Friday, February 29, 2008

The Case for Absolute Truth

Two weeks ago, one of my church's elders gave a Sunday morning message outlining the three main eras of human thought. Click on the title above, "The Case for Absolute Truth," if you'd like to see his notes.

In the pre-modern era, truth was thought to be discovered primarily via revelation.

After the creation of the printing press, it became easier to distribute ideas. This marked the beginning of the modern era, in which reason became the primary source of truth.

Finally, after the two World Wars, humanity entered the post-modern era. Since then, experience has become people's primary entrée to truth.

Of course, this is greatly simplified, but it is an elegant explanation of why people think the way that they do in today's world.

Here is a link to a podcast of this message. If you have 50 minutes, I highly recommend this message!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Passion for Logic

I have a passion for seeing conditional statements (IF...THEN) applied properly.

Far too often, people mistakenly assume that the converse is logically equivalent to the original statement. For example, let's describe me as I walk from my car into my place of employment each morning:

"If it is raining, then I get wet."

This is a true statement, because I don't own an umbrella. You may be thinking, "Then go get an umbrella!" But logic is not about giving advice. It's about stating reality as it exists.

A common mistake is for people to think that the following statement, known as the "Converse," must also be true:

"If I am wet, then it is raining."

This is deceptively appealing. It feels right. But it's not logically equivalent. I could have become wet for a whole host of other reasons. Maybe I bought a coffee and spilled it on myself on the drive in. Or maybe it's done raining, but I fell in a puddle.

Another common error is illustrated in the following example. Let's assume the following statement is true:

"If it is sunny outside, then I am happy."

I live in one of the cloudiest cities in the U.S., so this time of year, just seeing the sun warms my heart!

However, the "Inverse" is not logically equivalent:

"If it is not sunny outside, then I am not happy."

Even if I don't see the sun, there are plenty of times during the long winter months that I'm happy anyway. Maybe one of my kids just gave me a big hug. Maybe I just finished reading a good book. It might be cloudy outside, but I'm still happy.

The key to evaluating logical statements is to use what's called the contrapositive. This combines the converse and inverse together.

Let's take a look at the first "IF...THEN" conditional statement in 1 John.

John writes, in 1:6, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth."

In conditional form, this may be written:

IF we say that we have fellowship with Jesus and walk in darkness, THEN we lie and do not practice the truth.

The contrapositive of this conditional statement is:

IF we are truthful, THEN we don't say we have fellowship with Jesus while we walk in darkness.

In my mind, the contrapositive feels a bit simpler, and it's logically equivalent to John's original statement.

If I am a truthful follower of Jesus, then I won't claim to be in fellowship with Jesus when I'm walking in darkness. This is a clear call to repentance. Get right with God, and then share your walk publicly.

This is not a perfectionistic command, but a firm reminder to get our private walk with Jesus right before proclaiming our faith to the masses. This is one reason Billy Graham has been such an effective evangelist. He has avoided the wrath of the public because he lived his life in such a way that he avoided scandal.

Do I have my private walk in order? I'd better before I proclaim my faith to others. Otherwise, my example may become a stumbling block on their pathway to faith.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Good v. Evil

One thing that stands out to me is how simply John separates things. There is light and dark. God is love. In 3:10 (CEV), John writes, "You can tell God's children from the devil's children, because those who belong to the devil refuse to do right or to love each other."

I wonder if this helps explain John's popularity among Christians today.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Teachers Passé?

In 2:27, John unexpectedly writes that with the Holy Spirit, a teacher is no longer necessary. This is a scary thought for me, since I work full-time as a teacher.

And James writes that teachers will be judged more harshly (3:1).

Maybe what John means is that with the Holy Spirit, we don't need a personal, human "tutor of truth" with us 24/7. We simply need to listen to the Holy Spirit's guidance living within us.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Purpose of 1 John

Most commentators agree that the theme verse of this letter is 5:13

John writes, "I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life."

This means that John's target audience in this letter is members of the established church, not unbelievers.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Who Wrote 1 John?

I was surprised to learn that there is no internal proof that the apostle John wrote this epistle.

Then again, John refers to himself not by name, but by the phrase "The disciple whom Jesus loved" in his gospel. There is a humility and an element of mystery in this practice.

I wonder why John refers to himself by name in Revelation but not in his other four books?

The following early church historians name John the author of 1 John, according to the Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible:

Clement of Alexandria

Just digging more deeply into the primary sources written by these authors could become a lifetime of work.

In the same way that a good scientist accepts the conclusions of peer review as authoritative until proven otherwise, it is reasonable to accept John's authorship of this letter.

Additionally, there are many parallels between the gospel of John and this letter. The EasyEnglish Bible Version and Commentary is just one place that outlines these similarities clearly and thoroughly.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Introduction to 1 John

John writes this letter in response to an early heresy, a belief in gnosticism.

"Gnostics do not look to salvation from sin (original or other), but rather from the ignorance of which sin is a consequence. Ignorance -- whereby is meant ignorance of spiritual realities -- is dispelled only by Gnosis, and the decisive revelation of Gnosis is brought by the Messengers of Light, especially by Christ, the Logos of the True God. It is not by His suffering and death but by His life of teaching and His establishing of mysteries that Christ has performed His work of salvation." [quoted from The Gnostic World View: A Brief Summary of Gnosticism]

John focuses much of his attention to dispelling the myth that Jesus' death and resurrection were either an illusion or unnecessary.

The letter may be broken down as follows:

I. I Saw Jesus
II. Live Without Sinning
III. antichrists Are All Around
IV. We're Children of God
V. God = Love, Therefore My Life Ought to Reflect This Love
VI. Testimony of Spirit, Water, Blood
VII. Conclusion

Key Verse: 5:13

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (NIV).

Friday, February 22, 2008

"Pick 'em" in Phys Ed: I Hate Being Last!

In 5:23-24, Paul reminds us that our call to holy living is not dependent upon our own efforts. We will always fail! God knows this.

That's why, as I leave the study of 1 Thessalonians, I'm not overwhelmed by the responsibilities Paul has outlined here.

Jesus chose me, and he's trustworthy.

Wow, I'd never thought of this before.

I always hated "Pick 'em" time in phys ed class, because I was always one of the last people chosen. What would it be like to go through life not being picked by God? What does the Bible say to people like Pharaoh and Esau, people who were set aside for God's wrath?

As always, intense study has allowed me to draw out some new insights and highlighted some even deeper questions.

How do you answer this question, dear Reader? What do you say to people who aren't on God's team? Being picked last is better than not being picked at all...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ending at the Beginning

1:1b: "I pray that God will be kind to you and will bless you with peace!"

That is one of the kindest things Paul can ask for as he intercedes for the Thessalonians. Imagine living truly at peace with God and other people. It's a pretty amazing thought!

And I pray the same thing for you, Reader! Have a day of peace!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

1 Thessalonians 2:1-14

In this passage, Paul describes a godly example of teaching and leadership.

As I increase my level of leadership and teaching within my church, it is vital that I follow Paul's pattern:

1. Don't waste your students' time
2. Keep on going, even under persectution
3. No hidden motives (i.e.--be explicit in your goals and outcomes, even when they appear selfish. Asking for sacrifice in the Kingdom of Heaven is not only reasonable, it's necessary.)
4. Seek God's favor in serving others
5. Don't speak to please people, but to please God
6. No flattery
7. No covering up greed
8. Have pure motives
9. Don't seek praise
10. Don't rely upon position and authority, even when it's available to you. This appears to apply specifically to teaching roles, not other forms of leadership.
11. Treat students with family-style love and gentle care
12. Work hard to avoid burdening your students
13. Be pure
14. Be honest
15. Be innocent
16. Do for students what a parent does for his children
17. Beg your followers
18. Encourage your followers
19. Urge your followers to live in a right way
20. Remember that God chose us, not the other way around
21. Thank God for any teaching success, not yourself
22. Remember that the message comes from God, not humans
23. When students accept the message, God will approve them.
23a. Look to God for your A+, not your teacher!
24. Whole organizations can follow God
25. When this happens, they will be persecuted
26. Faithfulness always costs a temporary price...
27. ...but the reward is eternal!

Monday, February 18, 2008


One of the last things Paul writes is, "Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do" (1 Thessalonians 5:18, CEV).

I have a very hard time being thankful when things aren't going my way.

The key to thankfulness is focusing on what's most important: Jesus Christ's sacrifice for my sins. Everything else is peripheral.

Lord, please remind me the next time I stress out about family and work responsibilities that what's most important is already taken care of. Then I will be joyful.

As I develop this habit, give me more courage to share this joy with others.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Leadership & Management

1 Thessalonians begins with a recap of the church's previous experiences with Paul and other missionaries. People and organizations are built upon foundational experiences.

Then Paul explains the process that led Timothy to return to them. Founders (of congregations or businesses or other endeavors) are wise to follow up with their "children" to make sure they're on the right track. Specific feedback encourages healthy growth.

Finally, Paul clarifies some of the details of Jesus' return to earth. This is what Stephen Covey calls Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind.

This letter is an excellent example of leadership and management in the classical world.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Review of 1 Thessalonians

I. Greetings from Paul, Silas, and Timothy
II. Way to Go, Thessalonians!
III. Don't Forget the Message
IV. Live Right
V. Don't Misunderstand the Lord's Return
VI. Final Instructions

Friday, February 15, 2008

1 Thessalonians 5:17

"Pray continually."

This is a powerful call. I am still learning more and more how to apply this verse realistically.

A key is not to lose the power of regular prayer, even as I learn to pray on the fly more frequently.

Lord, please teach me how to pray better and better. I imagine the focus is upon my heart and my attitudes. Motivation is key to powerful prayer, not the right words or formula.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Turn the Other Cheek

In verse 15, Paul writes to remind the Thessalonians to avoid taking revenge.

This is a hard word for me. When I'm wronged, I enjoy taking steps to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Jesus goes even farther, when he commands us to turn the other cheek.

Lord, I pray that you will remind me to turn the other cheek and leave vengeance up to you, even when I'm unjustly punished and persecuted.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Being a Good Follower

I've spent the past year or so reading up on the latest leadership materials, examining how I can grow in this area.

Yesterday, I realized clearly that I have a lot more to learn about being a good follower, too.

To make a long story short, a colleague sent out a "Reply to All" email implying that our supervisor hadn't followed proper procedure and that my team and I had received an extra, unnecessary benefit.

I immediately realized that this was a mistake, and that our supervisor had followed proper procedure. But I was left feeling on the outside and insulted.

Paul writes in verses 12-13 of chapter 5 that, "...we ask you to be thoughtful of your leaders who work hard and tell you how to live for the Lord. Show them great respect and love because of their work. Try to get along with each other..."

This passage is set within the context of Christian leadership and the church, but the parallel to secular workplace leadership is obvious.

I see that I was wrong, again.

If my colleague had emailed our supervisor privately, it would have been easy to clear things up with very little emotional energy spent. Since he put out the post to the whole group, my feelings were hurt.

I've been guilty of emailing a couple of messages to the whole group and creating a stir. I thought I was standing up for my friends. But what I was actually doing was undermining people in leadership who are responsible for telling me "how to live" at work.

Before I can be an effective leader, I need to become a more positive follower. This requires great humility. I need to pray for more humility.

Lord, give me humility to become a better follower. I will stand up for my friends when a moral law has been broken, but otherwise I will defer to my leaders.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

God's Intent

In verses 9-11, Paul makes it clear that God desires to save us from our sin.

The trouble is that people are often too stubborn to accept their own sinfulness!

It's like the parent who gets into a fight with their teenager because the kid missed curfew. All the parent is looking for is a simple apology to make things right, but the kid gives attitude instead. That escalates the situation into something ugly, and both the parent and the child feel hurt in the end.

We're just as guilty as the teenager when we give God attitude.

I need to be reminded of this truth. When do I give God attitude? Am I willing to apologize, rather than escalating my error?

The next time I become aware of a sin in my life, I will apologize rather than making excuses and giving attitude. This applies both to my prayer life and to my family and friends.

jonathan and irv

Thanks for the comments. I'll check your suggestions out!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Science v. Math

As a math teacher and philosophy minor, I have for many years accepted the idea that propositional, deductive logic, like the kind found in mathematics proofs, is superior in defining reality than inductive logic, like the reasoning used in science, which moves from specific observations to general patterns or "laws" of nature.

I was wrong.

Both induction and deduction suffer from the same flaw: they are easily manipulated by a priori assumptions.

David Hilbert once wrote, "One must be able to say at all times-instead of points, lines, and planes---tables, chairs, and beer mugs." At the heart of this issue is a deeper problem in metamathematics, reviewed thoroughly in the following link: The Frege-Hilbert Controversy.

In short, Hilbert proposes that mathematics is subject to relativism. A mathematician can being with any set of propositions and arrive at any logical conclusion, whether or not it is consistent with reality.

This is a common criticism of science, that the "Theory of Evolution" is just a theory, for instance.

But even a commonly-accepted truth statement in math, like 1+1=2, depends upon context. When a child is conceived, 1+1=3. You may say, from a chromosomal perspective, 0.5+0.5=1, but the number of humans is nevertheless not constant, so this mathematical parsing is irrelevant.

1+1=3. Math is no more certain than science. Deduction is no more certain than induction.

Using Darwin

Darwin gets used by atheists, too.

The problem is that Christians have invited this kind of attack. When we denied the reality of a heliocentric solar system hundereds of years ago, we invited ridicule then. When we deny the reality of evolutionary mechanisms, we invite ridicule now.

My wife wisely commented that in a few hundred years, the church may have no more problem with elements of evolution than with a sun-centered solar system.

Using Hume

I highly recommend the web site Although many of the posters are antireligious, the collective intellect present in this space is amazing.

This year, the owner of asked, "What have you changed your mind about? Why?"

One post that particularly intrigued me was by Frank Wilczek.

Here is the direct link to his answer:

I was particularly interested in the following sentence: "David Hume already set out the main arguments for religious skepticism in the early eighteenth century." After reading Dr. Wilczek's thoughtful post, I decided to read some Hume myself.

What I found most intriguing is that Hume himself does not deny the possibility of a God. He makes a strong case that the God of the Bible is not consistent with observable reality.

I now quote David Hume directly from Philosophy: History and Problems, edited by Samuel Enoch Stumpf.

"If a very limited intelligence whom we shall suppose utterly unacquainted with the universe were assured that it were the production of a very good, wise, and powerful Being, however finite, he would, from his conjectures, form beforehand a different notion of it from what we find it to be by experience; nor would he ever imagine, merely from these attributes of the cause of which he is informed, that the effect could be so full of vice and misery and disorder, as it appears in this life. Supposing now that this person were brought into the world, still assured that it was the workmanship of such a sublime and benevolent Being, he might, perhaps, be surprised at the disappointment, but would never retract his former belief if founded on any very solid argument, since such a limited intelligence must be sensible of his own blindness and ignorance, and must allow that there may be many solutions of those phenomena which will forever escape his comprehension. But supposing, which is the real case with regard to man, that this creature is not antecedently convinced of a supreme intelligence, benevolent and powerful, but is left to gather such a belief from appearances of things--this entirely alters the case, nor will he ever find any reason for such a conclusion....

"In short, I repeat the question: Is the world, considered in general and as it appears to us in this life, different from what a man or such a limited being would, beforehand, expect from a very powerful, wise, and benevolent Deity? It must be strange to assert the contrary....

"The first circumstance which introduces evil is that contrivance or economy of the animal creation by which pains, as well as pleasures, are employed to excite all creatures to action, and make them vigilant in the great work of self-preservation. Now pleasure alone, in its various degrees, seems to human understanding sufficient for this purpose....

"But a capacity for pain would not alone produce pain were it not for the second circumstance, viz., the conducting of the world by general laws; ... might not the Deity exterminate all ill, wherever it were to be found, and produce all good, without any preparation or long progress of causes and effects?

"...but this ill would be very rare were it not for the third circumstance which I proposed to mention, viz., the great frugality with which all powers and faculties are distributed to every particular being. So well adjusted are the organs and capacities of all animals, and so well fitted to their preservation, that, as far as history or tradition reaches, there appears not to be any single species which has yet been extinguished in the universe....

"The fourth circumstance whence arises the misery and ill of the universe is the inaccurate workmanship of all the springs and principles of the great machine of nature."

These extended quotes are taken from Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, published 1779.

My key reply is that if a human must conclude the existence of God from observable phenomena, then it is reasonable to conclude that no God exists. But Christians do claim a priori that God exists. We also claim the historical accuracy of the Bible.

This is a silly thought, but if humans ever invent time travel, we will be able to place the Resurrection within the realm of the observable and disprovable.

In fact, if we can exit space-time and observe creation directly, and not simply a mathematical model, then we will have another disprovable hypothesis: God created all things.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Day of the Lord

Paul describes the "Day of the Lord," or one of multiple "Days of the Lord," in verses 1-8.

Both well-meaning Christians and evil cults flipped out before Y2K. Although the historical analysis of Y2K is rational and focused on a technical issue of computer programming, the reality is that people were very nervous about watching the date flip over from 1-9-9-9 to 2-0-0-0.

The "Left Behind" series feeds into this fear and morbid curiosity surrounding the end of time.

Paul strikes a delicate balance between an unhealthy focus on the future at the expense of the present, and an unhealthy ignorance of the Truth about the end of human history.

As I witness to my friends, I need to strike this balance, too. Lord, please help me learn better how to share the Bible's teaching on the end of time. Help me relate this to the reality of death.

I see! This is a breakthrough connection for me. Jesus resurrected. Every deceased individual will resurrect at the end of time, too.

If I simply make this belief explicit, then the Holy Spirit can work on my friends' hearts. It's not my job to convince them of this reality, simply to state its existence clearly.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

1 Thessalonians 5 Outline

I. The Day of the Lord
II. Fortune Cookie-Style Advice
III. Benediction

Friday, February 8, 2008

What's the Point?

Paul describes an exciting time at the end of history in verses 16-18.

Jesus returns to earth to meet everyone, dead and alive, who are his followers.

The confusion comes when we attempt to correlate these verses with other end-times descriptions by Jesus and John.

Ultimately, Paul tells the Thessalonians to "Encourage each other with these words." The idea is not to generate additional confusion, but to encourage Christians with the truth that Jesus will return.

This exhibits my bias, but the whole "Left Behind" buzz strikes me the wrong way. People who aren't Christians often love it, and many Christians are uncomfortable with the stories and movies.

The reality of Jesus' return should not excite non-Christians. It should make them terrified!

How can I express the truths about the end of history to non-Christians in a way that is compelling and encourages faith?

Interesting...use these verses to encourage believers emotionally and non-believers toward saving faith.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


It is interesting to see that the concept of "parousia" is applied to only some instances of this Greek word in the NT.

In the NIV 2-volume commentary, the authors explain that Jesus' use of this word cannot be reconciled with Paul's useage.

I know much less than these scholars, and I don't read Greek, but something feels off about this interpretation. I sense that the Christian community has created an elaborate fiction surrounding what the Bible actually says about the end of history. The reason it is so popular is the same as why dinosaur stories are so popular. It's on the order of urban legends, stories that feel real but actually aren't.

The specifics of Jesus' first bodily appearance on earth were not clear until after he lived, died, and was resurrected. To this day, devout Jews are open the the concept of multiple Messiahs, because if you don't accept Christ as a fulfillment of OT prophecy, then it is not clear how all of those prophecies will be fulfilled.

In the same way, I don't think that it is reasonable to conclude that our current understanding of parousia is sufficient or entirely accurate. It is an attempt to apply critical, scientific methods of understanding to a completely mysterious reality.

I am not saying that I don't believe in Jesus' return. The Bible makes it clear that this will happen. But I am saying that I'm sceptical of our current, most popular views of these future events.

Just because lots of smart, sincere people say a thing is true doesn't make it accurate.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

1 Thessalonians 4:13

"We want you to know the truth about those who have died, so that you will not be sad, as are those who have no hope."

Paul is implying that people who do not know Christ are hopeless. My experience indicates that this is a true statement. In a deep way, very thoughtful and philosophical people I'm friends with are jealous of my faith. They say it, too.

"I wish I had faith like yours. Things would be a lot easier."

Are these people prevented from believing actively by God, or do they have some kind of block against the necessary steps to trust in God?

I sense that people who are jealous of faith are closer to faith than people who don't care.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

In verses 11-12, Paul encourages the Thessalonian believers to "live quietly, to mind your own business, and to work hard" (v. 11).

I. Live quietly
1. Paul encourages Christians to live, not sit back passively
2. It doesn't appear that Paul lacked influence. How did he himself live a quiet life? Maybe this means that he didn't get into gossip or politics? But Paul and other Christians in the NT are frequently the focal points of controversy.
3. Living quietly must include a significant element of intent. If doing the right thing leads to noise and mobs, then that's OK (cf. Peter and John in Acts 4).
4. Doing the right thing quietly makes a greater impact than doing the wrong things for selfish reasons (cf. this article about misappropriated funds in Greece, NY, public schools).
5. How can I do the right thing in the face of others doing the wrong thing? Do I really believe what I wrote in #4?
6. A key is to pray for strength whenever faced with sin and a temptation to lash back.

II. Mind your own business
1. I have a very hard time with this issue
2. It is important that I only act when called upon. This means that when people speak ill of my God and my family and my work, I have a responsibility to shine the light of truth upon the situation. This also means that if the criticism is valid, I must accept it and work to change things!

III. Work hard
1. I have a very hard time with this issue
2. This doesn't just mean to work hard at church or in religious matters. I must also work hard in my job and within my family.
3. How does this relate to, for instance, the Avis "We Try Harder" campaign? The idea is not just to work more hours, but to focus those hours on accomplishing significant outcomes.
4. Can I accomplish significant outcomes as a math teacher? Sometimes I feel like the content of my job prevents me from making a long-term difference.

One thing I need to wrestle with in prayer is how my profession allows me to make a positive long-term difference in students' and adults' lives.

Monday, February 4, 2008

1 Thessalonians 4:5

Here are some thoughts related to verse 5:

1. It is easy to become a slave to your desires
2. Lots of desires are sinful
3. Many people don't know God
4. Given the choice, it is often tempting to pick the wrong action
5. Jesus says in Matthew 7:13, "Go in through the narrow gate. The gate to destruction is wide, and the road that leads there is easy to follow. A lot of people go through that gate."
6. The gate to destruction is closely related to sinful desires
7. Controlling your desires is an expression of devotion to God
8. It is only with prayer and work that a person can honor the call to action in these verses

Application: I will pray at least one time per day for the rest of this week that God will help me avoid acting out my sinful desires

Sunday, February 3, 2008

1 Thessalonians 4:4

This verse says, "Respect and honor your wife."

I'm not always successful in this. I need to do this, not just when I feel good and appreciated, but also when it's hard. The next time I'm tempted to disrespect my wife, I will try to remember to pray to the Lord for the strength to do the right thing.

If I don't, then I'm both disobeying the Lord and sinning against both my wife and God. That's a big deal.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

1 Thessalonians 4:1

Paul writes in verse 1 to encourage the Thessalonians and to push them to even greater faithfulness. It feels a bit like a call to Christian kaizen.

Is continuous improvement a Christian concept?

Friday, February 1, 2008

1 Thessalonians 4 Outline

I. Live according to God's principles
II. Understand Jesus' Return