Olasky’s Story

Marvin Olasky is an academic, an author, and a Presbyterian.  That’s why it’s an eyebrow-raiser when he tells about his solitary mystical experience.

In his book, Lament for a Father,” Olasky explains he was an atheist (and Marxist) pursuing a PhD in American Culture in the 1970’s. One afternoon he was reading Lenin. (“We must combat religion. It is the opium for the people.”) He became distracted and fell into a trancelike state. He was in a dark corridor with closed doors on both sides. He pushed one open, and experienced an explosion of light. He knew it was God. For the next eight hours, he sat still while his mind raced with questions. Then he wandered the campus in the cold and darkness of night. The next morning, he was no longer an atheist.

One of his next steps was to read Matthew’s gospel in Russian, focusing on each word. He read, “The Child who has been conceived in (Mary) is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20-21). He did not want to be a Christian, but over the next three years he journeyed toward the truth about Jesus. He was a professor at San Diego State when he embraced faith in Jesus as his Savior.

Unlike Olasky, Richard Dawkins is still an atheist. But Dawkins likes Christmas traditions – singing carols, decorating a tree, giving gifts. He calls himself a “cultural Christian.”  That also describes church attenders who reject the virgin birth and other miracles. If no supernatural or spiritual reality exists, then Jesus was only an attractive (and deceptive) religionist who impressed his followers so much that they thought they saw him alive after he died.

To reject miracles is to reject the Jesus of the Bible. Accept them and “you have a Savior who came voluntarily into this world for our salvation, suffered for our sins upon the cross, rose again from the dead by the power of God…The difference between those two views is the difference between two totally diverse religions” (Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism).

Well-meaning people of an atheist or cultural religion mindset can enjoy the giving and good will of Christmas for now. Just be aware that the truth behind the trappings beckons you to consider who Jesus is, and to believe in Him as the living God, the God of miracles! Everything may look different tomorrow morning, per Olasky.

The lyrics of the song “Jesus Saves,” (Cottrell and Moffitt) include, “Day is breaking, night is quaking, God is making all things new. Jesus saves!” That is Olasky’s darkness-to-light story. He writes, “It’s forty-five years later, and my gratitude to God keeps growing. To God be the glory.” That can be your story, too.

Intentional Gratitude

If you could go back in time and thank someone, who would you thank and for what?

I posed that question in various forums. People named parents, grandparents, siblings, ministers, teachers, doctors, bosses, and neighbors.  Some stepped in to raise children when the parents could not, or would not. Some loved by sharing time, truth, and help. People told of receiving unconditional love back when they were not very lovable.

I heard stories. Someone is thankful his grandfather as a young man had the audacity to interrupt a couple on a date in order to introduce himself to the young lady. You guessed it. The lady would become his grandmother! A WWII schoolgirl had a teacher who told her she was smart enough to continue her education. The now octogenarian lady is thankful that she is still learning. A next door neighbor was a surrogate father to a boy whose single mom was raising six children. Many shared something like, “I would thank my grandmother because she introduced me to Jesus.” It’s the circles I run in, I suppose.

That same Jesus encountered ten lepers who were keeping their social distance. He told them to go report to the authorities. As they did, they were healed. In their excitement, only one was intentional with his gratitude. He returned to Jesus, giving thanks and glory to God (Luke 17). I wonder if the others remained ingrates. I don’t want to be an ingrate.

So I pondered how I would answer the question.  My thoughts turned to 1969 when I was a boy and our pastor came to our home. He explained about Jesus, what He did, and why it matters. For the first time I understood “whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). I should thank Pastor Webb, I thought. I searched for him online. Found his obituary.

The takeaways here are multiple. Express gratitude to whom it is due, while you can.  It’s always timely to place your faith in Jesus and to thank God. Sometimes in the exuberance of life you can forget to be thankful. It’s good to be grateful for someone even if they’re only a memory.

My goal is to remind you to be intentional about thanksgiving.  It’s not just a day, it’s a lifestyle. And there’s something in it for you – gratitude is the fertilizer for the fruit of contentedness.

