The Cosmic Cube: After Darkness, Light

Continuing our Cosmic Cube series, Kathy takes us back to her college days and the challenge she faced by professors and the like to live by the box rather than to live by the Book.  And while God’s Light is often eclipsed by the world’s darkness, it will never be obliterated.  His Light will always emerge from the fray, for He is the Light of the World! – Arthur

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July 16, 1945 is a day forever remembered and celebrated by the Los Alamos scientific community as the day physicists first tested out the atomic bomb over the New Mexico desert. On August 6th of 1945, the rest of the world watched in horror and fascination as “Little Boy” exploded over Hiroshima, instantly killing 66,000 people. The splitting of the atom was certainly a great scientific achievement and was met with much congratulation. However, it also unleashed unimaginable horror.

On September 10, 2008, my Life Science professor excitedly walked into class and asked, “Have you heard the news?” He proudly announced that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest particle accelerator, made its first successful test run beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland. Among the scientific community, it was a day of great celebration and accomplishment. After all, the project began in 1984, was built in collaboration with more than 10,000 scientists, and cost $10 billion! Furthermore, United States, Japan, Canada, Russia, India, and several European nations have all been major contributors to this huge project. BBC radio called this day, “Big Bang Day”, for “these international group of scientists plan to smash particles together to create, on a small-scale, re-enactments of the Big Bang.” (Yahoo News) Scientists hoped that this achievement will be the next great step to understand the makeup of the universe.

Mankind continues on the quest to find the answers to life’s big questions, and have progressed to greater and greater lengths with bigger investments and funding in pursuit of answers to questions, like how the universe came to be and how man originated on this earth. The successful firing of a beam of protons around the 17-mile tunnel housing the LHC was certainly a great scientific achievement and was also met with much congratulation. However, reminiscent of the atomic bomb, this celebratory attitude is unnerving, because the implications of building the LHC are horrific, beyond what we can imagine. Do they know exactly what they are cheering for when scientists congratulate themselves on this massive achievement? Take it to its logical conclusion and the assumptions are hardly a cause for celebration.

If indeed the cosmos is all there ever was, there wouldn’t be any ultimate meaning to human existence! If there is no ultimate meaning to human existence, then living morally and righteously would only be a preference. After all, all came from nothing and to nothing will we return. Is that a cause to celebrate? “‘What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?’ And I said in my heart that this also is vanity…how the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Ecc.2:15-17) As the world attempts to find the answers in the box, the implications can only be met with hate, grief, hopelessness, and despair. The author of Ecclesiastes understood that these are the implications if there is nothing outside the cube.

Somewhere underneath Geneva, Switzerland is this LHC. It is built in darkness, and sprung up from dark thoughts. Ironically, somewhere in Geneva, Switzerland, a Reformation Monument adorned with statues of the 16th century Reformation leaders, Calvin, Beza, Farel, and Knox, stands in the light above ground.  Surrounding these figures is the phrase, “Post Tenebras Lux—After darkness, light.” The light of the Reformation was the light of the Bible. We live by its light! If you ask a child what he thinks his life will be like living in a closed box, would we be surprised if he said, “dark?” Man attempts to answer life’s questions by looking for answers in the box. It’s a futile attempt and by its darkness, we can’t see anything! We can hardly understand where we are from, what we are doing here, and where we are going, what is right, and what is wrong. But, we have the Bible, which is not only a book about God, but a book from God. From above, He reached down and gave us His light; it is in Him that we can see. He gives us all the answers- who we are, why we exist, where we came from, where we are going, and how we should live! Until we see that, we’d be living in the dark, in the horrors of the false assumptions preached on college campuses, and carried out behind scientific research laboratory doors.

