9. Believers

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 2 – A Different People

9. Believers

Jn 3:16   For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Acts 2:44  All the believers were together and had everything in common.

But why? There may be some of you who look at where we are and wonder why we need to spend time considering the most obvious of things about Christianity and the Church. My answer is that a) they may not be obvious to everyone and b) what we think of as obvious may have aspects to which we have not given much thought. In the previous study I distinguished church from clubs and from other ‘spiritual’ groups and maintained that the first big difference is that those who comprise ‘the Church’ are those who have been called by God. But it is a bit more complex than that.

Sufficient Knowledge? I recently was in a service where, at the end, a man responded to what had been going on and joyfully said, “I have found God in this service,” and I couldn’t help feeling, no you’ve been pointed in the right direction, but we need to introduce you to Jesus. If I had had the opportunity to question him, I might have asked, “What is it that you believe?” I suspect he might have answered, “Well, I believe there is a God and I have sensed His love in this service and that is wonderful.” Yes indeed, it is wonderful, but it isn’t the same as coming to Christian faith and becoming a believer in the terms that we find in the New Testament. I have written elsewhere on this in other series’, that I am sure when many of us do come to real and genuine faith, the extent of our knowledge is strictly limited but God sees that what we do know has provided a sufficient foundation for us to be ‘born again’ (which we’ll consider in the next study).

What Knowledge? If you are going to become a believer, one who constitutes the Church, a Christian believer, then there surely has to be a minimum of things we can say we believe. Now this can lead us into deep waters, some of which we need to explore in the coming studies and so I am reticent to lay out that ‘minimum’. However, let us rest in the fact that to be a Christian – and the Church is made up of Christians (sorry I took that for granted before) – there has to be a body of belief which led us through the narrow gate (Mt 7:13,14) and into this new life. Although being reticent in laying out too much detail at this point, nevertheless we should perhaps be definite that believing in Jesus really should have three aspects although, as I’ve said above, they often only filter into our consciousness in stages. They are that a) he is the unique Son of God, God in the flesh, b) he has come to be Saviour of the world, and also c) he is Lord. Let’s consider each of those briefly.

Son of God: So-called believers often appear unclear on their beliefs, even about Jesus, so let me ask various simple questions. First, would Jesus have been able to do the things he did if he were not the Son of God? The apostle Peter hinted at this in Acts 2:22. For Peter, in those early days, the emphasis was that Jesus was the Messiah expected by his audience (Acts 2:31,32, 3:30 accredited by the resurrection). It was only when Paul (ex-Saul) was saved that the message that Jesus was the Son of God was truly preached (see Acts 9:20) and written about (e.g. Rom 1:4,9, 5:10, 8:3,29 etc. etc.) The apostle John identifies him thus in his Gospel – written a lot later to remedy the earlier omissions (see Jn 1:49, also 3:18, 5:25, 10:36, 19:7, 20:31).  Second, if the Scripture teaches that Jesus is our substitute (and it does), dying on the Cross to take our punishment, would anyone less than God Himself be ‘big enough’ to be able to do that for every single sinner who turns to Him? Third, what are we to make of Jesus’ teaching, seen most obviously in John’s Gospel, where Jesus claims divinity for himself, if he is less that the unique Son of God, God incarnate, God in the flesh? This must be the first foundation stone of belief.

Saviour of the World: The biggest problem we have to face (and we’ll look at this in more detail in a later study) is that every one of us is a guilty sinner who is confronted by a Holy God.

Justice demands that God cannot simply shrug His shoulders and say, “Oh well, very well, I forgive you, let’s forget about it.” No, justice demands that sins be punished and with the weight of all our sins that pile up through a lifetime, that bulk of sins, demands death. The angel instructed Joseph, you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” (Mt 1:21). Another form of ‘Jesus’ is ‘Jeshua’ or ‘Joshua’ which means deliverer. It was not to save his people from the Romans but to save them from their sins, from the sword of Damocles, the judgment of God, that hangs over every sinner as demanded by justice. We may come to accept the first point, that Jesus was and is the unique Son of God but unless we go the next step and see him as our saviour, we simply make him a disinterested deity who looks on and leaves us lost and helpless. But no, God did not send His Son into our awareness to do that: “he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16)

Lord: The apostle Paul said, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18,19) Speaking about the salvation Jesus has bought us, he shows that by his revelation we will come to know, (in the words of the Message version, “(a) exactly what it is he is calling you to do, (b) grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him— (c) endless energy, boundless strength!” (My divisions to emphasise) There the Message suggests hope is about the life Jesus is leading us into, the riches are the incredibly blessed life he has for us, and that power is what enables us – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually – to live that life. But it is all about Jesus leading the way into it and he can only do that if we let him or, to be more specific, if we follow his instructions, directions and commands, i.e. we let him be lord of our lives.

The work of God: So when Jesus says, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent,” (Jn 6:29) he lays out the will of God for believers – to believe Jesus!  The Amplified Bible builds it out to include, “This is the work of God: that you believe [adhere to, trust in, rely on, and have faith] in the One whom He has sent.”  Believing is not merely mental assent, it is having a life that is changed by that assent, that doesn’t merely believe things about a Jesus who is ‘over there’ but lives out a real and living relationship with him.  Mental assent will mean a changed life. Believers reveal they are believers by the life that ensues, a life that is not merely good and loving but is obviously endued with power from on high, which we will consider next.

