Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Relevance of Exiles

You know, the more I think about it, the more I don't feel like making my faith relevant or contemporary or a thousand other slogans and labels that Christian pop-culture might come up with that really only mean cool. How are my non-Christian friends supposed to respect a faith or respect a people that is just constantly begging for their acceptance? When I read (for example) Relevant Magazine, I am embarrassed at how they make faith in Jesus look - like a weak thing that we need to build this whole hipster image around so that it doesn't look absolutely, mind-numbingly dull. Because that's the point of Relevant Magazine, isn't it? That you can be a Christian AND be cool too?

The Kingdom & The Exile
There are 2 ways to look at living out our faith in this world; (1) we can be relevant, begging for acceptance and trying to look like all the non-Christians - and have our Jesus too, or (2) we could be exiles and see ourselves as strangers and exiles on the earth (Hebrews 11.13). Notice that only one of these options comes with a Scripture reference. If we belong to God's Kingdom, which is not of this world (John 18.36), then let's not get attached to the way this world works: its materialism, its tolerant pluralism, its sexual ethics, its less-than-stellar family values, politics, entertainment, fashion, trends, philosophy, acceptance, or expectations.

Because the faith of Jesus is better than what His followers call relevance, which is not relevance, it is just a sad cry for the acceptance of a confused, empty, dying world, in the name of evangelism, from Christians who unknowingly have already been evangelized by the world they seek to reach for their incomparable Saviour.

Lyrics to Remember
Here are some lyrics from "In Exile" by Thrice, in no particular order. I hope they get you thinking.

I am an exile, a sojourner
A citizen of some other place
I am a nomad, a wanderer
I have nowhere to lay my head down
There's no point in putting roots
Too deep when I'm moving on
Not settling for this unsettling town
My heart is filled with songs of forever
A city that endures, where all is made new
And no, I don't belong here
I'll never call this place my home
I am a pilgrim, a voyager
I wont rest until my lips touch the shore
Of the land that I've been longing for as long as I've lived
My heart is filled with songs of forever
A city that endures, where all is made new
Where they'll be no pain or tears anymore


Thursday, December 16, 2010

I'm Glad WikiLeaks Can't Intercept Prayers...

As a Canadian, I suppose that my only reflections on WikiLeaks' recent release of U.S. documents should be passive. After all, this does not seem to affect me or my country. Aside from one of my Prime Minister's mentors calling for the assassination of Julian Assange (which he later apologized for), and another article in the Globe and Mail accusing the organisation of making the world "even more closed," the reaction up here has been pretty much limited to feeling inferior about our national inferiority complex.

Still, I think that there is a Biblical lesson to be learned here.

By its nature, WikiLeaks feeds off of betrayal: the unnamed source, the angry government official, the disillusioned homosexual U.S. Army soldier. It thrives off of those who betray a confidence or intercept private information. The big discussion going on right now, between those who support WikiLeaks and those who don't, seems to be whether those confidences should be honored, and whether that information should actually be kept private. Of the government of the United States of America, the question asked is "shouldn't a freely elected government be open and transparent in how it deals with other countries? And if so, does it deserve to keep its secrets... well... secret?" In other words, does the betrayal matter if the information itself shouldn't have been kept secret in the first place?

The Betrayal of a Confidence
The same thing can be asked of individual Christians in the church. If we are supposed to be an open, honest, repentant, and faithful community, you may ask "why do we need to have secrets?" Good point. The Bible does say that we should "confess [our] sins to one another and pray for one another" (James 5.16) - which seems to be imply quite an open community. On the other hand, Proverbs accepts that there are legitimate secrets when it says "do not reveal another's secret" (Proverbs 25.9).

This past November, WikiLeaks began to release US diplomatic cables. These cables were secret for a reason. These messages were sent back and forth between governments and diplomatic missions on the basis of trust and confidentiality. The assessments of world leaders, among other things that were contained in these messages, were necessary to communicate but would have been devastating to international diplomacy if they ever got out - which, thanks to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, they have now done. Everyone was depending -trusting- that the privacy of these communications would be kept up, but many are questioning the validity of the secrecy of these messages, citing the expectations of openness and honesty that we Christians might have taken from James 5.16; others say that "secrets are secrets for a reason," which I find to be implicit in texts like Proverbs 25.9.

Taken together, these two texts point to something that we should understand: while we should confess our sins and secrets to one another (as in James 5.16), and be open and transparent, we have to be careful about who we reveal certain information to. Because of that caveat there are still legitimate secrets (even in open societies), as in Proverbs 25.9: "do not reveal another's secret." That is the value that WikiLeaks, and the army soldier in who sold the information, seem not to have understood. In fact, because of these people, terrorist organizations can now know which Canadian locations "are vital to U.S. security" and would therefore make good targets, for example.

