Hey, People, Get Smart!

Time for a break.

I’m late in learning about this (as I usually am with most things 😦 ), but I learned that this guy is coming to town next year. Man, I’m definitely waiting for him, as I already am for Bella et. al. (see sidebar).

..

OK, back to work…

..

..

Was Jesus Christ a Real Person?

My very first post asked the question “Who do you say Jesus Christ is?”

Who IS he? Prophet? Teacher? God, as we Christians believe? Or just a legend, not even an actual historical person at all?

The last possibility has fascinated mankind through the centuries. Is it possible that this man, formally professed as God by about 1.9 billion people or almost a third of the world’s population, did not even actually exist at all, except in the imaginations of his followers?

After all, if he was an actual important figure in history, why has there been no mention of him in the accounts of many historians who have written about the times in which he was supposed to have lived? As The Dissident Voice says, how come such writers as Seneca, Pliny the Elder, Quintillian, Plutarch, etc., who all lived during or very close to the time in which the man Jesus was supposed to have lived, taught, performed miracles, and been crucified, had nothing at all to say about him?

Actually, I can think of one possible reason. Speaking (or writing) as a native of the so-called “Third World”, I know the truth of the saying “The one who rules is the one who writes (or re-writes) history“. The Jews were just one of the many peoples conquered and ruled by the mighty Romans. It does not surprise me that events which the subjugated Jews would consider important would not even merit a footnote in the official records of the empire. We Filipinos have been treated the same way by our conquerors (and those of an older generation have been educated using textbooks which depict, minimize, emphasize or completely ignore events and people in a way that’s different from the way some Filipino historians would later depict them).

If there was one group of people who would be advantaged by proving that Jesus Christ did not actually exist—if in fact he did not—it would be the Jews, I think. Yet the Jewish Encyclopedia, in their article “Jesus of Nazareth“, says that Jesus was “Founder of Christianity; born at Nazareth about 2 B.C. (according to Luke iii. 23); executed at Jerusalem 14th of Nisan, 3789 (March or April, 29 C.E.). His life, though indirectly of so critical a character, had very little direct influence on the course of Jewish history or thought“.

In the above citation, the Jewish Encyclopedia referred to “Luke iii.23”. Luke is one of the so-called “Gospels” or accounts of the good news (the good news being Jesus Christ himself). These Gospels are our primary sources of information about the life, teachings, and death of Jesus Christ.

But is it reasonable to suppose that these Gospels are historical accounts and not mere stories or legends?

Coming Up: Are the Gospel accounts reliable?

..

..
Related Posts:

Are the New Testament Documents Reliable?

Are the New Testament Documents Reliable? What About the Differences in the Manuscripts?

..

..
BlinkAdd to Blinkslist del.icio.usadd to del.icio.us digg.itDigg it StumbleUponStumble It! Redd.it

So You Say You’re an Atheist?

Time for a challenge. This one’s courtesy of Rev. Charles Blair, who has granted me permission to post this.

So you say you’re an atheist?
By Charles Blair

Well, I don’t believe you.

No, I’m not angry with you, and I don’t want to debate all the classical arguments for the existence of God; you’ve probably considered them all already and rejected them because of your own personal thoughts.

And no, I’m not going to use the familiar line “God doesn’t believe in atheists” as a premise here.

It’s just that you, as an educated person, should know the virtual impossibility of proving a negative, especially a universal negative. To claim to do so implies omniscience, and frankly, neither of us have that. We haven’t been everywhere in the material universe, nor have we explored the entire world of thought.

It’s as if one were to say, “There is no such thing as a leprechaun, or a unicorn.” To be sure, none of us have seen such creatures, but one documented sighting by an otherwise credible person would be enough to disprove such a sweeping universal negative. And one documented encounter with Deity from an otherwise credible person is sufficient to disprove the universal negative “There is no God.”

