War! Huh?

 

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This Sunday we remember the brave men and women who gave all to defend our country and our way of life. 

War is a terrible reminder of what humanity is capable of. It is a time where our innate hate is amplified as we fight other sentients over resources, ideologies and principles. 

How did we obtain the capacity to be so evil to each other and yet have the moral compass to know that war is wrong?

This dichotomy is amplified during conflict but remains part of the human condition in peace time to.

We all have the knowledge of (and the capacity to do) good and evil and each day we choose to do one or the other when opportunities present themselves.

It is illogical to conclude that a deterministic process such as natural selection would yield such a counter productive paradox. But what is the alternative explanation? Well there is nothing I have read in natural history, science, religion or philosophy that comes anywhere close to explaining this paradigm of the human condition as well as Genesis 3. So what is it all about?

In the beginning God.

He created the Heavens, the Earth. Next He made Humanity (Adam). Adam was made to glorify God by living in obedience to His life giving creation ordinances (that still apply to us today). Adam was to; work and care for the Earth (Genesis 2:19), observe the Sabbath (Genesis 2:3) and be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28, 2:22-24). God made Adam from what was already created (Genesis 2:7) and created him in His image so that he had the capability for the task at hand (Genesis 2:15). Adam was created from dust, to rule over the dust, never to be consumed by the dust. Adam was to fulfil his calling as God’s image bearer on earth (Genesis 2:7) by living, working and multiplying in creation as a creature in the total reliance of the creator’s provision (Genesis 1:30). What bliss!

Bonhoeffer suggests that Eve was made out of Adam to be a tangible reminder of his unique position in creation, above the animals as their caretaker and below God as His creature. As flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone (Genesis 2:23) Adam should have seen in his equal (Eve) his own physical limitations and this should have undermined any attempt of his to be “Sicut Deus” (like God). A desire that (because of his limitations as a creature) would lead to death (Genesis 2:17).

Adam’s tenure in Eden was dependant on his behaviour as a creature in ‘special relationship’ to the creator. But as we know his stay was short lived, the forked tongue serpent tempted Adam and Eve to brake their relationship with God (what the Bible calls sin). The serpent deceived Adam and Eve into thinking that their unique position as being ‘God’s image bearer’ gave them the ability to become “gods” like their creator despite being limited creatures (Genesis 3:5). They ate the forbidden fruit and as a result they became what they could never be “Sicut Deus” (like God). This disobedience gave humanity the knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam’s life giving relationship with his creator had changed forever and his current position as Garden caretaker became untenable. 

Adam and Eve were successfully tempted by the serpent, they willingly ignored God’s command and took the forbidden fruit (which in itself was not innately evil or poisonous). It was the disobedience (and thus the rejection of the life giver) that damned Adam and Eve. 

In this very act of defiance humanity in Adam and Eve became “like God”. For the first time their eyes were opened (Genesis 3:7) and they gained the knowledge of Good and Evil. They became conscious of their nakedness (Genesis 3:7) and they could see their own disobedience and frailty. As creatures now “like God” they carried their shame (that they could not bare) and naively attempted to cover themselves in fig leaves and went into hiding (Genesis 3:8).

The fall caused the human ‘creature’ to become ‘like’ its ‘creator’, Adam (humanity) gained the knowledge of good and evil and as a result he could no longer rely on the creators provision in the same way that he did before. Humanity would now have to survive outside of the Garden, not simply as dependent creatures in God’s creation, but as dependent creatures “like gods”, a curse that would lead to all conflict and our demise (Romans 6:23).  

In Adam, humanity now has to live with the ongoing knowledge of our physical and spiritual limitations. Because of sin, we aspire to be “like God” but at the same time, we are also well aware of our limitations as creatures, we now own our nakedness, our shame and weakness, we now have to eat through painful toil (Genesis 3:17). 

But God (being gracious) commences His redemptive work to save humanity. 

He begins by destroying the tempter. He judges the serpent (Genesis 3:14) and delivers the gospel promise in Genesis 3:15 “And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

Rejecting the God of life logically leads to death. Adam’s breaking of the law led to the blood of an animal being shed, its skin was used to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. Safely in their garments (Genesis 3:21) God honoured humanities choice to reject Him and they were cast eastward separating them (and all humanity) from the tree of life with cherubim and a flaming sword guarding the way back (Genesis 3:24).

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Regaining our special relationship

Genesis 4 onwards begins the greatest story ever told as God works out His redemptive plan. He calls out a distinct people for Himself (Israel) and through them births the promised Messiah who crushed the serpents head at Calvary and with it the curse. This opened a safe way back to God for humanity by faith in the promise fulfilled in the historic person, Jesus of Nazareth (the Christ). 

Despite our desire to be “like God” (and thus naturally rejecting the ‘God’), God still graciously provides for us through His creation (Matthew 5:43). We can still live in the knowledge of what is Good and are blessed with the enjoyment of creation ordinances such as the Sabbath (Mark 2:27), marriage and work.  By God’s Grace we can still breath and eat (Genesis 3:17) and we can multiply and live. But this reality of what is “Good” is constantly clouded (as the curse dictates) in the knowledge of “Evil”. As a result the benefits of work are now tarnished by toil, our perception of metaphysical truths such as our existence in time/space is now tarnished by the knowledge of our impending deaths. We can love, care and show charity to fellow human beings whilst lying and cheating and blowing others up. 

