What I Saw – October 3, 2018

I met with my church devotional group Wednesday night. After prayer, we got our scripture passage from the Moravian Daily Text.  It was John 5:1-15.

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Most of the folks there had the NIV (1984).  Since I believe using unfamiliar translations can help us hear God, I choose to read from The Passion Translation:

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I usually ask people what catches their attention in the text; I believe that is an indication of where the Spirit is taking them.  This time, though, I decided to do it the way I do my evening prayers (for which I use the watchword and doctrinal text from the Moravian).  I asked them to finish the statement, “I see that God is…”

One person said they saw that God is compassionate, willing to heal a crippled man.  Another said they saw that God sees and knows people.  Yet another said they saw that Jesus is a healer.  A fourth said they saw that God gives hope in hopeless situations.

This was a great start.  It gave us a “covenant truth”, that is, a truth about who God is.  It is so important to have covenant truths like the.  Covenant truths fuel or drive us for Kingdom truths (truths about what God wants us to do).  We actually see this in this John 5 passage.  Only after healing this man (a covenant action) does Jesus command this man to walk away from sin (a kingdom responsibility).

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It is the same with us.  Covenant truths result in and empower kingdom truths.  While we seem to see kingdom truths easier (most everybody looks at a Bible text and says something like, “Well, God wants me to trust more”), we can’t do them apart from covenant truths.

The way we did devotions this night made the covenant truths more obvious.  I then asked everyone what kingdom truths they thought the Spirit was leading them to via these covenant truths.  Some had immediate answers.  Others needed to think about it a little bit.  I won’t say what those truths were or weren’t either way, as that is their business.  But I will say it was good!

That’s what I (or we) saw on Wednesday, October 3.  Join us on November 7th when we will see more!

Speaking Jesus

There’s a phrase that has come to my attention over the past couple of weeks.  More accurately, there’s a prayer that has come to my attention over those weeks.  This phrase is a prayer.  It is one petition in a longer prayer called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”, a prayer supposedly (but, alas, probably not) written by St. Patrick.  It goes like this:

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It is the second phrase there which has really caught my attention (though all, of course, are worthy of consideration).  Christ is the mouth of everyone who speaks of me.  I think I heard that phrase/prayer/petition years ago; I vaguely recall encountering St. Patrick’s Breastplate in my college years (though that might be a false memory, a Mandela effect).  But it has exploded across my radar recently.  Some of this is due to the Celtic Daily Office.  I use this office at least twice a week if not more during my own prayer time.  The morning prayer of this office references this statement, saying:

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Not only so, but Ransomed Heart’s Daily Prayer, which I also use two or three times a week, mentions something similar:

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Somehow I have combined these two or three sources into my own idea, which I phrase in this way: “Be in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me, and be in my mouth every time I speak.”

It is that second part that really convicts me.  The first part is a blessing I’m asking for myself, actually; I’m hoping that everybody who speaks to me does so as Christ, that is, speaks to me in the kind ways Christ would, doesn’t say anything that hurts me (yes, I know Christ challenged people but He never maliciously hurt anyone).  The second part, though, is a responsibility I need to accept.  It is a fair responsibility.  I firmly believe in “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”; I think I can make the case that is a biblical concept and that we thus shouldn’t ask something for ourselves which we aren’t willing to extend to others.  It is a good or noble responsibility; I’d be pretty honored if I knew that people felt I talked with them like Christ.

But it is also a difficult responsibility.  It goes contrary to my nature.  I think it does, anyway.  I always have a hard time separating nature from nurture.  But it definitely goes against nurture, goes against the way I was trained.  I was trained that you have to speak harshly.  Forget that, “Speak softly but carry a big stick” stuff.  No, speak heavy from the very beginning and don’t let up.  I was trained to believe that anyone who abridges you in word or deed must be immediately and fully smacked down in every way.  I was trained to believe that anyone who sends the slightest shade your way must be lit up hardcore.

Movies were a big part of this training.  In most (if not every) action movie (my favorites), there is scene early on in which someone braces the hero only for the hero to put them in their place.  I could give dozens of example, but my favorite is from the Chuck Norris movie Sidekicks.  Here is not Chuck but Mako who puts a man who braces him in his place (in case you’re wondering, this clip sticks in my mind because I was studying martial arts at the time; in every martial arts movie, the hero does some slight of hand in a situation similar to this, but this is the one in which my eyes were finally opened and I realized, “We’re martial artists, not magicians.  We can’t do stuff like that!”).

