Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Completeness of God. . .

Twenty-five years ago or so I read a book: Gödel, Escher, Bach An Eternal Golden Braid.  Gödel was a mathematician, Escher an artist, and Bach a composer.  The book has to do with artificial intelligence and thought and systems of logic. . . Maybe this wasn't the author's intent, but it also has much to do with systems of religious belief.  The topics are heavy and require some work to comprehend, but these complex issues are presented in such a way as to be relatively understandable (with effort).  The author uses the art of Escher, the music of Bach and a mathematical proof written by Kurt Gödel to explore the ability of machines to think.  In 1931 Kurt Gödel discovered a mathematical theorem that if I might paraphrase says:

Any system, sufficiently powerful, contains elements within it that are unprovable within that system.

Here is a page  which gives more complete restatements of Gödel's proof.  Gödel, Escher, Bach An Eternal Golden Braid is a fascinating book.  I have a copy around here somewhere, if any of you are interested let me know and I'll dig it up and lend it to you for a while.  As I said I read this book 25 years ago.  This was probably at my peak of atheistic hardness of heart.  This book has great implications for atheism, but I had not thought about that at that time.

As an atheist, I became an expert at finding questions, at coming up with seemingly contradictory puzzles that Christianity could not answer.  The mistake that many Christians made in speaking with me, was to try and argue that Christianity had no such difficulties, but according to Mr. Gödel's proof, Christianity must if it is a powerful enough system, must have within it things which cannot be explained from within it.  Now from my enlightened perspective, I know that this is not a fatal weakness of Christianity.  It merely means that ultimately Christianity must come down to a foundation of faith. . .

I would ask a question such as, "Can God do anything?"
A tenet, an axiom of Christianity is that this is so, therefore believing in the omnipotence of God, the Christian must answer, "Yes"
I would respond, "Can He make a weight so heavy that He cannot lift it?"

You cannot answer this question from within the system of belief of Christianity.  This is not a trivial question.  This is a concrete question of what God can and cannot do.  If He can do everything, then He must be able to construct this immovable weight, but then He cannot do everything. . .

If I were asked this question today:

"Can God do anything?"
A tenet, an axiom of my belief is that this is so, therefore believing in the omnipotence of God, I must answer, "Yes"
Again,  "Can He make a weight so heavy that He cannot lift it?"
I would reply, "Yes He can and then He would lift it."
"But that's not logical."
"You're right.  God is not bound by logic.  God is outside of anything we can understand."

From a logical perspective, nothing much about God makes sense.  We don't like to dwell on such issues, but they are there nonetheless:

If God knows everything, then doesn't that mean that everything is predestined and we have no real control of outcomes?  The end is already known by God.  You can drive yourself crazy, if you focus on these issues and it will end up destroying your belief in God, but. . .but. . .but!!!!  Every system has such a weaknesses inherent to it. . . even atheism.  I did not see this correlation at the time that I read the above mentioned book.  I did not see it as applying to atheism, but you cannot hide from having to depend upon faith, no matter what your belief system:

"Does God exist?"
"How do you know?"
"I've never seen him."
"Have you ever seen your liver?  
What about your heart or brain?  
Have you seen them?  
Have you ever seen China or the far side of the moon?. . .
A blind man has never seen a rainbow. . .
but that has nothing to do with whether rainbows exist.  
How do you know that you're not a blind man?"

A blind man not seeing has nothing to do with the existance of rainbows and everything to do with the weakness of blindmen. . .

To re-paraphrase Mr. Gödel's theorem:

Any system, sufficiently powerful, contains elements within it that are unprovable within that system. . . and thereby in the end must rest upon the faith of the believer in that system. 

The only religious belief system that would not have this weakness of unanswerable questions is agnosticism.  That is the admission that you do not know whether God exists or not.  For years I vacillated between calling myself an atheist or an agnostic.  I finally got tired of taking the safe route.  I got tired of being what I saw as a fence sitter.   I began to look upon that as a weakness in myself and decided from that point forward that I was definitely an atheist.  

Agnosticism is a defensible system, but by its very nature, it is not a system of belief, but rather a state of unknowing, a system of uncertainty and therefore it is inherently not a powerful enough system to have this weakness of unknowability and incompleteness that Mr. Gödel proved.

In fact agnosticism is everyone's starting point.  It is the connection, it is the common center between atheism and Christianity. Agnosticism is our communal foundation.  Christians and atheists both have uncertainty.  The difference being that we move from that uncertainty in opposite directions.  If we have the honesty to admit it, if we can only realize it, if our eyes can only see it, we both cover that lack of certainty with faith. . .

