The Most Important Event in the History of the World

At the end of this article is a golden nugget.  But first, consider some of the following events. Their impact on the world was monumental and life changing. All were pivotal moments in human history.

a) Domestication of animals – for food and service.
b) Invention of the wheel – for machines and transportation
c) Development of agriculture – allowing the creation of communities
d) Development of sea-worthy ships – allowing oceans to be crossed, new lands to be discovered
e) Writing and language – for communication
f) Weaponry, such as the bow, the spear, and later the gun and gunpowder – for hunting, defense, and warfare
g) Signing of the Magna Carta – a clarification of human rights
h) Invention of the printing press – enhanced communication
i) Invention of modern day electronics such as television, radio, and computers – enhanced communication
j) Appearance of the world’s political and religious philosophies – to try and give a logical foundation for governmental systems
k) The steam and internal combustion engines – to free us from only having horses and/or walking for travel
l) Airplanes – to allow people to travel great distances
m) Advancements in medical science – to maintain our health and increase our life span
n) Space travel. The ability to see the entire Earth as a beautiful blue ball suspended in infinite black space – a mind-expanding perspective.
o) Advancements in physics, chemistry, and astronomy – giving us new products, as well as insights into the nature of our universe.

Of course, this list is incomplete, and could go on and on. All these historical events have mostly to do with this life, and what happens to humanity here on Earth, for better or worse. However, there is one other event that, if it happened, has the power to challenge the chosen beliefs and worldviews of the human race, an event that sheds light about what happens to a person after they die. People who know about this event are forced to decide whether to accept the consequences of believing it – or not. On the other hand, if this certain event did not happen, the implications for the human race are profound indeed. We shall now examine this event – the most important event (or non-event) in the history of the world.

What is it? Answer: The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

This event, if it happened as described in the New Testament of the Bible, authenticates the life, ministry, teachings, and promises of Jesus. In fact, he staked his entire credibility on it – as demonstrated by the following biblical passage.
     From Mathew Chapter 12: The religious leaders of his day had heard of Jesus, his alleged miracles, his large following, and so they arranged an audience with him. The exchange went something like this (an amplified paraphrase): “We have heard about you, carpenter. How you perform miracles and amaze the people. They say you fed thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread and a few fish. We have heard that you actually raised someone from the dead! So then, we would like to see you do some of these signs and wonders for us, here, now – so we can see for ourselves if you really are who everyone claims you are. Maybe, then, we might even believe in you ourselves and become your followers.” Jesus answered these religious leaders, but the text suggests that he did not even bother to look at them, as he might have looked down at the ground with his eyes closed, or possibly just looked wistfully off into the distance. His answer: “A wicked generation asks for signs and wonders. They will receive one – and only one. The sign of the prophet Jonah. As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea creature, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth.” This answer is clarified in other biblical passages where Jesus predicts that he must go to Jerusalem, there to be killed, but on the third day will rise again. Jesus staked his credibility, his entire ministry, his claim to be able to forgive sins – on this prediction of resurrection.

Before we examine whether or not Jesus actually did come back alive from the dead, let us look at the implications of the truth or falsity of his claim.
     In John Chapter 11, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” If his resurrection is true, then this statement is also true, and we can take great comfort in these words if we are a believer and follower of Jesus. However, if he did not rise from the dead, then here is what we can do with this statement: Strike it from the text of the Bible! “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Why? Because it is a claim without credibility – nice words, but without authority.

In John Chapter 14, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” True – if he rose from the dead, as the Bible claims he did. If not, then we have another claim with no credibility. Therefore, we remove it. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Now, most people have either heard of the Bible verse John 3:16 (or have seen the “John 3:16” placards at football games). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The most amazing verse in any religious document ever written! We certainly want it to believe it – but, it’s only true if the resurrection is true. But if the resurrection is not true, then the verse should be stricken from the text; “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Even worse, the verse could be rewritten as “For God, whose actual concern for the world is anyone’s guess, gave no begotten son. Whoever believes in this man named Jesus has no assurance of ‘not perishing’ and will probably not have ‘everlasting life’.”

Another example from John Chapter 14; Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go I will come again to receive you unto myself, that where I am there you may be also.” A wonderful promise indeed – but only true if Jesus actually rose from the dead. If not, strike it out: In my Father’s house are many mansions (rooms). If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go I will come again to receive you unto myself, that where I am there you may be also. No valid promise of heaven for the believer – uncertainty and ambiguity about what happens after death.

There are many other biblical passages that make no sense at all if Jesus just died, stayed dead, and was never seen alive again. A prime example: In Acts Chapter 1 we see these words: “he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible (convincing) proofs, being seen for forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Luke, the writer of Acts, was caught up in an appalling delusion, and, in spite of good intentions, was actually perpetuating a gigantic falsehood. In fact, if one assumes that the resurrection is not true, then one could go through the Bible with a scissors or a marking pen, and eliminate about 50% of it (some skeptics and unbelievers have actually done this.) The Bible, especially the New Testament, is only valid and authentic if Jesus actually rose from the dead. If not, it becomes a confusing and rather tragic document. A litany of wonderful promises about redemption, salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life reduced to just a lot of make-believe, with no more power than sentiments one might find on a Hallmark card. Also called into question is the very nature of God. If God actually exists, then the death of the most beautiful man in human history, who believed that his own resurrection would authenticate his ministry to the world, was ignored with indifference and distance. Jesus is reduced to just another wandering desert prophet. We may respect him, even love him – but he was claimed by death just like any other human being. So much for our little lives and our little hopes. The apostle Paul was keenly aware of this, and he discussed this (about 55 AD) in his letter to the church at Corinth, Greece. (First Corinthians, Chapter 15). He point-blank says that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, then men have no forgiveness of sins, and those who profess that Jesus is Lord are the most pathetic of all human beings. What about prayer? At best, a shot in the dark. There would be no assurance that anyone cares or is even listening.

Well, then. Did Jesus rise from the dead? Or are the accounts of this event just a lot of mythology? The best way to decide between mythology and truth is by means of evidence – evidence consisting of facts and eyewitness testimony. The writer of this blog believes the evidence shows that Jesus really did rise from the dead. Let’s examine just a few of the arguments, starting with one that is rarely discussed – an argument in favor of the resurrection. It goes like this. Some people believe that the flights to the moon were staged in a movie-set studio environment. The claim is made that no actual person has ever gone to the moon. The flights were staged in order to win a propaganda battle with the Russians, to make it seem that we had better space technology than they did. Yet, there were thousands of people who worked for the Space Administration (including the astronauts themselves), and no person has ever come forward to say something like, “I just can’t go to my grave with this big lie hanging over me. This whole moon-shot thing was a big fake. Moreover, we were sworn to secrecy. But enough is enough. I don’t care what price I have to pay. I can’t go on perpetuating this lie any longer.” This absence of ‘regretful confessions’ is strong evidence that our astronauts actually did go the moon. Analogous to this, we have no record that anyone of the ancient world, including the Jewish religious leaders, the Romans, the Greeks, or the early followers of Jesus himself, ever said something like “I just can’t go to my grave with this big lie hanging over me. This ‘resurrection from the dead’ thing was a big fake. At first, we were all caught up in the euphoria of the times, but as the years passed we finally had to admit that we never actually saw a risen Jesus.” The early followers of Jesus held to their conviction that Jesus actually rose from the dead. Many of them suffered ostracism, persecution, and even a martyr’s death without ever recanting their belief.

