The end is not nigh

Tsunamis, snowstorms, earthquakes — is God withdrawing His restraining hand and allowing the earth to be engulfed in chaos?

There are a couple of considerations here: God has removed restraint upon people, and the end will be worse than this.

Sinful people find every reason they can imagine to avoid attributing the ultimate cause of ‘natural disasters’ to God (Romans 1:19-21). Because of stubbornly sinful hearts God has withdrawn his restraint and given people up. He has given them up to impurity and debased minds (Romans 1:24, Romans 1:28), but this is a lifting of restraint upon the human soul, not on the earth as such.

Now consider how catastrophic the end will really be. In Matthew 24:7-8 Jesus speaks of wars, famines and earthquakes as being the beginning of birth pains. With three children who were all born at least a week after their ‘due’ dates I know the relief it can be when labour finally begins. Yet that’s just the beginning of a long ordeal, it is called ‘labour’ for good reason! There is a long, hard slog before a baby is finally born. So, after describing tribulations awaiting the church, faithlessness, false teachers, increasing lawlessness and fading love for Christ, Jesus speaks of the ultimate idolatry (the abomination of desolation). Accompanying this ultimate idol will be great suffering and false christs. After this catastrophic astronomical events will occur (Matthew 24:29-30) and then Jesus will appear in glory.

What we have witnessed in the last year even is not on the catastrophic scale of the end time events. Clearly labour pains that are strong, but God still holds back the destroying angels (Revelation 9:14-15).

The entire creation, the very earth upon which we live, is groaning in the pains of childbirth (Romans 8:22). What sort of birth will this be? The revealing of the children of God, redeemed and adopted in Christ! (Romans 8:23).

Mourn with those who mourn, and also rejoice that your name is written in the book of life. We dwell in a broken and breaking world, yet in this world of suffering we have hope as we await the heavenly city.


Image of warning about the Judgement Day we all missed: Phil Davi

I don’t geddit

I am finding my ‘verse of the week’ (2 Peter 3:9) to be difficult to memorize because its implications distract me from trying to rote-learn it. If God doesn’t wish for anyone to perish but that all should reach repentance, why then does Calvinist theology say that only some people (the elect) can repent?

I understand the arguments for election and predestination and overall I accept that God does predestine some for salvation. Yet Romans 8:28-30, Ephesians 1:4-6 and 2 Peter 3:9 are all in the same Bible, I do not have the option of choosing to believe one verse and not the others. Somehow my concepts of predestination and free will must submit to the authority of God’s revealed word.

While I may see a contradiction between God making people destined for wrath (Romans 9:22) and not wishing any to perish, I am not the being of infinite wisdom, justice and goodness, God is. Therefore I choose to live with unresolved puzzlements on this and many other issues. God is my maker, I cannot know His full purpose or reasons for making the world as He chose (Romans 9:20-21). God has revealed some things and kept others hidden (Deuteronomy 29:29). Some things are too great and too marvelous for us (Psalm 131:1) and it is better to worship than to quarrel with God.

I love theology, it greatly helps me in understanding God and the Bible by giving me a theoretical sketch that explains how the finished building will look. However, just as a staunchly blinkered purely scientific materialist theoretical framework leaves no room for considering God, who is there but cannot be measured; so also rigid theological battle lines may blind us to apprehending depths of God’s dealings in the world which do not fit into a particular systematic theology. Human theories have been known to be incorrect at times, ‘let God be true though every man be a liar’ (Romans 3:4).

Addendum

I found a blog post by John Piper which addresses this issue of seemingly circular arguments in the Bible:  Unconditional Is the Ground of Conditional

Weeding vs Roundup

I have some weedkiller in my garden shed. I don’t like using the stuff but we have ivy and blackberry growing wild which are almost impossible to control aside from a targeted spray with Roundup. Unfortunately it also kills any other plant it hits, so I have to be careful with it.

Jesus told a parable about agricultural weed control strategies in Matthew 13:24-30. Rather than a blanket weed eradication programme during the growing season, God uses an intensive weeding process during harvest. Modern agricultural scientists might scoff at such a strategy – surely it is better to use a genetically modified ‘Roundup ready’ crop seed and then spray the entire field with glyphosate to eradicate the weeds using minimal labour and allowing optimal growing conditions for the crop.

