Why Should We Be Good?

In his parents eyes there was never a doubt that he had the raw intelligence and ability to excel, but like many kids his age, success in school seemed to be elusive. It was clear that after his first year in High School that something would have to fundamentally change to enable success in his remaining three years.

His  parents rightly understood that the basic issues he faced were related to a lack of focus and clarity of objectives, coupled with the right incentives to help cultivate an internal desire to apply himself and perform at his fullest potential.

They were also aware of studies that demonstrated a correlation between high school GPA  and success in later life. Academic performance in high school had been shown to be directly linked to subsequent success in college and the obtainment of an increased lifetime income. Higher performing students increase their probability of successfully completing a college degree college from 21% to 42%. Additionally, for every point increase in GPA a typical student in high school would expect to see an increase in earned lifetime income between 12% and 14%. (1)

With all of this in mind his parents took a step back in order to devise the best approach to help their son be successful. First they recognized that their son didn’t have the emotional maturity to cope with the distractions found in his current high school setting. Every child is different in their level of maturity and parents need to assess this realistically. Fortunately they understood that there was a difference between chronological maturity and emotional maturity, and that they needed to develop an appropriate plan that considered both of these elements.

To help bring focus and remove distractions they elected to place their son in an on-line learning environment. In this environment all assignments, grades and expectations were clear and transparent to both the student and the parents. Feedback on quizzes and tests were instantaneous.

While this decision helped in terms of focus and clarity of expectations, it still failed to address the matter of motivation of the heart which would be required for their son to succeed.

These parents wisely recognized that motivation to achieve worked best when it came from within. While some level of progress could be made by applying external pressures, the real life-long successes would only come when their child drove himself internally to achieve.

To address this they devised a simple set of rewards that provided quick feedback in practical terms. The on-line education program had a combination of quizzes, mid-terms, and finals as the principle sources for grades. For each type of evaluation his parents created a sliding scale that linked grades to tangible near term financial rewards.

The rules were simple, they were printed and placed on the wall next to his desk. Only grades “C” and above would be eligible for a payment each Friday at the end of the day for the previous week’s of work. Quizzes were worth less than mid-terms, and mid-terms less than finals.

Inside each test category, the financial rewards were structured such that a “C” grade merited a very modest payout, a “B” grade was considerably more, and an “A” would be exponentially more. (Typically 2X the “B” grade.)  This model  recognized that it would take considerably more effort to move from a “C” to a “B” then likewise from a “B” to an “A,” but the rewards were structured to reflect the commensurate effort required as the student advanced to the next higher level of grade performance.

In the first year under this approach his parents saw modest yet consistent improvements across the board. Not only in grades, but in their son’s level of self-direction and discipline to get things done. During this time trust was built as he found that the payout was real each week. He readily spent his earnings on lots of little things and found himself wanting in terms of needing additional cash.

During the second and subsequent years until he graduated from High School, the strategy changed by his own volition. He recognized how much money he was leaving on the table by settling on  “C” and “B” kind of performance and started to aim for “A” level performance.

Interestingly by his own request he elected to not take cash each week, rather he wrote his cumulative earnings on a white board that hung on the wall next to his desk. The growing balance soon became its own source of encouragement and the grades he earned were no longer the goals, they simply became a by-product of his focused efforts, discipline, and perseverance in studying.  At the end of each school year his parents gave him the full balance of his reward and the process repeated itself the next year.

During this period his parents no longer had to manage his homework assignments at a tactical level. He was able to manage his own time and meet all required deadlines on his own. They told him that if he needed help to study or needed to escalate something beyond a teacher to get resolution on any matter, then they were there for him to help him succeed. In the last two years he operated at a near 4.0 GPA!

In some ways many believers and followers of Christ are a bit like that high school student.

In our case God serves as our heavenly parent and much like this boy’s parents, God deeply loves us and desires for us to be in a healthy and successful relationship with him.

The wonderful news is that once we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ we are adopted into God’s  family forever.  Our salvation is secure, even if we subsequently elect to live a life that’s less than honoring to God.  Our eternity is covered by God’s grace and not subject to revocation.  No where in the scriptures are there cases where believers are “un-adopted” by God.

Given the certainty of our eternal security, what then is our motivation to honor God in the way we live out our lives in the here and now?  Why should we be good?

The answer lies in God’s own reward system for us.

Much like the young high school student who watched his rewards grow on his white board as he made healthy choices to do what was right in school, similarly we can be assured that God is keeping our treasure in heaven stored up and safe as we do the right things for God’s kingdom.

Jesus said:

“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20, NIV)

It turns out that God has devised a means of rewards that will directly impact our standing and scope of responsibilities throughout eternity. The scriptures tell us that he maintains a record of all of our deeds in this life, and that God knows our hearts and the purity of our motives in the things we choose to do.

The bible speaks of a time when each of us will come before God to be judged. During that time God will first check to ensure that our names are written in the “Book of Life.” It’s here that the names of every believer are recorded. Those whose names appear are granted to join God in eternal life. If not, then they  will be forever banished from God’s presence, sentenced to a place that the bible calls Hell for all of eternity. For those of us that are listed in the “Book of Life” there will also be a review of our Earthly lives and how we lived them out.

The Apostle John mentions in the book of Revelation of other “books” in addition to the “Book of Life:”

“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.” (Revelation 20:12–13, NIV) –Emphasis mine

Unlike the “Book of Life,” these “books” have recorded within them all the deeds we have done in our lives. These deeds will be evaluated to determine the type and quantity of our reward that God will give to each of us.

It’s critical to note that with respect to this part of judgement, where God looks at the deeds of our life,  that our eternal standing is never in question. Once our names are written  in the “Book of Life” they are never erased. Our God is thankfully a God of grace beyond our own understanding or comprehension.  We cannot loose our salvation because we dropped the ball in terms of how we lived out our lives after receiving Christ as our savior. Rather God’s  review of our life deeds will be used solely to determine the type and amount of our eternal reward that God will give to each of us. The apostle Paul spoke of this idea in his letter to the church in Ephesus:

“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.” (Ephesians 6:7–8, NIV)

Here we see the idea of God rewarding believers no matter their social standing or occupational standing in this earthly life. Notice too that the rewards given are given to the the individual. That each person will be evaluated based upon individual conduct. There are no group or team rewards given.

In another letter,  Paul writes to the church in Corinth where he shared additional details regarding the day of judgement that each of us will one day face.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV)

Observe in this passage that the tone continues with the idea of rewards for conduct. No where does Paul suggest that a believer’s salvation is contingent upon our conduct. This makes perfect sense if we understand our salvation to be entirely based upon God’s grace and not on any contribution on our part:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NIV)

Paul speaks of God reviewing both the “good” and the “bad” things that we did while alive in our bodies as believers. He never states that our salvation might be in jeopardy based upon the “bad” things we might have done as believers.

Matthew recorded Jesus’ comments on the subject of rewards:

“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” (Matthew 16:27, NIV)

Here we can see that those who honor God and who properly use their gifts and resources in this life to further God’s kingdom will be rewarded in his future kingdom.

When speaking on the topic of living out our lives in righteousness, Jesus warned that our motives for doing good things must be pure. God will not reward those whose motives and hearts are not genuine:

“ ‘Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.’ ” (Matthew 6:1, NIV)

Jesus spoke again as recorded in Matthew on the topic of rewards. In the following statements we can see that not all rewards are equal.

“ ‘For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.’ ” (Matthew 25:29, NIV)

Charles Stanley in his excellent book, “Eternal Security: Can you be Sure,” shared the following:

“The kingdom of God will not be the same for all believers. Let me put it another way. Some believers will have rewards for their earthly faithfulness; others will not. Some believers will be entrusted with certain privileges; others will not. Some will reign with Christ; others will not (see 2 Tim. 2:12). Some will be rich in the kingdom of God; others will be poor (see Luke 12:21, 33). Some will be given true riches; others will not (see Luke 16:11). Some will be given heavenly treasures of their own; others will not (see Luke 16:12). Some will reign and rule with Christ; others will not (see Rev. 3:21).

A careful study of these passages reveals one common denominator. Privilege in the kingdom of God is determined by one’s faithfulness in this life.” (2)

Several points come from Stanley’s observations:

  1. Some believers will be very rich in God’s kingdom and others will be comparably poor. (Although even the poorest in God’s Kingdom would be better off than anything they might imagine in their Earthly life.) “ ‘This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.’”  (Luke 12:21, NIV) “ ‘Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.’ ” (Luke 12:33, NIV)
  2.  Some believers will be given true riches because they have demonstrated that they were responsible for all that God gave them when they lived out their lives. “ ‘So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?’ ” (Luke 16:11, NIV)
  3. Some will be given “heavenly treasures” to own themselves and others will not. “ ‘And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?’ ” (Luke 16:12, NIV)

Given God’s perspective and his revealed reward plan for each of us, it’s pretty plain to see that it’s in our best interest to seek genuinely from the heart to honor God in all the ways of our lives. He will reward those that truly seek to place him first in this life. The good news is that it’s never to late to start.

