Archive for May, 2009

The Gravity of Giving

May 27, 2009

Besides Jesus Christ, no person in Scripture inspires generosity in me more than the widow who dropped two copper coins into a trumpet-shaped offering receptacle located near the temple treasury. This nameless widow has been known worldwide in every generation for the past two thousand years for her simple act of generosity. It took the gospel writers Mark and Luke fewer than one hundred words and only four verses to tell her story. Of the two, Mark offered the expanded version:

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny (Mark 12:41-42).

What strikes me about this scene is that Jesus deliberately placed himself in a position where he can watch people give. He made it his business to evaluate the gifts people brought. Rather than hanging out by the bagels and chit-chatting with the disciples before the worship service, Jesus sat, according to Mark, “opposite the place where the offerings were put.”

Apparently Jesus was close enough to the action to see the wrinkled hand of a widow as she offered her coins. And he still watches what people give to God. He makes our giving his business.

One scholar suggests that Jesus might have been sitting near the Gate Beautiful. If so, he was sitting between the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of Women. It is well documented by Josephus, the trusted Jewish historian, that thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles sat in the forecourt of the Court of Women. They had been placed there to collect freewill offerings.

Scores of wealthy people came to worship that day and threw large sums of money into those receptacles. Imagine the wealthy pouring bags of coins that clinked and clanked as the money rolled into the receptacles. But a poor widow came to the temple that day as well. Unnoticed by everyone but Jesus, she made her way over to “the trumpets” and dropped in two lepta. Lepta are small copper coins whose value is one-eighth of a penny or one one-hundredth of a denarius, the average daily wage. The amount she gave was small indeed. Her coins would have made little sound as they fell onto the pile of money.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on (Mark 12:43-44).

No doubt the widow’s generosity was surprising and may have even widened Jesus’ eyes. The wealthy had paraded one by one. Some of them, probably, had made such a show of throwing their coinage that the sound could be heard out in the temple courtyard. Yet none of the gifts made by the “major donors” impressed the Savior that day.

Both Mark and Luke give us a Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of the account. We have only Jesus’ punch line as he dialogued with his disciples. However, I cannot help wondering whether the expanded conversation found in the white pages of the Bible might have gone something like this.

“Hey guys!” Jesus calls to his disciples. “Come over here. Did you see her?”

Peter looks around. “Who?”

“Did you see the widow over there—the one standing by the trumpets?”

“A widow?” Judas smirked. “Why would we have any interest in a poor widow?’

“She gave a gift.”

“To our ministry?” Judas asks.

“No, to the temple ministry.”

“So what?” John wants to know.

“Doesn’t everybody bring a gift to the temple? Besides, she couldn’t have given that much. Why are you making such a big deal about this widow? Do you even know her name?”

“She gave all she had, John. That’s why I am making such a big deal of her gift. And yes, my Father has recorded her name in heaven. While you guys were over enjoying the fellowship at the bagel bar, I’ve been watching people as they gave their gifts. I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They gave out of their wealth; but she; out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Please don’t make a doctrine out of my “sanctified imagination”—we can only speculate about the full conversation Jesus might have had with his disciples. What makes the widow’s gift so remarkable is not how much she gave but how much she had left after she gave. This does not mean God wants us to give until we have nothing. It does, however, introduce us to a new way of thinking about our giving.

Putting in “all she had to live on,” the widow gave sacrificially, not knowing how she would afford her next meal. The rich, who “gave out of their wealth,” might have given up a luxury to two, but they sacrificed little compared with what the widow gave.

If you and I were providing counsel to the poor widow that day, would we have encouraged her to give away her lepta or to buy food with it? The latter possibility never seems to have crossed Jesus’ mind—which goes to show how much he values simple faith and generosity.

Have Scientists Found Darwin's Missing Link?

May 25, 2009

Tonight the History Channel runs a much-anticipated documentary titled The Link based on a recent fossil discovery that some scientists, and the media promoting them, say “changes everything.” In other words, Darwin was right. After 200 years we finally have the missing link to prove his molecule to man theory of the origin of the universe. Her name is “Ida” and she proves that man really did come from apes! Really? Not so fast.

Ida, originally known as Darwinius massilae in honor of Charles Darwin, is allegedly 47 million years old and was found in Germany. Despite all the hype, she does not look like a transitional “apeman” but more like a small tree-climbing primate with a tail called a lemur. So where’s the link to humans? It’s still missing according to some experts.

This week I enjoyed a timely conversation with Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis and founder of the amazing Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Sitting in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Washington located minutes from Capitol Hill, I asked Ken what he thought about the recent discovery of Ida.

