The story goes that after Paul and Silas disrupted the business of fortune-telling exploiters in Philippi that they were beaten and jailed. The jailer, when he got the order, put them in the inner cell and put their feet in stocks.
It must have been quite a day or maybe the fact that it was midnight. But something contributed to the jailer falling asleep. Maybe he'd too much of their singing. Nonetheless, he was in charge and duty bound to the prisoners. But his eyelids closed, and he was out, only to be awoken by the shaking of a mighty earthquake. It was such a shock that the prisoners were no longer bound, neither by their cell nor their stocks. And as one would imagine, the jailer thought the prisoners had escaped. He drew his sword without reservation in order to kill himself until he heard the words, "Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!" Prisons were not used for rehabilitation but containment until sentencing (i.e punishment). So, it would have been a big deal for a prisoner to escape. More research would need to be done, but is it possible that the reason the jailer would have killed himself was to spare himself torture and possibly him being tortured to death? Maybe he thought if he went ahead and ended his life quickly with the sword he would not have to endure Roman punishment for "sleeping on the job." Could it be that he thought he would punished in place of the escaped prisoners? Punished to death?
I think the jailer realized he had just lost everything; his job, his prisoners and consequently his family and ultimately his life. He asked for lights and rushed in trembling before Paul and Silas after hearing their words. He wanted to see for himself if they were alive. For if they were, he would still have a chance at being alive.
Paul answers his question with the words we know well, "Believe on (in) the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household." But I am not totally sure Paul answered the jailer's question.
We think and have so for some time that the jailer was inquiring about salvation from the eternal punishment of his sins, when he asked, "What must I do to be saved?" But was he? I think the jailer was asking these men (maybe he saw them as gods as in Acts 14:11-14) how he could escape the punishment of Roman bosses. It was a natural question arising from the current situation. But Paul flipped the question and answered it by telling him how we all can escape the punishment for our wrong-doing, our falling short of the glory of God.
The jailer fell asleep and should have been killed. He wanted to know from these men who didn't run how to escape punishment. Paul told him how to escape punishment, but not from the Roman authorities. We are all spiritually sleeping, having fallen down on the job, deserving severe punishment from God. But God says, "Wait a minute, I've sent my Son to you, put your trust in him and you will escape the punishment due to you." It is cause for singing.
Monday, June 18, 2012
The story goes that after Paul and Silas disrupted the business of fortune-telling exploiters in Philippi that they were beaten and jailed. The jailer, when he got the order, put them in the inner cell and put their feet in stocks.
Wednesday, March 07, 2012
How do we answer the question, "Why are some atheists/secularists good and why are some believers not?"
I know that the Bible says that there are none good, no not one. I am not questioning if mankind is sinful. Of course we all are. I am just grappling with trying to figure out where morality comes from. Experience shows that those who believe in God are not more likely to "better people," than those who do not believe. I know atheists who are much more concerned about the poor and oppressed and downtrodden than their believing counterparts. Why? Shouldn't followers of Christ have more sensitivity to the needs around them than someone who believes very little about Jesus, much less trusted him for forgiveness?
I think we have made too little of human potential. And before I am accused of converting to a secular humanist, let me explain. Even though I am not a secular humanist I do think we've missed how much potential we have for good. And I don't think this contradicts Scripture. (However, I may have to edit this post after the responses)
I want to start by saying that even the best of our human potential will never be good enough to satisfy the holiness of God. We will always fall short of giving God glory. I want this to be understood from the outset. Faith in Jesus is the only way to be brought to the Father in forgiveness. Now that that is clear, let me proceed.
Humans have the potential for great good. But we will never be as good as possible. Humans also have the potential for great evil. And we can be as evil as possible. Mother Theresa was a good person but she could have been even better. Jeffrey Dahmer was an evil person, and while it can be argued he could have probably been worse, I think it is fair to say he went out of his way to do evil things. We could cite more examples, but hopefully this shows what I'm trying to say. The doctrine of the fall of man does not teach that man is as evil as he could be, but it did leave him the potential to delve deep into evil without some sort of constraint. On the other hand what the doctrine of the fall of man does teach is that man is prevented from ever being as good as he possible could.
