Last night I had received a text from a young man wanting my opinion about a very disturbing thing he’d run across. Apparently, an “engineer” is saying that on the date of the winter solstice this year (21 December 2012) our pale blue dot will align perfectly with the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, passing through the Dark Rift, which will set several catastrophic events into motion which perfectly align with the terrible judgments we read about in the Book of Revelation.

It took me several texts in response to assure this young man (who I congratulated for being Berean enough to want to double- and triple-check his facts before panicking) that this “engineer” is a complete, utter, total, unqualified flake. Not only does he betray a singular lack of scientific understanding, he also (apparently) doesn’t believe the Bible he refers to.

Basically, my quick-shot texts examined and then dismissed the “engineer’s” claims.

  1. Neither the Winter Solstice or the Summer Solstice (which happens to be June 20th this year) have any bearing whatsoever on any imagined alignment with any point in the sky. The solstices (and the equinoxes) involve the axial tilt of our planet relative to our orbital plane around the sun. During the Summer Solstice, as perceived in the northern hemisphere, our axial tilt (currently approximately 23.5°) appens to increase our obliquity of the ecliptic – which means we’re “tilted toward” the sun. The angle of insolation (the infall of sunlight) becomes steeper, which means that more of its energy is absorbed by our world in the form of thermal energy and less is reflected back into space. I.e., it gets warmer. This clears up a common misperception about our seasons, BTW; many people think that our closeness or farness from the Sun causes the seasons – untrue. We still had Winter this year, even though we were at perihelion (closest approach to the sun in our not-quite-circular orbit) the evening of January 4th this year. Granted, that helped make Winter less severe than usual, but we still had a winter – hence the snow in my driveway. So, the fact that the winter solstice corresponds with an imagined “alignment with the center of the galaxy” is about as important as whether or not it happens on a Tuesday.
  2. The “engineer” made a huge to do about the “Dark Rift.” He made it sound like some deeply ominous thing – when in fact if there was anything headed our way, the “Dark Rift” is our bestest friend. The Great Rift (the more correct phrase to use) is simply a vast conglomeration of light-absorbing molecular clouds which happen to partially occlude (block our view of) one of the galactic arms – not even the galactic center. The Rift is a visual phenomenon; the band of the galactic plane itself – from which our Milky Way galaxy derives its name – is the result of the starshine of billions of other suns, and corresponds with the bulk of the plane of the galactic disk. The Rift stands between us and part of the Sagittarius Arm (we currently inhabit the edge of the Orion-Cygnus Arm); it is what we see, in our line-of-sight, of several vast clouds of interstellar dust (probably something on the order of one million solar masses’ worth). Therefore, if it truly was between us and the galactic core, it (really, they) would serve to absorb ionizing radiation. Making a big deal out of the Dark Rift is like making a big deal out of a thousand thousand dust bunnies.
  3. I have no idea what anyone would even mean by an “alignment” with the galactic core. We are always in alignment with the galactic core…since we are always in line-of-sight of it. If conjunctions and superconjunctions of the planets in our own solar system don’t measurably affect us, then any supposed “alignment” with the galactic core would also be noteworthy for its very lack of measurable affect.
  4. Which brings up the inverse square law. Essentially, any force (such as gravity) reduces in strength by a proportion which is inverse of the square of its distance with whatever it is acting upon. In other words, the closer you get to a source, the stronger its effects become by geometric proportions. Likewise, the farther you get from a force, the weaker its effects become, until they drop off entirely. That is why Mars, which is a little more than half an AU farther from the Sun than is the Earth, receives only 36% the insolation of our home world. Gravity, being a fundamental force, obeys the same law. This is why the Moon, which is only 1.2% as massive as the Earth, has a more direct affect over the tides than does the Sun, which is roughly 333,000 times more massive than the Earth (and thus unimaginably vastly more massive than the Moon) – because the Moon is closer. Yes, Sagittarius A* (the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy) is probably 3.7 million times more massive than the Sun; but the Sun is on average 93 million miles from us, whereas Sagittarius A* is probably something close to 147,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s 147 quadrillion miles, or 147 million million) miles away. So whereas its gravity does affect us, it does so by helping constrain our solar system’s orbit around the center…and that’s pretty much it. In fact, it’s more the aggregate mass of all the stars in the galaxy (especially closer to the core) which affect our system’s orbit than it is the relatively much smaller mass of Sagittarius A*. If you can imagine that.
  5. Finally, even if Sagittarius A* did affect us, we’d know the affect was coming long before it arrived – we’d see evidence of the shockwave front propagating outward from the galactic core. Any effect must travel slower than light, and at that distance (25,000 light years) any core event’s light cone would far outrace whatever wavefront it originated from. That’s why we can detect distant supernovae, then wait for the neutrino shower that followed them. The light from any supernova outpaces the neutrinos ejected during and from it – which is mind-boggling, since neutrinos travel very, very fast.