This dual nature that is uniquely human is a curse that is the cause of all conflict and it could have continued for an eternity if we were able to grasp the tree of life (Genesis 3:22). But by God’s Grace humanity was spared from this endless paradox by our expulsion from Eden. 

Now living on the “outside” we have but three-score and ten years to either choose to cause as much trouble as we can (being like gods) squabbling over our lusts and desires, fighting over mere material tokens that rust and decay, or we can choose to live as God indented, fully dependent on Him, in His service, in utter peace in the glorious promise of the Gospel.

If we choose the latter we become new creations ( 2 Corinthians 5:17) where we are no longer ruled by our desire to be gods. Instead we follow God into a promised eternal home of a far greater Eden (Heaven). A new home where we are regarded higher than the angels (Hebrews 1:4) and will live in perfect precious sinless communion with God (1 Corinthians 13:12). A home where we will never be tempted to be “like God” again but spend an eternity in peace, crowned as His adopted sons and daughters. (Ephesians 1:5). 

I find no better explanation for the human condition, neither a better cure for it.

This Remembrance Day, as we ponder the sacrifice of war, let us relinquish our desire to be like God and simply follow the God. Let us cling together in peace and unity to the hope of a better world to come in Christ Jesus.

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Bala Ministers conference

I have just returned from the EMW (Evangelical Movement of Wales) Bala Ministers conference at Bryn-y-Groes. The theme this year was “the Glory of Jesus Christ in His Person and Work”.

Stephen Clark gave the three title addresses, Andy Pitt spoke on our identity in Christ, Lindsay Brown on Calvin the missionary, Mark Barnes on the current views held by non believers, Adrian Brake preached on the life and Ministry of William Williams, Pete Campbell lead the prayer meetings and I spoke on Tuesday evening on what God can do with a little oil (2Kings4).

I do not wish to go into too much detail regarding the programme, just to say that it was well thought out with a real concern for the current needs of the delegates. I was greatly encouraged and stimulated by the content. As a speaker, I stuck out like a sore thumb among such titans of the EMW (Evangelical Movement of Wales).

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I do not wish to elaborate anymore on the programme for two reasons.

  1. I scribbled so many notes down that this review would soon turn into an essay if I went any further.
  2. I feel it helpful to distance the programme from the conference, because as good as it was (and it was excellent), it is the other attributes that make the three days truly special.

There are many conferences that offer the high level seminars akin to those expected at the Bala Ministers. They are all well organised, valuable and of course offer great discounts on books! However, the Bala Ministers conference is unique! For reasons you can only understand if you come! Yes, it shares in all the benefits of the aforementioned learning but it was packaged in a gentleness and sincerity that I had not experienced elsewhere.

The prayer meetings were fully attended each morning; the more academic material was not coldly presented but given in the love of Christ, the discussions (that included strong rebukes and challenges) were shared in a spirit of unity.

This was more than just a conference; it felt like a family reunion, young and old gathered together from all different circumstances, some had been coming for decades, others were there for the first time, but we all loved each other as brothers in the Gospel.

I shared meals with men who will go down in church folk law as bastions of the faith, I discussed philosophy and theology with leading and respected academics (embarrassingly asking them to sign copies of the books I purchased after the discussion), I enjoyed coffee with young prodigies set to take on the mantle for tomorrows church. We were reminded of old truths, and given new ideas to meet the needs of a changing world.

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This week battle weary brothers had fun together, we enjoyed each other’s company, we walked, we debated and we relaxed in the idyllic setting of Bala lake.

We were all cared for so wonderfully by Gwydion, Catrin and the team at Bryn-y-groes, they truly are called to serve in such a way. The food was tremendous, you could almost taste the love that went into its preparation. Nothing was too much trouble for them to ensure our stay was as comfortable and beneficial as possible. Thank you!

In conclusion

You can pay for the Carson’s and the Keller’s, you can hire out a room, book a hotel and prepare a programme. The content will be good, and the time worthwhile. But what other conference do not give you is the spirit of love, care and gentleness that I received from Bala Ministers this week.

We were not professionals meeting, we were broken men seeking our saviour and He came and met with us and bound us together in love.

By God’s Grace I hope to see you all next year!

Isaiah 53

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

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.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice

I recently went on a rare trip to the cinema to see Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice. (a fitting end to our Superhero Training Academy)

I do enjoy the DC and Marvel films; they give me everything I want from a cinematic experience; however I do not take them seriously enough to delve into the myriad of back stories and cross-over’s between characters.

This nonchalant approach to the film could have caused some difficulties on the night, fortunately I went with a dear friend who has an extensive knowledge of such things and my son who is a Marvel/DC geek. They both kept me updated throughout the film so I did not miss a thing.