Perhaps you surrendered your life to Christ many years ago and have since not lived a life that you know best honors the Lord. If that’s the case, then come to the Lord in prayer, confess, and then renew your heart. Purpose to live out your life in a way that best reflects God in all that you think, do, and say each and every day.

Do this with the full knowledge that you and I must ask God for the strength to live out such a life; we cannot do so of our own strength and willpower alone. There’s a strong connection between our ability to live out Godly lives and the amount of focus we expend on Christ. The more we focus and invest our lives in Christ, the easier it becomes for Christ to have control over every part of our lives.

Keep in mind that in all of this your salvation is non-negotiable. You and I worship a God that keeps his promises no matter what.

“The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.” (Psalm 145:13b, NIV)

His grace and love are beyond anything we could possibly comprehend. The Apostle Paul reminded us:

“if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13, NIV)

When it comes to our conduct in this life, our eye should be on the eternal rewards that God has for each of us. While God will evaluate each of our lives, we can be confident that he will do so without bias or poor judgment. He will do so with all the facts including our heart motivation. He is a just God and the evaluation will be based upon his standards, and done on an individual basis.  He will not compare my life choices to someone else’s, rather he will judge my heart, my actions, my thoughts as my own. In the end God wants to reward us!

If this idea of rewards is new to you or resonates in some way and you want to move forward with your best effort, then the best time to start engaging is now!

As soon as you’re done reading this devotion, take a moment and pray, commit yourself to a life that seeks the rewards God has for each of us. These rewards are eternal and everlasting in nature; make the conscience choice to stop looking to other people for significance in this life, instead seek to be significant in Christ’s eyes and in so doing build a life that allows you to store up your treasures in heaven.

 

 

 

 

===== Notes ======

(1) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/05/20/heres-how-much-your-high-school-grades-predict-how-much-you-make-today/?utm_term=.7bfa1648e914

(2) Charles F. Stanley, Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? (Nashville: Oliver-Nelson Books, 1990).

 

Copyright FullLifeWord 2017

 

Peace

Work was only hours away…the little numbers on my bedside digital clock pierced through the darkness, the electronic digits advanced without mercy. A glowing dot on the clock face pulsed with each passing second like a symphony conductor keeping the tempo of time.

As I tried to fall asleep, I could hear the jangle of night sounds emanating from outside of my bedroom window. Periodically cars would drive by, their presence betrayed by the ever-increasing reverberation of their tires as they drew near and then as they faded into the cool night air after the sound of their tires reached its zenith just outside of my bedroom window.

At times these sounds would be supplemented by the “clip-pity-clop” sound of the occasional late night skateboarder as they rolled by on the nearby sidewalk. I thought to myself; Why are so many people awake!? “Doesn’t anyone in this town sleep?

I asked myself; “Where are all these people going and what are they doing awake in the middle of the night? Why aren’t they home asleep?

I considered the possibility for a moment that perhaps they were part of a throng of sleepless zombies; people like me who found sleep elusive.

I wondered if I would soon be joining them.

At long last, after several hours of wakefulness, my eyes became heavy. I sensed I was soon to be enveloped in a blanket of sleep. I felt an inner joy as I became aware of my gradual release from the conscience world. My soft pillow and I merged to become one as I drifted towards peaceful bliss.

Suddenly I was startled awake and wrenched into reality by the raucous barking of my neighbor’s dog!

I was wide awake again.

Oh the frustration!

With all this time on my hands, I found myself thinking once again about work, finances, and waxing philosophically about life.

It seems we have so much to worry about.

The world outside was one filled with ongoing wars and threats of more wars, unstable economics, college bills, debts, health issues, social upheaval, infringements on our ability to speak and worship freely, and the battle of so many contrary ideas that have simply been caught and brought without any real discussion.

Yet there must be a way to find rest in such times. I had to find a way, because I’d come to the realization during my sleepless state of mind that the turmoil of our times were not likely to lessen.

It would be sometime later, while investigating the topics of peace and rest, I found that I wasn’t alone in my sleepless misery on that particular night. After studying the matter I came to the conclusion, at least in the United States, that we’re a driven, over stimulated, and stressed out bunch of people.

In 2016, the American Psychological Association’s annual survey of stress in America had its first statistically significant year-over-year increase in stress levels since it launched its stress measure a decade ago.(11)

In 2015, we were more likely to have experienced extreme stress than in prior times. (a rating of 8,9 or 10 on a 10-point scale). Twenty-four percent of adults reported extreme stress levels, compared to 18 percent in 2014. This represented the highest percentage reporting of extreme stress since 2010. (2)

How are we as a people generally coping with all of this stress?

As you might surmise…we’re not doing a very good job.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 23.5 million people are treated each year for abuse of drugs and alcohol in the United States.(10) Our coping through such means costs our nation dearly at many levels. Translated into dollars, it’s been estimated that our poor coping behavior costs our nation $700 billion dollars a year.(9)

How are we to manage? Where do we turn for a lasting solution? Are we alone in this walk or has someone already shown us a way to experience peace within a world of sustained extreme stress?

It turns out that the problems of extreme stress and the search for peace are not new ones.

Throughout history people have struggled with the pressures of economics, security, and threats of war. Such was the case for ancient Judah.

Between 601-604 BC the Southern Kingdom of Judah found itself in the unenviable position of being under the thumb of King Nebuchadnezzar, the absolute ruler of the Babylonian Empire.

In return for not being squashed and destroyed by the Babylonians, the king exacted a yearly tax, or tribute from his subject states. Such was the case for Judah. If a state failed to pay-up on it’s yearly obligation it was seen as an act of rebellion, and he would send his armies to deal with the recalcitrant country.

During this time the Egyptians and Babylons had been constantly at odds. Judah was often caught in the middle of their power struggles. In 601 BC the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco prevented Nebuchadnezzar from invading Egypt. In due course the leaders in Judah perceived that the Egyptians would ultimately prevail and they made a bet siding with Neco and chose to stop paying its tribute to Nebuchadnezzar.

Things didn’t turn out the way they planned and Nebuchadnezzar didn’t take the news of Judah’s lack of tribute very well. He responded by laying siege to Jerusalem (598-597 BC). When it was over, the Babylonians plundered Jerusalem taking the temple treasures and forcibly deporting many of the Jewish leaders relocating them to Babylon. These were tense, tough times for the people and families that lived in Judah.

Fortunately for most of the population, Nebuchadnezzar allowed them to remain in their homes. The city was basically left intact under an appointed governor by the name of Zedekiah. During this time the people of Judah were under tremendous pressure, living in a volatile place with a great deal of uncertainty and stress.

In times past, when the Kingdom had been under King Solomon, there had been security and certainty. One could plan their future with some degree of confidence. God had blessed Solomon and the people benefited from the resulting peace. But that was then, now under Zedekiah they found themselves in very uncertain times.

Zedekiah didn’t remain faithful or grateful to King Nebuchadnezzar for very long. Things went sour and in 587 B.C. Zedekiah decided to spawn yet another rebellion against the very Babylonian King that had appointed him as governor. Once again, Judah’s faulty decision making was inspired by the Egyptians as they advanced against Babylon, this time under Psammeticus II.

Again Judah bet wrong. The failure of Judah to pay its tribute the second time pushed Nebuchadnezzar over the edge. In 586 B.C. he responded by once again laying siege to Jerusalem. This time he didn’t stop at just laying seige to the city, he sacked it after it surrendered, destroying the entire city and it’s fortifications. He burned the temple, palaces, homes, and deported large portions of the remaining population back to Babylon. (12)

The years rolled by and the Judean captives that had been deported to Babylon had adapted to a relatively secure life, yet it was not a real life of peace for many. They still remembered their past and what it had been like living in Jerusalem and worshiping in the temple that had been the glorious center in the City of David. Their lament over this spiritual separation from their past was evident and expressed from the heart in Psalm 137:1.

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”

By 539 B.C. the Persians under Cyrus had come to power and invaded Babylon under the banner of liberator. In keeping with this theme, Cyrus ordered the restoration of ancient temples while suggesting the possibility of the return of dispersed peoples to their homelands.

In 538 B.C. Cyrus did just that, by issuing an edict allowing the Jews to return to Judah and ordering that the Jerusalem temple be rebuilt. He even contributed some of the funding for this project from his own treasury. (Ezra 1:2-4;6:3-5;2 Chr 36:22-23) In general, most historians painted Cyrus as much more tolerant towards peoples in his empire than his predecessors the Assyrians and Babylonians.

