Sunday, November 19, 2006

The word "heart".

"You just need to ask Jesus Christ into your heart..."

"Worship God with all your heart, and He will accept it."

"He has a good heart."

You've probably all heard things like these before, and no doubt there is some truth to them in particular circumstances. But I wonder if we really understand what we're talking about here.

The Romantics would have us believe that the heart is the seat of emotions. That may even be Freudian concept. The Romantics may even be right. But if you make the claim that the heart as the Bible speaks of it is simply equal to your emotions, I would definitely disagree.

In Hebrew, and Lane can correct me if I'm wrong, the word for "heart" means something like the core of your being, closer to the will of someone. Here is Crosswalk's definition of the word used in the Great Commandment (Deut. 6:5):

1. inner man, mind, will, heart, soul, understanding
  a. inner part, midst
    1. midst (of things)
    2. heart (of man)
    3. soul, heart (of man)
    4. mind, knowledge, thinking, reflection, memory
    5. inclination, resolution, determination (of will)
    6. conscience
    7. heart (of moral character)
    8. as seat of appetites
    9. as seat of emotions and passions 1a
2. as seat of courage

So it's more than your emotions. This has implications for a number of things. First off, we should be careful when we're quoting Scripture that uses that word to remember what it means.

Second off, in worship, when it says we should worship in spirit and in truth, we must be extremely careful not to translate that sentence into the following: "If your heart is right before God, then He will accept your worship." Such a sentence usually implies, in my experience, that if your emotions are worshipful, you're ok. But you're not necessarily ok. The common dilemma proposed is the following question: would you rather have people worship on Sunday with their hearts (meaning emotions) in it, or have all their theology correct and have a rebellious heart? This is a false dilemma, I'm convinced. To worship God with your heart means to worship God with your whole being. The Hebrew in Deut. 6:5 is a heaping up, and adding on so that nothing whatsoever is lacking. Your entire being is to worship God. You don't have the option of leaving your mind, emotions, body, or anything else not already mentioned at the door! So the neophyte who wails away at the songs with all his emotions but lacks theological understanding is no better off than the dry orthodustic theologian. We are so accustomed in America, I think, to think that in worship we must have our hearts right before God and that, if that is so, we need not worry about our minds. This is simplistic. The whole being of a man must be engaged.

This is impossible with men, but it is possible with God. You see, if you make making your heart right with God a prerequisite for worship, then you're being legalistic. If you make making your mind right with God a prerequisite for worship, then you're being legalistic. Is there a prerequisite for worship? Yes, a resting on God's grace utterly. A recognition that you are a sinner in need of God's grace. A realization that the gospel is your only hope in this life. Who was it that was justified before God? The sinner who beat his breast and said, "Be merciful to me, a sinner."

In Christ.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Importance of Beauty for Protestants

Ever wonder why good, solid, Reformed Presbyterians like Scott Hahn become Catholic? Why do they abandon so much truth?

Ever wonder why worship these days is lackluster, despite all the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) hype?

I submit that part of the answer lies in beauty. Once upon a time, theologians stressed the important of truth, beauty, and goodness in the life of the believer. Truth and goodness are both upheld today in various denominations. Correct me if I'm wrong, but here I'd say goodness is godliness, or holiness. It is growth in sanctification. All God's truth is truth. So what about beauty?

I don't think the modern world has much of a conception of what beauty is. The world says that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But Paul, in Philippians 4:8 doesn't say, "Whatever ... you think is beautiful ... think on these things." He says, "Whatever ... is beautiful ... think on these things." Evidently, things have beauty whether we see that beauty or not. That's just one example where the modern world seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Part of why Presbyterians are becoming Catholics is because the Presbyterians have abandoned beauty in their worship service. The Catholics, while perpetuating the abomination of the Mass (and thus re-sacrificing Christ in contradiction to Hebrews), have a stunning worship service. It is lovely. And we human beings are made to respond to beauty like that. When it's missing, we think something's wrong, and rightly so.