But there have been far more than one such encounter; millions of otherwise credible people, many of them the best people in their community in terms of human relations, the founders of hospitals, schools, mercy missions by the hundreds, the kind of good neighbors all of us love to have, all have claimed such “close encounters of the main kind.” Now, a claim to have seen a unicorn from someone on heavy narcotics wouldn’t impress me a great deal, and the fact that the Authorized Version of the Bible uses the word isn’t final evidence; checking the Hebrew results in another term (“wild ox” in some versions, though I still like the song where God tells Noah, “And don’t forget My unicorn.”) And an Irishman heavy into his celebration of St. Pat’s with the “drinkin’ of the green” might not be the most credible witness concerning the “little people.” But when you have multiplied thousands of witnesses, many of whom would be clinchers on the stand in any court case, over all 7 continents, over thousands of years, all with the same testimony, there is surely a presumption in favor of their words.

Which, of course, leads to the relatively small number of self-professed atheists, agnostics, and skeptics (a recent national “Atheist’s Convention” drew some 500, according to the news). More cautious thinkers prefer the terms “free-thinker” or “agnostic” and simply state, “I haven’t been able to find God,” and with Confucius may say, “We do not yet understand man; how then can we understand God? We do not yet understand this life; how then can we understand another?” Interestingly enough, this is precisely what at least three writers of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures also said.

Isaiah, in the last portion of that book (55:8-9) quotes God as saying, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are my ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” The writer of Psalm 139 states (in v. 6) “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.” And Paul, in Romans 11:33, concludes an in-depth discussion of God’s character with the doxology, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” Evidently these Bible writers believed that for man to search out God on his own was not to be expected, and that God to be known must choose to reveal Himself.

Thus the agnostic is correct in stating that he has not found God, but the real question may be, are we willing to be found by Him? As Augustine once said, as if it were God speaking: “Fear not, for thou would not seek Me if I had not found thee.”

My reason for writing this brief discussion is not to seek an argument, or to try to win a debate; it is intended to help honest doubters think their way through the most serious issue of life. If God exists, then all else is insignificant in comparison to that truth. If there is no God, then nothing else really matters; life is ultimately, in the poet’s words, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” One thinker wrote that he could not have the atheist’s humility, to consider life insignificant. As a believer in the One Creator and Sustainer of the universe, it is my prayer for you that this brief essay will help create in your mind a desire to enjoy that sense of meaning in life that can come in knowing the One Who is beyond knowledge. Feel free to contact me if you want to talk about these matters.

R. Charles Blair
pr.eprayer@ethixs.com

..

..
BlinkAdd to Blinkslist del.icio.usadd to del.icio.us digg.itDigg it StumbleUponStumble It! Redd.it

..

..

Meditations on my Finger

Well, my finger’s OK now, though it really had me worried Saturday, the night of the accident (my original post on the accident is at How Long, O Lord?). Portions of the skin had turned blue and numb.

So on Sunday I went to St. Luke’s Medical Center to have it checked. They gave me a hand x-ray and a complete blood count (CBC). Finally, the doctors said I was OK, there were no fractures, and I had no infection. They said the discoloration and numbness were just normal for the type of injury I had sustained. Thank God!

Still, perhaps morbidly, I got to wondering: what if I HAD lost my finger?

This accident had driven home to me the folly of taking things for granted: my fingers, hands, tongue, and eyes; my legs, my short-term memory, my health, my life. I go merrily through life frittering away time at trivial pursuits. I squander opportunities, procrastinating and putting off the more important in favor of the “urgent”, the comfortable, and “the usual”. All without realizing that, if I lost just one finger, or my hand, or my sight, or my short-term memory, then the chances of my accomplishing the things that are really important would be severly diminished, maybe even be lost forever.

Jesus said, “We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over.”*. He was of course referring to working for the spread of the Kingdom of God. But I believe the command can also be applied to working at one’s life mission, working at the relationships that are really important to you, so that when something happens and you cannot work on those things anymore, there will be no regrets.

My ambition now is to be like St. Paul. When he knew that he was about to be executed, he was able to say “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race”**. No regrets for wasted opportunities. No remorse for unforgiven sins. No wasted time.

My dear, dear wife recently received this email from a friend***:

TWO GLASSES OF TEA

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 glasses of tea…

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. 