A fellow by the name of Sheshbazzar, who was of a royal Davidic lineage, was appointed governor and entrusted by Cyrus to the return of the silver vessels taken originally from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar. Under his leadership the foundations of the new temple were laid.

By 530 B.C. Cyrus had been killed while fighting in the northeastern areas of his kingdom. His son Cambyses took over briefly before dying in 522 B.C. . His death left Persia in a state of chaos for two years while rivals fought for control of the throne.

Darius I ultimately emerged as the winner and took his place on the throne to rule the Persian Empire.

It was shortly after this time that the Prophet Haggai preached in Jerusalem, during the second year of Darius’s rule, encouraging the Jews to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. It was believed that Haggai was an older man by this time and may have remembered Solomon’s Temple in better times. (Hag 2:3) Haggai shared the following to the people:

“‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”” (Haggai 2:9, NIV)

In the aftermath of war, invasion, deportation, hardships that one could only imagine, the people of Judah simply wanted and desired peace. Through Haggai God promised that He alone would grant such peace.

Many theologians believe that Haggai, in speaking of the peace that God promised, was pointing to the future glory of Christ and the eternal peace that Christ would ultimately bring.

Years later, the apostle Paul wrote of peace in his prayer at the conclusion of his letter to the church at Thessolonica:

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16, NIV)

God is the author and giver of peace and the one solely capable of giving us real peace. Our God always wants to give us good things, and one of the good things He desires to give us is genuine peace.

Much like the times of Judah, we too face turmoil and unrest. Threats from powers outside of our country and division within our country. We are in a state of constant agitation which makes peace, and subsequent rest problematic.

At this point it might help if we try to better describe what peace actually is and what the these passages tell us about peace.

Much of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the Hebrew word used most commonly for peace was the word “shalom,” which has the sense of “health”, “wholeness”, and “salvation.” It’s not simply the absence of strife, which is the most common view of peace that we hold today.

When the Lord told Haggai that he was going to “grant peace” to the people that had came to restore the temple, he used the Hebrew “Shalom.” He was speaking of a deep underlying peace present even in the most difficult of circumstances.

The people that had come back to restore the temple faced a daunting task. After so many years they could not start the restoration of the temple right away because the place had become completely overgrown. Additionally they needed to build shelters and homes for themselves. Add to the whole problem the lack of resources and other logistical challenges, one could see how they might have become very discouraged.

We’re not much different ourselves today. The Evil One never wants us to have peace. Instead he would rather have us to live in a state of perpetual strife and angst. One could make the case that peace and rest go hand-in-hand. Without peace it impossible to rest; and yet rest is what we often find ourselves seeking in order to have peace.

Paul reminded us that when God grants us peace, it’s a peace for “all times” and in “every way.” God’s peace is not a peace that comes and goes. The author of eternal living peace can only be found in Jesus, the ultimate author peace. The scriptures attest to the degree of peace that’s associated with Jesus.

Recall if you will the scene in the Gospel of Luke:

“One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”” (Luke 8:22–25, NIV)

Imagine the scene. Waves were crashing around the the boat, the disciples were panicked believing that they were in imminent danger of sinking. Through it all what did Jesus do?

He slept.

Only a person totally at peace in the midst of a raging storm could possibly sleep under such circumstances. After Jesus calmed the storm with divine power, He asked them; “Where is your faith”? He did so because he was reminding them of how much God cares for them and that even in the midst of a raging storm, Jesus’s silence as he slept did not equate to a lack of awareness and love for His disciples. We should take solace in this wonderful example of God’s expression of love. He loves us even in the midst of the torrents of the storms of life, and that love translates as peace in the moment.

The truth is, his love is the only love that can give us the peace that will allow us to rest in the midst of the tensions and stresses and challenges that this life can dish up. Someone once said that “the legacy of Christ is not advice about peace, it is peace.”

During the that night in which I had so much trouble sleeping, I pulled out my Bible. It was during that wakeful evening that the Lord impressed upon me though the scriptures that authentic and lasting peace can only come from Him, and that if one accepts this fundamental propositional truth, then rest will come. And it did and continues to do so for me.

Has life got you down? Are you having trouble finding the peace that seems to so allude so many? If so ,I would like to suggest that you take a moment and look at what Jesus has to offer. The Prince of Peace has enough peace to give you and anyone who desires it, the gift of peace and the deep rest that follows. His peace is a lasting peace, in fact he offers it as a gift to each of us. His peace is an eternal peace.

C.S. Lewis shared that God and peace are completely interwoven, they’re one. In the end he concluded that “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.”

==================================================================
(1) https://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/
(2) http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2015/snapshot.aspx
(3) https://www.instapaper.com/read/894555129
(4) http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/september/are-us-christians-really-persecuted.html?start=2
(5) https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/preliminary-semiannual-uniform-crime-report-januaryjune-2016
(6) https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=76
(7) https://studentloanhero.com/featured/effects-of-student-loan-debt-us-economy/
(8) https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikepatton/2016/03/28/u-s-debt-is-heading-toward-20-trillion-where-its-been-where-its-going-and-why/#57a60a197a25
(9) https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics
(10) https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-statistics
(11) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/05/01/stress-negativity-mindfulness/100989170/
(12) Thomas V. Brisco, Holman Bible Atlas, Holman Reference (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998); p158-186

 

 

Copyright FullLifeWord 2017

An Imaginary God

While on-line the other day, I saw a meme that I thought was interesting, thought provoking, and worthy of comment.

The picture was of an old American flag, and written across it was part of an early version of the Pledge of Allegiance. Over the years the pledge, like our Constitution, has been revised to one degree or another.

The caption below the picture read: “I want to challenge everyone to repost (sic) our country’s flag. With the Pledge of Allegiance as it was written.”

Conspicuously absent from this version of the Pledge of Allegiance was any mention of God. (“God” was added during the Eisenhower administration)

Someone added a comment to the post: “The original pledge made no reference to any imaginary being.” (Emphasis mine)

It’s clear that the person positing this particular viewpoint was philosophically apposed to the idea of the existence of God.  Their quick dismissal of  the existence of God belayed their lack of understanding and instead yielded only a personal opinion, which according to William Bullard “is the lowest form of human knowledge; as it requires no accountability, no understanding.”(1)

Sadly we live in a time where opinions often remain unchallenged and are instead  “caught and brought” by the average person without a second thought. Social networks and our society would rather shout down others rather than discuss differing perspectives maturely and intelligently.

It would appear that those whose primary tools are shaming and shouting  are also wholly lacking in the requisite skills of critical thinking. We should not then be surprised to see that God has been reduced to an “imaginary” being without so much as one thought as to why this might be so.

Still it is disturbing, because an opinion left unchallenged soon becomes accepted as reality, and our beliefs about reality, however erroneous they might be, ultimately drive our behaviors. In this instance the consequences are huge and eternal in nature.

Perhaps we might take a step back and engage our brains and do some critical thinking on this matter of an imaginary God.

Let’s look at the view that God is “imaginary.” We might propose a hypothesis to test. Perhaps our simple hypothesis is the statement: “God does not exist.”

To test our hypothesis we should start by defining several key words for purposes of clarity.

1. Imaginary: “having no real existence but existing in imagination”(2)

2. God: “The Supreme Being; Jehovah; the eternal and infinite spirit, the creator, and the sovereign of the universe.” (3)

3. Natural Selection: That process initially described by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book “Origin of The Species” in which organisms evolve by passing on beneficial mutations to their off-spring. Today we describe this as “Natural Selection” or “Naturalism.”

There are many evidences and proofs that have been written over the years that demonstrate reasonably that God is very real and does exist. Whole volumes of philosophical and scientific writings are available that point to the existence of God. So numerous are these that I could not possibly hope to cover them in this space, nor do I desire too. Rather I want you to explore and settle that question for yourself.

The balance of this essay will only tackle a couple of examples in a very brief summary form. I hope that these two basic topics will at a minimum cause you to think and possibly explore this topic in depth on your own.

In the end I fully recognize that it is not mine to change your mind, that I leave to God himself to do. Having said that, it is our responsibility to be certain of what it is we believe, as the stakes are high and the consequences for failing to do so are very serious.

Most of us have probably looked up into the night sky at one time or another and pondered the vastness and beauty of the heavens that surround us. The expanse before us is more than we are able to comprehend and goes on as far as we can see. It’s a humbling experience when one thinks about it.

Our universe has been around a long time, and its a dynamic place. It’s neither eternal nor existing in a static state.

It has a beginning.