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57. Drowning in the Sea (Recap)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 57. Drowning in the Sea (Recap)

2 Sam 22:4-6  “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and have been saved from my enemies. The waves of death swirled about me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

Recently: In the last seven studies we have been considering aspects of the culture we find in the West at this time in history, aspects that threaten our very spiritual lives if we allow them to overwhelm us, and I likened this to being drowned by these things. Now to draw these threads together to better enable us to see the big picture, let’s consider the analogy of the sea as a description of the culture that we live in. We said near the beginning that ‘drowning’ is the negative outcome of being out at sea, but alternatives are that we swim, we sail, or we surf. In other words the sea has the capability of killing us by drowning but it also has the capability of being used for enjoyment, business or travel, all legitimate pastimes or experiences. The analogy of the sea is also useful when we consider it is often tumultuous, there is constant movement and change and it can be threatening. (Jude used a similar analogy – Jude v.13)

What this says is that a godless culture is always bad and harmful, tumultuous and changing, but ‘culture’ in itself is neutral and so all of these things can be positive if they are godly, i.e. we enjoy them within the confines of God’s guidance and direction and we avoid excesses. These things we have been considering are not bad in themselves, but they are bad when we use or experience them in a godless fashion. When that happens they change from things provided by God for our blessing, into things that have the potential to destroy us. Let’s examine each of them again briefly to see these things.

The Possibilities of Materialism: Now the truth is that God has provided everything material and spiritual for our blessing. When we speak of materialism we tend to mean a life that excludes the spiritual and excludes God. All material things, we say again, are potentially things for blessing. Used in excess, most things become harmful. The ‘world’ is materialistic (godless) but we as Christians should always hold a balance that accepts, is aware of, and operates in, a spiritual dimension as well as a material dimension. Our spiritual lives are threatened when we forget or fail to operate within that balance and almost invariably it will be the spiritual side that will suffer. Having said that, there have been those who reject the material dimension and speak of it negatively, forgetting it is God’s provision for us to be used wisely and thankfully (Jas 1:17, 1 Tim 4:3,4). However our greater threat is likely to be we get caught up in materialistic living and that is a life where we forget the spiritual dimension that we are called to experience, live in and serve in. The call is therefore not to let enjoyment of the material world become the all-important thing in life but maintain a balance whereby we operate in, experience and enjoy both realms.

The Danger of Unreality: Being creative, which includes writing books, making films and so much more, is part of being made in the image of the Creator, but fiction is always fiction and we must never forget that. Even more we must always remember that the human author, film-maker etc. is a human being who may or may not be conveying an incomplete picture of what life is about. ‘Romanticism’ tends to view life unrealistically through rose-tinted glasses while ‘realism’ tends to point out only the harsh realities of life. Often a book or film will express one of the other but rarely both together, and therefore we should always remember what the author or film-producer is aiming to do and, in our minds, refocus in the light of the truth about God, and us as sinners with the possibility of redemption, i.e. remember what is and what is not ‘real’.   The danger is always that if we are regular readers or regular watchers of TV, videos and films (and computer gamers, for that matter) we can get swept up in what we have seen/experienced and lose contact with reality, how life really is. The temptation that the enemy puts before us, is to believe the lie that I can live in that unreal ‘reality’ and forget that actually there are always consequences to be born with such things in the real world.

Holding Knowledge Lightly: Knowledge in itself is neutral. The problem with ‘knowledge’ is that sometimes what we think is real or true is not, it is merely an opinion or a hypothesis that may yet change. Knowledge becomes dangerous when we allow untrue knowledge (rather like ‘fake news’) to determine our outlook on life, our perception of what is or is not real and true. It is also dangerous when we allow knowledge to boost our egos or more specifically our pride. Pride always means a loss of perspective, making us think we are greater, more powerful, cleverer, than we are. Pride also questions whether we need God.

There is a saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” which the Internet suggests means, “a small amount of knowledge can lead to overconfidence, leaping to invalid conclusions based on what you do know without taking into account the things that you don’t know.” The wise person knows that the more you do know the more you should realise how little you know, and thus will maintain an outlook of humility. Failing the understand these things means we can become overwhelmed and even intimidated by big people, big theories and big figures. At such times a healthy dose of reading the scriptures and remembering that God is THE big person who is all-knowing and all-wise, is a wise approach. He alone should be our ultimate source of wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Psa 111:10) and, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov 1:7) Never let go that perspective.

The Life of Social Media: The use of social media and social networking, we observed, has many benefits to our lives today AND many curses. In the light of the many fears that are being raised by a variety of professionals, we would be wise to take note of not only the warnings of abuses and harms that can ensue but also the very real fear of addiction to usage. There is also the concept of the loss of reality that can arise, in both security and knowledge terms that we noted can distort the reality about ourselves and the world around us. Really an extension of the previous paragraph.

A Confusing & Uncertain World:  In both the USA & the UK and indeed many other ‘Western’ countries, Christians are now clearly in the minority and since our nations have largely rejected God we have lost a moral base and no longer believe in absolutes – values or principles which are regarded as universally valid – and so relativism rules which says that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute, i.e. right or wrong depends on every unique situation and will be different for every situation. At least that is what is said except the moment someone harms ‘me or my family’ and which point we scream, “that’s not right, where are the police, justice needs to be done, someone needs to pay for this!”

