The Merry-Go-Round Nobody Ever Rides

I try to take a walk for my health every day. When I choose this one greenbelt path I see an intriguing sight. Looking through the trees I can just make out a merry-go-round like those in a carnival. Most of the colored lights still work and are blinking. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a single person near it and certainly no children. I’ve asked some neighbors about it, but no one seems to know a thing. It’s a mystery.

What could be the back story? Did a grandfather set this up for his estranged grandchildren? Was he once a kindly carni-worker? What happened that keeps them away? Is he still holding out hope that they will show up for a joy ride? I have no way to know, but just one more detail: The merry-go-round is behind a tall chain-link fence with a sign, “Private Property, Do Not Enter.”

Sadly, I believe this is the way many picture the hope of heaven. The lights are lit and blinking feebly, yet the way is barred against all entry. And even if they bothered to sneak over heaven’s gate, after a few rides it just gets boring. Besides, what did they ever do to get locked out anyway?

This is of course a gross caricature. Nothing could be further from the truth revealed in scripture. According to the Bible, God created us to enjoy intimate fellowship with him in an ideal creation, but man chose to believe the lie that he could be like God. That is, man chose autonomy from God. What came with this “freedom” was death. Death was the natural consequence of man’s choice against a right relationship with the only true God, and therefore the source of eternal life.

We might picture this sort of autonomy as follows: Imagine a claustrophobic man in an airplane. Obviously agitated, he refuses to wear a seatbelt and begins running up and down the center aisle. Next he starts raving, “I need to get out and nobody’s gonna stop me!” Finally, he grabs the exit door handle and pulls it open. As he gets sucked out the door he yells, “Free at last!” We might imagine him “flying” through the air with a big smile on his face. What right does anyone have to question this man’s desire for freedom? After all, he only wants to change his relationship with the law of gravity.

The fact is, we were never forbidden the way of freedom, just the way of death. So when we demanded our autonomy from God we simply demanded death.

Back to the merry-go-round. Our estrangement from God is not due to any divine chain-link fence and certainly not a “Do Not Enter” sign. The heavenly father is “God our Savior who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 1 Tim 2:4, (NIV 1984). (1)

God has promised that heaven on earth will be the ride of our life with no pain, suffering, or death and certainly no boredom. And it won’t be a little fenced off area with a few blinking lights. It will be the whole magnificent universe transformed into a reflection of its brilliant creator.

In the concluding words of the Bible, after God describes the beauty and wonder of the restored creation, he invites us to receive the gift of salvation through his son’s death on the cross – granting free admission to heaven on earth:

“The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” Revelation 22:17, ESV.

Footnote:
1. Some argue that Adam was banished from the garden for simply picking a little fruit. A common misunderstanding. Just as an unfaithful husband cannot continue to enjoy the benefits of marriage, it makes no sense for man to have access to the tree of life without a right relationship with God (Genesis 3:22-24).

Compelling Evidence!

What order of evidence should we expect before making a decision to believe in and trust the God of the Bible? We sometimes hear skeptics assert, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” These same skeptics conclude that until “compelling evidence” is supplied they are justified to reject faith.

Now in order to sustain such an assertion they must first brush aside the many classical evidences for faith in God: (1) the instantaneous beginning of the universe (2) the fine-tuning of the universe, (3) the sudden appearance of life, (4) the irreducible complexity of life, (5) the Biblical origin for science, (6) fulfilled Biblical prophecy, (7) the evidence for the resurrection of Christ, and much more. Each of these evidences is extremely strong in its own right, but taken together they are more than sufficient to convince anyone open to the truth. (8)

Yet there must always be a way to chose unbelief. If it were not so, there would be no free will. Freedom must be a genuine possiblity. Therefore, though we may seek “compelling evidence” we can never demand “compelled evidence.” That is because the God of the Bible is not some kind of Cosmic UFC fighter who pounds and strangles us until we finally “tap out.”

Here we should consider the example of Jacob who was actually commended for “wrestling with God.” After his faith had finally matured, God gave him a new name.

“Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28, ESV).

