Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bringing Sanity to the End Times

"Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? 'For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”(2 Peter 3:3-4).

What comes to your mind when you think of Bible prophecy?  Probably bearded men in long flowing robes crying out "Repent, for the end is near!"  There was even a McDonalds commercial for the McRib sandwich that poked fun at apocalyptic rhetoric.

On this night before the Mayan Calendar runs out, how are you doing?  Any jitters about tomorrow?  Or have you heard all this before, on countless occasions, and just sleeping soundly without a thought.

Both responses are dangerous.  Let me explain.

Events like the bold prediction of Harold Camping that the world would end on May 21, 2011 were met with a media frenzy, and of course, Camping was wrong.  People lumped the aged minister together with anyone who even speaks of end-time events, and wrote them all off as kooks.

To merely carry on without a thought of one's own exit from this world is wishful thinking at best.  We continually deny that anything will befall us, and arrogantly sin and put off the just claims of a holy God as mere scare tactics invented by disturbed Puritans.

The other error is letting the low-grade anxiety permeate everything, and this is taken into full-blown mania, as I read recently in the news.  A woman was actually ready to kill her own children to prevent them from seeing the end.

Here is the problem with datesetters and doomsday prophets.  When things they say do not come to pass, people scoff, laugh, and get more and more hardened to considering their own mortality and accountability.   The average Joe's response may wind up like the verse in I Peter above. 

So why do I speak of the end?  The Bible speaks of the end.  And it actually has a lot to say.  The end of all things (I Peter 4:7) is the natural conclusion of the beginning of all things.  And between these junctures, injustice has occurred.  How will this be dealt with?

Some who hear descriptions of prophetic passages seek to assign a current-day fulfillment to these in the news events, such as tsunamis, earthquakes, and the re-election of Obama.  While these can get out of hand and become silly, the silliness again blinds people to the real end and it's irreversible danger.

At the same time, Israel is back in the land, and has decisively taken Jerusalem in my lifetime.  Almost every nation in the Middle East breathes death and destruction upon Israel.  The fire power to blow the planet out of existence easily lies in the arsenals of several nations.  Wickedness like that in Connecticut abounds, and few have a remedy for its deadly effects. Law courts have completely abandoned justice in the name of being politically correct.  And the Christian community is either disunited in its cults of personality or sub-biblical agendas, or amalgamating with every heresy under the sun.  The Church's cultural salt has lost its savor, and the love of most has grown cold. Even back in 1965, Barry McGuire poignantly believed in song that we were (and should be) on the "Eve of Destruction."

Let us look logically for a moment.   Bible writers such as John refer to "The last hour." (I John 2:18), as being upon them.  Was the Bible wrong?  It was not the last days apparently when John wrote, or else the Kingdom would be long passed by now.

Again, Scripture interprets Scripture.  II Peter 3:8 tells us "A day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day."  You cannot be too literal with this passage.  What it is saying is that God does not mark time as we do.  Peter goes on to say the reason for this protracted timing is patience and love. 

In the face of this love, I believe there is never a wrong time to speak of and desire the revelation of Jesus Christ, as if it were soon.  We actually should practice a kind of wishful thinking as the Bible writers did, but at least this thinking matches the inevitable reality God has stated.

Here then is the problem.  The epistle writers speak of the end being at hand as they wrote, but it has not happened yet.  Scoffers use the nuisance doomsday reports that go awry as the basis for their scoffing.  And all the while, God stands with open hands to anyone who will ignore the din and take the water of life freely.

How are you doing in this?  Are you afraid, but without sufficient remedy?  Ignore me as a writer for a moment.  Do you see how you harden yourself with every turn away from the One whose blood was shed (and is still fresh today) for even you?  Both craven fear and witless rejection of the Good News is eternally too dangerous to risk on this or any night. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What Goes Wrong In the Unbeliever's Mind

We accept man's testimony, but God's testimony is greater, because it is the testimony he has given about his son. (I John 5:9).

God is love (I John 4:16), and I make no apology for upholding it even in the face of apparent contradiction.

