Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Seven Honest Questions Regarding Christianity: A Challenge

Recently I challenged my friends and acquaintances, those who are skeptics, agnostics, non-religious and so on to raise their best questions regarding the Christian faith. I asked them to raise honest questions, questions that if answered would possibly clear the road for them to believe.

I indicated that I would attempt to the best of my ability to answer those questions from the Christian worldview. These are the questions raised, and the answers provided by this one Christian. Don't expect perfection, I don't know everything, but I've done my best to provide answers that will be intellectually satisfying and philosophically meaningful.

I'd like to thank everyone that participated. I was very pleased with the thoughtful questions given.

Question One:
If God made us who made God?
Question raised by Mark W.

This is an age old question, debated by skeptics, theologians and philosophers. Everything has a cause. Everything we know of, seems to have been made by something else. I was born because of my parents. A tree grows because an acorn falls from another tree, digs into the dirt, and begins to grow up. But the answer to this question is simple: There has to be something at the very beginning of time, space, and reality without a cause. Or whose cause is within itself. Many scientists hoped and believed that perhaps the universe itself could be the past-eternal uncaused reality. But scientists have since discovered that the universe most certainly did begin to exist in the finite past (the big bang theory.)

A Christian would say "God is the eternal first cause." That is not an intellectually satisfying answer it seems. But the truth is, that isn't an answer off the top of anybody's head. It's been in the Bible for over two thousand years. Even before man had considered the necessity of a single infinite eternal first cause, the Bible had already said that God was the eternal first cause. "He is from everlasting to everlasting" (Psalm 90:2).

Are we willing to admit that something like eternity is beyond our full ability to comprehend? We must certainly admit that there are some things in life that will be beyond us.

Ultimately, the question "Who made God?" is a fallacy, because it assumes God could have a cause. If God could be caused by something else, say a greater god, or a greater force, then God wouldn't be God. God is by definition, timeless, omnipotent, and eternal.

In conclusion, I would simply say that we cannot have an infinite regression regarding a first cause. There must be a single, uncaused first cause, and it will either be God or the universe. Since science has shown that the universe is finite in the past, having come into existence at the moment of the big bang, this shows that the most likely uncaused first cause is God. I hope that helps.

Additional Responses by leading Christian Apologists:

Question Two:
I was a Christian my whole life until about 3 years ago. I got more and more into science which made me question faith. One question I can't figure out is why people pray? If God has a master plan for everyone, what good is praying for someone as that would only seem to be trying to change God's mind regarding his divine plan?
Question raised by Paul S.

Science and faith is an interesting topic. Though many modern scientists like Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and Lawrence Krauss tend to be more atheistic, it's interesting that many great scientists from the history of the discipline were actually Christians. Or at least deists (believe in some sort of God). Some of the notable believers include Galileo, Newton, Pascal, Bacon, Einstein, and today people like Francis Collins and Michael Behe. Or as Francis Bacon said, the first sip of the glass of science may lead to atheism, but at the bottom of the cup God is waiting for you. The more scientists study earth, nature, and the universe the more they discover the grand order and design behind it all. This order and design tends to lend evidence toward an intelligent designer, and diminish the possibility of random evolutionary processes, given the 2nd law of thermodynamics (entropy).

As far as the question of prayer; it's a good question. Given the fact that God foreordains the future, and he knows and plans all of reality, why should prayer be necessary? Why pray about anything when God has already foreordained all things?

I think the answer to that question is choice. From my perspective, God may have set up the rules and regulations of the system, but he gives us the freedom to choose. I tend to believe that God foreknows my future free actions (an Armenian perspective) while some would say that God foreordains all future actions, and therefore there is no choice (a Calvinist perspective). I think that freedom and choice are taught constantly in the scripture. God asks us to choose now whom we will serve and what we will do. God may foreknow my future actions. But that doesn't really matter. Ultimately I still make the choice whether I'm going to pray or not. And if I pray, God responds in the now. Even if God already knew that He would in the future respond to my prayer, and perhaps that was already part of his plan, from my perspective, I've made the free choice to pray and in the now, He has answered (or not answered.) Ultimately my prayers do matter then. Maybe God knew I would pray. But it doesn't really matter from my perspective. From my perspective, I prayed, and God answered. From my view it looks like he changed his sovereign plan to accommodate my prayer. But maybe from His view, he knew what I would do. Either way, my prayer has made a real difference.

Additional Responses by leading Christian Apologists:

Question Three:
How is it (Christianity) any different than the myths before?
Question raised by Chris H.

That is an excellent question. Before I became a Christian, especially during my upbringing as a rebellious Catholic I argued with my priest at the time making this very case. How is Christianity any different than ancient Greek gods? How is it any different than ancient Norse religions or native american beliefs? Why shouldn't we simply reject Christianity as a bygone mythos?