At any time God could have slammed Jacob to the mat and forced him to submit to his infinitely superior power. Yet he did not. He gave Jacob the freedom to wrestle with the very will of his creator. Jacob did finally grow to believe in and trust God.

Still, some demand that God break into the world to overwhelm all unbelief. They may imagine him ripping open the heavens and booming out, “Don’t make me come down there!” Such an event may well cause us to cower and shake, but it would not necessarily lead to faith in God. Many would respond like the rebellious child forced to take a time-out; “I may be siting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside!”

So unlike some claims for “compelling evidence” (Islam or atheism), Christian faith is not compelled. The reason is explained by the brilliant theologian, Norman Geisler:

“God has provided enough evidence in life to convince anyone willing to believe, yet has also left some ambiguity so as to not compel the unwilling. In this way, God gives us the opportunity to either love him or reject him without violating our freedom. For love, by definition, must be freely given. It cannot be coerced.” (9)

So it turns out there actually is a way we may be “compelled” to faith. The means? A willing heart responsive to the compelling evidence for God’s love.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8, ESV.

Footnotes:
1. See Genesis 1:1. Spacetime, Dr Jason Lisle, https://answersingenesis.org/physics/spacetime/
2. List of Fine Tuning Parameters, Jay W. Richards. http://www.discovery.org/f/11011, there are 20 or more of these parameters in nature. The universe is finely tuned for life, Jonathan Sarfati, http://creation.mobi/the-universe-is-finely-tuned-for-life
3. Burgess Shale’s Cambrian Fossils Should Change Our View of Evolution, by Elizabeth Mitchell. https://answersingenesis.org/fossils/types-of-fossils/burgess-shales-cambrian-fossils-should-change-our-view-of-evolution/
4. The Irreducibly Complex Genome: Designed from the Beginning, by Jeffrey P. Tomkins, Ph.D., http://www.icr.org/article/irreducibly-complex-genome-designed
5. For The Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts and the End of Slavery, by Rodney Stark, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2003. Creation Agnosticism, by Tim Nordgren, http://www.thingsrevealed.net/Creation_Agnosticism.pdf
6. Prophecy as Proof of the Bible, Baker Encylopedia of Christian Apologetics, by Norman Geisler, Baker Books 2000, pp 609-617.
7. Evidence for the Resurrection, by Josh McDowell: http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/josh2.html
8. Romans 1:20, ESV, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”
9. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, Norm Geisler and Frank Turek, (Crossway), 2004.
10. The nation of Israel rejected the revelation of God’s will in the Ten Commandments that he spoke directly to them at Mount Sinai (Ex 20:19-22). The awesome display of his power on the mount was intended to lead them to saving faith. Instead they feigned fear and insisted on an intermediary–Moses–to transmit the word of God.

The Trinity: Impossible to Understand?

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Many claim it is impossible to understand the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. A typical challenge found in one anti-Trinitarian book (1) goes as follows:

“God is one and God is three, and there is nothing like it in all creation. We cannot understand it but only accept it.”

Some have heard such an assertion go unchallenged often enough they assume the point must be conceded. “After all, how can three be one?” Thus we are offered this “logical challenge” that is supposed to require a response.

Well first we acknowledge that no one can claim they comprehend the full nature of God, but because of God’s self‐revelation we may apprehend his essential nature. In fact, only when we discern that nature may we grow to be like him. In scripture we are commanded to, “Grow in the grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18, ESV). So just as a newborn baby does not fully comprehend the love of his parents, he may genuinely apprehend that love and rest in peace. Since God is a good parent, he knows how to communicate his love.

Second, we should expect to grasp the essential nature of the Trinity because from the beginning God has revealed that the universe was created as a trinity of trinities! Consider the very first verse of the Bible:

“In the beginning [time] God created the heavens [space] and the earth [matter]” (Genesis 1:1, ESV).

These three essential attributes of the one universe are likewise triune (2).

  1. Time: past, present, and future—one time.
  2. Space: height, width, and depth—one space.
  3. Matter: gas, liquid, and solid—one matter.

