Notes & Comments

My Greek at the Retreat Incident …

How I tried to act intelligent and demonstrated otherwise …

Several years ago, I was asked to be a group leader at our church’s annual men’s retreat. The retreat that year invited men from another nearby church. Part of my Biblical Studies degree at Biola included two years of New Testament Greek. I remember the last day of that second year, the professor congratulated us. Then he warned us that we were now quite dangerous, since we thought we knew Greek and were likely to misuse it.

Not long before the retreat, our Sunday School class had featured a guest missionary who shared that he had new believers read through First John several times, each in a single reading. I started to do that and realized that it might be a good opportunity to refresh my Greek, since it had now been several decades since those classes.

I had been doing that for a week or so, looking up words in the abbreviated lexicon in back of my Greek New Testament. I had donated the textbooks from the class to a book drive for India, so I wasn’t getting very deep into this study; nothing into grammatical syntax or conjugation of verbs. Since I had just begun this not-so-systematic review when time for the retreat came, I decided to take my Greek New Testament along, hoping to spend a little quiet time with it in the mountains.

The men were divided into groups, including men from both churches in each group. The program included assemblies of everyone for worship and a message, followed by break-out times for the groups to discuss questions about the topic. One of the questions asked us to discuss a certain passage of scripture. I don’t recall the verses. What I do recall is that it centered around three words or phrases and we agreed to consider them on our own and come back to them at our next group session.

I thought, “Cool! I brought my Greek New Testament with me. I’ll look up those words and come back with hopefully an intelligent, if not impressive answer. I took Greek!” So, I did. Well, I did the first part. I looked up the words, and I prepared myself for an observation about them. Those observations, however, turned out to be not so intelligent, and I certainly did not make a good impression when I shared them with my group!

Remember that I was the “leader” of this group. When we regathered for our next breakout, I shared my “insight”: “All three of these words have the same root.” One of the guys from the other church said, with authority, “No they don’t!”

What I think I can say about New Testament Greek without getting myself into more trouble is that it is a very precise language. That’s because a lot of the nuances of meaning are communicated in changes to the spelling of words, depending on how they are used in the sentence. So, the reader can tell if a noun, for instance, is masculine, feminine, or neuter; singular or plural; whether it is the subject or belongs in the predicate; and a few other things that help communicate details of the author’s meaning. English has very few such devices. Articles, for instance (a, an, the). That’s it. Just three. Greek has 24, at least! I seem to recall that there are more, but remember, I’m trying to stay out of trouble.

I still had a bit of memory about those articles. That involved a lot of memorization after all. But I forgot that the same changes applied to the nouns they referred to as well. In fact, the articles changed because the nouns made those changes. That was the case in the passage we were discussing. They all had the same ending, not the same root as I boldly professed in the group.

My proclamation might have had its intended boost to my ego had there not been a teacher of New Testament Greek in my group.

I can only imagine the effect this had, not only on my reputation, but the reputation of our church. “They must let anybody teach!” “What else has this guy been teaching?” I have not seen this guy since that retreat nearly a decade ago. I assume that I have since been used as an example of the very thing my own Greek professor warned about the dangers of thinking you know more about the language than you do. I hope so. I tell it myself if I bring up a Greek word when I teach. Unless I am quoting directly from a real authority, I warn the class that I know just enough Greek to be dangerous.

So, why do I re-expose myself to this humiliation? I do so because our believability is one of the most important assets we have. When we speak beyond our understanding, and are caught, we ruin our credibility. We become known as someone who treats the truth carelessly and who spreads misinformation. Anything else we say is rightfully received with suspicion. How can we be trusted with anything else that we say?

When we share something that we see on social media, we also share in its credibility, whether good or bad. We build or damage our own credibility based on the truthfulness of what we share. With most of what I see, it damages it.

If you can’t, or don’t want to take the time to investigate the claims of a post, for the sake of your own credibility, don’t repost it. Your reputation is too valuable to entrust to someone else.

If the guy who had the misfortune of being in my group at the retreat reads this, and I hope he does, I want him to know that he taught me a powerful lesson. Fortunately, I had only begun my trek back into re-learning Greek prior to that blunder. And I hadn’t been in the practice of making such references to the text in my teaching. Because of that incident and realizing that I am an “old dog”, I decided any further effort to become expert in Greek would make me even more dangerous. So, I didn’t take it further. I now resort to quoting from established experts who know what they are talking about. I do wish that I had kept up with Greek all along and had deepened my understanding and proficiency of it. But I’m truly thankful for the lesson learned. Thank you, brother, whoever you are.