Well I would say that Christianity is fundamentally different than Greek myths, pagan gods, or other ancient myths. Why? For three reasons: The Bible is a historically reliable book. Meaning, the Bible matches with historical records. The Bible says there was a nation called Babylon, historians discovered that was true. The Bible says the Roman empire controlled Israel during the time of Jesus, and that's also true. The Bible talks about philistines, Greece, Macedonia, Persia, Media, Asia minor, and all these regions and civilizations that historians have discovered did exist. In addition, the Bible has constantly been supported by archaeological discoveries. Just to name a few examples, Pontius Pilate the Bible says was in charge of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' crucifixion, archaeologists found evidence of this. The emperor at that time, Augustus, mentioned in the Bible, archaeologists found a bust of him in the sea. I have a book at home called Lost Treasures of the Bible that cites hundreds of archaeological finds that correlate to the biblical narrative. In addition, we know that Jesus Christ certainly existed. He was no myth. People argue whether he was God, but he certainly existed. In fact the Encyclopedia Britannica 15th edition devotes 20,000 words to the life and works of Jesus Christ and never once suggests that he didn't exist.

Past myths have died out because they were just that, myths. The Bible and Christian faith are fundamentally different, which is why they endure to this day, and the Bible is the single top selling book in human history, and secondly, the Pilgrim's Progress a book about living the Christian life. I firmly believe all this skepticism is thrown up at the Bible because it challenges us as humans to live radically differently from how we desire. Yet the Bible has stood the test of time and logical inquiry. I hope that helps!

Additional Responses by Leading Christian Apologists:

Question Four:
Every Christian must accept Jesus' sacrifice on the cross in order to go to heaven. What about those people who have never heard of Jesus?
Question raised by Denise H.

This is a very, very good question. In fact it's one I've pondered about a great deal. I know of two responses given by two sides of a theological debate (Armenian-leaning and Calvinist) The Calvinist would say that if someone never hears of Jesus, the fundamental issue is still sin. They aren't judged because they never of Jesus, but because of their sin. But they would also probably add, that if there are people out there in tribes in the wilderness, who would be able to believe in Jesus, then somehow a missionary, or a Bible would find their way into that persons hands and heart. Essentially, if there are people out there who can believe in Jesus, and would choose to, then God would find a way to reach them. More Armenian leaning theologians would say that it's most likely that if someone never hears the gospel and is never offered the chance of salvation, then after they did, there would be an intermediate moment where Jesus would come to them, after death, and offer them eternal salvation through him. So a post-death interview of sorts with Jesus, to see if they want salvation (of course they would still have the option of rejecting that gift).

But it's interesting that in the middle-east right now there is a sort of revolution taking place. In many of those Muslim-majority countries, the gospel can't get in, Bibles are banned, and what you see happening more and more is these Muslims have dreams where they see Jesus, and Jesus tells them to go to a certain place, and be there at a certain time. And when they arrive, a Christian meets them there. I'm not making that up, this is being documented more and more. Google it.

So the best answer I can give is, that God finds a way. But I think another good answer is this, when Ted Cruz's father came to a pastor and argued with him and asked him "What about those in tribes in the jungle who never heard about Jesus?" And the pastor wisely responded: "I don't know about the tribal person in the jungles, but you've heard about Jesus. What's your excuse?" We have heard. What will we do?

Additional Responses by Leading Christian Apologists:

Question Five:
What about those dinosaurs? Seems to me that it would take a pretty sick sense of humor to stick a bunch of animal bones into the ground that "never existed."

Why can't science and Christianity coincide? Isn't it possible that human error occurred in the writing of, rewriting of or translation of the original texts when speaking of creation and the age of the world? Religion has always had political affiliations so isn't it possible in the rewritings that the original message had been perverted or changed entirely to suit the needs of that government?
Question rasied by Holly N.

Very good questions. I would simply submit that I don’t know any Christians that think dinosaurs didn’t exist. The Bible doesn’t specifically mention dinosaurs. But it doesn’t mention, many insects, plants, or animals. It’s not a book of science, but a historical, prophetical book regarding God’s plan of salvation and redemption for humanity.

I think science and Christianity do coincide quite well. The media and secular world tends to push this narrative of “science vs. religion.” But I think it’s a false dichotomy. Science and religion walk hand in hand. Science helps us analyze the physical world, religion helps us understand the spiritual world. The physical world requires a spiritual world. The spiritual world requires a physical world. They function quite well together. In fact the first scientists were Christians, Galileo, Newton, and Bacon to name a few. Einstein believed in a deistic god. Only in the last fifty years have many scientists turned to atheism. Though even today many scientists are Christians, like Dr. Francis Collins.

Your next question had to do with the possible rewriting of the scriptures, that they may have been changed. And you asked about the age of the earth and creation, and the idea that the word could’ve been changed due to political affiliations. Well there is a lot there to answer. But I’d begin by saying that originally the Bible, the Old Testament and New Testament were recorded in Hebrew (OT) and ancient Greek (NT). Hebrew was the language of Israel, Greek the language of the middle-east region during the time of the Roman occupation of Jerusalem. We have OT and NT documents dated all the way back to within 50 years of the actual events. And we have documents recorded and re-recorded throughout human history of the Bible. How we know that the biblical manuscripts haven’t been changed is that we compare the ancient documents to one another, the original copies, to the later copies, to the recordings of the church fathers, and on the recordings of the bishops during the Roman empire, on and on, to know that the documents have not been changed. An incredible discovery also was that of the dead sea scrolls recently. They contained biblical documents from the ancient era, and historians compared those dead sea scrolls, untouched for thousands of years, to the documents we have today, and they matched.