R. C. Sproul once said that the medievalists claimed beauty consisted of three things: form, harmony, and complexity. I think most people could agree on the first two, but that third one throws a lot of people for a loop. I've posted before on why I think complexity is necessary for true beauty.

I think that, with God's grace, we Reformed folk need to recover beauty in our worship. But it goes beyond that, even. We need to have much more beauty all around us. We should decorate our homes beautifully, we should listen to beautiful music, and read beautiful books.

Why don't people do that? Probably one reason, as Susan pointed out to me, is that people might have a pessimistic view of eschatology, or end times. If the world is getting worse, why bother to fiddle while Rome burns? I have one answer to that: God's sovereignty. He holds you in the palm of His hand; nothing but good (that is, things that will drive you closer to God) will ever happen to you in this life. So you can relax. It will all work out in the end, trust God for that. And if you trust God for that, you can spend time obeying Paul in Philippians 4:8. Evidently, God commands us to seek out beauty and enjoy it for His sake. Don't forget, in so doing, though, that all beauty must reflect the beauty of holiness. There is no other kind now.

As Douglases Wilson and Jones wrote in their fantastic book Angels in the Architecture, Jesus Christ has thrown down the older pagan beauty of the Greeks. The modern pagan world cannot even come close to it. If you will have any beauty at all, you must borrow it from Christ. Anything else is ugly.

Beauty is important because God is beautiful, the Ultimate Embodiment of Beauty. God wants us to experience that beauty. God lures, rather than coerces, us to Himself. He shows us the incomparable riches of Christ, and desires that we should desire those riches. As Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory, "It would seem that God finds our desires not too strong, but too weak... We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

You can pursue beauty with near abandon, and if you continually couple it with truth and goodness, I do not think you will often stray.

Another interesting comment Susan made, that I would appreciate your input on, is the following idea: beauty is a logical consequence of truth and goodness.

So what about worship? What about CCM? It lacks complexity, and so is not as beautiful as much of the older music. There is newer music being written, to be sure, that is wonderfully beautiful. Morten Lauridsen and Arvo Part are two living composers writing stupendous works. Age does not inherently have anything to do with beauty. Older works have this advantage: since only the good stuff survives the test of time, older works tend to be better on that basis. But we can equal Bach, I claim. We have to get back to his level first.

One common mis-assumption these days is that young people want CCM. That is not quite true. We're seeing many young people more interested in the traditional hymns, because the words tend to be deeper. The people most interested in CCM are the baby boomers, because they think that's the "in" thing. I think CCM will pass away soon enough, like many fads.

In Christ.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Stupendous Lack of Logic

Actual quote from Yahoo News:

"The voting last week has been widely interpreted as a public repudiation of Bush's policies on the war, which has left more than 2,850 U.S. troops dead and more than 20,000 others wounded."

Actually, you see, it's the Iraqi insurgents who have left more than 2850 U.S. troops dead and more than 20,000 others wounded, assuming those numbers are accurate. There's a slight misunderstanding of cause and effect going on here, that I'd have thought someone might have noticed.

In Christ.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Our Sovereign God, II

In the face of such sweeping defeats for conservatives, let us not forget that our God is sovereign. God willed that the Democrats should take control over the House, that the very strong pro-life bill in South Dakota should fail, that Arizona should fail to ban homosexual "marriage", and that Missouri should decide to fund the highly immoral embryonic stem cell research. As of this writing, it looks as though Jim Webb will defeat George Allen for senator in Virginia (quite the voter turn-out, it seems; you can't claim that Virginia was half-hearted about this election!). Montana's senator race is still too close to call.

