Hoar Frost

And now for something completely different.

A few nights ago, we had an unusual meteorological condition known as a hoar frost.  “Hoar” is an old English adjective for showing signs of old age.  Hoar frost coats objects with what appears to be white hair or whiskers so hence the name.

We are all familiar with dew which forms when the air becomes completely saturated—it cannot hold any more water at a given temperature and pressure—and water condenses out onto various objects such as the grass in our lawn.  Hoar frost is not frozen dew.  Hoar frost (and frost as well) is the direct sublimation (condensation) of water vapor to ice crystals at temperatures below freezing.  Hoar frost is the growth of ice crystals that are larger than the frost ice crystals.

So below are a few pictures of hoar frost I thought you might enjoy.  Click on each picture for a full screen view.

Bush 1 Fence4 Grass 1 Mailbox 1 Oak Leaves 3 Pine Needles 2 Sycamore Pod 4 Twig 6

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Being Finite and Free Will

There is another reason why God made us finite.

Being limited forces us to call upon resources deep inside us that we never knew we had:  our soul.  The values held by our soul are used to make decisions in life and those decisions create our world.  If we want to know what our soul is like, we only have to look at the world around us to see what we have created.  Our world reflects back to us, in a physical form, the reality of our non-physical soul.  This applies to our world, our nations, our communities, and our families.  The values held by each of these entities are reflected in its character and actions.  And if we do not like what we see, should this not give us the motivation and opportunity to change our soul?

God wants us to decide how we will live our lives, to decide what type of person we want to be.  Life is like a final exam in school.  It is a test to see the type of person we really are, not what we would like to be.

God has given us the freedom to do whatever we want to do, to be whoever we want to be.  He is not forcing us to live a certain way.  What God has done is to construct our world so we experience the consequences of our actions.  This is the best way to teach free agents the lessons they need to learn.

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What Being Finite Teaches Us

That we are finite is a fact no one disputes.  It might seem somewhat inconsistent but knowing that we are finite, that we are limited in our ability to know what is true, can help us in our search for what is true.

Being finite means our knowledge is limited.  For example, John Sanders concludes that a majority of the people who have ever lived have never heard of Jesus. [1]  This tells us God evidently did not consider it important that people believe in Jesus since he did not and has not made that knowledge available to everyone.  If God is truly a God of love and justice, if he truly does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), then there is a reason why he did not make this knowledge universally known.

Being finite means we cannot obtain certain proof for historical events such as Jesus’ existence, death, and resurrection.  There will always remain an element of doubt about these extraordinary events that happened over 2,000 years ago.  So why would God make belief in Jesus a condition for our salvation?

God made us finite.  He knows our limits.  It is my belief that God has constructed a plan of salvation which takes into consideration the fact that we are finite.

First, the Bible teaches is that God will judge us based upon the knowledge we have and how well we live up to that knowledge (Matthew 10:15, Matthew 11:20-24, Luke 12:47-48, John 15:22-24).  Since God made us finite, it would make sense he would judge us based upon the knowledge we possess and not some absolute standard of knowledge.

Second, even though we are finite, everyone on earth does have a concept of right and wrong.  The Bible says the Holy Spirit has been sent to teach the entire world about sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).  God has made our salvation contingent upon something we control–our actions, what our soul is like—rather than upon something we do not totally control—our belief system.

The above does not minimize what Jesus accomplished.  Jesus did die for the sins of the world.  It is only through Jesus’ work that we can be restored to a right relationship with God.  Being finite means we might not know of this “good news” but that does not mean it does not apply to us all.

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[1]   John Sanders, What About Those Who Have Never Heard? (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1995), p. 9.

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Being Finite

In this blog, we constantly emphasize the fact that we are finite.  We are limited in our knowledge of both material and spiritual matters, in our ability to know good and evil, in our capacity to know what is true.

I wish God had constructed our existence differently.  I wish he had given us indisputable proof that he exists, that the Bible is his word to us, and that Jesus rose from the dead.  But he did not and we must deal with that fact.

