1/22/15

From Jim McGuiggan... THE LAW AND THE HEART SET FREE

THE LAW AND THE HEART SET FREE

If the OT Torah wasn't an exhaustive blueprint, spelling out every step believers were to take, how were they to know how to obey God? Maybe part of the answer is that they did what Christians do every day of their lives; they "winged" it. The first issue, always the first issue, was this: did Yahweh have the believer's heart? If he didn't, it wouldn't make a bit of difference if there had been an exhaustive blueprint for every thought or deed. But if he had the believer's heart, the rest could be worked out to God's glory and honour because that's what the servant would be bent on giving God—glory and honour.
The freeing of the heart
Yes, yes, very pretty, but if there's no exhaustive blueprint then everything is up for grabs. This isn't true and what's more we know it isn't true. Within the parameters of some foundational, non-negotiable truths that are made known to us, we work out how to live with our families, friends, societies and even enemies. We don't have to have a specific answer to every ethical question to know the direction we are to travel.
Just as important as the necessary information, there is the shape of the heart, there is the love for the family, and there is the moral and emotional commitment to our fellows. The hunger to please, the desire to be of service, the sense of gracious obligation that comes with the relationship all that feeds on the basic and profound truths, and finds new ways to serve when new situations bring new responsibilities.
So it isn't true that "everything is up for grabs" if there is no exhaustive blueprint. There are the parameters which have been given to us and there is the devoted heart that seeks to honour God and bless the neighbour within the scope of those parameters. We hear this from Paul in Romans 13:10: "Love does no harm to its neighbour." He doesn't give us an exhaustive discourse on how love will react in every possible situation because love will not always express itself in the same fashion. He does make one grand insistence: love will never seek the harm of a neighbour.
He makes the same point at greater length in Galatians 5:13-26 where the issue is the abuse of moral freedom. In essence he tells them: "If anyone is living in wickedness, defying moral goodness, and tells you he is following the Spirit that makes him free, don't believe him. The fruit the Spirit produces is love, joy, peace, and the like. Behaviour contrary to that is the work of the flesh." There is nothing exhaustive about the lists in Galatians 5 and even the lists need to be worked with; but the direction and drift of life is made abundantly clear.
Some glad soul just had to sing about it! "You have set my heart free," he said to God (Psalm 119:32). This psalm that takes 176 verses to praise the Torah that God has given to Israel is not a case of bibliolatry. The singer doesn't worship the Torah and bow down before the text of the Torah—it's God he worships and exalts. But while he knows the difference between his Bible and his God, he doesn't sever the connection so that the Torah is "lifeless" words.
He believes what every thinking person believes: truth is not the absence of God, it is not a substitute for God; it is God making his presence known and felt! If truth sets the heart free (John 8:32) it's because that's how God bestows freedom! The Torah can make alive only because it's inseparably connected with the sovereign Lord. Christ reminds us of the life-giving force of his words in John 6:63 when he says, "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life." He isn't identifying the spoken truth with the person of the Spirit; he's insisting that the Spirit makes himself present and active in and through the words.
So when the psalmist says (119:50, 93) "This is my comfort in my affliction that thy promises give me life...I will never forget thy precepts; for by them thou has given me life." (RSV for "preserves" his life, as in other versions) he combines the notion that the word of God is the instrument by which God gives him life.
Of course, the psalmist doesn't atomize the Torah into "legal" or "promissory" or "rehearsed truth" sections—he sees it as a single gift of God designed to give and sustain life in Israel. If we had asked him, "Do 'commands' set free or bind?" he would have said they do both, and would probably have been mystified by the need for the question. And had we listened to him sing the psalm which extols the goodness, grace and love of God expressed in the Torah, we wouldn't have had the nerve to ask him if he thought he was setting himself free by obedience. God sets the heart free!
What a heart set free will do:
The psalm takes 176 verses to bubble out delighted praise of God's Torah. The psalmist, spinning like an ecstatic Snoopy in a Peanuts cartoon, cries out in his pleasure (119:97), "Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day." Does that sound like someone who thinks the Torah is a galling yoke he wishes he were free from?
In verse 32 he sings: I run in the path of your commands, or you have set my heart free." He sees himself running free in some roomy place, pleased to be at liberty, careering down paths that lead to everywhere and shouting, "I run in the paths of your commands, for you have set my heart free."
The psalmist sees himself as no longer hemmed in. InGenesis 26 Isaac is having trouble with Abimelech's herdsmen. He keeps digging or re-digging wells and the Philistine herdsmen continue to claim them as theirs. Finally, Isaac moves far enough away from them that they made no claim to the new well (26:22) and Isaac names the well Rehoboth (a form of the word here). The word has notions of "room," more room, less of that sense of being hemmed in, enlargement.
Some versions have the psalmist praising God because "you have enlarged my heart." Whether we take the heart as "the understanding" or the whole person viewed from a specific angle, they all agree that the psalmist is enjoying a new sense of freedom; old partitions are torn down, narrow thinking, restrictive fears are removed and he can breathe and roam free. And when God has liberated his heart by making it bigger, what does he do? What does this big-hearted, liberated man do? Complain that he doesn't have enough information? Dismiss the Torah? Outgrow scripture? Find the commands of God beneath him? No! The opposite's true! With a bigger and freer heart he makes a bee-line for the way of God's law and runs down that road like a child who's just finished school for the summer (note 119:35).
James Moffatt rightly insisted, "There will always be the law of the Spirit of life. Lawlessness is not a road, it is a bog, even though the bog looks solid and is covered with bright marsh-flowers." (1) He goes on to contrast the mechanical doing of God's commands with a cheerful response. "That is where the change comes, not simply in finding out what we ought to do but in discovering a new spirit in the following of the Lord. Once...we did not leave the road, but we did not love it."
