This page of my blog is for my thoughts on the Bible and matters of faith.  It is not intended to be heavy theology, just the musings of a layman.

Does the Bible say that the value of Pi is 3?

Skeptics like to point to First Kings where it seems to be implying that the ratio of the circumference of a bowl to its diameter is 3.  Therefore one more reason to not trust the Bible as reliable.

“And he [Hiram] made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one rim to the other it was round all about, and…a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about….And it was an hand breadth thick….” — First Kings, chapter 7, verses 23 and 26

First point, let’s say the the Bible implied that the measurements of the bowl were 3.1.  That is technically wrong.  Let’s say it implied it was 3.14.  Technically wrong.  Okay, 3.141.  Technically wrong.  The only way it could be ‘right’ is to say that was a transcendental number that is approximated by a value a little above 3.  God could have given that inspired word to the author of First Kings.  It would have been incomprehensible gibberish at the time, but it would have impressed modern skeptics I suppose. I think that that violates the spirit of how the Bible was inspired.  The Bible is mostly the record of human witnesses. Even that which is revelation of a spiritual nature is the witness of the prophet who witnessed the supernatural event. For example, Daniel saw many strange visions, but he is describing the actual visions he witnessed.  A skeptic will say that such visions are ‘fish’ stories, where the ‘fish’ gets larger with each telling.  Or just made up whole cloth. To me it comes down to ones intuition on the matter.  My intuition says it was actual visions given to Daniel by God.

So let’s say that the author is describing the actual measurement of an actual bowl.  There are some practical problems to overcome.  If the bowl had a lip at the rim, then a rope used to wrap around the rim would likely have been placed under the lip because when pulling the rope tight, it would have slipped off the rim unless it was placed under the lip.  Until we know the lip size we can’t know the where things got measured exactly.  Second issue, we don’t know the diameter of the rope.  A thin piece of twine would provide negligable error in the measurement, but a thick rope would give noticeable error.

In conclusion the people doing the measurement could have actually measured a ratio of 3.  In my opinion, case closed.

Making church appealing to the average man (June 1, 2016)

I have felt for a while that there are a lot of men in the world for whom the typical Sunday sermon does not speak to them at all. I do think that a lot of men are at church mainly in support of their wives and kids. They themselves personally do not get fired up about it.

The easy ‘case closed’ argument to make is that on the whole church attendance is going down in this country. I will delve into one specific subset of the general population.

Let me make it clear that I am not saying this is about all men, but a significant percentage. So to counter my arguments by bringing up examples of spiritually on-fire men misses my point. Second, I don’t want to argue that we should hold our finger to the social winds and make the message easy on everyone’s ears. If the basic Christian message sounds like a daily dose of castor oil to a man intent on living his life without God, then we should not alter the message to make it taste like candy. I make my case for a target audience of men who are open to living their lives for God, but need some persuasion to get excited about it. My analogy is that if the standard Christian message is Christianity 101, then a lot of men need the remedial class.

I would define Christianity 101 as the message of God’s grace to save sinners and redeem them to Himself. I think the average man really does not see themselves needing to saved from anything. Unless they have really made a mess of their lives by perhaps ripping their families apart through cheating on their wives, or maybe having accidently killed a child in a car accident when they weren’t paying attention, or some such tragedy, most men do not suffer from any great feelings of guilt.

So there are two approaches that could voluntarily draw such a man into church. One is through a dramatic revival and move of the Holy Spirit which convicts men of sin and the need for repentance. Revivals are good things when they happen, but typically they are relatively short lived things, judging from past revivals. Revivals do impact society, but they are like the excitement of courtship between a couple. Once married life sets in, the excitement turns into the everyday struggle.

Another way to draw men into church is to give them what I call ‘remedial Christianity’. Others call this ‘seeker sensitive’ messages. Basically it is giving a message that says that God can meet them where they are, and the sermon stresses the practical ways in which their faith in God can benefit them. There is something to be said for this approach. If a man sees that God can meet them where they are, they can desire to go deeper into the journey of faith. Eventually they can confront the claims of Christianity 101.

One area of life that pretty much any hard working responsible man cares deeply about is their jobs and their careers. If a pastor can throw in some comments on work and how faith plays out in the workplace, that achieves two things. First, men will perk up when they hear the pastor talking about the work world. I know I do. Second, it sends the message that it is okay to concern yourself with your work. I think that subtly the average sermon that mostly dwells on the spiritual themes is sending this message to men: “You work means nothing here in the four walls of this church building. You must evelate yourself above these earthly concerns while you are here attending church.” Subconsciously men are confused because they think that maybe it is sinful to care about their work. Pastors, give your flock explicit permission to care about their work.

I know that it is not good to admit this among the theologically serious crowd, but I appreciate the books by Joel Osteen. His is a seeker sensitive message on steroids. What I find refreshing about his message is that he is encourraging me exactly where I am at. I do not aspire to be a missionary to Timbuktu, and I don’t want to know about the ins and outs of theological ideas. I want to do well in my chosen career, I want to be a good husband and father, and I want to do some really cool math and physics. I probably should not admit this math and physics thing until it actually happens, but I do feel that God gave me this desire and dream. So to hear Joel Osteen encourage me to fire up my desire for what I think is a God-given dream is exactly what I want to hear. No subtle guilt message from him that I am not being spiritual enough for desiring these things. But to my earlier point, it also makes me want to increase my faith in other ways.

