Christianity 201

March 31, 2019

The Glory of God: Evident and Displayed Throughout Creation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Today wraps up nine years of Christianity 201, and tomorrow, as we begin year nine, we will keep highlighting the work of writers we’ve used before, as well as introducing new writers for the first time.

Today is an example of the latter. I discovered Tonia Slimm’ blog Growing with God yesterday. Not to many writers use The Voice Bible as their base text, so that was kinda cool! To read this at source, click the header below. If you click the banner at the top of her blog, you’ll find the article which preceded this one, on the first part of Psalm 104.

 

Hymn of the Creator – Psalm 104 Part 2

Psalm 104:33-35 (NIV)
I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord. But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the Lord, my soul. Praise the Lord.

Psalm 104:33-35 (MSG)
Oh, let me sing to God all my life long, sing hymns to my God as long as I live! Oh, let my song please him; I’m so pleased to be singing to God. But clear the ground of sinners—no more godless men and women! O my soul, bless God!

“I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. May my meditation be sweet and pleasing to Him; as for me, I will rejoice and be glad in the Lord. Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless and affectionately praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord! (Hallelujah!)” -AMPLIFIED

Author: Unknown, many theologians think that David was the author, but no one is identified.

Occasion: This psalm is a celebration of the Creator, Elohim. It closely follows the presentation of the creation in Genesis 1.

Purpose: Orthodox Jews will recite Psalm 104 in its entirety every day during morning prayers. It is also part of the Mincha, Sukkot and Shabbat Hagadol services. Within the Catholic setting this psalm is part of the Easter Vigil. In other Christian churches it is read as a celebration of Elohim, the Creator and Judge of all.

There are thirty-five verses in this psalm; which are set into eight stanzas.

Today we will conclude our study of Psalm 104.

Stanza 4: (verses 19-23)
The moon strides through her phases, marking seasons as she goes. The sun hides at his appointed time, and with the darkness You bring, so comes night—when the prowling animals of the forest move about. It is then that lions seek the food You, the True God, give them, roaring after their prey. At sunrise, they disappear and sleep away the day in their dens. Meanwhile, the people take to the fields and to the shops and to the roads, to all the places that people work, until evening when they rest. -(VOICE)

Stanza four focuses on the orderliness of God’s creation. The moon has her cycles and the sun his appointed times. Time is reliant on the sun and moon, and God is ultimately in charge of both; hence God is in charge of time. We need to remember that time is irrelevant to God because He transcends it, He stands outside of it, but He also controls it. It is Yahweh who provides for the lion, the lord of the night, and man, the lord of the day. This is what Yahweh has ordained.

We need to remember that Elohim is a God of order, not chaos. “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…” -1 Corinthians 14:33 (NIV)

“He assigned the moon to mark the months and the sun to mark the days. He sends the night and darkness, when all the forest folk come out. Then the young lions roar for their food, but they are dependent on the Lord. At dawn they slink back into their dens to rest, and men go off to work until the evening shadows fall again.” -(TLB)

Stanza 5: (verses 24-26)
“There is so much here, O Eternal One, so much You have made. By the wise way in which You create, riches and creatures fill the earth. Of course, the sea is vast and stretches like the heavens beyond view, and numberless creatures inhabit her. From the tiny to the great, they swarm beneath her waves. Our ships skim her surface while the monsters of the sea play beneath.” -(VOICE)

The writer next turns his focus to the nautical world, the world under the sea. God has indeed made such a wide variety of creatures, too many to even count. Even the waters of the earth are teeming with an array of creatures.

The mention of the monsters of the sea playing with the ships is mentioned in this passage. Depending on which translation you are using it may use the word Leviathan, or in other translations it uses the word whale. Whichever word is used matters little; the point is, God is in charge of even this creature.

“O Lord, what a variety you have made! And in wisdom you have made them all! The earth is full of your riches. There before me lies the mighty ocean, teeming with life of every kind, both great and small. And look! See the ships! And over there, the whale you made to play in the sea.” -(TLB)

Stanza 6: (verses 27-30)
“And all of these look to You to give them food when the time is right. When You feed, they gather what You supply. When You open Your hand, they are filled with good food. When You withdraw Your presence, they are dismayed. When You revoke their breath, the life goes out of them, and they become, again, the dust of the earth from which You formed them at the start. When You send out Your breath, life is created, and the face of the earth is made beautiful and is renewed.” -(VOICE)

Here we find reference to God’s benevolent, compassionate care for His creation and creatures. Once again we are reminded that God did not create the world and step back. But He is a loving, considerate Caretaker, who watches out for and provides for everything that is under His control.

