Friday, March 26, 2010


We are hindered in our progress toward becoming spiritually competent people by how easily we can explain away the movements of God toward us. … We live in a culture that has cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. … Partly as a result of this social force toward skepticism, very few people ever develop competence in their prayer life. This is chiefly because they are prepared to explain away as coincidences the answers that come to the prayer that they do make… In their pride they close off the entrance to a life of increasingly confident and powerful prayer.
The greatest of divides between human beings and human cultures is between those who regard the visible world as being of primary importance – possibly alone real or at least a touchstone of reality – and those who do not. We live in a culture that overwhelmingly gives primary, if not exclusive, importance to the visible. … But neither God nor the human mind and heart are visible.*

*Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God, Dallas Willard, Intervarsity Press (September 2006).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Isaiah 5:1-6 (New Living Translation)
A Song about the Lord’s Vineyard
Now I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a rich and fertile hill.
He plowed the land, cleared its stones,
and planted it with the best vines.
In the middle he built a watchtower
and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks.
Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes,
but the grapes that grew were bitter.

Now, you people of Jerusalem and Judah,
you judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could I have done for my vineyard
that I have not already done?
When I expected sweet grapes,
why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?

Now let me tell you
what I will do to my vineyard:
I will tear down its hedges
and let it be destroyed.
I will break down its walls
and let the animals trample it.
I will make it a wild place
where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed,
a place overgrown with briers and thorns.
I will command the clouds
to drop no rain on it.
This passage of the Old Testament of the Bible makes me think of fruitfulness. Out of gratitude for what the owner of the vineyard has done, I want to be a vineyard that produces fruit; and in particular I want to produce sweet grapes. This is true of my own life but it is equally true for the church of which I am a part, the community in which I live, the country of which I am a citizen, and the world as a whole.

God has given us much: He has prepared the land and cleared it of obstructions to growth, He has planted it with the best of vines, He has guarded it and kept the vineyard safe, He has built the structures that will take care of the fruit of the land. Now He waits for the harvest. What will I produce? What will we produce?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Next Instalment

My conversation with my young friend has continued. So, to carry on from where we left off, my analysis of what I see around me has left me with a rather limited number of possibilities.

1. There is no creator God and the universe is eternally expanding and collapsing.
2. The universe had a cause, a creator, a God.

As I analyze each of these possibilities, #1 depresses me. To be nothing more than a sac of organic chemicals capable of communicating with other sacs of organic chemicals would leave me between nihilism and existentialism, like a Woody Allen or Coen brothers movie. Yet, just because it depresses me does not mean it isn’t true. I must look further.

Because I believe a creator God would communicate with his creation, I look for signs of communication. Do I see things that seem to point to something beyond the bare atoms and electrons, protons and neutrons, quarks and Higgs bosons of our universe? The answer is yes.

I do see things which are difficult to account for in a purely physical world. Consciousness is something difficult to measure but I know that I have it and a rock does not have it. A kitten has consciousness of another sort and soap bubbles do not have consciousness. Certainly human consciousness points to something other. The love of a parent for a child; of a husband for a wife; altruism; these are noble qualities which point to something beyond us.

And then there are miracles. One day, I must write more on miracles but suffice it to say here that I have seen things that look like miracles. Miracles, by their very nature, are outside of the measurable universe. Miracles are occasions when the normal rules of our world are suspended and something happens which must have a super-natural cause. I have not seen many of these in my life but I have seen some. In forty-nine years of life I have seen a handful of things that fit my definition of a miracle. Prayers to God for healing that were answered or communication from God when I needed something to convince me that He was there.

And so, some of the wisdom I have gained in this life does indeed go beyond pure philosophy. Experience is something which has shaped my world-view. And my experience suggests that there is something beyond this world. My experience suggests that there is a creator God, a first cause, who wishes to communicate with his creation.

Reader, have you ever experienced anything that points to something beyond? Has anything ever made you wonder if there might be a God who is trying to communicate? Send me a comment and tell me what you see that points to something beyond this world. Tell me of a time when you experienced a miracle. You will be an encouragement to both me and my young friend.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Listen in to the Conversation

As I mentioned before, I am carrying on a conversation with a young friend who is wrestling with his world view. I admire anyone who is willing to question what he/she has thought and ask others questions about their own belief system. I too must take stock of my world-view and "take captive every thought" (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV). I invite you once again to listen in on the conversation.
In my 49 year lifetime I have considered a number of philosophies and world-views. In fact, I find myself continually reassessing and considering whether or not my belief systems make sense. I want to be sure that I am constantly growing in my knowledge and in my fair assessment of life. My understandings are based upon personal experience, the experience of others, and the things I learn from reading, meditation, and prayer.

