Monday, July 31, 2006

Psalm 15

Psalm 15, as rendered (mostly) by "The Message":

1 Yhwh, who gets invited to dinner at your place?
How do we get on your guest list?

2 "Walk straight,
act right,
tell the truth.

3-4 "Don't hurt your friend,
don't blame your neighbor;
despise the despicable.

5 "Keep your word even when it costs you,
make an honest living,
never take a bribe.
"You'll never get
if you live like this."

Camels and Gnats

Something I wrote to a friend some time ago, which I find interesting:
Jesus set the example that humour has great power to shine light on dark areas in one's life. His teachings are rather full of puns and sliders (some of which are obvious in the Aramaic language but which do not translate well into English, like the straining of a gnat ("galma") while swallowing a camel ("gamla")).

Thursday, July 20, 2006

An Interesting Turn of Phrase

"The Message" renders Job 31:12 thusly:
Adultery is a fire that burns the house down; I wouldn't expect anything I count dear to survive it.
Earlier, as rendered by the NIV, Job states:
I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.
If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or if I have lurked at my neighbor's door, then may my wife grind another man's grain, and may other men sleep with her.
These statements mean something. I think men everywhere should take them to heart.


Now, leaving a more spiritual and pure mindset, and dropping briefly into the gutter, I gotta admit that my brain at first glance rendered this last quote as "may my wife grind another man's groin". Which, I suppose, means the same thing, just not in such symbolic language.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

It's the Cell, Not the DNA

Back in Darwin's day, the basic unit of biological life, the cell, was considered to just be a blob of jelly-like protoplasm. As biologist Michael Behe puts it, it was "Darwin's Black Box" (a book I'd recommend if you have interest in such things).

Just in the past twenty or thirty years has it become clear that the cell is an incredibly complicated factory, having all sorts of machines on the factory floor, with pipes running to and fro, and communication conduits, and little factory-floor robots shuttling materials around, and loading docks, and emergency repair teams and warning alarms and monitoring sensors and on and on and on.

However, it struck me this morning that the average person on the street still believes that DNA is the stuff that makes us who we are.

I wanted to take a quick minute to help update the populace.

DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid) provides the programming that runs the factory equipment. It does not actually build that equipment.

So where does the equipment come from?

It comes from your mother.

Your mother provides a copy of her cells; this is the egg. She also provides half of the programming library (DNA) to run that copy of her cells. Your father provides the other half of the programming library.

You are essentially a cellular clone of of your mother, but the instructions (DNA) contained in the central library (nucleus) determine if your factory machines produce green widgets or red widgets, if they produce long eyelashes or short eyelashes, if they produce a dark-skinned person's dosage of skin-coloring melatonin or a light-skinned person's dosage of melatonin.

Kinda helps to emphasize what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:12:
For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.
This also explains how that an animal "kind" can reproduce after its kind, but still allow all sorts of "variation on a theme". (In reality, evolutionists find this "variation on a theme" all over nature, in the lab, and in the fossil record, while they only imagine "cross from one kind to another" change; yet they insist we are a product of this imaginary latter kind of change. Check out their "best examples" of evolution - "variation on a theme" is what you'll find.)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

More From Job

In the last entry I mentioned that Job seems to believe death to be final, but then again, maybe not.

Here's what he says in Job 19:25ff (NIV):

25 I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.

26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;

27 I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.

"The Message" puts it thusly:
Still, I know that God lives—the One who gives me back my life—
and eventually he'll take his stand on earth.
And I'll see him—even though I get skinned alive!—
see God myself, with my very own eyes.

Two things about this passage:

1) What's this business of the Redeemer standing on the earth in the end? Is that symbolic? Is it during the First Coming of Jesus to the earth? Or is it indicative that in the Second Coming, Jesus will actually step foot on the earth again? (I only ask this question because in my church background, we've been taught that the New Testament indicates that "we'll meet him in the air, and so shall we ever be", without Jesus ever setting foot on Earth again, whereas many other groups teach that not only will Jesus return to the earth, he'll do so for 1000 years or some variation thereof, depending on who you're talking to.)

2) This sure seems like a clear-cut indication that Job believed in a bodily resurrection; not just some ghostly spiritual body. That's my take on things also -- well, actually, I tend to think that the distinction between physical and spiritual may not exist then as it does now.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Tidbits from Job

"The Message" is an interesting version of the Bible. I would not use it as a "study Bible" by any means, as it's way too "loose", but it sure inspires thoughts that normally wouldn't be prompted in my mind by a standard version of Bible.