Why Secrets Are A Good Thing
I seem to be running out of space and time, so a list of reasons for Christian secret-keeping will have to suffice here: (1) To offer security. As with Samson in Judges 16.9, sometimes it is better for people or groups to keep secrets for their own protection. (2) To practice humility. As an example of this, Jesus says, in Matthew 6.4, that the money God's people give should be given in secret. (3) Because giving away secrets betray trust. If nobody ever kept a secret, we would quickly find ourselves quoting and living by Micah 7.5: "Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms." (4) God reveals the heart. In the Bible, there is one person who has the right to lay bare the heart of a man and expose his secrets - God: "God will bring every secret deed into judgment" (Ecclesiastes 12.14).

The Full Summary Part
While it might seem like secrets should have no part in the Church (or in our democratic institutions), Proverbs tells us that secrets should be kept and honored. There are a lot of good reasons to keep a secret: even in the case of sin, we are only required to confess to someone - not, indeed, to everyone. In the end it will be God who lays bare the intentions of every man's heart and brings every secret to judgment.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blood Cells, Dinosaurs, and Creationism

Scientific American has an article up about how researchers have been able to find soft tissue in the fossils of long-dead dinosaurs (the article can be found here). This should be exciting for you Young-Earth Creationists (YEC), because it lends some small scientific respectability to the argument that the theory of evolution is fundamentally wrong. After all, if the fossils had been in the ground as long as scientists say they had been, then there should not have been any blood cells here. While keeping my views quiet for now -I am still a theistic evolutionist- I thought that I should tell you all about this. I'll would leave you with an excerpt, showing that the writer is obviously baffled at this finding:
"The conventional wisdom holds that when an animal dies under conditions suitable for fossilization, inert minerals from the surrounding environment eventually replace all of the organic molecules—such as those that make up cells, tissues, pigments and proteins—leaving behind bones composed entirely of mineral. As I sat in the museum that afternoon in 1992, staring at the crimson structures in the dinosaur bone, I was actually looking at a sign that this bedrock tenet of paleontology might not always be true—though at the time, I was mostly puzzled. Given that dinosaurs were nonmammalian vertebrates, they would have had nucleated blood cells, and the red items certainly looked the part..."
Isn't this crazy? No matter how this finding plays out, though, it is important to think about how the Bible and science work together (or do not work together) in our understanding. Those of us who represent the Christian faith to others should be prepared "to give an apologetic to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us]" (1 Peter 3.15), and thinking about how the Bible and science intersect is a major part of being able to do that.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Salt and Grace (Spurgeon)

From Charles Haddon Spurgeon's devotional, Morning & Evening:

"Salt without measure." -Ezra 7.22
Salt was used in every offering made by fire unto the Lord, and from its preserving and purifying properties it was the grateful emblem of divine grace in the soul. It is worthy of our attentive regard that, when Artaxerxes gave salt to Ezra the priest, he set no limit to the quantity, and we may be quite certain that when the King of kings distributes grace among his royal priesthood, the supply is not cut short by him. Often are we straitened in ourselves, but never in the Lord. He who chooses to gather much manna will find that he may have as much as he desires. There is no such famine in Jerusalem that the citizens should eat their bread by weight and drink their water by measure. Some things in the economy of grace are measured; for instance our vinegar and gall are given us with such exactness that we never have a single drop too much, but of the salt of grace no stint is made, “Ask what thou wilt and it shall be given unto thee.” Parents need to lock up the fruit cupboard, and the sweet jars, but there is no need to keep the salt-box under lock and key, for few children will eat too greedily from that. A man may have too much money, or too much honour, but he cannot have too much grace. When Jeshurun waxed fat in the flesh, he kicked against God, but there is no fear of a man’s becoming too full of grace: a plethora of grace is impossible. More wealth brings more care, but more grace brings more joy. Increased wisdom is increased sorrow, but abundance of the Spirit is fulness of joy. Believer, go to the throne for a large supply of heavenly salt. It will season thine afflictions, which are unsavoury without salt; it will preserve thy heart which corrupts if salt be absent, and it will kill thy sins even as salt kills reptiles. Thou needest much; seek much, and have much.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

