Blogging is Hard Sometimes

Blogging is hard sometimes, as is any sort of writing. When my foster son died of SIDS, now nearly twenty years ago, I found it impossible to write for nearly three years. I occupied myself by throwing myself into other work–like cataloging all the books in the library at Quartz Hill School of Theology; that and teaching classes in theology, Bible, and Hebrew. Now, after being thrown into becoming the interim pastor of my church (now moving into my fifteenth month) I’ve been increasingly consumed with doing that and other writing than preparing a sermon for each Sunday has fallen by the wayside to a large extent. My youngest daughter, who suffers from a serious mental illness (she’s bipolar), is thankfully in recovery and stable (and med compliant) so she requires much less attention now than she did for the six years from initial diagnosis until she was finally stabilized, now about two years ago. Nevertheless, my head really has not been in my writing for awhile, whether it is books or doing blogs here or at the Jerusalem Post. I’m lucky now if I get a post up even once a month, which is terrible, I know. I have two science fiction novels and one historical fiction novel that I am in the middle of trying to rewrite, another novel that I’m trying to peddle, and three novels that I’m somewhere in the first drafts of. Plus, I’ve got three non-fiction books that I’m trying to rewrite. But it’s been now nearly five years (shortly after my youngest daughter’s initial diagnosis with her mental illness, when she was becoming increasingly uncontrollable and violent–I still suffer from some PTSD from that)–five years it’s been since my last book contract. I’ve got several indie-published novels that I’ve put up at Amazon since then, thanks to encouragement from Sarah A. Hoyt, and I’m making a bit of income from them, which is nice and much better than I’d make off them if they were just sitting on my hard drive. But my writing has really fallen off from what it used to be with how life has gotten in the way, as it were.

Sometimes life is like that. But you need to not let it discourage you. Just keep plugging along. The droughts don’t last forever. The rains will come.

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SpaceX Is Going to Mars

The actual presentation begins at about the 20 minute mark, so fast forward to that point.

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Facebook Posts

What passes through my head upon reading far too many posts on Facebook:(this isn’t original; I got it from Jerry Pournelle’s blog several years ago): “I cannot believe how incredibly stupid you are. I mean rock-hard stupid. Dehydrated-rock-hard stupid. Stupid, so stupid that it goes way beyond the stupid we know into a whole different dimension of stupid. You are Trans-stupid stupid. Meta-stupid. Stupid collapsed on itself so far that even the neutrons have collapsed. Stupid gotten so dense that no intellect can escape. Singularity stupid. Blazing hot mid-day sun on Mercury stupid. You emit more stupid in one second than our entire galaxy emits in a year. Quasar stupid. Your writing has to be a troll. Nothing in our universe can really be this stupid. Perhaps this is some primordial fragment from the original big bang of stupid. Some pure essence of a stupid so uncontaminated by anything else as to be beyond the laws of physics that we know.”

I have become increasingly reluctant to react to stupid stuff that I see posted (though admittedly, against my better judgment, I do on occasion react and almost always end up regretting doing so). Too often the people that post things that are untrue (on the level of claiming two and two are seventy-three) simply double down and become abusive, make accusations, insist that they are right and I am evil. It’s hardly worth it anymore. I present evidence, people react by kicking it out of the way and poking me in the eye with their lies, accusing me of perfidy, and in general preferring not to be confused by the facts. In my experience, an awful lot of people enjoy their stupidity. They’d rather believe tasty lies than face painful truth; they’d rather accept simplistic explanations that soothe and reinforce their comforting point of view instead of struggling through a more complicated reality. They reject documentation, claim bias, and offer no evidence beyond a simple dismissal of what you present. Their lives seem governed by a rejection of logic, reason, and science. They think in cliches and catch phrases; those who don’t agree with their cliches and catch phrases, or question them, are automatically evil. Virtue attaches to cheering for the right team, using the right words in the right ways, being mad at those who don’t wear the team colors. They’d rather embrace logical fallacies, conspiracy theories, undocumented blathering and made up stuff devoid of evidence and truth. They are quick to accept what matches what they already believe and hate you if you demonstrate that while such and such may sound great, it simply never happened or is just not true. Just because I tell you that what you think a politician you hate did never really happened doesn’t mean I like that politician. I just think the truth matters, whether I like the truth or not, whether I agree with a politician or not. Just because I tell you that the story of an archaeological discovery never happened or has been misinterpreted and that it does not prove the Bible does not mean I hate the Bible. I just think that the truth matters and I’m genuinely puzzled that you’d rather embrace a lie instead of the truth. People go “Oh, this sounds good and matches what I think” or “Oh, this makes me mad and sounds just like the sort of thing that the people I hate would do or say” and post it without bothering to do any research. Since when did passing on gossip become a positive good?

