Archive for October, 2011

October 31, 2011

Eternity in Our Hearts

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Ecc. 3:11
Full Text: Ecc 3-5

Eternity | No matter what people claim to believe, God has “set eternity in the hearts of men” [1]. He has given everyone a longing for something beyond this life – and evidence is everywhere. Socrates once said, “We shall see that there is a great reason to hope that death is good, for one of two things: either death is a state of nothingness and utter consciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and a migration of the soul from this world to another” [2]. Even Steve Jobs, although he was only 50/50 about God’s existence, found himself “believing a bit more” in an afterlife [3].

Critique | Belief in the afterlife, however, has been attacked. In a debate earlier this year, atheist Sam Harris said, “This concept of an afterlife functions as a substitute for wisdom, as a substitute for absorbing our predicament – which is that everyone is going to die, there are circumstances that are just catastrophically unfair, evil sometimes wins” [4]. Similarly, Richard Dawkins wrote, “Polls suggest that approximately 95 percent of the population of the United States believe they will survive their own death. Aspiring martyrs aside, I can’t help wondering how many moderate religious people who claim such belief really hold to it, in their heart of hearts. If they were truly sincere, shouldn’t they all behave like the Abbot of Ampleforth? When Cardinal Basil Hume told him that he was dying, the abbot was delighted for him: ‘Congratulations! That’s brilliant news. I wish I was coming with you’ … Why don’t religious people talk like that when in the presence of the dying?” [5]

Effect | Although I disagree with Harris that belief in the afterlife is a substitute for wisdom and I think that Dawkins fails to take into account the complexity of emotions that death brings forth [6], I do wonder what our lives would look like if we really believed in eternity. Would we live more aesthetically because our treasures are in heaven? Would we spend our time more strategically because this life is short? What would change?

Prayer | Lord, You have set eternity in our hearts. Yet, what does that mean? How do we live in light of knowing that this life is short and our treasures are not here? How do we live as dual citizens of this world and of heaven? Increase our faith and give us guidance about how to live that out. Amen.

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Footnotes: [1] Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV1984 | [2] Apology, 40c-41c. In fact, Socrates – not Paul – was the first to say, “to die is gain.” : “ … we shall see that there is great reason to hope that death is a good, for one of two things: either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and a migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by the site of dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain … Now, if death is like this, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night. But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the dead are, what good, O friends and judges, can be greater than this? … Above all, I shall be able to continue my search into true and false knowledge; as in this world, so also in that; I shall find out who is wise, and who pretends to be wise, and is not … What infinite delight would there be in conversing with them and asking them questions! For in that world they would not put a man to death for this; certainly not. For besides being happier in that world than in this, they will be immortal, if what is said is true.”) | [3] Jobs said, “That when you die, it doesn’t just all disappear. The wisdom you’ve accumulated. Somehow it lives on.” In fact, one of the reasons that he didn’t like putting on/off switches on Apple devices was because he hoped in an afterlife. In their original designs, the iPhone and the MacBook were to be put on “standby” or to sleep when not being used. See WSJ Staff, “What We Learned About Steve Jobs on ’60 Minutes.” The Wall Street Journal, Speakeasy. 23 October 2011; Jon Swaine, “Steve Jobs refused on/off switch for iPhone because he hoped there was an afterlife.” The Telegraph. 24 October 2011. | [4] Whizin Center for Continuing Education at American Jewish University. “Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens Debate Two Rabbis: Is There An Afterlife?” February 15, 2011. | [5] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. | [6] Yes, we can be overjoyed for our fellow believers who are dying – and, in fact, I have seen family and friends rejoice at the death of believers precisely because they know that they’re entering into the presence of the Lord. Yet, we can also mourn our loss of them in our lives here on earth. In fact, even though Jesus knew that he was on his way to raise Lazarus from the dead, he wept when he saw the sadness of Mary and Martha, the sister of Lazarus. To me, Dawkins minimizes the complexity of death and the various emotions that can coexist simultaneously in the heart of Christians.

October 28, 2011

Has what you thought you wanted left you wanting?

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
Full Text: Ecclesiastes 1-2

NYC | There is no doubt that New York is a great city. John Updike wrote, “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding”, and John Lennon said, “If I’d live in Roman times, I’d have lived in Rome. Where else? Today America is the Roman Empire and New York is Rome itself.” Yet, why is this so? What makes New York so great? It’s definitely not the cramped living spaces, high cost of living or horrid subway smells. It’s also not the relaxed lifestyle or pleasant weather. So why do 45% of Americans under 35 want to live here [1] and 47 million people worldwide annually want to visit [2]? It’s the shopping, eating, drama, nightlife and entertainment. After all, where else can you get gourmet cuisine from food trucks parked outside the opera house? Yet, no matter what this city offers – Wall Street, Per Se, Broadway, The Metropolitan Club, Saks, Columbia, 30 Rock – every New Yorker eventually asks, “Is this it? Is life nothing more than a series of cool and exclusive events?”