In addition, the Jewish religious leaders would have liked nothing more than to produce the body of Jesus (dead or alive) and to parade it around Jerusalem. That would squelch all the prevailing buzz about resurrection, and kill this new heretical movement (which later grew into Christianity) before it really got started. But they could not do it! Finally, another piece of strong evidence in favor of the resurrection of Jesus is the existence of the New Testament itself. The writers of the four gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John) as well as the letters of Paul, John, Peter, and the others would have had no reason to ever write what they wrote – except they actually saw the risen Jesus, or had talked with others who had. In First Corinthians 15, Paul points out that Jesus was seen alive by over 500+ varied witnesses, and that the first-century church believed it wholeheartedly, and built their doctrine on it. All one need do is read the first few chapters of the book of ACTS, and it becomes crystal clear that the early church accepted the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. There was no doubt in their minds. Thus, they were convinced that Jesus really was the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God, and the Savior of the world – or to say it in today’s vernacular: the ‘real deal’. The later notions about Jesus being part of a conspiracy, marrying Mary Magdalene and moving to what is now France, faking and staging the crucifixion for political purposes, or the resurrection accounts being written hundreds of years later – all these ideas fall flat on their face. There are many more arguments in favor of the resurrection (refer to Footnote). Therefore, it can be stated that the teachings and claims of Jesus are true (not mythology), and all the profound things he said about salvation, redemption, eternal life, forgiveness, and so forth are VALID. In addition, when we pray, someone is listening.

Now to return to the original question; why is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead the most important event in human history? More important than the events on the list above? Because it has everything to do with the eternal destiny of every human being, including those who have never even heard of Jesus – what happens to us after we die. As we know, the death rate is still one-per-person, so it is absolutely critical and urgent that all of us pay close attention to those values and contemplations that pertain to our ultimate destination. All those other events in human history are certainly important, but they have mostly to do with this life, and what happens here on Earth, for better or worse.

Now the conclusion of this discussion – the GOOD news, the golden nugget; because Jesus actually did rise from the dead, his love, mercy, and redemption is available to every human being who has ever lived. All that is necessary is a sincere heartfelt prayer, a ‘reaching out’ to God, and putting one’s faith in the hope of future forgiveness and redemption.

Now, denial of the resurrection of Jesus may seem like a good idea at the time. But some nuggets that might look like gold are actually fool’s gold (pyrites), which is worthless. This brings us to the BAD news. Because the resurrection of Jesus validated his teachings and ministry, to ignore him, or to deny his available redemption is to place one’s very soul in peril. What ‘peril’? This: final and permanent separation from the love of God. A state of existence known in the Bible as ‘hell’, whatever that actually means. I have no intention of finding out – and I do not want any reader of this blog post to find out. Today is the day to call out in repentance to God. Today is the day to ask for his redemption. He will answer with his forgiveness and his love and guidance. The life of the person who says such a prayer will take a new and beautiful turn.

[Footnote: Many books discuss Jesus’ resurrection, and the various arguments pro and con. Two good ones are: The Case for Easter, and The Case for the Resurrection, both by former atheist Lee Strobel, which can be purchased on Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble, as well as most Christian bookstores.]

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The Empire State Building

[This story is fiction, of course, and is a tad long. However, if you stick with it, a wonderful conclusion awaits – a golden nugget.]

SCENE ONE

New York City resident Jim Nigh rode the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building. He carried a small cardboard box. At the top, he was allowed to throw the contents of the box over the side. He then rode the elevator down to the street level. He walked over to a spot on the sidewalk and found what he had hoped to find. A 100-piece jigsaw puzzle lay assembled. He looked at the image of two horses grazing in a pasture and he mumbled, “Perfect! Just like I hoped it would be.”
     A stranger came walking by and saw the puzzle. He walked over to Mr. Nigh and asked, “Uh, hey guy, what’s with the jigsaw puzzle? An odd place to work one, wouldn’t you say?”
     “I didn’t work it,” said Nigh. “I took the pieces to the top of the Empire State Building here, and threw them over the side. They landed assembled, by themselves.”
     “No way, man.”
     “I kid you not. That’s what happened.”
     “That’s impossible. Besides, puzzle pieces snap together, and you have to press the pieces into place.”
     “Not this kind of puzzle. There’s only 100 pieces and they just lay next to each other, without the need to snap into place.”
     The stranger, his lips twisted, just stared at Nigh. “Let me get this straight. You took the puzzle to the top of the building, threw it over the side, and it landed assembled? Like, right here? On the sidewalk? Come’ on, man. That’s not possible.”
     “On the contrary, Sir, it’s not impossible”
     “Well, maybe not impossible, but certainly improbable. Right?”
     “Right.”
     “OK, then. Let’s see you do it again. I’ll stay down here and watch, while you go up there to the top of the building and throw the pieces over the side again.”
     “My friend, I could do it every hour on the hour for the next million years, and the puzzle falling assembled on the ground probably wouldn’t happen again for a long long time. Just because it happened on the first try today, doesn’t mean it will ever happen again in our lifetime and beyond.”
     “So then, what’s the point?” asked the stranger.
     “That highly improbable events happen every day.”
     “O…K. That is true. I’ll concede that,” said the stranger. “About every week or so someone in the world wins a big lottery – though you have a better chance of getting hit by lightning, or being elected President. However, you’re right. Highly improbable events happen every day. But forgive me, I guess I’m a bit dense. I still don’t see the point of your little puzzle…drama.”
     Nigh grinned. “I want to suggest that even life itself could have arisen by a chance event. Highly improbable, true enough. But here we stand, talking about it – so the first life actually materialized, somewhere, sometime. Oh, oh, here comes the Channel 3 TV truck. And they’re stopping. They probably want to put me on the evening news. Anyway, do you see my point?”
     “Humph. I’ll think about it – but, sorry to say, I must reserve judgment. I think that life coming into existence by some kind of accident has worse odds than your puzzle drop thing.”
     The stranger walked away, shaking his head. Jim Nigh began running to the TV truck. But then, a young boy ran up, holding something in his hands. When Nigh saw what the boy had, he stopped, gritted his teeth and mumbled, “Oh, nuts.”

SCENE TWO

Bill Bright sat at his desk, his work computer displaying a detailed diagram of a nut/bolt/washer combination. “This hardware should do the job,” he mumbled.
     Bill worked as part of a team designing automobiles for a big Detroit manufacturer. Thousands of precision parts had to be assembled in just the right way for the specified automobile to become a functioning vehicle. Put a part in the wrong place, and the car would not work right – maybe not at all. In fact, realizing this, Bill had set aside some time to think about just what an automobile actually is, so after some serious consideration and editing he wrote the following sentence on his grease board.

     “A working automobile is a functioning integrated system of subsystems, powered by a source of energy, and controlled by information processes.”

