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  • Putting Our Faith to Work   

    Scripture: Revelation 22

    Point 1: The Holy City, the New Jerusalem, is about life and the absence of darkness.  John chose, in his vision, to describe Heaven in the metaphor of a city – the City of God.  In this final vision we see a description of the theological characteristics of the city and the focus of the city is on life and the absence of darkness.  Now, remember the warning from C.S. Lewis about making literal the symbolism of the Apocalypse.  If you took the description of the Holy City in this reading literally, you might say, “Well, it just doesn’t make sense.”  John is saying, through symbolism, that the God of the universe is a healing God.  Saint Augustine said, “On Earth our destiny is to die, but in Heaven our destiny is to live forever.”  So it is very appropriate that the city is described as throbbing with life.  Because of the hope of that vision, the followers of Christ can say “no” to death (not physical death, but eternal death).  The reading continues “There shall no more be any accursed there.”  The Jerusalem Bible says, “The ban is lifted.”  The ban that would preclude the entry of humans into Heaven is lifted, sin has been forgiven.  Further, the throne of God and the Lamb will be there and, “His servants shall worship Him and see His face.  Night shall be no more.  They need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light and they shall reign forever and ever.”  We need a place where death and darkness are gone.  Our destination is the place where death is defeated and darkness disappears.

     

    Point 2:  The words of the Apocalypse are trustworthy and true.  (Verse 6)  At this point I want to say something about truth in faith.  There are two approaches to belief that the faith is true.  One is from assumptions about God and the other is from experience.  So we can talk about deductive faith and inductive faith.  Deductive faith begins with proclamations about God that come from spokespersons – the prophets and Jesus.  Then one moves from the proclamations about God to experience as humans.  If the proclamation says, “God is love,” we say that we believe there is a God and God is love and therefore we ought to live like this.  That is the way most of us start off.  Our families teach us about the Bible and so forth.  We start off with a deductive faith.  But there are many persons who cannot come to faith that way.  The second approach, inductive faith, comes from an examination of human experience – personal and as societies, and it moves from experience to God.  Out of experience, one comes to the idea of God.  Inductive faith begins with no presumption of the supernatural, but looking for what Peter Berger calls “signals of transcendence” in ordinary life.  The argument I use with people who are unable to have faith is inductive – why is it, that as far back as we can trace humans, they have worshiped?  Doesn’t that seem odd that, in every part of the world, as far back as we can trace, humans have worshiped?  Why is that the case?  The first real atheism was that of Ludwig von Feuerbach, who said God was a projection of human imagination and not real.  Berger says the joke is really on von Feuerbach.  For example, the purest activity of the human mind is mathematics.  Humans invented mathematics and constructed equations that look at whether the universe is expanding.  When those equations are tested by looking at the universe, the universe confirms the equations.  In other words, what came out of the human mind is real.  What Berger would say is that the reasons humans have always worshiped is not an imagination that projected out to God, but that there is an inductive stimulation to the idea of God which is universal.  Another example of faith induction is from Albert Schweitzer.  He cites in The Quest for the Historical Jesus, “If you will follow Him {Jesus} by the Sea of Galilee, you will learn, as an ineffable mystery, who He is.”  You see, Schweitzer says if you can’t believe in a god, but you want something else in your life, assume that the deductive faith is true and live it and, in the living of it, it will become true for you.  

     

    Point 3:  There is finality to the decisions made in life -- the end is entrance to Heaven or exclusion.   (Verses 10 to 15)  What the angel is saying should happen is that the Apocalypse should be scattered throughout the world and there are some people who will not hear it or obey it.  They will continue to do exactly what they are doing now, until they die.  And the righteous who hear will continue to be righteous.  How you live depends on whether you hear the message and, depending on how you live, the decisions you make in life determine ultimate fate -- whether you are in the Holy City or not.  If you have “washed your robes,” you not only have access to “the Tree of Life,” but you enter in the “open gates.”  And if you don’t, then you are excluded and the exclusion from God, whatever else it is, we call Hell.  

       It is hard to know what Jesus means when He says, “I am coming soon.”  At the time He lived, the universe was 13.7 billion years old – just what it is today. Only 2,000 years have passed.  What is clear is that the early church was wrong in assuming the world was about to end.  Nobody knows what the word “soon” means.  Jesus said, “Nobody but the Father knows” when the end would come.  It might be tomorrow or, in the scheme of cosmic time, a billion years would be “soon” relative to the age of the universe.  The one place where we know the Eschaton will come soon is our own lives.  Each of us has a personal Eschaton and, even if we live to be 100 years old, that is a short time.  So when Jesus said, “I am coming soon,” that certainly applies – that He is coming soon – for us.  

