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Thursday, May 30, 2013

God's creativity

God is unimaginably creative.

John 1, Colossians 1, and other passages indicate that God the Son was and is the chief agent in creation, and in sustaining it.

So what did God create?
1. Substance (including energy, which is a type of substance – e = mc2)
Matter and energy are creations of God. He is outside of His created universe, and made it come to be from nothing*. However, He can and does enter it, as shown in the miracles of the Old Testament, the Incarnation of God the Son, and the presence of God the Holy Spirit.

It is possible that all the types of sub-atomic particles, or even each and every such particle, all the elements, all the types of heavenly bodies, the earth, itself, and the kinds of living things, were brought into being by individual creative acts. It is also possible that God’s planning was so extensive and complete that He created matter so that most or all of these things emerged, over time, as a result of the Big Bang. Either way shows God’s limitless intelligence and creativity, and we don’t need to know which of these (or both) has been true.

Satan probably has no power to create any kind of substance, but he can make use of created things.

2. Beauty
All beauty, imagined* or existent, of pattern, appearance, sound, and form, either:
was created by God;
is a natural emergence from what God created;
is based on what God brought forth;
or is possible because He gave humans the ability to be sub-creators.
(J. R. R. Tolkien, who was a Christian, used the word sub-creation about the fantastic worlds created by himself and others.)

*I say “imagined” because, for example, Beethoven was so deaf by the time his great Ninth Symphony was performed that he could not hear it, and had not heard it, except in his head, while he was composing it. Similar processes occur during writing, painting, and other creative arts, and also in the sciences, even in sports. Newton imagined his Law of Universal Gravitation – he didn’t develop this from experiments. That Law’s simplicity is one of many scientific phenomena that scientists sometimes say possess beauty, because of their simplicity (at least to the scientists!) and explanatory power:
F = (g x m1 x m2)/r2
The scientific search for patterns in elementary particles, and for broadly applicable formulas and laws (such as the so-called theory of everything, or the “God particle”) is motivated by a belief that there is an underlying pattern and beauty in the way things are. Einstein, who was not a believer in a personal God, sometimes spoke as if there was a God who had arranged things in the way that they were, understandable, describable, and relatively simple.

Richard Feynman, Nobel laureate, said: What is it about nature that lets this happen, that it is possible to guess from one part what the rest is going to do? That is an unscientific question: I do not know how to answer it, and therefore I am going to give an unscientific answer. I think it is because nature has a simplicity and therefore a great beauty. Seeking New Laws, pp. 143-167, in Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law, New York: Modern Library, 1994. Quote is from p. 167. I have read most of Feynman's popular writing, and seen no evidence that he believed in God at all.

Naismith imagined a game involving tossing a ball into peach baskets.

Satan probably has no power to create beauty of any kind, although he can mimic God’s good creation, and can use beauty as an evil force. (Pornography, for example.) Perhaps Satan, as an angel, had creative powers that humans don’t. We don’t know.

3. Relationship
The power to form relationships with other sentient, responsive beings is possible because God made it so.
A human who is incapable of establishing relationships with others, or who does not want to do so, is abnormal. Humans are constructed so that we form and maintain relationships with others, from birth to death.
God also desires relationships. The Three Persons of the Trinity apparently have a relationship with one another. God wants to have a relationship with us. This is not possible, or not nearly fully possible, unless the sin problem is fixed. God loves us so much that He took care of the sin problem for us – we couldn’t do that. In the life of Christ, in 1 Corinthians 13, and elsewhere, the proper foundation for relationships is laid out. It is unselfish, Christ-like love. (Agape love.) Humans, and, to some extent, animals, have some capacity to communicate, to empathize, to imagine how to increase the well-being of others, and to do so. These all contribute to the ability to form relationships. God wants us to use this ability to bring others to a relationship with Him.

Satan is incapable of forming a proper relationship with anyone. We aren’t, either, without accepting Christ’s sacrifice for sin, and following His Lordship and example.

