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Weekly Word

Tuesday
May312011

Would the world really be better off without Christians?

An idea that is growing in acceptance every day is that Christians are all bigoted, sexist, homophobes and the world would be better off without them.  Granted, most who think or say this kind of thing do so passively.  It represents what they truly believe, but they would never think of trying to "get rid of Christians."  That said, there are some who expouse such beliefs with vitriole and fervour.  These will make statements that are no longer passive but quite active.  "Those Christians want to go to heaven?  Then we ought to send them there."  I don't want to get into the prevalence of either the passive or the active in this group.  Rather I want to honestly ask if the underlying basis of these statements is true.

In an issue like this that can be highly emotional, it is easy to cherry pick the evidence in order to make your view emotionally favorable.  However, I believe this is intellectually dishonest and only leads to me feeling good about the delusion I think is true.  When one looks at history with as unbiased eyes as possible (believe me, I understand that can be a quagmire) it is hard to argue against the statement that Christianity radically affected the course of what we call the Western world, but mainly refers to Europe and America.  It would be easy to go through history and pick out leaders and groups under the banner of the Church that have lived very sexist, bigotted, and homophobic lives not to mention a whole batch of other things.  But to be fair we could find many examples to the contrary.  I think it is more valuable to go to the source of Christianity, and its founder, Jesus.  Jesus taught and commissioned several men who were to serve as his voice in this new group, the Church.  Then we can better understand the impulse that is behind Christianity, which is far more important than analyzing side currents and dead water that are not a part of the main stream.  I will not restate arguments that have been stated far more eloquently by others.  For some good reading you should check out Dinesh D'souza's What's So Great About Christianity, 2007. 

The Law and Christianity

Many Christians do not understand the relationship between the Old Testament Law of Moses and believers in Jesus, much less those who reject Christianity.  So we need to respond with some grace in this issue.  Many people like to point to laws in the old testament of the Bible and challenge, "Do you believe this is the word of God?"  Though Christians do believe that the Old Testament is the Word of God, they do not believe that it should be enacted as the law of America.  I realize some groups within the Church do advocate this, but my point would be that they do not properly represent the main thrust of Christianity and I will do so by going back to the first century when this all began.

In Galatians 3 one of Jesus' apostles (men commissioned metaphorically to build the Church) explains to Christians how they should view the Law of Moses.  Paul draws on an analogy that would have been readily understood by most in his day.  It is that of a child who is tutored in the home until he comes of such an age that he can work with his dad in the family business as an adult son who will one day inherit the family business and estate.  In this passage Paul explains that Israel is the young child and the Law of Moses was the tutor.  Now think about your time in school.  Teachers often have rules and deadlines that are not necessary from the stand point of merely learning the subject, but they are necessary from the stand point of preparing the child to function in the adult world.  Thus the deadline is quite artificial, but it serves to teach a child diligence and nip the inherent procrastination that sabotages the dreams and plans of many a man.  Such is the Old Testament.  We can cherry pick passages in the Bible and say, "it is against reason to think that this is Truth."  However, when you step back and look at the Law of Moses as a tutor then more and more things make sense.  God did not send the law to teach how to have a perfect society, rather he sent it so that Israel would recognize Jesus when he came.  Jesus was the ultimate teacher, their Messiah who would lead them into their adulthood.  Don't get me wrong.  The Law was good in the same sense that a pipe wrench is good.  It helps when it is used properly for the right job.  The law taught Israel just how sinful they (we all) really are.  It taught them the true predicament in which they were stuck, unless God did something to help them.  Even the Old Testament testifies to the fact that it is the Word of God, it also testifies that the law is pointing to ultimate truth so that we can understand it when it comes.  King David says it this way in Psalm 51, 

"You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; 
   you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit; 
   a broken and contrite heart 
   you, God, will not despise."

Yes, sacrificing an animal is a crude, reprehensible thing that no rational modern person would think we should do.  However, its function in the Bible was not to be the final word or ultimate truth about how our sins and faults can be dealt with.  It was so that we could understand what Jesus was doing when he let himself be crucified on a cross.  Bloody? Yes.  Shocking and horrific?  You betch ya.  I think that is God's point.  We just don't believe our sin is that bad.

Another example would be slavery.  Does the Bible teach slavery?  No!  Slavery was a part of the economic system of that day.  The Old Testament limited and restrained the universal practice of slavery.  Would such a practice be less or more in history if it were not for Christianity?  The Law came into a world that had divided along many different social distinctions (Race, Gender, Age, etc..).  It came to prepare intellectual children for the coming ultimate truth of the Jesus.

