Recognizing Greatness

Reading Time: 6 minutes

It was January 12th, 2007, on a cold winter morning in a Washington, D.C. Metro station. A man was actually playing a violin for the roughly 1000 people who walked by during rush hour. Hardly anyone noticed him. In fact, Gene Weingarten, who wrote the piece for the Washington Post said, “Three minutes went by before something happened. Sixty-three people had already passed when, finally, there was a breakthrough of sorts. A middle-age man altered his gait for a split second, turning his head to notice that there seemed to be some guy playing music. Yes, the man kept walking, but it was something.” 1

For his efforts, this man received $32 after 45 minutes, and this, after he tossed in some ‘seed’ money to get things started. Those that did give, hardly slowed their step to listen to him play, and many just tossed a quarter. Who was this man and why is it significant?

The man was Joshua Bell, who just a few days before played at the Boston theater to a sold out crowd with tickets that averaged $100. Bell began playing when he was a young boy, and was clearly a musical prodigy. The instrument he used in the metro station was his personal Stradivarius, said to be worth 3.5 million.

What would people do if they walked by a man who was arguably one of best violinists in the world, playing, not popular tunes today’s culture would recognize, but classic master pieces that have endured throughout the ages? Couple that with his multimillion dollar Stradivarius, and you can’t help but wonder if people, even in a New York metro station at rush hour, would stop to listen, or even recognize the talent and beauty of the music and musician.

This experiment was caught on tape using several hidden cameras. Weingarten wrote, “There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch.” 2

Matthew 18:3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 11:25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

We go through life thinking we have gained so much knowledge. Some of us become quite learned with masters and doctorates to post on our wall and impress those around us, but for all we gain, the older we get there is a sense of loss.

Many adults, those middle-aged and beyond, can relate to the lost childhood, missing the wonder, excitement, and certainly the lack of responsibility. Even young adults who are working for the first time in their life, going to college, having to pay bills, can sit for a moment and reflect on a childhood that is now gone forever. But, is it really just freedom or the lack of responsibility we miss, or could there be something more? Are we viewing the world in a different way than little children, who, if the article above is pointing out something significant, see things we can’t or don’t any more?

Every week I work with students who look at things differently than I do; who ask questions I never thought of. Who are still impressed with the world around them, and things some people are able to do in life. My students see things, hear things, smell things, touch things that amaze them, but I don’t give it a second thought. They see the miracle that is imbedded in the world and our very existence, though they may not express it in those terms. They still see the wonder as to why things are the way they are, innately seeing the miracle in ‘something rather than nothing’.

Edith Nesbit, and English author and poet who wrote children books in the 1800’s said, “It is wonderful how quickly you get used to things, even the most astonishing.” Over time, even the miraculous can become mundane to us, because we forget what life is about, and focus on what is about our life.

Life can and does get in the way of our seeing that every morning. Flu’s, colds, bills to pay, disagreeable co-workers, a car breaking down, illness or loss in the family. “Our destiny may be eternal life at home with God, but we aren’t there yet. ‘So be truly glad!’ the apostle Peter said. ‘There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while’ (1 Peter 1:6). And Peter made it clear why God is keeping us here. He has a mission for us to accomplish.” 3

Joshua Bell has an amazing gift from God. This gift has gained him wealth and notoriety in certain circles. The gifts we have may apply only to a small circle of friends or family, or you may have a gift that will touch thousands, but what ever the gift is, it needs to be applied to our mission in life. Without a mission, without a purpose, without a plan, life has no meaning – just a moment in the geologic time scale. Our lives forgotten in a hundred years.

Viktor Frankl was a survivor of the Nazi death camps in World War II. He recognized and saw first hand the need for meaning in life, especially if you are to survive in difficult circumstances that result in long suffering. He wrote in his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, “As we said before, any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal.”4 Those who lost hope he explained, quickly perished, even the most hardy individuals. Only those who had a reason to live managed to survive.

In Romans 1:19-22 Paul wrote, “ since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” Carl Gallups, author of The Magic Man In The Sky said, “The apostle Paul wrote this passage to the church at Ephesus, to help these early Christians discern that there is an eternal purpose to life. He wanted them to be certain of the Grand Scheme.” 5

I have no doubt as to one of my purposes in life, and that is to teach at the Jr. High level and impact the lives of my students in a positive, Godly way. Over the years, I have had many students who lacked parents at home or any kind of father figure. What eternal outcomes I may or may not have had on many, I will never know in this life time, but I do know that I have influenced a few. That, along with some family, friends, and possibly this blog are my mission, my purpose.

