Monday, February 25, 2013

Which is better?

Which do you think is better for the church to have: living apostles, or the complete Bible?

I'm open to hearing the dissenting opinion on this, but seeing as how God has given us one but not the other for the last 1900 years, I'm going to say God thinks it's better if we have complete scripture.

Now, assuming the last post about God's provision is correct:
1) What does that say about the sheer awesomeness of the Bible? How should we regard such a precious gift?
2) What does it say about us if we pine for and (feebly) attempt to recreate the apostles?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Grumbling against God

The book of Numbers tells the story of Israel leaving Mount Sinai, heading to the Promised Land, rebelling, and being punished by wandering around in the desert until everyone old enough to have participated in the rebellion dropped dead. Along the way, they complain about pretty much everything, and several additional rebellions break out. Jim Hamilton comments:

"The point being made in all these episodes is that Israel is in the presence of Yahweh, and they owe him praise and thanks for what he has done and how he has provided. Grumbling about circumstances, the kind of food, or who is in charge directly attacks the one who sovereignly orchestrated the circumstances, chose this food not that, and appointed the leaders who are in place. Grumbling against Yahweh suggests that what he has brought to pass is not good, or that his choices were not wise, or that he will not be able to do what he said, or that he has not been faithful to his promises. Yahweh responds to suggestions that he is not faithful, able, wise, and good - which are at the heart of unbelief - with wrathful indignation. He is a consuming fire - even with Moses." (Kindle location 2305, page # unknown, sorry)

He is exactly right of course, and this is but one of numerous reasons you should read this book. I'd also point out that this description does not just apply to Israel in the wilderness. It also describes very well the very first human sin back in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. God gave them a literally-perfect environment, and they still found an excuse to complain and rebel. In the midst of God-created perfection, Adam and Eve believed they could do better.

And so it is with us as well. All sin is merely a repetition of Adam's catastrophic error and Israel's folly. When we sin, we dare to judge God and find his provision lacking or his ways foolish. No matter what the sin is, it's this same basic form of rebellion. We think we can do better than God.

So this short paragraph also explains why hell is perfectly just. We look at the sovereign and wise creator of all, declare him to be an incompetent fool, and try to exalt ourselves over him. "Wrathful indignation" is certainly an appropriate response to such insolent rebellion.

Incredibly, this attitude doesn't stop even in the church. We debate whether hell is real or if the punishment would far outweigh the crime, while we really should be marveling at the incredible mercy God continually displays in that we're not there yet. We are not satisfied with the revealed Word and seek after 'fresh' revelation, when we should be blown away that God would even condescend to reveal himself to such despicable creatures as us at all. We scandalously entertain complaints about the exclusivity of Christ, that it somehow isn't fair that there's only one mediator between God and man, instead of being jaw-droppingly amazed that God would so graciously redeem even a single one of us.

God is good. God is wise. God is sovereign. What God has provided is better than anything we could even imagine. Let's be satisfied with what God gives and stop grumbling about what we imagine God has withheld.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Well, That's Curious

This morning, a meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, a city which can generously be described as 'rural'. It's in the Ural mountains, the dividing line between Europe and Asia. over 1100 miles from Moscow. While the area has a population of about a million, it's incredibly remote (sometimes considered part of Siberia); it's where the Soviets made much of their weapons-grade plutonium, so the damage from pollution or accidents would be contained. Despite the complete remoteness of the area, within minutes of the incident, dozens of videos were posted and viewed by millions of people around the world.

Meanwhile, we are told of the constant stream of apostolic-quality miracles happening all around the world. People are being healed - and not just back pain and fevers and the other easily-fakable stuff the obvious sham artists use either. No, cripples are made to walk again, amputees have limbs regenerated from stumps, leprosy is instantly washed away, sometimes even the dead are raised. Most of this happens in remote areas, but some happens in churches right around the corner. Nearly all of it is done at the hands of missionaries who send monthly newsletter updates and flood Facebook with pictures and videos of their kids for the family back home. And yet somehow not a single one of these miracles has ever been caught on camera. Even those miracles performed in American churches with thousands of people (many armed with smartphones), churches who record everything for broadcast and/or review, somehow always seem to escape the cameras.

Seems odd.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Apart from other things...

