Monday, March 30, 2015

Needed: Proof of Jesus’ Resurrection?

How can one prove the resurrection?

Well, “there has to be witnesses,” you say.  Yes, of course, and there were.  Several people claim to have witnessed Jesus’ literal physical bodily death AND also claim to have witnessed him alive again after he truly died—he was resurrected!

“Well,” you say, “their testimony would have to be a matter of record; that is, somehow documented.”  Yes, of course, and that is what we have in the Gospel records.  There is documentation that these witnesses saw what they saw, knew what they saw, and vowed veracity and authenticity in their witness.  They claimed to have seen and experienced that Jesus truly died and then he was alive again, resurrected from the dead.

Take for example Luke’s narrative account: “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”  (Luke 1:1-4.)

Luke gives a rather long winded introduction to his Gospel account, but what is he saying?

First, there are many sources for the same event asserting, among other things, that Jesus really died and then later was really raised from the dead.  Note how Luke says, “Since many have undertaken” to set down an account of the events surrounding Jesus.  This says that Luke is drawing from several sources.  And he draws from these accounts in a way to bring order and comprehension to them.

Secondly, these many sources that Luke refers to are traced back to actual eyewitness accounts.  He is not writing from hearsay.  He is writing about actual events born witness by actual people.  Luke says, “…they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses….”

Thirdly, these witnessed accounts were examined and cross examined; that is, they were verified and validated as literally true.  Notice how Luke says: “I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first …so that you may know the truth concerning [these] things….”  Luke intends for his account about Jesus to be taken as true.  He is not writing fiction, myth, or fairytales.  He is writing about actual events, which took place in an actual historical timeline and within an actual geographical place as verified by real personal eyewitnesses.

Finally, Luke is writing to a real person in order to elicit an affirmative response of belief, trust, and acceptance; as Luke puts it: “…to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”  In other words, Luke is saying, you can trust what you have been told about this Jesus of Nazareth: He IS Risen!

Luke was educated.  He was a medical doctor.  He knew how to examine cases, how to study and verify, and draw conclusions.  Hence, Luke presents himself as a trustworthy source.  And his motives are clear.  He is not receiving anything for what he writes.  On the contrary, he is risking his own honor and self-respect, i.e., his good reputation, should he write things that can otherwise be shown as false.  Thus, Luke has nothing to gain for telling these things about Jesus and everything to lose if his account about Jesus is full of falsehood—especially when it comes to the part about Jesus being raised from the dead.

Effectively, there can be no “scientific” proof of an historical account of this nature.  It is relational, personal, social, and historical truth we speak of here.  Are these witnesses trustworthy?  Can we believe their claims?  Are there several sources, several witnesses that can be or have been cross-checked to validate their testimonies?   As to Luke’s account about the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, the answer is yes!  Yes!!  And YES!!!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Is God Fair?

Christianity teaches that God created everything.  God created humanity, angels, and all nature’s creatures.  So, if something went wrong—has gone bad, sour, or evil—simple logic seems to tell us that it must be God’s fault.  Hence, God is responsible for the Devil; that is, God is to blame for evil.  Therefore everything that we suffer, every hurt and pain and agony we endure must be God’s fault.  It goes along with believing in God’s providential control.  If God is ultimately in control, then God is ultimately responsible.  Thus says simple logic.

What about when a wife loses her husband to a heart attack.  She asks, “Why did God save that other woman’s husband who had a heart attack, but didn’t save my husband when I know that my husband was the better man between the two?”  We demand accountability of God: “why does God heal this person and that person, but doesn’t heal me or my loved one?”  We feel as if God isn’t treating us right, is not being fair.

Yet the Bible over and over again speaks of God’s goodness and justice.  Yes.  God is a good God and a just God, which means that we should be able to trust Him to treat us with fairness.  But what does it mean for God to be “fair, just, and good”?

