It's been an interesting and incredibly busy month. Filled with mixed fortunes and a lot of reflection, I find myself wondering where the year went. It's hard to believe that today is the last day of the third quarter of the year. September, as it turns out, was a month of contemplation as well as a month of expressing gratitude for God's divine provision, protection and favor. I look forward with great anticipation to what the rest of the year holds for my family, my church family and me.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Friday, September 28, 2007
I went to bed last night with a heavy heart. A young teen-aged girl from our church called me at about 9.00pm. I could tell she had been crying as she sounded rather nasal. Her story is rather involved but let's just say that she was supposed to have had dinner with her 'absentee' father who had come to town for the stated, express purpose of having dinner with herself and her brother.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Wierd title eh? Well you have to check out the promotional video on the subject by Craig Groeschel. I have mentioned him a number of times (try thousands) on my blog, as one of the most innovative and refreshingly unassuming pastors I have met. His books are simple yet profound, teaching practical lessons in living life well. Craig has a new book out titled Going all the way. It's a book about building a great marriage, sexual intimacy and all the things that sorround that often misunderstood topic.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
I've been inspired lately by the idea that, as pastors we are undergoing a constant metamorphosis. One of the most difficult things about being a successful pastor is dealing effectively with rejection. The "Tuesday mail" from people in the congregation telling you how quixotic the sermon was on Sunday. The "Dear John" letters saying, we are leaving the church but it isn't you it's me. The list reads like a grocery list of reasons why pastors seriously contemplate quitting every Monday.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Receiving an invitation to an event generally warms the heart. Whether it is to the Christmas party of the wealthy neighbors, the annual family summer-cookout, dinner at a friends house, the prom... whatever the event, we generally don't enjoy being left out. This is because humans are social creatures. We need to feel needed and loved, and this fact is borne out by how we love to be invited to the "popular" events. People have become serial killers because they were scarred by the fact that they were not invited to the prom (Okay, I made this up, but it sounded like a great illustration at the time). Growing up, I was always fortunate to be one of the popular guys in school and so I rarely got left out of the major social happenings. University on the other hand, was a completely different ball game. I discovered that, before we became accepted on the social scene and got invited to all the major parties, we had to pay our dues in the most humiliating of ways.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
It is almost too large of a concept to wrap the human mind around. Me, a friend of God? Why would the Almighty God Almighty (this is not a mistype), the creator of the universe, deem me worthy of His friendship. It boggles the mind just to try and process through that big idea. I have discovered that friendship is a grossly undervalued and misconstrued relationship. Judging from the way that many of us treat and interpret our friendships, they are valuable for only as long as we derive a significant benefit from them. If the way that we interpret friendship was truly what real friendship is, then the question has to be asked; what benefit does Jesus derive from being friends with us?
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
How do you deal with the sting of betrayal? What is the appropriate response when you have been "stabbed" in the back by people that were near and dear to your heart? I have pondered these questions and many more over the last few months, while attempting to convince myself that nobody has had it as tough as I have. Then I visited one of my favorite blogs only to have my "illusion" shattered by a revelation: This feeling of betrayal is ubiquitous among pastors.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
I am daily learning something new about leadership. Specifically about the leadership style of Jesus. I aspire to be a great leader, only in the fact that I aspire to emulate the leadership style of Jesus. Not long ago I found myself in a somewhat one-sided conversation with a rather inebriated gentleman. The conversation was one-sided because he primarily did the speaking and I primarily did the listening. His maudlin musings reached the conclusion that Jesus was not God but merely a good prophet, in similar mold to the likes of Mohammed, Buddha, and Confucius, among numerous other historical figures he cited, many of whom I had never heard of (or maybe it was just his tipsy brain juxtaposing the letters so that the words came out jumbled).
Thursday, September 13, 2007
I'm a little nostalgic right now because I just visited a website that paid tribute to the wife of a dear friend of mine who died in a plane crash two years ago (that makes two pastor friends of mine who have lost their wives under tragic circumstances in their forties, in two years). She was an amazing woman and was unquestionably the most well known and well liked female preacher in Nigeria. The website served as a reminder for me of the legacy that she has left for posterity. People who never personally met her spoke in glowing terms of the impact she had had on their lives and of how they had shed more tears than they knew was possible, at the news of her death.
Monday, September 10, 2007
If you haven't picked up on it by now, my prevalent theme so far this month, is the fact that God is. Period. "God is what?" I hear you ask. That's the point. He is everything that we need Him to be, in every circumstance that we find ourselves in. A few years ago a couple of pastors recorded a song titled He is. The song basically began in the book of Genesis all the way to the book of Revelation, highlighting what God manifest Himself as in each book. It was so powerful in demonstrating that God is always what we need for the moment, no matter the circumstance or situation.