This statement sounds like such a simple thought; but it’s a profound thought when one stops and seriously considers its implications.

Interestingly the idea of a beginning of time for our universe was not always so. Until relatively recently, scientists believed our universe to be in a steady state and that it has always existed. Scientists surmised that it had no beginning or end, it just is. In recent years the steady state view was challenged by new scientific evidence that points us to a different model of the universe, an expanding universe that came in to existence suddenly at a specific point in time.

Despite today’s evidence for a dynamic expanding universe, some scientists like Fred Hoyle, a well known English Astronomer, steadfastly rejected the notion that our universe came into existence suddenly and is expanding in all directions.

This sudden appearance of our universe has became known colloquially as the “Big Bang Theory.”  Hoyle worked diligently to support his “Steady State Theory to avoid the conclusion of a Creator.  Years later, Hoyle would ultimately conclude that given ‘the incredible complexity of even the simplest forms of life necessitate a Creator.’ Having calculated that the chances for first life emerging without intelligent intervention at 1 in 1040,000, Hoyle acknowledges a Creator of life.”(4)

The Big Bang Theory, held by most scientists today, offers the best evidence for a universe that has a beginning point in time and is expanding outwards in all directions from a central source or origin.

To date no viable scientific alternatives have been proffered  that offer a better explanatory statement about the start of our universe than the Big Bang Theory.

Even Robert Jastrow, both an agnostic and an astronomer,  concluded in his book “God and the Astronomers,” that “three lines of evidence—the motions of the galaxies, the laws of thermodynamics, and the life story of the stars—pointed to one conclusion: all indicated that the Universe had a beginning” (5)

But if the universe had a beginning, and the evidence is overwhelming in this regard, then one would have to explain the origin of matter itself. At some point before the advent of our universe there was no matter or energy. Just nothingness.

Physicists and astronomers alike have concluded that matter cannot simply come into existence from nothing. Yet for our universe to have a beginning necessitates exactly that event. Thus the effect of matter being created must ultimately be rooted in a cause. Given no known scientific evidence to assert the creation of matter from nothing via any known natural cause mechanism, one can reasonably conclude that the creation of matter from nothing likely falls into the purview of the supernatural.

British astronomer Stephen Hawking summed it up well: “So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator.”(6)  Jastrow said that “there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact”(6) The only known source of supernatural power that has the express ability to create matter from nothing is God.

The universe is a tough topic to wrap our minds around when evaluating evidence for the existence of a Creator. Alternatively we could also look closer to home for additional evidences that God in not simply a product of an over active imagination. Examining biological life itself strongly suggests an intentional, powerful, and intelligent element in the origins of life.

Natural Selection, a theory popularized by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book “Origin of the Species,” suggested that life came about and exists today as a result of a series of gradual unguided processes that depends upon the transmission of advantageous random mutations from generation to the next.

Darwinian Natural Selection Theory has failed to adequately explain the complexity of life as we know it today.  In 1859 Darwin had no idea about the inner workings of a cell, DNA, molecular biology etc.

There are many complexities about life that scientists are only just now starting to grapple with, particularly with respect to Natural Selection. In his book “Darwin’s Black Box,” Biochemist Michael Behe observed that certain cell structures have many interdependent components that are reliant upon one another so that a cell might function and survive. Should any one of these components fail to exist or operate properly, the entire organism would cease to function or would never have come into being in the first place.

He described this observation as “irreducibly complex” and defined this state as a “single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.”(8)

He observed that such systems would have to have all their components produced simultaneously in order for the organism to survive and carry any beneficial trait into subsequent generations. His observation of the existence of such systems in life are in direct conflict with the well versed theory of Natural Selection, which  depends upon individual changes happening in a series of successive and gradual generation to generation modifications over time.

To illustrate irreducible complexity in a simple way; think of an old fashioned  mousetrap as a simple system that is irreducibly complex. A basic mousetrap has a spring, the metal mouse whacker that actually dispatches the mouse, a small bar to hold the metal whacker, a trigger, a staple to hold the metal bar in place, and of course a piece of square wood that would be sized to fit the above mentioned components.

In this example, if any one of the components did not exist or failed to function properly, the mousetrap could not “survive,” if we define survival as a functioning mousetrap.

Individually these parts have no capacity to carry out the function of trapping mice. In fact there is no “advantage” of  survival to the mousetrap organism in having one or two of these individual parts. It’s only when they come together simultaneously that the trap will function properly and survive.

Behe points to several specific biological examples of this type of irreducible complexity that defy a naturalistic explanation in living organisms. There are many, but a few he mentions include vision, the blood clotting cascade, antibodies, bacterial flagellum, cilium, and many other complex biochemical processes that are too numerous to elucidate here.

The massive advancement of science and knowledge since Darwin’s publication in 1859 have demonstrated many areas of biology that cannot be adequately explained by the simple model of  natural selection alone.

With all of this in mind, it’s perplexing to think that one could dismiss out of hand the idea of a Creator. From a cosmological view we are dealing with a power so fantastic that it could create matter from nothing, and in a moment in time our entire universe was brought into existence. The magnitude and enormity of  that moment cannot possibly be grasped. Not only did our universe come into existence, it did so in a way that defies all known laws of physics.

From a biological view, how can the simplicity of natural selection, a theory based upon the scientific knowledge of 1859, explain the design and complexity of biological life as we know it to be today? How do we explain design in living systems? After all, the only known  source for design is intelligence. Design does not originate from any other known cause. The complexity of life could not happen in an unguided, random chance process as proposed by those that believe in a naturalistic view of life.

There are of course many other evidences for the existence of God and I would encourage you to explore these in detail.

These include but are not limited to:

1. The Anthropic Principle
2. Information Theory and DNA
3. The Kalam Cosmological Argument
4. The Thomist Cosmological Argument
5. The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument
6. The Moral Argument

In the end each of us must weigh the data and decide for ourselves. The stakes are high, in fact they are eternally high. This is not a simple philosophical and intellectual debate for which there are no consequences. Don’t allow peer pressure, social media, or political correctness to stand in the way of applying the raw intellect that each of you poses to resolve this for yourselves.

In the end all roads lead to a choice, and each of  you will make a choice and live with the eternal consequences, either positive or negative. The fork in the road will be in the person of Jesus Christ. The choice is either to accept Him or to reject Him; its that simple.

For each of us our decision will be a willful and intentional one.  God will judge each of us solely on the question of his Son when we stand before him one day. Our ability to enter Heaven or to be condemned to eternal separation from God, will hinge on the entirety of God’s grace and your personal decision regarding Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

=================Notes===============================
1. https://themindsjournal.com/tag/bill-bullard/ , viewed Feb 22, 2017.

2. Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1996).

3. American Dictionary of the English Language, Noel Webster, Foundation for American Christian Education; Facsimile of 1st edition (June 1, 1967)

4. Frederick Hoyle. The Intelligent Universe. London: Michael Joseph, 1983.

5. Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992. p.111

6. S. Hawking. A Brief History of Time. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.

7. Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992. p.15, 18

8. Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2011), 306.

 

 

 

Copyright FullLifeWord 2017

 

 

 

Overcoming the Pack

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16)

Wolves succeed in part because they hunt in numbers. They surround, overwhelm, and overpower their prey. It’s one thing to deal with a lone wolf, but altogether a different matter when it comes to dealing with an entire pack of wolves.

Jesus recognized that in many ways, as his disciples went out to share the wonderful message of the Gospel, they too would be venturing out as sheep among wolves. The Gospel message is all about bringing humanity into a personal relationship with God, but it was being presented to a world of people longing for hope, but often attempting to secure it on their own without the power God.

The disciples were few and the culture of their day hosted many different philosophies, religious, and even governments that not only rejected the message of the gospel, but actively sought to harm the messengers, the disciples themselves. Clearly the disciples would be more than outnumbered. It was within this context that Jesus shared with them that what they were about to undertake, would be akin to sending defenseless sheep into the face of a pack of wolves. It would take divine wisdom, trust, and reliance upon God, for the disciples to navigate in such a hostile environment.

Some years ago, I saw a nature show that tracked the exploits of a wildlife photographer and the challenges he had in obtaining video and pictures of wildlife in their natural habitats.

It had been a long week in the woods for the photographer, and he had yet to catch any decent video or pictures. At one point, on his last day out in the woods, he climbed high upon a rocky outcropping, and found himself overlooking a large valley that led to a huge lake at one end. Much of the valley floor was covered in an immense green meadow ringed by tall aspens, whose leaves shimmered with the gentle movement of the afternoon breeze.

It was from this position that he unexpectedly heard the sound of brush being crushed down, and the din of many feet, moving quickly and with purpose.

