Monday, December 31, 2012

JESUS IS COMING

Though I first heard the Gospel when I was in about the second grade, I never set foot in a Bible preaching church until I was in my late teens.  I was not too surprised to hear the same message from the pulpit there that I had heard years before from a rural school missionary.

But one thing did amaze me about that little church -- one thing I heard that I had not heard before.  It was that Jesus is coming back!  I had known that He had died and risen and gone up to heaven, but somehow I'd missed this important claim.  It sounded strange to my skeptical ears and it seemed even more strange that these folks believed it -- sort of like believing in space aliens.

As I came to a clear faith in Christ and began to grow in knowledge of the Bible, I became a solid believer in what is known as "the Second Coming."  The Bible taught it and Jesus Himself had a lot to say about it.

I read books, studied and learned many terms associated with the Second Coming and learned how to sprinkle them around in pious conversation:  the Rapture, Tribulation, Millennium (though it took me years to learn to spell that word) and Antichrist.  I also learned the various views -- the pre-, post-, a-, mid-, pan-, etc. and how all the views not held by the Scofield Bible notes were wrong.

I also learned to look for the "signs of the times" -- signs which point to the nearness of His coming:  Israel as a nation back in their own land, an "apostate church" (i.e., those who disagree with us), a Communist conspiracy, the Soviet Union, the European Union, along with hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.  There were always new signs.  Every crisis in the Middle East, or for that matter anywhere in the world, was subject to intense scrutiny, scanning of the Bible and all those books for some coordination.

Is this what it's all about?  Were we given the promises of Christ's return just so we could amuse ourselves with the intricacies of the details?  Or perhaps use them to scare people into the Kingdom?  Or is there more to this belief than that?

I'm not trying to belittle or discount the study of Eschatology (the doctrine of last things).  I have studied and taught it for years and hold to some (to me) clear positions, though I'm a lot less dogmatic on the details as I used to be.  And I must confess I've become more and more skeptical of the "signs," especially since I've seen some of them disappear during my lifetime.

But the New Testament not only tells us that Jesus is coming back; it not only gives us many of the details and many of the signs to look for; more importantly it gives us instructions concerning our behavior in light of these truths.  And the first commands are given by Jesus Himself, especially in His "eschatological sermon" on the Mount of Olives, a brief time before His death.

The first thing we need to realize is that we cannot know for certain when Jesus is coming back!  Though the past two millennia are littered with predictions that have failed, whether from kooks or cultists or supposedly reputable scholars, in spite of all our studies and speculation we just can't know!  In fact, Jesus told us so!
  "... you don't know what day your Lord is coming" (Matthew 24:42).
  "... you don't know the day or the hour" (Matthew 25:13).
  "... you don't know when the time is" (Mark 13:33).

And especially note this one:  "But concerning that day and hour, nobody knows -- not the angels of heaven, not even the Son -- but the Father alone!" (Matthew 24:36)

Jesus said that He Himself didn't know!  So what makes us think that we can?

And some of His imperatives in view of His coming:
  "Watch out that no one deceives you!"  (Matthew 24:4)
  "See that you don't get shaken up! (by supposed signs)  (Matthew 24:6)
  "... learn ... know ..." (from the signs)  (Mark 13:28, 29)
  "Stay awake" (because you don't know the time)  (Matthew 24:42; 25:13; Mark 13:33, 35, 37)
  "... straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is getting closer!"  (Luke 21:28)

Throughout the New Testament we find bits and pieces -- hints -- about Jesus' return.  As good systematic theologians we attempt to assemble them all together along with passages from the Old Testament to form a coherent doctrine.  We should do this, but not so that we can appear well taught and erudite.  Every passage is given for a purpose.  But that purpose is to increase own desire for His return and to cause us to adjust our lives accordingly.

"We know that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him just as He is.  And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself just as He is pure" (1 John 3:2, 3).

"Therefore beloved ones, since you are expecting these things, be earnest to be found by Him in peace, without spot or blemish" (2 Peter 3:14).

"The One who testifies these thing says, 'Yes, I am coming quickly.'  Amen!  Come Lord Jesus!"  (Revelation 22:20)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

THE REAL WAR ON CHRISTMAS


This holiday season was for many, at least seriously altered by a seemingly meaningless act of violence on December 14 -- just a week and a half before Christmas.  And for the families of those 20 innocent children who were slaughtered and of the 6 adults who died protecting them, Christmas was changed forever.

What will the holiday be like for them?  We have no idea.  What about those gifts purchased by loving parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, neighbors?  What will they do with them?  Will there be a celebration around the tree?  How can there be?

The talking heads and pundits, the newspersons and politicians, the psychologists and preachers, attempt to ascertain why this happened and what can be done to prevent the next horror?  And yes we must do something (or things).

