universe picture

universe picture

Are we alone in the universe?  For centuries people have wondered about the place of mankind in the vastness of space.  Ancient astronomers calculated the movement of the constellations, wondering if there was some connection between the stars and people on earth.  Now, with the development of long-range telescopes, the observable universe has expanded significantly.  Some now believe there is a high probability that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe.  (Supermarket tabloids certainly agree: reportings of UFO sightings and alien abductions are on the rise.)  But this curiosity is more than a fringe movement, the scientific community routinely explores the possibility of life beyond our planet.

But not everyone is certain we’ll make contact with other cosmic civilizations.  Ever the cynic, the young protagonist of the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” quips that the only compelling evidence that there might actually be intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, is that “no one has ever tried to contact US!”   But despite the various points-of-view, the question remains.

In 2003, Australian astronomers tried to calculate how many stars exist in the universe.  (Every star could be the center of a system of potentially life-supporting planets.)  Using two of the world’s most powerful telescopes, these scientists observed 10,000 visible galaxies.  By extrapolating this data to the limits of the known universe, they estimated the existence of an astonishing 70 sextillion stars!  (For the mathematically challenged among us, that’s a “7” followed by twenty-two zeroes!) (1)  To begin to understand the immensity of this number, try to visualize all the grains of sand along every single beach, and in every single desert on the planet Earth. (2)  Then multiply that amount by ten!  This certainly suggests the possibility that, by comparison, we solar-system earth-dwellers are pretty insignificant.

But the Scriptures maintain another perspective.  Instead of the myriad of stars pointing to humanity’s insignificance in the universe, the Bible says that the vast number of stars actually affirms mankind’s great worth and value.  The psalmist considers the question: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have set in place, (I ask), ‘What is man that you are mindful of him?’ “  The passage goes on to explain that God has placed man (not the rest of the cosmos!) at the apex of His creation, and “crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:3-5)

These verses (and others) remind us that God gave man great worth amid all He created.  In addition to placing man at the pinnacle of His created order, He did two other important things to underscore our value to Him:  He created man in His own image; and He honored man by sending Jesus, God’s own Son, to earth as a man.  We are not alone in the universe!  God has chosen to live among us as one of us, not exactly like us, but significantly like us as a friend and brother!  This ‘living among us’ has three encouraging implications.

God Initiates Toward Us.

God came to earth as Jesus to reconnect with us, initiating the restoration of a relationship that had been broken by sin (John 1:14).  He searched for those who were willing to receive His love.  (And though He returned to heaven, He continues to search through His Holy Spirit!)  The Bible describes this search as like a man who has lost something of great value and who leaves everything to find what was lost (Parable of the Lost Sheep:  Luke 15:1-7).  The parable affirms that once the man finds what he lost, he experiences great joy (vv. 3-7)!

We are not alone.  Though we have been separated from our Creator, He has not forgotten us!  On the contrary, He is actively, diligently, looking for and seeking to rescue us, His lost sheep.  We are the people He created in His image, for His glory.  And once the relationship with any of us is restored, God rejoices and the angels join Him!

This longing for a restored relationship has always been God’s agenda, even when the relational distance seemed impossible to span.  When God dwelt among His people in the Old Testament (Exodus 40:34-38) many of His words and actions made Him seem unapproachable (e.g. Exodus 19:1-25, 20:15-21).  He often appeared to people in His awesome power, reminding Israel of His holy nature with repeated warnings that sinful men were forbidden to come near to Him.  To further underscore this separation, there was an immense veil installed in the Hebrew Temple as a reminder that God could not be approached without an acceptable sacrifice.

But here’s the Good News:  Jesus WAS God’s acceptable sacrifice!  After His death on the Cross, the veil-barrier was removed!  Anticipating this reconciliation, Jesus initiated toward people while He was on earth, embodying the love and grace of God the Father (John 1:16-18).  Jesus put people at ease.  Even the worst sinners felt that they could come to Him and He would befriend them.  God’s nature didn’t change, He was still holy; but the relationship was restored at His initiative.  Jesus was the embodiment of God the Father, showing God’s love, grace, and approachability.

God Identifies With Us.

Not only does God initiate toward us, He identifies with us completely.  Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ was like us in his humanity (Philippians 2:7; Romans 8:3).  It’s incredible, but true: God was fully human in the person of Jesus, The Son!  He functioned just like we do: He got hungry and ate, got tired and slept, worked, moved around, thought and had ideas, made decisions, experienced frustration, was limited by time and space, etc.  But one way in which He was NOT like us, is that He never sinned.  He was tempted, but He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).  (This sinlessness allowed Him to be the acceptable sacrifice we mentioned earlier and which we’ll talk more about later.)

