Thursday, August 28, 2014

Silence and Reflection

Silence, reflection, hearing the Word of God, and understanding; Augustine instructs us in all of these in Sermon 52, 22.
"Let us leave a little room for reflection in our lives, room too for silence. Let us look within ourselves and see whether there is some delightful hidden place inside where we can be free of noise and argument. Let us hear the Word of God in stillness and perhaps we will then come to understand it."— Augustine, bishop of Hippo Regius, in the Roman province of Africa: present-day Annaba, Algeria; 354-430 Common Era.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Scientists and Philosophers

Some interesting remarks from Michael Gungor.
"If two different teams try to play two different games on the same field against each other, it’s probably not going to go very well.
Good scientists have a very clear road that lays out what they are trying to do. They are generally using observation and experimentation to understand the physical universe. They focus on questions like, “How did life arise on planet earth?” Religious people are also trying to understand the world we live in, but it is a different sort of understanding. It is questions like, “Why did life arise on earth?” that belongs in the realm of a philosophical or religious discussion. I think the problems happen when the two perspectives infringe into the other discipline’s zone. The scientists try to be philosophers and the philosophers try to fudge the science. I think a way forward is to adopt the position of so many Christians throughout history: Let scientists do the science, and if that plainly contradicts something we read in Scripture, then re-interpret how we are reading Scripture. The Bible makes for a great religious text, but it is not such a great science book. And vice versa." - Michael Gungor

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Together for The Poor

The Jesus Creed blog has an article about Evangelicals in the United Kingdom and the various theological perspectives on Hell. I appreciate the perspective of this Evangelical Alliance because they are a true alliance. It does not seem that one theological group is trying to win out over another group. They truly recognize that there are disagreements among them and give each perspective equal time. I thought about this as I attended a meeting today. I gathered with representatives who were Christian, Jewish, or Muslim to discuss how we might work for the common good of the poor in our city. We concluded that all of our faith traditions mandated that we "love one another" and "care for the poor." We spent a couple of hours asking each other what it means to love one another in this manner while our world is polarized and sometimes violent. We recognized that there is a difference between healthy faith and toxic faith and all of us committed ourselves to upholding our healthy faith while standing against toxic versions of any community of faith. We are working together to be exemplars of what good, healthy, and true religion can be.

Now, I am pretty sure that if I had coffee with Rabbi Howard tomorrow and expressed an interest in converting to Judaism, he would first check my motivations, and then begin the process of teaching me how to become a Jewish convert. If he were to come to me and express a desire to follow Jesus Christ, I too would check his motives; but if I found him to be sincere, I would welcome him into a discipleship program that would ultimately result in him becoming a Christian. Each of us is absolutely committed to our faith and to the value it has for people's lives. We are not lukewarm about our beliefs! Yet, we recognize that if the majority culture is to see either of our faiths as a viable faith structure, we must show our commitment to working together on things we hold in common. We must exemplify the value of loving others and caring for the poor.

This group of which I am a part also set out on a path to write a joint statement condemning the actions of ISIS in Iraq. We were all in absolute agreement that the atrocities of these armed militants are wrong and deserve to be halted; but, can we agree on a joint statement that will say this in a fashion on which we can all agree? That remains to be seen. For now, I thank God for small gains as we work together to serve the poor in the city of Calgary.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Deep Thoughts by Kilobot 142

The CBC news site had an article about a Harvard research group that built 1,024 tiny robots. The "Kilobots" have three tiny legs and are powered by a rechargeable battery. They express a "hive mentality" in which the researchers can send a signal to the group of robots and they will assemble into groupings of various shapes. For example, the robot creators can "tell" them to make the shape of a starfish and the Kilobots will collectively assemble into a star shape. The system works on a few simple principles related to proximity to other bots, coordinates, and move or be still logic. If a Kilobot is on the edge of a grouping it must "decide" whether to move or not move. If an individual Kilobot is surrounded by other bots it can then "relax" knowing that it will sit still until other bots move away from it, leaving it on an edge. Now of course, as we speak of this, we tend to assign thoughts when there are no thoughts going on. As the writers of the article said, "the Kilobots are not exactly thinking deep thoughts."

