Friday, June 27, 2008

Freiday Devotional

Believing in the Unseen

I am currently reading through Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion, in which he tries to assert, like many New Atheists, that God does not exist. I have not finished the book yet, but so far I do not find his claims all that convincing, in fact they are nothing new. It's kind of like getting a used car with a new paint job. The old stuff is still inside, barely working, but the outside looks great and flashy. In Dawkins' case, he repeats many of the old charges against religion, and Christianity in particular, that people of his caliber have done since the Enlightment of the Eighteenth Century.

At the outset, Dawkins stated: "If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down." What sets Dawkins apart from previous atheists, is his vitriolic approach to religion. Take for example this opening line: "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser;a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." That sure is a mouthful, and a dirty one at that. It is a shame that that is all Dawkins sees when he sees the God the Bible. Notice, he does not mention any positives: loving, kind, generous, just, faithful, patient, peaceful, gentle, forgiving, righteous, holy, etc. Perhaps, if he would allow himself to see these attributes of God, he would be a believer, or at least sympathetic to theism in particular, and religion in general.

However, that is not the case as it rests today. So my question to you is, how strong is your faith? If someone like Dawkins, or just a co-worker, asked you why do you believe in an unseen (and presumably unknowable) God? What would you tell them? I, myself, being a seminary student, will often wrestle with my faith, and the knowability of God. If you commiserate with me on this issue, then may I suggest two passages of Scripture that I always fall back on when I feel overwhelmed by uncertainty.

The first passage is Romans 1:20, which states: "For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse." In this passage, Paul asserts that nature testifies to the existence and supremacy of God. Therefore, all one needs to do is take a close look at nature to see proof of God's existence. There are many scientists -- biologists, physicists, astronomers, etc -- that believe in God because they see his handiwork in what they study, namely creation. This should provide some consolation for the doubt we may experience as we traverse this world; knowing that people studying the created world can see the handiwork of God, and do not prop it up to evolution.

The second passage is from 1 Corinthians 15:3-6, where Paul says: "For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received– that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep." I believe, like Paul, that Jesus was raised from the dead after being crucified and buried. The interesting thing in this passage, besides the resurrection of Christ, is that there were numerous witness to verify this account. If what the Apostles were preaching was untrue then there would have been more than enough witnesses to testify against them. But, that is not the case, as no one has been able to refute the resurrection of Christ no matter how hard they try. They still cannot produce a body.

Therefore, even though I may go through periods of doubt, it is reassuring to know that my faith rests, not on the presupposition of an atheist, but on the indisputable fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as testified by numerous witnesses. So, may I encourage you, if you are going through a period(s) of doubt, read Romans and 1 Corinthians 15, and the Gospels. May you find the risen Christ there!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Are We Really Post-Modern?

In the most recent Christianity Today (July 2008), there is an article by William Lane Craig on the state of Christianity vs. the New Atheism. The article is more or less a rehashing of Christian philosophical proofs of the existence of God, but in truncated form. It is a good summary of the proofs, but nothing new is really stated or asserted. However, Craig does make one claim that I thought was interesting, and had never really considered until now.

His claim is that America, and the Western world in general, is more "post-Christian" than "post-Modern." He asserts that our culture is more ingrained in modernism than we care to think. He asserts that we are post-moderns in the sense of morals and ethics, but everything else is deeply modern, since we still require verification of any truth claim made. We are however, living in a post-Christian era as our culture becomes more and more secularized.

This seems to make sense. It just seems odd since there is a lot of literature out there that talks about the state of our post-Modern culture, and just assumes or takes for granted this notion of living in a post-Modern world.

I am still thinking this one through, but I was curious as to what you all thought about this? Are we only post-Modern in our morals and ethics? Or does post-Modernity stretch beyond that realm?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Freiday Devotional

How Big is Your Christ?

