I Never Studied Law

I grew up on Warner Bros. cartoons.

I once heard that the older ones weren’t actually created as entertainment for children, but as shorts to precede feature films.

I remember one bit in particular that evaded me as a child. At one point, Elmer Fudd forced Bugs at gun point out to the end of a limb and then sawed off the limb. Once it was cut through, the limb remained aloft and the tree crashed to the ground with Elmer in it. Then, Bugs broke the fourth wall to say, “I know this defies the law of gravity, but I never studied law.”

The six-year-old me knew that the law of gravity and jurisprudence differed from one another, but I couldn’t fully appreciate the humor. I get it now. Through this shtick the geniuses at Warner Bros. invited their audience to laugh at human arrogance. For all of the time, money, and energy our species spends on legislation and litigation, not a bit of it has an ounce of power to affect actual events. We simply do not have that kind of authority.

What if we found evidence of legislated reality? What would be the implications of discovering that nature obeyed a seemingly prescribed limit?

Maybe you’ve heard that time slows and then stops the closer one gets to the speed of light. In a recent study I did, I was surprised to discover why that happens: Speed is a function of space over time. The speed of light is a constant in the universe. When a vessel nears the speed of light, the light inside has the potential to double that speed as it is carried along in the vessel. To ensure that the constant remains constant, time actually dialates. Since light can’t travel faster than 186000 miles/second, the second expands to enforce the speed limit. Clear as mud? Here’s a video to make it clearer.

So, I wonder about that. Why would impersonal universal forces obey a speed limit? Could it be that someone with authority over nature set that limit and prohibits it from being exceeded?

Strange Fire

The religious group that I came up in was built on the notion that God gave the New Testament to humanity as a blueprint for the way he wanted them to live and worship him. We believed that in the letters of Paul God had prescribed exactly how he wanted collective worship to be performed and that any deviation from that prescription would incur divine judgment.

For those of you who’ve always wondered, that’s why Churches of Christ “don’t have music” – the New Testament prescribes singing and so “playing” is forbidden.

To illustrate the gravity of any sort of innovation, we’d point to the tragic story of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:1-3. These two sons of Aaron offered “strange fire” before God which he had not authorized. In response to their sacrilege, fire flared up from the presence of the LORD and killed them. God required that anyone who came near him treat him as holy.

God hasn’t changed. We mustn’t despise him in any way. Worship has changed, though. When asked by the Samaritan woman about the proper location to worship God, Jesus divulged a secret:

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. (John 4:23-24)

The redemptive work of Christ would transition worship from physical rituals and sacrifices to spiritual practices and offerings (Spirit). He would reveal the reality (truth) represented by the temple and priesthood which had been shadows cast on a wall awaiting the full light of Christ’s presence.

The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews faced exclusion from the temple service in retribution for their “blasphemous” proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah. The author of that letter wrote to assure them that they would suffer no loss whatsoever since worship under the superior priesthood of Christ could never be withheld from anyone. Why not? Because we worship “outside the camp” in the wilds of our daily lives and not within sacred spaces or under the auspices of any human authority. Consider the glory of vulgar worship that pleases God:

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.  Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”

 So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?”

 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.  Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 12:28-13:16 emphasis mine NAW)

This section is bookended with the idea of pleasing worship to God. Everything in the middle describes that pleasing worship. God has not changed since the days of Nadab and Abihu. He’s a consuming fire today just like he was then. On the day Christ fulfilled our obligations to God, the curtain of the temple ripped from top to bottom. The divine presence has been released, imposing holiness on every aspect of human existence.

Now, we worship when we mow our brother’s yard, take our sister a meal, or pray for a brother in prison. We encounter the transcendent and pure when we have sex with our spouse. We pay homage to God when we follow our leaders into the abandonment of material gain and goods because of faith in his provision. Consuming a ceremonial meal does nothing for our hearts because grace keeps us ever partaking and always filled. Instead of making an animal pay for our devotion to God, we offer the more costly gifts of unashamed confession of his name and sacrificial service and giving.

In light of that description of worship, the rituals and ceremonies which the church offers smell like strange fire.

