Thursday, 28 February 2013

When the Bible is irrelevant

Our church, and many others, makes a practice of reading through the Scriptures in our worship services.  There are many reasons we do this.  One of them is that, unfortunately, the passages we read on Sunday together is the most Scripture some people will get all week.  It shouldn't be that way, but it sometimes is.  Another reason is that, as Christians we believe that all Scripture is worth reading and knowing and not just because it is an interesting record of the past or of what people used to believe but because it is edifying and useful today for our Christian lives.  

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."
                                                                                                  -  2 Timothy 3:16-17

When the Apostle Paul wrote this, under the inspiration of the third person of the triune godhead, I presume that when he said "all Scripture," he meant "ALL Scripture."  So, what about when we come to those passages that seem completely irrelevant to us in the here and now?  Perhaps we are reading along in Leviticus, say, and we come to the passages that deal with what Israel was supposed to do when they found mold in the walls of their tents during their wilderness sojourn.  As you read these verses from the comfort of your town house or your bungalow that has a fresh air exchanger hooked into your forced air furnace, you might say to yourself, "exactly how is this relevant and useful to me?"  

Let me just say first that, depending on how you ask this question, this could be the first step in a really good Bible study session.  If you ask this question from a firm conviction that when Paul penned the above sentence to Timothy, he meant it, and now you are determined to find just how it applies to you here and now, and you are prepared to do some digging and to give this some serious thought and prayer, and to find out how other past and present teachers and preachers have understood this passage, great.  But if you ask this question with a roll of the eyes, muttering "what-ever" under your breath, you're probably not in the mindset to even want an answer much less to go looking for one.

Several years ago, my wife and I lived in a fairly run down apartment.  We lived there because it was cheap and we were building a house at the time, and trying to pay rent while paying a construction mortgage wasn't easy.  We had only two of our four children at that time, and they shared a bedroom next to ours.  The apartment was old and maintenance clearly hadn't been one of the land lord's highest priorities.  Our girls, aged 3 and 1 at the time, were sick for quite a while with what we assumed was a chest cold which they just couldn't seem to shake.  Then one day, we found a large soft spot in the gyp-rock (sheet rock, to Americans) beneath their bedroom/playroom window.  Prodding around with my finger, I discovered a large mass of black mold beneath the paint and behind the window trip.  Of course my wife and I were quite concerned, knowing that mold can cause serious health problems.  Then it occurs...

God the Father loves his children too.  When the instructions in Leviticus were given, he had just rescued them from slavery in Egypt through great and terrible signs and wonders.  He had just defeated the Egyptian army for them in the waters of the Red Sea.  Now he is leading them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  He is giving them his law, his house rules for his family, for the people who are called by his name.  He does all this because he loves them.  And because he is a loving Father who wants the best for his children, he doesn't want them getting sick or dying from mold in the walls of their tents.  We think of the big stuff - the showdown between Pharaoh and Moses or between YHWH and the gods of Egypt.  We think of the battles Israel fought in the wilderness and won because God fought for them.  We think of the miraculous manna from heaven every day, just enough every time, or the water from solid rock.  But a good and loving father doesn't just repel the home intruder in the middle of the night and bring home the paycheque to buy the groceries.  A good father cares about mold in the walls because he cares about the well being of his children, the children that are called by his name.  He loves them and nothing that could harm them is beneath his notice.  The God of the Exodus is the God who did not save his children from slavery to have them die of a lung infection. 

You don't have to have moldy walls for this passage to have modern day relevance to you.  This is an example of the kind of care and the level of concern that God has for his children.  He is the God who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the flowers of the field.  How much more valuable are you than they? 

The blind watchmaker...not!

Some friends sent this little video about the difference between an atheist's accidental universe and one designed by the Creator.  Great to watch with your kids and good for generating discussion. 

Monday, 25 February 2013

Reading over your head...

In a recent post, Kevin DeYoung calls pastors to read over their heads.  While scholarly monographs should not be the only items on the pastor's reading menu, they ought not be struck from the menu altogether as fare too sophisticated and subtle for a mere parson.  With all the appropriate caveats, some of which he gives, I heartily agree.  This practice will stretch a pastor and drive him back to the text of Scripture to wrestle with new facets of doctrines and new angles on ideas that he may never have considered before.  Of course a pastor who reads over his head will undoubtedly read things he doesn't agree with.  In some cases, he may be required to humbly accept that he was wrong.  In other cases, he will be sharpened in his ability to recognize and refute sophisticated error.  In all cases, this practice should keep a pastor's mind nimble and his heart open.  Like with any teaching role, only pastors who continue to learn are effective in their own preaching and teaching.  Reading above one's head is not the only way to learn but it is part of a balanced diet of study for a pastor.  Such a balanced diet should also include fare from various mental and spiritual "food groups"- things like current news magazines, popular books the congregation is likely to be reading, classic novels, fairy tales, poetry, books on hermeneutics, exegesis and homiletics, plays, philosophy, politics, economics, works of theology (past and present), commentaries, stuff from other cultures and countries and of course lots of old stuff.  A pastor ought to read broadly, deeply, carefully, and read it all in comparison with and submission to the Word of God. 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Something I Read...

“We have been vouchsafed four powerful and profound scientific theories since the great scientific revolution of the West was set in motion in the seventeenth century – Newtonian mechanics, James Clerk Maxwell’s theory of the electromagnetic field, special and general relativity, and quantum mechanics...These splendid artifacts of the human imagination have made the world more mysterious than it ever was.  We know better than we did what we do not know and have not grasped.  We do not know how the universe began.  We do not know why it is there.”

                   -  David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion:  Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions (xiv-xv) 

Repost from February 2013: Societal Schizophrenia

This post was originally published February 21, 2013.  It is as relevant as it was long before I posted it:

A few years ago I attended a pastor’s conference where D.A. Carson was speaking.  The theme of the conference was something to do with preaching the truth in the midst of a culture that doesn’t want to hear it and a church that all too often compromises with said surrounding culture.  During Carson’s talk, he spent a bit of time discussing the absurdity of our present day culture’s concept of tolerance, which is, in reality, intolerance. 

Our current cultural climate in the West has resulted in a new orthodoxy of values and beliefs, labelled as tolerance, but which is really intolerant of anything that doesn’t agree with this new orthodoxy or the people who hold to it.  No doubt it was the further development of this thought that has resulted in his recent book, The Intolerance of Tolerance.  This is one manifestation of the decline of thought, morality, judgment, and culture in general in the West but it is not the only one, or more accurately, it is tied together with many others. 

Trevin Wax has posted a list of 10 sure signs we’ve lost our minds.

To his list, I would add a few others:

    1. We eschew the example of the noble and virtuous characters from history, turning from them to heroes and idols least worthy of our attention and imitation:  entertainers and celebrities.  These are people who, by definition, are putting on an act.  Along with politicians, they are the most self-centered, over-paid, spoiled and dysfunctional collective group of people in the world.  Generally, their personal lives and relationships are an incessant careening from one train wreck to another, and yet we idolize them and listen to their opinions on every possible subject, even though they are not remotely qualified to pronounce upon any one of them.
    2. We rally to the frantic call of global warming prophets like Al Gore, James Cameron, and David Suzuki, who all chide us for our unrestrained consumerism and  irresponsible living and call us to a simpler life of making do with less.  Immediately after telling us to cram our carbon feet into shoes several sizes smaller than what we currently wear, they climb aboard their private jets, yachts or helicopters and travel back to one of their numerous mansions or exotic holiday properties to live a life style with a budget and energy consumption level that would easily sustain a mid-sized town.   
    3. We have let big government borrow and spend our respective nations into unimaginable and very likely irrecoverable debt and yet we look to those same governments and their programs and paradigms to get us out of our fiscal juggernaut by borrowing and spending untold billions and trillions more, the very policy that got us into this economic quagmire in the first place.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

I've considered starting a blog for some time.  I enjoy thinking about and discussing a broad range of topics and I enjoy trying to do all this from a trinitarian Christian worldview.  Writing has always helped me organize my thoughts (truth be told, knowing others can read what I write forces me to organize my thoughts).  A blog seems like a good place to attempt this.  I sincerely hope it might be an encouragement to others also.  I suppose time will be the judge.  So, such as it is, here goes.