Answered Prayer?

My church has a been going through the process of recruiting a new Minister. Our old Minister was tremendous, but his age and the size of the church caught up with his high touch style and he had to retire.  In any case during the interim, before the new Minister is installed, the church elders have been filling in on the Sunday sermons. Last Sunday the message was on I Corinthians 13 – the love chapter.

So at the beginning of the service, like always, someone reads the scripture for the sermon and we pray that God would speak to us through the speaker. Now I should probably mention here that our old minister has a gift for speaking. I don’t mean to say he was in the same category as Apollos but there is no doubt he has a gift.

In any case one of the elders gets up to speak. This man is very intelligent, clear thinking and organized. He is also an engineer (dear to my heart of course but lets not get ahead of ourselves).

He set up a whiteboard and drew the representation of a process with inputs and an output, identified the inputs and output and talked a little about the activities of the process and how they work together to generate the outputs. He went on to talk about the difference between and open loop (no feedback) and closed loop (feedback) process and identified the drawbacks of the former and the advantages of the latter. He then drew a parallel between the Christian life and the process identifying the inputs (Bible Study,  Prayer, Fellowship etc) and the output (Sanctification) and then proposed (with scriptural and scholastic references to justify the argument) that Agape Love is the characteristic to measure as the feedback input from the output back to the process. He then proceeded to go through the characteristics listed in the I Corinthians to identify how those characteristics are detected and measured, explaining as he did why those characteristics reveal Christ-likeness and how (with practical examples, esteeming others, long-suffering, etc.) the whole of the law and the prophets rest on these principals, and how Christ who emptied Himself provided the model for our actions.

Still with me?

So I have to say he spoke for probably an hour and the whole thing was coherent, well organized, detailed and consistent.  As an engineer (and a Christian) I was frankly spellbound, as I have no doubt the other engineers in the congregation were. His arguments were thorough and conclusive. He was, how can I say this, analytical and dispassionate. I think my wife (who is not an engineer) used the word monotone.

At this point, if you think about it a little, you can see how this sermon was, not only a thorough exposition on why Love is essential to the Christian life but, an excellent opportunity for practical application of the principals contained within the message.

How cool is THAT!  🙂

So here is my question. Is it more likely that this man, though clearly intelligent and thorough, planned that level of recursion (and was a sufficiently accomplished actor to pull it off – remembering he is after all an engineer), or did God providentially answer our corporate prayer?

Because I believe self-similarity is part of God’s signature on the natural world I choose option #2, and rejoice.

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I was reading a blog that I frequent on occasion. The author happens to be an Atheist. I read and comment on his blogs and we have had some interesting discussions back and forth about the nature of the universe and reality. Normally I would just post this as a comment on his site, but I’m doing it here because the thought is only partially related to his post (which as it turns out was motivated by another post, and so it goes).

The thought is about the child’s game “Why”.

Even if you have never had children you have still been exposed to the game either as a child yourself or in popular media (tv, movies, etc). The game goes like this…

Initialize the game – Child: “Why _____?”

Parent,Uncle (other appropriate victim): “Well that’s important because _____.”

Begin recursion – Child: “Why?”

At this point the game has for all intents and purposes two terminal points.

  1. God made it that way.
  2. Just because. (I said so, that’s just the way it is, etc)

Some people consider these terminal points equivalent. I think there is a significant difference in the two. The reason for this is the very next question, which I think it is reasonable to ask, “does the terminal point make sense?”

Of course in practice either answer is a valid end to the game because it’s past bedtime and the silliness has to end.

BUT – these two terminal points have very different implications. Terminal point 1 implies purpose and terminal point 2 does not. While I understand the argument for equivalence from a “fairies in the garden” perspective, I submit that if you consider the alternate worldview (living God, divine plan, etc.) then terminal point 1 is in fact a real answer to the game. God made it that way and He has a purpose which includes judgement, redemption -the whole ball of wax. Of course the game should continue with, “Why did He make it that way?” However at this point there is an answer that actually addresses the question. “Because He knows the end from the beginning”, “Why?”, “Because He is God” and so on until bedtime.