As far as the age of the earth, there is a debate within modern Christianity about the age of the Earth. People like William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, John Lennox, and Hugh Ross would defend the common view today that the Earth is about 4.543 billion years old. They would suggest that God perhaps created the lower lifeforms at the event scientists called “the Cambrian explosion.” Or they might suggest that God used evolutionary processes to bring about the human form (guided evolution.) Others like Ken Ham, Albert Mohler, David DeWitt, and Henry Morris would say that the scientific evidence supports a young earth view. They would defend the view of the age of the Earth being about 6,000 years old. Either way, I think there is good evidence for both positions. Both positions rely on presuppositions, one on uniformitarianism and the other on catastrophism. There really isn’t any way to know which view of earth history is correct. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters too much. But it’s certainly quite fascinating.

And finally, your question that couldn’t political affiliations caused the original documents to be changed. Well it is true that after 313 A.D. Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity within the Roman empire and became the official state religion. This led to a great deal of corruption with the bishops and eventually the popes.

But what’s interesting as far as what happened was this: Your exactly right, the message was corrupted for government means and more so, for means of enriching the popes and pontiffs. But we have to ask ourselves how did they do that? They made it illegal for common people to read the Bible! And they wrote up all these doctrines and teachings that were not supported by the Bible. At the height of this practice the Roman catholic church would sell “indulgences” to the people and in return the people would pay for these indulgences and have their sins and the sins of their dead relatives paid for! What a disturbing practice! But the thing is, that isn’t in the Bible.

And what happened was eventually one man came along named Martin Luther. He was struggling monk, who couldn’t understand God’s love and forgiveness. But then he actually read the Bible. And he did something terrible to the prevailing leaders. He translated the Bible into German! And he nailed the 95 Theses to the church doors in Wittenberg. Essentially Martin Luther was saying that indulgences were wrong, there is no purgatory, and the Bible should be the only means of understanding God’s word, not the doctrines and teachings of men and popes. This caused a massive reformation, which spawned the protestant movement worldwide. I’m a protestant today. Today there are Catholics and Protestants. Catholics still require today that their church members may not read the Bible. Protestants constantly encourage their members to read the word, and so be saved.

In conclusion I think we can trust the original biblical documents because for the first 300 years of their distribution in the Roman empire they were illegal. Christians were persecuted and martyred in the Roman empire for many years. Many of us have heard of Emperor Nero, fiddling as Rome burned, and then blaming it on the Christians. The original biblical documents were a revolutionary, counter-cultural movement that made governments angry. But the danger is always there for a government or entity to pervert the Bible and use it for personal gain or to control people. But what’s interesting today is that as often as people suggest that the Bible is the “opiate of the masses” there are actually about 50 countries where it is illegal to possess a Bible. I hope that helps. But read the Bible for yourself, trust it, and test the words of others, preachers included, against the word of God!

Additional Responses by Leading Christian Apologists:

Question Six:
Why are some Christians hypocrites? They claim to go by Jesus's saying "Judge not, Lest you be Judged" but then they turn around and start judging and condemning people like homosexuals saying they're going to hell and all that stuff. I don't agree with homosexuality, but I don't like those "hypocritical Christians" telling me not to associate with them. I'm not gay but I have a lot of gay friends and I don't want to give up their friendship.
Question raised by Michaela R.

The short answer to this question is that you should continue to befriend and have relationship with non-believers, including those who practice homosexuality. I would simply caution you to be careful to not slip into temptation as well. Jesus Christ did indeed teach us not to judge and condemn our neighbors. But we are called to discern and use wisdom to understand the times.

I believe that the Bible teaches that the practice of homosexuality is sinful. That is a fundamental, basic teaching of the Bible (Romans 1:26-27, 1st Corinthians 6:9, Leviticus 18:22). But I can still love the person who practices it. I can still be friends with a person who practices it. I can still support and encourage someone who practices it. I’ve had and do have friends who are homosexual. They know I don’t support the practice. But I still love them. We can disagree, and still love one another.

So in conclusion, don’t give up those friendships. But be wise in where you go and what you do. Use wisdom to discern the times, but don’t condemn others. Relationship and friendship is vital. Many would repent and turn to Christ if we would simply love them and support them. I participated in a church that had a storefront right next to a gay bar. It was awesome, on Saturday nights the people from the gay bar would come over and have coffee, and we would talk to them and love them. Many of them ended up joining the church and giving up homosexuality all together. It was a blessing. As far as Christians being hypocrites, there will always be hypocrites in the church. God allows the wheat and the weeds to grow together for now (Matthew 13:24-30). We shouldn’t try to uproot the weeds, because we may also accidently uproot the wheat. The wheat are the true Christians, the weeds are the false. I’d encourage you to always look to Jesus Christ. He is the only perfect one. The church is a hospital for sinners not a club for saints. If you look to other Christians you’ll be disappointed, if you look to Jesus you’ll be filled with joy. Thank you, great question.

Additional Responses by Leading Christian Apologists:

Question Seven:
How do you deal with hypocrisy within Christianity itself without becoming disillusioned or cynical?
Question raised by Janet H.