While our knowledge of what is true is so limited, we still must make decisions in life.  Poincaré describes our predicament so eloquently:

We are ignorant, and yet we must act.  For action, we have not time to devote ourselves to an inquiry sufficient to dispel our ignorance.  Besides, such an inquiry would demand an infinite time.  We must therefore decide without knowing; we are obliged to do so, hit or miss, and we must follow rules without believing them.  What I know is not that such and such a thing is true, but that the best course for me is to act as if it were true. [1]

Even our entertainment expresses the idea that we must act without knowing.  The movie Second Hand Lions has a scene in which Hub gives a speech about what every boy needs to know about being a man.  Hub tells Walter:

Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in the most—that people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money. . .mean nothing. . .that good always triumphs over evil. . .that true love never dies.  It does not matter if they are true or not. . .a man should believe in those things because those are the things worth believing in. [2]

So how do we decide what to believe; how do we decide how to live our lives?

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[1]   Henri Poincaré, The Foundations of Science (Lancaster, PA:  The Science Press, 1946) p. 158.

[2]   Tim McCanlies, Director.  Secondhand Lions.  With Michael Caine, Robert Duval, and Haley Joel Osment.  New Line Cinema, 2003.

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Killing Jesus

I received the book Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard for Christmas.  It approaches Jesus and his death from a historical approach rather than a religious.  To be quite honest, I did not expect much from this book but I was pleasantly surprised for two reasons.

First, there is much written about Jesus that is myth and legend—see last week’s blog about Jesus being born in a stable.  These myths arise because Christians take their interpretation of the Bible as true and then use “faith” to justify those beliefs—if the Bible says it so, it must be true.  Looking at Jesus from a historical perspective can help us identify those myths and correct them.

Second, Killing Jesus is very good in detailing the political, religious, and historical events that “made Jesus’s [sic] death inevitable.” [1]  It is obvious that God had planned Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins for some time (see the prophecies concerning Jesus’ death in Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:28, and John 19:36-37.  Also see Mark 1:15 and Galatians 4:4) but we fail to discuss how God made that happen.  This book shows that God worked through the existing structures of our world (political and religious) to accomplish his purposes.  Not everything God does is a miracle.

O’Reilly and Dugard ask one question in their Postscript and I have not seen a satisfactory answer anywhere.  They ask:  Why did thousands of common people in Jesus’ time seek him out? [2]  Why do millions currently seek him?  Jesus had no PR firm, no publishing industry, no internet, no Facebook or Twitter to get his message across.  He left no written word.  All he had was 12 disciples, most of whom deserted him in his hour of need.  Will Durant gives us a start in identifying why Jesus attracts so much attention when he notes Jesus’  “so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood.” [3]  I think this deserves more attention that it has received.

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[1]   Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, Killing Jesus, New York:  Henry Holt and Company,  2013, cover.

[2]  O’Reilly and Dugard, p. 271.

[3]   Will Durant, The Story of Civilization:  Caesar and Christ (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1944), p. 557.

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Jesus Was Not Born in a Stable

David Searcy is my stepbrother who with his family has been a missionary in Indonesia for many years.  He sent me the following e-mail that sheds a different light on the Christmas story.  It illustrates how our culture has a major impact on how we view a particular situation, including the story of the birth of Jesus.  It teaches us that our interpretation of the Bible is colored by our preconceived ideas and is not always correct.

 

I do not believe Jesus was born in a stable.  Because this is the season we think about these things and see pictures of stables all around, let me explain.  The following thoughts are not entirely original with me, but after living in the Orient for almost 40 years they do make a whole lot of sense to me.  I do believe Jesus was born and laid in a manger – a feed trough for a donkey or cow.  This fact is repeated three times in Luke’s account chapter 2 verses 7, 12 and 16.

In the Orient there is huge tradition of hospitality, particularly for anyone with family connections.  Whenever we go visiting to another village, the first question is:  “Who are we related to in this village?”  Then we will go stay with those relations.  People figure “relations” much further back than we do in the western world.  They generally go back 4-5 generations.  Then there are all the adopted relatives so it does get complicated.  One of the first activities of a visit is to get all the relational connections straight.

I just went on a week’s trip through villages this last September and I saw this happen every time we stopped.  So when Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, they did not go to a commercial inn. That would be insulting to the family.  They went to a family connection; they were the decedents of David and they went to the city of David, a city full of their blood relations – on both sides.  They of course were in a house with relatives – not in a stable.  The question would be to which side did they go, his or hers?  We do not know.

