Do You Pray?

In 1936 a sixth grade girl, Phyllis, wrote to Albert Einstein asking, “Do scientists pray?” He expressed his doubts about prayer influencing the course of events but admitted, “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man.” Another time he said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” Einstein was referring to the basis of science, that the universe is predictable and discoverable. His admission was that the universe could not have made itself so.

Science keeps offering new and convincing evidence that God exists. Einstein’s “comprehensible universe” and “manifest spirit” hint at the inevitable reason why. “Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20). Creation points to its Creator, which inspires you to pray to Him who made you. Jesus said we can address Him this way: “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Of all the ways to think of God, Jesus wants you to relate to Him as a holy, yet approachable Father.

Do you pray even when you feel less than holy? Must you become a little more saintly before praying? The startling truth is that we can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). By faith you can receive the forgiveness that makes you worthy of approaching a holy God. Jesus said to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Be a forgiver even as you pray to the Forgiver.

Do you pray about the messed up world we live in? Dishonest politicians, gun violence, and terrorism are the drumbeat of bad news. Health, finances, and relationships are the stressors in your personal life. Jesus had something for these, too. When you pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” you invite God’s rule in the world and trust His plans for your life.

Do you pray when you realize you are not in control? To pray “give us this day our daily bread” and “deliver us from evil” is to acknowledge that God provides and protects in ways you cannot.

Jesus’ model prayer (Matt. 6) is an invitation. Meditate on it and let it animate your prayer life. My prayer for you is that “the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thes. 1:12).

Faithful Living

The politicians and pundits wait breathlessly for a document from the White House. It finally drops. Opposing camps see what they expected and implement their messaging strategy (Impeach! Witch hunt!). If you live by politics, news cycles, and social media, you swing from outrage to incredulity, from vindication to condescension. It is exhausting and frustrating.

How do we live in these times? The answer has always been the same. By faith. Os Guinness offers a sweeping view of living by faith. “Seizing the day, making the most of life, and understanding the meaning of life are inseparable. All three require that we come to know the Author of time and the meaning of time and come to know the part He calls us to play in his grand story, which makes the deepest overall sense of time and history. We are then invited to live lives that align our individual hopes and destinies with the very purpose and destiny of the universe itself.”

A Hebrew prophet wrote simply, “The righteous will live by faith” (Hab. 2:4). His point was, just because the nation has turned from God and will suffer for it, you can still live by faith. Early Christian writers quoted Habakkuk’s words in making various related points. In Rom. 1:17, any person can become righteous by faith in Christ, regardless of race or religious background. In Gal. 3:11, neither religious community nor rule-keeping make you righteous. Instead, faith makes you yearn to live rightly, and participate in community. In Heb. 10:38, faith is how the soul endures the distractions and disruptions of life.

God’s faithfulness to you inspires yours to Him. In 1923, Thomas Chisolm set this idea in verse. “Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me! Summer and winter and springtime and harvest; sun, moon, and stars in the courses above join with all nature in manifold witness to Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.”

Living by faith means you are faithful to God and trust what He has revealed about you. He created the world and placed you in it. He has given you value and a purpose for existing. By grace through faith he has given you a righteous identity in Christ. Jesus went to prepare a place for you in eternity and will come again when the time is right. He demonstrated that suffering and strife do not have the last word.

Politicians and nations may come and go, but God’s truth withstands the tests of time. Whatever would distract and disrupt your life, faith clarifies your reality and summons your strength to endure. Politics, current events, or social media could never offer the abiding peace and hope that accompany living by faith.

Trusted Authorship

Mark Twain published a book in 2017.  With a little help from Professor John Bird and creative collaborators Philip and Erin Stead, Samuel Clemens (his real name) scored a bestseller 107 years after his passing!

Bird discovered Clemens’ handwritten notes while researching old files.  Clemens had written 16 pages of story fragments for a fairy tale intended for his daughters.  The Steads stepped in to complete and illustrate the story, published as The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, a title completely worthy of Clemens’ wit.

So, Clemens wrote a few personal notes, and the Steads applied their literary and artistic acumen to produce an interesting story.  A skeptical view of the Bible is like that.  Maybe a notable person wrote a few words a long time ago, but many others added to it.  So, it’s an interesting, if not implausible story.  I’ve heard other skeptical thoughts: Since people wrote the Bible, their thoughts can’t be more true than ours, and, it’s been translated so many times who knows what the real story is?

Why does it matter?  Because if what the Bible says is true, it is life changing, with eternity in the balance.  When you begin to find it trustworthy, you can begin to hear what it says about God and you. So let me offer a small serving of food for thought.

