Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Don't be a "Stupid" Christian

One might say that living is simply an unending series of choices that we make on the earth - choices that will determine our paths, choices that may either have rewards or consequences, choices that will impact our character, our lifestyles, our reputation, our relationships, our...well, everything. Everything you do is a choice, even if that choice is made instinctively or subconsciously.

With these things in mind, I cannot help but think that there are three kinds of people.
  1. There are hasty and impulsive people. They act on impulse, which means that they act and react according to the emotions and desires of their heart. Rather than considering the long-term effects of their choices, they make decisions based on immediate gratification and selfish desire.
  2. Then there are those who are deliberate and apprehensive. They have desires and whims like everyone else, but have disciplined themselves to make choices based on logic and reason. Other traits that come to mind are mature, patient, and principled.
  3. Finally, there are those who are in-between (1) and (2). They are not malicious, nor do they make bad decisions deliberately or intentionally. Perhaps they are just naive or ignorant.
Interestingly enough, the book of Proverbs agrees with these three classifications, although Solomon uses more specific designations: (1) foolish, (2) wise, and (3) simple. The way to distinguish between these three kinds of people is to analyze the way people make choices on a daily basis. Does an individual make decisions impulsively? Do they act according to their own selfish desires? Or do they make decisions carefully and deliberately?

In this article, I'd like to review a selection of key verses from the book of Proverbs. All of these verses address the manner in which we make choices, how we react to circumstances...and ultimately, whether or not we are foolish, simple, or wise individuals.

Here are the verses:
 "The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray" (Prov. 12:26).
"He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord" (Prov. 17:15).
 "He who mistreats his father and chases away his mother is a son who causes shame and brings reproach. Cease listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge" (Prov. 19:26-27).  
"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise" (Prov. 12:15).
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death...The simple believes every word, but the prudent considers well his steps. A wise man fears and departs from evil, but a fool rages and is self-confident" (Prov. 14:12, 15-16).
 "Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established" (Prov. 15:22).
"A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment" (Prov. 18:1).
It deeply disturbs me that so many Christians, based on the wise sayings of Proverbs, are living foolishly, rather than with a spirit of wisdom and prudence. There are religious people who go to church regularly and call themselves Christians, and yet they pay very little attention, if any, to these principles of wise living - which is why I am of the belief that there needs to be a lot more teaching rooted in the book of Proverbs.

Having said that, how do you measure up? Are you a fool, or are you wise?

The first three verses have a common message: we need to rightly identify people for who they are and respond accordingly to the things they say and the advice they offer. For example, we should pay more attention to advice that is offered by Christians and even family members. Our spiritual and physical families care deeply for us and generally-speaking, only want what's best for us. They will offer us sound advice.

And yet there are many Christians who want to distance themselves from church-members, parents and family, instead choosing to turn to non-Christians for advice and support. This is indicitive of a selfish, carnal disposition: "I am going to do what I want to do" and "I'm only going to listen to those who tell me what I want to hear." When you're making choices, do you seek the advice of brethren and family-members? How do you receive their advice? Or do you keep them OUT of the loop because you know what they'll say and you don't want to hear it?

The last four verses cited above contrast an impulsive, emotionally-driven person and a person who is more analytical and apprehensive.

The former, because they are not interested in wise counsel, remove themselves from the company of the wise - they "isolate" themselves. When someone does try to help them or offer advice, they respond angrily. They do what they want to do because they want to do it regardless of how it will impact their relationships, and regardless of the long-term consequences.

The latter simply want to do what is right. So they are more receptive to counsel. They may not like what they hear from the mouth of a wise counselor, but in the end, they'll do what is right, or at least what they believe is right. Rather than distancing themselves from family and other Christians, they keep them close, are in regular communication with them, and are more open about their struggles.

Again, how do you measure up? How do you make decisions on a daily basis?

You may go to church and identify yourself as a Christian, but that doesn't mean that you're not stupid...or, to use Solomon's terminology, "foolish."

Don't be a stupid Christian.

Strive to be a wise, prudent Christian. Your life will be so much better and easier, and you'll grow in your faith and have confidence before an all-wise God who does demand that we live wisely.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Misreading "Signs" Unto Disobedience

One of the strangest sections of the Bible has to be Judges 17-21. This is where we read the story of Micah and the Levite followed by the sick-and-twisted tale of the Benjamites' sodomy, the cutting up of a concubine, the war that ensued, and the unortodox efforts to secure wives for the 600 remaining men of the tribe of Benjamine. I'm not going to even attempt to explain all of this in one article. However, I would like to focus on one point in Judges 17.

Micah was an Israelite who lived during a time when "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6) rather than using God's law as the standard of right and wrong. And so it's not surprising that Micah turned to idolatry. Notice Judges 17:5 says...
"The man Micah had a shrine, and made an ephod and household idols; and he consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest."
Obviously, what Micah did was in violation of the Law of Moses. In the ten commandments, God clearly stated, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image..." (Ex. 20:4). There was nothing right about what Micah did, but that didn't keep Micah from feeling justified. Again, he did what was right in his own eyes.

However, whatever doubt that lingered in his mind was eradicated not long thereafter. According to the Law of Moses, only the Levites could serve as priests. Well, lo and behold, a levite stumbled upon Micah's homestead. Micah's son had been serving as priest, but his son was not a Levite. So Micah, having knowledge of the law, invited this Levite to become a priest in his self-made idolatrous religion. The Levite agreed, much to Micah's delight. Notice how he interpreted this...
"So Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and lived in the house of Micah. Then Micah said, 'Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since I have a Levite as priest" (Judges 17:12-13).
It appears that Micah saw this Levite as a blessing from the Lord, as proof-positive that he was acceptable to the God of Israel. After all, he had a Levite...a man that was qualified to serve as priest. And yet you and I both know that Micah was self-deluded. He wasn't right before God! He was an idol-worshiping, shrine-building thief who had little regard for God's law!

