approach it all wrong.

It reminds me of a cold rainy day in August walking on the beach.  A friend of mine thought it would be crazy to jump in the ocean in the rain.  I wasn't about to get wet.  When she jumped in she shouted out how warm it was.  I wasn't about to buy it.  Coaxing me to join her, I went to water's edge and felt the water - no way I am going in that, I thought to myself.

"No really, you have to experience it to know what it is like," she shouted. "It's really warm!"

Truthfully, the water was warmer than the air that day but I wasn't about to get in.  There were other times in my life that I swam in the ocean and experienced what my friend was talking about.  When the water is warmer than the air, it is delicious to swim up to your neck - it makes it feel like bathwater, especially when it is raining.  But you will never get that feeling unless you jump in.  I wasn't about to risk being wrong so I had to wait to feel what it was like until a later time.

That is kind of like what faith is.

We like to find reasons to believe.  We think that walking up to the edge of belief and sticking our toe in will help us know what it is like.  If only God had constructed faith this way - read a bunch of books, ask a bunch of questions and if we have enough reasons then we can believe.

But then it wouldn't be faith . . .

It would be called 'support' or 'because' or 'reasons' - but you can never call something faith that you don't jump into.

Gotthold Lessing gave rise to the phrase 'leap of faith' that people use sometimes to talk about following Jesus.  It doesn't mean blindly putting your faith in something - there can be a lot of talk, reading and research but in order for faith to be faith you need to leave behind certainty and jump in.  The leap literally means leaving one side of the chasm (certainty) in order to commit to landing on the other side of something you are not sure of yet.  Faith is the midpoint - being in mid-air - fully departed from the place you started but not yet landing on the other side.  In other words you have to chose to believe even when you don't have all the answers.  Anything else is playing it safe.

Augustine said it like this:

"Credo Ut Intelligam"  (Believe in order to understand)

So many of us try to understand what we want to believe and then believe it.  We calculate, estimate and forecast what it might be like . . . and never leap.  What if today's Reason to Believe was a call from the water . . .

"Trust me . . . it makes sense once you get in."

That is not to say that following Jesus makes anything easier.  Jesus offered peace with God, not a perfect life.  But there is something to say about choosing to believe.  Once you decide to believe and follow Christ with your life - you understand that it was never about figuring it out to begin with.  I mean, it only makes sense that a God that looks for a relationship with us is really looking for us to depend on Him and not so much our thoughts about Him.

That is why it is called faith.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Life goes on . . .

Dear ladies and gentlemen . . .

Just because the Supreme Court ruled about gay marriage today in a way that you either agree or disagree with, we need to remember a few things.

Life will go on.  We still need to go to work, buy groceries, clean the house, talk to our neighbors and make peace with God.  History has not ended.  There are plenty of things we still need to work on.  I mean let's focus - dozens of people were killed in France, Tunisia and Kuwait by ISIS.  

If you love the decision then today is a great day for you.  I don't want to take a thing away from your sense of accomplishment - especially if this was something you really worked for.    
If you are upset about the decision, PLEASE don't be a jerk about it.  If it is your faith that leads you to disagree, please don't forget that your faith is so much bigger than politics.  Marriage and Christianity will not die because of today.  Christianity flourished in the first century Roman world that was more permissive than our culture.  It flourished because people of faith knew that God was bigger than human events. 

They just kept following God in their own unique (and oddball) way.  Keep on believing and let belief lead to loving actions.

Get a grip.  
Take a breath. 
Continue to love and serve people regardless of headlines.

What not to do:

1.  Please don't post mean-spirited and hurtful things on social media - even if it makes you feel better. Chances are, that is all it is doing.  Alienating people is not the hallmark of Jesus followers.  

2.  Please don't de-friend people or sever relationships.

3.  Please don't post news articles about how this is ushering in the end times.  It may or may not, but even Jesus said things like this distract us.  Keep alert because you have no idea when the time is.

And please don't post comments to this article that inflame.

What to do:

Talk with someone who really is happy about the outcome and understand where they are coming from.  I have lots of friends who are excited about this.  I don't share their feelings, but at least I can understand where they are coming from and still have a friendship to speak of.  That is the point.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The theory that falls flat . . .

Oh boy.  Here we go. 

If you have been a follower of Jesus for any length of time, you have come upon the problem of the Bible’s account of creation and the theory of evolution.  For some it can cause some serious problems but I don't think it has to.  

I hope this blog article will help you to clear up a few ideas.  There are a couple simple truths about each side that may help you see your faith more clearly.

In a nutshell:

The account of creation is not scientific – and that actually is good.

The theory of evolution does not explain our origins – and that is good as well.