     ‘Certainly it functions’, thought Bill. ‘If it didn’t function it would be, well, ‘dead’ – just a conglomeration of parts that accomplished nothing. In addition, it’s certainly an integrated system. We have subsystems such as a motor, a transmission, wheels, dashboard, lights, a chassis, seats, and so forth – all put together in just the right way, so the end result is a functioning automobile. And the whole thing is powered by the energy contained in the gasoline consumed by the engine. Also we have on-board computers, cams, valves, timing belts, and of course the driver too, all of which together constitutes the information processes that make the hardware do what it’s supposed to do.’
     Jack Kaplan, a team-member of Bills’, walked up behind Bill and said, “Interesting expression on your grease board there, Bill. What’s the deal?”
     Bill answered, “I was just doing a bit of theorizing about the car and truck design we do here. We take the process through the basic steps of initial concept, followed by imagination and brainstorming, then a specification, a list of parts and finally assembly instructions. And we end up with a machine, which is defined by that very statement there on the grease board.”
     “I like it. That statement is quite comprehensive. It would apply not only to cars, but also to airplanes, computers, trains, and ships, even things like microwave ovens, clocks, and refrigerators. Now here’s an interesting thing, Bill. It would also apply to you and me, and to the folks in that picture you have on your desk of your wife and daughter holding your pet kitty cat.”
     “Uh-oh. I think I know what you are going to say next,” said Bill, with a raise of his eyebrows. “You’re going to use this opportunity to transition into one of your pet subjects, ‘Intelligent Design.’
     Jack responded, “Well, it takes intelligence to design a machine like a car, or an airplane, etc. It makes sense that the designer of the car or airplane, who is also a machine – a biological one, that is – is also designed. It seems odd that an engineer like you, who can design machines and is intimately familiar with the design process, would himself be produced by some random mindless process like spontaneous generation and Darwinian evolution. Does that make sense?”
     “Well, I see your point. But Intelligent Design sounds a lot like religion. As you know, Jack, my wife and I are not religious people. Besides, most of the big-shot scientists have declared evolution to be a ‘fact’. I don’t have enough expertise in the fields of biology and so forth to offer a challenge. So I tend to go along with them.”
     “The truth is, Bill, that most of the big-shot scientists who spout evolution are in fact scared to death of Intelligent Design. I can picture a pack of yelping drooling dogs running about with their tails between their legs, trying to escape this monster who is chasing them with a whip.”
     Bill gritted his teeth and said, “I’m sure the big-shot scientists would be extremely offended if they heard you characterize them with such a gross image.”
     Jack just grinned and said, “I admit it’s a little strong. But much of the science community absolutely HATES Intelligent Design and they jump up and down and rail against it in their books, and in the press and on TV. They use terms like ‘bunkum’, ‘cop-out, ‘junk-science’, ‘pseudo-science’, and other more expletive language. They even call it ‘biblical creationism in disguise’ – which is a major misnomer because it is neither biblical or in disguise. It’s understandable that they hate the concept of Intelligent Design because it destroys their preferred worldviews such as atheism, agnosticism, and evolutionism. They even warn their children not to study it, fearing that it would contaminate their impressionable little minds. And Intelligent Design gets in the face of those who are indifferent and blank-faced towards anything to do with God, because it challenges them to notice his finger-prints evident in living things, and even the Earth itself. As for you, my friend, you are an engineer. For you not to believe in Intelligent Design is a serious inconsistency, since you know the design process up close and personal. You must accept that the chance of life molecules arising by random processes is highly improbable. There hasn’t been enough time since the origin of the universe for even one life molecule, like DNA or some complex protein, to get assembled by a chance process.”
     “But improbable things do happen, don’t they?” said Bill. “Remember the story on TV the other day? About the guy who threw a jigsaw puzzle from the top of the Empire State building, and have it land assembled on the sidewalk below? Improbable things do happen.”
     “Obviously you didn’t watch the whole story. That stunt proved to be a hoax. Yea, the guy threw the puzzle pieces over the side of the building all right, but the wind caught them and blew them hither and yon, just like you would expect. The guy had an accomplice below who laid an assembled puzzle on the sidewalk, and then the two tried to convince people along the street that the pieces assembled by chance. And when the TV guys came, some kid ran up with a bunch of pieces in his hand that he had found lying about. The kid wanted to know if they belonged to the puzzle on the ground. Poof! There went the stunt.”
     “No, I hadn’t heard about that,” said Bill, as he huffed a quick laugh. “Not surprising, really. But most scientists still maintain that life originated by normal chemical and physical imperatives and slowly evolved over millions of years into what we see today.”
     “Yea, I know what they claim. But Intelligent Design shoots all that down. The chances of life originating by a some random mindless process is even less than the puzzle thrown from the Empire State building falling assembled on the ground below. Life on this world, even the Earth itself, is the work of a master engineer. An engineer like us, Bill, but many orders of magnitude greater.”
     “Well…if I was a hot-shot scientist I could debate with you better. Now here’s a question for you. Just who is your master engineer? What does Intelligent Design have to say about that?”
     “Nothing.”
     “Huh?”
     “That’s right. Nothing. To identify the master engineer is a step into religion. In the Christian faith, which I belong to, the master engineer is the God of the Bible. As per Genesis 1:1, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” But as for the secular concept of Intelligent Design itself, it is quite incapable of identifying the designer. For example, if you find an arrowhead in the forest, you know it’s the product of an intelligent designer, but you have no idea who the designer is.”
     Bill just took a wistful look at the statement on his grease board. Then he asked, “What about Albert Einstein? What did he believe about all this? After all, he knew more about physics and science than all the present day hot-shots combined.”
     “Indeed. Sadly, many talented scientists live their whole lives without opening their eyes. Not so with Mr. Einstein. Very simply, he believed in Intelligent Design, but a limited version of it. Albert was convinced that the universe and all of its laws were the creation of a great mind. However, Albert did not believe in a personal creator God, such as Jehovah or Allah. And even though he claimed to respect Jesus, he did not accept him as the Son of God, raised from the dead, and so forth. Instead he was a determinist, and did not accept free will, or reward and punishment for the decisions one might make.”
     “A determinist, huh? That would imply that all the life on this world was the direct result of the laws of physics doing their thing. Right?”
     “So it would seem – but there’s a big problem with that. The laws of physics and chemistry, by themselves, could never design a machine. They can only serve to be a backdrop, a ‘stage’, if you will, on which the actual design process can take place. The basic rule of machine design will always hold, namely, ‘it takes an engineer, who is a machine, to make another machine’. No one has ever observed an exception. But hey, buddy. I’m late for a meeting. However, I must say that I like your definition of a machine. Hits the nail, it does. Goodbye for now.”
     “See you later, Jack. Good conversation.”
     Jack walked off. Bill turned to face his grease board, took a long look at the statement on it, and mumbled, “I guess I know more about Intelligent Design than I realize.”

So what’s the golden nugget in this story? This: we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalms 139:14). “Made” – as in “designed by a master engineer”. Somebody once said, “God don’t make no junk.” You and I, and all human life were crafted by the Maker of All Things, and we are of great value, and we are part of His grand master plan.”

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Parallel Universes

The other day a science commentator on television was talking about ‘parallel universes’ – how scientists of today are speculating that our universe is not the only one, but that billions of others also exist (the ‘multi-verse’ concept).  Public television and other channels like Discovery have had long programs where science-people have expounded “look what we have found”.  In fact, if you Google ‘parallel universes’ you will get over two million hits.  Ever since ‘string theory’ came along, coupled with the announced discovery of the elusive ‘Higgs particle’, it seems that the idea of real parallel universes has gained credibility in the scientific community, and serious study is continuing.  The picture they use to help us understand what they are talking about is a bubble pipe.  You blow soap bubbles in the air.  The bubbles float about.  Some are small, some are large.  Sometimes soap bubbles join and merge to form funny shaped bubbles or even twin spheres. 

    It is claimed that universes behave in a similar manner as they are said to float about in what is called ‘hyperspace’, and sometimes they collide. Magazines like Scientific American have published articles on how our universe may have originated, perhaps when two universes joined together, and an interconnecting portal was formed and a massive exchange of matter and energy took place.  Interconnecting portals?  You would think from the wide-eyed enthusiasm of the TV scientists that they are convinced they have discovered something new.

     But the idea of parallel universes is not a new one.  Those familiar with science fiction and fantasy literature, as well as TV like ‘Star Trek’, have seen this idea used time and again to generate many kinds of stories.  Remember C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’?  The children crawl into a big wardrobe and discover a portal to a parallel universe, a place called Narnia, where strange creatures live and where the children embark on amazing adventures.  And in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, ‘Middle Earth’ certainly qualifies as an alternate reality.