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.  Of course, the sand filled up everything else He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”

The professor then produced two glasses of tea from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things; your family, your children, your health, your friends, and your favorite passions; things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.”

The pebbles are the other things that matter; like your job, your house, and your car. The sand is everything else; the small stuff.

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there will be no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.”

“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.  Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Take care of the things that really matter****.  Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the tea represented.

The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of glasses of tea***** with a friend.”
 

* From John 9:4 (The Message)
** From 2 Timothy 4:7 (Revised Standard Version)
*** The source of the email did not say who was the original source of this story. If anyone knows, please tell me so that I can attribute it properly. Thanks!
**** I would include here feeding one’s spirit and developing Christian hedonism.
***** Personally, I would much prefer mugs of coffee, but hey, that’s just me 🙂

..

..

How Long, O Lord? (part 2)

(…continued from earlier post How Long, O Lord?)

All of these reminded me of the psalms of lamentation, where the psalmist cries “How long, O Lord?” in the midst of suffering and pain.

“How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?”*
“How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?”*
“Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?”*

The above questions are contained in what is called Book 3 of the Psalter, a section which includes several lamentations and cries for help. The three psalms from which the questions come, for example, are calls for national deliverance of Israel.

Still, just as Israel is considered as God’s special people, I suppose human beings can similarly be considered as God’s special creation. After all, we are the only beings whom God created in His own image. And just as the Israelite psalmist wonders how long God will allow His people Israel to suffer, I also wondered, while in the ER, how long God will allow human beings to suffer—from diseases, accidents, and from their own evil deeds against each other.

The Bible says that God is love. If so, how come He does not intervene when a being He created in His image suffers? How can He watch people hurt, maim, and kill each other, and not be moved to intervene? How can He bear to watch a daughter cry over her father, slowly dying from a gunshot wound in the head? How can He give Satan such free rein to inflict damage to His creation? Like the psalmist, I want to ask “How long will the enemy mock you, O God? Will the foe revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!” **

I want to cry out, “What’s holding you back, God? Why don’t you retake your creation now? Why don’t you throw Satan and his devils into the pit, now? Why don’t you stop the destruction, the pain, and the suffering, now?” My soul cries out in the words of St. Paul, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” Come and retake your kingdom, throw out the usurper!

Then, by His grace, I am reminded that God IS already on the throne. Satan HAS been deposed. The Kingdom of God HAS come with the coming of Jesus. Since then, all the suffering and destruction wrought on God’s creation have been the last, vicious, dying throes of a defeated enemy, wanting only to destroy as much as he can before it is finally over and he is completely bound, unable to inflict any more damage.

Because He is gracious, instead of being angry, God enables me to do what the psalmist did: I call to mind the deeds of the Lord. I remember what God has done. I meditate on His goodness. As the psalmist meditates on how He has fulfilled His promises to Abraham and to Israel, I remember how God has provided for those who have put their trust in Him, how many times He has protected them and guided them. I remember that, if it were not for Him, I would not even be able to think about Him or write about Him. I could have been born with no mental capacity at all to appreciate Him. I could have died in my sleep last night, and not be typing what I am writing now. The fact that many are suffering does not negate the truth that many have been blessed, and that all of us who are recipients of His blessings have never deserved the good things we have received from our Creator.

I had known all this before. But I had never actually seen a person shot through the head before. I had never experienced being confronted with hurting people every five to ten minutes or so (and my experience even now was only indirect, as a spectator!). And to think that this was only an ordinary weekend morning in a public hospital. I cannot imagine what the effects are on people who work in calamity areas where there are dozens, even hundreds, of dead bodies, or on soldiers and doctors in the battlefield. I realize that, like Job, I have only been hearing about God; I still have to truly see Him.

In the end, I realize that I am too small and stupid to question God, much less tell Him when and how to intervene in His created world. After all, if it were up to me, I would never have thought of the sacrifice of His beloved Son as THE way to save all people who believe in Him. Truly, His ways are higher than my ways, and His thoughts are infinitely higher than my thoughts.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, God has already shown His love. Through the resurrection of Christ, God has already shown His power. Through my death and resurrection in union with Christ, He has already demonstrated His mercy and grace. Through His past provisions He has already shown His faithfulness. I call to mind the deeds and faithful character of the Lord, and my disturbed spirit is calmed. And even this calmness, I know, is not of my own doing, but is a gift from His Holy Spirit.