Well, Jesus gives an explanation explaining the symbolism of his parable in Matthew 13:36-43. The reason for God’s strategy is alluded to in Matthew 13:31-32; faith starts very small and must be given time to grow. The kingdom of God will grow bigger than all else that has been sown in the world. God is patient, He will not use weedkiller, rather He wants us to continue sowing seed until the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).


Photo of man weeding garden: dmaroscar

Glimpsing God

My memory verse for this week is Exodus 34:6 in which God reveals Himself to Moses. The other day I was reading Mark 6:48-50 (Jesus walking on water) and the ESV Study Bible note for verse 48 commented that it “echoes the incident where God ‘passed’ before Moses, giving a glimpse of His glory.” Jesus was intending to walk past the disciples so they could see a glimpse of his divine nature. Despite them freaking out and thinking he was a ghost, the account in Matthew 14:33 indicates that they do get the point.

That God makes it His purpose show what He is like is stated in Romans 1:19-20. Yet people refused to honour Him as God so He took His revelation of Himself a step further, Jesus did not just stroll around on lakes flaunting his divinity, he made himself a sacrifice for the justification of our wickedness (Romans 3:23-26).

This was to show God’s righteousness, His mercy, His graciousness, His steadfast love, His faithfulness and His slowness to anger. God gave a progressive revelation in order that our growing understanding of Him will lead us to repentance rather than destruction (Romans 2:4).

A righteous sinner

I read something encouraging and thought-provoking this morning written by Sinclair Ferguson in his book ‘In Christ Alone:

Christ died our death, and now in His resurrection He continues to wear our nature forever, and in it He lives for us before the face of God. He could not do more for us than He has done; we need no other resources to enable us to walk through this world into the next.

I need frequent reminding that I already have in Christ all I need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). The death of Jesus was a perfect sacrifice for sin, such that we now have perfect righteousness in him (Hebrews 10:12-14). As yet we struggle and groan in battle with the sinful nature in us, but by faith in Jesus Christ we are righteous (Romans 3:21-22).

Consider that Abraham was a sinful man (Gen 12:10-20,  Gen 16:2-6,  Gen 20:1-18), yet he was counted righteous by faith (Romans 4:3) – all he did was to believe what God told him. That is all we have to do – believe in Jesus Christ and we have perfect righteousness!

Hope in the Lord from this time forth

Recently I have been considering Psalm 131 and the ideal of having a quiet and calm soul in God’s presence. This has been on my mind as I observe within myself how fragmented and distracted my thoughts are generally, and in particular with regard to encountering God.

Underlying this is a desire is to find some way to quickly focus my heart upon God and worshiping Him and have it stay there for more than two minutes. Such an idea smacks of pop psychology and being a quick fix of superficial nature. However, I do think there are some things I can do to calm my soul:

  • I find that physical activity which requires no thought or interaction with others is helpful – walking the dogs, washing dishes, mowing lawns, stacking firewood. Being active seems to get my thoughts moving and allows the freedom to just let them flow where they will, which in turn helps me to unwind.
  • Thinking beyond today, this week, this month. It can be difficult when worries and stresses are crowding in, yet is refreshing because it puts busy, urgent concerns into a fuller perspective.

To lift these ideas beyond simply being mind games the subject of my thinking needs to be considered. Positive thinking alone is placing hope in human nature and is sinful. Psalm 131:3 exhorts us to hope in the Lord.

If you are a Christian you probably will have had experiences in which you were so gripped by the truth of who Jesus is that you would happily have left anything and everything to answer his call of “follow me” (Matthew 4:18-22). Just as we first come to be Christians by trusting in Jesus for everything, so we can restore our fellowship with God by trusting anew in him for all our hope.

The calm and quiet soul is hoping in Jesus Christ for everything – today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year and in the next world. To be like a weaned child in God’s arms I need to know deep in my soul that being in His arms is truly the only thing that matters (Philippians 3:12-14).

Prayerlessness and social media

One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.
John Piper 2:02 PM Oct 20th, 2009

My response to this was “ouch!”, it hits me on a sensitive spot – not only how I interact with social media, but the internet and computers in general. It also reminds me of another penetrating comment from John Piper:

We are made to know Christ; we are not made to do little diddly things.

