Thursday, November 05, 2009

My Mess is Bigger Than your Mess

In reading the blogosphere, the places I stop and read the most are Christian websites that have a reputation for linking me to great resources or those who make their research available for lesser scholars like myself. Being a part of the Reformed tradition myself, (okay, I am only a four-pointer, much in line with Calvin himself  ) I see a lot of blogs and websites that are written by those who are solidly reformed. I have one rather strange observation to make.

There are a good number of otherwise great Christians out there who are all claiming to be the chiefest of sinners. I get that there can be a plurality of chiefs. But there can only be one “chiefest of sinners”, and seeing as St Paul coined that phrase and applied that title to himself, all other ‘chiefest of sinners’ are frauds – a sin they can add to their long list.

Seriously, I understand that a thorough reading of the epistle to the Romans and the Institutes of John Calvin will teach us to know ourselves and to understand just how lost and depraved we are, apart from the merits of Christ. I havc no qualms with anyone experiencing levels of humility that rival the depth of a snake’s belly or the significance of an earthworm or gnat. But there is always a sneaking suspicion niggling in the back of my somewhat cynical mind that someone describing himself this way is really competing for the top prize for piety. I think it’s quite okay to be honest and to tell people.. “I’m a mess. That’s why I needed Jesus.” But it all begins to sound silly when we start competing over the question, “I’m a bigger mess than you are.” What’s the point in that?

Yes, let’s strive to be humble, but lets not self-consciously talk about the levels of humility we have attained. Like any other communicable attribute of our Lord, when we take our eyes off of the object of our faith and focus on the fruits of our faith, we’ve missed the point.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

On Oral Tradition

"For books to be read are not so profitable for me as the living voice that even until the present day resounds on the lips of their authors." -Papias
This statement was quoted to me as an argument for the validity of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Sacred Tradition. Sacred Tradition is what Catholics believe is the second stream of Divine revelation.
From the Official Catechism:
"And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching."

Thus, if the Magisterium says that Sacred Tradition holds to the perpetual virginity of Mary, then it must be believed, because it bears the same authority as the written Word of God.
Here is what Bauckham says in his book "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses".
Once again, we should notice a key implication of Papias' words; he does not regard the Gospel traditions as having by this date long lost a living connection with the eyewitnesses who originated them. Whether these eyewitnesses were still living would not matter if the oral tradition were essentially independent of them. Papias assumes that the value of oral traditions depends on their derivation from still living witnesses who are still living witnesses who are still themselves repeating their testimony. Now that these are few, second hand reports of what eyewitnesses now dead used to say are valuable, but Papias' whole statement implies that the value of oral tradition decreases with distance from the personal testimony of the eyewitnesses themselves.
(Bauckham, p.29)

Monday, October 12, 2009

How One Came Back

A.N. Wilson used to be an atheist. Wrote books and all that. He came back to the Christian faith. It is interesting to read what factors compelled him to accept the resurrection of Christ after all.

Here is another article by him.

I concur with what he says:

Gilbert Ryle, with donnish absurdity, called God "a category mistake". Yet the real category mistake made by atheists is not about God, but about human beings. Turn to the Table Talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge - "Read the first chapter of Genesis without prejudice and you will be convinced at once . . . 'The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life'." And then Coleridge adds: "'And man became a living soul.' Materialism will never explain those last words."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Truth Stranger than Fiction

With regularity, I find that sceptics and others who are eager to debunk Christianity will find something that from a human point of view is highly improbable and use it to support their ongoing unbelief and in some cases outright hostility against Jesus Christ and His teachings.

The objection that has been getting a lot of mileage ever since Tom Harpur’s book, The Pagan Christ hit the bookstores has to do with the alleged similarities between a lot of the older mythical gods of the Greeks and Jesus Christ. “Because some of the events are similar, and because there isn’t a whole lot of evidence of Christ's existence,” they say, “the existence of Christ must be placed in the same category of myth.”

Aside from the upside down logic of this thinking, it needs to be pointed out that improbability does not make a very good case. Let me show you an example out of our more recent history.

