Understanding the Times

Jacek Yerka

Writing about time leaves open a huge realm of surrealist art, which is something that I personally love. If you like that kind of stuff as well, I recommend Jacek Yerka, who created the beautiful image above. Anyway, on with the post….

Understanding the times seems to be a common quest amongst us, who strive to become a meaningful and acknowledged part of the world. We constantly want to be able to predict things, to understand things and to do that seeing the patterns and coming to conclusions is the way to go, yes?

Tonight I was reminded of where my own answers to such desires comes from. As Jesus addressed a crowd of the curious and uncommitted he said,

“Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?”

Luke 12:56

Jesus came as the fulfilment of centuries of promises from God. These people have been waiting for this King. Here he stands before them speaking with powerful words that he supports with powerful actions. Before this passage Luke had recorded a huge array of these phenomenal acts. Jesus had cast out demons (Luke 4:33-37), healed a leper (Luke 5:12-16), forgave sins ( Luke 5:20), healed the paralytic (Luke 5:22-26) and raised the dead ( Luke 7:11-17; 8:47-56), just to name a few.

His works were so mind-blowing that even his enemies would not deny them, but instead sought to question by what authority he did them. You can imagine that that would be why so many curious people are drawn to him.

Why did he come? Jesus came bearing a message. One that holds profound significance for us today.

Jesus came to inform humanity that they are in debt. God has turned up on our doorstep to inform us that we’ve committed an offence for which our fine is still outstanding. He’s created us, made this world, gave us life and we’ve ignored him. Often, we’re not even thankful for what we have. I definitely know I’m guilty of this.

So what do you do? Jesus says:

“While you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Luke 12: 58-59

The only way to get out of your debt, is to accept the deal Jesus has offered you. To our trust in the payment his death is on your behalf. The next bit of the passage may be a bit perplexing but let’s try and unpack it. Some people tell Jesus of some tragedies that have occurred: some people who were killed. He responds:

“Unless you repent, you too will all perish”

Luke 13:3

That comes across as a little insensitive, right? It seems like these people did nothing to deserve their sudden deaths. But what Jesus is getting at is that these people, and everyone else, don’t really deserve anything. Everything we receive is a merciful gift from God. Every moment a gift given in the hope that we will take him up on his offer.

So God is patient and merciful. I need to learn to remember that all that I have, I don’t deserve. This is something you should seriously think about too. Have you understood the times?

Morally Responsible Sceptic

 

Credit goes to 96dpi(Flickr)

I’ve recently be challenged to be a morally responsible sceptic and to be honest I think it’s an important thing for everyone to consider.

For starters, I think our society (Western society at least) is pervaded by irresponsible disbelief. What I mean by this is that people generally have a readiness to disbelieve without inquiry, knowledge or responsibility. Not just in relation to religion but to anything really. Just as believing has responsibility, so too does disbelieving. And in this light, disbelief has become a virtue, the doubter is seen as smarter than the believer. We’ve become complacent, unbelief no longer has to justify itself as belief does.

So I want to challenge you to act on the responsibility to remove a lack of information. In other words, we are morally responsible for our beliefs, and if you are not taking this responsibility seriously, and thus also not rationally, you don’t actually seek true beliefs. It is always wrong to believe on insufficient evidence. So, I took some advice from Willard Dallas who is a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. Here is how he thinks that one can be a morally responsible sceptic in any area:

  • Assume the burden of truth for your disbelief.
    • “Much, if not most, of the unbelief (the larger beliefs of life or the nature of truth itself), found in the world today is amorally reprehensible faith posing as a scientific world view or something of that sort, a belief not based on thorough examination of the nature of the belief and it’s rational grounds.”

Willard challenges the truth even in our own intellectual systems. Higher education, i.e. universities, that are constantly striving to obtain life truths, themselves can’t construct a coherent reality of truth. (Truth being a representation of what really is). This cultural blindspot has allowed doubt to go unjustified.

I’m going to define beliefs as a readiness to act as if something were so. Therefore, would not your life be guided by these frameworks of belief/disbelief? I’m assuming that disbelief in something, is belief in something else.

Essentially, and ideally, we would only have true beliefs. Moral responsibility calls us to be as rational as possible in reference to our beliefs. We should do everything in our power to guarantee the highest likelihood that they are true. To be morally responsible is to be rational in our conduct of life.

So, my challenge to you is to look at what frameworks you use to construct your life and assume the responsibility to remove a lack of information.

The Moon Is Round

A 14 year old girl who was slowly decaying from cancer was asked by her family to keep a journal. When she died, they found a note that said: “The moon is round.” As they read your journal they learnt that she meant that even when you can only see a sliver of the moon, you still know it is round. In the same way, she knew that even though she couldn’t fully understand what was going on, that God was sovereign.