At the beginning of the year, another one of my professors proudly reminded our class that 2009 is the year evolutionists will celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of the Species. A look into the assumptions tells us it’s not a cause for celebration.  As for me, I celebrate the Lord, the Most High…a great king over all the earth! “For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly.” (Ps. 138:6) Let us join the heavenly congregation in rejoicing, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev. 4:11)

– Kathy Hung (now Chan)

God of Hope

Sandra and I have known Margaret Manning for many years.  She is a gifted and insightful thinker and communicator with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.  And though we may not always agree on everything, we agree on most.  Hope is a topic she is aptly qualified to address.  Widowed two years ago with the sudden death of her husband of seventeen years, she has ached and experienced the depths of sorrow.  Seeing how she has clung on to Hope; or more accurately, how Hope has clung on to her has been a real encouragement for me.  He is deepening her and continues to be her Eternal Husband.  If you live in fear and need a deeper understanding of hope, read on.  – Arthur

“Do not be afraid,” my instructor encouraged me as my horse continued to back up getting closer and closer to the edge of the trail. The “edge” once crossed would certainly mean that horse and rider would tumble down an eight foot embankment. “Do not be afraid” sounded silly and naïve to me as my horse continued to ignore my increasingly anxious prodding with my arms and legs. “Watch out; beware; don’t ever ride a horse” would have sounded more apropos given these circumstances. I was afraid, terrified even, as my horse backed right over the edge.

Fear is an entirely appropriate and indeed necessary emotion when facing danger. Proper fear ignites the “fight or flight” response in the animal world. And for human beings, we too experience a “fight or flight” response to danger, or harm to life. But our response is much deeper than simply the instinct to survive. Author Scott Bader-Saye argues: “We fear evil because it threatens the things we love—family, friends, community, peace, and life itself.  The only sure way to avoid fear, then, is to love less or not at all. If we loved nothing, we would have no fear, but this would hardly be considered a good thing.”(1) We are afraid of losing that which we love.

Interestingly enough, more than any other command in the Christian bible, Christians are commanded to “fear not,” and to “not be afraid.”(2) In fact, the admonition to not be afraid is offered up 366 times (one for every day of the year and for Leap Year). And just like my instructor, who uttered those words right in the middle of a crisis, so too, the writers of Scripture record these words in the midst of a crisis, or prior to one’s life being turned upside down. In the birth narratives of both John the Baptist and Jesus, for example, Zacharias and Mary are told “do not be afraid” even though they are being visited by an angelic being, not a likely or typical visitor. Furthermore, Mary is unmarried, just a young girl. Surely, she must have feared the repercussions of an unplanned pregnancy, including the possibility of her betrothed, Joseph, rejecting her. In the very midst of their worst fears, these and other biblical figures are told not to be afraid.

For many living in today’s world, do not be afraid evokes images of ostriches with their heads in the sand as the world collapses around them. In the wake of the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the mayhem that followed, the residents of Massachusetts can attest that uttering these words sounds just as naïve and perplexing as my instructor’s words to me right as my horse backed me off the eight-foot embankment. We have many, many reasons to feel afraid largely because we feel we have so much to lose. Do not be afraid echoes in our heads, whether or not we claim the Christian faith, and we wonder how to live courageously in a world filled with jagged edges and eight-foot embankments that would seek to claim all that is near and dear to us.

While there are no explicit references to hope in the teaching of Jesus, he too encouraged his followers to “not be anxious” but to trust in the God who could be trusted even in the face of our anxieties. Hope, contrary to what many of us might believe, is not the absence of fear but often arises in the midst of fear. It is both that which anchors us in the midst of the storm, and that which compels us to move forward—however ploddingly—towards goals, others, and the God whom the apostle Paul names the “God of hope” in his letter to the Romans. We hold on to hope, just as I held on while my horse slid backwards with me on her back, down the embankment that seemed without bottom, down to what I feared would end her life and my life. It is a desperate clinging to the God who is mysterious, and of whom we do not have control. There is a mystery in hope because we do not know how God will intervene.

I lived to tell about my horse-riding adventure without even a broken bone—not my own bones, or the bones of my horse. I couldn’t see the wide trail below me that would hold me, and would offer sure footing for my wayward steed. Our lives are often this way; we are often afraid because we cannot see where we will land. In the midst of broken bodies, maimed or decimated limbs, and in the loss of life itself fear can blind, disorient, and dismantle all that was normal before. But hope longs to hold us and to ground us in the midst of our fears. Hope is like a broad place, a wide trail underneath us. And though we know of those who fell and were not caught, though we all know that eventually life will end for all whom we love and hold dear, though we often fear a world destroying itself, the God of hope is at work raising the dead to life. Do not be afraid.

