“Self-sacrifice might save the planet but it won’t get your DNA reproduced.”

Courtesy of Sentient Developments

Courtesy of Sentient Developments

Having begun holidays I can now indulge in reading the paper, which admittedly has become a newfound delight. This morning I came across something almost chillingly surreal, as secular thought sometimes touches on but doesn’t quite break into a Biblical understanding of our world.

So I was reading this article in The Sun-Herald entitled System error: how our will to live could crash the program woven by the mind of Sam de Brito. Being the secret philosopher that I am, I indulged myself in his thoughts about the nature of human life.

He began by referencing the classic “human life is nothing but an illusion” thought experiment. The brain in the jar. We are all part of a complex design by a higher being, but in this case it’s usually the highly advanced technology of The Matrix or Nick Bostrom’s “supercomputor built by an incredibly advanced civilisation”. And so de Brito, in this article, placed himself in the shoes of this ‘incredibly advanced civilisation’ and staring at his imaginary supercomputor screen set out to decide what the base properties of humanity are. And his conclusions are startlingly Biblical.

He states that “the most obvious is the will to live” which he fleshes out as “self-preservation, selfishness or self-interest”. Essentially, self-centredness. Concern for ones own welfare over anyone else’s. His second, and equally important, base element of humanity is the “will to reproduce”. It’s also interesting that he paints this in a self-centered light, he admits that he likes to think his love and protectiveness for his child as selflessness but he also recognises it is the justification for many horrific disasters in history from colonisation to cruelty and crime; just people fighting for their families. He claims “Our savage love for our own has made Homo sapiens the most powerful and destructive species on the planet in just 160,000 short years.”

Let’s just pause for a minute and actually think about what this guy is saying. Humanity is inherently self-centered and as a result, destructive. I studied James earlier this year with some of my girls and one of the verses left this unforgettable and graphic image in my mind:

“But each person is temped when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown bring forth death.”
James 1:29

What de Brito eloquently phrases as “our will to live”, the Bible describes as “sin”, the selfish desire that is the nature of humanity. What struck me here is that de Brito isn’t suggesting that the problem is only some particularly bad people, or that it’s dependent on one’s upbringing or environmental influences. He actually is stating that each individual human has an inherent self-centered element that is the basis of their being. This may surprise you, but Jesus taught the same thing:

“Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes from the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.”
Matthew 15:17-17

One of the central factors of the gospel of Jesus Christ, is that humanity is the problem, their hearts are the problem. That was the other thing that struck me about this article, de Brito seemed to think these elements of humanity problematic. I may not be a well-read as others, but I seem to think that secular thoughts tends more to encourage self-satisfaction and selfish thinking. The eye-catching phrases “How to have the best sex now”, “These Proven Mind Tricks Will Get You What You Want”, “Live Your Best Life Now” etc etc. Just read some headlines and you’ll see the trend. Rarely does someone stop and say…hold on, I think we are the problem here.

So what’s de Brito’s proposed solution to this problem? He concludes with this statement:: “This makes me wonder if the purpose of the grand experiment we call life is to see whether our species can make the leap of consciousness to override our own base coding and put others before ourselves?”. Ironically, that seems to suggest we can solve our own problem and I think just sticks us right back into our inherent “will to live” or sinful desire to solve our own problems the way that we want to.

Seeing as Jesus seemed to recognise that we had this same problem 2000 years ago, what was his solution? Firstly, the problem is defined in slightly more depth in the Bible. Sin isn’t just following our own desires, but it is rooted in our rejection of God, our Creator. That’s an element de Brito left out of his created universe, he separated them from himself. Creator and creation were distant but clearly distinct entities, de Brito didn’t include a relational element. However, the apostle Paul paints the picture like this:

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
Romans 1:21-25

That is why humanity is like it is. Cut off from the creator by de Brito’s “will to live” which is essentially what the Bible describes as the “lusts of their hearts”. Ok, so now we’ve laid out the problem in more depth, what exactly did Jesus do about it?

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
John 1:14-17

Jesus came, and dealt with it himself. He wasn’t just a man, he was God and man. “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was in the world. In him was life…” (John 1:2-3). The Creator himself came into his creation to save his creatures from their inward looking and darkened hearts. This isn’t a problem we can solve by gathering our human strength and conquering it. Although, de Brito has the right idea, put others before yourself, life isn’t just about you. But neither is it just about humanity, it’s about the Creator, ‘the mind behind the mega computor’.

Except the Creator didn’t make any errors in his creating, it is the creation that corrupted itself. The base coding of “the will to live” can manifest in one of two ways: living as you want, pursuing your hearts desires, or living as you are created to, glorifying and praising your Creator. de Brito discovered that the outcome of the first option was pretty grim and maybe you think so too. Have a read of what God’s intended plan is for Creation, the details of his solution played out through history and you may find something more satisfying.

Beautiful, but Deadly.

Courtesy to Mathiole (DevientArt)

So many things in this world are aesthetically pleasing but potentially deadly. Brightly coloured plants, flowers and animals scatter the earth that could end our lives if we made direct contact. Often I marvel at these things in creation, beautifully and wonderfully made by my opinion.