We can still be and act "good," (just not good enough). We were created in the image of God. God is good. Therefore, we were created for good. Creation was very good. When man ate the fruit of the tree it was not the tree of the knowledge of evil, but the tree of knowledge of good and evil. When that fruit got into the human system, they could still do good, but now they also knew evil as well as good. This is why humans, whether believers or not, do have a lot of potential for good. But in the end, they will always fall short of perfection in good.
In trying to understand more about Islam, I am reading through Islam An Introduction. My comments are not directed at the author, Rosalyn Rushbrook. But I am using her information as my source of knowledge for my understanding of Islam.
In the chapter on the PM, one finds him to be a somewhat likable fellow and even peace loving. But what stood out for me was how he's like the rest of us. When we feel threatened we tend to strike back, whether verbally or physically. He seemingly allowed peaceful coexistence of Jews and Muslims unless their community came under attack. In this case he had asked they all come together to fight the common enemy. "...he would have preferred it if he had been left in peace in Madinah, but sadly, the opposition from the Quraysh tribes continued and he was obliged to take part in sporadic warfare...[even if] only a few months." (pg16) "Jihad was...primarily for defensive reasons..." (pg17)
So PM was a relucant warrior. Sounds pretty noble. But what would have happened if he had been led to the slaughter as a lamb, not opening his mouth? What would have happened if he had taken insult and turned the other cheek? What would have happened if he had commended his spirit into the hands of God? What if he would have defeated death by dying and rising again in victory?
I would say that anyone who could do that would be a King, but maybe one in disguise.
I hate being behind in blogging. I miss opportunities like the Quran burning in Afghanistan and the desecration of graves of Christians and Jews in Libya.
So, I'll just add my two cents worth a bit late.
First, as I understand it there is a misconception about how non-Muslims view the Quran. From a Christian perspective one would tend to think the Bilbe is to Christianity as the Quran is to Islam. (Bible:Christianity, Quran:Islam).But actually the Quran is to Islam as Jesus is to Christianity (Quran:Islam, Jesus:Christianity). So, the burning of a Quran is a bit more inflammatory (pun intended) than someone burning a Bible. It would be similar, yet not to the degree, of the outrage felt by Christians when Andres Serrano submerged a crucifix in his own urine and took a photo of it. The Quran is seen as literally the word of Allah (God). In the same way, Jesus is seen as the word of God too (John 1:1 etc). So, as Rosalyn Rushbrook, a convert from Christianity to Islam, has stated in her book Islam An Introduction, "Muslims react strongly when they feel that the Quran has been treated with insult or disrespect." (p43)
And I guess "strongly react" means to kill and pillage. This is quite a contrast from what Jesus taught his disciples, which was to turn the other cheek when someone does something bad to you. Besides, the Word of God, Jesus, himself, was cursed, spit upon, beat to a pulp, mocked, a crown of thorns jammed on his head, and nails thrust through his hands and feet until he was dead. I think that kind of death is a bit more extreme than burning God's word, which by the way can be reprinted as a wise Islamic scholar said in the aftermath of the insurgence in Afghanistan.
And it seems an apology is not even good enough. It's unforgivable. On the other hand Jesus said blasphemy of the Son would be forgiven. Even he prayed from the cross for forgiveness for those who had put him on the cross saying they didn't know what they were doing. Is there no mercy in Islam, not even to those who may not know what they were doing?
Is this incident really a true picture of Islam or just an excuse to kill Americans?
And lastly, why were there no reports of Libyan Muslims being killed after the cemetery desecration of Christians and Jews?
I'm not saying the followers of Jesus have always been stellar examples of actually following Jesus. Of course, they haven't. But I am highlighting the difference between the two religions. And it is a stark difference.
Saturday, January 28, 2012
This is either a late Christmas post, a way early Christmas post, or just a post that happens to be about the Christmas story, mainly the star that led the wise men to Jesus.
There are many theories about what the star actually was. Was it the conjunction of two planets, three planets, a comet, a supernova, or something else? What if it wasn't a natural phenomena? Would that really matter? In other words, if all the "natural" explanations failed to provide a satisfactory reconciliation with Babylonian sky charts and the story in the Bible would that mean the event recorded in the Bible was made-up?