The psalmist may not worship the Torah, but he fully understands that that's what reveals God to him as nothing else does. Because of the Torah he is able to interpret life and its experiences, because of Torah the world, for all its complexities and mysteries, becomes a world in which God is operating and continuing to reveal himself. Without God's self-revelation in Torah (which includes a rehearsal of his past historical acts and his continuing blessing) there would be no up or down, backwards or forwards; existence would be without drift or direction.
So what will the heart set free do? It will run in the path of God's commands. But how will it run in the path of God's commands if it's duty isn't spelled out with exhaustive precision?
 The Path Laid Out Before Free Hearts
We've made the point several times that the Torah was no exhaustive blueprint for life, so the path that lies before those whose hearts are made big by God is uncovered as well as acknowledged. But it's more than that because the path before them has to be created as much as anything else. God trusts the believing heart to make a way where there is no clear path.
The Torah opens his eyes and heart, and with his heart enlarged and set free he follows the Torah only to find more freedom and more understanding about the God he adores. It's this kind of benign circle Paul has in mind when he says: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2) Becoming like God enables the believer to know more of what God is like and broadens the horizon for further service.
In Romans 12:2 the verb is a passive imperative, making it clear that the believer doesn't transform himself it's the work of God. Nevertheless the believer isn't a mindless sponge; he wants the transformation (thus the imperative). The psalmist makes the glad confession that it is God who enlarges or sets his heart free and with that freedom he becomes even more of a servant to God. (Compare Romans 6:17-18.)
The call in 12:2 is not based on a sheer leap in the dark. It follows the "therefore" of 12:1 which is based on the rehearsal of non-negotiable truth. Ancient Israel wasn't simply throwing wishful words skywards in the hope that some god or other would be impressed and adopt them. No, some noted modern scholars might think the historicity of Israel's faith is irrelevant, but there's no sign of that thinking in the texts themselves.
Based on information passed down by those who saw and heard and experienced profound events, information that the community took to be truth, worshipers of Yahweh believed he was present with them and shaped their lives according to his revealed character and purposes. All this to say, to dismiss revealed truth completely and depend on "a sweet spirit" to serve God is silly. If we know absolutely nothing about God then of course we wouldn't even know what a "sweet spirit" was nor would we know that God cared one way or another.
Here are a few illustrations of how this works out in obeying some specific commands of the Torah. Here's Leviticus 19:9: "When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest." It was to be left for the poor and needy (19:10 and Deuteronomy 24:19-21).
If God had wanted to close the door against heartless behaviour he didn't speak with enough precision in the commandment. And even if the command had been exhaustively defined an evil heart would not have gone along with it. But as the text sits it isn't difficult to imagine a miserly farmer harvesting as close to the edge as possible, while still claiming he was keeping the commandment. Nor is it difficult to see a person like that debating who, precisely, are "the poor". Lexicons don't settle the matter, slide-rules won't help. He could humiliate and keep the poor hungry with stony lexical work and lawyer-like slickness. And how are we to answer him? The mean man could drive a truck through the loopholes in the wording. The commandment is clear: cater to the needy and vulnerable. But how does the farmer know what is meant?
The answer is in the phrase that occurs everywhere in connection with laws: "I am the Lord your God." There lies the hope for the poor. And there lies the path for the big-hearted. These words spell out in a clause the whole ground of Israel's existence. "You were rebels and I loved you. You were destitute and I provided; you were helpless and I gave help; you were hungry, thirsty and vulnerable and I supplied; you were exploited and I rescued you. I saw meanness and judged it; I saw injustice and righted it."
In the light of who "the Lord their God" was, Israel was to respond to those who were now in the state they had been in. The basis of their response was the nature and character of the God who was their Lord. "Is my thinking like God's? Is my attitude toward the marginalized people like the Lord's? Am I generous as well as wise?" Life's questions are sometimes settled by explicit statements from God. Humans need some express guidance, they're too prone to wander all over creation; but so much of life's responses are dictated by the shape of the heart, the sharpness of our memories and the awareness that we have been richly blessed despite ourselves.
The path for those with enlarged hearts is not simply a correct response to a code but the living out of a family relationship. Deuteronomy 14:1 tells Israel why they are to behave in certain ways; it's because: "You are children of the Lord your God." That makes Yahweh their Father in whose image they are created and it makes them brothers and sisters in God. Paul takes this direction, too, in Ephesians 5:1 when he says, "Be imitators of God as dearly beloved children and live a life of love..."
There's more in these texts than command; there's the implied fitness of such a lifestyle. As if Paul and Moses had said: "This is who you are! Let who you are God's beloved children shape your response."
A few years ago in Britain a leading Haydn scholar (or was it Elgar?) decided he would complete some of the unfinished scores the composer had left behind. This man knew Joseph Haydn's work inside and out. He wasn't simply familiar with the technical aspects of Haydn, he loved the music; listened and played, conducted and promoted, taught and rejoiced in it. It was a central element in his life.
His love of Haydn's work had grown in knowledge and discernment so he was better equipped to follow the spirit and direction of Haydn more closely than others. Something of this truth is seen in Philippians 1:9-10 where Paul says, "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best..." He has in mind more than a choice between good and bad; it's a choice between good, better and best.
It's clear no one can ever know how Haydn himself would have finished these scores. But we can be sure of this: what this brilliant devotee of Haydn produced was a Haydn-like conclusion. We can be sure that Haydn was honoured by the end result because it came from the heart of a man who ate, slept and drank the composer's work. If the scores had been finished by a mediocre talent who had no special feeling for Haydn, who spent little or no time immersing himself in that man's music, whose "imitation" of Haydn was nothing but a mechanical reproduction of the obvious patterns then we wouldn't expect a grand and glorious result.
