Conversations About God (Part 1)

Nobody likes confrontation and nobody likes to be rejected, which is why I think so few people talk about God except when they’re in church, or when they post comments under a fake name in response to a blog they disagree with on some religious topic.

Truth is, face-to-face conversations with people are much more effective than communicating with others through social media or email or even over the phone. Yet this is precisely where most Christians have the hardest time when it comes to talking about their faith. What if you have a conversation with someone about God and they take offense or reject you outright? Neither option is a very pleasant prospect, so we end up talking with our neighbors and co-workers and relatives about the weather or sports or whatever political topic is in the news, and we reserve our God conversations for other Christians.

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Life, Death, and Dignity

People are destined to die once.

Hebrews 9:27

People have funny ways of dealing with death. Some laugh at death, or at least make jokes about it. I love Woody Allen’s take: “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Others try to cheat death, although I don’t exactly know how that’s done. It’s not like death is a final exam. Oh wait, it is the final exam. So how do you cheat? Copy off someone else’s exam? What if the person you’re copying dies before you?

Some of those who aren’t into humor or cheating try to confront death by exercising so they’ll live longer. But that seems more like an exercise in futility. The gym I frequent is filled with older people who apparently are trying to make up for 60 or more years of potato chips and inactivity by riding a stationary cycle while reading the newspaper. Is this helping to stave off the grim reaper? Hard to say.

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God and the Big Bang

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Hebrews 11:3

We’re going to take you on a little journey, all the way back to the beginning of the universe. Before this beginning, nothing material existed because the universe didn’t exist. When people today—scientists, philosophers, poets, theologians, or ordinary folks— think about how it all began, they are at a disadvantage because they weren’t there. Nobody was. Which is why the all the theories about how the universe got going are just that—theories.

Scientists try to figure out how the universe began by the process of discovery and measurement. Philosophers and poets use logic and art to describe what might have happened. Theologians attempt to explain the beginning by going to Genesis, the Book of Beginnings. In the first verse in this first book of the Bible, in a statement that is both simple and elegant, this explanation for the origin of the universe is offered:

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God Is Amazing

Everything changes when you see God for how He really is.

A little more than 15 years ago, as the 1990s were coming to a close, Bruce Bickel and I wrote a book called God Is in the Small Stuff. We must have hit a nerve, because the book has sold more than a million copies.

Fifteen years ago the world was a much different place. The Christian life was easy. You could relax and rest in the knowledge that God was interested in every detail of your life. No matter what you were going through personally, you could count on God’s involvement.

How times have changed. Over the last 15 years there has been a generational shift, a culture shift, a technology shift, a global political shift, and a faith shift that no one could have anticipated. Today’s world is massively different than it was in the closing years of the twentieth century. For one thing, there’s more hostility towards God now than there was then. In the view of many people—including many Christians—God is no longer great and powerful. Instead, He is ineffective and rather weak.

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Ebola and the Call of God

It’s a life-and-death-story for the ages, one that vividly shows us what it takes to respond to the call of God, and what’s required to follow Jesus.

You know the story because it involves the deadly Ebola virus, but you may not remember the names of two Americans who brought the story home in dramatic fashion. Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol are medical missionaries who contracted the virus while helping treat victims in Liberia. In the middle of the summer they were flown back to the U.S. to receive treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Both should have died, but they survived, recovered and were released just a few weeks ago, whereupon Dr. Brantly acknowledged his care in Liberia and the treatment he received at Emory. “God saved my life—a direct answer to thousands and thousands of prayers,” he said in a statement.

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Love and the Woman in 13F

The large woman was sitting in seat 13F on the Southwest Airlines flight from Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles. Her seat was by the window and she was trying not to make eye contact with the passengers filing by. On Southwest there are no assigned seats. People board by pre-assigned priority, and once you get on the plane you can take any open seat. The seat next to the woman in 13F remained empty for a long time. I should know. I was sitting in 13D, two seats over. The problem with 13E and why it was still vacant, even though most of the passengers had boarded, was a matter of space. For all intents and purposes the woman in 13F was also sitting in half of 13E.