So we live with the ‘law of exceptions’ that says, “well, yes, generally it is wrong for someone to steal but perhaps there are exceptions, such as when someone is on the point of starvation,” or “well, yes, it is wrong to kill another person, but perhaps there are exceptions such as when a SWAT team have to take out a terrorist carrying a bomb.”  Ever since Hiroshima we have accepted that killing a large number of people is an unpleasant fact of life to save a much larger number of people from an ongoing war. Perhaps as Christians we might say that we recognise that in a fallen world sometimes an evil is necessary to prevent a greater evil – but it is still evil. But these are ethical dilemmas, necessary evils from living in this fallen world, but that is very different from the blatant misrepresenting of truth, telling outright lies etc. that have become almost a fact of life in recent years across the global communication and media networks.

Coping with ‘the sea’: Surfing or sailing on the sea of modern culture is appreciating the wonder and goodness of so many aspects of this world. Culture is sometimes defined as “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society,” i.e. the way societies think and then act. For us as Christians things like self-awareness, understanding, knowledge, wisdom and discernment must be major tools in our armoury as we seek to cope with the things these last studies have been dealing with.

Helps? Realizing that

  • we don’t have to comply with the pressures of peers and advertisers to get the latest piece of hi-tec,
  • rejecting the false and unreal perspectives that are often put before us,
  • rejecting the intimidating atheistic voices that seek to challenge with their skewed and incomplete ‘facts’, hypotheses and opinions,
  • taking control of thoughts about myself and others from Christ’s perspective and not that of my Facebook friends, and
  • refusing to be swayed by those who shout loudest in the noisy media market place of political, theological or simply ideological ideas.

Understanding & Living in Christ: Remaining above the surface of the water (culture) is what happens when we take hold of such truths as, God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:6). The threefold thrust of that is that:

  • we are to see ourselves as intimately united with Christ,
  • in a place where we are (with him) to rule over our circumstances, and
  • where we are above – and therefore can see clearly – the shambles of the world below us.

In the light of all this, we might do well to finish this study with Paul’s prayer: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:17-19)  Amen!

54. Drowning in Knowledge (2)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 54. Drowning in Knowledge (2)

Gen 1:1,2 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Quick Recap: We have suggested that as science pours out more and more knowledge, sometimes the size and volume of that knowledge appears to challenge or threaten believers, undermining their faith. We considered big numbers, big people and big theories and in considering history, I said we would pause up and consider how the book of Genesis fits in with modern perspectives of history. I have to warn you that because I am going to invent a story in a moment, this will be even longer than usual, but stick with me if you can. I hope it will be rewarding.

Contradictions: “Ah,” says an atheistic historian, “it is clear that the Bible is out of kilter with what we know of early history. Your Archbishop Ussher in the seventeenth century said the world was only 6000 years old (from today) according to the genealogies of the Old Testament.” Indeed, but perhaps both Ussher, our historian, and many other sceptics are guilty of, is making assumptions that don’t fit.

Genealogies? Taking Ussher’s genealogies first, to clear the ground, he assumed that Jewish writing was the same as modern western writing and therefore the names listed in the various genealogies were the only ones and therefore when you add up their apparent ages you only go back that length of time. However the mindset of those early writers was not like our modern chroniclers who insist on every detail being correct. The old Hebrew writers were not concerned so much with the detail as with the direction, so modern scholars believe the that genealogies are more signposts than accurate lists, theological points are being made, rather that detailed accurate-time history.

Adam and Eve? Did two such beings exist and if so, where in history? Traditional theology has assumed they were the first two human beings. Modern secular history suggests there were different strands of ‘being’ that became human beings as we know them today. But if the Bible lends itself to speculation so, no less, does modern history. If I may quote from the same book as before, “A History of the World,” the writer/TV presenter is remarkably honest: “There are almost no historical arguments as complex and heated as those about modern man’s origins. The reason is straightforward: scientific advances in the study of human DNA and in the dating of bone fragments and other material keep challenging, and sometimes overturning, earlier theories.”

Uncertainty: Listen to a quote from theologian Alister McGrath: “It is certainly true that the natural sciences aim to offer the best possible explanation of the world, and that they have had considerable successes in doing so. But there are limits to this. The scientist regularly has to propose certain ideas that certainly fit in with experimental evidence, but that cannot be proved, and are thus taken on trust. I notice a firm recognition of this point in … Charles Darwin himself. In his Origin of Species (1859), Darwin points out that his theory of natural selection has not been proven, and that all kinds of objections could reasonably be raised against it. But he still believes it was true, and that these difficulties will eventually be resolved.”

How intriguing and how honest. What am I saying here? I am saying that on both sides of the divide there are question marks. Yesterday I added to those question marks by challenging the concept of ‘uniform’ change. We just don’t know. The scientific world is concerned about what, in a different context is known as ‘false news’ which has arisen in the scientific world more than a few times, and to cite one reputable scientist (reported in the London Times newspaper some years back), “while plagiarism is undesirable, it may do less harm than the commoner practice of altering data analysis methods to achieve a desired result.”  Humility is called for on all sides.