Because He lives,
Gary Crocker
August 2020 (edited 8/8/20)

Posted by gary in Notes & Comments, Taking Self Seriously, Things I've Learned

New Links

I’ve just added a new category for Men’s Ministry with links to two sources of discipleship ministries for men.
Patrick Morley, (Man in the Mirror), has a weekly Bible Study that is broadcast every Friday morning. Past videos and audio files are available through the link.
Band of Brothers is a Friday morning gathering of men who meet for fellowship, worship and a message from Pete McKenzie. If you are a man living near Irvine, California and are available on Friday mornings between 7 and 8, I would like to encourage you to join us. Directions are available on the website.

I’ve posted a link to the Band of Brothers site (Influencers West) as well as a direct link to an index of messages given by Pete.

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“Spore” The Video Game

At an Orange County Multimedia Association (OCMMA) meeting a few years ago, several members gave a report on the E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo) they had just attended in LA. One of the demos they saw was of “Spore,” an evolution simulation video game that was under development. In this game, you could create your own life forms and have them evolve over time from single-celled organisms to intergalactic civilizations.

A comment was made that such a game wouldn’t be very popular in a Christian school. This of course drew laughter. I few minutes later, I realized that a Christian school would be a perfect place for it. What a wonderful illustration of Intelligent Design (ID). But the moment had passed; the subject had changed; and I had missed the opportunity.

The game is finally about to be released (Sept 5 in Europe, and Sept 7 in the United States). PC World describes it in its September issue under the title “Spore: An Innovative Game With a God Complex.” It describes it as “a groundbreaking evolution simulation where you foster life, from its single-celled origins to its spread as a space-faring civilization.” You can even “Share your own creations (be they life-forms, vehicles, or buildings) with the world via the game, on YouTube, or by e-mail …”

Several observations come to my mind. I note that the article’s title refers to a “God complex,” not a “chance complex.” It seems to be impossible to describe the game without references to a creative process. It has taken at least eight years for the very intelligent game programmers to develop whatever illusion of chance exists in the game. I doubt that they ever imagined that such a process would be easy to – (I’m trying to come up with a non-ID term, oh, well) – to create. I am impressed with anyone with such talent.

But here is what would really impress me.
Start from nothing – really nothing – nothing-nothing and let the game create itself. I’m reminded of an email that went around a while back about a contest between God and the devil over creating beings. As the game was about to begin, Satan complained about needing materials for the process. God responds, “ Make your own dirt!” So my first challenge – let the game begin – by itself, out of nothing.

Then I will be impressed.

Ok. Let’s set assume the presence of stuff, laying aside the question of how it came into existence. Gather all the stuff you need to get the game into its present state of existence – I mean the elements from the periodic table – not the CPU’s, RAM, hard drives, etc., etc.. I’ll ignore, for the sake of this challenge, the design implications of making your materials list.

With all your materials together, place them in your most ideal location so that they receive the best possible environmental influences and external energy sources to cause all your stuff to assemble into your remarkable video game. Again, I’ll ignore the intelligence required to figure out such an environment. No intelligence allowed from here on however – only time, chance, and natural processes allowed from this point on.

Give it all the time you think you’ll need – more if you’d like a fudge factor. Use as many such piles to allow for more opportunities and speed things up. Use as many variations and combinations of stuff-piles and environments.

When that all comes together into your game, I’ll be really impressed.

A point on which we both would agree is that neither of us would be around long enough to see a successful result if it did take place. I suspect that the existence of the game itself already proves that it has happened by time, chance and natural processes. After all, it’s here isn’t it? How else could it be here?

Such faith impresses me.

Take the game from where it is today. See if you can out-design God. Or, your way: see if you can out-design time, chance, and natural processes. What I’ve seen so far of Spore creatures are weird beings that don’t appear very viable to me. But I’ll let you be god of your own little universe. How does it stack up against the real thing? Have you done better? Give it your most intelligent and best shot. (There’s that “i” word again!)

Now try this:
Make a being in your little universe that is essentially like you – not flesh and blood human in our time and space world but a reflection of your essence in its electronic world. Once you’ve done that, figure out a way to literally put yourself into the game (electrons, bits, bytes, pixels, etc.) as one of your beings – not just an avatar, but fully whatever-you-call-him, yet still fully human as you are out here. Cool, huh?
Now – figure out and make a way that when the computer’s power is shut off, your being can come out into our space-time world and live the rest of your life as your friend and companion.