The alternative termination, “That’s just how it is” does not actually provide an answer, the “There is no answer” choice. “It just happens that way”, “We don’t really know”, “A random series of events combined to create life and all our emotions and feeling are just the byproduct of the process we needed to go through to become sentient beings.”

Now the question at this point is not “Why” but, “Does the answer makes sense?” I am going to suggest that by definition only terminal point 1 makes sense because one of the synonyms for “sense”, and in fact the one that is closest to the intent here, is “meaning”. We could, without doing damage to the the question, just as easily ask. “Which answer provides  meaning?”

Even a child knows the answer to that.

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An affair of the heart

When I was a much younger person, I spent a lot of time trying to reason with people about the cross of Christ. After all it seemed to me that once we understand what it really means and why, there is no logical reason not to embrace the gift and take the thing that we have really wanted all along as our own. Life, peace, purpose, hope, love.

But that isn’t how it works, because this isn’t a knowledge problem.

Way back in the garden (so the story goes) we were “educated”. Now to be clear, knowledge is not a bad thing, after all in the story knowledge made us like God, and being like God isn’t a bad thing. Knowledge is a good thing, like the Law is a good thing. But knowledge, like the Law, can’t fix the problem (and we all know there is one) it just helps identify what the problem is.

God doesn’t ask us to open our minds, He asks us to do something much more difficult and dangerous, He asks us to open our hearts.

Having an open mind is no real danger. It just means we might learn something and as the story tells us we can always evaluate the good and the evil safely, with the appropriate level of detachment. Having an open heart? That’s something else altogether. An open heart can be hurt, disappointed, rejected or broken. We learn pretty early about the dangers of an open heart, and more importantly we learn how to close it.

It isn’t that God doesn’t want our minds or our bodies, indeed the commandment is to love Him with all of it. The heart, that’s the tough one. The heart is the thing we protect, the thing we don’t risk, where our treasure is. As it is written where your treasure is that is where your heart will be. Like our treasure we keep it safe.

Since He is God He probably knows this, and still our heart is the very thing He asks us to trust Him with. He wants us to open our heart.

I think the reason is we cannot love if we don’t.

This makes perfect sense since He IS love, and of course its the only way we can experience His life in and through us, and yes it is the thing we all want, the thing we cannot hoard. It is the thing that truly satisfies our soul.


It requires opening our heart.

Which requires hope, which requires faith.

But be of good cheer, it doesn’t require a lot, just a little. No more than a mustard seed, which is very small indeed.

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Creation and Evolution – Footnote

Just after my last post I ran across a link to the kind of book I was looking for when I settled for reading Dawkins’ God Delusion. A blog by a professor of biology at Gordon College has a link to a book review, The Evidence for Evolution in 100 Pages. As I was reading the review one paragraph jumped out at me because it lined up so well with what I had been thinking about that evening.

“Another potential shortcoming is Rogers’s treatment of creationists. Throughout the
book, Rogers uses creationist arguments as starting points in presenting new lines of evidence for evolution. Rogers is unnecessarily respectful of these creationist arguments, however. Although he does dispatch them, Rogers treats creationist arguments as worthy of discussion alongside the evidence for evolution. In a book aimed at presenting the evidence for a scientific theory, creationists or any other non-scientific group should be referenced as nothing more than politically or religiously motivated individuals with an ignorant axe to grind.

The Italics are mine.

I had been thinking just how fiendishly clever (oh, lighten up) Evolutionary Doctrine is. Consider – if your worldview is limited to the Natural Universe, there is nothing outside of that system capable of causing life (nothing at all for that matter). The mere fact that we exist is, well, an existence proof of evolution. There simply is no other explanation. Not only that (and this is the fiendishly clever part) there is no reason to question that conclusion UNLESS you believe there may be something beyond the Natural Universe! If you ask the question you immediately expose yourself as one of the “politically or religiously motivated individuals with an ignorant axe to grind” that you most certainly are. You have to give the devil his due, its positively diabolical in its simplicity and effectiveness (I can’t help it, I like the joke).