(I was totally surprised to find this clip on my first try.  I was also totally surprised at the racial slurs used.  Please remember this movie comes from a different time and that I don’t mean to offend anyone by using it.)

While I’ve never reached Mako’s level of putting people in their place, I have put them in their place nonetheless.  I have at least tried to.  It usually doesn’t work that well for me.  My mind doesn’t tend to insults (which I take as a good thing), and I usually don’t think of what to say to someone who braces me until much later.  I guess I’m like Marge that way:

(If YouTube removes that video, find it here: https://comb.qNnUSrio/)

But what I’ve discovered after reading and praying this phrase/petition, after seeing this incredibly beautiful idea of “speaking Jesus” to people (which is what I believe this is: not just speaking like Jesus but actually speaking Jesus), I am turning away from this training.  I am trying to, anyway.  I’m not sure what or how long it will take to be successful at this.  But I am sure I want to be successful at this.  Christ will not be in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me; that prayer won’t be answered at the one hundred percent level; people are going to brace me.  But Christ can be in my mouth whenever I speak to anyone.  The love of Christ can be all that is between me and everyone to whom I speak.  And I want it to be.  I’m praying for it to be.

Created Equal

I took my family to our local Six Flags amusement park last night.  I did so because A) we have a season pass and we need to get our money’s worth out of it and B) they were going to have a fireworks show.

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So we spent the afternoon there, having a good time together on the rides, enjoying the good weather.  When it came time for the fireworks, we discovered there was more to the show than just the visual part.  There was an audio part as well.  As the fireworks blasted across the sky, music blared out of the park’s outdoor speakers.  I can’t remember all the musical bits I heard, but I caught Ray Charles’ “America The Beautiful” and the Marine fight song and “God Bless America” (which I appreciated for obvious reasons).  There were some speeches mixed in there as well: Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech was one of them (and for those who accuse Christians of being racist or harboring racist tendencies, let me tell you that there were tears in my eyes as I stood there in the dark watching the fireworks surrounded by the many different nationalities and cultures we have in the Bay Area), and something from Ronald Reagan.

And then there was this:

That’s our Declaration of Independence.  I don’t think it was this version I heard (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, but I couldn’t find the one I heard and I really like Max McLean, so there you go).  And I love that Declaration of Independence.  For me, it is second in truth only to the Bible.  Besides God’s word, there is nothing as logical, factual, wise, and profitable for guidance than this Declaration.

That is particular true of this line:

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One thing I know about this line is that there are some variations.  One version of the Declaration read inalienable.  I think you can still find some people quoting it that way.  Another, more important thing I know about this line, though, is that it is not only “self-evidently true”, as Thomas Jefferson (or perhaps Benjamin Franklin, who may have suggested this phrase in place of “sacred and undeniable”) says it is, but it is also quite theistic.  It presupposes not only a God but a creator God.  It states not only that all men are equal but that this equality stems from God.

And I think that is the important thing for us to see here.  Not just that all men (re: all people) are equal, nor that all men are endowed with the basic rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but that all men are so equal and endowed because they are created by and thus indelibly connected to a creator God.  Indeed, the truth of equality and the further truth of rights can only be due to such a connection to a creator God.  It cannot come from an evolutionary understanding of the origin of man.  Equality and rights cannot be derived from a materialistic view of the universe (a view of the universe which eliminates the spiritual, which accepts the existence only of the material).  There is no equality in evolution, no basis for equality in materialism.  In fact, is evolution/materialism is true, if this is the correct origin and understand of man and the universe, then all men are certainly not equal.  What, after all, is the basis of evolution?  Survival of the fittest.  And what is survival of the fittest?  Superiority.  One organism being superior to another.  Greater than.  Better.

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Now maybe you’d like to limit this superiority to merely physical attributes, not personal ones.  I can understand why you might want to do that.  To begin to look at some individuals as superior to another is going to result in one way or another to “social Darwinism” (a phrase I first heard from my best friend in high school; he spit it out as if it were the most detestable thing he had ever heard of, taking me completely by surprise) and all the “evils” which follow in its way.  Nonetheless, I’m not sure what basis you have for limiting the concept in this way.  I’m sure none of us like social Darwinism (I’ve never personally met anyone who does, though I know there are people who promote related ideas).  But I’ve never had any non-theist explain why none of us dislike it so much, why it is wrong.  Looking at the “facts” of a materialistic/evolutionary understanding of origin and existence, I can’t imagine what basis they have for disliking it or resisting it.  I can’t imagine what basis they have for continuing to hold to this idea of equality which so obviously does not fit the mechanism of evolution.  I’m glad they do.  Really glad.  I just don’t understand why or even how.