Let's take a look at Creation first:

The book of Genesis gets a raw deal.  It gets compared to the latest discoveries of science and is portrayed by some as ancient mythology.  Genesis is neither a myth or science.

The first couple chapters of Genesis were inspired by God but written by people who had a completely different worldview than we do now.  If the Bible were written today it would most likely have invoked scientific language (hot gasses, matter, molecules etc.).  But it wasn’t written last week.  They didn’t think in terms of science because science didn’t come about until about 1500 AD.   The material for Genesis begins thousands of years before science.  

The ancient people of Sumer, Egypt and Babylon had sky gods, moon gods and water gods.  Everything was a god or goddess. So the opening chapters of the Bible focused on correcting this error.   In Genesis 1 we find a God working solo, introducing the idea that there is only one God, Lord over everything.  The idea was revolutionary for its day.  Genesis 1 and 2 are quite clear:  There are no sky gods, water gods and earth goddesses - there is just one God and He made everything good.   End of story.

So we have an account of something that happened at the beginning that has been preserved for us and passed on to us that is presented in ancient terms because it was passed on from ancient times.  If it didn’t have ancient elements to it, it would be a fake.  You can’t fault it for being authentic.

So it is no surprise that it doesn’t speak the language of science – but that shouldn’t surprise us.  In fact, it should help authenticate it as real.  

Now we might find echoes of what we are discovering in astrophysics . . .

·      Perhaps the great expansion that we call the ‘big bang’ was God speaking at first creation saying, ‘let there be.’
·      The most recent astrophysics talks about a plasma-like state before light flooded the universe (Genesis pictures primordial water before God creates light).

Maybe . . . but we shouldn’t go looking for connections to science in an account that wasn’t thinking scientifically.

The thing we have to remember is that scientific proof isn't always the most important thing in people's minds.  We live in a time in which it is very important.  When the Bible was written, the biggest question wasn't 'is there a god?' but rather 'which God should I be paying attention to?"

Remember that when you read Genesis and it may help you understand that God doesn't feel the need to prove Himself in chapter 1.  I kind of admire that about Him.  You can choose what you want to believe but it seems like God is okay with us getting to know Him before we start looking for proof.

So where does that leave evolution . . .

As a very simplistic recap of the idea, evolution needs the following elements:

·      (1.) Huge periods of time (millions of years).
·      (2.) Biological diversity (genes that can vary or mutate).
·      (3.) Competition (environments supporting natural selection).
·      (4.) Reward (biological advantage over other animals that pass on genes).

So it goes like this . . . (again – majorly simplified for argument’s sake)

Two animals have kids.  Among the kids, one of them has (2.) a specific biological variation or mutation that gives it an advantage over other animals.  It might be faster (to elude prey), taller (to get more leaves on the trees) or what have you.  That advantage means they are able to (3.) Compete well and get more food than other animals.  This translates into (4.) reward by allowing it to live and pass on those genes to the next generation.  Over (1.) Millions of years, this means faster or taller animals become the norm.

And Voila!  Evolution.


This does a great job describing diversity, but how does that explain our origins?  Darwin wrote The Origin of The Species - not How Giraffes got Long Necks.  It might show how things change over time to a specific organism (which we see) but it doesn’t explain how something went from a jellyfish to a human.  This is the problem.

Michael Behe – biologist at Lehigh University wrote a book (to see the book on Amazon, click here)  saying that we have a real problem with the theory of evolution as an explanation for our origins because it breaks down in the process.  The problem is with the reward part.
So imagine you had an animal with no eyes.  How does it eventually get eyes?  Remember, part of the process of evolution is a specific advantage over other organisms.  This is how it survives better and passes on genes more than the other organisms.  You would have to give birth to an offspring with fully formed eyes for it to have an advantage over its blind brothers and sisters.  That is what gives it an advantage to pass on its genes to the next generation.  Fully formed eyes.  Fully formed eye sockets.  Fully formed optic nerve.  Fully formed vision center within the brain.  That is about 10,000 perfect and miraculously timed mutations in one generation that allow this animal to see.

But that is not how evolution works – and that is Behe’s point.

Evolution works over time- gradually.  It is a random process that is not guided by anything other than the environment that favors one trait over another.  

So the way evolution would work with developing eyes would have to be step-like.  One generation has a weird mutation of an eye socket but no eye.  The next generation has the random mutation of the eyeball and the socket.  Then the next generation has a retina, socket and eyeball.  Then the next generation has a pupil, retina, socket and eyeball.  The next generation has a fovea, retina, socket and eyeball and so on.

Do you begin to see the problem?  Each generation needs an amazing and miraculously placed random mutation that builds on the generation preceding it . . .

but . . .