There is an important lesson to glean from this story.

I am a firm believer in providence. I can look back on my own life and see the unique circumstances that have led me to where I am today. Does God cause things to happen in our lives? Yes. Does God help us and bless us in our pursuit of the truth? Again, yes. God DOES work providentially to guide and direct us and IS active in our lives.

However, if Micah's story teaches us anything, it's that we have to be careful NOT to misinterpret a situation as a "sign" from God that He approves of us, or is guiding us in a certain direction. In other words, don't let circumstances in your life, as unique as they might be, take precendence over the plain teachings of God's word.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Other Sites

For those of you who read my blog regularly, I want to inform you of other websites that I maintain.

First, I am the evangelist for the Zoe church of Christ in eastern Kentucky. There are dozens of audio sermons, in-depth studies, articles, and information about the church at

Also, I am a writer and publisher. I have a total of seven books published in print-form, with several more in the works that hopefully will be released this year. All of my books are available for purchase via Google Checkout at I also offer traditional publishing services, as well as e-book publishing services.

While I have seven books for sale in print form, I have a total of 10 available in e-book form on Amazon. All of my print-books are, of course, available as e-books, but there are three additional books that I've published only in electronic format. The prices range from 99 cents to 2.99. All of my e-books can be previewed and downloaded (for your Kindle) at my Amazon Author's Page. Many of these e-books have a biblical or spiritual connotation. For example, I have one called "Holy Spirit Baptism," a study of "Book One of Psalms," and my most recent e-book, "The Age of the Earth, From a Biblical Perspective."

Finally, I am on Facebook. Look me up. Or, check out my fan page for Silver Falls Publishing.

Thanks for reading my blog. I sincerely hope that my articles are of some benefit to you. Please let me know if you ever have any questions, or if there is a topic that you'd like for me to address. I can't guarantee that I'll have an answer ready for EVERY question out there, but if I am uncertain of the answer, it'll be a great opportunity for me to study and learn.

You can contact me on Facebook, or email me at

Friday, February 24, 2012

Did Paul Pen Personal oPinion?

What student of the Bible isn’t familiar with the following words from 2 Timothy 3:16-17?

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The term scripture refers to the written word and Paul makes the point that all of the scriptures are inspired, or breathed out, by God. Of course, there can be no doubt that Paul is speaking in part of the Old Testament scriptures, for in verse 15, he makes the point that Timothy had been raised up with the “holy scriptures.” His mother was a Jew (Acts 16:1) who had converted to Christianity and she had taught young Timothy the stories of the Old Testament. These scriptures were inspired by God. But Paul doesn’t just say that the Old Testament is inspired by God; he says that “all sciripture” is inspired. This would include the New Testament scriptures which were still in the process of being recorded.

It is right and proper to identify what we have in the New Testament as inspired scripture, for Paul and the other apostles indicate that they wrote by inspiration.

“…how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ),  which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:3-5).

In other words, the writers of the New Testament differ in no way from the writers of the Old Testament in that they wrote by inspiration the word and will of God. We cannot say that Moses and David and Solomon wrote by inspiration, but Paul merely wrote personal letters to local churches of the first century with partial inspiration. This is why we cannot limit 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to the Old Testament scriptures. Again, ALL scripture, including the New Testament, is breathed out by God and is able to perfectly equip us to be exactly who God wants us to be.

With that in mind, notice what is written in 2 Peter 1:20-21:

“…knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

Yes, Peter is speaking primarily of the Old Testament prophets, but this passage gives us some insight into the process of inspiration. The point is, those who are inspired do not receive an inspired concept from God that they then interpret and record in their own words. Truly inspired individuals record exactly what has been revealed to them. This strengthens the point made in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, that all the scriptures are inspired, or breathed out, by God. It’s not verbally inspired and then fallibly interpreted and recorded. The scriptures themselves—the written word—are perfectly inspired.

Having said that, there are certain passages penned by Paul the apostle that might be confusing. These passages seem to indicate that Paul did sometimes insert his own opinions in the midst of the inspired record. Here are four such verses, all of which are from 1st and 2nd Corinthians.

“Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourelves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But I say this as a concession, not a commandment. For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that…Now to the unmarried I command, yet not I but the Lord: a wife is not to depart from her husband” (1 Cor. 7:5-7, 10).

“Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy” (1 Cor. 7:25).

“But if anyone seems contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11:16).

“What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly, in this confidence of boasting” (2 Cor. 11:17).

All four of these verses (and there may be a few others) seem to indicate that Paul would occasionally have a lapse in inspiration. Sure, most of what he wrote was inspired, but some of what he wrote was merely his opinion. It is easy to see how some sincere Bible students reach these conclusions, but these conclusions are wrong nonetheless.

First of all, it is important for all of us to admit that we cannot fully comprehend the inspiration process that took place during Bible times. Obviously, the apostle Paul’s writings are very personal; he uses the word “I” a lot and refers to specific individuals and experiences. Luke’s style of writing is different from Paul’s. John’s gospel has a slightly different theme than Matthew’s, and Mark was obviously more abbreviated in his approach. In the Old Testament book of Psalms, David recorded his emotions and thoughts while in the midst of grief and persecution. The book of Isaiah reads differently than Ezekiel and Daniel.