There's certainly enough blame to go around -- our American love affair with guns, our culture of violence in our video games and movies, our lack of proper care for the mentally and emotionally unstable.  The preachers talk about how we've (allegedly) shut God out of our schools.

There's one factor we don't talk much about -- that this was an act of pure evil committed not by a monster, but by one of our fellow human beings.

There was another horrible act of evil committed over 2,000 years ago, that was also closely associated with Christmas.  Although we usually leave it out in our sanitized retelling of the Christmas story.  It's told in the second chapter of Matthew, right after the familiar part of the story about the visit of the Magi.

When the Magi came, they first visited Jerusalem and they inquired, "Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?  For we saw his star in the east and have come to worship him" (Matthew 2:2).  Herod the king, after consulting with the scholars, sent them to Bethlehem, the prophesied birthplace, with instructions for them to report back to him "... that I too may go and worship him" (2:8).  Herod had no intention of worshipping however.

But the Magi, after worshipping and presenting their gifts, were warned by God and returned "another way," avoiding Herod.  Joseph too was warned and took Mary and the Baby and fled to Egypt.

Herod "the Great" was an evil jealous king.  He had already murdered members of his own family to protect his throne.  This next act was totally in line with his evil character.  In a fit of rage, he "sent and slaughtered all the children in Bethlehem and in that region who were two years of age or under, according to the time he had determined from the Magi" (2:16).

Scholars differ as to how many children might have been killed.  Not a large number.  Perhaps 20?  Could there also have been some adults who died trying to protect those entrusted to them?  Perhaps a half dozen or so? 

Matthew quotes a dirge originally spoken by Jeremiah the Prophet, but repeated by those affected.
"A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and great grief.
Rachel wailing for her children
and she did not want to be comforted,
because they were no more" (2:18). 

The images on our TV screens bring this biblical story into the present day.

John in his apocalypse presents a different view of the horrible events in Bethlehem.  He sees a spiritual conflict going on behind the scenes:
"... and behold a great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns
and on his heads seven diadems.  And his tail swept a third of the
stars of heaven and cast them to the earth and he stood
before the woman who was about to give birth, so that
whenever she bears her child, he might consume it."
(Revelation 12:3, 4) 

As in Matthew's account, the evil one fails and the child escapes, "... the One who is going to rule all the nations" (Revelation 12:5).  And under whose coming reign all evils will cease.

As both Matthew and John let us know, there is great evil not only in the visible, but in the unseen world.  And though we do not understand and we may question why these horrors occur, we must see that ultimately God is in control.

And we need to also see the divine irony.  That Child who escaped the slaughter, was Himself put to death thirty-one years later, by judicial murder.  But this death had a purpose.  As the heavenly hymn says:
"You were slain, and redeemed to God in Your blood
from every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
and You made them to our God a Kingdom of priests
and they will reign upon the earth" (Revelation 5:9, 10).

Friday, December 14, 2012

THE CANDLE

A member of a church I used to pastor told me a story about her childhood.  She was raised in a small town and most of the people in town attended the only church there.  Once every year the church would have a candle-light service.  (I believe it was New Year's Eve.)  At the close of the service all the people would file out and walk toward home, carefully holding their burning candles.  Some folks' candles would of course go out even before they left the building; others' candles would blow out as soon as they stepped outside; others' candles would go out on the way home; and, some would make it all the way home with their candles still lit.  But sooner or later everyone's candles would go out.

It seems that this is often, maybe usually, the way our spiritual life is.  We get our "candles lit" through some exciting, stimulating or uplifting event.  It may be a moving worship service or an old-fashioned "revival meeting"; it may be a weekend retreat; or a seminar; or we may take a Bible class or read an uplifting book.  But sooner or later our candles flicker and go out and we must wait for the next event, relight and start the process over.  Our lives are a series of highs and lows.  But should our lives be that way?  Should we be (forgive me for mixing my metaphors) "spiritual junkies" always waiting for and searching for the next high, hoping it'll be better and longer lasting than the previous?

Or is there some way we can keep the candle burning?

"Your word is a lamp for my feet
and a light for my path."
Psalm 119:105

Friday, December 7, 2012

I AM


 
And Moses said to God, "When I go to the children of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you," and they ask me, 'What is His name?'  What should I say to them?" (Exodus 3:13)

And God said to Moses, "I am who I am!" and He said, "Thus shall you say to them 'I AM has sent me to you!'" (3:14)

And God said further to Moses, "Thus shall you say to the children of Israel, 'Yahweh the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob has sent me to you!'  This is my name forever and this is how I am to be remembered to generation on generation!" (3:15)

When God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush, He gave His name as Yahweh (translated LORD in most English translations).  The word is related to the words "I am" (Ehyeh) in the previous verse, a form of the verb "to be."  The name has been understood in various ways but is generally understood to mean something like "the One Who Is" or "the Eternally Existing One."