We could, as some would, say that the entire story is pure imagination. No Jesus, no Mary, No Wise Men, and of course no Star. But to make that conclusion one would also have to ignore Bethlehem as a real place. If the story was pure imagination the author would had to have known about the place, Bethlehem. To know about Bethlehem it makes sense he would had to have live relatively close to there. (Unless the Wise Men from Babylonia wrote the story. haha). So, if the story is made-up, it is based at least in some reality. Otherwise, Jesus would have been born in Huierty and had three eyes.
The Star of Bethlehem is connected exclusively with the guidance of the Wise Men. They were star gazers. God wanted them to come see Jesus, so he spoke to them in their language, stars. Whatever they saw or however they interpreted what they saw, it prompted them to travel to Jerusalem and then onto Bethlehem seeking out the king of the Jews. God speaks to us in our language. We can explain the voice away by attributing the sound to natural events or we can accept that when we read the Bible, a book about God, we will find supernatural events beyond and outside the scope of our small natural "world."
Thursday, September 15, 2011
I've just finished watching the last episode of the series Wonders of the Universe by Brian Cox. I hate I missed the other three. Dr. Cox and I are both filled with wonder as we look at the same universe. He finds his wonder in evolution and I from the God of creation.
I have no intentions of even coming close to testing his observations and ultimate conclusions. He's a far more intellectual man than I can even imagine to be. But I would like to challenge the idea that the same kind of wonder can only come from evolution and not the Creator God.
Dr. Cox gives lots of facts. I have no idea if they are true or not, but since he's the expert I'm going to assume the facts are true. Again, the only thing I'm disputing with Dr. Cox is the origin of our (his and mine) wonder. Scripture is from the NASB in green. My comments are in blue. Hopefully, I've quoted Cox (correctly).
"The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it"
Dr. Cox asks, "Why are we here and where do we come from?" It seems we all ask this question and how we answer determines how we interpret the world around us.
Facts quoted by Cox:
- Our origin begins with the beginning of the universe over 13.7 billion years ago.
- The story of the beginning of the universe is our story.
- "Light is what connects us to the cosmos." Amazingly true.
- "Light is a messenger from a long forgotten era...through light we stare back at the history of the universe and discover how it all began and ultimately see how light breathed life into us." Yes, indeed. Light is what brought about life. It's our illumination of the Light that we see our darkness and thus find Life.
- "The light from the sun has traveled 150 million kilometers. There are on a clear night about 2.5 thousand stars visible to the naked eye and billions more only seen through telescopes..." He counts the number of stars and gives names to all of them.
- Lagoon nebula. 5000 light years away and can be seen by naked eye from Earth because it is 100 light years across. Hershel 36 star is 20x more massive than our Sun. There are even bigger stars in our galaxy. The Milky Way is home to 200 billion stars.
- The discovery of speed light (less than 300,000 kilometers per second) was measured by the orbit of Jupiter's moon IO. Thus, a light year is the distance light can travel in one year (10 million million million kilometres)
- When we see the light from the Sun (it being 150 million kms away) we see it as it was 8 minutes in the past.
- When we see light from the Andromeda galaxy, the light started it's journey to Earth at the dawn of human evolution (2.5 million years ago).
- In 2004 with the Hubble telescope showed us red light from around 13 billion light years away.
- The properties of light mean that red light has the longest visible wave length of light. As the light reaches our eyes the light has stretched. This means the universe is expanding. I don't know that it matters if the universe is expanding or not in terms of consequences. But what if light is not traveling in a straight line to our telescopes? What if the light is traveling around space or something completely different before it gets to our telescopes, and thus it appears that the light is taking billion of years to travel? But again, assuming it is doing all this traveling, if you go further back than 13.7 billion light year, you still have not reached Infinity.
- Therefore, "...if you rewind time they [galaxies] must have been closer together in the past...and if you go back far enough all the galaxies we know were on top of each other...The universe thus had a beginning which is the Big bang theory... And the Big bang theory does not state that every thing was (is) being flung out...Space is stretching and has been since the big bang." ...Let there be Light and there was Light. I am not trying to harmonize science with the Bible (albeit all truth is God's truth). If we detect signs of the beginning of the universe, it only means there was a beginning to it all.
