Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Bible, Science, and Pseudoscience

Pseudoscience has an iron grip on large parts of the Christian community. The people in these various camps will find it next to impossible to engage with intelligent, educated people to any real degree. They'll be laughed off, and they're deluded enough to think they're being persecuted for the Lord's sake. Meanwhile, they accuse Christians who reject their interpretations of being "compromisers" and agents of deception.

I well remember the time when a lady tried telling me that dinosaur bones were a satanic deception. She was completely serious and was actually angry that I believed otherwise. I was a small child at the time, and remember that I just nodded compliantly in response, hoping to put some much-needed space between me and the big, angry lady as quickly as possible.

The Bible is not a science book. It was written to, and by, ancient peoples who didn't know even a fraction of what we know today, and it often employs poetic language that should not be interpreted literally or as some kind of scientific commentary.

For instance, Psalm 104:5 says that God "set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved." Some have taken this to mean that the modern understanding that the Earth rotates on its axis and orbits the Sun must be false (another alleged NASA hoax). It must be remembered, however, that the psalmist did not understand the "earth" in the sense that we do, that is, of its being a planet. The term is probably better translated "land," as this is what the ancients knew (and, often in scripture, "the land" refers to the limited area in which particular events are taking place, rather than all land everywhere). To the ancients' way of thinking, the land, the sky, and the sea all had their designated "places" in the scope of creation. That's what the psalmist is talking about here: how all things are subject to the order God has established in creation rather than being in some kind of chaotic flux. This certainly conforms to what we have learned by the scientific method (and particularly so within the lifetime of human beings), but it should not be taken as an exhaustive commentary on the composition of our planet.

Even those passages where God himself speaks of what he has made should not be taken as necessarily literal or precise. God used simple terms to communicate with people of simple understanding, and he often used poetic comparisons, just as we do today when explaining things to children. When my six-year-old son tells me, "Look, Daddy! The sun's going down!", I don't subject him to a lesson in cosmology. He has some growing up to do before we get into all of that, just as the human race has had some growing up to do in terms of its understanding of the universe.

* Image courtesy of NASA.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Cure for Broken Relationships

It's tragic to see so many marriages falling apart, including Christian marriages. In many instances, this is attributable to stubbornness and selfishness on the part of one or both spouses. In other instances, it seems to be the result of years of unresolved frustration and anger that give rise to bitterness. In the latter case, things tend to come to a head quickly, with one spouse abruptly storming out on the other, who is then left bewildered and broken. Where children are involved, it's all the more tragic.

What's the remedy for this? Counseling? Therapy? Medication?

The answer became more fully apparent to me some time back while I was praying for a Christian couple that was in turmoil. This was one of the rare instances in which the Spirit actually answered me, and he did so as he almost always does - by interrupting me, which I suppose is his way of letting me know that what I'm hearing is not my own thought. He said, very simply, "I can't help them if they won't yield to me."

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all essential to establishing and maintaining the harmonious relationships that God intended us to have with one another, and all are called "fruits of the Spirit" in scripture (Galatians 5:22-23). They are manifestations of the transformative work of God in our character, and they can only be developed in us as we learn to yield to him rather than indulging our own desires, which typically manifest as lust, anger, stubbornness, selfishness, unforgiveness, bitterness, vengeance, and the like - all the things that typically destroy relationships.

If you're facing turmoil in a relationship today, it may well be that - contrary to conventional wisdom - marriage counseling should not be your first step toward reconciliation, at least not for the Christian. As I see the teaching of scripture, the first step may well be to spend time apart for awhile, seeking God individually, repenting of selfishness and learning to hear his voice and yield to his gentle prompting. Ephesians 4:3 refers to a "unity of the Spirit" that results in "the bond of peace." If you are both focused on him and yielded to him, the Spirit will naturally facilitate peace between you. Counseling tends to focus on working out your animosities, which shifts your attention to yourself and will likely cause you to become defensive. By giving control over to the Spirit of God first, you learn to see things (including one another) through his eyes, and the old complaints and battles will be far easier to overcome because pride and selfishness will no longer be in the way.

What, then, if your spouse is not interested in yielding to the Spirit of God? The hard truth there is that reconciliation may not be possible. As painful as this may be, regardless of what your spouse may choose to do, remain focused on the Lord, yielding to the Spirit rather than to succumbing to despair. The Spirit is not only capable of producing a unity that results in peace between persons, but also between us and our Lord, and it is this peace that the Bible tells us "surpasses all comprehension" and is able to "guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus."

