You Are More?

 

10th avenue

Attending a Christian music concert the other night, I became inspired by the lyrics of the Tenth Avenue North song “You Are More”.  This is a song that I have long admired and believe it’s message is true. Here is a sample of the chorus:

“You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.”

The song, written to the believer, makes a value judgement regarding a person’s relationship to the choices, mistakes, and problems attributed to them.  It places a person’s identity above their undesirable actions or consequences. Now I would think that believers and unbelievers, the same, would agree with most of these words, apart from the last line, “You’ve been remade”.  Aside from this reference to the regeneration of the human soul, surely there are folks who deny the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus who surely believe in their own personal value and, thus, feel enabled to enthusiastically belt out those lyrics right beside me.

The unbeliever’s testimony to the value, or “moreness” of humanity can be witnessed in instances like their moral indignation to the plight of the poor.  The fight for civil, moral, or “reproductive” rights also calls to attention a belief in inherent attributes of each individual that would not be relevant to beings whose existence stem from strictly material forces.

But how can they so rightfully agree?  On what rational basis can they place themselves, their worth, their identity, above the accumulation of their actions if not for the presence of an ultimate provider of value?

“You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.”

The unbeliever may think that the answer lay in his ability to create value within himself.  In other words, much like they claim meaning and purpose for their lives, the God-denier himself needs to be the source of his own value.  But if that were true, where does one attain this value, if they do not possess it from the start? And is this self-given value real? For instance, if I call myself a king, but am not actual descendant of certain royal heritage, am I a true king?  I may feel as though I am a king. I may self-identify as one, but if I were honest, I have no authority to change the objective state of who I am, or have been from the start, no matter how many people I ask to “bow” to it.

Conversely, Christians account for this inherent worth of humanity from a source outside themselves.  Value, worth, meaning, and purpose are things that are given to us, not things true by virtue of human declaration.

Believers rely on the authority of the divine inspiration of scripture.  From Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.”  As image-bearers of God, humans are set apart from the rest of creation and given dominion over “the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (v.28)  Not only does God demonstrate our value to Him through creation, He does so by the sacrifice of His son on the cross for those who love Him. We know this because Romans 5:8 tells us that “ . . . God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

“You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.”

This “remaking” we hear about in the last verse of the song’s chorus informs us of a regeneration of the believer’s spirit accomplished by Christ succumbing to death on the cross, paying for the redemption of His people with His life.  An undeserved act of God alone to bestow righteousness upon those who love Him. Something He as sovereign Lord alone has the authority to do.

So humanity can only be more because of our status as image-bearers of the Good Good Father.  Because of grace, believers are not only more, but are righteous because of Christ’s finished work for our redemption.

“You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.”

May we sing that last verse as loudly and surely as we are able to sing the three before it.

God Bless.

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Contradiction or Undesigned Coincidence?

undesigned coincidence
As we move closer to Easter, as with most religious holidays, we will often experience a cultural backlash against our Christian faith. We see billboards, bought by atheist groups, denoting a lack of need for a Savior. At Christmas, we may see mythicism promoted by unbelieving “friends” on our facebook feeds. And claims alleging that the Bible is nothing but a book of fairy tales. It is for this reason I would like to share this bit of Bible teaching, to, both, strengthen our own confidence in scripture and help us further provide an answer to “everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope you have . . . with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

To do this, I will be referring heavily to Lydia McGrew’s marvelous book, “Hidden in Plain Sight: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts”. McGrew’s book, itself, is an unearthing of evidence for the historical reliability of the gospels written in the 18th and 19th centuries by apologists William Paley and Jame Blunt, respectively.

From the synopsis of her book, the term “undesigned coincidences” refers to:

“ . . . an apparently casual, yet puzzle-like “fit” between two or more texts, and its best explanation is that the authors knew the truth about the events they describe or allude to. Connections of this kind among passages in the Gospels, as well as between Acts and the Pauline epistles, give us reason to believe that these documents came from honest eyewitness sources, people “in the know” about the events they relate.”

For this article, I want to simply paraphrase one of my favorite instances of this inter-locking of events within the gospels, though there are many more illustrated in McGrew’s book. Please, by all means, check out this book for the rest.