    It seems foolish not to think that our personal Eschaton is not too far off.  So, the Apocalypse is clear that decisions made in life have a finality to them.  You can’t change them after the Eschaton has come.  That should influence us in the way that we live.

    Point 4:  A living faith always leads to invitation to Christ and the Holy City.  

    (Verses 16 and 17)  God is an invitational God.  Therefore, those who love and serve God must have invitational lives.  Notice the sequence: “The Spirit says ‘come.’”  (That is God.)  “And the bride says ‘come.’”  (That is the Church.)  And anyone who hears the message, either of God or the Church, is also required to say “Everyone, come.”  Our church used to do lay renewals where we visited other churches over the weekend.  We did a lot of singing and one of the songs we always sang was called “Pass It On.”  Let me tell you the words, because they are symbolic of what we are discussing:

     

    It only takes a spark to get a fire going.

    And soon, all those around can warm up in its glowing.

    That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it.

    You spread His love to everyone.

    You want to pass it on.

     

    (and then the chorus)

     

    I’ll shout it from the mountain top.

    I want the world to know.

    The Lord of Love has come to me.

    I want to pass it on.

     

       Now, the Christian faith, properly understood, is balanced.  It consists of “little m” mercies and “big M” mercies.  The Christian Church is about mercies.  Our faith would be worthless if we did not practice “little m” mercies: giving a glass of cool water, a lunch, a scholarship to a student, or visiting the sick.  Our faith would be dead.  But these are “little m” mercies because they are transient. The water may last an hour, the meal a day, the scholarship several years, but they are transient.  The “great M” mercies are what the Apocalypse is all about.  They are about the forgiveness of sin, salvation, teaching about the Savior, talking about the demands God makes of us.  They are not transient.  They are “big M” mercies and that’s what is being talked about here in this chapter.  John ends the Apocalypse on an evangelistic demand.  He wants to invite everyone to Heaven.  Just as a personal statement, I could not live without Christ.  How then, could I refuse to pass it on?  How could one, having been filled with the love of God, not share it?  It is impossible, it just can’t be done.  The other thing is that, when you are a part of giving an invitation that someone responds to – when one can be just a little bit of a link to someone coming to the City, there is a feeling of great joy and reward.  Those who are long-time members of this class know that, every Sunday, I am teaching for decision.  We are talking about decisions that can change the world as well as an individual life.  

     

    Point 5:  The first word of our need and the last word of the Bible are the same – “Grace.”  (Verses 20 and 21)  John comes to the end, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.  Amen.’  Come Lord Jesus.”  From the moment that we become able to think, we are in need of grace – God’s unmerited love.  We need it throughout our lives.   It is the final message of the Bible and we need to know that.  Then this, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.”  It is wonderful to me that the final word is grace.  In closing, one of my favorite passages is Reynolds Price’s ending of his book The Three Gospels.  He talks about the disciples at the time that Jesus had gone.  Here is what he wrote, 

     

    “It would only be slowly that they would come to see how, in the time they shared His life, His hard ordeal and calm return {from death} had ended things as they had been from the start.  He had reconciled God to them and their kind – all human creatures to the end of time.  And whatever they lacked in that final dawn, they gave the rest of their lives to His other task – to make all people know that God is at hand with His flaming love – comprehensible through Christ, at last.  They never lost hope to see Him come again on clouds in the Father’s power to claim them.  One of their cries, in their own language, was ‘Maranatha’ – ‘Lord, come now.’  In other lives their cry has lasted over two thousand years.  It is the experience of Christians through the centuries that when we say, ‘Maranatha – come Lord Jesus’ He never says ‘no.’”

     

    So, perhaps the most important thing John says in this final chapter is that – that God’s flaming love is known to the world through the Christ.

      

     

  • How Do We Explain Suffering and Evil?

    How does one explain suffering and evil?  

    It is a perennial, universal question, the answer to which is cloaked in mystery.  Start with the premise that human suffering is poignant, but not a philosophically serious problem if there is no God.  If the Universe came into existence on its own and if life arose in a primordial pool of RNA, then life is what life is.  Humans act as they act in accord with the genes that nature gave them.  Some humans are good and some are bad, some are kind and some are cruel, but there is no moral issue, just as there is no moral issue when a wolf kills a deer or a hawk kills a squirrel.