    Now the claim is being made that this is not science fiction any longer, but a valid model of reality.  A valid model?  An actual new idea?  If you think about it you realize that it’s not really a recent idea.  It’s actually a very old idea.  And yes, it is a valid model.  In the text of the Bible the actual words ‘parallel universe’ or ‘alternate reality’ do not appear, but the concept has been there for over three thousand years.

     Parallel universes and alternate realities appear in the Bible in the familiar story of the birth of Jesus, which Christians observe on Christmas, December 25th.  Christmas can be said to be a celebration of the interaction between alternate realities.  That may sound like a bit of a stretch, but consider this – alternate realities appear in the accounts of the birth, life, and ascension of Jesus.  Let’s look at a few passages.  The angel Gabriel appeared to a man named Zechariah and then later to a young teenage girl named Mary.  Gabriel is talking to Zechariah, but Zechariah seems to doubt him.  Luke 1:19, Gabriel says, almost as if to authenticate himself: “I am Gabriel.  I stand in the presence of God.  I have been sent to speak to you.”  ‘Sent’? From where?  Outer space?  Did he land nearby in a flying saucer?  Hardly.  The Biblical text suggests that Gabriel had traveled through a portal, a passage or doorway from the ‘throne of God’ to our Earth.  And when he had delivered his messages he stepped back through that portal to take his place again in the presence of God, to be ready for his next assignment.

     In another passage angels appear to shepherds, in a brilliant show of glory and sound, something like I-MAX to the 3D-MAX.  Where did they come from?  Outer space?  No.  They also had come through a portal that connected the heavenly realms to our Earth, specifically to a sheep pasture in Israel, near the little town of Bethlehem.  They delivered their message, sang their songs, and then returned into heaven.  We even have an old Christmas carol that describes this event – Angels from the Realms of Glory.  “Realm of Glory” is another term for an alternate reality, a parallel (or ‘transcendent’) universe, if you will.

     And then, the Son of God (the ‘Word’) came himself.  In John chapter 1 we read: ‘And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.’  He had entered into our reality as a babe, through an act of the Spirit of God.  And Jesus stayed with us for 33 years or so.  After his death and resurrection, he appeared and disappeared at will, as if he could step in and out of alternate realities.  Eventually Jesus ascended into heaven as recorded in the first chapter of the book of Acts.  Where did he actually go?  Up in the sky, past the clouds, into space, past the moon, past the planets, into the void between the stars?  No, Jesus moved through a portal, a doorway into another realm or reality, and he’s now, temporarily, ‘at the right hand of the Father’, as per the Biblical phrase. 

     There are many other accounts in the Bible about alternate realities, especially in the books of Daniel and Revelation.  Even Paul the apostle had a brief excursion into an alternate reality.  Also, Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am there you may be also.”  That “place” is very likely not in this universe, but is in an alternate reality, i.e., a place parallel, or concentric with, or superseding, or transcendent over our reality.  Someday God will make a new heaven and a new Earth, including a ‘new Jerusalem’.  What universe will those places be in?  We don’t know yet, but it’s going to be exciting to find out.

     What do all these visitations from other realms reveal about God?  It means this: God is very aware of us and cares about us.  He has not left us stranded in our place in the cosmos.  He has come to us, both by his own appearance and by sending his angels.  Without his interventions we would have no hope for salvation and our eternal destiny would be anyone’s guess.  We would literally be ‘lost in space’.  But in the last few decades, through books and television, scientists who are also Christians have communicated to the Christian community how God took great care in making our universe and our little planet.  God endowed our particular world with the amazing property of being ‘just right’ for the existence and survival of life – life like us, and all the animals and plants around us. 

     Our universe itself appears to be ‘calibrated’, as if a cosmic engineer was sitting at a long row of dials, adjusting each one to a precise value to permit the existence and flourishing of the life we see around us.  Apparently, God places great value on human life, and interacts directly with us to accomplish our redemption, part of his grand cosmic plan.  And after creating us, he didn’t just abandon us and go on holiday somewhere like the Deists claim, but he actually became one of us and continues to selectively interact with us on an individual basis.

     So in conclusion, if you decide to watch any TV programs on parallel universes, you are free to yawn and take a ‘been there, done that’ sort of attitude.  Why?  Because you’ve been reading your Bible.  So you know something about the alternate realities that the scientific community is only now discovering.  And the destination of every one of us is in one (perhaps several) of God’s many alternate realities – a very good situation if you are a Christian.  By his awesome power and love, on full display during the Christmas season (and again at Easter), the believer’s future can be a bright one indeed.

     What is the golden nugget in this discussion?  What can we take away and embrace?  Simply this; the realization that the transcendent multidimensional creator of the universes has crafted a space/time continuum where carbon-based life (that’s you and me, the animals, the plants, etc.) can flourish.  And that this creator God cares about you, me and every human being.  Proof?  His willingness to interact with us, where we live – this proves his love, his provision, and his promise.  He came himself in the form of a babe, born in lowly estate on that holiest of nights.  As the song goes, the hopes and fears of all the years were met in little Bethlehem.  And after he departed our world he sent his Spirit to abide with us.  And sometimes he sends his angels to stand in the fiery furnaces with us, to guard us, and help defend us against those evil and malevolent principalities and powers mentioned in the 6th chapter of Paul the apostle’s letter to the Ephesians.  And when we die, it is said that the Lord sends his angels to escort us through a ‘passageway’ into his presence.  God is in total control of the doorways and portals between the alternate realities.

     Here’s a second golden nugget.  We need to get our little minds around the awesome concept that the very Lord of the Universes allows little us to come boldly before him with our prayers of repentance, worship, praise, adoration, thanksgiving, confession, intercession, and supplications.  And our little prayers travel through ‘thought-space’, through the portals and across the boundaries of alternate realities and parallel universes – straight to the heart of God.  Amazing!


 

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A Formula for the Christian Life

During the early 1980s a gentleman in a church I attended suffered a financial reversal in his business.  Times got tough for his entire family.  Happily, they eventually did recover.  One day he mentioned that a certain Bible passage had carried him through, and had been his guiding light.  The powerful passage that helped this family is one of the most important in the Bible, and is as close to a ‘formula’ for Christian living as one could find in its pages.  This is a passage that could be printed on a poster, framed, and hung on a wall.  A passage worth memorizing, a passage many of us might have already learned, and one that could be engraved on a bracelet or necklace – or even tattooed somewhere on our body (if we were so inclined).  The passage consists of two verses, and has four lines.

It is found in the Old Testament book of Proverbs.  It was written about 1000BC by Israel’s King Solomon, who was then an older man (with lots of kids no doubt, having dozens of wives and concubines, as was the practice of kings in those days).  In these words Solomon is giving advice and counsel to his younger sons.  This passage reads like a conclusion, drawn from a lot of previous wisdom, summarized and reduced.  There are three “action items” followed by the best of all possible conclusions.

Proverbs 3: 5-6 (King James Version)

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart

And lean not unto thine own understanding

In all thy ways acknowledge him

And he shall direct thy paths

1)        Trust in the Lord with all your heart.

Basic and obvious, right? – but….it’s not always easy to trust the Lord.  If life is good, then it would seem to be easy.  Too easy perhaps.  Easy to ignore.  But sometimes life gets hard (job loss, financial loss, home loss, a relationship that sours, etc.), sometimes tragedy strikes (like 9/11, or the big tsunamis, or Katrina or Sandy), sometimes friends or family members die, sometimes we get sick or find ourselves in need of medical care.  Sometimes we see other people, especially children and the elderly with advanced medical conditions and disabilities, and our hearts go out to them.  It’s human nature to ask ‘why, God’.  We usually don’t get a direct answer.  Like the patriarch Job, we are expected to trust the Maker of all Things, whose knowledge of the ‘big picture’ is vastly superior to ours.  And yet, despite our desire for reasons, trust is precisely what God demands of us.  So at those critical life moments, we are commanded to keep praying and give God our faith and trust.  We must keep asking God for wisdom and guidance, and we must not lose hope – but trust is the operative word.  And he is worthy of our trust, because he is perfectly righteous, perfectly loving, and loves us with an agape love (Greek for pure love, given without demand for return), and was willing to redeem us with his own amazing sacrifice.  As per Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

2)                       And lean not unto thine own understanding.

