Friday, 14 April 2017

Good Friday & Easter – Christians must be daft – isnt it all just a myth?

There are some who look at what Christians do at Easter and think we are mad or weird. We carry a cross down a street on Good Friday and get excited about the person who was executed on it. If you think we are stupid (because you may be atheist or agnostic, or maybe you can’t be bothered) here’s the reversal of your world: you are fighting a battle against history!
Jewish historians alone logged as a fact both the existence of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, as well as his death. He lived, he existed, he died. Historical facts. It’s also true to say that he said he was God. When asked during his trial, he stated clearly that he was, and it was on this basis of blasphemy (and that alone) that the Jews claimed he had to die. And then executed him.

If you thought Jesus never existed, then – no offence, but you are fighting a daft battle that is akin to arguing that the world is flat. At best that’s a hilarious position and historically silly, at worst we’d have to question a lot of the other things you say too. No, that’s not where real question is.

The real question is whether Jesus rose from the dead.
Okay, let’s take a look at that. The first thing that people say about the resurrection is that Jesus didn’t actually die. Yes, he was nailed to the cross, but he didn’t die. Would you mind if we pull that one to shreds for a second?
Jesus was beaten to bloody shreds by the whip used by the Roman guards. Jesus was so weak after His torture that He couldn’t carry the patibulum of His cross to the crucifixion site. Jesus had spikes driven through His wrists and feet and hung bleeding for six hours. The Romans thrust a spear deep into Jesus’ side, confirming beyond doubt that Jesus was dead. Jesus was prepared for burial according to exacting Jewish custom. His body was encased in wrapped linen and spices. Jesus was then entombed, and a massive, heavy rock was rolled across the tomb entrance. A unit of highly trained Roman guards vigilantly guarded the entrance—knowing they would be punished if Jesus’ body went AWOL.

In his article, A Lawyer Examines The Swoon Theory, Texas attorney Joseph “Rick” Reinckens satirically unpacks this theory. I will just share a snippet of this must-read:

“Even in His weakened condition, in a quiet private cemetery, Jesus manages to push back the stone door without any of the guards noticing! Why go half-way? Jesus has been whipped, beaten and stabbed, is hemorrhaging, and hasn’t had any food or drink for at least three days. Does He just push the stone open enough to squeeze through? No, He pushes the stone door COMPLETELY out of the way!!!”

Adds J. Hampton Keathley, III, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and a pastor of 28 years:

“If Christ had only swooned, He still would have still been half dead. A great deal of time would have been needed for recuperation. In His weakened condition He could not have walked the seven miles on the Emmaus road. It would have been impossible for someone who had only resuscitated from the agonies the Lord endured with the beatings and crucifixion to so quickly give the impression that He was the Conqueror of death and the grave, the Prince of Life.”

Could the Roman soldiers have been asleep? Is that how Jesus supposedly made His sneaky escape? 

Peter Kreeft, a popular writer of Christian philosophy, theology and apologetics, says no way:

“The story the Jewish authorities spread, that the guards fell asleep and the disciples stole the body is unbelievable. Roman guards would not fall asleep on a job like that; if they did, they would lose their lives. And even if they did fall asleep, the crowd and the effort and the noise it would have taken to move an enormous boulder would have wakened them.”

So that argument is way off and just doesn’t stand a chance of being correct. The next thing people say is that those who saw all this happen (and there were loads) were hallucinating. It’s important to note that hallucinations come from within a person, not outside a person. Meaning hallucinations are entirely subjective. Science tells us that, generally, only particular kinds of people have hallucinations: persons who are paranoid or schizophrenic, or people under the influence of drugs.

The New Testament tells us, however, that all kinds of people saw Jesus after His resurrection. Different ages, different occupations, different backgrounds, different viewpoints.

Dr. Gary Habermas observes:

“That these different individuals in each of these circumstances would all be candidates for hallucinations really stretches the limits of credibility.”

Says Peter Kreeft:

“Hallucinations usually happen only once, except to the insane. This one returned many times, to ordinary people. Five hundred separate Elvis sightings may be dismissed, but if five hundred simple fishermen in Maine saw, touched and talked with him at once, in the same town, that would be a different matter.”

Adds Dr. Michael Licona, a professor of theology:

“Hallucinations are like dreams. They are private occurrences … You could not share an hallucination you were having with someone any more than you could wake up your spouse in the middle of the night and ask him or her to join you in a dream you were having.”

Hallucinations do not cause people to change or create new beliefs. The fact that many people chose to believe in Jesus, after talking with Him and touching His wounds, also helps to refute this theory. Hallucinations are an individual event. If 500 people have the same hallucination, that’s a bigger miracle than the resurrection.