Knowing the mind of God for people isn't determined simply through lexical, syntactical, cultural, sociological, rhetorical, literary or other studies. Requirements would be understood differently depending on the measure of the heart's generosity, one's experience of grace and favour and the like. Which is why it is important to have loving leadership to model life before the less experienced and mature. The loving leaders become the torah for those of us who are weaker and less experienced or humbled followers of God. The very existence of God-centred, wise, righteous, community-loving leaders to whom the people came to settle disputes tells us that rich experience with God resulted in greater understanding of the Torah and God's mind. These people were thought to have insight that was greater, loyalty to Yahweh that was deeper and more consistent, a love for the community that was broader and richer than those who looked to them for guidance. Having the mind and heart of God opened up the scriptures and showed how they were to be applied.
James Packer in Law, Morality and the Bible, page 180 reminds us: "Thirdly, we should note that God's law in both Testaments, full as it looks, is actually quite open-textured. It is not a minutely-detailed code of practice for all our actions every moment...; it is rather, a set of broad guiding principles with sample applications to set us going...they are not so much models for mechanical imitation as cartoons of required attitudes."
All the above has the potential to help us get rid of some needless stress as we live out our lives in God. If two people are genuinely committed to each other it doesn't matter if they don't have all the answers so that behaviour will be "just right". A freedom develops between lovers who are friends. They don't have to suffer daily angst about hurting one another's feelings, about being misunderstood or things like that. They don't have to fine tune the relationship to the point where they're endlessly examining it with too great an intensity. Of course they wish to please one another but true friends know the commitment's there and love covers a multitude of social blunders ranging from forgotten birthdays or turning up late or the like.
The Spontaneity & Joy of the Heart Set Free
There's a spontaneity to life when people learn to love one another. There's the capacity for joy that comes not only because each one is able to experience it, but comes as a result of the way they are together. They can live with some structure but they can live without a lot of it. And it's the freeness of the response that adds zest to that kind of living; which is why God wouldn't want us to live a life in which every nanosecond is exhaustively programmed. That life wouldn't be life; and even if it were, it would be a dull affair without creative impulses; it would be a life spent searching endlessly for an explicit verse to cover the immediate situation. We wouldn't have time for anything else but text-hunting.
There's something unhealthy about this ceaseless pursuit of "God's will" in every single situation that faces us. It's certainly right to seek to glorify him in all that we say and do—we have scripture that expressly encourages us to do that—but that isn't the same as believing that God has a specific response in mind that we have to go rummaging through heaven and earth for or waiting paralysed for some sign from God that one of the several options we set up is the one he wants us to follow. God isn't concerned about laying our lives out second by second and having us to figure out what is on his heavenly chart for us for each day.
We're not talking here about a choice between obvious right and wrong, but a choice between various goods that are open to us. Were God anxious to spell out his will in exhaustive detail he's more than capable of doing it but since he hasn't seen fit to do it, it must be to his glory and our benefit that we live without such a daily chart. To teeter on the brink of a nervous breakdown every time we have to make a decision, wondering if we are going against the will of God (a will he hasn't informed us of) makes no sense at all. In a life like that were we to take it very seriously we would range between a sickening worry that we were defying God's plans or throwing up our hands in despair because we felt we wouldn't know how to please him.
At one and the same time we humans take God too seriously and too casually. Too casually in that we think, or often act as if we think, that he is an amoral loving machine who will call anyone "righteous" no matter how they rejoice in evil. On the other hand, we take him too seriously when we see him lacking in joy and having only one concern—damning sin and sinners too, if need be. You'd think we hadn't heard the word, "God didn't send his Son into the world to damn the world but to give it live through him!"
The path of those whose hearts have been set free is one that revels in life. You only have to read Psalm 119 (especially in some modern speech version) to sense the vitality and exuberance of the man who dances about in a world that has been shaped and made alive by the existence of the Torah of the gracious God who delights to make himself and his will known to humans.
The Torah comes saying, "You have been loved by God despite the fact that you are unlovely. Isn't that a marvellous thing? Now listen, God is trusting you and you have committed yourself to him in trust. Think of what he means to you and you to him and live in light of that. Don't worry yourself sick over not having all the answers. It isn't all the answers you need, it's a realization of who and whose you are that you need. Grasp the big picture and live within that. Outside the parameters I lay down is only chaos and loss. You'll never find me narrowing your life because I am created by the sovereign Lord for those whose hearts have been enlarged. I present some non-negotiable truths about God because without them there is no life but what I call you to is deeper and richer than you'll ever be able to fathom. The truth I bring to you is not mere information, it's transformation, it's the sovereign God making his holy and gracious presence felt, it's the holy Father exerting his wholesome influence, it's the living Lord imparting life."
It's clear from all this that the Torah wasn't the only thing God gave his worshipers. That is, he didn't lay before these sinners a mass of commandments and say, "There, do the best you can with your own sinful limitations because you'll get no help from me." This would miss the point at the two levels mentioned above. The Torah is not lifeless truth—it is truth that makes alive! And two, Torah did not stand independent of the holy and gracious Lord, it was one of his instruments through which he enriched and quickened them.
The Exodus & Sinai belong together Psalm 119:32 "Let my people go...to serve me." [But see love's refusal in Exodus 21:1-6.] Your freedom is shaped by your holiness. In the very act of freeing Israel God was separating them so that their freedom and holiness are two sides of one coin. The One who frees them separates them, makes them holy. The same is true of the NT church. To wrestle against God's holiness to gain freedom is to wrestle against freedom itself.
"The law of Christ is not an alien thing to which, in slavish dread, a Christian man submits himself; it is the character of his Lord whom he loves and who lives in him..." (2)
 (1) His Gifts and Promises, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1934, page 64
(2) W.M. MacGregor, Christian Freedom, Hodder & Stoughton, 1913, page 367. See also page 350, note 1.
 ©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.

