God’s Creativity Displayed in Monroe

I was at MCCC today doing some things and saw a bald eagle above, his white head and tail and black body clearly defined against a perfect blue sky. I, probably like you, have seen a lot of eagles in Monroe in the past several years. We’ve got eagles in Monroe! Is anyone else excited about this?

I was sitting on my deck this afternoon when a sparrow suddenly left the feeder and nearly flew into me and then our house. The reason: a large hawk landed in a tree next to the deck and the sparrow wacked out. I sat still – this was a holy moment for me. (“Holy,” in Greek, means “set apart.” This was a small, “set-apart” moment for me.)

Last night some of our church’s musicians were recording a cd and when we came out of the building we saw the orange moon on the horizon. Linda and I stared. Holy.

Psalm 8:3-4, in a translation called The Message, reads:

“I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
Why take a second look our way?”

When you’re a theist like I am and believe the universe was created, hence a Creator, nature reveals the glory and majesty of God. Such earthly things were God’s idea, fashioned in the mind of God.

This includes you and I. In this regard Psalm 139:13 says: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Verse 14 then says, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” My microbiologist and biochemist professor-friends go ga-ga when they study the human cell and the human genome. I’ve talked for hours and hours with scientists who are theists and love it when their eyes get glassy and their words get poetic as they try to express the wonder and the glory. The God who created the macro-skies “bothers” with our tiny micro-selves.
Here’s a picture I took last night of the moon with the tiny zoom lens on my Canon Powershot. Holy, holy, holy Lord, heaven and earth and Monroe County are filled with your glory.

The Behind-the-Scenes Glory of God in Monroe

This stag beetle was on my deck this morning. I called Linda to show it to her while getting my camera. Isn’t it cool? Why would I want to just sit and stare at this thing and hope it hangs around and poses for some photos when I could be watching “Loonatics Unleashed” on TV right now? Because I’ve never lost the autochthonic childlike wonder that we all had – that means you, too – when we were little. For example, on our recent vacation there was a large green stink bug that greeted me and Linda outside our room. I took a lot of pictures of that thing, none of which turned out very well. And I just stared at it for a while. If you can get past the name it’s an amazing bug. The best adult book I’ve ever read about such things is Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Written in 1974, it won a Pulitzer Prize. It’s about the glory of God in the microcosmic world she discovered in a small creek by her home. There’s not a more brilliant writer in the world than Annie Dillard, and the fireworks of her wordsmanship are on full display here.  

Watch how Dillard describes a cedar tree by Tinker Creek as the “tree with lights.” She writes: “One day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw a backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.”  Nooo…, that stuff is not really there in a tree by a creek, is it? The answer is: yes. You saw it when you were small. You didn’t have words to describe it. Annie Dillard has the words you and I didn’t have, so when I read her book there was a big “Yes!” happening in my soul. God displays his being in his handiwork, his creation, both on the macro- and micro-level. The good news for we Monroe County flatlanders is that the microcosmic display of God’s creativity is right here if only we would stop and smell the stag beetles. In order to begin to see this in all its blazing glory there must be a deconstruction of the American technophiliac passive screen-watcher in you and a re-learning to actually “see” again, like a little kid who’s not yet lost the wonder.  

I have a friend at Michigan State University who is a professor of entomology, which is the study of bugs. I consider him very lucky because he never really had to grow up, the little boy who loved bugs getting to stay that way. One day I invited him to speak at my church to a group of our MSU students. He talked about his insect research and how it drove him inexorably to think of how great God must be.  

The adult stag beetle eats next to nothing, flies around at night, and hides during the day, much like some teens I know. My specimen was just exiting when I caught his disappearing act this morning. My window of opportunity was there, so I sat in the chair next to the one he was sitting in, made some small talk, took a few closeups, and then watched him take a 30-minute slow-walk carrying his body armor on a straight vertical descent down the chair’s back and slip through a slat on the wooden deck floor.

