Sunday, April 8, 2007

Easter rocks!

I was on ZB on Good Friday in debate with a humanist/agnostic/God-believer of sorts and a Muslim. It was an interesting experience. I am not sure how I did (feedback appreciated). Oliver Driver of TV and talkshow fame was a lot of fun. He made some good points; many of which I agreed with. He said that God cannot be described by some 'man-made' religion. I agree with him actually. Our best attempts to describe God are limited. The only reason I dare to even go there is because God came down and made himself known in Jesus. He got hot under the collar about us believers going to the poor and helping them and our concern for homosexuality and matters of personal morality. I agree with him that we need to be concerned for the greater matters. It was interesting that he kept wondering why God hasn't come down to reveal himself. Well the truth is that he has; the incarnation.

However, just as the people of Jesus' time did not recognise that Jesus was God, I am not surprised that he doesn't get it. Jesus started promisingly casting out demons, healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the poor miraculously, walking on water and calming storms. He demonstrated love and compassion, rebuked those who marginalised 'sinners' and loved the unlovable. The hope was high when he entered Jerusalem as a king and cleared the temple. However, from there his behaviour was irrational for a messiah! Instead of continuing purging the world of evil, he entered into debate with the Jewish leaders and incited their anger. He was then betrayed by one of his own, denied by his closest followers, tried and without giving any defence, sentenced to death. He was then killed in a most brutal manner possible.

Then, stories of his resurrection began to circulate and his followers were prepared to be beaten, imprisoned and killed on account of their utter conviction that he had risen from the dead. All very ambiguous. Historically, all not quite provable and for many implausible.

Why if he was the Messiah did he do it this way?

I can understand Oliver's uncertainty.

One has to dig deep in the story to get it. He died in such a way to fulfil not only the prophecies of the OT, but the whole religious systems of Israel. Even more, he died to satisfy the need for justice, the need for evil to be extinguished and punished. He died for our sins. He was the lamb of God, the ultimate sacrifice for sins, a sacrifice that ends all human attempts at earning salvation.

My Muslim friend Muhammed was interesting too. His presentation was not inspirational but I heard many things in common. He was much more fatalistic than I am, Allah responsible for everything! He and his people stumble on Jesus who they honour highly as a prophet, a very important one! Indeed they affirm his virgin birth; that he was filled with the Spirit and did miracles including cleansing lepers, healing the sick, raising the dead and more. Indeed they seem to accept the apocryphal idea that Jesus turned a clay pigeon into a real one as a child! They affirm his ascension but not his death on the cross, believing that he only appeared to die on the cross. Their ideas seem to be drawn from Gnosticism.

Sadly, they do not realise that unlike Muhammed himself, Jesus rose from the dead.

Indeed, the resurrection is the guts of everything. So why believe it.
1. The Empty Tomb: Why was the tomb empty? No explanation has been given.

2. The Appearances: 10 appearances, one to 500 people. 10 witnesses will normally convict a person of a crime; here we have 10 testimonies, surely enough to say, it happened!

3. The Body: Where is it? Despite the claims of James Cameron, his body remains undiscovered.

4. Accounts: There are 27 books in the NT written by 7 authors with co-authors; all are based
on the premise that Jesus rose from the dead. All were written between 16 and 60 years of the resurrection. That is a lot of witness support.

5. Inconsistencies: One can argue that the differences in the accounts rule out authenticity. Rather, they go the other way, pointing to authenticity as writers refused to collude and tidy up the loose ends. They speak of their honesty.

6. Martydom: The subsequent death of those who made the claims for no apparent gain points to their determination to hold true to their testimony. People die for a lie when there is gain for them or others on their behalf. These people we are told all died for their faith, except John who died an old man in Ephesus.

7. Transformation: The accounts suggest that these first believers went from being cowardly deniers to martyrs who refused to relent in preaching the message 'he is risen' due to some event. Such transformations indicate something serious happened. The best explanation is the resurrection.

8. Mary and the women: The accounts tell us that the first witnesses to the resurrection were women. This is remarkable in that women's testimony was valueless. Yet a number of the accounts kept them in, in their priority. This speaks of genuineness.

9. Historical Impact: Explaining how the whole Roman Empire would accept Christianity as its religion is astonishing. After all, it was a Roman leader who killed Jesus indicating that the Roman gods and Emperor was superior to Jesus the supposed God. Yet, within 300 years without the use of weapons and force, through love and proclamation, the Christian faith spread through the Empire and became its dominant religion.

