Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's Not About Me ... It's About How My Life Fits Into the Heartbeat of God



I am preparing to facilitate a series on spiritual gifts in our young adults weekly meeting time, which we call "Pulse." That really is an accurate name for what we are doing, as I am realizing that the focus of this series will in reality be the health of the whole Body of Christ (of which each one of us as individuals are an important part), and the life that flows through it. Our individual rhythms must bow to that supremely important, single Pulse.

Too often we think of spiritual gifts from a personal perspective. What gift(s) do I have, or wish I had? How come I can't speak in tongues? Why did I get stuck with an unglamorous gift like administration or the gift of helps, when someone else gets an up-front gift like teaching or prophecy? How do I fit in? Etc.

But as I am studying portions of Scripture relating to gifts, I am realizing how deeply the whole message of Scripture is reflected in these teachings. That is, it isn't about ME ... my wants, my needs ... it's about the Big Picture. The Body of Christ. The Church. The Kingdom of God.

How do spiritual gifts fit in? The teaching is very clear. Here are some important portions from Romans 12 (all passages quoted from The Message paraphrase):
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him .... Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him .... In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body.
Paul goes on to liken our role in the Body in terms of function (as related to giftedness) as the various body parts, working together. There are different parts; some are glamorous, some unmentionable. Working together, the Body is beautiful. But if it becomes all about the part, functioning on its own, apart from the Body, it's grotesque. 1 Corinthians 12 puts this very graphically:
A body isn't just a single part blown up into something huge. It's all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together .... For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn't be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own.
Paul concludes:
By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which He has the final say in everything.
There is absolutely no way to take this scriptural teaching on spiritual gifts and make it all about me! It's about the health of the Body of Christ, the Kingdom of God.

The big challenge and tension in my life is to remember this, to believe it, and to practice it. I realize that in everything I do (yes, even in this blog!), I am drawn or tempted to try and make it about ME -- my wants, my needs, my happiness, my wealth, my popularity. In reality, God calls me to be others-focused, to be Body-focused, Kingdom-focused ... God-focused. Die to self. Say no to Larry, yes to the Cross! God, help me, in my weakness, to do this!

Trust Vs. Proof: Survey Results


Last week I sponsored a simple, two-question survey on this blog. My purpose was to ascertain whether there was a correlation between people who say they trust in God, and those who say He has proven Himself to them.

Here are the results of that survey. Twenty-six respondents started the survey by answering the first question:

Of those 26, a majority (22) said they trusted in God (with trust defined as believing in his existence and believing what He says about Himself in Scripture is true). Not too surprising, probably, given the kind of people I hang out with, and those who are likely to read my blog.

The second question, "Do you believe God has proven Himself to you in some way?" was tackled by 20 of the 26 respondents. Once again, a significant majority (17) answered "Yes":

My hypothesis was that there was a significant correlation between trust in God, and God proving Himself to those who trust in Him. I believe the results of this survey (even though the pool of respondents is fairly small) bear out that hypothesis.

Finally, I asked those who answered "Yes" to the second question if they'd be willing to elaborate on their answer. Here, for your edification, are the complete and unedited text of all 14 comments submitted:

