Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Are you there, God?

As I have studied the past week for my message this Wednesday, I'm struck with the foundational belief that has come under attack in our world when it comes to recognizing the Scriptures for God's Word: one must first believe that there is, in fact, a God!

So, how do we know there is a God? I'll humor the doubters, and I won't start with Scripture...

First, we know that there is a God because our hearts confirm it! There is an inner sense within every human that there is something higher, something greater, some divine purpose to all of what is around us. Romans 1 talks about how people will deny their Creator, and "suppress the truth".

Secondly, the existence of God is confirmed in nature and in Scripture! Starting with Scripture, it never actually gives "proof" that God exists; He just does! And Scripture tells us that God has revealed himself through creation, so that we don't have to read the Bible to know that He does exist! In fact, creation itself gives us clues as to his attributes! EVERYTHING in nature screams "God made me!" From the tiniest molecule to the largest nebula, all are declaring the glory and power and sovereignty and majesty of Creator God!

But God doesn't stop there. He has even given us logical arguments as to the fact of His existence. He seeks to prove irrational the arguments that some would call rational, that He doesn't exist. In fact, Scripture calls this rational argument foolish. So what are these arguments?

The cosmological argument states that every known thing in the universe has a cause. Therefore, the universe itself has a cause. The cause of such a great universe can only be God.

The teleological argument states that because the universe is in order, harmony, and design is apparent, God is the intelligent and purposeful Designer.

This one is tricky; think about it. It begins by assuming that there is a God, and defining that God as a being "greater than which none can be imagined." The existence of this being is an attribute of that being, and because "to exist" is greater than "to not exist", God must exist. Trippy, no?

Here's another good one. Because we are moral beings, we have a sense of right and wrong. The argument is that there must be a God who is the ultimate source of this right and wrong, who will bring justice to all.

At this point, there are probably two groups of people we can classify. Some of you might be saying "How can one NOT believe in God??" You've got the idea. There are many at this point who would say "These arguments are not at all convincing, this does not prove that there is a God; I still don't believe." This is where man's sinful nature comes into play. Most of these are "manmade arguments", and as such are imperfect. God Himself actually has to make us capable of knowing Him! So, in a way, the very fact that we know that there IS a God proves that He does in fact exist!

Try Him in this! Ask Him to show you if He is there, or if He is not, and He will! You say "I don't believe, so why would I pray that..." and I say: Why would you NOT pray that?? If He's not there in the first place, you have nothing to fear, and He will not answer you. The fact that you are fearful of asking this proves your "empty faith" in nothingness, because you believe in your heart there is a God! (Point 1 proven)

The belief in God is not a "blind faith". Faith in God is a confidence through all of this overwhelming evidence!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

He who has ears...

This month is "Stump the Intern" at middle school AFW. The students have submitted a variety of questions about life, the Bible, and different theological issues.

One question that really piqued my interest was one about the Psalms. There is a mysterious word sometimes used, that doesn't really have a set meaning...

In your anger do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.
Selah Psalm 4:4
"Selah..." What does this word mean? Some Bible translations will give a footnote, saying that the real meaning is not known, that it's possibly some sort of musical notation. In all reality, we don't really know what it means, but people have studied and studied and studied the word to figure it out.

It is in God's word, after all. It's gotta be important. Some say it could be similar to "Amen" that you sometimes see at the end of hymns, and which we say at the end of prayers, meaning "So be it."

Hebrew scholars say it could be related to the word "Calah", which means to measure, or to weigh. If this is true, then the translation would be something like "weigh this carefully" or "think about it."

Strike them with terror, O LORD;
let the nations know they are but men.
Selah Psalm 9:20

Think about it.

Perhaps you'll read other Psalms that this word is in, and it doesn't really seem all that important, or profound. It's just kind of...there.

Ultimately, the word remains mysterious. I like the definition "think about it" because it serves a purpose. Look at God's word; think about it! There's something important to learn! It reminds me of the times that Jesus would say "He who has ears, let him hear..." and then he would explain something important.

Bottom line: It's a mystery! But it's still God's inspired Word. Pay attention when you see it! What is being said about God in that passage? What is being said about humans? What is God trying to teach me?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Knowing vs. KNOWING

This past weekend I was in Columbus, OH at the National Youth Ministry Conference. I hadn't traveled in a while, so part of the fun for me was getting to fly and experience knew environments that I had never experienced before. I've always loved flying, something that some people find stressful and annoying. I see it as an adventure.

When you fly on a commercial jet, it is a unique experience. You are often placed in very close quarters with people you might not know very well, or at all. Your destination might be an international airport, filled with people from all over the world. Some of these travelers are experienced, and seem to know what they are doing quite well. Some are quite obviously clueless.

Not only are the people different and unique, but the places are different and unique. Being in a jetliner gives you an interesting view of these places as well. When you're cruising at 25,000 feet and 0.80 Mach, you see the world in a much different way than you're used to. Suddenly, towering sky scrapers become little metal toothpicks on the horizon. Cars are like the tiniest bugs, and forget about being able to distinguish people. And yet, the powerful weather system you're about to travel through is still towering above you!

In my mind, I know that all these things are true: we are small in comparison to the size of our Earth, and the Earth is small in comparison to the Sun, etc. The Earth is full of diverse people with thoughts and ideas that are unlike my own. They look weird, different, not like me. Some of them have a lot more money than I do, and it's obvious. Some have a lot LESS money than I do, and it's obvious. I know all of this in my head, and I don't have to travel to find that out.

But when I travel, this knowledge becomes glaringly REAL to me...those people are no longer a thought, they're sitting right next to me. The places I know of are the places I'm at. The world looks tiny out the the window of a plane at 25,000 feet, and I am right there!