The next and only option (apart from the actual truth that he did rise again from the dead) is that this was a conspiracy. The conspiracy theory goes like this: Christ’s disciples simply stole His body and fabricated the resurrection story.

The great historian Eusebius (A.D. 314-318) was the first to argue that it is inconceivable that such a well-planned and thought-out conspiracy could succeed. Eusebius satirically imagined how the disciples might have motivated each other to take this route:

Let us band together to invent all the miracles and resurrection appearances which we never saw and let us carry the sham even to death! Why not die for nothing? Why dislike torture and whipping inflicted for no good reason? Let us go out to all the nations and overthrow their institutions and denounce their gods! And even if we don’t convince anybody, at least we’ll have the satisfaction of drawing down on ourselves the punishment for our own deceit.

Chuck Colson, special counsel to President Nixon during the Watergate scandal in the 1960s, knows full well how difficult it is to keep a conspiracy together. Says Colson:

“I know how impossible it is for a group of people, even some of the most powerful in the world, to maintain a lie. The Watergate cover-up lasted only a few weeks before the first conspirator broke and turned state’s evidence.”

Adds Paul E. Little, author of Know What You Believe:

“Men will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not, however, die for what they know is a lie.”

So the only possible option left is that Jesus did actually rise again from the dead. Now who’s daft? Perhaps it’s time you considered the facts before deciding that you don’t believe all this (as you might call it) "twaddle".

Monday, 5 October 2015

What is "call"?

In the Christian world we place emphasis on the word "call" in terms of whether God has called us to do something or other, but ironically I've heard on numerous  occasions those who would probably own up to little faith or none say "it's very clear that that was their calling." Stated of course with a lack of clarity as to who or what is precisely doing the calling, to what and to whom.
In The Christian world call is at the very heart of our faith. We believe God calls specific people to specific tasks. Let me just clarify how I re-wrote that sentence: I started by typing " used to be at the ..." and then decided to scratch that. Because in the days that we live in it doesn't always feel that way. It almost seems like "everyone did as he saw fit" (Judges 21 vs 25), and also as if in these days "the word of the Lord is rare, there were not many visions." (1 Samuel 3 vs 1). In actual fact, it seems that we live in days where there is at times a total relucatance by many to anything at all, let alone anything sacrifical , unless there is a spin off for the individual, a bonus or some kind of profit. Essentially, we live in days it seems where getting anybody to do anything that costs is darned right hard work. As someone once amusingly stated, it seems like the same players on the sports field are again and again asked to do the same tasks 24/7 and they are already exhausted. And of course, the days we live in display the vast quantity of the population to be simply too busy, too tired, overdrawn, too stressed, even though we seem to find hours and hours to surf the internet, play on our smartphones or watch TV. These, if they are true, are quite damming charges.

So where has call gone? Where has it vanished to? What are the ingredients of call?

It seems to me that our response to these questions can be varied, and it does depend on how we see God's guidance. Yet if we are to read the signs of the times, call seems to have largely vanished and the word of the Lord does seem to be for some, quite rare! Has call, or our sense of hearing call vanished? Let's jump straight back and say that on the basis of scripture and it's principles, and the still vast mission field, God cannot be silent, but still issuing calls to his people.

Take for example Isaiah 6 vs 1-10. A classic gobbet of scrpture on call. vs 8 and 9 are the call verses in a section that is built up to on the holiness of God. Maybe this is a theophany - probably. But what is clear is that there isn't much of a carry on! This is straight in with the question from God: "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And the reply is instant: "Here am I. send me!"
What fascinates me about this text is that the call is given, and there is a speedy response. What is unclear here is that we don't know whether the call is general - ie to anyone, or whether it is specific, ie to Isaiah. What we do know is that Isaiah is in a place of worship and prayer, which leads him to a place of vision from God. The descriptive language is detailed. But if we look closely at the question from God, the "Whom" it gives the strong sense that this call could be for anyone, and indeed they will take anyone who offers! So if that is the case, Isaiah speedily puts himself forward in obedience. We don't know if there are others around him in the same room, or even if there are whether they are experiencing the same vision. But Isaiah doesn't hesitate. There is a divine call and need and it must be responded to. Short of Isaiah's sinfulness, which has been dealt with in vs 6 and 7, there is nothing to stop him saying "here I am." And if we measure Isaiah's response to our modern day processes what we can say is that there is a divine need and Isaiah sees and hears the need and just responds. No checking of his work load, his diary, or family circumstances. Just a simple heart response.