I won’t even get into the “engineer’s” odd views regarding gamma ray bursts (he apparently thought that we were looking down the barrel of a GRB from Sag A, even though GRBs propagate from the poles of quasars rather than from their equators, which is more of what we’d be in the line of). Or his misunderstanding of the hypothesized internal structure of a black hole (which he kept referring to as “opening up,” as if the event horizon was a physical barrier of some sort).

But I will comment on his misunderstanding of Scripture.

The “engineer” was apparently tying all of this to Bible prophecy – that the supposed catastrophic events which are going to be brought on by our “alignment” with the galactic center correspond with the terrible judgments of Revelation.

First, Jesus specifically stated that we can know neither the day nor the hour in which He is returning – and therefore any attempts to pinpoint the timing of the Rapture (which is what pinpointing the timing of any Tribulation judgment involves by mathematical necessity) is automatically doomed to failure – and equally automatically invalidates the one doing the pinpointing.

I can appreciate a desire to “prove” the Bible by showing how the Bible anticipates modern science. But vastly more harm than good is done by taking barely understood facts grossly out of context and slapping them together in a faux-scientific chimera of an explanation to “prove” the Bible. We don’t need to “prove” the Bible. We simply need to believe it and let it say what it says where it says it. Besides, I think a desire to “prove” the Bible shows that we fundamentally lack an abiding trust in it and its Author – we’re looking for “outside verification,” as if God Himself wasn’t trustworthy enough.

Yes, true science always winds up validating the Bible (or rather, the reverse is true).

Emphasis on true science.

Evangelasticity does nothing but confirm the atheists’ canard that we as Christians are anti-science by our very misuse of science.

We can do better than that.

Powerful blogpost on the pastor’s wife.

When some Arminians accuse Calvinists of having a “gospel without Jesus” or of being spiritually sterile, it’s not only offensive, it is also wrong.

But just so’s we’re clear – it’s equally wrong and offensive when Calvinists feign indignity at their Arminian brothers’ ignorant claims…while making equally ignorant counter-claims like this, all the while trying to pull off the very tired “Whaaaaaat? I’m not beingbroad-brushed and insensitive – I’m a theologically orthodox Calvinist! It’s those dirty Arminians who are the ignorant Philistines here!” bit.

Give.

Me.

A.

Break.

Greg Laurie hits a homerun in his latest blogpost, Thank God for Unanswered Prayer.

I’ve begun taking some of the guys in the fellowship through R. Kent Hughe’s book, Disciplines of a Godly Man.  The introduction has a section giving examples from the world of man regarding the indispensible role of discipline in reaching one’s human potential in merely temporal things – and connects the dots regarding the absolute necessity of it in spiritual things.

Those who have watched Mike Singletary (perennial All-Pro, two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and member of the Super Bowl XXV Dream Team) “play” — and have observed his wide-eyed intensity and his churning, crunching samurai hits — are usually surprised when they meet him. He is not an imposing hulk. He is barely six feet tall and weighs, maybe, 220. Whence the greatness? Discipline. Mike Singletary is as disciplined a student of the game as any who have ever played it. In his biography, Calling the Shots, he says that in watching game films he will often run a single play fifty to sixty times, and that it takes him three hours to watch half a football game, which is only twenty to thirty plays! Because he watches every player, because he mentally knows the opposition’s tendency — given the down, distance, hashmark, and time remaining, because he reads the opposition’s mind through their stances, he is often moving toward the ball’s preplanned destination before the play develops. Mike Singletary’s legendary success is testimony to his remarkably disciplined life.