As for me, though, I know the why and the how.  It is because of God who made us and put equal value on all of us.  I not only know that, but I love that.  I love equality.  I plan on celebrating it along with all the other wonderful aspects of the American value system tomorrow (and, yes, America has committed a lot of sins and has a lot of flaws, but its value system is indeed worth celebrating).  I’m sure you will as well.  As you do, though, understand why you are celebrating it (that’s why both practically and philosophically).  Understand that this equality can in no way come from “nature red in tooth and claw” but can only come and self-evidently does come from a Creator.

Why Scientism Doesn’t Work For Me

A couple days ago, this article popped up in the “recommended stories” section of my browser:

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This is just the latest (and perhaps the funniest) example of a phenomenon which keeps me from falling into materialism or scientism (or maybe materialism based on scientism; I’m not sure of the technical categories here; I just know some people “believe in science” as both the best and only way to truth and a way that stands opposed to and has already debunked theism; that’s what I mean by scientism here).

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I call this phenomenon which keeps me from falling into scientism the “Stumped Scientist Phenomenon”.  It is the phenomenon that every week or so scientists (or “experts” as it is in this story) are stumped or baffled or confused about something.  And I don’t think “every week or so” is an exaggeration.  When I Googled “scientists stumped”, I got 187,000 hits, all of them similar to this one (including one which used that exact language for this smoking elephant).  “Scientists baffled” got 175,000 (though the first one was admittedly an Onion story).  “Scientists confused” got 31,700.  And on and on I could go.  If this doesn’t happen every week or so, it does happen with great frequency.

So why does this keep me from falling into scientism?  For the simple fact that if science is what scientism says it is (again, the best and only way to truth, a way which stands opposed to theism and has purported debunked theism), then scientists can never be baffled.  They can never be confused.  They can never be stumped.  They must know all.  They must be able to explain everything every time.  They can never be anything science doesn’t know or can’t account for.  There cannot be an Xs, unknown quantities.  If there are, those Xs could undermine everything science has previously asserted.

This is pretty close to what I call “the Phoebe Buffay argument”.  This is the fact that science has been wrong about many things, a fact easily proven by an examination of ancient science.  Taken to its logical conclusion, that fact suggests that it is quite possible for modern science to be wrong as well.  I had already come to understand this fact sometime in the late 90s, and then I heard Phoebe express it on friends, so I just named the argument after her.

 

The Stumped Scientist Phenomenon is different, though, in that it doesn’t focus on any provable wrong in science but rather at the rather obvious limits of science.  The fact of the matter is that even modern science is limited.  There are things it has not yet discovered, things it does not know, things it cannot understand.  And the fact that any such thing exists undermines scientism as a leak undermines a submarine.  That fact shows that any scientific explanation could be debunked by further discovery.  For example, some scientists estimate that 86% of the species on the planet have yet to be discovered.

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That’s a lot of species, a lot of unknowns.  How can know for certain that one of those species won’t completely debunk the theory of evolution.  We don’t.  Remember, no scientific theory was received from on high compete and accurate and incontestable (though they are often presented as though they did).  They are formulated by men according to the best data at hand.  But if men don’t have all the data, if there are unknowns which might contradict the data they do have (which they might; how do you know what an unknown will do or not do, after all?), then every theory is subject to some degree of uncertainty.  Every theory should be subject to some degree of uncertainty, anyway.

For me to subscribe to scientism, scientists must be able to understand and explain everything.   If they can’t, then neither they nor their science are not worthy to be in the best and only way to truth.  Then they also can’t be said to have debunked theism.   They aren’t able to understand and explain everything, as we repeatedly see in newspaper headlines.  And that’s why the smoking elephant/stumped scientist phenomenon keeps me from falling into scientism.

 

Afraid Of The Dark

Stephen Hawking died this past week.   I was aware of him, and had been for years.  I could probably tell you that he wrote A Brief History of Time.  But I didn’t know that much about him.  In fact, I thought his name was Stephen Hawkins.

I prayed for him when I heard about his death, though.  I do that when I hear about people who die, particularly enemies of The Faith.  I prayed for Christopher Hitchens this way (and truly do regret that he died; I truly am sorry that his life was cut short by a disease).  And I prayed for Stephen Hawking too.  I liked him, actually; I liked his proof against time travel (as you know if you read this post).  So I prayed for him.