More Than John 3:16

Aside from Matthew 7.1, which says "judge not, that you be not judged," John 3.16 is the most well-known Bible verse in the world. This verse is on plaques. This verse is on T- shirts. Max Lucado even wrote an entire book on this theme called 3:16: The Numbers of Hope, which came on the scene with a whole multitude of related products, church music, CD's featuring top Christian music artists, and "ancillary publishing products," according to the website for the book. This short quote completely overshadows the rest of the context in which it is found. The full verse is as follows:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
John 3.16 Out of Context
This quote just feels sort of warm and cuddly, doesn't it? God loves us, and we're going to have eternal life! And both of these things are true. Still, without context we don't know what it means that God gave His only Son, and we have no sense of what perish means, and we have no idea what happens to whoever [does not] believe in Him, and so all that we get from this verse is that God loves us and that we're going to have eternal life, whatever that means. It just sort of becomes this vague "God is loving" verse, which is why it gets used by people who try to argue against the existence of Hell (i.e., because God loves the world so much, He would never send anyone to Hell). Even things that are found in here get passed over because we need the rest of the Bible to show us what these words mean.

John 3.16 In Context: "Unless One is Born Again..."
The context for John 3.16 really stretches from John 3.1-21. A Jewish man named Nicodemus (a "Pharisee" and "a ruler of the Jews") had come to Jesus by night to ask some private questions. Jesus replied to Nicodemus with, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God - and that is the context for understanding this popular verse. Jesus is talking about us needing to be born again and what that means. Within that framework, the things that come after fit in to a pretty neat pattern. Here's a quick bullet-point list of things you can get from 3:16 in context:
  • Apart from Jesus, we started off under judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (3.19). All of us were destined to perish (3.16) in Hell, we were condemned already (3.18), and we were not born again and therefore could not hope to see the Kingdom of God (3.3).
  • God gave His only Son to death for us (3.16) in order that the world might be saved through him [from condemnation] (3.17).
  • People are saved when they are born again (3.3), meaning that they have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and so are born of the Spirit (3.6-8), since unless someone is born of the Spirit he cannot see the kingdom of God (3.5). Being born of the Spirit results in people who love Jesus and believe in him (3.16), looking to Him for salvation (3.14), and so whoever believes is not condemned (3.18).
  • Those who have been born of the Spirit (3.6-8) and believe in Jesus (3.16) are not condemned (3.18) and are rewarded with everlasting life, but those who do not believe in Jesus are condemned already (3.18) and perish in an eternity in Hell (3.16) and cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (3.3). There is a way of life and a way of death.
John 3.16 is the Pure, Unfiltered Gospel
Taken together, John 3.16 is the Gospel. In it, we read that sinners are saved from condemnation by Jesus' death, are justified by faith in Christ, and are invited to share with God in his kingdom. Soli deo gloria.

Appendix: Full Text of John 3.1-21
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The End of (Silent) November

With November come to a close, and the Christmas month of December upon us, The Voice is open again. Thanks for your patience. In a twist that I just did not see coming, we actually gained more followers during our month of silence. I count myself happy, impressed, bewildered, grateful, and humbled all at once - a happy day! While there is some more meaty theological/practical fare coming in the next few days, I wanted to tell you all some more personal news:

I am getting married on May 7th, 2011! I proposed to my girlfriend (now fiancèe), Kendra Jaarsma, a few weeks ago. I ask that you might pray for us as we plan the wedding, pursue older mentors, and strive to make Christ known through our imminent -and, personally speaking, exciting!- marriage.

A few other things (some not so happy)...
  • (Legal) Canadian Polygamy & Prostitution - I do not have enough time to link to everything exhaustively, but rest assured this will be a future blog post. Canadian courts have just legalized prostitution in the Province of Ontario; not only that, but we are on the verge of legalizing polygamy and multiple-partner marriages in British Columbia, too. Both of these cases open the doors for similar action in the rest of Canada. As Christians we need to be in prayer against the absolute breakdown in morality that these cases represent.
  • Possible Change of Career Plans - Over the last month I have given some serious thought toward going into the trades. I just don't want to be an English teacher. I have known since I was really young that I want to do something physical for a job. So naturally I have to start making all sorts of hard decisions about dropping from college, applying to trade school, putting off a theological degree (maybe indefinitely), and a good number of other things. You guys will still like me even if I don't go to seminary, right? I could use some prayer as Kendra and I talk through this decision and think about what we should do.
  • Less Is More on The Voice - Rather than putting out content every day, or at least, trying to, I am going to pull back the blog to only a couple of substantive articles per week. The rest of my posts will likely be links to other things. This gives me the chance to focus on quality over quantity, and to spend a little more time recruiting writers and telling other people about the blog. I hope that by freeing myself up a little bit I can actually do more for The Voice.
Other than that, it is nice to be back Thank you for being patient everyone. Coming Next: "John 3.16... In Context."