In The Beginning

by Timothy West

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:1, 2

I love the book of Genesis. I have always been fascinated by nature and the world around me. Growing up in a Christian home, I was never discouraged from learning about the natural order of things. Maybe my parents knew that my hope in God was greater than my faith in man’s interpretations of things around him. Maybe they knew that God had the power to keep me, or maybe they were just being lazy. But when it came to information about the natural world I was a sponge. Especially about things like dinosaurs.

I also enjoyed reading and studying my Bible. As I learned where the text came from, who was believed to have written each book, and learned about the context of scripture I found the Bible was not simply another book to study for me. It spoke into my life. Within its text I found comfort, direction, and wisdom. However, the Bible begins with a book named Genesis, and Genesis did not tell the same story that I was reading in my science books.

I had a hard time reconciling what my school text-book said about dinosaurs and what the Bible taught in Genesis. If dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, how was Adam created on the sixth day (the same day as the rest of the land animals)? Did the writer of Genesis mean six literal days? Or was it a translation error? These were questions that I had to find the answers to.

Today, I believe I have reconciled my dilemma, and feel confident in the Genesis account of creation. I know many today subscribe to old earth theories, but I don’t see proof around me to support these claims. In fact, I see proof of the biblical account in the natural world around me. The theories that support the Genesis account are not new, they are the same beliefs that scientists understood before the Darwinian era began.

I believe it to be extremely important that Christians understand the creation story and the book of Genesis. It is after all the first book of what we consider the Word of God. It is the foundation of the Gospel, and our beliefs will crumble if we do not sure our foundations.

Father, thank you for your scripture that you have kept all these years. Thank you for its inspiration, and for its instruction. Lord, I pray that we would always allow its words to inspire and instruct us in our daily lives. Thank you for the story of love that it shares with us. How we see that in the very beginning of time it was always in your plan to send Jesus to be our sacrificial lamb. You always knew what was required, and you met every need.

Lord thank you for the book of Genesis. It has meant so much to me in my life, and I pray that my excitement passes on to my little girls. Your creation is so amazing, but I pray that we never lose sight of the creator. Thank you Lord, for hearing our prayers. Amen.


Why Does God Allow Evil?

When I wrote my last blog (A Christian Response To The Aurora Shooting) my intentions were to offer encouragement for those seeking direction on how to react in the wake of the tragedy that has afflicted Aurora, Colorado. I never imagined my blog would see so much traffic over the weekend (and continue throughout the week). I re-read my comments and felt that maybe I could do a better job at answering the most pressing question, “Why?” Initially, my only concern was that we not lose sight of what those involved were going through. It saddens me to see our news media, those in politics, and those on message boards using the travesty to push their own political agendas. This has been an incredibly insensitive response that the families did not deserve. There will be a day when we need to analyze what has taken place and what our society’s response should be. In the immediate days following the assault there were not enough facts, and there were families just beginning to mourn (many had yet to know if their loved ones were among the casualties). 

After reviewing my blogs stats I realize that many who visited my last blog may have been looking for answers as to why this would happen. The whole country has been captivated by the fear and uncertainty of why this would happen. If there is a God, why would he allow an individual to take the life of so many? Why would a loving God allow the tsunami to hit Japan so hard last year? What about the busy tornado season that we experienced this past year? Why would God allow thousands to lose their lives on September 11th, 2011? Or why didn’t God stop Hitler? Why did God allow men to commit the horrible acts of the crusades in His name? 

These are all good questions. And after looking over the searches that led people to Studying The Way, I believe it is the questions that people in our country are asking (and apparently some in Canada and Malaysia as well). How do we respond to tragedy in light of our faith? How do we express our views to others? And what does it mean for the Gospel of Christ? 

Why do bad things happen? Why do we not live in a utopian world where as long as you are good, as long as you are not wicked everything works out for you? That is what we are looking for, is it not? We judge ourselves and those around us. There were plenty of “good” people in theatre number nine who did not deserve to die that evening. The same can be said for the victims of Columbine, Virginia Tech, and the Jews imprisoned and killed in the Holocaust, and the Tsunami of last year.