Anti-Supernaturalism and Biblical Miracles by Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

http://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=11&article=74

Anti-Supernaturalism and Biblical Miracles

by Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The purpose of the feature article in this month’s issue of Reason & Revelation is to refute the idea that miracles still occur today. However, in order to avoid any possible confusion regarding our position on the subject of biblical miracles in general, I felt this would be an appropriate place to offer a defense of the fact that, in the past, as it was consistent with His divine will, God didemploy miracles on a variety of occasions. The material that follows provides a discussion of that concept.]
During biblical times, miracles played an important part in God’s workings amidst humankind. Their purpose and design was to validate as truthful the claim and/or message of the one demonstrating the supernatural power. This was true, for example, in the Old Testament. Exodus 4:28-31 records:
And Moses told Aaron all the words of Jehovah wherewith he had sent him, and all the signs wherewith he had charged him. And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel: and Aaron spake all the words which Jehovah had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed: and when they heard that Jehovah had visited the children of Israel, and that he had seen their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped (emp. added).
It also was true in the New Testament. In Acts 14:1-3, Luke wrote:
And it came to pass in Iconium that they [Paul and Barnabas—BT] entered together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake that a great multitude both of Jews and of Greeks believed. But the Jews that were disobedient stirred up the souls of the Gentiles, and made them evil affected against the brethren. A long time, therefore, they tarried there, speaking boldly in the Lord, who bare witness unto the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands (emp. added).
At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus performed miracles to confirm His affirmation that the kingdom of God was near. Later, His claim of being the Son of God was shown to be reliable by the signs that He did (John 5:19-29). When the apostles proclaimed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, their message was verified by the mighty works they demonstrated (see McGarvey, 1910, pp. 353ff.). Any attack upon the miracles of the Bible, therefore, is an assault upon the claims and authority of the Godhead.
Over the millennia, numerous men and women have stepped forward to espouse a vitriolic anti-supernaturalism that denies the existence, or even the possibility, of miracles. Frenchman Francois Marie Arouet (1694-1778)—better known to us as Voltaire—was one such person. He was a devout opponent of religion who initiated his attack with what today would be styled “higher criticism,” through which he called into question the authenticity and reliability of the Bible itself. He then alleged chronological contradictions in the narratives of the Old Testament. He challenged as incorrect many of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, and he resolutely denied any such things as the efficacy of prayer or miracles.
Scotsman David Hume (1711-1776) was another anti-supernaturalist. According to philosopher B.A.G. Fuller, Hume, in his various works, taught that:
...the entire concept of God as the author of anything is extremely dubious.... In the Enquiry, also, and in the Dialogues on Religion, he points out that even granting we could infer the existence of God from the universe, we should have no right to ascribe to him more wisdom or goodness or power than is actually displayed in the universe, which is his work.... As the universe stands, it does not suggest the existence of a Deity both all good and all powerful (1945, p. 171, emp. in orig.).
Hume attacked the idea of the immortality of the soul, and placed the origin of religion on a par with things like “elves” and “fairies.” Likely, he is most famous for his essay titled “Of Miracles,” which was tucked away in his work, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, published in 1748. The essay itself consists of scarcely more than 20 pages, and yet, as Colin Brown has suggested, “No work on miracles penned in the seventeenth, eighteenth, or nineteenth centuries receives greater attention today than Hume’s slim essay” (1984, p. 79). The essay naturally arranged itself into two distinct divisions. The first section drew the conclusion that a miracle is a scientific impossibility; from what we know about the laws of nature, a miracle simply cannot occur. The second section concluded that any testimony regarding miracles is specious, and never would be compelling enough to override “scientific considerations.” Thus, Hume inveighed that miracles have not occurred, and cannot occur. Brown summarized Hume’s views as follows:
...for the moment it is important to underscore two points. The first is that the main thrust of Hume’s argument was not concerned with the possibility of miracles as such, but with the truth-claims of Christianity as a historical religion based on supernatural events. His essay is thus a comment on the debate that had been going on since the time of Locke and the deists—that is, the debate on the question of whether Christianity could be demonstrated to be true by appealing to history, and in particular the historicity of Jesus’ miracles and the resurrection. The second point to be underscored is the precise nature of Hume’s argument. In it everything turns on the testimony of the senses and how such testimony should be evaluated. The first Christians believed ostensibly because they were persuaded by the testimony of their own senses. Belief on the part of the subsequent generations is dependent upon that testimony. On that basis, Hume concludes that the evidence for past alleged events can never be greater than it was for the first eyewitnesses. With the passage of time and the attendant questions and uncertainties as to the veracity of that testimony, there arises a corresponding uncertainty as to the degree of credence that may be placed upon such testimony by a subsequent age, especially...if that testimony is contradicted by the world view of that later age (p. 80).
There can be no doubt that Hume’s attack upon biblical miracles (and thus the supernatural in any form) had serious consequences upon religion generally, and the Christian religion specifically. Even today, many people refuse to accept Christianity because it allows for, and in the end is dependent upon, miracles. Hume’s writings have provided many of Christianity’s antagonists with ammunition they otherwise might not have had. For Hume, and those who agree with him, nothing ever could be strong enough to suggest that a miracle actually had occurred. As Brown went on to note:
...[A]s Hume’s argument proceeds, it becomes clear that no amount of historical evidence, past or present, is allowed to count, because miracles are judged to be violations of the laws of nature, and as such are by definition impossible (1984, p. 91, emp. added).
Hume counted the laws of nature as sacrosanct, even being protected from alteration by a (supposed) divine Creator Who had established them originally. Hume, in fact, viewed miracles as “a violation of the laws of nature.” He reasoned, therefore, that since the laws of nature cannot be broken, then miracles never happened. No one ever walked on water. Blind people never received their sight. And, definitely, no one ever came back to life after being dead. The “laws of nature” were all that mattered.
In many ways, then, Hume became like those today who advocate scientism—the view that if something cannot be verified empirically, then it is not worthy of consideration. The late professor J. Gresham Machen, a conservative scholar who taught at Princeton’s Theological Seminary, described the matter as follows:
Science, it is said, is founded upon the regularity of sequences: it assumes that if certain conditions within the course of nature are given, certain other conditions will always follow. But if there is to be any intrusion of events, which by their very definition are independent of all previous conditions, then, it is said, the regularity of nature upon which science bases itself is broken up. Miracle, in other words, seems to introduce an element of arbitrariness and unaccountability into the course of the world (1923, p. 101).