When the peace of the living God has hold of you, there is nothing you cannot endure. Jesus was able to face the specter of the cross, in spite of being abandoned by his closest friends, simply because he knew "I am not alone, because the Father is with me" (John 16:33).

Your Father will be with you, too. Look to him and yield to his Spirit, cultivating the bond of peace that unity with him results in, no matter how even those closest to you may wound and betray you.

* Scriptures taken from the NASB

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Matthew 24 and the Rapture Debate, Part Two: The Rapture as a 'Mystery' revealed by Paul

The second video in my series on Matthew 24 and the rapture debate focuses on the pre-tribulationist argument that the coming of Matthew 24:29-31 cannot be the rapture because Jesus was relying on Old Testament prophecies for his teaching and the rapture is a New Testament "mystery" never revealed in the Old Testament.

Most pre-tribulationists that I've heard who hold to this belief argue that Paul first revealed the rapture in 1 Corinthians 15. I break this position down in two ways: 1) Examining what a biblical "mystery" is and how the rapture fits in with that, and 2) Demonstrating why the 1 Corinthians 15 argument ends up unraveling.

Trump, Syria, and the March toward World War III

After campaigning on a non-interventionist foreign policy and articulating why the Clinton-Bush-Obama era policies were fundamentally flawed and counterproductive, Donald Trump has taken the unexpected step of launching cruise missiles at the Assad government in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians.

Given the fact that the Syrian chemical weapons attack in 2013 (Obama's infamous "red line" incident) was perpetrated by the Syrian opposition, we should have taken the time to conduct a more thorough investigation before retaliating. As it is, we are now, in the words of the Russian prime minister, "one step" from direct military confrontation with Russia and the threat of world/nuclear war. We are on the brink of the ultimate disaster. Are you ready?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Things that Hinder our Love

"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." - Romans 8:37-39

This much-loved and often-quoted passage of scripture assures us that no circumstance of this life or any threat we face can dissolve the bonds that keep us in the Father's love. As much as this already speaks to me by itself in terms of the Christian's relationship to God, it spoke to me differently this morning in light of another passage of scripture:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." - John 13:34 
If, as Christians, we are all children of the same Father, fixed in his affections by bonds that no circumstance can sever, and if we are commanded to love as he loves us, why are we so easily divided in our affections from one another? The love that is manifested by God toward us should rightly be manifested through the Spirit of God among us. Why, then, is this "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" the exception in the church rather than the rule?

I believe there are two primary reasons for this:

1. Unbelief - We are not convinced of God's love for us.

Many of us have been so battered by this life and are so full of rejection and fear that virtually every day with us is a game of "He loves me; he loves me not." The consequence of not believing in his love is a continual cycle of doubt, fear, worry, and despair, resulting in double-mindedness, the inability to focus properly, and an emotional miserliness that separates us from both God and man because we're so afraid of losing what we have (or think we have) that we can't reach out to anyone else or let them reach out to us. It's rather difficult to link hands with someone when you're hands are already full. To join with others, we have to put our "stuff" down first.

2. Pride - We're too caught up in love of self.

Pride, which is really love of self above all else, can stem from rejection as a type of defense mechanism (usually manifesting in a stormy, unpredictable temperament), but often it is a separate category entirely. Pride is like fire; it consumes everything in favor of itself. Pride sees everything in terms of how it relates to self: "That's not what I like," "That's not how I would do it," "That doesn't make me happy," "That's not how I see it," "Where does that leave me?", and so forth. A person caught in a stronghold of pride practically generates their own gravity field, drawing everything to themselves. Even if they dislike and avoid you, it's usually difficult to escape their influence, as they'll find ways - even subtle ways - of conveying their disdain for you and poisoning others against you. For some people, this is almost a game.

In Proverbs 6, Solomon tells us that there are seven things that are "abominations" in the sight of God, and pride (love of self) lies at the heart of every one of them. In Job 41, he describes a fearsome creature with the characteristics of a classical dragon and calls it "king over the children of pride." These are strong testaments to what God thinks of pride.