- This next part is tricky and over my head. Light is only visible for humans at red. There is invisible light in the form of radio and microwaves that come to us as the first light of the universe. The light has been stretched so much that it comes to us in this form. These are messengers carrying information about the origin of our universe.
- "...Darkness vanished and the cosmos begin to fill with light..." How true!!
- "The reason any of this even exists is due to tiny density fluctuations that appeared when the observable universe was smaller than a grain of sand." But wasn't there something to begin? Why is there something rather than nothing? Or did something produced something? Why is it not plausible that something came from nothing (ex nihilo)
- Dr. Cox believes we may have come from a Chordate worm. They started producing cells sensitive to light that eventually led human life. Because this worm developed cells for sight, we can see light and thus understand the origin of the universe. But why us? Why didn't dolphins or chipmunks develop the ability to see into outer space and explain the origin of life? We have eyes to see the Light, but why don't most of us see it?
Saturday, May 28, 2011
The first question Bell proposes is in relation to the staggering number of people who won't "make" (my emphasis) it to heaven.
I would say that is what we don't know. We don't know how God has been speaking to people and how they have responded. Whatever light he has given them can either be accepted or rejected. we don't know how many or how few will be in heaven. All we know is that the only way to the Father is through Christ, which Bell affirms. Like Bell I don't have a clue about where Ghandi is (or Martin Luther King Jr.).
He goes on to raise a multitude of questions in the first chapter. And some of those questions I do wonder about myself. Like the "personal relationship" one. What does that even mean? But I'm not going to dive into all the Christanese he exposes. I, too, think we should explain things better rather with the insider jargon.
Heaven. "It's somewhere else, or is it right here and now?" asks Bell. Bell begins with the story about the rich man who comes to Jesus asking about eternal life. Bell explains that Jesus' answers the man's concerns which is not "with how to go to heaven," but "how to have more responsibility in the age to come." I would agree with Bell in that the man is not asking how to go to heaven. I think the man is asking about eternal life and how to get it. I don't see the man asking for how to be a good citizen in the world to come. Bell suggest that this is what Jesus is getting at. Live to be a better person now earns you more responsibility later. "Jesus takes the man's questions about his life then and makes it about the kind of life he's living now" (p41). If anything Bell is at fault of being a postmillennialist. He equates the prophets' sayings with literally heaven on earth (p33). A premillennialist does not disregard the new heaven and the new earth imagery. I think most would agree how we live now is important.
Bell says that the man went away because he had not yet understood that greed could not enter into the age to come. But even still, the man went away. We don't know if he ever turned back to God. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn't. I think Jesus left open the possibility that he didn't.
In defining "heaven," Bell goes on to say that it is just simply a substitute for "God." (p42) I will say that I'm still undecided on this. Kingdom of heaven = kingdom of God. This will need some more thought. He adds, "Heaven is that realm where things are as God intends them to be." (p42). The last one is easier for me than the first definition. The story of the Bible is when God's will will be done on earth as it currently is in heaven. Heaven then is "partnering with God to make a new and better world..." (p47) Well, as subversive as this image is of heaven, it certainly is not a new image. Therefore, many people who have held and are holding to this view, are considered orthodox. Why not Bell?
In reference to judgment, Bell states that heaven confronts us with our incompleteness and that we must have that "burned" off. I would agree. Some will be left with a lot, others a little. We have to be fitted for heaven. I would call this the judgment seat of Christ.
Lastly, I wanted to talk about how Bell defines "aion". He gives us two definitions. 1) an era of time with beginning and an end. 2) an intensity experienced that transcends time. I'll admit I've not looked at the word/concept in depth. But a quick glance at BDAG of "aion" states that the word means, "long period of time without reference to a beginning nor an end." Secondly, it means "eternal." Bell wants us to believe that eternal and forever are not the same thing. In my opinion this is the closest he comes to being a universalist. If eternity is just a period of intensity (in judgment, perhaps) then one goes through it and is then relieved from it. I don't think Bell ever goes quite that far. But I would say he comes close to advocating purgatory indirectly rather than universalism directly. And for that (i.e. advocating purgatory) we can blame him. If, in fact, he does advocate an intense judgment then release.