I love you my God. . .
I love you my Lord. . .

I once was blind, but now I see. . .


Friday, December 26, 2008

The Seeing of God. . .

Day 1

Genesis 1:3-4
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.  (4)  And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

This is the first mention of God seeing.  Seeing is necessarily done in the light.  Before there is light you cannot see.  You can feel.  You can taste.  You can hear.  You can smell, but if there is no light you cannot see.  Undoubtedly God has senses that we cannot begin to imagine, but without light there is nothing to see, without light there is nothing but blackness.  In this first mention of God seeing. . . And God saw the light. . . there is a pronoun in Hebrew not usually translated into English (Strong's H853 'eth את ).  This pronoun, 'eth, brings emphasis to the noun to which it refers.  Only in this the first 'seeing' and the in the last 'seeing' of verse 31 does this pronoun appear.  If this word were translated it might read like this. . . And God ['eth - Himself] saw the light. . . God evaluated the light.  He measured the light.  He weighed the light for His own, for 'eth purposes. . .It was not the mere simple seeing of it.  He took it all in and He found it to be good. . .

Day 2

Genesis 1:6-8
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.  (7)  And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.  (8)  And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

In Genesis 1:1 God also is said to have created heaven.  Now on day two again He is creating Heaven.  Does He create heaven/Heaven twice?  Note that the KJV translators capitalize this Heaven.  It it not sky that is being referred to, but the proper name of a place.  God does not pronounce this day 2 Heaven as good.  He does not weigh and find this Heaven as good. . .

Day 3

Genesis 1:9-12
And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.  (10)  And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.  

(11)  And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.  (12)  And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

God pulled together the waters into a single particular piece, and in one place and made Earth.  In verse 1:1 He already made the heaven and the earth, but now again He makes the earth.  That earth in verse 1 appears to be the universe at large and this now appears to be the specific planet on which we live.  The earth coalesces and comes together with a form of separated dry land and water areas.  Also on this day all plant life is created.  God considered this and found it good. . .

Day 4

 Genesis 1:14-18
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:  (15)  And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.  (16)  And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.  (17)  And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,  (18)  And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.

 God now made the orbits of the planets and the stars.  He made the motions of the sun and moon, the purpose of which is to enable us to track the seasons, to enable us to mark the months and the days and the years.  During the day we watch the progression of the sun across the sky for our day to night time measurement, but also we watch the sun as it goes higher and lower in the sky in its yearly progression through the seasons.  The nighttime is measured by the phases of the moon in her repeating month long cycles.  

The influence of the moon upon the earth is huge.  The moon is not an actual satellite of the Earth.  Gravitationally it is controlled more by the sun than by the Earth.  We actually are part of a double planet system.  The moon is too large to be a mere satellite of the Earth's.  It is said that without the moon, life on Earth may not have been even possible.  By the influence of the moon, the tides greatly move the waters of the Earth. . .washing in and out, refreshing, exchanging, dispersing, rejuvenating. . . The orbit of the moon around the earth may well contribute to the strength of the Earth's  magnetic field.  Neither Mars nor Venus have any appreciable magnetic field.  The existence of the Earths magnetic field may well be due to the tidal influence of the moon on our planet's molten core.  The moon may keep the core of the earth moving like a dynamo, maintaining our magnetic field.  Our magnetic field protects us from cosmic rays and solar radiation.  Our magnetic field helps the Earth to retain its atmosphere.  All this was seen by God and found to be good. . .

Day 5

Genesis 1:20-21
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.  (21)  And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Now the aquatic creatures and the creatures of the air were created.  The fish, the whales. . . all sea life and the wonderful birds were made by God. . . and He looked at them. . . He evaluated them. . . and they were found to be good. . .

Day 6

Genesis 1:24-25
And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.  (25)  And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

All the land animals were created on this the sixth day.  Every creature of the animal kingdom that resides on the land was now created.  God reviewed it.  He saw it. . . and He  measured it to be good, but the day was not done.  In the last part, of this last day of work for Him, He createed man and woman. . .

Genesis 1:26-27
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  (27)  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

He created and gave us the rule of the earth.  We are given responsibility for the domain of our earth.  At the close of that final day of creation.  God reviewed it all:

Genesis 1:31
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

The pronoun, 'eth, mentioned previously (Strong's H853) also appears in this verse. . . And God ['eth - Himself] saw every thing that he had made. . .  God reviewed His creation for His own purposes.  He evaluated the sum of everything, the end result of His work. . . He viewed the entirety of creation, God looked at what He had done and found it not merely good, but mightily good. . . very good. . .