So for those who claim they can’t imagine how there can be three in one, we should point out that it is actually impossible to imagine anything that is not three in one—from the beginning. And the assertion that we “cannot understand it but only accept it” does not recognize the role of revelation in Biblical faith. We may genuinely posses truth because:

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29, ESV)

Now as an engineer, if I were to ask someone to calculate the volume of a cube that was for example, 1-foot, by 1-foot, by 1-foot, and they answered “3-feet,” I would realize we had a conceptual problem. Likewise, when people ask, “How can three be one?” I know it’s time for clarification.

We start by explaining that in the Trinity there are not three individuals but only three personal self-distinctions within the one divine essence. And according to the Bible a “person” is a self aware subject who relates to the other two as “another” (John 5:32,37; 14:16-17,26). Therefore the Trinity does not teach that one god is three gods, nor does it teach that one person is three persons. Instead the doctrine of the Trinity can be simply stated as follows:

There is but one God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is each God; and the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit is each a distinct person.

Now the analogy between the Triune nature of God and the triune nature of the created universe is very instructive and really quite strong. However the nature of God and that of his creation can never be identical. In fact it would be idolatrous to say anything in the creation is essentially the same as God. By definition, the creation reflects the nature of its Creator with quantitative and qualitative limitations (3).

As a matter of practical application, the Trinity is essential to our understanding of the love of God. You see, how would it be possible to say, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), if before the creation of the universe no expression of love was even possible. Jesus clearly connected the eternal love between the persons of the Trinity to the love God has for us in heaven.

“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” John 17:24, ESV. (4)

In conclusion, God relates to believers in Trinity:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Corinthians 13:14, ESV

Footnotes:

  1. For a more detailed examination of the Biblical basis for the doctrine of the Trinity and its implications see the following book review, Searching for Answers: When God Reveals his Image, by Cornell Thomas: http://www.thingsrevealed.net/Searching_For_Answers_Cornell-Thomas.pdf
  2. Albert Einstein showed that the universe is inseparably comprised of time, space, and matter. Three-in-one.
  3. Some are concerned that all such analogies for the Trinity break down at some point. For example, matter normally exists in one of three states; solid, liquid, or gas, but not simultaneously. This, they claim, gives credence to the false doctrine of “modalism.” However water, one of the most common molecules on earth, when cooled to 0°C (the so-called triple-point) actually does exist in all three states simultaneously–three-in-one. Again, by definition, all analogies between the creation and the Creator are limited.
  4. See also Ephesians 1:3-6; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2.
  5. Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), 2001, by Crossway Bibles, Good News Publishers.

Volatile or Eternal Word?

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All throughout our technology driven age there have been predictions of the death of the written word. Over twenty years ago Sven Birkerts composed his literary Gutenberg Elegies warning of the fate of reading in the electronic age (1). As a English professor he had become alarmed by his television-age students “loss of depth… vertical consciousness” and general inability to grasp “natural wisdom.”

Earlier yet, Neil Postman warned that the flickering screen of televised mass media had robbed us of the ability to learn and communicate serious ideas and therefore we were Amusing Ourselves to Death (2).

Even so, I was encouraged to hear Birkerts acknowledge the existence of at least one refuge for contemplative meditation on the written word–Bible reading Churches. Here, he observed, written words were revered and meditated on daily. It seemed to me that this normative Christian behaivor could lead us back to a greater depth of reasoning and thoughtful communication.

Today there is no longer any debate about the precipitous decline of all publishing–books, magazines, and newspapers. And there is no sign that electronic media can ever fill the void. All of the grave concerns raised about the loss of reading and reasoning came before the advent of the mobile computer, tablet, and smartphone. Now the latter is no longer unique, but ubiquitous. One can only imagine what those prophets of the literary end of days might say about the current state of affairs.

At this point I really must acknowledge I have plunged deeply into much of what passes for modern technology. Though I regularly read conventional books, I also listen to audio books on my phone since this allows me to fit supplemental “reading” into other activities. I rarely resist the temptation to Google almost anything my aging memory failed to “backup for future reference.” Further, I employ several eBibles, Bible study tools, and scripture memorization Apps to supplement conventional study aides. The case for the power and convenience of these tools is compelling. This very blog was written and published on my favorite iPhone Apps.