I’m embarrassed to admit this to you, but I’ve got to tell someone, and it might as well be you. I sat in 13D because I thought 13E might remain vacant due to the size of the woman in 13F, giving me extra room for the long flight. Then, the unexpected happened. A young hipster woman (there are lots of them in Austin) walked down the aisle, stopped next to me and pointed to 13E. She wanted to sit there. I don’t know what kind of person I expected to take the “charity” case of sitting next to the woman in 13F—a nun perhaps?—but I would not have expected this young lady with a flowing white dress and several tattoos to be the one. Yet there she was, and I was suddenly feeling very small, especially when she sat in 13E and immediately began to engage the woman in cheerful, respectful conversation.

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Why the Resurrection Matters

Sorry to rain on your Easter parade, but most people in the world don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead. That shouldn’t surprise you since less than a third of the people living today claim to be Christians. But even among self-proclaimed Christians, the number of Jesus-rose-from-the-dead believers is shrinking.

With packed churches on Easter and the proliferation of Christian apologetics books (The Case for Jesus anyone?), you would think a growing number of people would be convinced that Jesus is alive. But just the opposite seems to be true. I have a theory as to why this is, but I’m saving it for the last couple of paragraphs (feel free to read ahead if you’re short on time).

Actually, doubts about the resurrection have been around since that first Easter morning. Current day agnostics like Bart Ehrman, the fundamentalist Bible college student turned agnostic professor of religion, may think they have developed an original “Jesus is not God and He didn’t rise from the dead” shtick, but they’re wrong. These scholar/skeptic types who badly want to keep Jesus in the grave are following a 2,000-year-old narrative.

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The Haunt of History

History is a tricky thing. We’re supposed to recall and remember what happened in the past so we can learn from it. In our individual lives, history is a valued tutor, teaching us in a rear view mirror how to do better in the future.

Learning from history can take many forms. My father used to tell me, “Learn from the mistakes of others because you’ll never live long enough to make them all yourself.” That’s good advice, although there are also good things in our past we can learn from. For example, I learned long ago that I like chocolate chip cookies, and I’ve done my best to repeat that habit as often as possible.

Of course, we tend to forget what happened before, whether it was minutes ago—how often have you touched a hot plate in a restaurant right after the server warned you of its searing heat—or years ago. I don’t know why we forget important information, except that we believe we’re smarter than people who made mistakes in the past. 

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Home for Christmas

Few words better capture the emotion and the attraction of Christmas than home. The simply lyrics form the song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”—originally written from the perspective of World War II soldiers—instantly inspire longing for that place in our memories (or in our dreams) where the warmth of family and the joys of the year’s most wonderful time of year come together.

The reason home has such universal appeal is simple. Home is the primary place where we are known and loved. There are no sweeter words than those you utter at the end of a long journey, especially at Christmastime: “I’m finally home.”

Yet for all its warmth and familiarity, there can be something disconcerting about home, and it’s not just the heated discussions that sometimes erupt, or the cruel words that occasionally slip out not long after we arrive. For all the charms and joys of home, something isn’t quite right. There’s a flaw that none of us have ever been able to fix. No matter how beautiful it is to go home, it’s never a place where we feel completely settled or at rest.

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Grace Unplugged

If there’s a trend in religion and the church that preoccupies a great many people, it’s that millennials—those between the ages of 18 and 29—are leaving the church in uncomfortably high numbers. Recent surveys peg the percentage of young adult leavers at just over forty. In real numbers, that means 8 million twenty-somethings have given up on church and, in some cases, Christianity.

You could take months to study these surveys and read a bunch of books that talk about this recent phenomenon, or you could spend 90 minutes watching Grace Unplugged, the inspirational new film centered on an 18-year-old millennial who leaves the church, her family and her faith in search of a dream she hopes will bring her happiness and meaning.

Grace Unplugged tells a familiar story that resonates universally. In fact, it’s a three-act storyline that follows the classic hero’s journey: departure, initiation and return. It’s the story of the prodigal son (or in this case, the prodigal daughter), and we can all relate. Consequently, the plot is more than a little predictable with characters that border on stereotypes, but the effect is surprisingly strong, thanks to the musical talents of AJ Michalka in the lead role of Grace Trey.

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.