That’s when he saw the lone deer emerge from the woods, panting heavily. The deer paused for a moment, and then ran across the open meadow for all he was worth.

Moments later, with camera running, the photographer captured the remarkable images of a pack of wolves breaking out of the tree line into the meadow in pursuit of their prey. The exhausted deer continued to run across the meadow, but the wolves paced themselves; the deer was tiring. They sensed the end was near.

The wolves had hunted together many times, and at this point in the hunt, they knew the key was to entrap the deer, to completely overwhelm him. The wolves fell into a half-moon formation to prevent the deer from outflanking them, to drive the animal straight ahead along the shore of the lake. They had been relentless in their pursuit. No amount of effort on the part of the deer seemed to have allowed him to elude these seemingly tireless hunters.

********

In another part of the world, a different drama was unfolding. United States Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady, had just completed the final pre-flight check of his F16 fighter jet. Moments later, he took off from the Aviano Airbase in Italy, serving as wing-man for his friend Captain Bob Wright.

The pair were on a mission to enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina. They were part of a broader NATO operation to prevent the warring factions from using their military aircraft against one another.

Unbeknownst to either pilot, one of the factions, the Serbs, had secretly moved a surface-to-air missile launcher into position to attack NATO fighter jets. The Serbs had observed that the fighters followed a predictable route and schedule; this routine had made the fighter jets vulnerable to attack.

Low cloud cover prevailed that day, as the fighters flew their route at 26,000 feet. The largely routine patrol was abruptly interrupted, when O’Grady’s on-board warning system told him they had been fired upon by surface to air missiles, but due to deep cloud cover below the aircraft, the pilots were unable to visually see the missiles in time to completely avoid them.

The first missile blew up harmlessly between both aircraft, missing their intended targets. However, the second missile hit O’Grady’s fighter with such force, that it blew his aircraft into two pieces. Both parts of the flaming aircraft plummeted towards the earth on a five-mile decent to the surface below. As Captain Wright looked helplessly on; the flaming aircraft parts were quickly swallowed into the clouds and disappeared from sight; he never saw a parachute deploy from O’Grady’s aircraft.

Within hours of the crash, William O’Grady, Scott’s dad, was contacted by the military. They shared the sad news that his son had been shot down, and that they had no indication that he had escaped from his burning aircraft.

Six days later, William O’Grady received a phone call from the military, instructing him that he was to receive an official message that could only be delivered in person. He feared the worst, he had known that the type of career Scott had chosen was inherently dangerous, he braced himself for the news he anticipated he was going to receive.

A short while later, a government car arrived at his home, and three blue uniforms emerged; one of the officers wore a chaplain’s cross on his collar.

********

Our world is filled with risks and dangers. Jesus recognized this when he sent the twelve disciples on their mission to share the Gospel to a world that needed Christ desperately.

While the dangers we face in our lives may not be as literal as wolves or missiles, they can still do great and lasting harm.

One of the trends observed of our country, has been a societal movement towards becoming increasingly cynical.

Paul Miller, author of “A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World,” suggested that in recent times, our country has moved from viewing life from an optimistic perspective, to a more cynical point of view.


“Cynics imagine they are disinterested observers on a quest for authenticity. They assume they are humble because they offer nothing. In fact, they feel deeply superior because they think they see through everything. C. S. Lewis pointed out that if you see through everything, you eventually see nothing.” (Miller, p.91)

He shared that bitterness is the “stepchild of cynicism. “

It’s no surprise that society has gravitated towards this viewpoint of life. Daily we are faced with a constant deluge of negative news, news that has the potential to dampen our spirit and move us towards the slope of cynicism. It’s an easy step to take, but a dangerous place to live.

If the pressures aren’t bad enough for the average person, there are those whose daily jobs expose them on a regular basis, to the worst that our lost society has to offer.

This constant exposure can harden even the strongest of hearts and make us cynical and bitter. These traits, which if left unchecked, will seep into every relationship we are engaged in. If you’re a police officer, medical emergency worker, firefighter, solider, or have some other job that constantly and deeply exposes you to the harshest circumstances that this world can dish out, then you are especially at risk for falling into the spiral of cynicism and bitterness.

Cynicism, it’s a predator, a wolf that will never be satisfied, it has an appetite that’s endless. Our world can and will feed it relentlessly. It has the potential to bring incredible harm to those relationships that we are called to guard and cherish the most. Our husbands, wives, children, our Lord Jesus Christ, these are the critical relationships that we must protect.

Like the deer, endlessly pursued by the pack of wolves, the solution to living in this world exists outside of us. The only hope we have is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. There are times when we feel helpless and hopeless that God will knock on the door of our hearts. But he will not enter unless you open the door and invite Him in. The answers can be right in front of us, but in the moment, we might not choose to acknowledge God’s desire to be the way out. Perhaps at times we allow our pride to get in the way of the still and quiet voice of our Lord as he calls out to us, and we miss His invitation.

Jesus spoke of the snake as being shrewd. In this case, shrewd referred to the wisdom he called the disciples to exercise. Wisdom to help them anticipate and manage the dangers they were certain to face in this life.

********


As I continued to watch the video of the deer being pursued by the pack of determined wolves, I begin to perceived that the deer recognized his situation for what it was.

The wolves were trying to run him to the edge of a lake and trap him. But as they closed in for the final chapter, the wearied deer suddenly stopped running, as if to take one last stand before succumbing to his hunters.

My heart stopped, I know wolves have to eat, but I really didn’t want to watch what was about to unfold. I started to reach for the channel changer, but before I could, I saw the deer glance at the lake, and then crouch for a moment before springing a jump that landed him far from the shoreline into the water. He started to swim with a renewed level of determination, wisely, not parallel along the shore of the lake, where he might tire and die, rather straight across the lake towards the other side, a distance of nearly a mile or so.

The wolves were completely caught off guard by this unexpected tactic, and not being that confident, or willing swimmers themselves, they only ventured a short distance into the water in pursuit of the deer before turning back. They were left to pace back and forth along the shore as they watched the deer swim away.

In the end, the deer made it across to the other shore, climbed out of the lake, shook off the water from its brown coat, took one look back towards the opposite shore, where the wolves remained, and bounded into the woods to safety.

********

The three blue uniforms that emerged from the car, including the chaplain, came not to deliver news of Scott O’Grady’s demise, rather to deliver amazing news to William O’Grady, of his son’s incredible story of survival, and ultimate rescue.

Evidently, Captain O’Grady, after plummeting into the clouds, had been able to eject from the flaming wreckage of his F16 fighter jet. He suffered minor burns in the process, but was able to parachute into hostile territory successfully.

As he floated down from the sky, he could see a convoy of trucks carrying troop’s, intent on his capture, driving on the roads below him. He landed near some woods several hundred yards from the road where the trucks had stopped, and deposited their complement of troops.

As he broke free from his chute harness, he could hear the many soldiers moving in his direction. They knew where he had landed. He was emotionally exhausted, and physically spent. He prayed. He ran a short distance into the brush and realized he would never be able to outrun the hunters. He quickly dodged into some brush, curled up into a ball with his face down, using his camouflaged gloves; he covered his ears and the back of his neck. He froze and silently prayed.

The searchers came within feet of him, but miraculously, during the next several hours never saw him. They had even brought in search helicopters. He remained in his frozen state until nightfall. Then with great caution, he started a slow nightly journey towards a distant hill that offered a possibility for a rescue by helicopter.

For the next six days, he endured a relentless search by enemy soldiers. During this time he maintained radio silence to avoid capture. He had been trained to delay using his emergency radio right away, as historically, pilots that failed to do so, were often captured, as their radio signals often gave their position away to the enemy searchers.

During the six days on the run there were many close calls, but in the end, he was able to communicate with his rescuers using a quick radio transmission. His friends and colleagues were absolutely shocked to hear his quiet voice over the radio after having heard nothing for days. Immediately, after learning of his survival, a  daring rescue operation was set in motion.

The entire operation involved two contingents of U.S. Marines, Navy ships, and some forty support aircraft. The rescue itself was a harrowing experience for everyone involved. Shortly after landing and pulling O’Grady in, the massive Sea Stallion rescue helicopters lifted off and immediately came under intense fire from both small arms and shoulder launched anti-aircraft missiles. The helicopter pilots executed several trained evasion maneuvers to avoid the missiles, while door gunners returned fire to the ground. After a forty-five minute flight they touched down on a U.S. Navy Ship. O’Grady was safe.

The night William O’Grady was notified of his son’s dramatic rescue, he was able to see Scott on TV, looking weary, but healthy. It was a night in which he gave a very special thanks to God.