Towards the end of 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul takes to defending his ministry against the charges of the self-exalting Corinthian "super-apostles". These deceivers boasted of their own greatness, so Paul laid some apostolic smack down. He could boast of everything they could, but he could claim an even greater credential - enduring suffering for the sake of the gospel. The false apostles boasted in their awesomeness and general snazziness. The true apostle regarded that as worthless, and boasted instead in his weaknesses that showed the greatness of Christ.

In the midst of this argument, Paul gave his most extensive list of the sufferings he endured in the name of Christ (and more was still to come!) while the super-apostles demanded to be exalted and live in luxury at the Corinthians' expense. While looking at this passage recently, I was struck like never before by the last item:

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Cor 11:23-28)

"The daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches". I've always considered that as another thing that separates him from the false apostles - I love you and am terribly concerned for you, but they don't really care. And no doubt that's part of it. But now I don't think that gets the entire picture.

What I am more inclined to think now is that the relentless concern for the churches is the greatest suffering he endured. It's not just another addition to the list, it's the pinnacle. His anxiety over the churches is a greater burden to bear than being beaten, whipped, stoned, shipwrecked, and everything else combined.

I believe Paul is getting at that here. Suppose he was given a choice: (a) Demas apostasizes, or (b) Demas remains faithful, but to bring it about Paul must be scourged again. How long do you think he'd have to debate it? 0.000001 nanoseconds? Or is that too long?

I first thought that as I was considering my daughters, and how agonizing it would be to see them reject Christ. I can't imagine anything more painful - I can't imagine there is anything I would not endure if it would bring about their repentance. Of course I know that nothing I do can guarantee it - but if hypothetically the choice was offered, it would be the easiest choice ever.

We all can have this level of concern for people we know. But church leaders - pastors and elders - bear this burden continually, anxious for the well-being of people in their care who are more stubborn and self-destructive than sheep. Let us honor them well and make their job a blessing as much as we possibly can.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Religious Hypocrisy: The Problem of Evil

In this short video, atheist Neil De Grasse Tyson eloquently explains the fundamental premise of his religion:

Simply, there is no purpose for anything. Everything just is, and that's it.

And that's why the Problem of Evil is such a dilemma for atheists.

Oh, I know what you're thinking. You thought the Problem of Evil was a problem for Christians. You know, how can God be good and powerful, yet evil exists - it's the favorite question of twerps everywhere who've studied 'philosophy' for about twenty minutes and can't be bothered to think about it or look into what God himself says.

But I contend that the Problem of Evil is significantly greater for atheists. Namely: if there is no purpose, how can anything be evil?

And there is no doubt that they consider things to be evil. This hypocrisy is on full display every time there is a horrific event like Sandy Hook, or when we discover the wicked deeds of Jerry Sandusky, or when they pour contempt on evil folk like Westboro Baptist or Al Qaeda. In fact, even in the video above, you get the sense that he considers religious belief of any kind (other than materialism, of course) to be an evil thing, an opinion frequently expressed by the rabid atheists like Dawkins, the late Hitchens, et al.

They clearly and repeatedly declare things (and people!) to be evil. Yet according to their core belief, there can be no such thing as evil. Even the most vile, reprehensible person imaginable - think Hitler crossed with a pedophile crossed with Urkel - cannot rightly be charged with evil, if they believe what they claim.

On what basis could he? He can't be accused of acting contrary to our purpose, since there isn't one. Causing his victims to suffer? Doesn't matter - they're just organized molecules, and they just would have decayed into disorganized molecules at some point anyway; does it really make a difference how they get there? All is meaningless; all will be forgotten when we're dead. Same thing with the sufferings of their loved ones. Surely they can't be evil for breaking the law or acting against societal norms - those are just made up by groups of organized molecules who will all be dead soon anyway, so see above.

And so it goes with any other reason they can come up with. If we're nothing but matter, and there's no purpose for anything, then there is no meaning, and therefore there can be no good or evil. If everything just is without purpose, then everything we do just is without significance. And every time atheists act like something is good or evil, they reveal their hypocrisy - they don't believe what they shout from the mountaintops.

So the Problem of Evil for atheists boils down to this. The very concept of evil requires a standard against which good and evil can be judged, and the existence of a standard requires someone to establish that standard - and judge by it. As much as they may try to suppress this truth and deny it, their (sometimes correct) protestations against evil show that they know it.

Through all the bluster about our meaningless existence, their actions show that they know that there is sin. And their problem is that one day sin will be finally judged. But God is gracious and has given a perfect solution. May they stop the hypocrisy, acknowledge the truth, and grasp the only cure to the sin that kills us.