The Wednesday Writers: Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It’s the inaugural post from The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today we hear from my dear friend Andrew Budek-Schmeisser.

How To Talk To An Atheist

How do you talk to an atheist who is interested in debate?

And how do you talk to an atheist who wants only to shout you down?

The second one’s easy. Atheism is a faith; there is no proving the non-existence of God, and even disproving every single transcendental experience over recorded history won’t do it…because the one that can’t be disproven might occur ten minutes from now.

Atheism is a belief masquerading as non-belief.  Period.

And it has no foundation in science.  Science is what we use to build models of observed phenomena in the world around us, models that invoke certain physical laws, like those of mathematics and chemistry. Science is NOT truth. It’s the best explanation we have, based on what we know from interpretation of what we have observed.

As an example, Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion work beautifully to describe our observed world; they are what we use in designing bridges and buildings and aeroplanes. But scale them way up to the galactic, or way down to the subatomic, and they don’t work at all. They’re simply wrong. We can use them, yes, but only to a degree, and in the knowledge that they are fundamentally incorrect in that they don’t take all cases into account.

Regarding God, science can never do that. It was never meant to do that.

So our domineering atheist is left with this: his or her belief in non-belief is just that, and science can’t back up the argument…and never will.

But when we meet the earnest believer in non-belief who’s willing to talk and to listen…what do we say?

I think the first thing we need to express is humility, that our faith is just that…a belief that we can’t prove according to an external physical benchmark.

We also need to be respectful, especially to someone who’s fallen away from faith. An atheist has a personal investment in his or her non-belief, and has made psychological and philosophical adjustments that give life meaning within that framework. Don’t attack it, because provoking a defense will only lead to defense against Christ’s message.

We can bear witness to what Christ has done in our hearts and in our lives, our faith walk, but I fear that for an atheist it’ll be religious “jaw,” something unrelateable.

So perhaps we can take a more prosaic approach, one that leads to a logical acceptance of the transcendent:

  1. The existence of, well, everything is highly unlikely as a random event. Consider the formation of one strand of RNA, one of the building blocks of life, from the four relevant nucleotides.  If the strand is postulated at a length of 300 nucleotides, and all the nucleotides are present, the chances of a random assemblage in the correct (that is, viable) order is 4 to the 300th power.  In the decimal (base 10) system, it comes out to 4.15 times ten to the 180th power, around 4 followed by a hundred and eighty zeros.  As a comparison, the Lambda CDM Concordance Model says the universe is 13.8 billion years old, or about 4.36 times 10 to the 17th power seconds (that’s 436,000,000,000,000,000 seconds). The odds, therefore, are very much against the formation of even one strand of RNA . If a “try” is assumed every second, involving, simultaneously, a quadrillion potential RNA strands, the odds are something like 1 versus 10 to the 165th power against. Don’t go to Vegas with those odds. And this is for a single strand of RNA; the formation of the nucleotides is not factored in, and neither is the formation of life. Intelligent design suddenly makes a lot more sense.

  2. There’s a lot more history in the Bible than many people realize. Archaeology has found evidence of many of the places and people in the Old and New Testaments. King David is mentioned on a tablet from the time of the Egyptian pharaohs; the Pool of Siloam has been excavated; and the ossuary of the High Priest Caiaphas has been found. Nothing from Jesus’ life has been disproven, and current discoveries prove more and more (the latest is the dating of Jesus’ traditional tomb to the correct part of the Roman era in Jerusalem).

     

  3. The Bible is much more a narrative than a story; the familiar form of the novel didn’t exist when the New Testament was written, and while there was epic poetry, the Bible doesn’t fit that genre, except in the parts of epic poetry that preserve historical details, like the “Catalogue of Ships” in the Iliad (which has been shown to be faithful to the Aegean Bronze Age). Reading Jesus’ genealogy can be pretty tedious, but ‘listed’ history is very often true.

     

  4. For someone who claimed to be God, Jesus’ words have an awfully lot of common sense behind them; for example, when being asked if Jews should pay Roman taxes, He took a coin, and as it had a portrait of Caesar on it, said that what was Caesar’s should be given him. In other words, pay your taxes. And make no mistake, Jesus’ claim of divinity was a show-stopper in that society. Not to be dismissed out of hand as a lunatic He had to offer something useful, and not just spiritual gas.