We don’t gather weekly to worship. The early church didn’t model their meetings on the worship at the temple but on the gatherings at synagogue. God never called upon Israel to gather every Sabbath to worship him. He gave no direction whatsoever regarding the procedure or structure of synagogue service. Jews which had been scattered after the Babylonian captivity in 586 BCE, spontaneously began coming together (the literal meaning of the word “synagogue”) for mutual encouragement and learning.

Jesus never told his people when, how, or why to meet. He made them a called out people of the resurrection and disbursed them among a hostile world. Having risen out of Judaism, they knew that meeting once a week for mutual encouragement and learning was critical to the maintenance of their distinct identity and spiritual vigor. In structure and procedure, early church gatherings were almost identical to synagogue service.

Here’s the kicker, just as synagogue grew out of necessity and was shaped by human thinking, so church gatherings, governance, and their liturgy have no connection with divine mandate. God gave the gift of wisdom to Paul and the other apostles who ministered to their generation, but they appointed elders in every church because every synagogue was presided over by elders, not because Jesus told them that churches should be elder led. Paul prohibited women from ministering in the gatherings of some of the churches, but women couldn’t even attend synagogue.

If we’re going to regard Paul, then we’ll need to respect his declaration that we no longer serve God under a covenant based on written rules but one which expresses God’s purposes in Christ. When Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, he didn’t specify how often they were to eat it. He only required that as often as they did partake that they remember him. Communion is for us. Through that remembrance, we come back to the wellspring of our faith. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul spoke of divine discipline carried out on those who ate unworthily, but the sacrilegious actions had nothing to do with mishandling emblems; it consisted of mistreating the people of God.

We meet to encourage one another – that is the spirit of Paul’s letters. When we attempt to strain out every doctrinal gnat of church procedure, we always end up swallowing the camel of dead legalism.

Because we meet for mutual encouragement, we need to stop asking, “What did the early church do?” or even, “What does the Bible say about how we should meet?” and start asking, “What will encourage everyone to go out into the world and really worship?”

 

 

 

Charity Disparity

The following article is about atheism and philanthropy.  Notice that of the $430,000 raised for cancer research in 2012 by “atheist groups,” $215,000 came from Stiefel (who is independently wealthy) and that a large portion of the remainder came from Christians.  No wonder Stiefel doesn’t want to entirely alienate religious people.  Obviously, he recognizes that they’re the ones who give.
CNN Belief Blog

Gallery

What Works

One of the elders of our church used to work for Social Security.  The other day he told me about how Social Security absorbed the administration of state-run disability benefits.  To streamline the process, they sought to automate the system through the use of computers.  An outside vendor was brought in to pitch a system which could handle the massive load.  The only problem was that the vendor didn’t actually have the technology they sold.  The demo unit they brought to their presentations was nothing but a metal box equipped with a very impressing array of buttons and flashing lights.  The vendor believed that if they could just get the money from Social Security first, they would be able to produce the promised equipment.  The decision makers at Social Security had little knowledge of computer systems but didn’t want to admit this fact so they went with the vendor.  This interplay between pride and deception brings to mind the old fable of the “Emperor’s New Clothes.”  Except in this case more was at stake than a leader’s public image.  Millions of dollars of taxpayer money was lost through the debacle.

This story makes me think of the various worldviews that exist.  So many promise much but deliver little.  When people decide what to believe about reality (and it is a decision), perhaps they should consider a worldview that has proven effective.  Check out these observations made about Christianity by an economist raised in an atheist state.

I’m not saying we should choose a belief system simply because it works.  I’m saying that if it works when nothing else does, perhaps a greater Mind was indeed behind its inception.

Hell? No!

I’ve had several conversations with atheists and agnostics regarding the existence of the God of the Bible. After all is said and very little done, their objections almost always come down to disbelief in a character who would create moral beings knowing they would sin and then cause them to suffer eternally for sinning. They say something like, “If such a being exists, he doesn’t deserve my allegiance let alone my love.” I have to admit they have a point.