Christians, of course, absolutely deny that miracles are “arbitrary” in any sense of the word. They are not “inappropriate intrusions” of Deity into nature. Whenever God, or those whom He had empowered to perform miracles, demonstrated miraculous powers, such actions were not carried out “just because.” Miracles never were dubious in regard to their source or their purpose. When a miracle occurred, there was no reasonable doubt about who was behind it or why it took place. Christ Himself enunciated that principle when He said that His miracles “bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me” (John 5:36).
Nature admittedly (and necessarily) proceeds according to a set of natural laws. The very existence of such laws, however, indicates a Lawgiver. In his 1995 Templeton Prize Address (“Physics and the Mind of God”) delivered in Westminster Abbey, Australian physicist Paul Davies noted:
Now you may think I have written God entirely out of the picture. Who needs a God when the laws of physics can do such a splendid job? But we are bound to return to that burning question: Where do the laws of physics come from? And why those laws rather than some other set? (1995, emp. and italics added).
Or, as humanist Martin Gardner put it: “Why are there quantum laws?... There is no escape from the superultimate questions: Why is there something rather than nothing, and why is the something structured the way it is?” (2000, p. 303, emp. added). Atheistic physicist Paul Ricci admitted that “ ‘everything designed has a designer’ is an analytically true statement” (1986, p. 190). British molecular biologist Michael Denton wrote:
...[T]here is no avoiding the conclusion that the world looks as if it has been tailored for life; itappears to have been designed. All reality appears to be a vast, coherent, teleological whole with life and mankind as its purpose and goal (1998, p 387, emp. in orig.).
“Teleological” derives from the Greek telos, meaning “purpose.” The laws of nature do indeed reveal intricate regularity, synchronicity, purpose, and yes, even design. And design always demands a designer—which brings me to the next point concerning Hume’s argument.
The Grand Designer—God—is, by definition, supernatural. That is to say, He is both outside of the laws of nature, and in charge of those laws. For most people, the main reason they do not believe in miracles is because they do not believe that God exists. A person who believes that the Universe and all living things evolved through natural processes cannot believe in miracles, because he or she thinks that nothing exists except “nature.” Since a miracle is an event that has a supernaturalexplanation, no such event ever could occur in a world where only natural forces operate. Once a person denies the greatest miracle of all—creation at the hand of God—then he or she is forced to deny that miracles of any kind can occur.
But if God does exist (and He does!), then miracles no longer can be viewed as impossible. Professor G.H. Clark expressed this point quite well when he wrote:
When...one adopts a view of the world as God’s creation, and when God is regarded as a living, acting, personal Being, the appropriateness of miracles depends upon God’s purposes. In such a theistic world-view, where God desires to have some converse with mankind, the occurrence of miracles is no longer an anomaly (1975, 4:249).
A miracle is defined as an event that defies natural laws and can be accounted for only by a supernatural explanation. For example, walking on a road is not a miracle, but defying the law of gravity and walking on water is. Again, there is nothing outside of natural law about reviving a person by using CPR, but there is something miraculous about raising a person who has been dead for several days. There is nothing at all unreasonable in concluding that the Lawgiver, consistent with His own purposes, might subject natural laws to the workings of higher laws.
David Hume, of course, disagreed. He suggested that even if God exists, miracles still would be impossible, by definition. The key phrase here is “by definition.” Hume insisted that a miracle is impossible because it breaks the laws of nature. Then he defined a miracle as something thatbreaks the laws of nature. In other words, Hume hid his conclusion in his definition so that, at first glance, his statement “looks right,” but it is not. This argument works only if one accepts Hume’s definition of a miracle—a definition that, conveniently, guarantees miracles never happen, but which, as it turns out, is a definition that also is quite wrong!
It’s like saying, “Football is the ‘best game in the world’ because it is played with an oblong, leather ball.” How do we “know” football is the “best game in the world”? Because our definition says that the “best game” is one that is played with an oblong, leather ball—and that, conveniently, describes football! So football “must” be the “best game in the world,” “by definition.” But, to employ an appropriate football expression, “time out!” Who’s to say the “best” game is one that is played with an oblong, leather ball? It’s the same with Hume’s argument. Who’s to say that miracles “break natural law”? Do miracles really “break” the laws of nature?
No, they do not. As Creator, God rules over everything, including nature’s laws. To say that God “violates” a law of nature when He performs a miracle makes it sound like God is “doing something wrong.” But God has all authority, which means He can work in His creation any way that He chooses (cf. Ecclesiastes 8:3—the Lord “does whatever He pleases,” NRSV). God certainly could perform miracles—because He has the power to do so. And He would not be breaking any laws along the way. Miracles are supernatural, which means they are above or beyond the normal way that nature works. They are not against nature; they are not anti-natural (see Major, 1998a, 1998b).
Natural laws do not apply to God since He is not a natural being. The laws of nature cannot be “broken.” For instance, the First Law of Thermodynamics states that neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed in nature. The two words “in nature” are critically important if the statement of the law is to be worded correctly. Nothing in nature can break this law. But since God is not part of nature, such a law does not apply to Him.
To illustrate, think of the Universe as one large room. God established natural laws that apply to everything in that room, and then He locked the door. It is impossible for matter or energy to be created, or destroyed, in that room. Now, suppose God were to unlock the door and put another chair in the room (or take a chair out of the room). Did God then “break” the law He established in the room? No, He did not, since everything in the room (Universe) still functions according to natural laws, but since God is outside of the room, those laws do not apply to Him.
At times, we may think (incorrectly) that the laws of nature are comparable to the laws of the land, or God’s law. But there is an important difference. When scientists witness the same kind of thing happen routinely in nature under the same conditions, they call it a law. [Scientific laws are defined as “actual regularities in nature”—Hull, 1974, p. 3.] But when governments make a law, they give instructions on what they want to happen. It’s the same with God’s holy laws—they were provided so that we can know what He wants us to do (or not do, as the case may be). Scientists discover laws, but God and governments make laws.
Miracles do not violate natural laws because those laws are simply man’s way of describing what happens “normally.” (Or, to say it another way, they describe how God “usually” does things). But natural laws do not tell us what cannot happen. Nor do they somehow imply that God Himself mustdo everything “normally.” Again, I repeat: miracles are not natural, but supernatural, occurrences. They “go beyond” what we “normally” see in nature around us. Miracles are impossible only in a world with no God (or a non-intervening Deity). Once God’s existence, and His ability to operate in the natural world, are established, it makes perfect sense to conclude that He occasionally would do supernatural things to accomplish His goals. But God is not to be viewed as some kind of “cosmic bandit” Who sneaks around “breaking the rules” of nature. Rather, He is the sovereign Creator Who reserves the right to operate whenever and however He sees fit.

