Archive for April, 2010

Know Your Preconceptions

April 29, 2010

When I was working on getting my bachelors degree in math, one of the courses I took was geometry.  This was a little bit different from high school geometry.  Instead of the basic axioms based on the work of Euclid, we did NOT assume the parallel postulate.  We looked at variations on it, like, “There are no parallel lines,” and “Given a line, and a point not on the line, there are infinitely many lines through the point that are parallel to the line.”  These new assumptions had some interesting impacts on the knowledge that people in this class had come to rely on for years.  The second version, for example, results in the following being true: “The sum of the angles in a triangle is less than 180 degrees.”  Whenever we reached a conclusion like this, you could almost hear brains splatting against the wall and ceiling.

When you go to read anything, including a science book, the Bible, or the Qu’ran, the same thing can happen.  You are going in with certain things you “know”.  In this geometry class, most of the students “knew” the sum of the angles in a triangle is exactly 180 degrees.  They couldn’t let go of that to deal with the new assumptions.

For me, my assumptions when I read the Bible were something along the lines of, “There is no God.  Jesus probably never actually lived.  This is no different from Greek mythology.”  I would then start reading, usually in John, because I had a friend who insisted I should start there.  With those preconceptions firmly in mind, I proceeded to read a bunch of nonsense about “miracles”, an arrogant guy who thought he was God, and ended up deciding this was nonsense at best.

I read what I expected to find.  Now, when I read the Bible, I have assumptions along the lines of, “God is real.  God intervenes in the form of both Jesus and miracles (even today).  I can know God.”  As I read, I now see a kind, loving God who has been reaching out to humanity for thousands of years.  I read about the kinds of miracles God wants to perform today.  I read about a God that is completely different from anything in Greek mythology, Indian mythology, Buddhism, etc.

When I read anything in the Qu’ran, however, I see something that I do not believe represents truth.  Of course, a Muslim  will have almost the exact reverse experience.  For a Muslim, the Qu’ran is truth, and the Bible is non-truth.  For an atheist, neither is true.

So what would I like you to do as you read any of these books?  First, know how your preconceptions are impacting your interpretation of what you read.  I know why I don’t accept the Qu’ran as truth, because as a Christian, it directly contradicts my beliefs.  My goal as I read it is to know WHY I don’t accept it.  Similarly, for many years, I did not believe parts of the Bible because they violated my preconceptions.  I didn’t believe that miracles are for today, and I didn’t believe that God created the world in six days.  That was because I was raised in a church that didn’t talk about miracles happening any more.  Also, I still believed that evolution was true.

As I have looked at my preconceptions, and allowed them to be challenged, rather than the basis of determining truth, my views have changed.  My understanding of what the Bible teaches about miracles has changed.  My understanding of the truth of evolution has changed.  I ask that you be prepared to question what you believe.  If you don’t know why you believe what you believe, how can you be secure in your beliefs?  My goal is to know both.

Of Spiritual Gifts and Lightbulbs

April 13, 2010

Spiritual gifts are a funny thing. We try to understand them, control them, and otherwise categorize them in ways that make them “safe”. We see flashy guys on the TV who seem to be able to do stuff on demand. It’s as if us mere mortals aren’t invited in, and all we can do is watch the gurus.

The reality, of course, and as usual, is different. True spiritual gifts are NOT under our control. It’s more like having a light bulb. You’re the light bulb. As a light bulb, you were created with a purpose: to create light. That said, you do NOT get to determine when you create light. That is determined by other things. You have to be in a socket. Power has to be applied. Even more important, the amount of power determines how bright the light is.

God is the power, the switch, the socket, everything else. The socket is like being in God’s will. If you position yourself where He wants you, then He can use you. If you don’t, then perhaps someone else will. You have to be where He wants you for the electricity to flow and the light to go on. Can you imagine a light bulb demanding to be used, but never being screwed into a light socket? It won’t happen.

At the same time, being in a light socket does NOT mean the light goes on. Every night, we turn out the lights in our house to sleep. Most of the time, I want the lights in my house turned off, not on. It’s only when the switch is flipped that the lights turn on.

God’s power is like that with us. If we don’t position ourselves in His will, He won’t use us. By the same token, just because we’re in His will doesn’t me He wants to use a spiritual gift through us. Really, it’s God who’s in control.

When I look at the flashy guys on TV, it’s kind of like seeing a 60 watt bulb strapped to a car 9 volt battery. There’s a dim glow, it looks impressive, but you have to suspect they’re cheating. Compare the acts of Jesus or the apostles to someone making a line of people faint. Which one is DOING something?

I’ve been lucky enough to hear God guide me. I’ve been fortunate enough to pray for healing and see my prayers answered. I would like to see things more dramatic. I don’t want to be God’s night light, but a 100 watt bulb. I don’t want God to give me 9 volts, but 120 volts!

The power will never be mine, though. It will be God’s. He doesn’t give us power. He doesn’t give us gifts. He gives us the opportunity to announce his power, to be the conduit of it. I cannot prophesy the future, but God can tell me what is coming. I cannot heal the sick, but I can announce that God is about to.

Always, it is God. Never is it me.  Remembering that difference is key.  Otherwise, I might be tempted to find a 9 volt battery to carry with me, and end up just looking lame.