Let us say that in 1000 years from today, someone finds records of a George Bush, President of the USA in the late 20th century. Someone else on the other side of the country finds records indicating that there was a George Bush, President of the USA in the early part of the 21st century. It seems someone is getting their wires crossed.

Further to that, one discovers that George Bush fought a war with Iraq, but stopped at the Kuwait border, and that Saddam Hussein survived the war and continue to persecute his own people. The other archaeologist disputes those findings, saying that George Bush did indeed invade Iraq, and that Saddam’s atrocities were stopped, and that he was unceremoniously hung on the gallows and died like the dog he was.

Whom to believe?

The fact is that both claims were correct. Father and son were both presidents. And of course, we know the rest of the story because we were there. We were all eyewitnesses, through our TV’s, of the events that transpired.

But had we seen this kind of story out of Biblical history, the critics would all shake their heads. “Copycat history.. highly improbable thast there were 2 George Bushes, and even more unbelievable that they both wagewd wars on the same person and country, with different outcomes... can’t happen!” And books would be written, seminars would be held, debates would ensue.

Improbability does not a proof make. We know that now.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Is this what Paul meant by Foolishness?

We are told in the letter to 1 Corinthians that the Gospel is "foolishness to those who are perishing" (1 Cor 1:18). Some people understand that to mean that it's okay to be foolish. Take the following true story as an example.

An attendant in the hospital is alone in the elevator with a vulnerable and very anxious female patient. The whirring sound of the elevator and the beep that announces each passing floor are the only sounds she hears. She is on a gurney, staring at the ceiling thinking whatever patients think about when facing the surgeon's knife. Her mouth is dry, due to a pre-op shot she has had. She is being transported to the seventh floor. That's where all 24 Operating Rooms are (called theatres back then). That's where she is going to undergo serious surgery. She has been "prepped". The attendant is a Christian. He is convicted about his pastor's sermon on evangelism the previous week. He thinks this is his moment. Oblivious to her condition, he bends over her, inches from her face and says, "If you should die tonight, and find yourself at heaven's gate, and they ask you the question, "Why should we let you into heaven.." What would you say?"

Although I have altered some details in the story, it does depict a real event. This attendant and I worked together in the operating rooms and he actually got fired for inappropriate comments to patients after the Director of Nursing received several complaints from patient families. He claimed it was persecution. It wasn't so much that he was sharing his faith, but that he was imposing his faith to a captive audience at the most inappropriate times and in very inappropriate ways. He was not attracting people to Christ. He had a knack of repelling them.

So when Paul says that the gospel of God is foolishness to the Greeks, is this what he meant? Did he mean for us to be foolish? Or can we be wise about how to share Christ with our world?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Camel's Nose

From Gleanings by D. Appleton

I love this poem!

An Arab Fable
Once in his shop a workman wrought
With languid hand and listless thought
When through the open window’s space
Behold! – A Camel thrust his face.
“My nose is cold,” he meekly cried,
Oh let me warm it by thy side.”

Since no denial word was said,
In came the nose, in came the head
As sure as sermon follows text
The long excursive neck came next,
And then, as falls the threatening storm
In leap’d the whole ungainly form.

Aghast, the owner gazed around
And on the rude invader frowned
Convinced as closer still he pressed
There was no room for such a guest,
Yet more astonished, heard him say,
“If inconvenienced, go your way,
For in this place, I choose to stay.”

Oh youthful hearts, to gladness born,
Treat not this Arab lore with scorn
To evil habit’s earliest wile
Lend neither ear nor glance nor smile,
Choke the dark fountain ere it flows,
Nor even admit the Camel’s Nose.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Nuts and Bolts of Conflict

As I look back on this morning, I notice that several small squabbles took place in our home. They were nothing serious; this level of quarrel-lite happens frequently, I must confess.

1. I was reading my Bible on the couch. My daughter wanted to watch the morning news. My dear wife was trying to talk to me over the noise of the TV. I experienced frustration. I didn't listen to her, telling her I was reading. I took my laptop, exasperated, and went off into the reading room to avoid the TV and to finish reading in silence and solitude. A voice whispers in my head, "Aren't I the holy one this morning?"