The 20th C. poet Helen Steiner Rice penned this prayer about intentional gratitude:

O make us more aware, dear God, of little daily graces

that come to us with sweet surprise from never-dreamed-of places.

Help us to remember that the key to life and living

is to make each prayer a prayer of thanks and every day Thanksgiving.

May you have reasons to be thankful and someone to thank.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

He Is There

Winsome Sears immigrated to the United States from Jamaica when she was six years old. That was in 1963. Her name would not have been in the 2021 headlines except for her ability to survive a searing loss that few among us must endure.

Her grandmother modeled a vibrant Christian faith, which Sears also embraced. When her grandmother died, Sears joined the Marines to learn discipline and leadership. After leaving the Marines, she and her husband moved to Virginia where she earned a college degree and became an elected official.

Sears left electoral politics to focus on her family.  She and her husband started a small business, and she directed a homeless shelter. In 2009 she published a book about dealing with doubt titled, Stop Being a Christian Wimp!” Two years later, tragedy struck.  Her daughter and two granddaughters were killed in a car wreck. She recalls receiving the news at 3 a.m. “I just remember saying ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ ” I can’t imagine the pain, the questions.

Professor John Lennox writes, “If Christian faith is worth considering, it needs to be deep enough to cope with our most heart-rending questions.” When those questions erupt, it compounds the tragedy if your answer is that a good and loving God does not exist. The pain is real because evil is real, but God is present and has done something about it. The cross and resurrection of Christ Jesus are the divine intervention in human history to overcome the evil that besets us. Those events reveal an eternal reality beyond our present griefs.

God experienced the pain of grief. When his friend Lazarus succumbed to illness, Jesus wept after he told Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). Theirs was the pain of walking “through the valley of the shadow of death.” But Jesus was there to embody the great promise, “I fear no evil for You are with me” (Psa. 23:4).

In God’s Providence, good can come from pain. C. S. Lewis writes, “Pain insists upon being attended to.  God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” If tears help you hear from the One who promises a day of no more tears, then pain is redeemed (Rev. 21:4).

God values your life enough to make traveling this earth your opportunity to know Him.  It helps that He chose to walk this path of pain Himself. He is a winsome God, and He invites you walk with Him in faith through your valley of the shadow of death.

Before her recent electoral victory Sears reflected on what her future might hold.  She said, “You always know that God is there.” The voice of experience.

Meta Verse

Mark Zuckerberg’s new company name is Meta, meaning “beyond.” He said, “The metaverse is the next frontier just like social networking was when we got started…A lot of us will be creating and inhabiting worlds that are just as detailed and convincing as this one, on a daily basis.” Meta will reach beyond the Facebook brand and create a computer-generated reality. You can be an avatar!

Whistleblower Frances Haugen reports that Facebook knows but does nothing about the anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts caused by its social media products. What began as a clever way to share photos and news with family and friends has taken an algorithmic turn into psychology and manipulation. It replaces real human interaction with striving for “likes.”  In Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis wrote that it weakens a person to “abandon the people he really likes in favor of the ‘best’ people.” He couldn’t have known technology would invent a tool for that. What will stop the metaverse from weakening humanity further with its illusion of human progress?

Humans are gullible for illusions. You thought you controlled your Facebook feed but that was an illusion. Alec Baldwin shot and killed Halyna Hutchins – movie set safety was an illusion. A politician’s call for a strong central government that guarantees safety, justice, and prosperity for all is an illusion. The greatest illusion is that you arrived in this universe by chance, and you are free to define your own meaning and reality.

G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel.” Facts are part of human reality and you cannot be liberated from them even if illusions, modern medicine, or technology tempt you to try. Here is a fact: you are created and your reality is given to you, not created by you.

The word “meta” also means to be in association with someone. What if I told you about an association with someone who can complete your reality with a love, joy, and peace that surpass all understanding?  Here it is: “He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God…all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:13-14,16).

That is a “meta verse” that is no illusion, but is reality. To associate with Christ by faith is to embrace reality and be truly human, just as your Creator intended.