Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Some people fear that these scientists could create a black hole and suck the entire Earth into it. I can't say one way or another how likely that possibility is, so I will just continue to pray that it doesn't happen.
A couple of things interested me about this article. First was that the link to the article from Yahoo! called the accelerator a "Big Bang Machine." That line made me wonder if scientists were trying to create a machine that would simulate the Big Bang itself; i.e., a machine that attempts to create time, space and matter. Now that would be interesting.
Of course, when I clicked on the link and saw the article I learned that they were talking about the particle accelerator that I already knew about. If you read carefully you will see that scientists are attempting to simulate "conditions nearing those after the Big Bang" (emphasis added), not the Big Bang itself. Still exciting stuff, but kind of a let down after the expectations engendered by the "Big Bang Machine" title.
Still, the article was fascinating. Scientists are trying to discover why anti-matter exists and whether they can find evidence for the theoretical Higgs boson, a particle that gives mass to other particles. The problem with particle physics, though, is that the movement of particles is unpredictable. Scientists can only speak in terms of probabilities when it comes to the motion/velocity of particles. So actually coordinating the collision of particles is pretty tough. Particles don't necessarily do what we want them to do.
These scientists overcame this problem by using "powerful superconducting magnets to force the two beams to cross, creating collisions and showers of particles." When I read this, two things came to mind:
(1) This seems to support the conclusion that even at the quantum level events are "caused." In other words, the scientists caused particles to move in the direction they wanted by using the magnets. It is still a matter of probability, but there does appear to be a cause/effect relationship. This seems to run afoul of people who argue that the universe does not require a cause by resorting to the fact that the initial moments of the universe were governed by quantum mechanics rather than Newtonian mechanics. Even in quantum mechanics events are still caused. I admittedly may be overreaching what the evidence from the magnets supports, here, as the article only contained limited information, but it was my intial impression. More specifics as to the methodology used by the scientists would confirm whether they actually helped cause a collision.
(2) If scientists needed a 17 mile long accelerator to get the beams "up to speed" and had to use powerful magnets to force them to travel in the correct direction, I was wondering what caused these particles to collide immediately after the Big Bang when the universe wasn't 17 miles long and large magnets didn't exist. Again, the article has very little information. The only thing I can think of is that the magnets simulate the effect of gravity upon the particles after the Big Bang. Because the universe was so compact the attraction of gravity was as strong as if the particles had been accelerated over 17 miles. Also, because the universe was so small it limited the space for the particles to escape each other thereby making collisions more likely. But I would be interested in talking to someone who knows more about particle accelerators and how they work to explore this in more detail.
Monday, March 29, 2010
The temple complex was supposed to be dedicated to the worship of God, but the money changers were using it to engage in commerce. Too often we take was is supposed to be dedicated to God and allow it to be dominated instead by the desires and lusts of mankind.
The Christian's heart is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is supposed to be dedicated to God. What type of things are you allowing to enter in? Jesus calls mere thoughts sinful because He knows that we indulge in thoughts. It is not just that we see an attractive person walk by. Where do you allow your mind to wander afterwards? It is not just seeing your neighbor's new 30 foot boat. What fantasies do you allow yourself to indulge in afterwards?
Is God still first in your heart or do you allow lust, the love of money, or any other non-Biblical desire to take His place?
Sunday, March 28, 2010
If you were to peruse the Internet for Protestants talking about Roman Catholicism you would probably come across many similar analogies describing Catholic theology. Most Protestants describe Catholicism as "faith plus works." For them, this priest's analogy sums up Catholic theology very well. So the next words out of this priest's mouth may shock them. After describing this analogy he said, "That is bad theology."
That's right, this priest denied the "faith plus works" analogy. Some of you may react to this by saying, "This priest obviously was not preaching true Catholic theology. If he was, he would have embraced that analogy." But this is partially why I encourage people to learn about a position from someone advocating it, not just by listening to what its opponents have to say.
