Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Books That Changed This Scientist's Mind

When news of the sudden death of my husband came out on Facebook and people learned more about his life and his faith, some friends expressed an interest in knowing which books Dennis had read that had finally convinced him of the truth of Christianity.  I said I'd write up a short bibliography for those who are interested, so here it is. 

Dennis was a staunch agnostic until 1982, when a series of incidents led him to begin an intellectual investigation of the claims of Christianity.  The most crucial claims of Christianity--the Incarnation and the Resurrection for example--can seem outrageous to scientists who are used to looking at all reality through a materialistic microscope.  The assumptions behind their materialistic worldview often keep them from rationally studying the evidence--historical and scientific--that supports the supra-rational claims of the Bible.  

Dennis was a detail person.  He could, and often did, rattle off the scientific names of a gazillion plant species from memory, whether anyone around him cared about such details or not.  So it took Dennis two solid years of intense study before he finally became convinced of the reliability of the Christian belief system.   When he finally became convinced that the claims of Christ were supportable, he said that in the past when he looked for God he had been "looking too low."  When he began looking "higher," he realized that God had been there all the time, just waiting to be discovered.  His conversion to Christianity was solid, and it profoundly influenced the way he lived the rest of his life.

Below is a list of a few of the books that Dennis researched in his search for answers to his God-questions.

Dennis first read all of  F.F. Bruce's books.  Carefully.  Methodically.  One after the other.  The one that was the biggest influence on his decision was The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?  As far as Dennis was concerned, if the Gospel accounts and the Epistles were not primary sources, as they claimed to be, they were unreliable.  F.F. Bruce's methodical analysis of the New Testament documents impressed Dennis, and by the time he had finished reading all there was to read by this author, Dennis had become equally impressed by the God-Man the books were written about.

Dennis was especially impressed with the Apostle Peter's two letters, I Peter and II Peter, because their authorship is well established.  Peter was an eyewitness of the crucifixion and the resurrection, and he talks about what he saw in these letters, and discusses why what he witnessed is so important to the Christian faith.

A more philosophical approach is taken by Francis Schaeffer.  I seem to remember that Dennis was first impressed by The God Who is There.  If you're not philosophically trained, the jargon will probably put you to sleep.  I've taken a couple of philosophy courses, which means I've got just enough knowledge in this area to be dangerous, but Dennis was intelligent and well read in many disciplines, so he enjoyed this author.

Josh McDowell's, More Than A Carpenter, is less academic.  It's also a rational approach to the credibility of the Christian story, but it's an easy read, fast-paced, unemotional and hard-hitting.  Later on, after he made his decision, Dennis also studied Josh McDowell's more intense Evidence That Demands a Verdict, which presents extensive evidence supporting the Christian faith in more of an encyclopedic arrangment.  This book was written mainly as a resource for students who study and write about Christian apologetics, but it has good, thought provoking ideas for the lay reader as well.

Dennis also studied the writings of secular historians of the time of Christ and other early Christian writings not included in the canon of the Bible.  I never had the patience for those, but Dennis went after Polycarp, Eusebius, etc. etc.

Later on, Dennis also enjoyed reading books like The Language of God, by Francis S. Collins, the scientist who led the successful effort to complete the Human Genome Project.

Books by Hugh Ross impressed Dennis, including specifically, The Cosmos and the Creator.  Hugh Ross disagrees with the "young earth" position that argues that the seven days of creation were 24-hour periods.  As a botanist, Dennis recognized that there is hard evidence of an older earth, including tree ring dating as well as carbon-dating, which might or might not be totally accurate. 

Dennis never saw a conflict between a proper analysis of scientific data and a proper interpretation of the Bible.  He recognized the evidence for "micro-evolution," the theory that species change over time.  That kind of evidence can be observed scientifically.  It's demonstrable in laboratory test tubes and petri dishes.  But the philosophical extrapolation of the micro-evolutionary theory to the theory of "macro-evolution," which assumes that all life forms came from one original organism, required too big a leap of faith for Dennis.  He respected Darwin for his contributions to science, but was convinced that if Darwin had access to the genetic information we have today he would have recognized that his macro-evolutionary suppositions were wrong and would have freely admitted it.

