Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 5:5

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Luke 5:5

“Because you say so…” Sometimes the things Jesus tells his disciples to do don’t seem to make any sense. Some of the things Jesus tells us to do don’t seem to make any sense either: Love those who treat us badly (Luke 6:35). Pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Don’t take offence (Matthew 17:27).

Furthermore Jesus’ instructions came after his disciples had already “worked hard all night”. Maybe we’ve already worked hard at continuing in a relationship that is difficult; worked hard at not saying the wrong thing; and worked hard at maintaining a peaceful disposition. His command to love others may be something we done dozens of times before but now in our current situation it’s not working. Our attempts at reconciliation, or even simple friendship, may be completely ineffective and Jesus’ words may not be what we want to hear.

Jesus in effect says to Peter, “Try again. Forget your past failures (and even your past success) and do it again, just for me.” For Peter the result was so overwhelming that he was suddenly aware of his own unworthiness to receive God’s blessing. Yet it ultimately led him to greater understanding of God’s purpose for his life (v.11).

God calls us to persevere, even when what we are doing doesn’t seem to be working. All our hard work seems to produce no response. Yet we never know how close we are to a breakthrough. God will bless us if we persevere in obedience, even when our attitude lacks conviction and we think to ourselves “I’m only doing this because the Bible says so…”

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Was Jesus a pacifist?

During my ethics lectures we were discussing if Jesus was a pacifist and while Jesus did say a lot about peace making I have trouble thinking of him as a pacifist, especially after reading this:

So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:15-16).

Making a whip out of cords is a premeditate act which says to me that are times and places when it is not appropriate to be a pacifist. However the times and places may be few and far between. Nevertheless I can’t discount that God may requires us to create an upheaval or defend our loved ones or even ourselves.

For the first 30 years of Jesus’ life he did nothing to draw attention to himself. There were many issues that Jesus did not get involved in. He lived near a Greek town with a theatre which no doubt had all the usual trappings of a pagan town. We do not see him protesting about inappropriate theatrical productions or writings with poor moral standards. For the first 30 years of his life Jesus blended in to his culture yet remained sinless.

Ultimately one has to be sensitive to God to know when it is the right time to confront and when it is not. When is the right time to get involved in social issues and when it is not. I suspect that for different Christians the answers could be vastly different as God has different roles for us to play. Therefore we should not be concerned or upset if Christians think differently on these issues and if you think Jesus was a pacifist I don’t feel the need to change your mind.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 4:22

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips… All the people in the synagogue were furious… Luke 4:22 & 28

So furious in fact they were ready to kill him (v.29). How quickly they changed their minds. Everything can change in a day. Everything can change in one message. Furthermore Jesus wasn’t telling them anything they didn’t already know. The stories that offended these people were stories from the Old Testament – stories they knew. Stories that spoke of God’s miraculous healing power. Jesus came with gracious words but he met violent opposition.

God’s grace and mercy towards those who were not Jews was offensive to the Jews. God was nice to the wrong people! The wrong people were being blessed and those who thought they deserved it missed out. Likewise the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son was angry (Luke 15:28). His father was throwing a party for his undeserving brother. The wrong person was getting blessed. How do we react when we see apparent non-believers being blessed and godly people suffering? Do we become angry with God?

Some of us have been Christians so long we have forgotten what it is like not to be one. We take God for granted. We start to feel a sense of entitlement. Yet the reality is we deserve nothing from God, except his wrath since we violate his holy standards. We deceive ourselves if we think that because we have been faithful we deserve his blessing. These passages teach us that it is not enough to be faithful, not enough to be his people.

God’s desire for us is to reflect his heart of compassion for people, regardless of who they are and whether or not we consider them deserving.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book Review : Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God

J.I. Packer wrote Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God (Inter-Varsity) in 1961 to address the questions, if God is sovereign why bother to evangelise? Or does man’s free choice mean God is not sovereign? Though much time has past the questions still get raised today which is reflected by the decision to republish the book.

Packer does a great job in addressing these issues in a clear and straightforward way. He comes to the conclusion that yes, God is sovereign and yes, we do not a responsibility to evangelise. Packer uses the example of prayer to show how in reality we all believe in God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. We all pray that people’s hearts will be soften, that their eyes will be opened, and that they will come to Christ, believing that God is able to answer our prayers. The Bible is also clear that it is “whosoever” believes who is saved. We are never told if “the elect” believe they will be saved. Therefore it is our responsibility to preach the gospel to the ends of the world, using the best methods we know to do this – mostly by loving our neighbours and doing them good. However it is not our responsibility to make people believe. The choice is theirs.