Welcome to Adulthood

Back in Galatians 3:28 Paul points out many of these old social distinctions and tells Christians that they should no longer remain divided over them.  He was not saying they were not real and had no differences, but that they should no longer be divisions among us.  We should not be divided by race, but neither should we pretend like there are absolutely no differences among races.  We should not be divided by gender, but neither should we pretend that there are no differences between the genders.  In the New Testament false prophets and rebellious children are no longer executed (secret: they more often than not weren't even executed under the Law due to the fact that Israel disregarded God's Law quite frequently).  However, being a false prophet or a rebellious child are still serious things that if not dealt with by the individual will lead to an eternal death.  So Christians are able to embrace the Law as good, not because we want to enact a sacrificial system in America, but because we understand it is the tutor.  We are adults now that Jesus has given us the ultimate truth.  We no longer need to follow the instructions of the tutor.  However, we do need to remember the principles that it has taught us.

Christians are not to live by the old social distinctions and filters like most of the world does.  We are to love every race, respect every gender, help every age, etc...  Our actions for another should have nothing to do with these distinctions.  The only distinctions that ultimately matter is whether or not a person has put their trust in Jesus.  Even in this distinction, Christians are not to divide and hate those who do not trust Jesus.  Rather we are to love them and lay our life down like Jesus did in order to win them over to belief in Jesus.  It was a radical concept that is still reverberating in the world today.

Most arguments against God or Christianity by atheists will point out things about God and say, "How can a loving God allow evil in the world."  But we must recognize that this is a distinctly Christian question.  The Romans and Greeks didn't struggle over how the gods could allow evil in the world.  The gods were often the source of the evil.  It was Christianity that taught our Father in heaven is actually Good.  Sure this raises thorny issues, but to argue in such a way is to undermine your own argument.  I'm not saying that proves Christianity is true.  I'm am saying that if Christianity had never happened the world would be in far worse shape with far baser questions on our mind.

It was the commands of Jesus and his apostles that commanded Churches to drop racial hatred.  It was the commands of Jesus and his apostles that directed men and women to work together as complimentary equals.  It was Jesus and his apostles that raised the value of children and the elderly, and the barbarian up to the civilized.  It was Christianity that came alongside of the poor, sick, orphaned, and widowed and said these are valuable; we must help them.  All are equal before God, is not the mantra of the Romans or Greeks.  It is the radical idea of Christianity that brought a world of little Hitlers that worshipped strength, erotica, and death, to its knees.  It is interesting that in today's world we see the resurgence of the pagan mindset.  

Are we headed back to a time when life was not sacred, but cheap?  Are we headed into times when the fetus is aborted, the young is abandoned, the gladiator is glorified, the peasant is abused, and the powerful are worshipped and exalted?  Are we not nearly there?

Homosexuality

I've left this for last because it is something that even the New Testament condemns as sin.  However, this does not mean that Christians are homophobes.  No where are we told to fear homosexuals.  Rather by extension of the General command to the specific we know that we are to love them.  Love does not mean agreement nor acceptance as virtuous.  A Christian should in no way speak hatefully, nor act abusively toward someone who self-identifies as a homosexual.  But neither should Christians be bullied into declaring this lifestyle as virtuous.  Homosexuality is seen as a severe sin, not so much because of its sexual nature, but because of its rejection of the obvious created design.  God is the creator.  You may reject that Jesus is God.  This is an intellectual disagreement.  But when a person so rejects the obvious truth of created design, you are left with no rational ground upon which to appeal.  This kind of choice destroys the very foundation of Truth because it exalts the will of the individual over the top of all evidence to the contrary.

This is why Christianity can never equate homosexuality with the civil rights issues of slavery.  They are not the same thing.  In fact white people were doing what homosexuals do, when they exalted their will over top of the evidence that black people were not subhuman, but every bit as much human as them.

I do not mean this as an attack against those who are in the homosexual lifestyle or have inclinations in that direction.  Rather, it is to help us see that Christianity is often condemned by the very virtues it created.

Monday
May232011

Why Christians are still here.

If only Christians would actually listen to Jesus.  You may not be a shocked that the rapture didn't happen on May 21, 2011, as Harold Camping said it would.  However, are you shocked that he had support from an apparently large number of people?  By now we shouldn't be.  Harold Camping is a false teacher at best and needs to quit pushing his mathematical schemes for the consumption of believers who are weak-minded.    Instead of the boy who called wolf, we have here the old man who cried shepherd.  Though Harold may be done with his predictions this will happen again.

The sad thing here is that the world looks on and scoffs at the fact that Christians actually believe that Jesus will come back from heaven and judge the earth.  I know there are some groups within Christianity that have so "spiritualized" the meaning of the Bible that there is no future prophecies to happen.  But true Christianity has always held that there is a day of judgment set for this world.  When people predict a date for Christ's coming and then fail, it encourages unbelievers in their rejection of the Bible's claims.