Excellent question. I’ve personally struggled with this issue myself. When I first got saved and joined the churches in my area I was expecting to find an army of saints marching into the community serving those in need and carrying the gospel. What I found was quite different. There were some who did just that, but it seemed like so many other struggled with sin, judged and condemned others, didn’t really believe the message, and others outright just pretended to be Christians but were really just serving themselves. To make matters worse I turned on television to see preachers preaching prosperity gospel, other preachers marching around stage hitting people with jackets, and still others bubbling from the mouth and wreathing on the ground “smitten by the spirit” or some such nonsense. I saw many dead churches. I saw youth groups full of sexual sin. I saw people not practicing what they preached. I saw arrogance and conceit in the pulpit and by worship leaders. I saw many “Christian rock” bands which seemed to be all about vague, corny songs and seemed to be all about making money, not Jesus. I saw conferences, but not much disciplemaking, I saw flawed people, and I saw burn out on a mass scale. It was so tough at first.

Honestly today I see myself as a man on a mission. I had to make up my mind to ignore the failings of others, and walk my mission of carrying the gospel of Jesus Christ. I don’t look to other Christians or Christian leaders for perfection anymore. I know they are redeemed sinners just like me. When I get discouraged, I turn to the Bible, and I look to the life of Jesus Christ. I look to God, not other people. But it’s still tough to see so many who are getting wrong, and abusing the message. Part of you wants to grab them by the scruff of the neck and shake them until they repent. But we all know that wouldn’t do any good. People have free choices to make, and so do I. Honestly, I make mistakes all the time. I’m sure some have looked to me and seen hypocrisy. Very early on as a Christian I still smoked cigarettes! Can you imagine seeing a guy professing to be a Christian puffing on smokes in his car before the bible study? But you know what, early on in my first year I was recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction. So I took it one thing at a time. But a year later, I quit smoking too. Others might’ve seen me and been discouraged, but God knew that he was orchestrating a mighty victory in my life, one step at a time. So we shouldn’t try to judge or condemn others Christians. We can discern what they’re doing, and lead people to the true message. But the Christian message has always been a message coming from the outskirts, from the rejects, from the least of these, today in America we have to be the John the Baptist’s proclaiming the true message in the wild. When other Christians fall short, look to Jesus.

And even in ministry, where I serve, I was hoping for something so grand in my life, seeing hundreds of lives changed, seeing great awakenings and revivals. But that hasn’t been my story so far. And I let that discourage me at times. But the truth is we serve where God wants us, and we leave the results to him. And the truth is many of the greats had to prove themselves, that they could serve for years in small communities before they had the opportunity to cause wide-scale changes. Billy Graham started in one small church. And honestly, even if I never do huge, great things, or lead great revivals, it doesn’t matter, as long as I’m trustworthy and continue to do ministry, to preach the gospel through my whole life, then I’ve done what’s been asked of me. So I look to Jesus, not others, recognize my own shortcomings, keep my hope in God’s eternity, serve in and out of season, and leave the results to God’s Spirit. I hope that helps, thanks!

Additional Responses by Leading Christian Apologists:

Final Words:
In closing I would like to encourage everyone to keep asking the hard questions. But also recognize that no one person is going to have all the answers. But I really do believe that there are good answers to the questions we raise. I would encourage those reading to continue to explore resources, books, Youtube sermons and college speakers.

I know I was discouraged from asking questions by those in ministry. Well from one who is in ministry now, I encourage you: Keep asking questions! Keep seeking this mysterious God! Keep inquiring. I encourage you to continue in your search and journey with these topics. Here are some great organizations to check out further:

Related Posts:
1. How do I become a Christian?
2. What is the Gospel?
3. Does man need God in Western Civilization
4. Seven Objections to the Bible and Seven Reasonable Responses
5. 10 Answers to Common Questions Raised by Skeptics
6. Secular Views vs. Christian Truth
7. The Power of Love in Western Culture
8. Outlook for a Revived American Christianity
9. Questions on Salvation and God
10. Processing the Past and Being Restored

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Philosophical Transformation Series: Who is God? Comprehending an Infinite Creator

Audio Message:

Accompanying Video:  Who is God, really?

One of my favorite gospel preachers A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

We were building a foundation in the previous messages. The foundation of the structure is truth, that we can know truth, and make use of knowledge and information to understand reality. Secondly, the next layer on top of truth was science. Given that we can know truth, we can certainly know science, and through science, reason that a God who made the universe is in fact logical, and given our universe’s harmony and the earth’s ability to sustain life in such a delicate balance, it is quite reasonable to believe. Next we talked about history, given that science supports the existence of God, we looked at the biblical documents and recorded history, seeing that we can in fact trust the Bible as the word of God, given manuscript authority, historical accuracy, and a demonstration of supernatural facts in the Bible, like the fulfilled prophecies of Christ’s coming.

So now today we’re talking about Theology, which literally means, the study of God. I think it’s important that we understand though that we’re not self-referencing the Bible to itself. The Bible is the word of God, because the Bible says it’s the word of God, is a fallacious argument. But, we can reasonably say that science supports the existence of God, the Bible is historically and archaeologically accurate, and the Bible has demonstrated a supernatural ability to predict future events. One can also reason from the growth of Christianity, the personal witness of 2.1 billion Christians who testify to the divinity of Jesus, and the eye witness accounts in the scriptures that say that they saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion. All of this makes a cumulative case that the Bible is the word of God, and Jesus Christ is a Living savior.

So we ask today: Who is God?  First, let’s look at what the Salvation Army doctrines say about God:

2. We believe that there is only one God, who is infinitely perfect, the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things, and who is the only proper object of religious worship.
3. We believe that there are three persons in the Godhead - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, undivided in essence and co-equal in power and glory.  

