Running the race…

Today I want to approach the study a little different to before, by examining only a few verses in greater detail, rather than a lot of verses with little detail. The text under examination is Hebrew 12:1-3, and as we dig deeper we will see a an analogy developing between us living out our Christian faith, and an athlete running a race.

Heb 12:1 Therefore since we also are surrounded with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily besets us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
Heb 12:2 looking to Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right of the throne of God.
Heb 12:3 For consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you be weary and faint in your minds.

This text is so jam packed full of important information that we need to go word by word through it. It starts with “Therefore”, which tells us that what we are about to hear leads on from the previous passages. Any time you read a bible verse that starts with “therefore”, “hence”, “because of this” etc, you know that you should flip back a few verses to find out why and how the verse under consideration is linked to the previous verses.

In this case, Paul was talking about the great hero’s of the faith (we learned about them in the ‘Have faith!” study) who have walked before us, whose lives are a great testimony of the faithfulness of Christ, who endured many things for His name. Despite their great testimony to us, they are but a poor reflection of Christ, and it is to Him that we are to fix our focus, as we will read later.

We are told that we are “surrounded” by a great cloud of witnesses. The Greek word here actually gives the impression of an amphitheatre or an arena where sports events would be held. It is sometimes translated as “encircled” or “encompassed”, as the seating in a stadium circles the participants on the field. During this time in history, gladiators would battle each other to death in arenas, watched by many hundreds of people, and sadly this also included some of our brothers in the faith being thrown to lions in the same kind of arena.

The next part of the first verse is talking about the “cloud of witnesses”. In this setting, the cloud refers to a large number of people, much like how a swarm of locusts appears like a cloud when there are enough of them. You are not alone in your Christian faith. No matter what it feels like in your situation at this point in time, know that many have gone before you in the faith, and there are many others around the world who are also suffering and struggling. You are not alone by any means!

There is a difference between the “witnesses” in the bloodthirsty slaughters in arenas, and the witnesses that Paul is talking about. These witnesses are more like testifiers, whose lives speak of the faithfulness of the Lord. These witnesses are for us, not against us, cheering us on. When I read this, I am slightly convicted, knowing the kind of things that these people endured for His name, and the ways in which they denied their own desires to follow Him. I am spurred on, a convicted encouragement, to continue in my own personal walk.

So we have Paul already setting the scene of an athletics arena, filled with the saints who have gone before us, cheering us on as we run this race. I remember running a long distance race in high school, and when the exhaustion set in, I was tired, but running alongside my peers somehow made it easier for me to continue. They encouraged me to carry on, just as the saints who have gone before us encourage us as we run for Christ.

The analogy of the athlete continues in the next phrase “ let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily besets us” and I think we could easily have a sermon on this issue! Weight and sin in this phrase are not two ways of saying the same thing, they are two separate issues. We need to lay them aside, so that they do not hinder our running ability!

The weight refers to those extra things we carry that burden us, picture a runner dragging a very heavy weight behind him, and you will see that a lot of energy is spent for very little reward. This is the essence of that word in the Greek. This can be relationships or hobbies or fears etc., anything that burdens us. This is different from the sin in our lives, which ensnares us, and the idea here is that we trip over this with our feet and are unable to stride, much like a runner would trip over untied shoelaces. It is a rope around our feet so that we fall. No one runs a marathon wearing a Santa suit, high heals (pumps), carrying a large suitcase while juggling balls. We need to be free from those weights so that we can freely run the race! Similarly we don’t want our feet entangled in sin, so that we can freely stride ahead. This concept is also found in the book of Matthew:

Mat 5:29 And if your right eye offends you, pluck it out and throw it from you. For it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be thrown into hell.
Mat 5:30 And if your right hand offends you, cut it off and throw it from you. For it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be thrown into hell.

The next phrase “and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” is perhaps the clearest part of this analogy. I want to point out something important here, that we are to run, and not walk, it is not supposed to be a casual stroll in the park. This is a endurance race and we are to run as if we want to win! [1Co 9:24 Do you not know that those running in a race all run, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain. ]

We are going to get to this point again later, but for the moment I want you to consider your own walk with God. Are you running? If not, take off your “flip flops” and put on your running shoes! Running requires a lot of exertion, our full effort, we continue it as our main focus. We don’t run and engage at other activities at the same time, I’ve never seen a marathon runner do anything other than run! Even carrying on media interviews while running seems to distract them. If you aren’t running, perhaps you need to pause and “turn your feet to Him” (Ps 119:59).