Through life experiences He has shown that He exists. This is secondary to the proof given in the work/life of Jesus, and the evidence demonstrated in The Bible.
Through the miracles of the human body and answered prayers
Not really any "defining moment".... I just know he is with me everyday and he has blessed me for my faithfulness.
He has proven Himself to me in the same way He has proven Himself in the scriptures, through physical healing, answering of prayer requests, giving me comfort and peace in situations where these attributes are not normally available, changing my heart to love others I could normally not love and I am continually being changed inside by His influence.
romans 1:18-20
The miracles all around me that I see every day! The beautiful sunrise over Puget Sound, the delicate pattern over the clouds in the sky, along with the human choclea and the platapus
Various lines of evidence, but the great questions in life are best answered, by a wide margin, on the theistic view of the universe.
I was born exactly two months prematurely. The doctors said I would be mentally and physically handicapped. This was confirmed when I was four months old and developed a severe lung infection and almost died. Yet by God's grace, about two decades later, I have a very healthy body and am excelling at university.
giveing peace in painful events
I've seen people healed of debilitating injuries. Most notably, I had a friend two years ago whose femur was broken playing football when our friend John (Who's roughly 6'6" and 300 pounds) fell on her. She was taken to the doctor in a lot of pain and, after X-rays, was informed that there was a large crack down her femur. The next day, a large group of us prayed for her healing. 3 days later, she went back to the doctor, had more x-rays taken as part of ongoing treatment, and it was discovered that the crack was gone and there was ZERO sign of any damage in her leg. She actually mentioned that one of her doctor's was *angry* because he couldn't explain how this happened. Personally, meeting Christ (That is, seeing his character and portrayed in the scriptures) has given me hope and peace that's overwhelmingly conquered fear, depression, and hopelessness like nothing else has.
When I pray, I get answers and blessings that are so cooncidential to what I prayed about, that I know it can only be from him.
Two examples, one mundane, and one more, um, extraordinary. First, intelligent design. When you look at the complexity of how all life is interwoven on earth, the sheer magnitude of diversity in animal and plant life, and how all of those interconnect, there's no way it could EVER have happened by accident. Maybe a few species might evolve to survive, but so many of the 'evolutions' are integrated and dependent on completely different species that it's just not possible for it to be accidental. The second was a car accident I was in when I was 16. Just as a car I was a passenger in (front seat) was going off the road and about to hit a manhole cover (raised about 2 feet above ground), I very suddenly went from sitting in my seat to being in a ball on the floorboard (a space not really big enough for me to fit), and I stayed there as the car hit the cover and flipped/rolled several times. After the car landed, right side up, I put my hand on my seat to push myelf up from the floorboard, and found the old school plus-shaped tire iron from the back (car was a Volvo station wagon) sitting on my seat. As I got out, I saw on the windshield where it had hit as it had come from the back - obviously with a great deal of force given the damage pattern - right where the back of my skull would have been if I'd still been in the seat. The car was demolished, but I got out without a scratch. Even the driver had only a few light scratches on his left arm and cheek from where he'd brushed the ground as the car rolled (his window had been down). We'd be going nealy 60mph when we went off the road. 1. There's no way I could have gotten on the floorboard from the time I realized we were going off the road until we hit the manhole cover - a space of less than a second. 2. My instinct would NOT have been to do that regardless, but to brace my hands against the dash, like people tend to do, or cover my head with my arms. But I recall thinking, "In an accident, you're safest on the floorboard" in that split second. I know that's not trues, ESPECIALLY when you're about to hit something. But I had that thought, and was there, in less than a heartbeat. 3. Even if I had the time and the room to fit on the floorbaord,and had overridden my instincts/reflexes, I should not have stayed there while the car rolled and flipped. 4. Not only was I spared injury or death, so as the driver. And both of us were spared the experience of seeing a friend greatly injured or killed. Instead, we both walked away from the experience in wonder, and in my case, not truly appreciating how amazing it was until later (after the shock wore off). Yep, God has proven himself to me. I don't know why He spared me that night, but He did.
As a thinking person, it is incumbent on me to consider the meaning and the origin of the experiences I have had that I would consider to be spiritual. I need to consider and answer the question of which model of the world my experiences best for into. Based on that, the framework of Christianity provides me with a model that explains the experiences that I have had in the most complete, cohesive, and clear way. In this regard, I believe that God has proven himself to me.
He has answered numerous prayers, in a way that I can only judge to be miraculous. For instance, I had a mountain biking accident in 2003. I was completely alone in the wilderness and had had no cellphone signal (0 bars) all morning. After the accident I tried hiking about but after a half hour was nearing collapse. I prayed, "Jesus, please help me!" I looked down at my cellphone and saw the reception indicator go from 0 straight up to 5 (the highest level). After giving a 911 operator my location, it went back to 0 and my cellphone died. But, a half hour later, I was rescued. He has also proven Himself by speaking to me, through prayer and through His Word, and through the miracle of an intelligently designed creation.

I appreciate everyone's great participation, and the encouraging responses!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Faith Vs. Proof


I'm having a friendly debate (on Facebook) with an atheist friend, whom I admire and respect a lot, but whom I am convinced doesn't really "get" faith. His basic challenge, in a nutshell, is that the burden of proof lies on "religion" to "prove" the existence of God (using the scientific method).