REFERENCES

Brown, Colin (1984), Miracles and the Critical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Clark, G.H. (1975), “Miracles,” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Davies, Paul (1995), “Physics and the Mind of God,” [On-line], URL: http://print.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9508/articles/davies.html.
Denton, Michael (1998), Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe(New York: Simon & Schuster).
Fuller, B.A.G. (1945), A History of Philosophy (New York: Henry Holt), revised edition.
Gardner, Martin (2000), Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? (New York: W.W. Norton).
Hull, David (1974), Philosophy of Biological Science (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall).
Machen, J. Gresham (1923), Christianity and Liberalism (Philadelphia, PA: Sunday School Times).
Major, Trevor (1998a), “Different Kinds of Law,” Discovery, 9:50, July.
Major, Trevor (1998b), “Does God Break His Own Laws?,” Discovery, 9:50, July.
McGarvey, J.W. (1910), Biblical Criticism (Cincinnati, OH: Standard).
Ricci, Paul (1986), Fundamentals of Critical Thinking (Lexington, MA: Ginn Press).

From Mark Copeland... Four Preparatory Acts (Mark 14:1-16)


                          "THE GOSPEL OF MARK"

                    Four Preparatory Acts (14:1-16)

INTRODUCTION

1. Following the Olivet Discourse in Mark 13, Mark’s gospel turns its
   attention to events that preceded the betrayal and arrest of Jesus...

2. In the first sixteen verses of Mark 14, we are told of "Four
   Preparatory Acts"...
   a. Two done in opposition to Jesus
   b. Two done in service to Jesus

[Once these four preparatory acts are completed, the stage is set for
the last night and day of Jesus’ earthly life.  In Mk 14:1-2, we are
told how...]

I. LEADERS PREPARE TO KILL JESUS

   A. THE PLOT THICKENS...
      1. This is not the beginning of their machinations - cf. Mk 3:6;
         11:18; 12:12
      2. But now it is two days before the feast of Passover - Mk 14:1
         a. "It was now two days before..." - ESV
         b. "Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread were two days
            away..." - NASB
      3. The plot involves the chief priests, scribes, elders, along
         with Caiaphas the high priest - cf. Mt 26:3-4
      4. Their intention is to take Jesus by trickery (stealth)

   B. THEIR INTENTION TO DELAY...
      1. They did not want to do anything during the feast, lest there
         be an uproar - Mk 14:2
      2. For they feared the people - cf. Mk 11:32; Lk 22:2
      3. Despite their intent, the events are not entirely in their hand
         - cf. Ac 2:23

[Indeed, their plot will be carried out much quicker than intended.  But
before we see why, we read in Mk 14:3-9 that...]

II. MARY PREPARES FOR JESUS’ BURIAL

   A. AT THE HOUSE IN BETHANY...
      1. The home of Simon the leper (perhaps father of Mary, Martha,
         Lazarus) - Mk 14:3
      2. John identifies the woman as Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus
         - cf. Jn 11:2; 12:2-3
      3. Not to be confused with the woman that anointed Jesus earlier
         - cf. Lk 7:36-50

   B. MARY ANOINTS JESUS...
      1. Using an alabaster jar of expensive perfume - Mk 14:3
      2. Breaking the jar, pouring the perfume over His head, anointing
         and wiping His feet with her hair - cf. Jn 12:3

   C. THE DISCIPLES’ INDIGNATION...
      1. They were angry at what they considered wasteful - Mk 14:4
      2. For the perfume was worth 300 denarii (300 days wages), and
         they thought it better to have sold it and given the money to
         the poor - Mk 14:5
      3. Judas Iscariot especially was angry, not that he cared for the
         poor, but because he often pilfered from the money box - Jn 12:4-6
      4. Thus the disciples criticized Mary sharply - Mk 14:5

   D. JESUS’ PRAISE OF MARY...
      1. Leave her alone, she has done a good work - Mk 14:6
      2. There would always be the poor to help, but not so with Jesus
         - Mk 14:7
      3. She has done what she could, even anointing Jesus for His
         burial (once again, predicting His death) - Mk 14:8
      4. The highest praise?  Mary’s actions will be memorialized - Mk 14:9

[Jesus’ prediction of Mary’s praise was fulfilled by the inclusion of
this story in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John.  Sadly, Mary’s
preparatory act is soon followed by a much different one as...]