Though the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament translation ca. 200 + BC) uses the word "Kurios" (Lord) to translate "Yahweh" in verse 13, it translates "I am who I am" as "Ego Eimi Ho On" or "I am the One Who Is."

Why is this important?  Because the words Jesus uses when He say "I am ..." are those two words, Ego Eimi.  If He spoke them in Greek, the any of His contemporary Jews who were familiar with the Septuagint would immediately understand that He was in some way claiming kinship or even equality with Israel's covenant God, whose Hebrew name Yahweh was never even spoken.  His disciple John, the author of the fourth gospel certainly had that understanding.

In a previous post, IS JESUS REALLY THE ONLY WAY? I attempted to deal with Brian McLaren's faulty and (I believe) deceptive exegesis of John 14:6.  I said, "Even if his “exegesis” of John 14:6 were correct (it’s not) and Jesus was not claiming exclusivity here, McLaren would still have to contend with the vast number of claims Jesus made elsewhere.  There are other “I Am’s” in John’s gospel.  Is McLaren capable of explaining away the apparent exclusivity in all of these?"  I don't know if McLaren ever tried to deal with these or not, but I felt I needed to say a bit about them.

Jesus uses the combined words Ego eimi (I am) in John's gospel 23 times by my count.  He also uses the word eimi by itself or in slightly different combinations another 22 times.  [The verb can be used without the pronoun in Greek.  The meaning is still the same, only without the emphasis.]  A few samples:

"The woman says to Him, 'I know that Messiah is coming (the one called Christ ...)'  Jesus says to her 'I am -- the one speaking to you.'" (John 4:25, 26)

"Jesus said to them, 'I am the Bread of Life.'" (6:38, also verses 41, 48, 51)

"Again then Jesus spoke to them saying, 'I am the Light of the World.'" (8:12)

"Jesus said to them, 'Amen, amen, I'm telling you, before Abraham came to be, I am!'" (8:58)

Jesus says to His hearers and followers, "I am the Door" (10:7, 9), "the Good Shepherd" (10:11, 14), "the Resurrection and the Life" (11:25), "the Way and the Truth and the Life" (14:6), "the True Vine" (15:1).

"Jesus ... says to them (the mob in the garden), 'Whom are you seeking?'  They answered Him, 'Jesus the Nazarene.'  He says to them, 'I am.'  ... When He said to them 'I am' they drew back and fell to the ground." (18:4-6)

When John records that the mere saying of the two words is enough to knock Jesus' assailants over he seems to imply that there was divine power in the words themselves.

Jesus is claiming in these sayings more than that He is the only way to God; He is claiming that He is God.  I don't see how one can deny that He is making that claim.

His use of the phrase "I am" itself takes us back to Exodus 3.  As Yahweh revealed Himself to Moses, so Jesus is revealing Himself as that same "One Who Is."  The above reference to His existence (in the present tense) before Abraham, seems to be a clear claim to Deity.  The references to light, to resurrection, to life all carry us back to the God who revealed Himself to Israel in the Old Covenant.  The claim to being "the Good Shepherd" takes us back to the 23rd Psalm -- "Yahweh is my Shepherd" as well as to the prophets and Psalmists' words of Yahweh that He Himself would shepherd His people (Isaiah 40:11; Micah 7:14; Psalm 28:9, 80:1).

To detail all the Old Testament references in Jesus' "I am" sayings would require a thesis, but I hope I have shown enough of them to demonstrate that Jesus was clearly claiming not only that He is the only way to the Father, but that He Himself is God in the flesh.

In John 10:30, Jesus makes His claims clear using the plural form of the same verb "I and the Father are One."

Monday, December 3, 2012

THE MAN IN BLACK

When Uni and I travel in the car, we often listen to old CDs:  country, blues, rock & roll or whatever.  A week or so ago, as we were driving back from our son's home in NM, where we had spent Thanksgiving, we were listening to one entitled Johnny Cash, 16 Biggest Hits.  We had recently gone through some conflict at church and though we had had a pleasant visit at our son's, we were still licking our wounds from that conflict.  As Johnny was progressing from tale to tale, we said almost in unison (as we often do), "The people at church should be listening to this!"

Johnny Cash told stories in his songs -- stories of real people.  Though he didn't write all of these stories himself, he had a unique empathy that enabled him to enter into the characters of whom he sang.  Some were stories about real people -- persons who actually lived out the drama depicted in the songs; many others were representative of people we all have known; others were fictional, though not "pure" fiction; some were undoubtedly autobiographical.  Each song evinced some emotion in us, sometimes many, even conflicting, emotions.  Laughter and tears often at the same time.

