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Stating the obvious – words matter!

18 Jan

Aren’t you thankful that God created us with communicative language skills?  I often take that gift for granted.

Two recent ‘aha!’ moments brightened my day and made me grateful for the insights words can provide.

The first one:

This morning, while walking for exercise, I listened to a John Piper sermon where he mentioned God’s purpose for creating you & me.  He cited Isaiah 43:8 when describing what God says His reasons:

  • everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.

What was new to me was that the fact that God WILL be glorified by every person.  Piper framed it like this.  Are we going to glorify God like Judas or like Peter? It’s not up to US whether we glorify Him or not.  If God says He created us with the express purpose of showcasing His glory, then He will. For being God, by ontological nature, everything that He wills to be done IS/WILL BE done.  And how do WE know what His will is?  From what He says, what is written in the Bible.  Words!

The import of this fact that God will be glorified by each of the people He creates is this: Whether we die as a hardened God-hater or rather as a person whose heart burns to proclaim and point to the wonders of God, each of us WILL bring glory to Him when He rewards or punishes us.

The second one: 

Alan Shlemon from Stand to Reason wrote a letter about how Jesus modeled truth and compassion while on earth.

As I began to read, I assumed I knew what sense of ‘truth’ Alan was addressing:  the truth that Jesus, as God, had about the moral failures of everyone He met.

But the way Alan described Jesus’ use of truth was in focused study of someone.  Read this excerpt from his letter dated Thursday, 5 January 2017:

In Matthew 9:35–36, for example, Jesus is going through all the towns and villages, healing diseases and sickness, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. Matthew writes, Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” Notice the order. Jesus learns the truth and then is motivated by compassion. He sees that the people are distressed, dispirited, and like sheep without a shepherd and, because of that truth, He is driven to compassion.

I had never considered that use of truth.  But because of how Alan painted Jesus’ actions toward people, I now WANT to look more carefully at those around me, to study their tone, their faces, their postures and ask the kind of questions that will give me some true insight into their burdens.  I know this:  only THAT kind of truth will soften my heart.

 

The other kind of truth can puff up, even if it’s accurate and well grounded.  (I’m not arguing against the responsibility we all have to KNOW truth and live by it.)

So here’s to WORDS and the power of eloquent and accurate communication, whether from a fellow created being or our Creator!

Your questions matter!

26 Oct

Control and certainty appeal to 21st century earthlings.

Is predictability always a good thing? Just how much value CAN a world of no doubts offer?

Looking at my own life, I know that routine and a state of ‘no surprises’ make me FEEL safe.

That safety, however, is sometimes illusionary.  Consider a ‘normal’ where status quo is dangerous to our health.  Against better judgment, we might still choose what the familiar. ‘They‘ say this bent to the customary translates into women likely to return to a relationship with a known abuser.  A kind of ‘better the devil you know’ reflex.

What I’m suggesting as a healthy alternative is a modus operandi that goes beyond a degree of comfort.  Bypassing certainty, this approach employs careful questions about what is NOT known.  The byproduct?  a potential wealth of new knowledge.

Good teachers borrow from the past interactive habits of Socrates and Jesus to guide students to ask questions and think their way to new awareness.  Haven’t you found that you are more likely to swallow and accept a thought you generate rather than one imposed from someone else?

Kim Brooks, a 2000 alumna from the University of Virginia, writes primarily from her questions, rather than from what she knows.  In an interview for a recent article in UVa’s alumni magazine, she describes how FREEING and relief-providing this way of approaching a new book can be.

What would our schools, businesses and governmental agencies be like if constituents felt free to admit uncertainty about solutions?  Wouldn’t the entire planet heave a sigh of relief, having dumped the weight of false pride that absorbs so much energy?

Don’t weaken the anchor ropes of your faith!

21 Sep

Do you ever play out an imaginary conversation between you and someone else?  It could be with a hypothetical person or maybe with someone you know whose likely responses you think you can predict as well.

anchor

I spun one out yesterday as I read an essay meant to encourage Christians about the trustworthiness of God’s promises as recorded in the Bible.

Anyone who reads the Bible knows that it teaches that God never changes.  All his characteristics are not only inalterable, they are perfect and pure.  God’s qualities or attributes are the standard by which we created beings know what moral values look like. Which kind of values specifically?  To name a few, consider:

  • beauty
  • goodness
  • strength
  • truth
  • evil
  • mercy
  • wisdom
  • peace

The essayist whom I was reading argued for the importance of integrity and how we long for it in others.  Given our election choices this year, who isn’t interested in a candidate who will do what he or she promises!  Alas, we know that human beings will always disappoint, both others AND themselves.  Why? because created human beings have limits; we are finite and fallible!  But the God who created all things is always true to his word.