Imagine how frustrated you get when someone says that Protestants believe that once you accept Jesus as your savior, you are free to sin to your heart's content. You can live as indulgent of a lifestyle as you choose with no eternal repercussions, so go ahead and sin!
True, there are some people in this world who think like that, but they are not really saved. The vast majority of Protestant theologians would tell you that if you have truly accepted Christ then the Holy Spirit begins to change who you are. None of us will be perfect, but we are free FROM sin not free TO sin. Anyone who has the attitude that they are free to go on sinning is essentially spitting in Christ's face, defying His will for their life, and is not truly saved.
Imagine how you feel when people continuously repeat that Protestants believe you are free to sin as much as you want and therefore Protestantism is a morally repugnant theology. You probably want to scream, "That is just not true!" It is a straw man argument where someone makes up a caricature of their opponent's position that is not true then proceeds to tear apart this false version of the position, all the while telling people that the caricature is the opponent's true position. It can be extremely frustrating.
If you can identify with that, perhaps you can begin to understand how Roman Catholics feel when Protestants constantly describe their beliefs as "faith plus works." That may be what Catholicism looks like through a pair of Protestant glasses, but it is not how any Catholic theologian would describe their faith.
Before I go any further, let me be clear that I am not Catholic. I disagree with much of their theology. I believe their elevation of Tradition to the same level of authority as scripture is extremely dangerous. Papal infallibility is directly contradictory to Romans 3:10-18. The Immaculate Conception of Mary contradicts Luke 1:47 in which Mary says that she needs a savior. The perpetual virginity of Mary requires a real stretch in your interpretation of the many passages about Jesus' brothers and sisters and requires us to virtually ignore the word "until" in Matthew 1:25 (i.e., Joseph did not have union with Mary "until" Jesus was born). The doctrine of transubstantiation ignores Jesus referring to the wine as the "fruit of the vine" even AFTER he has referred to it as His blood. Finally, asking the saints to pray for us goes against God's command not to "consult the dead on behalf of the living" (Isaiah 8:19). These are only a few examples of my many differences with Catholic theology.
I am not Catholic and I sincerely doubt that anyone will ever convince me to become one. That being said, I disagree with many Protestant theologies as well. I remain unconvinced that R.C. Sproul's strict Calvinism can adequately explain the compatibility of a loving God and all the suffering in the world. I believe that the Episcopal structure of church government finds its origin in a power structure that began in the second century with Ignatius and was not the way the first century church was organized. I do not accept the Pentecostal view that speaking in tongues is the first gift of the Holy Spirit.
But I also do not believe that these differences of opinion should separate us. Salvation is the free gift of God. That is what grace is all about. We do not earn our salvation. God gives it to us. I believe this to be true. R.C. Sproul believes this to be true. Episcopals believe this to be true. Pentecostals believe this to be true. And believe it or not, Roman Catholics believe this to be true. If you accept salvation as God's free and undeserved gift, you are saved. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). If you believe this, you are saved. I believe that Roman Catholics believe this scripture to be true.
The misunderstanding lies in the phrase "not by works." Protestants look at all the rituals Catholics follow (such as Reconciliation, the Eucharist, etc.), hear Catholics say that these sacraments are means to receive God's grace and conclude that the Catholic believes that they must perform certain deeds in order to be saved. However, this is looking at Catholic theology through a Protestant lens. We use our Protestant understanding of "grace" and insert it into the Catholic teaching. Low and behold we conclude that the Catholic believes in (at least partially) salvation based upon works.
But we are saved by what is in our heart. If an individual's heart contains true faith then that individual is saved. But if this is true, shouldn't we ask what is in the Catholic's heart before we decide whether or not he or she is saved? This requires us to ask sincerely what THEY believe, not what we think they believe. This requires listening. Listen to what Catholics say they believe. Don't assume you know based upon your own interpretation of Catholic teachings.
