Featured Post

Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Worship As An Uplifting and Joyful Experience

As someone who came from a tradition that included a two-hour worship service which consisted of an hour plus sermon and a twenty to thirty minute sermonette, I am struck by how differently worship is portrayed in the psalms. Although we did have congregational singing and special music, those parts of the service were often led by people of little or no musical talent (to be fair, there were some notable exceptions to this generalization). Also, the songs usually centered on a book of hymns composed by the founder's brother that often felt like we were singing the same thing over and over again. In short, worship services were mostly non-participatory and seemed formulaic in nature. Looking back, those services felt more like classroom lectures than a worship service and provided little in the way of spontaneity or joy.

What am I talking about? One only has to look at a few of the psalms to understand the point that I'm trying to make.

"Glorify the Lord, O Jerusalem!
    Praise your God, O Zion!
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates
    and blessed your children within your walls.
He sends peace across your nation
    and satisfies your hunger with the finest wheat.
He sends his orders to the world—
    how swiftly his word flies!
He sends the snow like white wool;
    he scatters frost upon the ground like ashes.
He hurls the hail like stones.
    Who can stand against his freezing cold?
Then, at his command, it all melts.
    He sends his winds, and the ice thaws.
He has revealed his words to Jacob,
    his decrees and regulations to Israel.
He has not done this for any other nation;
    they do not know his regulations.
Praise the Lord!" --Psalm 147:12-20

Notice the imagery and poetry - the joy and thankfulness expressed by the psalmist!

"Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song.
Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful.
O Israel, rejoice in your Maker.
O people of Jerusalem, exult in your King.
Praise his name with dancing,
    accompanied by tambourine and harp.
For the Lord delights in his people;
    he crowns the humble with victory.
Let the faithful rejoice that he honors them.
Let them sing for joy as they lie on their beds." --Psalm 149:1-5

Notice the exuberance and the references to DANCING and the use of a variety of musical instruments!

"Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heaven!
Praise him for his mighty works;
    praise his unequaled greatness!
Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn;
    praise him with the lyre and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dancing;
    praise him with strings and flutes!
Praise him with a clash of cymbals;
    praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!
Praise the Lord!" -- Psalm 150:1-6

Once again, the joyful praise, thankfulness, dancing and variety of instruments are evident.

Yes, the contrast is stark. When we compare the two, from which format do you think that you and God would derive the most satisfaction? Moreover, don't you find it just a tad bit interesting that this one is found in Scripture and the other format is not present there? 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

A Blast from the Past!

Many of my readers will remember the Worldwide Church of God's Bible correspondence course. Personally, I remember taking the twelve lesson version as a teen and feeling as though I was an expert in "God's Word" after completing it. Looking back on that experience now, I see how very naive I was back then and understand how profoundly I was manipulated by that experience.

In Lesson I of the Ambassador College Correspondence Course, An International Course of Biblical Understanding, we were challenged with the question "Why Study the Bible?" This was followed by a series of questions dealing with the "basic questions of life." The obvious implication being that one must go to the Bible for those answers.

Nevertheless, the study opened with a number of conclusions based on human reasoning about what God intended for the Bible to accomplish. Notice also that none of these assertions was supported by either internal or external evidence. However, the adoption of these assertions/conclusions was essential to the acceptance of the proof-texting which was shortly to follow.

Notice some of this reasoning and the conclusions which were derived from it:
"Stop and think! Would a Creator, having supreme intelligence, wisdom and love to think out, to plan, design, and bring about all creation - this earth, and all life and life-functions upon it - have left His created beings in ignorance of His purpose - the PURPOSE of their being here - and the LAWS that would bring them PEACE, HAPPINESS, JOY and everything good?
God Almighty did not hide these all-important truths from human minds. He made them accessible to mankind. He committed His TREASURE-HOUSE of basic knowledge to WRITING. He revealed that knowledge in the Holy Bible - the FOUNDATION OF KNOWLEDGE - His instruction book for mankind. Yet almost no one has ever found the answers so PLAINLY written there!
The Bible is simply God's divine revelation of BASIC NEEDED KNOWLEDGE which mankind is not otherwise capable of finding out."

What about these assertions? Is it implausible to believe that God would leave humanity in ignorance of "His" purposes and laws? Can't we all agree that it appears that a large portion of humanity has indeed been steeped in ignorance of those things? Moreover, even among those portions of humanity which have accepted the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, there doesn't appear to be a great deal of harmony/agreement about what is revealed in those pages! What is the evidence that God hasn't hidden "these all-important truths from human minds?" Did God really intend for the Bible to be "His treasure-house of basic knowledge - His instruction book for mankind?" If so, why is there so much confusion about the proper role of law and grace within Christianity? Why do so many Christian marriages and families crumble? And, if we pin the responsibility for these failures on Satan, can we legitimately claim that Scripture has provided the answers - the antidote to human ignorance?

