Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Bullet of Scripture: Certitude is More Than Enough

Those of us who have experienced the reality of knowing Christ through “re-creation” have found that the Scriptures are simply His “love letter” to us through His chosen writers. Although God’s truth passed through the small capacities of these flawed, partial people, who cannot give us “certainty,” and because of our own ignorance, denseness and limitations to grasp “certainty,” the Lord chose … and still chooses … other people to help give us “certitude.”

The Scriptures have met the test of 3500 years of attack and vilification yet have given more evidence of certitude than any other philosophical, scientific or theological option available to mankind. Once a person reads the Book, the Holy Spirit will use the opportunity to open his or her eyes to the glorious truth it holds. Such is the joint witness of millions over the centuries who have found their certitude in Jesus Christ! They claim enough “certitude” to be as “certain” as a person can be!

What is your certitude? It’s being as certain as you can be about a matter without being able to prove it as certain. There is no way I can prove to anyone that the love I have for my wife, children and grandchildren is “certain.” I may resent them all in my heart and no one but me will know how I truly feel.

However! If you examine all the positive things I say about them, do for them, give to them, seek to be with them and sacrifice for them, etc. you will find enough “certitudes” to conclude that it is almost “certain” that I love my family! And that is enough to build a life on!

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Bullet of Scripture: The Preponderance of Evidence

It is impossible to be completely certain about life’s most significant questions … especially the big ones! Is God real? What is the purpose of life? How do I find and give meaning to my life? We have more certainty when dealing with factual data: the boiling point of water at sea level on planet earth is 100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheit, or hydrogen is the lightest element on the periodic chart, etc. Yet even when dealing with natural facts that are measurable and quantifiable, it is not always possible to be certain. Consider the problem of the deepest point in the ocean and the highest point on earth … the Marianas Trench in the Western Pacific and Mount Everest in the Himalayas respectively. Refined measurements and the changing nature of earth features make true exactitude only a short lived thing; thus, a quick search for answers to just these two questions will bring about varying results from different, trustworthy sources. None-the-less, for general use we have a figure for each. (In case you wondered, the deepest point in the ocean is more than 36,000 feet down and the highest mountain is slightly more than 29,000 feet up.)

Not long ago I was involved in a discussion about the reliability of the Bible. The question posed was how do we convince skeptics that the Bible as true? I contend that the nuances between certainty and certitude should form the basis of our conclusion. Certainty demands a decision based on complete knowledge, something very few situations in life offer; we know the boiling point of water but we can not say with absolute certainty the depth of the ocean. On the other hand, certitude demands a decision based on the preponderance of facts. Most situations allow us to come close to a truthful decision because there are many sources of evidence. We teach in our universities as fact that General Julius Caesar wrote a book about his Gallic Wars in the first century B.C. We do this even though the oldest extant copy (still in existence) of the manuscript we have in our possession follows his death by some 1,000 years! This gives 900 plus years for it to be written by a forger! Can we be “certain” this did not happen? Still the preponderance of evidence favors Caesar as the author of this work and that the Gallic Wars by the Roman army against the Gauls did take place in what is today called France! There is far more “certitude” that Caesar wrote it than that he didn’t!

Our job in answering the question my friends and I discussed is not to present absolute proof that the Bible is “certain” but to present a preponderance of “certitude” evidence that the skeptic should consider before making an informed judgment. In short we should offer our skeptic friend the only sane choices that can be made … as certainty is impossible for flawed human beings to declare their remains only one intelligent option – certitude! We must consider mankind’s vastly limited power to know completely about anything, especially those issues dealing with the why of creation, purpose and the beyond. Hence, we are bound to live our lives out in certitude and not certainty. Our job as “witnesses to Christ” is to get others to take the chance of discovering what they are missing, not to convince them to give up their questions.

I have never met the author of a single Bible book nor a single translator for the first 3500 to 2000 years of its existence. I can’t “prove” the Bible with “certainty” … how can a limited little man like me sum up the last 3500 with authority? … but I can prove the Scriptures with “certitude.” The words I find there have been radically changing my life for over 60 years … and there are millions like me who would say the same.

The Savior the Scriptures tell of and promise to me is real to my heart and a powerful Presence in my life. In fact, I’ve experienced so many “certitudes” with Jesus that I am as “certain” about Him as anything on earth!

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15:4

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Bullet of Direction: The Complex Confusion of Mankind’s Language!

When we consider how God has revealed Himself in language, using the complex and amazing skills He created for humanity, we began to grasp why the Holy Spirit’s Presence is so critical to guide and teach us what true revelation means. Almost all words, depending on context, can have a multitude of meanings. People can speak thousands of words yet find at the end of all their talking they have only “built bridges to nowhere”! But not our Lord! All of His words to us are bridges to our heart that have an assured destiny! Every word He spoke while on earth and speaks to us now is a “bridge word” that we can walk on in our journey to His Presence, which is life! “The words I speak to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63).

Read carefully the Apostle Paul’s insights into how our Lord’s words are life:
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” I Corinthians 2:10-14 (Emphasis added)

The Lord Jesus is well aware that humanity has a desperate problem understanding correctly what they hear and see. He quoted the prophet Isaiah when He explained the Parable of the Sower to His Disciples. The seed Jesus throws on the field of earth are His words! Some nourish the seed but most people don’t. "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND” (Luke 8:10, emphasis added). The Savior’s seed is the truth that is within every one of His words! “The Words I (Jesus) speak to you are life!” (John 6:63).

Without revelation about words we are blind and mute. Only when we establish and nurture a relationship to our Creator-Redeemer-Perfector God do we discover how to “put” the “in Christ” seed into our lives. We then begin to gain His “power answers” for living. Our Lord’s words alone, authentically understood, will sustain us and enable us to reign on planet earth! His words are our material and equipment with which we can build our “bridge over all the troubled waters of mankind’s mess.” The Savior’s Words are intended to become our bridge to His Presence! How is your bridge building coming along?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Bullet of Direction: Describe That Bridge!

The more scientists study language the more we discover the complexities of thinking involved in just one single word. Furthermore, language makes a startling impact on our selves and our culture. One recent study explored the relationship between the gender of a word in different languages and the descriptions assigned to the object the word represents. One such object and word pair is “bridge.”

Both German and Spanish are languages using gender case for words; a simple example is the Spanish word for boy and girl. The word for boy is Niño and is in the masculine case. Niña, the word for girl, is in the feminine case. In German the word for bridge has feminine gender. Words used to describe a bridge by German speakers tended toward beautiful, elegant, slender, etc. In Spanish, bridge is masculine. The words used to describe a bridge in Spanish tended toward strong, dangerous, sturdy, etc. In short, the researchers discovered, the way we think about gender influences the way we think about and describe an object based on the gender given to a word by its mother tongue.

The researchers discovered this to be true even when they “made up” a language and assigned gender to various objects. They concluded that their findings “… suggest that the grammar we learn from our parents, whether we realize it or not, affects our sensual experience of the world. Spaniards and Germans can see the same things, wear the same cloths, eat the same foods and use the same machines. But deep down, they have very different feelings and perceptions about the world around them.” We are so familiar with and unreflective about our language, we usually fail to understand how much it shapes us. Depending on a person’s culture and education, words can be a bridge, a detour or even a dead end!

These new findings only make it more evident that we need “big help” to understand the reality and meaning of our world, ourselves and the words we use to interpret both. Thank God we have a Helper Whose job it is to teach us what we need to know! A Helper Who will guide us through our rapid complexities of experience. A Helper Who will interpret for us the mysteries of life. A Helper Who will enable a person to build a bridge between “where I am” and “where I need to go” in order to become “what I need to be”! A Helper Who will translate the words I read and hear so that I can appropriate truth … the truth from people and the truth from God.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” John 14:26 (Emphasis added)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Bullet of Repentance: Don’t Judge the Message by the Sign

As a college student I can still vividly recall being lost on the mountain roads of Colorado. None of us in the car knew the way. We were running late and it was getting dark. The map of how to reach the retreat center was so clear when we first read it in Texas. Now, we were confused! The panic of lostness and the frustration of wasted time began to take their toll.

At last … after retracing routs and kicking up mountain road dust someone noticed the sign we had all previously missed. The words had been heavily weathered. Part of the sign was broken off. It had been nailed on a fence post low to the ground. In addition, the left mount had broken loose and the sign hung more vertically than horizontally.

In short, everything that could be wrong with a sign was wrong! So it is with all people, preachers included. They are signposts to those of us who have their eyes open to read them. Some point us to what’s right by their good example. Others point us away from what’s wrong by their bad example.

Read the “signs” folks! They can lead us to the truth. What they are in themselves makes little difference if you use them to point you in the right direction. Don’t fret! It’s God’s business to handle the maintenance of “the signs.” It’s our business to read them and to move in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Bullet of Repentance: Treasure Among the Shards

When we give judgment into God’s hands, what remains for the rest of us is simple. Quit focusing on the other person’s obnoxiousness and failures and start seeking the lesson of truth for yourself. I recall watching a televangelist on TV one morning some years ago I had a hard time accepting. As I watched him again for a few minutes, I was repulsed and dismayed. His manner, his arrogance, his manipulative appeal to send your “seed money” to him, his affectedness, his delivery, his expressions, etc., left me amazed that he had developed such a following. His promise that you can “command” all you want for yourself from God is, in my view, a sick kind of theology.

I must confess, however, that in spite of all that was objectionable to me in this brother, there were a few principles, centered in Scripture, that spoke to my heart and mind. I didn’t need to believe God for the “goodies” he urged, but I knew I needed to believe God in a bigger way for other things.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Bullet of Forgiveness: The Easter Miracle!

Most people want to be forgiven when they fail! Yet they often find forgiveness is difficult to give to others, especially when the “crime” against them is horrific … to their minds if not also to an objective observer. There are some events that anyone would agree are horrible in the extreme. How does one forgive the unforgivable? Consider the following story:

Visual images have power. The more compelling the image, the more power it wields over our thoughts and emotions. In the age of photography some pictures become so well known they form part of our national consciousness. One such is the image taken on June 8, 1972, by AP Photographer Nick Út. The picture would later win him a Pulitzer Prize. It was of nine-year-old Kim Phuc running down Viet Nam Route 1 surrounded by other fleeing children! Kim was naked, the victim of third-degree burns over half her body from Napalm bombs dropped mistakenly from a South Vietnamese airplane. In many ways it became emblematic of the tragedy of war; few who see the image will ever fully forget the horror it invokes. It was one of the most powerful pictures ever taken of how the innocent suffer for the insanity of human conflict.

Kim Phuc was treated for her burns in a Saigon hospital where she spent fourteen months and endured seventeen painful operations over a third of her body. But there was another wound that could not be so easily treated, her shame. She said of the thoughts running through her mind as she ran naked and burned, “… I would be ugly and people would treat me in a different way.”

After the fall of Viet Nam, her communist government used her as an anti-war symbol. She finally managed to seek sanctuary in Canada in 1992, where she, her husband and children live in Ajax, Ontario. She submitted an essay to the “This I Believe” project in 2007 in which she recounts her conversion to Christ as her Lord:

I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal. I really wanted to die many times. It was another very low point in my young life. I spent my day time in the library to read a lot of religious books to find a purpose for my life. One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible. In Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. It was an amazing turning point in my life. God helped me to learn to forgive – the most difficult of all lessons. It didn’t happen in a day and it wasn’t easy. But I finally got it.

Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.

What an image! What a lesson! At the very heart of Easter is forgiveness … complete, free, pure, liberating, cleansing, priceless forgiveness. The child in the heart-wrenching photo that documents her pain and her shame discovered how deep and full it is. As we celebrate this Easter, let us wonder and praise anew for our Lord’s sacrifice. We, like Kim, may know we are forgiven and can learn to forgive in equal measure. Regardless of all the agonies that hammer this fallen world, our Lord’s spiritual surgery will fully heal our bodies, our minds and our hearts. He will do it for both the innocent and the guilty. Let us rejoice in His resurrection as the Father’s perfect approval upon the necessity of the Savior’s cross. Let us praise Him with cleansed hearts! Forgiveness is our only escape from the falleness of man and our entry into the Presence of God!

But Jesus was saying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’…" Luke 23:34

May our Lord grant you a most meaningful and life-changing Easter!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Bullet of Repentance: Watch Out for the Tepid Life

A great tree can be destroyed by sudden lightning or a slow decaying disease. The Christian who lives many years without obvious “outer sin” can still be guilty of a marginally effective Christian life. In fact, their “lukewarmness” could do greater damage to the cause of Christ than an earnest believer who stumbles! (Revelation 3:15-16).

The real issue for those who “hunger after righteousness” is not … repeat … is not, sitting in judgment on those who fail. All preachers and laymen will sometimes choose sin, embrace failure and pursue error in various degrees. All of us often serve as “good examples of what not to be!”

The mature can always profit from their own failures as well as the failures of others. We must leave the ultimate evaluation of people’s failures and successes to God alone. He is the only one capable of defining what is “big sin” and “little sin.” He alone is capable of judging in truth the total effect of a life … clergy or layman … good or bad!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Bullet of Repentance: Big Fish, Little Fish … All Sin

Question? What is your attitude toward the religious leader who is exposed in some hypocritical action! Looking back over the years, the “scandals” of several TV preachers are only highly publicized reflections of similar, yet less well known failures. Unfortunately and tragically, the sins of the flesh have ensnared, weakened and even destroyed many who started well. When a person enters the ministry God doesn’t drain the blood out and replace it with “celestial buttermilk”! All of us, clergy and laity alike, have feet of clay.

How much difference will “we allow” between the standards expected of a religious leader and those expected of a lay person? Of course what “we allow” and what “God allows” are different worlds! Some people “sin big” (adultery, theft, misuse of authority) and repent quick! Others “sin small” (laziness, selfishness, lack of responsibility) and repent rarely, if ever! Who does the most damage to the kingdom?