I am sure there are plenty of online forums filled with “comic book guys” currently critiquing the film, but with my limited knowledge on the subject, I must confess that I loved every minute of it!

(Before reading on, if you have not seen it yet – SPOILER ALERT)

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The film was filled with Christ symbolism, openly in the script and suggestively in various scenes.

If my memory serves me well, Superman was referred to throughout the film as the chosen one, the saviour, divine power, sent from above, the hope of the world. People would crowd around him just to touch his garment (Mark 5:27).

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At Superman’s ‘death’ we see him weak and lifeless cradled in the arms of Lois Lane with his dearest around him, mourning amidst the rubble of his sacrificial fight with evil (embodied in the monster called Doomsday).

At this moment on the top left of the screen, steel girders remain from fallen buildings that make the shape of three crosses on a hill subliminally reinforcing the Christ-like imagery. The scene reminded me of the below painting by Rogier van der Weyden (Pieta).

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This constant association throughout the film between Superman and Christ gave me mixed feelings.

Many watching may be inspired by the film to seek the realities of the historic person that it alludes to, God in the flesh Jesus Christ. Or, I fear, people will assimilate the clear fiction of Superman and apply it to the historic person, God in the flesh Jesus Christ and thus dismiss Him as such. I pray it is not the latter.

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There is a scene in the film where Lex Luthor (the villain) meets Superman face-to-face on a helipad overlooking metropolis. In typical Hollywood style Lex divulges his evil plan to Superman.

Lex shows Superman pictures of his kidnapped mother, the cost of her release, Batman’s head.

The film continues to its conclusion and I will not divulge anymore.

What caught me during this dialogue between Luthor and Superman was the below statement:

If god is all powerful he can’t possibly be all good, and if he’s not all powerful he can’t possibly be god.” Lex Luthor Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice

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This line resonated with me throughout the film as I feel it is a rather succinct way of putting across what many people have against religion.

What Lex is getting at here is essentially a point of view that many share.

“If God is sovereign He can’t be all good all the time, because at some point He will have to make an unpopular decision.”

What we have here is the ‘ye olde’ paradox of Love and Justice that has baffled unregenerate humanity throughout history. (1 Cor 1:25)

“If God is love how can He send people to Hell? If God is just how can He forgive sin?”

Mercy or forgiveness is the opposite of Justice, how can God be both? “If god is all powerful he can’t possibly be all good” Lex Luthor Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice

Religions throughout history have tried to deal with this conundrum by creating rites of passage or levels of; piety, status and wealth, alongside many other deeds that mankind can work towards to please said deity and thus remain just in their site. This way condemnation would be justly given to those that do not follow suit, so, it is argued that their god remains loving (but only to those who deserve it).

But this man-made, man-up ‘religion’ remains illogical in the face of the paradox that Lex Luthor puts forward so perfectly, as it limits the love of God.

If salvation could be earned there would be no need for Mercy, there would be no need for God’s Love.

If God only showed love to those who deserve it, then He is not a loving God.

Love is not based on a reward system (Matthew 5:43-48).

Love patient, love is kind, it is not self seeking, love keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Think about it.

If we had to meet the standards of an all powerful god, we would all fail, because none of us are ‘all powerful’ and if we came to that all powerful god that only rewarded us for his decreed works, then he would not be a loving god at all and because we could not achieve said works anyway (none of us are perfect), we would all be doomed. – Make sense?

So the question remains;

“If god is all powerful he can’t possibly be all good” Lex Luthor Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice

“If God is love how can He send people to Hell? If God is just how can He forgive sin?”

Well there is an answer!

An answer so perfect that it could only come from God Himself, because mere men could never have dreamt it up! And it is unique to Christianity (because Christianity is uniquely from God).

The answer to this paradox is found on the Cross on which the Prince of Glory died.

On this Cross we see God’s Love and Justice meet….and it all makes perfect sense!

On this Cross the illogical becomes logical.

On this Cross the paradox is perfectly fulfilled in God the Son Jesus Christ.

Why?

Well because on this Cross God remains perfectly just, because the sentence we deserve for our crimes was issued and the punishment was carried out in full.

And

On this Cross God remains perfectly loving because He sacrificially took the sentence (which we deserve) on Himself (God the Son).

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” 1 Peter 3:18

In faith of this truth, you are saved.

“If god is all powerful he can’t possibly be all good”. Lex Luthor Batman vs Superman Dawn of Justice

Well Lex, yes He can, in Jesus Christ.

Look to the Cross.

Christianity is not a religion of works, it is not a philosophy or a moral law, neither is it about what we can do to please God. Christianity is about having faith in the historic fact of what God has already done for us, so perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ.

This is the Gospel! Join us on Sunday to find out more

The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” Romans 6:10

Jesus

Image sources (in order)
From Google Search
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/film/batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice/
http://comicbook.com/2015/12/01/batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-sneak-peek-detailed-analysis/
http://screenrant.com/batman-v-superman-zack-snyder-cut-dark-scene/
http://moviepilot.com/posts/2867036
http://www.comicbookmovie.com/batman/batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-a127760