What is the alternative? Is it possible that God intended for Scripture to be a forum for discussing and learning about the Divine? Is it possible that God intended for Scripture to be part of our quest for answers to our questions? Does Divine inspiration make those disparate writings error free and consistent? If so, why are there so many obvious discrepancies and inconsistencies? Did God really intend for the Bible to be regarded by us as a science and history textbook? OR Was it intended to be spiritual guide - to reprove bad behavior and instruct us in the ways of righteousness?

In other words, it was imperative for Correspondence Course students to regard the Bible as an instruction book - a user's manual. For all of the indoctrination which was to follow, one had to accept the premise that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures were more than God ever intended for them to be! How does human language work? Is it even possible to perfectly convey thoughts/ideas from one individual to another? Does a person always hear what the speaker intended? Does a reader always interpret the author's writing in the way that the author intended? Do you think it's possible that Almighty God understands how human communication works?

Later, the lesson explores the question of the appropriate place to begin the lesson. While acknowledging a number of possibilities, the folks behind the lesson settled on "this very present age in which we live." "We feel the Bible will mean more to you if you fully understand its vital relation to YOUR LIFE today - its direct connection with CURRENT WORLD EVENTS," they explained. Their reasoning is further explained in another one of the paragraphs which followed the above statement. They said: "We feel you will understand the Bible better, and find it more interesting, if you view it all - its history and prophecy, its teachings and divine revelations - from the vantage point of your life here and now. The Bible will become clearer if you see how this world has led up to the very time and conditions in which you live - and where it is destined to go from here."

In other words, we're going to explain this book to you by starting at the end and going backward. We're going to explain this Bronze Age and Roman Era book by looking at it from the perspective of the modern world. As a teacher, this sounds like trouble. Good teachers and professors want to make their subject interesting and relevant, but they also know that it's dangerous to project our own culture and values onto the past. The danger is that we reach false conclusions based on a skewed perspective. The peril is that we make the past into what we want it to be. In other words, we risk arriving at conclusions which the original author(s) never intended for their readers to reach.

After a brief acknowledgement that a great deal of confusion exists about how to interpret the Bible, the lesson attempts to explain the phenomenon. We read: "And so men began, centuries ago, to INTERPRET the Bible! As a result, the Word of God has become twisted, wrested, perverted, with almost every false and counterfeit meaning imaginable being read into it. In stead of teaching and expounding the plain , simple, intended meaning, we now have hundreds of HUMAN INTERPRETATIONS of the Bible!" So, the confusion is man's fault - because humans insist on doing what humans do when they communicate with each other (interpret the message being received). Notice too that they have conditioned their students to believe that the meaning is plain and simple - it's all easy to understand if you stick with us and complete this course!

Are we beginning to see the problems inherent in the Ambassador College Correspondence Course? If the foundation is rotten, everything which is erected on that foundation will be shaky/unstable/flawed. In other words, the students of this course were set up for failure before they even got started answering the questions that would follow this introduction!

Monday, February 3, 2020

A Part of Something Bigger

Many of us feel or sense that we are part of something larger than ourselves. For a majority of humanity, this has engendered some kind of belief in a God or gods. Nevertheless, even folks who reject the more traditional notions of a deity or supernatural realm will often acknowledge that they feel as though they are a part of the world around them, the process of evolution, the stars that surround us or their place within the chronology of the universe. Men of science often speak in terms of being a part of humankind's great voyage of discovery. Hence, it shouldn't surprise anyone that many of us (theists, agnostics and atheists) have experienced this sensation of belonging to something grander than ourselves.

Indeed, the way our human minds work has itself reinforced this sensation in our species. Humans remember things. We have memories. Like the computers that we have designed and use, our minds have the ability to store and retrieve information. Moreover, our minds are also capable of imagination. Google defines imagination as "the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses." OR As Merriam-Webster defines it "the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality." In other words, our minds have the ability to conjure images of things that do not rely on input from the five senses that inform our notions of the real world around us. Both of these abilities (memory and imagination) suggest to many of us that we could ourselves be part of a consciousness greater than our own.

Is our reality a creation of God's mind? Are we a product of God's imagination? Are we a dream that has a beginning and an end? Does God have the ability to recall that dream at will from its memory - even long after it has concluded? If this world is a product of God's imagination, are other worlds possible? And, if God can retrieve past memories, what does that suggest about the nature of time? Does the notion of a super mind have any implications for the other phenomena and laws which are a part of our universe? Are our minds unique and alone? OR Do they suggest more?

Maybe the Apostle Paul was on to something when he wrote to the saints at Corinth almost two thousand years ago? He wrote: "'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.' But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us." --I Corinthians 2:9-12, NLT Was Paul right? Does God's Spirit give us some insight into the mind of God?