So, I continually ask questions such as the one you now ask. "Must I include God in my world-view?" The way I assess this is by considering the alternatives. I believe the basic alternatives to the existence of God would be:
1. a universe without a cause; that is, a Big Bang that just happened, there was nothing before this and nothing caused the Big Bang,
2. an eternal universe; it has always existed,
3. a universe that is an illusion and does not really exist; some Hindus and some Buddhists would say that the universe exists only as a dream in the mind of Brahman.
The first of these is probably the most popular in our culture and yet even as I consider it I find myself asking, "If there was a beginning, what was before the beginning." The second of these has some credibility especially when we consider that some scientists suggest that the universe will expand to a certain point at which time it will then begin to collapse back upon itself and reverse back to the singularity that was the Big Bang. Then the process would begin all over again. What we then have is an eternal expanding and collapsing universe within which we humans make a brief appearance. The third possibility is plausible but opens up a lot more questions and is unsatisfying to me.

So, in my reasoning, I find myself equally torn between the concepts of "a universe that is eternally expanding and collapsing" and "a universe that has a creator." I am at a stalemate. Either one might be true. I must look for ways to get past this stalemate.

One point of agreement we have is that deism is unsatisfying and was really just a philosophical cop-out. Thus, if God exists, we would anticipate that He (and here I will use "He" for the sake of simplicity but please know that the use of a male gender is simply a short-hand way of describing the ultimate Creator Being) would interact with the creation and would communicate. So, one way past this stalemate is to look to see if I can find any evidence of communication from a Creator Being. This may be the crux of your question. Do I experience things that indicate a creator God is communicating with me?
More to come.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Journey Through a Large Universe

A friend recently asked me some questions about my faith, and in particular, my understanding of the Bible. Through Facebook, we have been engaging in a conversation of ultimate reality ever since. Rather than debating the validity of the Bible, I suggested that we might start back further in the discussion and see if we might find common points of agreement as a foundation for future conversations. What follows is a portion of that conversation and an explanation of part of my journey of faith.
Many times, not always, there is a natural progression of ideas. For me (and I have found that this was the same progression for others such as C. S. Lewis) the progression went something like this. I began to get curious about the universe in which we live. The nature of life on earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars inspired me to think of the vastness of the universe and I began to ask questions about what it was all about. I asked questions about how the universe came to be and why the universe came to be. I studied science that spoke of a beginning to the universe (the Big Bang) and wondered what was before that. This led me to theism, a belief in the existence of a God who was there before the Big Bang. Not everyone will look at these same things and come to this same conclusion but that is where it led me (and C. S. Lewis and others). Then I began to think of the nature of this God that I now was willing to admit might exist. I wrestled with deism. Deism suggests that God created the universe and set it in motion in such a way that he never needed to interact with it again. All of the potential and capabilities of the universe were there from the Big Bang. It is like he created a watch that he simply wound up and set it running. But deism was un-satisfying for me.

If God existed, it seemed rational that he had created the universe so that he might interact with it and so that he might communicate with his creation. I began to wrestle with the question, “If God wanted to communicate with the universe, how would he/she/it do so?” Here is where I began to investigate the religions of the world and their answers to this question. But, before I go any further in the explanation of my journey, perhaps I should pause here and see if we have yet found any common ground for conversation and discussion. Do we share any common assumptions? Tell me a bit about what your journey has been. I would truly like to hear how you have wrestled with such questions of ultimate reality.

I invite all who read this blog to join the conversation. What does your journey look like? What is the story in which you find yourself?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wine and Milk Without Money

During the season of Lent, I receive a daily devotional thought from Goshen College. Let me share the March 2 devotional with you:
Ho, ho, ho. It’s a wonderful life! What we most need for nourishment and delight is free of charge. There’s a banquet set before us and we’re invited to the table. Smacznego!*

Yet the cult of cornucopia has convinced us that our happiness and the health of the economy depend on what we feverishly buy and voraciously consume. So we charge around buying bread that is not bread, and selling labor without love. Bloated and hollow we are desperate for things that numb instead of nourish.

The wine and milk that quench our deepest thirst may indeed be free, but are not without cost. The rich food that truly satisfies is priceless, but not beyond all medium of exchange. If we want to live, we must listen. Carefully listen. Ears attuned, eyes peeled, tongue-nose-and-fingers tingly with attentiveness. The LORD can be found. But we must look in order to see. We must see in order to find. The LORD is near and may be called upon. Now is the time. This is the season.

At their best, conservatives admonish us to hold on to that which stills the deepest hunger and satisfies the longings of the heart. Liberals inspire us to let go of the ways and the thoughts that clutter and cling and occlude. With reckless conviction we equate our ways with God’s ways, our thoughts with God’s thoughts. The wisdom of the prophet invites us to taste and see that the thoughtful ways of God are within our grasp but beyond our grip. - By Paul Keim, professor of Bible and religion.

Isaiah 55: 1-9 (NRSV)
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
*Smacznego! is Polish for bon apetit! which is French for good appetite!