Science & Faith: Friends, not Enemies

In his book, The Prism and the Rainbow, Joel Martin points out that there are two ways to look at rainbows. One is based in Genesis (where rainbows are a promise from God), and the other is based in science (where the rainbow is a refraction of light through water).

Which one is right? Well, both are, aren’t they? Both seek to answer the question, What is a rainbow? One answers through the lens of science; the other through the lens of faith.

This reminds me that, while many folks try to pit Science and Religion against each other, there doesn’t have to be a war. As Christians, we don’t have to pick one, and plead ignorance about the other. As someone has said: the Bible and Nature are the two books of God. Both reveal God’s handiwork, in different ways. Psalm 19.1 says that “the heavens declare the glory of God.” Later, in verse 8, Psalm tells us that “the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.” One Psalm, pointing to two books, which help point us to God, and life.

This morning, I took a walk in the Parklands of Floyd Fork. It’s the new(ish) park on the

Beckley Creek Park @ The Parklands

eastern end of Louisville. It has quickly become my new favorite place. As I walked along Floyds Fork, I noticed the rushing waters – the result of the heavy rain we’ve been getting. I came across a turtle, perhaps enjoying a moment of quiet away from the fast-moving creek. And I stood alongside a field of reeds covered with spider webs. It was truly awesome (a word sorely overused, but very fitting when it comes to God’s creation).

Death Valley, CA

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to be in California, where my family and I went through Death Valley. The hottest place on earth, we found, is also a place of amazing barren beauty. Through mostly browns, beiges, and grays – far different than the verdant green of the Parklands – God’s hand is still evident in stunning ways.

God’s beauty is everywhere. In The Book. And in Creation. So, turn off the TV. Put down your smart phone. Grab your dog, or your kids, or just your walking shoes, and take a stroll at the Parklands. Or some other place of creative beauty. And give thanks to the God who chooses to reveal Himself in words, and in wilderness.

Are you … hangry?

Have you seen the Snickers commercials where people aren’t themselves until a buddy gives them a candy bar to eat? One bite, and the person goes from frumpy/strange/inept, back to themselves. Like in this commercial of a guy who, without Snickers, acts like a diva:

Now, I’m not sure how a candy bar with 250 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 27 grams of sugar can transform a person – especially after one bite – but the idea behind it is helpful. It’s often true that how we feel affects how we live.

In his book, The Puzzler’s Dilemma, Derrick Niederman tells of a study sponsored by Ben Gurion University. The study looked at the results of over 1,000 parole board hearings in Israel over a ten-month period. Researchers found that the likelihood a prisoner would receive parole started at 65% each day, and then steadily declined to near zero until the first meal break. After the snack break, the likelihood of parole went right back up to 65%, then declined until lunch. After lunch, the likelihood went back up again to near 65%, but fell rapidly, and then hovering near zero until the end of the day. 61772216char

In other words, our blood sugar does affect how we feel, and how we act.

Which gets me to thinking: How does how we feel affect our spiritual journey? How does how I feel affect the choices I make?

It seems to me that we place a lot of emphasis on how spiritual elements contribute to our spiritual growth. And that makes sense. Spending time in scripture and prayer, regularly worshiping, being honest with others about my struggles, and serving others – all these are important parts of my faith journey.

But what about the physical stuff that we sometimes give hardly a thought to? If, as Ben Gurion U found out, our blood sugar level can subtly affect our thinking and the choices we make, what else can? What other physical elements in your life might be affecting the spiritual choices you make?

Some suggestions:

  • Rest. Is there any doubt that rest, and a good night’s sleep, are vital to giving you the energy and clear head you need to make good choices?
  • Exercise. Not only is physical activity vital to good health, it also has real emotional and spiritual affects, too.
  • Diet. We are what we eat. How many of us give very little thought to what we eat, and how it affects how we feel?
  • Smoking. I live in the state with the 2nd highest rate of smoking. Is this really what we want to be known for, Kentucky?
  • TV Watching, Web Surfing, and Mindless Phone Swiping. As I heard someone say once, “I’ve never had an experience of God watching TV.”
  • Reading. There is no doubt that reading (or listening to a good book) helps expand your mind and your understanding of God’s world.

