Saturday, November 7, 2015

John 4:24 Neither location nor ceremony important

Quoting Jesus: “God is a Spirit, and those worshipping him must worship with spirit and truth.” The circumstances surrounding that statement involved a Samaritan woman that Jesus engaged in a conversation. She raised one of the differences between her beliefs and those of Israelites. Jesus’ response involved two key points recorded in the 21st and 24th verses. (Other translations) In verse 21 Jesus indicates that the location is not important to true worship. In verse 24 he indicates that sincerity, obedience, and understanding the true essence of a personal relationship with our Creator are the key elements to true worship in a manner that God approves.

Focus more closely now on verse 24 and consider: How does a person worship "in spirit"? According to the actual Greek text, the word "pneumati" (as used in verse 24) can have two meanings. The first is a personage (God, the demons, spirit beings). The second is a dominate disposition (meek, haughty, etc.). A current-day example might be when someone says: “You have a very kind spirit.”

In context of the scripture, to worship God "in spirit" would be to demonstrate the qualities of a true Christian such as recorded at
Galatians 5:22,23. (Note that none of the things listed in Galatians have to do with ceremony, ritual, or formalistic worship.) In contrast, the religious leaders in Jesus day were more concerned with outward appearance than with sincere devotion.

So how then do we worship "in truth"? With ceremonial and ritualistic forms of worship stripped away, what is left is realizing that the only truth is found in God's own word. For those living today, that "truth" can only be found in the Bible. So-called "truth" beyond that is not what God has sanctioned, no matter how good it sounds. Why is that significant? Because the Bible itself says that God’s word is all a true Christian needs to serve God properly.

Related articles:
What Does God Really Want From Us?
True Righteousness - Romans 14:17

Monday, November 2, 2015

True Righteousness - Romans 14:17

In the 14th chapter of Romans, Paul discusses both religious ceremonial practices and the mundane of whether certain foods might be considered inappropriate (because they had been previously used in pagan sacrifices before arriving at the public meat market.) One interesting point is made in verse 17, “For the Kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but means righteousness and peace and joy with holy spirit.(Other translations)

If we get the full impact of what Paul is saying, if we can extrapolate the principle that is being conveyed, we should come to the conclusion that any ritual, religious or otherwise, is not what is important. What earns us points with God is "righteousness." Thus, if you take all the motions that are common today, whether it be the way a person walks, the way they perform certain gestures, the officious-sounding words they use, or any other such thing, it all amounts to nothing in the sight of God. True righteousness is a condition of the symbolic heart and a mental resolve to obey God and love fellow man. (The Christian ministry is part of our loving our neighbor.)

Does God Discipline Non-Believers?

So I have considered if God tests us and if God punishes us through natural disasters. However the idea of God disciplining humanity in general is a bit different. In today's society, for anyone other than the parents to administer “discipline” in the form of punishing their own children is frowned upon. School authorities are delegated a certain degree of authority in that regard but physically touching the child is condemned.

The Bible uses the word discipline to encompass not only correction and chastisement, but also for gentle instruction. It is applied to actions God takes towards believers, not to those who are non-believers. This can be better understood when we realize that, in the Bible sense, discipline and disciple are related words. God's teaching and direction are intended to make us faithful followers (aka disciples) and therefore "disciplined" in the ways of righteousness. This is a teaching method that is usually gentle but sometimes much stronger. Perhaps the closest to this concept is that of an “academic discipline.” Obviously, non-believers reject any such discipline – teaching, molding, correction or otherwise.