Packer makes the point that God is both King and Judge. We can trust God’s character to know he will do both well.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

What’s your bias?

Continuing the theme of God and science, and following on from my previous posts, evolution becomes a really interesting issue. Since no one has ever seen a fish grow legs or even less dramatic changes it means there is no empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol for it. So evolution like creation is based on historical evidence, like fossils, the geology of rocks, the observations of animals etc. It is fascinating to me that two well qualified scientists can look at the same historical evidence and come to completely different conclusions. Obviously there is something else going on here.

Whether we are studying science, geology or archaeology, we bring our own bias. We look for the things we want to find. This applies equally to Christians as to those who are not. Simply put it is difficult for us to be objective. We are all responding out of our own world view. It would serve science better if scientists, both Christian and not, were honest about their world view when making their “scientific” statements.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 3:10

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked…tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”…some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” Luke 3:10-14

When God convicts people they respond with the question, “what should we do?” It is the right question. We see the same response on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:37 “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”

Yet we find the response that John the Baptist gave was different to Peter’s reply. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”…“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,”…“Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay” (v11-14). Whereas Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (v.38).

The reason for the different response is that different people are being addressed. John the Baptist was talking to Jews. People who already knew God and were His people. Throughout the Old Testament God had told them how he wanted them in live. This is summarised in Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

The people that gathered on the day of Pentecost were from many different nations. They were people who were not in relationship with God and Peter calls them to repentance and baptism.

Regardless of our circumstances, when God “cuts to the heart” our response needs to be, “What shall we do?”

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Book Review : Thinking Biblically

Currently I’m studying Ethics at Bible College and I stumbled across a copy of Thinking Biblically : studies in Biblical Ethics for Salvationists by Captain Graham Durston (1988).

It is a short publication (38 pages) and after setting the tone in the introduction it covers the following topics: marriage, divorce, singleness, sexuality, homosexuality, and a miscellaneous chapter on alcohol, smoking, and gambling. It is set out in a Bible study format with discussion questions. By commencing with the topic of marriage the author is able to state the high view of marriage that the Bible teaches. From there divorce is set against the back drop of the ideal yet acknowledging that we live in a fallen world. Singleness is not a topic that attracts a lot of attention but can sometimes be viewed as a second rate option in Christian circles. However this is not the Biblical view. Sexuality and homosexuality are also reflected upon in light of the Biblical view of marriage. The final chapter teaches the particular views of the Salvation Army on alcohol, smoking and gambling, with well thought out arguments on these subjects.

Overall I felt it contained the right balance between upholding Biblical standards yet offers grace and compassion to those who fail to meet those standards.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Devotional Thought : Romans 12:10

For those observant types you may have noticed that I skipped Romans 12. It took me a bit longer to write this one, nevertheless here it is:

Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10b

The Message puts it this way: “practice playing second fiddle”. One of my pastors, from long ago, would often quote Spurgeon and say: “It takes more grace than tongue can tell to play the second fiddle well.”

I did some research and discovered that normally in an orchestra the first violins play the melody line while the second violins play harmony. The first violins play the significant part while the second violins fill in the background to give the music depth and volume. Both are important but it is the first violins who take the leading part.

In life it is tempting to always play “first violin” but the challenge that Paul presents us with in this verse is to play “second violin”. There are many times when it is more important to play for harmony and let others be the focus. However this is not easy to do unless we feel secure in our relationship with God.

Immediately prior to Jesus washing the disciples’ feet (and thus playing second fiddle) John tells us that: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal…” (John 13:3-4). It was because Jesus knew who he was and the purpose of God for his life that he was able to take a lowly role and wash the disciples’ feet.

If we don’t understand our value to God and his purpose for our lives, taking on a servant’s role can turn us into door mats which is not God’s intention. As Spurgeon points out it takes grace “to play the second fiddle well”. Only as assured recipients of God’s grace can we honour others above ourselves.

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Saturday, March 05, 2011

Empirical testable demonstrable protocol

This post could also be titled Science and God part 2 as it follows on quite well from my last post. Some time ago I quoted a conversation between an atheist professor of philosophy and a student which can be read here. However it appears this was part of a longer conversation and today I was sent the fuller account. So I am now posting the rest of the conversation, minus the part that has previously appeared on my blog:

'Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?'