Rob Bell. A name associated with controversy. So, when people started the firestorm of blogging against him, i was curious what the fuss was all about.
Personally, I was turned off when I saw my first NOOMA video. It was the one where he is with his son and they get caught in a rain storm. I thought it was creative but just not for me. So, when I heard of Velvet Elvis I paid no attention to it.
But I did start to warm up to Bell when in Portugal. He had made more NOOMA videos, and I was invited to attend the launch of a Bible study among some pretty tough and rough athletes there. Through cursing and beer drinking, it was one of the liveliest Bible studies I've ever been apart of. These videos were excellent spiritual conversation starters. I still didn't like the videos themselves. But what I saw come from them surprised me. So from that point forward, I decided to let Rob Bell be. He was advancing the kingdom more than I was, and who was I to say anything against what God was doing. God was (is) using Bell.
He's had several other books come out of which none I've read. But when all the Reformers began denouncing him as a heretic for his latest views in Love Wins, I had to see what the fuss was about. If the Reformers didn't like him, he may be my new best friend. Well, I couldn't afford to buy the book. So, I thought I would just ignore all the fan fare. But just the other day it showed up at the local library.
It was an easy read although written like Bell was talking. When I finished I was left wondering what all the fuss was about. Bell never does explicitly say what he believes exactly about heaven and hell and judgment. He comes close but never actually admits to being a universalist.
So, as I blog about the book I will try to keep in mind that he's just trying to get dialogue started about the issue. I could try to comb out Bell's personal view of universalism, but I don't think that would be beneficial. Instead I just want to talk about what he actually says.
Book blogging is for me the hardest. You have to assume the person has not read the book, and even if they have you have to put your comments in some sort of context. And this does not make for brevity.
This book is about "...some of the dominant stories that are being told as the Jesus story...[A lot of people] have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better...This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus' message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy..." So, now we know what we are about to read. He wants an open discussion on the topic.
Since this is already a long post. I will stop and continue as I work my way through the major stuff of the next 200 or so pages.
Besides disagreeing over the emphasis shift from the younger brother to the older brother, I disagree with the interpretation of Jesus being the true elder brother. In chapter 5 Tim Keller put forth his argument as to why Jesus is the true elder brother.
Keller does admit that the father is the one who goes out to each brother. He goes out to the wayward son coming home, and he goes out to persuade the elder brother to come into the party. I do like this quote, "It shows that even the most religious and moral people need the initiating grace of God, that they are just as lost..."
Keller also shows us his cards in how he interprets the entire parable (as if we did not already know implicitly). Keller is interpreting the parable as a sinner finding repentance. As stated before, I believe this is a valid interpretation. But Keller adds, "This, however, only brings us to the brink of Jesus's message, not to its heart." It's what follows that I am not sure I accept.
Here is the argument. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who have accused him of eating with sinners (Lk 15:2). Thus, he told the 3 parables. Keller points out that in all three something is lost and then gotten again. But a big difference between the first two and the last one is that in the first two someone "goes out" to find what was lost. In the third one, no one goes out. This is the shock Keller attributes to the last parable. We are expecting someone to go out and no one does.
But wait. I thought the point was the elder brother. Didn't we say that the father went out to him to try to convince him to come into the party?
Next, Keller appeals to Cain's "Am I my brother's keeper?" It is assumed that Cain was supposed to be his brother's keeper and therefore every other elder brother has the responsibility of looking after his wild younger brother. The elder brother is to spend his money to bring back the younger brother. Keller's lesson is that it costs someone to bring about restoration. But sadly this younger brother doesn't get a responsible older brother.
"But we do..." Keller says.
Keller is forced to put Jesus in this speculative role. Since the main thrust of the parable is the wayward elder brother, we need the means of his salvation. His means of salvation is no different than anyone else; Jesus. Otherwise, we already have the salvation part, that of the younger brother being accepted back into the family by the father.