     

  5. Jesus attracted some pretty hard-headed people, including a couple of guys who collected taxes for the Romans, which today would be like guys doing collections for the Mob. They were not clerical pantywaists. They realized that by tying their lives to that of Jesus they were probably going to die young, and something in Jesus’ teachings had to say it was worth it, that there was something ‘beyond’ that would make a shortened life worthwhile.

This doesn’t touch the concept of a personal relationship with Christ; it’s not supposed to. What we want to do is crack to door, so some light can enter.

You do have to expect resistance, and argument. Some popular rebuttals to the Christian are:

  1. A lot of smart people are atheists. Yes, Stephen Hawking has no need for the God Hypothesis. But Stephen Hawking is an astrophysicist, and has no more background to evaluate the historicity of Christ or the validity of transcendental experience than he does in removing an appendix. His education simply doesn’t go there, and making pronouncements in a sphere in which knowledge is limited simply makes one look silly.

     

  2. There is no evidence of God’s existence. Maybe, but until we built the right instruments we had no evidence that gamma rays existed, even though millions of them pass through our bodies every minute. This is not to say that someone will eventually invent a God-O-Meter, but the point is that something unseen is not necessarily nonexistent.

     

  3. Religion has caused misery in human history. No doubt religion has played a part in some of history’s worst moments. But sex has caused just about as much. Is anyone talking about giving up sex for that reason? Humans can ruin anything.

     

  4. The Bible is a made-up fantasy. The New Testament, on which the truth of Christianity ultimately rests, is being proven in its details by archaeology, and has been corroborated by independent contemporary sources (notably the historian Josephus).

     

  5. It’s just something you believe because you’re scared of death, and it brings you comfort. Of course I’m afraid to die, and being terminally ill this is an important question for me. I would be a lot less pleased to be putting my hope into something that I felt, deep down, was a lie. But don’t take my word for it; look at Jesus’ followers. There’s nothing to indicate that they were unbalanced, and we have extensive writings from Paul, who never met Jesus in the flesh, that show his almost tedious sanity.  And these men, after the death of their leader, chose lives that led to ridicule and the cruelest kinds of death.  If the Resurrection story wasn’t true, they were simply fools. But what record we have of their actions doesn’t remotely indicate anything other than a steadfast resolve to spread the faith on which they literally staked their lives. There had to be a reason.

It’s unlikely you’ll convert a committed atheist in one shot. But you can plant a seed, and you can fertilize and water the soil.

********

Daddy and Emily
Andrew Budek-Schmeisser writes at Blessed are the Pure of Heart. He and his beloved wife Barb are caregivers to many beautiful and rambunctious dogs. Andrew regularly blesses his readers with encouragement, wisdom and a delightfully warped sense of humor.

 

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The Ugly Offspring of Worry

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Gentle Reader,

Scripture is deep. I wish I had a better way of saying that, but there you go. There is no end to the treasures to be found within the pages. Perhaps more importantly, there is no end to the ways that God will speak to us. One moment, one verse, one eye-opening lesson. The next moment, same verse, different lesson.

I have long loved Psalm 37:7-8 –

Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm. (NKJV)

As we use “worry” and “fret” interchangeably in the impreciseness that is English, I have assumed that these verses address worry. Don’t worry about what other people are getting. Give things up to God. Wait for Him to act; He’ll always take care of you. Let anger and worry go because they only hurt you.

All of that is true. Last week, however, I decided to look up the original word for “fret.” There are four different Hebrew words:

Charah: used in Psalm 37:7-8.  To blaze up, of anger, zeal, jealousy; be angry, burn, be displeased; earnestly, fret self, grieve, be (wax) hot, be incensed, kindle; very, be wroth.

Pecthetheth: a boring or eating out, hole, hollow. (Refers to a leprous decay in a garment).

Qatsaph: to be displeased, be angry, fret oneself, be wroth; to be full of wrath, to be furious; to provoke to wrath or anger; to put oneself in a rage, anger oneself.

Ra’am: to thunder; to make the sound of thunder, thunder; to rage.