“Every one of these depends on you to give them daily food. You supply it, and they gather it. You open wide your hand to feed them, and they are satisfied with all your bountiful provision. But if you turn away from them, then all is lost. And when you gather up their breath, they die and turn again to dust.
Then you send your Spirit, and new life is born to replenish all the living of the earth.” -(TLB)

Stanza 7: (verses 31-32)
“May the glorious presence of the Eternal linger among us forever. And may He rejoice in the greatness of His own works—He, who rattles the earth with a glance; He, who sets mountains to smoking with a touch.” -(VOICE)

The writer points out the glory of the Lord evident and on display throughout Creation. He asks that that glory linger and be replenished forever. In fact, the writer’s desire is that Yahweh take pleasure in His handiwork.

“He (God) is so much greater than his creation that with a look or a touch he could undo it.” -NIV footnote

“Praise God forever! How he must rejoice in all his work! The earth trembles at his glance; the mountains burst into flame at his touch.” -(TLB)

Stanza 8: (verses 33-35)
“I will sing to the Eternal all of my life; I will call my God good as long as I live. May the thoughts of my mind be pleasing to Him, for the Eternal has become my happiness. But may those who hate Him, who act against Him, disappear from the face of this beautiful planet. As for the Eternal, call Him good, my soul.
Praise the Eternal!” -(VOICE)

The writer concludes this psalm with a call for all to praise Yahweh. He, personally, will praise, but his desire is that all praise. We can see the devotion and adoration of the psalmist throughout this whole passage. the wonder and delight of the writer observing the handiwork of the Almighty within His Creation is evident throughout this hymn of praise.

“I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise God to my last breath! May he be pleased by all these thoughts about him, for he is the source of all my joy. Let all sinners perish—all who refuse to praise him. But I will praise him. Hallelujah!” -(TLB)

My Prayer:
Yahweh, the glory of your Creation is all around me, and your awesome handiwork is evident. Thank you for taking the time to make such a beautiful world. I see your care for each detail and also the orderliness and I am filled with peace and hope. If you care so much for  these things; I know you care, even more so, for me. I am reminded that You love me with an overwhelming love. Thank You, Lord. May your glory continue forever. I will praise you now and forever. You are such a good, good God.


Usually we consider “borrowing” the devotional texts enough; and don’t include pictures and videos here. (That’s why we tell you to click the header to read it at source every day.)

But this video was too cool not to share. (That’s twice I’ve used ‘cool’ today.)

 

 

February 7, 2019

Compelling Life

by Clarke Dixon

Why is there life? It turns out there are a number of questions worthy of consideration.

How did the earth become suitable for life? Despite the longing for “life out there,” many scientists tell us the odds are against life happening anywhere, even here! Many things need to come together with precision for life to be possible. They happen to do so for us. The earth just happens to have the right qualities such as the right atmosphere, right orbit, right tilt (thanks moon!), right weather patterns, right core temperature, right distance from and right orbit around the right kind of sun which is in the right place in our galaxy. We are only scratching the surface of things that need to come together for life to be possible. The earth appears to be a finely calibrated machine for the flourishing of life. When we see such kinds of precision we don’t normally ask “how did that happen?”, we ask “who did that?”.

How did life come about in the first place? Why is the universe not made up solely of non-living matter? In the past we were taught that life began with very simple organisms in a “primordial soup. ” However, life is incredibly complex even in its simplest expressions. The simplest of life forms require complex machinery and teamwork. As a  student I used to take my pens apart and write with just the ink tube and the attached ball-point. The pen could be reduced to very few parts and still work. Living things, however, cannot be reduced like that. They are more like a mechanical watch where messing with one cog renders the watch useless. Only living things are way more complex. When we see complex machinery we don’t ask “how did that happen?”, we ask “who did that?”.

Also, life happens thanks to an incredible amount of information such as we find in DNA. How did all that information get there? Back to my student days, anytime I would see a Commodore 64 computer on display in a store, I would write a short program that would write the same words, over and over again, on the screen. I knew just enough of the computer language called “Basic” to be able to do that. I am sure no employee on finding the computer would have asked, “how did that happen?”. Rather, they would ask the obvious question, “who wrote that?”.