4. Joy
God is responsible for joy. We can, and should, be joyful in comprehending and experiencing beauty and relationship, even substance. God made humor and laughter possible. We should joy in contemplating God’s creativity and goodness. “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee” (based on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony) is found in many hymnals.

Satan has lost any capacity for joy that he had originally, and wants to drive joy out of the world.

5. Holiness
Holiness is the opposite of evil and sin. Evil and sin are the absence of holiness. God is holy, and good, and His creation started out that way. He wants us to be holy, and totally good, too, and will eventually transform created things so that they, too, are finally and eternally good. Because God is holy and good, He cannot abide sin. Our relationship with Him should be such that we stop sinning, or at least do it less frequently, and become more and more holy – more and more living a life for God, and others, and less and less living for ourselves.

Satan is unholiness personified. Fallen, unredeemed humans are also unholiness personified.



6. Wisdom (Added on August 17, 2014)
Wisdom is “The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; insight.” (The Free Dictionary). In other words, to have wisdom is to act correctly on the things you know. God allows us to have knowledge, to know things, but merely knowing things is not the same thing as wisdom. Children know a lot, but they are often not wise. Presumably Satan also knows a lot, but he has unwisely rejected God’s authority.
 




Thanks for reading, and thanks to my wife for suggestions.

*November 14, 2013: I recently read a post by Ken Schenck, who pointed out that God created the nothing, too. It wouldn't have been there without God. That's deep . . .

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sunspots 420

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:


Christianity: Todd Wood, a Young-Earth Creationist, but one who respects and is willing to listen to other views, examines the results of a poll of pastors, which indicates that over three-quarters of them are not convinced that their own view, whatever it is, is correct.

Computing: I am by no means a expert on Twitter, but Twitonomy seems to be a great tool for those who are, and it comes with a non-biased recommendation. Check it out!

Philosophy: He Lives quotes from rabid atheist Jerry Coyne, who admits that, in his own world view, there is no such thing as free choice.

Politics: An article, with photos, on the first integrated prom in a small Georgia town, in 2013. Not all proms are integrated yet.

Science: A site showing you how a dog's vision differs from that of most humans.

National Public Radio shows, and tells, about "pinkhouses," a high-tech way of growing plants efficiently indoors.



Image source (public domain)    

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Putting Terrorism in Perspective

Columnist Leonard Pitts puts terrorism in perspective, saying that terrorists are only powerful if we pay attention to them.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The New Testament use of the word, "think."

There are a number of occurrences of the word, think, in the New Testament. Most of those occurrences are in the form "What do you think about xxx?" or something similar. In other words, they are about someone's opinion. We often use the word in the same way.

I'm ignoring those cases, as important as they are, to consider the few passages where the reader, or listener, seems to be asked to think, to consider, some topic. An opinion can be arrived at without much independent thought. Here are those passages, using the World English Bible, which is public domain:

Romans 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. 2 Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God. 3 For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think reasonably, as God has apportioned to each person a measure of faith.

In this case, Paul is asking his readers to renew their minds, and to consider their own positions, carefully, in the light of God's grace. 

Romans 13:14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, for its lusts. Some versions use the idea of "don't think about providing for the flesh," See here for several versions of that verse. The idea seems to be that of considering one's position.

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things. 

Paul seems clearly to be directing the church at Philippi to consider, perhaps even to meditate, on positive, beautiful, good things.

Hebrews 7:4 Now consider how great this man was, to whom even Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth out of the best plunder.

The author is urging the reader to consider. Some versions use "think" in that verse. What is to be thought about? The position of Christ, who is here being identified with Melchizedek.