Mesopotamia? As I child I was taught that Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (strangely detailed in Gen 2:14) was the cradle of civilization. I was prepared, with the passing of years, to see that that was no longer believed and was surprised therefore when I find my modern writer still identifying it as such; not the place where historians believe our upright ancestors appeared, but certainly the place where civilization was first formed and developed, the land where we later find Abram comes from, a land that keeps on imposing itself in the Biblical narrative of the life of Israel.

And So? At the risk of shaking up some fossilized grey cells, may I make some suggestions, first those that are often now cited and then add a somewhat revolutionary concept for Evangelical believers. Let’s start with two general statements.  First the Bible does not seek to be a science book, nor for that matter a historical chronology, at least in terms of nailing dates to the wall. Having said that it is written largely as historical fact, i.e. these things happened in time-space history, and using those things we can see how it aligns with secular historical records. But it is not a science book and does not in any way seek to explain how things came about, only why they did.  Second, as we have indicated before, when it comes to people, those who are included are included for a specific reason and it is probable, therefore, that there are many others who existed in the Biblical period who have not been named. We would be wise therefore not to try to identify time by names.

The Big Purpose: Now if I may move on to a more revolutionary suggestion, in terms of the things to be remembered, third, may I suggest that Adam and Eve are certainly two historical characters who appear in a long, long line of human beings but they are mentioned, and their activities are mentioned (the Fall) in the Biblical record. Why? Because the primary purpose of the Old Testament is to reveal a family line, through which God would reveal Himself to the rest of the world, that eventually became Israel. The goal was to show God’s unique dealings with a group of people in history, in a ‘manageable’ way that did not dominate, oppress or impose Himself on mankind in a way that would override free-will.  The genealogy lines go back to Adam and follow a specific strand of his family tree, flowing through Abraham, through David and so on, showing a people who had dealings with God for a specific purpose.

The Ultimate Purpose: That purpose was eventually, at a given point of time in history, to create an environment into which to bring His Son from heaven, to live on earth and his life to be recorded, before dying by execution for redemptive purposes and revealing himself as the unique Son of God. Everything that goes before it in the Old Testament is working towards that. THAT is why God goes to such lengths in this ongoing redemptive process that we have been following over these past seven weeks, to keep Israel on the right track so that they will survive and retain and preserve their history with God.  Were Adam and Eve the first human beings in all of history, the only first human beings? No! Were they the first chosen by God to interact with Him? Yes? Did the events of Genesis 1-3 happen in time space history? Yes?

Read it again: Reread Genesis 1-3, not as a detailed-dates history book, nor as a scientific explanation but through the eyes of an inspired Hebrew writer, probably Moses, taking the stories passed down through the generations and confirmed and detailed by God in his times with Him in his forty years looking after Israel. Imagine Moses sitting in the Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle) in the presence of God, wiling away the years, but then being aware of God and a conversation ensues:

“Lord, it is an amazing world.”

“I know, I created it, everything. Would you like to write that down?”

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

“What was it like then Lord?”

“Well after it had cooled down it was just a chunk of rock with a lot of water on it, and gases evaporating but just dark.”

“Wow!” “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters.”

“But it’s not dark now?”

“That’s right, I just said, ‘Light!’ and there was, and it shone on the earth, so it was light on that side and dark on the other. That’s what you call day and night.”

“Right!” “Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

“So what happened next?”

“Well, as the waters evaporated somewhat thick clouds formed and created a shroud for the earth that kept it at a uniform steady temperature. (Necessary for dinosaurs to exist for a period)”

“Amazing!”  “Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.”  And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.” 

“Was it just static in space?”

“Oh no, it was like it is now, turning every twenty-four hours”

“Oh, OK. I see.” “And evening passed and morning came, marking the second day.”

And so the conversation continued on until Moses asked (in our imagination, remember):

“So we have plants and then animals and all the rest, what about man?”

“You’re not going to believe that but right back at the beginning I started it all off from just particles, dust if you like. So I’m afraid you all came from dust but with a very specific design and purpose in mind for the end.  I empowered him with life, my life.”

“Awesome!” “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.”

“Hold on, how did woman come to be, so different from a man?”

“You really wouldn’t believe me if I told you. I think I’ll keep that one a mystery from you all. I’ll tell you when you come to live with me in eternity but for now, let’s say you both come from the same origin, very different but the same. Yes, I’ve made woman capable of bearing offspring so if you want to write it poetically, to give my people something to ponder on, simply say I took the human I had made, in the form of a man and then from that one, made a woman. That will give them something to think about.”
“Wow, well, OK.” “the Lord God took out a part of the man’s side and … made a woman from that part.”

“That’s how I did it from the beginning and many years later I chose this couple that you call Adam and Eve who lived in the area up between the Euphrates and the Tigris and we did stuff together there, and the rest you know.”

“But why did you do that? What about the rest of humanity, if they existed.”

“Oh they existed, but the point I am making to you is that this original couple that I chose, created a family tree that I have worked with ever since, right down to you – and I have lots more to do yet, but that’s not for you to know at this point in time. You focus on writing up the things that have been passed down the generations to you and I will add clarification as we share together.”

And thus Genesis to Deuteronomy came into being. Now that requires faith to believe but it accords with what is there in writing, and it makes sense!