There is, however one manifestation of the written Word that I have not given up. My big, fat, King James, Defenders Study Bible (3). Like so many “old school” Bibles it is thoroughly marked up with marginal notes as a record of personal study of what God has revealed. You see, I find it difficult to search and meditate on the scriptures daily (Acts 17:11) without laying them open before me. Clearly, I do recognize and utilize numerous modern means for learning and understanding God’s Word. However, for thousands of years faithful believers have sacrificed so many things–including their very lives–just to read the written Word of God. I will never forget the Seattle exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls when I read from the sriptures opened to Psalm 119:91, “Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you” (4)(5).

Yet in church services we App-Switch to rarely used eBibles while cyclical and distracting social media, breaking news, and text pop-ups interupt and arrest our attention. And while most could bring an old-school Bible, we rarely do.  At best, a few scriptures hover in volatile memory just before the screen saver dims. So goes “modern meditation” on God’s Word. (6)

I do hereby challenge myself and others to meditate on the words, meaning, and application of these few representative scriptures related to meditation on God’s Word (7):

“I have chosen the way of truth: thy judgments have I laid before me.”Psalm 119:30, KJV

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…” Luke 4:16-18, ESV

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” Isaiah 40:8, NIV 1984

Like every generation before us we simply must find the way to refocus our attention on God’s revelation before it dims and then blanks out the very words of God.

Footnotes:

  1. Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in the Electronic Age, Faber and Faber, 1994. pp.74-76.
  2. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 1985.
  3. Henry M. Morris, The New Defender’s Study Bible, World Publishing, 2005.
  4. Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV, Zondervan, 1984.
  5. Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit tells stories from then and now, Seattle Times, 9/20/2006. http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/dead-sea-scrolls-exhibit-tells-stories-from-then-and-now/
  6. It is debatable whether a fast-paced and dynamic church service (which I enjoy and appreciate) is quite the right place for serious meditation on God’s Word. Perhaps that is best experienced in private study. However, there does seem to be Biblical precedent for such meditation in the community of believers. See Nehemiah 8:1-8; Luke 4:16-18.
  7. We may need to consider the following scriptures as well: Psalm 119:15, 18, 30, 48, 52, 97, 148, 160; Deuteronomy 17:18-20; Amos 8:11-12.
  8. A bit of irony: I am attempting to come to an understanding of the eternal nature of Biblical revelation in a volatile blog post.

Unborn Baby Jokes!

Jokes babies plan to tell…                             after they’re born.

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  • Knock Knock. Who’s there? Adjust. Adjust who? Ha Ha Ha, Adjust told my first joke!
  • What did Baby Corn say to Mommy Corn? – Where’s Pop Corn?
  • Why do we dress baby girls in pink and baby boys in blue? Well, they can’t dress themselves!
  • What is a baby’s favorite constellation? – The big diaper!
  • Knock Knock. Who’s there? Boo. Boo who? Don’t cry, it only a joke!
  • Knock Knock. Who’s there? Dish. Dish who? Mama, dish idd you baby!
  • Knock Knock. Who’s there? Spit-up. Spit-up who? No, seriously, I just spit-up on you.
  • Knock Knock. Who’s there? Fetus. Fetus who? Ha ha! Everyone does know an unborn baby is a person!
  • Knock Knock. Who’s there? Ice-cream. Ice-cream who? No, Ice-cream poo! It’s time to change my diaper! (Imagine a baby giggling right now.)

Atheists Agree – The Universe Is Designed!

The_Heavens_DeclareAccording to Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of Cosmos, the universe is so extremely fine tuned that the odds are extremely high that it’s an artificial computer simulation – designed by aliens. http://www.techinsider.io/neil-degrasse-tyson-thinks-the-universe-might-be-a-simulation-2016-4

Richard Dawkins has suggested that intelligent design theory might be a legitimate pursuit, since, “It could have happened…that a civilization…designed a form of life they seeded onto, perhaps this planet… There could be a “signature”… And that designer could be a higher intelligence…” (Excerpt from the movie Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed, with Ben Stein): https://youtu.be/BoncJBrrdQ8

The late Carl Sagan, in his book and movie, Contact, suggested that if advanced extraterrestrial life did attempt to make contact with us it could use an intelligently designed message (like a string of 26 sequential prime numbers). However, he also admitted that for the code, “To describe the basic structure of a tree, or a blade of grass, or even a one-celled animal you’d need many volumes…” Cosmos E11, The Persistence of Memory, https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1h5ole_carl-sagan-s-cosmos-e11-the-persistence-of-memory_tv#tab_embed

So yes, atheists agree the universe and you were designed, just not by God, but by aliens.