Because He was so much like us, we can know and have confidence that He understands us.  He is totally empathetic.  Jesus experienced the ups and downs of life just as we do.  He experienced the joys and challenges of childhood, the teen years, and adulthood.  He experienced good times and disappointments.  He was wronged, suffering unjust persecution at the hands of people with selfish agendas.  He was even betrayed by a friend.  Because Jesus is able to empathize with us and our weaknesses, (without sinning), Scripture encourages us to approach His throne of grace in our times of need with hope, courage, boldness, and confidence (Hebrews 2:17-18, 4:15-16).  He’s like a best friend.

We all know what friendship is like, because we’ve all had a friend.  I’ll never forget my best friend from high school.  We did everything together.  We played sports (and rooted for the same teams), we went on double-dates, we took the same classes, we liked the same music, we ate the same fast-food; we could even finish each other’s sentences.  There were few secrets we didn’t share, and he never betrayed a confidence.  Don was more than a friend, he was like my own brother, (but without sibling rivalry).

It’s hard to imagine Jesus being someone like that; but He is!  In fact, He’s better than any friend or brother we’ve ever had, or could ever imagine having.  Because He was like us during His time on earth, we can call on Jesus as our brother and friend (Hebrews 2:11-12; John 15:13-15), and He will be there for us.

Because He was like us, we can also look to Him as a model for living the Christian life.  But He’s not some insufferable bore who’s always correcting us or pointing out our mistakes.  He’s like the buddy who’s always ‘got our back,’ the friend who can teach us how to throw a curve-ball, but who’ll also fight for us and keep us out-of-trouble (if we’ll let him) because He loves us.  We can look to Jesus as this kind of friend, as we seek to emulate His righteous life because it’s the best life, observing how He dealt with rejection and suffering, seeing how He related to God the Father, etc.  And, as we follow His example, we find encouragement and camaraderie.

God Substitutes For Us.

But He’s more than a good companion.  He’s a friend who’ll die for us.  Here’s the Bad News: because all people have sinned, all of us are awaiting God’s judgment and wrath (Romans 3:23, 2:5).  There is nothing anyone of us can do to work our way back into God’s good graces.  All of mankind’s religious systems (attempts to placate God) ultimately fail.  We spoke earlier of God’s holiness and justice.  We can’t approach Him on the basis of our very best merits and deeds, because He is holy, totally unlike us.  Apart from God’s initiative and intervention, mankind has no hope, only the frightful prospect of God’s judgment.

But don’t forget the Good News!  God intervened by sending His Son as a sacrifice and payment.  (John the Baptist referred to Jesus as God’s sacrificial lamb.)  Because Jesus willingly became a man and lived a sinless life, He was an acceptable substitute for us (I Peter 3:18).  When Jesus died a humiliating death on the cross, God poured out His wrath against our sins on His Son, rather than on us (Isaiah 53:6; I John 2:2).

The magnitude of this sacrifice shows the value God places on mankind (Mark 10:45).  (The value of something is seen in the price a wise buyer is willing to pay for it.)  God, who appointed us as the apex of His creation and made us in His Image, also died for us. God has done everything He could do to acknowledge the high worth of mankind and to make it possible for man to come back into a relationship with Him.  Since this was not deserved in any way, all men ought to be humbled and in awe of what He has done in the Atonement.

Though humbled by the majesty and mercy of God, we are not alone in His vast universe, but comforted by His Presence!  He has a cosmic plan and purpose for each of us that spans time and even creation itself.  But at the heart of His plan is a relationship with Jesus, our friend and brother.  It’s impossible for us to fully comprehend all of this, but we aren’t asked to completely comprehend it; God simply asks us to believe it and trust Him.  But it’s a belief that invites action: the decision to follow Jesus!

  Application:

• Choose a passage from a Gospel and read it, paying particular attention to how Jesus relates to people.  Suggested passages:  Luke 7:36-50; John 4:7-30; John 11:1- 44; John 20:19-29

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End Notes:

(1)Josh Gough, http://www.helium.com/items/128325-ascertain-answer-question-absolute

2)Josh Gough, ibid.

 

One of the most wonderful things about God is that He wants everyone to know Him. Everyone! But there are many people in the world (over 6 billion), and most of them live in places where there is limited or no access to the Bible. Does that mean that most of these people can never know anything about God?

The answer to that important question is “No”.  Although the Bible is precious and tells us many things that we could not otherwise know about God, He also communicates truths about Himself through general revelation. It is called general revelation because it is revelation about God made generally to all people, whether they have a Bible or not. Sometimes general revelation is referred to as “natural revelation”, because it is revelation given through the natural world. When God communicates truths about Himself to a particular person or persons (like the Bible, dreams, visions, etc.) it is called special revelation. This truth is not available to all people but is sent specifically to a certain person or group.

heavens declare God's GloryExternal Witness: Creation

How do we know that God communicates to people through natural revelation? If you didn’t have a Bible, could you know that God is trying to tell you something? In all of history we see mankind preoccupied with questions about whether God or gods exist, and if so, what He or they are like. Where do people get these questions? Why does the subject come up in practically every culture in all of history? The answer is that the human situation forces these questions to arise. The world is made in such a way that it provokes the questions. In other words, the creation itself is revealing something to people about God.

