Monday, August 15, 2016

Peace
















Peace is the sense that everything is as it should be.

It's the deep conviction that a wise plan is unfolding,
            step by step, moment by moment,
                        in time and in tune with the heartbeat
                                       of the Creator.

It's found in the eye of the storm,
            where stillness enfolds us in loving arms
                        even as we watch the world spin wildly 
                                       out of control around us. 

It's the peace Jesus had when he stood in Pilate's courtyard;
            the peace the martyrs had facing lions in the coliseum;
                        the peace today's believers have facing the swords
                                       of crazed assassins. 

It's a peace available to all of us who acknowledge our helplessness,
            who collapse under the weight of our own sinfulness
                        and choose to embrace God's offer
                                       of forgiveness.
                                   
It's the peace that comes with an unshakable faith in the reality that,
            because of God's loving provision of salvation through Jesus,
                        eternal joy will come for us 
                                      "in the morning."

Don't worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7  (J.B. Phillips translation)



Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Bible: The Most Misunderstood Book on the Planet


Well, yes.  That's a hard title to defend. 

I have no evidence that the Bible is the most misunderstood book on the planet.  Many other books, particularly religious ones like the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita, are probably misunderstood as well. 

Religious books are prone to be misunderstood for two reasons. 

First, they are complex.  Like jigsaw puzzles, you can put together pieces of them in small sections, but the sections don't make sense until the whole puzzle is completed.  

But the second reason religious books are misunderstood is, I believe, more common.  These books are usually misunderstood because most people don't bother to read them.  And that's surprising to me, especially when you consider that at least one of those books is so amazing.

The Bible is amazing! 

It's been the world's best selling book every year since the invention of the printing press, and for good reason.  This book has had a bigger impact on cultures all over the world than any other one book.  That's a statement that's easy to defend.

If the Bible is the world's best seller, you'd think it would also be the best-read book on the planet.  And it just might be.  As of 2014, the whole Bible has been translated into 531 languages, with parts of it translated into 2883 languages.

But because the Bible has had such a pervasive cultural influence, especially on the development of our Western worldview, the actual words of the book have become lost in the milieu, and most people in the developed world who subconsciously embrace that worldview are biblically illiterate. 

I think it would be easy to defend the statement that after 20 centuries, the average citizen of any nation whose development has been significantly impacted by the Bible now has only a vague idea of what the book actually says.

What the average citizen "knows" about the Bible is now founded on second-hand opinions and rumors built up over the years since the time when first-hand knowledge of the Bible was considered an essential part of a responsible citizen's education.

I think this is a shame.  I love the Bible.  I love the actual, authentically translated words of it.  I love the amazing stories in it, both historical and mythical. 

I've just come, this morning, from an exhilarating read in I Kings, part of the chronicles of the history of the nation of Israel, and I've been struck by how applicable the theology of that history is to our current political situation.

The stories make no statements about the particulars of the presidential race in the United States.  They do not offer any solutions to our political problems today.  (I believe those solutions are found in other sections of the jigsaw puzzle!)  But this historical account of things that happened in the politics of Israel 2500 years ago sheds light on government in general. 

It's not a pretty picture.  The politics of Israel as recorded in the Bible seems to illustrate the apparent universal inability of human beings to rule themselves successfully.  But if you're tired of all the rhetoric about American politics--if you'd like to step back from it all and get a bigger picture of the whole situation from the perspective of human history as a whole, I highly recommend a careful study of the past as recorded in the book of I Kings. 

I read chapters 17 through 20 this morning and thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Looking at the Invisible

"So we fix our [spiritual] eyes not on what is seen [with our physical eyes], but on what is unseen [invisible to the human eye], since what is seen [with the naked eye] is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."   2 Corinthians 4:18

"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."   Hebrews 11:1

Nothing puts us so intimately in touch with unseen realities as the death of a loved one.  Dennis' death nearly six months ago has gently skewed my perspective toward heaven.  That's one of the many good things God has brought out of this great grief He has allowed into my life.

When our physical lives go on uninterrupted, day after day, it's easy to lose sight of what is ultimately real.  We become so focused on the present moment in our own small corner of the universe that we forget how small a sphere that blip on the radar screen really is.  It seems like the whole universe to us, but it's not.  And coming to terms with this reality is the only way to peace and joy while we're making our way through this temporary, alien world.  It's the only way to experience the life we were created to enjoy.

While Dennis was dying, my friend Sharon was facing her own mortality.  She has battled cancer and won, for the time being.  But she now lives with the side effects of her treatments and the realization that the cancer might come back.  Her perspective on ultimate reality has been an inspiration to me.

She says, If I look at my life and everything that happens with my lens focused too closely, it is easy to despair.  But when I step back, refocus, and look at it in the context of Scripture, of who I am in Christ and His promise that I will share in His inheritance and be with Him eternally, these other things become so small and temporal in comparison. 