Why is this important?  Because life is filled with suffering and the promises to Christians in the Bible are hope-giving and life-sustaining.  Ken Boa, the author of what I was reading wrote, “Because it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2), he is the ultimate and reliable source of hope…….Whatever he says he will do is as good as done, and when we hope in his promises, this hope becomes an anchor for the soul…(Hebrews 6:19)”

My imaginary conversation took flight at this point.  I have a relative who does not believe that all the Bible is true.  She picks out what seems reasonable to her.  Not a very reliable metric, wouldn’t you say?

Here goes:

Me:  We can count on God’s promises in the Bible because what he says comes to pass, whether in our lifetime or later.

She:  How can you say that?  The Bible is just primitive man’s interpretation of his world around him.  We know better these days.

Me:  Do you think that about the New Testament as well?

She:  Not as much as I do about the Old Testament.  I’m sure that parts of the New Testament are true, like Jesus’ words.

Me: Why wouldn’t you think all of it is reliable?

She:  Because the Bible was written by men prejudiced by their times and lots has been changed in all the translations since the originals.

Me:  Do you believe God is all powerful?

She:  Yes, I would say so.

Me:  Do you believe God is all good?

She:  At least MY God is!

Me:  Well then, do you think that an all-powerful and all-good God would be incapable of insuring that what he intended to be written actually got written and translated correctly?

She: (I can’t predict what her response would have been at this point)

Where would you have gone in this conversation?

Dear friends, clear thinking and logic are tools not just for political arguments or policy debates.  Our handling of the tools of rational reasoning and clear terms is vital to our very life.  For anyone to retain the gift of faith that God has granted, a Christian must think clearly.

There are many attacks on Christianity today and those who number among the Church must know what they believe and why.  And all our TRUE beliefs find their source in who God is and what kind of sovereign Creator and Sustainer He is.

If we lose our faith in who he is as recorded in his Word, the Bible, we will drift with the cultural tide and be miserable.

Another reason for believing God

31 Aug

Do you accept God for who he says he is in the Bible because the written words are true?

And do you know that the words are true because there is enough external evidence to warrant true belief?

Or do you trust God and his words because you always have and don’t really think about why you do?

I ask because I learned of another way to justify one’s belief in God.  Listening to a podcasted discussion (Unbelievable with Justin Brierley) between 2 philosophers the other day introduced me to the concept of ‘properly basic beliefs’ and ‘non-propositional’ logic.

As a layperson, I gleaned that a properly basic belief is one not based on other propositional truth or on evidence, but accepted and trusted.  These are beliefs that can’t be proven. Examples might be:

  • the sense or knowing that there is more to life than what we see
  • 2 + 2 = 4

The American philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, offers this example:

  •  I think other minds exist because I have a mind and I exist, but I can’t prove it.  All might be an illusion (remember The Matrix?).
  • Nonetheless, we humans do accept that if we exist, then others exist. And if we acknowledge THAT as a rational belief, then might we not also accept as rational the proposition that God exists?

This way of ‘argumentation’ does presuppose that we humans have the capacity to think rationally.  (to use this lingo, “the belief that humans are designed to think rationally” is properly basic)

Plantinga points to the ‘sensus divinitatis’ in every human as evidence that the existence of God is a rational conclusion.  This sense of the divine appears in every culture across the expanse of history.

So what do you think?  For Christians who are commanded by Jesus to explain the good news of God’s rescue plans to all we encounter in our daily lives, is this approach sufficient?  Probably not.  But as we live out ‘the Great Commission’ we are learning and assembling a ‘tool kit’.  I’m reassured just knowing that intelligent Christian thinkers across the centuries have vetted what is probably common to all people I meet.  There ARE convictions we hold as rational without being able to articulate any propositional or evidential reason other than, “I just believe it!”

 

How logic rescues us from false guilt

29 Jun

John 14:15  If you love me, you will keep my commandments

At first reading, I feel convicted.  I must not really love God, for I don’t obey his every commandment.

But that is a reverse and false reading of this hypothetical conditional premise.

Jesus, who instructed his disciples right up until Roman guards arrested him on the eve of his crucifixion, did NOT teach:

If you keep all my rules, then it’ll be true that you love me.

Well, then what was it that he taught?  Here’s both the bad news and the good news (Gospel) of our love for God.

  • No one naturally is capable of loving God, for everyone is born with a birth defect called hatred or indifference toward God
  • If we feel ANY affection for or interest in the biblical God (as described in the Bible), then that is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s saving work in our stony hearts.  Only God can swap out a stiff and impenetrable heart and replace it with a softness and inclination for him.

So what about the ….”then you’ll obey me” clause?