We start in John 18:10 when Jesus and His companions are waiting in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus waited there for Judas to arrive with a detachment of soldiers to arrest Him. Verse 10 explains the reaction of Jesus’ followers to His detainment at the hands of the officials sent by the chief priests and Pharisees.

“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus)” (verse 10). So after introducing the name Malchus to us, the Book of John doesn’t mention him again. We can only assume that the high priest’s servant left the scene holding the right side of his head, less an ear.

The story then leads us to the trial of Jesus and this exchange between Pilate and Jesus as He was questioned out of earshot of the Jewish council whose goal is to have Jesus executed. John 18:33-36:

“Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Do you see a contradiction here between these two passages in the same chapter of John? When Jesus claims that His kingdom is not of this world, He supports His claim by saying that if it were not so, His followers would fight to save Him. Well, evidenced in John 18:10, Peter did fight. He lopped off Malchus’s ear with his sword.

So when Pilate hears these claims of being peaceful from Jesus, he goes to the Jews and says that he finds “no basis for a charge against him” (v. 38). Now because it was the aim of the Jews to present Jesus as opposition to Caesar, they could have shown a conflict in Jesus’s own words, opposed to the actions of his disciples (Peter), by simply showing Pilate Malchus’s wounded head. They could have attempted to show that Jesus and His disciples have a violent revolution in mind for the kingdom of Rome which would be a capital offense.

Why didn’t they do this? If our only source of information is John’s Gospel, it doesn’t make sense that the Jews wouldn’t use the attack on Malchus to make their case, right?

However, the question is answered in Luke 22:47-53. Describing the scene in the garden, Luke says:

“While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22.47–53)”

In an excerpt from “Hidden in Plain Sight”:

‘Only Luke says that Jesus healed the servant’s ear, though Matthew and Mark also recount that the ear was cut off. Here again, Luke supplies a unique detail within a passage that is in some respects similar to the other Synoptic Gospels. And here, too, this detail is confirmed by an undesigned coincidence. If it is true that Jesus healed the servant’s ear, it explains Jesus’ words to Pilate, though those words are given only in John. Jesus could confidently declare that his kingdom is not of this world and even say that his servants would be fighting if his kingdom were not peaceful. If anyone tried to say that Peter cut off a servant’s ear, the wounded servant himself could not be produced to show this, and an admission that Jesus healed the ear would be further evidence of Jesus’ non-violent intentions, not to mention evidence of his miraculous abilities.”

This is one of my favorite undesigned coincidences because, embedded within, it, in a way, confirms an actual miracle. Because if not for the soldier’s healed ear, the Jews could have produced actual evidence, though circumstantial and dishonest, to build their case against our Good Good Father. Instead, the happening of the crucifixion of Jesus depended entirely on the political manipulation of Pilate and making him worry that he appeared to be “no friend of Caesar” (John 19:12).

In this way and among other ways, detailed in Lydia McGrew’s book, John and Luke fit together like a puzzle, Luke explaining a difficulty in John. The writer of John’s Gospel undoubtedly knew about the soldier’s ear but, for some reason, left out this detail, all the while, continuing the narrative as if it did happen. In a completely unforced way, John’s story only makes sense in light of Luke’s version. Not to mention, that in a separate coincidence, Jesus’s testimony in John 18:36 explains why Pilate cannot find reason to charge Jesus in Luke’s gospel. So the authors of both gospels end up supporting the historical reliability of the other in a subtle, undesigned way.

What should be made of all this? The best explanation is that the authors knew the truth about the events they described.

God bless.

Church, Where Is Your Joy?

Joy

Today in church, we were awarded a special treat. We witnessed a profession of faith and two baptisms and a testimony. While professions of faith and baptisms are an absolute blessing to the church, this post will focus exclusively on the testimony. Allow me to paraphrase the joyful message we heard below:

After being challenged to confess her sins to God by her unchurched mother, she feels guilt for avoiding church and putting it off, so, alone with her child, she finally gives in and confesses. When she does this, she did so completely with an open mind and an open heart. To her amazement, she heard words, though not with her ears, that she had not used before this moment. The words were not hers, but they were spoken into her heart. And then, she confessed.

After her confession, since she had missed church, she found a church service streamed online. The sermon mentioned Isaiah 43:18-19.