Along with several Greek equivalents:

Athymeo: to be disheartened, dispirited, broken in spirit.

Ekkaio: to burn out, to set on fire, to be kindled, to burn.

Lypeo: to make sorrowful; to affect with sadness, cause grief, to throw into sorrow; to grieve, offend.

Merimnao: to be anxious; to be troubled with cares; to care for, look out for (a thing); to seek to promote one’s interests; caring or providing for.

(This list of Greek equivalents is not exhaustive. For more information, check out StudyLight).

As I pondered these words, it occurred to me that fretting is the ugly offspring of worry. I have yet to meet someone who struggles with anxiety who doesn’t also struggle with anger. The two are logical bedmates. When you are worried that nobody else is looking out for you, it’s natural to get angry. It makes sense to blaze wit bitterness. You’re trying to protect yourself, trying to prepare for every possible outcome. As you are seeking to promote your own interests, you don’t really have energy to promote anyone else’s, and, if they ask you to, you resent that. They have added to your burdens.

Don’t fret – don’t lash out. Don’t thunder. Don’t let worry eat a hole in you. Don’t rage. Don’t be offended.

All this anger stems from anxiety, and that anxiety is rooted in a disheartened, broken spirit.

I know this in my bones. When my husband leaves his things lying around, I get irritated. I snap at him. I make it a bigger deal than it needs to be – because I am afraid that he doesn’t listen to me. I am afraid that he doesn’t think I matter. I apply to his actions a meaning that isn’t there, because of past hurts that have torn my heart to pieces.

Brokenness to anxiety to anger.

Look what Jesus said He came to do:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. – Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 (NKJV)

A disheartened, broken spirit results in the oppression of anxiety which leads to the fires of barely controlled anger. Jesus came to set us free from that! He came to mend all the broken places, patch the holes in our hearts, pour into us real love and hope. My friend, let’s allow Him to do that work, right now. This day. This moment.

Let’s allow Him to begin the process of transforming our lives. I don’t know about you, but I am weary of the past dictating the present. I don’t have energy to plan for every outcome. I don’t want to argue with everyone about stupid things. What I want is trust that God has my best interests at heart, that He will promote them and that I can rest in His continual care. Imagine the freedom! Imagine the peace! Whatever is happening with other people, whatever they might be getting, I want to be assured that it’s all good for me.

I want to live in the riches of His grace, reject going back to prison, live wide-eyed in the world, dance in freedom and embrace His favor. I want that for you, too!

My journey to faith. (15) This post also appeared on the Far East Broadcasting Company Gospel Blog on March 9, 2014.

31 Days in the Quiet: Light

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Gentle Reader,

On this, the last day of the 31 Days exercise, I am focused on the thing that grants us the ability to see: light. On this day that has been traditionally set aside for the celebration of darkness, I find that fitting.

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, He went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—  to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.” – Matthew 6:12-16 (NKJV)

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. – Matthew 17:1-2 (NKJV)

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as You have promised,
You may now dismiss Your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
which You have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of Your people Israel.” – Luke 2:25:-32 (NKJV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 (NKJV)

When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 (NKJV)

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness. – John 12:46 (NKJV)

Jesus is the Light. He is the Truth. The Way. The Life. It is only by acknowledging Him as Lord and Savior, humbly submitting our lives to His authority, that we can have any kind of peace. It is only through Him that we are able to live the quiet life, free of chaos and dangerous entanglements. There is no other hope. There is no other Lord.

I am at a loss to express my thankfulness at the precious, gracious condescension of God. We who are bent inward upon ourselves, we who are prone to choose the selfish and destructive way, we who do not merit the attention of the Living, Holy, Righteous, Perfect God – we can be saved. We can be set right. We can have all the garbage stripped away. We need not live in pain and sorrow. We need not choose blindness.

We can see.

We can have the Light.

How desperate we are for Him!

My journey to faith. (15)

 For all posts in the 31 Days in the Quiet series, go here.

How I Came to Faith: These Days

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Gentle Reader,

That dark season when Chris and I both found a new level of intimacy with the Lord led directly to a season of testing. It seems as though the moment our hearts were stolen by Him, He determined to test our devotion. When a non-believer hears something like that, strange visions must arise. Again, there were no burning bushes, no audible voices. The question we were asked is the one that believers have been asked time and again, whatever their era.

