Archive for January, 2009

Time A Prelude To Eternity

Time flies. Or does it?
At dinner with an astronaut recently who is scheduled for her third ride into space she described launch as a “sensory overload.” That surely is a succinct description.
A second talking point I raised related to time. I commented when it is noon here it is 6:00 PM in Israel and 6:00 AM in Hawaii. What time is it deep in outer space?
The conversation was generated by my interest in time and eternity. She said they relate to earth using Greenwich Mean Time but they operate by launch time. Their personal watches show the time in which their friends live so they won’t call home at the wrong time. Everything on board is related to the time of launch. Thus time is relative depending on your perspective.
Grasping the meaning of time is propaedeutic  to an understanding of time and God.
Physicists in particular have given it a lot thought. Consider their imaginary visit to our nearest star, Sirius. It is nine light years away. Traveling there at 99.99999% of the speed of light the following would happen. Persons here on earth would have to wait about 18 years for your return. Upon returning the traveler’s watch and body clock would indicate he or she was gone 12 hours. The traveler would be 12 hours older and earth bound friends 18 years older. If a traveler could accelerate to the speed of light time would stand still.
Scientists say on the cusp on black holes in distance space there is no time.
By now the concept of eternity was coming a bit clearer from a human perspective.
The Gospel of John opens with a statement when translated from Greek to English to read: “Before time began to begin…”
Most often when we think of creation space and matter are considered. There is a third component to creation —- time. Before creation there was no time. At a certain point the celestial clock began clicking.
The Bible also speaks of a point when time shall no longer be. That means time is a parentheses in eternity. We are temporarily in a time lock, a warp, called time.
Solomon, spoken of as the wisest of wise men, made a stunning statement when speaking of God. That is a subject most folks are willing to admit is bigger than they. A modern translation of Solomon’s statement reads: “from vanishing point to vanishing point you are God.” He was wise enough to realize some subjects go beyond the human mind to comprehend. He was saying think back in history and out in space as far as you can and there comes a point beyond which you can not think. Reasoning just runs out, vanishes. The same is true of thinking into the future and distant space. The mind reaches a vanishing point beyond which it can’t conceive, a vanishing point.
Thus, Solomon postures God as always having existed in eternity. From His perspective in eternity He sees things differently than we and is able to counsel us —-  in time.
On a lighter note imagine this interview with God.
“God, what is a million dollars like to you?”
“Like a penny.”
“What is a thousand years like to you?”
“Like a minute.”
“God, will you give me a million dollars?”
“In a minute.”
Athletes like to be challenged by contesting superior opponents. Musicians like to try to master great compositions.
Cooks are delighted to try especially difficult dishes. In that same vein I like on occasion to challenge my limited mental resources by tackling a difficult subject. Time and eternity provides such a task. By gaining a better understanding of time we can gain a better comprehension of eternity, though never fully understand it.
Keep in mind clocks didn’t come into existence until the thirteenth century. There are still vast people groups who do not use time pieces. Measuring time in minutes and seconds is a relative new art.
Subdividing time into different schools of thought is a starting point. There is subjective time and objective time.
Subjective time is from an internal human perspective, where time seems on occasion to fly by and at other times drag along, even though these perceptions may not be confirmed by external measuring devises.
Objective time is metered by external metering devises. Einstein physics theory showed that no measure of time is absolute, all is relative.
German scientists have defined time as a tri-polar structure of endogenous, exogenous, and transcendent time.
Endogenous time is derived from internal experiences, our biological or circadian rhythms. These are influenced by many things. A classic example is how we feel when traveling across several time zones.
Exogenous time is the form that arises from our interaction with the environment and social time. It helps us structure our schedules and lives. It is relative. For example where does an hour go when we cross a time zone or have to reset our clocks. We tend to envision time as a number of points along a time line. Duration flows without measurement. This is used to show time is arbitrary, relative.
Transcendent time is a sense of timelessness arising from mystical experiences.
This is the school of thought in which a concept of time known as “stasis” or “tenseless” theory.
We tend to date things based on the “now.” A thing is either past, because it came before the present, that is “now,” or future because it is to come after the present “now.”
In the transcendent time theory everything is in the now. It is a divine timelessness. God does not see things as present, past, and future but all as now. He experience all things in the “eternal now.” That is how He can speak prophetically of things that are to happen in what we call the future. Persons who believe in human free will believe that because He knows what is to happen it does not mean He makes it happen.
If you don’t understand all of this welcome to my world. I am so glad there are things to great for our human minds to comprehend. However, for time, space, and matter to exist there had to be some understanding of it too give it order. Oops, there is where God steps on stage and I really can’t understand Him. There are a lot of things I believe in I can’t understand and God is foremost on that list. Millions not only believe He exists but that He exists and loves us.
That can give you a brain cramp. I owe thanks to a much better brain than mine, Dr. Steve W. Lemke, of the New Orleans Seminary for many insights herein.