He saw and measured the all of it as good.  He said on this day that the creation of the animal kingdom before man was good, but significantly He did not specify the creation of man as good. . .similarly on day 2 He did not mention the creation of Heaven as being seen by Him as good.  These are the only parts of creation not said to be looked at. . . not said to have been weighed. . . not said to have been found. . .not said to have been determined to be good. . .

Out of Heaven came the original sin, out of Heaven came the sin of Lucifer, out of Heaven came the sin of pride that led to 1/3 of the angels leaving heaven in disobedience to God. . . out of Heaven came that snake Satan, which tempted Adam and Eve. . . Out of man came all the vileness that God fore saw. . . that He knew would come. . . every bit of evilness which we visit upon each other and visit upon the rest of God's creation. . . all this was before His eyes. . .God saw every bit of darkness this world has seen, , , God saw all this evil of man. . .God saw all in horrifying, excruciating detail in that the first moment of man's creation. . .Significantly neither of these aspects of creation, neither Heaven nor Man were said to have been found to be good. . .

The judgment of man, the judgment and sentencing of Lucifer still await that future day before the great white throne of judgment described in Revelation 20.  The rest of the creation of God has already been considered, weighed in the balance of God's seeing and has been found to be good. . .

I love you my God. . .
I love you my Lord. . .


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Three Legged Stool. . .

It is annoying for me to go into a restaurant and to have a table that rocks and tips.  That just really bugs me no end.  Your water sloshes and spills.  Every time you lean against it as you chat everything comes toppling your way.  It is a chronic symptom of a table with four legs on an uneven floor.  It is next to impossible to get each of the legs the precisely needed length and if you do manage to do that, when the table is moved only a few inches to a new position the rocking begins again.  

A three legged stool on the other hand will never tip.  It is geometrically impossible for that to happen.  It takes three points to define a plane.  Get a three legged milk stool and cut the legs to differing lengths all you want, place it on the most uneven floor imaginable and it will not wobble and rock.  Those three legs define a flat surface, and are inherently stable.

I believe that our relationship with God is built upon communication with Him and this communication has three legs on which it stands.  Each leg is necessary and when combined properly with the other two elements, will give us great stability and like the stool, when resting on these three components our relationship with God will be impossible to rock.

Worship: In Worship, we talk to God

Worship is not about singing pretty songs.  It's not about having a wonderful voice.  I am in church today largely as a result of one man's worship.  I came to church the first Sunday in June of 2000, merely to say thank you to a church for their prayers.  I came into the doors of the church that day as an atheist, not understanding why people who did not know me, would spend time praying for me.  I was grateful.  I was touched by their praying for me, but I still did not believe in God.  My intention in coming to church that morning was only to say thank you to them.  

The service opened with music and song.  The Spirit of worship was powerful, in particular I saw an older man, whom I estimated to be in his 70's, worshiping God with everything he had.  I was fascinated.  I kept my eyes upon him.  He was passionate.  This was no mere song he was singing.  This man was pouring out his heart to the Lord, telling Him how much he loved him.  I couldn't understand a man of his age being so fervent.  Why wasn't he napping on a back pew?  How many thousands of songs had he sung in his many decades of church attendance, but I could see that his worship was not a burden to him.  It was fresh and alive. . .It was obvious to me that God was so very real to him.  This man's worship created a hunger within me for what he had.  That man's worship, that man's faith demonstrated the reality of God to me. I still had great unbelief, but I greatly wanted that relationship with God. 

I tell the men and women at the jail to give themselves completely over to worship.  For a few moments immerse yourselves in the presence of God.  Tell Him how much you love Him.  Focus completely upon Him.  Let every other care of your life fall away and just stand in His presence.  Tell Him of your love for Him.  Feel His love for you in return.  You can be healed during worship.  Your bondage can be broken.  You can be set free.  There is power in worship.  We are created to worship God.  He accepts our worship and deserves it.  The Bible says that God inhabits the praises of His people.  

I worship not only when I am in church.  That is surely a good thing, but we need to worship God all day long.  I compare our typical worship of God at church, the singing of hymns along with the choir, I compare that to the buying of a card at the drugstore for someone I love.  I know that my wife appreciates a boughten card with loving words and a pretty picture on it.  She hopes that I have spent some time looking at different cards and that I have chosen one that reflects my feelings toward her, but. . .but. . . but!!!. . .How much more does she appreciate the words of my own writing and the making my own little card.  It will surely not be as professionally done as the one by Hallmark, but I know she values it and finds is so very much more precious, for all the polish it might appear to lack, she finds in it a sincerity and depth of meaning much more precious to her than the one purchased at the store.