 

  

  

Descending Into Greatness in Monroe

 

Every Tuesday for the past 25 years I’ve taken the afternoon to go to a quiet place to pray for anywhere from 3 – 6 hours. I can remember the day I began this. I was working as a campus minister at Michigan State University. My schedule was loaded with meetings with students and professors and preparing talks and teachings and traveling doing fund-raising and then our first son was born and there was getting up in the middle of the night and lack of sleep and not making very much money and many times just barely getting by and spending time with just Linda and so on ad infinitum ad nauseum. My life looked like the picture I took of this truck driving west on North Custer in front of my house a few evenings ago.

One day I thought, “This is crazy!” Actually, I felt God tell me, “This is crazy! So, stop it!” I listened, and took action. For me the busiest day of my week was Tuesday, and I believed that was the day I was to slow down, get alone, and get heart-still. I told this to my campus ministry Board of Directors, some of whom were MSU professors and had very busy lives themselves teaching and researching and writing grants and just trying to live out this life while praying for the Spartan football team. My request was that I be allowed to take 3-6 hours a week out of work time to get alone with God, pray, listen, and allow the presence of God to recharge my inner batteries. They told me I could do it. That was a watershed moment in my life. It became and remains the deep well of my spiritual life.

But the beginning wasn’t easy. The first Tuesday afternoon I went to an area near East Lansing called Rose Lake Wildlife Refuge Area. There was an open field with an old rusty tractor sitting in it. I got up on the seat and stayed there for about four hours. Most Americans could never do this, and most would wonder “Why?” I was no exception. I wrote in my journal the words, “Why am I now just sitting here ‘doing nothing’ when I could be xeroxing things?”

America is a “fast food nation.” More than that, it’s just “fast.” And shallow. There’s something called “wisdom” that can never be Mc-learned. There’s a ton of activity on the internet, but very little actual knowledge. Being able to cut and paste data and chat about it says nothing about real learning. “Learning” is a slow cooker, not a microwave. “Knowledge” is a word which in ancient Hebrew (yadah) means “intimate relationship.” By the way, relationships cannot be “Mc-done” either; the best of them simmer for years in a relational crockpot.

Here’s what I think: if you are still reading this you know that a whole lot of the busyness you are doing is not only not accomplishing much of any lasting value but is also burning out your soul, your inner fire. Anything that concerns relationship (you and God, husband and wife, parent-child, friend-friend) cannot be multitasked. So may I now encourage you: you must make choices to get off the “ladder of success” and instead “descend into greatness,” else you will lose touch with your own soul and as a result lose the most important things in your life.

Linda would tell you, if you asked, that my extended times of praying and listening and going alone are not merely good for me, but good for our marriage and family. There’s a whole lot of de-burdening and perspective-gaining that happens in me when I do this, and I find myself more joyful, less anxious, and thankful for Linda, my sons, friends, my church (i.e., thankful for all life’s really important things in such a way that I actually attend to them).

And God speaks to me during this time. Twenty-five years after the beginning on the tractor I now have nearly 3000 pages of journal entries, which record the voice of God speaking to me. I teach this in various places around the U.S. and world, especially to pastors and Christian leaders. Every year for the past 12 years I’ve gone in January to spend a week with as many as 25 pastors and leaders from around the world, teaching them how to get alone, listen to God, pray, and, as Henri Nouwen says, “tend the fire within.” These 1-week seminars are held in Valley Forge National Park at a beautiful conference center. Here’s a picture of me in Valley Forge walking very slowly…, heading out to pray…, for a few hours…

When Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment in Monroe

Some years ago when Linda and I were eating at Cracker Barrel she went into the gift shop and bought me something. It’s a plaque with a dog bearing a striking resemblance to our dog So-Fee. Underneath the dog are the words, “Lord, make me the person my dog thinks I am.” I think this is cool, and it now hangs in our kitchen with my full approval. For me this little plaque represents four essential truths about God and Jesus. 