Lest you confuse my obvious axe grinding as simple hysteria consider that according to Mr. Lennox (God’s Undertaker pg. 144) Barry Commoner observed “To some degree the theory [the genome accounts completely for an organism’s inherited characteristics] has been protected by a device more common to religion than science: dissent, or merely the discovery of a discordant fact is a punishable offence, a heresy that might easily lead to professional ostracism.”

Why would the established scientific community welcome disruptive information? Are today’s scientists less (more?) human than the scientists protecting the geocentric system when Galileo rocked the boat?

Anyway, I plan on getting a copy of “The Evidence for Evolution in 100 Pages”, because I presume the arguments are more convincing than the reviewer’s digest of them. For example the reviewer mentions that proof “whales evolved from land-based ruminants” is based on the fact they share “rare stretches of DNA that are unlikely to be shared by two species unless they have a common ancestor.” This is an argument based on the probability that the DNA sequences occur, which is obviously also and argument against evolution.

Not sure how you get to have it both ways, but then again I’m not a scientist and we already know I have an ignorant axe to grind.

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Creation and Evolution

I heard on the radio awhile back that the church was coming to a “Galileo Moment” with respect to the science of Evolution. Referring of course to Galileo’s defense before the Catholic Church of the Copernican heliocentric perspective (the Earth revolves around the Sun) as opposed to the (then) prevailing Aristotelian view (the Earth is stable and all revolves around it).

I am an old man, but I am still young enough to have been taught (by law – here in the USA) what all schoolchildren learn, that life Evolved and was not Created. Almost forty years ago I had to reconsider my childhood lessons when I came to know the Living God. Fortunately for me there was a flurry of media hype over the discovery of Lucy about that time. The theoretical aspect of Evolutionary Doctrine was underscored by the media of the day amid cries “the books” would need to be rewritten.

Since the radio said it would be a “Galileo Moment”, I figured it was time to look at the issue again.

It is important to examine exactly what the “Galileo Moment” was. In the early 1600’s the established scientific and philosophical community (which included the Catholic church) had a vested interest in the doctrine that the Earth was the center of the universe. This was the prevailing perspective taught and the one embraced by the State Church.

Galileo’s observations led him to the Copernican view, which the technology of the day was providing continued reinforcement of. The entrenched scholastics, concerned with their standing and reputations forced a showdown which resulted in the “Galileo Moment” (which was really precipitated by Galileo’s intended or unintended representation of the Pope as a buffoon in his publication of “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems“, it seems he was notoriously politically insensitive).

To re-examine the issue I did some research, which included reading “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins,  from which I hoped to get a clear definition of how Darwinian Evolution answers the question of the existence of life as we know it (it does not). From that book’s Wiki page I found another book by John Lennox  which addresses many of the concerns I have over Evolutionary Doctrine. Mr. Lennox’s book, “God’s Undertaker” was clear, not overly technical (no PhD required) but detailed enough to be satisfying. In particular I found the philosophical evolution of the theory of evolution from the work of Epicurus and Lucretius interesting in the light of the quote from G. G. Simpson that all attempts to answer the question “what is man?” prior to 1859 were worthless and we would be better off ignoring them completely.

The relevance of the Galileo moment is precisely due to the established position Evolutionary Doctrine has as The explanation of existence. In the USA it holds this position by legal fiat, not by evidence of fact, and from what I see the technology of the day is continuing to undermine its claims to credibility. Computer simulations, molecular biology, the fossil record, the complexity of even the most primitive living cells all demonstrate what we intuit by simple observation – like produces like. It is the startling absence of transitional life forms that is the most effective refutation of Evolutionary Doctrine, and this has not changed in the last forty years (or the last 150). If anything our increasing ability to research and examine life at scale has only sharpened the edge between adaptation and evolution. Nevertheless it would take a “Galileo Moment” to admit these facts because at present, without Evolutionary Doctrine, there is nothing else to teach! I am at a loss to imagine how schools in the USA, supported from State coffers, could offer any alternative to the naturalistic worldview of Evolutionary Doctrine.

