“One of the fascinating questions that arise in envisioning computers more intelligent then men is at what point machine intelligence deserves the same consideration as biological intelligence.  Once a computer learns by experience as well as by its original programming, and once it has access to much more information than any number of human geniuses might possess, the first thing that happens is that you don’t really understand it anymore, and you don’t know what it’s doing or thinking about.  You could be tempted to ask yourself in what way is machine intelligence any less sacrosanct than biological intelligence, and it might be difficult to arrive at an answer flattering to biological intelligence.”

(Alexander Walker, Stanley Kubrick, Director, “Man and Outlook,” Chpt. 1, p 32, 1999)

 

Stanley Kubrick ponders Artificial Intelligence via HAL 9000

Fallow Ground

The Book of Hosea is an intense, Old Testament record of God’s prophetic judgments upon the Northern Kingdom called Israel.  There are some portions that pertain to the surrounding nations and to the Southern Kingdom also known as Judah.  By and large, the majority of the prophecies deal with the Northern Kingdom of Israel and its rebellion.  The largest tribe within it was Ephraim, which is synonymous with Israel.  Sometime in 722 B.C., the Assyrians destroyed the Northern Kingdom in accordance with many of Hosea’s prophecies.  Most scholars believe that the prophet Hosea died before the fall of Israel.  Some might view his ministry as a failure due to the fact that Israel never turned from its idolatry and succumbed to the Assyrians.  Still others might say, no, Hosea’s ministry was successful because God’s prophetic warnings about judgment were fulfilled en toto.

In all honesty, both views miss the bigger picture.  Hosea’s call as a prophet meant being faithful to his God with the messages given to him.  Another way to state this is that the prophet’s first priority was obedience to God.  His faithfulness in carrying out God’s word stood in stark contrast to the people for whom judgment loomed around the corner.  This is the main point about Hosea marrying a prostitute in accordance with God’s word (Hosea 1:2, ESV).  Of course, such an act cuts against all human reasoning and common sense; however, Hosea represents the Lord while his wife stands in for the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  From God’s perspective, Israel has lived like a harlot in her idolatry and rebellion toward him.  It is a stark depiction of the historical reality in Hosea’s day; however, God promises to win Israel back in the future (Hosea 2:14-16, ESV).

There is an important truth to bring to light in this study.  Israel’s future restoration did not have to be its only hope.  One of my reasons for saying it this way has to do with the very essence of Hosea’s ministry.  He had been sent by God to call Israel back, to provoke repentance and confession of sin within the people.  What this means is that Israel’s restoration could have been experienced without having to face destruction at the hands of the Assyrians.  Here is a passage from the book of Hosea that illustrates this point:

11. Ephraim was a trained calf that loved to thresh, and I spared her fair neck; but I will put Ephraim to the yoke; Judah must plow; Jacob must harrow for himself.  12. Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lordthat he may come and rain righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:11-12, ESV).

Let me draw some things out of this passage.  Ephraim is a reference to the Northern Kingdom while Judah alludes to the Southern Kingdom. Through Hosea, God reveals the bright beginning of Ephraim, which ends with his judgment of the people through their servitude to Judah.  At one point in Israel’s history, the whole nation stood as one people comprised of twelve tribes.  Because of King Solomon’s slide into pagan worship, the Lord promised to tear the kingdom into two nations as an act of judgment (1 Kings 11:9-13, ESV).  This occurred during the reign of King Rehoboam, who sat on the throne after his father, King Solomon (1 Kings 11:43; 12:16-20, ESV).  One people wound up torn in two due to sin.  Instead of dwelling together in unity as brothers, Ephraim serves Judah as an act of judgment.  All of this takes place because of sin, because of rebellion against God and his commands.

Now, the great thing about the bible is that God reveals his uncanny ability to express and to maintain two seemingly opposite truths in tension. I examined the judgment of servitude upon Ephraim for its rebellion; however, the twelfth verse indicates a genuine promise from God about visiting righteousness upon his people provided that they repent (break up your fallow ground) and seek him (Hosea 10:12, ESV).  One thing that jumps out at me is the Lord’s unwillingness to let his people off the hook.  By commanding them to sow righteousness, he reminds them that they must choose him and follow through on it.  There is no room for spiritual laziness or halfheartedness.  God sums up his call to repent by commanding them to break up their fallow ground.  Given their agrarian lifestyle, his people knew exactly what he saw in them and expected to see them overcome.