Read this again: I am willing to concede that there is quite a lot here to take in, so I suggest you go back to the beginning of this particular study. There is a lot more we could have said but as we’ve gone way over our usual space, we’ll leave it there. Remember, take away all the ‘assumptions’ on both sides of the divide and I think you’ll find you can be a believer with complete integrity. Have I covered all the bases, dotted all the ‘i’s and crossed all the ‘t’s? No I haven’t and so where there are gaps, I’ll leave you to pray and think. All I’ve done is suggest some valid possibilities. We’ll have to wait for the complete truth until we arrive in eternity, but in the meantime, read the Bible more, study it more, pray more and be at complete peace in your understanding. Amen?  Amen!

53. Drowning in Knowledge (1)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 53. Drowning in Knowledge (1)

Psa 90:2,4 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God….  A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.

Quick Recap: We are still in the series about ‘ongoing redemption’ but are now looking at those things in our modern world that have a tendency to swamp or drown the unthinking believer. They are things I have observed the younger generation struggle with because they have been insufficiently taught both the Bible and about these things. The older generations struggle more at a sub-conscious level because these things have subtly become the atmosphere of modern life and they have a tendency to stifle belief and faith, but so slowly they are often hardly noticeable.

Today we move on to consider the subtle way big numbers in science, big people in science, or even big theories may appear to some to bring challenges to the truth in such ways that they stand above contradiction. So let’s be like Hans Anderson’s little unknowing boy in the story of ‘The Emperors New Clothes’ and ask some challenging question about things that are cast in concrete as far as modern science is concerned. Now I have to say from the outset that everything our leading scientists say may be absolutely right. It is unlikely because science has a history of changing theories and ‘facts’, so we should hold these things lightly. We won’t know the truth until we get to heaven.

Way Back! Let’s start with a history book on my shelves entitled “A History of the World”, an authoritative and comprehensive work. Page 1, line 2: “There is the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.” Page 1, second paragraph, “We could start more locally with the early history of Earth, beginning some 4.5 billion years ago.” I’m never sure about billions or trillions but Wikipedia says a billion is a thousand million. (Trillion = a million million).

Measurement: Now I am not a scientist, but my understanding is that we measure these periods not by a time machine but by observing an ‘expanding universe’ and extrapolating backwards in the assumption of a uniform continuation of movement to a point derived mathematically to have been the point of origin (The Big Bang). The other way of determining age is by carbon dating (used for objects less than 50,000 years old) and radiometric or radioactive dating, both of which assume a uniformity of decay.  Notice my emphasis on the word ‘uniformity’ which makes all we are saying here pure theory – you cannot prove it, you have to assume the uniformity and once you do, then, yes, it works. As I said before, they may be right, but it is a fool who is dogmatically certain.

‘Big Time’: I have a problem with “4.5 billion years” because it is utterly meaningless. It is merely a figure on paper (or screen) and although that figure is then broken down into smaller chunks of ‘events’, it is absolutely impossible for the human mind to grasp the concept of a million years, let alone 4500 million years. You and I struggle to envisage a hundred years. We do it by filling it with events. My wife and I have been married 45 years and we make sense of that time by going through all our past diaries and filled ten sheets with things we’ve done in that time.

Stephen Hawking was the expert on time with his book, “A Brief History of Time”, bought by many, understood by few. My only problem with people like Hawking or Einstein, is that with brains the size of a bus they are beyond contradiction by the rest of us mere mortals. If, as some predict, we will live longer and longer lives, if I were able to live another hundred years (more ‘time’) I would break a habit of a lifetime and lay a bet (who would take it?) that another genius will come along and question the current theories of all of these great men – but of course that is heresy in a scientific world that worships these men uncritically.

A Crutch for Evolution: I don’t have a problem with the theory of evolution; it may be the way God brought the present world into being, but I doubt it (note that would have to be ‘guided evolution’). I say that because there are so many holes in it that any intelligent critical person (not a negative person, but a person who questions, which is what is missing in life today) will say, “Yes…. but!” You know the biggest ‘elephant in the room’ of evolution that evolutionary scientists struggle with – biological sex! If you dare think about it, the very concept of male and female ‘complementary equipment’ as coming about through survival of the fittest, is pure nonsense.  I leave you to seriously ponder that one.

But the thing about evolution is that it only becomes vaguely credible if you have staggeringly big times to play with, for ‘accidents’ to happen, for mutations to die out or develop. It isn’t just a case of this is how it happened, it is a case of this is how it would HAVE to have happened. It is only when you think about millions and then billions of years that you have a big enough, long enough laboratory for the necessary changes to come about. If one day some super-mathematician appears and says, “The maths is all wrong; here is a viable alternative,” or scientists suddenly find that uranium breakdown occurs in spurts rather than uniformly, and both conclude that the age of the earth is say ten thousand years (now currently a scary, stupid or impossible thought) suddenly evolution would be in trouble, even more, impossible.

I am simply setting up what ARE possibilities to challenge the set mind, the mind set in concrete that is thus not ‘scientific’. When Stephen Hawking said, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change,” he perhaps unwittingly laid down a challenge to mathematicians and scientists generally, because at the moment, people (clever scientists) are persecuted for saying of modern scientific dogma, “I’m not sure about that.”