We can potentially draw some conclusions from this: God shows a need, he requires someone to go to fulfill that need, he issues a summons to any who will hear his call. His people hear that call and respond in obedience. This we could conclude is call. As someone once said on this subject during my studies at Spurgeons, call is about "can I do a work here". In other words, this is less about flashing lights and more about the simple response of our hearts to always be ready and obedient to go!

Another example is found in Acts 16. The scripture is far more specific here and the work of the Holy Spirit quite distinct, as of course you would expect in the book of Acts. Paul and the vision from the man of Macedonia is a well known section. It is notable because vs 6 starts with the immediate sense of the Spirit keeping them from preaching in Asia. How this was made clear, we are not told. Verse 7 reveals more, stating that they tried to enter Bithynia, but "the Spirit of Jesus would not allow." Again, how, we are not told. Then we move to the vision (again) and during the night Paul is given the vision of a man from Macedonia begging him to cover and help them." We don't know whether Paul had options here, in other words whether he could have said "no". But what are shown is Paul's rapid preparation and re-deployment, and the vs 10b makes clear Paul's thinking "concluding that God had called us to to preach the Gospel to them."
We are only told the key points in this account, and not told "the what-ifs". Yet we can observe what seems to be the Spirit bringing about circumstances to provide call to Paul. Paul is not detached from this. He is not an individual who is invited to stop thinking. Actually, quite the opposite, he does use his brain. But what he sees yet again is his immediate response to need, and this is obedience to go!

Again, if we were to draw some principles from this, we could say that Paul the great teacher and church planter is open to God's leading. It's clear that "Paul had his plans", but the Spirit led otherwise. What is clear is that Paul changed his plans to comply with the Spirit's call, and was obedient. In Paul's case the call was quite specific - to preach the Gospel and plant churches.

Can it be then that we have either removed call from our spirituality today? Are we more concerned with what we want to do? We will go wherever we please, do whatever we want, but not listen well to the Spirit, let alone respond in simple obedience?
So often in church life need is made abundantly clear, but few respond. Good reasons are given, but when we compare our responses to the above biblical ones, it seems somewhat that the drivers of "me-church" and our own consumer needs are what takes priority to the Spirit's call.

Or perhaps we have become too entrenched in simply forgetting the old biblical principles, and now we simply choose using modern secular methods of choice and guidance. Where in these scoring methods does the voice of God get listened to?

For Isaiah, there was simply a need, and this was responded to.
For Paul, the Spirit distinctly guided.
In both cases the priority was God, and his Kingdom needs, not our own comforts.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

How to do politics as a Christian (be careful what you post)

Since before the recent UK General Election campaign, and more recently with the election of a new Socialist leader I have been pondering and worrying about how Christians come across regarding their political views. I suppose some of my uneasiness has come from the crazy sound and vision bite world of Social Networking, where we seem to post and re-post and "share post" odd and wierd pieces of snippets from here and there that may or may not reflect our political or ideological position. They kind of sound right, and we like the snappy one liner that it is, and even more so if we get oh so many "likes" or even more so if someone then shares it. But as my mother keep saying as a defence for not being on Facebook, "becareful, one of these days what you put up will come back to haunt you!" And I can't help but wonder whether she is actually right!
But more centrally I want to ask in this blog a number of key questions which I think need answering:

1. What comes first for you, your Christian faith or your politics? I think this is a really important question. Some would immediately jump up and say neither, they are entirely meshed. After all, the sermon on the mount etc etc and all that gives me a mandate to engage politically as a Christian. My political views are an outoworking of my Christian faith. And yes, I get that completely. I would say the same.
But be careful. The latter must never come before the former! The New Testament makes it clear that only full and undivided whole hearted committment to Jesus Christ is acceptable, and nothing must get in the way of our walk as a disciple. Yes, even politics. Then we must also take into consideration the classic 1 Corinthians 8 text, often known as "The weaker brother" text. The key verse is 1 Corinthians 9 vs  9 "Be careful, however that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak." This is a key text that it is often forgotten in our 2015 world. The exogesis is very straightforward! If what you are doing, even though the scriptures do not command against, is causing your brother or sister in the Christian faith to be held back, fall away or pushed away or weakened  in the faith, because they are not as mature as you, then you must stop what you are doing for their sake and the sake of the Gospel and the Kingdom. Fairly black and white, unarguable text! Applied to our political views and what we post, then we should all be careful about what we put up!  But someone will say "I'm just trying to make people think!" Yes, I get that too, but again the scripture is clear - our freedom should not be abused, lest it become a stumbling block. And primarily do we present Christ, or do we present our politics? 2 Corinthians 2 vs 16 is also worth pondering in this context: "to the one we are the smell of death, to the other the fragrance of life." What precisely are we presenting as an aroma as we make our posts? It's a very fine line, and Paul says therefore be very careful! Paul in the weaker brother scripture of 1 Corinthians 8 vs 12, says that when we sin against our brother by abusing our freedoms, then we sin against Christ.

