Faith

Category Archives: Faith

Your God is Too Big

Daniel Hans is a Presbyterian minister in the United States. In 1986 he and his wife Beth lost their three year old daughter Laura to cancer. Daniel and Beth watched in agony as their little girl faced nine hospitalisations and four separate operations in the last nine months of her life. Their hearts broke as they watched Laura die, and they struggled to make sense of what had happened.

In 1987 Daniel Hans released a book containing some of the sermons he preached throughout his daughter’s battle with cancer and in the period immediately after her death. One of them is titled: “Caution. Your God is Too Big.” Hans relates how he once surveyed his congregation, asking them about their disappointments with God. He asked them to share things they had hoped God would do but that God didn’t. People described times they had prayed for the life of a newborn child only to see it die, of the hope God would protect his people from violence only to hear of an elderly woman being stabbed on her way to church, prayed for rain for famine stricken Africa only to see starvation continue. To these disappointments Hans now added his own – he had hoped God would heal his baby girl, but her condition only grew worse.

Hans suggests that disappointments like these are the stuff of life, and that if we read the Scriptures we discover that alongside the stories of miracles and amazing feats by God we hear story after story of disappointment with God, of times God appears silent and inactive. He suggests that sometimes we remember only the miracle stories and so we develop too big a view of God – not that we can have too big a view of God’s greatness and power or too big  a view of God’s love and grace, but that we can have too big a view of God’s will. God’s action in our world is not always to perform the miraculous, but more often than not to walk through our suffering with us. Hans suggests that “A view of God that is too big is harmful both to believer and unbeliever. When our understanding of God is exaggerated, we declare that God will do things he does not intend to do, at least not regularly and in all situations.”

Source: Adapted from Daniel Hans, God on the Witness Stand (Baker, 1987)

Whose Side is God On?

During the US civil war Abraham Lincoln met with a group of ministers for a prayer breakfast. Lincoln was not a church-goer but was a man of deep, if at times unorthodox, faith. At one point one of the ministers said, “Mr President, let us pray that God is on our side”. Lincoln’s response showed far greater insight, “No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side.”

Lincoln reminded those ministers that religion is not a tool by which we get God to do what we want but an invitation to open ourselves to being and doing what God wants.

Source: this is a widely distributed anecdote found on the internet, including citation in serious studies. I have been unable to confirm its historicity

Up and Under

In 1979 the tugboat Cahaba was headed down the Tombingbee River in Alabama, USA. The current was flowing fast as the tug’s pilot approached the bridge and released his coal barges. He then put his 1800 horsepower twin engines into reverse to get away, but when the boat moved slightly off line the current swung the boat sideways and slammed it into the bridge. The current was so strong that it forced the boat down under the water. To the astonishment of onlookers it passed under the bridge and popped up, upright, with the engines still going and the pilot at the wheel, on the other side. Why did it come back to the surface in an upright position? Because it was ballasted with a metre thick lining of cement on the bottom of the hull. It is a vivid reminder that life can often go horribly wrong, but if we have the right “ballast” – faith in Christ – then we can get through it and emerge upright on the other side. By the way, you can view photos of the amazing tug incident on at www.gcfl.net/stuff/tugboat/.
Source: information found at www.gcfl.net/stuff/tugboat/.

Desmond Tutu’s Confidence

During the deepest, darkest days of apartheid when the government tried to shut down opposition by canceling a political rally, Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared that he would hold a church service instead.
St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa was filled with worshippers. Outside the cathedral hundreds of police gathered, a show of force intended to intimidate. As Tutu was preaching they entered the Cathedral, armed, and lined the walls. They took out notebooks and recorded Tutu’s words.
But Tutu would not be intimidated. He preached against the evils of apartheid, declaring it could not endure. At one extraordinary point he addressed the police directly.
[quote]You are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked. So, since you’ve already lost, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side![/quote] With that the congregation erupted in dance and song.
The police didn’t know what to do. Their attempts at intimidation had failed, overcome by the archbishop’s confidence that God and goodness would triumph over evil. It was but a matter of time.
Source: reported in Jim Wallis, God’s Politics