The oldest manuscript of the ancient writings of Roman historian Tacitus date 700 years after the original.  The oldest copy of Homer’s Iliad dates to 400 years after the original.  James Madison wrote the U.S. Constitution 230 years ago.  Yet the authorship and content of these documents are hardly questioned.  The Bodmer Papyri contains writings about Jesus that date to within 130 years of the original.  Yet the authenticity of John’s Gospel is suspect?

So what if we have what the Bible writers produced, if it’s still fiction?  Paul anticipated that objection and pointed out that many eye witnesses were still alive to authenticate his writing.  “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now” (1 Cor. 15: 3-6).

The Bible writers were inspired, not by hope of personal gain or notoriety, but by altruism and eternal truth.  John wrote, “These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

The Bible is an anthology of forty writers spanning 1500 years, giving you a faithful account of history and God’s promises to you.  You can trust it.

Follow the Evidence

A dairy cow has a strong maternal instinct.  She objects to the standard practice of removing her days-old calf and challenges any barrier to it.  That natural instinct is the basis of a curious historical event.

The Philistines captured the Israelites’ holy symbol, the ark (think Indiana Jones, not Noah).  They began suffering plagues and suspected the ark’s presence.  To test this theory, they hitched milk cows to a cart and loaded the ark.  They took the calves away, and waited to see what would happen.  Overruling their natural instinct, “the cows took the straight way in the direction of (Israel). They went along the highway, lowing as they went” (1 Sam. 6:12).  The natural gave evidence to the supernatural.

For a modern example of the same, Watson and Crick discovered the 3D double helix structure of DNA in 1953.  DNA stores coded information which can be transmitted to make new cells. It also contains the instructions to make the de-coding machinery of RNA.  The DNA code is made up of four nucleotide bases, abbreviated as letters.  The human genetic code requires three billion letters.

How did that happen?  How did all that information become packed into tiny cells?  Such questions became disruptive to English philosopher Antony Flew.  For most of his life, he taught and wrote as an advocate of his atheist beliefs.  To his credit, he also believed in following the evidence.  At age 81, he did just that, and it was in part due to scientific discoveries about DNA.

He said, “DNA has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements to work together. It’s the enormous complexity of the number of elements and the enormous subtlety of the ways they work together. The meeting of these two parts at the right time by chance is simply minute. It is all a matter of the enormous complexity by which the results were achieved, which looked to me like the work of intelligence.”

In 2007, Flew published a book, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, describing how the natural gives unmistakable evidence of the supernatural.  I wish I could say he followed the historical evidence of Jesus and His Resurrection.  But the prior point remains, if God designed the universe you will see evidence of that.  If you are intellectually honest, you follow the evidence to Him.

“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17).

Make A Way

I won’t describe the published details of what happened because it’s too painful to read. But I’ll offer enough for you to understand.

Dr. Craig Phelps, his wife Susan, and their four children left their home in Oklahoma, excited to begin their trip to a ski resort in Colorado. That evening, somewhere in the wilderness desert of the Texas panhandle, a tractor trailer hit their van. As he triaged his family in the darkness, Dr. Phelps discovered that his son Jeremy had not survived the crash. They sat beside the roadway in the darkness for 45 minutes waiting for help to come.

During his flight to Oklahoma to attend the funeral, Susan’s brother Don Moen read, “I will do something new, now it will spring forth. Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert” (Isa. 43:19). Those words inspired him to write a song for his devastated family. “God will make a way where there seems to be no way. He works in ways we cannot see. He will make a way for me.” One of the verses says, “By a roadway in the wilderness, He’ll lead me and rivers in the desert will I see. Heaven and earth will fade but His Word will still remain, and He will do something new today.”

In 2018, Moen published the book, God Will Make a Way – Discovering His Hope in Your Story, to offer healing. He writes that the song “was born out of a tragedy that started me on the path to understanding that when storms threaten our lives, we are about to see the power of God move in miraculous ways. Here’s the catch though. We must make the intentional decision to look for Him there.”

In the midst of pain, clichés on church marquees and trite but well-intentioned quips from friends can seem to mock your pain. In the deepest night of your soul, you realize that you cannot continue without help from somewhere. Into that darkness shines this ray of light. “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me…for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

In moments of weakness and pain, you could turn to self-medication, against God, and into a shell of your former self. That turns one tragedy into another, but you don’t have to go that way. In the depths of your despair, you will find that God is there. The One who gave His Son for you to believe and receive eternal life has made a way for today.

Not Shaken

What shakes your world? What would cause you to put the phone down and say, “My life will never be the same again”? Current events force the question.

Rosie Granados was chatting on the phone with her twin sister Mary, who was near the end of her mail route. Suddenly, Mary screamed and went silent. Rosie later learned that her sister was one of the shooting victims in Midland, Texas. The deranged shooter killed Mary for her USPS van.