2. Let's be clear, there is no one political party for Christians! Oliver Cromwell tried this in his puritan wisdom (or lack?) and the whole thing major backfired. His attempt as Lord Protector to cancel Christmas and to essentially attempt to recreate the Kingdom of God in the kingdom of England went big time wrong. In that sense Cromwell failed to factor in the freedom of conscience of all, most especially those who disagreed with him, let alone those who did not believe the same thing as he or the Puritans. But why be reminded of this piece of English history? Simply this - Christians of sincere and true faith exist in all different political parties, and exist on either side of the debating chamber, whether it be Westminster, or your local county or town council. We may scratch our head and attempt to make judgement on them (which would be wrong), but they have sincerely before God made their choice, and read the same scriptures and worship the same God. Yes, by all means make clear your own political views, but be careful not to judge another believer in this respect. And cromwellism is still seen in our churches today as if there is a preset Christian political view that must be adhered to or if you don't accept the same, then you are amongst the reprobate or deemed a false prophet. Again, be very careful! Freedom of conscience must be given to interpret differently and hold different views, and still be a committed Christian, and yes a brother or sister in Christ. I ask the question again - what is primary? Our Christian faith or our political views? Scripture I believe would support the former not the latter.

3. There's nothing wrong with thinking outside the box, and being made to think about difficult issues. As I've said to our kids time and time again as they have engaged at secondary school level with their essays - "Remember, there are no black and white issues, even as a Christian!" I simply want us to avoid the trap that there is a single right view for the Christian to have and hold on every single tricky ethical issue that there is. Oh I know we like to think as Evangelicals that there are set views, and we even reach for our traditional text books on the shelves to read what it says and then in the worse case repeat them back. But thats the stuff of cults which generally say "this is what we believe in this group, and therefore this is what you are to believe as a follower!" And basically if you don't believe their teaching then you are cast out. Christianity has never been so badly misrepresented if such views are held. No, God has given us a brain and freedom to think, and we should carefully study and read, ponder and reflect and then listen to others, before reaching a conclusion of our own. And even then, remain open to change your views as time goes on. Nothing is ever black and white!

So we should be careful how we express our views, careful what we put first as primary! Faith or politics? Careful what we post, and careful not to judge! And deep, studious and open to the views of others, as we ponder our ethical and political view points!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Each cog has to mesh

As a former Engineer, the visual imagery of a set of gears in any type of gearbox, always leaves me both amazed and concerned. Amazed because it really does take some brains and skills to make a series of cogs hit just the right place at just the right time. Concerned because every engineer's worst nightmare is the crunch and smash that results from this going oh so wrong. 'Tis both expensive and somewhat soul destroying. The expression "back to the drawing board" - the cry of designers and engineers the world over, is so often true as the project explodes and there is nothing left of it. Ouch! and most of us over 40 years can well remember the Morris Minor, famed for its unique exhaust sound and heard from at least 1/2 a mile away, as also the crunch of the gears is then heard. It ain't wonderful. Cringe! Cometh the problem, cometh Saint Cog, Birmingham born no doubt, and Patron Saint of Syncromesh. Blessed be him.

But it got me thinking the other day about the short sentence in Ephesians 4 v16, in the Bible: "as each part does it's work." The chapter has been about encouraging spiritual gifts in the church family and showing that different people have different gifts, and the thrust of the message from St Paul is to paint the image of the local church family as a body, wherein each part of the body is dependent upon the other. A veritable "gear box" indeed!
So it is necessary for the gearbox of cogs to be functioning, and essentially working well, together! There is a noticeable reliance upon each of the other cogs to function and work as designed. When an engineer builds a gearbox, the intention is to then to hold it all in place within a housing, just so the springs and nuts don't escape. There is no space for independence or prima donna cogs. The gears have to work, and they have to work together. And the truth is that if one part of the working mechanism breaks down, chooses to not function or break, then the mechanism is in real trouble.
So too the church of God's people. In this seemingly volunteer environment, this is a big ask and a huge expectation. It seems no one can be contained by a housing? Truth is if important components don't function properly or break, and in our "oh so polite" world of church we so easily say "that's fine, don't worry", but the effort required soon falls on others if one or some choose to not fulfil their tasks. And soon, other cogs are overloaded and will more easily ware out. Each part does need to do it's work. If it doesn't, then we are soon in trouble. Nothing causes more frustration and upset when a cog doesn't work!

Its worth thinking about.