That God is sovereign doesn't prevent me from poking fun at Americans whose memory is rather seive-like. Have we forgotten that the House voted to go to war with a vote of 296-133, and the Senate with a vote of 77-23? That's an overwhelming majority. To then turn right around and claim that the deaths in Iraq (faithfully reported by the extremely biased liberal news media) are the President's fault is much too simplistic. Bush could not have gone to war without the Senate backing him up. Furthermore, to claim that Bush withheld information prior to the war in order to expedite a decision to go to war is ludicrous. The reasoning goes like this: Bush purposely hid information about Iraq so that he could go to war (almost never popular after Vietnam) in order to make his approval rating... plummet. That makes sense. Or did Bush think the war in Iraq would be easy? An easy win, like his father, and therefore the approval ratings would go up. Alas, the Iraqi insurgents learned all too well the lessons of the 1991 war. It would not be so easy this time. I somehow seriously doubt that Bush thought this war would be easy. That he hoped it would be easy is certain: who would not? Bush is smart, so I think he knew it would be difficult. And he did it anyway. And the Senate did it anyway. And now, when the going gets tough, everyone backs out and claims they were never for the war in the first place, or that they were misled by the Bush administration.

Surely even they can see that backing out of Iraq is not the way to go. That will make things much worse. The correct strategy here is carefully to train the Iraqi police and military so that they may defend themselves and their new government. If we back out now, we will have another Vietnam, along with loads of security issues cropping up regularly. That reminds me of a story about Nixon, who got us out of the Vietnam war: a pastor in Vietnam wrote Nixon a letter after the pull-out, telling him that evangelism was now nearly impossible in a nation which resented this incorrect move. He told Nixon that he was praying Nixon would be removed from office, an imprecatory prayer. Then along came Watergate. Interesting, isn't it?

While I wouldn't wish any terrorist attacks on anyone, I will say that Al Qaida is no doubt rejoicing that their staunch allies, the Democrats, have taken the House. If the Dems get the Senate, we can expect Al Qaida to rejoice at that as well. They will be emboldened, and I predict attacks on American soil. I hope that doesn't happen; but if it does, I rather think the Dems will get egg on their face. The Democrats simply have no clue how to fight a war! They do not understand security (as evidenced by Clinton and his treasonous actions with the Chinese), and think that the terrorists will just go away if we don't bother them.

The terrorists are motivated by envy. Most terrorists these days are Muslim, despite what the liberal media would have you believe. Muslims, naturally, believe that their religion is correct and that Christianity is wrong. Ergo, Muslim nations should prosper and Christian nations should not. Muslims believe America is a Christian nation. *snorts* They're wrong, but that's how they view us. America is the most spectacularly successful nation in terms of economics that the world has ever seen. Therefore, Muslim terrorists (I refuse to call them extremists. In terms (solely) of how they interpret the Koran, Muslim terrorists are to Islam what fundamentalists are to Christianity) will attack the United States to show the world that Christianity is wrong, and Islam is correct.

In the final analysis, however, even though I'm mightily disappointed with this election and could wish the American people had been a bit more far-sighted, our God is sovereign. I cannot despair when I think of that. We are in the palm of His hand, and nothing can harm us without His say-so. Since He works everything out for our good (that good being to become more and more like Christ), we can rest easy.

Furthermore, another reason not to get all angry and despairing is that politics is simply insufficient to solve the problems of the United States. Politics could help: we could eliminate the thieving welfare state, we could outlaw abortion and homosexual "marriages", we could get the government out of education and such. But even those things will not change men's hearts. For that you must have the gospel. Praise be to God, even the Democrats right now cannot prevent the spread of the gospel. So I call to you Christians: just keep doing your thing. Evangelize and disciple the people around you. Think through what it means to be a Christian and how that affects everything you do. Rest on God's grace to sanctify you more and more. And pray that God will turn this nation around from its decidedly Roman path downhill.

In Christ.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Don't forget to vote!! We need your vote today.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Two links to some really good music.

The two links are to Minnesota Public Radio, which pretty much plays classical music 24-7. It's a great way to expose yourself to classical music you've never heard before. And when you hear a piece you really like, you can go out and get it. That way you'll only get music you like. So here's Minnesota Public Radio. From this link, near the top under Classical, you'll see a link called Listen with a little speaker. Click that link. A little popup will come up (you need to enable popups). I recommend the mp3 128k stream. Click that link, and RealPlayer should play that stream for you.