Well, first there is the matter of our freewill.  If we are brutally honest, we’ll have to admit that most of the bad things that happen to us are the result of our own human willfulness.  We choose what we do, how we live, and must therefore face the consequences of our own actions.

There is a story of two boys who got into a fight.  Johnny pushed Billy backwards making Billy fall into a ditch.  On top of that, Johnny then threw dirt into Billy’s face.  Later that day Johnny’s Mother scolded the boy.  “Johnny,” she said, “just because Satan puts an idea into your head doesn’t mean you should do it.”  “Yes Mother,” Johnny replied, “Satan did tell me to push Billy into the ditch; but throwing dirt into his face, that was my own idea.”  We can blame Satan for much evil, but we make our own contribution as well.

In his book, Perfect Peace (from which the above story was taken), author Charles Allen writes: “Every so often, someone says to me, ‘I have lost faith in God.’”  He then says, “My reply is that the more important question we need to consider is, ‘Have we lived in such a way that God may have lost faith in us?’”

In short, we often blame God when it is our own doing, our own rebellion, our own bad decisions, and our own willful disobedience that gets us into trouble.  Our freedom, our freewill can be a great burden to us.  For we have to live with the consequences of our own making.

“But,” you say, “That doesn’t explain everything.  What about those of us who do live good lives and try to do what is right?  What then?  We still face undeserved pain; we still suffer and grieve, and have bad things happen to us.  Why?  It seems so unfair!”

Well, the truth is that there is a mixture of good and bad in all of us.  The problem that we have is that just about every good-deed that we do is tainted.  For example, we do good things with mixed motives, with impure elements, pride, selfishness, or arrogant-egotism may get mixed-in with the best of our intentions.  As we always say in self-defense when found wrong, “No one is perfect!”

Indeed: Take two sheets of paper.  On the one sheet of paper, write everything that you’ve ever done which was absolutely good and perfectly pure, totally without stain or blemish; meaning that it had no impurity of any kind mixed-in with your good deed.  On the other sheet of paper, write down everything you can remember that you have done that was wrong in any way.  It was less than perfect; it lacked complete purity; there was some flaw or error mixed-in with your good deed, despite your best of intentions.  Which list is bigger?

To this Rev. Allen says: If you were boldly courageous and truly honest about the two lists, you’d probably react by falling down on your knees and praying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”  Yes, we have all experienced hurts and injustice in our lives; but by the same token, God has also been merciful and gracious to us.

Jesus reminds us that God causes the rain to fall on the fields of the just and the unjust.  God is a merciful God.  This means that God could actually be harsher on us than he really is.  To those of us who think God is harsh and exacting, perhaps we need to give this point some serious consideration.

Trouble and disappointment, hurt, pain, and defeat come into our lives and we ask, “Why?”  Yet, we might also ask why we demand justice, why there is any goodness at all, given the state of humanity; human nature being what it is.

What is the evidence that God is good, that God is just, and that God is trustworthy and merciful?  The primary evidence we have is in the person of Jesus Christ himself.  He came; He lived, he healed and forgave.  He died to save us, and He rose again from the dead to guarantee Life anew.

In his book, Allen tells another story, about William Barclay, one of the most famous and greatest Bible teachers and preachers of his time.  The story is told that a few days before Barclay’s only daughter was to be married, she drowned.  Later in speaking about this tragic incident, Dr. Barclay had this to say: “I am not so concerned as to whether or not Jesus stilled the tempest on the sea.  What I do know is He stilled the tempest in my heart.”  Dr. William Barclay did not attempt to explain the drowning of his daughter.  What Dr. Barclay did do is testify to the healing mercy of God in that experience.