Romans 2:21-24 "You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? 24 For 'the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,' as it is written.” (NKJV)

Watch and be Ready

Believers need to quit jumping on every wild prediction concerning prophecy that comes along and start listening to Jesus and the Bible.  If I were to sum up Jesus' take on his own second coming it would be this, "“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only."  (Matthew 24:36 NKJV)  For the rest of that chapter and also chapter 25, Jesus continues to harp on the fact that believers will not know the time of his coming.  He warns them to be ready so they won't be caught off guard.  Harold Camping will say that he is not contradicting the words of Jesus, but in the end he is.  It reminds me of Eve in the garden, "Did God really say...."  Did Jesus really say we wouldn't know the day or the hour?  Somewhere along the line Mr. Camping's exalted view of his Biblical knowledge became detached from Jesus.  He was more confident in his own calculations than the Bible and more importantly Jesus.

Harold is right about one thing.  Believers should not be caught by surprise.  Not because they have the date, but because Jesus has warned and even commanded us to live our lives in such a way that we are always ready for his coming.  We see this supported again as Paul speaks to the Christians of Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.  Paul tells them they shouldn't be caught by surprise.  However there is no prediction of a day nor a indication that God will reveal to them the date before it happens.  The reason for this is because Paul is not writing about his ideas and thoughts.  He is giving them the world of the Lord Jesus.  

So what does it mean to be ready and watching?  Well it doesn't mean trying to determine the date through mathematical gymnastics.  Nor does it mean selling all your possessions and moving to a compound in Montana, California, or wherever, and sitting on a hill looking into the sky.  In the parables that Jesus taught on this subject is always about those who are doing the work of the master versus those who quit working for the master and start doing what they want.  Paul adds the metaphors of being awake and being sober.  You can't go to work if you don't get out of bed and if you show up drunk you will be a danger to yourself and others and you won't get your job done.  Being ready is living this life awake to what God wants us to do and sober about our actions each day.  So what do we watch?  We watch and guard over our own soul and its faith in Jesus.  The temptations of this world can draw us away through our own lusts from being faithful to the task that Jesus has given us.

So what is our task? 

  1. To believe in Jesus as the Son of God, means of removing our sin, and the Truth of God. John 6:29
  2. To love and encourage other believers. John 13:34
  3. To proclaim Jesus everywhere we go and make disciples of those who believe. Matthew 28:19,20

A Day of Judgment is Coming

Harold Camping has not proven the Bible wrong.  Rather, he has proven himself to be operating proudly in his own flesh.  The Bible warns us that there is a day of Judgment set for this world.

Acts 17:30-31, "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (NKJV)

2 Peter 3:5-7, "But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly." (NIV)

Peter warns that scoffing at the idea of a judgment will be quite common in the last days.  They reject any evidence of a global flood, not because it doesn't exist, but because their lusts demand so.  The earth and the heavens are reserved for a fiery judgment.  Just because it has been 2,000 years doesn't mean it will never happen.  In fact, I find it interesting that Peter mentions that to God a 1,000 years is like a day and his patience means salvation to more people.  Sceptics like to cherry pick verses and say the disciples thought Jesus was coming in their day.  The truth is they knew that he could come in their day, but they also knew from Jesus parables that it would longer than most would think and that they would be tempted to quit believing.  Why would Peter mention a 1,000 years being the same as one day to God?  Primarily because the Holy Spirit led him to do it, but also because he knew it could be beyond his life.  He was actually following Jesus' words.  He was watching and ready.

Are you watching and ready?

 

Monday
May162011

Crutches are for the Weak

No one likes to be weak.  We want to be as strong and healthy as we can be.  This natural inclination came to the surface as modern man began to question and reject the spiritual realm.  A famously quoted line of Karl Marx is that religion is the opium of the people.  If you read the context of that quote you will find that he didn't just see religion as a drug like influence, but that the reason mankind has embraced it is precisely because of suffering.  Religion is a sort of crutch that weak people use to "protest" against the suffering found in this world without doing any real thing about it.

Modernists point to suffering as the greatest problem of all mankind.  If the world could be rid of religion than it would be able to scientifically defeat all the sufferings of both individuals and mankind, one by one.  And clearly, over the last two hundred years the scientific method has proven to be quite effective in increasing mankind's power.  But has it really decreased suffering?  For every person who doesn't have to do their laundry at the local creek or river, we can point the increased ability of modern weapons and the sufferings they cause.

