Gathering to Worship

Gathering to Worship
Gathering to Worship
We get emails rather regularly from people denigrating worship. Some come from people who attend a church but “don’t get anything from going.” Others are from skeptics and atheists who describe worship as “a supreme waste of time and energy.” Both of these responses are at least in part due to a failure to understand what worship is and its purpose. The biblical concept of worship is not having an entertaining service by a skilled performer. James tells us in James 1:27 “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted by the world.” The purpose of worship is to help us do that and to be strengthened by our time together so that we can serve.

The Church we read about in the Bible did several things as acts of worship to equip themselves to do God’s will. Our problem seems to be that we don’t always understand how that happens. We are told to pray (Philippians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:1; Colossians 4:2; Ephesians 6:18). Our prayers are not to inform God or to build up His ego. Prayer is vital for us to learn to focus on something beyond ourselves and to be able to petition God to help us have the strength to do what He calls us to do. We are also told that giving is an act of worship (1 Corinthians 16:2; Acts 20:35; 2 Corinthians 9:7). The giving is obviously not because God, the creator of all things, needs our money. Learning to give cheerfully is a grace that helps us learn how to get the most out of life in relationships and our attitudes. The best of love, sex, work, learning, and security comes when we learn how to give. Singing is another part of worship to help us get the best out of our relationships with each other and God. Singing is not to entertain ourselves or God but to express our joy, unity, and fellowship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Romans 15:9; and 1 Corinthians 14:15). Our personal connection to God and to one another as we struggle with the problems of life is supported by our communion service, remembering the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:23-28).

Worship is not to be entertained, but to participate. It isn’t to admire one another’s talents, but to be blessed with the opportunity to tap into a power beyond our own, and to learn how to live in a way that fulfills our purpose in existing. If someone is not “getting anything out of it”, the reason is that they came with the wrong expectations and for the wrong purpose. Worship is meaningless only if we do not have a relationship with God.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Symbols

Emojis
Emojis
Humans seem to enjoy using symbols for everything in life. Notice the emoticons and emojis used in electronic communication. It is interesting that the use of symbols to convey meaning is an attribute of humans that is not seen in any other form of life. Animals may use sounds or chemicals to alert others of their kind to danger, territory, or sexual availability, but these are not symbols. Sometimes symbols have different meanings to different cultures or even different generations. In my hippie days, holding up two fingers in a “V” meant “peace.” When I was first inducted into military service, the same symbol meant “victory” and indicated an intention to conquer. Symbols convey information, and as the deaf can demonstrate to us, they can even form the basis of complex communication.

Our use of symbols is a reflection of our spiritual makeup. We can create art, express ourselves in music, and worship God because we possess a soul which allows these unique forms of expression. The most mentally challenged among us can use symbols and rejoice in being able to do so.

Sometimes symbols and their use are unique to a particular time in human history. A classic example of this is the use of the cross. In today’s world, the cross is universally accepted as a symbol of Christianity. People wear crosses to express their personal faith. The cross is put on many buildings, Bibles, and along our roadsides. Steven Lemley in an article in Power for Today (January 2, 2017) points out that in the first century the cross was only a sign of the execution of guilty criminals. He reminds us that wearing a cross or having it adorn a place of worship in the first century, would be like us today wearing the image of a hypodermic needle used in executions. Many saw the cross as a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:23) or a sign of God’s weakness. Paul used the cross as a symbol of separating ourselves from the world (Galatians 6:14) as well as crucifying our sinful nature (Romans 6:6).

For the first century Christians, the outline of a fish was used as a symbol. The Greek word “fish” spelled out an acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” Archaeological discoveries of ancient Christian symbols display the fish and sometimes a young man holding a lamb. Today we see people with fish symbols on their cars. We also see the cross used as a symbol to remind us of the terrible suffering that Jesus endured, and the ultimate victory of Christ over sin. All symbols, even emojis, can remind us that we have an eternal spiritual nature that we can express in many ways. The use of symbols, worship, and prayer are uniquely human features reminding us that we were created in the image of God.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Picking and Choosing Einstein

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
As an old physics teacher, I find it interesting to watch people on both sides of the argument about the existence of God pick and choose various parts of Einstein’s work to support their positions. Recently I had an atheist and a Christian dispensationalist both use Einstein’s time dilation equation to support their position. That equation says that your time in motion is determined by your time at rest divided by the square root of one minus your velocity (v) squared divided by the speed of light (c) squared.

