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Statistics and Comfort in Calamity

Photo by Ben White 

Does the 2% death rate statistic comfort you? What does the Bible say about comfort during calamity? 

Some sources are saying that the mortality rate of COVID-19 looks to be 2%. However, it is too early to say. The percentage will be bigger or smaller depending on various factors (such as the age of the people infected, access to the needed medical treatment, etc.). I think we should acknowledge a few things about the statistic. First, 2% looks like a small number. And it is. At least, relative to a larger number. 

Second, to put it into perspective, 2% of the population of the world is around 140 million people. That, as we can see, is a lot of people. COVID-19 could rival the AIDS epidemic. Of course, it seems highly unlikely that everyone in the world will get the virus. But even a fraction of that number is a lot of people. And it’s important for us to see the numbers from this vantage point so that we don’t play the numbers down.

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The Resurrection and Our Hope No Matter What

What is the correct response to the coronavirus? Should we have fear or faith?

Well, the answer to that question depends on where you’re coming from and your understanding of this world…

The Bible teaches Christians that through Christ, no matter what we face, we can have faith. We can have hope.

Reflecting on the resurrection of Jesus helps us have faith. It helps us see that we have a solid, untouchable hope.

In Acts chapter 2, Peter refers to Psalm 16 which is a Psalm that king David wrote. Psalm 16:27 says, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.” In Peter’s message he said: Friends, I can confidently tell you something about king David: He is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us today (Acts 2:29). David is dead and his body rotted.

David did, however, as a prophet tell us that one of his descendants would sit on his throne (v. 30). So, David saw in advance and told us about “the resurrection of the Messiah: ‘His body was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did His body see decay’” (v. 31).

Paul tells us the same thing but he says it a little differently. He says King “David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption” (Acts 13:36). King David saw corruption. His body decomposed. So, David is not the “Holy One” that the Psalm refers to.

Paul goes on to say, “But He whom God raised up did not see corruption” (v. 37). Ding, ding, ding! Jesus is the Holy One! He is the long-awaited Messiah and forever King!

Jesus is the fulfillment of David’s prophecy. Jesus was neither abandoned to the grave nor did His body undergo decay. Peter said that God raised Him up and that he was a witness of that truth (Acts 2:32). And so Peter, the faithless denier, became faithful even to the point of death, and even the death of upside-down crucifixion.[1]

Therefore, Peter’s body, and our bodies can dwell in hope (Ps. 16: 9) even when they are buried six-feet under because of the resurrection of Messiah Jesus![2] So, when those in Christ die we grieve but not as those with no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). We have hope because of Jesus’ resurrection (v. 14)!

Jesus is the first bodily resurrection in a long line of resurrections. Therefore, no matter what we face—“tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine”—nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (see Rom. 8:31-39).

Therefore, we don’t need to fear famine, we don’t need to panic at the prospect of a pandemic. Why not? Because Jesus says, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore” (Rev. 1:17-18).

I’m not sure what the mortality rate of the coronavirus but the mortality rate for all of us is 100%. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that the Judgment.”

We will all die so what hope do we have? Jesus! His body did not see corruption! He is the suffering one as promised in Psalm 22 and He is the Holy One as promised in Psalm 16.

Through Jesus we have hope. His body did not see corruption, He rose from the dead. And all those who trust in Him will rise as He was raised. And so, “Fear not” (Rev. 1:17). Jesus is the First and the Last, He is the Living One. He died but behold He is alive forevermore.

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[1] Tradition says that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome under Emperor Nero. See also John 21:18-19.

[2] This is true of David’s body, Peter’s body, and it’s true of all those in Christ, because Jesus, though crucified, did not see corruption! Jesus rose from the dead and He will bring a large host with Him (Is. 53:11, 12)! 1 Corinthians 15 talks about Jesus being the firstfruits, and there’s a ton of more “fruit” to come (v. 20, 23)!

The Coronavirus and the Christian

How should Christians think about and respond to the coronavirus? Here are some initial thoughts…

Plague and the Problem of Evil

Christians see the world in a way that makes sense of the world. We have an understanding of why plagues and the problem of evil exist.

That leads us to acknowledge something else that’s super important to focus on: Jesus. Jesus did not leave us to our problems. He did not leave us to simply wallow in plagues. Instead, He Himself plunged headlong into our sorrow.

“The God of The Bible becomes completely human and hurts in every way that we do—from physical pain to social rejection, misunderstanding, hatred, violence, and death. He endures it all. And because he suffers all of this with us, he can empathize with our sorrow and pain. Even more amazingly, Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection are the avenues through which he overcomes all evil, pain, and misery and is able to offer us the promise that disappointment will give way to joy, brokenness to eternal healing, and evil to good. Because of Christ’s agony, death will die and life will live on forever.”[1]

Therefore, even in the midst of plague and the problem of evil we can point people to Jesus. We can point people to hope, no matter what happens. Therefore, Christian, continue to worship Christ as Lord and always be ready to tell everyone the reason you have hope even in the midst of the chaos of the curse and the coronavirus (1 Pet. 3:15).

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Moral Order

The world has a moral order. Many are unwilling to concede that truth, however. But the world functions as if that is the case. Let’s take my kid’s classroom as an example.

In my kid’s classroom there is a telos, or goal for which the students gather. There are also specific means that are employed to reach that end.

The whole education system is predicated upon the goals of teaching things that are deemed important for the betterment and healthy functioning of the individual student and society. Various means are employed to best meet those goals. There are subtle disagreements of course. For example, people have disagreements over the best forms of discipline. But there is overarching agreement across America.