Will you follow Me?

For awhile this question made sense in the context of getting our lives on track. We stopped partying. I dove into Bible study and found that it thrilled me. Chris took his medication and went to his therapy sessions. We just kept doing “the next thing,” whatever it was. When your life is mostly about surviving one day at a time, that’s all you can do.

As we both grew more confident in our faith, ourselves and our relationship, the implications of the question changed. Obeying God began to cost something. Friendships began to deteriorate as we no longer fit into a neat little mold. The worst came when it grew clear that we could no longer remain at the church we’d been part of for nearly four years. We both had serious misgivings about the direction the leadership was moving the people toward. Things began to feel uncomfortable. Theological questions began to arise – questions that we could not get satisfactory answers to.

Breaking up is hard to do. By the time we left, the damaged relationships and the spiritual abuse we experienced were intertwined in ways that shouldn’t have been. I was done. Though quite decided in following the Lord, I wanted nothing more to do with the church. Frankly, I thought most of His people sucked.

He kept on me. Will you follow Me? A friend of mine from high school moved back to the area. He and his wife invited us to attend their church one Sunday. I was skeptical, to say the least, but Chris seemed eager to go and I didn’t feel like arguing (again) about church. We went, heard a sermon, met some people, ate some food. Nothing earth-shattering.

Except, it was. The difference between the two churches was staggering. The one didn’t claim to be perfect. In fact, a certain level of dysfunction seemed to be expected. The very imperfect human journey with a perfect Lord was embraced. The occasional spat was tolerated as long as it led to growth amongst the parties involved. The pastor didn’t claim to have all the answers. Instead, he admitted to his own struggles. His preaching came from a place of brokenness, rather than superiority.

I came to the realization that no dichotomy of perfect vs. fallen churches exists. There is rather a continuum from healthy to unhealthy. The place we left had begun well but had slid into unhealthy territory. Too much power was given to too few people with too little accountability. It became about processes and rears in seats rather than the work of discipleship. This new church, while certainly home to some unhealthy people, strove to be healthy. Christ was at the center.

I have hope for the church today because of the people I know in this little congregation. They are beautiful. The building isn’t. The coffers aren’t overflowing. The singing is sometimes off-key. The pastor gets distracted in his preaching. But there is warmth. There is heart.

There is Jesus.

I am a Christian because of Jesus. There is no more compelling figure in all of history. He steps into the midst of our pain, our sorrow, our confusion, our despair and provides the answer. That answer isn’t us. We can’t save ourselves. There is no golden utopia waiting to spring from the minds and hands of perfect people. Such a people do not exist. Look out your window. Look in the mirror. You know it to be true.

Jesus, God-Man, came into this world to rescue and heal it. Believers exist in the “already” aspect of His Kingdom while history looks forward to the “not yet.” It is only by living in light of His Lordship that life takes on purpose and meaning. Joy – the ability to look beyond the now and into something better – flows as a result of knowing Him. He grants grace, mercy, peace. He changes our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

I am a Christian because of Jesus. He kept my husband alive. He stopped me from killing myself just a little less than a year ago. I have seen Him work in time and space to such a degree that my father-in-law, after breaking both of his knees, was brought from Europe to the United States by a missionary who “just happened” to be in the area. The only missionary in the area that our church had any kind of contact with. I have seen babies who should have died thrive. I have seen marriages restored. I have seen prodigals return. I have had bills paid and needs met. I have witnessed testimonies of those who tumors have disappeared.

Above all, I have seen love. Real, selfless, lasting love. I have watched people spend money they can’t spare to help others in need. I have known some whose wretched tempers used to control them who are now gentle as lambs. I have seen big men rock children to sleep. I have seen women with nothing in common embrace each other as sisters. I have siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents all across this area because of Jesus.

I could not see Him until my eyes were opened. Again, I don’t understand the mystery of His will and ours. All I know is that I reached a point where I wanted to see. I no longer desired to suppress the truth. And there is truth, my friend.

His name is Jesus.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the How I Came to Faith series, go here