Monday, December 17, 2012

Going Deeper for December 16, 2012

This week's question is timely.  "Why is it taking so long for Jesus to return?"

I am sure in the wake of the events of this past Friday in Newtown, CT more of us are asking that same question today.  During advent we traditionally look backward and forward.  We look back to imagine what it was like for God's people to await the coming of the Messiah, and we look forward as we realize that we too are waiting for Jesus to come back and make all things new.  So this is a particularly good question during advent.

In order to explore the dimensions of this question, I invite you to read 2 Peter 3:1-18.

(Read 2 Peter 3:1-18)

The first thing we notice as we read through this chapter is that our question is not new.  Even Peter's contemporaries (who lived within 50 years after Jesus died, rose, and ascended) were wondering the same thing.  So this question is an important one, and it comes out of the existential experiences of real life.

Peter's contemporaries were persecuted, and their friends mocked them because of their hope for Jesus' return (see verses 3-4), and I imagine they felt the same way we often do.  So what should we do?

The Bible tells us two things in particular about the timing of the end of all things.  First, "It is not for you to know the times or the dates the Father has set by His own authority." (Acts 1:7)  Second, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24:14)

Now these might be less than satisfactory as answers, but it is all we can say because it is all God has said.  Therefore, the question we must ask is this: "If it is not for us to know when, then what is it for us to know?"

Well, Acts 1:8 answers Acts 1:7 by telling us: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be My witnesses from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
So our first response is to obey Jesus' call for us to be His witnesses.

And this is in line with Jesus' words in Matthew 24: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world ... and then the end will come."

This does not mean we can force God's hand, and move up the timeline by working for these things to happen, but it does mean these things (preaching the gospel of the kingdom to all nations) should be our priority.

But how?  How do we obey Jesus' call to be witnesses?

Peter answers that for us in 2 Peter 3.  While he talks about the end, and the Lord's patience (see verses 8-9), and a day being like a thousand years to God and a thousand years like a day, he also offers instruction on how we should live as Christ's followers as we wait for His return.

"I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking." (2 Peter 3:1)
"Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live wholesome and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming." (11-12)
"So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with Him." (verse 14)
"Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be glory both now and forever!  Amen." (verses 17-18)

So you can see that Peter urges us to live godly and seek more of Jesus as we await His return, and as we do that, we will also see God transforming us into Jesus' likeness by the Holy Spirit's power so that we can become true witnesses in obedience to Jesus' call.

So what about you?  Do you have anything to add?  Please feel free to share your comments.  I know this is a significant question, and it certainly deserves our time and attention as together we listen for God's voice in the midst of the noise that so often surrounds us.  Thank you.

Monday, December 3, 2012

December 3, 2012 - Real Questions People Ask

In a document called "The Heidelberg Catechism" in Question and Answer 21, true faith is defined as: "not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in His word is true, it is also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ, not only others but I too have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation."

And the question I have, especially when it comes to today's topic, is what does it mean to have "a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in His word is true"?  It seems the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism assume that definition of faith and move onto develop it into the source by which we receive God's salvation in Christ.  But what they assume, I think we need to carefully consider.

Today's topic is a real question referred to me.  "If the Bible's account of the creation of all things is true, then what do we do with dinosaurs and cavemen?"

In order to answer this question, we will have to deal carefully with what "God reveals" in His word.

(Read Genesis 1:1-2:3)

The first question we have to ask is: "What is God revealing in His word?"

Clearly God is revealing, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."  This is the indisputable fact revealed in Genesis 1.  Everything else is less clear.  In other words, the "Who" is very clear, the "When" is less so (In the beginning), and the "How" is framed in the language of poetry (e.g. Light is created on the first day, but the lesser light and greater light not until the 4th day).

So we need to think carefully about what exactly God is revealing and why, so that we do not speak beyond what God Himself has revealed to us.

What God is revealing is not framed in the language of science (i.e. "what about dinosaurs and cavemen?")  In Genesis 1, God does not tell us precisely "how" He created all things.  Yet science is concerned with learning "how", and so science studies God's creation to discover what God is revealing in and through His creation (what we call "general revelation").  This is appropriate and fitting to the nature of scientific discovery, and we should applaud these efforts because science discovers what God is revealing through His creation.

However, since "what" God is revealing in Genesis 1 is not framed in the language of science, (i.e. dinosaurs and cavemen) then we should not expect Genesis 1 to offer scientific answers.  After all it is not God's intention to do so.

So what exactly IS God revealing in Genesis 1, and why?

As I said previously, God reveals that "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth".  So now the question we must ask is "why" does God choose to reveal that truth in Genesis 1?  This is not now the language of science, but the language of theology (a study of what we call "special revelation" which is what God reveals about Himself and His operations in the world in the Bible)

In theology, we see that Genesis 1 has a context.  It speaks of "the beginning" but it does so to people who are many years removed from that significant creation event.  Therefore, we must ask: "What did those people (the ones addressed many years after the creation event) need to know?"

They needed to know "why" they should worship their God, and not the gods of other nations.  They needed to know that their God was greater, higher, and more powerful than all other so-called gods.  Thus, in the language of poetry, the writer communicates the truth of the supremacy of God to the people who are called to worship Him and Him alone.

Other nations worship things (sun, moon, and stars for example), but God's people are called to worship God and God alone.  The sun and moon had names (for example, chemosh was the name of the sun god in the Ancient Near East), and the nations around God's people worshiped them by name.  In the Hebrew language "shemesh" is the name given to the sun.  Yet in the creation account in Genesis 1, the author does not name the sun and moon, instead he calls them the "greater light" and "lesser light" (see verse 16).  Why?  It was because the author of Genesis 1, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wants God's people to know that the gods of the nations are nothing more than creations of the one true Almighty God; their God: Yahweh.

So in conclusion, we must be careful to think clearly about "what" God is revealing in His word and "why" so that we can best understand exactly what He wants us to know about Him and His operations in this world as He reveals them.

Hopefully this makes things a little clearer.  I am sure there are objections and questions you want to share, so please do.  Let's continue this conversation as we seek truth in the service of God and the advancement of Christ's reign here on earth.