Margaret Manning is a member of the writing and speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.

 

(1) Scott Bader-Saye, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007), 39-40. (2) Lloyd Ogilvie cited in John Ortberg, If You Want To Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of The Boat (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 118.

Ten Reasons Kids Leave the Church

Hey TD, Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family, has written an article I’d like to get your feedback on.  What do you think about this list?  What reasons do you personally identify with?  What do TD and/or MBCLA have to work on?  Thanks in advance! – Arthur 

Of all the hats I wear in life, the one I enjoy most may be that of “dad.”

As much fun as Trent, Troy, and I have together, whether it’s camping or just throwing the ball around, not a day goes by that I don’t give serious thought to how my wife, Jean, and I are leading them spiritually. In the grand scheme of things, we only a have a short window to help them build a solid biblical foundation before they launch out on their own.

If you’re a parent, I’m guessing you’re well aware of how challenging that can be. Even the statistics bear out the struggle we face. The exact percentages are up for debate, but we know that a significant number of kids walk out the church doors after high school graduation and never return.

Why?

Well, the specific reasons depend on which study you read, but most of them point out how adults fail to connect teenagers to God’s redemptive work in meaningful ways. A recent example of this comes from a website designed for workers in church leadership. The article’s author , Marc5Solas, lives in a college town. He interviewed a large number of twenty-somethings to get their take on why Christianity is no longer important to them and boiled down what he learned into ten reasons you might find interesting.

Take a look and see what you think.

10. The church is “relevant.”

Normally, “relevant” is a positive term. In this case, it labels the problem. We’ve couched our faith in modern trappings to the point that 2,000 years of history and rich tradition have been diminished. As the article suggests: “What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we’re called to evangelize to. In our effort to be ‘like them,’ we’ve become less of who we actually are.”

9. They got into church, but the church never got into them.

Many young adults may have been taken to church by their parents, but the church wasn’t integrated into the fabric of their lives. Church was a Sunday event, not something that impacted the everyday realities of their lives.

8. They were treated as smart by others.

Many students interviewed felt they were spoon-fed a Christian worldview, while professors and others who held atheist viewpoints challenged their intellect and inspired them to ask questions and to use their mind.

7. They were sent out unarmed.

Many youth have mastered Christian lingo – the pithy catchphrases spoken regularly in churches and marketed through popular evangelical campaigns – but they’re ignorant of deeper theological truths. They know what “WWJD?” means, and they’re familiar with how to “invite Jesus into your heart,” but they can’t explain what atonement or justification means or its relevance to life’s realities.

6. They’ve been given a “hand-me-down” religion.

Many kids leave the church feeling like they’ve been asked to accept their parents’ faith, instead of encouraged to ask tough questions, so they can incorporate Christianity into their lives and make it their own.

5. They exchange one community for another.

Our modern faith sometimes places a greater emphasis on community than on God. As a result, many of today’s youth see other people as the answer to their problems instead of God. When they leave home, they often seek out a community of people of any belief system rather than one committed to the God of the Bible.

4. They seek opportunities to “feel” better.

Much of modern Christianity is based on “feeling,” rather than on objective, eternal truth. It reduces the Christian faith to a search for good feelings rather than exhortation to conform our human nature to God’s standard of righteousness.

3. They got tired of pretending.

Some segments of Christianity suggest that being a Christian removes all struggle from life. But that message rings hollow for many kids who try to serve God and continue to face difficult challenges … or who see their parents teach a similar message while succumbing to anger or depression themselves. Many youth feel Christianity leaves no room for authenticity.

2. Christianity is reduced to “do/don’t do” instead of “be.”

Many church kids were taught it’s all about what they do, not who they are. The Christian faith was reduced to a long list of do’s and don’ts. They felt trapped beneath the weight of their own abilities, instead of freed by the work only God can do in their hearts and lives.