My prayer is that, by His grace, He will enable me to see Him more clearly and thus trust Him even more. And this prayer is not only for myself, but also for the patients and the staff at the ER that Saturday morning, that we will all learn to trust Him even when it seems that the enemy has free rein.

I pray that God will give us so much assurance, evidence, and personal experience of His goodness, power, and justice, that when things seem to go all wrong, we will still trust Him because we will remember that He is good, faithful, just, loving, and all-wise.

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.

I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:

Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will meditate on all your works
and consider all your mighty deeds.

Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.

You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Psalm 77 (NIV)

..

*   From Psalms 89:46, 79:5, and 74:1, respectively.
** From Psalm 74:10-11.

..

..
BlinkAdd to Blinkslist  del.icio.usadd to del.icio.us  diggDigg it Redd.it  StumbleUponStumble It!

What Would Jesus Buy?

It’s Thanksgiving! It’s Christmas! Time to get alone in a room and meditate on the spirit of the season, time to think seriously about…shopping!

Just in time to call us away from the gods of consumerism, comes Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping. Christianity Today quotes him: “The Shopocalypse is coming! Who will be $aved? Let me exorcise your credit cards! Changellujuah!”

Rev. Billy is featured in the new documentary What Would Jesus Buy?. It’s directed by Rob VanAlkemade and produced by Morgan Spurlock, the same guy behind Super Size Me. It’s based on VanAlkemade’s earlier documentary, Preacher With an Unknown God, which won an honorable mention award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. CToday says:

“The film…takes a unique look at the epidemic of over-consumption in America, most egregiously evident during the Christmas shopping season—which begins in earnest next week. Reverend Billy and his “Church of Stop Shopping” are on a mission to apply the WWJD ethos to our shopping habits—forcing audiences to consider the implications (for themselves and for the world) of what they consume.”

Rev. Billy is the first to claim that he’s not a Christian. He says he grew up Dutch Reformed but abandoned the faith as a teenager. His real name is Bill Talen. And, of course, he’s not an ordained minister.

But renowned Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann considers him a a modern-day prophet. He says “I have no doubt that Rev. Billy is a faithful prophetic figure who stands in direct continuity with ancient prophets in Israel and in continuity with the great prophetic figures of U.S. history who have incessantly called our society back to its core human passions of justice and compassion”.

Dr. Brueggemann says that Rev. Billy has four marks of a prophet:

1) He employs a dramatic “performer” style to call attention to his message. “That style of the prophetic… consists in parody that teases and makes fun of both corporate seductions and the long list of consumers who sign on for lattes and much else“.

2) Rev. Billy uses an identifiable rhetoric. In his case, he uses rhetoric and conduct which are usually found in a church setting, particularly in crusades and campaigns. Use of rhetoric stems from the need to stand apart from, in fact, to be easily identified as opposing, a dominant ideology of the prophet’s time, in Rev. Billy’s case the “totalizing consumer ideology”.

3) His pronouncements are context-specific and appeals to a specific constituency.

4) And, most important of the four characteristics, Brueggemann claims that Rev. Billy proclaims a truth “rooted in God and enacted in society”. Doc Walt says:

“The divine judgment Rev. Billy pronounces concerns a condemnation of religion that has been “hijacked” by the right wing, the resignation that we have “nothing to love but fear itself,” and the self-deceptive illusion that commodities can make us safe and happy. The shopping he assaults is seen to be an ideological practice whereby we keep “the demons in the zoo.” All of that will come to a sorry end for which he uses the term “shopocalypse,” a play on “apocalypse,” that imagined end of the world in a divine judgment as a great conflagration. Like every good poet, Billy has no interest in when or how that may happen, but only a conviction that this ideology that drives our society can only end in failure and raw disappointment.