This formula indicates that the higher the velocity of motion, the smaller the value of the denominator of that equation becomes. Therefore, time expands. This is a fact. Neutrons in nuclear accelerators might live 18 minutes at rest before decaying into protons and electrons. When accelerated to 80% of the speed of light, they last much longer before decaying.

My atheist friend maintains that since the cosmos is accelerating in its expansion, it will eventually reach the speed of light and time will stop. He then proposes that time will reverse since the value of the denominator in Einstein’s equation would become negative. He then suggests that this process will be repeated in an eternal universe. Therefore, no beginning and no God.

My dispensationalist friend is one of several authors who propose that the universe started out expanding at a much higher velocity with time passing at a different rate than we experience today. This would mean that the evidence for the cosmos being very old is an illusion. In the beginning, time passed more slowly because of the much higher velocity of expansion. Since we move more slowly today, time is passing faster. Therefore, the universe is much younger than it would appear.

Both of these proposals are made to support a personal religious opinion. Both of them are ignoring much of Einstein’s work. When the neutron referred to earlier is accelerated to 80% of the speed of light, not only does its time frame change but its mass changes too. Another one of Einstein’s equations looks just like the time equation but deals with mass. The change in the mass of a particle is equal to its mass at rest divided by the square root of one minus its velocity squared divided by the speed of light squared.

Experimentally this calculation works and can be verified. Perhaps the most well-known equation of Issac Newton is F = MA. This tells us that the force (F) needed to accelerate a mass (M) is equal to its mass multiplied by the acceleration (A). We all know from experience that the greater the mass of an object, the harder it is to speed it up when we push it, and the faster we want it to go the harder we have to push. If the mass increases as you get near the speed of light, what happens to the force you have to exert? Obviously, It increases too. At the speed of light, you would have infinite mass, and it would take an infinite force to move it.

Another fascinating equation from Einstein is that the length of an object changes as it approaches the speed of light. In the reverse of the change in time and mass, the length contracts as the object gets closer the speed of light. At the speed of light, the length would be zero, and the object would cease to exist.

These are simplifications of Einstein’s work, but the point is that relativistic effects cannot be picked and chosen while ignoring other effects. God created the cosmos with certain constants and relationships. These choices allow us to exist, but they also put a limit on what is possible. We struggle to comprehend all that is involved in the simple phrase, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Event that Changed the World

Empty Tomb
Empty Tomb
Early on the first day of the week, some women came to the tomb where the lifeless body of Jesus had been placed. It was empty. It had been opened–not by any human hands but by an angel. It wasn’t opened to let Jesus out. The tomb was opened so that people might see that it was empty. The followers of Jesus were not expecting him to be alive again. At first, they couldn’t believe it. Powerful people tried to find the body or to convince the public that it had been stolen. But they could not.

Now, over 2000 years later, there are still those who try to deny the resurrection. The evidence is there. The friends of Jesus were not expecting the resurrection, but after they had seen him alive, they spent the rest of their lives telling others about it. Even when they were tortured and killed for preaching the resurrection, not one of them ever recanted. Without a body, the powerful enemies of Jesus could not disprove the resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, written only a few years after the resurrection of Jesus, the Apostle Paul recorded what scholars believe was an oral tradition of the resurrection appearances dating back to the very time of the resurrection. If it had not been true, this tradition and Paul’s record of it would have been debunked by the eyewitnesses who were still around. It was true, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most solidly attested event of ancient history. The world will never be the same because of the day when death was conquered.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

A Temporarily Borrowed Tomb

Replica Of The Tomb Of Jesus In IsraelJoseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man who had a new tomb carved into a stone hillside. This was not a pauper’s grave. Only the rich and powerful could afford such a tomb. But the first man to use it was not a wealthy man. He grew up as the son of a carpenter. He had no home to call his own. He had a small group of friends who deserted him at the last minute. He had thousands of admirers who quickly sought to get rid of him when he didn’t overthrow the Romans as they expected.

A few days after they greeted him with shouts of praise and honor, they were begging the Romans to put him to death. His lifeless body was placed in a rich man’s tomb because the rich man named Joseph stepped out of the shadows and loaned his tomb to Jesus. “Loaned” is the appropriate word, because Jesus would not need it for very long. A miracle was about to happen!
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Excruciating Pain!

Crucifixion Of Jesus
Crucifixion Of Jesus

The ancient Assyrian army would drive a stake into the chest of their enemies impaling them. Then they would plant that stake in the ground to display their victim. They did this both to frighten and to intimidate those who would oppose them.