Please allow me to illustrate. When Protestants hear that Catholics think they receive God's grace by participating in reconciliation, we hear, "By confessing their sins to a priest, Catholics believe that God grants them salvation." But this is not true.
Catholics believe in two different types of grace: saving grace and sanctifying grace. Again, I do not agree that scripture teaches this two tiered system of grace, but the purpose of our analysis is only to determine if Catholics believe that salvation is by God's free gift, however they believe the particulars work out.
When a person comes to accept that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, God grants that person saving grace. This is a one-time transaction. When this grace is given, the individual's sins are forgiven. The later sacraments do not grant saving grace. God freely gives saving grace to a person only once.
However, Catholics also believe in something called "sanctifying grace." Imagine if you wanted to live on Mars. You do not have the physical capabilities to do so. You would have to undergo a number of physiological changes in order to make this possible. Similarly, even after receiving saving grace humans lack the spiritual capability to exist in heaven. We need to undergo a number of spiritual changes in order to make this possible. The debt owed from our sins is no longer an obstacle to our entrance into heaven, but our lack of spiritual capability is. After we receive saving grace, God makes these spiritual changes in us through the free gift of sanctifying grace.
God grants sanctifying grace via the sacraments. Through this process we become more and more like Christ. This is very similar to the Protestant concept of sanctification. However, Catholics do not believe that you MUST participate in these sacraments in order to receive sanctifying grace. God does grant sanctifying grace through these sacraments, but sanctifying grace is God's free gift to grant to whomever He chooses however He chooses. This is what has led the Catholic Church in recent years to acknowledge that it is possible for those outside the Catholic Church to go to Heaven.
So whereas Protestants speak of salvation and sanctification, Catholics would speak of saving grace and sanctifying grace. The concepts, while not identical, are actually far more similar than most Protestants understand.
According to Catholic theology, people do not "earn" sanctifying grace. If a Protestant is feeling overwhelmed by the temptations of the world we pray for God's sanctification. We may find it in any number of places: a Bible passage, a prayer group, a particular sermon, etc. There is no end to the things that God may use to strengthen us. If a Catholic is feeling overwhelmed by the temptations of the world they partake of the sacraments. They believe that God sanctifies them through those activities. But this no more means that they are "working" for their salvation than a Protestant is earning his or her salvation by asking God to give them strength to be a true disciple of Christ.
While it is true that Catholics believe you can lose your salvation, so do many Protestants (Methodists, for example). What Catholics or Methodists call "losing your salvation" Presbyterians or most Baptists would say is someone who was never truly saved to begin with.
Personally, I find this to be a matter of perspective. I believe in the perseverance of the saints. This is because God is timeless. He created time and therefore exists outside of time (hence the Bible's description of God as "eternal"). It is nonsensical to say, from God's perspective, that someone "lost" his or her salvation. The events of 200 years ago are just as present to God as the events of 200 years into the future. God does not exist linearly, one day after another as we do. He exists simultaneously in all times. Therefore, God saves people in His ever-present "now." He does not wait to see if you maintain your faith because He does not "wait" for anything.
Catholics and Methodists think of God in linear terms. Their theology assumes that God exists in the same linear sense as we do, but this is a false assumption. In order to accommodate free will they believe we must be free to reject God. But if we exist within time and God exists outside of time, we are free to exercise our freedom within time while God is freely sovereign outside of it. There is no past, present or future to God. There is only His ever present "now."
However, while I believe this is an incorrect theology, I do not believe this difference of opinion disqualifies anyone from salvation. The key question for salvation according to Ephesians 2:8-9 is whether you trust God alone for your salvation and not your own strength. Despite the plethora of misconceptions that exist among Protestants about Roman Catholic theology, I believe (based upon Roman Catholic sources) that modern Catholics do trust solely in Jesus Christ for their salvation.