Passage: Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse! The one riding it was called "Faithful" and "True," and with justice he judges and goes to war. His eyes are like a fiery flame and there are many diadem crowns on his head. He has a name written that no one knows except himself. He is dressed in clothing dipped in blood, and he is called the Word of God. The armies that are in heaven, dressed in white, clean, fine linen, were following him on white horses. From his mouth extends a sharp sword, so that with it he can strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he stomps the winepress of the furious wrath of God, the All-Powerful. He has a name written on his clothing and on his thigh: "King of kings and Lord of lords." (Rev 19:11-16; NET)

Exposition: In the previous section (Rev 19:6-10), we get a picture of the wedding feast where the church is united with Christ. From the image of Jesus as the Bridegroom, we then move to an image of Christ as a warrior. John sees a vision of heaven opening up, and Christ riding on a white horse. As many of you may already know, in the ancient days, the horse was a symbol of power and war. Therefore, when Christ entered Jerusalem before his crucifixion, he road on a donkey for he was not bringing war at that time, but redemption. However, in this image, Christ is seen as the powerful judge as he rides to war against his enemies. "His eyes like a fiery flame" describe his ability to pierce through the sin of humanity and individuals. There is no escaping him. The crowns upon his head indicate his authority. Christ has been given all authority as judge and ruler.

It us unclear as to what the unknown name is referring to. It does not seem to indicate that we will never know what the name is. Instead, it could be that John was not privy to this name, but that we will find out at the Second Coming. His blood soaked clothing is quite disturbing, given the image of Jesus in the Gospels. In their portrayal, Jesus was not a warrior; quite the contrast compared to this last book of the New Testament. Jesus does not come alone, but is followed by an army. It does not appear that these soldiers are angelic beings, but probably human beings. Their dress is quite similar to that of the Lamb's bride in v. 8.

Jesus used the power of words during his life on earth. The image of the sword protruding from his mouth indicates his ability to slay with the power of his word. He will bring judgment upon his enemies by his word. What he speaks will not be comforting to those on the wrong side. Christ will not be moved by the cries and pleas. As the "iron rod" indicates, Jesus will stand firm in his duty and judgment. There will be no appeal, only sentence. The stomping of the winepress is an image from Isaiah 63, where God judges Edom by stomping on the people and having their blood splash on his robe (not the typical image of our all-loving God!).

This section ends by John reasserting the kingship of Jesus. He is King of Kings. There is none higher than him; none more powerful than him; and none more righteous than him. He is Lord!
As a side note: For those of you that are against tatoos, notice that Christ has a tatoo on his thigh. Hmmm...

With all that said, what is your perspective of Christ? Is Jesus just meek and mild to you? Or does he encompass more than that? Is he the redeemer and warrior? The Jews were expecting a warrior; the world got a redeemer. Christians got a redeemer; but are we expecting a warrior? Also, who's side are you on? Christ's? Or...?

Prayer: God:
Give us a deeper trust, that we may lose ourselves-to find ourselves in you, the ground of our rest, the spring of our being. Give us a deeper knowledge of yourself as Saviour, Master, Lord, and King. Give us deeper power in private prayer, more sweetness in your Word, a more steadfast grip on its truth. Give us deeper holiness in speech, thought, and action; and let us not seek moral virtue apart from you. We have no master but you, no law but your will, no delight but yourself, no wealth but that which you give, no good but that which you bless, no peace but that which you bestow. We are nothing apart from what you make us. We have nothing apart from what we receive from you. We can be nothing apart from your grace which adorns us. Quarry us deep, dear Lord, and then fill us to the point that we overflow with living water. (A Puritan Prayer).

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Freiday Devotional

Romans 7:18-20: I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-- this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:18-20; NIV)

Exposition: As with nearly every passage of the Bible, there are differences of opinion when it comes to interpreting this passage. It lies within the context of Paul's discussion on the law; typically understood as the Mosaic Law. So questions have been raised what Paul is asserting. Is he claiming that this experience is something that only Jews experience under the law? Did Paul write this as a flashback concerning his pre-Christian years? Is it just a personal experience that Paul has after his conversion to Christianity? Or is it something that all Christians experience in their walk with Christ? For our purposes today, we will follow the line of thinking concerned with this last question.