Here's an interesting passage from chapter nine of Job. In the midst of his suffering, Job says:
God and I are not equals; I can't bring a case against him.
We'll never enter a courtroom as peers.
How I wish we had an arbitrator
to step in and let me get on with life—
To break God's death grip on me,
to free me from this terror so I could breathe again.
This may or not have any messianic relevance, but it struck me as sounding decidedly messianic.

Then, just a few chapters later Job says:
O Earth, don't cover up the wrong done to me!
Don't muffle my cry!
There must be Someone in heaven who knows the truth about me,
in highest heaven, some Attorney who can clear my name—
My Champion, my Friend,
while I'm weeping my eyes out before God.
I appeal to the One who represents mortals before God
as a neighbor stands up for a neighbor.
Definitely sounds messianic to me. But then, what do I know?

Another tidbit I found was in chapter 12:
Strength and success belong to God;
both deceived and deceiver must answer to him.
That second half just resonated with me.

And the final tidbit that has struck me, so far, in this book, is that Job seems to not believe in an afterlife. All his talk of death seems so final, like this passage from chapter 14:
But men and women? They die and stay dead.
They breathe their last, and that's it.
Like lakes and rivers that have dried up,
parched reminders of what once was,
So mortals lie down and never get up,
never wake up again—never.
But then again, he at least seems to hope for a resurrection, for right after that passage he continues:
Why don't you just bury me alive,
get me out of the way until your anger cools?
But don't leave me there!
Set a date when you'll see me again.
If we humans die, will we live again? That's my question.
All through these difficult days I keep hoping,
waiting for the final change—for resurrection!
Homesick with longing for the creature you made,
you'll call—and I'll answer!
So much stuff to glean from the word of God; so little brainpower with which to do it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Creation-oriented take on news

Fascinating website for those who have an interest in science news from a Creationist perspective:

Why Evil?

I just started reading the book of Job, and I got to thinking about how we humans would be if God directly rewarded good behaviour and punished bad.

I daresay that most of us would mostly behave very well. After all, if treating people with respect and doing good and never lying and never cheating on our spouses resulted in having riches and fame and fortune and the best looking and most pleasing spouse, we'd probably all do those good things.

But we'd do them for our benefit, not because we love God.

On the other hand, if we live a life of poverty, and have a horrible disease, and are treated like scum, and we still love God, then we really do love God, and are not simply faking it.

That's one of the main points in the book of Job. Satan accused Job of loving God because it had a high return on investment for Job. God proved Satan wrong; Job loved God because he loved God, not because he loved the rewards of "loving" God.

We often hear the phrase "he has the patience of Job"; I think the more desirable trait would be to have the love of God that Job had.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Esther: What an Interesting Book

So many interesting tidbits in the Biblical book of Esther.

  • The king of Persia, Xerxes, threw lavish parties, in which the "guests could drink as much as they liked—king's orders!—with waiters at their elbows to refill the drinks."
  • Ten or 14 eunuchs are mentioned by name in this book. The palace must've been crawling with emasculated men. I can't imagine a much worse (psychological) fate than to be taken prisoner and made into an eunuch.
  • Queen Vashti was a babe.
  • The Medo-Persian Empire was quite male-dominated.
  • Apparently when the King decided to put away his wife, he had the right to bring in all the young virgin girls he could find and "test" their suitability as a new queen. This test seems to me to be a night of sex.
  • Esther was one of these virgins, and apparently spending the night with the King was an honor, even if it meant having only one night of sex in her life and then living in a harem with other women the rest of her life, as Esther and her cousin Mordecai conspired to avoid saying anything that might spoil her chances at the opportunity to become queen.
  • Esther was raised by Mordecai after the death of her parents, but even when she was no longer under his roof, she did as he said.
  • Mordecai stuck to his principles, rather than doing the "In" thing.
  • "An order written in the king's name and sealed with his signet ring is irrevocable". An edict was sent out in the King's name, calling for the destruction of all Jews. Because of Esther's actions, a second edict went out allowing the Jews to take up arms and defend themselves. This second edict could not revoke the first, so it provided the means for the Jews to defend themselves, which turned to the advantage of the Jews.
  • The date set for the destruction of the Jews was determined by lot, or the pur. This same date is when the Jews were allowed to defend themselves, and became a great day for the Jews, worthy of celebration as an established holiday. Thus was born the Purim Festival.
  • The king allowed just the Jews living in the city of Susa a second day of "defense" against their enemies, and thus the Purim Festival became a two-day affair rather than a one-day affair, celebrated the day after the anniversary of the day chosen by lot, and the day after the extra day of "defense".
  • The Purim Festival became a national holiday for the Jews. Notice that it, like Hannakuh, were not instituted by God, but by humans. Notice also that Jesus celebrated Hannakuh (and can be presumed to have celebrated Purim). Thus, even though Christmas is not a Bible-ordained holiday, I personally have little issue with Christians celebrating it and attaching some religious significance to it.
  • Apparently the average person in the Empire was literate, being able to read the King's edict postings.
  • When Esther balked at risking her life to approach the king in an attempt to save the Jews from slaughter, Mordecai made this fascinating statement:
If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.
  • The book of Esther does not directly mention God. (Neither does Song of Songs.)
  • Fasting appears to have been a significant activity in ancient times, particularly in conjunction with facing a difficult decision or trial.
  • Again, at the end of this book, we see the author of Biblical material referring to extra-Biblical sources. This to me has some significance in our understanding of inspiration. I remember reading once a saying that has stuck with me for years: "If it's true, it doesn't need to be inspired." I'm less interested in arguing what is inspired and what inspiration means, than in simply determining if the text is accurate and reliable, which I conclude the Bible to be. With this view, I'm no longer bothered by the differences in detail from one Gospel account to the other; these differences attest to the reality of the event. It's similar to how a police detective might view accounts of a crime given by two different witnesses; if the accounts are exactly identical, they become highly suspect, whereas if the accounts differ slightly in various details, they corroborate each other as being seen and remembered from two slightly different viewpoints. This leads me to highly respect the accuracy of the Bible, while allowing for minor perceptual "issues".
All in all, I found the book of Esther to be an enlightening read.

