Takeaways from Curt Gruel’s Presentation about Christian Faith from a Surgeon’s Perspective

Last Sunday during our “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science” Sunday School class, Curt Gruel was our guest speaker. Curt is a very unique Christ follower. He was an orthopedic surgeon and the doctor in charge of the medical residents at OU Medical Center for years, and then went to seminary to (eventually) lead the “Heartpaths Spiritual Direction” program here in the Oklajoma City area. Curt has been my personal “spiritual director” for the past five or so years (at least since I was teaching STEM in Yukon Public Schools, before coming to Casady School) and is someone I deeply respect. Curt is also an artist, and has about 50 of his prints on virtual display at The Studio Gallery OKC. This Sunday (tomorrow) our class will be recapping Curt’s inspiring and theologically deep presentation from last week, so I thought I’d share the “tweeted takeaways” I shared during his presentation from my Christian Twitter channel (@pocketshare) and also provide a little summary analysis of ideas he shared or referenced in this post.

I created a “Twitter Moment” of the 9 tweets I shared during and immediately after Curt’s Sunday School presentation on my primary / professional Twitter account (@wfryer):

Here are some of the important concepts and terms Curt mentioned, which I plan to explore in a bit more detail in tomorrow’s Sunday School class recap:

  1. Empiricism
  2. Process Theology
  3. Biblical Inerrancy
  4. Johannes Kepler (We should reference both Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei)
  5. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

To help us better understand the context and history of both theological and scientific thinkers as well as their ideas, I’ve started a timeline using the Knight Lab’s Timeline tool. I’ve titled it, “Faith and Science.” It is embedded below. I’ve started with five dates, the resurrection of Jesus Christ (33 AD), the fall of Jeruselem (70 AD), and the years of death for the three scientists mentioned above: Copernicus (1543), Kepler (1630), and Galileo (1642).

Responding to Stephen Fry’s Arguments Against God

Inspired by the sermon on September 1, 2019, at First United Methodist Church in Manhattan, Kansas, today our adult Sunday School class in Edmond, Oklahoma responded to a controversial and challenging video interview shared by Stephen Fry back in 2015. I recorded an 18.5 summary of our lesson today using Explain Everything on my iPad.

Here are the slides from today’s lesson, which include links to referenced videos and articles:

The video which we analyzed and responded to is, “Stephen Fry on God | The Meaning Of Life” from 2015:

Ian Paul points out in his article, “Stephen Fry and God,” that Fry was likely referencing a David Attenborough interview and video (“Sir David Attenborough’s view on Science & Religion – Life on Air“) from 2008 when he discussed the eye boring parasite.

Before closing our lesson today with “Joys and Concerns” and prayer, we watched Sean McDowell’s video, “How Do We Know God Is Good? 3 Reasons.” If you watch any of the videos linked and referenced in this post, this is the top one I recommend!

Thinking about Christian bumper stickers

So this is an unusual find this weekend. One of Alexander’s roommates shared this with me. You can ask for 10 random “Christian” bumper stickers from the website below, or select 10 that you want for free. I definitely do NOT agree with all the messages included in their bumper sticker menu, but I DO agree with many of them. In most cases, these short messages encourage some worthwhile, critical thinking. Some reference Bible verses, most do not.

As an example of a bumper sticker message with which I disagree: We don’t simply need to require / mandate prayer in public schools to remove all ills, like drug abuse or premarital sex from teen and adult culture. I happen to work at a school that mandates chapel for all students, and I can tell you this is not received well by many of the students. At some point I will write a blog post reflecting on mandatory chapel. I am definitely a fan, and I love having chapel services at our school, but it is recklessly naïve for people to think we simply need to mandate prayer and Bible reading in schools and this will heal all of our society’s ills like a magic wand. God has the power to heal any of us at any time, but the mechanism of his healing for our culture is not via a mandated school Bible curriculum in public or private schools. If you’re a little fuzzy on historic problems with mandated religion, refer to the English Wikipedia article for the “European Wars of Religion:”

It is true bumper stickers on our cars can provide an opportunity to encourage people to think about questions of faith, morality and propriety. I don’t think putting a bumper sticker on your car is going to realistically lead to immediate, life changing decisions for people to turn their lives over to God and reject evil, but it’s worth considering whether or not this is something you want to do. Check it out: www.christianbumpersticker.org

I think a more random selection of these bumper stickers could be used as a catalyst for excellent conversations in a Sunday school class, about our beliefs and the ways in which we are called to advocate for and work for God‘s kingdom on earth.