As we listened to him relate his tales in his deep, clear, but raw voice, we couldn't help but feel that we were actually hearing from the person himself -- or herself.  Besides those songs of love and passion we heard:

-- John Henry, the legendary 19th century black "steel drivin' man" swinging his hammer.  We feel the sweat and the pride of a man who could boast in his work, though he ultimately worked himself to death.

-- Ira Hayes, the Pima Indian World War II hero who returned to "a dry thirsty land" and died drunk and forgotten in a ditch.

-- The man who had enough of his relationship and finally walks out with the parting words "Understand Your Man."

-- The man who "shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" and spends his life sitting in Folsom Prison longing for the freedom represented by the train he hears "a-comin'."

-- The boy named Sue who spends his whole life searching for revenge on his father the ______ that "gave him that awful name."

-- The mother who cries out her final words to her son who thinks that at last he's become a man, "Don't take your guns to town son!"

-- The down and out alcoholic wandering the streets on a Sunday morning and longing for something he "left somewhere along the way."

-- And, of course, the long list of people in his song, "Man in Black" --hurting, needy people for whom he dresses in black, especially "those who've never read -- or heard the words that Jesus said ..."
 
I suspect that Johnny Cash knew these people.  He had literally experienced pains and pleasures similar to those who would listen to more than just the music.

If I may say this without sounding blasphemous, I believe Johnny Cash was more like Jesus than many (most?) good respectable well-scrubbed Christians.  Because he had experienced not only the pathos of those he sang about, he had experienced grace.  He struggled with addiction and broken relationships his whole life.  He had at times turned his back on the ones and the One who loved him, and always found that grace waiting when he returned.

The gospel of grace was not given to nice people, moral people, respectable people.  It was given to sinners -- sinners like the ones Johnny Cash sang about.  And until we can see ourselves in people like these, I don't believe we can even begin to understand what grace really is.  As Jesus Himself said, "I did not come to call righteous people, but sinners" (Mark 2:17).

Saturday, December 1, 2012

WHOSE FAULT IS IT?

"And as He passed along He saw a man blind from birth.  And His disciples asked Him saying, 'Who sinned, this one or his parents that he should be born blind?'
            Jesus answered, 'Neither he nor his parents sinned -- but that the works of God may be revealed in him'" (John 9:1-3).

I've often gone to this passage to bring comfort to persons who've been suffering in ways that defied any explanation; I've used it as a text for the funeral of someone who had finally come to the end of a long life of pain and suffering; or the funeral of a child who lived only a few days with a congenital defect; or who died of SIDs.  I have tried to use it to comfort those grieving parents and loved ones who were asking, "Why?"

However, the passage is just the opener to one of the more humorous stories in the Bible (at least from my slightly warped perspective).  John 9 is a story about spiritual blindness.

As I meditated on some recent events in my own experience, as well as some conversations I'd heard, my mind kept coming back to the disciples' question above.  Now I don't know their motives or the reasonings behind the question, but it reminded me of similar questions or comments I'd heard before, asked by well-meaning (?) Christians when faced with the pain or suffering of others.
  • Years ago, when relating as a pastor to my congregation about a young man dying of AIDs.  I was asked, "Is he gay?
  • Comments about panhandlers that I've heard many times, "How'd he get that way?" or He'll probably spend it on booze or drugs."
  • How about this response to my reading passage after passage about our responsibility to the poor.  "The biggest cause of poverty in this country is single parenting," spoken in front of at least a half dozen single or formerly single parents.
The list could go on ad nauseam.  It seems we want to assign a reason for the suffering we witness -- perhaps to excuse our own lack of compassion.  We seem to be simply repeating Cain's question, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

But when Jesus was confronted with people who were suffering, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually, we never read of His asking questions or making comments like this.  He just reached out in compassion.  It didn't seem to be a matter of concern to Him as to how the particular person got into the mess they were in.

He healed physically and emotionally ill persons.  He comforted grieving parents.  He cast our demons.  He forgave sinners of all sorts.

We might suppose that Jesus was just reacting against the harshness of the Old Testament Law and to some extent, He was.  But if we look at what the Old Testament has to say about those in need, we realize that Jesus was expressing the compassion of His Father for those in need -- a compassion already encoded in the Law of Moses.

            "You shall not wrong or oppress an alien ...
            You shall not oppress a widow or an orphan ...
            If you lend money to My people -- the poor among you ...
            exact no interest from them ..." (Exodus 22:20-26 -- read all of it).

See also Exodus 23:4-12 and many other references to the poor, the alien, the widow and the orphan -- and God's reaction to the mistreatment of them.

When confronted with need of any sort, the question is never asked as to how that person or those persons came to be in the mess they were in, whether by Jesus or any Old Testament saint.