That was an illustration in a talk over KEC 2012 that I was really encouraged by. I went back this year to yet again serve the senior high kids and they in turn were such an encouragement to me. One of them said one day, that in our busy city lives, when we look up at the stars we can’t see them. But when you strip away the busyness, head out into the country and lie in the middle of a field, all the glory of God’s creation is stretched out before you and you can’t help but marvel. I was so encouraged to not let my earthly life cloud my vision of God’s immense holiness and wonder.

As we sat together under the word of God we were blown away by the infinite becoming intimate as God transfers his holiness to us as we are made right by God and for God. (Isaiah 6:1-9). And how perceiving truly his holiness we should be driven to our deeds as we see the horror of our sin. We learnt how unfair the truth is. That Christ would lovingly save his enemies from what they deserved, so that we can have no punishment, no penalty but peace (Romans 5:1-11). So that even in suffering, we can have tears of joy, knowing we are united in Christ and that even our sin and shame can’t prevent him from loving us.

Even though God will continue to forgive us our sins, this grace is not a licence to sin. Instead, the old person that we were is crucified along with Christ so that we bear condemnation no more. We are made a new creation, born again, united with Christ in his resurrection. Our new selves are called to do things that are not to our earthly advantage, but these earthly risks are for eternal values. No longer does God dwell separate from us but instead with us, as the Holy Spirit, no longer slaves to sin, we are empowered to face and overcome sin. (Romans 6:1-14)

We have a God who is faithful to his promises, Merciful to his people and so we endure in the hope we have been given and are driven to share that hope.

As we were talking in our discussion group, someone said, “But we’re young and often I don’t feel equipped to tell people what I believe.” Someone pulled out Job 32:6-10:

“And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said:
I am young in years,
and you are aged;
therefore I was timid and afraid
to declare my opinion to you.
I said,’Let days speak,
and many years teach wisdom.’
But it is the spirit in man,
the breath of the Almighty, that
makes him understand.
It is not the old who are wise,
nor the aged who understand what
is right.
Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me;
let me also declare my opinion.’

He gives and He takes away.

Something that has really struck me over the past week or so is the combination of God’s sovereignty and human suffering. As I’ve started reading through Job, looking into common lies taught in churches and heard some bad news I’ve come to face the reality that God controls all.

Good news, or bad news first? Let’s start with the bad. Just a few days ago I heard news that a young girl, the sister of one of my old friends, suicided. I can’t say I’ve faced this before. I thought about writing a post about suicide, but what can you say? Not much in the way of practical methods or understanding in order to deal with it.

Here’s the good news: That’s when I realised what God had been showing me and teaching me in the lead up. I’ve been reading up on awful misinterpretations of the Bible and how these are used (very often in fact) in churches. I was planning a few blog posts on these. One of them, just to spoil the surprise, is the idea that “God heals those who have faith”. Without going into too much detail, this claim essentially renders sick people as without faith and without the Holy Spirit. Which is evidently wrong. It claims that the more faith you have, the more healthy you will be. But God doesn’t promise us any of this, in fact, many of the apostles (Paul and Timothy) were sick and were not healed despite their prayers. Instead of health on earth, God promises us spiritual health and that he will get rid of physical sickness and death when he returns.

“So it will be with the resurrection ofthe dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable,; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” 1 Corinthians 15:42-44a.

Secondly, I’ve been reading through Job. Job was this guy that feared and respected God, and was blessed with material wealth – he had lots of stuff, heaps of kids and was known for it. But get this, God says to Satan:

“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”

Job 1:8

God suggests Job to Satan. And Satan’s response is he’s great and all ” But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (v10). So God takes him on his claim and gives Job over to Satan: “all that he has in in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” (v12) So off goes Satan and he takes everything that Job has, his stuff burns down, all his kids are killed, his family is destroyed. He has nothing left but himself. And what does he say? Surely, he would prove Satan right.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job 1:21

Strange, right? But it makes sense. All those things were given to him as gifts, he existed before them. They were given by God and thus, God has the ability to take them away. Not only this, but he praises God.

Job’s hardship continues as Satan plagues him with illness. Jobs friends come to comfort him but all they can do is sit “with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” (2:13).

That’s as far as I’ve read in Job, but I am just so grateful that God is working even in suffering. That even before it happened he directed my attention to these things. He has challenged me to praise him as Job does, because everything on this earth is an undeserved gift, that he can easily and rightfully take away.

The Word and The Heart

When the Christ came to bring his kingdom, it wasn’t what his people (the Jews)  expected. They were keeping an eye out for the climactic and decisive moment when the dirty and sinful would be condemned, and the clean and righteous would reign victorious.

Instead, Jesus explained it to them in pictures :

“It is like a grain of mustard seed, which when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Mark 4:31-32.

Thus, the kingdom is one of gradual growth – not apocalyptic climax.

What is this seed? It’s the truth Christ came to reveal. Jesus explains this in the parable of the seed. The kingdom grows as the word (the seed) is spread widely and people react differently to it.

