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Saturday, December 19, 2015

I'm not an Evangelical!

A post over at the Otagosh blog recently asked the question "Are You an Evangelical?" http://otagosh.blogspot.com/2015/12/are-you-evangelical.html Based on the four point formula for identifying as an Evangelical given by America's National Association of Evangelicals, I guess I'd have to answer that question with an emphatic "NO!"

In the post, G.R. refers to folks who regard the Bible as their "paper pope." As I've stated many times on this blog, I do not subscribe to the theory that any human writings (even those that have been inspired by Almighty God) are perfect and without error. And I certainly don't believe that any book (whether human or Divine in origin) is capable of fully and completely comprehending the mind and purposes of God (God cannot be contained!).

My response to the four points:

1) God is the highest authority for what I believe. While the Bible, science, observation, reason and the musings of other humans have all contributed to my belief system, I don't consider any of them to be equal in authority to God or completely representative of "His" will.

2) Although I am willing to share with others who are interested the reasons for my devotion to Christ and the religion he founded, I don't feel compelled to convert anyone to that system or to encourage them to adopt my religion or Savior as their own.

3) Jesus Christ's death on the cross removed the penalty for my sins (death). Moreover, although I believe his death on the cross is also efficacious in removing the sins of anyone who accepts that sacrifice, I don't believe that everyone who has not made that profession in this lifetime is lost, condemned or otherwise removed from God's love and salvation.

4) I believe that God will save the vast majority of humankind through Jesus Christ, whether or not they have placed their trust in him during their physical lifetime on this planet.

So, I guess that means that I'm not an EVANGELICAL! What about you?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

NASA explores God's handiwork

We (humankind) should all be proud of (and awestruck by) the breadth and depth of the exploratory missions that have been undertaken on our behalf by NASA scientists within our solar system. The scope of the images and information provided by these expeditions is truly astounding and should make all of us reflect on just how grand our small corner of the universe really is. Take a moment to consider the evidence presented to us within just the last few years. You can check them out for yourself here: https://www.nasa.gov/

The Curiosity Rover's images from the surface of Mars continue to surprise and amaze. The probe has confirmed that Gale Crater at one time contained a lake with liquid water and has sent back images of Mount Sharp. The rover has even drilled into the planet's rocks and performed tests on the resulting dust to determine their chemical composition! After studying older images provided by the Mars Global Surveyor and comparing them with information provided by other probes, scientists have recently determined that there is still a large amount of water (mostly frozen) on the planet. Moreover, they have been able to determine that seasonal warming and high salt concentrations continue to make it possible for liquid water to flow over/across the interesting geologic features on Mars (present tense).

Cassini has been exploring Saturn's moons. Thanks to this probe, we have beautiful and detailed images of the surfaces of Titan and Enceladus. The most recent images of Titan have even penetrated the thick atmosphere and cloud cover of that world, giving us a glimpse of the large lakes of liquid methane and ethane and the windswept hydrocarbon rich dunes that cover its surface. We now know that somewhere deep under the icy crust of Enceladus a liquid ocean exists (we're still trying to figure out just how extensive it is).

The Dawn spacecraft has been exploring Vesta and Ceres in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Of particular interest to scientists and amateur observers (like myself), have been the prominent bright spots that Dawn has observed on the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres. These spots are generally associated with impact craters and appear to be indicative of the exposure of materials covered by a thin crust (a type of magnesium sulfate mixed with water ice). Hence, once again, water appears to be a common compound in our solar system.

And have you seen the spectacular images from the New Horizons mission to Pluto and Charon at the outer edges of our solar system? I was astounded when I beheld an image entitled "The Mountainous Shoreline of Sputnik Planum." This fifty mile wide view of the al-Idrisi Mountains that rise up to a mile and a half above the planetoid's surface and end abruptly at a windswept sea of nitrogen ice is magnificent.

What does all of this have to do with God? Doesn't all of this tell us something about the One [or Force(s), if you prefer] that shaped these worlds and produced the phenomena that occur on their surfaces? In short, NASA has allowed us to wonder at God's handiwork and to put our own position in the cosmos into better perspective.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

God, Job and loss

While some folks are stuck debating whether or not Job was a real person who actually experienced the things written in the book in our Bible that bears his name, many Christians and Jews regard it as a parable that is illustrative of some profound spiritual truths. Nevertheless, in reviewing what some of the commentators had to say about this book, I was struck by the superficiality and materialistic nature of many of the interpretations offered. Yes, Job had a problem with self-righteousness, and he had failed to understand just how great God really is; but is that all we are to take away from this book?

For me, the entire book is about loss, and the way that we as humans process it and deal with it. Although the book makes clear that Job's friends had not given him comfort or good counsel, we see in their offerings many of the same kinds of remarks that we offer our friends and families when we are trying to console them or advise them about some loss that they've experienced in their lives. Most of the time it is unintentional, but don't many of us have a tendency to blame the victim of some disaster? "If he/she hadn't done this or that, then this or that wouldn't have happened!" In other words, he/she is suffering as a consequence of their own bad actions. "How dare you blame God for your problems! You should be ashamed of yourself!" When I read what Job's friends had to say to him, I see the kinds of remarks that many folks make when confronted with loss (including myself). Let's face it, most of us try to explain or fix things. Moreover, we would all do well to ask ourselves: Is that what this person really needs from me right now?

Likewise, it is apparent to me that this book was written from the perspective of contrasting Job's spiritual and physical condition before he suffered loss with what he experienced at the conclusion of his trials and tribulations (compare chapter 1 with chapter 42). In other words, God has improved Job's spiritual and material condition by the end of the story. The principle: God can turn lemons into lemonade - All things work together for good. Do folks necessarily want to hear that when they're in the midst of a loss? Do we want to tell folks who are in the depths of despair that all stories have a happy ending? Is that a constructive way to help someone deal with grief and sorrow?

Also, in making the above observation about contrasting Job's condition at the beginning and close of the story, have you ever noticed just how materialistic the perspective of the human author is here? In the first chapter, we read that Job had seven sons, three daughters, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred she asses, "and a very great household." (Job 1:2-3) Then, in the last chapter, we read: "So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses. He had also seven sons and three daughters." (Job 42:12-13) Everything is viewed from the perspective of personal possessions and wealth. There is no room for sentimental attachment in this account. Everything is doubled or replaced.

I can hear modern echoes of this ancient story in the way that we deal with loss today. "What's he bellyaching about? The insurance coverage built him a brand new house - better than the one he had before the tornado!" "Yes, his car was totaled in the accident, but look at that Cadillac he's driving now!" "She lost her beloved pet dog that she'd had for seventeen years, but her kids got her two of the cutest little puppies for Christmas!" Let me ask you this: How does a person replace even one child that is lost? If you had four more children, you would love them; but they could never replace or fill the hole left by the one who is missing!

Yes, the book of Job makes me think about how we treat each other in the midst of loss. And it makes me think: Maybe we should all do a lot less talking and a whole lot more listening! What do you think?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Is Pope Francis on God's side?

I really like the current pontiff. On the plane ride back from his most recent trip (Africa), he made some comments which I most heartily endorse!

He said:

"Fundamentalism is a sickness that is in all religions"

“We Catholics have some — and not some, many — who believe they possess the absolute truth and go ahead dirtying the other with calumny, with disinformation, and doing evil. They do evil. I say this because it is my Church.”

He added: “religious fundamentalism isn’t religion, it’s idolatry"

**The above quotes taken from http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2015/11/30/pope-francis-says-he-is-not-losing-any-sleep-over-vatican-leaks-trial/

I think he's got this one right. What do you think?