Recently a young mother began attending our church. My wife noticed this new face and made sure to greet her when she saw her again. After a couple of Sundays, my wife noticed her sitting alone and invited her to sit next to us. We could tell she was pleased by the invitation, and she began sitting with us in church. Naturally, we each shared a little about our lives and she mentioned her boyfriend of several years. I asked if he would ever come to church and she said probably not. I asked if he attends any church and she said no, church was not his thing. I could tell she was a bit uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation, so I just asked her directly if he believed in God, she said no. I laughed and said, “No wonder he doesn’t want to come to church!” She laughed with me and that seemed to break the ice.

Last Sunday, she announced to us her live in boyfriend of 5+ years asked her to marry him. She was very excited and we shared in her joy. We don’t expect to see her for a couple of Sundays because they are traveling to Las Vegas to be married and will be out of town. It was not hard to touch her life, to invite her into our circle, to share the gift of Christ’s unconditional love.

You may not be a Joshua Bell, but you have a gift, which with little effort can be shared and recognized by all who encounter you. I saw a quote that said, “Greatness is not in what you have, but what you give.”

 

Sources:
1. Weingarten, Gene. “Pearls Before Breakfast: Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.” Washington Post, 8 April 2007. Web. 9 February 2015
2. Ibid.
3. McDowell, Josh. McDowell, Sean. The Unshakeable Truth. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2010. Print.
4. Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search For Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press, 1959. Print.
5. Gallups, Carl. The Magic Man In The Sky. New York: WND Books, 2012. Print.

 

 

Creative Commons License
Recognizing Greatness by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.dev.christianapologetics.blog.

44 Questions Christian’s can’t answer

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Why do innocent children have to suffer with terminal diseases such as cancer? What part of ‘God’s plan’ is this exactly?

The question of evil and why there is suffering in this world is something we all struggle with, especially if you believe, (as I do), in an all knowing, and all powerful God. Romans 8:28 explains that everything works together for the good of those who love Him and are called by Him.

Well that sounds great, but to the unbeliever who has lost a parent, friend, or child to cancer it does little or nothing to comfort them. R. E. Pucket has a list of difficult questions you can find here, and this is number 6 on the list.

Some of the questions are legitimate, and others frankly seem silly, nevertheless I am working through them. The question of children suffering with painful and lengthy diseases such as cancer, and finally yielding to the illness, with a supposed purpose in mind, can be difficult for anyone to understand.

Mark Mittelberg said of Romans 8:28, “This is one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible – and also one of the most abused. First, it does not say that everything that happens is good. Rather, it acknowledges the reality that many things that happen in our lives are bad, but it assures us that God can use them for good or bring good out of them.” 1

Furthermore, God does not promise us an explanation for the suffering we see and experience. For those of us who are, or have been, parents of little children, we do the best we can to explain why they have to get a shot at the doctor. Yet despite our comforting and explanations, the tears still flow, and until they are older, much of the discomfort they experience at the hand of a doctor or dentist is beyond their understanding.

After hearing of the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis wrote, “The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed – might grow tired of his vile sport – might have a temporary fit of mercy, as an alcoholic have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before that operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.” 2

Finally, Romans 8:28 does not promise that all the bad we experience will bring forth good, but only those, “who love God and are called according to his purpose” can share in that promise.

Mittelberg supplies us with a short list of some of the good that can come out of suffering.
1. God can use pain to deepen our character.
2. He can use pain to reshape us as his sons and daughters.
3. He can use pain to give us a more spiritual and eternal perspective.
4. He can use pain to protect us from ourselves.
5. He can use pain to grab our attention and teach or redirect us in ways that will be important.
6. He can use pain to lead us to himself. 3
7. He can use pain to demonstrate His sacrifice for us.

I added number seven to the list because, without suffering, we would have no idea or understanding of Christ’s suffering on the cross for our salvation. Too many nominal believers have this concept of God as someone who does not want us to suffer. Their view is more like that of humans and their pets, as if the purpose of our lives is to be happy, while God just feeds us and takes care of us, when our actual purpose in life is to know God.

William Lane Craig put it this way, “One reason that the problem of suffering seems so puzzling is that people naturally tend to assume that if God exists, then His purpose for human life is happiness in this life. God’s role is to provide a comfortable environment for his human pets.” 4 The purpose God has for us in this life is not limited to what we experience here on earth. How our experiences in this life affect the life we have beyond this is anyone’s guess, but for the Christian, it is a comforting thought that cannot be shared by an unbeliever.