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Proxima Centauri b

Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration.

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Inheritance

Some Christians have expressed dismay by the discovery of a genetic origin to certain sins. But I don’t understand the upset. After all, the biblical materials themselves clearly demonstrate that the existence of sin in human beings is an inherited trait.

For instance, the psalmist writes:

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5)

Paul, writing to the church in Rome, indicated:

Therefore…sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…(Romans 5:12)

Such passages (among others) speak very clearly of the inherited nature of human sin; it should not come as any great shock to any Christians, therefore, that scientists should discover this to be the case. It also is no great surprise that sin is something beyond human abiity to control or solve.

Christianity has generally taught, especially since the Reformation, that humanity is “depraved” –that is, that it is incapable of saving merit–a technical way of stating that there is nothing good a person can do to win God’s favor.

The Bible is quite clear on this, too:

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

What Christianity does is acknowledge that if human beings are to reach heaven it is going to be solely because of the mercy of God. It certainly won’t be because of any earned merit.

Perhaps an analogy will be in order.

As human beings, we are like a man born without any arms or legs who discovers that he istrapped in a buring building and the only way out is up a long ladder. Obviously he is in deep trouble. But if a firefighter arrives and carries him up the ladder, he’ll survive.

That’s what Jesus did for us. He found us in a wretched, hopeless state, unable to solve our problem, a problem that wasn’t even of our own making: it was one we inherited. So he solved it for us. He was the only one who could.

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Does Isaiah Prophesy About an Alien Invasion of Earth?

See, the LORD is going to lay waste the earth
and devastate it;
he will ruin its face
and scatter its inhabitants—
2 it will be the same
for priest as for people,
for the master as for his servant,
for the mistress as for her servant,
for seller as for buyer,
for borrower as for lender,
for debtor as for creditor.
3 The earth will be completely laid waste
and totally plundered.
The LORD has spoken this word.
4 The earth dries up and withers,
the world languishes and withers,
the heavens languish with the earth.
5 The earth is defiled by its people;
they have disobeyed the laws,
violated the statutes
and broken the everlasting covenant.
6 Therefore a curse consumes the earth;
its people must bear their guilt.
Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up,
and very few are left. (Isaiah 24:1-6)

This particular passage from Isaiah is a good illustration of the importance of both a proper translation and the importance of paying attention to the context.

The word that the NIV has here translated as “earth” is perhaps the primary source of the problem, along with the header that it’s translators “helpfully” but at the head of the chapter: The LORD’s Devastation of the Earth.

The impression created upon reading the passage, for a modern reader in the United States is that God has predicted that aliens are going to invade the world and scatter its inhabitants through the galaxy while burning the world and killing many of them:

This is definitely not what Isaiah had in mind.

The correction of this misconception could have been handled easily had the word translated “earth” been translated as “land” as it often is as in “land of Israel” or “land of Egypt.” And the context makes this obvious: Isaiah is prophesying about the coming invasion of Judah by the Babylonians. Not the coming invasion of Earth by the Romulans.

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Liberty

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker. (Galatians 2:15-18)

As Baptists, we believe in something called “individual soul liberty.” No one can force us to believe anything. Or do anything. We have something called “The Baptist Faith and Message”; it says what Baptists believe. But an important thing to understand about it: it is descriptive, not prescriptive. It gives us an idea of what most Baptists think, if we took all the millions of us in aggregate. But it doesn’t tell us what we have to believe. The Bible is the only authority for our faith and practice. If the Baptist Faith and Message were prescriptive, then that would mean we’re placing it above the Bible. If we needed to do what men in authority told us to do, or to think, then we’d be putting them above the Bible. If we honored and obeyed the traditions of men, then again, we’d be putting them above the Bible. We have no Baptist pope or Baptist bishops. Each and everyone one of us is a priest before God, filled with the Holy Spirit. We are congregationally ruled. We get together and talk and pray and make decisions. We vote. No one but God and our collective decision determines our course of action.

There is no human intermediary between us and God but the man Christ Jesus, who also happens to be God. No one has more of the Holy Spirit than anyone else. We all stand equal before God.

That’s why Paul felt no qualms putting Peter in his place or ignoring parts of the letter from the Jerusalem church council. The “so called pillars” were just that. They were no better than Paul. And Paul’s no better than us.

Keeping the law does not justify us. The traditions of the religion he grew up in did not justify him. His relationship with God was not dependent upon what people said, whether they recognized God’s call on his life or not. His relationship with God was dependent upon God, upon the finished work of Christ on the cross. His calling was from God, not from people. He would obey God rather than man.

Paul is leading up to the point that we are not saved according to what we do, but according to what Jesus did.