She quickly looked up this verse in the pages of a used teen study bible someone had given to her. Within the Word of God, she read the verse, noting not only God’s answer to her confession, but that out of every verse in her used study bible, this verse was the only one marked with a highlighter. The only one. Through His Word God told her:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  Isaiah 43:18-19

While it occurred to me and many others that a wonderful thing had happened to her, later, I thought of something else. Much of what happened to this young lady we can see fits into a portion of our church order of worship.

http://network.crcna.org/worship/historic-order-worship

Some churches have a different order and may have slimmed it down to just a few headings, but in this order, we have Gathering/Praise, Confession, Proclamation, Response to the Word, Lord’s Supper, and Sending. I am, of course, paying close attention to the Confession section of worship here. Within that section we have sub-headings: Call to Confession, Prayer of Confession, Assurance of Pardon, Passing the Peace, and Response to Thanksgiving.

It occurred to me that God had lead her through part of this order of worship without the presence of a pastor, worship leader, choir, or congregation. Our Good Good Father came down to meet her in her own living room and, with Him and her baby son, she had church there. She experienced the Holy Spirit Calling her to confession through her mother. God lead her through her Prayer of Confession. God, then, Assured her of His plans for her in Isaiah 43:18-19. She received Peace from the Lord over the condition of her heart and along with that, a desire to joyfully tell others what He has done for her in Thanksgiving.

My telling of this event in this way is not to say that these things (pastor, worship leader, etc,) are unimportant, but to show that we as believers in Christ and church-goers get to follow this order of worship every week and some of us can still remain unmoved by it.  Why is that?

Unless you were there, it is hard to adequately describe the energy and joyfulness by which she had told us what God had done for her.  The room was electrified.  And why shouldn’t it be?  God performed a miracle on this woman’s heart just as He has for you and me.  I find the joyful manner by which she delivered her message to be almost as important as the Word she shared with us.  My hope, going forward, is that those blessed to be in attendance will not let this detail fade from their memories.  It is for this reason I humbly ask: Church, where is your joy?

Please pray with me: Lord, if we haven’t felt this way in a while, may this be us again.

God Bless.

More Than Matter

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Are you more valuable than the chair on which you sit or the desk at which you work?  If you are an atheist, how do you come to a conclusion?

Some people who make the claim that God does not exist or that they aren’t convinced that God exists do not understand that materialism is their default position.  Materialism, being the claim that all that exists is material (matter), is a big problem for the atheist because, if no God exists, all material things, in the objective sense, can only be equal to all other material things.  There lacks an objective way to determine value.  So, ultimately, you could not reason that you are more valuable than furniture.

I think they (materialists) think that by escaping the dominion of a Good Good Father, they may continue on their own merry way without repercussion.  When by denying God in favor of materialism, they have actually injected themselves into a universe without meaning, objective mortality, and laws of logic, since these things are all immaterial.  They also find themselves without the faculties to discover truth.

Of course, nobody who claims the non-existence of God acts like the default position of materialism is true.  They actually behave more consistently with those who believe in God.  They work and learn and create in ways that exhibit meaningful lives.  They follow an objectively moral path that condemns violence against the helpless and condemns lying and cheating.  And they champion their intellect as a way to solve problems and, ironically, as a way to reason that the very God that gave them the ability to do so does not exist.

Speaking of intellect, why would you trust anything that you know if your intelligence is not the product of greater intelligence, a Great Mind?  Why believe anything you think is true?  Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, John Lennox explains:

“There are not many options — essentially, just two. Either human intelligence ultimately owes its origin to mindless matter or there is a Creator. It is strange that some people claim that it is their intelligence that leads them to prefer the first to the second.”

So when materialists disagree with this article, they have already defeated themselves because their own worldview turns the very action of reasoning into a mere series of predetermined physical causes that can only result in a conclusion based on the collision of material in one’s brain, instead of a process by which one can determine truth, wherever the evidence may lead, based on observation and logic.  How do you find truth on a world where predetermined bodily physics determines what we think, how we feel, and how we act?  Answer is, you don’t.

The fact is that we defeat materialistic claims every moment of our lives.  To illustrate, facebook friend Paul Ross poetically writes:

“I transcend matter everytime I have a thought, because matter (Impersonal mindless purposeless undirected processes) are not conscious. Everytime I make a decision, because matter has no will.