In short, these are some “non-spiritual” things that, I believe, greatly affect our spiritual lives. I believe they are worth regular assessment – where we ask ourselves: How am I doing in these areas?

Any area you would add to the list? Feel free to comment – while I go get lunch with a friend.

Christians and Politics

When is the last time you checked out the news and didn’t hear something about the presidential campaign? It was probably last year some time — maybe it was last summer. Everyday it seems as if there is something new on the campaign trail; and if there isn’t, the TV talking heads are more than happy to rehash some old news.

Of course, I don’t have to tell you it’s only beginning. We haven’t even entered the real election season — when two candidates go head-to-head all the way to November.

So, perhaps now would be a good time for me to share the ways we as Christians sometimes get politics wrong. These may be a bit exaggerated, but the core point behind them holds true, I believe. Here they are; feel free to comment if you agree or disagree:

  1. We sometimes make politics bigger than it should be. Politics isn’t the kingdom of God. Politics has no bearing on the Church being the Church. In other words, the Supreme Court can identify marriage however they want; that doesn’t change how followers of Jesus should understand or live out their marriages.
  2. We sometimes make politics smaller than it should beHuh? Didn’t you just contradict yourself, Jeff? Maybe. But if I did, then that would just make me a good politician, now wouldn’t it? But, really, if we tend to over-emphasize politics, we can also under-emphasize it, too. Political decisions do matter. Laws and court rulings can be just or unjust. Decisions made in Washington and Frankfort (my state capital) do have real-life implications. So, as Christians, we should care about what our government does; we should pray about and advocate for what is just, right, and honorable — while at the same time, remembering that laws will never keep us from living out what is just, right, and honorable.
  3. God is not a Democrat or a Republican. Even though most of us know this, we sometimes act as if He is one or the other — or we act that a faithful Christian can only affiliate with one particular political party. Let’s be honest — faithful people can disagree about government policy. Let’s not ever let that keep us from honest conversations, but the kind that are rooted in the truth that we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
  4. America is not a Christian nation. Frankly, I don’t think it ever has been. And honestly, that’s the point. Our country was founded on religious freedom and tolerance. Now, the Church has had unprecedented freedom in our country, something for which I am grateful. But that freedom comes in the context of a nation that covers the religious spectrum — from the rise of the “Nones” (those who have no religious affiliation of any kind), to the opportunity all people have to live out their faith, including the right to convert. Think what a wonderful gift this is — especially in a world where so many people in so many countries do not have the right to live out their faith, or change their faith, without serious consequences.

I am grateful to be an American. Our country is not perfect; our politics are far from perfect. Like you, there are a number of things I would change if I could. (For example, could someone please explain the presidential nominating process?) Even so, I think we have one of the least-worst forms of government in a broken world that will never get its politics perfect. So, as followers of Jesus, let’s:

  • be grateful for what we have in our country;
  • let’s keep things in perspective;
  • let’s focus on what is just and right;
  • let’s never stop loving, even those we disagree with;
  • and, let’s keep being the Church.

For these are things that, no matter how much does change around us, do not change.

How Do You Read the Bible?

How we read the Bible says a lot about our view of the Bible. By that, I don’t mean:

  • how often you read the Bible (though this is important)
  • what version of the Bible you read (though some translations are better than others)
  • when you read the Bible (morning, noon, or night)
  • what scriptures you read (though we all have our favorites)
  • or even: how much Bible you read when you open its pages (a few verses, a few chapters, or a few pages)

All of these are important matters when it comes to reading the Bible — matters I hope you’ll give some thought to. But my bigger question is this: What is your view of inspiration?

That sounds like a big question, like something you should have to go to class to be able to answer. But it’s not, for your view of inspiration is simply another way of saying this: What is your understanding of the Bible? What assumptions do you have when you come to the Bible? What do you expect to happen when you open its pages?