“Looking unto Jesus” means keeping our eyes fixed on Him as a runner keeps their eyes fixed on the finish line, with steadfast devotion. Those runners who let their attention drift from the finish line get off course and go out of their lane, run into obstacles etc. Our eyes are fixed on Him alone. Recall that when Peter took His eyes off Jesus, he sunk. While he had his eyes fixed on Jesus, he could walk on water. Keep your eyes on the prize!

Let’s move on to “the Author and finisher of our faith”, does this mean that Jesus has written the whole sports commentary, and we just need to be swept along with the flow? Leaving the predestination debate aside, let’s see what this really means. To do this, I want to copy and paste the Clarke commentary on this verse, because it is fascinating and says it better than I could anyway!

The author and finisher of – faith – Αρχηγος, translated here author, signifies, in general, captain or leader, or the first inventor of a thing; see Heb_2:10. But the reference seems to be here to the βραβευς, or judge in the games, whose business it was to admit the contenders, and to give the prize to the conqueror. Jesus is here represented as this officer; every Christian is a contender in this race of life, and for eternal life. The heavenly course is begun under Jesus; and under him it is completed. He is the finisher, by awarding the prize to them that are faithful unto death. Thus he is the author or the judge under whom, and by whose permission and direction, according to the rules of the heavenly race, they are permitted to enter the lists, and commence the race, and he is the finisher, τελειωτης, the perfecter, by awarding and giving the prize which consummates the combatants at the end of the race.

The next few phrases / verses concentrate on who Jesus was, what He did, and why He deserves to have our steadfast attention and be the object of our faith. Jesus “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross”. Notice that Jesus reaps the benefit of His work after it was completed. Similarly, we don’t get our trophy until after the race is completed. We aren’t looking to receive our rewards here on earth, but in heaven when we are finally and completely reconciled and reunited with Christ. Those who want to run unhindered should not be distracted by seeking to be rewarded while the race is still in progress.

Moving on to verse 3 now, “For consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you be weary and faint in your minds.” the Greek of this text is asking us to consider Jesus, as in, to compare our current situation to His. What did He suffer for us, and how does our suffering compare to His suffering? When I compare my sufferings with His, I realise that my sufferings pale in significance!

In sports, we have a gold standard to compare against. When in gymnastics, you want the perfect score of 10. In weightlifting, you have a record score that has been lifted, in running races, you have a time to beat. We look to Jesus as our gold standard, some one who has run the race before us perfectly. We see what He endured, and we know that in perspective we are not suffering as much. We do this, as the last part of the verse says “lest you be weary and faint in your minds.”

They are the verses I wanted to go through in detail today, but there are many other verses through out scripture that speak in a similar way about our walk with Christ. Have a look at a few other verses:

Php 3:12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I am pressing on, if I may lay hold of that for which I also was taken hold of by Christ Jesus.
Php 3:13 My brothers, I do not count myself to have taken possession, but one thing I do, forgetting the things behind and reaching forward to the things before,
Php 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

The language here of “pressing on”, “reaching forward” and “press towards the mark” all continue this same analogy of athlete running a race. Infact, the greek word “ekteino” from which we get “reaching forward” implies much much more than simply having your arms outstretched. It is a straining of your muscles to the absolute limit, the kind of strain we see in a weight lifter as they put everything they have into lifting that weight above their head.

To “press” towards the mark, is an active verb in the greek, something we should be constantly doing. It is not a once off effort, but an endurance race, something we are continually doing. Those who want to dig futher into this analogy can read more in 2 Tim 2:5 and 1 Cor 9:24-26.

Running a race, requires endurance, effort, concentration, self denial. It takes action and energy from us! It is not a passive sport and we are never called to be “armchair athletes”. There are other warnings in scripture against spiritual apathy, and I will show you just two:

Amo 6:1 Woe to those at ease in Zion, and those trusting in the mountain of Samaria, who are noted as leader of the nations. And the house of Israel came to them.

Zion is the holy mountain. Woe to those who are at ease (too comfortable) in Zion. Our trust and complete faith should be in the Lord, and not in the strongholds of this world (Samaria), and when we do this, we will be uncomfortable, stretched, and put through our paces. This walk is never supposed to be easy or comfortable. Chatters who want to explore this further should check out Paul’s warning to the Hebrews in Heb 12:8, that those who are not experiencing the discipline of the Lord are “illegitimate children and not sons” (ESV).

Rev 3:14 And to the angel of the church of the Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Head of the creation of God, says these things:
Rev 3:15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I would that you were cold or hot.
Rev 3:16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.

Let’s not be lukewarm about our faith, casually strolling along, it is a race, we are to run, we are to be hot! It’s all about denying ourselves and giving everything to follow Jesus. As it says in Matt 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. At the end of our life, we want to say what Paul said in 2Ti 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”

If you are too comfortable in your race, not straining your muscles and running this race to win, perhaps it is time to ask God to shake you up a little. And if you are not a Christian, it’s time to enter into that race, to run for the Lord with earnestness for all of your life.