Laughter Is A Good Medicine

As Chairman of the National Board of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for six years I met many of the nations best athletes. Many are superb wits and kidders while others just aren’t articulate and it shows. Comments by some of both kinds follow.
Oh, these are shared because, “A merry heart does good like a medicine.” Enjoy this dose.
Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson on being a role model: “I wan’ all dem kids to do what I do, to look up to me. I wan’ all the kids to copulate me.”
Former New Orleans Saints running back George Rogers when asked about the upcoming season: “I want to rush for 1,000 or 1,500 yards, whichever comes first.”
Upon hearing Joe Jacobi of the ‘Skins say: “I’d run over my own mother to win the Super Bowl,” Matt Millen said, “I’d run over Joe’s mother, too, to win the Super Bowl.”
Torrin Polk, University of Houston receiver said of his coach, “He treats us like men. He lets us wear earrings.”
Former player and football commentator Joe Theismann said, “Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.”
A senior basketball player at the University of Pittsburgh: “I’m going to graduate on time, no matter how long it takes.”
Stu Grimson, Chicago Blackhawks left wing, explaining why he keeps a color photo of himself over his locker: “That’s so when I forget how to spell my name, I can still find my clothes.”
Lou Duva, veteran boxing trainer, on the Spartan training regime of heavyweight Andrew Golota: “He’s a guy who gets up at six o’clock in the morning, regardless of what time it is.”
Boxing promoter Dan Duva on Mike Tyson going to prison: “Why should anyone expect him to come out smarter? He went to prison for three years not Princeton.”
One local high school coach commenting on how his team had played: “On one hand the offense played well. On the same hand the defense didn’t.”
Chuck Nevitt, Marietta native and former North Carolina State basketball player, explaining to his college coach Jim Valvano why he appeared nervous at practice: “My sister’s expecting a baby, and I don’t know if I’m going to be an uncle or and aunt?” Having known Chuck when he was in high school I know he was spoofing the coach. Chuck is known for a great sense of humor.
Yogi Berra is known for his one liners. Less known for that reason was the wise and witty late football coach of Florida State Bill Peterson. By design he often caught people off guard with his brain teasers such as when he told his team: “Line up alphabetically by height.” Also: “You guys pair up in groups of three, and then line up in a circle.”
One definition of humor is instant intellect and Coach Peterson often proved he was indeed an intellect. He confirmed it by being a very good coach and a wonderful man.
Laughter is nature’s doctor; the doctor who resides in you. Chemicals released by worry and stress promote ulcers, asthma, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and strokes.
A positive jovial spirit releases health inducing painkillers and “feel good” endorphins and enkephlins into the system. They cause a sense of well-being when at work. I hope you feel better than when you started reading this column.

The Philistine People Of Gaza

About the same time (1180-1150 B. C.) Moses led the Jews to the eastern border of “the promised land” from where Joshua led them into it another group was entering from the coast on the west. Their journey began from their homeland in Crete and the Aegean islands. These lands in the Bible are called Caphtor. Known as People of the Sea they repeatedly attacked Egypt and were eventually repulsed by Ramesses III. His actions led to these roving pirates settling on the fertile plane south of Joppa on the Mediterranean coast in what is now known as the Gaza Strip. They developed the cities of Gaza, Gath, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron.
Primary Bible characters associated with the region are Saul, Samuel, Samson, and David. For years the principle god of these people who came to be known as Philistines was the Semitic god Dagon. Currently most who live there are Muslims.
Persians, Hasmoneans, Selucids, Egyptians, Romans, and Israelis have tried to rule them unsuccessfully. In recent years after conquering the territory the Israelis gave up on trying to govern them and gladly relinquished the territory. Egypt didn’t want them back. The ultimate group that has tried on several occasions to rule them unsuccessfully is their self-governance. No one has ever successfully ruled them.
Philistinism is a derogatory coined word that describes people who disregard art, beauty, intellectualism, spiritual values and are materialistic. Historically there are brief periods of their existence that dispute this depiction.
Goeth (1749-1832) wrote of them, “The Philistine not only ignores all conditions of life which are not his own but also demands that the rest of mankind should fashion its mode of existence after his own.” The term is in general one of social scorn.
That gives an idea of the long held mentality of the people and their ancestors who live in the Gaza Strip. Perhaps it explains why it is difficult to negotiate with them. Many are insisting the Israelis negotiate with them. No one has ever been able to do so. No one.
The people who govern there now were elected by the people. America pushed for them to have open elections several years ago against the warning that Hamas would be put in control. Unfortunately instead of dedicating themselves to providing a better way of life for their people Hamas dedicated themselves to the destruction of Israel.
Were it not for belligerence and obstinacy the conflict could easily be resolved. All that would be required would be for Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel. Israel does not want the Gaza Strip and the responsibility of trying to govern a people no one has ever been able to govern.
A few months ago we visited the Costal Plain and the valley in which the Hebrew David fought the Philistine Goliath. It is a lovely fertile area. Vineyards and other forms of agriculture proliferate. This is now part of the area being hit by rockets. Seeing such a placid area you wonder why such destruction is desired.

The High Price Of Greed

The economy is of great interest. The uncertainty of the times makes it all the more of a concern.
Our dismal national financial posture has been the topic of Internet communication recently. The Stock Market has been described this way.
“It’s been a rocky week for the Stock Market. Helium was up, feathers were down. Paper was stationary. Ticonderoga Pencils lost a few points. Though elevators rose escalators continued their slow decline. Weights were up in heavy trading. Light switches were off. Mining equipment hit rock bottom. The market in raisins dried up. Pampers remained unchanged. Caterpillar stock inched up a bit. Sun peaked at midday. Birds Eye Peas split. Stanley Tools filed for Chapter 11 and Scott Tissues touched new bottoms.”
The following solution has been proposed.
“The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of
officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.”
That is not Rome, Georgia referenced. It was written of ancient Rome by Cicero in 55 B.C. Some things are constant.
There are a few words that describe how we got in our current quandary. Some are: greed ratcheted up to rapacity and avarice, a lack of integrity and eroded honesty, covetousness,  gluttony, voracity, and a colloquialism, “the gimmies.”
Greed, the desire for more, is the birth mother of most of these appetites. We were told this a long time ago when it was said “the love of money is the root of all evil.” There we have the source defined. Individually and as a nation we have to deal with it.
Reputedly a Baptist moved in next door to a Quaker. Like a good neighbor the Quaker went over to visit his new neighbor and said, “If thou needest anything let me know and I will tell thee how to live without it.” At issue is whether we can learn to curb our appetites for more and live without some things.
We are victims of a “More is better but more is never good enough” philosophy.
Complicating the issue is that we have reared a large segment of the population that has become dependent on government to fulfill not just basic needs but their greed. We have confused  needs with wants. Government “pork” is a popular menu item.
There are some very good financial advisors in the market place today. Locally Clark Howard heads the list of several very good down-to-earth authorities. David Ramsey is a national figure of good repute. He has syndicated radio and TV programs and excellent video and book materials. His “Financial Peace University” video seminars are hosted by many local churches. Even if a person isn’t a church goer it would be helpful to check local places hosting a seminar.
We should not expect our nation to control its greed until we do so individually. Discerning abstinence is a self-discipline that really pays off. Pays off!