And I don’t know that Hawking was as big an enemy of The Faith as Christopher Hitchens was.  I don’t know if he considered himself an enemy of The Faith at all.  But I do know that he once made a statement against The Faith or at least against people of faith.  He did so in a 2011 interview with The Guardian.  In that interview, Hawking said:

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Now I don’t have a huge problem with his assertion that he does not believe in “heaven or afterlife”; I’ve heard many people make similar assertions.  What I have a problem with is how he jumps to a conclusion about people who do believe in them.  He says not only is that they are a “fairy tale” (which is  an insulting way to describe someone’s beliefs) but that the only reason people believe in such a fairy tale is that they are “afraid of the dark” (that is, of what will happen to them after death).

And the reason I have a problem with this statement is that it is an unproven (and probably unprovable) generalization.   It is an “all” or “every” statement, which we try to avoid because they are usually false.  It is also a statement based on knowledge Hawking does not have and can not possible have.

Hawking was a smart guy, as I understand it.  He certainly knew a lot of things I don’t know.  But one thing I know that he does not is why I have faith, why I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  And it isn’t because I’m afraid of the dark.  It is because I find faith/Jesus/God to be reasonable and supported by multiple streams of evidence.

Here’s a short list of such reason/evidence (one of many I could post and certainly not exhaustive):

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Honestly, I haven’t considered all of these things.  But I have considered a lot of them (particularly moral law) and have come to believe there is a God and Jesus is His Son because of them.  I have not, then, clung desperately to this belief simply because of an infantile fear of the dark or because I was raised to believe (the subject of another post) or any of these other things that non-believers accuse me of.  I have thought my beliefs out.  I have investigated them.  I have come to conclusions about them.  Just because I came to a different conclusion than you did doesn’t mean I didn’t do those things.  So please, all you intelligent atheists out there, please stop saying I didn’t.  Why I believe really is something you don’t know and can’t possibly know, and making general statements about what you don’t and can’t possibly know is not intelligent.

Reacting To Jesus

I don’t know when I first learned about Westboro Baptist Church and their protests.  It seems like I have always been aware of them.  What I do know is that I just learned they will be in my area.  According to a local ministers’ group, they are planning on picketing a couple local churches.  Here’s is the flyer they are apparently putting out to notify people of this planned picketing:

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The person who made the group aware of Westboro’s presence in our area leads an interfaith group.  Not an interdenominational group (of group of people from different Christian denominations) but an interfaith group (a group of people from different faiths).  He says he is “envisioning a world of interfaith peace”, and he signs his emails with greetings from several faiths (i.e., “Shalom, Peace, Salaam, Om Shanti, Solh, Amani” etc.).

As I read the email about this situation last night, I felt conflicted.  I obviously don’t side with Westboro Baptist.  I don’t want to attack them (I think attacking anyone, no matter how deserving, is wrong), and I probably won’t participate in the counter-protests being organized (I think protesting is lowly, a “weapon of the world” rather than a tool of Christ; 2 Corinthians 10), but I don’t want to be consider of them, on their side.  I don’t want to be considered on the side of the interfaith group either, though.  “Interfaith peace” sounds good on the surface; if by “interfaith peace” or “coexist” you mean not killing or hating people of other faiths, then I’m all for it, but if you mean (as I largely suspect most do) not affirming your own faith or taking it that seriously, then I’m not.  In fact, when I see a list of greetings such as the one this interfaith person signs his emails with, I’m reminded of this scene from The Simpsons:

So I find myself between a rock and a hard place, so to speak.  I find myself pulled between two extremes, both of which are certain they are correct and both of which, I assume, think I’m incorrect in some way.  I know Westboro Baptist thinks I’m incorrect; according to a fellow minister, they picketed my denominations annual gathering in Cincinnati, holding signs that said, “Your pastor is a whore.”  So I don’t have to imagine what their opinion of me is.  I do imagine the interfaith person likewise thinks I am seriously wrong in some way; he might not call me a whore, but he probably calls me “narrow”, “bigoted”, “closed-minded”, etc because I believe that Jesus is who and what He said He was: the only way to the only God.

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And I can live with that, I suppose.  I have been living with it all my life in one way or another.  I’ve always been aware that there are people who find my faith or my way of expressing my faith wrong in one way or another, and I’ve always been told I just have to deal with that.