That being said, I think there are some dangerous things about Catholic theology. Your average person in the pew is not going to open up a theology textbook, and the structure of the Catholic system is ripe for misinterpretation. The average Catholic parishoner who hears that he or she should confess their sins to a priest may assume that this is something they must "do" in order to achieve salvation. Therefore, while I believe the official teaching of the Catholic Church is adequate to be classified as "Christian," it would not surprise me in the least if there are many parishoners who are trusting in their own strength. And as I said before, I do not believe that the Bible supports the notion that God grants sanctifying grace through the Catholic sacraments.
However, I believe it is a mistake for Protestants to exclude Roman Catholics from the broad pantheon of Christianity. I know that this will not make me particularly popular among my conservative Christian brethren. I can only encourage you to investigate Catholic Theology for yourselves using Catholic sources. I recommend "Theology for Beginners" by F.J. Sheed.
The average Protestant website will tell you that Catholics believe that faith in Christ is only the first step toward salvation. Beyond that, Catholics must earn their way into Heaven by their deeds. A careful examination of Catholic theology, however, shows that this is not true. It is perfectly understandable that the average Catholic grows increasingly frustrated by the Protestant apologist repeatedly caricaturizing their position as "faith plus works." They can only scream, "That is not true!" so many times before they throw up their hands in exasperation.
After the homily, I spoke to the priest who rejected the bank account analogy. I praised him for explaining Roman Catholic theology far better than most. I wished some of my fellow Protestants could have been sitting in the pews. Many misconceptions could have been cleared up. The priest said he believed that if the Catholic Church had sat down and talked to Martin Luther instead of demonizing him we might not be separated today. I don't know if he is right or not, but clearly the schism was handled poorly. Raw emotions run deep and I believe they may still be dividing us today. Many Protestants and Catholics do not want to admit that we may be part of the same body of Christ. This leads to them setting up straw man versions of each other's positions, probably genuinely believing the straw men to be true. But if we are ever to overcome these differences we must listen to each other.
I do not agree with Catholics, but I sympathize with them and I believe they are brothers and sisters in Christ. I will continue to discuss with any Catholic why I believe many of their practices are mistaken, but I fully expect to see them in the next life (without having to wait through purgatory).
God bless you all.
Monday, March 15, 2010
To add insult to injury, at about 6:45 am I was driving through Dover, Delaware when the "Check Engine" light came on in my car and the engine started sputtering. This was not good news. I pulled into a drug store and checked the oil. It was a little low but nothing that should have caused the problems I was having. Nevertheless, I waited until the store opened (at 7:00), bought a few quarts and filled it up. With a "glass is half full" sense of optimism I turned the car back on hoping that the check engine light would now be off. No such luck.
Now I needed to find a service station and hope that my car made it there without the transmission falling out the bottom. I found a place about a mile up the road (thank goodness for GPS) and arrived right when they opened (7:30). Considering Dover is over a hour from Salisbury, making it to my destination by 8:00 was not going to happen.
I will gladly give a free plug here to Winner Ford in Dover. The folks that work there were extremely courteous. They agreed to take a look at the car (even though it was not a Ford) and eventually gave me the diagnosis. I need some new ignition coils along with a whole slew of other items (I checked with a mechanic friend of mine afterward and all their recommendations were on the up and up; insert another generous plug here about Winner Ford's honesty). The bad news was that they did not have the parts in stock (a problem I have had repeatedly with my make of car no matter what service station I go to). The earliest they could get them in is tomorrow morning. So my car had to spend the night in Delaware, about an hour and 20 minutes from home. Rental car here I come.
Lest you start to believe that the purpose of this post is just one long rant about what a bad last few days I have had, let me reassure you that there is a point and I will try to get to it. The point is that I am tired. I am really tired. When I got home my two year old son wanted to use me as a jungle gym. When he was done I didn't think I would even be able to get up off the floor for a month.