My defense is twofold: 1) You can't use the scientific method to "prove" historical questions. You can really only "postulate" that an historic personage (like Julius Caesar) existed, based on the preponderance of documents produced by trustworthy people claiming to be eyewitnesses. And the preponderance of those eyewitnesses to the existence of God (i.e., the Bible) is significantly greater than it is for someone like Julius Caesar. (And yet, strangely enough, I've never heard anyone challenge the existence of Julius Caesar.)

2) God does "prove" Himself, daily, to millions, through a) the evidence of intelligent design in creation, requiring a creator; and b) the personal experience of people who trust in Him.

This led to a discussion of the value of researching the correlation between people who say they trust in God, and people who say God has proven Himself to them.

My hypothesis is that if you trust in God, then He will prove Himself to you. And that if you don't trust in God, He won't. (This is a very clear biblical claim which I believe makes a lot of sense if you understand the nature of free will and faith. At any rate, it's evidently how God has chosen to roll.)

I'm not sure I can ever "prove" this hypothesis to my friend's satisfaction, but nevertheless I would like to conduct a poll. Here it is:

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Please check back next week on this blog for the results!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

L. Ron Hubbard: The Myth and the Man


L. Ron Hubbard, science fiction writer
and founder of the Scientology cult.
Okay, I just spent a very entertaining hour doing something I really didn't plan on doing. First, I followed a banner ad on a website (out of curiosity) which led to a campaign website for the Church of Scientology. I surfed around a bit, and wound up watching the biographical (or perhaps pseudo-biographical) videos on the cult's founder, L. Ron Hubbard. The church describes him in glowing, God-like terms. It seems almost impossible for a single human being to have accomplished so much, with such aplomb, in a single human lifetime.

Check it out for yourself, if you dare:

Then I thought, "Wow, he seems way too amazing to be real. Perhaps I need to fact-check some of the statements they made. I wonder where I can do that?" And I instantly thought of Wikipedia. I know Wikipedia is not always perfect, but it frequently errs on the side of giving all the perspectives that are out there. So I went to Wikipedia and read their lengthy and very well-documented account of Hubbard's life.

I was astonished, as I think you will be, by all that the Church's website had omitted, or cast in a positive light, or twisted in a seeming desire to explain the same events away.

I'll let you form your own conclusion. But for me, based on what I read, Hubbard comes as close to the embodiment of a true pathological liar of anyone I have ever read about. This experience gives me a new respect, if you could call it that, for the demonic forces that are apparently so driven to deceive people and lead them astray from the truth of God's grace and mercy bestowed to us through Jesus Christ.

The fact that there are people out there who would create a false religion based on their own made-up ideas and fantasies, purely out of greed and lust, is sobering. Don't they know they are playing with people's souls? Talk about having to give an account.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What is God?


I heard a really interesting piece of trivia the other day. Did you know that the total weight of all the ants in the world equals the total weight of all the human beings in the world? And of course they outnumber us ... by a factor of a million to one. (Source.)

I always figured there were a heck of a lot more ants in the world than people ... but pondering the fact that there are at least 6 quadrillion (1 million x 6 billion) of these creatures on the planet, gives one cause for pause. When I first read that, sitting in my chair in my office at work, I found it hard not to visualize (with a shudder) a human-being-shaped object comprised of a mass of a million ants, legs and jaws interlocked, sitting in my chair in the exact shape of me. Then I thought of the approximately 1,000 workers who share the office in Federal Way with me. All those chairs. All those ants. Eeewwww!

Thank God most of those ants are (hopefully) outside, somewhere out in the woods, and not here in this building. Or at least not in my kitchen at home.

Something else I learned (here): Ants have the largest brains in the insect kingdom. This mass of one million ants has 25 times the total number of brain cells that you do. Something to think about.

So, what does all this have to do with God?