We Are Endowed By God

Our nation looks to new leadership in Washington with outstretched open hands. Give me is the mandate of the hour.
“Endow” is an interesting word. It is defined as to “provide or supply or equip.” Basically it means to be give something. To be given something there must be a someone by whom it is given.
Our Declaration of Independence notes “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Unalienable means they can’t be repudiated or taken away. The rights noted as being given to us and not to be taken away are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those are our birthright given us. For there to be a gift there must be a giver.
The Declaration defines the giver as “the Creator” by Whom “all men are created.” That is rather definitive. This document declared this Creator is the one who gives these rights.
Efforts to exclude Him from the world He created has resulted in the assumption our rights come from government. The consequence of this is a large segment of our population now looks to government for an endowment of their rights.
Jefferson and his ilk believed there were certain immutable rights inherent in life. He believed these rights transcend government and were endowed, given, by the Creator not the government. The responsibility of the government is to secure, protect and defend these rights.
In Jefferson’s first message as President he remarked, “I shall need the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old….” He continued, “I ask you to join with me in supplications that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their counsels, and prosper their measures, that whatever they do shall result in our good and shall secure to you the friendship and approbation of all nations.”
Jefferson also piquantly asked, “Can the liberties of a nation, be thought secure, when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gifts of God? — that they cannot be violated except with his wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
Jefferson’s religious beliefs will be debated forever but from these historical statements it can be deduced that he believed in God, that God hears and answers prayer, that He is a benevolent God who gives unalienable rights, that government officials are His “servants,” and that His justice is inevitably enacted.
With our nation concerned with a new governing body in Washington there is expectation mixed with uncertainty. Jefferson’s appeal needs to be responded to by this generation. It is incumbent on the governed to pray for those governing. Pray for the very things Jefferson noted. In doing so we are ultimately looking to the Creator who endows us.
Like all leaders this cadre needs “the favor of that Being in whose hands we are….”

God Is Missing

Billy and Tommy were two little mischievous brothers who lived in a small town who were blamed for virtually every misdeed in town. For much of it they were rightly accused.
Their concerned mom made an appointment for the pastor to talk with them. She took them to the church office for the visit. The pastor using a psychological ploy decided to talk with them one at a time.
Tommy was first. Tommy was seated in front of the pastor’s desk and the pastor behind it. The pastor asked Tommy an easy question with a given answer to start the conversation.
“Tommy, where is God?” No answer.
Tactfully the pastor made a few comments and posed the question again. “Tommy, tell me where is God?” Still no answer.
After a few other moments of unresponsiveness the pastor pounded his desk and in a loud voice said, “Tommy, I know you know, tell me where is God?”
Tommy bolted from his chair, ran out of the office with Billy in hot pursuit. Tommy ran in the house upstairs to his room and into the closet holding the door tight.
Billy stood outside pounding on the door saying, “Tommy, Tommy what is the matter?”
Tommy answered, “Billy, run hide, God is missing and they are trying to blame it on us.”
Take even a casual look at our society and obviously God is missing. A legitimate question is who is to blame?
With my regard for and my shared guilt with the individual and institutions I believe the faith community is to blame. A broad spectrum of diverse leaders of the spiritual community of America banded together some years ago to influence elections and laws in our land. I was a part of that effort and believe it did a lot of good. However we focused our efforts on externals to try to change our culture. To a significant degree it worked for a time. One might well ask then why blame the faith community.
Though those efforts were admirable and to a degree effective they were relied on to the neglect of the one thing that can change our society. It is an inside job.
It may be a great act of faith to think it has to be changed one person at a time it is a greater act of lunacy to think it can  be changed any other way. The hearts of the people must be changed. Belief patterns must be shaped. Persons must become convinced there are absolute morals and stand for them.
For the last decade many of the spiritual voices have resorted to a message of health, wealth, and prosperity doctrine. A feel good faith has replaced a belief system given to moral absolutes regarding sex, abortion, greed, bigotry, integrity, and a sense of personal responsibility.
Dr. Karl Menninger, founder of the renown Menninger Clinic wrote a book on psychological problems with a title that poses a significant question: “Whatever Became of Sin?” Immoral acts still abound but they are called every thing but sin.
The faith community need not worry about being popular just right. Some things are right and some wrong. Our moral compass has been lost and voices too often muted that should be declaring the values that made us a more moral and righteous people.
God is missing. Perhaps a place to reintroduce Him and advocate His virtues for His people would be in our houses of worship. Some do a good job of it and are attracting people.

