Friday, June 27, 2014

Mark 4:40, Lacking Faith

Why should his disciples have had more faith--both that Jesus cares and can take care of bad situations? What experiences had they already had with Jesus? In chapter 1 they had witnessed Jesus expel a demon, heal Simon's mother in law, and even instantly heal a leper. In chapters 2 & 3 he heals a paralytic & others.

Luke, in chapter 8, records his corresponding account. Since his account was intended to be an "orderly" or "logical" account, which appears to be chronological as indicated by Luke 1:3, what precedes chapter 8 adds more insight in answering the question why Jesus' disciples should have had more confidence in Jesus. Chapter 5 (vss.1-11) recounts a miraculously large catch of fish. In chp.7 (vss.1-10) without even so much as seeing the sick child in person, Jesus heals the child "long distance." In the same chapter, vss.11-17, he brings a person back to life.

So, reiterating: He expelled demons, healed sick people, raised a dead person back to life, restored the flesh of those whose bodies had been ravaged by leprosy, and, with just a word, caused an abundant catch of fish. All of this ought to have demonstrated to his followers not only that he was very capable of handling any situation, but desired to help others.

Instead of the disciples’ panicked "We're going to die!" exclamation, they could have shown faith and woken Jesus to ask him to fix the situation. "Jesus, sorry to wake you, we know you're tired, but we need some help here." Instead, they said, "Don't you care we're all about to die?!" It truly was a lack of faith. Yes, Jesus does care. No, they were not going to die.

But this account once again demonstrates an observation I've made that seems to be repeatedly confirmed: Our faith is tested to see just how much we trust & calmly wait on God and Jesus. We need to remain confident that they will keep their promise to always care for us. This may not necessarily turn out as we expected. In some extreme cases, we may even lose our life. But even in that extreme case, the resurrection hope calms us that nothing or no one can separate us from God.

(Case in point--consider the possibility of being thrown into a furnace that was so hot, it could instantly vaporize you. Anyone could rightly conclude that such would definitely be beyond the "point of no return." Yet that is what three faithful men faced. But, even after being thrown in, it was NOT the point of no return from God’s viewpoint.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Structure In Universe

Take a look at this image. At first impression, you may think you are looking at the brain’s neurological network. In reality, it is a theoretical model of the fabric of, “the structure of, the universe.” The chaos that was once thought to be the disorganized universe has recently been discovered to be a highly organized structure. Additionally, in this simulation, science attempts to demonstrate the gauze-like features of the universe.  

To me, that is significant because of what is stated in Isaiah 40:22: “There is One who dwells above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers. He is stretching out the heavens like a fine gauze, and he spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.” Granted, there is a distinct possibility that what was being written about here was earth’s atmosphere (in particular clouds), and not a commentary on the design of the universe. Still, I was struck by the similarity. If nothing else, the “structure” indicates intelligent design. There is no way that Isaiah could have had that knowledge on his own, which means he was told about it. That is partially what one Bible writer meant when he wrote: “For prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were moved by holy spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)

(I just finished watching a BBC science show explaining the new understanding on the structure of the universe. I tried to find a YouTube video of that episode but couldn't find it. In it, they refer to the “intelligent design” in the universe. Although they completely avoid the implication that intelligence is a possession of a cognizant being (God, in this case), the whole program really drives home what those appreciating the Bible have always known.)

Becoming Truly Wise

“Some people are like the bottom half of a double boiler. They are always letting off a steam but they haven't a clue what's cooking.”

I was reminded of the above while reading the following: “A stupid person takes no pleasure in understanding; He would rather disclose what is in his heart.” (Proverbs 18:2) Those who do not know what a double boiler is, in its simplest form, it is one pot put on top of another. The bottom pot is filled with water that is brought to a boil. The top is used to evenly, gently, control heat and cook whatever is in it—typically used in confection cooking. To say that “some people” are like the bottom half of a double boiler, means they are over-opinionated, (perhaps even close-minded), clueless people.

But the cited Proverb goes one step further in exposing the reason people of that sort act as they do. It comes down to arrogant self-importance. The International Standard Version renders that verse: “A fool finds no satisfaction in trying to understand, for he would rather express his own opinion.” People of this sort think only their own opinion is correct and leave no room for discussion or even the possibility that others have something valuable to add or a clearer understanding.

What can aid such a person to mellow, mature? Learn to listen to others. There is a wise saying that “we have two ears and one mouth—this is why we should listen twice as much as we speak.” In a similar vein, Proverbs 1:5 says: “A wise person listens and takes in more instruction.” Yes, to be truly wise, we need to be willing to learn. Learning is a lifelong experience.

True Christians appreciate the value of learning. They do not feel threatened by those whose religious viewpoints differ. Instead, they use these encounters as a learning experience to build on the foundation of their beliefs. Such interchanges with others can either help refine their understanding or deepen their appreciation for what is right and true. Real Christians truly want to be like to top half of a double boiler, knowing what is cooking.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Death History and Future Hope

Nowadays, it seems that not only every religion, but “everybody and his brother” has their opinion what happens at death. There are those that swear they have proof of “the afterlife” because they’ve had out-of-body experiences. If they had given it deeper thought, they’d realize that our brain, like the rest of our body, is organic material. The brain, where our thought processes (our “mind”) reside, is a vast neurological network that thrives on oxygen.  When it is deprived of blood and oxygen, it starts to malfunction (vivid dreams and/or hallucinations). It is not possible for the brain to be out-of-body and therefore it is impossible for our cognitive powers (again, our “mind”) to be out-of-body because they reside only in the brain that is still in our skull.

In my experience, the only explanation I have ever heard that made intelligent sense is what the Bible says happens at death. Adam was formed from organic material. He was reminded that: "Dust you are and to dust you will return" if he was disloyal. There was no indication that he would live on in any other form. Simply, he would cease to exist, returning to the elements from which he was formed.