    The problem becomes much more serious if one believes that there is a God behind the Universe.  The problem is best characterized as a trilemma, a set of three propositions which are internally inconsistent.  Here is the set:

    God is omnipotent (and omniscient).

    God is wholly good.

    Evil exists.

    David Hume phrased the issue succinctly:  Is He (God) willing to prevent evil, but not able?  Then He is impotent.  Is He able, but not willing?  Then He is malevolent.  Is He both able and willing?  Whence then is evil?

    Before going on, it is helpful to remember that there are two sources of suffering.  First, there are natural causes like hurricanes, earthquakes, and disease.  Second, there are human sources like war genocide, torture, crime.  Quantitatively the latter is much greater than the former.  It is probably wise to consider natural suffering as tragedy but not evil.  It is the suffering induced by human behavior that warrants a judgment of evil.  A famous statement by Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov illustrates this:  “People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel.  The tiger only tears and claws.  He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do so.”

    Returning to the trilemma, I will try to present the argument that there is no inconsistency in the three foundation propositions – using what Alvin Plantinga has called “The free will defense.”  What it will say first is that the greatest gift of God to humans is freedom…freedom of free will.  Humans alone, of all the animals, can choose against instinctual desires.  Second, moral good in the universe requires the choice for good as opposed to the choice for evil.  That follows from freedom.  There can be no moral good unless there is the possibility for moral evil.  Finally the argument will say that the great virtues of humans – the things that make humans great – can only occur in the face of evil. 

    In his book God, Freedom and Evil, Plantinga has the best modern summary of the free will defense:  “A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all.  Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right.  For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what if right freely.    To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil.  The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against his goodness – for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.”

    To reiterate – there is natural suffering in the world which is due to the rules of the natural universe, and there is moral evil leading to suffering which is due to humans acting evilly.  This moral evil is, of course what the Bible calls sin.

    For some, however, even the suffering of the life cycle between birth and death, natural suffering, calls God into question.  “Why me, God?”  The why of suffering becomes particularly insistent if something like premature death happens to a “good” person while the wicked seem to live and prosper.  While some judge God unfair because of suffering caused by nature, most of us are readily willing to call that tragedy and are not willing to call it injustice or evil on God’s part.

    Going beyond the narrow free will defense Thomas Aquinas said, “The universe would lack many good things if all evils were excluded.  There would not be the endurance of the martyrs if there were no persecution by tyrants.”  What follows – it sounds very radical but I believe it to be true – is that the existence of evil is a necessary condition for many moral goods.  The highest human virtues are expressed only if evil is experienced directly or indirectly and is accurately interpreted as evil.  There would be no need for these virtues if all were good.  If there is nothing to fear and nothing that can destroy, braveness is irrelevant.

    The fact that the highest human virtues are only possible in the face of suffering and evil is why great minds in history have thought that God did not create a world of all good.  Because it would be devoid of greatness as God sees greatness.  We would thus answer the trilemma by expanding the conclusions from three to six as follows:

    God is omnipotent

    God is wholly good.

    Natural suffering necessarily follows from the equations of the universe.

    Moral evil exists because humans were gifted with free will whereby they can and do act evilly, even as they can and do perform good.

    The greatest human virtues would not exist if suffering and evil were not real in the experience of humans.

    Therefore God is just and good in allowing evil in the world He created.

    Evil and suffering in the world may cause one to reject the possibility of faith in God.  Equally true is the fact that the experience of evil or suffering in one’s own life or an enhanced sensitivity to the effect of evil in the world upon others may cause a believer in God to undergo a crisis of faith.  On the other hand – and perhaps more frequently – suffering and distress may drive one to God for strength and understanding and hope.

    For Christians, there is a final proof that this real world is the world that the omnipotent God chose rightly to create.  That proof is that He participated in the suffering in the incarnate Christ, who with unlimited love and shining courage endured evil to the point of death on behalf of every sufferer and every sinner.  One can say that in the absence of evil – in a world where only good existed as some have felt the world should be – we would never know the full extent of God’s love.  Indeed in the absence of evil there would have been no need for a Savior, no need for incarnation, and no true knowledge of the essence of God.  A great hope flows from the suffering and death of Jesus.  When Jesus died He felt utterly alone, abandoned even by God.  “Why hast thou forsaken me?” He cried.  But that God, invisible in the shattering moment of the vicarious atonement even to the Son, was there all along.  This was manifest concretely in the triumph of the Resurrection.  The lesson from that, the premier event of all of history, is that God does not protect us from suffering but He always protects us in suffering.

     

    Daniel Foster, M. D.