The ancient Romans further refined this gruesome tactic. Instead of impaling their victims on a stake, they nailed them to the stake. Impaling resulted in quick death, but crucifixion extended the horror. Crucifixion was slow and agonizing torture that sometimes lasted more than a day. It’s from this execution method that we get our word “excruciating”–which literally means “from the cross.” Crucifixions took place in public where people could see the victim and become terrified to go against the Roman government. This torture was used for the worst of criminals.

But one time it was used for the only perfect man who ever lived. He had done nothing wrong. He died for those of us who have sinned. He suffered excruciating pain and public humiliation in a way that demonstrated love and grace. He went willingly to the cross. Even more amazing is the fact that while suffered on the cross he forgave his tormentors. From the cross, he even pardoned a real criminal who hung next to him. He forever made the worst form of torture and execution a symbol that millions proudly hold up, wear, and display. What other execution device is so loved? Why do we call the day of his torture and death “Good” Friday? It’s because of God’s amazing love and grace demonstrated in Jesus Christ. That’s the “crux” of the matter.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Design Discovered in Insect Migration

Insects
Insects
It is easy for humans to minimize the design that is needed for life to exist on Earth. How do you feed massive numbers of birds, especially in the spring when winter has taken away most of their food sources, and their food needs are maximized as they lay eggs and feed baby birds? In the past scientists have shrugged their shoulders and imagined that there are food sources we don’t recognize that fill this gap until the summer season generates sufficient seeds and insects to sustain the growing populations. Similar problems exist for many other animals like bats that depend on insects for their nutritional needs.

In the April 2017 issue of Scientific American (page 84), there is an interesting report about previously unknown migrations of insects. We have known about monarch butterflies for some time, but this study by British researchers shows that migrations of insects are massive. Over southern Britain alone there are 3.3 trillion insects migrating. That is an average of 3200 tons of bugs moving through the skies over Britain every year. The study also reports that similar patterns have been observed in Texas, India, and China.

The complexity of this migration is astounding. Insects don’t live long enough for one bug to complete the migration. Researchers found that in some cases six generations were involved to complete a migration. The insects do not just get randomly blown about. They travel in a well-programmed pattern taking advantage of wind direction and speed. The elevation at which they fly to get the strongest support for their journey is carefully chosen. For a number of reasons, spring migrations are different from fall migrations.

We have much to learn from insects. Solomon made reference to ants as an example for us to learn from in Proverbs 6:6-11 and 30:24, 25. In our modern times, we see an amazing design that allows for the feeding of birds, bats, and other forms of life that need insects to survive. Constructing a chance model for all of this takes a huge amount of imagination. Recognizing God as the intelligence that gave this migration pattern to insects makes what we see just another example of knowing there is a God through the things he has made (Romans 1:20).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

WIMPS and God’s Design

Spiral Galaxy M74
Spiral Galaxy M74
One of the most interesting areas of scientific research today is the study of dark matter. We have known for more than half a century that galaxies are groups of billions of stars revolving around a core. Science had assumed that the glue holding galaxies together was the gravitational force produced by the mass of the stars in the galaxy. The problem with this explanation was that the stars were spiraling too fast for the gravity produced by their mass to hold the galaxy together.

If you stand in the center of a circle and spin a bucket of water on a rope, you have to spin it at a certain speed to keep the water in the bucket. If you go too slow, the bucket will hit the ground, and if you go too fast, it will break the rope. In the case of galaxies, the stars were going so fast for the gravity of the stars to hold the system together. Some other gravitational force must be the glue doing the job. The discovery of black holes in the center of galaxies was thought to be a possible answer, but the speed was much too fast for even that source. The amount of mass it would take to hold some of the galaxies together is as much as 85% higher than what we can observe.

This problem led to the proposal that there is a missing mass. Scientists suggested particles called WIMPS, which is an acronym for “weakly interacting massive particles.” For some time now, experiments have been conducted to find evidence for WIMPS. The Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, has been smashing protons together in hopes of detecting the particle. The Large Underground Xenon experiment in South Dakota has been looking for traces of them as well. So far neither attempt has been successful. In an article in Scientific American (October 2016, page 16) Edward Kolb, who was involved in proposing the existence of WIMPS, said: “We are more in the dark about dark matter than we were five years ago.” David Spergel who is an astrophysicist at Princeton says, “…we now need more hints from nature about where to go next.”