The Angels-Rangers baseball game was without music and the usual promotions. Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs had unexpectedly died in his hotel room in the Dallas area just before the start of the series. His family said, “We are heartbroken to learn that the passing of our beloved Tyler was the result of a combination of dangerous drugs and alcohol.” His wife Carli is now a young widow.

At the time of writing, Hurricane Dorian is a Category 5 storm battering the Bahamas. As it creeps westward, it intensifies its destruction of the islands in its path. It is too soon to tell what the damage is, and forecasters cannot predict where or even if the U.S. will sustain a direct hit.

Crime, drugs, and natural disasters are only the start of a list of things that can shake you. What about divorce or broken relationships? Loss of job or financial struggles? Depression, cancer, or other health issues? Death of a loved one? Pervasive loneliness or lack of direction?

To that personal list, we can add national issues. Since 1980, the U.S. federal debt per person has grown from $10,000 to $65,000. Religious liberty is American’s first freedom, but it’s now politically correct to subordinate it to the rabid hedonism of our day. National security threats always lurk nearby.

Yet there is hope. The Lord is near! “I have set the Lord continually before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad” (Psa. 16:8-9). Though your world convulses with rage, fire, disease, calamity, and death, these need not shake you.

The anger of God shakes the earth (Psa. 18:7). But that only makes you yearn for a different place, a city of purity and love, one with firm foundations. “They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16). That city and its residents have a firm foundation. “Since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:27-28).

So whether here and now, or there and then, this truth remains: “He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psa. 62:2).

A Lasting Home

One of the last paintings Rembrandt completed (1669) was “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” This impactful art piece, about eight feet tall and wide, is in the collection at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The subject of the painting is the final in a series of three stories as told by Jesus (Luke 15). The sheep, coin, and son share the theme of something lost, yet found.  The prodigal son parable is the longest of the three.  At first it’s about a wandering son, but it quickly becomes more about a loving father.  Perhaps that’s why Rembrandt has only the father’s face in full view.

Rembrandt’s masterpiece had a particular impact on Henri Nouwen (d. 1996). Nouwen was a Dutch academic in psychology and theology.  After being a professor at Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame, he set that career aside.  For the final ten years of his life, he served L’Arche Communities, an inclusive home for the disabled in Ontario.

Nouwen struggled with loneliness, and reflected deeply on Jesus’ parable and Rembrandt’s painting. He visited The Hermitage Museum to see the painting in person.  He was so moved that he authored a book about it, The Return of the Prodigal Son – A Story of Homecoming.  Nouwen writes, “So there I was; facing the painting that had been on my mind and in my heart for nearly three years.  I was stunned by its majestic beauty.  Its size, larger than life; its shadowy recess and bright foreground, but most of all the light-enveloped embrace of father and son surrounded by four mysterious bystanders…It has brought me into touch with something within me that lies far beyond the ups and downs of life, something that represents the ongoing yearning of the human spirit, the yearning for a final return, an unambiguous sense of safety, a lasting home.”

That need for unambiguous safety and a lasting home touches something deep in your soul, and Jesus knew that. Two times Jesus has the father saying that the son was dead and came to life again, was lost but now is found.  Is there anything more threatening than your own mortality?  Can you be more lost than when you have no home?  In the story, the prodigal knows where the father is and returns to him seeking safety, home, and life.  The father waits and watches.  When he sees the son in the distance, he is overwhelmed with compassion and mercy, running to embrace his son.

This is really about you and God. Once you have received the mercy of the Father, mercy becomes your calling.  “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” Jesus said (Luke 6:36).  When you do that, you invite the dead to find life, and the lost to their lasting home.

The Race

Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson made quite a splash in some circles recently.  They are both religious influencers who announced in writing that they are stepping away from the Christian faith.  That’s disappointing, but should we be surprised?  Probably not.

In recent years, Pew Research Center studies have documented the increase of the “nones” (religiously unaffiliated) in the U.S.  The most oft-cited reasons for people categorizing themselves this way is that they disagree with teachings on religious and social issues.  To unpack that, they find more truth in culture than in Christianity.  Statements made by Harris and Sampson reflect that trend, and raise a question.  Must authentic, Biblical faith pass a cultural litmus test?

Jesus was a bit counter-cultural.  A lot, actually.  Those who considered him a revolutionary used that as the proximate cause of his execution, which he willingly endured for His eternal cause.  He knew His followers would face the risks of cultural pushback and even apostasy, so He warned about it in parables (Matt. 13).  The seeds fell on rocky and thorny places, and they didn’t endure.  The weeds grew with the wheat, at least until they didn’t.