     The Christian faith is very simple at its surface level.  Basically, it’s just this: redemption – in one word.  As per Romans 3, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God – there is none righteous, no not one”.  But God, through Jesus and his death and resurrection, has provided forgiveness for our sins and reconciliation with himself.  God loves us, one and all, and his Spirit tugs on us, calling us to come to him for forgiveness and new spiritual life, to be ‘born again’.  All one need do is ask.  Love and redemption is waiting.  As one very big time theologian phrased it when asked by a student to sum up the Christian faith, his answer was, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

      And yet, the Christian faith is so deep that no one can fathom it all.  There are those who spend their entire lives combing through the Bible, studying doctrine, history, and the precise meaning of each and every passage.  Some doctrine is difficult, such as predestination, the sovereignty of God in combination with the free will of man, the incarnation, apologetics, the detailed study of the Old Testament, and the study of Bible prophecy as it relates to the end times.  Some doctrine is technical, like the science of creation, or the ancient languages.  Other doctrines, particularly the Trinity, can be confusing, especially to the non-Christian.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?  That’s three gods, isn’t it?  Jewish and Muslim folk often say so.  But the Bible clearly states that there is only one God.  A paradox?  A logical absurdity?  Only to our limited finite minds.  Can we small creatures be expected to fathom the complex transcendental nature of eternal God?  Not really.  Here is where humility is called for.  Our verse tells us not to ‘lean’ (or to put too much dependency) on our understanding.  In other words, ‘don’t try to figure it all out’.  You won’t be able to do it.  As one famous old preacher is reported to have said, “If you try to figure it all out, you’ll go crazy.”  We are commanded to study the scriptures, yes, and to equip ourselves to be good stewards and witnesses of our faith, but the purpose of acquiring knowledge is to bolster, strengthen, and build the foundations of our basic faith and trust. 

The fact that the Christian faith is, at the same time, both simple and profound makes it a perfect foundation for people of all intellectual levels, the simplest folk, the most brilliant, and all those in between.

3)                       In all thy ways acknowledge him.

This means that we must involve the Lord in all aspects of our life.  Our relationships, our finances, our recreations, our politics, our pleasures, our physical issues, and our doubts and pains also.  This is probably the area of life where most of us fall short.  There must be no part of our life that we try to cordon off, rope off, or fence off, from God.  It’s not really possible anyway.  As per Hebrews 4:13: Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

We must not create little playpens in our mind, or secret closets, or be involved in activities that cause us guilt, or activities that we would be embarrassed to show the Lord if he walked into the room at this very moment.  The true Christian has the amazing privilege of taking all thoughts and concerns before the Lord in prayer, and as per Psalms 139 the Lord is aware of all we do or think.  We can take comfort in the knowledge that it is quite impossible to keep secrets from the Lord, because he sees directly into our heart of hearts, past all the rationalizations, the bargaining, the excuses, our complaints, our procrastinations, and our attempts to manipulate him.  So the wise and prudent Christian tries to acknowledge the Lord in all facets, phases, and compartments of his or her life.  Our prayer must be, “Lord, examine my heart and instruct me in how to become a better Christian, how better can I honor the covenant relationship that we have”, and finally “Lord, what you want for me is what I want for me.”

     Conclusion: And he shall direct thy paths.

Many of us can testify to this already.  Many of us can look in the rear-view mirror of our lives and see how God has guided our footsteps.  Examples would be where we have lived, the employment we have had, the person we have married, the children we have had, the church home we have found, etc.  How many improbable ‘coincidences’ have enabled us to make the right decision at just the right time?  How many times has the Lord actually saved our very lives?  How many times has the Lord provided for us, in ways we can hardly understand?  How many amazing people have showed up at just the right time in our lives to help us make a ‘defining moment’ decision?  How many unanticipated ways has the Lord used us to bless someone else?  How many times has the Lord disciplined us with a father’s firm loving “NO”?  How many times has the Lord cautioned us not to do a certain thing – a kind of moth/flame warning, a literal command to ‘flee’ from a certain situation or from a certain person?  In the book of Revelation we learn the principle that ‘God opens doors that no one can close and closes doors that no one can open.’  Rev 3:8 reads, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.  To help guide our walk, God uses those open and closed doors, and even helps us recognize them.

In summary, our verses tell us that God promises that if we trust him, and not depend too much on our own understanding, and be willing to open our lives to his scrutiny and examination, he will help us follow the straight and narrow path that leads to life everlasting.  And we have his word, always at hand, from which to draw sustenance.  As per Psalms 119:105, his word will always be “a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path”.  Along the way he will give us assignments, warnings, and instructions.  He will show us the open doors and the closed doors.  And he will help us get through the tunnels of hardships and anxieties, and never let us lose hope.

So what’s the golden nugget in this discussion?  This: the Bible gives us these two marvelous verses, Proverbs 3: 5&6 – a formula for the Christian life.  Memorize them and repeat them over and over.  Write them on your heart – and follow them.  There is simply no better way to live.  There is simply no better way to live.

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The Ten Most Beautiful Things

We’ve all heard the expression: “All things Bright and Beautiful”.  Let’s take a look at some of the most beautiful things in the world.  A study most appropriate near the Christmas season, but certainly valid any time of year.

If you’ve ever watched some of the late night TV shows you have watched them present various lists; the 10 most…whatever.  The 10 things you should never say to your boss, such as (“If you don’t give me a raise, I’ll quit.”).  The 10 things a man should never give his wife for Christmas (a vacuum cleaner, an electric drill, etc.).  The 10 things one should never say to a traffic officer, like “I’m sorry, officer.  I lost track of my speed because I was talking on the cellphone”.  The ten best dressed women in the world.  The 10 worst dressed men in the world.  And so forth.

But what if we made a list?

Here then, is this author’s list of the 10 most beautiful things in the world.  Of course, you the reader might think of a different list, with other entries and in a different order. You could say that ‘love’ is the most beautiful thing, or ‘loyalty’, perhaps.  Or possibly some fine piece of music, like ‘Handel’s Messiah’, or ‘Beethoven’s Ninth’.  Anyway, here is my list, things that can be – or have been – actually seen with the human eye.  Starting with #10 and working down to the most beautiful thing of all, #1.

Beautiful thing Number 10: Sunsets and Sunrises

Who hasn’t seen a spectacular sunset or sunrise – one that takes your breath away?  Who hasn’t seen the sky explode in bursts of magenta, orange, red, and yellow, with clouds taking on fantastic shapes, the whole scene constantly changing?  I remember one particular sunset while riding in the Amtrak “Empire Builder” train across Minnesota.  The sky was a deep red, the sun a big ball of crimson fire, and everyone in the dining car couldn’t keep their eyes off of it.  The colors and the patterns in the sky were overpoweringly compelling.  There were plenty of Oooohs’ and Aaaahs’.  I remember other gorgeous sunsets and sunrises in the Nevada and Arizona deserts, and others in my home town in northern California.  Awesome beauty.

Beautiful thing Number 9: Baby animals. 