“Apparently, the scientific community has gotten ahead of itself,” he said. “Many leading evolutionists are beginning to back peddle on Ida, but the book, journal article and documentary are already out.”

“It sounds like the rush to make Ida the ‘missing link’ is going to backfire and embarrass evolutionists,” I replied.

“Exactly!” Ken said with a grin in his distinctly Australian accent. “They rushed the scientific process and exaggerated the claims. In the end, I think this will hurt not help those who promote evolution.”

Ken went on to cite two articles about Ida already released by AiG, a creation apologetics ministry committed to defending biblical authority from the first verse of the Bible. In one of the articles titled, “Ida: The Real Story of This ‘Scientific Breakthrough,’” AiG researchers listed excerpts from numerous media sources that show how scientists are divided. For example,

University of New England paleoanthropologist Peter Brown remains skeptical. He pointed to a story in the Weekend Australian in which one of [coauthor Jørn] Hurum’s coauthors, University of Michigan paleontologist Philip Gingerich, said the team would have preferred to publish in a more rigorous journal such as Science or Nature.

Dr. Gingerich told the Wall Street Journal: “There was a TV company involved and time pressure. We’ve been pushed to finish the study. It’s not how I like to do science.”

“That rings all sorts of warning bells,” Professor Brown cautioned. He said that however it was prepared, the paper did not provide sufficient proof that Ida was the ancestral anthropoid.

“It’s nice it has fingernails, something we have, as do most primates . . . but they’ve cherry-picked particular character[istics] and they’ve been criticized (by other scientists) for doing that.”

From “Scientists Divided on Ida as the Missing Link,” Leigh Dayton, The Australian, May 21, 2009

The hype surrounding the discovery of Ida is another example of how shaky science is used to promote ideology. The truth is evolution cannot be supported by the simple scientific method taught in high school. Scientific proof requires observation, experimentation, falsification and predictable results. Evolution fails on all four accounts. For example, nobody has ever observed macro evolution as it allegedly happened over millions of years.

In a letter to a friend named Asa Grey, Charles Darwin wrote, “I am quite conscious that my speculations run beyond the bounds of true science. . . . It is a mere rag of an hypothesis with as many flaws and holes as sound parts.” Yes, Ida is another attempt to make scientific riches out of Darwin’s rag.

Let’s be honest. Evolution is more an ideology than science. In fairness, creationism too is an ideology, based on belief in God and confidence in the Holy Scriptures starting with Genesis 1:1. But at least creationists admit this. Duane Gish, a Ph.D. scientist in biochemistry and a creationist, says it this way, “Evolution theory is indeed no less religious nor more scientific than creation.”

For a long time the fossils have just said no when it comes to evolutionist’s claims. They still say no despite Ida and the rush to say we found Darwin’s missing link.

The Mysterious Wind of God

May 5, 2009

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going, so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

Singer and songwriter Bob Dylan could have received his inspiration from Jesus when he wrote these lyrics in 1963: “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.” Jesus spoke of something blowin’ in the wind when he tried to explain to Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, how a person is born again (John 3).

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly I say to you, ‘Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’” (John 3:5). Say what? Be encouraged. Some things in the Bible are not easy to understand, even for a religious expert like Nicodemus.

Jesus is a master teacher and communicator. He plays on words and draws an analogy from nature at the same time. The Greek word pneuma can be translated “spirit” or “wind.” Thus, the Spirit of God blows mysteriously like the wind.

From where the wind blows and to where it goes nobody knows. Even the trained meteorologist scratches his head when the wind ignores his forecast. We see the effect of the wind but not the wind itself. Trees blowing. Waves frothing. Dust billowing up from the ground. Tumbleweed rolling across a West Texas road. Yes, invisible and unpredictable is the wind. And so it is with the work of the Spirit in the life of a born again believer in Jesus Christ.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit is like a gentle breeze. At other times he is like a mighty, rushing wind. The Book of Acts records the time when the Spirit of God blew like a holy tornado and gave birth to the church on the day of Pentecost. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). Whoosh! Three thousand people were born into the kingdom of God that day. Nothing in the path of a mighty wind is ever the same.

A sailboat sits still in the water without the wind.

A child’s kite lies on the ground unless a gust of wind carries it into the sky.

A wind farm that produces clean energy is merely a nice idea unless the wind actually turns the blades of the giant turbines and converts kinetic energy into electricity.

Likewise, no person is born from above and no born again person lives a victorious life apart from the mysterious Wind of God.

Bob Dylan might have been singing about war, peace and protest, but in one sense he was right. The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

Ron Jones is a pastor whose greatest passion is to introduce people to Jesus Christ through anointed biblical preaching that transforms lives.

 

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