It is clear to me at least that God didn’t ignore these men’s backgrounds, personalities or writing styles. I do not believe that these 40+ men wrote the scriptures while in some hypnotic trance; it’s evident that they were coherant when they applied quill to parchment. Did God tell them exactly what to write? Was God simply guiding their thoughts providentially or miraculously so that they penned His will with precision? Were they in a trance? I don’t know how that worked. Neither do you. Again, what we do know is that they wrote the will of God by inspiration, and that it wasn’t by private interpration, but with exactness.
So David’s psalms, as emotional and private as they may seem, were written by the direction of the Holy Spirit. Daniel recorded his frustrations and difficulties, not with personal bias, but by divine inspiration. And Paul, whose letters read like private letters to close companions and struggling churches, wrote what was revealed to him by Christ through the Holy Spirit. How? In what way? I don’t know. But it’s the truth. I am reminded of the words of Paul in Romans 11:33…

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”

These things must be accepted before we can truly understand the four verses cited above. In other words, while some comments may seem private or personal, that doesn’t mean that Paul was writing apart from the inspiration of God. God used Paul’s personality, his experiences, and his circumstances rather than ignoring them.

Secondly, there is a difference between command and principle (or advice), and I think that religious people understand this point. In 1 Corinthians 7, for example, Paul commands us, saying that we are not permitted to divorce our spouse (7:10). But then he advises married couples not to abstain from sexual intercourse except in specific situations where there is a greater spiritual need (vs. 5). This is sound advice, for when married couples are not sexually-active, or when one spouse refuses sex to the other, it can lead to temptation. Must we assume that the principle of verses 5-6 is uninspired while the command of verse 10 is inspired. No! Both are inspired. Again, God’s word is filled not only with specific commands but with general principles for better living. If God, through Paul, wanted to offer a suggestion or advice, that was/is His perogative…obviously.

The same is true in 1 Corinthians 7:25 and Paul’s comment about virgins. God wasn’t commanding, nor is He comanding virgins to remain unmarried. However, due to the “present distress” (vs. 26), it was wise for young, unmarried women to remain in that state. There was no commandment from the Lord, but there was advise from the Lord, confirmed by Paul and recorded in scripture.

In 1 Corinthians 11:16, when Paul says that “we have no such custom, neither do the churches of God,” he is referring, not to his inspired comments on the head covering (vs. 1-15), but to the act of being contentious. If he were referring to the instructions for the head covering, the question might reasonably be raised: “If it’s not necessary in the first place, why spend so much time acting like it’s necessary?” It is this very line of reasoning that leads some to view 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 as an expression of Paul’s personal opinions, rather than divine revelation. But again, if you’ll notice the context, beginning in verse 16, it’s evident that Paul was alluding to the divisiveness.

Finally, in 2 Corinthians 11:17, Paul was not really acting “foolishly,” nor was he really boasting. These are hyperbolic terms employed by Paul to make a point to these Corinthians…to these men and women in Corinth who were being misled to question Paul’s motives. Again, in light of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and all the other verses that detail the inspiration process, even these comments by Paul were written by inspiration.

As we study the scriptures, let us do so with the understanding these these words are inspired. What is recorded in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is there only because God wanted it to be there. We cannot question the Psalms simply because David penned his emotions, or the writings of Paul simply because his letters seem personal.

Even if there are a few places in the Bible where God permitted the inspired writers to diverge from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to make a personal comment or to offer some sound advice, these few instances would be the exceptions to the rule, and not the rule. And if Paul was permitted to record a personal judgment, it was under the oversight of the Holy Spirit. I do not believe this to be the case, but this would be the furthest that anyone could reasonably go.

The Completed Canon: An End to Divine Revelation

We ought to be thankful that we do not serve a detached God who has left us to fend for ourselves, but has, in fact, revealed Himself and expressed His will to us. Yes, there is the testimony of the natural world (Ps. 19:1-2; Rom. 1:20)—design demands a designer. We can see that there is an intelligent Creator behind the complicated universe of which we are a part. But to know the will and mind of God, we cannot turn to the trees or stars.
“But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-12).
You cannot know what is on my mind unless I tell you what I am thinking. Likewise, we cannot know what is in God’s mind unless He reveals His thoughts to us. Paul’s point in the above passage is that we are not left wondering what God’s will might be. God has revealed His will to us through the Holy Spirit

During the Old Testament times, God “at various times and in various ways spoke…to the fathers by the prophets” (Heb. 1:1). He spoke to Balaam through a donkey. He appeared to Elijah in the form of a still-small voice. Moses encountered God in the burning bush. God appeared to men and women in dreams and visions, and delivered messages via angels and signs. On occasion, God conveyed a message by a strange symbol, such as when Hosea was instructed to marry the harlot Gomer.

God used men like Moses, Ezra and David to record His words. The written word of God, or scriptures, served as the basis for faith even in the Old Testament. These scriptures were fully inspired and consisted of the very words of God, breathed by Him (2 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).

While God “at various times and in various ways spoke…to the fathers by the prophets” (Heb. 1:1), this was not the case during the days of Jesus and the apostles. Hebrews 1:2 indicates that He “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.” So the manner in which God revealed Himself changed from the Old Testament era to the New Testament era.

Jesus came as the “Word” (John 1:1, 14). His life was dedicated to revealing the law of the kingdom, and He did so by the authority of the Father. Notice the following series of statements made by Jesus to His apostles during the famous “upper room discourse” in John 14-16…
“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14:10).
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26).
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you…However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:7, 13).
 The will of God was revealed through Christ during His ministry on earth. But Jesus Himself told the apostles that He had not revealed His entire will during the three years of His ministry. There was much more that still needed to be revealed, but it wouldn’t happen until after He left them. When Jesus left them, the Holy Spirit would come and guide the apostles into all truth. Coupled with what Jesus had already said, they would come to learn all of the truth.

When did the apostles receive the Holy Spirit? According to Acts 1:4-5, the apostles would be filled with the Holy Spirit not many days after Jesus’ ascension. At that point, they would begin to spread the gospel of Christ to all nations (vs. 8). These things were fulfilled in Acts 2:1-4. On the day of Pentecost, the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in tongues. It is no coincidence that we find the apostles preaching for the first time to thousands of Jews in Jerusalem by the power and direction of the Holy Spirit—a direct fulfillment of what Jesus had promised them in Acts 1:4-5.