Gouging with Interest

Nehemiah 5 provides an interesting slant on loan interest. Nehemiah scolded the lenders in Israel, saying,
A great protest was mounted by the people, [saying] ...

"We're having to mortgage our fields and vineyards and homes to get enough grain to keep from starving."

And others said, "We're having to borrow money to pay the royal tax on our fields and vineyards.

I got really angry when I heard their protest and complaints. After thinking it over, I called the nobles and officials on the carpet. I said, "Each one of you is gouging his brother."

"We did everything we could to buy back our Jewish brothers who had to sell themselves as slaves to foreigners. And now you're selling these same brothers back into debt slavery!"

"What you're doing is wrong. Is there no fear of God left in you?"

"I and my brothers and the people working for me have also loaned them money. But this gouging them with interest has to stop. Give them back their foreclosed fields, vineyards, olive groves, and homes right now. And forgive your claims on their money, grain, new wine, and olive oil."

I think of this sort of thing when I think about what happened at the bank this past week. Due to an arithmetic error in the checkbook, and then being away from the Internet on vacation for a week, I'm all of a sudden $180 poorer because of nine overdraft fees. I can understand the bank needing to cover some expense in such a situation, and wanting to discourage overdrafts, but this seems, well, evil, to me.

Divorce, Returning-Exile Style

I'm not sure what to do with the passage in Ezra 9-10. After all the preaching I've heard at church about the evils of divorce, I find that the Jews under Ezra determined "purity of race" to be more important than the sanctity of marriage vows.

The passage basically says that they realized that the people of Israel have not kept themselves separate from the nations around them, having intermarried with those people. Accordingly, they decided to divorce non-Israelite spouses and separate from them and from any offspring of those unions.

I'm not sure what to do with this.

I put my trust in Yhwh! Sort of ..., Mostly.

I found it interesting that after Ezra petitioned the King of Babylon for permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city, he had this to say:

I proclaimed a fast there beside the Ahava Canal, a fast to humble ourselves before our God and pray for wise guidance for our journey—all our people and possessions. I was embarrassed to ask the king for a cavalry bodyguard to protect us from bandits on the road. We had just told the king, "Our God lovingly looks after all those who seek him, but turns away in disgust from those who leave him."

So we fasted and prayed about these concerns. And he listened.

Ezra 8:21-22

Instruments in Old Testament Worship, and in the New

I had a friend write to me fairly recently,
I am not so sure about "instruments" (I guess you refer to musical instruments) and hand-clapping being present in the temple. According to my information these were more present in the idol temples of the gentiles.
This came to mind as I recently read from the Books of Chronicles such passages as the following (around chapters 29-31):

The king ordered the Levites to take their places in The Temple of Yhwh with their musical instruments -- cymbals, harps, zithers -- following the original instructions of David, Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the prophet; this was Yhwh's command conveyed by his prophets. The Levites formed the orchestra of David, while the priests took up the trumpets.