Dennis also loved to quote Professor Richard Owen, the superintendent of the Natural History Department of the British Museum of Natural History and Evolution, who said that the claims about the origin of species made by macro-evolutionary theory were "Just So Stories," no more scientifically reliable than the fictional stories found in The Jungle Book.

So there you have it.  The books, along with the Bible,itself, that convinced Dennis that there is a God; that He is a Person, not just an impersonal force; that He loves his creation; and that He wants a personal relationship with each one of his human creatures.  I hope some of these are of interest to those of you who have asked for them.  
Meanwhile, I like to remind myself that one day we will be together again, in a place where all questions will be answered and all tears will be wiped away forever.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

My Way

Just for the record, I want you to know that, in general, I'm pretty easygoing.  You might say I'm an amiable person.  I have lots of friends and they like me.  But, in spite of how nice I am, there are still some things that really annoy me.  In fact, I've found myself getting annoyed often lately, so I've thought a lot about the situation, trying to decide why this happens.

I have figured out there are three things that annoy me:

1.  I'm annoyed when someone gets in my way.  It's really disrupting when I'm going somewhere and someone gets in front of me and goes really slow.  Don't get me wrong.  I can be pretty patient at times.  But I do like my steady rhythms, without interruptions, and when someone breaks my routine I get annoyed.  As long as I'm allowed to go where I want at my own pace, I'm generally pretty docile, but people who get in my way are a real PAIN in the you-know-where.

2.  I'm also annoyed when someone doesn't see things my way.  I always think things through carefully before I make a decision to accept something as being true.  I eliminate all the false beliefs and, in the end, the belief I settle on is a good one.  But I find that often other people disagree with me.  I try to explain my way to them so they'll understand.  If they understand, I'm pretty sure they'll agree with me, so if I've explained my way carefully to them and they still don't agree, it's obviously because they haven't listened well.  And that is even MORE annoying.

3.  And, most of all, I'm annoyed when I don't get my own way.  When someone or something prevents me from getting what I want, or doing what I think I should do, I sometimes just lose it.  It is, after all, a free world.  Everyone has a right to do their own thing in their own way.  When someone stops me from doing what I want they are infringing on my rights, and I get REALLY annoyed when that happens.

So, if you want to know how to avoid getting put in my next book and killed off, just remember to avoid all of the above.  If you manage to do that we'll get along fine, especially after I've had my morning coffee.   

Seriously, if you're really nice to me--if you stay out of My Way when I'm busy, agree with everything I say, and let me have my own way about things--I might even make you a really good character in my next book and let you live forever.  It's totally up to you, really.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An Intriguing God

I love to think about Him.

He is as complex as a multi-faceted jewel and as simple as the word

He is ancient, without beginning, eternally existing,
yet He is as fresh as the dew in the morning.

He is all-powerful and gentle.

He is as fathomless as the far reaches of the universe,
but He stoops to speak into the hearts of children. 

He is the Author of life
who stepped from eternity into time to die a mortal's death,
for us.

White as snow, yet He reaches into the deepest cesspool of the human heart
to redeem and restore.

He is complete and whole in Himself, but He yearns for friendship with His creatures.

He is intensely and overwhelmingly awesome. 
People fall to the ground at His feet. 

Yet He loves laughter and light-hearted pleasure.

He created joy.

My heart floods with joy when I think about Him.

You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.  
Acts 2:28

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A First Step Toward Praying Deliberately

God acts, in and around us, whether we ask Him to or not.  He is a God who initiates.  He initiated all
of creation, and He initiates blessing upon blessing in our lives every day simply because He loves us.

But some of His blessings only come when we ask. James says, "You have not because you ask not." (James 4:3) This is an amazing truth.  Through prayer, we have been given the privilege of initiating blessings, for ourselves and for others. But we often (usually?) treat prayer so lightly that our prayers become ineffective.