More Big Figures: It is big figures that intimidate us. Try this from a book of science on my shelves; this is about the ‘Big Bang’.  Health Warning: “A yoctosecond (ys) is a septillionth of a second or 10–24 s”. Can you think that small? Here’s my science book quote, starting to explain the Big Bang: “At the moment of the Big Bang, the entire Universe was much smaller than an atomic nucleus. Within a tiny fraction of a second, it underwent an inconceivably rapid expansion called cosmic inflation”.  Additional notes suggest that the temperature was “100 trillion trillion deg.C”.   Hullo? Is your mind still switched on? Well, let’s see the additional note of how fast the first change took place: “a hundred-billionth of a yoctosecond.” Wow! We saw how small a yoctosecond was just now and now you’re saying a hundred billionth of one septillionth of a second!  That was only the first part of the explanation of the Big Bang; there are four more stages of incredibly short periods of time, but you can do you own research. But I do like the word ‘inconceivably’ in that quote above.

Why all this? Why have I bothered to fill this Bible-blog with scientific information? Very simply because I find that when books baldly state these sort of things, people generally, let alone believers, are intimidated by the ‘fact-ness’ of print, the certainty of modern science. When it comes to Christian believers, it is almost natural, when looking at the short period of history covered by the Bible and the Bible’s lack of scientific detail, to wonder about the reality of all that we have been thinking about to do with ongoing redemption in this series. I will say it again: the numbers are meaningless, the results of mathematicians’ and scientists’ speculations, sounding so credible – if only we could understand them. I am not saying don’t believe them, but I am saying hold them lightly, see them as theories that are not so set in concrete as many would like to suggest, and see them (IF they are true) as explanations of how God made the world.

The God-Perspective: Our starter verses attempt to poetically convey something of God’s greatness: Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God….  A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.”  Not an explanation of how, but simply an attempt at conveying greatness.  The apostle Paul suggested that all of ‘Creation’ reveals the might and majesty of God (Rom 1:20).

The modern atheistic scientist (and many aren’t) seeks to explain the world in purely ‘mechanical’ terms so that there is no need for a God, because if there is a God that you and I speak about, that would lay a question against that person’s life – how should I live in the light of the knowledge of the existence of such a Being? – and many people don’t want their lives directed by someone greater than them. Outlook is often not formulated by facts (which so often need interpreting) but by personal prejudices and fears. How does Genesis fit into all this? We’ll look at that in the next study. Meanwhile, keep a clear head, do not be intimidated by great men, great brains, great theories, and great numbers. They may be right, and they may not, but put them all in perspective before the greatness (size and majesty) of Almighty God and we just find a marvelous world brought about by a marvelous Creator who deserves our worship, and in that, nothing has changed.

 

21. Aspiring to Knowledge (2)

Aspiring Meditations: 21.  Aspiring to Knowledge (2)

Prov 1:7   The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge

Prov 10:14   Wise men store up knowledge.

Isa 11:2  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him… the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD

Phil 1:9,10  And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,

Having just picked up on ‘understanding’ from another list, I realised that we had not covered one of the other two ‘cousins’, wisdom, but as I do that, I sense a need to revisit the third of the cousins, knowledge, which we did consider in study no,5 and so now, forgive me if we pick up on knowledge again. At first sight, it appears so obvious as not to need this coverage but I suspect that that is not true, for two reasons: first because so many Christians do not aspire to knowledge and we therefore need to cover it again and, second, knowledge is so fundamental to the Christian walk, that we need to doubly make sure we understand its significance and importance.

Knowledge, as we said in the previous study, is about perceiving facts, collecting information. In this information world, we probably ‘know’ more things a hundred times over more than people of say a hundred years ago.  But therein is the danger, for as the apostle Paul said, “We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.” (1 Cor 8:1-3)

That is rather a handful but he is basically saying that if you think you know everything, you are in fact ignorant and are possibly the living proof that “knowledge puffs up.”  The truth is that however much we know, it is, in the whole scheme of things, very little. Solomon understood something of this when he wrote that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov 1:7) That fits in with the verses we have just seen where Paul says, “The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.”  He ought to know that acquiring knowledge ought to start with knowing God, and knowing how great He is, for this will produce the ‘fear’ or ‘respect’ that Solomon refers to. The man who is ignorant of God lacks knowledge.

With that starting point in place, then the wise man does collect knowledge, if we may put it like that. (see Prov 10:14) Why should that be? Well let’s take the person who comes to Christ. Their starting point is recognising in relationship to God they are imperfect, a sinner. Moreover, they have come to see the Lord’s greatness, and bowing before Him they accept the salvation He provides through His Son Jesus Christ. So there we were, born again, new believers. Is that the end? Certainly not. It is the beginning of a life of learning. – or at least that is what we would hope it would be for all believers – learning how we are saved, for what are we saved and how this salvation will be worked out in the rest of our lives. That is what the New Testament is all about, which is why it is tragic that so few believers read their Bible on a daily basis.