God is patient with humanity, not wanting any to perish (2 Peter 3:9).  In short, it is not God that is unjust or unfair or that is evil.  We are the unjust, unholy ones.  We are the ones who are guilty.  So, naturally we’re going to blame God and try to avoid our own responsibility for the wrong that is in this world and the mess that we’ve made of it.  After all, it is what unjust people tend to do—cast blame on anyone else but themselves.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Kids with Cell Phones and Parental Oversight

When it comes to technology, kids are always ahead of parents.  Why?  Unlike parents, kids have the time that parents don’t have to play-with, explore, experiment, and learn about the newest and latest gadgets, software, and apps that the market has to offer.  Parents, on the other hand, are constantly playing catch-up. 

Nevertheless, parents need not necessarily know all the workings of any given gadget, app, or software-program to be able to set limits and priorities and to entrust responsibility to their children for their use.

There is no shame for a parent to admit to his/her child, “I don’t know how to work this,” or “I need help programming my phone.”  However, it is a shame when parents fail to empower a child to take responsibility for a gadget’s proper use.  In other words, parents need not teach their children the ins-and-outs of the latest technological breakthrough.  But parents do still need to teach their children how to be responsible in their use.  An impossible task, some may think, since “kids will be kids,” as some may say.

Precisely!  And since “kids will be kids,” it is all the more reason why parents need to be on top of the game in teaching their children responsibility—wisdom, etiquette, respect, and protection, among other things—when using smart phones and other high tech stuff.

Okay, so what DO you teach children about engaging in the digital world?

First of all, make it easy by sticking to basic life principles and then show them how these basic principles apply when engaging in the cyber world as well.

For example, take the basic principle in life that there are always natural and/or set limits and boundaries in one’s life.  No one can have everything or anything one wants—ever!  There are always limits.  Boundary lines are everywhere.  There are speed limits, purchasing limits, charging limits, filling limits, take-out limits, entry limits, drinking limits: Don’t cross this line, no entry beyond this point, limit two purchases per customer, no one under this height may enter this ride, and so-on and so-forth.  Teach children to get used to it and deal with it.  Hence, there are to be limits for cell-phone usage, texting, messaging, surfing the web, and game-playing.  Teach your children while they are still very young.  Children need to understand, accept, and live with limits and boundaries in their lives.

Secondly, teach children the very real and immediate connection between hard work, income, and expense as well as the value of hard earned money and fleeting time.  The sooner a parent teaches a child that “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” the better.  But the way to teach them this truth is not say it but to show it.  Demonstrate the connection between work, time, money, and expense.  How?

They need to experience it firsthand.  If a child has $5.00 to spend and chooses to spend it on this, they must see that they are also choosing not to buy that: It is an “either/or” proposition not a “both/and” proposition.  Hence, children need to learn the lesson of choices and consequences regarding the earning and spending of money and, by extension, the use of technology.  They must see that money is earned and not given.  Free-time is also earned, a value that many parents overlook.  Playtime is important for all children.  But as children grow older, playtime should not be taken for granted.  The older a child gets the more a child must realize that work comes before play, as a life principle.  And so, likewise, having, owning, and using smart phones is not a child’s right.  It is a privilege that should be earned and valued appropriately.  It is up to parents to help their children understand this.

Other basic principles that children need to learn in life is that of mutual respect, cooperation, and trust while also providing personal and social protection and anonymity.

There are reasons why we have personal and private spaces like bedrooms, closets, and bathrooms.  The privacy dynamics that we attitudinally apply to these literal spatial places in our homes must also be applied to our spatial world in cyberspace.  Smart phones, tablets, and computers now connect us to people all over the world.  Thus, there is a greater need for learning to understand and respect what it means to be open and socializing as well as closed and protective as we digitally connect nationally and internationally.

Closed personal privacy AND network socializing openness are to be held together in a healthy tension with balance and integrity.  In this case the “both/and” category overrules the “either/or” question: We can’t have one over against the other, we must have both—private boundaries AND social-network connectedness.  It may be difficult at times, but not impossible.  Again, the earlier children learn this, the better.  True: everyone has a different idea as to where that happy balance may lie.  Thus, parents will first have to grapple with this question within their own minds before wrestling the issue with their children.  Then a clear determination will have to be made between parents and children as to what should be considered safe boundary limits for social networking and what is viewed as adequate openness in order to retain privacy protection for children and other family members.