The kinds of prayers that result in blessings are deliberate and intentional.  Too often my prayers are not that kind. I need to be constantly reminded that the great privilege He has given us in prayer calls for a consciously thoughtful approach to His throne.

When I come to God's throne deliberately and thoughtfully, He asks me questions that help me focus my prayers.  The first question He asks is, "To Whom are you praying?" Answering this question is the first step toward a more effective prayer time.

Praying With God-Awareness

The answer is obvious--so obvious that our awareness of the One we are coming to can get lost in our coming if we're not careful.  God--the reality of his presence and the beauty of his character--must be our focus in prayer.  

If I come to him with my mind full of the things I want to ask for, my head down, and my focus on myself, I'm not really praying. I'm just talking to myself.  Expecting Him to act on my requests is like expecting the caboose to push the train.  It just doesn't work.  Effective praying begins with an awareness of God's presence, His power, and His great compassion for us.

A focus on God does not come naturally.  It must be deliberately sought and deliberately maintained as we pray. Our visible surroundings will overwhelm invisible realities if we don't consciously remind ourselves of what matters when we pray, and what matters first and foremost is the One we are speaking with. 

I find praying on my knees helps to keep me focused on God.  It puts my body in the proper position before Him and it keeps me more aware of His presence.  When I'm on my knees, the rest of the world dissolves and I'm better able to visualize (in a proper way) the reality of His presence.

If you'd like an aid to becoming more God-aware in your prayers, here's a helpful one online.  Try listening to the first seven minutes of this video on Living Still.  Seven minutes is a long time!  It will be difficult to settle into this kind of listening.  But it will lead you into God's presence in a delightful way if you let it.

May we come to Him with a deliberate awareness of who He is.
May we be still, and know what it means to that He is God.
(Psalm 46:10)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Open Letter to President Barak Obama

Dear President Obama,

I read with interest the thoughtful, loving letter you wrote to your daughters when you were first elected. You wanted to introduce them to life in the White House.  I appreciate your desire to care for all children as you would your own.  You want “every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you(r) girls have.”  You say this is why you became president.

These are lofty goals and I’m glad you want to create a world in which all children can dream and grow and thrive.  But I’m puzzled about one thing.  I’m wondering why, in spite of your good intentions, some children do not appear to come under the nurturing, protective umbrella of your government.  Do all children count?  Or are you leaving some children behind?

What about children in the womb?  Do you want them to be able to dream and grow and thrive?  Do you want for them “every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment” and the advantages and privileges your own two beautiful girls have? 

Or do children have to survive until birth before they are allowed to thrive under your benevolent care?

What if, on the day of their conception, children are created?  What if, when they begin to grow and thrive in their mother’s womb, they are already significant human beings, vulnerable and helpless, totally dependent on the provision of other human beings, but deserving of our nurture and protection?  What if these children, in this vulnerable condition, are just as valuable as those who have had a chance to draw their first breath, or their second or third?

My heart cries for them—the ones who will not survive long enough to capture our hearts with their mischief and smiles.  The ones who will never know the joy of loving a puppy, because their lives are inconvenient for their parents, a drain on society, a burden on the welfare system.

Mr. President, you have great plans for this nation, and I pray you will be able to carry them out.  But if you do not extend your protective care over every child in this nation, you will have failed to carry out one of the most sacred duties God has charged your government to fulfil.  You will have failed to defend the rights of the most vulnerable and helpless of your citizens. 

By your own admission, the value of your life rests in the performance of your duties to the children of this nation.  My plea is that you consider performing those duties for all children in this nation—those who have been born and those, even more vulnerable, who are growing quietly in the womb.

Respectfully submitted,

Ginny Jaques

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How to Read "Jesus Calling"

Jesus calls us.  And He calls us gently.  Jesus Calling, is a gentle book.  It reflects Jesus' tender heart, especially to broken people, and it ministers in a particularly effective way to people who are hurting and need strong reassurance of God's love.

However, as I use this book in my personal time with the Lord, I feel called to read with caution. 