Today's "And I Quote" is just a few words of profound but simple truth.
Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts (Hebrews 4: 7)
Like I said, simple and profound. We all contend with days that seem impervious to any kind of good resulting from all of the overwhelmingly difficult circumstances we face. Often times, even as Christians, we find that our natural response is to try and white knuckle our way through the circumstance. The resultant effect of our attempt to fix the problem generally leaves us feeling frustrated, empty, and even questioning God's motives.
Friday, September 7, 2007
Lucado's skill as a story-teller helps me keep my life in proper perspective. While the circumstances may sometimes appear insurmountable, God, apparently specializes in making the impossible possible. Otherwise where's the logic in expecting that a centenarian couple can give birth to a child (remember that the existence of an entire race of people is depending on this to happen)? What possesses Abram to even think that He heard God correctly? As you will quickly discover if you read the story through to the end, even Abram, dubbed the "Father of Faith," began to doubt and question the validity of what he'd heard, and so he willingly settled for a tryst with Hagar, his wife's maid, in the hopes that He could help God speed up the promise of a son.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
I doff my hat to men of "timbre and caliber," men of substance like Gov. Mike Huckabee (the former governor of Arkansas). In case you have been living under a stone the last few weeks, he is one of the GOP candidates running for the party nomination to be President of these United States. In this years woefully thin crop of viable candidates who can give the Democratic Party nominee a run for their money (and believe me they have lots of money), it was incredibly refreshing to hear his stand on a question about evolution or creation as posed by the moderator of a recent debate. Like the Gov., I am at a loss to understand why such a question would be posed to a candidate for President, among the myriad relevant issues at stake, but I am grateful for the wisdom that he displayed in answering the question.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Boy, where did the time go? It's pretty exhausting work trying to provide an intellectual understanding of Einstein's dilema with Christianity (which is a similar dilema for many today), so I missed out on updating the blog yesterday. I apologize to those of you who did come back hoping to find part three of our ongoing discussion on the problem of evil, pain and suffering. Anyway, enough perambulating so we can get to work.
Previously on 24... (I'm sorry, I'm getting withdrawal symptoms from not being able to watch my favorite show on TV). Previously we established that evil, pain and suffering entered our world as a direct result of sin. Skeptics would query, "Why did God create us with the capacity to sin, since, as an all-powerful and all-knowing God, He knew that we would make a mess of our lives?" This is a fair question, deserving of an answer. In order for God to ensure that we could not sin, He would have had to tamper with our freedom of will. In that case we would not have been fully human but more robots programmed to do only what He wanted. That, in turn would have rendered us incapable of loving God or one another, because genuine love cannot be coerced. Genuine love must choose to love. Without free will, we would be incapable of moral responsibility, creativity, obedience, loyalty, or heroism. The only way God could create beings that are fully human was to take the risk that they would use their freedom to choose evil.
Once humans did choose evil, God's holy nature and character required justice. He could not overlook sin and evil, nor could He ignore it. Once the scales of justice had been tipped, they had to be balanced. The skeptic responds, "In that case the human race should have ended with Adam and Eve. They should have been punished for their rebellion, cast into hell, and that would have been the end of God's attempt at creating a human race." But God is as merciful as He is just, and He devised the most "unbelievable" alternative: He would Himself bear the punishment for His creation. God Himself would enter the world of humanity to suffer the judgment and death that sinful humans deserved. Picture that for a moment. Hear the whispers in the inner courts of heaven as the angels in utter bewilderment question the rationale behind such a decision. "God, will be born a baby?" And that is exactly what He did. He came as the God-man Jesus Christ in human form as a baby.
Through His death on a Roman cross, Jesus defeated evil and guaranteed the ultimate victory over it. He beat Satan at his own game: He took the worst blow that Satan and human sin could deliver, and He turned it into the means of our salvation. "By His wounds we are healed." (Isa. 53: 5) The Bible teaches us that at the end of this present dispensation there will be a new heaven and a new earth, free of sin, free of evil, pain and suffering, where He will "wipe every tear from their (our) eyes." (Rev. 21: 4)
Until that time though, God uses the "thorns and thistles" that have infested creation since the Fall to teach, chastize, sanctify, and transform us, making us ready for that new heaven and new earth. I know this first hand: The greatest blessings in my life have come out of my greatest pain and suffering, and I have seen this same process repeated in countless lives. Just as it hurts when the doctor sets a broken bone, so it can cause enormous pain when God "resets" our character. Yet it is truly the only way to be whole and healthy. Friedrich Nietzsche, though himself an atheist, once uttered a profoundly biblical truth: "Men and women can endure any amount of suffering so long as they know the why to their existence." The Bible answers "the why," the wider context of meaning and purpose, an eternal perspective. Why did God choose to die for His creation? Love. In demonstrating free will, He chose to love us even when He foreknew the sin and suffering that would distort His creation. There is no greater love than this, and no greater mystery: that the God of all creation would choose us. It inspires our hearts to worship.