Another way we know that God reveals Himself through nature is that the Bible tells us that He does. Romans 1:19-20 and Psalm 19:1-6 affirm that God is revealed through what has been created by Him. The Romans passage tells us that people know that there is a God because of what He has made. Perhaps Paul, the author of Romans, had in mind the following observations: Just as a watch needs a watch-maker, a house needs a house-maker, and a computer needs a computer-maker, the complexities and order of the universe point toward a universe- Maker. This Maker must not Himself be created, because then He would need a Maker, too (and that Maker would need a Maker, and so on). So, some Force outside of creation must have been responsible for creation. You might be thinking, “All right; so nature points to some Force that has created it … but that doesn’t necessarily point to the God of the Bible.” That’s true, but keep reading!

Creation itself is revealing something to people about God.

Creation doesn’t only tell us that the complexity and order in the universe need a cause. The wonder and beauty of the natural world tell us that the cause is personal and good. Think of some of the most beautiful places you know of — the Grand Canyon, or an island in Hawaii, a sunset over the ocean, or a grand waterfall in the mountains. What do you feel when you experience scenes like these? You’re searching for words, aren’t you? Glorious, gorgeous, magnificent, proud, resplendent, or maybe superb? It’s hard to find just the right words to portray the indescribable beauty that we sometimes encounter in nature, isn’t it? This beauty points to a God that is imaginative, personal, beautiful, and artistic.

Internal Witness: Image of God in Man

Not only do we see evidence of God in nature around us, we also see it in ourselves! The Bible says in Genesis chapter 3 that God made men and women in His image. (Think about that! God’s image!) In other words, there is something about us that is somehow like God. But what?

The “image of God” in people has to do with the following things:

  • God is a thinking Being … we are thinking beings. We both (God and us) think!
  • God is an emotional Being … we are emotional beings. We both feel!
  • God is a Being that makes choices … we are beings that make choices. We both choose!
  • God is a creative Being … we are creative beings. We both make things!
  • God is a moral Being … we are moral beings. We live in a universe where there is right and wrong.

Just because we are like God in some ways doesn’t mean we are like Him in all ways. For instance, God always does what is right! We don’t. And, God is an all powerful Creator. But we are much more limited, aren’t we?

The point about morality is especially important. The moral natures of all people point toward the image of God in mankind. All people, in all cultures, have a sense of right and wrong, although different cultures work this out somewhat differently. However, there are some standards of goodness that are the same everywhere. For example, can you imagine a culture where the idea of a friend was someone that you do terrible things to and try to destroy? Can you imagine a culture where most people think that it is good to torture babies merely for the pleasure of it?

In Romans chapters 2 and 3 Paul talks about the moral law that is on the hearts of all people. This is a type of natural revelation. He is saying that, even without a Bible, people have a basic knowledge of right and wrong. They may be mixed up about it all, but they still have remnants of moral knowledge. This doesn’t mean that people all think exactly the same about issues of right and wrong, but it does mean that people all act as though there is real right and wrong … and they know some things are right. They may say that they don’t believe in right or wrong until you steal something from them, or hurt them, or lie to them! They may suppress this knowledge in unrighteousness, but they still have some knowledge of it through natural revelation.

Another way to see natural revelation at work is to notice the instinctive need to worship that people have. All people in all civilizations worship something. Of course, you have your atheists, too, but even they are “worshipping” something (e.g., Themselves, “Humanity”, Careers, Money, etc.). We are creatures of vast needs, and we have an instinctive knowledge that we need more than we can provide for ourselves.

And, we also know that we’re not what we “ought” to be. You’ve heard the saying, “Nobody’s perfect”? That is a moral truth gleaned from natural revelation. We all have our frailties and imperfections … but what sense would it make to talk about imperfection if there was not an idea of a Perfect Being somewhere? If we didn’t have an idea of something perfect, how would we ever know we were not perfect?

Summary

Summing up, natural revelation has shown us some things about God: that He is the Creator, He is powerful, He is personal, He is beautiful, and He is wise. But, it doesn’t tell us how to be right with Him. Somehow God has to tell us His thoughts and His plan about our imperfections and sins. And that, among other things, is what we find in the special revelation of the Bible. See how they work together (natural revelation and special revelation)?

If we didn’t have an idea of something perfect, how would we ever know we were not perfect?