We are accustomed to thinking of Ernest Hemingway as a boozy, undisciplined genius who got through a quart of whiskey a day for the last twenty years of his life but nevertheless had the muse upon him. He was indeed an alcoholic driven by complex passions. But when it came to writing, he was the quintessence of discipline! His early writing was characterized by obsessive literary perfectionism as he labored to develop his economy of style, spending hours polishing a sentence, or searching for the mot juste—the right word. It is  a well-known fact that he rewrote the conclusion to his novel A Farewell to Arms seventeen times in an effort to get it right. This is characteristic of great writers. Dylan Thomas made over two hundred handwritten(!) manuscript versions of his poem “Fern Hill.” Even toward the end, when Hemingway was reaping the ravages of his lifestyle, while writing at his Finca Vigia in Cuba he daily stood before an improvised desk in oversized loafers on yellow tiles from 6:30 a.m. until noon every day, carefully marking his production for the day on a chart. His average was only two pages — five hundred words. It was discipline, Ernest Hemingway’s massive literary discipline, which transformed the way his fellow Americans, and people throughout the English-speaking world, expressed themselves.

Michelangelo’s, da Vinci’s, and Tintoretto’s multitudes of sketches, the quantitative discipline of their work, prepared the way for the cosmic quality of their work. We wonder at the anatomical perfection of a da Vinci painting. But we forget that Leonardo da Vinci on one occasion drew a thousand hands. In the last century Matisse explained his own mastery, remarking that the difficulty with many who wanted to be artists is that they spend their time chasing models rather than painting them.6 Again the discipline factor!

In our own time Winston Churchill has been rightly proclaimed the speaker of the century, and few who have heard his eloquent speeches would disagree. Still fewer would suspect he was anything but a “natural.” But the truth is, Churchill had a distracting lisp which made him the butt of many jokes and resulted in his inability to be spontaneous in public speaking. Yet he became famous for his speeches and his seemingly impromptu remarks.

Actually, Churchill wrote everything out and practiced it! He even choreographed the pauses and pretended fumblings for the right phrase. The margins of his manuscripts carried notes anticipating the “cheers,” “hear, hears,” “prolonged cheering,” and even “standing ovation.” This done, he practiced endlessly in front of mirrors, fashioning his retorts and facial expressions. F. E. Smith said, “Winston has spent the best years of his life writing impromptu speeches.” A natural? Perhaps. A naturally disciplined hard-working man!

And so it goes, whatever the area of life.

Thomas Edison came up with the incandescent light after a thousand failures.

Jascha Heifitz, the greatest violinist of this century, began playing the violin at the age of three and early began to practice four hours a day until his death at age seventy-five — when he had long been the greatest in the world — some 102,000 hours of practice. He no doubt gave his own “Hear, hear!” to Paderewski’s response to a woman’s fawning remarks about his genius: “Madame, before I was a genius, I was a drudge.”

We will never get anywhere in life without discipline, be it in the arts, business, athletics, or academics. This is doubly so in spiritual matters. In other areas we may be able to claim some innate advantage. An athlete may be born with a strong body, a musician with perfect pitch, or an artist with an eye for perspective. But none of us can claim an innate spiritual advantage. In reality, we are all equally disadvantaged. None of us naturally seeks after God, none is inherently righteous, none instinctively does good (cf. Romans 3:9–18). Therefore, as children of grace, our spiritual discipline is everything — everything!

I repeat … discipline is everything!

There seems to be a creeping, pervading problem in American Christianity which infects many if not most sectors of the church, and which proves, in my opinion, to be very problematic.

On the one hand, you have an attitude of defeatism, where believers are fixated on their present struggles, despairing of their frailties, and overall hamstrung in their spiritual lives by an over realization of their persistent sinfulness.  These poor saints really do love the Lord, really do want to live lives pleasing to Him, really do want to see Him lifted high…but feel very deeply and very powerfully that they are completely disqualified from ever seeing Him glorified in their lives, convinced that He’s only tolerating them because He promised to take “whomsoever will,” and that if He would have thought that one through a bit more before saying it, He would have added the proviso, “except for that guy.  I mean, come on…just look at him.  Can you believe he calls himself a Christian?  Hey, Mike, Gabe…I’m a bit busy over here in the galactic core taking care of Sagittarius A* – can you just reach down and zap him for Me real quick in retaliation for his even trying to ask Me into his life, eh?  Thanks, guys.”