What I mean to say is that the outcome is the same--my physical body will one day give out.  Whether that happens a year from now or 40 years from now, I am still going to a glorious eternal life!  Makes me wonder why we fight so hard to stay here (like the Israelites kept looking back to Egypt, rather than go on joyfully to the promised land).

My friend no longer lives for her life down here.  She realizes there is a better one ahead, and that reality shines out through her broken body with a clear, eternal light.

In February I wrote about our pilgrimage through the Valley of Baca.  My friend is on that pilgrimage and she has turned the Valley of Baca into a place of springs.  She is going from strength to strength, and strengthening other pilgrims on the way, because she is looking at the invisible.

If I had to choose one daily devotional to subscribe to it would be the one provided by Open Doors, the ministry organization that cares for persecuted Christians around the world.  Every day's message is a refreshing spring to my spirit, and a challenge to remember to look, every day, at the invisible.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Conversation Piece


This evening I found an old article written by Dave and Linda Olson called, "Hearing God."  

The byline said, "We may imagine that He only speaks about deep, intense matters, or commands.  However, God's preferred way is conversation."

What a sweet thought.  My heart was lonely.  I reached out and said, "I'd love to have a conversation with you, God."

He said, "We did have a conversation today.  It was when you were reading your Bible this morning."

This morning I'd been reading the story of Nehemiah, thinking how much he is a model for how we believers should be living and working faithfully in the secular society of our Western world.  Thinking about how badly our spiritual walls need to be rebuilt, and how difficult it is. 

Then I thought, "But the walls were rebuilt, against impossible odds and overwhelming opposition."

That was a great thought, and I thought it was my thought. 

I'd been reading with my mind on the words in front of me, not even thinking Someone else might be in the room, talking to me. 

It had been a conversation and I'd missed it.



Monday, February 22, 2016

A Heart Set on Pilgrimage


Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. . . ."  Matthew 16:24-25

One of the great, mysterious dichotomies of the Christian faith is that we can only find our life by losing it.  Jesus told his disciples this when he was on earth, and at first it must have sounded like nonsense.  How can we find anything by losing it?

Though on the surface this truth does not seem to make sense, we actually experience the reality of it in our lives.  Experience teaches us that holding on to things too tightly will cause them to slip through our clenched fingers.  If we love something, we have to let it go.

But it's so hard to let go of our life.  Life is the thing we love the most, sensing at the core of our being that it's essential--the essence--the ultimate reality. We instinctively hold on.  

Our instincts are right.  Life is a good thing. We should love it. The problem is that when we human beings rebelled against God--when we quit walking with him through this life--the present world became an alien planet where death reigned.  The Eden that should have given eternal happiness was lost to us.  We now live in what the Psalmist calls The Valley of Baka. The Valley of Weeping.

But there is hope.  There is life after this life in ruined Eden.  The key to finding that life is in letting go of the old one, and then living in God's strength as we pilgrim through to the other side.  And on this pilgrim journey, as we walk with him, the water of his eternal life brings refreshment to us and to those around us.  All we need to do is set our hearts on our real home, where God is.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength, til each appears before God in Zion.        

Psalm 84:5-7 (NIV)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Books That Changed This Scientist's Mind


When news of the sudden death of my husband came out on Facebook and people learned more about his life and his faith, some friends expressed an interest in knowing which books Dennis had read that had finally convinced him of the truth of Christianity.  I said I'd write up a short bibliography for those who are interested, so here it is. 

Dennis was a staunch agnostic until 1980, when a series of incidents led him to begin an intellectual investigation of the claims of Christianity.  The most crucial claims of Christianity--the Incarnation and the Resurrection for example--can seem outrageous to scientists who are used to looking at all reality through a materialistic microscope.  The assumptions behind their materialistic worldview often keep them from rationally studying the evidence--historical and scientific--that supports the supra-rational claims of the Bible.  

Dennis was a detail person.  He could, and often did, rattle off the scientific names of a gazillion plant species from memory, whether anyone around him cared about such details or not.  So it took Dennis two solid years of intense study before he finally became convinced of the reliability of the Christian belief system.   When he finally became convinced that the claims of Christ were supportable, he said that in the past when he looked for God he had been "looking too low."  When he began looking "higher," he realized that God had been there all the time, just waiting to be discovered.  His conversion to Christianity in October of 1982 was solid, and it profoundly influenced the way he lived the rest of his life.

Below is a list of a few of the books that Dennis researched in his search for answers to his God-questions.

Dennis first read all of  F.F. Bruce's books.  Carefully.  Methodically.  One after the other.  The one that was the biggest influence on his decision was The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?  As far as Dennis was concerned, if the Gospel accounts and the Epistles were not primary sources, as they claimed to be, they were unreliable.  F.F. Bruce's methodical analysis of the New Testament documents impressed Dennis, and by the time he had finished reading all there was to read by this author, Dennis had become equally impressed by the God-Man the books were written about.