#1 – “Love.” God loves me. If you knew me and what’s in my heart at times, you would be wonder “Why?” Because: the core Christian truth is that God is love. That is, God, in his essence, IS love. “Love” is not some contingent attribute of God. Essentially, the being of God is love. God cannot not-love. God cannot not-love me. Or you. In fact, God likes me, and God likes you. “For God so LOVED the world…” I know many Jesus-followers, and I am one of them who, when we think that God loves us with all our inner and outer struggles and sin, we stand astounded.

#2 – “Grace.” C.S. Lewis was once asked about what the distinctive difference between Christianity and the other major world religions was. Lewis responded: “That’s easy, it’s grace.” In the Bible the word “grace” is the Greek word charis. Literally, the word means “gift.” “Grace” is getting what we do not deserve. The grace of God gets experienced when we submit our lives to him, he accepts us like a prodigal son or daughter, and then throws a huge banquet on our behalf.

#3 – “Mercy.” The Hebrew word literally means “to stoop or bend down to another person’s level.” To be merciful is to descend to the level of hurting or suffering of another person and help them. If “grace” is getting what we do not deserve, “mercy” is not getting what we deserve. I would not now want to share with you all that I know of my own self that is deserving, not of love, but of condemnation. One of my personal favorites in the Bible is when Paul writes that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

#4 – “Forgiveness.” In a few weeks Linda and I will celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary. I am eternally grateful to God for giving Linda to me. I know I do not deserve her, and she feels the same about me. Through these 34 years we have had many arguments and disagreements. And, at times, in our anger towards each other we have said things we should not have said, or acted in ways we should not have acted. How, then, have we made it this far? The key is: confession and forgiveness. We have always said these words to each other when we realize we have been hurtful: “Linda, I was wrong about that, will you forgive me?” And she says, “Yes, I forgive you.” And vice versa. If “grace” is getting what we do not deserve, and “mercy” is not getting what we deserve, “forgiveness” is cancelling the debt owed to us by the other. Forgiveness is the practical acting-out of grace. And when you experience it…  there’s life and freedom.

“Judgment?” Yes, there will be a day of judgment. But on that day you won’t be the Judge. Nor will I.  The great Christian truth about judgment is this: the mercy of God triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-14 says: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” We see this unfolding in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as Jesus continually engages the religious Pharisees and the “teachers of the law.” They are the off-the-chart-law-enforcers, experts in judging other people (which does not take a whole lot of ability). They think righteousness, or real relationship with God, is purchased by the keeping of many rules and regulations. Like, “we don’t work on the Sabbath,” said in shock as they see the disciples of Jesus picking grain on the Sabbath. Jesus calls these “religious” people “white-washed tombs, who look good on the outside but are filled with dead men’s bones.” Jesus the Revolutionary has come to overthrow judgmentalism and replace it with love and grace and mercy and forgiveness, all of which got displayed on the Cross.

If you want to understand real Christianity, this is very important: The essence of following Jesus is not external rule-keeping, but inner heart-transformation. Transformation… into what? Into Christlikeness. Which is… what? Love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, peace, justice…   just read Matthew chapters 5-7 to get more of the whole story.

How important is this? For starters, one sign that the Real Jesus is in the house is when mercy is winning big-time over judgment. In a world where the media and churches and families and husbands and wives and employers and employees are constantly judging one another, this is radical, is it not? This has been and continues to be a hard lesson for me to learn. But not only is it real Christianity, it’s the road to personal and corporate freedom. Our heart-cry should be “Lord, make me the person that You think I am!” You and I are meant to be far better than we actually are. We have been created in the very image of God, and that image is about love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

(For two very good books about “grace” see: 1) Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace; and 2) Lewis Smedes, Shame and Grace.)