But what I have heard over and over again coming from those who claim to be followers of Jesus is a demand that those in need be somehow "worthy" of care.

Jesus came into this world to save sinners.  None of us are or were "worthy" of His grace.  And our responsibility is to demonstrate to other sinners the grace of Christ -- no questions asked.

Friday, November 16, 2012

IS JESUS REALLY THE ONLY WAY?


Though some may think of me as an opinionated, narrow-minded curmudgeon, I tend to judge myself as a bit too open-minded.  I attempt to be open to and tolerant of new ideas held by others, even though I frequently disagree with them.  However, by being tolerant I occasionally find myself in the intellectual company of those whom at second glance I might judge to be heretics.  (I know that’s a bad word, not to be used today, but in some cases I can’t think of a better one.)
I wrote a couple of posts a while back, reviewing and interacting with the writings of Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, leaders in the emerging/emergent church movement.   Though I disagreed strongly with their writings, looking back I feel that I was a bit na├»ve.  I simply interacted with the articles using what seemed to me to be logical exegetical arguments.  I did not question their motives.

But having found out a bit more about these men, I believe that they need to be pointed out as purveyors of doctrines that deny the foundation of biblical Christianity; they are not simply misinformed or poor exegetes.

Recently a friend forwarded to me some further information on McLaren and Bell, along with an article by McLaren entitled, A Reading of John 14:6, dated 2007 (brianmclaren.net).  McLaren is not simply an author and preacher in the emerging/ emergent church movement; he is a board member and instructor at Mars Hills Graduate School in Seattle, now known as the Seattle School of Theology, a bastion of emerging/emergent theology.

I had originally planned to go through the article, dealing with what at first appeared to me to be faulty exegesis, but as I read, re-read and re-re-read, I kept finding myself more and more befuddled by McLaren’s spin.  The article is a bizarre mix of faulty exegesis, faulty logic and worst of all, faulty theology.  Dare I call it just plain heresy?  Dare I question the author’s motives?  Anyway the following thoughts aren’t meant to be a point-by-point discussion of the article, but they are an attempt at a rebuttal.

The text that the article is concerned with is John 14:6:  “Jesus says to him (Thomas) ‘I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.”

This text has been understood by many – I would say most - readers as a clear statement by Jesus that He is the only way to God.  And a clear corollary to this statement would be that there is no other way to God.  Ah, but this is not the way it is to be understood, says McLaren!

“It is one of the questions I am asked most frequently, ‘Do you think Jesus is the only way?’ … The question raises another question, actually:  ‘The only way to what?’”  After this he goes on to tell us that there are many ways:  Buddha, Mohammed, Marx, Freud, televangelists.  Of course, each way ends up at a different destination.  “But if you are asking about the Kingdom of God coming to earth ...,” then, of course, all these others “will step back and Jesus will step forward.”

McLaren is very clear that he doesn’t like the “idea called the ‘exclusivity of Christ.’”  In order to refute this horrid doctrine, he chooses to rephrase it in his own words (the “straw man” argument).  He can’t out and out say that Jesus is not the only way to God.  He rather caricatures those who believe this “idea” as really being more concerned about Jesus being “the only way to avoid burning forever in hell …,” that the “idea” really means that “all who do not consciously and decisively accept Jesus as their personal savior will burn forever in hell.”

McLaren seems to have a fixation on the idea of eternal punishment which apparently is why he keeps introducing it here to convince us that this was not what Jesus was talking about in this passage.  I agree Jesus wasn’t.  He was talking about His being the only way to God!

McLaren keeps reiterating his straw man arguments.  He brings up Thomas’ question in verse 5 and informs us that, “It’s clear he is not asking anything like ‘Will people who have never heard of you go to heaven?’”  And then he goes on to inform us that Thomas was not thinking of all the other people of various religious persuasions.  He tells us that Jesus’ words in John 14:6 “are not intended as an insult to the followers of Mohammed, the Buddha,” etc.

It’s apparent that McLaren’s main concern is that if we believe that Jesus’ claims are exclusive, if Jesus really is the only way, then others will be shut out.  He wants us to believe in an inclusive Jesus, a nice guy Jesus, who accepts any and everybody (excepting, I suppose, those narrow-minded bigots who believe that Jesus really IS the only way to God).