All scripture quoted is from the MKJV of the bible.


Fun with Numbers and the Probabilty of God’s Existence

Let’s try an experiment.

Choose a number between 1 and 48. Don’t over think it, the number should be random, as though you drew it out of a hat.

Write it down.

Next, choose some letter of the alphabet, either upper case or lower case, or choose a space instead of a letter, but make it something random, with no reason for your choice.

Write that choice down also.

Now, consider the following sentence:

Even a simple life form is extremely complicated

Now in the sentence above, count over from the left by the number you wrote down. In my case, I chose the number 7. Moving over 7 times in the sentence, I see that my number is the space between the word “a” and the word “simple”.

Now, remove the simple that is at the number position you chose, and insert the character or symbol you chose (the letter or space). In my case, I shose the letter “h”.

Applying my choices we arrive at a new sentence which reads:

“Even ahsimple life form is extremely complicated”

Do the exercise a few more time, using your new sentence. For example, with the number 23 and the letter N, my new sentence reads:

“Even ahsimple life forN is extremely complicated”

Okay, two more times 43 s and 33 K

“Even ahsimple life form is extreKely complscated”

What has just happened? We took a perfectly good sentence and made a few random changes to it.

My question is this: “Did our changes improve the function of the sentence?”

The obvious answer is no, it did not. What is the difference between the two sentences? One serves a purpose, the other is just a deformed mess. As you can imagine, the more random changes we make to our sentence, the less functional it becomes.

What accounts for the differences between the first sentence and the last sentences? In the first case, the letters were chosen intentionally, with a purpose in mind, to convey information. In the last sentence, we see how that purpose is destroyed by chance changes, mutations. This is the difference between intelligent design, and random changes.

Someone might argue, that given enough mutations, this sentence might again become functional. It has been said let a million monkeys type on a million typewriters for a million years, and you will get Shakespeare. Personally, I seriously doubt that. However, let’s assume that is true.

“To be or not to be that is the question”

Here is the problem. Let the monkeys keep typing and you will soon have:

“fodfe ob soteto be phat iq tre wsdstoon.”

What chance creates, chance also destroys. Millions of years of monkey typing, will be erradicted in a few moments.

Any child can see that chance mutations cannot bring about sophisticated order, it takes a brilliant scientist, to come up with a story that that attemps to explain away, what we know intuitively.

Now, while this poses a problem for any honest athiest, it is a tiny problem compared with another problem.

In the first example (Even a simple life form is extremely complicated), we took an already formed and functional sentence and mutated it into extinction.

But what are the chances of this sentence coming into existence in the first place by random, non intelligent processes.

I had 26 lower case letters as 26 upper case letters to choose from to make that sentence, plus the spaces, for a total 53 symbols.

There are 48 ‘slots’ taken up by the the letters and spaces in that sentence. To arrive at the total number of possible combinations we would take the number of symbols (in our example 53) and multiply it times itself 48 times.

The number of possible combinations of letters in those 48 places is then

5.82427 X 10^82, or to put it another way, there are 5,824,273,234,102,671,721,638,474,597,358,900,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible combinations.

Astrophysicists tell us, that there are about 10^80 atoms in the universe.

The first number is over 582 times larger that the second number.

To grasp the scope of this, imagine taking an atom,and writing a check mark on it. next, take the atoms contained in 582 universes, and put them in a very big bowl, and toss our checked atom into the bowl. Stir them up very well. Now, with a blindfold on, reach into the bowl and draw out a single atom.

The chances of random letters falling into the 48 positions and forming the sentence, are the same as drawing out that one specific atom from 582 universes. Good luck with that.

So, how do these numbers relate to life arising. All life that we know of, contains DNA molecules. The DNA molecules, are the blueprints, the instructions that govern the nature of life forms. DNA is a language, a code, a form of information, just like our sentence is.

Posted Image

There is big difference though. The simplest micro-organism that we know of, is Nanoarchaeum. It has 10^200,000 possible combinations in it’s DNA code.

I would do the math and show you how big a number that is, except for two problems, my calculator cannot perform calculations with numbers that large, and you do not have enough time to read the number if I could put it here.

(if you want to see an interesting depiction of the way DNA ‘works’, you will have a better understanding of yet another aspect of this, that is just hard to explain away apart from an inteligent designer:

Note, youtube is known for having videos of every sort, some which you may not want to see. Use your own judgement)

Remember how I said that the first problem the random chance theorist has to deal with was small, compared to the problem I just finish outlining?

