Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Abiding in Christ

Christians are divided in their understanding of what Jesus wanted us to do when He charged His followers to ‘abide’ in Him in John 15.

Soon after my conversion I read through a biography of Hudson Taylor; it told of his struggle to understand how this command was to be applied in his life. I read and re-read the story. I went on to read a number of devotional commentaries that dealt with this subject. Many seemed to be telling me to pray more fervently or read the word more diligently. This was good advice, yet the way to enter into this heightened experience of eternal life (that is what I thought it offered) still eluded me; I was trying to apply His words to my need in the 21st century before I understood them in the light of the situation facing His disciples in the 1st century. I saw it as something I had to learn to do, a level of Christian living which I hadn’t experienced yet.

Was abiding some state to which only the super-spiritual attained?

Monday, December 30, 2013

So What About Cain’s Wife?

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Bible Study 02 – Comparison [Part 2]

This is the second instalment in an ongoing series about studying the Bible using methods deduced from the Bible itself. The series introduction can be found here and the previous post here.

Last post I concluded with the idea that the best interpreter of scripture is more scripture, as opposed to culture, history, political correctness and other external sources of meaning that we are often tempted to impose on the word of God. Our first Bible study tool is comparison.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Two Genealogies

Whenever people speak of supposed contradictions in the Bible, the example of Christ’s two genealogies is sure to come up. The one in Matthew seems to be only 42 generations long from Abraham to Christ, while the one in Luke covers 56 from Abraham to Christ. Luke says that Heli was the father of Joseph, while Matthew says that Jacob was the father of Joseph. There are many other differences between the two genealogies, as well. How can both these accounts be correct?

Why Does it Matter?

The genealogy of Jesus is important, because anybody who claimed to be the Messiah had to be able to establish that they were a descendant of King David and heir to his throne, as the prophets had foretold (2 Sam. 7:12-13; Is. 9:6, 11:1-5; Jer. 23:5). So any accusation that Jesus’ genealogies are wrong is a serious one. However, both clearly show that Jesus is a descendant of David, so no matter what other conclusions one may reach about the genealogies, they cannot be used to disqualify Jesus as the Messiah.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

In Need of Analysis: Does it Build?

Earlier this year I sat in a small local church full of nice, friendly people who had come to hear what turned out to be a pretty decent, relevant and biblical message from a visiting preacher. Prior to introducing the speaker, the man designated to open the meeting led the congregation in a hymn. We opened beat-up, dog-eared hardcover hymnals to the hymn number he gave us and together we sang the following:
“Brightly beams our Father’s mercy,
From His lighthouse evermore,
But to us He gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.
Let the lower lights be burning!
Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.
Dark the night of sin has settled,
Loud the angry billows roar;
Eager eyes are watching, longing,
For the lights along the shore.
Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;
Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost.”
Say what? “Trim my feeble lamp”? Trim your own feeble lamp, pal! It was actually the second time we’d sung this hymn in the four weeks I’d been dropping in to that particular church.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Does the Virgin Birth Matter?

Liberal theologians say that certain details about the life of Christ, such as His virgin birth, are really just fanciful tales concocted by His followers long after His death. The disciples were trying to make Christ seem special, these scholars suggest, and so made these outrageous claims about His conception and birth when really He was just born in the ordinary way. The people of Jesus’ time did not have our medical knowledge and so the story caught on. But is it really that simple?

Does it Really Matter How Christ was Born?

Yes, it certainly does matter. The story of the virgin birth is vital to our understanding of Christ’s divine, sinless nature. It is no coincidence that so many of the theologians who reject the Virgin Birth also reject the deity of Christ. After all, if one part of His life story is just a myth, then many other parts might be mythical as well.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Duck Season

Stephen Yuille at Deus Pro Nobis tosses around the Phil Robertson (Duck Dynasty) political football with some success here, and says a lot of good things. I’ve been thinking a fair bit about his third concern:
Thirdly (and finally), I’m concerned for those who want to make grandpa the poster-child for the Christian faith.
I’ve read the transcript of grandpa’s recent interview. (It made me blush.) He attempted to quote Scripture (botched it, but at least he tried). But he had no difficulty or hesitancy engaging in a discourse which was (to put it mildly) downright crude (“lacking tact or taste; blunt or offensive”), crass (“unrefined as to be lacking in discrimination and sensibility”), and vulgar (“deficient in taste, delicacy, or refinement”). Wait, I’m not finished. It was rude, tawdry, and tasteless.”
First, I haven’t run into anyone so far who’s bent on trying to make Phil Robertson a poster child for the Christian faith, but then again, I’ve never watched his show either, so that may be more of a function of my lack of attention to the media generally than an intimation that Mr. Yuille has missed the boat in his assessment.

The Messiah

Among the millions of Jews in the world today, only a small percentage even believe in the promise of Messiah at all. That percentage seems to be growing, but in North America relatively few Jews acknowledge the Bible’s teaching about a coming king who would redeem and rescue Israel. 