It would be no surprise, as Christians, that we are able to commiserate with Paul about his experience with wanting to do good and not doing it. As he states, the problem arises from the lack of good that "lives in me." This assertion is known in the theological realm as "total depravity." It is the belief that, as humans, from birth we are utterly sinful creatures, hell-bent against our Creator. This theological belief was propounded by Augustine (335-430 A.D.) against Pelagius (354-ca. 420 A.D.), and picked up again in the 16th century by the Reformers, esp. Calvin & Luther.

This depravity keeps us from doing the good that we desire to do as Christians. That is why we are in desperate need of help from the Holy Spirit. It is by God's grace through the Spirit that we are able to do anything good. When Paul says, "I cannot carry it out," he proclaims that he is unable to do good by the power of his own strength. When we rely on our own strength, is when we do the evil we do not want to do.

(Remember the last time you were tempted? Did you try to confront that temptation on your own? How did you fair? Or did you say a prayer to God for His strength to see you through? I know the good that I am supposed to do when tempted. But if I meet that temptation head on, without seeking God's help, is when I lose the fight.)

Paul makes a slight dichotomy of himself in the last phrase. He asserts that it is not him, as a Christian, but the sin that still dwells in him that causes him to do evil. This dichotomy is slightly unusual for Paul, as he typically views the person as a single whole. However, for his purposes here, and for emphasis, he asserts this dichotomy to show the struggle that Christians still have after conversion and through their sanctification.

This passage may be of some comfort for us as we continue our walk with Christ, knowing that one of our greatest Christian leaders struggled just as we do today. However, let us not take too much comfort, for Paul and Christ do not want us to stay where we are, continuing in our sin. Instead, let us seek help from the Holy Spirit to enable us to do the good that we desire and are called to do.

Prayer: Our Father in Heaven, we give you thanks for helping us to do good by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Without His help, we would not be able to do the good that is required of us or that we desire to do. We are ever grateful for the grace bestowed upon us through our faith in Christ. For it is by this grace, that we are able to love our neighbors as ourselves. Help us, Father, in our efforts to do good. May you lessen the sin in our lives, and elevate the good, so that You may be honored and glorified. In Jesus name and by the Spirit we pray. Amen.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Freiday Devotional

John 1:14a: "And the Word became flesh..."

This is a familiar passage to most, if not all of us. However, have you ever really sat back and just thought about what that statement means? Did you realize that this statement, as simple as it is, is chalked-full of meaning?

Take, for example, the term "Word." What do you think of when you see that term? Do you think of Jesus Christ as the true God-man? Or are you like Arius (ca. A.D. 250-335), who thought that Jesus was a creature--the first created being of the universe? Be careful, for if you agree with Arius, you are treading into heresy. For Arius and his teachings were condemned at the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325). As John 1:1 asserts, the Word is divine. Therefore, it had no beginning; it always existed.

Now proceed to the following word, "became." What do you make of this term? Do you agree with Apollinarius, another heretic, that Jesus merely indwelt a human body (kind of like an astronaut in a space-suit)? Or perhaps, you follow in line the with Docetists, who believed Jesus only appeared to be human (another heresy!)? The term "became" denotes a change in the subject that it was not before. Therefore, Jesus, being fully God, changed into a human, which He was not before. He left what was truly His, to become truly like we are, except without sin.

And as for the word "flesh," what do you think of? Do you think that the divine Logos and human flesh retained their separate identities as the Nestorians (more heretics) believed? Or do you agree with Chalcedon that the flesh and divine were combined into one person, Jesus Christ? Flesh does not just denote the outer layer of skin, but here it gathers together all that a person is; it consists of the meatiness, soul, and reason of a person. Therefore, Jesus was truly human, as much as, you and I are.

By these three words, John was able to describe the incarnation succinctly. But the question still remains: What are you going to believe? Are you going to believe as the heretics? Or are you going to see Jesus for who he really is--the God-man?

Prayer: Holy Father, thank you for the incarnation of Your Son, Jesus Christ. For by becoming like we are, He was able to experience all that we experience as humans, yet He did not sin. Father, help us to be like Christ. Help us to be human, and to live as humans free from the bondage of sin. We thank you for the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross, that we may have life eternally. Now, help us to live in that life, refreshed and renewed, and able to love You and neighbor more completely. In Jesus name, and by the Spirit, we pray. Amen.