Biblical Interpretation and the Role of Women

For our “Gospel Encounters” adult Sunday School class on January 27, 2019, Pastor Dave Moore led us in a verse packed overview of Biblical Interpretation and specifically a deep dive into the roles of women in the church and society, as highlighted primarily in the New Testament. These are the whiteboard notes and Bible verses from which Dave taught:

A friend of mine on Facebook had asked me some excellent questions regarding the role of women, and specifically some of the verses from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians this past January. After seeking direction and counsel from both our lead pastor (Eric Laverentz@ericlav) as well as Dave, I recorded and shared a 10.5 minute video for him of my best understanding of these passages and the overall perspectives of Christians on the roles of women in the church.

Women have and continue to play extremely important roles of leadership, service, teaching, and prophesy in the Christian church. If you are seeking answers yourself to questions about this topic, I hope this video and the verses Dave Moore shared with our Sunday School class are helpful and instructive to you.

‘“ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. ‘

Acts 2:17-18 (NIV)

God Empowers Us to Serve Others Through Trials

Yesterday’s Sunday School lesson, as well as sermon, both focused on why we have pain and suffering in our world. These are tough topics for anyone to address. I was and am thankful to for the opportunity to facilitate this lesson at church for several reasons, however. This has been a topic on my mind and heart more frequently than usual in the past few months. It’s also, according to Barna research, the most common question asked by people about God everywhere. “Why does God allow pain and suffering in our world?”

One idea which emerged during our class discussion yesterday is this: While we often (or always) “come up short” understanding the grand plans of God and how individual cases of pain or suffering fit into them, as Christians we often DO experience situations where God empowers us to serve others through our trials and through the trials of others. As one of the speakers in the longer video we watched yesterday explained, often our best response when someone comes to us in pain and suffering is to embrace them and cry with them. We may not have “the answers,” but do have the capacity to love and support each other. We can embrace others and embrace God through faith, and have confidence that God is the one opening the door for us to love each other through our struggles and our dark valleys.

This is also one of the most important ideas which emerged for me yesterday during our lesson: God invites us to call upon him and use the name of Jesus to bring strength, peace, healing, and love into our darkest and most painful moments. I have experienced times like these in my own life, when I have literally cried out to God for help and assistance to bring me back from the abyss of despair. It’s a bad place to be, and an especially bad place to be ALONE. But that’s exactly one of the key messages of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: We go nowhere alone. God goes with us, and he promises to never abandon us or forsake us. What good news this is to everyone facing the suffering and trials of this life! We may be uncertain about the timetable of God’s cosmic plans and how our lives fit into them, but we can be certain about His reality and His provision in our times of need.

The name of Jesus is powerful! Do not hesitate to call upon the Lord when you are feeling isolated or alone, when you are suffering and full of despair. Call upon the name of Jesus to fill you with God’s Holy Spirit in all circumstances, whether they are filled with light or darkness. This is the Good News of the Gospel, that Jesus came to save us from our sins and the destructive power it has in our world. God wins. And we’re on God’s side. This is good news.

A couple more items from yesterday’s lesson.

Here’s the short video I shared with our class, as I gave a brief summary and enthusiastic recommendation of The Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. Sarah and I were able to spend about 4 hours there last week during our visit to the area, and it was fantastic!

Here is a 44 second time lapse version of my sermon sketchnote yesterday, on Eric Laverentz’s (@ericlav) message, “The Problem of Sin.” I drew this and exported this video with the ProCreate app for iPad. Learn more about creating sermon sketchnotes in this chapter of “Pocket Share Jesus: Be a Digital Witness for Christ.” I added quite a bit more to this chapter over the weekend, but still need to add more to the chapter on “Narrated Sketchnotes.”

It worked well to use the website mentimeter.com yesterday to get members of our class to respond to a question using their smartphones. I used this as an opening question on the screen when class members came into class, “What is your favorite encouraging Bible verse?” This was a good way to start a relatively “heavy” lesson on pain and suffering.

May God bless you richly this week as you seek Him and strive to better understand His call upon your life. Make no mistake, God will open doors for you to not only draw closer to him in relationship, but also serve others with whom you have contact today and this week as you ask Him to.

Praise God for His love and the revelation of His truth through His Holy Word. Have a great week!

Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?

These are resources for our Sunday School class on April 22, 2018, focusing on lesson 3 of “The 7 Big Questions” series by ExploringGod.com.

