Solar Eclipse: Cosmic Coincidence?

On an NPR program this morning by Nell Greenfieldboyce, I heard how lucky we are to be living exactly at the right time to observe a total solar eclipse. A few million years this way or that and the moon wouldn’t match totally up to the sun as it does now.

The sun is 400 times farther away than the moon, and it just so happens the moon is 400 times smaller in diameter…so that’s why they look exactly the same size when they overlap.

Over and over the NPR commentator expressed how lucky we are and what an amazing cosmic coincidence this is–an attitude approaching awe.

“humanity is lucky to live on a planet that even has this kind of celestial event”

“Earth only gets its gorgeous total solar eclipses because of a cosmic coincidence”

“that perfect kind of magic”

“It’s just chance that humans exist [at this time]”

So these folks stand in awe of a cosmic coincidence. Yesterday, I heard another NPR program by Adam Frank as he explored the human response of awe. Here is a poignant paragraph:

For me, sacredness is an experience that rises above any particular religion and speaks to those moments when we feel the essential, original and irreducible potency of life. It need not refer to anything anyone would call “supernatural” but, instead, is rooted in our very real and very natural experience of the world. In that way, it is also a root of the aspiration to do science. As Eliade wrote: “The sacred is equivalent to a power and in the last analysis to reality. The sacred is saturated with Being.”

That’s right. Let’s not think anything supernatural has to exist in order for us to be struck with awe. This can all be defined and realized scientifically. Better yet, let’s make sure awe is defined as an entirely INTERNAL experience of the individual–more about YOU than about anyone else (and shhhhh! don’t think about a Someone who might have created all this).

What these folks either don’t know or are not explaining is that this focus on our internal BEING comes from eastern philosophies such as Buddhism. Enlightenment and truth, they believe, is found within, and truth comes from our own experiences. So, they insist, always look inward–never outward–for spiritual realization. Always believe you are in control of your own world; don’t think a Creator controls the world and that you exist as part of His creation.

“Sacredness is an experience…” the man says. The Bible defines sacredness as that which is holy, set apart to God. If you want this eclipse to be a sacred experience, then glorify God in it! Stand amazed; the Creator has built into His creation lovely, carefully-timed wonders that thrill and excite! Be in awe–but not because of a cosmic coincidence. Be in awe of the Creator and Ruler of the cosmos.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world. — Psalm 19.1-4

The Pattern of Sound Words

I just listened to a sermon which the preacher began by reading 2 Timothy 1.13:

Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.

He then proceeded to tell the congregation they should hold fast to the Bible patterns of…

  1. The Name of the Church
  2. The Organization of the Church
  3. The Activities of the Church, including…
    • Lord’s Supper every Sunday, and only on Sundays
    • Singing without instrumental music
    • No Church-sponsored Orphans’ Homes
    • No Church-sponsored Widow’s Homes
  4. The Five-Steps to Salvation

I’m sure I missed a few things, but those I remember.

What troubles me is that his beginning verse contextually has nothing to do with any of those issues. He committed a classic blunder by reading a passage and then going wherever he pleased with it, completely disregarding the context. This sort of slipshod treatment of Scripture leads to a watering down of the word and really tends to obscure the truth God has set forth.

We should demand preachers and teachers keep verses in context. That is not to say everyone should read the entire chapter every time, but certainly teachers must do their homework and understand the meaning and purpose of the text before presenting it as God’s word!

If we read 2 Timothy 1.13 in it’s immediate context, we find the “pattern of sound words” has to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (1.10). It has to do with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. It has to do with the grace of God and sharing in the sufferings on behalf of Christ (2.1-3). It has to do with dying with Christ (2.11) and enduring (2.12). It has to do with unity (2.14ff) and holiness (2.22ff).

I recommend preachers actually preach the word itself instead of “choosing a passage and then going everywhere preaching the gospel” (as one sarcastically remarked). If you don’t understand the context of the passage, you may end up harming your hearers. At the very least, your lessons will lack meat. At worst, you’ll end up preaching entirely your own thoughts and not the thoughts of the Lord. Those who study God’s word will stop listening to you.