As for Captain Scott O’Grady, he continued to serve his country, and returned to flying F16’s until he left the service, where upon he enrolled and completed a degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. He concluded that his survival and ability to avoid capture had been fully in God’s hands. It was God who gave him the optimism and hope to prevail in a very hopeless and difficult situation.

********

You and I face the wolves of cynicism, pride, and hopelessness every day. We can’t go it alone against such a pack. We must look outside of ourselves for our strength, wisdom, and the ability to remain optimistic. Jesus is a bright light in an already dark and evil world. It is incumbent upon us to live our lives in like manner. The One we must look to for strength is Jesus Christ. It is only from Him that we may derive our power to live our lives to the full each day, and into the dawn of eternity.

Speaking for myself, I could not imagine awaking to a day without Jesus at my side. When the Lord and I are in sync, when our relationship is healthy, then optimism and hope abound, even if there are days when I feel like I’m surrounded by a pack of wolves and can’t seem to see a way out.

Like the deer, when all seems lost, take heart, God presents a way for us. And like Captain O’Grady, we have to make a choice every day to trust Him for the moment, a hard thing if I’ve allowed cynicism to enter my life and dampen my love for Christ and my optimism for life.

But if we do choose to trust Him, then the peace of Christ will have no boundaries, as we allow His wisdom to be our guide and source of daily renewal.

Copyright FullLifeWord 2015

Differing Measures

One of the largest and most powerful warships of its day, and the pride of Gustav II Adolf, the King of Sweden, was launched on August 10, 1628. The “Vasa, named after the ruling Vasa Dynasty, boasted an array of 64 bronze cannons, was crewed by 150 sailors and capable of carrying some 300 soldiers. She was in excess of 200 feet in length with a displacement of over 1,400 tons. With over 13,000 square feet of sail, this 17th century vessel was a force to be reckoned with.

An excited public watched and celebrated along the shores of Strömmen, as the great ship prepared to depart on its maiden voyage. On that particular Sunday morning, the Vasa hosted over a hundred crew members, along with family and guests, which were allowed to join the ship for the first leg of its passage through the Archipelago.

Incredibly, after having been under construction for over two years, the maiden voyage lasted only twenty minutes. The Vasa traveled less than one mile before a gust of wind unexpectedly caused the ship to heel over to its port side. The resulting massive flooding, as water rushed into the open lower gun ports, sank the ship within minutes, taking with it the lives of thirty people.

Subsequent inquests spread the blame for the untimely sinking amid a variety of people and causes, but no one cause or person was identified as the primary reason for the ship’s demise; the inquest concluded that the ship was “inherently unstable.” The actual mechanical reasons that caused the instability of the Vasa would remain entombed with the ship for nearly four hundred years.

In 1961, the remains of the incredibly well preserved Vasa were located and raised, and over a period of several years the ship was restored and ultimately placed in a Swedish museum for others to view and study. Archeologists studying the Vasa identified several factors that might have contributed to the ship’s sinking; including a lack of adequate ballast and a top heavy design. But these factors by themselves did not possess sufficient explanatory power to fully explain Vasa’s hasty demise.

In June of 2012, a major four year study was completed in the hopes of identifying the source of her instability. The study was headed by Vasa Museum’s director of research Fred Hocker. The project set out to document and measure all the timbers used in the construction of the Vasa. Doing so required the team to map some 80,000 separate points on the ship, using advanced digital 3D technology.

To their surprise, after analyzing the data, the project team learned that the ship was actually built in an asymmetric shape.

The ship was built lopsided.

In this case, there were more ship building materials on the port side of the ship, than on the starboard side. If this had been unknown at the time of construction, then the ship would indeed have been highly unstable, and likely to roll to the left side when faced with a strong wind or rough ocean.

But how did such an error, which resulted in this unstable shape, insert itself into the final construction work at the shipyard?

As part of their examination of the Vasa, Hocker and his team had earlier discovered within the ship, four rulers left behind by the original shipbuilders. The significance of this piece of historical evidence had not been fully understood at the time of its discovery. But that would change.

Upon careful examination, it turned out that these rulers were based on two different measurement standards.

The team also determined from historical records that the carpenters who built the Vasa, originated from both Holland and Sweden.

Two of the rulers were in Swedish feet and the others were in Amsterdam feet, which were slightly different in lengths. As the ship was being built, it was speculated that each carpenter used their own measuring standard to cut the timbers used for the ship.

Because no single objective measuring standard was used, the resulting vessel that was built came out lopsided and therefore highly unstable. This final part of the puzzle provided the last explanatory piece of data to close out the mystery behind the mighty Vasa’s demise.

Scientists concluded that the lopsided ship tended to naturally lean to its port side, because it was built based upon two different definitions of how long a “foot” was, and when the gust of wind arose on that fateful day, the ship simply keeled over to its naturally heavy side. Because the ship was not balanced properly, and was considered top heavy, when the water flooded in, it was not able to recover and return to an upright position. Instead it remained on its side and immediately sank.

Thankfully, in today’s world, we generally have agreement on objective standards to determine how long a foot is, how much volume a gallon actually contains, or how hot or cold something might be. Having objective standards allows us to operate in a predictable and safe manner.

But are such objective standards limited only to physical attributes in our lives? What about behavioral standards of conduct that govern how we relate to God and one another? Are there objective standards available for us to live our lives by? If so, what are the consequences of attempting to live outside of God’s ideal for us?

Jesus was once asked by a religious official, with respect to the laws and commandments they lived by, which one was the most important? Jesus responded by citing not one, but two commandments; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30–31)

In his response Jesus looked past the legalistic and religious intent of this official, and responded by summarizing all of the commandments into two simple objective relationship truths.

In essence, these principles state that the most important relationship we could ever have is the one we have with God. We need to give our all to God, our heart, Soul, and Mind. If that relationship is healthy, we will have the foundation to carry out the second great relationship truth, and that would be to love those around us and to love ourselves. Choosing to adopt God’s objective truths about relationships permits us to live our lives fully, as Jesus intended us to do. (John 10:10)

Of course, when we as a people choose to reject God’s truth claims, and substitute our own personal truths, our relationships in this life inevitably become unstable. In the end, by choosing to use a multitude of differing “measurement rulers” to live by, we are left with no objective standard to assess what is healthy in our relationships, no basis in which to grapple with real world issues. Instead we are armed only with a shifting social framework, dictated by the winds of an ever changing public opinion. Frequently God’s “Truth” with a capital “T” becomes lost in the myriad of individual truths, with a lowercase “t.”

No one has to be a sociological expert to recognize that we live in an incredibly unstable society. For the most part, much of our society has accepted, as normative, a variety of unhealthily relationship models that lie outside of what God desired for his creation. Additionally, our news is filled with stories of theft, corruption and embezzlement, along with a seemingly endless list of violent acts that we as humans seem so easily and capable of perpetrating upon one another.

Yet despite all of our poor choices, Jesus still loves us. (Romans 5:8) He knows that true love can only be true, if the object of his love responds willingly and voluntarily to Him and his offer of an eternal relationship. With that relationship, and obedience to God’s objective truths, come peace and purpose in this life. (Proverbs 3:1-2)

God will never force his plan for our eternal salvation upon us. It becomes our choice entirely as to how we will choose to respond to His love for us. Our behaviors are ultimately a product of our choices. Our choices a product of what we believe is true.

In this life we have the choice to either humble ourselves and willingly trust and obey God’s objective truths, or to trade these truths for our own contrived, and often self-serving concepts of truth with predictable results. (John 3:19)

How do I want to live and build my life? Do I want a life built like the Vasa was built, with many differing standards, or will I anchor my life securely in God, resting upon His set of objective principles as revealed in the Scriptures?

Picking The Teams

It might have been September or early October, I can’t remember for sure, far too many years have transpired by now for me to be exactly confident of the date, I just know it was the Fall shortly after school started and I was in the fourth grade.

It was hot, the fields around the elementary school were dry, the grass on the hills devoid of any sign of green, save that of a few hearty Oak trees. I squinted as the sun beat down on me and my twenty or so classmates as we stood noisily in a row out on the blacktop. An occasional flash of yellow could be seen as the wings of a grasshopper would momentarily appear when the shadow of a child frightened it into flight.

Two boys, the most athletic of the class, were standing in front of us, carefully evaluating the pool of potential kickball teammates.

I hated this part.

The part where one after the other the kids would all be picked. Each Team Captain would take turns, back and forth, pointing to one of us to join their team. Soon there would only be one left.

Mostly that was me.

Just when I thought the experience would be over, the real dread and humiliation phase would begin. The conversation would typically shift from picking teammates to a negotiation between captains as to which team would be stuck with me.

This was worse than simply being last. I knew I was nothing but the kid with the crooked teeth, kinda gangly, and holding no appreciable athletic skills. I wasn’t particularly very good at anything, even academics. Eventually the teacher, against the visible and at times audible protest of one or both of the team captains, would put me on one of the teams.