In the Hebrew, the word translated fallow means either untilled soil or tilled soil that lay dormant.  Both of these uses illustrate the dire spiritual condition of the people.  The only way to plant seed is to till the ground in order to enable it to receive the seed.  Rocks, thorns, weeds and the like must be removed; however, if the hard work of tilling the ground has been done, but the field lies dormant, then it hardens.  The ground is unable to receive moisture, and it does not allow the seed to sink into it for maximum growth.  Through this farming analogy, God urges his people about the importance of preparing their hearts and souls to receive his word, his truth, for life transformation.  This is the constant call of God through Hosea to his people.  Should they respond to his voice, God promises to come to them and rain righteousness upon them (Hosea 10:12, ESV).  He holds out both judgment and blessing for Israel, and each one is a genuine offer.

Lastly, the Northern Kingdom’s spiritual condition is one that serves as a warning.  I doubt that any farmer would want to do the hard work of tilling the soil only to let it go for years.  This defeats the purpose of tilling the soil.  Fallow ground is hard, full of weeds, thorns, and thistles.  It serves no good purpose for the farmer.  When I allow my heart to become fallow, then it serves no purpose for God.  His word bounces off of it. Because the hardness of my heart prevents the seed from germinating, there is no possibility of life and its transforming effects upon  my soul. If the spiritual condition of the Northern Kingdom had not been so severe, I suspect Hosea’s message would not have been as bleak or sad. This last point needs to sink into our hearts and minds.  The severity of Israel’s spiritual condition fits the severity of God’s judgment upon it.  From this I gather the importance of heeding God’s warnings.  Each one indicates that there is still time to turn back to him.  Once he stops warning, then it is time to worry.

 

 

Christ Followers or Sign Followers

Most New Testament scholars agree that the apostle John penned the gospel that bears his name.  There is some disagreement about the date of the book.  One camp believes that John’s gospel was written before the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  Another camp asserts that the gospel had been written between 85-90 A.D.  Both of these camps agree that the major theme of John’s gospel is the deity or divinity of Christ in human flesh (John 1:14, ESV).  This is also termed the incarnation of God the Son.  All of the miracles and the teachings of Jesus found in John’s gospel serve to portray and advance the theme that Jesus is God as a human being.  The apostle John wastes no time in asserting Jesus’ divinity in the second chapter of his gospel with the miracle of Christ turning the water into wine (John 2:1-11, ESV).

One of the key verses in John’s gospel, the second chapter, is the eleventh verse: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.  And his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11, ESV).  There are a few things to highlight about it.  First, Jesus exercises his divine authority in performing the sign of turning the water into wine.  Second, he reveals his divine nature in the act of performing it (John 2:11a, ESV); and third, the disciples witness Jesus’ glory and believe in him (John 2:11b, ESV).  Based on the preceding context of John chapter one, these believing disciples figure to be Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael.   Some may balk at this assertion of mine; however, chapter breaks in the bible did not exist until the thirteenth century.  The point being is that I disagree with the chapter break between the first two chapters of John’s gospel.  I believe these form one continuous narrative.

At the end of John chapter one, Nathanael professes Jesus as the Son of God due to the prophetic nature of his selection as an apostle (John 1:47-51, ESV).  Based on Jesus’ words about Nathanael, the latter believes and follows the Lord wholeheartedly; however, Jesus raises the stakes for believing and following him.  He tells this initial band of followers that greater things lie ahead for them to see and by implication to believe (John 1:50-51, ESV).  According to John’s narrative, the next major event is Jesus turning the water into wine.  These first apostles witness a glimpse of Christ’s glory, which leads to their professing belief in him (John 2:11, ESV).  At this point, it appears that attracting genuine followers is a slam dunk for Christ.  All he needs to do is either speak a prophetic word or perform a miraculous sign, and presto, new followers come on the scene.  Well, not so fast my friend.  Here are the last three verses from the second chapter of John’s gospel:

“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.  But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25, ESV).

In the run up to these verses, the apostle John depicts Jesus driving out the merchants and money-changers as they turned the house of worship into a place of business (John 2:14-17, ESV).  Throughout Israel’s history as a nation, the tent of meeting and then the temple stand as the center of worship and prayer.  It is the heartbeat of the people.  For millennia, the Israel’s faithfulness to God ebbs and flows like the ocean’s tide.  There are many ups and downs like a rollercoaster.  During Christ’s first coming, the nation of Israel is on a major downturn.  Instead of worship and prayer, Jesus finds the temple, the house of God, full of people buying and selling and bartering.  According to the apostle John, the Jesus’ zealous display in cleansing the temple fulfills Psalm 69:9 where the Psalmist writes that “…zeal for your house has consumed me.”  It is an expression of his divine authority, but the money-changers and the merchants (or the the Jews) question this very thing (John 2:18, ESV). Christ’s words and actions in the temple fail to elicit genuine belief in this audience, which is quite different from his apostles.