It there a place for preaching on all those topics above? Certainly! If the Bible talks about it, we should teach about it. But allow the Scripture to lead!

This preacher missed many deep truths to be found in 2 Timothy because he wanted to preach on certain pet subjects. I hope he one day gets around to preaching on what 2 Timothy 1.13 is really about! It’s ironic that he so abused a passage on sound words.

Habits Every Christian Should Have: Speaking Truth

Just as Satan is the father of lies and liars, so God is the Father of truth-tellers and truth-seekers.

No place for a deceiver exists among the people of God. It is said of Jesus, “No deception was found in His mouth,” and that’s exactly what the Father wants from His children.

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to Him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feed that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6.16-19)

Part of growing up in Christ is learning to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4.15).

It’s one thing to speak truth with a neighbor and another to temper that truth with love. I’d love to tell everyone what their glaring faults are and how to fix them–isn’t that truthful? Perhaps. But it probably misses the mark of love by a wide margin. When I’m so focused on others’ faults and foibles, I tend to also miss my own, pride creeps in, and I end up looking down upon my brothers and sisters. So love must temper truth.

However, we must always speak the truth with one another.

Have you ever seen an adult lie to a child? This kills me. A father didn’t want his child to know he kept guns in the case, so he told the child the case held his fishing rods. What happens when the child finds out what’s really in the case? Perhaps he doesn’t explicitly connect the dots (“Dad’s a liar!”), but at least subconsciously he learns it is okay to lie to cover things up.

What’s worse is when a parent outright lies to another adult in front of the child–“No, my husband’s not home right now; you’ll have to call back later,” while said husband sits in the living room watching TV. The child learns lying is okay in order to avoid inconvenience.

Lying kills trust. If you lie to me even about a small matter, it then makes me wonder about anything you say in the future. If you’re okay twisting, tweaking, or otherwise adjusting the truth, I lose confidence in your word overall.

Is there a path to redemption after you lie? Can trust be rebuilt? Yes, it can. But trust is earned over a long period of time, and once trust is betrayed, rebuilding it requires another long road of consistent truthfulness.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another (Ephesians 4.25).

Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are His delight (Proverbs 12.22).

He Saved Us: Block Diagramming Titus 1.1-4

Have you ever heard of block diagramming? Here’s a small demonstration using Titus 1.1-4 as an example:

Block diagramming is a method of writing out the verse in such a way as to expose the meaning more clearly–in visual terms. You can see that most of the passage above is concerned with introducing the author of the letter–Paul. In fact, the first four verses of Titus do not compose a complete sentence but an elaborate salutation.

Paul wants his readers to know two things about him: (1) he’s a bondservant (slave) of God and (2) he’s an apostle (one sent out) of Jesus Christ. Throughout the letter Paul overlaps the names of God and Jesus, treating them with exactly the same reverence, honor, and respect.

Paul serves as an apostle (1) in order to build the faith of God’s elect and help them see the truth. The truth is not merely an intellectual exercise; it has to do with godliness, which is a life-attitude of thinking and acting toward God. This letter has a lot to do with explaining godliness.

Paul also serves as an apostle (2) standing upon the hope of eternal life. That eternal life is a major core teaching of the gospel. Paul says God (a) promised it before time eternal and (b) manifested it through the apostles’ preaching.

By repetition, Paul introduces a major theme of his letter: God is our Savior; Jesus is our Savior.

Oh glorious truth:

HE SAVED US!

Speak the Truth with Your Spouse

GossipLet’s talk spousal abuse.

No, don’t picture hitting or shouting.

Picture this: your spouse is not even in the room. You’re with some friends, chatting about life, and suddenly the conversation turns to spouses. One lady says her husband never considers her feelings any more–he just does whatever he wants. You commiserate because your husband has been getting on your last nerve, and several recent episodes tumble from your mouth as you vent your frustration. There! It’s been said. You feel better. You can go on with life.