Think of the quintessential school. Perhaps for you it’s John Adams High from Boy Meets World or maybe Bayside High School from Saved by the Bell. Regardless, there is a quintessential school. There is something that is aimed for, something that is ideal. Read More…

A Sermon on 1 Timothy 2

 

The passage that we are looking at today has some very controversial issues in it. We will look at them in a little bit but first I want to explain the background of the letter as well as the main point of what Paul says in this chapter.

Paul wrote this letter to Timothy to address a particular context and a particularly difficult situation in Ephesus. Paul was addressing false teaching (1 Tim. 1:3-20; 4:1-5; 6:2b-10) and he was telling Timothy how people ought to “behave in the household of God” (1 Tim. 2:1-3:16; 4:6-6:2a).[1] People at the church in Ephesus were teaching things that were wrong and doing wrong things.

Paul labored at the church in Ephesus for three years (Acts 20:31) and wrote one of the most amazing letters that have ever been written to them and yet they were still liable to fall to unhealthy teaching and living. We see later on that they were also liable to lose the love that they had for Jesus at first (Rev. 2:4). This letter should serve as a wakeup call to us! We too are capable of falling! We too need correction!

Paul wants people to teach what is right and act the right way in “God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). If the church is teaching and living wrong that’s really bad news for everyone. It is the church that is to be the “foundation of the truth.” If the church is not the set-apart light that it’s supposed to be how great is the darkness?!

It’s important that we not miss the main point of what Paul is saying in this passage because our modern disputes distract us. Paul’s main point in this chapter is to instruct us to pray. He tells us to pray together. And he tells us how to pray. So, the main point is: In light of Jesus’ sacrificial love, pray with compassion and holiness.

We will look at that in more detail soon. A few things, however, should be said at the outset. First, OCF is committed to a high view of Scripture; we believe it is the word of God. We also believe that unless the Bible is God’s word to us, we live without any real moral authority. “Right” and “wrong” would then become matters of personal taste or popular opinion. We would not be able to talk about justice or truth at all, for there would be no way to know objective truth.[2]

So, second, the Bible is our authority. The Bible informs us and teaches us. We are not to sit over the Bible, God’s word, and inform it… It informs us.[3]

Claire Smith has pointed out in her book, God’s Good Design, that “we do not come to the text as neutral readers. We all have cultural blind spots and sensitivities that influence our reading.” She goes on to say, and I couldn’t agree more, that “we must always allow God’s word to critique us and our culture, rather than the other way around.”[4]

Third, all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable. One of the reasons it’s profitable is for correction. One of the things the Bible does, is it functions like a mirror by which we can see ourselves and compare.

Fourth, we must always keep in mind God’s lordship and love. God is all wise and powerful as the Creator. But He is also good and loving. He has definitively shown that at the cross. God’s lordship and love should always inform how we think about things.

If what we discuss below is hard for you, I get it. But please don’t doubt the good character of God. And also don’t doubt His lordship. He is loving and Lord.

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Is Jesus Really the Only Way?

A lot of people believe that all “good” people go to heaven.

“After all, isn’t being good[1] what really matters? If someone is good and sincere in their beliefs then they should go to heaven. Plus, aren’t all religions basically the same?”[2]

“How could a good God allow people to go to hell?”

However, it should be asked, does God want those people to go to hell?[3] And has God provided a way for them to be saved? The answer to the first question we’ll see is no[4] and the answer to the second question is yes.

First, Scripture repeatedly says things like God desires all humans to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). Here are three more:

“The Lord is… not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?… For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live” (Ezek. 18:23, 32).

“Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11).

So, God’s desire is for people to come to a knowledge of the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ and repent of their sins and be saved. That is God’s desire. However, that’s not it.

Second, God has also provided the way of salvation. The one God has provided the one way of salvation through the man Christ Jesus who is the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).

Imagine we were all on an island that a very wealthy and magnificent man owns. It is on fire and we all have to get off or we will die. Now, imagine that the owner of the island built a very large and sturdy bridge to the mainland so that people could escape. And in making the bridge he himself died.

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Is there a basis for Human Rights?

God’s existence and His revelation are necessary conditions for meaningful human rights. Christianity gives a firm foundation for human rights. Not only that, but Christianity has “the strongest possible resource for practicing sacrificial service, generosity, and peace-making. At the very heart of [Christianity’s] view of reality [is] a man who died for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness. Reflection on this could only lead to a radically different way of dealing with those who [are] different from them. It [means] they [could] not act in violence and oppression toward their opponents.”[1] Of course, that doesn’t mean that the ideal is always followed.
 
There have been Christians that have done very wicked things. There have also been many wicked things that have been done by atheists.[2] That, however, does not mean that all atheists are bad or even that atheism is wrong. As we will see below though, atheists do not finally have any basis for morality or human rights.
 
Richard Wurmbrand who experienced ghastly torture at the hands of an atheistic government said,
“The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe. When a man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man. The communist torturers often said, ‘There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.’ I heard one torturer say, ‘I thank God, in whom I do not believe, that I lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.’ He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.”[3] 
Scripture, on the other hand, clearly condemns injustice.[4] Scripture shows us that God loves justice and, conversely, hates injustice; He has compassion for those who suffer injustice—everywhere around the world; He judges and condemns those who perpetrate injustice; and He seeks active rescue for victims of injustice.[5] Much of secular society, however, does not have a reason to condemn injustice.

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