When you consider that the apostle Paul taught that all Scripture, “is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16), where new believers fail to accumulate knowledge, i.e. they fail to learn what God’s will involves, it also means, in accordance with this verse, that they fail to be taught, they fail to let God’s word challenge (rebuke) or correct them, and they fail to let it train or disciple them in what it means to be righteous. Moreover, they will never come to the point of being able to teach others, which is another goal we’ll need to look at, that the Bible speaks about. Paul saw a direct link between having knowledge and being able to instruct others: “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.” (Rom 15:14) It is a fairly logical link.

For the (new) believer, increasing knowledge is essential if they are to grow, knowledge of the goals that God has for them, and knowledge of how those goals can be achieved: “as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us.” (2 Cor 8:7) Paul was very specific about this: “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way.” (Col 1:9,10) Now that is interesting because it links knowledge to wisdom and understanding. When it comes to God’s will, we start out with the basic knowledge of what He wants for us (for example, to love one another) but as His Holy Spirit works within us, He will show us how this can be worked out (wisdom) and the significance of it (understanding) i.e. to impact one another with His blessing to make a better world.

Now before we finish we have to note an important distinction: knowledge about God and knowledge of God. The Queen of Sheba, for example had knowledge about God when she came to King Solomon (see 1 Kings 10) but believers, now indwelt by the Holy Spirit have knowledge of God, i.e. experience of Him. Consider the words of the apostle Peter: Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Pet 1:2,3) This knowledge is experiential, i.e. it is about our encounter with Him.

Now this is true of every believer because to be a born-again believer we have to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Now perhaps we need to make another distinction: first of all, those Christians for whom the work of the Holy Spirit in them is, in psychological terms, more of a sub-conscious thing, i.e. they aren’t aware of what is happening, their guidance is more simple response without thought or understanding. But, second, there are those believers who learn to draw near to God, to become sensitive to the moving and gentle speaking of the Spirit from within and therefore their life is a far more cooperative thing, with them being aware of the Spirit’s directing, and then being specifically obedient to His leading. This knowledge of God becomes a very much more conscious thing.

So do I need to convince myself that I need to aspire more to knowledge about God and of God? No, I am convinced! I need to maintain my reading of His word and reading of others in the spiritual sphere, and I need to seek to develop my sensitivity to His presence that I may be more knowledgeable of Him as He expresses His plans and purposes for me. All I’ve got to do now, is just get on and do it. And you?

20. Aspiring to Understanding

Aspiring Meditations: 20.  Aspiring to Understanding

2 Cor 6:4-6 “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: …. in purity, understanding, patience and kindness”

Job 12:13  To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his.

Isa 11:2  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

We might be surprised to think of understanding as something to which we should aspire, but it is here, first of all, in Paul’s list of things which, he said, commend them as apostles, and if them, then surely us.  Understanding is one of the three things that go together – knowledge, wisdom and understanding.   Knowledge is about perceiving fact, collecting information.  Wisdom is knowing how to act, what to do, how to live. Understanding is realizing the significance of knowledge. Knowledge might be the fact or information that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God”. Understanding is the realization of that significance of that statement. Wisdom is then knowing how to live in the light of that statement. (Note our constant use of that word ‘significance’).

In our verses above we see that understanding is one of the things that God has. (Job 12:13). It is also one of the things given to the Messiah (Isa 11:2). We so often say that the attributes of God include the fact that He is all-knowing and all-wise, meaning He knows everything and knows what is best in any and every situation. His understanding is what drives that wisdom. He not only knows everything that can be known, but He also knows the significance of every fact, how it relates to every other fact.

Paul writing to Philemon said, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” (Phile 1:6) Now that suggests that understanding so often follows experience. As we live out the Christian life, as we share our faith, more and more we find we are coming to a deeper understanding of this life, of this faith, more and more do we perceive the significance of so much in our lives, and of that faith.

For Paul it was obviously a mark of maturity: “since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” (Col 1:9) We come to know the will of the Father as we come to know the basic facts of the Gospel and as we start to realise the significance of each aspect of our salvation.

Indeed, said Paul, understanding is vital if you are to come to really see this thing I have called a mystery, this thing, this Gospel that was hidden for centuries but has now been revealed. To take this in and fully comprehend it, you need understanding: “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.” (Col 2:2)

Again and again in his writings, he says this same thing: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.” (Eph 1:7-9) There in the sublime writing of Ephesians we have him speaking of redemption that comes through grace and is apprehended by wisdom and understanding, this mystery we referred to before. We take hold of it and live it out as we see what we need to do (wisdom) having heard the truth (knowledge) and realised its significance for us (understanding). Those three things together are what motivate us forward.

But this ‘understanding’ plays a part in keeping us sharp and alert in our daily lives: “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Rom 13:11) The ‘this’ in these verses refers to all that has just gone before it in Romans, living out our lives of love in the light of the will of God.  So, he says, as you realise that your time on earth is limited, as you understand these things, go all out to fulfil the will of God in your lives. Understanding the limitations on us, should energize us even more to seek out His will.

So, it seems to me, there are different types of Christian. There are those who are happy to turn up on Sunday morning and are happy to be spoon fed portions of the Bible – knowledge – and walk out untouched but with more facts. Then there are those of us who hear the basics, yearn for more, yearn to catch a sense of the plan and purpose of our lives, seeing how it is to work for us. These are people who realise the significance of what they read in God’s word or hear spoken on a Sunday morning, people of understanding and that understanding motivates and energises them to ask, “And what should I do, what does God now want of me?” and as they get answers they receive wisdom, the knowledge of what to do, how now to act.