Wrong!

You have just engaged in a bit of character assassination. Against the one person who should be closest and dearest to you!

God embedded this into the ten commandments: you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

“But what I said wasn’t false!” you protest.

Wasn’t it? Think back on the language used. Did you grumble, complain, and resignedly huff, “That’s just how he is!” Did you say “he never…” or “he always…“? Did you allow your frustration to color your language a little? Did you remember all the good he has done to you and for you, or were you only thinking of the recent trouble? When we use words like never and always, we lie, because it’s almost never true! Test it out…

frustrated woman“He never considers my feelings first.” That’s an animal and not a man you’ve just described.

“He always throws his dirty socks on the floor.” That’s quite a track record. Has he never once hit the laundry basket even by mistake?

“She never wants to do what I want to do.” Was that what attracted you to her in the first place?

“She always says just the thing to get on my nerves.” You must be just on the verge of exploding! And I’m sure you always respond with a gentle answer in order to turn away her wrath.

Husbands and wives, will you agree with me that we sometimes do bear false witness against our spouses? We really need to quit. It’s not healthy, it’s lying, and it’s sinful.

We ought to remember that our moods change. Murder is committed when people act in the throws of anger. Paul commanded,

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4.25-27)

All these commandments work together. Anger often prompts us to falsehood as we modify and reshape the truth to serve our own purposes. The best thing to do in our anger is usually BE STILL! Don’t act! Wait. Take a breath and count to 10. Or 100. Or 1000. Whatever it takes to cool off. If we speak in our anger and frustration we are apt to sin.

UpsetNext time you feel frustrated with your spouse try this:

  1. Don’t talk to him / her about it immediately. And certainly don’t talk about him / her to others.
  2. Pray about it and ask yourself why you feel so bad about it. Was she intentionally trying to hurt you? Does he even know how what he did or said affects you? Be honest.
  3. Maybe even wait a day or two before you address the problem, and in the meantime do something nice for him / her — just because.

I’ll be curious to know how it turns out 🙂 I have found most “issues” all but vanish given a little time and breathing room. I’d love to know how this technique works in your relationship.

Always speak the truth about your spouse!

Remember: Anger and lies give the devil a foothold in your life.

No King in Israel

TransgenderOur kids now entering college and university must endure a barrage of relentless propaganda designed to demotivate and demoralize anyone with a Christian worldview. After a generation or two of this pressure building, the country has stewed and cooked until it’s about to explode. The riots on college campuses in the face of authority, women marching in the streets uttering all manner of disgusting filth, constant whining and complaining from both right and left extremists–all result from an adherence to a post-modern, post-reason, post-logic worldview.

That’s right–our generation has sacrificed logic and reason. No longer is it right to say something is right or wrong. No longer is it good to say something is good or evil.

And there is a key to all this.

It All Comes Down to Authority

GenderWho has final say in my life? For this generation, the final say is “me;” I decide what is right or wrong for myself; I decide good and evil. I decide what my gender and sexuality is going to be. I refuse for anyone (even God) to tell me who I am supposed to be.

The following from the Huffington Post (3/15/2017) is an example of this kind of thinking, and an ever-growing subset of humanity is buying into this worldview:

My name is Kyle Graden. I use they/them/theirs pronouns and in general prefer neutral language (my brothers call me “sibling”). I don’t like labels, but “gender non-conforming” sounds the best if I am forced to choose. I am attracted to other people regardless of their DNA or gender identity (but to be perfectly honest, I am drawn to masculine expressions). That is my identity. It is mine to own, not for you to police. Please respect my identity and the language I claim for myself, because I will do the same for you.

Another Huffington article reminds us “Caitlyn” Jenner is still around and continues to confuse us by referring to him with the pronouns “she” and “her,” which Jenner has demanded everyone do.