1. They don’t need it.

When church is perceived as nothing more than a place to learn good principles for living, or to have a happy marriage, or well-behaved kids… Well, you can find that in most any self-help book. You don’t need a crucified Jesus for that. What kids need is the gospel; what they’re sometimes given is “a cheap knockoff of the entertainment venue they went to the night before.”

These findings challenged me. For one thing, I think it’s important to listen carefully to those we’re trying to reach, even when what they say isn’t so easy to hear. Only when we dig beneath a person’s words can we hear the true cries of their hearts.

I should add that I have the utmost admiration for pastors and youth workers, who are often lone voices, speaking truth into the lives of young people against a cacophony of noise from the culture. Add in limited budgets and time constraints and reaching young people for Christ is often an uphill battle indeed. I feel confident that most churches are doing everything they can to minister to young and old alike in their community.

And what about us parents? Well, articles like this that suggest how much may be amiss in the spiritual lives of today’s youth can certainly be daunting. As such, it’s always wise to be aware of our kids’ struggles and to make adjustments as necessary. But it’s just as important to remember that our kids are ultimately in the Lord’s hands. Strip away all the research and facts and figures, and underneath is this bedrock of Truth:

God has called us to rely on His grace to do the very best we can and to trust Him with the rest.

– Jim Daly, President, Focus on the Family

How Can an Infinite Hell Be Just When Our Sins Are Finite?

A question similar to this was raised in our TD small group Bible study last Friday.  It was posed as, “How can Jesus’ death on the cross, which was for a finite period of time, adequately pay for our sins when unbelivers are paying for their sins eternally in hell?”  Hell seems to be in the air.

RC Sproul, Jr. is a gifted theologian and writer. A regular contributor to Tabletalk magazine, his articles are usually what I read first.  Read and consider.  Would love to hear your thoughts. – Arthur

The wisdom of this question, I would argue, is that it gets at the real horror of hell. A lake of fire is a frightening thought indeed. The greater dread, however, is the duration of hell, that it never ends. This, I suspect, is what tempts some to try to tweak the church’s historic view on hell, including everyone from John Stott to Rob Bell. Is it possible to posit a truly terrifying, painful hell that only lasts a time? Can we affirm the just judgment of God, and still hope that it will one day come to an end?

Well yes you can posit it, but in so doing you would expose a lack of understanding of the scope of the evil of our sin, and a lack of understanding of the nature of God’s judgment. Sin, the church has argued, must be punished infinitely because we sin against an infinitely holy God. The problem with taking a cookie out of the cookie jar isn’t the cookie, nor the calories. Rather it is the shaking of our fist at the God of heaven and earth. When we commit even the smallest sin we are committing what one great theologian calls “cosmic treason.” When we steal the cookie we are declaring to the God who made us, who sustains us, who daily pours out His grace on us, “I WILL NOT HAVE YOU RULE OVER ME.” Thus we stand infinitely guilty, and no amount of intensity to the sinner’s pain can trump the eternity of the sinner’s pain. As painful as it may be to admit, anything less than eternal punishment would not be just, given the depth of our depravity in rebelling against our Maker.

If, however, that still does not satisfy ones sense of justice, if we still find God less than honorable to punish the earthly sins of men with an eternity in hell, consider this. Men do not cease to sin when they die. That is, the souls in hell are still unregenerate, still captive to their sin. Indeed they are all worse than they were when they were on earth. Hell lacks the common grace of God, the restraining grace of God. It is true that even the sinners below confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, but they do so with clenched teeth, seething with rage. It is true that their knees are bowed, but only because our Lord has broken them with a rod of iron. They hate God and curse Him for eternity.

Indeed one could argue that the deepest horror of hell is not that the pain will be so intense, nor that it will endure forever, but that we will ever become less and less what we were made to be. Without His grace we will continually devolve, and continually earn His continuing wrath. We, like hell, spiral ever downward into deeper and deeper darkness, deeper and deeper evil.

Hell is too dreadful a place to think on for too long. If you are comfortable with it, if the thought of it does not make you squirm, likely you don’t understand it. Sin, however, is still more dreadful, despite how comfortable we are with it. Hell is forever.

