Lamar on Life

From a Christian living in a Gulf country. The Middle East, Arabic, understanding Muslims, outreach to Muslims are to be addressed. In addition, thoughts, reflections, and book reviews will be posted.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Where does the brain leave off and the mind start? What is the confluence of soul, spirit, heart, and mind? Compulsive behaviors, schizophrenia, fits, visions, depression, etc. Are these electro-chemical or spiritual or both? Why is genius and foolishness found in equal portions in humans? These kinds of questions have always fascinated me, but it is so hard to find definitive answers. Scientists and theologians are both equally at a loss to explain these things. It is a constant source of wonder to me. That’s why I loved this book I just read.

I love to browse used book stores. As I sorted through the junky volumes at a Salvation Army thrift store. The title of this book caught my eye. “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” I found that it was written by neurologist from New York, the same man whose book “Awakenings” inspired the Robin Williams/Robert Deniro movie of the same name. It is a series of clinical stories of patients he has known through the years.

One of the many fascinating stories he tells is of autistic twins who had unusual abilities with numbers. Their IQ was estimated as about 60. Once a box of matches was dropped on a table, and immediately they both said 111. They they muttered 37, 37, 37. The doctor, who observed this, asked them, “How did you count them so quickly?” “We didn’t count,” they said, “We saw them.” The doctor already knew that the twins had remarkable abilities with numbers such as the ability to know what any day of the week a date for the next 40,000 years would fall, or the ability to tell when Easter will be for the next 80,000 years. He also knew that the twins were incapable of simple calculations. But the appearance of prime numbers aroused his curiosity even more.

Some time later he saw the twins sitting in a corner grinning at each other. As he drew nearer he hear one say to the other a six-digit number. The other twin would “catch the number, nod, smile and seem to savour it.” The other twin would return the favor and say another six-digit number, which met with a similar response. The doctor comments, “They looked, at first, like two connoisseurs wine-tasting, sharing rare tastes, rare appreciations.” As he reflected on what he had observed, he wondered if the numbers, which seemed so special to the twins, had any meaning to anyone else. After doing some research, he found that each of the numbers was a prime number. He returned the next day with a chart of prime numbers and joined in on their “numerical communion.” At first he just sat and listened. Then he made a contribution of his own, an eight-figure prime he had gotten from his chart. “They both turned towards me, then suddenly became still, with a look of intense concentration and perhaps wonder on their faces. There was along pause--the longest I had ever known them to make, it must have lasted half a minute or more--and then suddenly, simultaneously, they both broke into smiles.”

From that time on, he was joyfully accepted into their very exclusive number club, as long as he brought his chart. After some time, the club started swapping larger and larger numbers. After an hour they were giving 20-digit prime numbers, however, the doctor was left out because his chart only went up to 10-digit numbers. Of course in 1966 when this occurred there was no easy way of checking whether they were actual prime numbers or not, but gauging from the contented look on their faces and the fact that it took 5 minutes for a twin to find the number from out of the ether, the doctor felt confident that in their results.

How amazing this is to me! This, to me, is another indication that we are created in the image of God. Some have said that God’s language of this universe is mathematics. And I DO believe He is sending us a message about His eternal power and divine nature. Some would look at these twins and their limitations and say, “How sad it is that they are autistic.” But I think that God creates “unique” people like these twins as a hint that they are actually NOT unique. An indication that though our minds are very limited now, if a few switches were flipped, we would all have many mental powers that seem beyond imagination. Perhaps this is a foretaste of divine glory with resurrected and transformed bodies and minds. Perhaps mathematical insights and facilities will be accompanied by linguistic abilities, memory, scientific insights, artistic and musical talents, emotional depth, a sense of humor, sensory abilities, etc. etc. that would literally blow our minds. As the Rich Mullins song says, “There is such a thing as glory and there are hints of it everywhere.”

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I've decided to stop writing about Peter Lord's quiz and move on. However, I do want to ask what people think of another proposition. You will notice that T/F question #7 for Lord was "We get closer to Christ through acts of righteousness." Instead of that question, I will ask a similar question. What do you think of this proposition? "We get closer to Christ through acts of worship." Please include any relavent scripture in your reponse.

And now for something completely different. A book review.

Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny Growing Up In the Shadow of Saddam
by Zainab Salbi and Laurie Becklund
This is a fascinating book by an Iraqi woman, Zainab Salbi. As a child Zainab was known as “the pilot’s daughter.“ By that title it was understood that her father was Saddam Hussein’s personal pilot. Early in her parents’ marriage, when Saddam was the vice president, Zainab’s parents unwittingly became part of Saddam’s social circle. Essentially he forced his friendship upon them because he wanted to socialize with some of the young sophisticated people of Bagdhad. If you don’t understand how such a friendship can be forced on someone, read the book. The story of living in Saddam’s shadow is told by Zainab. First through the eyes of a child and then as a young woman, you will see how the souls of her parents were taken hostage by fear, and how she struggled to climb towards the hope of freedom.