Years later, I learned that unlike my elementary school team captains, when God is the team captain, He doesn’t  look at abilities or talents (Something that comes from God anyway), or how one outwardly appears. Rather he looks with great compassion at the heart.

Many examples of God’s choices are illustrated in the Scriptures. By any standards other than God’s, none of these individuals would have made the cut given the assignment that God had in mind for them. In one instance, God chose a young boy that was nothing but a simple shepherd, yet he grew up to become a great king (2 Samuel 2:1-7), God also chose a guy named Moses, who never led anything but sheep in a pasture, to lead God’s people out of captivity from the Egyptians. (Exodus 3) Later, God trusted a prostitute by the name of Rahab, who probably spent a lifetime never trusting anyone, to protect Joshua and his men from certain capture. (Joshua 2)

God continued to choose in like manner, when he came to us as Jesus. He chose lowly fishermen (Matthew 4:18-20), a disrespected tax collector (Mark 2:14), and others that society generally held in very low regard to serve as His early disciples. These twelve and ultimately countless others would serve as the engine that propelled the gospel of Christ into virtually every part of the world; the message of God’s gift of eternal life ultimately bridged virtually all social and economic barriers.

When I was sixteen, I finally figured out that I didn’t need to worry about abilities, talents, or good looks when it came to having a relationship with Jesus. In fact, there was nothing I had in my life that I could offer to God except myself and a willing heart.

I realized then, that Jesus had already picked me to join His team, He had all along. He had been knocking on the door of my heart (Revelation 3:20) and asking me to open that door and allow Him to enter my life. I had simply not opened the door. One evening I made the intentional choice to respond to His gentle knock, his open arms, and accepted the fullest expression of His love for me through his death and resurrection.

That evening, I prayed and surrendered my life to Jesus. I trusted that the work He did on the cross was sufficient, and in that moment I officially joined His team.

I’ve never looked back. It was and remains the best decision I’ve ever made. My eyes became open to the world in ways I had never thought possible. It was very much like having transitioned from seeing the world in black and white, to seeing the world from God’s perspective, in full color with a greater understanding. God has since done things in my life that I could never have done on my own; He has blessed me in more ways than I could count. And best of all, I have the assurance that I will get to experience Him for eternity!! Death and the fear of death no longer have mastery over my life.

Jesus said that he came to give us life and help us live it to the full. This is how God intended us to live our lives out.(John 10:10) Sure we’ll still face difficulties, troubles, heartaches, and all that comes with life, Jesus told us we would, but we’ll never be alone for He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

In the final analysis, I came to realize that I was picked by an eternal team captain that leads His team to victory through his boundless love, compassion, and sacrifice of self.

Remembering the True Enemy

“Katniss, when you are in the arena, you just remember who the true enemy is.”
― Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire

When I visit with my Mom at her nursing home, we talk about a variety of topics. Often these topics are the same ones we covered in previous visits, although from her perspective they’re all new.

Despite her loss of memory, I’ve noticed that almost every visit incorporates some type of discussion around spiritual matters. We’ll talk about various passages in the Bible that she will bring up; each of us sharing our thoughts and ideas about a particular passage.

The last time we met, we spoke of a passage in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus encountered a woman from the Samaritan town of Sychar.

Jesus of course was a Jew, and she was a Samaritan. Historically, these two peoples did not see eye to eye, in fact, a great deal of animosity and friction existed between both groups based upon events far back in history. Things were so bad that they could hardly be in proximity to one another, and would not typically speak to each other or accept food or drink from one another.

Jesus initiated conversation with her, and in doing so, broke social protocol by simply asking for a cup of water. With this, their dialogs begin, and soon thereafter she learned who Jesus really was, the promised messiah; God who came to save those that would place their faith in Him. She quickly saw his love and compassion, how it spanned and overcame all of the history of hate, hurt, and mindless harm that had come between the two people groups.

As my mom and I shared about this passage, we begin to imagine what a scene that must have been. What peace and joy that must have existed in that town as they experienced firsthand, the love and grace of God. Many lives were forever changed in the days that followed as the townspeople came to recognize and place their trust in Jesus. Old ways of thinking died, and new ways begin.

For some, it may have been the first time they’d realized that their common enemy was not found in their history of hate and distrust of each other, but rather, it was sin, a condition that caused an absence of a personal relationship with God, and allowed the effects of evil to cloud their minds and hearts.

Scriptures remind us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” rather our struggle is truly against the “spiritual forces of evil.” It was evil that kept hatred and anger alive between the Jews and Samaritans for many years, blinding them to the truth about God and His love for them.

As I’ve looked at the headlines during the past few weeks, my heart has been profoundly, yet unsurprisingly saddened, to see how little we have progressed in two thousand years since that unique encounter in the town of Sychar.

Regrettably, sin and evil feature prominently in our news and daily lives, but the scriptures offer hope, news of a different sort. The real Christmas story, is the story of God coming to this hurting world in the person of Jesus. He went on to overcome evil at the most basic level, and to bring us into a right relationship with Him.

I pray that as we celebrate Christmas this year…that we not only remember the real reason we celebrate, but that we also never forget “who the true enemy is.”

(“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” – Excerpt from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia.)

Followers

An interesting phenomenon has developed over the past several years.

It’s the idea of “followers.”

It’s really quiet an interesting study of social behavior.

Internet sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vines, blogs such as this one, and others have built into their structure, this idea of having “followers.” People in the internet world simply click “follow” as an indicator that they are interested in what you are publishing or saying.

They then become a follower.

The system has become so normative across so many social platforms that it has been monetized. In the case of YouTube for instance, users with large followings can actually be paid for growing the number of followers that are active on their account.

Gaining visibility is the name of the game, and in our society, it would seem that the stranger, the more bizarre one can become, the more followers one can obtain.

It has been said that one of the strongest and most important psychological traits for the average person, is the importance of being accepted by others. Many have stumbled on this one trait. We often mistakenly attach it to our self-worth.

There are those whose measure of success in life is counted by the number of followers they have attracted. Such a perspective appeals too those who believe their personal value lies in the quantity of the followers they have accumulated.

Now that we have made “following” a metric on the internet, by monitoring and in some cases receiving payments for the number of followers we have, one has to wonder about the effect on the individual, and eventually society as a whole.

Yet the idea of social popularity and followers was a struggle long before the internet showed up.

The Scriptures record this about Jesus; that “a great crowd of people ‘followed’ him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.” (John 6:2)

Many followed Jesus in His day because of what they saw him doing. It was unusual. Healing the chronically ill or feeding thousands from a few meager loaves of bread and a few fish, that type of news traveled fast, even in AD 33.

Thankfully Jesus was not the selfish and insecure individual that needed to do whatever he could do to get more people to follow Him. In fact, scriptures record that he didn’t go with the popularity model; rather he lived in reality and presented truth, truth that was often hard for a self-centered society to hear. (Some things haven’t changed much…)

When it comes to popularity, people are fickle creatures. A few verses later in the same chapter, we see that when Jesus began to share on a deeper level, a level that required life changes, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6:66)

The tendency today is to focus on fitting in at all costs. The internet has brought to the social table great visibility, and to a certain extent, another channel of social pressure to help us conform to the latest social cause or fad.

It takes real strength of character to be willing to follow Jesus, to not worry about what others think. It takes fortitude to stand up against the majority who believe that “might makes right”, that truth is whatever fifty-one percent of the people think is truth.

I think one only needs to see the news to see how well that system is working.

Thankfully Jesus is always available to us. He is the God of “do-overs” and “fresh starts.” Jesus tells us that we need only to choose to follow Him, and by doing so, we must choose to un-follow the alternatives.

Take a moment right now, think about your life. How’s it going? Are you taking the wide easy road, the road that everyone else is traveling on? Deep down, how satisfying has that choice been?

Do you want to start over, do a do-over in your life?

Here’s how:

  1. Admit to God that you have been traveling on the wrong road of life. That you’ve been living a life that has not been honoring to Him.
  2. Agree to do a total U-Turn in your life. To abandon a lifestyle that has never really satisfied you down deep. Redo your priorities, so that God is at the center of every part of your life. Tell God that you love Him and that you will follow Him all the days of your life! (Even when it’s not the popular thing to do! )
  3. If you do this as an act of faith, then the scriptures tell us that “Whoever accepts and trusts the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever!”

