Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Why we exist"

I opened the Yahoo main page this morning and the headline, accompanied by a brilliant cellestial picture, said "Discovery may explain why we exist." Naturally, I had to read more... not because I was dying to know why we exist, but because I wanted to know what scientific discovery could possibly try to explain it. There was some scientific jargon about the Standard Model of particle physics, and matter and antimatter (what in the world is antimatter??), and the epic struggle for universal domination between matter and antimatter... sounded more like Star Wars VII: The Conquest of Matter.

As science-fictiony-impressive as all this sounded, I couldn't help but wonder if any of the scientists stopped to ask: "Where did matter come from?" The scientists are so impressed that they invented this mega-machine that collides - their word in the article was "smashes" - matter and antimatter together... if there really was this collision of particles in the beginning of time, what smashed them together then?

It seems to me that these people are not so interested in understanding why we exist, as they are in how they can become God and create their own matter. Kind of like the people who tried to build the Tower of Babel... and we all know how that worked out. The Tower of Babel was a result of people not wanting to accept that God is all-powerful, people wanting desperately to have some claim on spiritual achievement through physical means. If they were just in relationship with God - if they had only turned to him instead of shutting their ears and trying to do things their own way - they would have realized that the God of the universe reaches down to be with us, and that unity with him cannot be achieved through global unity but through him alone.

This Tevatron Collider and its magnificent display of smashing tiny things together is also a result of people not wanting to accept that God is all-powerful: if we as humans can accomplish something that previously was believed to be impossible, then that makes God a little less "god-like" and us a little more. And again, if they were just in relationship with God - if they were really seeking the meaning of our existence rather than trying to duplicate it - they would have realized that the God of the universe did not need a machine or matter or even antimatter, because he simply spoke and that was enough. Our universe - and any other universes beyond - are a product of his word. Even if this battle between particles existed, it is because God spoke those particles into existence and set them on the path to collision. And what does that reveal about why we exist? Do we exist to smash into each other and create more matter? That makes no sense! We exist for the pleasure and praise and glory of Him who created us in the first place!

What a discovery that would be, if only these scientists would turn away from their machines and look to the Lord who holds all the answers.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Celebrating Kevan

"Twenty four oceans, Twenty four skies,
Twenty four failures, Twenty four tries.
Twenty four finds me in twenty-fourth place,
Twenty four drop outs at the end of the day.
Life is not what I thought it was twenty four hours ago,
Still I'm singing, 'Spirit, take me up in arms with you.'"
~"24," by Switchfoot

Today is Kevan's 24th birthday. He spent yesterday and today with his best friend, then when he got home this afternoon I got to read excerpts from The Princess Bride to him ("Here come the king bats!"), and then we had a wonderful, delicious dinner with some good friends. He opened his presents and ate his cake and now he wants to watch one of his favorite movies, Miller's Crossing. I think he's happy, and I hope he knows how much he is loved.

I started thinking this afternoon about my 24th year, and how I didn't think it was all that fantastic. I quit working with the youth group, I had a few very emotional confrontations with my students, and I spent the rest of the year fighting "The Man" about trying to get my driving equipment for my van, which didn't happen. I remember feeling a lot of frustration and self-doubt, and probably I didn't make the best decisions about how to invest my time.

But it really amazes me how much God redeems moments that I lose or mess up. Last week the one boy from my youth group, Darius, who has kept coming to church consistently since he graduated high school last year, brought two of the other boys to church who haven't been in a long time. Darius is my hero and I am so thankful that God continues to work on his heart. I learned a lot from my "confrontations" with my students that I think made me wiser as a teacher and a friend to internationals, and I've had some really great student-teacher relationships since then. And because I can't drive myself, I have developed some really meaningful friendships and gone on a lot of great adventures that I otherwise wouldn't have.

My prayer is that Kevan's 24th year is the best one yet... that dreams come true and opportunities fling wide open and that every experience is amazing. And if there are hardships - times when he wants to scream or run or question or quit - I pray that they will still be rich in meaning and purpose. I pray that God will redeem those times - just as he did Job's, just as he did mine - one hundred fold. I pray that the lessons he learns and the ways he grows will amaze him when he looks back three years from now, and that this year he will become even more of a man after God's own heart than he was before.

Monday, May 17, 2010


This weekend was the annual Greek Festival in Winston-Salem. I'd never been before, though I'd wanted to for several years. This year, my friend Mona, who is Greek Orthodox, invited my family to meet her at the festival so she could show us around and treat us to a hearty dinner. So we did! It was tons of fun - great music, dancing, art, food, everything oozing with this rich culture.

We also went into the sanctuary (it was all located at the Greek Orthodox church) for a presentation and tour. The room was so ornate, with brilliant colors and all the icons for the sacraments. I was so distracted by the paintings of the life of Christ and all the saints, trying to figure out who was who and wondering at the significance of each. A deacon of the church came out and explained as much as he could in a half hour about the traditions of the church. The thing that amazed me the most was that this orthodox tradition is steeped in symbolism... everything they do and experience is symbolic, to remind them of things Jesus experienced, the history of the Bible, and their own responsibilities toward God. Everything is meant to be a symbol of their "journey toward God." I see this symbolism in the Jewish culture as well, and in a way I wish we had more of it in our Protestant churches today, because God put such emphasis on remembering for his people, and the paradox of it is the remembering was supposed to point people to the future, and what Jesus would do when he came to earth.

As I pondered it over the past couple days, it made me a little sad for the orthodox people. It seems that the symbols are their way of connecting with God. When does it stop being a symbol and become reality? We don't need incense and candles to know that God hears our prayers... We don't need to present offerings to a crucifix, because we are living sacrifices, offering our very lives to the Lord as our act of worship... We don't need to go through the priest to confess because Jesus is our high priest and his sacrifice gave us full access to him... We don't need to do things that act as "steps on our journey toward God" because God is the one who has come near to us. While ritual is a good discipline of faith, does it sometimes replace true worship? While traditions help us to remember, does it bind those who really need to experience daily, authentic relationship with the Father?

I don't mean this as a harsh criticism of the Orthodox church... I do respect and appreciate the history of it and admire many things about their devotion to God. But I think this icon and ritual approach to the Christian faith can be a danger to many Christians, regardless of denomination or background. I am so thankful that we are free to approach the throne of grace with confidence, but how often do we take the safe way around, through packaged prayers or spiritual "superiors"? Or how often do we sing the songs and quote the verses we know without applying them or considering the power of the truths they hold? How often do we offer "sacrifices" that cost us nothing?

As true believers and followers of Christ, we are set free from the law that condemns and the prescriptions that limit us... We are not freed in order to become lazy and forgetful, though. We are freed so that our service and surrender can be genuine and complete, overflowing from contagious joy and compelling love. We don't need to try to reach God because he's already reached out to us; now we are free to run to him out of sheer desire and delight to be with him, just as he delights to be with us.

At the Greek Festival, we were told that during the music and dance performances, if we experience something that we enjoy, we should shout, "OPA!" How about our freedom in Christ? OPA! How about our personal relationship with the Creator of the universe? OPA! How about giving our lives to the One who gave his life for us? OPA! How about the faithfulness of God from the beginning of time to the end? OPA! How about the day we can look forward to celebrating and worshipping in Spirit and Truth - all of us who believe and love him - together forever in the presence of our Lord? OPA!!