The Delicate Balance

One of the most amazing things about our world is the delicate balance required to sustain it, that is, to have a universe capable of producing and sustaining life as we know it. In the book The Creator and the Cosmos, astrophysicist Hugh Ross points out twenty five factors that must all exist within very narrowly defined ranges for life of any kind to exist. Just one of these is the number of electrons. Unless the number of electrons is equivalent to the number of protons to an accuracy of one part in 1037, or better, then galaxies, stars and planets could never have formed. To get an idea of just how sensitive this is Ross asks us to imagine covering the entire continent of North America in dimes all the way up to the moon. Then do the same thing on a billion other continents the same size as North America. Now you have 1037 dimes. Now imagine that just one dime is painted red. You have mixed it in will all the others. Now take a friend a blindfold her and stand her in front of those of those billions upon billion of dimes covering a billion continents and piled to the moon and ask her to pick one out. Her chances of selecting the red one are one in 1037. These are the same odds as the ratio of electrons to protons being at the precise level required for life, and this is just one of many parameters that must be so finely tuned. Ross and many other scientists believe this points to a universe which has been carefully and skilfully designed by a Creator.

Source: information in Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos (Navpress, 1993)

An Atheist Converts

On the fifteenth of May, 1950, a group of students from Oxford University gathered for their weekly debate between atheists and Christians. Huddled inside the Junior Common Room at St Hilda’s College the meeting was chaired by CS Lewis. A young philosophy student named Antony Flew presented a case for atheism. His speech was titled “Theology and Falsification”. It doesn’t sound very exciting but it became the most widely published philosophical paper of the 20th century and Antony Flew went on to became one of the leading atheist thinkers of the 20th century. It has been said that “within the last hundred years, no mainstream philosopher has developed the kind of systematic, comprehensive, original, and influential exposition of atheism that is to be found in Antony Flew’s fifty years of…writing”. (Roy Varghese, Preface to There is a God).

In 2004 Flew dropped a bombshell – he declared he had changed his mind. He had not had a Damascus Road conversion experience. He had not had a personal encounter with God. He simply believed that the evidence from science and philosophy now pointed to the existence of a God. “I have followed the argument where it has led me” he said ”And it has led me to accept the existence of a self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipotent and omniscient Being.” (Flew, There is a God)

 

Atheism

There’s a story told about a Professor of biology who was an atheist. Every year he began his lectures on evolution by asking if any of the students were religious. When they identified themselves he boasted that by the end of his course they’d all know evolution was the truth and would have become atheists. Over the years many a student lost their faith during his course.

One day our atheist professor was walking through the forest, marvelling at the wonderful world evolution has given us. His wondering was interrupted by a loud growl. He turned to see a large, hungry and cranky grizzly bear charging towards him. The professor began to run, but it was no use, the bear was too fast. The professor tripped and next thing he knew the grizzly was standing above him, one foot on his chest, his paw ready to strike. With terror in his eyes the atheist professor realised he was about to experience survival of the fittest first hand.

At that point he cried out “God help me!”

Time stopped! The bear froze. The forest was silent. A bright light shone down upon the atheist and a voice boomed from the heavens, “You deny my existence for all of these years, teach others I don’t exist, and even credit creation to a cosmic accident. Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?”

The atheist professor looked up into the light, “It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now…but perhaps could you make the bear a Christian?”

“Very well,” the voice said.

The light went out and the sounds of the forest resumed. And then the bear dropped its right paw, brought both paws together, bowed its head and spoke: “Lord, for this food which I am about to receive, I am truly thankful.”

Source: unknown

Transposing the Gospel

How would you get young people interested in classical music? A few years ago Richard Dreyfuss starred in the movie Mr Holland’s Opus. You’ve probably seen it. Mr Holland is a high school music teacher who is passionate about music. He loves Beethoven, Bach, Mozart. For Mr Holland “music is…about heart, it’s about feelings, moving people, and something beautiful, and it’s not about notes on a page.” But how do you communicate that passion to a bunch of teenagers who have as much energy for Bach as they do for household chores? When Mr Holland starts talking about the classical composers he meets a sea of blank faces and bored looks.

And then one day Mr Holland discovers something amazing. He starts playing one of the hit pop songs of the time. All of a sudden the students perk up, their feet start tapping to the beat, their heads start nodding with the rhythm. “You like that huh?” asks Mr Holland. “Do you know what it is? It’s Beethoven.” This pop song has taken one of Beethoven’s melodies and set it to a rock beat, played it with electric guitars rather than violins, and given it lyrics that speak about boys and girls falling in love. All of a sudden Beethoven is not some ancient relic of a bygone era. All of a sudden Beethoven is relevant, Beethoven has become meaningful to Mr Holland’s students. Beethoven connects.