The Christian life for these poor saints is not a joy, it is a misery.  True, it’s less a misery than knowing for sure that they’re lost, still dead in their sins back in the world; but it’s a drudgery nonetheless because they are never sure that God has really forgiven them, that He’s really accepted them, and that He really delights in them.  They get it that the way of the transgressor is hard, but that’s the entire problem for them – because they are painfully aware of their own persistent sinfulness, they never really draw into God, never really experience the peace of God, and so when hard things inevitably come into their lives, they become increasingly convinced that this is simply further proof that they may just in fact still be reprobate, may in fact not truly be saved – that they may in fact still be transgressors in the essential sense.  All of which leads to spiritual melancholy – and outright depression.

These poor saints are trapped by defeatism, caused by an over-focus on their practice rather than their position.  Their hearts and eyes are firmly fixed on the fact that they are still mired in their own flesh, that they continue to live less than God’s best, that they continue to sin.  And though most wouldn’t say that their salvation is in any way dependent upon their performance, though most readily admit that the Bible clearly teaches that salvation is based entirely on Jesus’ FINISHED work for them on the cross, in practice they really aren’t sure of it at some deep, perhaps even subliminal level.  They want to draw near to God, they want to experience His grace and His peace…but they are so very painfully aware that they very much do not deserve it that they are hindered from ever really resting in His finished work for them.

Their symptoms point to a single diagnosis:  Their focus is on their practice, to the downplaying or outright ignoring of their position.  The indicated treatment: meditating on what the Bible says of who they are and where they are in Christ, meditating on the fact that Jesus is infinitely mightier than their own fallenness.  Jesus has conquered their sin at the Cross, and when He took the cup of the Father’s wrath for their sin, He drained it to the dregs, so that there is nothing left for them to atone for once they have called on Him for mercy.

And that yes, it “took” the first time they asked Jesus to forgive them.  No, they’re not on probation.  Yes, I’m really, really sure.  Here’s Ephesians; let’s study that deeply for a while, eh?

triumphOn the other side of the problem, however, you find the equal-but-opposite problem – and it can be even more of a doozy than the first.  On that side of the equation, you have a pervasive (and, quite honestly, very odiously arrogant) attitude of triumphalism.  The problem here is an over-focus on position, to the downplaying or outright ignoring or denying of practice.

Here on the Glorious West Coast of Michgan, I deal with a lot of saints who struggle powerfully with spiritual defeatism.   I have had to continually remind these precious saints that the issue was decided at the Cross, and that they need to take their eyes off their own selves and turn them to Jesus and His finished work for them.I have recently, however, been seeing an uptick in the instance of Christians who are walking in an obnoxious species of triumphalism.  Whereas the defeatist Christian never fully experiences the awesome peace and grace of God because of their awareness of and over-focus on their own frailty, the triumphalist insists that no, he is not acting in the flesh, because He is hidden in Christ, so back off, bub…while he is, in fact, very much operating in the flesh.

For these saints, the very deep and abiding problem is that they never come to terms with the fact that they are still prone to sin.  Sure, they admit that they struggle, that they make mistakes, that they still sin in a very general sense…but it’s not as bad as all that, you see, because they are saints, after all.  What this leads to is a tendency to be very quick to dispense correction to others…but to be invincibly closed to receiving correction themselves.

The defeatist saint is crippled with stunted spiritual growth due to an inability to enter into the rest of the Lord; the triumphalist saint is crippled with stunted spiritual growth due to an inability to see their own very real fallibility, and therefore an inability ex post facto to deal with their flesh – since what they deny has any real, pervasive force they likewise deny really needs to be dealt with.

Here’s how that manifests:  A triumphalist saint walks in pride, is critical of others, is lax with regard to personal holiness, but claims to be mature, has a vaunted view of his own spirituality, and feels unduly entitled to the deference which is due them their position, absent any real substantive reason for said deference (and, in fact, in the presence of real, substantive reasons for withholding such).

A defeatist wearily toils under the impossible burden of self-condemnation, and any critique of his walk with the Lord tends simply to confirm that self-condemnation and increase his burden.  A triumphalist will critique you on your walk with the Lord, but will react very badly when you return the favor.

We came face-to-face with this phenomenon recently; an individual that my lovely and gracious wife and I are peripherally familiar with acted in a very inappropriate manner and needed to be rebuked, which set off the proverbial fireworks.  When confronted with the inconsistency of his claim to be a godly, mature spiritual leader, he immediately responded that he was highly offended that his godly, mature spirituality would ever be called into question – he was, after all, filled with the Spirit, called holy and a saint, and had been given victory in Jesus.

He could not see – could not see – the gross inconsistency between his position and his practice…and therefore could not see that that very dissonance is something that needs to be addressed.