Who hasn’t seen pictures of puppies and kittens and was compelled to say ‘How beautiful they are’?  Those of us who have held a little puppy or kitty in our hands and looked them directly in the face could not help being warmed by their innocence and natural comeliness.  Beauty up close, with a squirming little body and eyes and faces that could melt the hardest of hearts.  Other animals too, especially baby bears and even baby elephants.  And how precious is a little calf or colt, as it tries to take its first wobbly steps.

Beautiful thing Number 8: Winter scenes.

Those of us who have lived in the northern states can relate to this.  That first snowfall on a quiet night, covering the landscape in a coat of pure white.  That snow covered country lane in the light of a full moon, with fences and trees and a lighted cottage with smoke coming from a chimney.  Like a Kincade painting, but real.  And then there’s the world after an ice storm, when all the houses, trees, power lines and everything else outside is covered in sheets of glass-like ice, that sparkle in the light of a full moon or morning sunlight.  Of course we all know that the beauty of an ice storm can be a deceitful beauty, as they often cause dangerous road conditions, broken branches and wires, etc. – but not without some isolated moments of spectacular beauty.

Beautiful thing Number 7: Mountain grandeur.

If you have ever stood in the Yosemite Valley or in Zion National Park or in a grove of giant Sequoias you couldn’t help but be awed by the grandness and cathedral beauty of these places. Certain spots in the Rockies (Grand Tetons, for example) or the Swiss Alps, or the mountains of New Zealand all have that look of timelessness that leaves you feeling small – but yet privileged.  Once in late spring my wife and I visited Glacier National Park in northern Montana.  I stood on the shore of Saint Mary’s Lake and just feasted my eyes on the snow-covered mountain range before me.  I just did not want to leave.  I was looking at eternity.  It was a mind-bending truly beautiful experience.

Beautiful thing Number 6: Certain works of art

All of us have seen paintings, sculptures, or heard pieces of music that forced us to say: “A true masterpiece – truly moving.”   Examples: Handel’s Messiah.  The Moonlight Sonata.  The old Christmas classics like “Oh, Holy Night”.  Paintings by Renoir or Da Vinci or nature photography by folk like Ansel Adams.  Once in a museum in Virginia I found myself standing mesmerized before a sculpture called “The Veiled Lady”.  It was beyond my comprehension how a sculptor could take a piece of marble, and carve a woman’s face, covered by a veil, in such a way that you could ‘see through’ the veil and observe the woman’s face behind it.  It was a stunning thing to behold.  I stared for at least twenty minutes, until my brother finally found me.  Then he stared for another twenty minutes, sharing my sense of wonderment.  Also, some of you may remember in 1976, during the BI-centennial, seeing on TV the parade of tall ships as they entered in full sail into New York Harbor, passing the statue of Liberty.  What a magnificent and inspiring sight.

Beautiful thing Number 5: A newborn baby.

This is mostly for all the mothers.  Was there ever a more beautiful thing to behold than when the nurse or doctor brought your first baby to you and you held it for the first time?  What could take the place of that moment?  When you held it and felt the life in its little body, saw its little face, watched it move its hands and arms, heard it cry – and you realized that this child had come from you, flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone.  And eventually the father, the brothers and sisters, the friends, even the doctors and nurses shared your sense of wonder and awe.  And everyone wanted to hold it.  Even the somewhat confused father, who didn’t quite know where and how to hold his hands, or what to do next, even he wanted to hold it.  Such was the compelling beauty of this new little life.  Jesus himself picked up children and blessed them.  “The kingdom of God is made up of such as these,” he said.

(3 of the remaining 4 beautiful scenes are from the Bible.)

Beautiful thing Number 4Christmas eve – when the angels appeared to shepherds in the field.

8And there were in the country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.

9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were very afraid.

10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16And they went to Bethlehem with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

We simply cannot imagine what is truly meant by the phrase “the glory of the Lord”.  It must have been light and color and sound and motion that even I-MAX could barely approach.  Those who saw it must have stood frozen in place, with more than a little awe and even a little fright. That scene in the field must have been one of indescribable beauty, with angelic heavenly light bathing the countryside, with the voices of countless angels either singing or speaking in unison.  No doubt the shepherd’s lives were changed forever as this scene made such an indelible impression that they carried it with them all their days.

Beautiful thing Number 3: The transfiguration, an event in the life of Jesus

Jesus took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as the noonday sun.  Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure from this world, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.  Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw the Lord’s glory and the two men standing with him.  Then, a cloud appeared and enveloped them.  A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had finished speaking, Jesus was alone.

Jesus’ raiment had become bright as a flash of lightning (the word used in the King James Bible is ‘glistering’, an archaic German word, meaning to glitter brightly.  Not a word we use too often today.)  Peter, John and James must have been left truly overpowered by what they had just witnessed, a dazzling display of light, color, and sound.  Like the shepherds, they had seen perhaps just a taste of the aforementioned ‘glory of the Lord’, as Jesus lifted the veil for just a few moments and showed them who he truly was.  When Jesus returns “in power and great glory”, when “every eye shall see him”, then this mind-boggling event will certainly take its place on any list of beautiful things.  Perhaps that day is soon approaching.  But whenever, all of us who are true believers will see it when it happens.

Beautiful thing Number 2: Earth-rise

In December of 1968 the NASA astronauts made a voyage to the moon, to circumnavigate it.  This was in preparation for the next voyage when they would actually land on its surface.  They were practicing their orbiting maneuvers, their trajectories, their ship control systems, and their communications with Houston, etc.  They had to get all that right before attempting an actual lunar landing.  On their way from the Earth to the moon they did not pay much attention to the Earth itself.  They knew it was back there behind them, but they were focused on the task at hand.  After some number of days they reached the moon and began their first trajectory around it.  It was the first time human eyes had ever beheld the backside of the moon.  Robot craft had already photographed the backside, but this was the first time that humans had actually seen it.  But what the astronauts did not anticipate was what was waiting for them when they completed their circuit around the moon.  As they came closer and closer to the end of their first transit, they began to see the Earth ‘rising’, so to speak, in front of them.  They were stunned.  So they temporarily deviated from their flight protocol to take photographs of what was to them an absolutely awesome sight.  There was our Earth, our home world, on display in front of them.  A shining blue and white ornament suspended in the velvety blackness of space.  The profoundness of the moment was not lost on them.  The late nature photographer Galen Rowel (whose museum is in Bishop, California) said that these photographs were “the most important environmental pictures ever taken”.

Quotes from two astronauts:  “The sheer beauty of it just brought tears to my eyes.”  And, “If people could see Earth from up here, see it without those borders, see it without any differences in race or religion, they would have a completely different perspective.  Because when you see it from that angle, you cannot think of your home or your country. All you can see is one Earth….”

This vista gave the human race a perspective on their world they never had before.  Visit  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmaOcPYCGMA.  This is the Youtube video of both ‘Earthrise’ and ‘Earthset’.  Out there, 240,000 miles away, was ‘spaceship Earth’, where the human race has lived since the creation, the pretty little blue ball in the vastness of the cosmos that we have always called our home.  The place where all of our ancestors have been born, have lived and died.  The place we have fought over and contended over, wars, wars, and more wars.  The fragile place we just might ruin if we are not careful.  The place that God has given us stewardship over.

Here is a passage from a recent science-fiction novel where the main character Professor Carl Kent gets a look at his home world from about 100,000 miles out.  He has agreed to accompany an alien woman to her home-planet, nearly 2000 light-years away.  But before they begin their the inter-dimensional journey, she allows him to get one last look at Earth.