Looking for a Real Person in Monroe County

At the Ann Arbor Art Fair on Friday night Linda and I saw an exhibit of astonishingly lifelike human figures. In these pictures the people are not real, only artistic creations, to include the “policeman” behind the woman. A sizable crowd of “real” people stood staring at the fake “people.”

Art provokes the question “What is real and what is not real?” I have for many years been interested in this question. As a Christian (i.e., as someone who accepts the Judeo-Christian story about this life and world as essentially representative of the way things really are) here’s my take on this.

There’s not a truly real person in all of Monroe County. Not really. Not you, not me. On the Christian worldview I believe this is true. Why?

Sometimes I hear a person say, upon doing something wrong, “I’m only human.” If only that were true. True humanity, created by God and in the image of God, was lost upon the Fall of Man. The upshot of this is that you and I are not now what we were meant to be.

  1. The idea that humanity was “created” to be a certain way makes sense, of course, only if there is a God who is “Creator.” So note this:
    1. If God created humanity, then persons-as-created reflect their Creator.
    2. God did create humanity.
    3. Therefore, persons reflect their Creator. (Biblically, persons are created in the image of God.)

  2. Authentic personhood is that which gets restored in terms of the image of God in them.
  3. From a Christian standpoint, this is what it means to be really, truly human. It’s a restoration to or renovation of the marred image of God in us.

If you are interested, University of Southern California (USC) professor of philosophy Dallas Willard has a brilliant book about this called Renovation of the Heart. You and I are not all we were meant to be. But Jesus has come to renovate our hearts, the upshot of which includes greater humanity and greater authenticity. From the Christian standpoint it is possible to be in a process of heart-renovation. We are not truly human as Jesus was, but we can be on the way to real humanity.

The needed renovation is nothing less than transformation into greater and greater Christlikeness. Speaking of Jesus in Colossians 1 the apostle Paul writes, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…” Then he adds that there’s something in this for us, too: “…God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

A final point, FYI: On atheism persons have no “essence.” (This is called “Existentialism,” as opposed to “Essentialism.”) Philosophically, atheistic existentialism has argued this point very well. If I were an atheist, I’d agree here. If there is no God, then of course persons have no “essence” in the sense of having a “soul” or even a “mind.” All a “person” is, fundamentally (if we have no Creator), is matter and its various collocations. The deep issues in this discussion are really about worldviews. If the atheistic worldview were true, then there’s no real difference between us and the “people” in these pictures from the Art Fair.

 

 

 

 

 

More Bubble Tea & the Playfulness of God

 

Linda drank her first bubble tea last night. We went to the Ann Arbor Art Fair, and a Chinese restaurant was selling it. I bought one for her, and she gave me some sips. I am an expert on bubble tea, since in June I went to Chinatown in New York City and my Chinese hosts treated me to three bubble teas. Now I have tasted four bubble teas in my life. On the sweetness scale, last night’s was in third place for me.
 

Whoever invented bubble tea was, I feel certain, someone who was very playful and creative. An adult, I am sure, who had a childlike heart. Could anyone keep a straight face and say “I invented bubble tea?”
 

Now I am going to get very serious. Western Enlightenment culture Cartesianizes the creativity and playfulness out of kids. If, essentially and metaphysically, persons are really only “minds” who temporarily inhabit their physical bodies and use them like a driver operates a car, then getting emotional and getting physical is some ontologically contingent thing and not really part of life. So, kids get shaped into little “adults” who get big-time serious about this life, which means: repress all emotion and physical expression. For example, this past week I was in the mall here in Monroe watching a little kid laughing his head off. His laughing reminded me of my sons when they were little. And, his laugh was real loud. “Everybody” could hear him, and I actually saw him belly-laughing from the bottom of his jello-y gut. Then – horror! – his mother scuttled up to him, grabbed his arm, got low into his face and barked “You stop that laughing right now!” Why? 
 

