Friday, January 30, 2015

THE CARPENTER OF THE SILENT TOOL

 
Today, I will do my work by hand;
Carefully choose my wood, as I had planned –
Not to be cut by motorized tool,
But implements of old to shape to and sand.
 
Ahh… I belong to the old-time school.
The one that consists of unconventional fools
Who work by their own distinctive law.
We, the carpenters of the silent tool.
 
No electric current do I draw.
My workbench holds no power saw.
Only simple tools – hand saws and planes,
Chisels and hammers – a vise with wooden jaw.
 
Wood must be handled to know the grain,
To read of its history of drought or of rain.
Only to the hand are these revealed…
The tale of the great fire and the hurtful stain.
 
To those who seek the history unsealed,
Noise of a motor seems too loud and too cruel.
The secrets of wood will remain concealed
To all but the carpenters of the silent tool.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

TORMENTED SOULS (PART2)

(This post is a continuation of the previous one of a couple of days ago. Before reading below, please first scroll down to read part 1, if you have not already done so)
********************************
          There a two things that I would like to say in regard to those who would respond negatively to my statement that our righteousness does not depend upon our own actions, as we see in the case of the  Old Testament man Lot (see previous post). The question being, if our righteousness does not depend upon our own "goodness," what is the point of trying?
**************************************

First of all, we must recognize that Lot may be an extreme case, but at the heart, this man is no different from the rest of us.  We are all like Lot.  We all pitch our tent as far as Sodom.  We all, in some manner, try to get as close to the world as we can.  We may not be so overt as was Lot, but that is only because we are sneakier.  If God was going to eliminate all Lots, we would all be condemned.

Righteousness cannot depend upon our actions, because if it did, we would all fail.  Is that not the whole point of the Cross of Christ?  Did Christ not accept the penalty for our unrighteousness so that we could live in His righteousness?

The second thing that I would like to say is this:  Note that Peter says that Lot’s “righteous soul was tormented day after day.”  Lot thought, as many of us think, that if he befriended the world, he could benefit from the world, and at the same time benefit from the righteousness of God.  Lot thought that he could live with two conflicting natures.

We notice that Lot wanted to have the angels in his home, but he also wanted to maintain his relationship with the men of Sodom by appeasing them. He called the men of Sodom, “My brothers.”  Lot was looking for benefits from both sides.

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that the actions of Lot and our own actions may be different in degree, but they are the same in nature.  We want the blessings of God but we also want to maintain our friendship with the world.

But Lot was wrong and we are wrong.  It was because of this dichotomy in the life of Lot that, as the apostle Peter said, “his soul was tormented day after day.”  One who is called of God should never be comfortable in the midst of overt and extreme sin and rebellion.

Actually, when one thinks about it, the follower of Christ cannot be comfortable in this setting, because it is against his nature as a child of God.   Does a fish benefit from a breath of air when you take it into the boat?  It does not.  The fish is not in his own nature and he is tormented.  When a child of Christ tries to gain satisfaction from the world, he is out of his real nature. Instead of fulfillment, he finds only torment.

One of the greatest problems in the church today is that we are trying to live our lives as did Lot, trying to befriend ourselves to the world by living with the world's standards of what is acceptable.  We try to reconcile the ways of the world to our life in Christ and we fail.  We wonder why we live with a constant inner struggle, trying to follow our lives in Christ while at the same time hoping to benefit from the world.  We live as did Lot, with tormented souls, and we do not even know it.

The New Testament writer James is unequivocal about this condition:  “You adulteresses,” James says, “do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4 NAS).

The question is not if God is able to deliver the righteous; even those who live as did Lot.  We see that God did, in the end, deliver Lot from the wickedness of the city of Sodom.  God can and will deliver.  The question is instead, how are we to live at peace with ourselves while living in this world?  If we are living with tormented souls, we are not at peace.

The Apostle John also gives this advice:

Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever (I John 2:15-17 NAS).

What John tells us makes perfect sense if we think about it for a moment, especially in the light of what we have read about the life of Lot.  The child of God has been created to abide forever.  His life is one of eternity.  The things of the world however, are not only sometimes wicked and debased, but they are also only temporary and are passing away.  How can a being that is made for eternity find fulfillment in the temporal?  Lot did not.  He tried to, but instead only found his soul in torment.

