What if the size of the universe is itself a message from God?

“It is a profound mistake to imagine that Christianity ever intended to dissipate the bewilderment and even the terror, the sense of our own nothingness, which come upon us when we think about the nature of things. It comes to intensify them. Without such sensations there is no religion. Many a man, brought up in the glib profession of some shallow form of Christianity, who comes through reading Astronomy to realize for the first time how majestically indifferent most reality is to man, and who perhaps abandons his religion on that account, may at that moment be having his first genuinely religious experience.”

–C.S. Lewis, Miracles

I recently watched an awesome YouTube video by Louie Giglio. It was several years old, and it covered a familiar topic, but it definitely made me think. The topic was around the enormity of the universe. Many of us have seen this played out in one form or another. Somebody will present something that illustrates the fact that earth is microscopic when shown on relative scales (first, relative to the sun, then relative to the Milky Way, then other galaxies, etc). I always think of the opening sequence in the movie “Contact” with Jodie Foster. One of the messages in that movie is that we should perhaps consider that humans are not alone in the universe. In one scene Jodie Foster’s character, Ellie, asks a philosophical question,

“…what’s the point of a universe so vast if we’re the only ones in it? It’d just be such a … waste of space.”

I have to admit that the question is interesting, and for most of my life I have found it rather appealing. There is so much about the universe we have yet to discover. Maybe there is other life out there. If there is life on another distant planet, I don’t believe that it says anything about God other than He has so much love, it can extend to “galaxies far, far away.” But what if the null hypothesis is true? What if earth is the only planet that can sustain life? What if the miracles that God extended to first create, and now protect, our precious home are unique to us? If that’s true, one may still curiously wonder about the ever-expanding size of the “known” universe.

What if the size is itself something God intended for us to ponder. If asked to illustrate the “size” of God, I wonder if any poet could generate sufficient words to describe it. I wonder if any artist could paint a picture that truly captures it. I imagine I would struggle to conceive of the perfect representation. But maybe the inventions that God helped humans create to explore the stars were His way of helping us visualize the only place that could appropriately illustrate such an awesome God. Maybe He wants us to understand His enormity by helping us conceptualize our minuteness.

God, I am amazed and awed at how powerful and huge you are. Thank you for giving us a beautiful and safe planet. Thank you for giving us the education and understanding to find ways to gaze upon the rest of your home, your universe. Words cannot adequately describe its beauty and magnificence. But lacking the means to absorb it, help us just rest within it. Help us feel your power and feel the safety that you offer through your love.

How did they do it?

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

–Deuteronomy 6:6-7

I listened to a great podcast by my favorite minister, Tim Keller. It is rare for me to turn off one of his sermons and not feel completely rejuvenated in my walk with Christ. I believe he is God’s gift to those of us who are new in our faith and need clear and practical guidance.

Yesterday’s podcast was about “how” Christianity spread in the early church. Persecution was common and harsh. People could lose everything (including their lives!) simply by claiming to follow Christ. How did the early Christians feel the strength and courage to voice their beliefs? What motivated them to willingly step into such real threats to their safety? They must have truly believed in the message!

The more I learn, the more I am convinced that the fact that Jesus’ message has survived for so long is itself evidence of its divine nature. Nothing less than God’s word could push through such intense opposition. Today, the most serious form of “persecution” I might face is an errant eye-roll or insensitive “joke”. Yet, I still find it veritably impossible to be willing to audibly describe to another human the degree to which I pray to Jesus for my physical and emotional support here on earth (not just my eternal salvation in heaven).

Jesus spoke of the life-sustaining force of His message more than once. When speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well, he offered her “…a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14) Soon after that, his disciples urged him to eat, and He replied, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” (John 4:32) As Keller noted in his sermon, Jesus was saying that following His message was nothing less than a fundamental part of what He needed to survive. We don’t drink water once in a while. We don’t eat every now and again. We do these things every day, throughout the day. They sustain us, and so can His message.

I read the word and feel peace. I speak with others about how God has lifted me from the swamp of my sins, and my fears subside. I feel forgiveness and love. What sensations could feel more powerful? The effects are real. I’m not imagining them. So, why isn’t it enough? Why is it still so hard for me to connect with others around Jesus’ message, particularly given the lack of any “real” threat of persecution (at least compared to what first century Christians faced)? Plus, don’t I want others to have the same feelings? Don’t I want that for my family? If I do, why do I not talk about it? Am I embarrassed? How can I squash the embarrassment and openly show others the love that God has freely given to me?

God, fill me with the energy to truly live with your message exuding from me. Help me learn how to talk about why I lean on your word as a form of sustenance. I feel like I never seem to know what to say or how to say it. Please send the Holy Spirit to use me to help fill others with your message. As the minister of my church says every Sunday, please “speak through me or in spite of me, but may they be your words.”

Where are the plans?

“11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”

–Jeremiah 29: 11-14

I love this verse. I want it to apply to me. I struggle with the Old Testament simply from the perspective of wondering if it is supposed to apply to me. Was this meant for a group of people in which I have no personal connection? Or was this meant for all believers in Jesus (who had not yet come to earth)? I need to study this idea and learn more about how to apply the Old Testament text to a New Testament faith. It’s all very confusing to me.

Daily, I wake up with a sense of anxiety and dread. It’s something through which I have to walk every morning until the tasks of the day overwhelm my mind. Once I have started working on other things, I turn my attentions away from my regrets and fears, but I know that they they are still there, waiting for me to return every evening. How can I move myself to “feeling” the truth wrapped inside this verse in Jeremiah? How can I make my heart connect with the idea that God really does have a plan for me?