But prophetic practice is not finally about judgment. It is about hope. Hope for Rev. Billy is the deep conviction that there is a viable, choosable alternative to shopping that will make possible a human community of neighborliness, peace, and justice”.

In this season of giving thanks and remembering the incarnation of the Savior of the world, maybe it might indeed be a good time to pause and think…what would Jesus buy?

..

Related posts:

This is OBSCENE!

The Simple Life 

..

Note:
Just found out today (Dec. 11 ’07) that the writer of the Christianity Today article has his own blog, also here at WordPress!. Cool!

.
BlinkAdd to Blinkslist del.icio.usadd to del.icio.us diggDigg it StumbleUponStumble It! Redd.it Vineseed the vine

How Long, O Lord?

This morning I met an accident, where I almost lost my right ring finger. I rushed myself to the Emergency Room of the East Avenue Medical Center, and the staff had to cut my wedding ring in order to allow them access to the wound so that they can clean it and then suture it.

The ER was full of people in suffering and pain. When I arrived, the beds were full of poor people in dirty clothes, some with dextrose bags attached to them, some half-naked and bleeding. They had all met various accidents. What was striking was that, on two beds, patients were lying with their mouths open and a tube inserted, with the tube attached to what looked like an oblong rubber bag which was being squeezed rhythmically by a relative or friend standing beside the bed. They had to be given precious oxygen through somebody else patiently squeezing a rubber bag in the correct rhythm, for hours at a time!

Just then a man came in, crying loudly in pain. He had accidentally poured boiling water on himself, and his body from his stomach down had suffered third degree burns. He was naked, having immediately rushed from his bathroom, and he was just covered with a blanket. Another bed was immediately brought out, and when he was laid on it I could see parts of his leg and part of his side, near the stomach, with the skin burned off. His anguished cries filled the room, and I did not even want to imagine the pain he was going through.

Then a big man came in. He had apparently been thrown off his motorbike, and his mouth and the knuckles of his right hand were bleeding.

Then a little girl was brought in, trembling in the arms of her weeping mother. The girl had been hit by a motorcycle while they were crossing the street, and she had sustained wounds in her hands, legs, and forehead.

Then about fifteen minutes of relative peace. The burned man had apparently been given anesthesia, or some pain-deadening substance had been applied on his burns. The room was relatively quiet, everybody just waiting for something, some medicine to be brought in or some relative to arrive.

Then a security guard approached the table where I was waiting for my own treatment, and where the doctor-in-charge was checking some records. “Shot wound”, the guard announced.

Immediately all available doctors, nurses, and other attendants rushed to the ER entrance, through which a big burly man, naked from the waist up and barefoot, came in carrying in his arms an equally big man, also half-naked, mouth open and with a bloodied handkerchief wrapped around the top of his head.

The wounded man had been shot in the head, along with a companion who was brought to another hospital.  The staff attended to him for about an hour, and finally left him with his half-naked friend so that they can go back to the other patients. From where I sat, I could see his stomach heaving mightily with his breathing.

Overhearing the conversations of the medical staff, I gathered that the man had been shot point blank, and that pieces of his brain were found on his trousers when he was brought in, and on the tricyle which was used to transport him to the ER.

After a while I heard loud wailing and cries of “Papa! You can make it! Fight for your life! Papa! Fight for your life! You can make it!” The man’s daughter, who looked to be only in her twenties, had arrived with another female relative. “You promised me you wouldn’t leave me, Papa! You promised me you wouldn’t leave me! Fight for your life! Please, Papa!”

After some minutes of crying and pleading loudly at the bedside of her father, the young woman and her companion approached the doctor who was again standing near me.

“He’ll make it, won’t he? He’ll make it”, she pleaded with the doctor. “I know he will. I have faith he will. He’s still breathing!”

The doctor calmly explained that the bullet had torn through the man’s brains, and finally said, “I cannot offer you false hope. Yes, he’s breathing, and his heart is beating. But there’s a 99 percent chance that he won’t make it.”

(To be continued…)

 

..

..
BlinkAdd to Blinkslist del.icio.usadd to del.icio.us digg.itDigg it Redd.it StumbleUponStumble It!