(used by the author’s permission)

[     The alien woman directed her pilots to park her ship in a circular orbit about one hundred thousand miles above the surface of the Earth, the sun behind them.  Professor Kent immediately began to stare out the viewport.  He gasped once.  He gasped twice.  Just as he had seen in all the famous photographs, in the magazines and journals he had read, and just like the giant photograph that hung in his study, the round orb of planet Earth floated in the black background starfield like a huge jewel.  Its blue oceans, white clouds, and copper-colored landmasses formed a vista so grand that Kent could hardly breathe. His eyes began to water.  He swallowed hard as his throat began to ache.  He shook his head back and forth a few times and gawked long at the glorious sight.  Then he spoke slowly in a humbled quiet voice.  “I…, I always imagined it would be incredible, but…this is more than I expected.  My goodness, look at that white polar cap, those swirling storm clouds on the Atlantic – a hurricane, I think.  And there is South America.  And Africa.  And there is….  It is so incredibly beautiful.  I hardly know what to say.”   

     Kent’s eyes welled up with tears.  “All my knowledge and education did not prepare me for a moment such as this.  Wow!…I never thought that I….” He stopped once again, fixed his top teeth against his lower lip, and just shook his head.  “To think, most people have no concept of the beauty of the world they live on.”  He exhaled loudly in one long burst.  “They just ignorantly go about raping and polluting it.  Billions of us, crawling around on it, like lice, preying on each other, squabbling over this, fighting over that.  Imagine.  All our heroic voyages.  All our silly wars and crusades and revolutions.  All our flags and banners and trumpets and drums.  All our tanks and warships and killing machines.  All our cavalry charges, all our pathetic parades.  And, my God, all our terrorism and ethnic cleansings and self-righteous hubris.  It all happened down there!  On that silver ball.” 

     A tear began to flow down his cheek.  He clenched his fists in anger, as he raised his voice.  “Every last human being should be dragged by the scruff of the neck and brought out here!  To be forced to see their gloriously beautiful world like this, made to stare at it, made to meditate on it, get this image burned into their brains!  They should be made to see it so fragile, see it…so ‘destructible’.”  Then Kent’s voice became subdued as he added, in a quivering whisper.  “Our little blue-and-white breakable…lonely…lovely………home.  We absolutely don’t deserve it.”

     The alien woman moved next to Kent and gripped his shoulders.  A minute or so passed in silence as they both took in the sight before them.  Finally, she spoke softly, breaking the mood.  “It is time we proceed, Professor, on our journey – time to go to my world.”

     “Is your world as beautiful as mine?” asked Kent.

     “Yes, it most certainly is.”                   ]

Don’t you wish you could travel to outer space, where you could behold our planet like Professor Kent did in the story?  Would you have the same emotional reaction?  I have no doubt that your answer would be YES.  Then the question immediately follows: where did our pretty world come from?  Answer: Isaiah 42:5 says: God the LORD, it is he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein:

Finally, what then is Beautiful Thing number 1? 

Here is where all of us must use our imaginations a little bit.  Two thousand years ago, in a stable, in the presence of animals, friends, relatives, and shepherds, a baby was born during the night.  The mother was a teenage virgin named Mary, who was giving birth to a baby boy who had been conceived in her by the Spirit of God.  Nearby was a fine and decent man named Joseph, who was told by God himself not to abandon Mary and not to ‘set her aside’, because she was having a child ‘out of wedlock’.

Suppose you had been there with a camera, and your intention was to take just the right picture of this event.  You would hope for a ‘golden moment’, when Mary was holding the baby, who she had named Jesus, in such a way as to show off his face and his little arms.  Joseph would be nearby, doting over the child and his mother.  At just the right moment, when their postures were perfect, and the light was just right, all three individuals looked in your direction.  Flash!  You take the picture.  Perhaps you caught a few sheep, or a goat or two, or even a donkey or an ox, in the picture’s background.  Certainly a manger with some straw formed an added element.  When this picture was developed, you were stunned by its beauty, by the illuminated expressions on the faces, and the profoundness of the moment.

Here was the purest and truest nativity scene imaginable.  Here was the Son of God become flesh, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Light and our Gateway to God – being cared for by his mother and those attending her.  Truly the most beautiful scene that any human being ever beheld.

Across the centuries, people have tried to recapture this divine moment.   Nativity scenes are recreated in many ways, sometimes using living people and living animals.  Very often this scene is recreated by sculptures of wood, stone, iron, and even wax.  We see this scene in paintings, stained glass, assemblies of dolls and puppets, even in sea shells and Christmas tree ornaments.  But some very blessed people, that night, saw the real nativity scene.  Oh, that people had cameras back then.  But the Lord in his wisdom did not allow it.  When Jesus returns in “power and great glory”, will there be a new number one beautiful thing?  Maybe not.  This writer’s opinion is that the nativity will always be number one.  Nothing will ever surpass the beauty of that night.  The nativity of Jesus the Christ stands unchallenged as number one.

What then is the golden nugget in this discussion?  What can we take away and hold on to?  This awesome truth: Here was the actual Creator of Spaceship Earth, come to abide and dwell with us, and to eventually die and rise again for our redemption.  Love beyond our understanding.  He is the God of all sunsets, of puppy dogs and kitty cats, of summers and winters and beautiful snowfalls, of mountain grandeur.  And in his honor we use the abilities he has given us to create works of beautiful art and music – and ships that sail on the wind, and ships that fly to the moon.

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Jennifer Went to College

(Preface: The young college girl in this piece (Jennifer) is fictional. But she represents most of us who consider ourselves Christians. Her experiences are drawn from those of real people, including this author.  At the end of this story lies a golden nugget, a truth to be discovered.)

SCENE ONE

Jennifer was accepted at a major university. Which one is not important, because the same things would have happened to her at any big university, anywhere in the world. She began her studies in English, fine arts and literature, hoping one day to teach. Jennifer came from a small rural mid-America town, and was raised in a conservative Christian family. She had attended a local Baptist church and over the years had been active in Sunday School, choir, youth groups, and Bible study classes. She was always a bright-eyed little lady, outgoing, confident in her faith, ready to give her Christian testimony whenever the opportunity presented itself. Guess what? As the weeks and months passed during her college days she felt herself being broadsided. Broadsided? What does ‘broadsided’ mean? This: she met and interacted with a lot of people – fellow students, teachers, advisers, and work associates (Jennifer had a part-time job at the student union cafeteria). She also kept in contact with ‘friends’ on social media. Some of the people she met were fine individuals, intelligent and admirable – and she found herself liking many of them.

But, there’s a dark side – here’s what some of them did. They saw Jennifer carrying her Bible, going to church on Sundays and attending student-run Bible study groups. They noticed that she politely refused to take part in off-color jokes and gossipy chit-chat. Her impeccable grooming, her fine study habits, her polite manner of speech, and her confident attitudes were noticed – behavior that began to make some of her non-Christian associates uncomfortable. So, over the course of weeks and months, some began to communicate to her, either directly, or by innuendos and hit-and-run remarks, that her Christianity was childish, ‘cute’ perhaps, but narrow, old-fashioned, and most certainly: make-believe. Eventually she found herself in deep, and often contentious, discussions about her faith. She was challenged with an assortment of classical objections to her Christianity;

1) God does not exist. ‘God’ is an invention, a crutch, created to help deal with the imponderable and difficult questions of life. The religions of the world are ‘projections of our desire for security and meaning’, as per Sigmund Freud and his followers.
2) The Bible is a collection of myths, complied in the second or third centuries, containing questionable ‘history’, and the writings and musings of dreamers and sages, perhaps well-intentioned, but assembled by people trying to set forth a specific theistic world-view.
3) There is no divine Creator. The universe, the planet Earth, and all the life on Earth are the result of natural and physical processes at work. The Earth is the product of the natural formation of planets and solar systems, all determined by the laws of physics and chemistry. Life arose spontaneously, and life as we know it today is the end product of eons of slow evolution, as per Charles Darwin’s explanation.
4) There no such thing as sin, only ‘coming up short’ perhaps, but no inherent flaws in human nature, and certainly no accountability to any divinity.
5) Jesus, if he actually existed, was just a nice teacher and wise sage, who never made any real claims to be divine, and who certainly never worked any real miracles, and who certainly never saved anyone’s ‘soul’. Like Buddha, Jesus was made out to be more than he really was by his zealous followers.
6) There is much evil in the world, both natural and man-caused. Hurricanes, floods and tsunamis, 9/11, the holocaust and the Spanish inquisition are classical examples. If there was a good God, he would prevent such things. But evil exists – therefore either God doesn’t exist, or he is evil himself, or perhaps a distant entity, powerless or non-caring.
7) This business of having faith and trust in a ‘god’ you can’t see is nonsense. There’s simply no reason to have ‘faith’ in ‘faith.’