Praying for things before the disaster (April 24, 2016)

Today our associate pastor prayed for success in business, agriculture, science, and other areas of endeavor.  That one jumped out at me because I have felt for a while that in church we tend to wait for people to get sick or lose a job before we pray for them.  Why not pray for healthy people to stay healthy, and for people to do well in their jobs so that they don’t lose their jobs. Having been through some layoffs in my life, it is something I hope I never have to repeat.  So I spend time praying for wise leadership in my company, and that I will do well and keep my employer pleased with my work.  I think one reason that pastors (and frankly the congregants) are reluctant to pray for success is that they may think that it is self-serving and smacks of wanting only material success.  For me, the responsibility of caring for my family’s material needs is foremost in my mind, not being richer than the next guy.  Sure I would like to get to a place where I am not worried about my finances, but my desire for success is definitely grounded in my sense of responsibility toward my family.

Friendship as the highest form of relationship (April 24, 2016)

I recall from my high school days we used to have school assembly in the chapel from time to time.  A classmate who was not a Christian was thumbing through the hymnal and came across a hymn describing Jesus as our friend (perhaps ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’?). He was disdainful of that notion that God could be our friend.  I did not say anything at the time, but over the years i have thought of this, and think more and more that friendship with God is a unique aspect of our faith, and a good think to aspire to.

Jesus tells his disciples when he washes their feet as an act of a servant, he says that they are now more than just disciples, they are his friends.  We often think that the love a family members for each other, the love of a parent for a child is the highest form of human love.  But I think that friendship is a higher form of love that is exhibited in a mature healthy relationship.  When children become adults the healthiest relationship is for parent and child to be friends.  There is always a special honor we place in our parents, but friendship to me is a sign of maturity in the adult relationship.  The best kind of long term relationship between husband and wife is a friendship.  When a couple starts out in married life other aspects of their love dominate, but long term, it is friendship that makes for a healthy marriage.

I think the same thing applies in the spiritual realm.  Certain characters in the Bible had that friendship with God, namely Moses, and Adam before the Fall. It is said of Moses that he and God had an almost conversational relationship. Adam conversed with God in the Garden. I think the vast majority of us never have that kind of relationship here on earth.

Is the book of Job a parable or history (April 24, 2016)

The more I think about the story of Job in the Bible, the more I think it works better as a parable than the story of a historical person.  First, no effort is made to put Job in historical context.  He is apparently not related to any of the historical figures in the Bible.  The land of Ur is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible as far as I know.  Usually a Bible character is placed in historical times and places.

Second, I would prefer to think that God does not make gentlemen’s bets with Satan on how much suffering a man can take. After all, God could tell Satan to get lost, Job is none of his business.  However, this conversation between God and Satan works as a literary device to set up the question: Is the righteousness of Job self-serving or not?  Is Job only faithful because God is good to him, or is there more to his faith? This is a question everyone of us must ask as we go through life.

The only thing that argues against my contention that this story is just a parable is when Jesus says that for some unfortunate souls even Job’s prayers would not be enough to save them.  If indeed Jesus knows Job to be a historical figure, then so be it.  However, one could argue that Jesus was saying something to the affect that “the prayers of someone with the faith of a Job-like person.”

Good looks in the Bible (April 2, 2016)

The Old Testament is more earthy than the New Testament in many ways.  One is in the area of physical appearance.  There are  many mentions of handsomeness and beauty of the characters.  Joseph and David were good looking.  Leah was plain and Rachael was beautiful, and husband Jacob definitely had a preference for the beauty.  Esther’s beauty got her the job of queen of Persia. Elisha was teased for his bald head. Proverbs 6:25 warns against using physical beauty as a criterion for selecting a mate:  “Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes.”

By contrast the New Testament I don’t recall ever makes a comment about any character’s looks.  Would it not be interesting if one of the authors made some mention of Jesus’ appearance, for example?

Middle Class Lifestyle (April 2, 2016)

This posting is slightly tongue in cheek, but I maintain that the Bible in Proverbs endorses the middle class life.  Proverbs 30:8 says “Lord, give me neither poverty or riches”.  What is that except middle class?

Living in Day Tight Compartments (Sunday March 27, 2016)

It is often helpful to know the Bible when watching movies, because when a Biblical reference is made, there is an added dimension to understanding the movie.  For example, the movie “Michael Collins” is about one of the leaders of the ultimately successful Irish independence fight in the early part of the 20th century. A British detective is brought in to root out spies within the pro-British police force in Ireland.  He realizes that a man named Boyle is a spy, and confronts him with the following words:  “Sufficient unto the day, eh Boyle?”  This is a reference to Jesus’ teaching.  “Do not worry about tomorrow, for sufficient unto the day is the evil there of.”  If one does not know that reference, one would be wondering what he meant.

This being Easter, it is worth looking at Jesus’ teaching of living in day tight compartments.  If there ever was someone who lived his own teaching, it would be Jesus.  I would imagine that for much or most of his adult life he would have known what his death would involve, because of the prophecies of the Old Testament and perhaps personal revelation.  For the rest of us, we can always re-assure ourselves that the future can never be known for certain. But that reassurance was not available to Jesus. I would be a basket case if I had that kind of fore-knowledge.  Yet the only time we know that he agonized over that fate was the day of his crucifixion.  Truly he must have lived in day tight compartments.

How Important is Doctrine to the Life of the Believer?

In past centuries theological doctrine was vitally important to your physical well being in that believing in the wrong doctrine in a certain places and eras would get you tortured and killed.  Fortunately in our age and in the western culture, theological doctrine has taken on less life and death weightiness in society in general.  But the question remains, is it still vitally important to the life of the believer in terms of eternal well being?   Read more…