There is evidence that houses in that time were laid out a bit differently than we think of them now.  Think of a house in a long rectangle.   On one end of the house were the sleeping rooms.  One of these rooms was called the “inn”.  This room was a special guest room for all the visiting family members. Hospitality was so important they had a special room.   Then the middle part of the rectangle was a combination kitchen, dining room, work room, family room etc.  This was the room where the main activities of the household took place.  This was a busy place with kids, mom and dad, aunts and uncles, grandparents and various animals all together in one household.   There was an open fireplace with smoke, soot, firewood, water jars and lots of other litter from – food prep, wood working, basket weaving, cloth weaving etc.  It is most likely some of the family members actually also slept in this room. In Dayak households, many times a single grandparent or the older generation sleeps in the kitchen – with the dogs and sometimes a pig.

It is most likely this “kitchen” area was open on one end and opened into a stable.   The family donkey, cow, chickens and other animals were brought in at night for safe keeping.  Between the kitchen and stable there would be most likely a barrier but not always a solid wall, and it is logical to think of that barrier as also being the manager, feed box for the donkey.  Remember that our European ancestors also did something similar – cows downstairs and people on the second story for heat and economy of work.

So Mary and Joseph arrive in a Bethlehem crowded with tired disgruntled people forced to come sign up for the tax rolls.  Every household was full of relatives near and distant.  Mary and Joseph were of the younger generation so did not get the better accommodations – the “inn”.  It was full of older more deserving relatives.   They were billeted in the “kitchen” with all the younger cousins and other less prestigious crowd.  It was a full house and everybody was enjoying catching up on the family gossip. Younger folks were playing and flirting, older folks complaining about the Romans and high taxes.  A very pregnant and very tired Mary was quietly resting in a corner – content to finally be still and dry and in the bosom of “family”.

Then it happened.  Mary’s eyes grew large; she caught her breath and clutched her swollen abdomen, then poked a distracted Joseph deep in political debate.   “It’s happening sweetheart!”  Joseph jumped and alerted the women of the house.  Nothing but nothing gets women’s attention like a baby coming.   A couple of nephews were sent scurrying through the dark to get the local mid wife – most likely also related to Mary.  This was exciting; nothing like having a baby when everybody was there to keep them company.  (Remember: no TV, no DVD, no books, so a baby’s arrival was a big social event) The house was full of people.  Mary birthed the baby in the kitchen area, attended by umpteen chattering women.  The men and kids were shooed out to some other place, probably the front street, to sit and continue games and the discussion regarding the latest atrocity of the Roman legions against the Jewish people – we see later it was a clear night.   The baby finally arrived, and what to do with it? The house was full, the room was full.  But lo, here was this empty feed box with only a sleepy donkey’s nose and a hen and her brood. An aunt swatted Jake the family donkey who backed into the cow. The hen with her brood of chicks was evicted to the back of the stable.  So there was some cheeping, mooing and shuffling around in the dark stable.  Jake was insulted, he thought he was part of the family.  Some fresh hay was found in the dark and the “aunts” laid the baby in this bed of hay.  A curious arrangement that the ladies in Bethlehem would laugh about for years to come.

I think the picture we have of Mary and Joseph alone in a stable is not culturally correct.  They were in a house full of Oriental people with a strong sense of family and hospitality.  The manger was one of necessity because the house was so full.   It was indeed a lowly circumstance but I would not think lonely.

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Essential Knowledge

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said:  “All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience.”

Goethe echoes the Preacher who says there is nothing new under the sun.  It has all been thought and said before (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  However, we keep looking for new ideas believing that when we discover them our problems will be solved.  But our problem is not acquiring new ideas.  With our technology we have access to more information than we can possibly use.  Our problem is that we do not put into practice what we already know to be true.  God has made known to us the essential truths (John 16:7-12).  The question is whether that knowledge will remain simply an intellectual exercise or whether we will apply that knowledge to our personal experience.

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Trust

A recent newspaper article I read referenced a survey that determined two-thirds of Americans believe other people cannot be trusted. [1]  Only 50 percent felt that way in 1972.  The article noted the consequences of this attitude.  It harms our political climate because political compromises are more difficult if you do not trust your political opponents.  It harms our economic climate because it diverts our dollars to protecting ourselves with security systems, gated communities, and legal maneuvering.  It is very destructive to our personal lives such as when we discover a friend or spouse has deceived us.