You can talk to God by praying, using your own words. There is no special formula. Just pray from your heart to God, and He will save you. If you feel lost and just don’t know what to pray, here’s a prayer of salvation that you can pray:

“Dear Lord,

I admit that I am a sinner. I have done many things that don’t please you. I have lived my life for myself. I am sorry and I repent. I ask you to forgive me. I believe that you died on the cross for me, to save me. You did what I could not do for myself. I come to you now and ask you to take control of my life, I give it to you. Help me to live every day in a way that pleases you. I love you, Lord, and I thank you that I will spend all eternity with you. -Amen”

 

The Depth of Love

Recently, I saw a demonstration of the harsh environment of the ocean in a news report. Scientists were showing the effects of water pressure on various objects at depths of fifteen thousand feet. These various everyday objects were taken by a deep sea submarine to the great depths of the ocean. When they were returned to the surface, they did so, crushed to a fraction of their original size. All this owing to the great pressures found at such incredible depths.

This poignant picture caused me to consider the strength of love. Love faces great pressures each day, pressures from the effects of our lives, from the challenges we face, from our choices, and I suppose ultimately from our natural hearts. We naturally do not possess the shielding required to preserve ourselves under these conditions.

Thankfully we have a place we can draw upon to build up the strength, to love ourselves and others, in the face of the many great difficulties and challenges of this life.

I speak of course of the love of Christ.

According to the scriptures, God’s most amazing and eternal love, has been given to each of us who trust Him and have surrendered to Him, “…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”(Rom 5:5)

And this love that He has given us can never be taken from us. “…neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Rom 8:39)

The scriptures tell us that love has many qualities, including the fact that love seeks to trust, to hope, and to persevere.

Life is hard. And sometimes those closest to us are the ones that say or do things that can really challenge us. For the Believer though, we must seek to view those times through the lens of God, utilizing the Love that he has placed in our hearts. With this love we must seek to exhibit His patience to those we love, as He does each day for us. After all, none of us are very far from His Grace. For that we can be thankful.

To love someone deeply, is to not be easily angered when they do unloving things, to not dishonor them, to not keep any record of wrongs, and to remember, that in the end, true love never fails.

Let me conclude by sharing an excerpt from the Apostle Paul, a note about love that he recorded in a letter to the members of an early church, in the city of Corinth in about AD 55. His observations about Love are timeless.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Four Reasons to Test This Assumption

Mythology:  The study of myths of a particular group or culture, ideas that are believed by many people but that are not true (Merriam-Webster)

Recently my son, a freshman in a public high school, shared that they were studying Greek mythology in his English class. The teacher was already aware of my son’s faith in Jesus Christ from prior conversations, a fact that he does not hide, nor does he push upon others, he simply lives out his faith by his actions and words.

He related that in due course, a student raised his hand during a discussion time, and asked the teacher about the origins of life. She responded by first looking to my son for a second, then addressing the class, that “according to Christian ‘mythology’ that everything was created by a Christian God.” And then she went on to talk about the views of the Greek gods.

It was interesting that her first go-to response was not “I don’t know” or “Here is how the Greeks perceived the origin of life, “given they were on the topic of Greek mythology, or “Here is what Buddha says” or how Islam views this topic, rather her comment was immediately and specifically directed towards reducing the Christian scriptural account of creation to the level of a myth with no further explanation.

Given that myths, by definition are not true, the message was clear, for those in the English class that believe in the Christian scriptures, it’s all a myth. My son immediately detected the inference that the intelligence of those that believe such things might also be in question.

But is it? Is such a simplistic view really reality? Or is the instructor really doing nothing more than introducing her personal views as fact to her class? Her statements to a class of high school freshman will not likely be challenged by any student, therefore, when left unchallenged from a critical thinking perspective; many students will leave the class thinking that what they heard must be fact.

Sadly, it seems to me, that Americans in general, and many young people in particular, seem to have lost the skills of critical thinking. Instead, we seem to be more likely to accept sound bites and internet posts as “facts,” without really slowing down to think about whether or not the statement we just heard or read is really supportable.

For years, science has used a technique that involves something known as hypothesis testing to validate tentative concepts or ideas.

A hypothesis is a proposal that is intended to explain a given observation or statement.  Because it is tentative in nature, and until it can be fully vetted, such an idea will remain a hypothesis. A more fully vetted idea, for which there are no clear observable objections, will often be moved to a new level, that of a theory.

If contrary data can be presented in the face of such a hypothesis or a theory, then the researcher must go back and revisit their hypothesis or theory, to modify it to reflect the new data. Otherwise they would need to retract their theory or idea altogether and go back to the drawing board.

Such testing requires that we take a moment and write up our hypothesis in a formal manner.

A hypothesis test takes the following form:

Null Hypothesis: (HO) What I am trying to disprove, there is no difference, status quo.

Alternative Hypothesis: (HA) What I am trying to prove, there is a difference.

Together, HA and HO cover all the possibilities.

Logically, it is easier to disprove something than it is to prove it.  Therefore, the claim to be tested appears as HO.  We can reject HO or fail to reject it.   We can never accept it.

One of these hypotheses represents reality, with respect to the validity of creation as described by Christian scriptures, and the other does not.

In our specific example, we might write up our hypothesis test as follows:

Null Hypothesis (HO): The Scriptural Account of Creation is a myth, it’s not true.

Or

Alternative Hypothesis (HA):  We have failed to prove that the Scriptural account of creation is not true, therefore there is a possibility that the account of creation is true, and must be considered in our reality.

After creating our hypothesis statements, we need to see if we can find objective evidence that would either reject or fail to reject the Null Hypothesis.

We’ll look at several scientific facts and then compare our facts to what the scriptures share about the origins of life.

Are science and the scriptures consistent in anyway, or are they completely disconnected?

Four points we know about the origin of life through modern science:

  1. We know that the universe is not ageless. Both Dr. Edwin Hubble and Dr. Albert Einstein, using independent means, demonstrated that the universe came into existence at some point in time.
  2. We know from our laws of Physics that it is impossible for matter and energy to be created from nothing, using only a naturalistic process. Yet the universe was not always in existence, therefore there had to be a time in which there was no matter or energy, and somehow it came into being from nothing to something.
  3. We know that the fossil record only shows life in their final forms: We do not have a single case of a complete transitional form in the fossil record.  Dr. Stephen Jay Gould , an ardent Neo-Darwinist, shared that “The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of the fossils.”  -Stephen Jay Gould Davis, Percival, and Kenyon, Dean H. Of Pandas and People. Dallas: Haughton, 1993, p. 106-107.
  4. The DNA Enigma: Dr. Stephen Meyers leads us back to one of the most profound questions yet. If we see design in living organisms, which we clearly do, we must ask ourselves where the information came from for the design. DNA is not information, DNA simply stores the information needed to build a complete organism. What was the source for the original information? Think of DNA as a hard drive on a computer, and the information as the instructions stored on the hard drive. For example, I might store the information on how to bake a cake so that someone could read the information and bake a cake. But the information itself came from someone’s mind.  Someone thought intelligently about how to make a cake, they didn’t just randomly list the ingredients with the expectation that a cake would materialize. (Meyer, Stephen C. 2009. Signature in the Cell. New York, NY: Harper One.)

This is but a small list of what we understand about the origin of life from a scientific perspective. The question that still remains to be addressed: Are these scientific facts consistent with the account of creation as depicted by Christian scriptures?

What the Christian Scriptures share about the origin of life:

  1. The universe had a beginning, it is not ageless. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
  2. Matter and energy were “created.” God created the universe and all that is in it. Energy and matter had to be brought into existence via a supernatural process, meaning beyond the naturalistic laws that we know are in place today.
  3. Living organisms were initially created in their final form:  Repeatedly throughout the creation account, the scriptures use the phrase “according to their various kinds.”  There is no concept that suggests that organisms were created in a lower state, and then somehow developed into modern organisms that we see today.
  4. What we see in creation was created with intelligence and is not a product of unguided chance events. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” (Romans 1:20)  As the Apostle Paul states, evidence for intelligence in the design of organisms in our world is totally self-evident, and is clearly seen through the lens of common sense. Virtually every person can detect the difference between something that is random vs something that is designed.

We conclude then, even from this cursory review of the scientific data and the Christian scriptures, that the scientific facts are consistent with statements from the scriptures about the origin of life. Therefore, we must reject the Null Hypothesis (HO) that the accounts of creation in the scriptures are not true, and allow for the possibility that the scriptures offer a valid metaphysical explanation for the origin of life.

The teacher’s simplistic and absolute statement, that the Christian scriptures are a myth, thereby removing even the possibility that they may be true, should never have been shared in class to the students as a fact. This was clearly a statement of her personal opinion and is unsupported by the data.

In this case, she used assumptive language, which is one of the most dangerous forms of knowledge in our world today. Why? Because assumptions are often just “caught and brought” without an open, conscience dialog to talk about the evidence and the facts.