I suspect that might be God's heart also.  He surely values our singing in church, but how much more intimate and valuable might he find our own words. . . our tears of appreciation and gratitude shed for Him as we drive in our car or walk in the park meditating upon His goodness and glory.  

We need to find a way to worship even when we do not feel like it.  I find it impossible to continue to be angry or depressed when I fully devote myself to worship.  I fought depression for many years.  Worship was key in overcoming depression.  How many times have my wife and I pulled into the church parking lot on a Sunday morning having a little squabble, bickering about some unimportant thing like married people do.  A moment or two after the church service begins and we begin to worship. . .our hands join and we are again united in our spirit.  That is the power of worship to heal, to drive away spirits of discord and anger. . . We need worship. . .We must have it as part of our relationship with God.

Devotions: In reading the Bible, God talks to us

I sometimes envy the men and women in jail.  For everything that they don't have, they do have an abundance of time.  They have endless hours of the day in which to immerse themselves in the Word of God.  There is power in His Word and we need that power.  If we are going to believe in God, then we must also believe in Satan.  It is clear that Satan knows that you exist, if you don't know that he exists and that he will do everything in his power to take you away from God, then you are at his mercy.  I tell the men and women at the jail, it's not a question of if, but rather of when you will be tempted.  When you walk out those doors Satan will be waiting for you to welcome you back into your old ways, into your old life.

You will unexpectedly, maybe at the grocery store, run into someone from your past.  "Hey Man, where have you been?  Let's go over to my crib and talk."  The warning sirens should be wailing in your head.  "No man.  Let's go to McDonald's and get a cup of coffee.  Let's talk there."  Satan knows your weaknesses.  A wonderful lady in our church,  was formerly a meth addict.  She now counts having been a Sunday School teacher, as among other things she's done in the church,.  She was delivered by God.  She was given complete freedom from her addiction.  She had been clean from meth for a few months.  One night she let her little dog out into her yard to do its business.  When she let the little dog back in, it had a bag of dope in its mouth.  I've heard similar stories time and again.  A former crack addict gets clean and finds a rock of crack laying on the steps to his apartment.  In my case, I had not smoked in several months when I went a shopping mall in a nearby city.  It has a huge parking lot. . . I don't know probably 40 or 50 acres of parking.  It was in early March.  It was sloppy with slush and melting snow.  I chose a parking spot and as I opened the door to my truck, there in a dry spot on the pavement lay an unopened box of the same brand of cigars that I smoked.  It wasn't run over.  It wasn't wet.  It was in perfect condition, as if waiting for me.

Now you can say that these things are mere coincidence, but if that were the case, if it were just random chance then I should have found cans of soup, packages of prime rib, shaving cream, candy, boxes of playing cards, baseball mitts, tennis balls. . . I don't know. . .all manner of every other thing under the sun in the parking lot as I opened my truck door, but I didn't.  I found that which tempted me.  Make no mistake we are in a war.  Metaphors of war are all throughout the Bible:

Ephesians 6:11-17
Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  (12)  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  (13)  Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  (14)  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;  (15)  And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;  (16)  Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  (17)  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

We are to put on the whole armor: The breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace upon your feet, the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation.  Too many people stop here, and thinking themselves safe they go no further.  So far, this is only defensive equipment.  Armor is all for defense.  You can dress up in the best armor possible and go walking down a dark alley.  A man with baseball bat and a knife will come along and he will begin whacking and whacking on your armor until he opens a gap and then he will stick the knife in and you will be dead.  Why?  You have no offensive weapon to keep him from closing in on you.  Without an offensive weapon the best armor will do you no good.  The Word of God is our offensive weapon, but it is not just the reading of it that makes it an effective weapon.

I can have a weapon, but if I leave it at home on top of my dresser, then it is unavailable and therefore useless to me when I am in need of it.  Our mind is the battleground where this war for our soul takes place.  Rather than just casually reading the Bible, I need to study it.  I need to take it within me.  I need to memorize verses to use as weapons when I am under spiritual attack.  In Matthew chapter 4, when Jesus was tempted three times of the devil, He did nothing but quote scripture.  This was as a lesson for us.  Jesus surely had the power to handle the devil on His own, but for our benefit He showed us how to use the Word of God as a weapon.