The church I grew up in was so Scandinavianly serious that if a kid would have smiled while taking communion he’d be in big trouble. Don’t laugh, smile, giggle, wiggle, enjoy, delight, frolic, play, run, dance, move, shout, twist, boogie, shuck or jive in church. All such behaviors and permutations of such behaviors are inappropriate.
 

Imagine my shock, growing up in an atmosphere like this, when I began to read the actual Bible.
 

  • Psalm 63:3 (and a lot of other verses) says, “I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” Lift my hands… in church? I thought only religious wackos did that. The only reason I ever lifted a hand (and just one hand) in church was to suppress a yawn.
  • Psalm 95:1 says, “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.” If you know the worship song “Shout to the Lord,” think how weird it looks and how self-contradictory it is to have a whole congregation singing this song but never, ever, hearing anything that comes close to an actual shout? 
  • In Psalm 150 all instruments are used to praise the Lord, even “clashing cymbals.” Clashing cymbals are loud. So is shouting.
  • “Sing to the Lord a new song” (Psalm 149:1) cannot mean “Sing to the Lord only the songs we sang a hundred years ago when they were new songs.”
  • Paul writes, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Be joyful always.” This word “joy” is all over the Bible. My wife Linda is a Jew, and I can tell you that Jews know what “joy” means, and remember that Jesus was a Jew. Now listen to this: “joy” is not some intellectual, rational thing, but is an emotion that gets expressed physically and viscerally. If actual Christians really have this thing called “joy” (one of the “fruits of the spirit”), shouldn’t the tops of our church buildings be flying off every Sunday morning because the joy cannot be contained?
  • One more thing. And this is a killer for the “serious, respectable Christian.” It’s 2 Samuel 6:14-15: “David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.” But then Michal, Saul’s daughter, “despised” David for doing this and called him “vulgar.” Then David tells her, “I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” Please listen to this. David danced. And God called David “a man after his own heart.”

 

I won’t soon be going to Elder-Beerman to check out the linen ephods, even if they are 60% off the already-reduced sale price. But in Mark 10:13-15 people were bringing little children to Jesus. Jesus’ own disciples rebuked the people for doing this. Then Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
 

As Linda and I slowly strolled the streets of Ann Arbor last night in the clean evening air I thought, I know what the Ann Arbor Art Fair really is. It’s just a big bunch of adult creative kids who still get to play and are inviting others to join them. Good for them. It sounds like the heart of God to me.

The Risks of Biking in Monroe and the Real Heart of Jesus

 

Not long ago I was riding my bike on the N. Custer path along the river while talking to someone on my cell phone. I came up on someone from my church, slowed down, my right hand holding the phone, my other hand on the left handle of my bike. My bike came to a full stop. I then fell over and landed flat on my left side, the bike on top of me, still clutching my cell phone. I looked up at my friend from church and said, “Hi.”

I feel certain this is not a safe thing to do, so I now recommend it to no one. But also, I wish now to recommend “safety” to no one, at least if this means that the purpose of your life is, at all costs, to take no risks and avoid danger. This is why I like the Real Jesus. For me, following Jesus is mostly about life, joy, purpose, meaning, risk, adventure, and danger. If your idea of Christianity is “boredom,” take note: that’s not actual Christianity. Boredom has nothing to do with Jesus, actually. Why?

Because Jesus is all about spreading the message of his kingdom, aka the “kingdom of God.” That’s why he was born. That’s what Jesus taught about and demonstrated by healing people and delivering them from demonic oppression. And that’s why Jesus went to the cross. Years ago I enlisted with Jesus to do these things. It’s taken me all over the world, and it’s given me my home base in Monroe.

In Mark 6:30 we read this: The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. And what, precisely, did they do and teach? They taught about Jesus and his kingdom, and they demonstrated that Jesus is King by healing people and setting them free from demonic oppression. Sounds boring, right? I don’t think so.