This got me thinking, what would Kilobot thoughts sound like? So, with a nod to "Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey" I present to you, "Deep Thoughts by Kilobot #142." (Note, this thought experiment requires cheesy keyboard music - not supplied.)

Wait, where am I? Oh good, middle of the pack.

Livin' large, on the edge!

Why am I here? Har! just kidding.

Who is my creator? Har! just kidding.

Where am I going? Oh, who cares, I'll just follow the others.

Look at the legs on 1017!

Bump! HeaHeaHea!

Battery low - send electrons!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Millions and Billions

When I was a teenager in Canada there was a time when many people were talking about the concept of a million. People would wave their lottery ticket and talk about how wealthy they would be when they won a million dollars. They talked about government debts that were measured in millions of dollars. People tried to envision what a million of anything would look like.

Recently I have been again thinking of the concept of millions and then I added to this by thinking about billions. We use the word billion a lot more now than we did in the 1970s and we even talk about billionaires in the world.

Yesterday I went out on my relatively healthy lawn and counted blades of grass. In a one centimetre by one centimetre section of the lawn I counted 50 blades. In a ten centimetre by ten centimetre square I scaled up and estimated approximately 250,000 blades. Then, I did some more math. Based on my counting, if the whole lawn was of this same uniform density, then a million blades of grass would take up a space of 20,000 centimetres squared (cm2)  or 2 m2; that is, they would fill a square that is 1.4 metres by 1.4 metres.

Then I did the math for a billion. One billion blades of grass would take up 2000 square metres of land which is equivalent to a square that is 44.7 metres by 44.7 metres. This is a little less than half of the area of a football field.

I found this impressive but still hard to visualize. So I started thinking about ping pong balls. A standard ping pong ball is four centimetres in diameter. Four of them in a square take up a space of eight centimetres by eight centimetres or 64 cm2. Therefore, one million ping pong balls will rest on 1600 square metres of land or 0.16 hectares. This is equivalent to a square that is 40 metres by 40 metres. One billion ping pong balls would take up 160 hectares of land which is equivalent to a square that is 1.265 kilometres by 1.265 kilometres. Let's round up and say that one billion ping pong balls would sit inside a square that is 1.3 km by 1.3 km. This is getting easier to imagine.

Now, hang in there with me for one more visualization. If we say that a penny is 1.5 mm in thickness, then a stack of one million pennies would be 1.5 km tall; provided that the bottom penny was not squished by the weight of the million minus one on top of it. By extension, a stack of one billion pennies would be 1500 km tall and a stack of 25 billion pennies would be knocked over by the moon as it went by in its orbit.

These are interesting concepts and images but where is the practicality in this blog? Well, hopefully it is easier to comprehend large numbers by visualizing a comparative system. For example, I have been trying to visualize how many people are in the world and think about how many of them are in difficult circumstances. There seems to be an excessive amount of war and suffering in our world right now. When I was born, the world population was around three billion people, and today there are over seven billion people on this planet. I wonder how many of those seven billion are suffering right now. Everyone desires that these seven billion might be at peace with themselves and with each other. We try to imagine a world in which this could happen. For my part, I will choose this day to be at peace with the small fraction with whom I come in contact and I call upon you to consider doing the same. Perhaps you and I can start to scale up peace.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Think On These Things

How does one remain moral in a hyper-sexual culture? This is the question that many people face every day. It seems particularly concerning for young men as they are the ones who most often turn up at a pastor's office desiring prayer because of the pressures they experience. A young man recently asked me about classic Greek sculptures. We discussed the sculpture known as the Diskobolos (or The Discus Thrower) which depicts a naked athlete throwing a discus in the Olympic Games. The man's question was, in Greek culture, was this statue art or pornography? When did cultures first start to develop pornography? This set in motion a conversation about the nature of art and pornography and how each can be defined.