Answer: God created mankind with the capacity to choose between good and evil

Without this choice we would all be mindless robots who have no choice in the matter of whether to worship God or not. This is not what God made mankind for. The scriptures are very clear that we were created to love God, but it is not love if we are not allowed a choice. Love requires the ability to choose. Love does not grab you and force you into a relationship, you choose to love.

Just as someone can choose to love, they can choose to hate. Unfortunately, we have what the Bible calls a “sin nature.” Although some humanist philosophies contend that mankind is inherently good, it is obvious when you look throughout our history that we do have a capacity to commit evil.

So, why does God allow those who are evil to commit horrible acts against those who are good? Well, the truth is that none are good by God’s standards. We are all liars, thieves, murderers, and adulterers in comparison to the righteousness of God. If God took the worst of us, he would have to take all of us. I know this all or nothing seems intolerant to our society, but our society is shaped by our own lusts and desires (look around at the register lines of the supermarket). Our creator gets to choose His standards; we are not allowed to project our standards on Him.

What we fail to see is that “good” is a relative term. I know people who would argue that The Bachelor is a good show, but I also know plenty of people who would disagree with that assessment. Good is relative. If we are talking about the “good” that God uses to judge mankind by, I am sorry to say we all fall short of that description. Jesus said that none area good, only God is good.

How do we respond to this news?

I know that does seem harsh. We do not like to accept that God has the ability to choose the rules. It doesn’t seem fair does it? Why wouldn’t God “grade on a curve” and cut those of us who seem to be good people some slack? If God loves and he is good, shouldn’t he be more open-minded. I mean, many of us are trying to do the best we can.

The next question to enter your mind may be, “So what now?” If God deems all of our goodness as evil, how could we ever be righteous before his sight? And why would we want to even try. If God is so closed-minded that he writes off all of humanity as evil, why would we want to come back to him?

The answer is found in Jesus.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

                                                                                    John 3:16

But wait there is more!

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

                                                                                    John 3:17, 18

When Jesus came the first time, he came to offer God’s redemption to mankind. Until his return we are offered salvation by the work of Christ alone. There is nothing that I can do to become righteous (or good) before God, all I can do is believe and trust in the work of Jesus so that HIS righteousness will be counted as my own.

God will not remove the evil from this world until Jesus’ returns for those who have placed their hope in him. At that point, all evil will be removed and those who have gained righteousness by the work of our Messiah will at last live with God, forever. We will be free from our own sinful desires and be rewarded for our faith. What a glorious day to wait for.

Father, we thank you for those who you protected in the Aurora Massacre. There have been so many stories of heroism and sacrifice. We thank you for the miracles that took place amidst the tragedy. Father we continue to pray for those experiencing the loss of their loved ones. We pray that their loss draws them to you, and you use what appears to be a senseless act of violence to bring them to the place of acceptance of your Son. May you comfort them in their losses. We mourn with them Lord.

Thank you for offering a plan to destroy evil. We see evil commit tragedies all too often, and long for the day when we will enjoy life forever separated from it. Lord, I pray that men and women would run to you, and flee from the evils of this world; the evils that would lead a man to take the lives of so many. You are the only healing that this world needs. You are our only hope.

A Christian Response To The Aurora Shooting

I was at work this morning, sitting at my desk, when I received a message from a friend who lives in another state. His message asked if I had heard about the shooting at the Batman premier in Aurora, Colorado. I don’t normally spend time surfing the web at work, but the news was too disturbing not to do a quick search.

This morning at midnight at the premier of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, a 24-year-old Colorado university student broke into the crowded movie theatre through the emergency exit and started shooting into the audience.

As I read the news reports, my heart sank and a lump formed in my throat. I couldn’t believe the reports; children, teenagers, and adults all targeted by this gunman. He walked the aisle shooting randomly. The last I read, twelve are dead and 50 injured. The reports almost bring me to tears, even now, as I think of the families of those dead and wounded.