The Bible seems to indicate (e.g., Acts 10) that as people respond positively to the natural revelation that God gives them, He will send them the special revelation that they need to know Him and be reconciled with Him. This is because He wants all people to know Him, just as we started out saying! If many people end up NOT knowing God, in spite of all that He has revealed, ultimately it is not His fault. God is such a good God— everybody ought to know Him! May He increasingly help us to know Him as He reveals Himself in natural and special revelation.

Application Suggestions:

  • Meditate on Psalm 19: 1-6
  • Enjoy the change in seasons, natural
    wonders in the world
  • Marvel at the complexity of the
    human body (e.g. the eye, the brain,
    the ear)
  • Marvel at the balance of the
    processes of nature (e.g. the oxygen- carbon dioxide cycle; the rainfall, etc.).

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Created with Emotions -Boys

Created with Emotions -BoysIt all sounded so simple, back in Genesis. Some dirt, a rib, God’s breath. Man and woman were created so quickly and easily.

It hardly seems possible that the amazingly complex creatures we know ourselves to be were crafted with such seeming effortlessness. But our God had planned us long before the actual event of creation and his design was to make man in His own image. He already had the blueprint.

One of the things we know for sure about God is that He is a God of emotions. He shows anger, He feels tenderness, He weeps, He rejoices. So we, being created in His image, are also created with a full range of emotions.

Emotions are so complex. So hard to define. So hard to explain. Sometimes even so hard to experience. They are not only psychological, they are also physical. We feel emotions in our bodies. When we suppress our emotions they get stored in our bodies as stress. There is a little part of our brain called the limbic system that appears to be most directly involved in emotional responses. And we know how complicated our brains are. An area of always new exploration. Our emotions are so complex that we aren’t even sure exactly where they originate or how or why.

Since God is so complex, and we are created in His image, it follows that we would be complex as well. Not as complex as God, of course, but still sometimes difficult to understand. And it follows that our emotional life would be complex as well. It is a life long journey to understand and express the emotions that give our life spice.

In this week’s Pocket Principle we take a look at some of the ways God designed us when He created us with emotions. We will also discover some healthy ways to think about emotions and some healthy ways to express them. Read on for new insights!

 

Pocket Principles® are currently offered along with Guided Discussions. The content of the Pocket Principles® will reinforce truth learned in the group discussion. Each workbook is formatted for use in a small group, where pocket principles may read prior to each discussion.  Also, if a group member misses a meeting, he can read the corresponding Pocket PrincipleTM to review the information missed.

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problem modelWhy is Life so unfair sometimes? Why do I have to suffer the consequences of someone else’s behavior? Ever heard those questions before? Ever asked them?

I know I have. And I have heard those questions asked numerous times in counseling sessions with other people.

None of us like it when somebody else messes up and it affects us. It leaves us with the responsibility of figuring out how to correct the problem. One of the biggest areas that I help people work through in counseling has to do with their fathers. Many fathers are absent, neglectful and hurtful towards their children. Some fathers don’t even realize what they are doing, or the effect it might have on their children.

When these children become adults, the fallout of their father’s interactions with them can cause major problems. When they show up in my counseling office they are suffering from the results of someone else’s behavior. Together we have to figure out how to correct the emotional damage done to them. The good news is that there are solutions. The bad news is that the solutions involve going through a process that takes time and hard work. Yet there is hope and healing during the process.

 

In the Pocket Principle (Fallenness of Man) , I noticed many similarities between the counseling process and the solution God has provided for man’s fallen condition. They both involve a change of heart and a process of restoration. Read on to discover the good solution that God has given us for the consequences of Adam and Eve’s bad behavior.

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Genogram GraphMany times, in counseling situations, we use a little tool called a genogram. If you have never heard of this tool, a genogram is just a glorified family tree. Only, many times, what people discover when they make a genogram, is not so glorious.

The purpose of a genogram is to learn more about your family history. An understanding of your family history can be helpful to gain more insight into yourself, especially your decisions, feelings and thoughts. It is important to understand where we came from so we can better navigate where we are going.

A genogram used in counseling will generally focus on relationships and how people function. Deaths, divorces, remarriages, births, siblings, birth order, illness, and many other things can be noted. Discoveries made when creating a genogram can go something like this; “there was a lot of alcoholism in my family”, “women in my family did not pick good men”, “there were so many people who died young in my family”, “divorce was really common in my family”, to name only a few.

What people notice in a genogram is patterns and trends of how their families related to each other. This helps people understand why they do things one way or another and that understanding gives them power to break unhealthy patterns.

In this Pocket Principle, we take a look at the human genogram by going back to the original mother and father of humanity and studying how their behavior affected every person born since. What we learn about our history is not so glorious, but understanding the impact of Adam and Eve’s behavior is important for our own growth and maturity.

 Read our Pocket Principle – The Fallenness of Man  and look for part two next week.

 

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