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came  and devoured it.”

Mark 4:3-4

Jesus interprets this for his disciples later on:

“These are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.”

Mark 4:15

First possible response to the word: Outright rejection.

“Other seed fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.”

Mark 4:5-6

 

“And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for awhile, then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.”

Mark 4:16-17

Second possible response to the word: Eager acceptance without growth and endurance and so when the tough times come, they don’t last.

“Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.”

Mark 4:7

 

“And others are sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

Mark 4:18-19

Third possible response: You can hear it, but replace it with the distractions and temporary satisfactions of the world.

“And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

Mark 4:8

 

“But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thrityfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

Mark 4:20

Fourth possible response: Acceptance and growth.

This reminded me of what we were looking at in Bible Study last night. In 2 Peter 1, Peter is writing a letter to a church that is surrounded by false teaching and as he lies on his deathbed he reminds them of the truth they have in Christ. One thing that came up in discussion was what makes you a Christian? And we concluded it wasn’t that you believed but that you believed and are fruitful (Look at 2 Peter 1:5-11 to see what that looks like), that you are active in your faith, which is a huge challenge when you think about it. I think Jesus illustrates just that in the parable above.

So can I challenge you, to think about which reaction you are going to take to the gospel or the reaction you have taken, and consider what’s best. Just let me, before you do that, remind you as Peter does:

“Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Therefore, I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.” 2 Peter 1:10-12

Forgive and Forget?

Forgiveness. The act of letting someone off the hook. In moderation, forgiveness feels right. It makes you feel like a great, kind and generous person. But when it reaches a threshold, it’s no longer an act of kindness but an ignorance towards injustice, is it not? So where is this threshold, if there is one? And why should we even bother forgiving, when really it isn’t just?

Jesus disciples had the same question:

“Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Matthew 18:21-22

Now, Jesus isn’t setting a threshold here, he’s not giving us a number to count up to before we seek revenge. It’s the equivalent of when you pull out the wildcard when you argued with your siblings when you were young: “I’m better that you times infinity.” Jesus says, there is no threshold, you should just keep forgiving without number.

Now, that just seems unreasonable. You can’t just keep forgiving, where’s the justice in that? To make his point Jesus uses a parable, which he often does:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.”

Matthew 18:23

Just as the King wants to settle his debts with his servants, so does God want to fix our debt to him. Our rebellion has a cost, Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death.” Our actions bring us to owe God our life, he has more than the right to take it. However, the story continues:

“When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed ten thousand talents [1 Talent = 20 years work; thus 10,000 Talents = 200,000 years work]. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and the payment had to be made.”

Matthew 18:24-5

Not a pretty picture. The servant obviously hasn’t got the years in him to work off this debt and the only thing that seems to solve the problem is the life of him and his family. Just as we are incapable of paying for our sin with all the good deeds and action we can muster, this servant can’t pay back this debt.

“So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.'”

Matt 18:26

As any sane person would do in this situation, they would try and save themselves. It almost seems like the instinctive response to this kind of debt is to promise the unfulfillable. I’ll pay you back, don’t worry, even though it is humanly impossible, I’ll make the promise because it gives a sense of false assurance. I’m in over my head.

You may be thinking, what does this have to do with general forgiveness, it’s not like majority of issues are debt related. Just bear with me, I’m getting there. Jesus continues:

“And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.”

Matt 18:27

Obviously the servant’s promise was a cry for mercy that came out of a fear and understanding of the hopelessness of his situation. There was no way he could get himself out of it. The master sees this, has pity on him and just lets him off the hook. Just for a minute, close your eyes and imagine the emotions, the sensations that the servant must be feeling. Thankfulness isn’t a big enough concept to even encompass the experience.

This is the extent to which we are forgiven through Christ. That is why Christianity is such a different religion: it asks for nothing in return for salvation, for there is nothing that humanity can offer that can satisfy the debt. The verse from Romans that I mentioned earlier also has the same ending:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23.

However, the parable continues:

“But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [100 denarii = a days work], and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe me’. ”

Matthew 18:28

So off skips this free servant and he stumbles upon someone he happened to lend money to. You have to notice, his methods are a little more violent than his masters.

“So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you’. He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.”

Matt 18:29

Just as the servant pleaded with his master, so too does his friend plead with him. You’d think after having experienced such mercy that the servant would feel more inclined to give mercy himself but he doesn’t. This has consequence:

“Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I has mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Matthew 18:32-35

The servant has his master to answer to. His behaviour has cost him the mercy he received initially. It seems almost illogical that he didn’t see how little his act of mercy would have been in comparison to the mercy he received from his master and yet he could not forgive.

So this is how forgiveness should work, then. God offers us mercy and forgiveness in our sin because there is no way we could fix the problems we’ve created on our own. Thus, this forgiveness should spur us to forgive others their wrongs which are so much less in comparison to what we’ve received.