God created all things. God preserves all things, meaning he literally holds reality together, and God is also the governor of all, he’s sovereignly in charge of reality. This infers our moral accountability to Him. And we also see that God’s nature is fundamentally triune. God is Father, God is Son, and God is Holy Spirit. Yet He is One God, not three. One God. And he is infinitely perfect, a statement indicating a transcendent perfection that goes beyond our natural understanding.

Next we’ll take a quick look at a section of a famous confession of faith made in 1646, called the Westminster Confession:

"There is but one only,[1] living, and true God,[2] who is infinite in being and perfection,[3] a most pure spirit,[4] invisible,[5] without body, parts,[6] or passions;[7] immutable,[8] immense,[9] eternal,[10] incomprehensible,[11] almighty,[12] most wise,[13] most holy,[14] most free,[15] most absolute;[16] working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will,[17] for His own glory;[18] most loving,[19] gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin;[20] the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him;[21] and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments,[22] hating all sin,[23] and who will by no means clear the guilty."[24]

-excerpt from “Of God and the Holy Trinity.”

This is a classic reformed statement regarding who God is. Each of the numbers in the statement reference a different scripture verse. This is actually only 1/3 of their “Of God and the Holy Trinity” statement. But I thought it would be fun to read over some of it.

We are truly exploring a wonderful question, and what’s amazing and shocking about the search for God is that when we search after Him, He responds and comes close to us. It send shivers up my spine to think of it actually. I've studied many subjects, but to study God is to feel his presence in the room with you.

Often times what God says about himself is phrased as a question, not all the time, but many times. Just as in our scripture today the first verses were, “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” God gave those words to Isaiah, probably directly into his mind, and Isaiah wrote them down. What an elegant way to address the question!

"Who is God?"  Well, a good response is, "To whom could we compare God?"  And essentially that is the best we can do. God is infinite, eternal, and all powerful. Those are three realities we simply cannot understand. We are linear as humans, we exist at a single point in time, able to reflect backwards and forwards, but we can’t see eternity. We just can’t. We can hardly comprehend what the word means. Which is why many skeptics will ask, well if God created the universe, who created God? And its just like… what do you mean? If God could be created by something else, he wouldn’t be God. The thing that created Him would have to be God, which then becomes an infinite regression, a fallacy of logic. But that’s how many think; in human terms. But ultimately there has to be something at the very beginning, with no beginning and no end. Many thought maybe it was the universe, but scientists today know that the universe had a beginning. That leaves, God, who must be infinite. Which we can’t understand. Which is tough.

So the best way we have to at least glimpse some of who God is, is through comparisons. And we certainly have reasonable comparisons, after all, if God made all things, then everything offers at least some reflection of who He is. Just as if I paint a painting or write a story, certain things in those works will display who I am.

Let’s look at who God is from two perspectives, first, How God relates to us, in other words, How God connects to us. and secondly, what God says about himself in the holy scriptures.

You can open your Bible to Isaiah chapter 40 if you'd like, that’s where we’ll be looking at God’s relational aspects.

First of all God shows that he is Father. The way a son or daughter relates to dad, gives us some clues as to who God is. Like children to a dad, God our Father firmly insists that we are accountable to him. Yet he is so tender with us, that he invites us through the Spirit to call out “abba” which means “daddy.”

Any of you remember the game you played as kids, “my dad is the strongest?” With my cousins, Travis would say, “my dad is the strongest dad in the world.” And Ben would say,”My dad is even stronger than that.” And Then I’d say “Yeah well, my dads stronger than Chuck Norris.” When we’re young we look up at our dads in awe of their strength, and ability, and firmness and resolve. In the same way God calls us to reflect on his ability, wisdom, and majesty.

God’s wisdom is beyond measure, his greatness beyond all we can comprehend. Isaiah chapter 40 verse 10; “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm.”

Secondly we have God as our savior. He is our hero. Much like we see heroes in popular media, who come along and do great deeds. We see the fullness of God as our savior in Jesus Christ.

Again from Isaiah chapter 40 verse 30 “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.” God is our great redeemer, the one who strengthens us, gives us hope, renews our strength and sets us to soar upon the heights.

Thirdly, God is indwelling presence. He is our leader. A good analogy I think is of Gandalf the wizard from the Lord of the Rings. We set out on a quest, and companions go along with us, our family, friends, and of course, God, the guide, the wizard, the supernatural presence with us on the journey of life. Whenever we’re in trouble, or we need help or guidance, or wisdom, we turn to the wizard, the supernatural presence with us, which is God who indwells us.

Isaiah 40:11 says “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Truly, we have a God who is tender, gentle, and full of love. God is our shepherd, our guide through the world, as He lives within us.

These are three pictures of who God is to us, and how he connects to us. We accurately see him as our Father, and our savior, and our guiding spirit. All true. Yet I’d like to direct you to a 4th aspect of God.

For the rest of this mystery of God, we turn to the name of God. God’s name is Yahweh. Which means, “I am.” And God specifically told Moses, my name is “I am who I am.” Theologians have said that this phrase points us directly to the otherness of God.