III. JUDAS PREPARES TO BETRAY JESUS

   A. JUDAS GOES TO THE CHIEF PRIESTS...
      1. With the intent to betray Jesus to them - Mk 14:10
      2. Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles - cf. Mk 10:4
      3. Whom Jesus knew early on would betray Him - cf. Jn 6:70-71
      4. Luke adds that Satan had entered Judas - cf. Lk 22:3

   B. THE AGREEMENT IS MADE...
      1. The chief priests are glad, and promise to pay Judas - Mk 14:11
      2. Matthew records the price agreed for betrayal:  30 pieces of
         silver - cf. Mt 26:15
      3. Judas had previously manifested his greed for money - cf. Jn 12:4-6
      4. Judas then sought for a convenient time to betray Jesus - Mk 14:11

[What a contrast between the preparatory acts of Mary and Judas!
Finally, let’s briefly consider the preparatory act of the disciples...]

IV. DISCIPLES PREPARE TO KEEP THE PASSOVER

   A. JESUS INSTRUCTS HIS DISCIPLES...
      1. The first day of Unleavened Bread arrived - Mk 14:12
         a. When the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed
         b. The day was likely Thursday, Nisan 14 - ESV Study Bible
         c. His disciples asked where He wanted them to prepare to eat
            the Passover
      2. Jesus gives explicit instructions - Mk 14:13-15
         a. For two of His disciples (Peter and John) - cf. Lk 22:8
         b. With either miraculous foresight, or having made prior
            arrangements
         c. To meet a man who will provide a large upper room, furnished
            and prepared

   B. THE TWO DISCIPLES DO AS INSTRUCTED...
      1. They go into the city (Jerusalem) - Mk 14:16
      2. They find it just as Jesus predicted
      3. They prepare the Passover

CONCLUSION

1. With these preparatory acts completed, the stage is now set...
   a. For Jesus to keep the Passover
   b. For Judas to betray Him to the chief priests
   c. For the trial, crucifixion, and death that will lead to His burial

2. Perhaps we should ask, "What sort of preparatory acts are we doing
   today...?"
   a. Are they things that would prove to betray our Lord?
   b. Or things which would show our love and devotion to Him?

3. Every day we do things, small though they may be...
   a. That might be preparatory to greater things
   b. That might prepare us to do good or to do evil<< Previous | Index | Next >>
                          "THE GOSPEL OF MARK"

                    Four Preparatory Acts (14:1-16)

INTRODUCTION

1. Following the Olivet Discourse in Mark 13, Mark’s gospel turns its
   attention to events that preceded the betrayal and arrest of Jesus...

2. In the first sixteen verses of Mark 14, we are told of "Four
   Preparatory Acts"...
   a. Two done in opposition to Jesus
   b. Two done in service to Jesus

[Once these four preparatory acts are completed, the stage is set for
the last night and day of Jesus’ earthly life.  In Mk 14:1-2, we are
told how...]

I. LEADERS PREPARE TO KILL JESUS

   A. THE PLOT THICKENS...
      1. This is not the beginning of their machinations - cf. Mk 3:6;
         11:18; 12:12
      2. But now it is two days before the feast of Passover - Mk 14:1
         a. "It was now two days before..." - ESV
         b. "Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread were two days
            away..." - NASB
      3. The plot involves the chief priests, scribes, elders, along
         with Caiaphas the high priest - cf. Mt 26:3-4
      4. Their intention is to take Jesus by trickery (stealth)

   B. THEIR INTENTION TO DELAY...
      1. They did not want to do anything during the feast, lest there
         be an uproar - Mk 14:2
      2. For they feared the people - cf. Mk 11:32; Lk 22:2
      3. Despite their intent, the events are not entirely in their hand
         - cf. Ac 2:23

[Indeed, their plot will be carried out much quicker than intended.  But
before we see why, we read in Mk 14:3-9 that...]

II. MARY PREPARES FOR JESUS’ BURIAL

   A. AT THE HOUSE IN BETHANY...
      1. The home of Simon the leper (perhaps father of Mary, Martha,
         Lazarus) - Mk 14:3
      2. John identifies the woman as Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus
         - cf. Jn 11:2; 12:2-3
      3. Not to be confused with the woman that anointed Jesus earlier
         - cf. Lk 7:36-50

   B. MARY ANOINTS JESUS...
      1. Using an alabaster jar of expensive perfume - Mk 14:3
      2. Breaking the jar, pouring the perfume over His head, anointing
         and wiping His feet with her hair - cf. Jn 12:3

   C. THE DISCIPLES’ INDIGNATION...
      1. They were angry at what they considered wasteful - Mk 14:4
      2. For the perfume was worth 300 denarii (300 days wages), and
         they thought it better to have sold it and given the money to
         the poor - Mk 14:5
      3. Judas Iscariot especially was angry, not that he cared for the
         poor, but because he often pilfered from the money box - Jn
         12:4-6
      4. Thus the disciples criticized Mary sharply - Mk 14:5

   D. JESUS’ PRAISE OF MARY...
      1. Leave her alone, she has done a good work - Mk 14:6
      2. There would always be the poor to help, but not so with Jesus
         - Mk 14:7
      3. She has done what she could, even anointing Jesus for His
         burial (once again, predicting His death) - Mk 14:8
      4. The highest praise?  Mary’s actions will be memorialized - Mk
         14:9

[Jesus’ prediction of Mary’s praise was fulfilled by the inclusion of
this story in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John.  Sadly, Mary’s
preparatory act is soon followed by a much different one as...]