Mankind is locked.  He is locked from without and within.  Even if he were to arise and try the lock, it would, not work, because man is locked from the outside too. 

This is what accounts for the atheist's scoffing, and his and her primarily emotional objection to the Bible. 

God, in a very narrow sense, is whatever you want him to be.  Now I realize that this may sound like Freud's man-made God, but it is not. 

Human beings were made to reflect the glory and character of God, and when we do not, we create our own invalid reality, and God obliges by blinding us to the real truth.  In this narrow sense, God becomes what our desires postulate him to be.

So therefore, when an unbeliever reads the Bible, and wretches at the behavior of people God commends as his own, (i.e., polygamy, concubinage, wars, male domination, the "the concoctions of illiterate Bronze Age bloodthirsty tribalists,") etc. they fail to realize that God's heart of hearts does not celebrate these things.  The first plan of God was good, because he made the creation good (Genesis 1-2).  Man's sin vitiated his view of God, so man is condemned to a corruption of reality.  Literally, blinded, so that we believe God is responsible for evil, because we are responsible for evil, which is only adding to evil.   (You can see this in the Genesis 3 account of the questioning of Adam and Eve following their sin).

This corruption is only temporary.  In eternity future, for those who desire it, they will be liberated from the ugliness of sin and the corruption of this world--forever, never to be corrupted again.

But what will provide the impetus to repent and hate the evil and the fallenness of this world?  The first cause of this may be the apparent contradiction of life, and at it's heart is theodicy.  IS GOD GOOD?  Is the most important question we will ever answer with our words and our lives.

Life is supposed to be futile, in many ways.  Not because futility is good, but the creation is under the curse, which temporary for some of us.  Others, having taken the off-ramp on God's highway, will never re-enter the road, because they think the "rest area" will never close.  By "making the creation subject to frustration." (Romans 8:20), God is providing the very frustration that should lead us to consider that our detour into knowing good and evil was a bad idea.

So why are there apparent contradictions in the Bible?  God is showing us that the secret things belong to him, and that we'd better not dethrone him to justify ourselves.  (Job 40:8).

But all of this leaves us high and dry unless we take the ultimate excursion into the crossroads of theodicy--the life of Christ, and the Cross.  God did not spare his own son from the horrors of sin.  Not that he himself sinned, but that we did, and the ultimate expression of that evil led to the greatest act of love in the history of the universe--the Cross, on behalf of sinners.  Back for a moment to the universe.  If matter and energy, and space-time are just spinoffs of the Big Bang, which is the quantum conclusion of a contraction to the singularity of a previous universe, WHAT IS THE POINT!!

You could say the universe does not owe us a point, but wouldn't you be making a point in doing so?

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, therefore, is the great hinge upon the wheel of eternity spins.  There is no escaping the cross. "And even they who pierced him...shall mourn because of him (from Revelation 1:7)."  And there is no fear of death for those who have already faced its horrors and have been raised to newness of life. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Atheism Dead and Buried, Part 2

Cataclysmic events in space beyond our imagination have been analyzed and studied.  We hear of multiverses, parallel universes, the laws of physics breaking down in a black hole, and even that we are already inside a black hole.  Theories, facts, and quasi-facts on these things are how many scientists coast to a paycheck.

OK, so here is the Bible claiming that God can be everywhere at all times, that water can turn into wine, and that thousands of animals fit on an ark that could hold 522 railroad cars (this is only the beginning of the list).

And what is the reaction?  Scoffing and claiming it isn't rational.

As another theory goes, matter, no matter how small, attains infinite mass at the speed of light, and requires an infinite force to move it.  But no such force exists in the universe, we are told.

I thought infinity was a concept, not a number.  

And I thought the universe(s) existed in seeming paradoxes?  Matter can arrive before it leaves?  Something can be already dead and gone, and not even exist yet?   There is no space and time at the singularity of a black hole?  And we are in one?

Stuff like this can make you tear your hair out.

Science has gone WAY beyond anything practical, or beneficial to mankind, and in this "ever learning" mode, claims to know things it can never see.  But, we are told by the atheists, we are working on these answers, and that it's a cop-out to suggest a supreme Being who actually made the laws of the natural, and can override them by fiat.

