Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the Church

932039-fidel-castroYesterday, Fidel Castro died.  A man who had lead Cuba for decades and strongly divided opinion.  He survived dozens of assassination attempts by the CIA.  Together with Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and others over threw the Cuban government of General Fulgencio Batista  in 1958.  His death is both mourned and celebrated around the world.

Che Guevera was a medical student from a well off middle class Argentine family.  His CheHigh.jpgdesire to explore the world lead him on a motorcycle road trip, documented in his motorcycle diaries, around south America which transformed his life.  He saw intense poverty, hunger, disease and oppression and a large and graphic scale around the continent.  It lead him to become one of the most well known revolutionaries of the twentieth century.  He was determined to overthrow capitalist exploitation in Latin America with socialism for the people.

The problem is, the regime which Che Guevera helped to install became just as oppressive and even more restrictive than the regime which he helped over throw.

Francis Chan, in his book Forgotten God, tells this story:

A while back a former gang member came to our church. He was heavily tattooed and rough around the edges, but he was curious to see what church was like.  He had a relationship with Jesus and seemed to get fairly involved with the church.

After a few moths, I found out the the guy was no longer coming to the church.  When asked why he didn’t come anymore, he gave the following explanation: “I had the wrong idea of what church was going to be like.  When I joined the church, I thought it was going to be like joining a gang.  You see, in the gangs we weren’t just nice to each other once a week – we were family.”  That killed me causes I knew that what he expected is what the church is intended to be.  It saddened me to think that a gang could paint a better picture of commitment, loyalty, and family than the local church today.

In the book of Acts, the Bible describes the church in the following way:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47

Che Guevera what right to feel disturbed by what he saw on his tour of South America.  Our conscience gets pricked when we see suffering, injustice and oppression.  We have a choice to either do something about it or suppress our conscience until it becomes callous to other peoples’ pain and anguish.  However, the answer is not in revolution.  The answer is the church.  It should be a radical place where God’s spirit is contagious and catches fire in peoples’ hearts. A place where Acts 2 is fulfilled everyday.  A place defined by sacrificial love, devotion and family.  Unfortunately, the is not how the church in today’s society is demonstrated.  It is often not much more than a social club of like minded people, rather than the diverse place of love and sacrifice stated by Christ.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
― Mother Teresa

The church should be the place where Francis Chan’s gang member friend would recognise as a church by seeing genuine, sincere, love, freely given to members and the communities they are in.  It is a place where Jesus lives and his example reigns.

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Why I believe in God

I wanted to put down a few reasons for why I, as a Christian believe in God.  This is a non-exhaustive list of why I changed my life and started to follow Christ.

Evidence of a Designer

As an engineer I like to build things.  However, most of what I build eventually breakdowns and fails.  The human body on the other hand is awesome.  It lives on average for around 80 years or more and what is most remarkable about it, is that it repairs itself.  If I cut myself, the blood which was flowing a liquid, clots and solidifies, so that the skin beneath can heal itself.  This is just one thing, among countless others, which our bodies do which keep us alive on a daily basis which we take for granted.  With my engineering mind, it is hard to imagine designing, creating and building machines which do complex functions in sometimes extreme conditions which have the ability to heal themselves and work well for 80 years or more.  With all human intelligence, thought, wisdom and determination for thousands of years, we cannot create anything which is close to having the performance of a human body.  Yet, some how, many of people believe we are the result of a huge series of random processes happening at the same time.  When I look at my body in the mirror, I see the evidence of a designer.  Someone who with love and care made me into who I am, not the result of an unfortunate random accident of the cosmos.  If you do believe that mankind is the result of random process, then the next time you go on a date or have a romantic meal with your spouse, tell them that they are the result of an unfortunate accident of the cosmos, see how well that goes down.

Until the 1920s, common scientific thought was in line with Aristotle’s view that the universe had an infinite past.  There is little room for a creator, designer or God with Aristotle’s view.  It was perfect for anyone who didn’t believe in a deity or higher power of any kind.  However, in 1927 along came the Big Bang theory.  Common scientific thought now is that this is how the universe began.  The idea is that nothing exploded and formed the universe.   This is a little unfortunate for atheists because to accept the Big Bang theory, an atheist must except that the universe was created and that whatever triggered the Big Bang is the creator (intelligent or otherwise) and the creator cannot be measured in any shape or form, as by definition it must exist outside of the universe.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands. – Psalm 19:1

I also see the evidence of a designer all around us in nature.  So many of the complex structures we see in nature can be represented as fractals.  A fractal is something which is composed of miniature versions of itself, which are in turn also composed of miniature versions of themselves and so on and so forth.  We see these in places such as fern leaves, snail shells, the human lungs, trees and snowflakes.  Each one complicated, but can be represented by relatively simple mathematically formula.  To believe that these formed without a designer is hard for me to accept.  Everywhere I look, I see the fingerprints of God.

fractals

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. – Romans 1:20

Are Absolutes Real?

If there is no God, no creator and we are just a product of thousands of perfect environmental conditions coming together at precisely the right time (and some jolly good luck), then many of the precepts which human society are built on cannot actually exist.   Atheists will openly admit that if there is no God, then there is no right or wrong, no good or evil, just action and consequence.

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This would also mean that following do not exist either: Justice, Mercy, Truth or Love.  The idea of moral compass would be an illusion.  It would mean that the actions of a psychopath or child molester are no better or worse than those devote their time and energy to serve and care for sick and injured children.  To argue that one is better than the other is an argument which cannot be won if there is no God, to think so would be delusional.

I have four children, they each naturally know what fairness is, especially when it comes to the size of bowls of ice cream. When they have been hurt they want justice. When they are the ones who have done the hurting, they want mercy. These are not abstract concepts which they have been taught by society which has developed them over thousands of years. Their moral compass is built in. This same default moral compass, or conscience, is built into children around the world, regardless of the society they have been born into. C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity calls this Universal Moral Law argument. It can be summarised as:

1. There is a universal Moral Law.
2. If there is a universal Moral Law, there is a Moral Law-giver.
3. If there is a Moral Law-giver, it must be something beyond the universe.
4. Therefore, there is something beyond the universe.

 

How could man alone have written the Bible?

“The Bible is just a man made book full of fairly tales written long after the events.”  This and other similar thoughts form view of many in today’s increasingly secular society.  The Bible is not viewed as accurate or trustworthy to many.  For half of my life, I was sympathetic towards this view.  That was until I actually started to read it.

When I read the bible, one thing that amazes me are the prophecies within it.  Take for instance the following passage of the Bible:

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth.

If I were to ask you who is this passage referring to and where would you find it, many people would instantly say it describes Jesus and it would be found in the New Testament.  It does in fact come from Isaiah (chapter 53), found in the Old Testament and was written over 700 years before Jesus walked on the earth.  There are over 900 messianic prophecies in the Old Testament which Jesus fulfills.  A skeptic might argue that these could have been written after the event.  However, the above prophesy has been found within the Dead Sea Scrolls dated to over 200BC.

The book of Daniel in the Old Testament makes accurate prophecies about each of the Roman emperors long before the Roman empire came into existence.  Reading it today and comparing it to the history of the Roman empire can only lead the reader to one of two conclusions: the book of Daniel was written after the Roman empire or that the prophesies are so accurate that Daniel was inspired by God to write what he wrote.  No other plausible explanation is open to us.  What we find is that the book of Daniel was also found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, in this instance, written somewhere between 150BC and 75AD, long before reigns of most of the Roman emperors.

 Elsewhere in the Bible we read about things which various people were told to do by God.  We the aid of modern science and engineering we can analyse these commands and gain a deeper insight into the why behind the command.  I am going to consider a couple of them here which I believe will help the read believe that there is a God and that the Bible is his inspired word.

In Genesis 17:12 God told Abraham the following: “For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised”.  Abraham wasn’t told why, he was just told to do it.  It turns out that circumcision has a number of health benefits.  These include: A reduced risk of some sexually transmitted diseases in men. Protection against penile cancer and a reduced risk of cervical cancer in female sex partners.  This is all very well and good, but why the did it have to happen on the eigth day after birth?  It just so happens that the two key components, prothrombin and vitamin K required for blood clotting, which is vital for circumcision, peek on the eighth day.  See the graph below:

0301

How did Abraham know about the health benefits of circumcision?  How did Abraham know about prothrombin and vitamin K?  The answer is that Abraham did not know anything about these things, but the one who told him to do it knew all about them.

In another example, in Genesis chapter 6, the Bible says that God told Noah to build an ark.  God even gives Noah the dimensions to use to build the ark.

This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. – Genesis 6:15

This gives the following ratio of beam (width) versus depth (height): 50 cubits / 30 cubits = 1.6666
A cubit is 18 inches or 1.5 feet in length.

Let us compare this to the cross section ratio of modern cargo ships.  The Victory class of cargo ship of which 534 were mass produced during world war II.  It’s has the following cross section dimensions and ratio:

Beam 62ft / Depth 38ft = 1.6315

The Victory was picked for this comparison because it was built in large numbers, but it amazing how close the ratio is to that of Noah’s ark.  Were Noah’s Ark dimensions a really really luck guess or did God tell him.  In Islam, the Koran also contains the story of Noah’s Ark, but in the Koran, the dimensions of the Ark are that of a cube.  A cube would not be very seaworthy and would be tossed about from side to side, killing many of the living creatures inside.

Are the dimensions of Noah’s Ark and medical aspect of circumcision just lucky coincidences?  There are many other examples where God gives direction in the Bible and it has in modern times been shown to be scientifically accurate.  For me, these are all evidence that the Bible is from God and not the rambling collections of men.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating

One of the greatest proofs that there is a God and that the Bible is his word is when it put into practice, it works.  I become a better me.  I enjoy life more, by giving to others.  My character is one of a conflict avoider.  The Bible challenges me to not seek it out, but to deal with it when it when it occurs in my life, and it deal with it in such a way that it is of benefit for all involved.  I have seen this work in such a powerful way in my life, which would never have happened if I had not been a Christian.

I have experienced the power of forgiveness and mercy, both as the recipient and as the one giving it.  Leaving resentment, bitterness and revenge behind has brought joy to my life.

I have experienced an incredible marriage where we both put God first and by doing so have ended having a more secure, faithful and loving marriage than I thought would be possible.

I see the Bible work in churches which are striving to follow the Bible:  conflicts get resolved; the needy have their needs meet; people of different backgrounds and political points of view are unified.

When I pray, my prayers get answered.  Small prayers, bold prayer, persistent prayers, they get actions.

The Bible challenges me and brings me back to my conscience. When I became a Christian, I stopped swearing and started to use a better vocabulary instead of profanity.  I stopped telling white lies and being deceitful and found that my live was less complicated and honest.  I let go of bitterness and stopped being a prisoner of my own mind.  I try to make my life about meeting the needs of others, rather than trying to acquire as much as I can for myself, and in doing so I gain contentment.

Jesus says:

 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. – John 7:17

Jesus is like Nike, albeit centuries before, he says “Just Do It”.  Then you’ll know.  You will know that it works.  You will know that Jesus was no ordinary man.  You will know the power in his words. Power that will change your life and the lives of all those around you.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

 

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The Bible – The Evidence – Introduction

Two testments.   44 books in the old and 22 in the new

Written approx. 3500BC to around 90AD by 40 Authors (although some most likely to be compilers rather than authors)

How did the Jews know about that?

Gen 17: 11-12 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring.

–          Sign of an agreement between God and Abraham and Abraham’s descendants

–          Was there more to it?

  • Circumcision almost completely eliminates penis and cervical cancer. Penis cancer is extremely rare among circumcised men, and their wives have cervical cancer at a rate more than 10 times less than uncircumcised men.
  • More hygienic – especially for a nomadic people wondering around the desert 3000+ years ago.
  • God says he will deliver Israel from the diseases of Egypt if they kept his laws (Ex 15:26)

–          Why on the eighth day?

  • Optimal time, as blood clotting compounds are at their highest levels.[1]
  • This fact not discovered by modern science until 1935

Job 26:7 He spreads out the northern skies over empty space;    he suspends the earth over nothing.

–          Job written between 600-400BC

–          Implies that the earth is suspended in space

–          Contemporary thoughts:

  • Greeks – World held up by the god Altas
  • Hindus – Earth was on the back of eight Elephants which stand on a turtle, if one slips we get earthquakes

Lev 17:14 because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, “You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.”

–          The importance of blood is obvious today, but not always the case

–          Bloodletting was a common ‘cure’ for aliments for around 2000 years, up until the 19th Century[2]

–          It is likely that George Washington died of bloodletting for a sore throat

–          Barbers’ poles used to indicate where bloodletting could be performed

Old Testament Prophesies about the Christ

The Birth

Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”

–          Written around 500BC

–          Messiah born in Bethlehem.

–          Hard for a fraud to orchestrate where they to be born

–          Jesus was born in Bethlehem[3]

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

–          Written around 700BC

–          Immanuel will be born to a virgin

–          Jesus is called Immanuel and Mary was a virgin when he was born[4]

–          Qur’an attributes many miracles to Jesus, and that He was miraculously born of a virgin.

The Cross

Psalm 22

–          Written by David – who would become King David of Israel

–          Dates from about 1000BC

–          Beginning of verse 1 quoted by Jesus on the cross[5][6]

–          Verse 5 – Many people cried out and were saved during Jesus’ ministry

–          Verses 6-8 Parallels the abuse Jesus got while on the cross [7]

–          Verses 14-17 describes the physical condition of Jesus on the cross.

  • Verse 14 – Water came out of Jesus’ body when he was pierced in the side
    Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. – John 19:42 – John wrote what he saw without understanding it fully[8]
  • Verse 15 – Consistent with symptoms of someone who has lost a lot of blood.  Jesus would have lost a lot of blood during the Roman flogging before the crucifixion.  John 19:28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” – hard to make it up if you don’t understand the medical science behind it.
  • Verse 17 – Bones would have been on display from the wounds caused by the nails driven in and the Roman flogging

–          Verse 22-31 becomes a Psalm of victory. cf. Phillpians 2:9-11

Isaiah 53

–          Appears to describe Jesus on the cross

–          Written around 700BC

–          Contains a number of prophecies about Jesus e.g. verse 9 about his death and grave.  Mathew 27:57-60 57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.

–          Most importantly, gives the reason for Jesus on the cross.  Our sins are laid on him. By his wounds, we are healed.  Peter refers to Isaiah 53 in 1 Peter 2:21-24: To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

 “He committed no sin,

    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

 The Old Testament is a foreshadow of Christ

Sin and slavery to sin entered the world through Adam.  Freedom from sin comes through Jesus, also called the second Adam.[9]  Like Adam, Jesus too was tempted in a garden, but unlike Adam, Jesus passed the test.

Abel was innocent and his blood cried out to God, so too is Jesus who blood cries out for our forgiveness.[10]

Noah – Built an ark which saved those inside.  Jesus is our transport and salvation who saves.  Like Noah, Jesus is also mocked.[11]

Abraham – Sacrificed Isaac, his only son, the son of the promise.  Jesus is God’s one and only son, sacrificed for us.

Isaac carried the wood which Abraham was going to sacrifice him on, Jesus carried his own wooden cross on which he was sacrificed on.

Jacob wrestled with God all night.  Jesus wrestled with God in prayer for three hours before he was arrested.

Joseph – Hated by his brothers and imprisoned after false accusations.  Yet his punishment for things he did not do brings salvation for the family of Israel and for those around him in Egypt.  Jesus’ punishment for things he was falsely accused of brings salvation for the Jews and non-Jews.

Job was tested by Satan.  Likewise, Jesus was tested by Satan three times at the end of a 40 day fast in the wilderness.

Moses – Led God’s nation from slavery in Egypt through the Red sea to freedom.  Jesus lead people from slavery of sin through the waters of baptism into a new life of freedom.[12]

Moses – The snake on the pole.  When the Israelites looked at the bronze snake lifted high on the pole they were saved from the snake bites.  We are saved from our sins when we look to Jesus on the cross.[13]

The Levites were priests who offered sacrifices and interceded between God and the people.  Jesus is the high priest who is the perfect sacrificial lamb.  He intercedes for us.  When Jesus died the temple curtain was torn in two.  The bible says the 90ft curtain was torn from top to bottom – not bottom to top.[14]

The Judges of Israel who followed on from Joshua are a foreshadow of the final Judgement of Christ.


[1] A newborn’s liver and intestines do not begin producing prothrombin and vitamin K until about the fifth day after birth, when nursing has commenced and consequently bacteria has formed in the intestines.

These two compounds reach the highest level on the eighth day after birth, estimated at 110% of normal levels of these two important clotting factors.

[3] Luke 2:4-7  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

[4] Matthew 1:18-25

[5] Mark 15:34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

[6] Matthew 27:46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

[7] Matthew 27:31-43 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him.  “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

[8] From the wound came a flow of “blood and water.” This is consistent with the spear blow to the heart

(especially from the right side, the traditional site of the wound). Rupturing the pericardium (the sac

surrounding the heart) released a flow of watery serum, followed by blood as the heart was pierced.

[9] 1 Corinthians 15:45-47

[10] Hebrews 12:24

[11] 1 Peter 3:20-21

[12] Romans 6:1-7

[13] Numbers 21:4-8

[14] Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45

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Broken or Crushed?

As we continue through work through the book of 1st Peter, we see the theme of holiness coming through more and more.  The first 12 verses of chapter two sums up the essence of the whole book

 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,  now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—  you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone,”

and,

“A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. – 1 Peter 2:1-12

Peter outlines that there are two ways to live.  Either a holy live, different from the world, free for sinful habits with on Jesus Christ as the corner stone of our lives.  A life in the light.  Or a life of the world.  Conforming to the sinful desires of the world.  A life of blending in.  A life where Jesus causes people to stumble.  A life in darkness.

This passage points out that it isn’t easy living the Christian live.  The sinful desires war against the soul.  Christians will be accused, although they do good.  Christians should live as strangers in the world.  Without a focus on Christ, this is hard.  We will be crushed live the unbeliever.  Our real challenge is not to carry out a list of do’s and don’ts, but to keep Jesus as our corner stone in life and the capstone of everything we hold to as true.

Matthew’s gospel says:

He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed. – Matthew 21:44

We can be broken in humility or crushed in our pride.  There are many promised in the passage in 1 Peter if we are willing to live a broken life:

  • Being a chosen people of God
  • A royal priesthood
  • A holy nation
  • Living a life in the light
  • Mercy
  • Glorification of God because of our good deeds
  • Salvation

God calls us to a cross roads, we can either reject him, stumble and be crushed or fall on him and be broken and live.  The choice is ours.

 

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What’s your Faith Worth?

Currently, my church reading through a book called Set Apart (calling a worldly church to a Godly life, by R. Kent Hughes).  Along side this book, we are also studying out the books of 1 and 2 Peter during the month of March.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I plan to make regular blog entries on my thoughts on these books written by the aspostle Peter.

In reading through 1 Peter 1.  Two themes jump out to me.  One about being holy, the other is the preciousness of faith.

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. – 1 peter 1:7

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors,  but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. – 1 Peter 1:18-19

Today, we live in a “what can I get next?” society.  I also fall into this mentality from time to time.  I have a mobile phone contract, where every 18-24 months I can get a new phone upgrade.  When I get a new phone, for the first six months, I think my new phone is the best thing since sliced bread (browsing the internet, GPS navigation, facebook, and even phone calls).  But in the last six months of the contract, I start to think about what it can’t do and what I want in my new phone (longer battery life, more space for apps, faster user experience and better camera, etc).  And so the cycle continues and not just with phones, but with cars, houses, jobs etc.

Last week was Ash Wednesday.  Although I do not observe Ash Wednesday myself, I think there is still a spiritual lesson in it.  The Ash is there to remind people that they will on day return to ash.  Not only their bodies, but their possession too.  All will one day perish (or end up on eBay, and then perish).  When we look at others and are envious of what they have, the reality is that we are actually comparing piles of Ash.  We can spend a lot of time and energy sacrificing ourselves so that we can get our hands on the latest ‘pile of ash’.

Peter reminds us that our faith is great than this.  It will not perish along with our pessessions, but will last.  That there is a price on our faith.  The price is the blood of Christ.  There is no ‘next big thing’ with the blood of Christ.  It is the pinnacle of worth and investment.

Stop looking around and remember what we have.  A faith of greater worth than gold or silver.

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The Lesson of the Remote Control Tank

Today is pocket money day for my children (the oldest being six years old).  Our children have two options with their pocket money.  They can save it or they can spend it.  Today, they wanted to spend their pocket money.  We went to Poundland, where surprisingly, every item costs one pound.  My oldest son bought for himself a remote control tank (he loves anything which is remote controlled).

The tank

The Poundland Remote Controlled Tank

After our visit to the shops, we made our way home with an excited boy who wanted to play with his new toy.  After the hats and coats were off, the remote controlled tank was opened.  Batteries were inserted in the controller and my son was eager to give it a go.  Buttons pressed, nothing happened.  Buttons pressed again.  Nothing. Moved the wheels slightly, eventually it moved about six inches and stopped.  Then Nothing.  The reality didn’t meet the expectations.  It was rubbish.

This got me thinking about making sure we get the best out of life.  There are many things we can give our resources to, but what gives best the best return on our investment of money, energy, hopes and dreams?

The beginning of a year is often a time when re-evaluate our course of our lives and decide on resolutions to helps us make the required changes.   In the Glasgow Church of Christ we have been looking at our vision for the next three years.  Where to focus our efforts and what we where we want to be as a church in three years time.

During such times of reflection and plan we ask questions like:

  • What is important in life?
  • What do I want to achieve?
  • What steps must I take to achieve it?

It reminds me of the words of king Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes, which he wrote towards the end of his life as he assess what he has accomplished and achieved.  The book contains some powerful and profound statements on what is important in life.

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” 
   says the Teacher. 
“Utterly meaningless! 
   Everything is meaningless.”

 What do people gain from all their labors 
   at which they toil under the sun? 
Ecclesiastes 1:1-3

The book starts off with Solomon telling his readers how meaningless everything is.  Much of the rest of the book sets out a justification of this statement.  He asks a number soul searching and questions about the bigger picture of life.  In these verses above, he asks:

  • What ultimately do we gain from all our work?

This question reminds me of book by John Ortberg, When the Game Is Over It All Goes Back in the Box.  This book is about assessing what is important in life.  It’s basic premise is that all the pieces of  a game board game like chess share the same fate, weather they are the winning king or queen or a pawn on the losing side which was taken in the opening exchanges, they all end up back in the box.  We, like the pieces of a game of chess will end up in a box, and all of us will leave everything behind.

The Cycle of Generations

Solomon goes on to talk about the cycle of generations.

Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

Ecclesiastes 1:4,9-11

As we go about our business, our own sphere of influence can seem so important.  Yet who knows what their great grand father achieved or even their grand father?  Most of us know a little about a couple of generations ago, often we know little beyond that.  We ourselves will not be remembered much beyond our grand children or great grand children.  Yet, the world continues.  A new generation comes along, they think they are wiser and smarter than the previous one, and as they get older the realise that the previous generation wasn’t so daft after all and maybe they could have been wiser if they listened to the previous generation in the first place.

The Quest for Knowledge

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind!  I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

 What is crooked cannot be straightened; 
   what is lacking cannot be counted.

I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.

 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; 
   the more knowledge, the more grief.

Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

Solomon continues to describe how he gain much wisdom and knowledge, but this too ultimately was meaningless and didn’t provide answers.  We live in society that holds up knowledge almost above all else.  Often when evangelising I hear, “I believe in science, not God”.  Firstly, Science and God can easily coexist, after all God created the natural laws.  Secondly, a increase in knowledge can make many advances in technology, yet does it actually improve the quality of our lives?  Is our generation much happier because we have computers, the internet, smartphones, satnavs, etc than the generation which lived a hundred years ago?  No.  They are often the source of anger and frustration when they do not meet our performance expectations.

Living for the Moment

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?”

Ecclesiastes 2:1-2

King Solomon didn’t hold back.  He spent time just enjoying the pleasures of life, living for the moment.

“Is it so wrong to want to just to be happy, after all, I’m not hurting anyone?”  This is a question often asked today.  The problem which this kind of reasoning is that the person we are trying to make happy is ourselves.  This leads to selfish behaviour.  Putting ourselves, our wants and needs above those of others.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:1-4

Paul outlines the Christian attitude in his book to the Philippians chapter 2.  By meeting the needs of others and living a selfless life, we end up getting our own needs meet.

The Man with Everything

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.  I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.  I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.  I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart.  I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

  I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; 
   I refused my heart no pleasure. 
My heart took delight in all my labor, 
   and this was the reward for all my toil. 
 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done 
   and what I had toiled to achieve, 
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; 
   nothing was gained under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:4-11

What didn’t king Solomon do?  He took on projects, acquired great wealth and had many wives.  Much of Jerusalem at the time would have been devoted to just serving Solomon’s court.  In the 1 Kings 10:14 tells us king Solomon’s annual income in Gold:

The weight of the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents

666 talents is equivalent to 23 tonnes.  That is an average over £1 million income a day from gold alone, in today’s monetary terms.

Yet in spite of all this, he didn’t find fulfilment.  His life was empty.  Jesus says:

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

Luke 9:23-25

He makes it clear that to gain the whole world, yet not become a disciple of Christ is utterly meaningless.

Temporary verses Eternal

Let us assess our priorities, as we start the new year.  What should our priorities be?  Personally, I like the motto of the Johannesburg International Church of Christ – South Africa, “To Know God and Make God Known”.  In many ways this sums up the greatest two commandments:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ ”

Luke 10:27

The apostle Paul tells the church in Corinth to have the correct priorities:

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18

Our short term aims and goals might be focused on the temporary, like obtaining an educational qualification, working hard within a secular job, etc.  But behind it must lie a greater goals and aims.  Our goal is become more like Christ, training ourselves to think like he did, act like he did and love like he did.  Where do I fall short?  I too often think selfishly, act insecurely and avoid conflict and fail to make the most of opportunities I have to love others in my day to day living.  Where are you falling short?

We are all products of our thoughts.  We will do and become what we spend our time thinking about.

Solomon’s Final Thoughts

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Solomon final words are focused on the eternal after spending much of the book discussing the temporary.  After spending a lot of time, energy and money focusing on temporary, he finally figures out that the eternal is the only meaningful pursuit.

Don’t buy the temporary Poundland tanks in life, spending your time, energy and money on something with eternal meaning.

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Baptism

Facebook

I have recently ‘Liked’ the Jesus my Lord Facebook page.  The first post which appeared on my Facebook wall was a quote from Mark’s gospel chapter 16 verse 16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

It was interesting reading some of the responses to these words from Jesus.  One of which was from a Facebook user Natalie Sneddon, who directly contradicts Jesus with her comment, yet summed up the feelings of many of the other people commenting – “You do NOT have to be baptised to be saved and accepted into heaven.  Once you find God and let him into your heart and life, you are saved!”

“Is baptism required for salvation?” is a big question for many people.  I hope to answer this in the blog entry.

Firstly, let us start with this scripture.  Jesus tells us that we must believe and be baptised to be saved.  The meaning is fairly clear.  However, many bibles will point out that this scripture does not appear in the earliest manuscripts which have and therefore there is some question about the reliability of this quote.  Let us then look at other scriptures to see if this verse is consistent with the rest of the Bible.

Let us look at the point when Jesus ascended into heaven.  These are the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples while he was on earth.  Final words are generally important and are met to have a lasting impact.  This is how Matthew records them in Matthew 28:18-20:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus gives three commands:

  1. Go and make disciples
  2. Baptism these new disciples
  3. Teach them to obey everything he taught his own disciples

Baptism is in the top three of Jesus’ final commands.  Wow!  It must be important.

It is interesting to note the things that Jesus missed out of these final words.  No explicit mention of helping the poor, going to church, showing justice and mercy or loving your neighbour (although all these are implied by the third command).

The Early Church

The Christian started on the day of pentecost.  What was the early church’s view on baptism?

The apostle Peter ends his speech on this day with the following words (Acts 2:38-41):

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Peter tells the crowd to first repent and then get baptised to receive the promise of forgiveness of sins and the gift of the holy spirit.  3,000 accepted this message and became Christians.   Luke, who wrote the book of acts, distinguishes those who accepted the message from those who did not by baptism.

This pattern of belief, repentance and baptism is repeated throughout the book of Acts (the book where we most people become Christians).

  • The Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:36-38) – As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”  And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.  
  • The first gentile convert, Cornelius (Acts 10:47-48) – Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”  So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. 
  • Lydia’s conversion (Acts 16:14-15) – One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.  When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
  • The jailer and his household (Acts 16:30-33) –  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.
  • The apostle Paul, formally Saul (Acts 22:15-16) – You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.  And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

Baptism in the Letters

There are many references to baptism in the letters.  Romans 6:3-7 reads

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—  because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Paul here makes the link between baptism and Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.  The expectation is that all Christians partake in baptism, it is not optional.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament points time and again to towards God’s plan in the New Testament.  Jonah in the belly of the fish for three days and the bronze snake on top of a pole in the time of Moses are both a foreshadow of the Cross of Christ.  The first passover points us towards Jesus as the pure passover lamb of God with his blood staining the cross rather than the Israelites’ door posts.
Salvation in the Old Testament is also a foreshadow of salvation in the New Testament.
In 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 the apostle Paul writes:
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.  They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
Paul directly relates the salvation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom by passing through the Red Sea to baptism (cf. Romans 6).  The waters of the Red Sea were essential to the salvation of the Israelites.  Of course, it had to be accompanied with faith in their God, the others who passed through the water without faith were not saved (ie. the Egyptians pursuing the Israelites).

Common objections against baptism for salvation

  1. What about the thief on the Cross?
    The thief was saved by Jesus as they both died on the Cross.
    This was a different time.  Jesus had not yet died, been buried or risen to a new life at this time, so the salvation process described in Romans 6 cannot apply here.  We however, live in a time after Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, so we do need to believe, repent and be baptised  to be saved.
  2. We are saved by faith alone or by grace alone
    Both can’t be true.  Faith and grace are very different things.
    Grace is what God gives us.  We cannot change the grace of God or how it is given.  But we can choose to accept it or not.
    Faith is ours.  It is our belief.  God does not have faith.  In heaven we will not have faith, it will be sight.  Until such a time, we have faith.
    Salvation happens at the point when grace and faith meet.  When we accept God’s grace through our faith and obediently get baptised in his name – Colossians 2:11-12In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.An illustration to highlight this:  I could tell you that there is a cheque for $10,000,000 with your name on it waiting at the top of the Empire State Building in New York.  All you have to do is collect it, and it is yours to keep.  It takes faith to make your way to New York and accept the gift.  Have you earned it? No, not at all.  If you believe the cheque is there, but don’t collect it, will you be $10,000,000 better off?  No, the cheque will remain with your name on it, but you will not have it.  Likewise, we do not earn our salvation by being obedient to God and repenting and getting baptised.  But, by faithful obedience, we accept the gift of salvation which God gives by his grace.
  3. Baptism is just a symbol and not essential
    The only scripture to baptism and symbolism together is 1 Peter 3:19-21

    After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves youalso—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ
    However, it doesn’t say that baptism is a symbol, but that water of Noah and the flood symbolise baptism.  Like the Israelites and the Egyptians, those saved on the Ark were separated from those who died by water.  Both of these are foreshadows of the waters of baptism in the name of Jesus.

Conclusion

Is salvation essential?  Remember what Jesus says in Mark 16:16 “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved”.  Many people will still disagree with Jesus on this, but on the judgement day, it is his word we will be judged against.

John 12:47-49 “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.  There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.

I accept that people can be sincerely wrong.  But once they have been shown the truth they have a choice.  They can either be sincere or be wrong, to be sincerely wrong is no longer an option.

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