Then Hezekiah gave the signal to begin: The Whole-Burnt-Offering was offered on the Altar; at the same time the sacred choir began singing, backed up by the trumpets and the David orchestra while the entire congregation worshiped. The singers sang and the trumpeters played all during the sacrifice of the Whole-Burnt-Offering. When the offering of the sacrifice was completed, the king and everyone there knelt to the ground and worshiped. Then Hezekiah the king and the leaders told the Levites to finish things off with anthems of praise to Yhwh using lyrics by David and Asaph the seer. They sang their praises with joy and reverence, kneeling in worship.

All the Israelites present in Jerusalem celebrated the Passover (Feast of Unraised Bread) for seven days, celebrated exuberantly. The Levites and priests praised Yhwh day after day, filling the air with praise sounds of percussion and brass. Hezekiah commended the Levites for the superb way in which they had led the people in the worship of Yhwh.
It seems pretty clear to me from these passages, at least in Hezekiah's day, that instruments (and choirs) were part of Temple worship. (Other passages lend themselves to this conclusion also, but I'm not really on a proof-texting expedition; I just found that Chronicles addressed the issue somewhat.)

Concerning clapping, when a Psalm (47:1) encourages it, it seems likely that clapping was not unknown in Temple worship:
Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.
But that smacks of proof-texting, so I'll say no more about that.

Note that I'm not arguing that Christian worship should (or should not, for that matter) contain instrumental worship or choirs or clapping or burnt offerings; I'm only saying these things were part of the Jewish worship in the Temple in the olden days.

Even though the more solemn worship assembly of the synagogue arose during the Babylonian Captivity, after the return there are indications that choirs and instruments were still used in non-synagogal, Temple worship (e.g. Ezra 3:10-11, Neh. 12:27ff, 46).

If instrumental music was still a part of Temple worship in the first century (I won't try to make the case, but I believe it to be true), and if the earliest disciples, still being Jew through-and-through, were worshipping in the Temple (and I again believe that to be the case), then the indication is that instrumental music as part of worship is not un-Christian per se; it's just that in the non-Temple worship of Christians (as opposed to Temple worship, which would have ceased entirely after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.), instrumental music was not acceptable.

Accordingly, it seems to me that instrumental music has no place in the "formal" Christian assemblies (as that appears to violate the pattern established in early non-Temple Christian assemblies), but outside of those assemblies, instrumental music, as part of worship, seems perfectly acceptable to me. It took me many years to come to this conclusion, as it goes against what I was raised to believe, and it is likely to offend greatly many in the church I now attend, but I'm just trying to go where the evidence leads rather than just accepting my parents' beliefs as my own.

(By the way, my Dad seems to have a sense of guilt when he catches himself whistling church tunes when out working on his ranch, as non-singing "church music" is not acceptable in his belief system. Were he to adopt my belief system, as outlined above, he'd find his guilt issues to dissipate (which, by the way, is not an acceptable reason for adopting a belief system; a belief system should be adopted because it's True, not because it provides some emotional value such as dismissal of feelings of guilt).)

Worship as You're Able, Even if it "breaks the rules"

Some time ago a friend of mine and I had a short discussion. I held to the idea that if Christians were stranded on a deserted island due to a plane crash, and only had access to coffee and donuts for use in the Lord's Supper, it might be acceptable to use these non-Biblical items in that memorial event. I said,
In such a case, I would concede that perhaps the spirit of the worship takes precedence over the "truth".
My friend objected strongly, saying,
We cannot substitute what we have because that is all we have. Truth is that Jesus used unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine. If that is not available, AND it is physically impossible to make it available the way to do it (as far as I can see) would be to worship 'in spirit' only. Since we must worship both in spirit and in truth and it is physically impossible to obey the truth, then we should only worship in spirit. We cannot start worshipping in spirit and untruth!! That would be disobeying what God said.
In reading the books of Chronicles, I came across a passage that seems to support my viewpoint. (I wasn't reading to "prove a point"; I was just reading, and came across this passage which seemed apropos.)

It's in 2 Chronicles, chapter 30. Hezekiah, a "good" king over Judah, cleaned up the nation, getting rid of idols and worship-houses for false gods, etc. He had the Temple restored, which had been neglected and had fallen into disrepair. He did what he could to get the nation back on track with Yhwh as their God.

He then invited all of Judah, and their sister nation, Israel (which was even more prone to idolatry than was Judah) to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Passover, which had been, like the Temple, neglected for years.