So what do we have up to this point? Jesus, the “Word,” began to reveal the laws and conditions of the new covenant during His ministry, but He could not reveal everything. The apostles were commissioned by Christ to finish the job by the direction of the Holy Spirit. They would be guided into all truth, and through their ministries, the “world” would be convicted “of sin…of righteousness…of judgment” (John 16:8-11). Whereas the Old Testament law was revealed to the nation of Israel specifically, the New Testament law, i.e. the gospel, would be revealed to all the world by the inspired and Spirit-filled apostles of Christ.

The apostles conveyed the gospel message both orally and in written form (2 Thess. 2:15). The oral message would have been confined to those who heard it, but the written message had/has the advantage of permanency and finality. Ultimately, it was God’s will for the entire New Testament message to be recorded in written form.

“…how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:3-5).

Paul, in Ephesians 3, echoes what Jesus told the apostles in the upper room in John 14-16. The apostles would be filled with the Holy Spirit, would be led by the Spirit to understand ALL truth, and would convey that complete message to the world. What Paul clarifies in Ephesians 3 is that “all truth” was written down in the form of inspired scripture so that all the world might read and understand the message/gospel of Christ.

Couple this with the following two passages:
“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by prophetic scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith” (Rom. 16:25-26).
“ALL scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
 The apostles were led by the Spirit into all truth. This truth was written down. The New Testament scriptures represent ALL of this truth. The scriptures are complete. Therefore, we can read and understand the scriptures penned by the apostles, coupled with the scriptures of the Old Testament, and can know exactly what God expects of us. He left nothing out.

Moreover, the inspired apostle Paul wrote that the canon of the New Testament would reach a point of completion. Notice what is written in 1 Corinthians 13:8-11…
“Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.”
 The point of the above passage is that while love will never fail, the miraculous gifts of the first century would come to an end. Prophecies, tongues and miraculous knowledge—all of this would cease and vanish. The transition point of the miraculous age to the non-miraculous age is given in verse 10: “when that which is perfect has come.” The word perfect literally means “complete.” And so Paul is making a contrast here in 1 Corinthians 13:8-11. The miraculous gifts were “in part.” That is, they were imperfect. But something was coming that represented the whole, or the perfect. To put it another way, the miraculous gifts were like the individual pieces of a pie, but then there is the whole pie. The age of miracles was incomplete, but perfection/completion was coming, and when it died, the miracles would no longer exist.

With this in mind, consider what the following two scriptures say concerning the purpose of miracles in the first century:
“And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they touch anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover…And they [the apostles] went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mark 16:17-18, 20).
“…how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will” (Heb. 2:3-4).
 Miracles existed for the purpose of confirming the word as it was being revealed in the first century. So, in 1 Corinthians 13:8-11, the “perfect” has to be the completed revelation of Jesus Christ. Once the New Testament message was completely revealed and confirmed, the need for miracles ended. Much more could be said about the duration of miracles, but all I’m trying to prove here is that God never intended for the process of revelation to continue throughout all times and ages. Rather, the apostles would be led by the Spirit into ALL truth. ALL truth was revealed and recorded so that we can read and understand the will of God. The apostles completed their mission and the 27 epistles of the New Testament, from Matthew to Revelation, were written, copied, distributed and eventually canonized by the providence of God.

Notice the following sequence of passages as we conclude this study and make some final conclusions…
“For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
“There is one body…one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God…” (Eph. 4:4-5).
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

God no longer reveals Himself to us through visions and dreams. He no longer speaks to us audibly as He once spoke to those during Bible times. God’s mind, His words, His will, have been completely revealed to us in the form of the New Testament scriptures.

Were the apostles led into all truth in the first century, or is there some truth that has yet been revealed? Jesus said the apostles received it all (John 16:13). Did the apostles reveal it all to the first century Christians, or did they hold back? Paul said he revealed it all (Ac. 20:27), and Jude confirmed that “the faith” was once delivered (Jude 3). Did or didn’t the apostles record the complete new covenant of Jesus Christ so that even 21st century Christians can be “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17)? Can we read and understand these words? Yes (Eph. 3:3-5).

As I serve God, I rely not upon some vision or dream or sign from heaven to know what God expects of me; I turn to the New Testament, for it is the mind of Christ.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Serving God Because He is God

Are you familiar with the story of Job?

Job was an extremely wealthy man and a faithful servant of God.
"There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil. And seven sons and three daughters were born to him. Also, his possessions were seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and a very large household, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the East" (Job 1:1).
Not only was Job rich, he was one of the richest men in the world at that time. But unlike most rich people, he didn't allow his riches to distract him from faithfully serving the God of heaven. Job was so righteous and so spiritually-minded that God bragged on him to Satan.
"Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?" (Job 1:8)
Satan's point was that Job served God only because God had so extensively blessed him and protected him from the usual hardships and rigors of life. In other words, Job was serving an all-loving, all-caring, all-benevolent God. It was easy to believe in that kind of God. Job's image of God was idealistic. Satan went on to say that if God afflicted Job at all, he would surely abandon his faith (1:9-11).

God decided to permit Satan to afflict Job. In the course of one day, all of Job's possessions were destroyed or stolen, his servants were killed, and if that wasn't enough, his own children died in a freak accident. How did Job respond to this sudden outburst of tribulation?
"Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: 'naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong" (Job 1:20-22).
God had one of those "told you so" moments with Satan not long thereafter. But Satan shrugged it off and argued that if God afflicted Job physically, he would, without a doubt, curse God (2:4-5). God permitted Satan to afflict Job physically, but to spare his life. As a result, Job developed painful boils all over his body. The boils were so painful that he took a sharp piece of pottery and scraped the boils from his flesh (2:7-8).

