Thursday, October 6, 2011

Living Words

The following was written by:
Margaret Manning who is a member of the writing and speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.

Questions of interpretation, whose interpretation, which interpretation, what interpretation, are at the forefront of discussions about truth and certainty in our postmodern milieu. In this milieu, it is suggested that the modern assumptions of objective and definitive truth are false. We are left with suspicion as to whether or not we can know anything truly.

Issues of interpretation, of course, are not simply matters of intellectual speculation. Rather, most of us, at one time or another, have been personally involved in discussions about the interpretation of reality. What political party accurately assesses national realities? Which media outlet presents the news fairly and without bias? Which cultural icons and artists illuminate the human condition in all of its complexity?

Of course, people of all faiths wrestle with questions of interpretation, as well. What does this passage mean? What are its implications? How does it make sense in the world today? And how can there be so many different interpretations for the same passage?

Questions of interpretation notwithstanding, the Christian faith claims to know and to represent the truth. Christians claim that the truth is contained in Scripture. But we are less clear in the murky world of interpretation about how that truth is to be presented and how it is able to transcend culture and language. St. Augustine, writing in the fourth century, asked similar questions about the opening words of Genesis:

Does it mean in the beginning of time, because it was the first of all things, or in the beginning, which is the Word of God, the only begotten Son? And how could it be shown that God produced changeable and time-bound works without any change in himself? And what may be meant by the name heaven and earth? Was it the total spiritual and bodily creation that was termed heaven and earth, or only the bodily sort? And in what way did God say Let light be made? Was it in time or in the eternity of the Word? And what is this light that was made? Something spiritual or something bodily?(1)

Augustine's questions concerning the first chapter of Genesis give just a glimpse into some of the complexities of interpreting the text of Scripture. Yet, even with questions, Augustine understood that as one inhabited the world of the Scriptures, God was being revealed through a living story. The story of Israel and the person of Jesus portray a God who redeems. The writers of the Old and New Testaments were inspired to write down their time-honored oral traditions in order to make them 'alive' for future generations, and to give testimony of God's redemption for future generations. In this way, God saw fit to "enflesh" not only the essence of the spoken and written words that had come before, but also something of the very nature and truth of reality.

Christians believe that Jesus is God's ultimate act of speech. He is the living bible, and the one who interprets the very nature and truth of God. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that "in the former days, the days of old, God spoke through the prophets; but in these last days, God has spoken to us by a Son" (Hebrews 1:1-2). And in the Gospel of John we are told that God's ultimate word to us, God's ultimate form of speech is the inscription of the person of Jesus: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; and we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from God" (John 1:1-2, 14). These writers of the written word tell us that the ultimate, final, definitive word of God is the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the living bible and his life communicates the truth of God to us. Therefore, the truth is more than facts and information to acquire, the truth is a Person.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews makes this very point. There is a distinction between what had been inscribed (the law and the teachings of the prophets) and the living word, Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father. Of course, the advent of Jesus as the living word does not nullify or invalidate the written word. Indeed, the two have something of a reciprocal relationship. All of written scripture points to the living word, Jesus, and to the saving activity of God. Jesus fulfills the written word, and all of the written word finds its meaning and its completion in the life and teachings of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus is the living embodiment of Israel's law and prophets! Jesus says this about himself in the Sermon on the Mount: "Do not think that I came to abolish the law or the prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill." In his life, Jesus embodies God's Kingdom and as the Word made flesh interprets for us what it looks like to live in God's kingdom-order.

Issues of interpretation will continue to press us as we seek to faithfully communicate and make sense of reality. People of Christian faith are called to be living bibles as we claim to be followers of Jesus. British New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says it this way: "The authority of scripture is most truly put into operation as the church goes to work in the world on behalf of the gospel, the good news that in Jesus Christ the kingdom of God has come and the living God has defeated the powers of evil and begun the work of new creation in this world."(2) Like the God who has given us a living story of redemption, those who act on behalf of redemption retell this story. The God who saved is saving still—our lives make plain the interpretation.

(1) Saint Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Volume 1 (Ancient Christian Writers Series; New York: Paulist Press, 1982),168-171.

(2) N.T. Wright, The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (San Francisco: Harper, 2005), 113.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Why does God allow all the pain, suffering, and evil in this world?

I think the first thing to do, in trying to answer this question, is to examine what we think about God’s character.

If we believe that God is good, loving, and perfect then I think the answer can be discovered more easily. It may not be a fully satisfying or adequate answer from our human perspective but it is the best answer I have found.

I say this because it means that I need to trust that a loving God would ultimately set up the best world possible. Prior to creation, He would have been able to look ahead and see how all of the possible scenarios would work out in the future. This means the world that God has made must be the best option. It ultimately comes down to the question, “Do I trust God?”

I have come to the point where I am willing to trust that God has set up the type of world that would maximize the number of individuals who will hear him and freely choose to respond to his love. This world has to be a world where “free will” exists because love cannot exist unless it is freely chosen. The problem with “free will” is that individuals can choose to say or do unloving and evil things. And all people make mistakes. We unintentionally make “free choices” that have a negative impact on us and others. This explains most of the reasons for the pain, suffering, and evil in the world. It is caused by us. G.K. Chesterton answered the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” with this simple response, “I am”

But this does not adequately explain why God allows terrible sickness, injuries, and the crushing results of natural disasters like the recent tsunami in Japan. I have not found a satisfactory answer for this question. It just doesn’t seem right. But I am prepared to trust a “Good” God with this paradox and will wait patiently for a fuller explanation when He gets me to the other side.

PS – If we decide not to believe in a loving and perfect God then we really shouldn’t worry about the source of evil or at least not try to assign blame. If there is no God then we have no absolute moral law. If there is no absolute moral law it means that absolute good and evil do not exist. This means that the presence of good and evil actually supports that God is real. Otherwise, when we hear on the news about murders, riots, and war it is (as Ravi Zacharias has said) “Mankind worshipping his maker”. Our maker in this case is pure “CHANCE”. As many atheists believe, “Slim + Time + Chance  make up the formula for how we arrived here and what happens to us is just the result of Chance”.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Friendship of God has a Cost

Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of Him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels.            Luke 9:23-26

A long time ago, I realized the harder I tried doing what Jesus asks of me the more I failed. The more I worked at it the more I saw my limitations and short comings. I finally threw up my hands and said, “I can’t do it. I need help!” I had reached a crisis point in my life. Was I willing to push aside my pride and self-centeredness? Was I willing (as C.S. Lewis wrote) to tell them where to get off.

It was at this juncture (I am broken Lord and need your help) that I opened the doors and windows of my heart and let the wind of God blow through to restore, refresh, and recreate me. Only then, after His spring cleaning, did the Spirit of Jesus come along side to help me succeed where I had failed so many times before.

With His forgiveness, His resources, and His power I could start accomplishing what He asks of me:

a) “Deny yourself.” - His will be done not mine

b) “Take up your cross daily” – literally crucify (put to death) my pride and self-centeredness.

c) “Follow Me” – Do as he would do. See others through His eyes (Sacrificial Love).

We cannot be followers of Jesus until we abandon our self-centeredness and let the wind of God fill our sails. Bruce Cockburn sings, “I’ll be a Child of the Wind for the rest of my days” and from the lyric of Grandma Wickens’ favourite hymn it says, I feel the Wind of God today…”

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What's in a Name?

My name “Michael” means “Who else is like God?” This is a rhetorical question with an obvious answer. No one else is like our creator!

What’s in the name of Jesus? Some called him Yeshua, (yesh-wa), others called him Eesho (ee-sa), and still others called him M’sheeka. These are just a few of the many names given to Him.

The name “Jesus” according to the Bible means “Savoir” or “God Saves”. “You will call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21)

“Yeshua”, based on one author’s research means “Cursed one”. The long version, in Hebrew, is Yemach Shmo w’Zikro. Yeshua (y + sh + w) is a contracted form, supposedly shortened due to misconduct of the name-bearer. It means “May his name and memory be blotted out”. In Galatians 3:13 it says, “Christ redeemed (saved) us from the curse (guilt & consequences) of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”

It is suggested that the Jewish name “Eesho” (originating from northern Palestine) means “Night Watcher” or “Nightly Visitant” “Esh” (a root of this name) means a bright northern star or the stars in Ursa Major, commonly called the Big Bear or Big Dipper. At the beginning of John’s Gospel it says, “In Him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” The “North Star” or “Polaris” has been a guiding light in the darkness to many travelers.

“M’sheeka” means Messiah. This name or title originates from the prophecy of the Old Testament which refers to the coming of a special one who will save His people,

Jesus has been given many other names: The Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah, the Bright Morning Star, the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd, and so on. One of my favourites is “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” This provides background for understanding one of the key elements of the Christian faith. God has actually visited us. God-the-Son was somehow fully human and yet fully God at the same time. His name is especially important. “For there is no other name under heaven given to us by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).

The instant reaction (to Acts 4:12) is often an accusation of narrow mindedness and intolerance for other faiths. I respond by saying, “I have searched diligently for more than 30 years. I am absolutely convinced that Jesus is the best revelation of God to the human race. This allows for the important concession that God can be partially revealed outside of Christianity and outside of religion. For I believe creation itself testifies to a divine designer.

What’s in a name? For me, everything! All that I have done and will do finds true value and eternal purpose through the name of “Jesus Christ”

While surveying the aftermath from Allied bombing, the post-war Chancellor of Germany said to Billy Graham, “Except for the resurrection of Jesus Christ there is no other hope for mankind”

Friday, March 25, 2011

What will you say if a child asks?

I like to encourage people to seek the answers to what I believe are the key questions of life.  I suggest this, in part, because I know that children will at some time or another confront the grown-ups in their lives with a need for answers.  The answers we give them will not provide the final word on the subject but will give them various points of reference for developing their own answers as adults.

These key questions are the building blocks for what is called a "World View"  Everyone has a world view of some kind or another. It forms the foundation for everything we say and do.

In general a person's world view can be defined by answering the following questions:

1) Where do we come from?  How did we get here?

2) What determines our standards for right and wrong?

3) What is our purpose?  Why are we here?

4) Where do we go after this life?  What happens when we die?

In summary, a person's world view is made up of their answers to questions about origin, morality, meaning and destiny.

The book "Have a Little Faith” challenges the reader to examine their world view, to answer these questions for themselves. The author, Mitch Albom, does not prescribe a specific path but suggests that we all have a need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. I agree with this whole-heartedly. Erwin McManus writes, "If life was just about me it wouldn’t be very interesting or fulfilling".

What is my advice regarding this? Avoid becoming trapped inside the comfort, safety and security of the “Small World of Self”. Take the risk of reaching out beyond yourself to something bigger.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Deeper Water

Life is easy when the weather is warm, the water refreshing, and we can touch bottom. But what happens when we are pushed into deeper water, with stormy skies, tossed by waves, exhausted from treading water, and chilled to the bone? I have found the help I need when life takes me into deeper water.  I am so grateful for His sacrifice, His forgiveness, and the new life He offers us. The "Wild Goose" (of Celtic tradition), the "Paraclete", the "Rider of the Wind", the "Spirit of Jesus" is now along side me, lifting me up on wings like eagle's.  He comes along side me in good times and bad. Everything in life is now redeemable and worthwhile, filled with His purpose.

This quote from Malcolm Muggeridge echoes my thoughts and feelings about the only person we can put our hope in:

“We look back on history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’

“In one lifetime I have seen my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’ I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian proclaim to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own assumption of power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as a wiser than Solomon, more enlightened than Ashoka, more humane than Marcus Aurelius. I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that Americans, had they so wished, could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.

“All in one little lifetime. All gone with the wind. England part of a tiny island off the coast of Europe, threatened with dismemberment and even bankruptcy. Hitler and Mussolini dead, remembered only in infamy. Stalin a forbidden name in the regime he helped found and dominate for some three decades. America haunted by fears of running out of those precious fluids that keep her motorways roaring, and the smog settling, with troubled memories of a disastrous campaign in Vietnam, and the victories of the Don Quixotes of the media as they charged the windmills of Watergate.

“All in one lifetime, all gone. Gone with the wind.

“Behind the debris of these self-styled, sullen supermen and imperial diplomatists, there stands the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind might still have hope. The person of Jesus Christ.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What would I say on my last day?

The first thing I would say is how much I love my wife, my family, and my friends and then I would try to provide some insight into an age old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

The problem with this question (at this stage of our journey) is that no one is totally good or totally bad. The Bible says that the sunshine and rain come down on both the good and the bad alike.

For now the labels “Good” or “Bad” are not permanent ones. God has planned for the wheat and the weeds to grow together. If we prematurely try to make the distinction between the wheat and the weeds we risk pulling out weeds that may eventually become wheat.

I believe that God is an “equal opportunity” creator, in that all people have the chance to be restored to a relationship with the one who made us. This is why we are encouraged to “Love our Enemies” because these weeds may eventually open the door to God’s transformation.

I believe that this age of human-kind is:

- a classroom
- a proving or testing ground
- an opportunity for many free choices
- an age of grace and forgiveness offered
- an opportunity to build character, to be refined by fire
- not a time of final reward or final consequences
- an age brimming with potential growth and transformation
- a time I call the “Age of Caterpillars” with the opportunity to soar as butterflies

This is a critical age of choices and decisions for each one of us. Gordon Lightfoot touches on this issue in his song “Waiting for You”. He sings, “I could be tossed in the arms of the sea. I could get caught between decks eternally. Waiting for you to ask what’s keeping me.

Are we going to be left behind as caterpillars constantly searching for the best leaf salad we can scrounge up for ourselves?

Are we going to struggle with the storms of life only to sink to the sea-bottom “caught between decks eternally?”

Or instead, are we going to soar into the wide-open spaces of God rather than being trapped in “The Small World of Self?”