It seems that God has already taught us quite a bit about the complexity of creation. Thanks to Isaac Newton we know that mass has a connection to gravity. Thanks to Albert Einstein we know that the shape of space has something to do with it as well. Making a galaxy is not a simple task. Just like the making of electric charge, the process involves understandings that science is just beginning to comprehend. Quantum mechanics has taught us that a whole new set of laws governs what happens in forming these building blocks of what we see.

In Proverbs 8:1,22-23 Wisdom speaks and says, “Does not wisdom call, and understanding lift up her voice?…The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old. From everlasting I was established, from the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.” It is a wonderful challenge to modern science to understand how the Lord made the building blocks that led to what we can see in space. When we finally understand, we need to step back and say, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psalms 19:1, NAS).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Caring for the Environment

Admiring the Beauty of Earth
Admiring the Beauty of Earth
We live at a time where there is great concern about the environment. We have seen the effect of human carelessness in dumping wastes into the atmosphere, rivers, and lakes. As an earth science teacher in the public schools, I always was disturbed by the complacency of students and administrators toward this critical issue. In my lectureships, I have sometimes had skeptics suggest that the problems of ecology are due to Christianity. In Genesis 1:28 God told the first humans, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Someone has commented that this is the only command God ever gave that man completely obeyed, and there might be some truth to that. Atheists have maintained that this is the cause of human abuse of the natural world in which we live.

From a biblical standpoint, this is a misuse of the message of the Scriptures. Any statement in the Bible can only be properly understood if you look at who write it, to whom, why, and how the people it was written to would have understood it. Genesis 1:28 was written to let us know that God expects us to control the Earth and its resources, but it gives no indication of how to do that. In Genesis 2:15, God told the man to, “take care of the Garden, to dress it and to keep it.” In Genesis 3:23 we are told that after the man had left the garden, he was to “work the ground from which he was taken.”

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, a great emphasis is placed on the beauty of the creation and the great wisdom and power that created it. Proverbs 8:22-31 puts an emphasis on the wisdom involved in all that was done to prepare the Earth for human life. The Psalms are full of references to God’s creation, and Jesus in Matthew 6:26-30 calls his followers to consider the beauty of the creation. Even more important, throughout the Bible humans are viewed as caretakers and guardians of what God has given us. Nowhere is there an instruction or suggestion that the creation is to be exploited or abused.

We are bringing enormous pain upon ourselves and on our children by the way we have mismanaged what God has given us. A great amount of disease, including cancer, is caused by man-made poisons and carcinogens dumped into the environment. The medical effects of mercury, lead, and asbestos cannot be denied. Most of the entry of these materials into our oceans, lakes, and rivers has come from human greed and irresponsibility. God does not cause these things, and a failure to live as God has called us to live is a major part of why these problems exist. Christians are called to take care of the environment, and Christian teachings are not the cause of our ecological issues. We are, however, even more concerned about mental, emotional, and spiritual pollution. If we could bring men and women into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, their change in attitude would resolve most of our social and environmental issues.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Extreme Animals

Bar-headed Goose
Bar-headed Goose
Much has been made of bacteria that live in extreme conditions. We have mentioned the forms that live in the geyser pools at Yellowstone National Park. Those bacteria use a chemical source to allow them to exist in high-temperature environments. They, in turn, provide the basis for other forms of life that use the Sun as their energy source. The British Broadcasting Corporation has had numerous features in which they have reported on other animals that function in extreme environments. Some of the examples that the BBC cites are:

The sperm whale feeds 2000 meters down in the ocean where the pressure “is the equivalent of carrying ten jumbo jets on your back.” The whales deflate their lungs to do this and then spend up to an hour using chemically-stored oxygen to supply their muscles while they are down there.

Polar bears spend seven months without eating or drinking and then give birth in an area where the temperatures can hit -60 Celsius and the winds can reach 160 km/hr.

The bar-headed geese that fly over the Himalayas at 10,000 feet by concentrating oxygen with their special lung design.

We have discussed some of these mechanisms in the past. Their design and construction are not well explained by chance hypothesis proposals. It would seem that a designer was involved in these intricate systems. God wanted all the earth to be inhabited, but to do that a variety of very specialized structures had to be built into living things. Romans 1:18-22 tells us that we can know there is a God by seeing this design in living things. Extreme animals, just like extreme bacteria, powerfully testify to the truth of that message.
–John N. Clayton © 2017