His wife pleaded with him:
"Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!" (2:9).
 To which Job replied:
"You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (2:10).
So, Job believed in and served God when his view of God was idealistic, but even when this view was challenged, and even in the midst of sudden tribulation, his faith in God was firm. In other words, Job's faith in God wasn't dependant on a particular view of God. He didn't respond by saying, "Well, I guess God's not who I thought He was, so He must not exist" or "I'll just not serve that kind of God."

But the story isn't over just yet. Three of Job's friends - Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar - heard about his suffering and came to comfort him (2:11-13). After seven days of silence, of unceasing pain and memories of the life that once was, Job grew discouraged. He began to wish that he had never lived and that God would "crush" him and "loose His hand and cut me off" (6:8-9). He wanted answers (6:24, 29; 7:20; 10:2). Job began to feel that God had abandoned him, that perhaps God was not as near to him as he used to believe (16:11-17:1; 19:6). What had he done to deserve this? Where was God? How could God allow such things to happen to a righteous man? Nothing was making sense.

But notice that even though Job questioned and even challenged God at times, He held onto his faith. Despite the fact that Job's image of God was challenged and his faith frustrated, God's existence and His power remained as unalterable facts in his mind.

Notice the following statements:
"If one wished to contend with Him, he could not answer Him one time out of a thousand. God is wise in heart and mighty in strength. Who has hardened himself against Him and prospered...How then can I answer Him, and choose my words to reason with Him? For though I were righteous, I could not answer Him; I would beg mercy of my Judge" (9:3-4, 14-15).
"Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind" (12:9-10).
"Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him" (13:15).
"For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God" (19:25-26).
"Therefore I am terrified at His presence; when I consider this, I am afraid of Him" (23:15).
Job's world had been turned upside down and his understanding of God challenged...perhaps even changed. Before, all he had known was God's love, mercy, provision, guidance and benevolence. Then Job experienced hardship and learned that God not only could give, but could take away. Yet he held firm to his faith. Finally, as Job suffered more and more, his thoughts turned to confusion, frustration and even bitterness. He had seen God's love before, but now He saw God's judgment. He had always known God's mercy and benevolence, but now Job witnessed God's heavy hand. Job had always experienced God's presence and provision, but now he felt God's absence. He felt alone and undeserving of this tribulation.


He never once questioned God's existence, His power, His sovereignty, and most importantly, he never lost sight of the fact that he was still accountable to God. His understanding and view of God were shaken, but his faith in God and his eagerness to serve Him were not shaken.

Here's the point: our understanding of God, will, at times, be challenged as our relationship with Him deepens. If we learn anything from Job's life, it is that we cannot limit God to our present understanding of Him. He is who He is and we may at different points in our lives come to learn new things about Him. We may come to better appreciate His love, or it may be His wrath and judgment. How near to us is God? How caring is He? How involved is He? How often does His providence influence our lives or the lives of those around us? Who...who is He exactly?

This is what I love about Job and why I believe he is praised for his perseverance in James 5:11. It's not that everything he said was right, or that he reacted perfectly, but he held fast to his faith in God even when his understanding of God's character was challenged and even altered.

Are you serving God only because you approve of His character as you understand it now? Or are you willing to faithfully serve God no matter what? Even if He's harsher than you believe, or more demanding than you believe, or _____________ than you believe, I ask that you serve God because He is God, because in the end, He will stand as He is and you will be accountable to Him as He is...not as you wish Him to be.

Thank you Job for your wonderful example.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What is Your "Bethel?"

Abraham had been called by God to leave his home country and to travel to a strange and faraway land. Can you imagine what that would be like - to leave your life behind, your friends, your family...everything, and to journey into the wild unknown? Yes, Abraham was a man of faith, but that didn't make the decision easy. On top of that, he suffered the death of his father in Haran (11:32) and most certainly endured the usual rigors of a long journey. So needless to say, when Abraham arrived in Canaan by the grace of God, he was dealing with a whirlwind of emotions. He was perhaps relieved to have completed the long journey, thankful for God's grace in guiding him safely to his destination, impressed by the faithfulness of God...and yet he also was weary, perhaps a little sad, and still encumbered with uncertainty. Taking all of this into account, Abraham was now completely dependant upon the goodness of God. How would he survive in this strange country? Where would he live? What would he do? Would the native people mistreat and harrass him? What did God have in store for him?

And so it makes sense that when Abraham first entered the land of Canaan,he humbly turned to God, to worship Him, for he was fully cognizant that he was in God's hands.
"And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord" (Gen. 12:8).
After worshiping at this alter in Bethel, one of Abraham's first moves was to Egypt. There was a famine in Canaan and the implication is that there wasn't a famine in Egypt. Perhaps Abraham felt compelled to go to Egypt to ensure that his family's needs were met...even if it meant braving the possibility of danger. Abraham warned his wife, Sarah, of a particular fear he had. She was a beautiful woman, and Abraham was afraid that the Egyptians would kill him in order to have Sarah for themselves. What was Abraham's solution?
"Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you" (Gen. 12:13).
Sarah was indeed Abraham's half-sister (11:31; 20:12), but still, it was deceptive on his part. He deceived the Egyptians into thinking that she was NOT his wife, even though she was. He was afraid for his life and took matters into his own hands, rather than trusting God. Maybe Abraham shouldn't have gone to Egypt at all. There is no indiciation that God told him to go. Going by the inspired record, I think it is safe to assume that since God didn't tell Abraham to go to Egypt, He would have provided for Abraham and his family had they remained in Canaan.

No matter how you look at it, Abraham had a lapse in faith resulting in a very awkward moment while in Egypt. Not only that, but we know that his son, Isaac, did the very same thing later (Gen. 26:7). Is it merely a coincidence that Isaac engaged in the exact same form of deception? I am inclined to believe that Abraham's bad example in this instance served as the justification for Isaac's own deception.