When your mind begins to descend into places that it should not be, when thoughts of fear or lust or anger, depression, or envy. . .thoughts of using begin to enter your mind you must immediately begin to battle those thoughts with the sword of the Spirit.  You must make these thoughts come to submission, rebuke them and not allow them to gain a foothold within you.  I have a few favorite verses that I use.  I fill my mind with the word of God and drive away the spiritual attack.  The Bible says: Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7).  The devil is a coward.  It is not recorded where he ever fought a battle.  By fear, by the instilling of fear in us he looks for us to surrender without a fight, but given resistance he runs from us.  Some favorite verses of mine for this purpose are Psalms 46:10, Proverbs 3:5-6, Romans 8:28, and II Timothy 1:7.  There is power in the Word of God. . . We need the word of God. . .

Prayer: In Prayer, we talk to Him and He talks to us

I once knew someone (notice I did not call them a friend) who would call me on the phone and I really believe that they started the conversation as they were still dialing my number, for when I would answer they already had a full head of steam and I really had to scramble to try and figure out what they were talking about and where they were in this very one sided conversation.  In a few minutes they would get what ever it was off their chest, say goodbye and hang up.  I'm sure they felt better, and maybe they even considered me to be a good friend, but there was nothing of me and nothing for me in this relationship.  It was totally one-sided. 

When I first came to God that is similarly to how I viewed prayer.  To me prayer seemed to be very shallow and one directional.  I knew of the Lord's prayer.  I knew of saying grace before meals and I knew of, "Now I lay me down to sleep. . .", the praying of memorized prayers.  The main purpose of prayer, seemed to me to be the petitioning of God, the asking of Him to do things for me and that surely is an appropriate type of prayer.  He is our Father and what Father minds when His children ask Him for things that they need, but if that were all my children ever did, if we never had any other conversations, if the only time they bothered calling me is when they needed something that would get very very old.  I would feel used and eventually I would become resentful.  A very helpful tool in establishing a prayer life, is to imagine your time with God like the face of a clock.  Divide your time with Him up into five minute segments.  For example:
    1.  Ask for forgiveness, repent of things you have done that were not pleasing to Him since you last talked to Him. 
    2. Thank Him and worship Him for all the blessings in your life, 
    3. Intercede (fervently pray for God to do a work in the lives of others) for friends, neighbors, people you know at work, 
    4. Tell Him about your day, about your fears, your hopes, and your dreams, 
    5. Pray scripture.  Take a single verse or a passage of verses, such as the Lord's prayer, read them slowly or repeat the words in your mind, spending time focusing on each word, visualizing what the words mean and what the Lord is trying to tell you.  Ask Him to explain the meaning of difficult verses to you.  Ask Him to show you new levels of meaning in familiar verses.  Ask Him to let His Word come alive in you.
    6. Ask God what He wants you to work on in your life.
    7. Ask God what you should be praying for.
    8. Spend significant time waiting and listening for God to talk to you.  Focus on Him.  Visualize His wonder and grace.  Open your heart, open your mind to Him.  Keep your mind open for images from Him, directions. . . listen for a small still voice.

I used to wonder how I could ever fill up 15 minutes with prayer.  Now I pray during much of the day long and I never get tired of it.  I used to hate waiting for anything.  Now I relish sitting and waiting in the doctor's office, or standing in a long line at the supermarket, or waiting for a long slow train.  I pray.  Every opportunity I get I pray.  I pray for the people whom I see as I shop in the grocery store.  I pray for my co-workers as I walk to get coffee.  I love to walk with my dog in a park or in wild places and pray in the solitude of nature.

This metaphor of a three legged stool is interesting.  As I mentioned above, it is true that a three legged stool cannot tip.  Cut the legs however you may and you will never get it to rock, but you can get the legs so out of kilter that the stool is useless.  Imagine a stool with one leg 20 inches long, another leg 10 inches long and the third leg a mere 5 inches long.  It is true the stool will not tip, but no one could ever sit on the seat.  It would be useless.  The seat would be at such a severe angle to the ground that you could never stay on the stool.  That is what would happen if you get out of balance in your ways of communicating with God.

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, He replied:

Matthew 22:37-38
 . . .Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  (38)  This is the first and great commandment.

To love Him with all your heart is to love Him with your true and fervent worship. . .
To love Him with all your soul is to be deeply and continually prayerful. . .
To love Him with all your mind is to completely and sincerely immerse yourself in His Word. . .