Dennis was especially impressed with the Apostle Peter's two letters, I Peter and II Peter, because their authorship is well established.  Peter was an eyewitness of the crucifixion and the resurrection, and he talks about what he saw in these letters, and discusses why what he witnessed is so important to the Christian faith.

A more philosophical approach is taken by Francis Schaeffer.  I seem to remember that Dennis was first impressed by The God Who is There.  If you're not philosophically trained, the jargon will probably put you to sleep.  I've taken a couple of philosophy courses, which means I've got just enough knowledge in this area to be dangerous, but Dennis was intelligent and well read in many disciplines, so he enjoyed this author.

Josh McDowell's, More Than A Carpenter, is less academic.  It's also a rational approach to the credibility of the Christian story, but it's an easy read, fast-paced, unemotional and hard-hitting.  Later on, after he made his decision, Dennis also studied Josh McDowell's more intense Evidence That Demands a Verdict, which presents extensive evidence supporting the Christian faith in more of an encyclopedic arrangement.  This book was written mainly as a resource for students who study and write about Christian apologetics, but it has good, thought-provoking ideas for the lay reader as well.

Dennis also studied the writings of secular historians of the time of Christ and other early Christian writings not included in the canon of the Bible.  I never had the patience for those, but Dennis went after Polycarp, Eusebius, etc. etc.

Later on, Dennis also enjoyed reading books like The Language of God, by Francis S. Collins, the scientist who led the successful effort to complete the Human Genome Project.

Books by Hugh Ross impressed Dennis, including specifically, The Cosmos and the Creator.  Hugh Ross disagrees with the "young earth" position that argues that the seven days of creation were 24-hour periods.  As a botanist, Dennis recognized that there is hard evidence of an older earth, including tree ring dating as well as carbon-dating, which might or might not be totally accurate. 

Dennis never saw a conflict between a proper analysis of scientific data and a proper interpretation of the Bible.  He recognized the evidence for "micro-evolution," the theory that species change over time.  That kind of evidence can be observed scientifically.  It's demonstrable in laboratory test tubes and petri dishes.  But the philosophical extrapolation of the micro-evolutionary theory to the theory of "macro-evolution," which assumes that all life forms came from one original organism, required too big a leap of faith for Dennis.  He respected Darwin for his contributions to science, but was convinced that if Darwin had access to the genetic information we have today he would have recognized that his macro-evolutionary suppositions were wrong and would have freely admitted it.

Dennis also loved to quote Professor Richard Owen, the superintendent of the Natural History Department of the British Museum of Natural History and Evolution, who said that the claims about the origin of species made by macro-evolutionary theory were "Just So Stories," no more scientifically reliable than the fictional stories found in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books.

So there you have it.  The books, along with the Bible, itself, that convinced Dennis that there is a God; that He is a Person, not just an impersonal force; that He loves his creation; and that He wants a personal relationship with each one of his human creatures.  I hope some of these are of interest to those of you who have asked for them.  
Meanwhile, I like to remind myself that one day we will be together again, in a place where all questions will be answered and all tears will be wiped away forever.  




Friday, August 14, 2015

My Way

Just for the record, I want you to know that, in general, I'm pretty easygoing.  You might say I'm an amiable person.  I have lots of friends and they like me.  But, in spite of how nice I am, there are still some things that really annoy me.  In fact, I've found myself getting annoyed often lately, so I've thought a lot about the situation, trying to decide why this happens.

I have figured out there are three things that annoy me:

1.  I'm annoyed when someone gets in my way.  It's really disrupting when I'm going somewhere and someone gets in front of me and goes really slow.  Don't get me wrong.  I can be pretty patient at times.  But I do like my steady rhythms, without interruptions, and when someone breaks my routine I get annoyed.  As long as I'm allowed to go where I want at my own pace, I'm generally pretty docile, but people who get in my way are a real PAIN in the you-know-where.

2.  I'm also annoyed when someone doesn't see things my way.  I always think things through carefully before I make a decision to accept something as being true.  I eliminate all the false beliefs and, in the end, the belief I settle on is a good one.  But I find that often other people disagree with me.  I try to explain my way to them so they'll understand.  If they understand, I'm pretty sure they'll agree with me, so if I've explained my way carefully to them and they still don't agree, it's obviously because they haven't listened well.  And that is even MORE annoying.

3.  And, most of all, I'm annoyed when I don't get my own way.  When someone or something prevents me from getting what I want, or doing what I think I should do, I sometimes just lose it.  It is, after all, a free world.  Everyone has a right to do their own thing in their own way.  When someone stops me from doing what I want they are infringing on my rights, and I get REALLY annoyed when that happens.

So, if you want to know how to avoid getting put in my next book and killed off, just remember to avoid all of the above.  If you manage to do that we'll get along fine, especially after I've had my morning coffee.   

Seriously, if you're really nice to me--if you stay out of My Way when I'm busy, agree with everything I say, and let me have my own way about things--I might even make you a really good character in my next book and let you live forever.  It's totally up to you, really.