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.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An Intriguing God

I love to think about Him.

He is as complex as a multi-faceted jewel and as simple as the word

He is ancient, without beginning, eternally existing,
yet He is as fresh as the dew in the morning.

He is all-powerful and gentle.

He is as fathomless as the far reaches of the universe,
but He stoops to speak into the hearts of children. 

He is the Author of life
who stepped from eternity into time to die a mortal's death,
for us.

White as snow, yet He reaches into the deepest cesspool of the human heart
to redeem and restore.

He is complete and whole in Himself, but He yearns for friendship with His creatures.

He is intensely and overwhelmingly awesome. 
People fall to the ground at His feet. 

Yet He loves laughter and light-hearted pleasure.

He created joy.

My heart floods with joy when I think about Him.

You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.  
Acts 2:28

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A First Step Toward Praying Deliberately

God acts, in and around us, whether we ask Him to or not.  He is a God who initiates.  He initiated all
of creation, and He initiates blessing upon blessing in our lives every day simply because He loves us.

But some of His blessings only come when we ask. James says, "You have not because you ask not." (James 4:3) This is an amazing truth.  Through prayer, we have been given the privilege of initiating blessings, for ourselves and for others. But we often (usually?) treat prayer so lightly that our prayers become ineffective.

The kinds of prayers that result in blessings are deliberate and intentional.  Too often my prayers are not that kind. I need to be constantly reminded that the great privilege He has given us in prayer calls for a consciously thoughtful approach to His throne.

When I come to God's throne deliberately and thoughtfully, He asks me questions that help me focus my prayers.  The first question He asks is, "To Whom are you praying?" Answering this question is the first step toward a more effective prayer time.

Praying With God-Awareness

The answer is obvious--so obvious that our awareness of the One we are coming to can get lost in our coming if we're not careful.  God--the reality of his presence and the beauty of his character--must be our focus in prayer.  

If I come to him with my mind full of the things I want to ask for, my head down, and my focus on myself, I'm not really praying. I'm just talking to myself.  Expecting Him to act on my requests is like expecting the caboose to push the train.  It just doesn't work.  Effective praying begins with an awareness of God's presence, His power, and His great compassion for us.

A focus on God does not come naturally.  It must be deliberately sought and deliberately maintained as we pray. Our visible surroundings will overwhelm invisible realities if we don't consciously remind ourselves of what matters when we pray, and what matters first and foremost is the One we are speaking with. 

I find praying on my knees helps to keep me focused on God.  It puts my body in the proper position before Him and it keeps me more aware of His presence.  When I'm on my knees, the rest of the world dissolves and I'm better able to visualize (in a proper way) the reality of His presence.

If you'd like an aid to becoming more God-aware in your prayers, here's a helpful one online.  Try listening to the first seven minutes of this video on Living Still.  Seven minutes is a long time!  It will be difficult to settle into this kind of listening.  But it will lead you into God's presence in a delightful way if you let it.

May we come to Him with a deliberate awareness of who He is.
May we be still, and know what it means to that He is God.
(Psalm 46:10)