Having said all of that, notice Genesis 13:1-4:
"Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South. Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord."
Abraham had exhibited tremendous faith in leaving his home country for a foreign land, but in the instance of his deception in Egypt, he lost sight of his faith. I imagine that Abraham was upset with himself, that he felt some degree of guilt. Maybe he second-guessed his decision to go to Egypt in the first place.

We can all relate to Abraham. There have been moments when we, too, experienced a lapse in faith. We made a poor decision...a decision that reflected self-reliance rather than humble dependance upon God. We've all lost sight of God's wonderful care and promises during moments of weakness and fear.

But the question is: what do we do when we realize our error? How do we restore our faith in God? What can we do to regain our focus and resolve?

What did Abraham do?

It is interesting that when Abraham left Egypt, after his lapse in faith, he went back to the altar he had originally built to the Lord. And he worshiped. He needed to be reminded of his committment to God, and of God's promises. So he returned to the Bethel, a place that meant something to this man...a place that would surely get him back on track.

What is your Bethel? In other words, when you lose your focus, what is it, or who is it that restores your focus? Is it a certain passage of scripture? Is it prayer? It is the church assembly?

The way I see it, we all have to find something that is so meaningful to us spiritually that it never fails to restore our focus and resolve, to remind us of God's presence and His love. Otherwise, we are wandering about aimlessly with nothing or noone to anchor us. Of course, Jesus is the "anchor of the soul" (Heb. 6:19), but that needs to be more than a vague, intangible concept. How is Jesus our anchor?

The point is: like Abraham, we often lose sight of our faith, and we need to have a "Bethel" that will restore our faith. What is it for you?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What Are You Waiting For?

We read the following in Joshua 18:1-3...
"Now the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of meeting there. And the land was subdued before them. But there remained among the children of Israel seven tribes which had not yet received their inheritance. Then Joshua said to the children of Israel, 'How long will you neglect to go and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers has given you?'"
The Israelites had come a long way. About 47 years prior to Joshua 18, they had been slaves in Egypt. For forty of those 47 years, they had wandered aimlessly through the wilderness of Sinai, an impossible and unsuitable environment for ANY large group of people to inhabit. Only with the help of an unbelievably patient God had Israel survived. Then, for seven years, they had fought battle after battle in order that they might ultimately conquer the land of Canaan, the "promised land," a land flowing with milk and honey. Those seven years were characterized by both high and low points; they had won many decicive victories, to be sure, but had experienced the shame of defeat as well, such as in their first attempt at Ai.

These forty-seven years on top of the 400 years of Egyptian bondage had offered very few opportunities to relax, and so I think it's understandable that Israel wanted to take it easy for a little while. Sure, there was more work to be done. There was the business of traveling to their various tribal allotments and beginning their new lives, planting crops, raising livestock, establishing themselves, etc. A few tribes had more work to do than others, and farther to travel than others...but they all had to expend at least SOME effort.

Here's the thing, though. For Israel to conquer the land and then NOT inhabit's like building a house and not moving in for the simple reason that you don't feel like carrying in all your furniture. Sure, there's more work to be done. But it's worth it! Once you get your furniture all moved in and the dishes in the cabinets and the clothes in the dressers and the pictures on the walls...then you can REALLY relax and enjoy the fruit of all your labor.

The problem is, sometimes it's easier to settle for 80% completion than it is to push for that get the job done, and to do it right. You think to yourself, "I've made it this far, and I'm better off now than I was I'll just take it easy from here on out."

Sadly, there are a lot of Christians who fall into this same trap. Like the Israelites, they have wandered through the wilderness of life and have dealt with a lot of uncertainty and hardship. Now, finally, they have conquered sin and have been saved. They study the Bible for a while and go to church, and they reach a point where they have "basic" knowledge. They're meeting the "minimum requirements" of Christian living, so to speak...and in their mind, they're better off now than they were before. They're like Israel at Shiloh. "Look at how far I've come." "Look at what I've gone through." "I'd like to take a break for a while."

But there's more work to do! Like Joshua said to Israel (and I'm paraphrasing)...


It's great that you're no longer in the bondage of sin. It's fantastic that you're no longer wandering aimlessly through the wilderness of life. I applaud all that you've done to overcome the odds and to become a Christian. It's great that you've gained some basic knowledge of the Bible and that you're happier now than you were before you were converted.

But you haven't achieved maximum potential! As content as you may be right now, and as much as you may dread more studying and more faith and more have to understand that it's worth it in the end.

Trust me. I know what I'm talking about because I've had to learn this lesson. I am a Christian and there have been several times in my walk with Christ where I reached a "plateau" and became complacent. Then, after a while, I'd start to struggle and wonder why. I'd realize my lack of progress and would again push forward, studying more and praying harder...until I would inevitably reach another plateau and become complacent again. At each plateau I'd be more knowledgeable, more spiritually-minded, and happier as a Christian than I was before...and the temptation was to settle for 40%, and then 50%, and then 60%, and so on. It was only after the fact that I'd realize how much better 60% was than 50%.

I encourage you, dear reader, not to become complacent. Do not make the mistake of settling in "Shiloh." It may be comfortable in Shiloh, but please know that there's a lot more work to do, and that you'll be infinitely more happy when you finish the job. Pray for the discipline and the courage to raise the bar and to pursue loftier heights of spirituality. It's sometimes a difficult task, but it's always so worth it.

So...what are YOU waiting for?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Good Misconceptions

Misconceptions are never good. But there are some good misconceptions. That's not a riddle, although I can see how the phrase might be confusing, so allow me to clarify: it is quite common for people to have misconceptions about what it means to be "good," or for something, or someone, to be good.

Of course, there is the misconception that all "good" people are going to heaven. The most glaring problem here is that the Bible teaches otherwise; the Bible is clear that only those who are faithful and obedient to the Word of God will be saved. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness'" (Mt. 7:21-23). Clearly, a lot of very good, moral, religious people will be lost for the simple reason that they failed to submit to the will of God; they settled for "human religion" rather than "biblical religion." 