What’s very important to know when it comes to Jesus is this: God loves people and wants to show us the things of his beautiful kingdom, about life, real life, full life, as it was always meant to be and one day will be. The heart of God is a heart of love. So, for me, when I have the invitation to talk to someone about Jesus, these are the kind of things I share with them. And I tell them what God has done for me. For me, it’s an invitation to enter into the love and joy of God.

It’s also risky and dangerous. Jesus got killed for it. For me, it’s like this. (I am taking what follows from Erwin McManus’s challenging book about Jesus The Barbarian Way.) In the movie “Braveheart” Mel Gibson plays William Wallace who rallies his Scottish clansmen to fight for liberation from England. Robert the Bruce was the Scottish noble who betrayed Wallace – Bruce eventually did lead Scotland to freedom, freedom that Wallace fought for. Robert the Bruce had a strange request shortly before his death. He wanted his heart removed upon death and taken on a crusade by a worthy knight. James Douglas, one of his closest friends, stepped up to the task. The heart was embalmed and placed in a small container that Douglas wore around his neck. In every battle that Douglas fought he literally carried the heart of his king with him – pressed against his chest.

In the spring of 1330 Douglas sailed to Spain in a campaign against the Moors. In one battle Douglas found himself surrounded and facing imminent death. In that moment Douglas reached for the heart of Robert the Bruce and flung it into the enemy’s midst and cried out “Fight for the heart of your king!”

To belong to God is to belong to His heart. If you identify yourself as a follower of Jesus, if you have responded to the call of Jesus to leave everything and follow him, then there is a voice within you crying out “Fight for the heart of your king!” To me this is important, because a lot of “Christianity” has moved from being a tribe of renegades and adventurers to a religion of conformists. Following Jesus means a lot more than having assigned seating in a pew. It means that you must be ready to participate in an insurrection to overthrow evil. Put simply, the call of Jesus is a revolutionary call to fight for the heart of humanity.

I don’t know how this sounds to you.  Theologically and biblically it seems correct to me. And I was thinking about these things this morning as I was riding north from our church building on Telegraph Road, holding the left handle with my left hand, and holding my digital camera in my right hand. Here’s a shot of me about to turn north onto Telegraph.

The Glory of God in Monroe (and beyond…)

 

 

 

Last week on vacation in Oscoda with Linda provided an opportunity for me to take photos of various God-things, like these flowers. My love of God’s creation began as a child, and has not been lost over the years. It has gotten fueled in many ways, to include many hours of talk with friends of mine who are university professors and researchers. 

When I worked at Michigan State University as a pastor to college students and professors my church had a lot of professional scientists in it. We had biologists and microbiologists and physicists and horticulturalists and soil chemists and soil physicists and entomologists and biochemists and more. I loved the dialogue with these men and women. A common subject was our shared belief in God and in Jesus and in the extravagance of God’s creation.

Once I was on a trip with some MSU students and professors, and we stopped at Warren Dunes State Park for a break to watch the sunset. A professor friend of mine, Tal, an epidemiologist who was doing research on the ebola virus, was stunned at the beauty of it all. I remember him saying, “How could anyone believe there’s no God behind all of this!”

Tal’s heart-insight is the overwhelmingly common experience of humanity through the ages. This gets reflected in a biblical passage like Psalm 19:1-3:

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
       the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
       night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language
       where their voice is not heard.”

Years ago I heard Richard Foster say that if you need some personal renewal in your life, step outside when it’s dark and look at the stars. When I do this I feel the vastness of the being of God overwhelming whatever small burdens and thoughts I have. One doesn’t have to be in Oscoda or at Warren Dunes to do this. You don’t have to “go north” or even to the other side of the world to experience the language of God as it comes through both the macro- and the micro-cosmos. For that, Monroe will do just fine.

A Heideggarian Revelation In a Hot Tub

 

Last night, after a wonderful day together, Linda and I sat in the hot tub on the deck of our B&B that overlooks Lake Huron. Above us was a perfectly dark, clear sky studded with stars.