What needs to start coming into focus is the contrast in faith between the apostles and those witnessing Christ cleansing the temple.  The apostle John refers to the questioners as Jews and this is correct; however, it is not meant to universalize the response of the Jews toward Jesus. Clearly, some respond in genuine belief as exemplified by the apostles.  There are others who reject him outright such as those questioning his authority.  May I submit to my readers that there is a third group, who represents a false, middle position between the apostles and the questioning Jews.  It is this group that I believe the apostle John refers to as believing in Jesus’ name, but the Lord rejects them as his own (John 2:23-24, ESV).  Now, someone might say that the text does not state explicitly that Jesus rejects this particular group; however, it seems to me that this is the best way to understand the meaning of John’s words about Jesus refusing to entrust himself to them (John 2:24, ESV).

Based on John 2:23-25, this middle group demonstrates all the outward signs of allegiance to and belief in Christ.  After all, this segment of the people believe in Jesus after seeing him do great signs or miracles (John 2:23, ESV).  Apparently, this did not cut it for Jesus because the apostle John writes that “…[the Lord] did not entrust himself to them…because he knew…what was in [them]” (John 2:24-25, ESV).  Later on in John’s gospel, this middle group falls away as the Lord continues upping the ante for believing and following him (John 6:61, 66, ESV).  Of course, none of this surprises the Jesus, who predicts their falling away while giving the sermon on the mount.  His teaching about the seed that falls on rocky soil pertains to them.  This particular soil represents people who receive the word with great enthusiasm; however, the profession of faith and belief is shallow (Mark 4:16-17, ESV).  When persecution or testing comes because of the word, these people fall away or turn their backs on Jesus (Luke 8:13, ESV).  Allow me to call this middle group sign followers instead of Christ followers.

If Jesus’ ministry attracts pretenders of the faith, or people who give off all the signs of being Christians and are nothing of the kind, then it seems important to expect the same thing in our churches and ministries today.  There will always be those who talk the talk, but do not walk the walk.  Jesus never caters his kingdom message to this group or any group.  Instead, he raises the bar even higher to the point where folks may have said to themselves, to the disciples, and the Lord himself: “This guy is nuts.  His views are extreme and his sayings are hard to understand.”  Jesus does not stop these men and women from leaving him.  He does not adjust his approach or tone down the rhetoric. Instead, Jesus engages his apostles with a question about their willingness to follow him (John 6:67, ESV).   The point being is that he demands my all in believing and following him.  He is not a genie who performs signs and wonders on my behalf.  He is God, or more specifically, God the Son, who is the second person of the Trinity.  To follow him means to testify about him and to obey him (John 6:68-69, ESV).

“The death of a believer is great gain to him personally, for he departs to be with Christ, which is far better; but still it leaves him with an unconsummated hope; and in each case Christ has one more whose resurrection is needful for His own glory to be vindicated.  We need feel no surprise at the prominence which the New Testament gives to resurrection; for although a part of the Church shall be alive and remain at the coming of the Lord, yet, as a fact, the great majority of Christians-the believers of long-succeeding age after age have fallen asleep; and thus, as to the Church in general, —it is not change, but resurrection which is the point of expectation.  It may be said, that both these classes, the saints living when the Lord comes, and those in their graves, are needful for the manifestation of Christ as “the Resurrection and the Life.”  If all believers were to die, it would seem as if Christ had not so overcome death and Satan (who had the power of death) that He might lead His redeemed into glory without their passing through death.  The change of the living saints when He comes shall show how in this He is “the Life.”  If all His people had lived on till His coming, it might have seemed as if theirs was : but some protraction of existent natural life, and not the power of resurrection ministered to them.  Christ died and lived, “that He might be Lord both of the dead and living” (Rom. 14:9).  As Lord of the dead, He receives into blessing in His own presence (how joyful who can tell?) the spirits of His departed people: He cares for their moldering bodies, and He has pledged himself to raise them in “the last day.” Then it shall be seen that He is “the Resurrection;” that of all the Father gave Him He hath lost nothing; and that His glory shall be manifested in the triumph of His members as sharers actually in that promised hope of resurrection which He set before them.”