    Brown Lecture #5 1999      www.openringclass.org/

     

  • Jeanne White | Superior real estate market knowledge, quality service & professionalism

    For over 25 years, Jeanne White's guidance, expertise, insightfulness and expert negotiating skills have proved invaluable to her many friends and clients. She is known for superior real estate market knowledge, caring quality service and professionalism.

    Whether you are a first time buyer or listing a landmark property let Jeanne put her experience to work for you.

    Here's what Jeanne White says in her Video proFile: 

    I'm Jeanne White with Amelia Bullock Realtors here in Austin, Texas.  Every transaction seems like it has a cast of 1,000 people agencies, title companies, lenders, lenders assistants and I have a knack for bringing all of these people together and getting them really the best out of each and every one of them to make the transaction just as pleasant as it possibly can be.  I just love putting families in the right neighborhoods, in the right schools and in exactly the right size house.  It gives me so much pleasure to do that. 

    I love thinking about them playing in their little yards, walking to the parks, boating on the lake and that is everyone from a tiny house to a huge house.  It just gives me enormous pleasure to do that.  

    I've been in this business now for over 25 years and watched Austin grow, watched the market go up and down and it does give me no question about it a great qualification for helping people and understanding what is today may not be two weeks from now and certainly isn't what it was six months ago and I do think that kind of experience helps me not be surprised by anything that might even come up in any one of these transactions.

    Part of my philosophy is having a win/win situation at the end of any transaction.  Coming out of the title company with people feeling like they had some wins is very, very important to me.

    I've always loved real estate.  I like the real aspect of it something that you can touch and I started out kind of remodeling a bit with small children at home and first a bathroom and then kitchen and loved the creativity of that and the investment, certainly the investment potential as well.  

    Then my mother was in the real estate business with Amelia Bullock Realtors and we started working together and it's just been a delightful experience.  I like selling all over town Dripping Springs to Georgetown, small and large, everything.  Just taking care of my clients and then my client's parents and then my client's children and then my clients nieces and nephews.  It's just a great opportunity to work with people and have a nice time.  

    If I can help you with any of your real estate needs, give me a call or shoot me an e-mail and I will be so happy to help you.  

     

  • What Awaits Us at Death?

    We begin with a statement acknowledged by atheists as well as by people of faith.  Death is the one certainty of life and it is an issue with which we shall all have to deal.  

    1. The nature of life and death in biochemical terms.

    Biological life derives from the capacity to generate high-energy phosphate bonds, the key molecule being adenosine triphosphate or ATP.  There is a property of matter that is called entropy.  In plain terms, the natural history of both the universe and individuals is that everything is running down.  We see entropy in action all the time: buildings crumble and fall into ruin, fruit rots, we age and die.  Death is defined as the state caused by the inability to generate ATP so that everything runs down.

    This can occur by multiple mechanisms.  While the electron transport chain can be poisoned by drugs, most often the terminal event is an inability to deliver oxygen to the tissues secondary to failure of the heart or lungs or the controlling centers for these systems in the brain.  Less often hemorrhage or infection can cause shock, a disastrous fall in blood pressure, that even a sound heart cannot overcome thereby producing the oxygen deficit.  Operationally death is declared when the physician finds no pulse or  respiration.  For those on life support, absence of brain waves by EEG represents clinical death.

    2. The nature of humans and the concept of spirit or soul.

       There is not much mystery at the gross level about the human body.  We know almost everything about how it works and what can go wrong with it.  The real problem comes in understanding the essence of life.  What is it that gives life to the body?  Philosophers and theologians have called the unknown life force the soul or spirit or some similar term.

       In one sense there is no mystery in death.  Its sign are clear: no heart beat, no respiration, no brain waves.  But there is mystery in the event of passage from life to death.  From many years of observing death first hand, let me describe the act of dying.  Death is usually peaceful when it does not occur from violence.  That is because in moments of injury or in disease with impending death the brain releases wonderful molecules called endorphins - opiate-like signal transducers that act to minimize pain and fear.  One does not have to fear the act of dying.  Sometimes eyes are closed but often they are open in the final hours.  They usually rove up toward the ceiling and around the room.  It is as though the one dying sees something we can’t see, that they are searching for something.  It is like they are seeing or searching for God at the threshold of death.  Then death comes.  One moment life is there and the next it is gone.  What has left?  The organs still work. They can be transplanted and last for years.  But life has gone.  What is “it?” The only answer I know to give is that the soul has gone.