As Martin Luther’s famous restating of James’ great maxim puts it:

We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.

The triumphalist would likely never consciously contradict Luther…but his actions and attitudes stand in as sufficient contradiction nonetheless.

The defeatist cannot bring himself to claim any of the blessings of God for his life, so wracked with guilt as he is.  The triumphalist claims those blessings and more, demands them even due to his position, and does so while subtly or flagrantly living contrary to the God who desires in all cases to bestow such blessings.  He feels no particular need to live according to the responsibilities of his position, while seeking to enjoy the rights and privileges of it.

In both cases, true spiritual growth is greatly hindered, true spiritual maturity is denied, true fellowship with God and man remains unrealized.

The answer to both extremes is a remarkably simple one:  To realize both my position and my practice matter, to acknowledge that my standing before the Lord is wholly dependent upon my position, and the Spirit’s great work in my life this side of the veil isn’t so much to bestow upon me His spectacular gifts of prophecy, healing, and tongues (though He obviously does that), but rather more so to incrementally bring my practice into harmony with my position, and that the two sides to the same issue are utterly inseparable.

To the defeatist, the Bible’s encouragement is to fully trust in Christ and His finished work for you.  Your standing before God, and His favor towards you, is not in the least measure based on your performance, but on your simply trusting in that finished work.  You are secure in Jesus, because He carried your sin on His Person to the hill of Calvary, all of it, suffered the full and unmediated wrath of the Father for that sin, and forever secured your salvation and right standing with God.  He did all of this alone, and He did it infallibly.  You cannot ever improve on His finished work by your penitence, your self-improvement, or your anything; He did it all, He paid it all, and now in return for your simple faith He gives you all.  Enter into the rest and joy of your Lord, for this is His great desire, and this is what pleases Him, not your doomed efforts at reformation.  Your simple, child-like faith in His mercy and grace won for you at the Cross, and nothing else.  As the hymn of the faith says:

Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Therefore, you can rebuke the whisper of the enemy in your heart which says that the Father is displeased with you, that you do not measure up, that you are utterly unworthy of the least of His mercies.  With the exception of the first part, the rest is all true!  And so what?  Even so, God is forever pleased with you, because of Jesus, and since you are hidden in Him, and He does measure up, and He is worthy, so are you.

Don’t rest on how you feel, rest on what He says!

Don’t wait until you “get”  it or “understand” it – you never will!  Instead, rejoice in it by faith – which is the very principle by which we are called to live in the first place, not by merit or performance.  Simply faith!

To the triumphalist, the Bible’s admonition is to remember that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble – and that the essence of humility is to have a right and sober view of oneself.

Which includes the concept of not thinking of oneself more highly than he ought to think, in fact, of thinking of others as as being better than oneself.

Paul puts it like this:

Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

Understand also, dear trumphalist, that although it is indeed true that your standing before God isn’t based on your performance, your life still matters to God, and He expects you to live it for Him – which includes the idea of daily crucifying your flesh…which in turn directly implies that your flesh requires daily crucifying!  Keep in mind that Romans 7 appears before Romans 8 – by design, not simply by logical necessity.  The same Apostle who speaks in the present tense and includes himself in the triumphs and glories of the eight chapter, speaks in the present tense and includes himself in the struggles and setbacks of the seventh chapter.  John, agreeing with Paul, in the same epistle in which he declares that the true believer cannot {continue in} sin, also is very painfully clear that the believer can never be completely free of sin this side of the veil, and must determine to struggle against sin.

Therefore, you must be open to the same correction you are quick to apply to others.

You must recognize that though what you do does not save you, your salvation necessarily changes what you do.  Yes, you are blessed beyond the curse because of Jesus, but you are supposed to, therefore, live in real blessing, not simply demand it.  Yes, you are eternally righteous in Jesus; therefore, live like it.  Yes, you are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise; therefore, give evidence of that sealing by a life lived in humble joy before God and man.

As Martin Luther has said:

The true, living faith, which the Holy Spirit instills into the heart, simply cannot be idle.

…which is really another way to restate James:

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

Both Christian defeatism and Christian triumphalism are extremes of Christian thinking and attitude which are combatted by a proper perspective:  My position is eternally secure in Christ, my standing with God is based on His finished work, and so my practice, which does not determine my standing, is however daily to be brought more and more in line with that exalted position, by the grace and working of the Spirit.

Excellent point here.