It would not be a correct relationship with God if all you wanted to do was to worship and neglected to pray or to read your Bible.  This would be a very frivolous and shallow relationship.  This would be like a friend who only showed up for your birthday party, but never wanted any other contact with you.  It is fine and indeed necessary to worship, but that alone cannot sustain us.  We cannot only listen to Christian songs on the radio and worship God in our car on our way back and forth to work and have no other contact with God.  We need, in addition to worship, the more substantiative time of devotions and prayer to balance the emotional intensity of worship.  

With true and fervent worship a perspective of humility is gained.  Tears are shed.   We may end up in a position of prostrating ourselves before Him. . . overcome with His presence. . . totally submitting to Him in our praise.  We magnify the Lord.  We build Him up and by comparison it becomes obvious how puny, insignificant, and dependent on Him we are.

Likewise having a relationship with God that consisted of only reading your Bible would also be very unhealthy and unbalanced.  That kind of relationship would be dry and dusty.  The words of the Bible were written at a minimum of roughly 2000 years ago, through them God is speaking to all mankind, all across the ages.  We need the Truth of the Bible, but we need more.  Do not misread me.  I am not in any way saying that reading the Word of God is not important.  It is just that as an atheist I knew many Christians who to me appeared to only have such a book knowledge of God and little else.  They had no impact upon me.  They created no hunger within me.  Theirs was a joyless, rule filled spirituality.  I never heard from them anything about what God was doing today.  All they knew (or at least all they ever told me about) was what He had done  1000's of years ago.  My thought was that if He hadn't done anything in 2000 years then He must indeed be dead.  In our devotions we necessarily learn about holiness, about His plan of salvation, and about how God desires us to live our lives, but without the softening influence of prayer and worship I believe we would tend to be as the Pharisee's, experts on the rules, but short on humility and love.

As much as I like to pray, there also is a danger in only being a prayer and not a worshiper and not a reader of God's word.  Prayer is largely an introspective internal activity done without other people.  Jesus went into the wilderness, to the top of a mountain or to a secluded garden at midnight to pray.   I believe if excessively practiced to the exclusion of the other legs of our relationship, prayer alone would tend to make one as a mystic, potentially leading us into very strange realms.  In secluding oneself from the world, you would be host to a sequestered monastic spirituality.  As attractive as the life of a cloistered monk might seem, that is not what Jesus commanded our role to be in this world.  That would be a selfish form of religion, a sterile form, not begetting much of anything aside from ones own own enlightenment.

Without a balanced relationship with God it is impossible to function fully as Christians.  We can have a relationship with Him with only one or two legs of the stool, but we will be greatly hindered in our effectiveness in reaching our fellow man.

Matthew 28:19-20  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  (20)  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

We are to teach and witness and baptize.  We are to be active in our fellow man's lives.  We are to love our fellow man, and we are to reach our fellow man, but before we can do that, we must first necessarily love and know God with everything we have. . . Again:

Matthew 22:37-39  Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  (38)  This is the first and great commandment.  (39)  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

The complete loving and knowing of God comes before the loving and reaching of our fellow man. . .
The complete loving and knowing of God comes from a full and well rounded relationship. . .from a complete relationship with Him. . .

I love you my God. . .
I thank you my Lord. . .


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Only Three Feet. . .

The photo above is of Pipewort Pond, a little wildlife refuge a few miles from my home, where my dog and I frequently go hiking. (Actually the butterfly picture, currently at the head of my blog was taken on the shore of the pond, in a button bush  at the right side of the above picture.) This is a picture from last February.  We went out a couple of days ago and it looked similar to what you see above, but there was not as much snow covering the ice of the pond.

You can see plants growing up through the ice all over the pond.  It is a seasonal body of water.  Two years ago, even without ice, I was able to walk pretty much everywhere I wanted.  The open water was confined to an area maybe the size of a backyard swimming pool, but this past year has been much wetter and there is a good area of water several acres in size, now frozen, but in any respect it is not at all deep, maybe at the deepest spot a mere three feet in depth.

Also in these last few days I am writing a Bible study to work through with the inmates at the local jail, in which I am a volunteer chaplain.  To lay the foundation of this study I am beginning with talking about how we are all by nature sinful creatures.  Surely the men and women, that this little study I am writing is addressed to are incarcerated for crimes committed or awaiting trial for crimes they are accused of, but they are not by any means the only ones in our society whom have a problem with sin.

