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Dubai, UAE, 22 July 2015

The Persian Gulf, scuba diving, Palm Island, the Burj (the world's tallest structure); mosques, belly-dancers, polygamy, camels, and sandstorms. مرحبا (Marhaban) from Dubai, first stop on the summer speaking tour! This dazzling city is one of the 7 emirates constituting the United Arab Emirates. Although the Emiratis are Muslim Arabs, most people (85%) are actually workers from the Philippines and the Indian region. "Diversity" would be a gross understatement! 

Local Christians are easy-going, gracious and flexible. This week they even moved their Sunday service from Friday to Thursday, to accommodate my schedule. If that sounds odd, many Middle Eastern churches hold their weekly assembly on Friday, which in Islamic culture is the "weekend." Sunday, on the other hand, is a workday -- as it was for our first century brothers and sisters. At any rate, I am here to preach, to distribute biblical resources, and to encourage the saints. Thank you, Jacob and Mark and all the great men and women of faith serving in the Gulf!

Recap: God -- Prove It!

If you're just joining the series, be sure to take a peek at last week's newsletter. In addition, you will find years of back bulletins at the website. Here are the high points from last time:
  • There are many kinds of evidence. Though "evidence" may suggest scientific proof, much of the world lies outside the scope of science. That is, many things cannot be measured empirically (number, logic, beauty, justice, etc), yet that doesn't mean they aren't real. To insist on scientific evidence for God is misguided, since God is Spirit (John 4:24), not flesh.
  • Although nobody can "prove" God scientifically, abundant evidence points to God. The universe displays profound complexity: everything that is has come about through processes following natural laws that can be reduced to elegant mathematical formulas. In addition to intelligence, the world also displays personality. Surely it is more likely that such a universe -- one exhibiting intelligence and personality -- originated in an intelligent personal being than in impersonal matter and energy!
  • God has given us a moderate amount of evidence for his existence. Had he given us much more, we might well feel coerced to believe; had he given us much less, we might walk away and feel justified doing so. As with Goldilocks' porridge, it's the middle value that best meets the need.
Concepts of God that just don't work
The picture of God revealed in scripture, as well as in the person of Jesus Christ, is stunning, intriguing, inspiring, overwhelming. We should be careful not to detract from our sense of mystery, or from our humility (the only proper response to such a being). Yet the biblical picture of God is also rational. It makes sense. Not so with the many man-made concoctions. Rather than accept that the Lord has made us in his image, humans on the whole have attempted to shape Him in our image. 

We've already considered the typical "human god" (the old man in the sky), and rejected it roundly (two lessons ago). Today we will lightly discuss a few more man-made deities. 
  • The Force: Some people deride the notion of a personal God. They imagine it more sensible to believe in some kind of "force." This energy field, that courses through the universe, has a light side and a dark side. (Allusion: the Star War films, 1977+.) The problem with this notion is that in the real world, forces don't create. Imagine a tornado creating a town, or a flood creating life; that's not going to happen. Nor are forces good or evil; they just are. So "the Force" has significantly less explanatory power than the biblical notion of a moral God who creates, loves, and empowers.
  • Idols: Sometimes idols are the human gods we have already dismissed. Other times in human history these divinities have been animals, or surreal hybrids of human and animal or monster. Biblically speaking, even a fallacious concept of Christ is an "idol" (1 John 5:21; see 2 Cor 11:1-4). Our "ultimate concern" (as one theologian out it) -- is whatever is most important to us, and around which our life is structured. This "god" isn't necessarily "religious," but we "worship" (prioritize) it, thinking about it all the time and making enormous sacrifices to get more of it. We may be controlled by the god of wealth (Mammon), the sex goddess, or a thousand other objects or activities or experiences that dominate our lives. But all idols fall short of the biblical god, and it is not without reason that they are frequently the targets of sarcastic critique (Isa 44:6-20).
  • I Am God: Under the influence of Eastern Religions and the New Age Movement, many people have been flattered into believing they are divine. In this view, our fundamental problem is not sin, but ignorance. Once we're enlightened about our true divine nature, the world will bend to our wishes. Yet if we are all God, then why do we disagree and fight (James 4:1-3)? Isn't there a better explanation (the biblical one) -- that ego and self and sin are the problem, and repentance the solution? We get ourselves into a mess not because we are gods unaware of our powers, but because we're headstrong humans who want to be gods (Gen 3:1-5).
  • The state (totalitarianism): Even in secular or atheist states, quasi-religious systems have resulted. The state, or its leadership, takes the place of God. Yet no person or institution or system has the right to demand our total loyalty -- even if, and especially if, the institution is religious in nature. For whenever governments have made exclusive claims over the minds and hearts of their citizens, the natural results have been duplicity, injustice, violence, and a culture of fear. (Think Cambodia, Cuba, or the Soviet Union.)
In God A: The Old Man in the Sky, we saw that the believer and the unbeliever share much common ground. Each rejects the "human" god, and rightly so. In God B: Prove there's a God! we distinguished scientific proof from other sorts of evidence, and saw that the absence of scientific evidence for God is to be expected.

Next week, in God D: Coming to Terms, we will explain the key differences between theism and deism, atheism, agnosticism, and other terms often used in discussions about God's existence. Be informed when you dialogue about faith!  
On the road...
I'm here in the Emirates a few more days, before heading 3600 km (2200 mi) southwest over the Arabian Sea to Kenya, the central nation of the tour and also where I'll speak to the greatest number of people.
It just so happens that my three main teaching days in Kenya coincide with the visit of another American, the current president. For me, that's both good and bad. Good because security will be escalated -- al-Shabaab have threatened to resume their killing spree in the capital and no one wants to take chances; bad because traffic will be even more constricted than normal.

Obama's message (global entrepreneurship) is important for many people, but the gospel message is of eternal import for every human on the planet. What an honor it is to represent Christ by preaching, especially where he is relatively little known!

I've been to Dubai and Nairobi a number of times, but never to Tanzania. When feasible, I do enjoy visiting a new nation or city. So, next week I will write to you from Dar es Salaam (house of peace, in Arabic), Tanzania. This capital city is situated on the Indian Ocean, across from the archipelago of Zanzibar in the Muslim part of the country. The days spent there might just well turn out to be the highlight of my year! So... شكرا (جزيلا) (thanks very much) for helping me to get there.

Yours in Him,
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