I want to be in these latter groups. I aspire to not only have more knowledge but also to work for understanding and wisdom. Why? Because it is available and there for us and it is clearly what the New Testament teaching implies is essential for a vibrant life that grows and develops and bears fruit. It also makes me realise that we have missed out on (knowledge and) wisdom in these studies, so watch this space.

5. Aspiring to Knowledge

Aspiring Meditations: 5.  Aspiring to Knowledge 

Isa 11:2  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him…. the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD

2 Pet 1:5    For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge

2 Pet 3:18  grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

There is a remarkable passage in Ephesians 2:1-5 that describes what we were like before we came to Christ and in it are such words as, dead in your transgressions and sins, disobedient, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, objects of wrath, and dead in transgressions (again!), but surprisingly it does not say we were ignorant which I would have expected.

But there is another remarkable passage in Romans 1 that addresses this: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Rom 1:18-20) Now that says that all people inherently have a knowledge of God in some measure at least but suppress it!  Solomon said of God, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:11) In other words there is something within every single human being that shouts out, “There is more to life than shear materialistic satisfying desires!”

So if the godless world has ‘knowledge’ why does the Bible seem to elevate ‘knowledge’ to something I should aspire to? And what sort of knowledge? The Gnostics of the first and second centuries AD had this ‘special knowledge’, knowledge that was imparted to or acquired by the elite in this cult. That is the reason the apostle Paul so often speaks about the ‘mystery’ of the God that has now been revealed (see Rom 11:25, 16:25, Eph 1:9, 3:3,4,6,9, 6:19, Col 1:26,27, 2:2, 4:3). That is the point he makes, that now this mystery has been revealed and it is open to anyone to appreciate and apprehend it. It is Christ who is at the heart of the plans of the Godhead to redeem the world, plans formulated even before the Creation.

The Messiah, according to Isa 11:2 would be anointed with a “Spirit of knowledge”. Why? Because God knows all things and Jesus is part of the Trinity, certainly limited in human form for 33 years, but nevertheless by the Spirit within him, he had all knowledge available to him to be drawn on as necessary. Is it a coincidence that in John’s Gospel, the Gospel of insight and knowledge and understanding of the Son of God that John had realised over years of pondering on, reflecting on and remembering, that in this Gospel the word ‘know’ is used more than 80 times!

As John, in his latter years, remembered back to those incredible three years of walking with the Son of God, had realised he had all this knowledge in his head, knowledge of the things that had happened in those three years, but which had not been picked up in the Synoptic Gospels that concentrated on the basics of what happened. John knew there was far more than those basics, which is why his Gospel is so profound, bringing to light the knowledge of an insider who had had time to mull over and focus the things that had happened, and the things that were said by Jesus which, at the time had been so profound, e.g. all of the ‘I am’ sayings John brings to us.

And so for me in this quest to take hold of the various things that the Bible challenges me to aspire to, I face this call to increase knowledge. It is a very simple call but also a very profound call. When we first came to Christ, it is probable that our knowledge of the Bible was miniscule. I laugh when I look back, because as a young person at college – not a Christian but coming from a reasonable if not certainly respectable background – I argued with a friend of mine who was a communist. I can see Mick now in his maroon corduroy jacket and long hippy hair, arguing for the communist manifesto, and me arguing for the Christian perspective. It is no surprised  that he wiped the floor with me!

Perhaps that was the reason why, after I came to the Lord, by the end of my first year as a Christian, the Lord had me leading seven Bible Studies a week. It meant a serious learning curve, and it has carried on ever since. But do I have sufficient knowledge of the Bible and of God today? No, we can never stop being learners. Even as I write these studies I find things coming into perspective as never before. I see new things in the Bible, maybe not every day, but frequently. I heard a conference speaker the other day saying how she was finding in the secular world today she was being challenged over her faith as never before, and she realised she needed to visit again the area of apologetics (knowing why you believe what you believe and having answers to the big questions), and that has always been an area I too have felt I need to get under my belt.

But all that is knowledge that is intellectual but if, in respect of my wife, I could simply tell you lots of things about her, that would not constitute a relationship with her. She used to be a teacher and so her pupils and fellow-teachers could possibly say quite a lot about her with their superficial relationships with her, but when it comes to me, her husband, that is a completely different ball game.

So it must be with God. If we have a ‘relationship’ with Him, then it means it is far more than “knowing about” Him, it is knowing Him in experience, knowing of Him. So how does that come? It comes in prayer, in worship, in waiting on Him, yes as we study His word, and especially when we are obedient to Him and we allow His Holy Spirit to inspire us, energize us, motivate and direct us, and we ‘do the stuff’ He gives us to do. That is ‘knowing Him’ at a much more profound level.

So the challenge comes to me, first of all, will I continue to learn about Him? That will come as I spend time and effort in His word, time and effort reading what others have written about the whole experience of being a Christian, digging deeper even into theology or even apologetics. Why do this? Well for me, it is in answer to something the apostle Peter said: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet 3:15) But then the second part of the challenge, will I continue to develop my knowledge of Him, and that means waiting on Him, praying, seeking Him and being obedient to Him? I hope the answer will be yes.  And you?