    3.  The negative fears and positive hopes of death.

       There are, fundamentally, two subset serious questions that comprehend the larger question before us, what awaits us at death?  The first is: When I die, do I cease to be?  The second is: If I do not cease to be, is there judgment in the universe?  And if so will I be found wanting, guilty of an insufficient mortal life?  In the first lecture, “Does God Exist?” heavy weight was given on the positive side to the fact that humans generically have always worshiped a higher being.  It is likely that thoughts of God are intrinsic to human hood, induced by the God who wishes His creatures to find Him.

       The same is true about actions presupposing life after death and judgment in the universe.  We now know that Neanderthal man (70,000-50,000 B.C.) already believed in the continuation of life after death.  A classic later expression of belief in the afterlife coupled with judgment is seen in the Egyptian Book of the Dead around 1,500 B.C.  According to the book, after the soul entered the afterworld and recited shortcomings during life, the heart was weighed against “the feather of truth” to determine worthiness to enter the company of Osiris, the chief deity of the dead.  From earliest history in India the theory of reincarnation was operative, with future life based on the consequences of actions in earlier life.  

    4. The Christian answer to what awaits us at death.

       The answer of Christianity to the subset questions is straightforward.  In death we do not cease to be and there is judgment in the Universe after death.  The God of the Bible is a transcendent God who stands outside humanity and makes moral demands on our lives.  His ultimate demand is that we love Him exclusively.  Failure in morals or failure in divine love brings judgment.  Judgment is present from beginning to end in the Bible.  Only mercy is of equal or greater importance.

       The history of life after death in the Bible was slower in development.  For more than a thousand years doctrine of Israel was that death was followed by entry into Sheol, a space beneath the earth, dark and silent, a place of oblivion, not joy.  Hints of resurrection or life after death began to be found in the Psalms: (139th) “When I awake I am still with thee.”  The New Testament is unequivocal in teaching that there is life after death.  At the death of Lazarus, Jesus says:  “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”  In the farewell discourse He says: “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And when I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and will take you to myself that where I am you may be also.”

       What awaits us then at death?  First, we cannot know precisely because much of the language is symbolic.  Moreover, there are inconsistencies.  Some of the scriptures suggest deep sleep until resurrection on the last day of the world.  On the other hand, Jesus tells the thief on the cross that he will be in paradise that very day.  Here is what awaits us in our individual death or the end of the world, as extracted from the New Testament scripture:

       First, we will come into the unmasked presence of God.  The mysteries of the invisible God in temporal life will become clear and answered.  Corinthians 13: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part, then I shall understand fully even as I have been fully understood.”

       Second, we will be faced with judgment on our lives.  As John wrote in the Apocalypse: 

    “…another book was opened, which is the book of life.  And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done.”  A word about judgment, which is a great fear.  That is because it may be negative.  The soul is either accepted (Heaven) or excluded from eternity (Hell).  Paul Tillich noted that God’s justice is that He lets one choose hell through self-destructive choices in life.  His reconciling love offers mercy and forgiveness in the Christ event.  One of the gifts for which Christians are most grateful is that they have already received forgiveness in life and therefore know minimal fear of judgment after life.

       The third thing that awaits us at death is a beatific life.  Whatever eternal life turns out to be, in the Kingdom of God the negatives of finitude are no more: no pain, no tears, no sorrow, and no death.

       The fourth thing that awaits us is reunion with deceased loved ones and communication with all the saints.  That this is likely is clearly understood from the great vision of transfiguration recorded in Matthew 17.  Jesus speaks on the mountain top with Moses and Elijah and they are recognizable essences, not anonymous ghosts.

       How do you get ready for your own death?  I would say you live in the lively hope of Christ and in anticipation of the beatific life that begins with our death.  C.S. Lewis once wrote that Christians never say goodbye, just so long, see you later.  That is the hope of hopes.  That is what the gift of this faith brings - that you can have a glorious death, provided you have had a long walk with Christ.

        I close with two quotations.  Both have to do with the sometimes difficulty of faith and belief.  Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, the writer, came back to faith after a long absence and wrote these words: “Can I prove that what I love exists?  Of course not.  Proof is the work of grace.  But if my belief in the immortality of the soul, the inevitability of judgment and the hope of resurrection is a lie, it is a lovely delusion - a necessary delusion.  I make no claim to living a good life.  I know I would live a worse life without Him.  And I would always be lonely.”  The Methodist theologian, Fred Craddock, said the same thing more succinctly.  “For those who will not to believe, no proof is enough.  For those who will to believe, final proof is not necessary.”

     

     

    Daniel Foster, M. D.

    Brown Lecture #6     1999       www.openringclass.org/