The Meaning and the Promise

Messiah is a Hebrew word meaning ‘Anointed One’. ‘Christ’ is the Greek word for the very same thing. In the Old Testament, prophets, priests and kings were anointed to show that they had been chosen by God. However, there were also many prophecies which spoke of a special Anointed One who would be prophet, priest and king all in one. This was the One who was referred to as ‘the Messiah’, and the promise of His coming gave suffering Jews hope for many centuries. Today many Jews have given up on that promise. However, gentile Christians and a small number of believing Jews believe that Jesus is the Messiah who was promised to Israel. He has not yet fulfilled all the prophecies which were given about the Messiah, but He will come back and fulfill the rest of the prophecies soon.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Chosen Instrument

When the Lord Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, he was blinded and spent three days fasting and praying until the Lord healed him through the hands of Ananias.

Speaking about his conversion to the Jews in Jerusalem much later, he said:
 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day” (Acts 22:3)
A Jew: Was being a Jew useful to Paul in the Lord’s service? No kidding. Had he been only a Gentile, it would have been extremely difficult for Paul to convince anyone, especially Jews, of the critical truth that salvation was now offered freely outside of the legal prescriptions of Judaism. Instead, he could endorse Gentile membership in the body of Christ (and for that matter, salvation by faith rather than works) without any apparent personal agenda.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Two Men and You

The Story of the Bible

The Bible consists of 66 books. Thousands of years lie between the first human author and the last, but the way its history, its prophecies, its songs and its teachings blend into a cohesive story implies the oversight of one Person. He must have existed throughout the years of its production! The Bible claims for itself that it is “God-breathed” or inspired.

What is its story all about? Serious students of its pages have made various suggestions as to its overall purpose and plan depending on which of its themes interested them. Every valid idea put forward is like a thread woven into the overall fabric of Scripture. It becomes possible to trace these themes throughout its pages like the coloured strands in a tapestry. The topics of the glory of God, the sinful condition of mankind, the need for a sufficient sacrifice, etc., all contribute to the total impression left on the mind of the thoughtful reader. And each strand of truth that begins in the first book has its counterpart, contrast and climax in the last.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Can We Really Know?

Although there are many religions in the world, with a great number of differences between them, there is one point at which almost all of them agree: They all claim that man must earn his salvation by good works of some kind — whether this is by performing deeds of charity, observing rituals or cultivating certain attitudes and thoughts. As a result, followers of these beliefs can never be confident that they have done enough to please their god or gods. They can only say, “I think so”, or “I hope so”.

Arrogant Christians?

The believer in Christ, however, does not say “I think” or “I hope”. He is able to say “I know”. Those who follow other beliefs are often taken aback, and offended, by this confidence. How could anyone be so arrogant as to be sure that they have pleased God? But the Christian is someone who has realized that there is a difference between God’s plan of salvation and the way humanity tries to make for itself.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Diversity

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bible Study 01 – Comparison [Part 1]

This is the first instalment in an ongoing series about studying the Bible using methods deduced from the Bible itself. The series introduction can be found here.

Looking for Answers

A group of Sadducees once tried to convince Jesus by the use of an absurd hypothetical that resurrection of the dead is impossible. The Lord didn’t simply give them a lecture on his personal opinion or fall into the trap of answering their silly question. Instead, he referred them right back to the Old Testament that they professed to believe in order to correct their misunderstanding:
“Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.’ ” (Matt. 22:29)
“Have you not read what was said to you by God?” he asked, and proceeded to astonish them with a conclusion drawn from the use of the tense of the Hebrew equivalent of the verb “to be” in the book of Exodus.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

But I’m Not Hurting Anybody …

Wiccans and other new age groups often quote the credo, “An ye harm none, do what ye will”. As long as what they are doing is not hurting anyone, they believe that they are free to commit whatever acts they desire — including many things Scripture calls sin. The question is, however, whether they can be sure that these ‘harmless’ acts really are harmless.

It’s Not Arbitrary

When God calls something sin, He does not do so on a whim. God is not a cosmic spoilsport, trying to keep mankind from pleasure. The Scriptures assure us that “no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless” (Ps. 84:11). So when God declares something to be sinful, and asks us to avoid it, we can be sure that it is best for us to do so. It doesn’t matter how tempting it looks or how many other people are doing it. If God has forbidden it He has done so for a reason. 

No, really ...

A few days back I linked to a post from a Texas pastor on the subject of God’s attributes that’s still percolating in my cranium this morning (you can find it here). This bit:
God isn’t merely wise; He’s wisdom. He isn’t merely powerful; He’s power. He isn’t merely good; He’s goodness. He isn’t merely holy; He’s holiness. He isn’t merely just; He’s justice. God’s manifold attributes can no more be separated from Him than He can be separated from Himself. They’re His essence.
is probably something any serious Christian can nod in agreement with. But I wonder if some may read the following:
They’re all one in Him – His justice is His mercy and His mercy is His justice, His wisdom is His power and His power is His wisdom, His knowledge is His patience and His patience is His knowledge, His wrath is His goodness and His goodness is His wrath. God’s manifold attributes are distinguished in their objects and effects, but they’re all one in Him.
and think, Whoa, hey pastor, what are you smoking? Justice isn’t mercy. Justice is justice. They’re both good qualities, but they’re distinct from one another. And definitely wrath isn’t goodness and goodness isn’t wrath. Where exactly are you coming from here?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

One

“But he is one, and who can turn him?” (Job 23:13).
Job said it about God to his companions as he suffered.

