Sunday, April 29, 2007

Open Source Truth - The Antithesis of Absolutes?

We talked for a minute today about a new religion that developed in the 1990s around the open source idea from the software world. It's called Yoism. Here are a couple of excerpts from Wikipedia (of course!) explaining what "open source religion" is:
Open source religions attempt to employ open source methodologies in the creation of religious belief systems. As such, their systems of beliefs are created through a continuous process of refinement and dialogue among the believers themselves.
Among the first examples of this movement, Yoans (followers of a religion called Yoism) claim that their version of open source religion does not have allegiance to any spiritual guide, rather the sense of authority emerges from the group via consensus.

It seems to me that the issue here revolves notion the idea that "truth" is something that "emerges from the group via consensus." This runs contrary even to our observation of the physical world around us (which Yoans would claim as the basis for truth). The laws upon which the physical world operates are independent of our "consensus" concerning them. The whole scientific establishment is founded on the belief that things like gravity are not dependent on individual (or group) opinions.

To remove the independent source of truth is to remove it's meaning. If truth is something I or we can create ourselves, then it is arbitrary and useless as a guide or standard for behavior. Only the truth I must "discover" not "create" has value. If I must discover truth then it must have been created by something outside of me and more than me.

I come back to what I said earlier, God=Truth. If God is not the source of truth, then I feel no inclination to attempt to abide by truth's dictates.

For more on the topic, check out relativism on C.A.R.M.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Right and Wrong, Absolutely!

This week we're looking at the story in Judges 17 of a man named Micah, and his mother (unnamed, of course). The story is pretty simple:
  • Micah steals a lot of silver from his mother (about 100 years wages).
  • Micah gets worried about being cursed, and returns the silver.
  • Micah's mother praises him and consecrates the silver to God.
  • Micah's mother makes an idol of part of the silver and keeps the rest.
  • Micah makes a shrine in the house and names his son as priest.
  • An itinerant Levite wanders by and Micah hires him as priest.
  • Micah decides God will now like him because he has his own priest.
In googling (a verb?) this story I find that there is a consensus opinion and a minority view. The consensus (e.g., here and here) is that Micah and Mom are idolaters or worse, and that this is the beginning of the nation's fall. There is however, a minority view (e.g., here) that would suggest Micah was sincerely trying to do what was right.

Perhaps the question to answer here concerns what is right and wrong. Does the fact that there is some argument in this case mean that there's some doubt? Is there always a right thing to do?

I think so. There is a right and a wrong in every situation. No exceptions. If God is all-knowing, then he certainly knows about the details of every situation I face. He has a preference in every decision I make, and by definition, that preference is what we call "right."

That leaves us trying to decide what's right, but that's a topic for another post!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Do You Cheat?

Do you ever cheat on things? Ever put down deductions on your taxes that were a bit of an exaggeration? Freakonomics is a fascinating book by economist Steven Levitt that I read a few months ago. It appeals to the number-cruncher in me because Levitt draws amazing conclusions from a detailed analysis of ordinary data. On the subject of cheating, Levitt calls it "a prominent feature in just about every human endeavor." He does a remarkable analysis of student test scores in the Chicago Public School system and concludes that roughly 5% of the teachers were cheating to make their student's performance (and thus their own) seem better. Teachers!

So what about you ever cheat? Can you justify cheating?

Or perhaps, do you simply try not to get caught!

Sunday, April 22, 2007


This has nothing to do with the lesson this week, but it struck me as one of those "profound" things that appear seemingly from out of nowhere.

I was browsing (not really reading) through Philip Yancey's book Prayer - Does It Make Any Difference and came across this sentence:
"Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn't act the way we want God to, and why I don't act the way God wants me to."

I don't know about you, but for me this is akin to mind reading! How did he capture my confusion so clearly?


Monday, April 16, 2007

Getting Even

One of the most famous and least understood figures in the Bible has got to be Samson. Everybody learns as a child in Sunday school about the strongman whose strength was lost when his hair was cut, but who knocked down the temple when he recuperated.

But how many people actually ever go read Judges 14 & 15 to find out what Samson was really like. He was a nasty, dangerous man with an ego the size of Texas. He was the kind of guy who always got even. You didn't mess with Samson and live to tell about it.

There's something attractive in revenge. We really like to see the bad guys get much so that we're happy to set things right ourselves if it looks like nobody else is going to do it. To prove this all you have to do is cut somebody off, or drive too slowly in the left lane on one of Houston's freeways!

One observation from the story of Samson (especially Judges 15) is that revenge is never done. It always escalates. I take revenge on someone who then feels justified in getting even with me, then I need to get them back, and so on.

So my questions... What is it in us that wants to get even? The Bible says we are created in the image of God. Is this a part of God's character? ..."It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. - Rom 12:19 (NIV) (Of course, you need to read the first part of that verse as well where it says, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath,...)