Wow! That would impress me.

Posted by gary in Notes & Comments, Scientific Creationism, 0 comments

Flying Spaghetti Monster

While Lynda and I were in Barnes and Noble last evening and I was on my usual path to the computer section, my attention was drawn to a prominently displayed book. It was a bright red book titled The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, by Bobby Henderson.

It was rather obvious that it was a parody on something – very likely against theism in some way. And so it is. It turns out to be a development of the statement made by Mr. Henderson about a decision of the Kansas State Board of Education that intelligent design must be taught as an alternative to biological evolution in public schools. In an open letter to the board, Henderson calls for equal treatment of his belief in the “Pastapharian” theory of creation, obviously mocking their decision, but considering such an option as just as logical.

I wanted to say something clever to the Barnes and Noble lady who greeted me as I glanced through the book, questioning why such a volume should be so prominently displayed. But as usual I came up blank – until after bed time. (It was 11:20 pm as I penned the first draft of this.)

The book was resting in an acrylic stand on a workstation table about chest high and facing the incoming traffic along a narrow walkway beside the escalator. What I now wish had come to my mind then was to ask her how the book came to be placed in such a position, and then to proceed:
– What processes were involved in getting it into the hands of the intelligent person who made the decisions to place it in such a location?
– How did the book itself come together?
– What processes were involved
– in the pages becoming bound together?
– in the printing of the pages?
– in the arrangement of the letters into the words – sentences – paragraphs?
– in the fabrication of the paper?
– in the design and fabrication of the parts of and assembly of the machinery to print it?
– This could go on and on, but what about
– the transportation system to get it there (vehicles, roads, drivers, maps & navigation systems)
– Postal system to plan and take advantage of the transportation system
– Payment and accounting system to
– buy the books so they could be stocked
– sell the books
– pay the employees
– again, this could go on and on
How many of these and so many other systems involved in getting that book into place on its acrylic stand can, with a straight face, be attributed to time, chance and natural processes?

Which of the steps were just allowed to happen by chance?

Oh, and don’t forget that this is just one of thousands of books on tables, racks and shelves all neatly and intelligently organized and arranged (at least originally) for maximum sales appeal so that customers can find them, buy them and make money for a large national organization.

– How does all this compare to the organization and order of a simple flower that grows, reproduces itself – attracting insects to help the process – and is beautiful to boot, and is a single example of a huge variety of plants and animals?

Which is more complex – the book store and its history and assembly, or living organisms?

Who’s really being silly?

[Reminder: See my caveat in the pages on the right.]

Posted by gary in Notes & Comments, Scientific Creationism, 0 comments

The Idea of Blind Testing Prayer

There is a growing surge of books backing a movement toward the abolition of religion, especially Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

It is claimed in one of these books that prayer has been scientifically tested in blind tests and has failed.

I contend that the nature of answered prayer is such that no program of unbiased experimentation can test it. Jehovah is a God who sets His own terms and He must be approached on those terms. He cannot be told how He must respond.

Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6 NET Bible

If I had harbored sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. Psalm 66:18 NET Bible

Any test of the validity of prayer must actually include bias in the sense of a commitment on the part of the ‘experimenter’ to respond to God if He answers. I know this is unscientific. I sincerely appreciate science. But God has not called us to science and experimentation; He has called us to trust and obey Him.

Taste and see that the LORD is good. Psalm 34:8 NET Bible

Posted by gary in Notes & Comments, 0 comments

Observations of Early Adult Life Groups

[Note: before reading this, please review my “cavaet” under Pages in the column on the right.]>

Observations about Life Groups
The following are general observations on my part and are not intended to represent any specific people I know. Not every characteristic fits neatly and exclusively within a single life group.