The other night I rented a documentary (made in 2007 ... yes, I'm somewhat behind in my reviewing schedule) called "Oh My God." The documentary maker went all around the world, seeking people who had an opinion on the question "What is God?" and giving them an open mike. The result was fairly predictable. There were lots of arrogant, uninformed, and truly crazy statements about God ... interspersed with lots of politically correct "God is in and between everything" kind of nonsense statements. It was like a colony of ants trying to answer the question "What is a human being?" with each ant giving its own opinion based on its own particularly slanted thinking or observations about the world. Only in this case, the result was even worse ... basically, just a lot of noise.

One interviewee said cynically, "The moment someone tries to tell you who God is, you should be very suspicious of that person." The implication was (and no doubt this is true in many cases) that people who think they can tell you all about God are only after money and power. They are like corporations, inherently evil. And of course the filmmaker drove this point home by including clips of some big-haired evangelists at their worst.

So, after an hour or two of this, I shut it off and started thinking, okay, what didn't they say?

And one thing they clearly didn't say was anything whatsoever that would have led one to consider the possibility that God might be a Person ... a Person who desires to reveal Himself to those He created.

For, if there is a God, doesn't that make sense? If (by definition) God created all there is for some purpose of His own, including us as the lone sentient intelligence (that we are aware of, at least) ... wouldn't it make sense that He would attempt to reveal Himself to us?

And, assuming that He was wholly other than us (different than, outside of what He has created), how exactly would He do that?

I believe that if you think along these lines, the message of the Bible begins to make much more sense. Think about the ants, for instance. Let's say you in your omnipotence created all these tiny little creatures for some overarching purpose that only you understood. The groundrules: You are by nature good, your love is effusive and perfect, and you therefore want the very best for what you created. You want them to fulfill that purpose, but because you created them like yourself, with free will to choose to do that or not, there is a real risk that they would choose to reject you, hence squandering their existence and sealing their misery. How would you communicate to them what you needed them to understand?

The Bible is unique among all the religious works of the world in that it is a large collection of books (66 in total), written by dozens of authors, over a period spanning thousands of years. It alone purports to be "the word of God," a message from this creator God to those whom He has created. If you study it carefully, for years, as I have, you cannot do anything but conclude that the fundamental message of those 66 books is marvelously unified and cohesive.

That central message is that in order to most effectively and accurate communicate to us ants what/who He is, God Himself became an ant and came to live among us. Jesus, the Bible says, "is the image of the invisible God." Christ says to His disciples, "If you've seen Me, you've seen the Father."

If the makers of "Oh My God" had interviewed any Christians in the making of their documentary, they probably would have received this very politically-incorrect answer to their question "What is God?":

"Look at Jesus. That's what God is."

But no, I guess that sort of comment doesn't pass the filmmaker's filter, for whatever reason. It clearly doesn't fit into their very obvious agenda that anything that smacks of "established religion" should be so thoroughly repudiated as evil. (Unless, of course, it's a religious system as sexy as Buddhism.)

So, let's say here I am, the creator of all those ants who are scurrying around and saying, "What is God?" and giving their opinions about what I am, and those opinions are by and large uninformed and absurd and reflecting their own agendas. They have ignored the messages I have sent in their own language saying, "This is what and Who I am." So then I've turned my own Son into an ant and sent him down to crawl amongst them. He is obviously no ordinary ant, living as he does in such a way to help the other ants understand as best they can what I am like. (Even now, thousands of years later, he is the most talked-about ant in ant history!)

I send him, knowing full well that in their fear and their ignorance and their sinfulness, those ants will ultimately tear my son to pieces.

And also knowing that this tragedy is the only way ... the ONLY way ... the truth will ever be known and any of them will ever believe that the only One who can tell us about God truly is God Himself. Turning to my son is the ONLY way any of those ants will ever achieve the destiny that I created them for.

Folks, THAT's love. I can't fathom it, because, frankly, I don't love (or even like) ants. (So maybe I should choose a different analogy? Aack, too late.)

I don't really understand why God loves us as He does. I don't understand why God loves ME as He does. But the Bible says it's undeniably true. God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son. You either believe John 3:16 ... or you don't. And if you don't believe that, you have a whole smorgasbord of ridiculous and uninformed notions about God from which to choose.

Pick your poison, but before you do, please consider the possibility that wisdom cries out for you to listen to God's explanation of Himself, before you give ear to the blather of self-important documentaries such as "Oh My God."