Just dwelling on that should give us as believers a sobering perspective. I recall years ago an old Star War episode when Darth Vader had captured Han Solo. They tortured him for a period of time and then returned him to his room. Han Solo’s comment was, “They never even asked me any questions.” If they had wanted some information, he would have at least seen a purpose to his suffering.  Suffering for a purpose gives us all strength to endure, and those who see no purpose in suffering struggle in ways many of us cannot imagine.

Craig wrote, “The ‘health and wealth’ gospel and the gospel of positive thinking that are being proclaimed in various megachurches and denominations are false gospels…”5 He is right. Can you imagine preaching that message in the Middle East in the presence of ISIS or the Muslim brotherhood? It is a false gospel, as hollow and dry as an empty snail shell at the end of summer. The first moment of outside pressure will crush the thin shell of that lie. Craig went on to say, “If it won’t preach there, it isn’t the true gospel. We need to understand that God’s plan for human history may involve terrible suffering for us, whose point or reason we can’t expect to see. Our hope lies not in worldly happiness but in that day when God will wipe away every tear.” 6

Jeremy Begbie gave a lecture in the Veritas Forum at the University of Berkeley exactly one month after the 9/11 attack. He is a multimedia lecture-performer and actually specializes in the the interface between theology and music.

Begbie spoke about a time he was in a black South Africa township. He was told that just before the service a house around the corner had burned to the ground, the night before a teen who was a member of that church was hunted down and killed, and a week prior a tornado came through destroying homes and lives. The pastor began in prayer asking why these things were happening. Groans from the congregation could be heard with each question. When the prayer ended they began to sing. Begbie wrote, “They sang and they sang, song after song of praise – praise to a God who in Jesus had plunged into the very worst to give us a promise of an ending beyond all imagining. The singing gave that congregation a foretaste of the end. Christian hope isn’t about looking around at the state of things now and trying to imagine where it’s all going. It’s about breathing now the fresh air of that ending, tasting the spices and sipping the wine of the feast to come.” 7

 

Sources:
1. Mittelberg, Mark. The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2010. Print
2. Craig, William L. Hard Questions Real Answers. Wheaton: Crossway, 2003. Print
3. Mittelberg, Mark. The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2010. Print
4. Craig, William L. On Guard. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010. Print
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Willard, Dallas. A Place For Truth. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2010. Print

Creative Commons License
44 Questions Christian’s can’t answer by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.dev.christianapologetics.blog.

Sir Nicholas Gimcrack

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In 1757 Ben Franklin was in England where he rented rooms from Mrs. Margaret Stevenson. Mrs. Stevenson, a widow, had a young daughter, Mary, who was intelligent and inquisitive. She immediately took to Franklin who became a father figure for the young girl and they enjoyed many science experiments together. When Franklin returned to America, they continued corresponding. In one letter he wrote to Mary he was encouraging her to continue her studies, but not at the sacrifice of character. Knowledge has it merits, but without a destination it serves no purpose. He wrote,

Dear Polly,
There is, however, a prudent Moderation to be used in Studies of this kind. The Knowledge of Nature may be ornamental, and it may be useful, but if to attain an Eminence in that, we neglect the Knowledge of Practice and essential Duties, we deserve Reprehension. For there is no Rank in Natural Knowledge of equal Dignity and Importance with that of being a good Parent, a good Child, a good Husband, or Wife, a good Neighbor or Friend, a good Subject or Citizen, that is, in short, a good Christian. Nicholas Gimcrack, therefore, who neglected the Care of his Family, to pursue Butterflies, was a just Object of Ridicule, and we must give him up as fair Game to the Satyrist. 1

I had not heard of this Sir Nicholas Gimcrack before so I looked him up. After a little research I came across an example that delivers a great word picture as to what kind of person this Gimcrack was. In the below dialogue, picture this Nicholas Gimcrack lying on his stomach on a table. In his mouth is a long piece of string which he is holding in his teeth. The other end of the string several feet away, is tied around the belly of a frog in a bowl of water, on the floor. The frog is swimming, or attempting to swim away, from Gimcrack. Gimcrack is watching and mimicking the movements of the frog with his arms and legs flailing off the table. The purpose of this exercise is to learn how to swim, from a swimming master, the frog. In walk two naive admirers of Sir Gimcrack who ask him about his method of learning how to swim.