This is a vital statement to understand: God is not like us. He is not human. This is the grand mystery, the enchanting, mystifying, glorious, unimaginable fact of God. He says “I am who I am.” He is saying, I am the self existent one. I made everything. I made the universe from nothing, and I am not like you. He is not ruled by petty passions, he is not limited by human concepts, he is not stationed in time or space he is beyond time, beyond space, beyond sun, moon, galaxies or parallel dimensions. He is so far beyond us. He is a grand, shocking, mystifying, and often terrifying mystery to us as humans. He is not like us. Our thoughts are not his thoughts.

Psalm 90 verse 2: ”Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, you were God. You are God from everlasting to everlasting.” Before there was a universe, an earth or a human race, there was God. Psalm 90 verse 4 says “A thousand years in your sight

are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” Which means, God exists outside time. He probably perceives time like we perceive looking at a painting. He sees it all at once.

These aspects of God, his otherness, his eternal nature, and his timeless perspective point us to the fact of God’s otherness. He actually designed our species. He designed everything we see around us, it all comes from God’s creativity and artistic personality. But not only did he design this reality we exist in, he designed the concepts that undergird our reality. Concepts like seasons, romance, work, art, birth, music, cities, and even creativity itself. He designed time in fact. We are made by God, because God creatively decided to craft billions of souls to inhabit bodies, all because it pleased Him. Though technically speaking, you came from your parents as a conjugation of their DNA, culminating in your birth. But don’t think for one minute that God didn’t give you the most important part of you: your soul; That which transcends your bodily form.

Have you ever had a dream that seemed so real? The truth is, you are the dream. You’re the dream in the mind of God. Humanity often affixes itself as ultimate reality, but we are not. God is ultimate reality, and we are the dreams he has made, to live and to be. Yet he has put a part of himself and his nature within us, we are special, and he has placed within us a slice of infinity; that we long after eternity, though we live in a temporal state.

This is a tough thing to accept. It’s a tough thing to accept that life is not about us, but is actually about God. And it’s tough to accept that God is beyond our full comprehension. But we must accept it. There are some things that will be beyond our comprehension and only a fool could refuse to admit such a thing, as Leonardo Da Vinci said.

We are creatures, beings, made by this mysterious God. We are his people, his creation. Which is why he loves us so much. Yet it’s not about us, or his love for us, ultimately everything is about Him. Specifically, everything is about Jesus. The more we consider the enormity and magnitude of who God is, the more it should draw us to center our lives on worshiping Him, glorifying Him, and bringing everything in ourselves under his dominion. For He made us, he owns us. We are his property, His people. Designed to worship Him. 

So we should seek to understand Him. And to Know Him. Thankfully, he has given us his word. And in His word, God speaks of Himself. God says about himself:

1st John 4:8 I am love. First of all, God is love. He does not just love us, but he IS love.

Leviticus 11:44 I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. God is holy, he is perfect and thus his standard for us is holiness. He calls us to consecrate ourselves today by trusting in Jesus.

Psalm 7:11 I am a righteous judge. Rest assured, God will call us all to account. We will be face to face with Him and we will give an account of how we lived.

Jeremiah 32:27 I am the Lord, the God of all mankind, is anything too hard for me? God is sovereign over us, has rightful dominion over us, we are his property, and we owe our allegiance to him. He can do anything that is in keeping with his perfect nature.

Exodus 34:14 I am a jealous God. He wants us, and he will not tolerate our chasing after false gods or our own pleasures. This is a good jealousy, a jealousy that one has for those who are rightly his.

Isaiah 41:13 I am the Lord who takes hold of your right hand and helps you. God delights in reaching out to us and helping us. Amazing.

Malachi 3:6 I am the Lord, I do not change. Everything around us may be changing, including ourselves, God does not change.So we should seek to understand Him. And to Know Him. In ancient times God spoke through Moses and the prophets, but today he speaks to us through His son. In fact, anyone who has seen the son has seen the Father.

In ancient times God spoke through Moses and the prophets, but today he speaks to us through His son. In fact, anyone who has seen the son has seen the Father.  Again, we can look to the New Testament gospel of John to find of several things our God says about himself. Jesus Christ our God said about himself: 

1. I am the bread of life -John 6:35, 48, 51

2. I am the light of the world -John 8:12; 9:5

3. I am the door of the sheep -John 10:7, 9

4. I am the good shepherd -John 10:11, 14

5. I am the resurrection and the life -John 11:25

6. I am the way, the truth, and the life -John 14:6

7. I am the true vine -John 15:1

God has spoken. His word is the truth. He speaks to us. He speaks about himself. God is true. He is our God and he calls us to relationship with Him, to trust in His son Jesus Christ, and to surrender to the leading of the Lord Holy Spirit.

In conclusion, God says to us today, in response I believe, to our search for Him: 

“To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

A Philosophical Transformation Series
4: Theology: Understanding God
8: Government & Law: The Unique American Experiment 
9:  The Future Destiny of Man: The New Heavens & New Earth
10: Everything is about Jesus: Closeness with Christ & Living Missionally

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Friday, February 17, 2017

The Eternal City: A Real Place? What will it be like?

Via Wikimedia Commons cc 2.0
Is there really life after death?  Or is this life all there is?  It's a question that we ignore, we toss aside, and eventually ponder.  It's a question that draws out fear and emotional outrage.  It's a question that affects how we live and what we live for.  

Could there really be an eternal city, coming out of heaven, where humanity will live in the next life?  I believe that there is just such a place.  