Sarah's journey toward a deeper intimacy with God, as described in her testimony at the beginning of the book, has obviously prepared her for a special ministry to hurting people.  The lessons she has learned in her faith walk are ones that we, in the North American church, could learn much from.  Our tendency to distrust the more charismatic elements of the faith has hindered our ability to minister effectively to the people around us.  We have too long been in denial about how broken our own society is, and a broken society needs the tender touch of Jesus for healing.

In fact, we are all broken people, and we can all benefit from the tender words of Jesus.  I don't want in any way to detract from the blessings readers will get from this book.  But I do want to suggest that, as with all devotional aids, we need to read the daily entries thoughtfully and prayerfully, asking the Holy Spirit for spiritual discernment as we do.

Thoughtful, prayerful discernment is especially important when reading this particular devotional book because Sarah writes her thoughts as if Jesus is speaking them.  This literary technique is a powerful one.  Sarah acknowledges that her words don't carry the same weight as Scripture, but writing in the voice of Jesus creates an aura of authority that writing in her own voice would not convey, and the way she writes creates, subliminally, the sense that God's authority is behind what she says.

I agree with Sarah that Jesus does speak directly to us today.  He speaks to us through Scripture, for sure, but His Holy Spirit also speaks more specific truths to our inner spirits as we walk with Jesus from day to day.  But whenever we think we're hearing His voice, we need to be especially careful.  Thoughts that come into our minds are not always from Him, and things we believe we hear from him are not always true.  There are other voices that are able to speak into our spirits and we need to be very careful to discern who is speaking and whether or not what we hear is the truth.

If you're a committed Jesus Calling reader, I don't want to discourage you.  I believe the Holy Spirit uses many kinds of books to speak to people, and I know he uses this book.  I believe it contains truths that are helpful to us in our daily Christian walk. But I'd like to suggest four ways we should read the book in order to properly receive the blessings the Lord might have for us in it.

How to Read Jesus Calling:

1.  We need to remember, as we read, that Jesus Calling is not the authoritative Word of God.  We must constantly remind ourselves of this truth, because hearing the words spoken as if from the mouth of Jesus will affect us subconsciously.  We need to consistently separate out the method of writing from the message.  

2.  We need to consciously compare every statement in the book to Scripture. We should look up the Scriptures given at the end of each entry and study them in context, and we must carefully weigh every statement Sarah makes against the uniquely reliable authority of God's revelation of Himself in the Bible.  We should pay special attention to words like "most," "much," "all" or "always.  God makes these kinds of "all-ness" statements in His Word, but He's the only one who is wise enough to use them accurately every time.  Human writers need to use them cautiously, even when they feel inspired by God.

3.  We must remember that, while the words of this book may be true, they are only part of the truth.  Sarah's words are comforting, and we need God's comfort, for sure. But we need to be able and willing to hear everything God says to us, not just the comfortable truths. All truth that is necessary for us to know is revealed in the Bible. We should not allow any other book, no matter how comforting, to take the place of the Bible in our personal quiet times with Jesus. The Bible is harder to read.  It takes focus and thoughtful analysis.  But this kind of difficulty is necessary if we are to grow in our Christian life.  God does not necessarily make it easy to find Him.  We cannot be lazy in our pursuit of God. 

Which leads to my last point. . .

4.  Sarah's experience of hearing from God is not unique.  God wants to speak intimately and specifically to each one of us.  We can benefit best from Sarah's words if they inspire us to seek God's voice for ourselves. Yes, what He has said to Sarah is helpful for all of us. But we need no intermediary when approaching God, and Sarah's sharing of her experience of intimacy with God should make us hungry to hear what he wants to say to us directly, rather than through the words of others.

I thank God for giving His Body gifted and inspired writers.  Like Sarah's, my faith has grown greatly over the years through the ministry of good Christian books.  I know God uses inspired writers today.  But we need to practice the discipline of reading all books prayerfully and carefully, allowing God to speak directly, by His Holy Spirit, and trusting Him to guide us into all truth.