We are using the website mentimeter.com for today’s interactive polling questions. A copy of our printed handout is available.

Video 1: Pulse of the World on Pain & Suffering

  1. Did you identify with anyone’s expressed views in the film? If so, who and what resonated with you?
  2. Was it surprising to learn that the top question people would ask God is, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?” What would be some of the questions you’d ask God?

Video 2: The Curiosity Collective: Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?

  1. In what ways can you identify with any of the stories in The Curiosity Collective? What did you find intriguing or compelling?
  2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how difficult is it for you to reconcile the existence of both suffering and God (1 = easy; 10 = impossible)? Why?
  3. One of the Pulse speakers noted, “Some of the best lessons I’ve learned in life . . . came from very painful times.” In what ways might good come from bad? Do you have any experience with this?
  4. If there’s a God, why do you think he allows evil in the world?
  5. In the video, what did you think of James’s suggestion that God “understands our suffering . . . [and] is seeking to heal it”?

Recommended videos and resources related to our topic today include:

  1. Video: What Is the Reason for Suffering? (5 min)
  2. Video: What Is God’s Role in Pain and Suffering? (3 min)
  3. Book: The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis
  4. Book: Evil and the Justice of God by N. T. Wright

A wealth of additional resources relating to the topics of pain and suffering are available on the ExploringGod.com website.

How Can God Be Real, Good and Powerful When Bad Things Still Happen?

I remember the setting vividly: It was the summer of 1991, and I was spending three weeks in England at RAF Upper Heyford during the summer before my senior year at the Air Force Academy. Highlights of that trip included visiting Oxford University, Westminster Abbey in London, and getting a ride in a F-111 fighter jet– breaking the sound barrier briefly over the North Sea. I was eating breakfast one morning in the mess hall, when an Amy Grant song came on the cafeteria PA system. I don’t remember the exact song, but I think it was from her “Heart in Motion” album that had been recently released. The song had a lyric about “everything good coming from God.” I was struck by how unrealistic that seemed: How could people ascribe only the good things to God and not the bad things, if God is both omniscient and omnipotent?

I was raised in a Presbyterian church attending family, and I professed faith and joined our church as expected at the conclusion of “communicant’s class” in 8th grade, but it wasn’t until pilot training when I was 23 years old that I had a true “come to God” moment which was transformative for my personal faith. Eating my eggs and bacon in the chow hall at Upper Heyford that morning, I don’t think I had anyone to discuss these ideas with, but they made a vivid impression in my mind which persists today. Unlike my 20 year old self, however, I have better answers for this important and perhaps eternal question which Amy Grant encouraged me to ask:

How can God be real, good and powerful when bad things still happen?

Yesterday our family was almost involved in a very dangerous and destructive high speed automobile chase in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I posted about it on Facebook afterward. In the post, I gave thanks to God that we were not injured. Someone posted in reply, “Why didn’t God protect the other people who were involved in the accident?” I shared a brief response, but didn’t have time then for a more extended answer which this question deserves. This post is my attempt at that longer response.

When we hear the news which is almost universally filled with stories of tragedy, crimes, war, and people generally acting poorly toward each other, it can be easy to be pessimistic. Bad events happen every day. The world is filled with darkness. How can this make any sense, alongside a conception that a supernatural, creative force in the universe exists who has the power to intervene in human affairs? Why would God act to save people in some cases, but appear not to act in others?

We can ask this question in the specific circumstances of our own lives, or as we look at the broad brushstrokes of history. Why did my wife lose her husband to cancer when she was just 26? Why did my friend’s father commit suicide in 1989? Why did Hitler and the Nazis kill millions of Jewish people during the Holocaust? Why did whites almost exterminate native people when they came to the Americas in the 1500s onward?

There are a lot of things I don’t know and won’t claim to know, but here are some insights I’m confident of today which help me face these questions and make sense of them.

  1. I know God exists, is real, and responds to my prayers because of an ongoing relationship I have with him, as well as specific things he has done in my life which “he has given me eyes to see.”
  2. I do not know how God decides when and where to intervene in human affairs and the events of planet earth, but I strongly suspect that is a divine mystery we will never be able to fully comprehend in this life.
  3. I know that when we choose to seek God and ask Him to reveal Himself to us, He answers and responds. God communicates to us through our prayers, through His Word shared in the Bible, and through other people. There are many ways we can be led astray and down ill-conceived paths if we seek “religion,” but if we seek God through the power of his Holy Spirit I know he can and will respond to reveal Himself, His nature and His truth to us.