Thanks for reading. Think on good, pure, and lovely things, on Christ, and about your own position, under grace.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Concerted prayer, part 4


As good a Church as that at Thessalonica needed instruction and caution on this matter  of looking after disorderly persons. So we hear Paul saying unto them:
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly.”
Mark you. It is not the mere presence of disorderly persons in a Church which merits the displeasure of God. It is when they are tolerated under the mistaken plea of “bearing with them,” and no steps are taken either to cure them of their evil practices or exclude them from the fellowship of the Church. And this glaring neglect on the part of the Church of its wayward members, is but a sad sign of a lack of praying, for a praying Church, given to mutual praying, agreement praying, is keen to discern when a brother is overtaken in a fault, and seeks either to restore him, or to cut him off if he be incorrigible.
Much of this dates back to the lack of spiritual vision on the part of Church leaders. The Lord by the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah once asked the very pertinent, suggestive question, “And who is blind but my servant?” This blindness in leadership in the Church is no more patent than in this question of seeing evil doers in the Church, in caring for them, and when the effort to restore them fails, to withdraw fellowship from them and let them be “as a heathen man and a publican.” The truth is there is such a lust for members in the Church in these modern times, that the officials and preachers have entirely lost sight of the members who have violated baptismal covenants, and who are living in open disregard of God’s Word. The idea now is quantity in membership, not quality. The purity of the Church is put in the background in the craze to secure numbers, and to pad the Church rolls and make large figures in statistical columns. Prayer, much prayer, mutual prayer, would bring the Church back to Scriptural standards, and would purge the Church of many wrongdoers, while it might cure not a few of their evil lives. 

- From The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds. 

Although E. M. Bounds died in 1913, this book was first published in 1925, by an admirer of the author's life. Bounds was known for praying from four until seven each morning.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, hereThe Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the entire series on the book is here. Thanks for reading. Read this book, and, more importantly, practice, prayer. 


I set out, over a year ago, to post excerpts from this public domain book, as my Sunday blog posts, and have followed that plan. I'm not sure I can fully agree with the emphasis of Bounds on purging the church rolls, although perhaps that is God's plan.     As I understand it, he was a good man, and perhaps he had the mind of the Spirit on this matter. I'm not sure. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sunspots 419

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Christianity: Ken Schenck, on "Going to Heaven." Schenck says that, in spite of popular Christian belief, the dominant New Testament view is that what should be emphasized is becoming part of the Kingdom, not getting to heaven, and that heaven will be on earth. (A re-booted earth!)
Computing: Wired reports that Google has been working with giant neural networks, and that artificial intelligence is a lot closer to really understanding some things (whatever understanding means!).
Health: National Public Radio reports on a robot therapist (well, not exactly a robot, but automated, and not exactly a therapist) being developed to help diagnose potential suicides in the military.
Humor: (Not exactly, but I don't have a category for this one!) Wired has kindly posted a video of what a grizzly's mouth looks like as it eats something, in this case, a camera.
Politics: In spite of thousands killed by leaks or explosions of various kinds of chemical plants, and billions of dollars of damages paid by the industry, little has been done to protect the public, or the employees, reports National Public Radio. The report includes this quote: "Chemical plants are really pre-positioned weapons of mass destruction . . ."


Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lessons from grass, and green



Green* is one of the most common English surnames, and it was used in Scotland, too. People were named Green because they lived near a village green, or because they wore clothes of this color.

Green is the color of emeralds, jade, and growing grass. Green is the color most commonly associated with nature and the environmental movement, Ireland, spring, hope, greed, envy, youth, inexperience, health, sickness, Islam, Saint Patrick's Day, and money. In formal churches, Green symbolizes Ordinary Time (as opposed to Lent, Advent, and other special times), and Christian growth.

The word green comes from the Middle English and Old English word grene, which, like the German word grün, has the same root as the words grass and grow. The first recorded use of the word as a color term in Old English dates to about 14 centuries ago. A word for the color green was apparently invented several times, by different language speakers. In ancient Greek, chloros was the word for yellowish, pale green.

There are over 40 places where the Bible uses the word, green. Most of them are in the sense of "green plant," or related to that use. In some translations, Esther 1:6 uses green as a fabric color. Job 8:16 and 15:32 use green to refer to a favored person. One of the most familiar uses is in Psalm 23, where David says that he has laid down in green pastures. Here’s how Jeremiah described a righteous person, in 17:7 Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
and whose confidence is in God.
8 For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters,
who spreads out its roots by the river,
and shall not fear when heat comes,
but its leaf shall be green;
and shall not be careful in the year of drought,
neither shall cease from yielding fruit. So, someone who trusts God is compared to a green tree – growing, alive, and fertile.

Here’s another passage:
Psalm 92:12 The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree.
He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the Lord’s house.
They will flourish in our God’s courts.
14 They will still produce fruit in old age.
They will be full of sap and green, Lesson 1: We can, and should, still be fruitful for God, and others, for all of our lives, including in our old age. Fruit? Probably two things: winning others to a relationship with Christ; showing the fruits of the Spirit, from Galatians 5:22-3, which are joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As I said, and as you can see all around us at this time of year, green is the color of plants, and of growth. Did you know that we wouldn't be here without green plants? They make food for us, and for animals. Every item of food on that table out there originated as a mostly green plant, whether it’s lettuce, tomatoes, sweet tea, butter, rolls, chicken, roast beef, ham or red velvet cake. Everything with calories in it, that you can buy at Ingles, Walmart, Bilo, Publix, or wherever you shop, started out as green plant material. Calories have a bad name, because some of us take in more of them than we should, but we need calories. Without green plants, there’d be no calories available in food.

The process that uses light energy to make food is photosynthesis, which is carried out by the chlorophylls in green plants. Remember the Greek word for light green? Chloros.

What makes plants green? Chlorophyll, which is a green pigment, named for chloros. What's a pigment? A pigment is a chemical that absorbs some colors, and reflects others, or just lets them go through. Why are leaves green? Because they absorb some of the sun’s light, and reflect, or transmit, green. Blue and red light, are mostly absorbed by chlorophyll**. The plants use the energy in that blue and red light to make food. Lesson 2: We need to be like pigments. We need to absorb the light that God makes available to us, through the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and through other godly people. We also need to reflect that light, so that others can profit from it.

This amazing system of capturing sunlight, and getting food from it, is one of the many things that we don’t thank God enough for.

Grass
Now, I’d like to change my subject a little, from green to grass. If I did a good job, and you were paying attention, you noticed that green and grass are closely related words, and no wonder. Grass is green, usually. A lot of what’s green is grass. There are about 60 references to grass in the Bible, beginning in Genesis 1, where grass is described as part of God’s good creation.

Based on other scripture, such as Psalm 104, God didn’t describe His creation as good just because it was and is good for humans. We’re far from discovering all of the galaxies, stars, and even planets in the universe. The ones yet discovered, and even most of those we know about, don’t seem to do us much good. But they can still be for God’s glory, even though we have never seen them. Has Pluto or Neptune ever helped you? Has a galaxy hundreds of light-years away ever helped you? Yet they are part of God’s good creation. We think that there are many types of living things that we haven’t discovered yet. If most of them disappeared today, it wouldn’t affect our lives. But they are still for God’s glory, too. What God has allowed to exist in the universe is good primarily because of God, not because it is good for humans.

What about grass?
In Matthew 6:30, Jesus said that grass exists today, but is just thrown into the oven tomorrow, apparently as cheap fuel. Lesson 3: We aren’t special, either. We attendees at this Green reunion are no better than people named Black, or Smith, or whatever.

We aren’t special even if we are rich, or well educated, or talented, or popular, we aren’t anything special:
James 1:11 For the sun arises with the scorching wind, and withers the grass, and the flower in it falls, and the beauty of its appearance perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in his pursuits.

Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of the most powerful kingdom of his day, that he wasn’t anything special: Daniel 4:25b you shall be driven from men, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field, and you shall be made to eat grass as oxen, and shall be wet with the dew of the sky, and seven times shall pass over you; until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever he will.

Lesson 4: even though we aren’t any more special than anyone else, God cares for us! Matthew 6:30: But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won’t he much more clothe you, you of little faith? The God who clothes the grass in its beautiful green can clothe, and feed, and shelter, and heal us. We should never forget that.

Lesson 5: we are here for a purpose: 1 Kings 18:5 Ahab said to Obadiah, “Go through the land, to all the springs of water, and to all the brooks. Perhaps we may find grass and save the horses and mules alive, that we not lose all the animals.”

Grass does many things. One thing it does is provide food for grazing animals, and us. (You and I can’t really digest grass very well.) Plants of this type have always been important to humans. They have been grown as food for domesticated animals, and for other uses, for about 6,000 years. The most important food crops are the grains of grasses such as wheat, rice and barley. Remember the village green that the Green name may have come from? That was a place for the animals to graze.

We have a purpose, too. It’s not to provide food for animals. It’s a higher purpose. We are to be part of a new creation, begun as Christ’s kingdom. That means that we who believe on Christ as savior are not just given an escape route from hell. We are part of a kingdom that is working worldwide, to bring men and women, boys and girls, to abundant, infectious life in Christ. How well am I carrying out God’s purpose in me? How well are you?

Lesson 6: we need to stay connected. Grass that’s not connected to water dies. Grass that’s not connect to soil can’t get enough minerals. Grass that’s not connected to light stops making food for itself. We must continue to be connected to God, to a good church, to godly people.

Lesson 7: we shouldn’t let being clipped get us down. When Ahab and Obadiah were looking for grass to feed their animals, or when David was lying down in green pastures, they weren’t expecting the animals to eat the grass down to the roots. They expected it to be grazed, or clipped, and grow back.

My wife thinks I’m too old, or too feeble, or not competent enough to mow our grass. So we hire someone to do it. But guess what? He comes every two weeks, and Faye just asked him to come more often. Why? Because grass grows back when cut or clipped. So should we. There are going to be troubles and trials. Perhaps some of you had some just getting here. It’s not God’s plan that we won’t have troubles. But it is God’s plan that we can remain cheerful and obedient and loving when they come. We got an e-mail, last week, from a man whose wife has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Most of the letter was things he was thankful for, concerning this experience.

Most of you don’t know [Jane Green's] father. He lost his wife to a heart attack, over 25 years ago. He hasn’t been able to hear anything less than a loud yell for years. He has trouble walking. I can’t imagine what any of these problems would be like. No wife, not able to carry on a normal conversation, or listen to the TV or the radio, not able to get around. I suppose his family has seen him grumpy, or even angry or depressed. But I never have. He’s always shown a remarkably good attitude, in spite of his circumstances. He’s stood up to clipping!

Lesson 8: There’s hope, even if we aren’t anything special, even if we have been clipped. There’s God!

Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers,
the flower fades;
but the word of our God stands forever.” And, thank God, we can stand forever, too!

*This post is modified slightly from a devotional talk given to the Green family, which my wife is related to, on April 27, 2013. Thanks for reading!

**(Added May 23, 2013) National Public Radio has posted a story, with photo, on "pinkhouses," a high-tech way to grow plants efficiently indoors. The pink is because these structures use only red and blue light, and the result looks pink. The red and blue light are the only colors necessary for photosynthesis.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Memo to self, about current events in the Obama administration

I'm old enough to remember more foul-ups by US Presidents, or their underlings, than I wish I did. Here are three that I remember.