I volunteer in my church’s student ministry, and my thoughts quickly went to all of the students who I knew were at theaters last night for the premier in our city. I live a long way from Aurora, Colorado. But this could just have easily happened in Knoxville, TN or any other city in between. How would I react if some of my students or family had been the targets of a senseless tragedy such as this?

The rest of the day I tried to stay updated on what was being discovered about the tragedy. All the while the news media made assumptions and claims about who the gunman was, what motivated him, who was at fault, and why these shootings happen.

So, what how should Christians respond to the events that are unfolding? We need to be praying. Praying for the families who have lost loved ones (some of them were only children), pray for those who are still fighting for their lives and healing from injuries that may affect them the rest of their lives, pray for those whose memories of this event will haunt them the rest of their lives, pray for the first responders who carried lifeless bodies out of the theatre, pray for those who are still trying to defuse the explosives the gunman left armed in his apartment, pray for those who have been evacuated from the danger zone, and pray for the man responsible. Yes, we must pray for the individual that has brought so much pain to so many people.

We must also be ready to answer the question, “Why would God allow such tragedy to take place?” The question comes up every time a catastrophe takes place. The whole countries begins asking the question. “If God is good, how can he let this happen?” “Couldn’t God stop this from taking place?” The answer is, of course he could. But God chose long ago, to allow man to make his own choices. He offers us peace and everlasting contentment in his arms, but allows us to choose the evils of our own choices. When people ask why, we must be prepared to tell them. It is because of our choices to turn against him. I am not trying to assume God is punishing the people in the theatre for their sin. I am saying that this 24-year-old chose to arm himself and enter the theatre to cause harm to other people. He chose to do this, and that is why it happened. There is evil in this world.

What we cannot afford to do is get caught up in the political debates that are already beginning to take place. Right now we need to mourn for and with the families hurting. Right now we need to focus on healing. Right now we need to be the Church. Not conservatives or liberals, not republican or democrat, but the hands and feet of Jesus. Pray, Church. Pray for the society that has birthed these senseless catastrophes.

Take Interest In Others

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
Philippians 2:3-7

Sometimes it is hard for me to consider others before I consider myself. My default is to be selfish. I am all too often consumed with my wishes and forget about those around me.

For example, when I have a literary thematic essay due but my wife is hurting/has swollen ankles/or tired from being pregnant, and I need to get our first-born ready for bed. I can become really selfish in those times. It would be easier for me to rush our daughter through her routine of getting ready for bed, but that neither helps me nor speeds things up. Without fail, she will look at me with her big blue eyes and ask me to play with her and Elmo in the bath tub, read her a story, or fold laundry (yeah, she is kind of weird like that). If I try to rush through these times I only get frustrated, and I lose valuable time with my daughter. These times are crucial for our future relationship with one another, and for her development.

There are other times when I think too much about my own interests over others. When that friend or family member calls me, and I know they are going through something that will require a lengthy conversation. I see the number and cringe because if I take the call I will lose valuable time for my assignment, family time, or even Me Time! At that moment I have the option to answer the call or ignore it. I have the option to put my own interests before the person on the other line.

But Jesus taught us to care about those around us more than ourselves. It is a concept that is foreign to our culture. It is a concept foreign to the American Dream! But Jesus, who was God, did not come to earth demanding to be worshiped as such. And I cannot demand to be the god in my life either. He came humbly and sought to serve those who society cast aside. We must care about the interest of those around us, because it is by our love that they will see Jesus in our lives.

Father, thank you for your Word. Thank you for sending Jesus to live the example for us. I fail so often, I don’t know why you put up with me. But I thank you for your promise of patience. I thank you that you have not given up on me. I pray that today I would look out for the interest of others. I would make myself second and everyone around me first. I pray that I would please you in this way. Thank you for your love, thank you for those in my life. Amen.

Grace Upon Grace

And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John 1:16,17

A common misconception about Christianity (by those outside and inside the walls of the Church) is that it is a religion of dos and don’ts. Some believe that to be a Christian you must live a certain way, go to certain meetings, fulfill certain rituals. This is not what defines Christianity. Mankind is defined by his inherent sinfulness, Christians are defined by God’s love for mankind. Looking at John Chapter One, it is clear that Jesus came to change things. See, God’s plan for mankind’s salvation included the creation of a nation that His Messiah would come from. He created Israel by separating them from the people and cultures around them. The Law of Moses was given to create a culture that God would use to birth His Son into the world. The Law created a standard, but a standard that man would not rise to. The Law was given so that man would see that he was not capable of being righteous before God. That no matter what we do, we will always be tainted by our sinfulness.

So God sent Jesus. Jesus came and lived the life that fulfilled the law. His death on the cross at Calvary paid the sin debt of the world, and his resurrection is proof of God’s acceptance of his sacrifice. Because Jesus rose from the grave we have been offered salvation from our sin debt. We have been offered not a get out of Hell for free card, but the washing away of our sin and the restoration of our soul. Humans are much more than just this flesh and bone that walks around in this dimension. Take your mind for example, does your mind exist in the physical world? If you died and an autopsy was done on your brain, would they find your mind? No, your mind is something abstract that resides within your body. Your brain houses it, but it is the software that utilizes the hardware of your brain to interface with the outside world. Your soul currently resides in your mortal body, but this is only a temporary dwelling and the reward for Jesus’ work of restoration in your life can reconnect your spirit to the God who created this world and the next. This is the grace upon grace, or blessing that God offers you today. The Law accuses us of sin, but Jesus frees us from it!

Christian, do not get so caught up on the rituals, traditions, and rules that you miss the purpose of Jesus’ teachings. He came so that we could enjoy this life and the next. But that includes this life. He offers us a connection to the Father that is greater than are religious obligations. Seek to love Him, and allow Him to guide you.

If you are not a believer in Jesus, and happened to come across my first blog, I hope this news of God’s love for you will encourage you to look into the teachings of Jesus. No greater love has ever been displayed as the love that lead Jesus to his sacrifice on a Roman cross.

Father, thank you for the opportunity to share your word with those who read this blog. Thank you for your Word that has been preserved for us through many generations. Thank you for your offer of salvation from our sin and its consequences. Thank you for Jesus’ cross, and for my relationship with you. Amen.

Welcome to Studying The Way

This is my first attempt at a blog. Sure I have Facebook and Twitter, but a blog…that requires a little more work. I toyed with the idea of blogging for a while, but have always decided against it. It does seem to require a bit of work, and it isn’t like I have a ton of free time on my hands. I am a husband, a father of one (and one on the way), I am studying to earn my college degree, I am a volunteer leader in my church’s student ministry, and I work full-time. Life is very busy right now, and blogging seems like one more thing to eat up my time. Blogging also seemed self-serving to me. And maybe a little scary. I mean, what if no one ever reads this? As much as I want to shake it, I have to give it a try.

So welcome! Welcome to Studying The Way.

Studying The Way actually came about over a year ago. I believe that as a disciple of Jesus we are meant to view our lives from the perspective of our faith. I believe that the Bible offers us much more that a list of rules and regulations (in fact, Jesus came because we could not fulfill the law that God gave through Moses!). The Bible is a work of love that teaches that God is for us, and He wants to know us on an intimate level. God has attempted to reach us through a text that He has preserved through the centuries. The Bible is a single story stretching over the course of centuries, about God’s redemptive plan. When someone believes in the work of Jesus, professes devotion, reads His Words, applies them to their life, and allows the Holy Spirit to guide them that person will experience the life that they were made for. That is what this blog is about.

I will spend most of my time blogging about the Bible, Church Issues, Culture, Family, Parenting, Discipleship, and Leadership. I hope that you will join me, and that together we can grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the First and the Last, the Lamb that came to take away our sin, that Author and Perfecter of our Faith. Without Him and his Resurrection our faith would be worthless

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