The Bible has words that clearly describe immoral acts. Consider the Greek words pornos and porneia. Here are the definitions as taken from Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible:
4205 pórnos (from pernao, "to sell off") – properly, a male prostitute; in the NT, any "fornicator" (Abbott-Smith); i.e. anyone engaging in sexual immorality. See 4202 (porneia).1 

4202 porneía (the root of the English terms "pornography, pornographic"; cf. 4205 /pórnos) which is derived from pernao, "to sell off") – properly, a selling off (surrendering) of sexual purity; promiscuity of any (every) type.2
So, "selling off" our sexuality is one way to define pornography. Also, images or words which we allow to lead us to sexual immorality or promiscuity would be considered pornography. The Greeks were not the first to wrestle with nakedness and morality. We see the beginnings of this struggle in Genesis where Adam and Eve became self-conscious of their nakedness after they had sinned in the Garden of Eden. Before they sinned they were naked and comfortable. After sin entered into the world there was an awareness of their nakedness and a desire to cover themselves. This sense of nakedness is what allows immorality and pornography to develop. Sin and nakedness are not one and the same but they have been intertwined ever since.

There are certain images and situations which are clearly immoral, unjust, and absolutely qualify as pornography. Anytime a person is degraded, objectified, hurt, or disadvantaged by the process of taking the image, there is injustice and pornography involved. Some of the magazine industry in our country falls into this category. Even when a person is paid for their modeling work, the process may represent objectification and an unjust situation.

There is another factor in this struggle; it is the struggle of the mind. For the mind can turn innocent images or art into pornography. All of us must control both what we allow ourselves to see and the thoughts we allow ourselves to have. By personal will and by the work of the Holy Spirit, we seek to think upon pure and good things so that what we see in this hyper-sexual majority culture does not cause us to sin. We will never be able to avoid all possibility of seeing pornographic or sexually charged images; a short walk past the underwear displays in the mall will convince us of that. Instead, we must train our minds to stay pure even if exposed to an image we did not wish to see or an image at which we allowed ourselves to look. Perhaps the best that we can do is to always fill our minds with good things and good desires for others. This is what the Bible means when we read these words in Philippians 4:8.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (New Living Translation)

1 Strong's Concordance:
2 Strong's Concordance:

Friday, August 1, 2014

Next Generation Leaders

I am reading a book by Gary L. Johnson, senior minister of Indian Creek Christian Church in Indianapolis, called LeaderShift: One Becomes Less While Another Becomes More. The book is primarily about succession planning for churches but the principles involved go beyond the specific perspective to broader principles of generational leadership.

It is well-known that one of the largest cohorts of infants born in North America was the group born between 1946 and 1964: the Baby-Boomer Generation. The oldest of that cohort turn 68 years old this year while the youngest turn 50. This generation has held most of the major leadership positions within our society and our churches for many years. But, the Boomer generation is slowing down; they travel more, spend less time at their jobs, spend more money, and produce less. They are a major factor in dwindling attendance at churches and other social institutions. Boomers now attend such events 1 to 3 times per month (average of 2) as compared with previous standards of 3.75 times per month.1 Many of them are on the verge of retiring and so it is essential that we have plans in place to see a succession of strong leadership.

Johnson has this to say about the need. He quotes Psalm 127:3-5 (NLT) before going on to comment on this passage.
Children are a gift from the LORD;
    they are a reward from him.
Children born to a young man
    are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!
    He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates. 
The context of this passage is about war. . . . The warrior did not keep his arrows in his quiver only to admire them. To the contrary, he shot his arrows where he, the warrior, could not go. Our children - those of the next generation - are the arrows. We need next generation leaders to go where we cannot. We must equip, empower and release them to actually advance the kingdom of God in ways we have only hoped of doing, contending with our Enemy at the entry point of our lives. As for myself, I long for the next generation to rise up and be a formidable threat to the kingdom of darkness by leading the Church in bold and decisive ways. They can - and must - do more for the glory of God in making Jesus the Famous One than we ever dreamed possible. This is my heartfelt attitude towards younger leaders in our faith.2
Johnson's words are indeed important to the Boomer generation. We must challenge ourselves to "long for the next generation to rise up and be a formidable threat to the kingdom of darkness by leading the Church in bold and decisive ways." We must long for the next generation to rise up at every level of society as we pass the baton of leadership from one generation to the next. The younger generations need advocates and mentors who will support their leadership and then get out of the way to let them lead. "We need next generation leaders to go where we cannot." This is vital for a healthy church and a healthy society.

1 These stats are based on broad reading, personal experience, and some related stats (see and but there is a need for someone to do a statistical study.
2 (Johnson 2013, 130, 131)

Work Cited:
Johnson, Gary L. LeaderShift. Indianapolis: Moeller Printing, 2013.