Enough already? This list could be much longer. Jennifer found herself on the defensive, forced to face up to some of these age-old objections to her Christian faith. Sadly, she discovered that her sheltered home-spun friendly church background did not prepare her for such an onslaught. What to do? Smile and say nothing? Shrug her shoulders and give up? She realized that to say nothing was a form of concession and a confession of ignorance. Worse, she soon learned that quoting Bible verses and speaking in ‘church-talk’ only got a lot of raised eyebrows and dismissive remarks, and perplexed looks of ‘what on earth is she babbling about?’.

SCENE TWO

Feeling frustrated, Jennifer made a decision to seek help and answers. She went to see a few Christian pastors. Sadly, most had no idea what to tell her, as they were usually consumed with ‘in-church’ issues, or their theological foundations were weak or non-existent. The challenge of providing answers to the list of questions Jennifer had written down, and the idea of communicating the basics of Christianity to “secular” (non-spiritual, materialistic, worldly) unbelievers left them more than a bit embarrassed and befuddled. But finally one insightful pastor taught Jennifer about two powerful doctrines – doctrines that would allow her to declare her faith with boldness and clarity.

First of all, the pastor told Jenny to recognize her own limitations. “Jenny”, she said. “You simply won’t have ready answers to all the various objections your friends could dream up.” The pastor-lady pointed out that answers do exist, but seldom will a young Christian have the necessary background and training to deal with most of the classic objections. She told Jennifer that the makeup of secular society is extremely varied, ranging from those who have absolutely no idea of Christian concepts and vocabulary – they have heard of Jesus, and maybe Moses, but that’s about it. Many are indifferent and couldn’t care less about religious things. On the other hand, there are those who are very knowledgeable about Christian things, but are in a state of skepticism or rebellion, having been intimidated by the classic arguments against Christianity. Some have experienced or witnessed abuses or tragedy in their own lives or the lives of others, and are now in state of disillusionment with God and religion, especially organized religion.

Jennifer was counseled to carefully measure the time she would allow for high-heat-low-light dialogues and arguments, but also she must not try for quickie ‘sound-byte’ answers to complex questions. “Here is where you must go, Jenny,” said the pastor. “Stress the two basic doctrines of the Christian faith. First, the ‘bottom line’ of the Christian faith is: redemption – God seeking and redeeming those who are lost. Jesus lived and died to accomplish our redemption and the forgiveness of our sins. He went through death on our behalf to get us back into a right relationship with our Creator. Second, the authentication of the Christian faith is based on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the event that Christians celebrate on Easter Sunday. If you read First Corinthians Chapter 15, Jenny, you will see that the apostle Paul presents the core of the Christian faith as these two teachings – with the resurrection of Jesus being the validation. Paul also points out that if the resurrection isn’t true, then – to use two common phrases – ‘we ain’t got nothin’, and we might as well ‘eat, drink, and be merry’. But the resurrection has been examined in meticulous detail by both Christian and secular scholars, and has become regarded as ‘the best established truth of ancient history’. A good presentation is Lee Strobel’s The Case for the Resurrection, available on Amazon.com and many local Christian bookstores. I have an extra copy in our church library that you can have. Also, reading the first few chapters of the book of Acts would convince anyone that the early church accepted the resurrection as absolute truth. Here’s the critically important implication of the resurrection; this event establishes the credibility of the life and teachings of Jesus. He is, therefore, the ‘real deal’. It follows that to ignore his teachings on sin, salvation, heaven, hell, and so forth, is to place one’s very soul in peril.”

“And of course, Jenny, your detractors will HATE hearing you say this to them, because, first, they usually struggle with basic Christian vocabulary. Examples would be like, ‘saved?’ – ‘saved’ from what?’ ‘Redemption’? – ‘isn’t that something like ‘buying  back’, perhaps at a pawn shop?‘ ‘Resurrection from the dead’ – that sounds like fantasy fiction’. But worse, they sense that ‘Jesus-talk’ carries with it a suggestion of ultimate accountability to a ‘god’, something they are extremely uncomfortable with. And some of the more informed ones will certainly counterattack with augments against the reality of the resurrection – ‘it was made up by his overzealous followers’, ‘Jesus only ‘swooned’ – he never really died, he was part of a conspiracy, have you not read the Da Vinci Code?’ Or, ‘Isn’t it true that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and settled in what is now France?’ Others might say, ‘but why do I need to be ‘saved’? I’m a good person’. Others will say, ‘There are too many hypocrites in the churches. And isn’t Christianity discredited by those brutal crusades of antiquity?’ Or how about this one?- ‘Is my sweet little grandmother going to hell because she doesn’t go to church, while some serial killer in prison repents and gets ‘saved’?’ And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But, Jenny, you have to stand your ground, and insist on the truth of Jesus’ life and death to accomplish their redemption, and the truth of the resurrection as the validator of the Christian faith – and do it with gentleness and respect and a lot of patience. You will often find yourself in the teaching mode, where you will have to repeat and repeat these two basic doctrines. There will be times when you will have to admit that you do not have a ready answer to their many and varied objections – but insist that answers do exist, and you will try to find some resources for them to consult. And, to be fair, it’s a good idea to tell them that you appreciate their inquiring minds, and their willingness to ask questions and dialogue with you. Eventually, a few just might ‘come around’, so to speak, and realize their need to know and trust God, and actually reach out and grasp his offer of grace. You must plant these seeds in their minds and then allow the Spirit of God to take over – and, someday, there just might be a harvest.”

The pastor-lady went on to tell Jennifer. “Of course, for your own spiritual refreshment, you must attend a good Christ-loving Christian church that has a sound doctrinal statement – like this one you are visiting now, where you will be nurtured and where you can grow in your faith. Pray and ask the Spirit of God to give you the right words to say, and keep studying, so that you can become a ‘workman that does not need to be ashamed’, as per the biblical phrase. You must continue to hang out with Christian brothers and sisters, and you must maintain a personal standard of academic excellence. Then you can have a wonderful experience here at college, both academically and as a witness to our Christian faith.”

So what’s the golden nugget in this story? What can all of us take away? This: if you are a student like Jennifer (or soon to be one), at a secular university or academy, or if you are employed (or soon will be) at a secular company, then be prepared to be challenged with various arguments by folks who are disturbed or puzzled by your Christian ethics, demeanor, and manner of speech. You might have to endure the ‘cold shoulder’, or be thought of as a ‘weirdo’ or a ‘religious nutcase.’ That goes with the territory. But you have the two powerful doctrines discussed above to fall back on. They will sustain your wonderful opportunity and privilege to ‘stand up, stand up for Jesus’ and to ‘stand in the gap’ and show forth the love of Jesus Christ to a needy world. A high calling, and certainly not the easiest road to take – it’s definitely the proverbially ‘road less traveled’ – but it comes with wonderful reward, one day.

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