However, because of practical reasons, they were not able to celebrate this feast in the prescribed, "Biblical" fashion. They could not celebrate it at the proper time (at least until the next year, if they wanted to wait); the people weren't properly consecrated; the priests weren't ready; they doubled the time for the feast, carrying it on for a second week beyond the prescribed one week.

Hezekiah, realizing that not everything was "kosher", prayed. Here's the basic passage, starting in verse 18:
Hezekiah prayed for these as follows: "May Yhwh who is all good, pardon and forgive everyone who sincerely desires Yhwh, the God of our ancestors. Even—especially!—these who do not meet the literal conditions stated for access to The Temple."
Yhwh responded to Hezekiah's prayer and healed the people.
Later, 31:21 says,
Hezekiah carried out this work and kept it up everywhere in Judah. He was the very best—good, right, and true before his God, Yhwh. Everything he took up, whether it had to do with worship in God's Temple or the carrying out of God's Law and Commandments, he did well in a spirit of prayerful worship. He was a great success.
I wouldn't want to be dogmatic about it, but it seems to me that God is more interested in the "spirit of the law" rather than in the "letter of the law", at least in some cases.

Read the Bible!

Some time ago I wrote:

The Living Word

We've all read it a hundred times:

For the word of God is living and active....
Heb 4:12

Recently, when I read this, it hit me.

It's not passive black text on a crisp white background.

It does something.

Put it in your head. It won't just sit there like a coffee cup on a side table. It'll do something. It's active. It's alive.

Just recently as I was reading the books of Chronicles, it struck me that the Kings listed in these books serve as examples to us; some were good Kings, striving to elevate Yhwh to the prime position over their nation, and some were evil Kings, turning to the so-called gods of the nations around them, along with the evil practices of those gods.

It's one thing to read the stories in the Chronicles, and learn lessons from each story; it's an entirely different thing to get an over-arching lesson of choosing to serve Yhwh or of choosing to serve other gods. If I had been reading the Bible in the "a little here, a little there" style, I still probably would have gotten the individual lessons from the individual stories, but I would have missed out on the thread that runs throughout the books - who ya gonna serve? Yhwh, or someone/thing else?

It struck me once again, that the only way to learn these subtle lessons is to read the Bible. Read it. Then read it again. Then read it again, in a different version, with a different mindset. Then read it again.

I'm afraid that we as a people have failed to read the Bible any more. Is it any wonder the church is so weak in the 21st century?

Acts of Worship

In the past few weeks I've had occasion to see the dichotomy between two different paradigms concerning worship.

One paradigm holds that worship is any outpouring of a reverential, value-assigning attitude toward God, and can be conducted at any time in any place in essentially any form. This paradigm holds that one may worship God when learning of a raise at his job, or when enjoying the intimacies of the marriage bed, or when reveling at the sudden release of a migraine into pure comfort, or when awestruck at the body's ability to heal paper cuts, or when thrilled about knocking a homerun in a game of baseball.

The other paradigm holds that worship is a formal act or set of acts that takes place at a specified time, and which has a formal starting and stopping point. This leads to the non-Scriptural term "Worship Service" which is applied to the regular (typically thrice-a-week) Christian assemblies. In my upbringing (traditional "Church of Christ"), there are "Five Acts of Worship" found in the New Testament and which are to be incorporated into the "Worship Services". These acts are singing, praying, giving, Lord's Supper, and preaching/teaching.

Whereas I believe that Christian assemblies should incorporate worship, and should conform to the general pattern of the first century assemblies, I do not believe that worship is limited to those occasions. I hold more to the first paradigm.

Fifth and Grape (the church I'm currently attending) appears to hold to the second paradigm.

As I sat in a "worship service" (cough) there recently, it struck me that these folks are inconsistent in their application of their paradigm. They believe the "worship service" should consist only of these five "New Testament example" acts. Thus their "services" don't include non-approved acts, such as singing "Happy Birthday" to members, or clapping (yes, I may touch on that issue some other time), or drinking coffee and having donuts while listening to the preacher, etc.

Yet they do include the non-approved act of having announcements in their "services". I think most of them grew up with announcements occurring prior to or after the "worship service" time proper, but as they've aged, they haven't realized that they've allowed announcements to drift into, instead of staying before or after, the "services".

I just found that interesting.

Pure Religion

James 1:27 says:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
I've spent much of my first forty years of life working on the part about not being polluted by the world (not that I've been exceptionally good at it). Just recently it's been weighing on my spirit that perhaps I need to spend the next forty years honing the other skill of looking after orphans and widows in their distress.

Colorado Trip

I just got back from a week in Colorado. Had lots of fun. Here are the pix: