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Archive for December, 2015

In the fourth generation and 60 years after King David died there arose a king over Judah whose name was Asa. His father and grandfather had no heart for God, worshipping idols and allowing the people to run wild in their pursuit of idolatry. And his great-grandfather, Solomon, turned away from God in His old age because of the enticement and idolatry of his many wives. So it is a surprise the high praise Asa is given in I Kings 15: “Asa did what was right in the sight of the Lord, like David his father. He also put away the male cult prostitutes from the land and removed all the idols which his father had made. He also removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother, because she had made a horrid image as an Asherah; and Asa cut down her horrid image and burned it at the brook Kidron… the heart of Asa was wholly devoted to the Lord all his days.” (v.11-13, 14b) Much of Asa’s story is repeated in II Chronicles 14-16, but as is frequently the case the story includes more spiritually commentary on details given in Kings. Besides removing idols and their worshippers, II Chronicles 14 also says that he “commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers and to observe the law and the commandment” (v. 4) and God rewarded him in that “the land was undisturbed, and there was no one at war with him during those years, because the Lord had given him rest.” (v. 6) Asa took advantage of these benefits of time and security by fortifying cities and strengthening the number and equipment of his army. And yet he did not put his trust in these but called on God to defeat a million man Ethiopian army that came against him. In response God indeed defeated the army and sent Azariah the prophet to strengthen and encourage Asa and Judah to continue seeking God because there is reward in it (II Chronicles 15:1-7). Asa indeed took courage and increased his reforms in Israel by more idol worship removal, restoring the altar of the temple and sacrificing on it, and promoting a covenant among the people to serve God only. There was peace for 20 more years.

     In all of this glowing report about Asa there are two blindspots of his that arise in the story. One is obvious and the other is not. “In the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah and fortified Ramah in order to prevent anyone from going out or coming in to Asa king of Judah. Then Asa brought out silver and gold from the treasuries of the house of the Lord and the king’s house, and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Aram, who lived in Damascus, saying, ‘Let there be a treaty between you and me, as between my father and your father. Behold, I have sent you silver and gold; go, break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel so that he will withdraw from me.’” (II Chronicles 16:1-3) Baasha does withdraw and Asa has all of his people carry away the materials of fortification to build other fortifications. Well played, right? No, poorly played because as the prophet Hanani points out, “you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the Lord your God.” (v. 7) Asa’s blindspot, indeed his sin, is pride in the form of self-reliance. This had not been a problem 20 years before when he had called on God to defeat the enemy. Three indicators that it is indeed pride and not a simple oversight follow. Asa throws the prophet into prison and oppresses some of the people, maybe because they agreed with Hanani. The third indicator of his old age pride appears three years later when God further tests him with disease in his feet. “Yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians.” (v. 12) The word “yet” indicates that this activity was a continuation of the self-reliance with the scheming that trusted a king rather than God. Such self-reliance is a danger for us all. For youth it may generally fall more in the realm of strength and supposed invincibility, but for the wizened king it may have been more the bane of years of experience without continued growth in reliance upon God due to comfort. We cannot let our guard down, “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” (v. 9) The biter was the prophet’s next words: “You have acted foolishly in this.” If Asa had repented right then and there God may not have strapped him with so much war thereafter, or not tested him with foot disease. God is more concerned with purifying us than making us comfortable.

     The less obvious blindspot of Asa appears in one short phrase basically repeated in the other passage. “But the high places were not taken away,” and “…not removed from Israel.” (I Kings 15:14a; II Chronicles 15:17a) These detractors from Asa’s reputation are almost dismissed by their follow-up phrases: “nevertheless the heart of Asa was wholly devoted to the Lord all his days,” (I Kings 15:14) and “nevertheless Asa’s heart was blameless all his days.” (II Chronicles 15:17) It seems that even though the high places were an oversight in Asa’s reforms and worship, his intentions toward God in worship were always pure. But this is not quite the end of the discussion because the Chronicles passage adds some facts that seem to confuse this whole problem. One of the first things that II Chronicles 14 indicates that Asa did was “he removed the foreign altars and high places, tore down the sacred pillars, cut down the Asherim…” (v. 3). Did he remove the high places or did he not? I think that the answer is both yes and no. This latter mention of high places is surrounded by mention of “foreign altars” with specific examples. The other high places may have been of the type mentioned when God spoke to Solomon in I Kings 3: “The people were still sacrificing on the high places, because there was no house built for the name of the Lord until those days. Now Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place; Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, “Ask what you wish Me to give you.” (v. 2-5) Solomon along with the people and subsequent kings all had this blindspot. They were worshipping God but not how and where He told them to worship. In fact it was not until Hezekiah, 9 generations and over 210 years later, that “he removed the high places…” (II Kings 18:4) The Assyrian general scoffing at Judah’s confidence confirms that these are the high places of worship to God when he says, “is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?” (II Kings 18:22) What then is my point by all of this “high places” discussion? What may I learn? As I grow older I certainly want to avoid the glaring sin of self-reliance, and repent where it rears its ugly head. But I also want to ferret out the more subtle blindspots, sins of my culture that are dragging us down and we don’t even see it. God is gracious with us overlooking so much. When our heart is right before Him, He extends more grace, guiding us through many difficulties with help and rest on all sides. But our blindspots are not overlooked; He knows them every one. O Lord, reveal them to us so that we may go deeper with You, gain Your blessing on ourselves and our culture, and glorify Your name in every crack and cranny of life, so that “we are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5).

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         I enjoy viewing educational YouTube videos, particularly about Science. I recently watched several videos written and narrated by astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson. He is extremely intelligent, articulate, and fast on his feet when replying to detractors. In our culture we listen to experts. They are informed and intelligent so we should listen to them, right? We should ask, “What is your source of truth?” Mr. Tyson claims that his only source of truth is empirical data, information acquired by observation or experimentation. In one of these videos he says1, “Does the Universe have a purpose? I’m not sure, but anyone who expresses a more definitive response to this question is claiming access to knowledge not based in empirical foundations.” He proceeds to claim that the perspective held by religions and some philosophies that the universe has purpose has failed to explain our universe. He then dismantles, or so he believers, all claims that we can know that the universe has purpose. I am among those who believe that the universe does have purpose, being created by God, and I freely admit and proclaim that this knowledge is not based on limited empirical evidence, though supported by it. Mr. Tyson’s logical fallacy, I submit, is to assume that his supposed empirical foundations are sufficient to explain the universe and why we cannot know the universe has a purpose. He overlooks his own presuppositions: we cannot know that God exists, that God in fact does not exist, and that Mr. Tyson operates purely on empirical data.

         Evidence that God exists is all around us as I have shown in past articles and which Scripture declares (Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:19-20). In this article I want to present evidence that those who claim that they operate purely on empirical data do not and cannot. In another MinutePhysics video2 Mr. Tyson is discussing the sequence of events that he and many other scientists believe characterized the universe after the Big Bang. In the midst of this storyline he admits that “under these extreme conditions in what is admittedly speculative physics…” Why is it speculative? It is so because there is no way of directly observing a time with those conditions or reconstructing those conditions because they defied the presently understood laws of Physics. This scenario is supposed to be what we know of the past and yet is based on fanciful conclusions based on faith and not observation. He is nearly two minutes into his seven minute history of the universe when he says, “continuing on with what is now laboratory confirmed physics” He then explains how particles decaying and colliding settle things down to the Physics we now observe. The statement is misleading (presumably not intentionally) because it assumes that what can happen in laboratory experiments and does happen periodically in nature is what did happen in mass to set the course of the universe long ago. Such “observations” are conclusions based on hypothetical scenarios, not inevitable results of data. Another example of this type of observation was the conclusion in March of 2014 that cosmic microwave background radiation had “proved” the inflationary expansion just after the Big Bang. But in June of the same year the researchers came to a different conclusion: “Now a careful reanalysis by scientists at Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study, also in Princeton, has concluded that the BICEP2 B-mode pattern could be the result mostly or entirely of foreground effects without any contribution from gravitational waves.”3 So, the hypothesis concerning the moments after the Big Bang was wrong. The author of this quote explains that many scientists do not conclude that inflationary hypothesis was therefore disproved. Instead, these scientists say this hypothesis is sufficiently flexible to be “immune to experimental and observational tests.” What we are seeing is ‘empirical data’ without observation, which of course is not empirical at all. As Arthur Conan Doyle has Sherlock Holmes say, “ It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

 

1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pL5vzIMAhs “Does the Universe Have a Purpose?”

2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KYTJ8tBoZ8 “A Brief History of Everything”
3 http://www.nature.com/news/big-bang-blunder-bursts-the-multiverse-bubble-1.15346

4 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four, A Scandal in Bohemia

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I was so regular about blogging until this Autumn when it all fell apart. Taking a class at the local community college after about 24 years away from the classroom has been a fun challenge. I believe time studying how students study has caused me to be a wiser student, but an old brain is simply slower, or at least this one is. With the immense amount of time pressure and brain strain I just cannot feel justified in blogging, but I just could not pass up the following short interaction in class yesterday:

My students and I were discussing one of my warm-up questions at the beginning of class. The question asked why Earth was considered to be in the life zone of our solar system. In order to contrast our privileged position I contrasted it with Mars. One student mused that “they” were talking about sending people there.
Another one said, “I wouldn’t want to go”.
“Why not,” I replied.
“There’s no wifi up there.”
I reasoned, “If you went to Mars, NASA would send you, therefore, you would have wifi,
the best wifi in the solar system. They have wifi on the International Space station. They e-mail home.”
The student replied, “You really could live on Mars, then.”
“So you think that you have to have wifi to live?” I queried.
“Yes, I would.”
“I went many years without wifi and had no problem.”
Several students chimed in together, “But you didn’t need wifi back then.”
Another student added, “Yeah, you need food, air, water, and wifi.”
One would like to assume that there was some tongue in cheek here, but the first response, “You really could live on Mars,” was intoned as one of those aha moments when the student understood that spaceflight was not just science fiction, all because NASA provides wifi there. This one should go in that book that all teachers say they will write one day about student reactions.

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