How did there come to be such diversity and inter-dependence among amazing living things?  Why is the world not just covered in something like moss? Why such wonderful, often beautiful and awe-inspiring creatures? How did eco-systems come about which require the very diversity found within them? Living things are found in environments where not only can they flourish, but importantly, they can help other living things in the environment flourish also.

We are very often told that animals “adapted” to their environments. However, did they adapt, or were they, plus their environments, adapted to each other? When we see race cars whizzing around race tracks do we wonder how the cars adapted and became so fast? When we see trucks hauling heavy loads down a highway, do we ask how they adapted, becaming so big? We can speak of the evolution of the vehicle, but we know that intelligence is behind that evolution. Adaptation of things to environments is a matter of creation. When we see things uniquely placed according to what they are and can do we do not ask “how did that happen?”, we ask “who did that?”.

The real question.

John Entwistle, bass player for “The Who,” released a solo project including a song called “I Wonder” in which he marveled at the way things were put together. The song includes these lines in the chorus:

Thank you Mother Nature
For the way you got things planned
Don’t ever change a thing, I’m happy as I am.

In thinking about nature he was on the right track. There is a “who?” behind the “what?” and the “how?” questions.

The precise alignment of parameters required for life to flourish on earth points to intelligence and capability. The complexity found within even the simplest of living things points to intelligence and capability. The use of language in the building blocks of life points to intelligence and capability. The care shown through the placement of living things in finely balanced eco-systems points to intelligence and capability. The question is not “how,” but “who?”. Who has this kind of intelligence and capability?

Christianity provides a compelling answer to this question; “who?”.

Consider what we discover in the first two chapters of Genesis:

  1. On the suitability of the earth for life, God put all the necessary conditions and circumstance into place for life. Obvious things are mentioned like light, dark, the sun, the moon, water and land (see Genesis 1:1-19). We are not told about things like gravity, oxygen, and the like. We should not expect a science report from a book that is introducing us to God!
  2. On life getting life started in the first place, God, a living being, created life and living things. In being created by God living things are complex right from the start. In fact living things are created with “seed in it” (eg. Genesis 1:11), the ability to reproduce is baked right in. Besides, how could non-living, non-thinking things give rise to living, thinking things?
  3. On diverse living creatures being found in well balanced eco-systems, God created life according to their kinds (see Genesis 1:20-25). Also, food is provided (see Genesis 1:29-31). The required systems are put in place for life to flourish.

As we consider life and living things, there is one more question.

Why do human beings seem to be so different from the rest of the animals in remarkable ways? There is a difference in intelligence, creativity, language skills, morality, and religion. There is an ability to reflect and a desire for significance that is not found in other animals.

When a child in an orphanage is taken into a family where they are then fed, clothed, coached, taught, and experience loving and caring relationship for many, many years, we do not ask “how did that happen?”. When we see one child marked out from all the others in such remarkable ways, we ask, “who desired a special relationship with that child?”.

Back to Genesis chapters one and two. God created humanity in His image, and for a special relationship. Biblical scholars point to two accounts of creation, the first being found in chapter one and the second being found in chapter two.  In the first account humanity is created last, but “in his image” (see Genesis 1:26). In case we think that we were an afterthought, the second account has humanity created first (see Genesis 2:4-9). Both accounts point to how we were created by God for a special relationship.

The life, teaching, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus are also a confirmation that God has created us for special relationship. God did something special for humanity about 2000 years ago in Jesus. Why? Because humanity has had a special place in God’s heart from the beginning. Humans are different from all other living things becuause we were created for a special relationship.

What the Bible tells us about God, our creator and redeemer, fits very well with the questions raised about life through philosophy and science. When we consider these questions of life and living things, it turns out there is a more compelling question than “how?”. It is “Who?”. The answer is God as revealed in the Bible, as revealed in Jesus. The answer is God, Who wants a special relationship with you.


This is all very introductory and merely a scratching of the surface of things. There are many fine resources available. Good starting points are “The Case for a Creator” by Lee Strobel, and “God’s Crime Scene” by J. Warner Wallace. This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

November 30, 2017

Why Worship This God and Not Another, Or None?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

by Clarke Dixon

The new Governor General of our nation, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, recently found herself in a bit of hot water with religious groups. In a speech she expressed concern that that anyone would believe in something other than what you can learn from science. To quote:

“And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”

While people of faith, including myself, may have felt slighted by this, we do well to consider that our Governor General really is expressing a sentiment of many Canadians. Our most recent worship service began with the following words:

1 O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! Psalms 95:1-2 (NRSV)

Many Canadians would respond to this call to worship with “why would we bother to do that? Has not science taught us that God is not necessary?”