– RC Sproul, Jr. taken from www.ligonier.org

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TD Bible Study – “Now You Can Let Me Die”

Hey TD!

Hope you’re all having a great week!  The message and Bible study on Luke 2:21-40 are posted below, as well as on the TD website.  Please download the study, work through the questions, and get ready to have a great discussion this Friday!  Please be diligent, sincere, and passionate as you fight to know Jesus Christ in a deeper way.  See you then! – Arthur

“Now You Can Let Me Die …” message (mp3)

“Now You Can Let Me Die …” Bible Study (doc)

The Audacity Of Imitation

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One thing I like to do is to expose TD’ers to good Christian thinking and writing.  JIll Carattini is a friend and a prolific Christian writer, always getting me to think through an angle or nuance of Scripture, God, or the Christian journey that I hadn’t yet considered.  A favorite of several TD counselors, I thought I’d give you a taste.  She is the managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, their daily essay/devotional, which can be found on the front page of the TD web site.  Enjoy.

– Arthur

Unflattering as an adjective, insulting as a noun, imitation has fallen on particularly hard times. No one wants to be an imitation of a favorite songwriter, a fake impersonator of the grammy-award winning original. No restaurant proprietor wants to be reviewed as the “imitation” of a famed eatery; inherent in the classification is the notion of being a lesser version of the real thing. An idea is never lauded for being a good imitator of another. And imitation vanilla is rarely, if ever, invited to a cookbook. Originality is by far the more the accepted fashion of the day. And the pressure to be original—to be different than, better than, more than—is both constant and intense. It is the modern way of distinguishing oneself after all, whether applying for college or making a pithy tweet. From impressions to possessions to thoughts, being original seems to be everything.

The pressure may be subtle but it is often overwhelming. It is quite likely the reason why social media seems exhausting to me, why meeting someone with similar ideas can just as easily promote worry as it might a sense of camaraderie, or why I sometimes delay writing out of dread that it’s just all been said before. The pressure to be the inventor and not the imitator, the original and not the clone, the drive to make a new statement about oneself ad nauseam is both a strange and exhausting task.

I was thinking about this trend as I read some of the familiar, distinguishing, oft-quoted lines of Martin Luther King Jr. recently. In light of our need for incessantly original tweets and blog entries, it is interesting to note that King’s most trusted advisors were horrified when they heard him launch into his “I have a Dream” speech that fateful day in Washington. To them, this speech was played out. It was old and tired and not at all the new statement they were hoping to make for the Civil Rights Movement. He had given versions of this speech in other places and on other occasions, not the least of which a crowd of twenty-five thousand in Detroit. According to those who had helped him write the new speech the night before, they agreed they needed something far more original to make the greatest mark. Together they wrote a new speech that night, but on the day of the event, King set novelty aside for a less original dream.

Like his advisors, our modern allegiance to originality might make it difficult to imagine staring at a crowd of two hundred thousand, charged with a new and bold opportunity to make a statement heard by more of the United States than ever before, and deciding in a split moment not to say something new. Thankfully, Dr. King had the courage to believe that what we needed was not reinvention but, in fact, very old news. His acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize reflected a similar conviction:

“I have the audacity to believe that… what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will will proclaim the rule of the land. ‘And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.’ I still believe that we shall overcome.”(1)

To those inclined to obey the unrelenting orders of repackaging, reinventing, and re-presenting oneself ever-anew, proclaiming an ancient hope, being a follower of an ancient way, indeed, imitating a rabbi from the first century, likely seems as boring and unattractive as it is strange. Who wants to be an imitator, let alone an imitator of an antiquated mind and crucified body?

It may well be one of the most countercultural stances the church takes today. The Christian is an imitation. She walks a curiously ancient path toward a Roman cross of torture; he stands, unoriginally, with a humiliated body that bore the sorrow and pain of crucifixion. The way of Christ is not new. But the invitation of this broken body is paradoxical in this world as the broken body itself. For more curious than the invitation to be a follower in a world looking for trailblazers is the invitation to follow one who, though equal to God, emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, humbling himself to the point of death on a humiliating cross. Imitations of this unordinary love might almost be as gripping as the real thing.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.