10. The absence of a credible alternative: None of the alternatives really work. Some think that Jesus was just asleep and not dead. This is ludicrous. He was weakened through lack of sleep, flogged to the edge of his life, exhausted through carrying his cross (in fact he was too weak to do so), and then speared with a sword to reveal that his blood had separated; he was dead! Some think his body was stolen. This is bizzare with a legion of soldiers around his tomb ready to die to stop this happening. Some think he got out himself. Again, tough to do when dead. Impossible when pierced and beaten with a giant rock on the door, and then there were the soldiers. Some think that they got the wrong tomb. That doesn't work, because the women helped to bury him in all the accounts. Then there is the idea of hallucinations. If there was one or maybe two appearances perhaps. However, there were 10 over the whole of Israel from Galilee to Jerusalem and then to Damascus. There was an appearance to 500 people at once. Then there was the subjective state of the disciples which was not one of expectation but of devastation, hardly the state one might expect for people to have such a hallucination. There are no alternatives that work except the only one; he rose!

11. Testimonies: Then there are the millions over history who have believed this message and can testify to the transforming power of Jesus. You see, when we come to believe, it is not an intellectual decision only; something astonishing happens, and God comes into our lives spiritually. I am one of these. My wife Emma is another. We have had our lives utterly transformed and given meaning through the Spirit which entered us when we believed.

12. Monotheists accept the trinity! Another point that really indicates that Jesus rose from the dead for the first believers is that they were Jews who believed in one God and rejected the notion that God could become a person, suffer, die and rise from the dead. Such thoughts were blasphemy. Yet they were convinced to do just that. For this to happen would be like Osama Bin Laden converting to Christianity (may God make this happen!). It would take something phenomenal for this to happen; it did, the resurrection.

So Easter rocks! I will keep following because try as I might, I cannot find a reason to disbelieve in the central premise of the faith, the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He is my Lord and I will follow him. Will you?

Disgraceful

What about the violence between rival soccer fans in the stands of the recent Manchester United and ASRoma clash? Then the following day we have another outbreak of violence between Sevilla and Tottenham. This is ridiculous and disgraceful. Sport is sport and not life itself. When people behave like this they demonstrate that they are deluded and have lost their grasp of reality and what counts. It is great to be excited about our favourite teams and watch the games with passion and get in behind them. If it leads to more, then it is to put it bluntly, wrong! It is wrong to kill coaches when their team is beaten at the cricket world cup. It is wrong to resort to violence over a game. It is wrong to shoot a soccer player after a world cup because he got an own goal. It is wrong to make sport more than it is; a sport. Perhaps those teams should be banned from the next UEFA cup!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Americans and God

I was interested to read on Teletext this morning the results of a Newsweek poll on American religious views. You can read about it at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17879317/site/newsweek/

The core results for American Adults are:
91% say they believe in God.
87% say they identify with a specific religion.
82% identify themselves as Christians
5% follow a non-Christian faith; say Judaism or Islam.
48% rejects the scientific theory of evolution
34% of college graduates say they accept the Biblical account of creation as fact.
73% of Evangelical Protestants say they believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years. 39% percent of non-Evangelical Protestants and 41% of Catholics agree with that view.
10% identify themselves as having "no religion"
6% say that they don’t believe in a God at all.
3% of the public self-identifies as atheist
47% of the respondents felt the country is more accepting of atheists today than it used to be

What do we make of this?
Firstly, America is very much a nation that believes in God and bases its faith on Christianity. The number of atheists is very low indeed! Similarly the numbers of adherents to other faiths is low. We can be critical of the nation for its foreign policy and some religious and Christian naievity; but at heart, America in the main believes. Secondly, evolution has not taken hold to the extent that some would think. About half of Americans accept a creationist position and reject evolution. A significant percentage accept a young earth creationist position.

I find all this very interesting.

Should Christian's Smack?

It is a hot topic at the moment with the Government and Greens trying to push through the anti-smacking legislation. So what position should we take? Christian support for smacking is drawn from the OT in the main. The OT takes a strong stand against excessive beating stating that beating a slave which leads to death requires punishment (Exod 21:20). However, few today would be comfortable with the following verse in which it is stated that if the slave gets up after a day or two, there is no punishment for the slave is the property of the owner (Exod 21:21).

The notion of physical punishment is attributed to God in the OT. In 2 Sam 7:14 through the prophet Nathan God speaks of establishing a personal relationship with the king from the line of David. God tells David he will be 'his father' and David and the dynasty will be his sons. It then says from the mouth of God, 'When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.' This is balanced by setting the concept of physical punishment in the context of love: 'But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you' (2 Sam 7:15). This divine physical punishment notion set in the context of a Father-Son relationship is carried through into the notion of the exile when God brought punishment against the house of David for rejection of the covenant. In Ps 2:9 the nations too will suffer the rod at the hands of God for rejection of his son the king. In Ps 89:32 too, God promises to punish the sin of his people with the rod and their iniquity with flogging.

Job spoke of God's rod after his terrible experience of suffering including the loss of family, possessions and prosperity (Job 9:34; 21:9). He interpreted his experience as punishment in this sense.

In terms of family it is the Proverbs that gives the most support. The most oft-quoted verse is Prov 13:24: 'He who spares the rod hates his son, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them.' Murphy in the Word Commentary notes on this verse that 'corporal punishment for unruly children was simply taken for granted in ancient Israel and Egypt'. The rod here is shêbet and is a stick for punishing and correction. This emphasis is seen in Prov 19:18: 'Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death.' Such punishment should not be so severe as to lead to death. Similarly in Prov 22:15 the writer states, 'folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.' Again in Prov 23:13-14, 'do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.' Prov 29:15 reinforces this: 'the rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.' These texts emphatically endorse that corporal punishment was essential to parenting in Jewish thinking (see also Sir 30:1-13 which endorses corporal punishment).

In the prophets the rod is seen through divine judgement against Israel and other nations often through nations (Is 9:4; 10:5, 15, 24; 11:4; 14:29; 30:31; Lam 3:1; Ezek 7:11; 21:13).

Now as we know, a position expressed in the OT is not sufficient to be seen as decisive unless it can be supported in the NT.

In the NT 'the rod' is a negative notion used as a punishment by the state on Christians (Acts 16:22; 2 Cor 11:25). In Revelation it is a symbol of judgement (2:27; 12:5; 19:15). In Christ's teaching there is an endorsement of the place of children and need to care for them deeply (Mt 19:13-14; Mk 9:37. Parents even if evil, give good gifts to their children (Mt 7:11; Children are models of discipleship (Mt 18:3; Mk 10:13-16; Lk 18:16 cf. Mt 21:16). There is no endorsement of the OT position. Jesus did rebuke violence (Mt 5:38-48); however, this text refers to retaliation and enemies, not children.

In texts relating to the raising of children in Paul there is no mention of corporal punishment but a call to love children, not exasperate or embitter them and bring them up in the Lord (cf. Col 3:21; Eph 6:1-4).

At this point one could see the argument going either way; toward an anti-corporal punishment position or toward ane endorsement.

However there are other texts that suggest that God disciplines his people through suffering in the NT. Paul speaks of those who abuse the Lord's Supper and then die as God's discipline for the good of the church (1 Cor 11:32). The writer of Hebrews interprets suffering in the same way quoting Prov 3:11-12. He encourages the recipients not to lose heart at God's judgement as it is an act of love. The recipients are to endure discipline because God is treating them as sons and asks, 'for what son is not disciplined by his father?' That is, it assumes that good fathers will discipline their children and appears to assume a Jewish understanding of this as inclusive of physical punishment. In fact, failure to discipline would indicate that the recipients are not true sons (12:8). That this is assumed is seen in 12:9: 'Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!' Discipline in this sense is seen as a good thing (12:10). While it is is unpleasant and painful at the time, it 'produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it' (cf. Rev 3:19).

Hebrews then endorses the need to discipline children and appears to assume the OT position on corporal punishment.

All in all then, it would seem that the biblical narrative supports the use of physical force in the discipline of children. As such Christians are correct to challenge the attempt to impose an anti-smacking bill.

Having said this I would want to qualify this with several other points:
1. Good discipline is not done in anger, it is done in love with clear explanation. If we are angry we should take some time to cool down and then administer the discipline.
2. Good discipline does not inflict serious physical damage but leaves marks at a a temporary surface level.
3. Such discipline should be last resort and we should work to use other forms of discipline and not merely take the easy way out with the use of smacking.
4. Such discipline requires great consistency and clarity so that the child knows what is expected and what the consequences will be. Random smacking with inconsistency is poor parenting.
5. We as Christians should oppose all other physical acts against children.
6. We should stand with the nation in seeking to resolve the issues that have led to so many children beaten, killed and abused at present.

A final point: Jesus loved kids and warned of eternal consequences to those who do not. We need to raise the status of children in home and church and love them with greater zeal!

Interesting times

First Pakistan and India were knocked out of the World Cup of cricket and Ireland and Bangladesh made it in. Then we hear that Bob Woolmer is murdered, times sure are strange in the world of sport. Then it comes to pass that Federer loses twice in one week to the same guy, Guillermo Canas. This has to be good for tennis. It is certainly good for Canas! I had never heard of the guy and now in two weeks he has done it twice! Then Serena Williams knocks off Maria Sharipova again. Not to mention the All Whites being hammered twice in South America. I am not that surprised they lost, but a 4-0 and then a 5-0 thrashing! Then we have the Warriors beginning the year with two successive wins; that is dramatic. The Storm brought them down to earth with a thud. Maybe it is not that surprising is Michael Phelp's dominance of the pool in Melbourne Australia. Six, or is it seven golds! He is a freak. However, shocking is Ian Thorpe's supposed drug violations with excessive testosterone in his veins. He has been a strong advocate for drug free sport. But does that mean he is clean? Who knows. Sport sure is interesting of late. The shocks will keep coming for sure.