They also come to mind when I consider the spread of the gospel. Throughout Paul’s letters in the New Testament he often warns new churches against sugar-coated messages. The genius that allows these messages to survive is that they contain just enough of the truth within them that they could be seen as plausible despite being spiritually deadly. We live in a time where “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suite their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

I see these churches that include false messages and promises growing rapidly. People are drawn to them because they appeal to their passions. Often these churches grow faster and larger than those that preach the straight truth.

Why is that? Wouldn’t people want to hear the truth? The gospel is essentially offensive. Since “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel”(2 Cor 4:4) we can often be discouraged by our efforts to spread the word in light of the growth in these other churches. But Paul urges that since “this ministry is by the mercy of God, we of not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:1-3).

In sadness I have seen friends committing their lives to Christ in these churches that have promised things such as healing, earthly comfort and wealth and on seeing none of these fulfilled have been disoriented, discouraged and essentially lost all confidence in our Lord. So I urge you, as Paul does in his letters to “always be sober-minded, endure suffering, so the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:5). Be aware of the teachings in your church and test them against the word of God.

As an interesting aside, if this interests you, Cole Brown has written a short and relevant account of his challenge to his church. It’s called Lies My Pastor Told Me, Cole pulls apart these lies, often common amongst these churches, using  gospel evidence. Check it out, the e-book is free to download here.

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?

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.’

Doubts, Questions, Queries, Thoughts…

Just because I know you’re out there, I thought I’d just remind you that the ‘Itching Questions’ tab still exists.

I absolutely love questions. Even when I can’t answer them, they open an opportunity for thought.

Don’t be intimidated because I don’t know anywhere near everything and I never will.

Don’t be afraid because my aim isn’t to cut you down but to draw light on your questions/thoughts from the Bible.

Don’t hesitate because you might learn something you didn’t know before.

Don’t hold back because getting into the depths of the Bible is something I find fascinating and I can guarantee it’s worthwhile.

So there, hopefully that’s reason enough to just ask away.

Everyone’s Religious: whether you like it or not.

 

To some this may come as a shock, maybe not to others, but it’s true: everyone is religious.  People often think of religion as a set of defining rules that guide life based on some supernatural power they call their God(s).

Check out the Oxford dictionary definition of Religion: “a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.”

I don’t think one can go through life without having an interest that they devote themselves to. Even the atheist, they have devoted themselves to denying the existence of God, a sportsman has a religious attitude towards their sport, or a businessman has devoted themselves to growth and profit, etc etc.

Think about some of the things you devote yourself to, are they worth the effort? Or are they essentially futile and keep you busy while you live on this earth?

I was reading Acts 17 this morning and I was struck by how little humanity has changed, if at all. After Jesus ascended into heaven, his disciples took the truth to the nations. Paul, who was once called Saul, and he was “ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” (Acts 8:3). He was heading off to Damascus to find “any belonging to the Way, men or women” to “bring them bound back to Jerusalem”(Acts 9:2) when he had a revelation, and became one of the most influential people in the Bible.

So Paul travels around, going into churches, starting churches and just telling anyone and everyone the truth offered through and in Jesus. Acts Chapter 17 records Paul’s work in Athens. So he’s arrived at Athens and walked into the Areopagus to address them. The Areopagus is the judicial body of aristocratic origin that subsequently formed the higher court of modern Greece.

“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god’. What therefore you worship is unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

Acts 17:22-23

Paul’s picked up on all the things these people dedicate themselves to, many of which are man-made and some they can’t even name or know. He addresses Athens because “he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16).

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives all mankind life and breath and everything.”

Acts 17:25

Paul reveals the real God, who doesn’t need us to help him out, who isn’t restricted to temples. A God who is the creator and the provider and the sustainer providing mankind even with breath. Is that not more worthwhile of devotion than an ‘unknown god’ or a material god? But why devote yourself to a God that has no need of us? Paul continues:

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

‘we are indeed his offspring.'”

Acts 17:26-28

Why should we bother following God? Because God created us with a purpose, he gave us life so that we should ‘seek God’. But God isn’t this abstract force, we are made in his image, ‘his offspring’. We exist because of him, so isn’t that reason enough to exist for him?

“Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Acts 17:29-31

Not only should we seek God, but there are consequences for your decisions. Because we are in his image, his ‘offspring’, we shouldn’t replace him with things he’s made. How ridiculous to think that a material object that God has created is more worthy of devotion or pursuit than the being that created it!

God has not just left us with no direction as to how to come to him, he sent us his son Jesus Christ (who is the man appointed to judge). He’s given us the opportunity to repent and have assurance, even through judgement, despite the fact we’ve offended him by replacing him with these inanimate objects. This judgement is guaranteed by Jesus resurrection. He is often referred to as the ‘firstborn among the dead’ (Col 1:18). Everyone will be judged based upon this decision. So what are our options then?

“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this”. So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed.”

Acts 17:32-34

A claim like this demands a response. Either you can see a vivid reality of judgement and a conviction of your offense toward the Creator and repent, or you can see this as the folly of ignorant and mislead people. Think about it. This decision has real consequence, eternal consequence.

So what have you placed where the living God of the universe should be? Or do you think He is unworthy of that position and you would prefer to devote yourself to the created, the mortal and fleeting? It’s up to you, but it’s not a decision you should treat lightly.