The second link is to the BBC Radio. They have several radio stations that are worthwhile, but I like Radio 3. You can get there here. From this screen, hit BBC Radio 3 right in the middle of the screen. Then, on the left-hand side of the screen, hit the link for classical. From there, on the right-hand side of the screen, you can pick lots of great things. One of the most popular (and I like it very much as well) is Choral Evensong. You hit the little speaker symbol, and a popup comes up with some controls and information. Important: Choral Evensong is updated once a week on Wednesday. So if you listen to it twice (certainly no crime), you'll get the same program until after Wednesday.


In Christ.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Zero-sum Games and their Non-applicability in Economics

What is a zero-sum game? Well, first perhaps I should explain the meaning of the term "game" here. A game, in this context, actually has quite a specific meaning, a mathematical one. A game in this sense is a situation in which the players have conflicting interests. You can represent a game with an array of numbers which in turn represent choices the players can make, along with the payoffs or expected results. One of the most famous games is the prisoner dilemma, which goes like this:

Bob and Mike are in prison and cannot communicate with each other. They each receive an offer: if you rat on the other guy, you can go free. The catch is that if both prisoners rat on each other, neither goes free and both receive a harsher sentence. If neither rats on the other, then both receive a light sentence. Here's a quote from MathWorld on the subject (names changed to reflect my names):

A dilemma arises in deciding the best course of action in the absence of knowledge of the other prisoner's decision. Each prisoner's best strategy would appear to be to turn the other in (since if Bob makes the worst-case assumption that Mike will turn him in, then Mike will walk free and Bob will be stuck in jail if he remains silent). However, if the prisoners turn each other in, they obtain the worst possible outcome for both.

Interestingly, John Nash's (of the movie A Beautiful Mind) great and original contribution to the subject was to explain that, for example in the prisoner's dilemma, a better outcome could be had by use of cooperation. It's a bit more technical than that, but that's the basic idea. Also, for your information, a Nash equilibrium (which used to be called simply an equilibrium) is a strategy for a game which is perceived to bring the best possible outcome for all players. In the prisoner's dilemma, there are two Nash equilibria: both rat on each other, or neither rats on the other. The latter, however, presupposes pretty much that the prisoners actually can communicate with each other, contrary to the original set-up of the game. But that's ok: we dreamed the game up in the first place, so we're allowed to change the rules.

So that's a game. What's a zero-sum game? A zero-sum game is a game in which if one person wins, the other person(s) loses in an equal amount. To quantify it in terms of money, if Bob wins $5, then Mike loses $5: the exact amount Bob wins is the exact amount Mike loses. Therefore, the total amount of money available to either Bob or Mike or both is a constant (a zero-sum game).

So where am I going with this? I want to argue that zero-sum games are, in general, not applicable to economics. Many people simply assume that, for example, if the rich get richer, it must automatically be at the expense of the poor. That would be true if economics were a zero-sum game. I argue, though, as would Austrian economists (see my post below), that economics is not a zero-sum game. Here is the refutation. We assume the law of human action: human beings will always do what they perceive to be for their greatest good.

Value, or wealth, is assigned to goods and services by people. The goods and services would have no value whatsoever if people did not value them. So value is determined by people, not wholly by anything intrinsic in the thing itself. True, what a person can do with the good or service usually influences how the person values the good or service. But a different person might just as easily have a different value on the good or service, because his goals may be different. The mistake many modern economic schools of thought make is in not supposing that real people have anything to do with how valuable something is.

Consider a normal trade: Bob has $5, and Mike offers to wax Bob's car for said amount. Suppose Bob takes up Mike's offer, and Mike performs the job and gets the $5. What does this say about values? From Bob's point of view, we can see that Bob evidently values having his car waxed more than having the $5 which he could use for other purposes. Otherwise, according to the law of human action, he would not take up Mike's offer. Similarly, Mike prefers having the $5 to having the time he could use doing something else, otherwise he would not perform the service.