As in all other areas of life, parents need to be communicating with their children about the issues surrounding cell-phone usage and other high tech gadgets: “Communicate, communicate, communicate.”  Have a strategy.  Determine what needs to be addressed and why, how best to do so, and what you want your children to learn, understand, and embrace responsibly.

Avoid extreme reactionary action or sentiment.  Avoid over-controlling on the one hand or totally absconding parental responsibility with a hands-off approach, on the other hand, leaving your children free to do as they please.  Avoid demonizing the technology itself: In the same way that money is not evil in-and-of itself (it’s how it is used), so technology is not evil in-and-of itself, it’s what we do with it.

Be age appropriate with your rules and oversight, as you apply levels of trust for allowing usage, ownership, and payment responsibility.  But do maintain adequate and vigilant oversight.  When they are young, yes, most certainly do review their phones, messages, texts, etc.  Lighten up on this as they grow older and as you and they mature learning to trust and respect each other’s boundaries.  You can show them the bill so that they can see how much it costs the family to have these phones and gadgets.  You can enlist their participation in paying for the increasing cost over the years.  They should become fellow participants in paying their way through or at least be made to understand their role in adding to the cost of such expenses as they mature.

Of course doing these things is easier said than done.  Yet, if it is not said, it will most certainly not be done.  Parents need to do more than just cope and get by.  With regard to the cyber-world, parents need to establish direction and give guidance as to the greater social values and principles that a solid and healthy family, community, and nation must live by.  High tech gadgetry is not going away.  We are in a new and strange (for us older types) digital era.  But the basic principles of life still apply, even in the 21st century.  We just have to find new and relevant effective ways to pass them down to the next generation.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Guilt and Forgiveness: Forgiving and Being Forgiven

You’ve wronged someone.  You’re guilty.  Now what?

Someone has wronged you.  They owe you.  You want payback.  They refuse to admit it.  They don’t own it.  What can you do?

You said too much or you did wrong.  You meant no harm.  Your heart was in the right place.  But you still caused pain.  You feel guilty.  Others say that you are innocent.  Still, you can’t seem to shake it off, that burden of guilt.  How do you deal with it?

Feelings of guilt can be debilitating.  Feelings of guilt can be a source of great unhappiness, a source of persistent stress and anxiety or even depression.  Guilt can be self-destructive, resulting in low-esteem or self-hatred, making us irritable, defensive, and unpleasant to be around.

Guilt can be real or imagined.  Sometimes we feel guilty when we shouldn’t.  Other times we feel no guilt when we most certainly are.  We can be guilty over many things.  And we can be guilty over nothing.  Guilty or not, it is always about relationships.

Read the Ten Commandments carefully and you will discover that they all have to do with relationship: Our relationship with God or our relationship with our fellow humans.  We either wrong God or we wrong one another.  Furthermore, you’ll notice that when we wrong others, we also wrong God.  Yes, to wrong a fellow human being is to wrong God.

That being said, every one of us has someone to forgive; for there is always someone who has done, who is doing, or who will do us wrong.  By the same token, we ourselves inevitably do wrong to someone else.  So, we too need forgiveness.

When we are out of touch with our own need to be forgiven, it is easy for us to impatiently and often somewhat arrogantly condemn those who trespass against us.  In righteous indignation we readily demand that they pay in full the debt that they owe us, for the wrong they have done to us.  In other words, we want justice!

How easily we forget that we too are guilty.  We too have caused harm.  We too have done wrong against our neighbor.  And, even if we do admit this, we minimize our guilt while maximizing the guilt of someone else.  We weigh-in, compare and measure.  We say things like, “Yes, I know I’ve done wrong and have hurt others, but I’ve never done anything as bad as that!”  They deserve what they get!