Everytime I move in faith, because matter has no beliefs. Everytime I care, because matter could not care less.

 Everytime I reason, because matter is devoid of reasoning.  Everytime I intend something, because matter has no intentions.

Everytime I purpose something, because matter has no purpose, and everytime I pray, because matter has no requests.”

Again, the doctrine of Materialism maintains that you are only a product of the material of which you are composed.  Nothing more.  I say doctrine because this is a system of belief just like any of religion.  The difference here is that those of theism actually describe reality completely.

Accepting materialism as reality puts you in conflict with common sense as well as God. He says you are more.  You are valuable.  You are a moral creation.  You are a conscious being.  Whether theist or atheist, you already understand this to be true.  How do I know this?  Because Romans 1: 19-20 proclaims it.  But also because you profess this every day with the way you live your life.

God Bless.

“Mercy To Him Who Wrote, O Lord . . .”

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“Mercy to him who wrote, O Lord, wisdom to those who read, grace to those who hear, salvation to those who own.  Amen.”  Unknown (Metzger, TNT. page 20.)

“. . . O reader, in spiritual love forgive me, and pardon the daring of him who wrote, and turn his errors into some mystic good. . . . There is no scribe who will not pass away, but what his hands have written will remain for ever.  Write nothing with thy hand but that which thou wilt be pleased to see at the resurrection. . . . May the soul of the Lord Jesus Christ cause this holy copy to avail for the saving of the soul of the wretched man who wrote it.”  Unknown (20)

Who would you suspect could be the author of either of these quotes?  A theologian? An apostle?  A Christian blogger?

No, according to Bruce Metzger’s “The Text of the New Testament”, the quotes above are examples of what are called colophons, notes in which ancient scribes placed at the ends of their books.  These notes appear in both biblical and non-biblical manuscripts.  A common colophon would detail the rigorous mental and physical tolls taken by the workers as they transcribe manuscripts for hours on end.  For example:  

“He who does not know how to write supposes it to be no labour; but though only three fingers write, the whole body labours.” (17)

Still, others placed these notes as curses to ward off thieves who would be under “the wrath of the Eternal Word of God” should they use their sticky fingers to nefariously acquire scripture or a writing.  There are also colophons that provide invaluable information like the name of the scribe or the time and date of the writing.  While others offer a prayer or simple blessing.

So who were these people who humbly and diligently produced the Bible for us?  In the earliest stages of biblical transcription, these duties were performed by individual Christians who wanted to produce copies for personal use or for service to their congregations.  But as conversions to Christianity increased in the first centuries, so did the demand for copies.  With the production of so many manuscripts, standards for accuracy in transcribing came into place.  By the fourth century, state funded book manufacturers, called scriptoria, produce copies of the books of the New Testament.  Each employed a person, called a corrector, whose job it was to fix mistakes during the transcription process.  Even today, experts can detect the presence of the corrector in the sudden changes in style and tint of ink on the parchment.

But what are we, as Christians, to think about this process?  Skeptics tell us that the Holy Bible is filled with errors made by an unsophisticated people over huge passages of time.  How can we trust what it says?  They will bring up the “Telephone Game” some played as kids, in which we sat in a circle and one child would whisper something to another.  Then that kid would pass it along to the next.  Then, by the time the message reached the last young person, it became a different message entirely.

Unfortunately, the issues mentioned above are well beyond the scope of this short article.  I will say, in response, that the great number of manuscripts enables us to have confidence that what we have an accurate Bible because any error or difference found in a particular manuscript can be tested against others.  We have uncovered over 5,600 manuscripts for the New Testament.  The nearest item of antiquity in number of manuscripts is Homer’s The Iliad with 643.  The age of the manuscripts matter, as well, when you factor in that the time gap between the original and the first surviving copies of the NT is only 25 years in comparison to Homer’s 500 years.  Have you ever heard anyone question the accuracy of The Iliad?  So, to question the accuracy of the New Testament is to question all works of antiquity.

Still, as I read Dr. Metzger’s book, I simply could not get past the fact that there is a personal element to how we got the Holy Bible.  Of course, this makes sense, since we have a personal God who acts within our lives and who, by His very nature, holds everything together.  He chose to create each one of us and chooses who He uses for His good pleasure.