2. We have three cars in the driveway, all in a row. My wife needs to leave for work, but her car was at the top of the driveway. All three of us have a different agenda and schedule. Again, the tension levels rise, as everyone's different agenda comes to the surface and manifests itself. One is in the middle of applying some makeup artistry to her face in the bathroom, the other (me) is lost somewhere in Israel's theological problems in the book of Isaiah. The third agenda needs urgently to leave for work if she is to be punctual. We all reluctantly plod out to our cars, grumbling to ourselves, start our engines, and exit the driveway in order to let Carole get to work on time.

I go back to my Bible reading after moving my car and this is on McCheyne's reading schedule: (I read with the immediacy of that all too familiar mirror effect.) "1. What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 2. You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."

Two things were driven home to me. One was personal: i.e. Although we were a long way from fighting, the serious conflicts are made out of the SAME STUFF! Having conflicting desires.. and when one party will not sacrifice their agenda for another, we have a serious problem.

The second one applies to our church. This underlined the necessity for all of us to experience the SAME DESIRES in the church. We have read recently that the problem with churches is not the lack of Vision, but rather too many visions. When everyone has their OWN desires of how things ought to be, or if everyone has their own set of expectations from the church, and if their expectations are not based on Scriptures, we will experience quarrels and fights and conflict.

As we all learn (through prayer and communing with our God) from the same Source what He wants us to be passionate about, we all, slowly but surely, arrive on the same page. And we will begin working in unity, with one heart and mind for the sake of the Gospel.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Spirit cuts through clutter

Giving can be an act of consecration
By Werner Peters | Special to ChristianWeek

Typing away on my laptop today reminded me of an incident I dare not forget. Years ago I was one of the very first to own a computer in the small town where I once served as a pastor. Then--as now--it was easy to get addicted to the many distractions a computer offers.

Buying the computer put me in debt, but I felt a strange impulse to do something that seemed irrational. I became aware that a children's Bible camp needed a computer, and I felt impelled to give my brand new computer to this ministry. I wasn't certain this urge was of the Lord. It certainly was not something I wanted to do.

I sat on the idea for a few days, wanting to be sure that it wasn't fleeting. Besides, I did not want to part with my computer. On the other hand, it was becoming addictive. So perhaps, I thought to myself, the Lord wanted it out of my life. I finally picked up the phone with a sigh and called the camp. To my surprise, the director there told me that someone else had given them a brand new computer just that week and they did not need another one.

Now what was I going to do? I decided to sell the computer pay off my debt. I got ready to go downtown to place an ad in the local newspaper, still puzzled about this "leading" I felt was from the Holy Spirit.

On the way out of the office I met an older believer (we'll call him John) who asked me what I was up to. I told him about my strange experience with the computer and informed him I was going to sell it. "Please don't go to place that ad," he replied. "I might be interested in buying the computer. What would it cost if I bought one just like it in the store?" (In those days we paid $1,200 to $1,400 for a computer with only one megabyte of ram and perhaps a 40 megabyte hard drive--and an amber screen.)

"John? You want a computer?" It was very unusual, particularly in those days, to see a 75-year-old man getting into computer technology. But he was a businessman and I figured he must want it for his business.

So I didn't run the ad. A couple of days later John came by my office and pulled out a roll of one hundred dollar bills. He counted them out--12 crisp new ones. I was preparing to pull things apart and help him out to the car with the various components when he said, "Wait a minute. Now the computer is mine, right?"

"Right," I said. "It's all yours. Let me help you carry it to the car."

"Well," he said, "I want you to have it."

I didn't quite understand him. I asked him to repeat what he just said.

"I want you to keep it. I am giving it back to you! I am convinced that the Lord was telling me to help you with your debt, so I bought your computer and I am giving it back to you. It's a gift."

It's one of the strangest experiences I have ever had with an "impulse." But I learned that giving something away is sometimes simply a roundabout way of consecrating something to the Lord and using it only in service for Him. That is the lesson I learned that day.