The Bible characterizes such thinking as follows:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Romans 1:18-20

Footnotes:

  1. Elon Musk,  We Are ‘Almost Definitely’ Living In A Matrix-style Simulation: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2016/06/03/we-are-almost-definitely-living-in-a-matrix-style-simulation-cla/
  2. Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, 2001, by Crossway Bibles, Good News Publishers.

Not As Bad As Hitler!

I have come to believe that much of the appeal of the so-called reality shows and the spawned “reality stars” comes from a desire to characterize and condemn “Hitlers.” So what are some examples of these modern day monsters? The most villanous might include: Dance Moms, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Real Housewives of…, and of course Donald Trump. You see, once we have pointed out how outrageous is their behavior we can step back and say, “At least I’m not as bad as Hitler!” Let me share an example I personally observed:

My wife and I were invited to a party that we only learned on arrival was an after-party for a pro-abortion rally. (The picket signs stacked in the front yard were our first warning.) After we sat down and tried to relax, a guy who declared he was Jewish set up a bar stool from which he began to “preach” to like-minded friends. He began to complain about how pro-life leaders were a bunch of self-righteous Christian hypocrites who believed they were the only ones with the truth and that everyone else was going to hell. He kept up his complaints about hell, hard-heartedness, and religious bigotry for quite some time, and each time he raised his voice somebody echoed, “Yeah!” My wife and I could only exchange concerned glances. When the “preacher” was finally satisfied he had rendered all due judgement, he seated himself right next to me. At that point I leaned over to him, introduced myself, and told him I was a Christian and that I believed the only reason I could ever go to heaven is because Jesus died on the cross for my sins. The shock on his face was obvious—he had gone too far. Then it was like something pushed him back and he declared out loud, “I actually do believe there are some really, really, really bad people—like Hitler—who are going to hell.” I then asked him, “So, how really, really, really bad do you have to be to go to hell? Where do you draw the line? And how can you be sure you have not crossed the line?” My new acquaintance went silent. By the end of the party my wife and I had shared about our faith in Christ with everyone who either affirmed a need to get back to church or even return to faith in Christ.

For my part, I have found there is no peace when I compare myself to “bad people.” However, when I finally recognize how holy is the life of Christ then I finally see my own need for forgiveness and God’s goodness and loving kindness are revealed:

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…”- Titus 3:3-5

 

Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, 2001, by Crossway Bibles, Good News Publishers.

By faith we understand…

Faith is the essential means for knowledge of anything. Only through faith in the wisdom, power, holiness, goodness, and love of God do we ever truly understand things—that is, their purpose. Hope in the future is grounded in faith that history has a meaning that points to a righteous conclusion. True history corroborates faith in a Biblical creator as the impetus for the rise of the scientific method, since the founders of its chief disciplines, “Had faith in the possibility of science” (1).

All reductionist campaigns to discover a supposed set of elemental processes and laws of the universe have uncovered ever deeper levels of specified complexity. And with each such confirmation of intelligent design the best inference leads us to an Intelligent Designer upholding the universe. Now, as ever, it is most reasonable to accept what scripture reveals, “In him, all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

As C. S. Lewis concluded, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else” (2).

Therefore according to Hebrews 11:3:

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

Footnotes:

1. Alfred N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: Macmillan, 1925). Reprinted (New York: Mentor Books, 1948), p. 13.
2. C. S. Lewis, “They Asked For A Paper,” in Is Theology Poetry? (London: Geoffrey Bless, 1962), pp. 164-165.
3. All scripture quotations from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, 2001, by Crossway Bibles, Good News Publishers.