Longvil: Have you ever tried in the water, sir?
Sir Nicholas: No, sir, but I swim most exquisitely on land.
Bruce: Do you intend to practice in the water, sir?
Sir Nicholas: Never, sir. I hate the water. I never come upon the water, sir.
Longvil: Then there will be no use of swimming.
Sir Nicholas: I content myself with the speculative part of swimming; I care not for the practice. I seldom bring anything to use; ‘tis not my way. Knowledge is my ultimate end.

So as everyone considers what they are thankful for today, be thankful for the example of Sir Nicholas.  What do you do with what you know?

 

Sources:
1. Bennett, William J. Our Sacred Honor. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. Print.

Midway and Torpedo 8

Reading Time: 7 minutes

There was a little old lady who would come out every morning on the steps of her front porch, raise her arms to the sky and shout, “Praise the Lord!”
Well, one day an atheist moved into the house next door. Over time, he became irritated at the little old lady. So every morning he would step out onto his front porch and yell after her, “There is no God!”
Time passes with the two of them carrying on this way every day. Then one morning in the middle of winter, the little old lady stepped onto her front porch and shouted, “Praise the Lord! Lord, I have no food and I am hungry. Please provide for me, oh Lord!”
The next morning she stepped onto her porch and there were two huge bags of groceries sitting there. “Praise the Lord!” she cried out. “He has provided groceries for me!” The atheist jumped out of the hedges and shouted, “There is no God! I bought those groceries!” The little old lady threw her arms into the air and shouted, “Praise God! He has provided me with groceries and He made an atheist pay for them!”

The above joke has been a favorite of mine since I first read it a few years ago. Sometimes in life we are blessed enough to see the end result of our faithfulness, and our efforts to give thanks to the Lord despite our circumstances. Others in life don’t see the end result, or worse yet, believe what they were trying to do was an abject failure and a waste of time, effort, money, or worse of all, life.

Seventy seven years ago the men of Torpedo Squadron 8 in World War II may have felt that way in their final moments. Their efforts only wasted their lives, and the future they would have had with their family, friends, or loved ones at home. On June 4th, 1942, the men of Torpedo 8 Squadron launched off the deck of the USS Hornet with the mission of sinking as many Japanese ships as possible. With large Japanese and American tasks groups within striking distance of each other, both sides were preparing for battle, launching attack squadrons and defending fighter cover. Torpedo 8 was one of the first attack groups to assault the Japanese, and it was imperative that our naval forces had success since we were still recovering from the devastation of the Pearl Harbor attack. Torpedo 8 was a squadron of torpedo bombers, consequently they flew on the deck, (low over the water), launching their torpedoes at the enemy ships, which included the Japanese carriers Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu.

Not only did Torpedo 8 Squadron fail at their mission, not one of them managed to even damage an enemy ship, and all of them were shot down by the defending Zero’s, (Japanese fighters). Twenty-nine men of the Torpedo 8 Squadron lost their lives that morning with only one man surviving, who, after spending 30 hours in the water was finally rescued. Not a single plane of that squadron returned. When you look at those facts, it is difficult to see any good come of it. In fact, it is difficult to see any good coming from any loss of life in war time.

It is also difficult to see the reasons why children might lose their parents at a young age. What good could possibly come from those kinds of circumstances? Daniel, who was a former 8th grade student of mine, lost his father not long after he graduated 8th grade. Daniel and I had some heart to heart talks before he left early in the school year. I was really sorry to see him go, because I saw the potential for a very fine young man.

Blake, another 8th grade student I had, did not have his father in his life, because his father made the choice not to be involved with his son. Frankly, I find it unconscionable that dads would opt out of being involved in the lives of their own children, but it is a choice men and women sometimes make. Going back a few more years, I had two wonderful students, one in 7th grade and the other in 8th grade, whose mother opted to stay with an abusive boyfriend rather than care for her girls. Where was their dad? In prison. Consequently, they were moved to a foster home and have since moved on to college out of the area.
How do Christians address the problem of evil when we have an all powerful, all knowing, all loving God that could stop evil if he choose to?

Epicurus ( 341-270 BC) a Greek philosopher wrote,
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

Doug Powell, a Christian apologist, phrases it this way,
If God is truly all-powerful He could prevent evil.
If God is omniscient [all knowing] He would know when evil was about to take place and therefore could act to stop it.
If God is morally perfect and benevolent [kind and charitable] He would want to prevent evil.
Evil exists.
Therefore, God, at least with those characteristics, does not exist.