However, even estranged imperfect humanity is God's creation (offspring of Adam), not just believers. God does not desire anyone to be destroyed but wants them to gain everlasting life. Both the proclamation Jonah was sent to deliver to Nineveh and the public preaching done by Christians today demonstrates that God does at very least provide warning so that those that heed the warning might live. Just as parents are known to warn a disobedient child as a form of discipline, in that sense God likewise disciplines before taking the next step. If those not obedient to God turn around from their godless ways (as in the case of Jonah’s Nineveh), God is merciful. If however, they reject even the warning, it will turn out badly for them, just as in the days of Noah.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Neural Nets and Intelligent Design

Watch this video:

What I find interesting from a “believer’s” point of view are the following comments:

“Neural Nets ... allow the computer to operate a little bit like your brain operates… The elements of a neural net aren’t exactly like a neuron, they are much less complicated and there are far fewer of them.” - Calum Chase (at 19 seconds thru 35 seconds)

“The sort of things that go on in nature are often ... they are quite profound.” - Doug Orr (starting at 42 seconds)

These two quotes, one from an AI author and the other from a software engineer working at SwiftKey, help us to see that believing we are the result of random freaks of natural selection is much harder for a reasoning, logical, intelligent mind to accept than is the conviction that a higher power (God) made us. In fact, even if humans ever do manage to make a machine that matches the ability of the human brain, all it will demonstrate is that much higher intelligence than mankind currently, collectively possesses was necessary to compose such a design and device. Even after they make that device, they will need to shrink it down to fit into a human skull in order to match what humans now, and have for centuries, possessed. (When you consider all the “great” scientific minds working on AI today and yet they barely touch the complexity of what evolutionists ascribe to mindless, undirected changes, it is really baffling that those same scientists can claim, with a straight face, that mindless evolution did what they still cannot do.)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Human Consciousness - What Is It?

Reading a medical dictionary’s definition of human consciousness, I had to ask myself with each bullet item what it was about that definition that was different from what animals have. In some cases I was forced to concede that animals have, to some degree or another, the characteristics cited in the definition. After contemplating the definitions, I tried to find something that really demonstrated that human consciousness was unique amongst life on earth.

First (not necessarily foremost), human consciousness is the unique ability to anticipate events and consequences and to plan our lives. The phrase "subjective awareness" (as used in the dictionary definition cited above) perhaps best defines the separation between humans and other life forms on earth. We have the ability to decide what is important and discard the less important whereas, in general, animals tend to react to any stimuli regardless of its importance. We understand and can differentiate between perceived, real, and non- threat. (There is no single authoritative definition of "subjective awareness." One college article said it is "what a person chooses to believe." If true, this also demonstrates the separation between human and beast. Animals do not "choose [what] to believe," rather they react to sensory inputs.)

Human consciousness is also what defines our ability to reason, hypothesize, imagine potential and create. Whether that creation be furniture or art, it is something that doesn't exist naturally. Some may argue that such is not creation, however I am not using the term in the same sense that the Bible speaks of God's creating things. However, it was by our use of cognitive reasoning, ability to see potential, and then to use skills through both individual and collective experience that gives us the ability to both "create" and expand on that for improvements.

Finally, for those who believe in God, human consciousness is the ability to grasp the unseen -- namely that intelligence superior to ours is what made us. Granted, atheists and agnostics are humans the same as believers are humans and their rejection of a creator does not lessen their humanity. However, with animals the concept of superiority stops with the visible. They have no consciousness of a God, gods, or whatever. They do not worship, they do not try to contemplate and understand the cosmos, nor even their own existence. However, mankind, even some atheists, have never stopped looking for a reason and understanding of why we are here.

In short then, human ability to anticipate, to plan (individually and collectively), to imagine; to improve our lot; and to worship are all unique features of human consciousness.

But now comes the big question -- where did this awareness, this cognition come from? The answer to that is not something atheists can adequately answer with any degree of satisfaction. To brush it off as a quirk of evolution demonstrates an air of arrogance like a professor that really doesn’t know the answer so he makes something up and then emphatically claim that his position is correct because of his education. However, those believing in God, especially those accepting the Bible, readily appreciate the value of knowing that humans were made in God’s image. Part of that “image” is the cognitive powers that no other creation (except angels) is mentioned as having (nor has any other earthly creature demonstrated). (Obviously the word “image” here cannot mean the compositional characteristics. God is a spirit being. Today, with our knowledge of science, we might more readily describe him as an intelligent energy life-force of some sort. Man, on the other hand is physical. So we must look to other characteristics, such as those already mentioned, in order to make sense of what the Bible is teaching.)