It is times like these that are the most dangerous. When we are weakest we are most subject to temptation. This can occur when we are tired, angry or any other time when our defenses are down. I often tell my clients when their deposition is taken to beware of a common trick some lawyers use. I have seen lawyers deliberately speak in a very belittling tone. It is not so much in what they say (because that would show up in the transcript) as in how they say it. A really good lawyer will have this down to an art. The lawyer on the other side knows that people do not think before they speak when they are angry so they deliberately try to make my clients mad in hopes that they will say something in anger that will doom their case.
The same is true for Satan and the temptations of this world. Beware of the times when you are very tired or angry because it is then that the temptation to sin is strongest. Discipline yourself. When you get into one of these states, make every effort to get God on your brain. Use whatever method works best for you. Pray. Sing a hymn. Listen to a good lecture or sermon.
However you need to do it, fix your sights on Jesus. An idle mind is the devil's playground, but with Jesus blocking the door to your house, Satan won't be able to get in.
God bless you all.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
I don’t know whether the story is true or not. But either way it is a profound answer. Only Christianity among all the world religions offers you eternal life as a free gift. You do not do anything to earn it. In fact, as an imperfect being you can never do enough to earn it. We do not “work” our way into the kingdom. God simply gives us the keys.
I am always perplexed by belief systems (such as Jehovah’s Witnesses) who claim to use the same scriptures as other Christian denominations. Even under the alternate “New World Translation” used by the Witnesses, there are some things about their theology that simply do not make sense.
Specifically, the Witnesses insert personal works into the salvation formula. Your eternal destiny is somehow tied into how good of a life you have lived here on Earth. This is admittedly a simplification and they would likely explain the salvation process in much more detail, going into how Jesus undid the effects of Adam’s sin, etc. But after they have gone into all this detail, the conclusion they arrive at still ends up based in your personal good deeds. The question is whether this conclusion is supported by their own scriptures.
A couple of passages from the Bible come to mind. In order to be as fair as possible to the Jehovah’s Witnesses (because they translate the scriptures differently) I have copied the two passages from the New World Translation so that it is clear that the translation does not alter the ultimate conclusion:
PASSAGE #1: Matthew 20:1-16
“For the kingdom of the heavens is like a man, a householder, who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vinyeard. When he had agreed with the workers for a de•nar´i•us a day, he sent them forth into his vineyard. Going out also about the third hour, he saw others standing unemployed in the marketplace; and to those he said, ‘YOU also, go into the vineyard, and whatever is just I will give YOU.’ So off they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour and did likewise. Finally, about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing, and he said to them, ‘Why have YOU been standing here all day unemployed?’ They said to him, ‘Because nobody has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘YOU too go into the vineyard.’
“When it became evening, the master of the vineyard said to his man in charge, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, proceeding from the last to the first.’ When the eleventh-hour men came, they each received a de•nar´i•us. So, when the first came, they concluded they would receive more; but they also received pay at the rate of a de•nar´i•us. On receiving it they began to murmur against the householder and said, ‘These last put in one hour’s work; still you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day and the burning heat!’ But in reply to one of them he said, ‘Fellow, I do you no wrong. You agreed with me for a de•nar´i•us, did you not? Take what is yours and go. I want to give to this last one the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I want with my own things? Or is your eye wicked because I am good?’ In this way the last ones will be first, and the first ones last.”
Passage #2: Luke 23:39-43
But one of the hung evildoers began to say abusively to him: “You are the Christ, are you not? Save yourself and us.” In reply the other rebuked him and said: “Do you not fear God at all, now that you are in the same judgment? And we, indeed, justly so, for we are receiving in full what we deserve for things we did; but this [man] did nothing out of the way.” And he went on to say: “Jesus, remember me when you get into your kingdom.” And he said to him: “Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.”
In these two passages we can see a descending scale. Jesus’ parable in Matthew speaks to God’s sovereignty. The denarius is a metaphor for the salvation granted to all who come to Christ (the householder). Regardless of when in your life you come to Christ or how much work you put in thereafter, all true believers are granted the same salvation.