For me, this was a numinous moment. Being with the love of my life and an overwhelming sense of the presence of God.

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger asked, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” When I first heard this years ago in an undergraduate philosophy class it became one of life’s guiding questions for me. The atheist Richard Dawkins calls it “Einsteinian wonder.” I believe it is the heavens reflecting the glory of God.

Some ask, “Why doesn’t God give us a sign that he exists?” He has. The creation announces the existence of God. But what if you are a scientist – doesn’t that change things? It all depends on your prethematic noetic paradigm. Scientists who are theists are blown away by the creation. (By the way, for an atheist, there’s no “creation,” since “creation” implies a “Creator.”) It was precisely their belief in a Creator that caused and still causes many scientists to study the creation because such study reveals, as biologist Francis Collins says, “the fingerprint of God.” (Note: the “data” of science gets interpreted by a philosophical framework that is itself essentially non-scientific; i.e., theism or atheism.)

Paul, in Romans 1:20, writes: “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…” The reason there is “something” rather than “nothing” is that God caused it to be.

Heidegger’s question is so basic and yet so profound in its philosophical implications. There could be “nothing.” Instead, “something” (i.e. the universe) does exist. Putting logic aside for the moment there is something viscerally compelling about that. Hence God.

Recognizing the Real Jesus in Monroe

 

Linda and I are taking a few days of vacation together at a B&B near Oscoda, located right on the shores of Lake Huron. Yesterday we sat on the beach for several hours, talking together and reading.

Linda is being especially struck by the verses about Jesus in Colossians 1:15-20, so much so that she is memorizing them. They say:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Last Sunday morning I gave message #93 in my church in my “Real Jesus” series. I spoke out of Matthew 14:35-36:

“When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him  and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.”

They “recognized” Jesus. What that means, at this point in the Jesus story, is that: 1) He had been in that area before healing people, and the people recognized Him when He returned; and 2) the people believed that Jesus wanted to help them by, in this case, physically healing them. Jesus views people with compassion, as “sheep without a shepherd.” And, he likes to heal people. The people intuited that these things were true of Him. But the people, though “recognizing” Jesus, do not really know who He is.

Let me explain. A few years ago I met a man who has become a bit of a friend to me. We met at a conference and began to talk, and then to e-mail each other. I had not seen him in two years when we got reacquainted at the same conference a few weeks ago. I remembered some things about him and asked, “You’re an engineer, aren’t you? What kind of engineering do you do?” He said, “I like to invent things.” And, he works for Qualcomm.

I thought I’d look up Qualcomm on the internet. There I discovered that this friend of mine, whom I recognized, was in fact the co-founder of Qualcomm and a legendary inventor, holding over 50 U.S. patents. My friend invented CDMA digital cell phone technology. And, a few years ago he received a tech award that has also been given to Steve Wozniak (Apple), Ross Perot (EDS), Ray Tomlinson  (Inventor of e-mail – 1971), and Tim Berners-Lee  (Inventor of the World Wide Web – [no, it’s not Al Gore]). My friend “likes to invent things?” What an understatement. I did not really know who I was sitting with! (What I really appreciate is that he is a humble man who does not flaunt his personal achievements but thanks God and loves Jesus.)  

In the four Gospels we see a gradual unfolding of the identity of Jesus. This causes tensions to rise, troubles to escalate, fascination to grow, and people begin to ask “Who is this man?” In the letters of Paul we have an ever-increasing illumination of just “who this man” really is. That’s the Colossians passage, for example. And in the book of Revelation this just explodes when John writes, in Revelation 1:12-18:
 

“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!”

That’s the Jesus who years ago pulled me out of a life of drugs. That’s the Jesus Linda is blown away by. That’s the Jesus I tell people about in my church, and the Jesus who regularly shows up in our midst to display His greatness. Even to heal.