Zainab writes,
“I’m convinced if you understood the the way he managed the competition of his ”beloved ones” you would understand how he stayed in power for 35 years even though millions of his people hated him and there were ongoing domestic and international plots to assassinate him.”

Monday, August 21, 2006

Number 6 - “The closer we get to Christ, the less we are tempted.”

Peter Lord, as you may have guessed, says that this one is also false. In considering this one, I can think of nothing definitive that the Bible says on the subject, but here, for what they are worth, are my observations.

It seems undeniable that sins can easily become habits which gain momentum and weight as they snowball. When you give Satan a foothold, he will continue to exploit it as best he can. So the opposite corollary does seem to be true. That is, the farther we get from God, the more we sin. But then again, that is not really the exact opposite, is it? Because being tempted more and sinning more are NOT the same. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the more we sin, the farther we get from God and the harder it is to resist temptation or to repent. But does this bear any relation to whether the proposition above is true or false?

It also seems that mature Christians do NOT escape from temptation. Again we remember that Jesus was severely tempted in all ways. The types of temptations may change through the years, but it seems that God’s plan of faith-building in His children includes having us face and overcome temptations of various sorts as Christ did. We follow in His steps in this.

On the opposite end, I have known those far from God who seem to live a “good life” almost effortlessly. In fact, I have known non-believers who never seem tempted at all to commit sins that are much too common within the Church. It could be that Satan is satisfied that he has these people well in hand and so has no desire to bring about in them an awareness of the actual extent of their sinfulness. One formerly Muslim young man whom I know well related how almost immediately after coming to faith in Christ, he began to struggle with temptation to despair and with compulsive thoughts of suicide. These kinds of temptations had been completely unknown to him until after he became a follower of Jesus.

Peter Lord says, “Temptation is one of the proofs that we are Christians! Keep this close to you. You are as close to Jesus as you can be. As the years progress you may feel you can understand His heart better, but you are IN Him and He is IN you, and that is as close as anyone can ever get.”

Number 6 - “The closer we get to Christ, the less we are tempted.”

Peter Lord, as you may have guessed, says that this one is also false. In considering this one, I can think of nothing definitive that the Bible says on the subject, but here, for what they are worth, are my observations.

It seems undeniable that sins can easily become habits which gain momentum and weight as they snowball. When you give Satan a foothold, he will continue to exploit it as best he can. So the opposite corollary does seem to be true. That is, the farther we get from God, the more we sin. But then again, that is not really the exact opposite, is it? Because being tempted more and sinning more are NOT the same. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the more we sin, the farther we get from God and the harder it is to resist temptation or to repent. But does this bear any relation to whether the proposition above is true or false?

It also seems that mature Christians do NOT escape from temptation. Again we remember that Jesus was severely tempted in all ways. The types of temptations may change through the years, but it seems that God’s plan of faith-building in His children includes having us face and overcome temptations of various sorts as Christ did. We follow in His steps in this.

On the opposite end, I have known those far from God who seem to live a “good life” almost effortlessly. In fact, I have known non-believers who never seem tempted at all to commit sins that are much too common within the Church. It could be that Satan is satisfied that he has these people well in hand and so has no desire to bring about in them an awareness of the actual extent of their sinfulness. One formerly Muslim young man whom I know well related how almost immediately after coming to faith in Christ, he began to struggle with temptation to despair and with compulsive thoughts of suicide. These kinds of temptations had been completely unknown to him until after he became a follower of Jesus.

Peter Lord says, “Temptation is one of the proofs that we are Christians! Keep this close to you. You are as close to Jesus as you can be. As the years progress you may feel you can understand His heart better, but you are IN Him and He is IN you, and that is as close as anyone can ever get.”

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The fifth proposition was, “It is easier for a Christian to sin than to do righteousness.”

From the previous discussion of question 4, doesn’t it just seem that it IS easier to give in to the temptation than to resist it? And doesn’t that mean that it is indeed easier to sin than to continue to resist? There is a saying that “Opportunity only knocks once, but temptation bangs on the door constantly.” Temptation can just wear you down. Christ sweated drops of blood resisting temptation and obeyed “even to death on the cross.” Surely, THIS proposition is true. It seems sin is easier. Or is it?

What then does it mean that Christ said, “Come to me all you are weary and burdened down, and I will give you rest”? And, “My commandments are not grievous”? And, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”? And, “The way of the transgressors is hard”?

We looked at I Cor. 10:13 before. Let’s look at the chapter again. Paul spent the first part of chapter 10 telling what happened to the children of Israel as they sinned in the wilderness. Vipers attacked, bodies got scattered across the desert, the angel of death visited. Then verse 11 says, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us...” Then Paul warns about how prevalent and common temptations are. “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” And vs. 14, “Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.”