Think of it like this.  When someone loves you and you feel love for him or her, you naturally want to please him or her.  You want to know what they think, what interests them, what they consider important.  So it is with God.  Because he loves us first and then follows that electing and intentional love by implanting in us a reciprocal love for him, we receive new desires and delights.

If it is THAT easy to twist the meaning of a Bible truth through faulty logic, what other realities might we have equally misconstrued?

 

Scientists imbibe philosophy, some without thinking

25 May

I’m a fan of repetition.  Arguments and their detailed steps of reasoning lodge themselves within me for my ready use ONLY through constant hearing and understanding.

repetition

So I was pleased the other day when a logical rebuttal sprang into mind upon hearing the core belief of scientific naturalists – Scientific naturalism refers to the view that only scientific knowledge is reliable and that science can, in principle, explain everything.”

A site that explains scientific naturalism

I have reached the comforting position, having acquired certain arguments, that I KNOW -were I to meet face to face with a proponent of scientific naturalism, I would ask them:

  • How can you be sure that ‘scientific knowledge is alone to be trusted as well as the only source to explain everything’?

Think about it: just how is scientific knowledge obtained?  Through observation, hypotheses and repeatable experiments and tests to prove or disprove a hypothesis.

But the REASONING that ‘this knowledge is the only source of trusted information’ itself cannot be observed, measured or quantified.  Why not?  For, sense perception is not the only input in the knowledge equation.  Some understanding derives through reasoning from assumptions.

The reasoning that undergirds their claim about the sufficiency of knowledge drawn uniquely from scientific data is truly MORE than physical; it’s meta-physical, that is it’s philosophical.

Furthermore, any reasoning that one employs while making sense of experimentation has to depend on some logical and natural laws that are accepted a priori, without testing.

As much as a scientist wants to be rational only, data-driven only depends on the assumption that he or she can trust their observations and reasoning.  The tacit acknowledgement of data that is authentic and real world seems to be taken for granted.

But not by all.  Apparently physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks we are living in a matrix, a computer simulation.  Link here  If so, then what we observe and measure would not be true.

Logical gals and guys, let’s be encouraged.  We don’t have to be experts in all the fields to engage gently with argument-proponents (or argument-imbibers) around us. We need only to be interested in what people believe and why.  There are only so many basic irrational arguments out there.  Learning the main ones and hearing multiple times what undergirds them leads to pattern recognition.   And if we ask questions in non-confrontational ways, we can help people examine some of their assumptions.

And for that matter, question OUR assumptions.  We want to be Truth-driven as well.

 

 

Gospel logic

18 May

God is able to make all grace abound to you that always having all sufficiency in all things, you may have an abundance for every good work. 2 Cor 9:8

I sometimes struggle with feeling as though I have SUFFICIENT time to do what I want to do – read during a period of the day when I am most alert.

So anytime I hear mention of the concepts of ENOUGH or SATISFACTION, which both can be described as contentment with the current supply, my ears perk up.

The other day, I was thinking about how  I might logically frame my feeling of sufficiency. Here is an initial attempt:

Premise 1: If I have all sufficiency in money, time and health, I am content

Premise 2: God has said that He is able to provide me with complete sufficiency

Conclusion: I should be content because I have access to my sufficiency by asking Him regularly for what I need

If the above reasoning is true, then why might I still struggle with a sense of lack or not enough?

Immediately the Holy Spirit reminded me of the PURPOSE for which God promises to provide me sufficiency.  Not primarily (so it might seem) simply to please myself, but instead to do the work that HE has planned for me to undertake.  In Ephesians, Paul reminds us that we are raised from the walking dead to being alive in Christ to undertake and carry out the works that God has planned for us.

For we are His workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10

(an aside, the Greek word for workmanship is poiema which some have rendered as ‘poetry’)

Okay – so when God gives us grace that translates into sufficiency, He says that it is not for our good pleasure (my reading), but to do the work that He has pre-ordained for us.

Hmm…is that disappointing?  Well, ça dépend! (that depends, as the French say).

Jesus said: My food/meat is to do the will of God who sent me and to accomplish His work – John 4:34  And food is the Greek word broma which means:

  • aliment which refreshes, delights or truly satisfies the mind

It seems that God is VERY efficient.  He has so created work both to accomplish His purposes AND to refresh me. I can be assured that looking to God the Father for what will ultimately satisfy me involves letting HIM assign and organize the work I am to do.

Left to please myself, I might think what I crave for restoration are the time and energy to READ.  But I am beginning to see that maybe I am not wise enough as the created being to know what is best for me.

I’m slowly learning to depend on my Maker to know what kind of high-grade octane nurtures, protects and optimizes my spiritual engine.

high octane