So which is it to be...revenge or not...and more important why? The Sunday school answers "blessed are the meek," "love everybody," and "turn the other cheek" aren't really good enough to explain why we seem to be driven to make people pay for their wrongs. Does God turn the other cheek? Samson didn't, and he was a hero, right?

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Along the road to Emmaus

In Luke 24:13-35, the Bible describes a fascinating encounter between Jesus and two of his disciples (Cleopas and another disciple). The fascinating bit is that they walked and talked for quite a while without the disciples recognizing Jesus. As disciples they must have known Jesus by sight, but something was in the way (v16).

The encounter occurred after what must have been a "big deal" event for these disciples...their leader/teacher had been arrested and executed. It's unimaginable that they would have been ignorant of the events. They would have heard everything that was to be heard about what had happened and discussed it with others (v14). Somehow they missed, or more likely, refused to believe (v23-24) the news of the resurrection! (Perhaps that's what they were arguing about in v15?) They acted as if Jesus were dead, even in the way they retold the story. There is a sense of discouragement and disappointment in the words, "We were hoping he was the One..."

"Then their eyes were opened..." Notice that they did not open their eyes. They recognized Jesus because he opened their eyes. What a great picture of how we come to belief. Jesus is right there in front of us but we don't recognize him until he opens our eyes. Nothing has really changed except us, but everything is different.

I think what happens next in the story is what's at the very core of what it is to live the Christian life. The two disciples "that very hour" got up and went back to be with other believers and to tell people of their experience. It was late in the day and travel after dark was dangerous, but they didn't care. Their lives were changed and they had to act.

That's what the resurrection means. It's the most important event in history and the most important thing for us to really understand as Christians. It changes everything for us, and it changes us. Once we grasp the truth of this one event we can't remain the same people. It compels us to personal evangelism, joyful worship, fellowship with other believers, Bible study, and prayer.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Living Forever

Do you want to live forever with a healthy mind and body? Most people would say that they would on the condition that their "quality of life" was OK. We almost universally want to live rather than die.

I went to hear a talk this week given by Ray Kurzweil. One of the topics he covered was Living Forever. His assertion is that withing a fairly short period of time (under 50 years) pervasive nanotechnology will enable us to completely eliminate disease and effectively live forever. Of course, eliminating disease doesn't really mean we'll live forever. Accidents and suicide are still threats. I did more investigating and spreadsheeting than I should have, and estimate that eliminating all disease would increase the expected lifespan for a someone living in the US from 78 years to about 1300 years (Based on data from NSC and NCHS).

The question is this, "Is it a sin to prolong our lives by artificial means?" Should we try to live here forever? When Christians say we're going to live forever we don't mean here on earth we mean in heaven after our resurrection. We agree intellectually with Paul in Philippians 1:23-24 when he says it's better to die and be with Christ, but we don't actually live that way! That would mean not going to the doctor when we got sick, not bothering to go to the hospital after an accident, etc. Nonsensical for most of us.

The resurrection means that we will live forever, but not here. Our desire to live forever is one of those "God fingerprint" things. God made us to live forever and so we desire to live forever. In that sense, prolonging life is in God's will. Whether we prolong our life here or not is mostly irrelevant, but life is clearly a "good thing."

Monday, April 2, 2007

Easter -- "The Passion"

This week's lesson is, of course, the Easter lesson and the first comment I encounter is that by now most people will have seen Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ. Except me. I'm not sure why, but the movie has never really appealed to me enough to make me either go to the theater or even rent the DVD. Maybe it's just because I tend to not be a fan of the brutally honest historical documentary style that I think Gibson has used.

I don't go to the movies to be scared, grossed out, or lectured. There's lots of that available for free in the real world. I go to the movies to see happy stories. Maybe that's why Seth and I disagree on The Ultimate Gift.

Anyway, on to the lesson... What if there had never been a resurrection?

Wow! What a question. It's at the core of who we should be as believers. The resurrection is the very thing that motivates and demands we BE different people.

I'll be back after some surfing...

The Process of Preparing

This blog is a bit of an experiment. I imagine this should be the first line in may blogs because most of us are not graced with the certain assurance that others will ever read the things we write. That’s certainly true in my case.

I teach a Sunday school class in a Baptist church in South Texas. That probably tells you something about the likely content of my writings, but perhaps not as much as you may think it does! The process of preparing to teach a lesson for me is a sometimes frustrating, always enjoyable, unstructured romp through the amazing world of the Internet. Starting from the topic-of-the-week I attempt to put together something that will change a person’s life. If this is not the purpose of Sunday school, then I don’t know what is. It’s a sure thing for me because I find I am invariably changed by the process of preparing the lesson. If I listen carefully I can sometimes hear enough of what God wants said that He can touch others as well.

So, these pages may one day contain a chronicle of these journeys I take as I prepare. You’re invited to join in and add your own thoughts and experiences as you desire. Perhaps we will see God along the way. You never know. As I said, this is a bit of an experiment!