Pleasure | And thus we turn to Ecclesiastes. As Mark Dever has written,  “If the book of Proverbs is about wisdom for people who want success, the book of Ecclesiastes offers wisdom for people who have success. Particularly, it is for individuals who have gotten what they wanted out of life, or at least what they thought they had wanted, and then have found it wanting” [3]. Solomon – on par with the most wealthy and powerful New Yorkers – passionately pursued pleasure: Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure” [4]. Yet, in his seeking, he found that, “all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” [5]. As Jesus later asked, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” [6].

Prayer | Lord, We confess that there is nothing to be gained under the sun. All of our pleasure-seeking in events and clothes and food and shows and power is vanity if we approach them as the means by which to get joy. Rather, you are the joy of our salvation and the end of our seeking. And, in Christ, we have riches forevermore – riches that last beyond the grave because you have conquered death. Therefore, satisfy us in you and you alone. Amen.

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[1] Pew Research.  |  [2] Wikipedia, Tourism in New York City.  |  [3] Mark Dever. The Message of the Old Testament.  |  [4] Ecc. 2:10 ESV  |  [5] Ecc. 2:11 ESV

October 27, 2011

How Could Someone so Smart and Rich … ?

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 1 Kings 11:4
Full Text: 1 Kings 11

Conviction | Former McKinsey Managing Director, Rajat Gupta, surrendered to the FBI yesterday – still pleading innocent on insider trading charges brought against him for allegedly giving material nonpublic information to Raj Rajaratnam, the founder of Galleon Group. Having started Galleon in 1997 with $300 million in funds, Rajaratnam saw the company become the biggest technology-based hedge fund worldwide by January 2008 – with 160 employees and $7 billion in funds. At that point, however, the Feds were already watching him. Although Rajaratnam could’ve avoided court by pleading out, he refused because an astrologer told him that he’d be acquitted. Yet, the jury found the evidence overwhelming. In May, although they wondered how “someone so smart and rich already could be involved in something so horrendous,” the jury convicted him of all 14 counts. Before sentencing, the Feds offered him another chance to reduce his sentence by wearing a wire to incriminate Gupta. Once again, however, he refused and, therefore, was sentenced to 11 years. Thus, in November, when he says goodbye to his family and heads to prison, it may be the last time that he is a free man – since he has advanced type 2 diabetes with kidneys are already failing [1].

Indictment | Solomon also had great wealth yet ended his life in sadness. He acquired large numbers of horses, accumulated great amounts of gold, and took 700 wives and 300 concubines [2]. Yet, all of these marks of worldly success were against the word of God [3], who knew that such wealth and wives led to idolatry. Thus, “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been” [4]. Thus, God tore the entire kingdom away – with the exception of “one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem” [5].

Prayer | Lord, We are no different from Rajaratnam or Gupta – we have sinned and have fallen short of your glory [6]. When Solomon sinned against you, he was punished severely. So what hope can the rest of us have? Based on our own actions, we can have no hope. But if we trust in the timeless, matchless actions of Jesus – his life, suffering, death and resurrection – we can have a perfect hope: “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” [7]. Amen.

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Footnotes:  [1]  All information comes from these sources: “Raj Rajaratnam Breaks His Silence.” The Daily Beast. 24 Oct 2011. Suketu Mehta, “The Outsider: Exclusive: Raj Rajaratnam Reveals Why He Didn’t Take a Plea.” Newsweek / The Daily Beast. Evelyn M. Rusli and Peter Lattman, “Stack of Evidence Sealed Galleon Guilty Verdict, Juror Says.” NYTimes. 14 May 2011. Michael Rothfeld and Susan Pulliam, “Gupta Surrenders to FBI: Ex-Goldman Director Gupta to Face Criminal Charges.” 26 October 2011. |  [2]  1 Kings 11:3 NIV1984  | [3]  See Deut. 17.  |  [4]  1 Kings 11:4 NIV1984  |  [5]  1 Kings 11:13 NIV1984  |  [6]  See Rom. 3:23.  |  [7]  1 John 3:20 NIV1984.

October 26, 2011

Here is your king who will reign forever!

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 1 Kings 10:23
Full Text: 1 Kings 10 + 2 Chron. 8-9

King | On the brink of entering the Promised Land, Moses instructed the Israelites about the king that they would one day appoint: “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,’ be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses” [1]. He gave two stipulations – the king “must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself” [2] nor “accumulate large amounts of silver and gold” [3].