A few words about McLaren’s argument, which I believe are characteristic of much of the emerging/emergent movement:
·        It is arrogant, even Gnostic.  Though inclusivity is almost a mantra, it is itself exclusive.  He holds himself and his knowledgeable associates above those who are “…perfectly in synch with the general cluelessness of the disciples.”
·        It is dogmatic while trying to sound anything but.  This I believe is symptomatic of the soft view of truth associated with the postmodern thinking of many in the emerging/emergent movement.  His qualifiers:  “It’s far more likely …,” “… which seems to suggest …”  “It’s as if …” may sound like he is trying to avoid dogmatism, but they hide his real dogmatic agenda.
·        Even if his “exegesis” of John 14:6 were correct (it’s not) and Jesus was not claiming exclusivity here, McLaren would still have to contend with the vast number of claims Jesus made elsewhere.  There are other “I Am’s” in John’s gospel.  Is McLaren capable of explaining away the apparent exclusivity in all of these?
·       Similarly McLaren’s fierce opposition to those who speak about hell seems to run into the problem that Jesus spoke frequently about hell – in fact, more than all other New Testament writers combined.
·        McLaren stands opposed to 2,000 years of biblical understanding.  Though this does not necessarily mean he is wrong, it would seem that this would at least temper his arrogance. 

McLaren’s contradictory footnote, though it sounds pious, shows what his real theology is:   “By the way, it would also make me want to scream if you misread what I’m saying to mean, ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe. Anything goes. God doesn’t care.’ That would be equally ridiculous! By looking at what Jesus cares about, we see what God cares about, including what makes God angry: carelessness towards the poor and vul­nerable, putting religious rules over relationships, complacency, a lack of compassion, and so much more.”

He has been spending page after page attempting to convince us that it really doesn’t matter what you believe about the person of Jesus, except that He is not the only way to God.  It’s “what God cares about,” the ethics of Jesus, not His claims to exclusivity, that are important.

If we buy into McLaren’s argument, we are left with a Jesus who is not the only way to God, but simply a great moral teacher.

I have to give McLaren and his associates credit.  He has found a neat way to avoid the exclusive claims of Christ.  He has no need to do as Thomas Jefferson and many others have done, just rip all of Christ’s claims out of the Bible.  He has no need to see Jesus as a good but deluded man.  He can instead, by exegetical legerdemain demonstrate that Jesus’ claims weren’t actually claims to exclusivity at all!

“The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who doesn’t believe in the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath abides on him” (John 3:36).  I wonder what McLaren does with this verse.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

HOW SHOULD I PRAY?

A friend sent me the following e-mail the other day:
 
I saw this post on facebook today.  "...She developed a blood clot which has caused her great injury, and could end her life if it goes badly from here. She has great care and great friends. Now I would like you... my facebook family... to pray for Melissa along with me. Please ask God to heal her of this situation. Thank you for sharing in this effort."

This reads to me like God has inflicted or allowed this condition on this person and is content to sit back and do nothing unless a lot of us start praying. What would life, death or sickness even look like to God? If I pray for this am I really saying, "God, you messed up. This lady shouldn't be sick..." That sentence seems a little absurd. I remember reading somewhere in Matthew, Jesus saying not to pray for things, that God knows what you need. The only kinds of prayer that make any sense to me at all are:
1.       Prayers of gratitude/thanks (gratitude for life, not for scoring a touchdown).
2.    Prayers for guidance.

3.     Maybe prayers for strength, in terms of convictions, not physical strength.

If you choose to share any thoughts on this I am interested. (Or, you probably already have posted thoughts, in which case a link would be great.)

The above questions and comments are similar to those I’ve often heard, even uttered or at least, thought myself.  What should I pray for?  How should I pray?  If God is sovereign, why pray at all?  The following remarks are not intended to be definitive answers, but simply thoughts on the subject that will hopefully be of some help in moving toward answers.

Looking back over my 300+ posts, I realize that I haven’t said much about prayer, even though it is essential to my life, though I found a few posts.  One was A MODEL PRAYER, in which I made some comments on what is known as the Lord’s Prayer.  This was part of a series I had been doing on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Another, CORPORATE CONFESSION, was a plea for the church to adopt the form of the great Old Testament prayers to our current situation.  Another was PRAY FOR OUR PRESIDENT, another plea.

I have always been hesitant to speak or write on the subject of prayer, one reason being that I have this little uncomfortable feeling that my personal prayer life is inadequate.

But, I also find that it’s hard to know where to begin.  The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is full of prayers – conversations with God, as well as instructions/ commandments on how prayer is to be done.  One would think that I, who for years taught theology in college, would have a clear theology of prayer.  I don’t.  The following thoughts are not an attempt at that, but simply to interact with the above questions.

First of all, we can take comfort in the fact that God knows our weakness and ignorance in prayer and doesn’t seem to be bothered by it.  In fact, He has provided us with a divine “Interpreter” to make sure we get it right.  As Paul tells us in Romans 8:26, 27:

“And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we don’t know what we should pray even as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with unspoken groanings.  And He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is because He intercedes for the saints according to God.”

We are ignorant, but God provides every believer with the indwelling Holy Spirit as Paul explains earlier in this chapter.  The idea I get from this is that though I in myself may pray in ignorance as to the “what’s” or “how’s” of prayer, the Holy Spirit reads my intents and communicates these with the Father.