Surprisingly, “old age” death was not the first recorded incident of death in the Bible. It was death by murder. The moral fiber of mankind went south a lot faster than his physical being. Regarding this, Paul wrote through one man (Adam) sin entered the world and death through sin. Thus all men die. Today, no one can rightly claim they are without imperfection. But regarding this inherited and aptly-named “Adamic sin and death,” why should we pay for it indefinitely? That is a good question.

Our Creator recognized that it was not fair what Adam did to us. Why should we, like Adam, die forever? If that were the case, there would be no reason to worship God. No reason to try to appease God. No reason for religion. No reason to even try to live a good life. Yet God, through his Word the Bible, reached out to mankind and does give them hope. Hence we read in John 17:3 that taking in a knowledge of God can mean our everlasting life, thus supplying us hope to extend our lives far beyond what we have today.

So what is the sequence of things that happened after a person dies?
Psalm 146:4 confirms what I stated at the beginning of this article—namely when the breath of life (our “spirit”) goes out of us, we cease to exist—we have no more thoughts. Just like Adam, we go back to dust and are nonexistent. However, unlike Adam, it is not necessarily a permanent condition. One of Lazarus’ sisters said she believed that her dead brother would rise in the last day. To demonstrate what God intends to do for mankind in the future, Jesus immediately raised Lazarus back to life—on earth. Scripture also confirms that there was going to be a future resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous.

But do you think it is ludicrous to believe that mankind can live forever? What then do you think would be the case in heaven? Just because you'd be a non-physical being, a spirit of a sort, do you readily accept that they would live forever? Our Creator has more than enough power-to-spare to maintain the life of both spirit and physical intelligent, obedient creation.

So where does the bulk of Christendom get there belief about going to heaven? They get it by focusing on just a few scriptures and not paying attention to the bulk of the Bible and God’s general purpose for mankind. There are indeed some going to heaven but for a
very specific purpose. The rest of us have the opportunity of dwelling on cleansed, restored, peaceful earth as our Creator originally intended. So while currently those dying cease to exist, sometime in the unknown future, those now dead will come back to life on earth.

(I am aware that some feel that the essence of our cognitive self actually resides in something they call the “soul.” Two of the previously mentioned scriptures demonstrate that the Bible does not teach that man has a soul but rather that he is a soul—a living person.)

CLIP Smartphone Mnemonic

Within the last few months I have been wondering if there was some mnemonic that would define today’s smartphones and provide a new reference other than “smartphone” for our devices. I wanted something that more accurately described our devices other than “phone.” I wanted the mnemonic to define the main functions we all use our devices for.

After playing with the idea for about a month, I came up with CLIP—Communications, Life-Management, & Internet Portal. To reinforce the mnemonic, the action of clipping our phones, either to our sides, or something else, is common to smartphone users. I started introducing this to a few people I met. Most just shrugged their shoulders but a few thought it was a good idea. The only major feature this mnemonic doesn’t address is entertainment (music, games, video). Maybe you can come up with a better one. Feel free to post your ideas.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What Does God Look Like?

People who have wondered what God looks like are in good company. That is something one of Jesus’ disciples asked. Centuries earlier, even Moses asked this question. In Moses case, the resulting display of radiant, blinding power was beyond his comprehension. Other illustrative “visions” have given more descriptive details, something we might be able to relate to. For instance, Ezekiel saw “electrum” (possibly bolts of lightning), and other “natural phenomena." Daniel was even more detailed in that he described God’s eyes, hair, and clothing. Finally, in the book of Revelation we see described an awesome beauty that would have left us speechless.

But all this is just to help us appreciate that whatever God really “looks like” as a spirit person is really beyond compare. There is nothing in our human experience that comes close; and in the finality, no human has ever truly seen God. There is however, one significant observation made by Jesus that can help anyone to appreciate something much more important than physical characteristics. Jesus told his close followers, if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. (See note below.)

The point being, the appearance of God really is not important. To illustrate: You get to know someone as a pen pal (or, now-a-days, an online “friend”). They refuse to send you a picture but they tell you all about themselves, listen attentively to you, and get to know and care about you. I’ve heard of marriages starting this way. For those who weren’t themselves shallow of character, eventually over time, they didn’t care what the person looked like. They grew close because of that other person’s character. The same goes with our relationship with our Creator. Although it would be wonderful to be able to see him, we have to accept that our physical design was just not made to see into that dimension. 

Note: In context, Jesus was not saying that he was/is the Father. We already read in John 1:18 that no one has ever seen God, yet humans had seen Jesus. Instead, Jesus' comment was made to help his followers appreciate that Jesus was such a thorough, complete, and totally truthful representative from God ("The Word"), that anyone paying attention to Jesus' actions and teachings could not help but have a good grasp of his Father's character.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Psalm 105, A Personal Lesson

17  He sent ahead of them a man
Who was sold to be a slave, Joseph.
18  With fetters they afflicted his feet,
Into irons his soul came;
19  Until the time that his word came,
The saying of Jehovah itself refined him.
20  The king sent that he might release him,
The ruler of the peoples, that he might let him loose.
21  He set him as master to his household
And as ruler over all his property,
22  To bind his princes agreeably to his soul
And that he might teach wisdom to even his elderly men.
(Above from NWT.)

Whether or not the end result of my situation will turn out that "the king" will release me (vs.20) or that I will receive any glory of being made a "master" or teaching "even his elderly men," is not important. To me, the most important idea here is in verse 19, "The saying of Jehovah itself refined him," (Joseph). Jehovah does seem to richly bless those that submit to his refinements, but what I need to treasure is not expectation of a reward, but rather the blessing of being refined.