That is tough. How do you respond to such difficult statements that make sense, seem logical, and undercut our belief in an all powerful, all knowing, all loving God. This can be the greatest intellectual challenge for the Christian and the non-Christian’s. Can anyone calculate the amount of suffering man has endured by man? On top of that, you have what some call the natural evil of the world, which would include hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, and earthquakes. These natural events have added tremendous pain and suffering not only because of those killed, but to the family and friends who survived. William Lang Craig in his book, Hard Questions Real Answers, gives us a distinction between types of answers, namely an intellectual and emotional response. He wrote, “The intellectual problem of evil concerns how to give a rational explanation of God and evil. The emotional problem of evil concerns how to comfort or console those who are suffering, and how to dissolve the emotional dislike people have of a God who would permit such evil.”

We can’t calculate the sufferings humans have endured, but then can you even place a value on suffering? Our court systems certainly think so since every day people are rewarded with a monetary value for pain and suffering caused by the mistakes or actions of others. Are there things that are incalculable, but serve a purpose? Sure, just consider the number pi, 3.1415… which has been calculated up to ten trillion digits. No one has been able to calculate pi, but ask any mathematician what purpose it serves.

Does the small child who receives a vaccination shot understand the pain and suffering they must endure to avoid a greater evil? Certainly the parent does, but despite the child’s cries and pleas, the child receives the shot anyway. My point in this is to say that you may not not ever understand why you have suffered, but just maybe, there is a reason you cannot see yet. It may take months, years, or even a life time to see why you had to endure a particular hardship, but there was a reason. Maybe, in this life you will never know why you had to suffer as you did.

I asked a friend from church, Larry Buck, what he thought he’d done in his life that was the most pleasing to the Lord. His first reply was, “That is a good question.” Then after several moments of consideration, he replied, “Maybe it is not just one thing, but the addition of all the little things I do.” I think he was right on. Could it be God looks at the big picture, the accumulation of being a good husband/wife, father/mother, friend, helping those in need, and acting Christlike to those around him or her?

Seventy seven years ago, 29 men lost their lives for this country, but those who survived the Battle of Midway saw a reason for that sacrifice. The Japanese fighters had to drop down low to shoot down all those torpedo bombers that were flying just a few feet above the water, and just a few minutes later our dive bombers came in at 17,000 feet. The dive bombers were virtually unopposed and had a very successful strike, hitting all three of the Japanese carriers, which had aircraft loaded with fuel and ammunition; you could not have asked for a better target. Before the battle was over, the Japanese would lose all four of their carriers, the U.S. would lose only one. The Battle of Midway was a turning point in the Pacific War for America, and Japan suffered their first defeat in over 300 years.

William Lane Craig address evil this way, “First, the chief purpose of life is not happiness, but the knowledge of God.” “…people tend naturally to assume that if God exists, then His purpose for human life is happiness in this life. God’s role is to provide a comfortable environment for His human pets. But in the Christian view, this is false.” Craig goes on to say, “Many evils occur in life which may be utterly pointless with respect to the goal of producing human happiness; but they may not be pointless with respect to producing a deeper knowledge of God.”

Does your response to pain, suffering, evil, and hardship move you away from the Lord, or move you closer to him? That choice is yours, and since God has granted us a choice, at least you have something to consider. Yes, God could remove all evil, but by doing so, he would remove our choice and we would just be compelled to choose good, choose God.

Yes, God is all powerful and could prevent evil. Yes, he is all knowing and would know when evil was going to take place. Yes, he is all loving and would want to prevent evil. Yes, evil exists, but only because God allows it, and allows us to make a choice as humans, as persons made in his image, not robots. God even gave the angels a choice. What value, what pleasure, what purpose, would millions of robots serve who are pre-programed to act and respond in a certain way?

James 1: 2-5  My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

1.Powell, Doug. Guide to Christian Apologetics. Nashville: Holman Reference, 2006. Print
2.Craig, William, Lane. Hard Questions Real Answers. Wheaton: Crossway, 2003. Print
3.Bavousett, Glen. World War II Aircraft in Combat. New York: Arco Publishing Company. 1976. Print
4.Craig, William, Lane. Hard Questions Real Answers. Wheaton: Crossway, 2003. Print

See also:
http://www.history.navy.mil/Midway/Battle-of-Midway-Overview.html
http://ehistory.osu.edu/wwii/articles/midway/
http://www.navy.mil/midway/midway_3_TORPEDO%20SQ%208.html
http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/war-stories/2009/05/29/american-heroes-torpedo-squadron-8

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