Monday, September 3, 2007
I'm picking up from where I left off on yesterday's discussion about Albrecht Einstein's primary hurdle in accepting the Christian God as an all good and all powerful God. As stated yesterday, what tripped Einstein up was his view that all humans are programmed to do whatever it is they do, by natural forces. Such a view must naturally conclude that God, and not man, is responsible for the evil that befalls us. Further extrapolation led Einstein to conclude that, "In giving out punishments and rewards, he (God) would to a certain extent be passing judgment on himself, how can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to him?"
So, since evil, pain and suffering are the hurdle that Einstein tripped over, and indeed are still the hurdles that many who refuse to accept the Bible as the inerrant word of God and Jesus as the one true way to salvation, still trip over, let's examine the problems with this faulty conclusion. The problem, as Einstein saw it, stated in simple terms is: if God is both all-good and all-powerful, He wouldn't allow evil and suffering to exist in His creation. Yet evil and suffering do exist. Therefore, either God is not all-good (which is why He tolerates evil), or He is not all powerful (which is why He is powerless to get rid of evil, even though He wants to).
Only the Biblical explanation of this apparent contradiction is consistent with both reason and human experience, for it alone tells us how God can be God, and yet not be responsible for evil. Scripture teaches that God is good and that He created a universe that was "very good." It also teaches that the universe is now marred by evil, death, and suffering. Logically then, the only way to reconcile these two statements without denying any element in them is to recognize that there must be a source of sin outside of God. God being good, created a perfect world. One of the things that God chose to do in making humans and angels intelligent beings is to give them the freedom to choose. They had the freedom to obey God or to turn away from him. To turn away from God, the source of all goodness, is to create the antithesis to good, which is evil. Evil does not exist independently, nor was it created by God. Evil is created by sin.
The decision to sin was made in the spirit realm by Satan and other angels, sin then entered our world through the free moral choices made by the first human beings, Adam and Eve. From that point on, according to the word of God, the plague of sin has spread through all of history because of the free moral choices humans continue to make. Freedom means that we are not trapped in an endless chain of cause and effect, as determinists like Einstein believe. In making moral choices, we are initiating a genuinely new chain of cause and effect. When we acknowledge this, we can resolve the apparent contradiction we began with: God is all good, and He created a perfect and good world; but one of the perfect things He made was humans and angels as free moral agents, and they have freely chosen to do wrong. Sin is the entry point to the problem of evil, pain and suffering, but God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy had a plan to counteract the effects of sin. Come back tomorrow and we'll examine that plan.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Albrecht Einstein is undeniably the greatest scientist of the last century. In all of his genius though, he found himself struggling with reconciling the idea of a personal God that was all good and all powerful. His dilema? Human suffering. He could not reconcile the idea of a good God who would allow suffering and pain. Considering what the Jews had experienced at the hands of Adolf Hitler, Einstein reasoned (like many do today), that an all good God who was all powerful, would not have sat idly by watching people endure and suffer through what the Jews had to endure.
Father McNaughton: "But we have free will."
Albrecht Einstein: "This I do not believe, science reveals a universe utterly bound by natural laws, a rational universe. There is simply no room left for causes of a different nature."Reverend Hartman: ..."Religion doesn't make any claims about the world known by science. Genuine religion is a feeling of dependence on the Absolute."
Albrecht Einstein: I know you to be a progressive, forward-thinking man, Reverend. So how do you explain away the problem of a God who causes evil?"
Albrecht Einstein's greatest barrier to Christianity was not the question of whether God created the universe, but the problem of evil, pain and suffering. Einstein's premise was faulty from the start, and a faulty premise all but guarantees a faulty conclusion. Presupposing that a person's actions are pre-determined, Einstein declared that if a person made a choice to do evil "in God's eyes he cannot be responsible" for his behavior any more than a stone is responsible for where it flies when someone throws it. Consequently, if a person is not responsible for their actions, then God himself must be responsible for evil. Like Einstein, many people still blame God for the evil, pain and suffering that happens in our world today.
This causes them to see God as either less than all loving or at the very least not all powerful. The truth is though, that there is an antithesis to God, because the Bible teaches that all good and perfect gifts come from God, and in Him there is no evil. I want to pick up on the big ideas relating to the problem of evil, pain and suffering, so make sure you stop by tomorrow. While you're here, let me know what you think about the problem of evil, pain and suffering.