The parable includes five groups of workers:
(1) Those who worked 12 hours
(2) Those who worked 9 hours
(3) Those who worked 6 hours
(4) Those who worked 3 hours
(5) Those who worked only 1 hour
All of these workers agreed to work for the householder. But despite the different amounts of work they each put in, all five groups received the same payment. The amount the received had nothing to do with the amount of work they put it. They all agreed to come to the vineyard and work it, but that alone was enough for the owner to graciously give them the reward.
The same is true of Christ. True believers agree to put their faith in Christ. Part of that means working for the kingdom. After all, Jesus is not only our Savior, He is also our Lord. When you accept Him as your Lord that means you are agreeing to do His will.
So when we become believers we agree to work the vineyard. But we have no idea how long we will be working. God may call some of us home after 30 years. For others perhaps it will only be 30 minutes. Jesus does not give us our “denarius” based upon the amount of work we put it but rather based solely on our acceptance of Him as both Savior and Lord.
Some people may object by pointing out that even those who came at the eleventh hour still put in one hour’s worth of work. But that is the point of the passage from Luke. The robber on the cross next to Christ admits that he did nothing in his life worthy of reward. Yet when he asked Jesus to remember him, he was asking the householder to enter the vineyard. Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus gave him his denarius.
This passage allows us to add a sixth category to the parable:
(6) Those who worked 0 hours
Yet even the robber in this sixth category was given his denarius.
The New World Translation attempts to alter the conclusion of my argument by inserting the comma after “today” rather than before it (so that Jesus is saying that he is telling the robber “today” rather than telling the robber that he will be in paradise “today”), but ultimately it does not matter. It makes little difference when the robber would enter paradise. What matters is when he died. He was in the process of being executed when Jesus said he would receive his denarius. The opportunity to do good work for the kingdom is gone. All he can do at this point is profess his faith. If his works were to be evaluated by God after his death, the balance sheet is certainly going to come out in favor of condemnation for this man. Yet Jesus invited him to paradise.
I have heard Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Jehovah will evaluate how they lived their life and decide their fate for the afterlife. Regardless of how you feel about any other issue the Witnesses raise, these two passages alone (which I have taken from their translation of the scriptures) should cause them to take a serious second look at their theology. When your eternal destiny is at stake, you must be very careful to ensure that your worldview is consistent with what you claim as its foundation.
Christ does not weigh your good deeds versus your bad deeds and decide whether you are worthy of salvation. Christ said this with His own tongue. The fact is that God is perfect. Unless you are perfect, any eternal communion with God would create a stain upon His holiness. ANY bad work, even one, is enough to disqualify you from eternity with God. Only by having Christ’s righteousness imputed to us can we have any hope of heaven. If you continue to depend upon your own righteousness, you will be in for a surprise when you stand before the judgment seat and learn that you are not as good of a person as you may like to believe. Accept God’s free gift in the spirit in which it is offered. Come to the throne in humility and with a trembling heart and you can be saved.
Monday, March 08, 2010
Commentary: Reality Check
Sunday, March 07, 2010
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Sometimes we feel abandoned by God when we are being refined by fire. But Peter encouraged first century Christians to embrace a positive truth that could help them endure. Nobody enjoys suffering when we are going through it. But while we are in the throes of despair, as long as we maintain our faith in Jesus, we can know that we have hope. If you endure strife with your faith intact, your perseverance can reassure you that your faith is true and that you have a glorious future awaiting you. Even if you are facing a type of suffering that will plague you for the remainder of this life, at least you know that there is an end in sight because this life is not all that there is. Without faith in Christ, suffering would truly be cause for despondency because life-long suffering would be existence-long suffering.
Thankfully, in Christ this is not the case. Most of the harships we face are temporary in nature. For some people, though, there is no end in sight within this earthly existence. Even these people, though, can find some degree of solace in Jesus, a solace that this world cannot offer them.
God bless you all.