Of the many instructions on prayer in the New Testament, one seems to override the others:  “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Though there have been many attempts at explaining this passage, or explaining it away, we are confronted with what at first seems an impossible command.  And yet, I and many others take great comfort in this command.  Here’s my take on the command.

I am to live every moment of my life in the consciousness of the presence of God.  He is aware of every thought I think and every word I speak.  So when I reason, when I plan, when I daydream, He, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is in on my reasonings, my plans and my daydreams, whether or not I am clearly conscious of His presence.  So in a real sense, every thought I think, even every sentence I write is a prayer.  And, of course, there are many times during the day when I actually utter a prayer, whether formally or informally.

I’ll not here attempt to deal with the fact of God’s sovereignty in life, death and illness, except to say that the Bible teaches over and over again that He cares about our pains and sufferings and we are told to take them to Him and to make our requests to Him, not because He doesn’t know, but because He cares.

“Don’t be worried about anything, but in everything, with prayer and entreaty with thanksgiving make your requests known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

I am a firm believer that God is the One who heals.  In fact, I believe that all healing comes from God, whether He uses medical means, natural means or an occasional miracle.  I also believe that even though we may pray for healing we must recognize that it is always in His sovereign control.

Uni and I receive many requests similar to the one referred to above.  They come by facebook and e-mail.  We often pass them on to others.  At times, we stop as soon as we read a request, utter a brief prayer and then move on.  Sometimes we write them down on our daily prayer list.  And many times we ourselves initiate a request.  It is comforting to know that there are brothers and sisters around the world praying for and with us.

The passage referred to above – Matthew 6:8b, “… your Father knows what you need before you ask Him,” is not meant to discourage but to encourage prayer.  Perhaps I should repeat my comments given in my post, A MODEL PRAYER:

“The question is sometimes asked; if He knows what we need, then why bother to ask? I have to say that there are no easy answers to this question, even though many have been attempted. But I’ll take a shot at it.

First of all, though He knows our needs, we don’t always come to Him with our needs, but rather with our wants. It’s not that He doesn’t often give us our wants; He does. But I believe that what He seeks for us in our prayers is that we make our needs into our desires.

We are like little children. We want stuff, we want toys, we want pleasant things. We are often satisfied with lesser things than our Father seeks for us. But He knows what our real needs are.


And I believe that while He desires to meet our needs and does, His real longing is that we seek Him. Not simply what He can provide, but Him. As a father and grandfather, I believe that in a small way I can understand this. I am not a wealthy man. I cannot (as God) provide rich gifts for my children and grandchildren. But I can provide them with love and my great desire is for them to reciprocate.”


I recommend Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer:  Does it Make Any Difference?http://billball.blogspot.com/2010/07/pray-for-our-president.html

Saturday, November 10, 2012

HERMENEUTICS AND THE ROLE OF WOMEN

I received the following comments and questions regarding my post:  IS EVERYTHING IN THE BIBLE TRUE? :

“… how do I know when a writer is expressing his opinion and not a direct edict? I don’t care so much about the O.T. as I don’t live under that covenant. But how do I know in the New Testament? In Romans 7 and I Corinthians 7 it’s pretty darn clear. But what about places like I Timothy 2 where he says 'I want' and 'I do not' all over the place?

Naturally, I want 1 Timothy 2 to be just Paul’s opinion – those of a man who lives in a patriarchal society that greatly inhibited the roles of women – but I don’t want to force my opinion onto the text. I would look at it in light of other scripture but I don’t see Peter, James, John or even Jude addressing the role of women in the church.

So my main question is: when no one else discusses the subject, how do I know when it’s the writer’s opinion vs. God’s instruction?

And my secondary question is about the role of women in light of the above.
 
And last, in that vein, the woman who wrote about Biblical Womanhood in Sojourners mentioned that Jesus did not come to set up more laws which seemed right but is it?  I do find her comments about how the new 'laws' enforce the existing power structure at the time to be very compelling - we know the gospel is not about power by servanthood - any comments on all of this?"

Wow, there are two very different questions here:  one on hermeneutics or interpretation; and the other about the role of women.  The two are, however, inseparable.

The first regarding when a writer is expressing his own opinion, versus a direct edict:  I believe we are to take the apostolic writings as authoritative unless there is a qualifier, as I mentioned in the previous post.  I used 1 Corinthians, chapter 7 as an example, because Paul, in this chapter puts qualifiers on much of what he says:
·        “Now I say this as a concession not as a commandment” (verse 6).
·        “I don’t have a communication from the Lord, but I give advice as one shown mercy by the Lord as being faithful” (verse 25).
·        “… I suppose ...” (verse 26).
·        “… and I want to spare you …” (verse 28).
·        “Now I’d like you to be free of care …” (verse 32).
·        “I’m saying this for your benefit …” (verse 35).
·        “… according to my opinion; and I suppose that I too have the Spirit of the Lord” (verse 40).
In this same passage he also uses seven “but ifs” (verses 9, 11, 15, 21, 28, 36, 39).  He allows for exceptions.