Why am I not willing to be okay with calling a boy a girl if he wants me to? Why am I not okay with calling a woman a man if she demands it? It’s because of my understanding of authority. No one has the right (what?!) to change their gender. I may hug them and mourn with them because of their life troubles, just as I would any sinner caught up in sin, but I cannot call their evil “good.”

In the beginning “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1.27). Adam was created a man; Eve a woman. They didn’t have a choice because God didn’t ask which gender they felt like being. Neither do you or I have a choice about the sex or “gender” which God created us to be.

Why can I not think of myself as a dog or a moose? Why can I not consider myself a mighty god and demand that you bow before me? Our generation has opened the door to this right, hasn’t it? Why can I not consider myself physically, emotionally, and intellectually superior to everyone around me and just do whatever I well-please?

No King on ThroneActually, that’s exactly what folks are doing! They are doing whatever they please, and their authority for doing it is…themselves. It’s like during the days of the Israelite judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21.25). No king in Israel. No authority on the throne…except self.

The LAW OF THE LAND means nothing to people these days–because they don’t recognize authority. Refusing to obey the President is okay just because we don’t like his decisions. This filters down to the family as children refuse to obey parents because “they are too overbearing,” “they are unreasonable,” or “I don’t like their decision.” When authority breaks down, society commits suicide.

The Solution

Stop “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1.18).

The truth: you are not God, and you should not direct your own steps apart from God. When you do, you make a royal mess of your life and you flaunt His authority.

The truth: God created you and demands that you humble yourself before Him, listen to Him, obey Him.

The truth: God create you either male or female. Thank God for your strengths and your weaknesses, and just accept who and what God created you to be. You will know peace by accepting your Father’s gifts and learning contentment. “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” (1 Corinthians 15.10).

Let it not be said “there is no King” in your life. Christ is on the throne!

Worship…Not Just a State of Mind

Hands lifted in praiseIs worship just a state of mind? Is it a special feeling that lets you know you are properly connected to God? Is it a great swelling in your chest or a fire in your bones?

Let’s consider how the Bible talks about worship.

Some Pictures of Worship in the Old Testament

Genesis 24.26, 48, and 47.31 reference the action of bowing low in worship, and that wording is found all over the Old Testament.

Service and worship are often paired concepts (i.e., Deut. 29.26; 30.17).

When Nehemiah brought true worship back to Israel, we read the following:

On that day men were also appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions required by the law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who served. For they performed the worship of their God and the service of purification, together with the singers and the gatekeepers in accordance with the command of David and of his son Solomon. For in the days of David and Asaph, in ancient times, there were bleaders of the singers, songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving to God. (Neh. 12.44-46)

It is said “they performed the worship,” which again couples the concepts of worship and service, specifically temple service, in this case.

Singing kidsPsalm 66.4 parallels worship with singing, indicating that God is worshiped through songs of praises:

“All the earth will worship You,
And will sing praises to You;
They will sing praises to Your name.”

Psalm 95.6:

Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.

Psalm 96.9:

Worship the LORD in holy attire;
Tremble before Him, all the earth.

This does not mean we should dress our best, for some who would impress their brothers and sisters by outward dress are certainly not dressed in holiness! This has to do with the heart’s attire, it’s attitude of holiness before YHWH.

Praying HandsSome Pictures of Worship in the New Testament

The New Testament also shows that worship often involves some physical posturing or activity of service.

The wise men “fell to the ground and worshiped” the Holy Child (Matt. 2.11). Satan demanded Jesus “fall down and worship me” (Matt. 4.9). Jesus pairs worship with service in His answer to Satan: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only” (Matt. 4.10). Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, the disciples “took hold of His feet and worshiped Him” (Matt. 28.9). Before he understood better, Cornelius “fell at [Peter’s] feet and worshiped him” (Acts 10.25)–of course, Peter quickly corrected him!

In the early church, Paul writes of an unbeliever who “will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (1 Cor. 14.25), and in the Apocalypse “the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne…” (Rev. 4.10).

How Do We Worship?