Paul warns about falling. Which is easier, standing or falling? He also says to flee idolatry. Which is easier, fleeing or staying? Well, to fall takes no effort at all and neither does staying where you are. If our definition of “easy” is to expend no effort against the inertia of life or gravitational forces, then I guess it is easier for a Christian to sin. And if it is easier to not flee and just hang around while an enemy dismembers you, then I guess it is easier for a Christian to sin rather than flee. However, if “easy” means avoiding trouble and unnecessary hardship, then I have to say that it is NOT easier to sin. Jesus also warned us that to commit sin makes us a slave to sin. For example, it may be easier for alcoholics to take a drink, but it inevitably brings them into difficulty. Though it is easy to fall into slavery, living life as a slave is not easy.

Peter Lord’s argument against this proposition centers around our identity as Christians. He asks rhetorically whether it is hard for a horse to be a horse or a bird to be a bird. Instead, isn’t it difficult for a horse to live like a bird or a bird to live like a horse? We are a new creation, created for a specific kind of life too. “We are His workmanship, created for good works in Christ.” As a bird is created to be a bird, we are created for righteous works. But a bird has to believe he is a bird, and we have to believe we are new creations.

Say there are two brothers. One of them believes that their beloved mother has died, and the other does not. Even if the mother is in fact alive, that brings no joy to the one who believes that she has died. We can expect him to live according to what he believes to be true. Or, if there are two soldiers who are supposed to carry their 70 lb packs over a mountain. One is told by the sergeant that he can’t do it, and the other is told that he can. If each of them believes the sergeant, how will their journeys differ? What we believe about life profoundly affects how we approach life’s challenges. And in this life, how much of the gospel we believe determines how much of our salvation we receive.

Jesus himself, in the garden of Gethsemene, saw two paths ahead. One went through the shame of the cross and ended in joy and honor. (Heb. 12:2) The other would have bypassed the cross, and ended … where? When you consider the glorious end of our path as part of the path, then we can join with Paul in downplaying our “momentary and light afflictions.”

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Question 4 from the True/False quiz says, “A bad thought is a sin.”

Peter Lord, while confessing that he was once “held in bondage by this particular teaching,” refutes it with a bit of simple (maybe too simple?) logic. He says, “If a bad thought is a sin, then when you are tempted, you sin. After all, no one can be tempted without a bad thought.” This view rests on the fact that Jesus Christ was tempted yet was without sin. However, in the complicated maze of the mind how does one determine whether a tempting thought has taken root and become sin?

James indicates that the point of sin is reached after desire and the sinful thought meet and sin is conceived. “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin . . . ” (James 1:14-15a) The image is sexual. The evil desire is in the female role waiting for the seed. The desire is unfertilized and thus sterile for the moment. This is what we should all recognize, that “in my flesh no good thing dwells”. The evil desire may be aroused, but that is still not the point where it is called sin. However, the situation is ripe for sin to occur. Notice at this point someone can be “dragged away and enticed” and the birth of sin still has not occurred. This is a powerful description of temptation; however, even at this point where one is being dragged away, the ‘dragee’ is not powerless and he is not going willingly. There is still a way of escape at this point. (I Cor. 10:13) This ability to escape is a power given to us as part of our salvation. Salvation is salvation from sin, not merely salvation from the consequences of sin. However, after the desire and the temptation conceive, the birth of sin follows. I think after this “conception” there is no abortion of the birth of this sin. I may be wrong on this point, but after the person was dragged away, he or she surrendered in the struggle so the conception took place. The person was dragged away and enticed. So, even though there was some dragging, it wasn't exactly rape; there was a seduction and a surrender.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More thoughts on Peter Lord’s quiz.
3. It is normal for a Christian to sin every day.

As you may have guessed by now, Lord says this is also false. The word “normal” indicates a state of affairs which is to be expected and is therefore useless to fight. Many Christians feel that the best one can do in this life is a sort of “sin management” system with which one tries to avoid being as sinful as you were yesterday or the day before. We use our past behavior as the measuring stick by which we evaluate our success for today. Lord says, “When asked, ‘How long can I live without sin?’ we usually ask it as though we were asking, ‘How long can I hold my breath?” However, as Lord points out, there is no teaching of scripture which says it is normal for a Christian to sin every day. Rather, we are repeatedly told that we are not to sin.

So, is God giving us an impossible command thereby setting us up for daily failure? No. I believe the secret (Though I doubt if it can really be called a secret since it has been explained by Paul a long time ago) is summarized in the words, “Therefore, I no longer live, but Christ lives his life in me.” (Galatians 2:20) And this is the verse Watchman Nee uses to summarize his classic book also called, The Normal Christian Life. Essentially, the normal Christian life is Christ living in me and all that that truth connotes.
Peter Lord appeals to the Christian who feels condemned by saying, “Dear Christian, living your life out on this planet is not a sinful act. A Christian can live without sin as long as he chooses not to sin. Committing a sin requires a willful choice to do so. It will never happen by accident or without your consent.”