Well, they have a bigger problem yet. Again, I will use the analogy of a sentence. A sentence is composed of words, and the words are composed of letters. What if there were no letters to choose from, what if there was no ink to write the letters with, or air to transmit the sounds of the words and letters. Without materials, we cannot communicate. So where do the letters come from? Where to the words come from. Where do the ideas to have letters and words come from, and where to the ideas come from that we communicate with the words and letters? The answer to all of those questions is that they come from intelligence, they are designed by a mind.

In a similar way, in order for DNA to be sequenced in a life form, there has to be a programmer, and builder of the environment and materials for life, is this really too complicated for those who do not beleive in a creator to grasp? Of course it is not, but they have too much faith in the religion of nature and chance mutation driven evolution, to be rational.

I think the problem is obvious. One can believe in evolution or not. One can believe it is intelligently set in motion, or was just some cosmic accident.

A Christian (or other person of faith) can believe in evolution, as a instrument of God’s hand in creation. It is not the simplest explanation of Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are about, but their are those who for their own reasons, believe that these chapters are more poetic, than literal, a metaphor of the actual events, only intended to identify the fact of a Creator, and introduce us to Him, and His claim on, and plan for, our lives. The Christian beleiving this way, can still have a saving relationship with his/her savior.

In the same way, a person who is sold on the idea of a naturalistic explanation of existence, can still beleive in a God, whose hand is seen in the creation, without having to acknowledge any specific tenants of any given religion. This is possible because the examination of things outside of and existing prior to the universe, are outside of the investigtion of science. That being the case, science can never affirm God. Niether can science refute God. Science is silent and therefore neutral on the topic.

For some reason, many scientists and those influenced by them, seem intimidated by the idea that it was God who did it. Is there some rational reason for this? If there is, I have never heard it, and I cannot think of one.

The mathematical science of statisitical analysis and probability estimation, leads one to conclude that the odds are hugely in favor of a creator. Science and statistics cannot reveal if this creator is male or female or genderless. In cannot reveal if it is the God of the Bible, or any other god, or, several gods. We can only look at the facts that we can observe, and perhaps extrapolate some details about this creative force. The universe seems to be in a state that supports diverse life on our planet. We study all of the interactions of physics and chemistry, life and enviroment, and when we take it all in, we should be stunned bye how complex, intricate, and functional it all is.

We can also look at the things we have learned through science, and compare what we know to the catalog of beliefs in various religions, and weed out some of them as not worthy of consideration, they are just too out of whack with the facts in many cases, and in other cases, these religions just lack enough support from science, history, or other diciplines to make them worthy of further consideration.

My hope is, that one day, people who are anti-God in their philosphy, would just give it a rest, and realize that all the blustering in the world, does not make their case more likely or appealing, and we can enter into dialogue about what we actually know and can know.

I have had the opportunity on several occasions to have conversations of just that sort on, and in general, it has been a rewarding experience for all parties.

This particular blog has been about looking at one aspect of belief systems and certain aspects of the physical world and looking at those though the spectacles of probability.

If you found this at all interesting, leave a comment, perhaps I will explore similar topics in the future.

Thanks for reading my blog.


Do we go and do likewise?

Luke 10:37 And he said, The one doing the deed of mercy to him. And Jesus said to him, Go and do likewise.

Do we go and do likewise?

Last week, temperatures in Arizona hit the usual midsummer intense heat, around 110 degrees F (that’s around 45 degrees C). We were out driving to a bookstore and passed by a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk with his shopping cart of belongings. It was hot, the sidewalk sunny. There were no open businesses where he was. No trees. Not even a grassy spot. Just hard concrete and compact dirt. It occurred to me to get him a bottle of water from a convenience store about a quarter mile away but my husband didn’t want to. He was afraid of us getting hurt. I have to admit I was too.

Later on I wondered if we should have stopped. After all, wouldn’t the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) have stopped for this man? How many would have stopped for this man?

Luke 10
29 But he, willing to justify himself, said to Jesus, And who is my neighbor?
30 And answering, Jesus said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers, who stripped him of his clothing and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
31 And by coincidence a certain priest came down that way and seeing him, he passed by on the opposite side .
32 And in the same way a Levite, also being at the place, coming and seeing him , he passed on the opposite side .
33 But a certain traveling Samaritan came upon him, and seeing him, he was filled with pity.
34 And coming near, he bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, and set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 And going on the next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, Take care of him. And whatever more you spend, when I come again I will repay you.
36 Then which of these three, do you think, was neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?
37 And he said, The one doing the deed of mercy to him. And Jesus said to him, Go and do likewise.