So it is not science that keeps this doctrine in place but law. Just as the Church in the 1600’s tried to hold back the progress of science, today the State finds itself in this same unenviable position, because to admit we do not know is to allow the impossible.

As I thought more about this philosophical conflict it occurred to me that even if we conclude our existence and the world we exist in requires a Creator God, we still have a major problem.

If there is a Creator God powerful enough to create the universe, that power does not engender worship but fear. If the world we see was made and not random whoever created it can be incredibly cruel based on the suffering that seems rampant in it. When I consider that power and glory my heart trembles and I want to crawl into a hole to get away.

The existence of a God powerful enough to create the universe may mean we should worship Him, but it doesn’t mean we will worship Him (well apart from Rom 14:11). This is because worship implies devotion and devotion implies love.

It is not God’s power revealed in His creation we worship (well if we do it might be argued we missed the point), it is the goodness, the love, the justice we worship. It is those characteristics of God we desire and experience which engender the true worship Christ said the Father desires.

That kind of worship requires we first open our hearts to understand what it is that God has done for us. Only then we can open our minds to understand what that means.

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So great a cloud of witnesses…

I’m reading Children of God (spoiler warning), the sequel to Mary Doria Russell’s Si-fi work The Sparrow.

In the book there is a passage where the author describes the experience of a transformation from believing in God, to experiencing God in a personal way. The description echoed my own “ecstatic” moments. The sensation of being overwhelmed by God’s love, knowing there was nothing that I had done, sacrificed or offered that could measure up to the fulfillment of that experience. The experience is (was for me) very much like being in a river (of living water). It’s not a static fulfillment, like having a glass or pitcher filled. It’s more like the glass is suspended in and carried by the river. The glass is not holding the water, the water is holding the glass.

This reminded me of one of my earliest posts last year about Anne Rice. As I mentioned at the time she narrated a description of experiencing the presence of God that caused me to wonder if she had become a Christian.

Which brings me to the point.

When Paul spoke to “the men of Athens” he pointed out that their own writers understood we are God’s children. Our respective experiences of the divine indicate that there is in fact an objective reality to our experiences, they are common and recorded in history.

It is a simple fact that man experiences what he understands to be the divine love of God.

For that fact to become more than just data requires a response of faith.

In keeping with Russell’s books – Deus vult – God will’s it so.

Which is unfortunate because that phrase was the battle cry of the First Crusade. Like Allah akbar is today (at least our poets say so).

This would seem to highlight yet another objective fact.

We collectively understand that God is a loving God and so we kill each other, we understand that God is the greatest good and respond with great evil. If we are to believe both history and literature we individually and collectively know what is right but individually and collectively do the opposite.  We are guilty, and we know it. Guilt, if we are to believe history, literature and modern psychology, brings death.

It was like this thousands of years ago and it is like this today. As was explained in the Bible thousands of years ago, the tree of knowledge is not the tree of life. We are sinners and need redemption, not education.

This is still true (and I find that an amazing comfort).

We may argue inerrancy, inspiration and details of interpretation, but what is undeniable is the accuracy and constancy of the broad picture and the working solution the Bible gives us of God, mankind and their relationship. God loves mankind, mankind needs God’s love and forgiveness, God has made a way for each of us if we will accept it.

As the Bible tells us, we ignore this at our peril.

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… so be good for goodness sake.

I’ve been doing some recreational reading recommended by a co-worker, a sc-fi book “The Sparrow”, by Mary Doria Russell. While I was reading the other day, a bit of dialogue jumped out at me. I was struck by the following exchange between the central character of the book, a Jesuit Priest, and another main character an unbeliever. The exchange starts with the priest saying;

And yet, you behave like a good and moral person.

The response, which the author explained was explosive and expected, ended with…

I do what I do without hope of reward or fear of punishment. I do not require heaven or hell to bribe or scare me into acting decently…

There is an important idea here – nobody is “good and moral” for a bribe or from fear.

To begin with, it is inconsistent. How can we be “good and moral” for a bribe – does a child that behaves well for a treat make a moral choice or a selfish choice? Conversely can we be “good” from fear – again a child that behaves well from fear of punishment can hardly be said to be “good”, well behaved maybe but not “good”. If I remove the threat of punishment and the child is no longer well behaved what does that say about the character of the child?

If we are choosing to do the good or moral thing as a good or moral choice it has to be because we value the good and moral above ourselves, it cannot be self-centered (or self-justified). This is true whether or not we believe in God. To borrow the phrase of a well known song, if we are good we are “good for goodness sake”.

I think its clear that there is an objective standard of goodness revealed in the history of mankind. The ubiquity of the Golden Rule is well established. Without arguing that it is always the standard of every culture and time it can certainly be said to be the most universal. When we talk about good and moral behavior this is the normative definition understood. The implication of this objective standard of goodness is that it is not self defined or self-justified. The value basis is external to the self. If we choose goodness for our own sake this really is the same as choosing good for selfish reasons. It may not seem so immediately but if we think about it, eventually it comes down to pride, whose standard is it we are choosing?

Where does this objective standard derive its power.  The Theist says, God and puts the matter to rest because God addresses the needs of the individual and the group. Without God it isn’t quite so tidy. Without God the needs of the group may be addressed, but the needs of the individual are given short shrift.

We may say that this is good and moral, after all the choice must be selfless. The problem is that it breaks down for the group if too many individuals don’t value the good. With God there is a reason to trust and to believe that we don’t have to make the selfish choice because we’ve got someone more than capable watching our back. Without God we are left with dumb luck and perhaps the nagging suspicion that we’ll be screwed if we do the right thing. That might be noble but it isn’t very bright.

So the question about why someone is good and moral if they don’t believe in God isn’t about bribes and punishment, that makes no sense. The question is, just what is the faith they are demonstrating based on?

After all as someone once said, “The just shall live by faith.”

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One of those moments…

I had one of those moments in church yesterday. You know the kind, where something is at once broad, deep and high, profound and sublime. The kind of moment that defies expression.

Yet here I go trying to express it…

I was alone standing in a crowd of people, families mostly, also standing in their pews. I was not really alone, I knew one of the men nearby and was “church acquainted” with another, but my wife was at home not feeling well, so I was aware of a sense of solitude. In any case we began to sing a song about the majesty of God. I don’t know the name of the song, but it started out with something like “before time began…”.

That phrase tripped a thought in my head about just how BIG God had to be, “create the universe” big! Ginormously big! Incredibly big!

And the incredulity of anything so incredibly big crept into me. How, “on God’s green earth” 🙂 , could anything that BIG, so BIG that it cannot be contained by space and time, so BIG that it strained my concept of BIG to imagine it. How could anything like that contain something as limiting as a personality, consciousnesses as I understood it. How could anything that BIG even consider mankind, let alone me.

My mind was boggled – overcome with fear and astonishment, but there was something more. There was also the niggling idea that I understood. That the secret had been revealed, that I had entered a level of understanding that many others had not.

As I looked down I saw two small children no more than 2 and 3 kneeling on the floor in the row in front of me drawing on paper (just making lines really they were not old enough to make shapes yet). They were both looking up at me, both of them, and their faces were wide open. Children that age can be sneaky, but they are not subtle. These two were both looking at me with open faces, not questioning or expectant just looking, together, at me.

And that’s when I had the moment!

The contrast of big and small, the difference between my pride and their humility. The marvel that the Enormous God of the universe would care enough to let me see what He really expected of me in such a compelling and mysterious way at that moment in time.

It was profound and sublime. It was God.