What do we have at the end? Bob has something greater in his eyes than what he had before, and so does Mike. They both have something better than what they had previously. Since value is determined by individuals, I claim that value has been increased, indeed you could almost say created.

Because value is determined by people, therefore I claim that in every trade, wealth is created. Otherwise the trade would not occur. Evidently, then, the total amount of wealth in the universe is not constant.

It follows from this that it is not necessarily the case that if the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. As I said before, that would be true in a zero-sum game. But I have just proven that we do not operate in a zero-sum game: wealth is constantly created.

Indeed, I would argue that, in a capitalist system, if the rich get richer, the poor get richer. Why is that? Because when the rich get richer, they invest. They do so because that is the way, in a capitalist system, to get even richer. What does investment do? It enables the companies in which the rich have invested to branch out and do more things (entrepreneurs). However, they cannot do more things without more people to do them. Hence they hire more people. Which people? The people who would work for the money they now can offer: poorer people. It may take several layers of such getting richer/investment/hiring sequences before you get to really poor people, but it will happen eventually. This is called "trickle-down economics": if the rich get richer, the poor get richer. Many academicians have poo-pooed such economics, but such academicians tend to rely on the zero-sum game model which I have just refuted.

Why do academicians rely on the zero-sum game model? Perhaps one reason is because it is parallel to the law of the conservation of mass-energy in physics. They would argue that the total amount of "stuff" (Greek "phusis", I believe, though Lane could correct me; this could be translated "physics": physicists study "stuff"!) in the universe is a constant. Therefore, if one person has more of something, someone else must have less. But they leave out the valuation process of real humans. What the academicians say is technically true. However, the new thing someone might have through a trade is worth more to them than what they had previously (otherwise the trade would not have occurred). Hence value is always increasing, even though the total amount of stuff does need to be a constant.

Interestingly, all of what I have related leaves God out of the picture entirely. God is infinite, therefore He can add to His creation anything He desires without diminishing Himself. This is another refutation of the zero-sum game model. The law of the conservation of mass-energy really needs to be qualified by miracles. One such miracle is the feeding of the five thousand (or the four thousand, take your pick). Food was actually created in that miracle out of nothing. Mass was added to the universe.

And here the physical scientists fall so short: they leave God out of the picture entirely. Because many of them do not want a God in their picture, they ignore Him. They will find a messy refutation in the end. As one person put it, "All the world's philosophers and scientists are climbing the hill of knowledge. And when they get to the top, they're going to find a bunch of theologians who've been sitting there for thousands of years."

So do not be intimidated by zero-sum games being thrown at you; such an inaccuracy has been used to foist population control on whole nations, many liberal notions of welfare and such, etc.

In Christ.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Our Sovereign God

We serve a sovereign God. I saw this more clearly than usual yesterday. And yes, this is another personal post. I've been "corrupted."

I woke up at 6:42am. Note: I should have been at work at 6:40am, which usually requires me to be up at 5:00am. Reason for lateness: alarm clock had been reset by a power outage. There was no getting to work on time. So I called Blacksburg Transit (my employer) and told them the story. They said just to try to get there as soon as possible. I cobbled some things together very quickly and rushed out the door.

As it turns out, the reason for the power outage was a power cable draped across the road in the usual catenary shape. At its lowest point, it was waist height. Now if I had been up on time, I might well have driven right into that. I'd need to examine the physics of the situation to see whether I might have been harmed or not, but I think it would not have been good at all. As it was, the utility people and the police were already there and were not allowing vehicles through. So I called BT again and gave them the update. They were understanding, as usual, and told me to be safe. One other person there told me of a back road which was pretty rough but connected with a road that would get me there. So I tried it. I wish I had done so in a Hummer instead of my 1993 Chrysler New Yorker. I prayed! I got through without any noticeable damage to my car, though I bottomed out pretty hard quite a few times.

God was definitely watching over me yesterday, and yet I know that He watches over me at all times, and upholds me by the Word of His power. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

In Christ.

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