Solomon | Yet, when Solomon became king, he acquired great numbers of horses for himself: “Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem” [4], and he accumulated large amounts of gold: The weight of the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents, not including the revenues from merchants and traders and from all the Arabian kings and the governors of the land … The king had a fleet of trading ships at sea along with the ships of Hiram. Once every three years it returned, carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons. King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth” [5].

Jesus | Thus, it was clear that Solomon was not the long-awaited king of Israel chosen by God. When Jesus came, however, he did not acquire a great number of horses. Instead, he borrowed a donkey: “Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, ‘Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt” [6]. Moreover, he did not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. Instead, “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” [7]. He is the king. He is the descendant of Solomon – greater in wisdom and might [8] – who was promised. He will reign forever.

Prayer | Lord, Here is our long-awaited king! Although Jesus did not need to come in humility or poverty, he chose to ride on a donkey without riches so that we might be exalted in wealth. Therefore, as co-heirs with Christ, we lay up our treasures in heaven – for where our treasure is, there are our hearts are also. Amen.

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[1]  Deut. 17:14-15 NIV1984  | [2]  Deut. 17:16 NIV1984  | [3]  Deut. 17:17 NIV1984. Moses also told them that the king should not have many wives, which is addressed in tomorrow’s text.  |  [4]  1 Kings 10:26 NIV1984  |  [5]  1 Kings 10:14-15, 22-23 NIV1984  |  [6]  Jn. 12:14-15 NIV1984, quoting Zech. 9:9.  |  [7]  2 Cor. 8:9 NIV1984  |  [8]  All treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ (Col. 2:3). Therefore, all Old Testament wisdom finds complete expression in Christ, the one who is wiser than Solomon (Matt. 12:41), who surpassed all the kings of the earth in wisdom (1 Kings 10:23).

October 25, 2011

Why does God answer some prayers and not others?

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 2 Chron. 7:14
Full Text: 1 Kings 9 + 2 Chron. 7

Answered | In 1868, before the telephone or Twitter, everyone in the world knew that God answered the prayers of George Mueller in England. Even an unbelieving NYT reporter was intrigued: “It struck me that a man who got $2,000,000 in gold in a few years merely by praying … was a phenomenon worthy of some attention” [1]. You see, in 50 years, Mueller built 5 orphanages and cared for more than 10,000 orphans – without directly asking anyone for money, going into debt, or taking a salary for 68 years. He chose to work like this to help Christians trust God: “The first and primary object of the work was (and still is) that God might be magnified by the fact that the orphans under my care are provided, with all they need, only by prayer and faith, without anyone being asked by me … whereby it may be seen, that God is FAITHFUL STILL, and HEARS PRAYER STILL” [2].

Unanswered | Yet, God did not heal his wife. When Mary was diagnosed with rheumatic fever, he was broken “on account of the depth of [his] affection” [3]. At her funeral, he said, “The last portion of scripture which I read to my precious wife was this: ‘ … no good thing will be withhold from them that walk uprightly.’ … – I am in myself a poor worthless sinner, but I have been saved by the blood of Christ; and I do not live in sin, I walk uprightly before God. Therefore, if it is really good for me, my darling wife will be raised up again; sick as she is. God will restore her again. But if she is not restored again, then it would not be a good thing for me. And so my heart was at rest. I was satisfied with God. And all things spring … from taking God at his word, believing what he says” [4].

Prayer | Lord, Your word tells us that, if we humble ourselves and pray and seek your face and turn from our wicked ways, then you will hear and forgive and heal us [5]. In Christ, you have answered our deepest prayers – for although we are poor worthless sinners, you have saved us by his blood. Thus, although we confess that we may never know why you choose to answer some prayers and not others, we take you at your word and believe what you say. Amen.

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[FN]  For further reading on the ordinary faith and extraordinary God that Mueller worshiped and loved, please read: John Piper. “George Mueller’s Strategy for Showing God: Simplicity of Faith, Sacred Scripture, and Satisfaction in God.” 2004 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors. 3 February 2004.  |  [1]  Our Own Correspondent (22 December 1868). “George Muller; The New Orphan Houses of Bristol”. The New York Times (New York: New York Times Archive). Retrieved 24 October 2011.   |  [2]  George Mueller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealing with George Muller, Written by Himself, Jehovah Magnified. Addresses by George Muller Complete and Unabridged, 2 vols. (Muskegon, Mich.: Dut and Ashes, 2003), 1:105.  |  |  [3]  Id at 2:398.  |  |  [4]  Id. at 2:745.   |  [5]  2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV1984
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