When people hear about about Christianity they can sometimes become a bit like Mr Holland’s students. Their eyes glaze over, their face goes blank, and they’re bored by it. They’re telling me, “I’m not interested in a faith which is nothing more than an ancient relic of a bygone era. I’m interested in a faith which is a dynamic force in my era. I’m not interested in a faith that speaks to the questions of yesterday, I’m interested in a faith that speaks to the questions I face today. I’m not interested in a faith that dredges through the issues of the past. I’m interested in a faith that engages with the issues of today.” Do you ever find yourself feeling like that?

You know the wonderful thing about the Christian faith is that it can be like Beethoven was for Mr Holland’s students. It’s a song that can be played anew in every era; a melody line that repeats through history, but played using the instruments of our time, with a beat we can dance to. And the task of the Christian church is to take this ancient song and play it in such a way that it connects with the people of our time, the mood of our time and the issues of our time.

 

Source: Scott Higgins

Pascal's Coat

When the famous seventeenth century French scientist Blaise Pascal died in 1662 his servant found a small piece of parchment sewn into his coat. At the top of the paper Pascal had drawn a cross. Underneath the cross were these words.

In the year of the Lord 1654
Monday, November 23
From about half-past ten in the evening
until half-past twelve.

Fire

God of Abraham, God if Isaac, God of Jacob
Not of philosophers nor of the scholars.
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy, Peace.
God of Jesus Christ,
My God and thy God.
“Thy God shall be my God.”
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God.
He is to be found only by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Greatness of the soul of man.
“Righteous Father, the world hath not know thee,
but I have know thee.”
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.

Jesus Christ.
I have fallen away: I have fled from Him,
denied Him, crucified him.
May I not fall away forever.
We keep hold of him only by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Renunciation, total and sweet.
Total submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day’s exercise on earth.
I will not forget Thy word. Amen.

That was Pascal’s record of an intense two hour religious experience that he kept secret until his death. It was an  experience of God that gripped his soul and changed the course of his life. He stored his record of it in the lining of his coat, close to his heart. For eight years he took care to sew and unsew it every time he changed his coat.  It was a treasured experience, something he could return to again and again.

Similarly, we can take those experiences of God that we have – transforming moments – and hang onto them as gifts from God to energise and motivate our faith.

Adapted from RC Sproul Doubt and Assurance (Baker Books, 1993) and Charles Kummel, The Galileo Connection (IVP, 1986)

Living Either Side of the Hill

In November 2000 my wife, my kids and I took a holiday to the Gold Coast. About 600kms north we were driving up a big hill, knowing that Byron Bay was down the other side. We were looking forward to it. We’d been in the car for a long time, it was hot, and we were eagerly anticipating a break. So up the hill we came, knowing that our break was down the other side. And then we saw it – the most breathtaking view you’re ever likely to encounter. At the top of the hill we got the most breathtaking view of a lush green valley stretching away to the deep blue of the ocean.

There was a lookout at the top of the hill, so we stopped, jumped out of the car and stood looking. The kids figured they’d reached the top of the world, so they danced on a little stone wall singing, “We’re on top the world, we’re on top of the world.” Over and over, “we’re on top of the world, we’re on top of the world.”

And in some ways it really felt like it – it was one of those perfect moments frozen in time. The kids singing and dancing, the wind fresh on the face, the sun shining above us, the road we’d travelled stretching out behind us, the road to come winding its way ahead. We knew who we were, where we’d come from, where we were going.

If you think of life as a journey, most of us would like to sit at the top of the world, to have one of those perfect moments where it all comes together and make sense, where we can look back at where we’ve come from and look ahead and know where we’re going, to have a sense of what is out there waiting for us, to see the detours and potholes and danger points that lie out there and start planning how we’ll meet them.

But instead of sitting at the top we spend most of our time travelling on either side of the hill. God sits at the top, has a sense of how it all fits together, but we usually don’t get that view. We get surprised by potholes and detours and danger spots and have to struggle our way through them. Faith however reminds us that God is at the top of the hill, and that even in the roughest parts we can live with trust in him to guide us through.

Source: Scott Higgins