I Love To Tell The Story


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Sometimes it’s how you say it. Sometimes it’s what you say.

I’m blessed to be part of an incredibly awesome Sunday School class. Our curriculum is the Bible. Period. No lesson books, no commentary, no other materials. We pick a book, and we work through it. We discuss it. It takes months. A given chapter often takes weeks. We delve deep, and you’re allowed to share your thoughts even if they aren’t the typical Sunday School answers.

I like it.

So I was excited a couple of weeks ago when we got to John 14, and to a verse I’ve been particularly intrigued by for the last few years.

“If you love me, you will obey my commands.”

I’d never really given a lot of thought to inflection until a few years ago. We see the written words, and our minds apply tone without us thinking about it. But, as I’ve written about before, someone was talking about Peter walking on the water, and Jesus’ reaction. “Oh ye of little faith…” And I’d always heard that with a harsh tone. And this person read it with a loving, proud, amused tone, and it changed my way of thinking.

So take that verse. “If you love me, you will obey my commands.”

Over the last few years, it had become a prime example for me of the importance of tone. Say that phrase with one inflection and it means one things. Change the tone, and it means the exact opposite.

I’d always heard it growing up with the emphasis on “obey.”

It’s proof of the importance of obedience. Our works aren’t the key to salvation, but they are still paramount.

“If you love me, you will obey my commands.”

“You will prove that you love me by obeying my commands.”

But read it again, with the emphases on “love.”

“If you love me, you will obey my commands.”

“For someone who loves me, obedience becomes a natural outflow of that love, something they don’t have to worry about.”

The point becomes not that you have to obey in order to prove you love, but that if you love, obeying will be second nature. Don’t focus your energy on obedience, focus it on love.

It is, to me, an interesting idea, and so I was looking forward to having that discussion with my Sunday School class.

But in preparation, I was looking at the verse a little more closely. Different translations, of course, have different versions. Some are just wording changes — “keep” the commands instead of “obey” them. But some have a difference more important to the point I was interested in — they leave out the “you will.”

“If you love me, obey my commands.” It’s no longer a statement of fact; it’s an imperative. Very much the meaning of the first reading. If you love me, prove it.

I had a feeling it was about to get tricky. Greek grammar is a bit different than English, so I figure it’s entirely possible that either translation could be accurate. So I start digging.

What I find, though, isn’t what I expect. And it throws out all the cool stuff I thought I wanted to talk about.

It turns out, “you will” wasn’t the important distinction, really. That “keep” versus “obey” was the interesting part, after all.

On the surface, it’s just a difference in phrasing. “Keep the rules” is just a colloquialism for following them.

But Jesus wasn’t speaking English. He wasn’t saying obey; he was saying keep — take care of, preserve.

He’s going to be gone, and he knows it. He’s about to be crucified. He’s spent years sharing a message, and he’s not going to be able to anymore. What happens to his story then? What happens to his message then?

There’s no books. There’s no videos. There’s no news coverage. There’s him, and he’s about to be gone. And there’s these guys who’ve journeyed with him.

“If you truly love me,” he tells them, “preserve my instructions.” He repeats in the chapter, for his teachings and his saying. “Take care of my message.” It’s the only way it will survive. It’s the only way it will outlive him.

“If you love me, be the keepers of my story.”

And, of course, they did, and it did. They told their stories. They shared his teachings. They taught his commands. And, eventually, they wrote it all down.

For obvious reasons, I find this beautiful. It speaks to who I am. It’s what I do. I’m a keeper of stories. I love the idea of their being a divine mandate for doing that for Christ.

It’s something that’s important to him.

“If you love me, be the keeper of my story.”

And it’s still important today as it was then.

He didn’t say, “If you’ve been with me these last few years …”

“If you love me, be the keeper of my story.”

“If you love me…”

There’s a big world out there.

How will they know? How will they hear?

“If you love me, be the keeper of my story.”

Review: “Constantly Craving” by Marilyn Meberg


More.

The desire for “more” is seemingly an inescapable part of the human experience. It comes in many, many forms — the desire for more “stuff,” the desire for a new relationship (or one better than what we have), the desire for deeper friendships or purpose. Why? Why does this desire seem to be a universal part of being human? Where does it come from? What do we do about it? That’s the focus of Marilyn Meberg’s new book, “Constantly Craving.” Meberg, a professional counselor, examines both how these desires manifest on the surface, and what the deeper needs are that fuel them.

For the lay reader, “Constantly Craving” is an excellent introduction to the relationship between counseling and spirituality. With an accessible, personable tone, Meberg takes a counselor’s approach to examining and explaining a common driver in human behavior, the desire for more and better in life. Then, taking things a step further, she relates these counseling concepts to relationship with God — providing the answers to the questions of why humans are this way, where those needs come from, and what we do about them. Humans are constantly craving more, Meberg explains, because we are looking to meet an innate desire for the ultimate “more” — the perfect fulfillment of relationship with the Almighty Father. Veteran students of the link between human behavior and spirituality may not find much new in Meberg’s book, but for those seeking an understanding of why we are wired the way we are, “Constantly Craving” provides an excellent first step toward that knowledge.

(I received a review copy of Constantly Craving” from Booksneeze.com)

In The Beginning …


This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “The Origin of The Universe.”

At the center of this image made by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is a very young and powerful pulsar, known as PSR B1509-58, or B1509 for short. The pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star which is spewing energy out into the space around it to create complex and intriguing structures, including one that resembles a large cosmic hand. Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/P.Slane, et al.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

It fascinates me the need to divide religion and science. People read Biblical accounts of creation, and they read scientific accounts, and they assume that only one can be true.

And, it seems to me, they tend to read the two approaches accordingly.  If you assume one is right and one is wrong, you read them for their differences, not their similarities.  But the more I read about modern understanding of the science of creation, and the less I’m inclined to read the Biblical creation texts in a constrained way, it’s interesting to see how the two map together.

One of the findings that started driving this home for me was research indicating that time existed before the Big Bang; that is to say, there was “something” before the creation of our universe. It’s a detail in Genesis, but it’s there — God was there before creation. Did He have a context then? There’s a quote in the article from a CalTech physicist: “We’re trained to say there was no time before the Big Bang, when we should say that we don’t know whether there was anything – or if there was, what it was.”

The article goes on to talk about the nature of time, and why it’s unidirectional. At some level, the laws of physics should work in either direction, and yet time seems to move in only one direction. Physicists link this fact to entropy — the gradual move from order to chaos. But for entropy to explain time moving in one direction, it requires there being one, and only one fixed point of order. In other words, there has to be one end-point of time in which everything is in an ordered state, from which everything gradually moves into disorder, creating unidirectional time. To sum it up, for time to make sense, when the heavens and the Earth were created, they had to be in perfect order. They had to be “good.”

It’s worth noting that when the Big Bang theory was first postulated by a Roman Catholic priest, there were believers in the steady state theory of the universe who dismissed it as an attempt to introduce religious ideas into physics — they argued that the idea that there was a singular moment of creation before which the universe didn’t exist sounded like something more out of Genesis than science. Ironically, today, some Christians reject the theory for the opposite reason — that it sounds like something more out of science than Genesis. I would argue that it’s just a place where the two accounts line up; that before scientists reached the idea of a singular moment of creation, it was already described in Genesis.

The current scientific views also generally say that after an initial period of darkness, because of the levels of energy in the young universe, there was ambient light before there were stars. It’s an aspect of the creation story that seems counter-intuitive, that God created light before He created the sun and stars, and yet modern science is giving credence to it.

Wanna get even more funky? Check this out: Large Hadron Collider proves the universe was once a liquid. According to research just a few months ago, “The world’s most powerful particle accelerator smashed together lead nuclei at the highest energies possible, creating dense sub-atomic particles that reach temperatures of over ten trillion degrees. Beyond being awesome, this achievement shows the early universe was actually a liquid.” It’s an unexpected finding, and yet, again, one that was predicted thousands of years ago — “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

It’s frustrating to me that so many people like to make this an “us versus them” thing, picking one account and dismissing the other.  And, particularly so for Christians who dismiss the science because it doesn’t match their interpretation of the scripture.  There is some great science that showed up first in the Bible — things like the fact that the Earth is round and hangs freely in space, things that were recorded in scripture long before science figured them out. Unfortunately, throughout history, you have the church calling people like Galileo a heretic, getting too caught up in defending its interpretation, instead of going back and checking, “Hey, what does the scripture really say about this?” It’s sad watching pride cause the church to say, “You’re wrong,” when it could be saying, “I told you so.”

Me, I prefer to stop trying to force one version or the other to be wrong, I prefer to stop believing that I have to adopt someone else’s version of scripture, and love reading the two versions like they’re two ways of telling the same story — poetry backed up with physics.  And when you read it that way, it’s a pretty cool story.

There Goes The Sun


This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “The Sun.”

solar mass ejection

Skylab image of one of the largest eruptive solar prominences ever recorded.

The sun. What is there to say about it? It’s hot. It’s bright. It makes day. It’s good to have. I like it.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to rethink about the sun.

And, really, why bother? Some friends of mine rethought the sun for all of humanity better than any of us are ever going to back in 1973, and you can read about their thoughts in the seminal space history volume Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story,available wherever, um, it is sold.

So, lacking any Earth-shaking insights about the sun, I’m going to go in a different direction. One, ironically, dealing with Earth-shaking insights about the sun.

The sun, they say, has about seven billion years of life left in it. Which, really, isn’t that bad, considering that 7 billion years, they say, is about half the age of the entire universe thus far. Of course, the Earth won’t receive the full benefit of those 7 billion years; the planet will be gone long before the sun in one of a variety of ways.

Somewhere around the 5 billion year from now mark, the sun will expand into a red giant, becoming so large that will encompass everything through the orbit of Mars, easily including the current orbit of this little planet we call home. For those not sure about the science, being inside a star would be hazardous to the health of any life on the planet.

Of course, I’m careful there to say the orbit of Earth, rather than Earth itself. There are those who believe that the sun will not, in fact, swallow Earth. By the time the sun expands that large, it will, they say, have lost such a substantial portion of its mass that the orbits of the planets will change, and that Earth will be spiraling outward into space as the sun expands. This, to be sure, doesn’t really help anyone on the planet any; rather than meeting a fiery end, they’ll meet a frozen one.

Other scenarios focusing on solar heating or rogue stars give a lifespan of anywhere from 500 million to 30 billion years for some form of life on the planet, give or take.

The point is this — We’re all doomed, so why bother?

Just kidding, of course. Sure, the planet’s doomed, but we individually are gonna be gone long before that, so Earth’s eventual demise shouldn’t affect your personal “why bother” meter either way.

The point, really, is this — the natural processes that govern our universe dictate a natural end to our world, in whatever form it may come.

Ultimately, I believe science and religion are two halves of one thing, the quest for understanding of creation and its Creator. You cannot truly understand one without the other. I believe in a God who has created a universe based on a finely tuned set of operating principle, and a believe in a universe that speaks to the nature of its Creator.

Going a step further, God has created a world with an expiration date. I do believe that God acts in addition to and sometimes outside of the operating principles he established, but I believe He generally lets them do their thing. And those operating principles dictate a world that, without requiring any action on His part, will come to an end.

Now, me, personally, I don’t believe the human race has another 30 billion years in it, of 5 billion, or even half a billion. But I do believe, left to its own devices, humanity will come to a natural end.

Again, that doesn’t mean that God won’t end humanity’s physical existence before that. But, increasingly, I’m not entirely sure how I believe about the end of the world.

I’ve struggled with the issue for a while. I believe God was deliberate in creation. It strikes me as very cool, for example, the way Earth has been designed to provide us with power of varying levels as our intellectual sophistication increases, starting with fire, which is both easily understood and easily harnessed, and going on through electricity, which has only been fully understood and harnessed during the lifetime of the United States, or the atom, not fully revealed until the last century. Throw things like petroleum in there, and the amount of planning ahead that He put into it is really pretty outstanding.

And then throw in things like antimatter and zero-point energy. History would indicate to us that if God created a universe in which it was possible to harness energy from the reaction of matter and antimatter, He did so with the idea that we would do so. He designed the universe that way not frivolously, but deliberately; it was another tool He created for us to use.

Likewise, He put the moon in our backyard, close enough that we could, eventually, touch it. I tend not to believe He did this unthinkingly; that He was surprised when we landed there. If that’s the case, then I tend to believe He put the other fun toys in our solar system there for us to play with as well.

We’re just not there yet.

And that makes me believe that He’s not quite done with us yet.

I’m not entirely sure what I do believe about eschatology, but I have a hard time agreeing with those that argue that the end is imminent, that God is going to end the party before we’ve finished opening His presents. I believe He put the moon touchably close so we would go there, and that He thought it was really cool when we did. I imagine God was beaming on July 20, 1969 in the way that only a proud parent of kids who have done something amazing can. I imagine if He doesn’t get to see us explore the really cool red planet he made for us and put right there in our neighborhood for us, He’s going to be kind of disappointed.

I’ve been reading lately, somewhat accidentally, on alternate schools of thought on Biblical prophecy. In particular, I’m intrigued by the view that most, if not all, “end-times” prophecy was actually fulfilled in the first century, as Christ indicated to his apostles it would be. I’m not entirely sure I fully understand that scriptural interpretation, but, then, I don’t really fully understand the more commonplace modern interpretations, either.

I also tend to believe that if those prophecies refer to something yet to happen, they are intended more for us to recognize them when they do than to try to figure out when they’re coming. I think there are far more practical things for Christians to do with their time than to try to puzzle out something even Christ said He doesn’t know. If it’s coming, it’ll come when it comes.

In the meantime, I think we should spend less time worrying about when bedtime is and more time enjoying the toys He gave us.