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Hope on the radio

My wife and I were riding in the car on New Year’s Day and as we drove we were listening to National Public Radio. We like to mix up the content of what we listen to and NPR has interesting programs.

In any case the program we were listening to was about a new CD of Woody Guthrie’s music put out by Nora Guthrie (Woody Guthrie’s daughter). The title of the CD is, A Note Of Hope. Nora Guthrie said something that stuck in my head, she said, Without hope we [man] would be dung, at the bottom of the evolutionary ladder. Or something pretty close to that.

What struck me was the contrast between Hope and Evolution in my own mind. You see I don’t believe in evolution. I know I’m a troglodyte, ignorant and uneducated, but I just have too many problems with the science and the theory. That is, however, fodder for other posts. The idea for this post is where Hope comes from, what is it based on?

I think about reason and the why of human existence. I believe there is a why beyond the accident of natural selection. I understand that some very intelligent people are satisfied that the answer to the meaning of life is that there isn’t one. I am not one of these. I think that Hope is one of those things (like love) that we need to survive and that Hope (like love) is a real thing, not a fantasy or the by product of our physiology.

Think about it, if Hope is only there because we need hope then it isn’t really hope is it?

And we do need Hope. Even when we won’t admit it for fear that our Hope will be crushed, we still nurture Hope inside, clinging irrationally to the life raft of possibility. Why is this? Because natural selection has caused us to evolve with a penchant for Hope so that we can survive through difficulties of famine, fire and flood? If you are honest you must conclude an evolutionary Hope is false even if the reasoning is logical.

So I believe there is a living God who created me and loves me, and that belief is the foundation of my Hope. My Hope is based on something, it is real.

Of course the doubter may say my Hope is no less fantasy than Hope defined by evolutionary biology. There is a significant difference however. My Hope is possible, the definition of Hope. The hope of the evolutionary biologist is stillborn, it can never be true Hope.

And that is another reason why I am still a Christian after all these years.

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The words of Life

I woke up this morning thinking about the struggle of faith.

There is a struggle between the flesh and the spirit, between truth and lies, between darkness and light.

As Christians we are told of this struggle, warned that it will be and advised to prepare for it. If we fight the good fight we are not wrestling against men, we are in fact wrestling for men.

In the book of Acts Paul is continually reasoning with those he would reach with the Gospel of Christ. Both history and experience tell us that no one was ever argued in to the Kingdom yet we also know that we must be prepared to speak to men about the Lord Jesus Christ.

So here is a paradox – we must listen to be heard.

This is common knowledge but is is not without risk. Listening to the “opposing views of responsible spokesmen” means exposing yourself. When we listen we may hear.

Sometimes this is a good thing because from the struggle we learn the difference between the conventions of men and the commands of God. Sometimes this is a good thing because we learn to listen for and wait on the Lord, leaning not on our own understanding. Sometimes this is a good thing because it breaks our hearts and our pride, reminding us that we are not His by clever words.

Ultimately we must do exactly what we ask of those we reason with – trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I think this is part of being prepared, training for the contest, reasoning with ourselves about the things of God with honest hearts. When we do we can be confounded, after all these things were hidden “from the wise and learned” for a purpose. When that happens to me I end up coming back to Peter’s response to the Lord after many of the disciples left Him over His hard sayings. The Lord asked if the twelve also wanted to leave, but Peter answered, “where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

So there is the nub of it. Eternal life starts with our trust in Him. Once we have tasted the words of eternal life, where else can we go to get it and how can we live without it?

Footnote: I was reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and in the first chapter he recounts a letter written to Einstein from a believer who confessed to having doubts. Dawkins accuses the man of “intellectual and moral cowardice”(pg 38). This is absurd (given the context of the “confession”) and demonstrates an appalling lack of understanding (at the conceptual level) from an apparent (self styled?) expert on faith in God (assuming he wrote the book with some authority). It did cause me to think about my own intellectual machinations, the result was my morning reverie.

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