If our true citizenship is of heaven, we can only know peace in our lives only by living according to the culture and the nature of that kingdom.  Is not that what Jesus meant when he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give you”? (John 14:27 NAS).

 “These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world” (Words of Jesus in John 16:33 NAS)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

TORMENTED SOULS

The Rescue of “Righteous Lot”

One of the verses in the Bible that has always confused me is found in the book of Second Peter.  I am still somewhat perplexed by it, but not so much as before:  Peter tells us that God “rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men.”

Note that the writer Peter calls Lot “righteous.” Then, to emphasize that point, he adds, “For what he saw and heard, that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds” (2 Peter 2:7-8 NAS).

Three times in a single sentence, Peter uses the word righteous to describe the man Lot. Is he talking about the same Lot about whom I have read in the Bible?  Is this the Lot who “moved his tents as far as Sodom”?

When Lot’s uncle Abraham, in order to keep peace between him and his nephew, suggested that they separate their flocks and then gave Lot first choice on where to go, Lot immediately chose the valley of Sodom. He did this even though we read that “the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13).

Not only did Lot settle in the same valley, however, but even moved his tents very close to the city itself.  From this action of Lot, we can see that he was trying to get as close to the world of the wickedness of Sodom as he was able without actually entering. However, it could not have been long before he did enter. Indeed, Lot later became one of the city leaders of Sodom, a city which is often thought of as one of the wickedest cities in history.

Is Peter, in calling Lot “righteous,” speaking of the same Lot who, when he was visited by angels from God, offered his two virgin daughters to the mob to rape and abuse in any way they chose rather than allowing these evil men to have their way with the angels?  That is, after all, what Lot did.

The angels had been sent to the city of Sodom in order to destroy it.  Lot saw them coming because he was sitting in the gate of the city, an indication that Lot was probably part of the ruling council of Sodom.

When Lot saw the two angels approaching, he recognized them as such.  He invited the two to his home, perhaps not so much out of hospitality but out of fear of what might happen to the angels in that wicked city.  The angels at first refused, but Lot was insistent, and the angels were finally persuaded to come to his home.  However, that evening, the men of Sodom surrounded the house and demanded that Lot send out the two angels so that they could rape and molest them sexually.

Lot, instead of rebuking the men of Sodom, attempted to appease them.  “Please my brothers,” Lot said to them, “do not act wickedly.  Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you , and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof” (Genesis 19:7-8 NAS).

Can this be the same Lot to whom Peter was referring when he called him “Righteous Lot?”  Perhaps surprisingly to us, it is the same Lot.

In his writing, Peter certainly seems to go out of his way to make the point that Lot was a righteous man.  Three times in a single sentence, he calls him righteous.  Why should Peter have gone to such great lengths to emphasize this point?

Despite Lot’s series of very bad choices; despite the fact that he had all but lost the light of God’s presence in his life, the Lord still considered Lot “righteous.”  Do we see that our true righteousness does not depend upon our actions, as the very extreme example of Lot shows us? Rather than this, it depends instead upon whether or not we belong to God.

I know that immediately, there will be some that will say that if this is true, then it does not matter how we live our lives.  If one could live such an unrighteous lifestyle as Lot and still be considered righteous in God’s eyes, what is the point of trying?
 
There are two things that I want to say in response to this thinking:
 
******************************
In a couple of days I tell you what those two things are in the the conclusion of this article

Thursday, January 8, 2015

SCIENCE AND THE CASE FOR GOD (PART 2)


(Please scroll down to first read part 1 on this post)

I do not usually go online to see the reader comments about articles in the newspaper (see previous post), but I did for this one. The article may have set some sort of record for responses. There were well over four thousand replies from readers, both favorable and critical of the author’s point of view.

I did not read so many of the comments, but it was interesting to get the gist of what the readers were thinking. I even wrote my own response, something I almost never do. But I did so because I felt that I had to respond to a sentiment of several readers who expressed an opinion concerning what they saw as scientific bias. They said that having the belief that there is a God is contrary to the scientific pursuit of knowledge.

In the words of one of the readers, belief in God “Slams the door shut on real (scientific) exploration because the conclusion precedes the research and actual evidence.”