Does our worship look like the Old Testament Jew’s worship? Does it look like the New Testament disciple’s worship? When was the last time you fell on your face in worship? When was the last time you knelt in worship?

I might quickly interject: “but it’s not really about the posture, it’s about the heart.”

Praying manIt certainly IS about the heart…but the heart should drive us to DO something, take some sort of action, perform some sort of service to the Lord. Although the word worship is never directly associated with singing, praying, or preaching in the New Testament, we understand all of those activities to be spiritual services of worship. But surely those are not the only ways to worship God! In fact, you might fall prostrate before Him and remain in that posture for a while, just reflecting on how GREAT He is in all His glory and magnificence. You might just kneel with your head bowed for a while, dwelling on God’s majesty and holiness.

Worship is not just a state of mind; it’s actively and intentionally diminishing oneself and magnifying God.

Worship is not just a good mood we get when we hear “Christian music”! So much of the so-called Christian world today thinks music ministry when they think of worship. For them worship is the time when the people on stage play music and get the crowd all worked up. When they cry, laugh, or feel a great swelling in their chests, they feel they have worshiped. But it’s not about the feeling at all. Those feelings may (should) result from true worship, but it’s the God-praising, God-glorifying, God-magnifying activities we do which are the actual worship.

What might we add to our worship? Perhaps we need to change some things? The best thing we can do is look in God’s word to see how He desires to be worshiped. Then do those things with all our might!

Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God;
Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Psalm 143.10)

YHWH be praised!

Rebuilding the Old Altars

Standing AloneHow did I miss such an obvious key in the Mount Carmel battle between Yahweh and Baal? It stares me in the face now as I read 1 Kings 18, and I reckon it was there last time I read through it–unless someone slipped it in on me.

After the prophets of Baal finished their frenzied pleadings, gashing themselves with sharp swords and spears, and yelling for several hours, a terrible and significant nothing happened. Their god either wasn’t answering or he didn’t exist.

But what Elijah did next contains even more significance. He “repaired the altar of Yahweh that was broken down” (1 Kings 18.30).

Why was it broken down? King Ahab had married the witch, Jezebel, who had introduced idolatrous Baal worship into Israel with a passion. Ahab had all but wiped his kingdom of the reminders of the One True and Living God, Yahweh, the God of his fathers. The broken altar on Mount Carmel remained as a witness against Israel for turning their backs on their God.

Lone FlowerElijah repaired that altar. His business was to turn the people from their wicked ways and return them to Yahweh, their true God. Elijah prayed, “Yahweh God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Yahweh, hear me, that this people may know that You are Yahweh God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again” (1 Kings 18.36-37).

The fire fell, consuming the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the water which soaked everything, and even the dust.

How else could the people respond? They cried, “Yahweh, He is God! Yahweh, He is God!” (1 Kings 18.39)

Are we waiting for God to turn our hearts back to him? Do we stand in the crowd with arms folded to see if the True God is still around, if He is mightier than our idols? Will we submit to Him now, or will we wait for fire to come from heaven?

The spiritually-minded among us understand we must repair the altars of Yahweh! We must return to the old paths of worshiping Him and Him alone! Let us rebuild those things which have been torn down because of sin, for we have all turned our backs on Yahweh and allowed His things to be destroyed.

Lone FlowerOur country seems to think majority makes truth. Get enough people to raise their hands, and that’s the way it should be, right? Wrong! I asked my kids yesterday, “How many people must agree together before something is true?” My ten-year-old quickly replied, “None. It doesn’t matter how many people believe something, it doesn’t make it true.” Elijah was one standing against 850. But in reality the contest was between Yahweh, God of heaven and earth, and nobody, because the gods of this world are absolutely nothing! Worthless lies. Empty promises. Baal didn’t answer because Baal wasn’t there!

Will you blend into the crowd today or stand for God in the face of the crowd? With spiritual vision, can you see that those with Yahweh greatly outnumber those with other gods? Stand today and rebuild those things which have been torn down. You are not alone!