When we are faced with bleak tragedy in life: the loss of a loved one, the loss of a life’s dream, a crippling injury, or something else, we sometimes come to this choice more directly and abruptly than at other times in life. Will I choose to believe in God and his goodness, or will I reject God because the circumstances of my life are simply too bad to imagine that a loving God would ever allow to exist?

This is the step of faith. Faith is believing when I cannot see, and trusting when I cannot know the outcome. Faith is a gift from God, but it is a gift we can ask for and receive, just as he is gracious to give us all good gifts. The fruits of His spirit are good:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV)

Amy Grant asks and answers this same question about which I am writing in her song, “Ask Me.” God does not always answer our prayers in the ways we expect or want. God is not a vending machine. God DOES promise to always be with us and never forsake us, even when the darkness surrounds us and we are overwhelmed with fear, pain, and sorrow.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

I have experienced those emotions in my life, and God has walked with me through those dark valleys. Those experiences have strengthened my faith, once feeble and timid, to the point today where I see and acknowledge His goodness when it is manifested in my life.

Evil exists in the world, and yes, God has allowed that evil to remain. But that is not the final state for humanity, and in the end, evil does not win out. As we learn in the Bible, the existence and persistence of evil is closely tied to our human pride. And even though evil may seem to triumph at times in this world, God has overcome evil and the world through his Son, Jesus Christ, whose life and teachings serve as a blueprint for our actions as Christian believers.

My encouragement to you, if you have found this post and are struggling with questions about God’s existence and his goodness, is to seek Him. Seek God through prayer, and seek Him through your own reading of the Bible. Start with the Gospel of John. Seek God through the counsel of trusted friends whom you respect, and who profess faith in God and Jesus Christ.

Pray to God that he will give you eyes to see and ears to hear. Many who have heard and hear today the words of the Lord do not comprehend them, but he offers the promise of understanding and of FAITH to those who seek Him. As we read in Matthew’s gospel:

‘The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. (

Matthew 13:10-16)

I pray this day God would give us, as seekers of His truth, ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to understand his goodness.

Amen.

Sketchnoting the reality of Christ’s Resurrection

Today in our church service Carl Bosteels preached about the reality of Christ’s resurrection from death on the cross, and read Luke 24:1-12. This was the week’s lesson in our ongoing congregational study of the book, “The Story.” Since Shelly continues to serve on our pastor nominating committee, which meets on Sunday mornings during the early service, I attended both church services today and made sketchnotes during each. I exported both from the iPad app ProCreate as videos, slowed them down by a factor of two, and then narrated them in iMovie for iPad. The narrated video, embedded below, is 29 seconds long. I added both to my Flickr Sketchnotes album, which now has 38 creations in it.

 

 

Considering an Endowment Fund for Our Church

To start our church session meeting this evening, our pastor shared a devotional focusing on these verses from Matthew 6:25-24. We are hearing a presentation from a subcommittee that has proposed the creation of an endowment fund for our church. When this was brought up for a vote a few weeks ago at our annual congregational meeting, some members expressed concerns that creating an endowment fund might not follow Biblical directives regarding the use and stewardship of the congregation’s funds.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

This endowment is NOT intended to take the place of our operating budget or existing stewardship programs. As a result of congregational concerns, a presentation has been created to explain the rationale and proposed setup / operating procedures of this endowment fund.

Here are a few key points from the presentation:

Endowment Gift / Types:

  • Undesigated: Bequests received which are not designated for a particular purpose or restricted in any way
  • Missions, Evangelism, Outreach
  • Scholarships: First preference for active members, either high school graduates or those seeking advanced degrees
  • Christian Life Development: Youth program expansion, camp scholarships, leadership training, etc.
  • Music, Worship, Arts: Enhance the worship experience
  • Building: Provide capital improvements, repairs, equipment, etc.

I liked these comments from one of our elders at the meeting:

Our tax laws were not around during the time of the 1st century church.

Also:

Many of us are [financially] worth far more dead than we are alive.

There are stories being shared of members of our church who gave to endowments for other area churches in the past in their will/trust, rather than to our church, because this giving option was not available at our church. I know a little about the value of endowments because of the work my dad has done with our local community foundation in Manhattan, Kansas.

This is the current, proposed flowchart for how the church endowment would work.

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