With the hindsight of several centuries, many have come to question the origianal premise of modernism.  Can science really explain and fix everything?  Is there no spirit realm?  If Modernists see the material world as the only Truth that has claims upon mankind, then Post-Modernists are those who have come to believe that Truth has no meaning outside of the individual.  Modernists reject all religions, and Post-Modernists may seem to as well, but the reality is that they reject the notion that any one religion has all the truth.  Thus they embrace none, but are open to all.  What matters in the end is what I believe is true, no matter where I find the truth.  This change in many people could be seen as a response to the disillusionment of the promises of science.  Science can do great things, but it can't tell us whether we "ought" to do them.  The same discovery that creates great amounts of energy can also kill great amounts of people.  In fact, in order to remove all suffering, we have basically signed up to the task of making the human race "God."  If all suffering is to be removed, then so must death (immortality), so must ignorance (omniscience), and so must weakness (omnipotence).

The Bible highlights the sufferings of mankind, but it does not present suffering as the greatest problem of mankind.  No matter what term we give it, the Bible points to an original state in which mankind had no suffering.  Suffering was the result of choosing a path different from the Creator.  We can call it Sin, Rebellion, Enslavement to Evil, etc...  But no matter what it is we who have brought suffering into this world.  To say that religion is a protest against suffering is actually a half truth.  According to the Bible, mankind had an original understanding of the events of our "Fall" and the suffering that was its consequence.  Over long periods of time, the reasoning of individuals that were not satisfied with these explanations developed many different kinds of religions.  These religions have similar concepts precisely because of man's early unified experience.  Over time they have expanded and become in some ways very different, but always pointing to similar problems.  So Marx is partially right.  Most religions are the "genius" protest of groups of people against suffering.  But they often end up creating more suffering or dodging the question.  Marx has not canceled out a Creator and the spirit realm.  He has only pointed to a straw man to dodge the question. 

We have not suceeded in getting rid of God.  We have only pledged ourselves to take his place.  So get ready for the war of the gods because modernists would make humanity god (a kind of Borg existence), but post modernists reject this notion.  Humanity is not god, I am. 

The Bible cautions us against these errors.  In 2 Peter 1:20-21, Peter tells us that Truth is not up to the interpretation of the individual.  Now this can be seen two ways.  On one hand no individual can tell all others what is truth, but on the other hand neither can each individual determine truth for himself.  Now understand that I am not talking about the small truths that science is discovering (impartially so).  I'm talking about ultimate reality.  Both of these methods fail because all individuals have a "sin" problem.  The Church has often failed because it has forgotten this truth.  The Church did not reason its way into the teachings of Scripture, they were brought down from heaven by Jesus, Revelation.  Whether it is the Pope of Roman Catholicism (one telling the others what to believe), or the 600 million little popes of Protestantism (my own private interpretation), Scripture rejects this kind of thinking.  Christians are to approach God's word as simply that, God's word.  How dare I twist the words of the Creator to mean what I think they should mean?  Or how dare I force people to adhere to what I want those words to mean?

Everything hinges on Jesus.  If he was not who he said he was then we have nothing ahead of, yes increasing mankind ability to enjoy life, but also our ability to cause suffering.  Jesus was God miraculously inserting truth into this lost world.  In 1 John 1:1-4, the disciple John, talks about how they didn't dream these things up.  They actually touched, talked with, walked with, and witnessed the amazing proofs of who Jesus was.  Jesus did miraculous things.  Yes, a miracle does not mean something cannot ever be scientifically explained, but it is the miracle of the time and coincidence.  Jesus was not doing parlor tricks, many of which scared them half to death.  But the ultimate proof was his death and resurrection.  Jesus was executed by Roman soldiers who expertly and cruelly put him to death in a very public spectacle.  After his resurrection, Jesus appeared many times to his disciples over the next 40 days.  He even appeared to over 500 people at one time.  He then ascended into the sky before their very eyes.

Now you may reject such experiences, but if these 500+ people were to be brought before a court today, it would be impervious to the kinds of attack that would use psychosis as its answer.  The truth is that we all lean on something.  Karl Marx and others who reject the spirit realm and a creator think that they are removing the crutches, as if they are now leaning on nothing.  The reality is that they are now leaning upon themselves and their own reasoning.  Perhaps on a grander scale they are leaning upon humanity's ability to become god itself.  Either way, they too are walking with crutches.  Life is impossible to live without faith in somthing.  What are you leaning on?

1 John 2:15-17, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever."  Love here is the idea of holding on to something unconditionally.  I will never let go of it.  If you are leaning on things of this world, man's reasoning, wealth, pleasure, science, and even friends and family then you need to realize that these things cannot hold you up forever.  Only God can save us from falling without recovery.  Only God can deal with the problem underneath our sufferings, sin.

Blessings.

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