What ends up happening is that both sides--theist and atheist--present their evidence, and no one goes home persuaded.  From this, we may infer that there must be a force greater that that of logic, that defines logic, and without this force at the beginning, you can't possibly arrive at it at the end. 

What all this means is that when God is at the top of the knowledge pyramid, we may safely believe everything he says in his Word.  Now the question remains:  what is His Word? 

Next blog coming.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Atheism - Dead and Buried, With no Resurrection - Part 1

Atheists, in debates, have a very simple plan they think will sway the viewer into their camp.  Basically, they are driven by their revulsion to some of the harder-to-accept Bible stories, such as the Fall, the Flood, the conquest of Canaan, etc.  Then they try to universalize the "ethical principles" i.e., the Golden Rule, as if all religious cultures have an equal claim on these ideas, but then contrast them with the Bible's seemingly "immoral and bloodthirsty deity."  Finally, they cast up the most potent form of criticism:  A lack of evidence for the Bible's authority and authenticity, and the life and teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the true Messiah.  If that doesn't pan out, they will say they are capable of just as much if not more love for humanity as Christians are, and add that, at least, they are not hypocrites. 

Now I could end the blog right here with a few verses such as Romans 1:18-32, about the intellectual darkness that accompanies the sin nature gone to seed.  And, in a sense, this is the hard word the scoffer needs to hear.

But I have a logic-based, gut-honest appraisal of the failure of atheism to win my alliance:

1.   Tackling point by point, we'd have to start with the "bad God." epithet.  Let us take the death of infants as part of the conquest of Canaan.  First of all, I believe the infants are safe under God's grace, since they cannot understand concepts such as redemption and blood sacrifices.  Then, we'd have to look at the manner in which they died.  Most would die instantly upon meeting the spear, thus not suffering.  Third,  based on the above, we'd have to look at the fact that the death of infants is far worse for the adults in their midst.  Fourth, how many infants would there be as opposed to the older people?  All of these factors get ignored.

Another aspect is the "kill the non-virgins and take the virgins for yourself." trap.  All are guilty, and because God saves some and not others is exclusively His business.  All should fear judgment, and perhaps maybe then, they would have enough oomph to repent.

2. The Golden Rule, The Greatest Commandment, Philippians 4:8, and injunctions not to worry about your life in the Beatitudes, were never meant to stand on their own.  They are part of a full revelation of the plan of God for all who would trust Him, and technically should not even have convenient heuristic names. 

 More to come...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

While He May Be Found - Can He Be Found?

Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to you at an hour when you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not overtake him. (Psalm 32:6).

I suppose it doesn't concern too many people in and out of the Church whether or not God will hear them.  Either we deny his existence, minimize his importance, misunderstand his person, or lower the standards for believing we are ok with God.

Anyone is susceptible to this.  David minimized the holiness of God in the covenant of marriage when he plotted to kill Uriah and take Bathsheba for himself. 

But God did hear David.  Why?  Something happened in David's life that made the existence, value, and need for God something that did not disappear in his sin.

Verse 4 of Psalm 32 says:  "For day and night YOUR hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as in the heat of summer."  David is in great anguish, but his concept of God behind his predicament did not go away.  This paved the way for his confession and restoration (vv. 5-7), and ultimately, his joy (v. 11).

This is the blessed problem.  Those whom God appoints for salvation cannot get away from him.  And from his faithfulness and supremacy.  At first, it is terrifying to have a Heavy Hand on you, but when we look up and ask for directions, we actually find him as a hiding place (v. 7) and a teacher to keep us out of further mischief (v. 8-10).

It reminds me of an old cartoon "Tooter the Turtle."  Tooter was always coming to the mythical Mr. Wizard to ask for experiences in the big world.  But many dangers, toils and snares awaited Tooter in the form of bad influences and consequent physical dangers.  At the end of the cartoon, the turtle would cry out to Mr. Wizard to save him from the predicament.  And he came home, rescued from the problem.