We don't need to make up an application from the Prodigal Son parable. The elder brother is angry because of how kind the father has treated his brother. As stated above, Jesus is telling the parable in defense of why he is eating with sinners. He's eating with sinners because they need saving. Salvation from the Heavenly Father comes to sinners who accept the grace of the Father. The reaction of the elder brother is exactly the same as the Pharisee's reaction. They can't believe lost people can be saved. Jesus is not the so called true elder brother. He's the father (not the Father, although they work together for salvation's sake). Just like he's the shepherd and the woman. This makes more sense since now we have harmony among the three parables. Something dear is lost and something dear is found.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
It seems I am always critical of the newest and latest trends of Christian writers. Just getting started with Prodigal God by Tim Keller. It's his interpretation of the what has been previously known as the Prodigal Son.
I don't want to give too much away, but unfortunately my comments here may. Nevertheless, he puts the emphasis of the story on the older brother, the one who stayed home rather than the one who went away and was welcomed back by the father. Keller is making the point that Jesus was preaching against the righteousness of the Pharisees.
For what it is worth, Keller does have some good points. I do think we often forget to compare the two brothers as they were meant to be compared. But I am not convinced that the point of the story is the older brother.
This parable can be taught in two ways. It could be either about the "lost" being "saved," or it could be about the "saved" loosing their way. The parable can't be interpreted in isolation though. Two others preceded it. The first was about the one lost sheep that the shepard goes to find leaving the 99 behind. The second was about the lost coin the woman finds and rejoices over finding it. The last parable is the one about the younger brother who leaves and comes back to the chagrin of the older brother.
In the first the one the lost sheep was still a sheep and a part of the shephard's flock. In the second the lost coin was still owned by the woman even though lost. And in the last one, the younger brother was still the father's son before and after his run away. So, in all three the wandering lost items were still a part of the unit. Therefore, I would lean more to say that these parables are about righteous people going away and God's grace accepting them back. if we were to take these parables to mean "soul salvation," then we would have to say one can "lose their salvation."
But this distinction of how to interpret this parable is not about splitting hairs. I've heard great sermons preached from this passage calling lost sinners to trust Christ as their Savior.
Again, the main problem I have is switching the emphasis from the younger brother to the older brother. I don't see it. While I agree the church-goer needs the salvation of Christ as much as the drunkard, I can't see that Jesus focused exclusively on that here. It's possible that he did elsewhere though. If we say that this parable is about the older brother, then we must also conclude the first parable is about the 99 sheep left behind, and the second parable is about the all the coins tucked away safely in the woman's purse. We would then have to conclude also that the main point of the Good Samaritan is the two men who passed by the man on the road. And every other parable spoken by Jesus would be flipped on it's head especially those that refer to the religious leaders of the day.
In conclusion, I like some of the points brought out by Keller. But I can't buy his main thesis. Jesus is not the "true" elder brother who has the responsibility to find the wayward sinful brother. This parable is still about a God who goes out of his way to bring back his backslidden children.
Monday, December 27, 2010
I didn't get to give a Christmas sermon this year. But if I had it would have been on sin.
The background for the sermon would have come from a recent conversation I had with a former Hindu who is now a follower of Christ. After I found out he was a believer and that his background was Hindu, I asked him, "How do you talk about Jesus to Hindus, knowing that He is accepted among the many gods as just another god?" His answer was profound and simply. He said that Hindus are somewhat confused by Jesus. First, you build a relationship with Hindus, let the Holy Spirit convict them of their sin and THEN introduce Jesus as the Saviour. I think that approach would work with anyone, Hindu or not. So many times we are eager to "introduce" people to Jesus before the Holy Spirit has convicted them of sin.
I doubt I would have incorporated this next part, but it was my focus this Christmas. The Wise Men (trying to break myself from saying a number, since that is unknown). This year an Iranian told me the story of the Wise Men from Persia. This person was so excited and proud that Persian people were a part of our Christmas story. I, too, was glad to have a Persian know about Persian influence on the birth of Jesus. Have a Muslim tell you (accurately even) the story of the birth of the son of Mary and see if it won't bless you.
Lastly, the sermon I did hear for Christmas focused on Simeon. It was a great illustration for me because I was holding Ida Claire as the pastor spoke of Simeon holding little Jesus. I could just imagine how this man felt. He had been promised to see the coming Messiah. And when he went to the temple, he saw the baby and took him up in his arms.
Salvation has come. That's what makes Christmas special. Sin has put us in a need to be rescued. Thankfully, God with us in the flesh has made that rescue possible.