Our universe is a very interesting place.  Have you ever breezed through photos taken by the Hubble telescope?  Or looked at photos taken by molecular biologists of cells in the human body?  Have you looked up at the stars and the moon and wondered at the harmonious complexity of our world?  I know I have done those things.  

Have you watched the hummingbird meander effortlessly through the air buzzing at breakneck speeds from flower to flower injecting it's beak into the nectar simultaneously feeding itself and cross-pollinating plants?   

Have you contemplated the breadth of time from eternity to eternity?  Have you considered the factors necessary for the survival of a species?  Indeed, these things are spell-binding.  They cry out for an intelligence beyond our frame of physical reference with the ability to care for our souls past death.

The eternal city is indeed a real place.  And there are requirements we must meet to enter that place.  These requirements are most certainly moral in nature.  After all we as humans think and live in moral terms.  We look for justice, mercy, love, forgiveness, and judgment.  We know intuitively that abstract ideas, like good and evil, are rooted in fixed reality.  We know that good and evil are real.

All of these things led to my realization that God is in fact real.  And that there is an eternal city beyond our existence on Earth.  The very last book of the book tells us about it.  It's a book titled "Revelation."  Revelation means, "the revealing."  It is truly, a fascinating read.

This eternal city, which is the future of the human race, is discussed in good detail in Revelation.  And if in fact this city is a future reality, then the implications are indeed far-reaching.  It changes everything about everything, as far as considering the meaning of life.  If this eternal city is indeed an eternal city, in which humanity will reside not for a mere 75 to 100 years, but for millions of years, and billions of years, and trillions of years, then this life is nothing but a dim window, a mere 1% of the 99% reality that awaits us in the future.  

For the God who names himself in the scriptures as "I am who I am" such a future is not too hard.  What in fact would be too hard for a God with no beginning or end?  I AM WHO I AM is a statement of God's otherness in fact.  God is not like us in most respects.  He is beyond our full comprehension.  This is a terribly difficult thing to accept.  But as Da Vinci said, only a fool would not be willing to admit that there are some realities beyond his comprehension.  That is why the fallacy of "Who created God?" is so amusing.  By definition, if God could be created, then He wouldn't be God.  He'd be man.  We think in these finite terms: Who created God?  God answers this question in his title: I am who I am.  I am not like you.  I am beyond the past, and beyond the future.  In fact, God created time itself.  We must allow for our finite ability to comprehend eternity.  Given that, we can however still consider many aspects of this reality of the eternal city. 

Revelation chapter twenty, from the most hated book in history, banned in approximately 60 countries, the Bible, which simple means "The Book" we get a glimpse of our future as a species.  The mind repels against it, preferring a future of human glory, yet something within us tells us it's true.

"I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years." (Revelation 20:1-6)

At a future date in time, that which we are unaware of, things will get very troubled on Earth.  They are in fact rather troubled right now, but nothing compared to what it will be in the end.  At the consummation of these dark events, evil will be defeated, and Jesus Christ will reign on Earth for 1,000 years. And so will his people. 

Fascinating stuff.  We don't really know what will occur during this 1,000 year period, but it's clear that the eternal city hasn't been established yet.  The new heavens and the new Earth haven't come yet.  There seems to be a period of Christ reigning on Earth with his tribulation saints, and at the end of the 1,000 years there is a final rebellion against Christ and his people when Satan is released a second time.  During this engagement, armies surround the holy city, which is most likely referring to Jerusalem in present day Israel.  And the city is surrounded by enemy armies, probably involving nations deceived by the return of Satan.  The enemy army is destroyed by God, and Christ's final victory is completed.

Then we have an event called the great white throne judgment.  This is where God's people are crowned with glory and given their inheritance, and also, where God's enemies are judged according to how they lived, and sentenced to disconnection from God for eternity.  

Revelation 21 and 22 is what we want to focus on today.  That's where we see the creation of the new heavens and the new Earth.  

A lot of people are deathly afraid of touching this part of the Bible.  And I think it's because there are so many wacko birds out there.  They go absolutely nutty about the end times, and scare people out of their minds with dates, times, predictions, locations, and of course the ever-increasing list of those who must be "the anti-christ."  Who have made that list?  Names like Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and of course the last few Popes. I recall one pastor indicated in one of his sermons that he'd met 39 people who had claimed to be one of the "two witnesses" in Revelation chapter 11.  (On a side note some have suggested that the two witnesses could be Moses and Elijah.  It's a fair speculation, has some evidence to back it up, but it's just theory.)

Many church organizations and leaders, like the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah Witnesses have claimed to "know the date" of when Christ will return, and time and again, they were proven wrong.  That really has to be an awkward day after, don't you think?  Well, we've got the date, here it comes... oh.  Well, anyway...  I guess we miscalculated there. Awkward! 

But I think if we set aside all the wacky predictions and money-making "end times" extravaganzas and just look at what the text says, we can find a true blessing from God in the last few chapters of Revelation.  It is a book of the Bible, so we shouldn't avoid it, we should study it, and accept it as true events.  But as always, I will add that you should check the word for yourself, if anything I write does not jive with the word of God, then you should disregard what I've said, and trust the word of God.  It has been preserved through history, and will not lead you astray.

"Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”"
-Revelation 21:1-5 

If I may translate for you, I believe what it's saying here is that the old universe, the universe we exist in right now, the milky way, and all the surrounding galaxies will be removed by God, and remade into a perfected form.  Remember the universe we exist in right now is in a "fallen" state.  It's messed up by sin, fragmented and unsustainable.  What this new universe will be like?  It's hard to say.  I doubt we could fully comprehend it.  But I'm sure it will be beautiful, and awe inspiring.  I've studied numerous artistic depictions of what the new heavens and new earth might be like, they all utterly fail to project anything near what it will actually be like.  And I understand why.  It's just so far beyond us to consider a perfect reality.  Perfection is so far removed from what we see around us and within ourselves, don't you think?  

Within this new universe, there will also be a new Earth.  That's right, a physical Earth.  We will not be floating like spirits in the cloud of heaven.  We are not destined to live in heaven.  We are destined to live on the new Earth, specifically in a city called the New Jerusalem.  So remember that, no clouds, no harps, no halos, that doesn't sound particularly appealing or logical after all, clouds can't be stood upon.  So no, the Bible says a city called the New Jerusalem.

Now allow me to blow your mind completely regarding this city.  Remember the Bible says this, so we must believe it.  I've told people and they say "well I don't know, I've been taught other things."  Well, I'm just telling you what the Bible says, and I'm gonna stick with the word.  You do what you like.  Anyway.

The New Jerusalem, is a giant city in the same shape as the OT tabernacle from the time of Moses.  The city is in fact in the shape of a giant cube (Revelation 21:16-17.) Just like the Borg from Star Trek.  Just kidding.  Honestly though, why did I have to discover this for myself in the text?  It's right there in Revelation 21.  Yet I had never heard this before, until I actually read it myself.  It just goes to show you folks, read the word for yourself, but don't just read it, study it slowly verse by verse and don't rely on what you've been told, rely on what's actually in there.  

Absolutely fascinating stuff!  It says the city shines with the glory of God.  I don't know exactly what that means, but from time to time I've had tiny glimpses of the glory of God in my own life, and let me tell you, I wish I could live in those moments.  They are just wonderful.  They come too abruptly and end too quickly. 

The massiveness of this city in quite revealing.  It's about 1,400 miles.  About the distance from Seattle, WA to Minneapolis, MI.  The New Jerusalem is that wide AND long in a square shape.  So about the size of 3/4 of the United States just as the base.  But remember it's also 1,400 miles tall.  Absolutely amazing.  

There are three gates on each side of the city, with a total of twelve gates.  Each gate entrance is carved out of one massive pearl.  There are twelve foundations to the city, each made of a different kind of rare jewel.  (Revelation 21:19-21.)   God is an artist.  An artist not only of the materials provided, but of the materials themselves.  Remember he designed each of these jewels from scratch.  Or as the story is told, an atheist came to God and said,"Making things isn't so hard. I bet I could take dirt and make life."  And God replied,"Well alright, go ahead and try."  So the atheist went down into the sand and began to fuddle around.  And God quickly replied,"Hold on now, get your own sand."

Running through the center of the city is a "great street" made of transparent gold (v.21) There is no temple in the city, no tabernacle, in fact from the shape of the city we can see that the city itself is the tabernacle; in other words, the very throne of God is the city itself (v.22)  The 'holy of holies' where the true presence of God resides is the city itself.  

"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever." -Revelation 22:1-5

So from the throne of God which must reside within the city flows this river of the water life down the middle of the streets of the city.  So we see a great street of gold, it must be a very wide street, and down the middle of the street is this river of the water of life.  This giant tree, the tree of life is at the end of the street apparently, or perhaps at the center, bearing twelve crops of fruit.  Fascinating.  There is a lot of metaphor here.  Christ is the river that leads us to the holy city.  Christ, given by God, leads us to the tree of life, where we eat of the gift of eternal life, that which Adam lost for us in the garden long ago.  This is done a great deal in the scriptures.  Real events, and real places carry additional meaning.  It's quite an elegant way for God to describe reality.  He uses real events to depict things, and through these real events he also describes spiritual truths.  

"Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.” -Revelation 22:10-11

God instructed John not to hide what was written in Revelation, and in the same way today I believe we are called to share with others the words of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.  I truly believe and know that these events will come to pass.  All of this will happen just as God has described it.

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life."
-Revelation 22:12-17 

It's a lot to take in.  It really is.  But it's an amazing look at a beautiful future.  The implications are far reaching.  I think the most practical application of these truths is this: How we live today matters.  It matters in light of eternity.  It matters in light of the future destiny of the human race.  Blessed are those who wash their robes.  How does one wash their robe? By coming to Jesus Christ, the one whom God has given to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Christ gives us the right to the eternal life found at the tree of life, the holy grail of life everlasting.  Christ is the cure to death itself.  So like the Spirit, Christ, and the bride say, I also say to you: Come!  Let the one who is thirsty come.  I am so thirsty. I'm so thirsty for righteousness in those broken world, I'm so thirsty for justice in this troubled world, and I'm so thirsty for peace in my own troubled soul.  If your like me, thirsty like me, I am telling you the truth, you are thirsty for Jesus Christ.  I am thirsty for this great, glorious future where all things are made new, including me. Are you thirsty?

Close up of Nebula Via Wikimedia Commons cc 2.0
God's Glory of Creation Via Wikimedia Commons cc 2.0
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