A weaned child

My daughter resting on her Dad

Do you ever miss the irresponsibility of childhood? When your needs were met by parents and you just got on with living rather than worrying.

In my previous post I cited  Psalm 131 as an example of being focused on what is most important. The image of a weaned child resting upon its mother has remained in my thoughts and inspired me to consider further how we can rest in the Lord.

My youngest child is not yet weaned. When he is held in his mother’s arms he fusses and frets until he has been fed and then will be still, whereas his older sisters are very happy to be held in Mum’s loving arms – her presence is all they want.

We can be like this with God. When very young Christians we come to Him wanting something He can give us. As we mature we are content to be in His presence – this is our desire and our satisfaction.

To be content in God’s presence requires and induces humility. Nobody who thinks they have power in themselves to meet their own needs will be content resting in Christ, anyone that recognizes who Jesus is knows he is all they desire. There is a divine composure possessed by the humble person who rests in Christ. However, this is not the goal, the goal is simply to be with Christ.

Headspace

I once had a job in which I was interrupted every 6 minutes on average. That is no longer an issue in my work, but curiously it seems that I have an habitual tendency to seek a change of focus roughly every 6 minutes or so.

What I have noticed is that as the external distractions are removed, internal ones take their place – I distract myself. External distractions stress and frustrate me when I am trying to get something done, but without them I allow myself to stray off task remarkably easily anyway. There is a relentless hum of unproductive activity in my heart which pulls me away from what’s most important.

Lately I have been increasingly going ‘unplugged’, especially from my iPod. It has been my practice to listen to sermons and audiobooks on the bus to and from work each day, which has been very helpful to me in deepening my faith. Yet even good spiritual food can become a substitute for actively cultivating a Godward heart. I do not need constant input, the information coming into my mind also needs to be considered and understood, compared with scripture and prayed into my life.

A very helpful tool helping me direct my heart Godward is memorizing Bible verses. I’m not very good at it, but the concentration required for me to memorize a Bible verse certainly pushes other internal distractions out, and the goal of memorizing provides focus to bring me back to my task when my thoughts do wander off into Lala land.

Psalm 131 is a fantastic guide:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.

A humble heart, a focus on what God has revealed for us to know, determined effort to quieten my soul and hope firmly placed in God.

Now to consistently remember to do it!

Sawdust and planks

How do you explain mental illness to an eight-year-old? To say things like “some people are ‘different’…” (or ‘simple’, or ‘not able to cope with things’, or ‘a bit slow’, or ‘don’t react to things as well as they should’) is condescending to both the child and the person with the mental illness. It is especially difficult when the person is someone we know and like and respect.

In attempting to explain a certain mental illness to my daughter while driving I struggled to find phrases she would understand which do not dishonour the person we were talking about. It was a valid question about specific behaviour that confused a child and warranted an honest answer, one which I could not adequately provide. Oddly enough I think having a moderate knowledge of neurobiology myself actually made my explanation even more confusing because I am used to the terms I wanted to use being pre-loaded with meaning which actually requires a lot of other knowledge to understand.

Then there is the idea of ‘normal behaviour’. According to my spell checker I cannot even spell part of that phrase correctly by a certain standard. After spending a long time around Christian folks I have found that it is not always those up the front preaching who have the deepest insight into the plain teachings of Christ, often those who behave in ways that most ‘nice’ Christians frown upon have been battling relentlessly with the exact same sins that others of us long ago justified in our own hearts as not being sins because we express the behavioural side of those internal attitudes in a much milder form. We have all been given a slightly different physiological makeup and this can profoundly amplify or inhibit the expression of internal heart processes (or attitudes). For example; one person may be pleasantly cheerful and calm, a delight to interact with, another with similar IQ and education is grouchy, gloomy and tense. There can be biological reasons for both of these mood types which the individuals have little control over. Of course, there can also be environmental reasons for a person to be cheerful or tense, these too can be outside of our control.

I don’t consider biological predisposition or environmental factors to be an excuse for sin, but in considering how I label people I need to look into my own heart and identify where I am failing to battle sin rather than feeling smug because I can see how much battling someone else has ahead of them yet.

Luke 6:41-42
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

I think the context also helps here, take a look at Luke 6:43-45, it is the state of the heart out of which the fruit comes that God is interested in.