If I could make a wish, though, or, even better, if I could speak some sanity into the insanity I see coming into my community in the next couple of days, it would be for those people on these extremes to see that I am reacting to Jesus.  The things I do (many of them, anyway, possibly even most of them) I do in reaction to Jesus and the things Jesus taught and the way Jesus laid out.  That, I believe, is the basis of discipleship (as I already showed here).  And that is undeniably what you find in me.  I may not be reacting to Jesus perfectly (I don’t know anyone who does).  I may not be reacting to Jesus as either Westboro or the interfaith group thinks (rightly or wrongly) I should be.  But I am reacting to Jesus.  The decisions I make every day…make that every hour of every day…are influenced by Jesus, by what I think Jesus would want me to do.  Jingoistic though it may be, I truly am a WWJD guy.

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I believe that makes me a disciple.  An imperfect disciple to be sure.  A different kind of disciple or at least different-looking disciple than some others.  But a disciple nonetheless.

I’d like to think the same is true of Westboro.  I’d like to think the same is true of the interfaith group.  I’d like to think the same is true of both these extremes and every other extreme I encounter.  It may not be true of them; I understand that; I know that there are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” among us, “deceitful workman” who are not genuine followers.  But I’d like to think it is.  I’d like to think that most of the followers of Jesus who differ from me in one way or another are WWJD people, influenced by Jesus, reacting to Jesus, true disciples by this measurable definition.

And if we all recognized that about each other, wouldn’t there be more respect?  Wouldn’t there be less protests and counter-protests, less accusations, less suspicions, less attacks?  Wouldn’t there be less extremes?  I think there would be.  I think there should be.

Right But Wrong

My daily reading took me into the book of Job.  I heard the story of Job when I was in Sunday School.  That is, I heard the first part of the story of Job in Sunday School just like I heard the first part of the story of Jonah there.  But I didn’t hear the whole thing.  When I finally read the book for the first time at the age of 18, I was surprised to discover it was 42 chapters long and that the part I knew was over by the second chapter.  Most of the rest of the book were lengthy speeches by Job and his friends.  When I learned in Bible college a couple years later that most of what Job’s friends say is “wrong”, I was even further surprised.

My third surprise came when I did my reading just a few days ago.  I was in chapter 5, which is part of Eliphaz the Temanite’s first speech.  Most of that speech was new to me.  I had read the book several times since I was 18, but not much of it had lodged in my memory.  And then I found something I recognized.  It was verse 13:

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I knew those words.  I knew them as 1 Corinthians 3:19:

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I knew Paul was quoting something there in 1 Corinthians 3, but I didn’t know what it was.  You can imagine my shock, then when I discovered that it was not only from Job (being one of only two times Job is quoted in the New Testament) but from one of Job’s friends’ speeches, one of the “wrong” speeches.  Paul, I realized, was quoting something that was wrong.  He was quoting something that was wrong as if it was right.  It was quite the theological problem for me.

And just as soon as I identified the problem, I identified the solution.  It isn’t that Eliphaz was wrong in what he was saying there.  It isn’t even that Eliphaz and the other two friends were wrong in most if not all of what they were saying.  It isn’t that they were wrong in what they believed or “knew”.  It was that they were wrong in the way they were applying what they believed or knew.   They were taking a general truth or one truth (God punishes wickedness, which is indeed a general truth/generally true) as the only possible truth.  They were applying that truth across the board to every situation.  They were misapplying that truth in other words.  This is how they word can be “right enough” (for lack of a better term) to be quoted by Paul yet “not right” as God says in Job 42:7.

Now that was an interesting insight, and I could stop right there.  But I don’t think that’s what God wants me to do.  My Lord Jesus has made it clear that I should be far more concerned about the logs in my own eyes instead of the specks in others’ eyes (Matthew 7:3-5).  Therefore, I can’t just stop at what other people are doing wrong (though that is also so easy to see and thus so tempting).  No, I have to push on to whether or not I am doing the same wrong thing.

And I imagine I am.  I’m not sure where or how I might be doing this (that’s part of the problem; the friends couldn’t see that they were doing this, and we often can’t, either), but I have to imagine that I am doing it somewhere/somehow.  And I need to keep that in mind.  Next time I’m so sure that somebody is wrong/has done wrong, next time I get righteously indignant, next time I point the finger, I have to consider the possibility that I might be “right but wrong”, that I might be misapplying a truth and, like the friends, angering God in the process.