The second problem with this misapplication of good is that the people that we call "good" are not really good. Just because YOU think that someone is a good person doesn't mean that God agrees with you. Paul says in Romans 3:12 and verse 23 that, "There is none who does good, no, not one...for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." We have all sinned, and sin is a very serious thing; it separates us from a holy and perfect God. So from God's perspective, none of us are truly good, or deserving of His grace. 

Another misapplication of the word good is to the singing that takes place in church worship. When someone says after church, "Boy, the singing sure was good this morning," what do they mean? Chances are, they're talking about the quality of the singing: how well everyone harmonized and how beautiful it was. You know what I'm talking about. Similarly, when someone is singing off-key, or the songs are pitched too low or too high, or the tempo is won't find people saying that the singing was good.

Nowhere in the Bible are we told that our singing has to be beautiful, that we have to strive for perfect four-part harmony, that we have to get the tempo and pitch right, or that we have to sound like a professional choir or music group. Those are expectations that WE place upon OURSELVES. God's expectations are far different. In places like Ephesians 5:19, wer're told to "[speak] to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in [our] hearts to the Lord." Paul adds in 1 Corinthians 14:15 that we are to "sing with understanding." Other verses, such as Hebrews 2:12 and Hebrews 13:15 emphasize the importance of praising God with our voices.

So, according to GOD, what characterizes good singing? Here's a list that I've compiled based on the scriptures cited above:
  • Paying attention to the words
  • Understanding the words
  • Singing with our brethren in mind; singing to teach and encourage others
  • Focusing on God; worshiping in "spirit"
Everyone in church can be singing beautifully and with perfect harmony, and yet the singing can be awful on the basis that the singers are focused on the wrong things. Conversely, the church members can be off-key, off-tempo and off-pitch, and yet if they're paying attention to the words and singing with their whole hearts, their singing can rightly be called "good singing." I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with beautiful singing, or four-part harmony, just that those things have nothing to do with "good singing."

Finally, we hear the phrase "good preacher" from time to time. So and so is a "good preacher." Or, "that sure was a good sermon this morning." Again, what do most people mean when they use these kinds of expressions? Generally, we're talking about how dynamic the speaker was, how he kept everyone's attention, how he made the church members laugh or cry, or both. "Good preachers" use a lot of jokes and illustrations. They know how to raise and lower their voice at just the right times. They move around and gesture with their hands. These are things that "good preachers" do, right? These are the kinds of things you'll see/hear in a "good sermon," right?

Paul lays out the characteristics of a good preacher in 2 Timothy 4:2-5: "Preach the WORD! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." Hmmm. I didn't see anything in there about the importance of illustrations or the value of using humor to teach the gospel. Paul didn't chastize Timothy for not being dynamic enough, or for being too dry. This young evangelist was simply told to preach the truth and to never back down from the truth. Paul implies that a good preacher is going to occasionally offend some folks and that there will be people that will object and oppose from time to time. In short, good preaching is Bible preaching.

Apollos was an "eloquent" preacher (Acts 18:24), and yet he wasn't teaching the truth on baptism and had to be taked aside and corrected. On the other hand, there were those in the first century who said that the apostle Paul's bodily presence was weak and his speech "contemptible" (2 Cor. 10:10). Apollos' eloquence didn't make him a good preacher, and Paul's LACK of eloquence didn't make him a bad preacher.

Again, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with a dynamic preacher. That's not the point. The point is that we need to better understand and apply the term "good" to preachers and to sermons. A preacher may speak monotonously, he may never move out from behind the podium, he may not have very many illustrations or jokes in his lesson, but if he teaches the truth and imparts knowledge and encouragement to the listeners, he has done a good job.

So, like I said, there are a lot of good misconceptions out there. It is vitally important that we, as Christians, do not settle for human standards and definitions of what is or isn't "good." We need to think the way God wants us to think. We need to love what He loves. We need to live with HIS standards in mind.

Easier said than done, I know. But if we stay focused, and if we pray for the strength to "rightly divide" what is and isn't good, I'm confident that we'll do better.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Unconditional Courage

In Judges 7, we find the story of Gideon, a humble man that was called by God to deliver Israel from the cruel oppression of the Midianites. Let's take a moment to understand the conflict.

First of all, the Midianites were so powerful and so oppressive that the children of Israel were forced to abandon their homes and dwell in dens and caves in the mountains (6:2). They were unable to sustain any form of agriculture, for when the slightest progress was made, the cruel soldiers of Midian would rush in and destroy their crops and livestock (6:4). Israel had no semblence of government, no means of unity, and for seven years had to struggle to survive. Some may have been angry or even bitter toward the Midianites, but after seven years of relentless bullying, I would imagine that the majority of the Israelites had little spirit left; they were beaten down and filled with hopelessness and fear.

For a while, they hung on to their pride, but finally, they "cried out to the Lord" (vs. 6). They had tried everything else. They had exhausted all options. Like stubborn, rebellious children, they had pridefully rejected the loving help of the Father above. But at last, they had to exhale and acknowledge that only God could help them. And God did.

Gideon was called to be the judge, the man that God would use to provide deliverance to His people. He gathered 32,000 soldiers from among the tribes of Israel and they encamped not far from the camp of the Midianites. While 32,000 sounds like a lot of soldiers, these men were not trained soldiers and they certainly were not well-armed. I picture a scraggly bunch of men in tattered clothing milling about wondering how in the world they're going to fight against the professional military of Midian...whose armies filled the Jezreel Valley.

From the standpoint of human logic, these 32,000 men had little chance of winning the war. And so I wonder how shocked Gideon was when God  told him, "The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me.' Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, 'Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.' And 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained" (7:2-3).