That's the difference between propositional knowledge and experiential knowledge. Propositional knowledge is like "book smarts": you know something by reading, or by hearing about it. Experiential knowledge, however, is "street smarts": you've actually experienced it...you KNOW it...

I wonder sometimes if we say we know God, but it's just propositional knowledge. We don't really know God. Have you ever experienced God? Do you know Him?

Abraham knew God: he experienced Him. Job knew God: he experienced Him. David knew God: he experienced Him. The disciples knew God: they experienced Him. Paul had a unique experience with God, one that changed his life in an instant.

Do we know God? Can you say that you've experienced Him? Can I say that I've experienced Him? Isn't that what we should be seeking: an experiential knowledge of God, not just a propositional?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thou Shalt Not Worry

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

...About anything...

It has been said that prayer and worry are as mutually opposed as fire and water. One cannot exist where the other resides. If the fire is strong and hot, it will vaporize all water. Where there is water in abundance, it will douse the flame. I'm not sure which is which, but the message is clear: prayer and reliance on God's provision should always quench any worry, ANY worry, we might have. Jesus made this a very clear point in his sermon on the mount. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus tells us that just as God the Father provides for the plants of the field and the birds of the air, so will he provide for our needs. In other words, let's run after him, and his will for our lives and not worry about all the fluff that this world constantly throws at us, and he'll provide us with what we need.

In light of this, why is it that we worry so much about all the little things, and worry even more about the basics (ie big things)? In American culture today, daily life is devoted constantly to getting more stuff, more things, more more more. And the instant something happens to keep more from coming our way, we freak out. Often anger or anxiety or even depression will set in. Perhaps you try to hide it for a while, and you might do a pretty good job at it. But eventually it begins affecting your demeanor, the way you interact with people, and close relationships. As Yoda would say: "fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering." At the root of it, when we become worried that we can't get more, or that we won't have enough, we give into fear.

Worry = Fear

Fear can be absolutely detrimental to our well-being. We each react to it differently. Some of us get angry at every little thing. Some of us seclude ourselves, opening the door to deep-seated depression. Fear can be crippling, in every way. Most of the time, though, worry is just a small amount of fear. It looks like we can probably manage it on our own, so we start to fight what we are fearful of. In this context, we work harder and harder and harder to get more and more and more. We let this worry, this fear, that God won't provide for our needs consume us, and we depend on our own strength rather than his.

It's interesting that God saw all this coming. Throughout his Word, he repeatedly encourages us, commands us to "Fear not."

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
-Isaiah 41:10

The command to "fear not" is the most repeated throughout all of scripture. And how do we follow it? Check out Philippians 4 again: in everything, through prayer and petition, present your requests to God. He has this amazing thing called omnipotence; he's in control of everything. And he has the capability to flood us with this amazing sense of peace amidst the chaos of life. And then, he provides in ways we couldn't even imagine. All the more reason to trust him, and fear not.

To sum everything up: God can and will provide, we should therefore fear not, and instead of worrying, pray. If you're constantly tempted to worry, Paul says it best in 1 Thessalonians 5:17:

Pray Continually

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dear God...?

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us --whatever we ask-- we know that we have what we asked of him. -1 John 5:14-15

What is prayer? Why don't we get what we ask when we pray for it, if this verse says what it seems to say? What did Jesus have to say about prayer?

I've noticed throughout my life that people can be characterized by how they pray. Some people when they pray become very reverent when they pray, and maybe even look like they're about to pray. Some people pray for what seems like hours, saying the same things over and over again and using big words. Some people say "Lord", "God", or "Father" every two words. Some people don't even like praying when they are around other people. And then there are those people who don't even sound like they're praying, but actually preaching to the people around them.

How then, should we pray? Should it even be a public thing? And how does God answer prayer?

Jesus gave us the example of how to pray in his sermon on The Mount:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
Matthew 6:9-13

So basically, when we pray, we should find a place alone, quiet, without any distractions. We should then glorify God, pray for provision of needs, and forgiveness. Then we should pray for protection. Jesus also said that we should not be hypocritical when we pray. Prayer is between God and me; other people do not play a role.

What about corporate prayer? And you still haven't answered the question about answers to prayer.

Corporate prayer...we do it all the time in church. Some people are really comfortable with it, and others not. Some people make lots of noise during prayer: "Mmm...yes Lord...amen". Sometimes it can be distracting, other times uplifting. The book of Acts tells us that the early church met regularly to pray together, meaning this has been a tradition from the beginning. Meeting together like this can be uplifting, and it is meant to unify the body of Christ. We should come together and pray in the name of Jesus, and this unifies us in action and spirit. There are also countless times in the Old and New Testaments when people pray for healing, for well-being, and for God's provision, so this has its place in corporate prayer as well.

So why aren't those prayers always answered? The verse in 1 John seems to indicate they should ALWAYS be answered.

Ya, that definitely is what it seems like. There's also a passage in Matthew that seems to indicate the same thing. But read it again...."according to his will." God is sovereign. If we ask what is according to his will, we will receive it. But if it is not in his will, then the answer will be no. And no is still an answer.

This brings me to my main point: Prayer is not about getting what we want. It is about having communion with God, and discerning his will for our lives.

I think scripture makes it clear: prayer is communicating with God. We communicate in order to know what other people are thinking, doing, feeling, desiring. We communicate to build relationship. And this is exactly what prayer, communication with God, is. Just as one can ask a friend for something and that friend refuse the request, so to can God answer no to our requests. This is in order that we might pray for his will to be done in our lives, as Jesus said, and to learn what that is we must continue to pray.

Let us then pray with the intent of growing close to God, and to know his will.

Pray continually...for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:17-18