That being said, I am a believer in the God of the Bible.  I will never apologize for the Being presented within the pages of Scripture.  I will in no way minimize his severity or avoid a discussion of his judgments.  I’m “all in” with God as revealed in holy writ.  Any other god does not deserve my allegiance let alone my love.

So, what are we to do with the doctrine of Hell?  Many Christian thinkers have struggled with this question.  C.S. Lewis expressed in his book, The Great Divorce, the belief that those in Hell lived in an environment which reflected the misery of their choosing and could at any time choose Heaven.  More recently Rob Bell mused in Love Wins that it’s likely that every created being will at some point accept the supremacy of Christ and be welcomed into the kingdom of God.  I understand the motivation behind these ideas but scriptural support for them is thin at best.  We mustn’t allow our personal disdain for a doctrine to push us into forging new ones.  For this reason, I disagree with these two men whom I otherwise respect.  The Bible teaches that Hell is a real place prepared for Satan and his angels and that those who fall under God’s wrath will be sent there as final judgment.  I do not, however, believe that God will cause anyone to suffer eternally.  I am under this conviction because that’s what I understand the Bible to teach.

In Matthew 10:28, after predicting that his followers would suffer persecution to the point of execution, he cautions, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Emphasis mine NAW)  The word translated, “hell” is gehenna which referred to the Hinnom Valley just outside of Jerusalem.  Gehenna was used as a garbage dump where trash was burned.  Jesus warned that God was not only able to destroy the body but also the soul in his celestial garbage dump, Hell.  Hell is not a place of eternal torture but an incinerator for the destruction of sin-spoiled souls.

Someone might protest, “But what about all those places in the New Testament which describe Hell as eternal?”  Good question.  Let’s look at a case in point.  Mark 9:47-48 says,

 “And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’” (NIV 2011)

When he said this, Jesus was partially quoting Isaiah 66:22-24 –

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure.  From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord.  “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” (NIV 2011)

So let me ask the question: Is this passage describing conscious people eternally suffering?

Jesus will return to judge all people who’ve ever lived.  Some will live forever in a new heavens and new earth.  Others will be cast into Hell where they will be completely destroyed as the Bible teaches.  So, pertaining to God’s justice, has he not the right to destroy what he has created?

I have much more I could say about this doctrine and what the Bible says about it it but I’ve got other things to do right now.  Maybe later.  For an exhaustive treatment of this topic, I suggest reading The Fire that Consumes by Edward Fudge.

Strategic Planning

I just reblogged a post on Islamophobia.  I agree with the facts related in the post and with the contention that many people fail to call out the misdeeds of Muslims out of fear of backlash or worse.  However, I would not say that Islam is ultimately to blame for the evils committed by some Muslims around the world.  Islam just provides a convenient palate upon which the sinful hearts of humans mix the blood-red hues of their hatred.  Other convenient ideologies have been churchianity, Communism (rational atheism applied), nationalism, and racism to name a few. For the real issue check this sermon I delivered on November 11th.

Strategic Planning

Growing Young

I’m coming to believe that human thought goes through three phases on individual and societal levels.  Humans begin in intellectual childhood.  They believe the things they’ve been told.  They are limited by rules and driven by fear.  Some societies and individuals remain in childhood.  Often they do this because those entrusted to lead them seek only to exploit them.  Whether it’s a communist government or a denominational board, codependent leadership must jealously defend the naiveté (pronounced “orthodoxy”) of their constituents.

Beyond childhood, humans can develop into adolescence.  Those in this stage break out into individual thought and personal gratification.  They rely on peers and mistrust established authority.  They rabidly question assumptions and delight to liberate “children” from them.  While more aware than children, intellectual adolescents have their own blind spots especially to the limits of their own perspective.  For minds to progress they must go through some form of adolescence.  Sadly, some people remain in adolescence indefinitely.  One example would be Richard Dawkins and his sympathizers.

Should a person somehow find the humility to continue learning past adolescence, he or she will move on into intellectual adulthood.  At this level, a person has faced struggles and had the rough edges knocked off.  More than once, he or she has had to admit that much of what they were told while in childhood was in fact true though misunderstood or misinterpreted.  Intellectual adults have discovered a world outside their own minds where others’ ideas and needs disallow the luxury afforded to the critic.