The New Testament book of Hebrews uses some version of the word “endure” eight times in chapters 10 – 12.  The context of that exhortation is faith, and reasons to believe.  It becomes apparent that endurance is the fruit of a well-grounded faith, not the cause of it.  Don’t miss that.  Such faith might make you a public spectacle because of your view of eternity (10:32-34).  But by faith you endure and do the will of God, not of the cultural influencers of the day (10:35-36).  Your time on earth is finite, but by faith your soul endures (10:39).

Hebrews 11, the “hall of faith,” describes the deeds of men and women who had an assurance, a conviction about eternal truth.  They actively resisted the incoherent truth claims of their day, and they are our examples.  They proved the world was not worthy of them.  You do the same when you resist our culture’s confusions such as, when people believe something it becomes their truth; faith is worthless because it doesn’t stop bad things from happening; and, if you don’t celebrate all facets of this cultural moment, you’re a hater and your religion is evil.

So, you’re in a race to the finish line of faith.  The goal is to get there, not to be first.  With all the encumbrances and entanglements around you, how do you endure?  How do you make sure you don’t become a “none” writing an awkward note to those who thought otherwise?  By “fixing your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2).  Believe, and endure.

 

 

Meaning

Why am I here? Does life have purpose? These are questions probed by philosophers, but they are also very personal, freighted with implications.

Someone with no good answer is more likely to succumb to the modern suicide epidemic. “Psychology Today” magazine reports that the suicide rate now exceeds highway fatalities, and is higher than it has been since 1950. A pointless life is unbearable and lonely.

Author Thomas Wolfe concluded that loneliness is inevitable. In his essay, “God’s Lonely Man,” he expressed a certain meaningless. “All this hideous doubt, despair, and dark confusion of the soul a lonely person must know, for he is united to no image save that which he creates himself. He has no faith in him except his own and often that faith deserts him leaving him shaken and filled with impotence. Then it seems to him that his life has come to nothing.”

Contributing to the problem is scientism, the belief that science can answer all questions. Zoology professor and Nobel Prize winner Peter Medawar warned young scientists about that. “I have in mind such questions as: “How did everything begin?” “What are we all here for?” “What is the point of living?” These questions become incoherent if you accept evolution as settled science. Why should you, a collection of molecules arranged by a meaningless, random process, expect to find transcendent meaning?

The Bible has answers that are coherent and reasonable. Its explanations correspond to what we observe and deduce. Scientists regularly observe evidence of design quite beyond the reach of Darwinism. We deduce that since nothing material causes itself, logic demands a First Cause, a Creator. So, to what end would God create your soul to reside in an earthly body? Abraham left hearth and home for unknown places because “he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). Paul counted “all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8). These men lived with purpose!

John Piper summarizes that your purpose is to magnify God. He compares that to a telescope by which the unimaginably vast universe can become visible to the human eye. “You are on planet earth to put a telescope to the eye of the world. That’s why you exist. By your behavior, your parenting, the way you do your job, the way your worship, and the way you handle your life, everyone should read, ‘God is great.’ ”

A transformed life of faith reflects the greatness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Seek and know your Creator, Savior, and Counselor! You will find no higher meaning.

Home Forever

A young woman paced the sidewalk outside the pastor’s home. He and his wife were preparing for a picnic in the park.  They noticed woman’s tentative attempts to approach their door.

F.W. Boreham wrote about his experience that day. Realizing that the woman needed something, he invited her inside.  She poured out the heart-rending tragedy of her baby’s sudden death.  She needed help with the burial.  She confided that the baby was born out of wedlock, and was deformed.  That changed nothing for the pastor.  The next day he, his wife, and the woman laid the baby to rest during a driving rainstorm in a barren place.

The woman found a home with Boreham’s church because they treated her with love, care, and respect. She must have known that the cemetery was not her baby’s home.  Ravi Zacharias comments, “The respect shown in a cemetery comes not because it is home, but because it is where we bid believing loved ones a temporary good-bye.  Jesus came from the Father and returned to the Father to prepare a place for you and for me.  That’s home.”  That’s your destiny when you believe Jesus.

He refers to Jesus’ words, “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).  Jesus did not just speak of life after death philosophically, but he demonstrated it physically.  He assured Martha that her brother would live again saying, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (John 11:26).  Then he raised Lazarus.  Later he raised Himself from the dead.

This life beyond, in a prepared place, is where community, reunions, and love happen. Isn’t that what a home is?  This place is not just for being with loved ones again, but being with the One who loves us.  Jesus wants you to be with Him.

Stuart Hine was a pre-WWII missionary to the Russian people. They sang a hymn that he translated to English.  After the war, a displaced man told how he despaired of finding his wife, and longed to meet her again in heaven.  That inspired Hine to pen another verse to the hymn.  When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart! Then I shall bow in humble adoration, and there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art!

You worship a great God who rescues you from the bounds of time and decay! You can travel lightly on this earthly journey with the confirmation that you have a place to call home, forever.