III. JUDAS PREPARES TO BETRAY JESUS

   A. JUDAS GOES TO THE CHIEF PRIESTS...
      1. With the intent to betray Jesus to them - Mk 14:10
      2. Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles - cf. Mk 10:4
      3. Whom Jesus knew early on would betray Him - cf. Jn 6:70-71
      4. Luke adds that Satan had entered Judas - cf. Lk 22:3

   B. THE AGREEMENT IS MADE...
      1. The chief priests are glad, and promise to pay Judas - Mk 14:11
      2. Matthew records the price agreed for betrayal:  30 pieces of
         silver - cf. Mt 26:15
      3. Judas had previously manifested his greed for money - cf. Jn
         12:4-6
      4. Judas then sought for a convenient time to betray Jesus - Mk
         14:11

[What a contrast between the preparatory acts of Mary and Judas!
Finally, let’s briefly consider the preparatory act of the disciples...]

IV. DISCIPLES PREPARE TO KEEP THE PASSOVER

   A. JESUS INSTRUCTS HIS DISCIPLES...
      1. The first day of Unleavened Bread arrived - Mk 14:12
         a. When the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed
         b. The day was likely Thursday, Nisan 14 - ESV Study Bible
         c. His disciples asked where He wanted them to prepare to eat
            the Passover
      2. Jesus gives explicit instructions - Mk 14:13-15
         a. For two of His disciples (Peter and John) - cf. Lk 22:8
         b. With either miraculous foresight, or having made prior
            arrangements
         c. To meet a man who will provide a large upper room, furnished
            and prepared

   B. THE TWO DISCIPLES DO AS INSTRUCTED...
      1. They go into the city (Jerusalem) - Mk 14:16
      2. They find it just as Jesus predicted
      3. They prepare the Passover

CONCLUSION

1. With these preparatory acts completed, the stage is now set...
   a. For Jesus to keep the Passover
   b. For Judas to betray Him to the chief priests
   c. For the trial, crucifixion, and death that will lead to His burial

2. Perhaps we should ask, "What sort of preparatory acts are we doing
   today...?"
   a. Are they things that would prove to betray our Lord?
   b. Or things which would show our love and devotion to Him?

3. Every day we do things, small though they may be...
   a. That might be preparatory to greater things
   b. That might prepare us to do good or to do evil

How much better to follow the example of Mary and the disciples, rather
than the example of Judas and the chief priests...!
<< Previous | Index | Next >>

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How much better to follow the example of Mary and the disciples, rather
than the example of Judas and the chief priests...!

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2011

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From Gary... Bible Reading January 22


Bible Reading  

January 22

The World English Bible

Jan. 22
Genesis 22

Gen 22:1 It happened after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" He said, "Here I am."
Gen 22:2 He said, "Now take your son, your only son, whom you love, even Isaac, and go into the land of Moriah. Offer him there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of."
Gen 22:3 Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son. He split the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went to the place of which God had told him.
Gen 22:4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place far off.
Gen 22:5 Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go yonder. We will worship, and come back to you."
Gen 22:6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. He took in his hand the fire and the knife. They both went together.
Gen 22:7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, and said, "My father?" He said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?"
Gen 22:8 Abraham said, "God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they both went together.
Gen 22:9 They came to the place which God had told him of. Abraham built the altar there, and laid the wood in order, bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, on the wood.
Gen 22:10 Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to kill his son.
Gen 22:11 The angel of Yahweh called to him out of the sky, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" He said, "Here I am."
Gen 22:12 He said, "Don't lay your hand on the boy, neither do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me."
Gen 22:13 Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and saw that behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering instead of his son.
Gen 22:14 Abraham called the name of that place Yahweh Will Provide. As it is said to this day, "On Yahweh's mountain, it will be provided."
Gen 22:15 The angel of Yahweh called to Abraham a second time out of the sky,
Gen 22:16 and said, "I have sworn by myself, says Yahweh, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son,
Gen 22:17 that I will bless you greatly, and I will multiply your seed greatly like the stars of the heavens, and like the sand which is on the seashore. Your seed will possess the gate of his enemies.
Gen 22:18 In your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice."
Gen 22:19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba. Abraham lived at Beersheba.
Gen 22:20 It happened after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, "Behold, Milcah, she also has borne children to your brother Nahor:
Gen 22:21 Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram,
Gen 22:22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel."
Gen 22:23 Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham's brother.
Gen 22:24 His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also bore Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah.



From Gary... A winter ROSE



(Rose of Winter)

You are what you think about all day long.  And Beauty is one of the things I prefer to emphasize. Yesterday, I posted an article from Jim McGuiggan which concerned itself with the Devil's use of Boredom (by all means check out this link). I thought it to be exceptionally well written and I took from it a resolve to look a bit closer at the world around me; to appreciate the abundant beauty that is found all about us, to marvel at the creation of the Almighty.

This Psalm (8) just might sound familiar to you...

 1  Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth,
who has set your glory above the heavens!
  2 From the lips of babes and infants you have established strength,
because of your adversaries, that you might silence the enemy and the avenger.
  3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have ordained;
  4 what is man, that you think of him?
What is the son of man, that you care for him?
  5 For you have made him a little lower than God,
and crowned him with glory and honor.
  6 You make him ruler over the works of your hands.
You have put all things under his feet:
  7 All sheep and cattle,
yes, and the animals of the field,
  8 The birds of the sky, the fish of the sea,
and whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
  9 Yahweh, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Beauty, truth, and every thing truly worthy of contemplation has its origin and completeness from our creator. So, when you look at a flower, blade of grass, a blue sky- or any one of a million-million things, think of HIM who made it. And then begin the life-long odyssey of trying to understand God. Takes you breath away!!! And a Winter Rose is nice as well!!!

ps. A post about a winter Rose in winter by someone named Gary Rose. Think on that for a bit...