My prayer for all of us is that our minds can grow up.  After all, Jesus told us to love God with our minds as well.

Empty Legacy

photo credit: waycoolpics.wordpress.com

No person should be allowed the luxury of holding a belief while ignoring its implications.  Why?  Because the implications of today’s prevalent beliefs shape the ethos of the next generation.  For instance, suppose I had been born into a culture which had been largely shaped by the belief that the ability to overcome a rival tribe was conferred on me through a rite of manhood.  Obviously, I would go through that rite.  After several defeats I might come to question the effectiveness of the manhood ritual.  I might come to believe that the rival tribe’s practice of cannibalism made them more powerful.  Since cannibalism had not been part of my cultural ethos, I would probably find the idea of eating another human to be distasteful (pardon the pun).  For me, eating another person would be hard, but propagating my ideas would be easy.  Suppose I convince others in the tribe of my position and after another defeat at which I get killed, they decide to eat a couple of the felled rival warriors.  What if after that, my tribe won the next battle?  My tribe would most likely continue to dabble in cannibalism.  Within two generations the buffet would be open.

Lately, I’ve encountered some pretty aggressive anti-theists.  The messages coming from that camp are fraught with what I would label, “ideological dissonance.”  So, just to do my part to help everyone come into personal harmony, I present this atheistic ontological syllogism for review:

P1- Meaning is an interpretive construct of a sentient mind.

P2- Sentience requires interplay between evaluative consciousness and memory.

P3- Consciousness and memory are products of chemical processes in the human brain.

P4- When the brain is destroyed, consciousness ends and memories are erased.

C1- Relative to the deceased individual, regardless of the details or duration, the life that he or she lived becomes retroactively meaningless.

P5- At some point, all brains and their products will be destroyed.

C2- Human life, regardless of the details or duration, is utterly meaningless.

P6- Resources invested in something which is utterly meaningless are wasted.

C3- The attempt to survive or accomplish anything is a total waste.

If you disagree, please tell me why.  If you agree but still choose not to commit suicide, then it’s because you fear the only certainty of your existence.  In short, your life isn’t advancing the human condition or accomplishing anything noble; you are just procrastinating.  So, the most consistent atheist ethic would be “die today” or “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

If you are living in the West, then you were probably raised with a value system which says that you should value human life.  The basis of that value is, “all men were created equal” or some similar formulation.  Your heart is trying to retain a borrowed ethic the basis of which your mind and mouth deny.  So, feel free to keep going where you’re going, just please admit that you are going there.

Don’t just stand there! Stand up! {Guest Post}

A more prosaic post by my post-Christian friend, Zane Gilley.

Years ago, while I was still Christian, I had this great idea for a song about the three young men in the fiery furnace.  I don’t recall any of the verses of it, but the chorus still comes readily to mind.

  “What’s it to you, O Nebuchadnezzar,
   Why do we care, what you do to us?
   The God that we serve, lives ever and ever,
   And he has the pow’r to deliver us.” 
 

 The reason I am writing this today is because in the story, these three men believed in something.  They believed in it strongly. And when they were tested, the believed it defiantly.

 “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9

These men believed the bowing to images was evil, and they acted accordingly.  No man, no matter how powerful was going to tell them to do evil.

Just like in Acts 17:11, years ago, I searched the scriptures daily to see if those things were true.  My conclusions are likely not the same conclusions others may draw.  The important thing is the quest for truth, and the knowledge of it.  If more people would “buy the truth and sell it not”, this world we live would become a much better place.

It is true that peoples’ visions of the truth are as populous as their opinions.  This tends to lead to all manner of aggression; but it does not need to be so.  I can get along with near everyone, so long as I am not being preached at.  Then, I desire to do the same.

I, like Paul, can be all things to all men.  I can argue with the preachings on the hill, or I can concentrate on the things that make life better for all, such as peace, love, and forgiveness.

Going back to the beginning, everyone needs to stop expecting for things to either fall into their laps, or end up against their wishes.

It is better to go out and act.  Do what it takes to make the world better lived in.  Remember, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Don’t just stand there!  Stand up!