Sin makes people do such crazy crazy things.  Over the past months here in the United States we have had goveners of two of our most populous states: New York and Illinois  get themselves entangled in situations which, at the minimum have the potential to destroy their careers.  For anyone looking from the outside in, it is on the surface of it impossible to understand how such intelligent, active, powerful. . . capable men could be so stupid and place everything they had worked so hard to achieve at risk.

I don't know that either one of these men have yet been convicted of a crime, but even to allow yourself to get as close to such situations as they are accused of, represents a complete failure of their good sense, but these things. . .for these men. . .for all men. . . always start out small.

We rationalize.  We justifiy.  We never believe that we will get caught.  When I was drinking, how many times did I get behind the wheel when I had had too much to drink.  Always believing, and fortunately for me, always getting away with what I thought was a very tiny chance of getting caught, but people do get caught all the time.

Open the paper. . . the headlines scream the bloody news of someone having consumed a few too many beers and then causing an accident resulting in someone's death.  Regardless of the outcome of any trial, their lives are forever changed.  They awake as star players in a never ending nightmare for the sake of a couple of beers.  Think of the horrid ache in the bottom of your stomach. . . think of the fear. . . think of the anguish. . . the horror as you sit amidst the broken glass. . .as you harvest the fruit of your sin and the reality of what you have done begins to break upon you.

It was such a small thing. . . only a couple of beers. . . only one kiss. . . only one lie. . . only one dollar. . .only one toke on the pipe. . .only one lottery ticket. . .only. . . only. . . only. . .How many times did I stop for only one beer. . .hours later. . .I didn't know where I was. . . I didn't know how I got there. . . I didn't know how to get out. . .

I walked upon the pond ice a couple of days ago.  I knew the ice was weak.  We really haven't had the cold weather required, to make good ice, but I knew that at the deepest the water was only maybe three feet deep.  Solomon, my dog, and I had walked for a good while, exploring what are normally inaccessable areas of the pond.  In the woods next to the pond we had discovered deer beds.  I had never seen this before.  They were  kidney shaped areas where the snow had melted as the deer had laid upon the leaves of the forest floor.  We found three of these beds.  From the sizes they looked to be of two adult deer and a fawn.  We looked at muskrat lodges and old goose nests.  At a few points cracks started popping and running under my feet.  I grew very cautious and shuffled very slowly to thicker ice.

I was crossing an area that I really wasn't worried about.  Little plants grew through the ice all around me.  I supposed that meant relatively shallow water, but as I made one step to another, with no warning, I went through. . . with a shock, immediately I was waist deep in water. . . a mere three feet of water.  I was correct in my calculation of the depth, though I had greatly underestimated the magnitude of the fear, the power of the panic that momentarily came over me as the ice gave way beneath me and I fell too quickly even to think into the icy mucky smelly depths.

What parallels there are here.  One moment I was walking along.  Knowing the dangers, but figuring it would never happen to me.  The next breath, I was waist deep in a slimy stinky mess, that in my case ruined the rest of the afternoon. . . thankfully leaving intact the rest of my life. Many have take calculated risks such as this. . . and many have underestimated the power of that risk being born and coming to be. . .

It was only three feet of water. . .a mere three feet. . .

Thank you my God. . .
I love you my Lord. . .


Sunday, December 7, 2008

What to Get a God Who Has Everything?

What can I give God?  The calendar is rolling around to December 25th, the celebrated date of Jesus birth.  What do you get for God who has everything?  After all it is His birthday that we are celebrating.  On who else's birthday do all the guests give each other presents, but ignore the giving of a gift to the honoree?  So again I ask, what can I give God for Christmas?

We celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th, but it surely is not merely the birth of a long deceased man whose birth we celebrate, but this birth of Jesus was prophesied many hundreds of years before his birth:

Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

This and many other verses in the Old Testament talked of a coming Savior.  The Hebrew people anxiously looked for someone to rescue them in their hour of need.  They looked for a military savior, not recognizing that their spiritual condition was greatly more dire and desperate than their more obvious political subjection by the Romans. Every new star of whatever brightness appearing in the political or spiritual skies of the Hebrew landscape was looked and hoped to be the long predicted Messiah.

John the Baptist was looked to be the Christ, but denied it:

John 1:19-20
And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?  (20)  And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.

The Christ, the Messiah, the Savior was on every-one's minds.  He was looked for.  He was expected.  Now an angel announced to Joseph that his betrothed was pregnant by the Spirit of God and that His name would be called Jesus:

Matthew 1:20-21
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.  (21)  And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

Jesus, what a significant name.  It comes from Hebrew:

Strong's H3091
יהושׁע    יהושׁוּע
yehôshûa‛  yehôshûa‛
yeh-ho-shoo'-ah, yeh-ho-shoo'-ah
From H3068 and H3467; Jehovah-saved; Jehoshua (that is, Joshua), the Jewish leader: - Jehoshua, Jehoshuah, Joshua. Compare H1954, H3442.