The only peer pressure to feel is the pressure of Jesus.

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What God Puts Up With

“I have held My peace a long time,
I have been still and restrained Myself.
Now I will cry like a woman in labor,
I will pant and gasp at once.
I will lay waste the mountains and hills,
And dry up all their vegetation;
I will make the rivers coastlands,
And I will dry up the pools.
I will bring the blind by a way they did not know;
I will lead them in paths they have not known.
I will make darkness light before them,
And crooked places straight.
These things I will do for them,
And not forsake them.
They shall be turned back,
They shall be greatly ashamed,
Who trust in carved images,
Who say to the molded images,
You are our gods.’
“Hear, you deaf;
And look, you blind, that you may see.
Who is blind but My servant,
Or deaf as My messenger whom I send?
Who is blind as he who is perfect,
And blind as the LORD’s servant?
Seeing many things, but you do not observe;
Opening the ears, but he does not hear.” (Isaiah 42:14-20)

God has feelings too. He is passionate, he is expressive, he is not ashamed to let people see his heart. God can be very patient, he can outwait anyone. For the longest time, it may seem like he isn’t there or that he doesn’t care. But sometimes he is merely restraining himself. Because of his desperate love for his people, he would like to act immediately. But because he is also wise, he waits for the right moment. Like a parent who keeps the wonderful present hidden until Christmas morning, no matter how much the parent would like the child to enjoy it now, so God restrains his excitement and joy. Likewise, a soldier might wish to destroy his enemy this instant, but he holds back squeezing the trigger until the enemy is actually in his sights. Too early, and he will miss.

Israel was God’s servant, designed by him to serve as the world’s priests (Exodus 19:5-6). He had hoped they would lead the world to him. Instead, the world had led Israel astray. God knows what those he loves most need, and he knows when they need it. He can wait until just the right moment, to give just that which is most needed. Sometimes it may seem God is doing nothing, when the reality is that he is very busy indeed.

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Dissing God

“I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.

“You have said harsh things against me,” says the LORD.

“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’

“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’ ” (Malachi 3:6-15)

God’s character is consistent: he is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, and never fails. All part of Paul’s definition of “love” and since God is love (1 John 4:7-8) what Paul says of love is true also of God. As a result of who God is, God has not destroyed Israel. From the time of the Exodus until the time of the prophet quoting God’s words in this passage, the Israelites had been rebellious and disobedient, chasing after other gods and concerned only with themselves instead of others. In typical fashion, they are oblivious; they don’t understand why God could be bothered by their behavior. But despite all their sin, God’s love for them has never—and can never—falter.

So the Israelites are unconvinced that it is in their best interests to serve God. Because the rain falls on the just and the unjust, they think it doesn’t matter which they are. As if one should be good only if one gets paid for it—as if the only reason to get good grades in school is because your parents paid you more for an A than they did for a C.

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Worthless Sacrifices

The LORD of Heaven’s Armies says to the priests: “A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master. If I am your father and master, where are the honor and respect I deserve? You have shown contempt for my name!

“But you ask, ‘How have we ever shown contempt for your name?’

“You have shown contempt by offering defiled sacrifices on my altar.

“Then you ask, ‘How have we defiled the sacrifices?’

“You defile them by saying the altar of the LORD deserves no respect. When you give blind animals as sacrifices, isn’t that wrong? And isn’t it wrong to offer animals that are crippled and diseased? Try giving gifts like that to your governor, and see how pleased he is!” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.

“Go ahead, beg God to be merciful to you! But when you bring that kind of offering, why should he show you any favor at all?” asks the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.

“How I wish one of you would shut the Temple doors so that these worthless sacrifices could not be offered! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “and I will not accept your offerings. But my name is honored by people of other nations from morning till night. All around the world they offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name. For my name is great among the nations,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 1:6-11)

God wanted the Temple shut down. He was tired of offerings that were meaningless because they were thoughtless: a mere empty ritualism that grew not out of any genuine devotion to God, but out of superstition. The Israelites performed the rituals because they thought that in so doing they could get God to perform, as if God were a vending machine awaiting the right number of quarters before he would pop out the bag of chips. For that reason, God wanted the Israelites to stop sacrificing to him.

The prophet said that God’s name was honored by people of other nations and that they worshipped him. While some have suggested that this is referring to those Jewish people already in exile in Babylon and Assyria, the more likely understanding is that this is a prophesy of what was going to happen: the gentiles, those who were not Jewish, would see the light and become worshippers of God. Then the Temple would be destroyed, ending the sacrificial system once and for all. The Temple was destroyed by the Romans during the summer of 70 AD, and the gospel message has been taken around the globe. As Jesus said, his true worshippers worship not at a temple, but in spirit and truth.

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