This is what many people believe. They think that if someone believes in a Creator God, it must mean that they are not interested in finding out about the origins of life and of creation. After all, these people think, if one believes that all was created by God, there is no real reason to understand how it all came about.

I had to disagree. In my way of thinking, the fact that there is a designer in no way inhibits our desire to know and to understand the origins of life. Quite the contrary, I should think that it would increase our desire to know

If we understand that there is a grand design and plan to the universe, and that all of this did not just come about by random chance, then we understand that it is possible to know. The more we come to understand the design, the more we will understand the workings of the design. And of course, the more we will come to know the Designer.

In addition, this desire to know and to discover is the essence of the human spirit. We see it in almost every walk of life. The exploration of the world itself would have been impossible without this desire. Without it, it would have been too foolhardy, too reckless and too difficult to leave the safe shores of a continent to set out on flimsy boats to search the seemingly limitless expanse of ocean.

And if one believes that there is a design and a reason to it all, this belief does not decrease that desire to know, but rather only increases it. We daily try to solve puzzles and mysteries, along with a host of other exercises just because we are endowed with this quest for knowledge to know the design.

For instance, we do not do crossword puzzles believing that
they are merely random white squares placed in an arbitrary fashion, into which we try to put some letters with the hopes that, in the end, it will all make sense.

On the contrary, we try to figure out what should go in the squares precisely because there is a design and a designer to the puzzle. We use the clues given to us to try and solve the mystery.

That, I think, is the true human spirit. The true human spirit is the desire to know the design of our world and of our universe. Knowing that there is a design and a designer makes it possible for us to believe that we can begin to unravel the mystery. They are not just a series of senseless and random occurrences, but steps put in place by a Designer, a Creator.

In my way of thinking, the true scientific quest will not lead us away from God. Rather, the more we come to understand our universe, past and present, the more it should lead us to God.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

SCIENCE AND THE CASE FOR GOD


Several days ago, there was an interesting article that appeared in the newspaper that comes to our house. The article was entitled, Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God (by Eric Metaxas, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 26, 2014).


In the article, the author took issue with the widely held opinion that as scientific knowledge progresses, people would understand that there would be less of a need for a “God” to explain the universe. However, as the author Metaxas states, “It turns out that the rumors of God’s death were premature.”

Metaxas then goes on to explain that in 1966, astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important conditions that are necessary in order for any planet to support life. These two criteria were, 1: the right kind of star (like our Sun), and 2: a planet that was just the right distance from that star (like our Earth). Using these two conditions and the estimated number of planets in the universe, Sagan said that there should be about a septillion (1 followed by 24 zeros) planets in the universe that could support life.

This hypothesis of the probability of extraterrestrial life set in motion a large effort to come into contact with these intelligent life forms that must be out there.

SETI was formed. SETI, for those of us who may have forgotten, was the project called the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. This project was not merely a few quack scientists with tin-foil hats that got together to peer through telescopes, but highly respected, well-educated (and well-funded) men and women.

These scientist listened with a vast network of telescopic radios, trying to detect any type of sound indications in the universe that would resemble not merely random signals, but something that could be construed as coded intelligence.

But after these optimistic beginnings and after more than fifty years of listening, the silence coming from the rest of the universe has been deafening. In the words of the author of the article, “Researchers have discovered precisely bubkis, (0 followed by nothing).”

What happened was that as the scientists increased their knowledge of the universe, and as they came to understand better all the factors needed to support life, the two parameters that Sagan supposed grew to the necessity of 10 conditions that are essential, then to 20, then 50, and the number kept on increasing. Today, scientists recognize more than 200 known parameters necessary to support life.

As we came to realize what was really needed for a planet to support life, Sagan’s septillion planet estimate dropped to a few thousand planets, and then continued to fall. In fact, the number of possibilities dropped to 0, meaning that from what we can understand, even the earth should not be able to support life. We should not even be here at all!

The author continued on to tell of some of the almost unbelievable conditions that need to not only be present, but even fine-tuned in order for human and other life to exist. He argues that the more science learns, it will not explain away God, but instead confirm the existence of God.
********************************************************
I can see that this post is again getting a little lengthy. I will have to split it into two. In a few days I will tell you some of my own thoughts on the subject, including in what way solving a crossword puzzle is similar to the scientific quest for knowledge.