Jehovah saved. . . God saved. . . This child of Mary's would save the people from their sins, thereby this baby would fulfill Isaiah's ancient prophecy for God to take on human flesh making a way for man to redeem himself from the chronic and inherent debt of sin unto which we are all born, but this taking on of flesh was only temporary as required to break the hold of death over man, for we also know as stated in Scripture:

John 4:24
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

Therefore any physical gift to God is clearly inappropriate for God.  God is a Spirit, no gloves for His hands.  God is a Spirit, no slippers for His feet are required or appropriate, but when God takes on flesh men greatly desire to do something to give Him honor.  The humble shepherds left their flocks in the middle of the night, so great was their thirst to pay homage and to witness this wondrous event.

Later when the young Christ was possibly 1-2 years old, the Magi, wise men possibly astrologers, who had been following a heavenly sign, a star in the east on a divinely appointed quest arrived with precious gifts for the Christ child:

Matthew 2:1-2
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,  (2)  Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

Matthew 2:9-11
When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.  (10)  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.  (11)  And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

They bore gifts, costly and precious: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Quite likely these gifts are listed in the order of worth, with gold being the least costly of the three.  Today with our modern methods of cultivation, gathering, and extraction I have spent more than $30/oz for myrrh.  It is not difficult at all to imagine these precious resins being many times more costly in Biblical times.

The baby Jesus certainly had no need for these costly and extravagant gifts, but can it be mere coincidence that in one verse the gifts are given, the next verse the Magi leave, and in the following verse God comes to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take his wife and the baby Jesus into Egypt to escape Herod.  They are to stay there for possibly years until Herod dies.

Joseph had no American Express card.  There were no Visa or Master Card merchant signs at the oasis and rest stops along the way to Egypt, but not to worry.  The Magi had just handed them eminently transportable and convertible wealth surely sufficient to carry them through their exile in Egypt.  The gifts of the wise men to God left Arabia or possibly what is now India months or maybe even years before being presented to Joseph and Mary.  They arrived at precisely the needed moment to help them escape King Herod's wrath.

God had no need for the gifts, but those caring for and carrying the body of Christ at His young age surely appreciated and even required the treasure offered to them.  It is interesting the parallels between the the Magi, the wise men of Jesus day with the wise men of today.  The wise men recognized who the Christ child was:

Matthew 2:2
Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

They recognized the stature of the young child before them.  They saw their recognition of Him and their worship of Him as the end to their journey, when that should have been not the end of the journey, but the beginning.  They saw.  They knew, but they did not wait and remain for Him to do a work in their lives.  It is not recorded that the Magi were in anyway changed by their encounter with God.  You can hold in your hand a bottle of penicillin.  You can recognize what powerful medicine is contained within.  If you like you can even worship that medicine but until you open the bottle and take it inside of you, it does no work at healing your disease.  Many of the wise men of today, like the Magi pay lip service to Jesus, maybe even momentarily genuflecting admitting. . .recognizing His stature, recognizing how wise His teaching are.  They call Him a great philosopher.  They say He was a wonderful teacher, but not availing themselves of Him by allowing His healing powers within themselves.  They recognize the medicine, but they won't open the bottle.

So the offering of gifts to the body of Christ is surely a good thing but is that truly the giving of a gift to God?

Psalms 116:12-19
What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me?  (13)  I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD.  (14)  I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people.  (15)  Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.  (16)  O LORD, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.  (17)  I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD.  (18)  I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people,  (19)  In the courts of the LORD's house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the LORD.

All I have to offer Him, as a gift that He does not inherently have as His own, is my love, my obedience and my worship.  I will take of the cup of salvation offered by Him and not just hold it in my hand, but drink of it.  I will take His medicine, which is His Spirit within me.  I will not just leave it on a shelf to look at.  There is nothing short of my complete submission and obedience to Him, that can in any way approach the value and significance of what He has done for me.  Verse 16,  I was born the son of a slave, a son of the flesh, a son of darkness, but I have been freed.  Now my service to God is voluntary.  My knee bows without compulsion.  I was given the freedom to choose by God.  Both slave and servant serve. . .but as a servant I have a choice and that is my Gift to Him. . .

I love you my God. . .
I thank you my Lord. . .

Please accept my gift. . .