According to that verse (assuming it applies to me, personally), I should know that God has plans to make my life (here on earth) prosperous. I know enough to accept that prosperity is not defined by monetary accumulation. The prosperity I seek relates to the peace that can fill my heart if I only turn my life over to Him. If I can learn to be grateful for simply being His child, I can find the prosperity that fulfills. Money would pale in comparison.

God, I’m seeking you. I want to find you. I am calling on you and praying to you. I want to know the peace that can come from understanding that I am a part of your plans. My brain cannot necessarily comprehend the nuances of your plans, but I know that you are working on them. I know that I am part of them, and that you love me. Help me feel protected and safe. Help me connect with you and enjoy this life that is your gift to me. I will choose to think on you today when my anxieties rise up. I will choose to remember that you are my sword and shield. You are my protector. With you by my side, there is nothing that can harm me.

Searching for the Power

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.  — 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)

This was the first verse I saw today.

The Bible is full of text that explains that we have power that we humans cannot even fathom. In Matthew 17:20, Jesus said that the power held inside faith “as small as a mustard seed” can move mountains. Nothing would be impossible.

That would be amazing, but I’m so far from wanting to move a mountain. I’m wanting to just make it through my day. If I find it so hard to do this comparatively simple task, what does this say about my faith? How do I tap into the “power” that will at least lift me through the day? Why do I feel small and insignificant when the Spirit of God could be filling me with love?

I wish I knew more about all the places in the Bible to which I could turn for uplifting quotes. Sometimes I feel great after reading it. Sometimes I just feel like I simply completed a task, something to check off my to-do list. I’m part of various studies and “Life Groups”, and I find myself battling the sensation of annoyance (perhaps jealousy) when I seem to only hear (or only remember because of my own self-absorption?) how easy it is for others to face life with complete faith that God is going to take care of everything. Resting their hearts in the peace of God seems to just happen for them. Rarely am I conscious of anyone talking about how they desperately want to feel God working in their life, but their own insecurities, fears, shame all seem to crowd Him out.

Maybe what my friends are able to do is more like a continual self-affirmation exercise. Saying it out loud helps make it true. Saying the opposite helps make that true. Maybe I need to become more accomplished at the concept of “Fake it until I make it.” Maybe my heart will follow my mind.

But then it’s my mind that seems to be the stumbling block. My initial response to life every morning is often to start my day instinctively ruminating on the pain of my past decisions and mistakes, as well as the fears of my future (particularly my eternal one). It is hard for me to hear truth when I allow all the lies to hold such a prominent place in the stage of my mind.

I have to learn to train my mind to contemplate on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.” Because if I think about these things, maybe it’s true that the “God of peace will be with [me].” (Philipians 4:8) If I can learn to make my mind do this, maybe my troubled heart will calm down, and I will truly feel His peace.

God, help me focus today. Help me focus to complete the things for which I am responsible, but help me do this with your truth as a protective coating for my mind. Help me focus on whatever is good and pure. Help me stand firm in my faith that you are there loving me in spite of all my mistakes, in spite of all my weaknesses. Fill me with your spirit so that I truly believe with all my conscious and sub-conscious that I am your child, and I am completely and utterly loved.

 

Give me cover, Lord

Psalm 91: 1 – 6 (NIV)

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.

My wife recently wrote down several verses for me to memorize. She told me to memorize them because I have been filled with anxiety over my life, and it often manifests as mental torture during the night. I always wake up around 3:00 am, but I don’t need to get up until around 4:45. That means I have been starting my day with almost two hours of mental self-flagellation. She thought this verse would help. It does.

I castigate myself over and over about my past actions and decisions. I finally and utterly gave my life to Jesus a few years ago, but at almost 50, that means I have a backlog of transgressions that consume my mind. It’s exhausting. Whether personal or professional, I can’t stop my mistakes from playing around my cerebral cortex like a video loop from hell.

I do understand that, as a Christian, I believe that Jesus died so that I could live, and that once I confess with my mouth and believe with my heart (Romans 10:9), my sins are wiped clean, and I am saved for eternity. I can be taught. I can learn. I know the Bible says that once I have given my life, my transgressions are as far away from me as the “East is from the West.” (Psalm 103:12) — I get it. Now to feel it….

How long does it take to feel in my heart the forgiveness that is promised through His word? Does it mean that I didn’t truly give my life? The very idea of “true belief” is hard for me to conceptualize. How do I know that I truly believe? I know it sounds simplistic, but I’m motivated to find forgiveness. I’m motivated to desire a savior. I’m motivated to say the right words.

I have witnessed many times events in my life that “feel” like God moving in and around me. I know He exists. I have never struggled with the idea of “intelligent design”. But just believing in God isn’t enough, is it? How do I know that I believe that Jesus was the manifestation of God? I haven’t studied even a minuscule fraction of the testimonies and documented evidence that I know exists that support the Bible’s representation. But even if I did study it all, my “true belief” would still boil down to faith in something about which I have only read or heard. I wasn’t there. I have to learn to “feel my faith”. I have to find the peace that comes with resting in the belief of Jesus’ words.

I live an agonizing life of shame and guilt; consequences of past decisions. What others recorded as Jesus saying makes sense to me. The words fill me with calm. I’m only a neophyte at learning the Bible, but so much of what He said seems utterly true; truth that I can feel within my innermost being, within my soul. That fact feels like God at work.

God, thank you for walking with me. Thank you for listening to me as I wonder about your awesomeness and how your spirit, your power, can (does) fill my life. As I walk this path, I will continue to seek emotional shelter under your wings. I will continue to find cover from the pain of living with past shames by reading your word. Thank you for providing me a way of soothing my sanctification process. Thank you for providing a balm to ease the suffering I created for myself. Thank you for providing Jesus.