When you think about it, isn’t His inspiration is evident here in the devotion of the people He picked for the job?  The folks who copied our many manuscripts are directly responsible for how we are able to connect with our Good Good Father through His word.  During the Byzantine period, scripture was transcribed by monks in commercial scriptoriums, tirelessly and, in many cases, anonymously living out their faith. They suffered long hours of the mental and physical drudgery of their work with the idea that it would further the kingdom of God.  For example, Metzger’s book quotes Cassiodorus, the rhetorician/philosopher and Prime Minister to Ostrogothic princes of Italy, who later became a monk, founding the monastery of Vivarium:

“ . . . What happy application, what praiseworthy industry, to preach unto men by means of the hand, to untie the tongue by means of the fingers, to bring quiet salvation to the mortals, and to fight the Devil’s insidious wiles with pen and ink!  For every word of the Lord written by the scribe is a wound inflicted on Satan.” (18)

Clearly, this dedication, one without any tangible earthly reward, illustrated in these colophons, these few lines of ancient text, serve as good evidence that these people cared deeply about the finished product of the Holy Bible.  Can there be any question that the passing of the Word to the many generations and cultures of history was in very good hands?

God Bless.

Atheists Don’t Exist

atheists dont exist2

Atheists do not give themselves enough credit for achieving such a high level of certainty while announcing definitively that God does not exist.  One can only assume that such a revelation could only be put forth if the entire universe had been painstakingly searched for the presence of a deity.  That the vastness of time and space had been conquered.  And knowledge of every dimension had been accrued and analyzed.

Of course, the atheist hasn’t really accomplished any of this.  Nor has he considered the overwhelming amount of evidence provided by science, history, philosophy, and logic.  Much of the time, they avoid accepting the burden of proof by claiming that they simply lack a belief in a God and positing that it’s the theist’s job to change their (the atheist’s) mind.  Sadly, debating from a position of weakness.

But where does this certainty come from?  Isn’t “God doesn’t exist” an incredibly bold claim, considering how easily the notion can be debunked?  From his book, The Answer to the Atheist Handbook, Romanian minister Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned for his Christian beliefs by communists in 1948, discusses the folly of such atheist assertions:

“Atheists assert that there is no God.  How can they be sure?  The book you are reading was conceived in prison.  The guards regularly searched our cells for forbidden objects . . . They did not find them.  We waited until they had left.  Then we took them out of their hiding places.  You search a cell for an object and you do not find it.  But is it right to maintain that it is not there?  Who has searched the infinite universe to ascertain that there is no God?”

But what if it could be true? What if an atheist could attain this kind of knowledge?  Then we have a different problem.  For argument’s sake, he has somehow traversed the far reaches of the universe, in search of a deity.  Having achieved knowledge of all time and space.  And searched every dimension, momentously finding it lacking a Good Good Father.  Wouldn’t that person adorned with special attributes and abilities such as these, in fact, be God?

Clearly, a material being does not exist that could accomplish what atheists claim because they are not equipped for the job.  This being would have to be eternal and all powerful so as not to be constrained by time and distance.  He would need to be immaterial and limitless in order to constantly observe all of reality simultaneously in the event that, like Wurmbrand’s guards, the deity might reappear when the atheist left any particular corner of the universe.

So one needs the characteristics of God to know definitively that God does not exist.  Who has the characteristics of God?  Answer:   only God.  Crunch!  The atheist’s premise is promptly crushed under it’s own weight.

No, the intellectually honest atheist cannot be an atheist at all.  The best defense he can muster would be to claim that the evidence of God is unconvincing or the God’s existence is unknowable.  Taking the person from atheism to agnosticism.  The philosopher Alvin Plantinga refers to this when he said:

“. . . lack of evidence [for God], if  indeed evidence is lacking, is no grounds for atheism.  No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that there is an even number of stars; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that there are an uneven number of stars.  The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism.  In the same way, the failure of theistic arguments, if they indeed fail, might conceivably be good grounds for agnosticism, but not for atheism.  Atheism, like even-star-ism, would presumably be the sort of belief you can hold rationally only if you have strong arguments or evidence.”

The honest agnostic cannot confirm or, more importantly, deny the existence of a Good Good Father.

God bless.