He seems to be making clear distinctions between commands versus advice, opinion or exceptions.  Commands would be binding.  The others would not.

We should also notice that Paul’s opinions or bits of advice don’t contradict his authoritative remarks.

As far as Paul’s “I want(s)” in 1 Timothy 2, I’ll agree that when he does this he is giving non-authoritative advice.  He actually only uses the word once in this chapter – verse 8, although some translations add it in verse 9.  The verb he uses – boulomai – usually has the meaning of “wish,” “want” or “desire,” even “intend” and this is the way Paul uses it elsewhere:
·        “… I intended to come to you at first …” (2 Corinthians 1:15).
·        “I wasn’t vacillating when I intended this, was I?” (verse 17)
(Apparently Paul didn’t come when he intended.)
·        “Now I want you to know brothers …” (Philippians 1:12).
     Also see Titus 3:8 and Philemon 13.

He uses it twice elsewhere in 1 Timothy.
·        “So I want the younger (widows) to marry …” (5:14).
·        But those who want to get rich …” (6:9).

However, Paul uses a different word in 1 Timothy 2:12:
·        “… but I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man …”  The verb epitrepo always has that meaning – “permit” or “allow.”  See Matthew 8:21; 19:8.

Paul only uses it in two other places:
·        “… if the Lord permits” (1 Corinthians 16:7).

And in what is relevant to the passage in 1 Timothy:
·        “… for it is not permitted for them (women) to speak” (1 Corinthians 14:34).

I’m not going to get into all the questions regarding women’s roles except for a few attempts at clarification especially of some of the details of the 1 Timothy 2 passage.
·        The context of this passage seems to be of universal application.  Any attempts to interpret it as dealing with specific incidents in a specific church, run into a problem.  The word “all” is used six times in the first eight verses:  “First of all  all people … all those in authority … all godliness … all people … a ransom for all … in every place.”
·        The word translated “quiet” or “quietly” in verses 11 and 12 does not necessarily mean “silence” but an attitude of restfulness or stillness.  It is used in verse 2, not of women only, but of us all.
·        I believe the two verbs that Paul forbids:  “to teach” (didaskein) and “to exercise authority” (authentein) are linked together.  Paul is not forbidding women to teach altogether, but to teach men in an authoritative manner.
·        The related passage cited earlier (1 Corinthians 14:34) should be interpreted in light of the 1 Timothy passage.  Paul in this passage (1 Corinthians 14:26-36) is not demanding total silence of women.  He had previously (11:5) mentioned women “praying or prophesying” in the assembly.  Here he is speaking of the exercise and regulation of the various gifts in the assembly, in this case of a teaching/learning situation.  And as the 1 Timothy 2 passage, 1 Corinthians 14 appears to have universal application – “… as in all the churches …” (1 Corinthians 14:33); it is not directed merely to a specific problem in Corinth.

Yes, it is true that Jesus did not come to set up new laws, but there are other factors involved.  We must be careful that we don’t use this truth to discredit the authority of the New Testament.  This has been done many times to justify all sorts of behavior (i.e., “Jesus said nothing about gay marriage, therefore it’s permissible.”)

But Jesus did teach ethics and He based much of His ethical teaching on the Old Testament – and even tightened up some of its principles.  (See:  THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.)  “You have heard that it was said … but I’m saying to you …” (Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43).

The New Testament writers – Paul, James, Peter – also based their ethical and doctrinal teachings on the Old Testament and also on Jesus’ teachings.  See:  FORFEIT AND GAIN and PAUL AND JESUS.  I believe the reason we see more “laws” in the epistles than in the Gospels is that the writers were dealing with ethical, moral and governing problems of first generation, mostly  gentile Christians in the new churches they had planted.  The apostles had different functions from those of Jesus.  They were planting churches and seeking to establish them.

In conclusion, I believe that the New Testament gives women, along with men, the freedom to teach, preach, evangelize or whatever they feel led of God to do, with the one exception being that in 1 Timothy 2:12.  Its application today may be debated, but I would say that it certainly forbids women from a role as senior pastor in a church.

I feel a bit of irony here, as I at one time was considered by many of my other evangelical friends as being too liberal, (and still am by some), having women deacons or song leaders in my churches and being married to a woman church office manager (Uni).   I felt there was a line drawn, but saw no reason not to push right up to the line.

Today, however, I feel that many have crossed the line and left me behind and I am perceived by many now as being too conservative.