(The Bible teaches that God’s four main attributes are love, justice, wisdom and power. These also are demonstrated by mankind. While animals may to some degree demonstrate power it is not only power as in strength that the Bible is speaking of. Also, animals do care for their young and herd, however, the love humans express is usually considered a higher degree of cognition.)

It is my personal feelings that the very reason science cannot agree on how to correctly and accurately define consciousness is that it rejects the very foundation that we are made in God’s image. Without that ground-floor belief, nothing else makes sense. There really is no reason, evolutionary or otherwise, for man to have this ability apart from it being an endowment by a loving creator.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Leviticus 5 Testifying to an Event

Leviticus 5:1 reads: “If someone sins because he has heard a public call to testify and he is a witness or has seen or learned about it and he does not report it, then he will answer for his error.”

I have always understood this to mean that if a person observes wrongdoing, he is under obligation to report it. However, after reading the revised translation above along with the footnote to this scripture, I realized it could also mean the need to come to the defense of an innocent person.

Although the judicial arrangement back in ancient Israel was different than our modern means of carrying out justice, the principle is still the same. As lawyers are ramping up to make & present their case (on both sides, plaintiff and defendant), they will typically interview anyone that has any knowledge of the events that lead to the court case. Back in ancient Israel, it was up to each community member to willingly and readily come forward both with information that may prove innocence or guilt. What Lev.5:1 is legislating is that anyone holding back knowledge is guilty especially before God. Typically the phrase “he will answer for his error” meant the death penalty if such a person withheld pertinent knowledge or evidence. We might think that such a penalty was extreme, but even in today’s courts, withholding evidence is akin to perjury and in some cases is punishable by a prison sentence.

So both in ancient and modern history, withholding what we know about a critical matter can end up affecting our own freedom. It is not a small matter. Whether it is something that can exonerate or condemn a person, if we have information pertinent to the case and the charges, we need to report it.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Should Beliefs Be Kept Private?

Recently a celebrity of Jewish background made a statement about her beliefs that the online community decided to stick their uninvited noses into. A few stated that religion and faith are a personal, private matter that shouldn't be made public. The celebrity quite rightly observed that as a public figure, her whole life was public and under constant, sometimes unwelcome, scrutiny.

For those who believe in the Bible, is it really so that we should keep our faith to ourselves? Is it really true that public declaration of belief is wrong? No, indeed! Actually both of those questions can and are answered by the Bible itself. But before considering that, there is a principle that Jesus mentioned at Matthew 6:21. It reads: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In my short lifetime (60+ years), I have observed that to be true about the things we choose to talk about. Someone who loves sports will readily use that as a conversation piece in public. Someone skilled in music or some artform will readily talk about those things in public. Since we all talk about the things that are important and meaningful in our lives, why in the world would talking about something as vitally important as our relationship with our Creator be considered taboo?

Then, when we consider that even homosexuality is openly discussed and even legalized in not only the USA but other countries, an intelligent person has legitimate cause for pause when they are told that talking about morals and matters of faith are wrong. “Immorality is okay, but morality is not” is essentially what is being said by those that try to squelch expressions of faith. For all the twisted excuses that people have in invoking “freedom of speech,” our faith is one specific area that is actually intended in the constitution of the USA. No, that doesn’t give radical believers the right to shove their morals in other people’s faces, but calmly sharing faith cannot and should not be compared to those extremists.

Merely silently believing in God is as worthless as knowing that natural disasters happen but never making any preparation for them. In both cases, our beliefs don’t do us or anyone else any good. The writer James makes a sobering point when he says that demons believe in God, but that belief will not save them -- in fact, they know it means their destruction. Still, some want to put God in a box (aka, “church”) and keep him there out of their lives.

Anyone claiming expressions of faith and belief in God should be kept private, has not read Jesus’ words at Matthew 28:19,20. Just as anyone is granted freedom of speech for any number of topics in public, I require others to respect my right of freedom of speech to talk about God and Bible. If you choose not to listen, you don’t have to. But don’t tell others they can’t or shouldn’t share what has meaning in their lives.