Most of us have the idea that we’re “really not all that bad”; certainly not as bad as anyone doing time in prison, for example.  Believing that we’re more good than bad, on the scale of Perfectly Good, 10 being perfect, we’re apt to say that we’re about a 7 or 8, a few might even dare say, 9.  In short, believing that we are basically good, we ignore the fact that to God, “almost Perfectly Good” is unacceptable.  Or we’re simply calling God a liar by refusing to accept the Word that we are all sinners and fall short of God’s standard of righteousness.

There is a story of a medical doctor, a family practitioner, whose patient records were examined after he died.   It was found that a number of his patients did not pay their medical bills to him.  The reason why is that the doctor himself crossed out the patient’s debt writing over the account the following words: “Debt forgiven, too poor to pay.”

However, the doctor’s wife believed that many of these patients actually could pay, so she took them to court to collect their debt.  When the judge saw the records, the judge asked the doctor’s wife, “Is this your husband’s handwriting?”  The wife said, yes it is.  The judge then replied, “Then there is no tribunal in the land that can obtain this money, when he has written the word forgiven.”  Their debt was forgiven by the doctor himself.  Therefore there was no longer any debt on record to be paid.  The case was thrown out of court.

Take what Isaiah 1:18 says: “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”  This is wonderful news to someone who is all too aware of his or her guilt.  But to one who feels no guilt, believes he or she has done no wrong or little wrong to speak of, it is a non-message.  It has no real impact.  Certainly it has no sense of urgency to it.  The thing is; if we think that we are basically good people and experience no guilt for wrong doing, we have no need of forgiveness.  And so the Good News of the Gospel not only fails to be Good News to us, it actually becomes offensively accusatory; because the Gospel assumes our guilt.

So, in terms of guilt and forgiveness I leave you with Four Principles and Three Actions:

Four Principles
A.    There is a debt to be paid.  If we are guilty, we owe and we shall pay.  This is why Christians repeatedly speak of Jesus paying for our sins.

B.    The ultimate debt that is to be paid is not to us, but to God—even for wrongs done to us.  This is why the debt that was to be paid had to be paid by Jesus, the Righteous and Holy one.  He is the only one that was capable of paying our debt to God.

C.    This is not the place or time of ultimate and final justice.  There is no perfect justice here on earth.  This is why Christians speak of a “Final Reckoning,” an ultimate Judgment Day.

D.    We will all have justice in the final end, whether we like it or not or want it or not.  We all think that we want real justice.  In the end we will get what we want.  Yet, some may regret that they ever asked for it.  For then they too will have to pay.

Three Actions

1.    We need to come to grips with our own guilt.  Own up, confess and repent and then experience God’s forgiveness for the wrong we’ve done to God and others.

2.    We need to forgive ourselves.  There is nothing like a relieved and clear conscience.

3.    We need to learn to forgive others as we have been forgiven.  What goes around comes around.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Stop Stressing, or At Least Reduce It

Stress is inevitable.  However, the good news about that is that, in the same way that a certain amount of muscle tension is good for healthy muscles, likewise a certain amount of stress in one’s life is good for the living.  It means you are alive, active, and engaged.  And that is a good thing.  But, the bad news is that most of us are living under way too much stress these days.  How can we reduce our stress level or is it even possible?

Stress is a reaction response.  That is to say that stress is not a thing in and of itself, as if stress is a disease or substance that has attacked your body, mind, and spirit.  Rather, something else is going on; stress is a physical and/or psychological reaction to some stimuli, event, action, occurrence, info, which then results in a stressful response.

For example: We lost track of time, we are now going to be late for work.  Result: we are stressed.  Now driving to work becomes acutely stressful—because of slow drivers and red lights and school bus stoppings and unexpected roadblocks and detours, making our being late to work all the more pronounced and thus more stressful—or so we think.