1. Out of High School and into college (or the world)
1.1. New measure of freedom – sense of release from bondage
1.2. No longer forced to go to school – even if going to college, attendance is usually not mandatory.
1.3. Get a job – if going to college it may be part-time. But this job is not generally considered to be a career so little sense of loyalty to this (these) employer(s).
1.4. “Adult” – at least legally
1.5. Live with parents
1.6. Ready to live it up and/or change the world
1.7. Diversification of interests – now that they are free to choose, they begin to focus on the interests and activities they like, splintering themselves from groups that previously held them together.
1.8. Active lifestyle
1.9. If their commitment to the Lord is not their own, they will drop out of church. (second or third chair)
2. Out of College & on their own (single adults) – some high school-only grads may move relatively quickly into this group.
2.1. Real adulthood begins
2.2. Get or need full-time job – but can be flexible with it. It’s not a tragedy if they lose or leave it.
2.3. Make own decisions
2.4. Rent
2.5. Certain degree of flexibility
2.6. Available for short term missions (job permitting)
3. Marriage
3.1. Frequently able to maintain nearly the same activities as before marriage (just doing it together – hopefully)
3.2. Decisions shared with spouse (or should be)
3.3. Most activities are as a couple
3.4. Fewer activities with the guys/girls
3.5. Both spouses usually work
3.6. Rent, but hope for home of their own. May be saving for home.
4. Children Enter
4.1. Couples who have been able to continue much of their pre-marriage activity levels find those activities suddenly grind to a halt when they have children. It’s not that activity slows down. Rather, it increases and is re-directed towards the child or children.
4.2. Activity outside the home gets drastically cut.
4.3. Employment becomes more critical, while the family drops to a single or single and a half income.
4.4. The couple begins to adjust to family life.
4.5. More room is needed for the family.
5. Variations (many of these tend to avoid the church)
5.1. Experimentation
5.1.1. Sex
5.1.2. Drugs
5.2. Living together
5.3. Children outside marriage
5.4. Divorce
6. General
a. Discovering the difficulties of adulthood
b. Relationships with parents
i. Carry-overs from youth

Posted by gary in Notes & Comments, 0 comments

The Da Vinci Code – Should you read it? … See it?

I began reading The Da Vinci Code the other day. Since we’ll be discussing it in the Tipping Point Sunday School class over the next few weeks, I needed to read it first hand. It certainly is one of those books that is hard to put down. I’d probably have it finished by now if I did nothing else. (Most readers would probably have finished it in the time I’ve spent so far. I’m a very slow reader.)

Would I recommend it? I’m torn here. So I need to qualify my answer.
I don’t want to add to the hype. Dan Brown, Doubleday and Sony have got to be loving all the attention we’re giving it in the Christian community — the old “crying all the way to the bank” smirk. And the movie won’t be out for another week! I really don’t want to contribute to their wealth.

Unfortunately, this book has presented misinformation that is being believed and is undermining the faith of many since few of us have studied the history of the early church well enough to refute it out of hand. Hopefully this will force us to a better understanding of the grounding of our faith in history.

We need to know what is being fed to our culture. We need to be able to give an answer – a thoughtful, reasoned answer to the questions posed to us about our faith, and the history of our faith. We need to know and be able to defend the fact that the Christian faith can stand up to the scrutiny of history, reason and science. We need to be able to discern what is fact from fiction in a story, no matter how well written or how well presented it is.
So should you read it? Should you see the movie? That depends.

It depends on how you interact with books and movies. How well are you able to separate yourself, at least when the book is closed or the credits roll from the emotions and captivation of the story? That is, when it’s all over do you come away having accepted the stories premises as part of your new reality, or are you able to set it aside as just a story – a fictional story? Because, regardless of the implications made on the “Fact” page, it is a fictional story with fictional history.
It has been really easy for me to visualize Robert Langon as Tom Hanks as I read the book. I like Tom Hanks. I like Ron Howard. Who doesn’t? What perfect choices of actor and producer to soften our resistence to the claims of the story! Hollywood is so good at getting us to root for a character or cause in a movie even though it is polar opposite to our own beliefs and convictions.

My suggestion then, if you feel you need to get involved with The Da Vinci Code is that you do so with your eyes wide open and your mind prepared for further investigation of its underlying claims. Treat page 1 (“Facts”) as part of the novel itself. (I wonder if the numbering of the “facts” page as page 1 is Dan Brown’s way of including it as part of the novel itself.)
If you decide to read it I suggest that you borrow a copy from a friend or the library. Or buy it used. If you feel you need or want to see the movie, try a matinee. I don’t know if that affects royalties or not, but it’ll be less out of your pocket.

By all means don’t read or see it to gain any historical knowledge. “…As history, one academician put it like this: ‘It’s the only book I know that after you’ve read it, you’re dumber than you were when you started.'” (Rev. John Ortberg, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church).

In the days ahead I’ll be posting links and some of the information I’ve been gleaning over the last several weeks as I’ve dug into this.


Posted by gary in Notes & Comments, 0 comments