Sunday, December 6, 2009

got milk? get steak!

00010865 got milk? Masi Oka and Hayden Panettiere, stars of the TV show Heroes are just the latest of many celebrities to appear in these popular milk ads which over the years have featured everyone from Michael Jordan to Superman to Dr. Phil. Masi Oka's ad says drinking milk can make you leaner and help to build muscle. Is milk the answer to fitness? Milk may do the body good, but let's be serious, milk by itself is not enough if you want to be healthy and strong, certainly not enough if you want to be a hero!

If you're growing in your Christian life, there comes a point at which drinking milk alone is not enough! It is to such a group of Christians that Hebrews 5:11–6:20 was written. The author is getting into some pretty serious teaching, about how Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered (5:8), but before he gets into how we too might learn obedience through what we suffer, he suddenly stops the sermon, saying:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!drinking_milk-300x199 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature... (Hebrews 5:11–14a)

I take him seriously. The author is speaking to people not unlike us, people who have been Christians long enough now that they ought to be teachers, but instead they seem to need someone to go over the ABC's (elementary truths of God's word) all over again. What are the first things we learned as Christians? Verse 12: "You need milk, not solid food!"  Do you really suppose this is a serious prescription for them? for us? Do we really need to relearn the ABC's? Is more milk the answer?

No, of course not! It's ironic: "You poor babies need milk, you're not ready for solid food." Hint: Just a moment before, the author said to them, "by this time you ought to be teachers." Too much milk is their problem, not the solution! What they need now is solid food and motivation to grow. It's too easy for us to become sluggish, slow down in our Christian lives, and settle for just drinking milk. Popular preaching promotes a perpetual pablum problem. But a milky diet is not enough! If we can see the author's irony, understand that it is actually a rebuke, then we can own the truth that we too have settled for milk instead of craving solid food.

Bring on the steak! Let's get beyond the ABC's of being a Christian. I want to grow. Hebrews urges us to stop drifting along (2:1), to really focus on Jesus who is our Hero and Champion (2:10, 3:1), and to recognize that if Jesus is our Forerunner (6:20), we better get moving! And it warns us what will happen if instead we choose to walk away (6:4–6).

Last week in the blog, I wrote about Hebrews 6:4–6 which warns us of the danger of walking away from Christ. And, yes, I said that John MacArthur does not believe that John Piper could ever lose his salvation, but I do. MacArthur and Piper do not believe Heb. 6:4–6 applies to Christians, but to those who are close to becoming believers. MacArthur fails to see the irony of Hebrews 5:12! I guess his Bible does not end the verse with an exclamation point! He writes, “The term [infant] in Hebrews 5:13 describes an unbeliever... who was hanging on to the ABC's... The mature person talked about in verse 14 is one who grows up by putting his faith in Jesus Christ...” By missing the irony, he misses the point! It makes no sense to call these immature Christians non-believers. These are Christians being addressed, Christians who have become sluggish, who have slowed down in their faith and who have settled for just drinking milk. Verse 12 is actually saying “Enough milk already!” You know the ABC's! That's why the author, including himself in the group says, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity” (6:1).

milk_FullWhat is the milk we settle for? Devotional guides that give us a verse or two of Scripture per day but have us spend more time reading the guide itself? Sermons we can listen to rather than Bible studies we can do? [Why not post a comment on what you think is the milk we settle for?] I know the two basic ways to grow as a Christian: read Scripture and pray. And yet, today, I am not where I would like to be. Why? Too much milk has made me sluggish. I settle for getting by and drinking milk rather than craving solid food. My own experience confirms milk is not the answer. I'm ready to move on to maturity; it's time for some steak!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Why John MacArthur does not believe that John Piper could lose his salvation and Why I do

One_wayMy men’s group is currently working through Hebrews which is really  cool because it’s a great Biblical book for getting back on track in the journey of faith, following in the footsteps of our Hero and Champion, our Forerunner Jesus. But once again I have found myself drawn into the never ending debate about the meaning of Hebrews 6:4-6, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened... who have shared in the Holy Spirit... and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance....”

Does Hebrews 6:4–6 teach that true believers can lose their salvation?

John MacArthur and John Piper both say “No.” The way I see it Hebrews 6 says “Yes,” but we should do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone. Hebrews is all about encouraging those who are drifting away to reset their focus on Jesus. It warns us to pay more care attention to faithfulness and inspires us to believe that we can follow in the footsteps of Jesus our Hero, Champion of Salvation and Forerunner in Faithfulness.

Want to weigh in? Check out MacArthur's “No” answer then read my “Yes” answer below and then post a comment and say what you think. This one is resolvable.

Check out John MacArthur's answer (click here) (And don't worry about it being too long; it’s a short answer, especially for MacArthur.)

Does Hebrews 6:4–6 teach that true believers can lose their salvation?

Yes. In that passage, the writer of Hebrews is speaking to those who have “been enlightened,” “tasted the heavenly gift” and “shared in the Holy Spirit.” MacArthur sees tentativeness in these descriptions and says they “hesitated to embrace Christ,” but he is clearly mistaken because this same author uses these verbs elsewhere in Hebrews with no tentativeness: (1) Encouraging Christians to persevere, in 10:32 he says, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light” or embraced Christ, (2) When Hebrews 2:9 says Jesus tasted death for everyone this obviously means he experienced it, and (3) In Hebrews 3, the author's “holy brothers and sisters” are said to “share in the heavenly calling” as well as to “share in Christ” (3:1,14). If we take his descriptions seriously, it is clear that the writer is addressing Christians who in spite of these real Christian experiences have also “fallen away”; after all this they have rejected Christ, a fatal sin.

Because John MacArthur believes the warning is addressed to the unsaved “who have hesitated to embrace Christ,” he holds that the passage teaches that the opportunity for receiving salvation can be lost, not salvation itself. If MacArthur's interpretation were true, however, the passage would teach that once a person comes close to Christ and refuses to believe, it becomes impossible for that person to come back say six months later and accept Christ as Saviour and Lord. Not only is that bizarre, but it’s also lacking in any other support from the New Testament, and flies in the face of the experience of many true believers in our churches who would claim that kind refusing-then-later-accepting Christ as their story. When Billy Graham encourages people to come forward and accept Christ,Billy_Graham  he tells them that they may not have another chance, but he would never subscribe to MacArthur's interpretation of Hebrews 6:4-6 and say, “You had better come to Christ now, for if you fall away it will be impossible for you to come again to the point of repentance.”

Believers will not fear losing their salvation if they heed the warning and move on to maturity in their faith which is exactly what the writer of Hebrews fully expects them to do (6:1,9). It may be unsettling but the bigger passage here, Hebrews 5:11–6:20, is telling us that any believer who refuses to grow up and continues to drink only milk, refusing solid food and the responsibilities of maturity should be worried. Jesus is our forerunner, how could it be acceptable not to run after him, growing in faithfulness?

If you are a Christian, rejoice! The Champion of your salvation (Heb 2:10) has set you on a journey of faithfulness and Jesus himself is our Forerunner, blazing the trail we are to follow.

Postscript

OK, John MacArthur's answer was shorter than mine. So what’s all this got to do with John Piper? Both MacArthur and Piper are Calvinists, holding that no true believer can lose their salvation, “once saved, always saved.” While it’s good to develop one's beliefs into a theology (like Calvinism), it can be a problem when we don’t allow Scripture to challenge our beliefs and sometimes reshape them. In this case, their belief in eternal security, prevents MacArthur and Piper from accepting the warning of Hebrews 6:4–6 as being applicable to Christians. To hold to their theology of eternal security, they must reinterpret the passage and make this incredible claim that these people who have been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift and shared in the Holy Spirit are not Christians. We all have our preconceived ideas when we come to the Scriptures, so this is a question of authority. Do I have the authority to make Scripture say what I need it to say to support my beliefs? Or does the Word have authority over me and the power to challenge my beliefs and even reshape them? MacArthur and Piper’s teaching on eternal security stands in the way of hearing the clear warning of Hebrews 6:4–6, but just as I make this claim, I read the conclusion of Piper's sermon on this passage and he blows me away! John MacArthur may claim that no true believer (including John Piper) could lose their salvation,Walking_Away_From_Everything_by_vampire_zombie but John Piper has convinced me all the more that the Hebrews warning could apply to himself and to any other Christian who walks away.

If in the coming years I commit apostasy and fall away from Christ, it will not be because I have not tasted of the word of God and the Spirit of God and the miracles of God. I have drunk of his word. The Spirit has touched me. I have seen his miracles and I have been his instrument for a few.

But if, over the next ten or twenty years, John Piper begins to cool off spiritually and lose interest in spiritual things and become more fascinated with making money and writing Christless books; and I buy the lie that a new wife would be exhilarating and that the children can fend for themselves and that the church of Christ is a drag and that the incarnation is a myth and that there is one life to live so let us eat drink and be merry — if that happens, then know that the truth is this: John Piper was mightily deceived in the first fifty years of his life. His faith was an alien vestige of his father’s joy. His fidelity to his wife was a temporary passion and compliance with social pressure; his fatherhood the outworking of natural instincts. His preaching was driven by the love of words and crowds. His writing was a love affair with fame. And his praying was the deepest delusion of all — an attempt to get God to supply the resources of his vanity.

If this possibility does not make me serious and vigilant in the pursuit of everlasting joy, what will?

Amen! Let us all be warned about the danger of falling away and be diligent “in order to make our hope sure” (Heb 6:11).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Second Chances

Have you ever been given a "second chance"? A fresh opportunity to succeed after messing up badly? The truth is I wouldn't be writing this blog now if I hadn't been given some very significant second chances. I was encouraged last week by this news story:

jasmine[Ottawa] Mayor Larry O’Brien has hired a disgraced former communications staffer for a federal Tory minister as he revamps his office staff.

“We will soon be welcoming Jasmine MacDonnell as my new Communications Director,” [says] O’Brien. “Jasmine comes with excellent credentials and will be able to work closely with the media in both official languages.”

MacDonnell also comes with baggage. She resigned from Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt’s office in June after leaving sensitive briefing books in a television studio and, previously, leaving her audio recorder in a Parliament Hill washroom.

“That is not a résumé most of us around here would be jumping to,” said [one City Councillor].

[Later, O'Brien says,] “I have interviewed three highly qualified candidates and we chose Jasmine MacDonnell. We’re excited to have her join our staff.”

obrien[Two Councillors] said the mayor seems different since his leave from office for his criminal trial. Upon resuming office after his acquittal, O’Brien said he’d been thinking the city needs to do a much better job communicating to residents.... he wants to “turn over a new leaf” and [he had a] conciliatory attitude toward other councillors at his first council meeting on Wednesday. (quoted and abridged from The Ottawa Citizen, Sept 3, 2009)

You see, Mayor Larry O'Brien was just last month acquitted of criminal charges (influence peddling, having allegedly bribed a rival candidate for Mayor). The acquittal has given O'Brien a second chance at being Mayor of Ottawa. I venture to believe that when a person is given a second chance, they may be changed by that experience and become the kind of person with the right mix of mercy, insight and courage so as to be able to give someone else the gift of a second chance. I find myself agreeing with O'Brien that Jasmine MacDonnell is one of the most qualified Communication Directors in Canada, and totally deserving of a second chance. MacDonnell has been trashed in the press, but very likely she chose to fall on her sword to protect the reputation of the Natural Resources Minister who is in fact the one guilty of saying inappropriate things and leaving behind sensitive material. If MacDonnell did anything wrong, she is very likely to have learned from that, and thus be even more qualified, not less. Even back in June when Jasmine MacDonnell resigned, I found myself wondering if anyone would do the right thing and give her the second chance I believe she deserved. O'Brien's decision made me very happy.

When you've been given a second chance, perhaps the most extraordinary thing you can do is to give a second chance to someone else still in the exile you've been rescued from. May the God of Second Chances bless Mayor O'Brien and Jasmine MacDonnell. Yes, we believe in a God of Second Chances. Think about King David after his fall into sexual sin, Moses after killing the Egyptian or Saul after persecuting Christians. God has proven himself to be merciful, forgiving and the giver of second chances. Redemption is about making all things right. I thank God not only for a second chance, but also for giving me the faith to believe that others deserve a second chance too.

Friday, May 8, 2009

John 3:16, The Christian Message in One Sentence

I was cheering on the Toronto Blue Jays last Saturday at the Rogers Centre. They won against the Baltimore Orioles in overtime. I must confess that not even once was I tempted to bring along a huge bristol board sign saying "JOHN 3:16." Yet apparently many Christians do this.image

Call me a skeptic. I've always thought it a bit crazy. People go to baseball games to watch baseball. And even if they see your "John 3:16" sign, what do you expect them to make of it? How are genuine non-Christians supposed to know what "John 3:16" means? Won't they just be annoyed if your block their view of the game with your impressive marker-drawn-the-night-before sign?

Well, isn't it great when you realize that an old dog can learn new tricks? Or, better, when a Christian can realize their trying to contain the new wine of Christ in an old wineskin? A friend directed me to a blog which had a posting which actually changed my mind about this matter of John 3:16 on signs at sports events! Maybe the blogger can change your mind too! Here's some of what he posted.image

John 3:16 and Sports
Pick just about any large professional or collegiate sporting event, football, baseball, basketball, you name it. You're likely to see someone with a sign of John 3:16....

In 2009 the Florida Gators played the Oklahoma Sooners at the Orange Bowl for the national championship. Florida's quarterback, Tim Tebow, lead the Gators to a 24-14 victory, capturing the 2008 national title.
    Like many college and professional football players, Tim Tebow wears eye black to reduce the light glare that can impede seeing an airborne football. Unlike most players, Tim boldly professes his faith in Christ by applying scripture to his eye black. Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy Winner, often sports Philippians 4:13, which reads, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  
    On January 8, image2009, at the Orange Bowl before a national audience, the message on Tim Tebow's eyeblack was John 3:16. The following morning, Google reported that John 3:16 was the #1 ranked Hot Trends search.

There's MUCH more to the blog posting, I recommend it to you (click on the title or here), it's fascinating reading. You see I was skeptical about any non-Christian finding meaning in a JOHN 3:16 sign, but the Internet changes the game! If you Google "John 3 16" it will bring up some pretty good material, great stuff that I would recommend to anyone interested in searching to find out more about the Christian faith. After all, John 3:16 is the Christian message in one sentence. imageLook what happened according to Google Trends on the night of the Orange Bowl. Google searches of "John 3 16" rapidly spiked from almost 0 to what they call "volcanic" hotness! People were checking out John 3:16 to see why Tim Tebow had it on his eye black. It worked! He got the Christian message out there! Fans realized this great athlete was a Christian who had a message to share with them. Who am I to fault Tim Tebow? Google also reports a spike in news media covering "John 3:16" as a result of Tebow's eye black message. How about that? You don't know any Christian preachers who can make John 3:16 a major news item, do you?

While searching the Google results for "John 3 16" I realized there are older dogs out there than me, ones that bark far more critically. Apparently some Christians can't accept that John 3:16 is good news for everyone! I would advise them to standby, Christ is about to burst their wineskins! God loves "the world" and everyone in it! This is a distinctly Christian idea which John 3:16 states so well, that God's love embraces everyone regardless of nation or race.

imageJohn 3:16 is actually making a bold statement about the extent of God's love; God loved so much that he gave. And what he gave is that which was most important to him, his only Son. It's not about our religious quest or striving to be spiritual, it's about discovering God's love and trusting in his Son. One sentence!

Without further hesitation... how about we look at what that one sentence of John 3:16 says? And, yes, of course I want to give it to you in a bold, fresh, contemporary English translation:

“God’s love for the world is so overwhelming that even giving up his own Son was not too great a cost to ensure that no one need succumb to death. All those who put their trust in him can have boundless life instead.” (laughingbird.net translation)

Many friends have been surprised when I tell them that John 3:16 should not be in red letters or in "quotation marks" making it look like the actual words of Jesus. The NIV puts it that way, but if you look closely at the chapter, you'll see that a shift happens in verse 16. Old-time New Testament scholar Leon Morris said it well: "It would seem that the Evangelist [John], as he records Jesus' words about His [coming] death, is led to some reflections of his own..." Up until this verse, Jesus refers to himself in his customary way, "Son of Man." Here in 3:16, we hear John using one of his unique expressions, "one and only Son" (see John 1:14). It's good that John is speaking because he makes clear what Jesus' words up this point (John 3:1-15) mean to us. Jesus' death and resurrection change everything. He offers us the power to change, to experience new life, essentially to be "born again." And that happens by accepting God's love, trusting in God's Son and finding this new life through relationship with Jesus.

image"Lord, give us eyes to see JOHN 3:16. As so many people have experienced life change and found themselves rescued by Christ when they believed the words of John 3:16, so we pray that many more would do so in our day." We can't all get the message out their with a "volcanic" hotness Google rating, but surely we can find some way to communicate this message. Can't we?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

God chose what is regarded as nothing...

How quick we are to judge other people! First impressions are made sometimes with lightning fast precision. That's what the audience and judges of Britain's Got Talent did to this middle-aged Scottish woman whose appearance was, well, a bit off. Were they ever surprised! You will be too! Four million people have watched this clip of the show on YouTube so far -- wait, since I saw it two hours ago it's now over five million viewers! Watch it and find out why. [I had to post a lower quality version of the video here. For the best quality, click here to go to YouTube for the HQ version.]


But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, so that no one can boast in his presence. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29, NET)

The song was telling her life story and she sang it with passion, even though it was terribly sad, about the loss of dreams and hope. Near the beginning Susan Boyle sang:

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living...

I have found that it's hard to live up to our dreams and that it is so easy to lose hope. When life takes a wrong turn, despair is right there. Without God, I would be nothing today. I would have given up. I would not have had the courage Susan Boyle showed to keep trying at age 47! What I have found, instead, is that with God, the ability to dream is brought back to life. Christ is our hope. In faith, we turn to a God who goes so far beyond our dreams that we must learn how to dream all over again!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21, TNIV)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter REDUX

imageYear by year, the truth behind the Christian celebration of Easter, the very heart of Christianity, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is being progressively challenged. An Easter Redux is underway. Christians be warned!

Richard Dawkins, the scientist, author and campaigning atheist was asked, “What do you think happened to the body of Jesus, and how does that tally with the accounts of the resurrection?” Dawkins answered, “Presumably what happened to Jesus was what happens to all of us when we die. We decompose. Accounts of Jesus's resurrection and ascension are about as well-documented as Jack and the Beanstalk.” (The Independent)

image Surprisingly, Juan Garces, British Museum Library curator of the Codex Sinaiticus Project, who should know better adds support to this popular endeavour to rewrite the story behind Easter. When he was interviewed about “the world's oldest Bible,” this is what the Associated Press article claimed:

Handwritten in Greek more than 1,600 years ago -- it isn't exactly clear where -- the surviving 400 or so pages carry a version of the New Testament that has a few interesting differences from the Bible used by Christians today.

The Gospel of Mark ends abruptly after Jesus' disciples discover his empty tomb, for example. Mark's last line has them leaving in fear.

“It cuts out the post-resurrection stories,” said Juan Garces, “That's a very odd way of ending a Gospel.”

The problem here is that Garces was commenting on one gospel; the Bible has four and the other three definitely have all the post-resurrection accounts. Unfortunately, many people have run with Garces' words and understood him to be saying the world's oldest Bible does not document the resurrection. So The Times in London reports, “Mark’s last line has them leaving in fear and makes no mention of the Resurrection.” Or a couple days after the AP news release, Irma Arkus in the Hi-Sci-Fi blog writes,

One interesting fact about Codex Sinaiticus is that one of Christian cornerstone beliefs, the story of resurrection of Jesus is not mentioned. Instead, the story simply describes disciples finding an empty burial tomb, and leaving in fear. This implies that the “resurrection” was addended by later generations of followers.

Let's be clear with the facts. The Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John in the Codex all contain resurrection and post-resurrection accounts. And the claim that the Sinaiticus Gospel of Mark does not mention the resurrection is actually false. I affirm that the Gospel ends very abruptly in the Codex Sinaiticus and in many of the oldest manuscripts, and it does not have post-resurrection accounts, but to say that it “omits” the resurrection is ridiculous. The Codex Sinaiticus records Mark 16:6 as you'll see translated below, including the words, “ηγερθη ουκ εϲτιν ωδε” translated, “He has risen! He is not here,”; you can see for yourself at the Codex Sinaiticus website. It's shoddy scholarship and sloppy journalism to report that Mark (in Codex Sinaiticus) “makes no mention of the Resurrection.”image

Review Mark 16:1-8; this is TNIV Bible text, it is a translation following the Codex Sinaiticus and adds nothing not found in the Codex.

Mark 16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don't be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' ”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Most English translated Bibles in print today  do not end here, even though the vast majority of New Testament Greek scholars agree that the oldest and best manuscripts end here. The most popular English translation, the NIV, for example, has another 12 verses which gives Mark's Gospel a smoother ending, more like we find in Matthew and Luke. However, in a footnote the NIV points out, “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20,” which means we know conclusively that Mark did not pen this ending. His writing ends at verse 8, as quoted above. Verses 9-20 represent an early attempt to finish the story, to give Mark an ending just like Matthew and Luke. We assume that Christians were uneasy with Mark's unique and abrupt ending. I am not uneasy with it. It is my favourite Easter Sunday reading. What can we make of the authentic ending of Mark's Gospel (16:1-8)?

Well, it's ironic, isn't it? “They said nothing to anyone.” All through Mark's gospel, people are told by Jesus not to tell anyone about what he has just done, but they immediately disobey and go tell everyone! For example, Jesus heals a man: Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don't tell this to anyone." Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. (Mark 1:43b, 44a, 45a)

We may question why Jesus frequently gave this command, why he didn't want too many people discovering who he was, why he didn't want a frenzied mob constantly pursuing him. We do know that in chapter 9, Jesus tells his disciples not to tell anyone until he had been raised from the dead. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus which makes sense of everything else Jesus did. And now, in Mark chapter 16, that time has come! Jesus has been resurrected, but the women are silent! Jesus' repeated command “Say nothing to anyone” is almost exactly what Mark says of the women, “they said nothing to anyone.” It's Mark's final irony.

Looking back at this, we know now that they did get over their fear, and they did tell the other disciples, and they were so effective at telling the disciples and followers of Jesus that over 500 of them gathered together 40 days later and saw Jesus ascend into heaven just after giving his final words to go and tell everyone. Why didn’t Mark tell the rest of the story like Matthew, Luke and John?

Why end the story unresolved as Mark does?

In what I think is an incredibly great book on reading this gospel, Mark As Story, the authors say this about the ending:

It cries out for a resolution, cries out for the hope that someone will proclaim the good news. And who is left at the end of the story to do this?
Not Jesus.
Not the disciples.
Not the women who fled the grave.
Only the readers are left to complete the story! (pg. 143)

The rest of the story depends on us, not them. Mark 1:1 claimed that this gospel was the beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah. The rest of the story is up to you and me. Just as it did not end with the fear and failure of the women, so it does not end even with our fear and failure. Jesus does not give up on us when we fail him. That’s just the beginning of the gospel, there’s more to be told! He's not finished with any of us. This great news of life in Christ will continue to change people’s lives as we share it with them, in spite of our fears and failures.

It's our turn. The Easter Redux is underway and Richard Dawkins gets better press! It's up to you and me to talk about the Resurrected Jesus and the difference he's made in our lives. In thinking about Mark's abrupt ending and the passing of the gospel torch so to speak, I was inspired to think again by a Starbucks coffee cup when I read “The Way I See It”: image

There is no end to a story—it goes on indefinitely into eternity.  Every time a story is read, it’s alive and it’s different because the reader is different. 
                                              —Alice Hoffman

Related Sermon

The Rest of the Story
The ironic ending of Mark's Gospel (16:1-9) invites us to continue the story where Jesus’ first disciples left off. The gospel of Jesus Christ continues to transform lives as it is told.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why We Should Elect William Shatner (aka Captain Kirk) to be Canada's Next Prime Minister

Recently when asked by fans if he would like to become Canada's Governor General (chief of state, but more of an honourary figurehead), William Shatner turned them down saying that rather than a ceremonial role he would want to be Prime Minister of Canada, an active role in which he could "lead Canada into even greater exploits."

video

Just as Arnold Schwarzenegger could do well as California Governor, and wanting to improve on the Global National piece above, I believe a case can be made for William Shatner, or better yet Captain Kirk, to be the next great Canadian Prime Minister.

  1. Star Trek and Captain Kirk (aka William Shatner) present us with a better, ideal future—where technology solves all problems, there is full equality and no racism. There's no more poverty, no more war and no global financial crisis—they don't even use money anymore! Star Trek has always been about "boldly going where no one has gone before." That's the kind of leadership we need in a Prime Minister.
  2. No matter what the challenge, Captain Kirk always came up with a plan that prevailed so that every episode of Star Trek could end with the Enterprise and her crew ready to fly to their next mission. Faced with the worst case scenario, the Captain questions himself, "What have I done?" And Dr. McCoy encourages him saying, "What you had to do, what you always do. Turn death into a fighting chance to live." image
  3. The starships, aliens and phasers are really cool, but Captain Kirk always focused on the human drama (or human-alien drama). He excelled as a Captain not because of the Enterprise's incredible phaser power and photon torpedoes, but because he knew how to get inside his opponent's head and win (think "The Corbomite Maneuver").

Regular readers of my blog are probably wondering, What in the universe is this all about? Isn't Ken's blog about the Bible, interpretation and contemporary issues facing Christians? For you, here's a more suitable title for this posting:

Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Revelation (and apocalyptic writings),
I Learned from Captain Kirk and Star Trek

ussenterprisea104mh6And, yes, I am serious. The church has been plagued with the most strange, alien and bizarre interpretations of the book of Revelation (as well as the other Biblical apocalyptic writings). We need a new and better way of understanding Apocalyptic writing.

We don't write apocalypses in 2009; it's not a genre used today, but science fiction is everywhere around us, on TV (Fringe), in movies (new Star Trek movie coming soon!) and in novels (Twilight). We would have a much better chance of rightly understanding biblical apocalyptic writings like Revelation if we think of them as being like science fiction. No Trekkie expects to get in a fight with a Klingon tomorrow, but to learn something about honour and loyalty—well, this is quite possible. Reading Revelation like we read science fiction is far more respectful and insightful than reading it like the authors of the popular Left Behind novels who see it more as a Farmer's Almanac or horoscope which can be used to scare people into believing.

My three points above promoting Captain Kirk for Prime Minister are actually about how Star Trek can help us to understand Biblical apocalyptic writings like Revelation.

  1. Apocalyptic writings like Revelation give us a vision of a perfect future, but present no hope for us to get there apart from the incredible intervention of "the Son of Man." The writings assure us this future will come in spite of present circumstances.
  2. Revelation does comfort us in the present crisis we find ourselves in. It sometimes shows despair about anything getting better in our world, but still it constantly affirms that God is in control and despite appearances, his plan is in motion. God will bring about future victory through our present defeats, just as Jesus Christ prevailed through dying on the cross. The resurrection turned death into a chance to live, and to live life to the full! image
  3. Symbols, wild imagery and fixation on special numbers are found throughout apocalyptic writings (the Beast, ten horns and seven heads, 666), but the focus should be on the human drama and how Christ, the Son of Man, is leading us. Ignoring this Christ-centered focus, many have come up with the strangest ideas of what Revelation is all about. Personal recommendation: don't get so caught up in the symbols, imagery and number that you lose sight of Jesus!

As it turns out, both Revelation and science fiction may seem to be describing the future, but they both have a lot to say about the present. They both offer quite a critical social commentary on how we live today, on how we treat others and on how much we need to change. To conclude, the following video shows three scenes from three eras of Star Trek. Each clip is followed by a verse from Revelation showing how both have much the same message and graphic method of presentation.

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The pictures and video clips used here are being used solely for academic purposes and no profit of any sort is being derived. Credits as follows:
1. Star Trek: The Original Series, "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" (CBS/Paramount Television)
1b. picture of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and most of the cast of the original series of Star Trek at the dedication ceremony of the test Shuttle Enterprise (renamed due to a massive letter writing campaign by Trekkies)
2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (CBS/Paramount Pictures)
3. Star Trek: Phase II, "Blood and Fire, Part 1" (James Cawley Productions) You've really got to check this out! It's an all new web-based Star Trek, continuing The Original Series, year 4 of the 5 year mission: Star Trek: Phase II. They've even had Original Series stars like Walter Koenig (Chekov) and George Takei (Sulu) included in their production. "Blood and Fire" is the fourth episode and the first teaser for this episode said that it was dedicated to "all the men, women and children who have died of AIDS because of the silence, the inaction, the cowardice and the hypocrisy of those few who had the opportunity to speak up and make a difference—and did not. " That, in my opinion, is classic Roddenberry Star Trek.
3b. picture from Star Trek: Generations (CBS/Paramount Pictures)

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Friday, March 13, 2009

What Ads Have Theists Run on Buses?

The claim has been made that the current Atheist Bus ads are being run in response to ads containing "Christian doomsday preaching that suggested that you would go to hell if you didn't believe in God particularly their belief system." I have not heard the people behind the Atheist Bus ad campaign making such a claim; instead they said they wanted "to bring awareness to the general public about atheism, humanism.... we hope to spark conversations between believers and non-believers." I think that's cool and I welcome the respect and conversation, so I wanted to respond to the more "inflammatory" claim. Personally, I would not approve of damning ads, though as previously mentioned, I did like the Die Hard 4 parody ad (see previous post).

When Global's Darryl Konynenbelt interviewed a representative from the British Humanist Association which originally designed the Atheist Bus ads, she said that their ads were in response to some Christian ads that ran on UK buses with a link to www.jesussaid.org (see previous post for the video). Then she commented that these ads "clearly said that anyone not following Jesus would be condemned to eternal damnation and hellfire." These ads were Bible verses about Jesus which so far as I could see never condemned anyone to hell, but did at times present an exclusive message: Jesus is THE Way, for example. Here's my quick mock-up of the bus ad shown on a UK bus in the documentary:

It was said of JESUS: Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. 
                                                                                   John 1: 29

I liked this one from the UK bus ads:

JESUS said: When the Son of Man comes, will He find Faith on the Earth?
                                                                                   Luke 18: 8

Anyhow, what about ads in Canada? The atheistbus.ca website gave a link to a blog with links to some Ottawa bus ads that Christians have run. I remember some of these also running on the TTC, in particular the "busstopbiblestudies" ones which always included the name of a local church with service times. See what you think....

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Monday, March 9, 2009

There's Probably Something to Talk About

ttc bus ad

Atheists are taking it to the streets in Canada, with the Atheist Bus Campaign. Some people are outraged; the ads have been banned in Halifax, but accepted in Toronto and Calgary. For what it's worth, I was reminded of a quote from Philosophy for Dummies which claims that "Atheism is an urban phenomenon."

Global TV's new investigative journalism show, 16x9 The Bigger Picture, ran quite a good story on the bus campaign and debate. Watch it! It might give us something to talk about... video

tmlPersonally, I think this bus ad campaign gives us an opportunity to discuss something more significant than the Maple Leafs losing yet another game. All too often we spend most of our social time talking about nothing that really matters. This discussion, I think, matters. And on this, it would seem that many atheists in Toronto agree with me, a Christian! In the FAQ section of their website, they give this as the reason for the bus ad campaign:

Through our ads we hope to spark conversations between believers and non-believers so that we may better understand each other and learn from one another.

That sounds reasonable to me. The ads have given me a couple opportunities to have a couple very brief conversations and I hope for more, so here I am blogging about it. Post a reply, let's dialogue.

Now some Christians are among those who are outraged about these atheist ads appearing on buses. I would encourage a more even response. Outrage over Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code only worked to make it more popular. Rage at schools reading Harry Potter books or more recently The Golden Compass books also seems misplaced. We can do better than "rage" as we respond to popular things happening around us, can't we?

A retired professor of Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, who now serves at my church as an associate priest came up with a counter-slogan to the bus ad as well as some advice:

"There probably is a God--so stop worrying, the world is not a runaway bus."

That's theologian David Reed's offering, when asked to give an alternative to the atheistic slogan that's been plastered on [buses] .... Like his slogan, the approach Reed recommends in responding to these ads is creative and non-polemical: “Don't get grouchy and defensive and reactionary; treat it much more lightly.”

I agree with him (the full article can be found here). The atheists sponsoring these bus ads want to spark conversations, not fireworks, so let's talk. Maybe we will find it helpful to better understand where they're coming from, and maybe then they too would like to hear where we're coming from. And maybe we can go there together on the TTC.united church ad

P.S. Does anybody remember the bus ad that was all over buses everywhere promoting Die Hard 4? Isn't it odd that it was never controversial? I even looked up John 6:27 before I fully clued in.

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