God is one. That can be read in many different ways and has a bunch of implications, certainly more than Job had in mind at the time:

One vs. Three

When the Unitarian says, “Good, God is one; that puts paid to this nonsense about a trinity,” he is making a theological point. He’s wrong, of course. Don’t use the word trinity if it bothers you. Don’t refer to the ‘persons of the Godhead’ if you find it a non-scriptural or extra-scriptural turn of phrase. That’s certainly a position one can take. But if you can read your Bible without noticing that God manifests himself in three distinctly different ways, modes — or possibly, um, ‘persons’ — well, you’re just not reading the same thing I’m reading.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Recommend-a-blog (1)

This is pretty amazing:
"God isn’t merely wise; He’s wisdom. He isn’t merely powerful; He’s power. He isn’t merely good; He’s goodness. He isn’t merely holy; He’s holiness. He isn’t merely just; He’s justice. God’s manifold attributes can no more be separated from Him than He can be separated from Himself. They’re His essence. They’re all one in Him – His justice is His mercy and His mercy is His justice, His wisdom is His power and His power is His wisdom, His knowledge is His patience and His patience is His knowledge, His wrath is His goodness and His goodness is His wrath. God’s manifold attributes are distinguished in their objects and effects, but they’re all one in Him."
Read the whole thing here and give it some thought. If you don’t get it now, it may hit you later.

Made my day.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Did Christ’s Disciples Concoct the Myth that He was God?

“I think,” someone once told me earnestly, “that Jesus’ teachings were good, but he was just an ordinary man. After he died, his followers invented the story about the resurrection and started talking as if he were God. They meant well, of course — they were only trying to gain more support for their new religion. But if Jesus had known that they’d made a god out of him, he would have been shocked.”

Many people like the idea of acknowledging Jesus as a great moral teacher, but they don’t want to recognize Him as God. So they suggest that all His claims to deity in the gospels were added by over-zealous followers after His death. This hypothesis may be convenient to those who wish to pick and choose among Christ’s teachings, but is it true? Is it even logical?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Bible Study 00 – Introduction

Studying the Bible is Good for You

Forgive me for stating the obvious. The late Christopher Hitchens would probably have disagreed, famously insisting that “Religion poisons everything”.

I could bob and weave and insist that Christianity isn’t really a ‘religion’ properly speaking, but Christianity was certainly one of the targets, if not the main focus, of Mr. Hitchens’ ire.

But Christianity, properly understood and practiced, doesn’t poison anything at all. It really doesn’t.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Aren't the Gods of Other Religions Really Just Different Views of the Same God?

As human beings, we are subject to changes of mood and personality. A person may behave in a kind and loving way one day, and then be selfish and surly the next. Some people over the centuries have taken this concept and applied it to God. Certainly, they say, God can be just, and the Old Testament is right to say that God is just. But God can also be selfish and capricious, so the ancient Greeks were right to believe in a Zeus who punished men for trivialities and cheated on his wife. The Jews and the Greeks were both right. They each saw a different aspect to God's personality, that's all.

All Things to All Men

The belief in a God who is "all things to all men" is now so widespread that anyone who suggests otherwise is looked upon with pity and scorn. However, the popularity of a notion does not necessarily make it true. Can God really be anything we imagine Him to be? Can He be just and unjust, perfect and imperfect, a loving personal God and a blind impersonal force at the same time? Or is nonsense still nonsense even when we talk it about God?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Conspiracy Theory

I’ve been enjoying the account of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle Paul, the writer of many books in the New Testament. The book of Acts tells Paul’s story several times, each version bringing out new details not recorded in the others.

Atheists and detractors like to point out alleged contradictions in scripture; anything that might be interpreted, however implausibly, with sufficient elasticity as to make less than perfect, logical sense of the biblical narrative. Such things are accounted for variously as factual mistakes, copyist’s errors or conspiracies among believers to commit pious fraud.

TheThinkingAtheist.com is a great place to go if you want to see the sort of thing that passes for bible criticism among those who have already made up their minds before reading a single verse.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Making Straight Paths

We are likely all familiar with the preparations involved for a visiting dignitary: the airport at which he will arrive is closed off to other traffic, the roads his motorcade must travel are cleared, a security perimeter is established and so forth. This has been society’s behavior for time immemorial – when someone important arrives, everything else is managed to ensure that the VIP can keep to their schedule in a way that is most comfortable and safe for them.

In the first chapter of John’s gospel, John the Baptist is confronted by the emissaries of the Pharisees. They ask him who he imagines himself to be. John – so utterly confident of his particular role in God’s plan – answers their questions:

“Are you the Christ?” – “No”.

“Are you Elijah?” – “No”.

“Are you the Prophet?” -  “No”.

“Well, who are you then???”