Needless to say, pride is the mortal enemy of love. I believe these two things: unbelief and pride, are at the heart of our failure to love one another as God loves us, and together they have left the church divided, weak, and often at war with itself. Indeed, lack of love for others may be at the heart of why many of us are not growing as we would like to spiritually, as we're disobeying the commandment Jesus said lies at the heart of all true spirituality (Matthew 7:12; 22:40). If we rejoice in the Bible's declaration that nothing in this life can separate us from God's love for us, then we should take Christ's command to love one another as he loves us all the more seriously, and allow nothing to separate us from one another. The first step in that direction could be a prayer like this:
"Father, in the name of Jesus I confess my failure to love others as I ought to, as the Lord commanded us to, and ask your forgiveness. I desire to make this right in my life. I ask you to deliver me from unbelief and pride. Touch and heal me from every source of rejection that suppresses my ability to experience your love for me and hinders me in loving others. Expose every root of pride within me and grant me the strength to dig them out. Fill me with the same love for my fellow Christians that you have toward me, that I might be a blessing and a source of life and healing to all around me. I ask these things in faith, knowing that it is your will for your children to live in love, toward you as well as toward one another. You alone can make this possible. Teach me to yield to you so that you can do your works in me and through me. Amen."

* Scriptures are quoted from the NASB.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Matthew 24 and the Rapture Debate, Part One: The Unknown Day and Hour

This video addresses two issues with regard to Matthew 24 and the rapture/second coming of Christ:

1) Should Matthew 24:36 be used with regard to the timing of the rapture?

2) Pre-tribulationists (appealing to Matthew 24:36 and the timing of the Abomination of Desolation) insist that post-tribulationists contradict Jesus when they maintain that the rapture and the second coming are one and the same event. Is this an accurate criticism? I answer this charge from the post-trib perspective.

Monday, March 20, 2017

True Humility is knowing One's Identity in Christ

Some time ago I called a pastor acquaintance of mine to ask for prayer. When he picked up the phone, the first thing he said to me was, “What can I do for you, man of God?”

For an instant, I was speechless. It had never occurred to me to think of myself in those terms. Had he picked up the phone and said, “What’s up, basket case?” or “How’s it going, screw-up?” I probably wouldn’t have batted an eye; in fact, I probably would have assumed the Holy Spirit had given him a word of knowledge. But “man of God” - I wasn't prepared for that.

The Christian faith places a great deal of emphasis on humility, and for most of my life I guess I thought humility was the art of running yourself down. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Humility is an attitude of reverent awareness that what you have, and what you can do, you have and can do by the grace of God. Humility keeps one thankful toward God and merciful toward one’s fellow human beings. The alternative is arrogance, which leads to contempt for both God and man.

At its core then, humility is simply an acknowledgment of the truth: the truth concerning oneself in relation to God.

For this reason, running yourself down isn’t just counterproductive; it’s actually a form of self-delusion. Further, I believe it’s an affront to God. The scriptures are clear that those who belong to Christ have received the favor of God (Romans 5:1-11), even the right to be called his own children (John 1:12-13). We are to receive an inheritance along with Christ (Romans 8:16-18). Indeed, Jesus said that it is the Father’s “good pleasure” to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32). He doesn’t merely tolerate us, he delights in us (Ephesians 5:1). We are important to him, first because we are created in his image, and second because we are being conformed to the image of his son (Romans 8:29), who is ever pleasing to him. When we look down on ourselves we effectively deny these truths and thereby subtly imply that the sacrifice of Christ that was designed to bring these things about really hasn’t done so.

There is a place for conviction in our lives. The Holy Spirit brings this about in his own gentle way, but he never rubs our noses in our failures and inadequacies. Given that we are to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1), it stands to reason that we should not do these things to ourselves, either. Yes, it’s easy to become discouraged at times—especially as we reflect on the power and holiness of God, and as we compare ourselves to various famous names in the history of the faith—but as Christians we are called to be “overcomers.” A person who runs himself down is not overcoming; he is being overcome. Victory will never come to one who chooses to crown himself with defeat.

So, yes, let’s pursue humility, but let it be genuine humility—a humility that comes by way of the truth and that leads us into thankfulness and mercy, and onward to victory. Acknowledge who you are in Christ and what God has said about you in those terms. Know that, if you belong to Christ, then you are indeed a man or woman of God, no matter what you may feel like at the moment or how far you have yet to travel on the road to maturity. It isn’t easy to change a habitual pattern of thinking, as those who are prone to anxiety and depression know only too well, but it’s the essential first step and it is possible with prayerful determination. The alternative is futility, self-delusion, and insulting the father who has so graciously made us the children of his favor.
“For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that...we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.” - Hebrews 6:16-18

*Scripture is taken from the NASB.