In other words, whether we have thought it through or not, we all have a “working view” of inspiration; we all have something in mind that we expect from scripture when we read it. For example, some possibilities come to mind when I think about the ways a person might approach the Bible:

  • The Rule Book approach: With this, a person opens the Bible, expecting to find straightforward commands of God. The goal is simply to read what it says and then go do what it says. The key question here: What rules am I supposed to follow?
  • The Hallmark approach: This is where someone looks for, and finds inspirational passages in the Bible. These verses then become the focus and goal of reading the Bible. The key question here: What in the Bible speaks to ME?
  • The Interstate approach: What’s the best thing about our highway system? It is smooth, fast, and avoids stops, bumps, and anything that would zig or zag. Sometimes, I think, we take the interstate approach to reading the Bible. To me, this means that we avoid the difficult passages, and smooth over the bumpy stuff. So, we read David & Goliath to our kids, and leave out the decapitation part at the end. We read Jonah and the Whale, but leave out the messiness of chapter 4 (where Jonah says, in essence, God, I would rather die than see those Ninevites receive your grace). We read Acts 21.9 and 1 Timothy 2.12, and don’t wrestle hard enough with the difference between those two texts. The key question here: What’s the simple message here that avoids difficult questions?
  • The “Grocery Bag” approach: This idea comes from the writer Eugene Peterson, and it’s based on the bags we use to bring home our groceries. Their job, simply put, is to get the eggs and milk from the store to my fridge; after that, the bags are disposable, recyclable, or, sometimes, reusable. But their use is only temporary. Some read the Bible this way, Peterson says. Someone we love is dying; we pull out comforting texts like Psalm 23 or Revelation 21. Someone is getting married; we read 1 Corinthians 13. Someone we care about is sick; we pull out a passage on prayer and healing. The key question here: What does the Bible have to say to what I am facing right now?

These are just four ways to read the Bible; there are, no doubt, many others. And it’s important to note that all four of these approaches have value: the Bible does give some clear-cut commands; it does have inspirational passages; it does offer a consistent, basic message; it does offer texts for specific times of need. But the Bible isn’t only these things. It is much, much more.

Which leads me to my view of inspiration, a view that I think takes us to the heart of what the Bible is all about. I believe that the Bible’s inspiration is grounded in the God who is behind the Bible. The Bible’s power is in the manifestation of that same God, revealed to us in Jesus and confirmed by the Spirit. So, when I come to the Bible, I come expectantly — believing that in its pages I will find the truth about God, myself, and my world. In reading the Bible, I expect to find words that are inspired to show me the truth. For me, this means that I read scripture:

  • narratively, for it is the story of God forming a people. This is a story that begins in the Old Testament with God revealing Himself in numerous ways, but most consistently and clearly through and to the Jewish people.
  • decisively; for that same God reveals Himself perfectly through Jesus, as the New Testament makes clear.
  • as community-forming; for the purpose of God’s revelation in the Bible is to form a people. Today, this means that God’s Spirit is making a church – the called-out and called-together people of God, who are shaped by God’s Spirit to be the presence of Jesus in this world.
  • finally, then, I read the Bible missionally; for the Bible is clear throughout its pages that our God is on a mission. What begins in creation, continues with Abraham and with God’s people, and then comes to all people through Jesus and the mission of the Church. Stories like Jonah’s are a testimony that God isn’t content only to reach people we are comfortable with, even when it makes us, The Comforted, uncomfortable. And so, all through the pages of the Bible, God seems to be ever stretching His people and His world to see things through a “on-a-mission” lens.

So, this is my “working” view of inspiration: that God has a Story to tell, a Story once-for-all revealed in Jesus. This Story now includes you and me, and is a Story that reaches out to every tongue, tribe, people, and nation.

And so, ultimately, the Bible isn’t simply a Story we read, it’s a Story we get to live out. And that, I believe, is ultimately what the Bible is – a Story that we not only read, but one that we also become.