The people in the Psalmist’s day would have asked a similar question coming out of the typical worldview of their day: “Why sing to this Lord, and not another? Why not worship the gods of the Babylonians or the Egyptians? After all, those nations seem to be more powerful, so maybe their gods are more powerful! Why not the gods of the Canaanites? The worship in their fertility cult temples sounds like more fun than ours!”

The Psalmist goes on to answer this question, which in turn also helps us answer ours. Why worship this God?

3 For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
6 O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! Psalms 95:3-6

Worship the Lord, because He is the one true God, the Creator of everything including us. God as revealed in the Bible is quite a different kind of god from all the other gods believed in during those times. Of all the mythologies of those days, no other religion expressed the theology of creation in quite the same way as the Hebrew Scriptures. The theology of God as revealed in the Bible has stood the test of time in a way no other theologies have. Belief in God is still very much with us. Zeus and the rest, not so much. Why? The Judeo-Christian concept of God stands up to philosophical enquiry, historical study, and scientific scrutiny. In fact such investigations even point to Him!

You might ask, “how can science point to God as creator when there is a fight between science and faith?” Let us consider an example (inspired by John Lennox). Consider my favourite motorcycle, a 1939 Triumph Speed Twin. Now consider a motorcycle enthusiast who owns one, and loves to take it apart and put it back together again to see how it all works. Scientists are like the motorcycle enthusiast who studies the motorcycle. Now consider a history buff who collects books about the Triumph Motorcycle Company.  The history buff learns that a man named Edward Turner was the chief designer of the Speed Twin. Theologians are like the history buff who studies Edward Turner, the man behind the motorcycle. Now when scientists say things like “having studied the world and the universe, we are able to explain how things work without reference to God, therefore God does not exist”, it is a bit like the motorcycle enthusiast saying “having studied the motorcycle, I did not find Edward Turner in the crankcase spinning the crankshaft to make the motorcycle go, in fact I can explain how the motorcycle moves without reference to Edward Turner, therefore Edward Turner does not exist”. Scientists say a lot of good things, but they say too much when they say that kind of thing.

Theologians can say too much too of course. Though a history buff will learn about the Speed Twin from history books and biographies on Edward Turner, they will not learn the same kinds of things as someone with the blueprints. Both the scientists and the theologians need to be careful they don’t say too much.

Consider further, that the existence of the Speed Twin as an engineering marvel, and as a work of art, points to a designer. That much is obvious. There are scientists who infer the existence of a Creator God from the engineering excellence and the artistry evident in the universe. This is the theory of Intelligent Design which you can read more about here.

While the existence of design in the universe points to a Designer, why should someone today worship God as understood through Jesus and not some other? The Psalmist helps us answer this question also.  Why worship this God?

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand. Psalm 95:7a

Worship this God because He is the God who has had a relationship with us all along. God’s people in the Psalmist’s day could look back at the records chronicling God’s relationship with them and recognize that God has been walking with them all along. The gods of the other nations were not. God was their shepherd, sometimes protecting, sometimes correcting, but never far away. Likewise, we can look back and see God’s hand in history.

If you are a Christian, suppose for a moment that you are not. You are hardly going to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, or that miracles of the Bible happened. However, even if we do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we should at least recognize that it is a collection of historical records. It is a collection of 66 books, written over 1500 years, by the hand of over 40 different authors from quite different backgrounds. Whether you believe what the authors have to say or not, at the very least you can believe that these are historical records of what they believed to be true. As we study this collection, questions arise. For example, why the incredible unity of thought about God? Why the incredible storyline that runs from beginning to end including creation, fall, promises plus shepherding, redemption, and restoration? Why did a group of Jews claim that Jesus experienced resurrection, and why were they willing to die for that claim? Why has Christianity stood the test of time where other religions have faded away? How has Christianity become the biggest religion in the world, and why does it spread even quicker under persecution? The simplest answer is often the best, and in this case answers every question: Jesus is Risen Lord, God is our maker and has a long history of relationship with humanity.

The Psalmist calls upon the people of his day to worship God and not another, to listen to God’s voice: “O that today you would listen to his voice!” Psalm 95:7b. Why listen to His voice and not another, or none? Because God is the Creator, and humanity has a long, and recorded history with Him. Are we listening?

1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . . Hebrews 1:1-3

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Canadian Baptist pastor Clarke Dixon’s writing appears here most Thursdays; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon