Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dinosaurs, Haters, and Free Will

Click for larger image
We had some great discussion last week at our open-forum Question Box.  We didn't get to all of them, so we going to continue this coming Monday. Here's a list of the questions; what's your opinion?

Questions we discussed:
1. How do you handle a person who hates on you and can’t let it go, how do you handle haters in a Christian way?

2. Should all of the stories in the Bible be taken literally?  (Noah’s ark, the Garden, etc)
3. If dinosaurs were around before people, and God made people on the 6th day, does that make dinosaurs fake?

4. Did Jesus sacrifice any animals in His lifetime?

5. My pastor talks a lot about singling out a day every once in a while, fully dedicated to praying. What are your thoughts on that?

Questions we'll tackle next week:
1. When is someone considered Christian? How can I help people know or realize they are?  On a sort of off topic side (could these be linked?), how do I /we help someone who has authority over other people but has trouble having them actually listen to them?

This is following the example of Jesus?
2. How do you respond to hatred toward Christianity? People who have had a bad experience with someone and are taking it out on the entire religion? How do you respond to people who believe that religion may as well be the pinnacle of evil? That those who are religious are all ignorant?
3. How do you deal with Christians who have so much hate? Christians who hate homosexuals, and adulterers, just about every sinner… How do you deal with the Christians who make other hate Christianity?

4. How come there is so much killing for God’s purpose when he commands us not to? (Jael killing Sisera, Judges 4:21; the [killing of all the city’s residents at the] fall of Jericho)

5. What happens to those who are ignorant, children, people who were never reached by the Gospel? Do they find the Kingdom of Heaven?
6. Why did Jesus get baptized?

7. Where did natural evil originate (hurricanes, floods, earthquakes)?
8. Why did God make the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil when He knew Adam and Eve would sin?

9. How is the idea of God having a “plan,” “using people,” or having “complete control” over all life align with the idea that we have a free will?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The World is Ending Tomorrow

If you want to understand the Bible, don't look for hidden messages; believe that it says what it means.  Believe it has something to teach you about how you actually live your life.

Last night's lesson got postponed when the discussion turned toward Judgment Day -- which, despite some misconceptions, is neither a cyborg invasion nor a professional wrestling smackdown.  The End Times discussion has been getting a lot of attention lately, due to billboards and signholders which have popped up all over the county and the country. 

"The Bible Guarantees It"
Billboards like this one have been
popping up in Whatcom County.
Why May 21? How do they figure that after almost 2000 years, Christ will return on precisely that date?  The argument can be summarized this way:
  • Premise One: God's Judgment Day is going to come exactly 7,000 years after the Great Flood.
    • God told Noah that the Flood (ie, his judgment) would come in 7 days, on the 17th day of the 2nd (Biblical) month. (Gen 7:10-11)
    • 2 Peter 3:8 tells us that with the Lord, "a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day."
  • Premise Two:  We can learn by "careful study" of genealogies in the Bible that the Flood happened in 4990 BC.
  • Conclusion : 4990 + 2011 – 1 = 7,000 = Judgment Day will come on May 21, 2011.

Is It True?
First of all, this is nothing new; people have predicting Christ's return ever since he left.  Obviously, none of those have been right, and the Bible is very clear that "no one knows that day or the hour" (Mt 24:36 / Mk 13:3; see also Mt 25:13; Ac 1:7; 1 Th 5:1-2; 2 Pe 3:10).  But is it possible that the clues above have been in the Bible all along, just waiting to be solved?  There is so much wrong with this logic, I almost don't know where to start; every step of the argument is flawed. Let's just focus on one:

When Peter says "a thousand years are like a single day," he doesn't mean that this is a decoder ring for understanding God's time; all you have to do is read the context to realize that his point is just the opposite!  For starters, look at the rest of the sentence: it goes both ways.  To paraphrase, 

One of your days is like a thousand years to God, and
a thousand of your years are like a single day to God.

Does that make any sense? No, it doesn't.  Not to us, anyway, and that's the point: God lives on a different level of reality, and his time is not like our time. (Actually, remember, even our time is not like our time.)  Peter isn't saying anything here about how the word "day" is used anywhere else in Scripture. 

You can't just snip sentences out of the Bible and make them mean what you want them to mean; take the time to understand the message of the writer.  Claiming that the Bible "guarantees" judgement on May 21 will only damage the credibility of the Bible (and believers) when May 22 rolls around.

How Should We Be Ready?
What bothers me even more, though, is the attitude this reveals in Christians.  It's very easy to slip into a mindset that's dismissive, skeptical, or even mocking.  "Jesus is coming?" we think, "Yeah, right. I hope there's something good on TV tonight."  Yeah, we don't know that Jesus is coming on May 21. But we don't know he isn't, either.

The whole reason that Peter writes this is to warn the believers that they need to be ready.  It's the same reason that Jesus tells the parables of Mt 24:36-25:13. If you knew when He was coming, of course you will be ready! But since you don't know, it could be any moment. You need to be ready all the time.

Katie raised an excellent question: How do we be ready? Jesus answers that question, too.  He continues to teach, through the parable of the talents, that God has invested us with certain gifts, that we should use our lives for his glory.  He goes on to spell out exactly what is expected from us:
 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me... ’ (Matt 25:31-46) 
Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is a love God with everything, and second is to love your neighbor as yourself.  With these words, he combines them; your love for Christ is revealed by how you treat others.  It's in how you spend your time. It's in how you spend your money. It's in how you live your life.

When someone wants to debate when the Lord will return, understand that it doesn't really matter. Tell them that you are doing the best you can, every day, to live a life that honors God and cares for others.  If you really are, then they will have no answer to that.

And if you aren't caring for "the least of these"... read to the rest to see if you are really following Jesus.