(and here is the crazy part)

 without any advantage over its brothers and sisters.  Each one of those generations is blind - no better off than the other animals who have no eyes.

That is not how evolution works. 

You would have to have 10,000 generations of perfectly placed mutations for it eventually to lead to sight hundreds of thousands of years later in order to have any advantage over the other animals.

And that is just seeing.  Can you imagine what process was involved in develop our immune system?  Skin?  Vascular system?  Brain?

Perhaps God used evolutionary processes (I’m not a big fan for other scientific reasons) but it is clear that as a random process evolution hits a big snag in explaining anything at this point.

So again – the Bible has its limitations in explaining things scientifically but evolution has its limitations in trying to explain our origins without the help of a designer.  Both fields need some humility in the way that they present their view.  In fact, maybe they could work together and figure out how God orchestrated the whole thing.

But that might be too much to ask!

So the next time someone tells you that the Genesis account is a story and evolution is a fact, you might want to ask them how they think the ‘facts’ work out.  Google Michael Behe and find out what problems there are with a theory that claims to explain our origins but falls pretty flat.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Reasons to Believe - Day #1

So this week we are looking at some Reasons to Believe.  This is Day #1.  If you would like seven days of Reasons to Believe delivered to your inbox, give me your email address above.  Only days #1, #4 and #7 will be posted on this Blogsite.

So let's start off easy . . .

“How do I know I can trust the Bible?”

This question stems from an age of video cameras and DNA proof.  So many people wish the Bible was more ‘scientific.’  We wish the Bible was a collection of facts and not 'stories.'  If only Genesis started off with "In the beginning there was a huge explosion between Helium and Hydrogen atoms that released a massive amount of heat and force . . ."

But it didn't . . . because science came into existence about 500 years ago and the Bible was written thousands of years ago.  In fact, the very thing that causes us to doubt the Bible is the thing that authenticates it.  I
f the Bible was 'scientific' it would be as fake as a copy of Gone With the Wind in HD.  Gone With the Wind was made in 1939 - you will never own a High Def version, but you wouldn't want one because it would not be the original.  

So 'unscientific' is actually better in this case.

This is what I mean: God made sure to reveal Himself a long time ago.  During that time all truth came through stories - passed on through elders and told to each generation.  So God worked with how man understood.  He gave us stories.  God didn't make up stories - He acted in history to give people history to write about.  He knew truth came through stories so He acted in time.  The very thing that makes it real is the thing that we question.  

So the Bible is history - a history of God's interactions with a specific family (the family of Israel) through time and arrives at a person named Jesus.  

This is also what makes the Bible unique.  

Hindu and Buddhist scriptures are meant to be allegorical.  No one reads them thinking it actually happened.  Taoism, Confucianism and more current expressions of spirituality like Sikhism are collections of wise sayings and spiritual ideas.  Only Judaism (which is half of Christianity) and Islam (which draws on the Old Testament) claim to be historically accurate. 

And the stories line up with the facts.  Some examples:

·      Joseph is sold into slavery for twenty Shekels of silver – archeology confirms from receipts of this time that this is the price for a slave.
·      Abram leaves Ur, travels to numerous cities all mentioned in other histories of the Ancient Near East.
·      Records from Assyrian and Babylonian battles talk about leaders from Israel.  David, Abraham, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are all mentioned by name outside the Bible.

These are not myths. 

Early in the 20th century, religious ‘experts’ taught that the stories of the Old Testament were invented by later generations  They mocked the Bible for listing people groups like the Perizzites and Jebusites when there was no evidence for these people anywhere in the Middle East.
·      Funny, but a decade or so later they found the remains of the Perizites and the Jebusites.   This happens over and over.
·      The Old Testament story of Jericho was derided as myth.  Interesting how when Katherine Kenyon excavated the site in the 50’s she found evidence that supported the Old Testament account (including the city taken in the spring and the walls falling outward just like a ramp – as described in the scriptures). 

Perhaps one of the most fascinating things that have happened was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Up until about 1950 we had copies of the Old Testament that were written about 2,000 years after the events took place.  So the experts reasoned that there was a fair amount of time for a lot of the stories to have become very inflated.  Kind of like “Whisper Down the Lane.”  

In 1948 we discovered a library of Old Testament scrolls stored from about 1,400 years earlier in Israel.  

This is where it gets really interesting . . .

It looked like the skeptics had finally found what they were looking for.  They had a copy of the Bible that predated the oldest known manuscript by over 1,000 years.  They thought that this was the evidence they needed to show that the Bible is just like any other religious text.  Perhaps the Exodus was really a story of a family escaping from Egypt but ballooned into the spectacle we read of in the Bible.  Maybe Noah was the story of a guy who took a trip in a small boat with his pets but snowballed into saving the world.  This was the chance to show that the Bible is a collection of folktales added to over the centuries. 