(Samuel P. Tregelles, “The Resurrection of the Just,” Chpt. 23, The Hope of Christ’s Second Coming, 2nd ed., 1881)

 

S. P. Tregelles Explains the Necessity of the Believer’s Resurrection

Collaboration among Bloggers

One month ago, my good friend, Joel Franco, asked me if I would be interested in participating in his guest blog series, “What Do Stories Mean to You?”  After turning this over in my mind for a day, I said yes.  Joel runs a website and blog on the life and times of an independent producer and director.  When you click on the link to my friend’s blog, you will see the post that I contributed to his guest series.  Joel and I attended film school together several moons ago at Loyola Marymount University.  He taught me an appreciation for real football, soccer.  I learned about the different European leagues and teams, especially Champions League. Because Joel is Italian from Milan, Italy, he rooted for AC Milan, which became my team, too.  I think this was a win-win for my friend. When the United States fails to do well on the national stage in soccer, I give my support to the Azzurri or Italy’s national team.

Anyway, check out my friend’s website and blog.  Read my post and the others to follow each Friday of this month.  It goes without saying that our blogs are vastly different in focus; however, Joel and I share common interests in sports and art, especially our love of stories.  We love the world of Harry Potter, and have spent countless hours discussing J. K. Rowling’s books and movies.  Lastly, I am grateful for Joel asking me to contribute a post to his blog.  I love to write, he loves to write, and our blogs have inspired each of us in continuing to write.

The End of a Fun Weekend

Last Friday kicked off the holiday weekend, which unofficially signals the end of summer and the start of fall.  The usual suspects come into play such as collegiate and professional football games, grade school, colleges, and universities.  For my part, I wanted one more day.  This has nothing to do with dreading my return to work.  It was a restful and fun-filled weekend with my wife, our friends, and her parents.  We spent our entire time in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria.  The cooler weather brought a smile to my face, so the return home to Pasadena yesterday felt like a rude awakening: stuffy apartment, hot sun, the beach was nowhere in sight nor the pool.  Instead, three loads of laundry awaited my wife and me, which punctuated the end of our time off.

I know this sounds like a whine session, but it really isn’t.  There were chores to do and meals to prepare; however, the blessing of the holiday weekend is that it forms more memories.  In fact, my wife and I shared over the weekend about visiting my mom and stepdad in Titusville, Florida last year for Labor Day.  At the time, we were dating and heading toward engagement.  One year later, we are six months into our first year of marriage.  I love piling up more and more memories.  A few highlights stick out from this recent trip.  First, I enjoyed breakfast at Tupelo Junction Cafe in Santa Barbara.  After sleeping over nine hours, that’s right, nine gloriously, essential hours, my wife and our friends headed to this restaurant in downtown SB.

When I scanned over the menu, I must confess an ambivalence toward the dining options.  The various entrees had combinations that failed to grab me.  At the suggestion of my wise and clever wife, I ordered the breakfast wrap with chorizo, potatoes, eggs, green pepper, onions and salsa.  It was real, real good.  Because this is California, and Santa Barbara to be exact, my wrap came with a side of fresh fruit. My wife ordered a scramble, which came with a side salad.  One of our friends ordered the Belgian Waffle with bananas, whip cream, and candied pecans.  I sampled the waffle, which was excellent.  Belgian waffles are one of my favorite things to eat for breakfast; however, I removed the candied pecans from my bite.  At some point, there is no need for all of that sugar, especially after adding syrup.  A line must be drawn, and I have no qualms about drawing one.

If any of my readers ever visit downtown Santa Barbara, I recommend Tupelo Junction Cafe.  Nearly every dish is tasty, savory, or rich. My meal preferences usually fall under the first two descriptors.  I avoid rich foods as much as possible given that they overpower the mouth and digestive system.  I prefer subtlety to bold in my food.  Now I sound like a snob.  Anyway, the drive back into Pasadena occasioned the opportunity to stop off in Ventura near the pier.  My wife and I grabbed lunch at Beach House Fish, which more than likely was the highlight of the trip in terms of food.  Earlier in the trip, we had sampled some clam chowder that failed to impress me.  The chowder at Beach House not only looked like clam chowder, but it tasted like it, too.  My wife and I split a cup of chowder while she ate Fish and Chips and I savored every morsel of my mahi mahi filet over pasta, artichoke hearts, spinach, and asparagus.

Ocean front dining is the best, whether outside or inside.  My wife and I enjoyed the view and the ocean breeze.  It was the best way to end our Labor Day Weekend.  To top things off, we even found a spot on the beach for thirty to forty minutes in order to let our food settle. Earlier this year, my wife and I weren’t even for sure what we would be doing over this weekend.  There were two or three failed attempts at securing other forms of travel and activities.  In the end, she and I kept things simple, which spun things in a good direction.  There was the right balance between activity and rest.  Right now, I feel rested and rejuvenated from the weekend.  The time off served its purpose.  I love these initial six months of marriage with a woman who values rest.  Now it is time to see what the rest of this year holds for us.