Richard Nixon's re-election campaign committee ordered a robbery of the Democratic National Headquarters. That was bad. Most likely Nixon didn't know about this, but he soon did, and conspired to have the matter covered up. That was really bad. The Watergate scandal led to Nixon's resignation, under threat of his removal from office by Congress. The lesson? Nixon should have taken responsibility, and encouraged investigation of the crime, and punishment for the criminals, including those who ordered the break-in, those who tried to cover it up, and the actual burglars. One irony about this affair is that Nixon was never in any danger of not being re-elected -- his opponent was a weak candidate without enough support.

Democratic President Bill Clinton was sexually involved with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Clinton denied it, both to the public, and in legal proceedings, and Congress considered removing him from office, not on the grounds that he had committed an adulterous act, or acts, but because he lied about it under oath. The Congressional proceedings were largely along party lines, and Clinton finished his term in office. The lesson? Clinton should have confessed, and asked for forgiveness. I can not be certain of the consequences, if he had done so, but would guess that Congress wouldn't have gone as far as it did.

The Iran-Contra scandal occurred during the tenure of Republican President Ronald Reagan. Arms were sold, or transferred, to Iran, in an attempt to persuade some Iranians to release US hostages, and some of the money was transferred to a particular political faction in Nicaragua. It is unclear as to whether Reagan knew about this, but it is clear that, at first, he denied that the US was paying for the release of hostages, and, as a Congressional investigation put it, "If the president did not know what his national security advisers were doing, he should have." The lesson? As President Harry Truman put it "The buck stops here," meaning that the President bears responsibility for whatever his appointees do. It is possible, of course, that Reagan did know about the attempt to pay for the release of hostages, and to divert funds to backing a particular faction in another country. If that happened, the lesson would have been the same as the one in the other two paragraphs, namely that Reagan should have confessed, and asked for forgiveness. If he didn't know, he should have confessed to being disengaged, or to allowing undue freedom to underlings.

The Obama administration is currently involved in at least three affairs that are, or could develop into, major scandals, namely the attack on Benghazi, leading to the death of a US Ambassador, the seizure of massive documentation from the Associated Press, without the usual attempts to obtain cooperation from the AP before the seizure, and the apparent over-reaching of the IRS, in their treatment of right-wing interest groups.

It is unclear how much the President knew about any of these things beforehand, at least to me. It does seem clear that the White House, and possibly the President, was involved in a serious attempt to distort the facts about the attack on Benghazi. I doubt that the President knew about the other matters before they were made public. If the President was involved, he should have confessed, and asked for forgiveness. He also should have made clear that he took responsibility, and really wanted to investigate, punish, and, perhaps, have restitution made, in all three affairs. The President seems to have done about all he could do in relation to the IRS matter, unless, of course, he ordered such behavior, or knew about it before it became public. On the other issues, the record doesn't seem to be so positive.

What's the moral of all this, the lesson?

It seems to me that there are three, and that I should take them seriously.

First, things like this are going to happen, no matter who becomes the next President. Human nature is the same, whether the President is Hilary Clinton, some Tea Party favorite, or someone else. I should pray for whoever is elected, that they won't do, or allow, such things, and I should expect them to happen, no matter whether I voted for the current officeholder or not.

Second, as Moses said, in Numbers 32:23 "But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against Yahweh; and be sure your sin will find you out." (World English Bible, public domain.) I know -- that verse is way out of context. It was directed toward two and a half tribes of Israelites, and referred to a specific matter. However, the principle applies. I can't hide most sins, or mistakes, from others, and I can't hide any sins or mistakes from God.

Third, as Lord Acton put it, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." That's true of Presidents, and their appointees. It's also true of parents, teachers, pastors, bosses, newspeople, public officials of all kinds, and anyone who has power of any kind over others. But the main person I need to watch out for is me. I tend to think, as, apparently, the Committee to Re-elect President Nixon did, that whatever I do is proper, because it's me who is doing it. Satan wants me to think that. I shouldn't.

Thanks for reading. I try not to write about politics very much, because when you mix religion and politics, you get politics. Two of my most readable posts about that subject are here and here.