Why are we less trusting of each other?  The article mentions several causes such as technology which keeps people to themselves instead of socializing at community gatherings, the 24 hour news coverage of near and distant violence which enhances our sense of the untrustworthiness of people, economic inequality which eliminates a sense of a shared future, and a decline of moral values where everyone is looking out for themselves.

While all the above reasons might be true, what is forgotten is that trust is earned.  We trust people based upon their pattern of behavior (which is a definition of character).  If someone constantly takes advantage of us, we will not trust them.  The article mentions Dennis Hess who runs an unattended farm stand.  The only reason he is successful in his unattended stand is because the majority of his customers are honest.  If most of his customers were dishonest, then he would be forced to close the stand or make it an attended stand.

Asking why we are less trusting of each other is the wrong question.  The question should be:  Why we are less trustworthy?  We do not solve the problem of trust by blindly trusting others.  The solution is for each of us to demonstrate we are trustworthy regardless of the political, economic, technological, or moral climate.

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[1]   Connie Cass, Associated Press, “Poll:  Americans less trusting of each other, Tulsa World, December 1, 2013, p. A8.

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Israel

The purpose of this blog is to ask questions about the Christian faith and the Bible in order to better understand them.  Many Christians think questioning our faith is wrong or at least unseemly.  I remember when I was in a class at a Bible institute and I asked a question about the topic we were discussing.  An audible gasp came from another student who then exclaimed:  “He’s questioning God!”  Fortunately the professor knew I was just trying to understand the topic at hand and replied appropriately.

Why has asking questions of God become taboo in Christianity?  Marvin Olasky notes that:  “Many Christians are passive and complacent in their faith, forgetting that the word Israel means the one who wrestles with God.” [1]  Olasky is referring to Genesis 32 where Jacob is about to meet his brother Esau and he is uncertain how Esau will receive him because Jacob had essentially stolen Esau’s birthright from him.  The night before Jacob meets Esau he goes off alone and wrestles all night with a man (who the Bible does not clearly identify).  As daylight approached, the man requests that Jacob let him go but Jacob refuses unless the man blesses him.  The man then blesses him by stating:  “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” [Genesis 32:28 ESV]

Why would we wrestle with God?  The reason is because we are finite.  We cannot assume we have accurately interpreted the Bible; we cannot assume our version of reality is accurate.  Additionally, we have a sinful nature that is opposed to God.  As we strive to better understand ourselves, the world in which we live, and how God relates to us, it should not be surprising that we would wrestle with God.

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[1]   Marvin Olasky, “Graduation presents”, World Magazine, May 18, 2013, p. 28.

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Confirmation Bias

Christians really don’t believe in the Bible.

If we really did believe the Bible, we would not ignore passages in the Bible that conflict with our belief system, with our doctrinal statements.  When I talk to Christians about the issues raised in this blog—that salvation is not belief in Jesus and his death and resurrection for our sins but instead is the change of our soul so it becomes like God—they say it is interesting but engage in no conversation about these issues. Why?  There are over seventy verses in the New Testament that state salvation is through belief in God or through our conduct, pattern of behavior, motivation, use of abilities, and repentance.  God put those verses in the Bible for a reason.

I have yet to find a Christian who can refute the doctrine of salvation put forth in this blog.  Yes, if you ignore certain passages in the Bible you can claim you have Biblical evidence against this position.  But if you believe the entire Bible is the word of God, you must find an explanation for what the entire Bible says not just a few or even most passages.

This tendency of Christians to ignore Biblical evidence against a particular doctrine is an example of one of our human weaknesses—confirmation bias.  “Confirmation bias is our dysfunctional predilection to pick and choose information that supports our beliefs while dismissing any data that doesn’t agree. . .[it] is your Yes Man hard at work.” [1]  The problem with confirmation bias is that it “contribute[s] to overconfidence in personal beliefs and can maintain or strengthen beliefs in the face of contrary evidence”. [2]

God desires us to search for what is true (I Thessalonians 5:21, Acts 17:11).  Since we are finite, it is very likely that many of the beliefs we hold will eventually prove not be valid—even some of our Christian beliefs.  That is why we must always be on guard against our confirmation bias.

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[1]   Rod Machado, “Confirmation bias”, AOPA Pilot, December 2013, p. 22.

[2]   http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Confirmation_bias.html

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