The student's voice betrays him and cracks. 'Yes, Professor, I do.'

The old man stops pacing. 'Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus?'

'No sir. I've never seen Him.'

'Then tell us if you've ever heard your Jesus?'

'No, sir, I have not.'

'Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus? Have you ever had any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?'

'No, sir, I'm afraid I haven't.'

'Yet you still believe in him?'

'Yes'

'According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn't exist. What do you say to that, son?

'Nothing,' the student replies. 'I only have my Faith.'

'Yes, faith,' the professor repeats.

And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith.'



My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed.'

The professor's face cannot hide his surprise this time. ‘Flawed? Can you explain how?'

'You are working on the premise of duality,' the student explains.'You argue that there is life and then there's death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can't even explain a thought.'

'It uses electricity and magnetism , but it has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, just the absence of it.'

'Now tell me, professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?'

'If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do.

'Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?'

The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going.

'Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavour, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a preacher?'

'To continue the point, let me give you an example of what I mean.'

The student looks around the room. 'Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor's brain?' The class breaks out into laughter.

'Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor's brain, felt the professor's brain, touched or smelt the professor's brain? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, with all due respect, sir.'

'So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?'

Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable.

Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers. 'I guess you'll have to take them on faith.'

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Science and God

Unfortunately, if you read church history, as Christians we haven’t done ourselves any favours in the area of science. Supposed Christians gave Galileo such a hard time and excommunicated him from the church for believing the world revolved around the sun. The Christians, at the time, based their theology on the poetic parts of Scripture and read into them things God never intended.

As Christians we have nothing to fear from science. All truth is God’s. If science discovers something that appears to contradict Scripture we need to go check our theology. If we our theology is correct then eventually science will make more discoveries which will confirm it.

Neither does science have all the answers to our physical world. I read a fascinating book called: What the bleep do we know!? : discovering the endless possibilities for altering your everyday reality by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente (Health Communications, 2005). I wrote about it here. It is full of scientific experiments that scientists have done where there is no logic reasons for the results. Scientists are at a loss to explain the outcomes. It is not a Christian book, far from it actually. The authors, when they can’t explain the results, start looking towards spiritual answers, but not Christian answers.

We all believe a lot of things where there is no scientific evidence. We believe Christopher Columbus explored the Americas in 1492, that Abraham Lincoln became the president of the USA in 1861, that Homer wrote the Odyssey and Iliad etc. We believe these things based on historical evidence not scientific evidence. Likewise there is a great deal of historic evidence for much of what is recorded in the Bible and new archaeological discoveries are confirming even more.

Historians gauge the accuracy and reliability of historical manuscripts based on the time gap between when events happened and when they were recorded and also on the number of copies of the manuscript. The books of the New Testament score exceptionally well on both counts. Even non-Christians historians value these documents for their historical information. There are also non-Biblical sources that confirm some New Testament accounts.

Christians can take comfort from these discoveries but our faith is based on more than just history. Prior to becoming a Christian, life made no sense to me and I was quite suicidal. I remember being told in order to become a Christian I had to commit my life to God. I thought to myself, that’s easy, I don’t want my life, if God wants it, he can have it. So I became a Christian and my life began to have some meaning and purpose. I believe in a personal God, not just an historical Jesus, who so wants to be in relationship with us, he made it possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Devotional Thought : Romans 16:19-20

I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. Romans 16:19-20

God's promise has always been to crush the devil. In Genesis 3:15 God is speaking to the serpent and says, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."

Theologians get quite excited about this verse because it is actually the first reference in the Bible indicating that God will send a Saviour. "He will crush your head" finds its fulfilment in 1 John 3:8 "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work". In other words the woman's offspring would eventually bring a Saviour into the world who would defeat the devil. We know that Jesus achieved this on the cross.

However it is now up to us to believe that Jesus has indeed won the victory, sometimes in spite of the way circumstances look. If we trust God when things are tough it will frustrate the devil's plans. Paul uses the word, 'soon' to encourage the believers to persevere. We never know how close we are to success. We have to be more patient than the devil.

Furthermore we don’t have to whip up our own peace because Jesus gives us his peace. In John 14:27 we read, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." Jesus gives us peace but it is our responsibility to hang on to His peace and not let ourselves be troubled or afraid. Peace will crush Satan.

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