Wine In The Bible And The Consumption Of Alcohol Today

Did Jesus and His disciples consume intoxicating wine in observing the Passover?
Does the Bible admonition to “take a little wine for the stomach’s sake” legitimize consumption of intoxicants?
Was it possible to preserve wine in a non-fermented state in the time of Christ?
These and related questions deserve an answer based on historical facts.
Consider the last of these questions first.
Ancients had several ways of preserving unfermented wine. One way was to reduce the grape juice to the constituency of a thick syrup or even jelly known in Hebrew as debhash and in Arabic dbs. This preserved form could be used over a long period of time. By adding water the concentrate turned the water to unfermented wine.
Sometimes a cake was made of dried grapes which later had  water added to produce unfermented wine.
In 1869 physician and dentist Thomas Bramwell Welch and his son Charles were responsible for preparing the table at their church for the Lord’s Supper. They became concerned about using fermented wine. Utilizing only techniques from the time of the Bible they produced unfermented grape juice for use at the Lord Supper. Their product today is known as Welch’s Grape Juice.
Welch’s concern grew out of the fact bread with leavening was forbidden to be used at the Passover. Leavening involved using yeast. As the yeast cells die the decay produces gases. This fermentation results in the rising of bread. Purity was desired so unleavened bread was required.
Welch reasoned why would fermentation not be allowed in bread while being allowed in wine?
The Bible instructs people “Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper.” (Proverbs 23: 31,32). Movement in wine is caused by bubbles resulting from fermentation.
The Greeks seeing movement in the wine thought it indicated there was life in the wine. When wine was consumed it influenced speech, hearing, and one’s walk. Because of this outside control of the body they thought it to be a god and gave the god the name Baccah.
When the Bible appeals for persons not to be filled with wine, but be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) it is teaching persons to chose the true God, the Holy Spirit, not Baccah. It means let the Holy Spirit control your body.
Wine was in common use in the Bible time. It is helpful to understand how it was used in deciding how to apply Bible verses related to it.

Wine was normally stored in large pointed jugs called amphorae. When it was to be used the desired portion was poured from the amphorae into a large bowl known as a kraters. From the kraters the cups, known as kylix, were filled.
In the large bowl, the kraters, water was added before the mixture was used to fill the cups, kylix.
The ratio of water to wine varied. Different ancient writers note different formulas ranging from one part wine to twenty parts of water. Others indicate a ration of 1-5, 1-4, 2-5.
At the wedding of Cana Jesus had the water pots filled with water and when the guests drank they referred to it as “wine,” the normal word for the mixture of water and wine.
Writers normally referred to wine mixed with water as “wine.” To indicate wine not mixed with water it was called “unmixed (akratesteron)wine.”
Drinking wine without it being mixed with water was looked upon as “Scythian” or barbarian. Mnesitheus wrote: “Mix it half and half, and you get madness; unmixed, bodily collapse.”
Plutarch wrote, “We call a mixture ‘wine,’ although the larger of the component parts is water.”
The Jewish Encyclopedia states that during the rabbinic period “‘yayin’(wine) was to be distinguished from ‘shekar’ (strong drink): the former is diluted with water (mazug’); the latter is undiluted (‘yayin hai’).”
The Jewish Talmud, which contains the oral traditions from 200 B.C. to 200 A.D. has several tractates in which the mixture of water and wine is discussed. The normal mixture is said to be 1 part wine to 3 parts water.
In the portion of that work known as Pesahim 108b it is stated that the four cups every Jew was to drink from during the Passover ritual the mix was a ratio of three parts water to one part wine.
From this can be concluded that what Jesus and the disciples used at the Last Supper was not an intoxicant.
From around 60 B.C. the Book of Maccabees 15:39 states, “It is harmful to drink wine alone, or again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious…”
Justin Martyr around 150 A.D. described the Lord’s supper in this way: “Bread was brought, and wine and water, and the president sends up prayers and thanksgiving” (Apology I, 67, 5).
Clement of Alexandria stated: “It is best for the wine to be mixed with as much water as possible… For both are works of God, and the mixing of the two, both the water and wine produces health….”
The mixture of water and wine was also used for medicinal purposes. Because of amoeba in water wine was added as a purifying agent. Hence, the Scripture says, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for the stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” (I Timothy 5:23). Wine was a disinfectant.
A constructive warning is expressed in Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”