Well 1950 came and went – we heard nothing from the team of translators.

1960 came and went.

1970 came and went.

Finally 1980 came and went and after pressure was put on this team of scholars they released their findings.  Their conclusion?

Essentially nothing had changed.

There were a few changes here or there (even language changes over a thousand years) but the Bible remained the same over a period of 1400 years.   The team leader, Geza Vermes, stated that the result was nothing less than miraculous.  This from a person who does not identify as a believer.

The Bible is very unique.

These are just a few examples.  There are books of material that testify to the fact that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  No matter how many people try to discredit the Bible it just continues to stand on its own and change people’s lives.  There is no other book like it in the world. 

You probably won’t remember all the details in this article.  What is important to remember is the next time someone wonders out loud whether the Bible is just like all the other religious books you can say with conviction that it is different.

Just a start on the Reasons to Believe.  See you tomorrow.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Where is God in all of this?

And so Charleston, South Carolina is plunged into turmoil again.

Dylann Roof, 21, from Columbia, South Carolina had received a .45 caliber pistol from his dad for his 21st birthday and apparently decided to use it to open fire in a church killing 9 people.   He showed up at Wednesday Night Bible Study asking for the Pastor and sat next to him for an hour before shooting into the group and leaving the scene.  

Sources at the scene said that Roof pulled the gun saying, "I have to do it . . . you rape our women and you are taking over our country and you have to go."  Cited in this article by The New York Times.    

Another killing at the hands of a white man only intensifies the difficulty of race relations in this town.  Just two months ago in North Charleston Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed by police.  This sparked outrage and protests . . . and so here we are again with more murder at the hands of a white gunman.  No doubt there will be a lot of discussion about the politics of race and perhaps the availability of guns to those that are mentally unstable.  For me, the issue is bigger than race or guns.  The real question is "God, why are you allowing this?"

Why couldn't God have just jammed the gun?  Make the gun blow up in his face?  Why sit back and allow so much carnage . . .  to a bunch of people in (of all places) a church?

This is the kind of thing that can slowly erode one's faith in God to act and do the right thing.  It seems more reasonable that if God really loves people he would save them at their time of need.  

But as with all things, my gut tells me to go to Jesus about this . . . and this is what I find:

Luke 13:1-5
Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  And Jesus said to them, Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate?  I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”


Jesus had a way of getting right to the point.  He drew from the headlines of his day to show that what happens at the hands of sinful people is not necessarily a reflection of God's will.

See, the Governor at the time wanted to finance a sorely needed water supply project and he needed money from the Jewish temple treasury.  Some Galileans were not so happy about where the money was coming from.  In the midst of one of their protests, Roman guards (dressed like protesters) threw off their cloaks and massacred the crowd.  The guards then went in and took the money from the Temple.  

Didn't make any sense.  God, where were you?  Over time, those murdered were seen as martyrs.

Then, when the project was being constructed a water tower fell on the Jewish workers as they worked.  Some looked at this as the judgement of God for cooperating with the Romans and their work project.  Again, there was an attempt by onlookers to make some kind of sense out of it.  Perhaps God is judging those from making a profit off the death of the Galilean protesters.  

So Jesus says, "nope, don't connect the two."  Why?  Because when humans sin and bring destruction and chaos (and murder and heartache) we have no one left to blame but our own sinfulness.  These are our choices.  These are our consequences.  God didn't teach Roof to hate someone for the color of their skin.  That was human.  God didn't abdicate his responsibility to make sure handguns weren't glorified in video games and nightly entertainment.  That was human.  To head down the road of sin as far as we have and then look at its consequences and pin them on God is disingenuous.  Our human condition means that even innocent people who go to a Bible study on a Wednesday night suffer at the hands of evil.  As humans, we experience the fruit of our labor - guilty or innocent.  When sin reigns, heartbreak is the norm.

That is why our faith is a faith of hope . . . because it will not always be this way.  The fact that junk like this goes on reminds us that the day of grace is still here.  God still shows mercy even to those considering murder.  But there will be a time in which it all ends and days like today will be a memory hard to recall.    

"and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” - Rev 21:4

Hard to wait for, but worth the wait.

P.S. - if you are encouraged by the posts on this blog, I want to invite you to sign up for a week of Reasons to Believe:

Starting June 22nd, you can receive once a day a Reason to Believe (for 7 days) in your inbox if you subscribe above.  Give me your email and I can give you a few down-to-Earth and relatable Reasons to Believe to share with your friends and co-workers.  Could make for some pretty cool conversations.

June 22nd-29th Reasons to Believe.