There are many things in life that bring about stress.  Ill-health and/or physical pain, relational and/or emotional abuse, people abusing their position of power and control over us, financial debt, wayward children.  I could go on; you get the picture.  As the saying goes, “bleep happens.”  It’s our response that makes the difference.

I’m still learning myself.  Like most of us, I all too easily let stress get the better of me, knowing that it doesn’t have to.  That’s right.  It doesn’t have to.  Here’s what I’ve learned over the years about overcoming stress in one’s life.

Truth: What happens IN me is within MY control.  That is, I need not succumb to feelings that seem uncontrollable.  I need not become a slave to my emotions.  I must own that I am in charge of my inner life and that I can and should take control of my emotional response to life’s troubles.  Just understanding and accepting this principle is a major step in the right direction.

Feelings are feelings, just that.  Yes, they are there for good reason—to alert, to make aware, to call to attention to, and give warning, for example.  But they are not to master one’s actions or reactions in life.  So, for example, the feelings of fear may give warning that I am in danger; nevertheless, fear is not to be the master of my response to that particular danger.  I must master my fears, not the other way around.

Therefore, I am responsible for my self—my inner self, my core being.  This means that I cannot look to others or to things outside myself to give me the inner peace or to bring me the inner tranquility and equilibrium that I am looking for or longing for.  It is up to me.  I am responsible for my own actions and reactions to all that happens to me.  I am not to blame outside events or other persons for my inner reactions, be they reactions of fear, hurt, anger, sadness, or whatever—stress!  They are MY reactions and I must own them as mine, whatever their source may be, or however they may have been triggered within me.

How is this done?  Have you ever heard of the “Serenity Prayer”?  It goes like this: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  It’s simple yet so profoundly true in its understanding of our need.

First, there are things that we cannot change.  Therefore, we must learn to deal with it.  And the first step toward properly or adequately “dealing with IT,” that is, that thing that we cannot change, is to accept its reality—to accept the fact that it is beyond our control to stop, change, or make it go away.  Much unnecessary stress comes from our unwillingness to accept the fact that there are certain things beyond our control.  And so we throw huge emotional fits (stressing) because something has gone terribly wrong, something beyond our control.  We cannot always have our way.  Yet, we’re stressing because we didn’t get what we wanted.  We didn’t get what we planned for or expected or demanded, so we stress!  To reduce stress, we must learn to accept those things that we cannot change.

Secondly, we must have the courage to actually make changes where it is within our power to do so.  Some changes are difficult, scary, or even painful.  So we avoid changing.  Then we stress.   We stress because we’re unhappy with things as they are, the status quo, but neither do we have the courage to do what’s necessary to make the necessary changes for the better.  So we stress.  In this case we fail to realize that the stress of doing nothing at all is more burdensome and more damaging to our inner psyche than the temporary stress we may experience by actually doing something about it.  When it is in fact well within our power to make the necessary changes for the better, if we are going to reduce stress, we must take action—even if it is frightening to have do so.

And finally, yes there is a judgment call that must be made.  But how do we know the difference between those things that are within our power to change and those things that are beyond our control?  It’s called wisdom.

The Bible makes it very clear that the beginning of Wisdom is to first have a deep awe-stricken respect for God (“the fear of the Lord”).  Hence, reducing stress has a lot to do with who you think is in control.   Is it you?   Is all of life on your shoulders?  Are you carrying the ultimate question of your life in your own hands?  Or is God?  Or, is it some lower demigod, like the State or some economic institution, or some group of extremely powerful and wealthy wise guys.  Who is in charge? 

Much stress can be reduced simply be accepting a far greater and superior Being than our human selves, letting God rule.  God is good, just, and loving; let God be in charge.  Then learn the difference and receive the courage not only to accept what is beyond your control but to make those changes that are within your ability to do so—with God’s help.  Yes, stress we will always have.  But as in all other things, it is best to have it in moderation and keep it manageable—all with the help of God’s love, mercy, and grace.