The point is not that wizards mean anything good.  The point is that we do not have to stray from God, and the fact that we do and can come back means he may be found!
But why push it?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Man in the Iron Cage

Recently, I re-read a portion of The Pilgrim's Progress, my favorite book of all time.  Particularly, where the Christian is in the house of the Interpreter, and happens upon the famous man in the iron cage.

I also read some of the Internet banter about this man, and the conclusions we may draw from his despondent condition.  Some say he represents Bunyan himself, others say he represents an apostate who started out "fair and flourishing," but had gotten entangled in the world, and fell foul of it, likely committing heinous sins against the Spirit of grace.  Now he rightly deems himself unforgivable, and can even tell you the verses that prove it.

Now while I believe Bunyan makes more sense than most people in the church today put together, I think we need to stay on the Bible, and with an honest method of interpretation.

Was Judas forgivable?  Yes and no.  Some of those who nailed Christ to the cross were, some of those who handed down the sentence were, and some of those who even pushed for his crucifixion certainly were.  Peter told the crown in his sermon in Acts 2 "You have taken [him] and by wicked hands have crucified and slain [him]."   And yet they received the One they pierced, and this was demonstrated by the power of the Spirit in the founding of the early church. 

But what made Judas different?  He hung around Christ and the disciples for a while, but his heart remained hard.  He apparently never took to heart a word of Christ, and he followed his evil heart of unbelief, and sold the Lord out for thirty pieces of silver. 

Regarding the forlorn man in the cage, Bunyan's question and Interpreter's answer were key.  "Is there no hope for such a man as this," queried Christian.  Interpreter's weighty remark was "Ask him."

What I can infer from this is borne out by what follows.  As Christian dialogs with the man, this cage-dweller persistently focuses on himself.  When Christian tells him of the merciful Christ, he wails in despair and only focuses on the scriptures that condemn him.  There was no room in his heart for a merciful Christ, as his sin was center stage. 

And so, the man fell victim to the flip side of pride--deeming himself too bad to be forgiven.  Some fail to receive forgiveness because they believe they have not sinned, and others fail to be forgiven because of a more subtle, yet equally dangerous kind of pride--unbelief in the goodness of God in the face of one's own sin and stupidity. 

You see, Bunyan's "asking the man" brought out the repeated confession of his despair of God, which was consistent with his other unbelief, that led to his soul-killing sins.  Once in his descent he reached the inexorable reality of God, he fled like the wind.

At the end of this dialog, we are not indulged with a verdict on the man, but he only serves as an example to Bunyan's protagonist, eliciting a healthy fear of similar falling.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Passive Righteousness

This quote is from Martin Luther, from his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, as quoted in Sonship (World Harvest Mission, 2002). 

Speaking of "Passive Righteousness, he writes:

"It is called 'passive righteousness' because we do not have to labor for it...It is not righteousness that we work for, but righteousness we receive by faith.  This passive righteousness is a mystery that someone who does not know Jesus cannot understand.  In fact Christians do not completely understand it and rarely take advantage of it in their daily lives...when there is any fear or our conscience is bothered, it is a sign that our passive righteousness is out of sight and Christ is hidden.
     The person who wanders away from 'passive righteousness' has no other choice but to live by works righteousness.  If he does not depend on the work of Christ, he must depend on his own work.  So we must teach and continually repeat the truth of this 'passive' or 'Christian' righteousness so that Christians continue to hold to in and never confuse it with "works" righteousness."

Lining up With God

One of the most liberating things I have discovered about the faith is that as long as what you want matches what God wants, he'd never hold out on you.

In this regard, answered prayer is as simple as being saturated in the Word of God so that what we ask is what he would gladly do.  John 14 makes this clear.

"Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do what I have been doing...And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son." (vv. 12-13.

Tying all these facts together, God wants to do much through his Son in the world that he loves, but his disciples are the ones who will carry it out. Asking for resources to do it will be met with a resounding Yes!

As to healing from a dreaded disease, having enough money, getting free from trouble, well, we may ask for these things, but be prepared to wait.  Some of them require time, and some require only the perfection of heaven to get answered.