Even when the army numbered 32,000, there was very little confidence that they actually had a shot at victory, for when given the opportunity, more than two-thirds of the army went home. I wonder what the other 10,000 were thinking as they watched the majority of the army walk away.

But God wasn't done. The army was STILL too big. So once again, God decided to reduce the size of the army. We find in Judges 7:4-7 one of the strangest passages in the Old Testament. God told Gideon to take these 10,000 men to the water's edge and to command them to drink. Those who lapped the water like a dog were to remain, but all the others -- those who drank the water normally -- they were to go home, not by choice necessarily, but by decree. In the end, 9,700 men drank the water normally and they were commanded to go home, while only 300 remained. God told Gideon, "By the 300 men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand. Let all the other people go, every man to his place" (7:7).

You know the rest of the story. Gideon took these 300 men, divided them up into three companies, gave them all trumpets, pitchers and torches and gave them very specific instructions regarding their attempt to ambush and surprise the slumbering Midianite army. In the end, the Midianites turned and fled and Israel routed this professional army.

Now, here's the point of the article...

The 300 soldiers that stood in the end were men of Unconditional Courage. Think about it.

The odds were against them from the beginning, even when the army numbered 32,000. But these 300 men stood alongside Gideon, awaiting the opportunity to go to battle.

When given the chance to go home, these 300 men stood firm. Did they know that over two-thirds of the army would take Gideon's offer and leave? Probably not. But their courage was not dependant on an army of 32,000. To these 300 men, it didn't matter whether the army was 32,000 or 10,000, their faith was in God and their courage was relentless.

When Gideon led them all down to the water's edge to drink, do you think these 300 men realized that in a short while, 9,700 of their brethren would be sent home? From 32,000 to 10,000...and now only 300 men remained. There's no way that these 300 soldiers expected this. There was little chance of victory when they numbered 32,000. The odds were slim to none when they numbered 10,000. But now it would be impossible, for 300 ragged, unarmed men could not topple a professional army that had bullied and oppressed them for seven years. Right?

And yet they stood with Gideon. They obeyed his instructions. They surrounded the Midiante camp and cried out "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon." These 300 men were there in the end to witness God's mighty miracle of deliverance.

Unconditional Courage. Do you have it?

Perhaps you have joined the army of the Lord because you're tired of being oppressed, depressed and suppressed. You crave freedom and prosperity. In your desparation, you turn to the Lord. You've heard that the Lord can do awesome things. So you stand there with your fellow soldiers, knowing that the battle is looming ahead. Now your faith is being put to the test. It was easy to cry out to God for deliverance, but now the fear of battle is greater than your fear of continued oppression. Doubt begins to consume your thoughts. What am I doing here? What did I get myself into? There's a remote chance that you can defeat the enemy, but is it worth it to even try? So the opportunity comes to abandon your faith, and you take it.

Or, perhaps you're like Gideon and the 300 men that remained. You are tired of that old life. You're tired of having to struggle to survive. You're sick of it! So you humble yourself before God and pray for His mercy and deliverance. When you are asked to put your faith to work, you are willing. You join the army of the Lord. You're willing to do whatever it takes. You're committed. Sure, the odds are against you, but you have the mighty God of Israel on your side. Then things happen that you never could have anticipated, but you don't waver. You have Unconditional Courage.

These 300 men joined the army with unmatched determination and unwavering faith in God. To borrow from the words of Thomas Paine, an American writer during the early days of the Revolution, these 300 men were not "summer soldiers." Nothing would keep them from victory so long as they trusted God.

So which are you? Do you have Unconditional Courage, or is your faith shallow?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Teary-Eyed Semantics

One of the most comforting verses of scripture has to be Revelation 21:4...
"And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."
Traditionally, Christians apply this statement to our future life in heaven, not to life here on earth. After all, life on earth - even the Christian's life - is filled with tears, death, sorrow, crying and pain. The contrast is drawn throughout scripture between an imperfect life here and a perfect life that awaits faithful Christians.
"For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life" (2 Cor. 5:4).
"For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21).
Even in Revelation 21, there is a contrast between the "first earth" and the "new earth," and even though I believe much of the book pertained to events of the first century, these final chapters obviously have future application. We are filled with hope, and upon reading Revelation 21-22, we anticipate the fulfillment of these promises - promises of a future state of bliss in the very presence of God. No more tears or pain; no more death or sorrow. How wonderful!

And yet our "parade" is "rained upon" by those who want to contend that the promises of Revelation 21-22 were fulfilled in the days of the apostles. In fact, these same people take ALL of the statements about Jesus' final return and the bliss of heaven and argue that the language is purely symbolic and had first century application. What is their reasoning?

Well, the basis for this doctrine is that the language of, say, Revelation 21-22, was also used in the Old Testament in reference to physical events that occurred then. The prophet Isaiah spoke of a people that would be devastated and yet would once more attain glory and bliss at the hand of the Lord:
"He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth: for the Lord has spoken" (Is. 25:8)
There are other comparisons we could examine, but like I said, there are certain religious people that will use these comparisons to rebuff the traditional views of the New Testament promises of Jesus' final return, the final judgment, and the perfection of heaven. I'm not going to get into all of that right now, but I would like to focus on the language of Revelation 21:4 and Isaiah 25:8.

I admit that the two verses are similar. Isaiah, speaking of events that have passed, and John, speaking of this "new earth" that awaits the faithful, both promise that God will "wipe away tears." Does this prove that John's description of the "new earth" in Revelation 21 may have a physical, rather than an heavenly application? Does this highlight the inconsistency of our traditional reading of Revelation 21? In other words, how can we say that Revelation 21 is yet-future and then say that the very same language, found in Isaiah 25, has a completely different meaning? If Isaiah 25 referred to physical events on earth, must we also apply Revelation 21 to physical, or even spiritual events on earth - Jesus' victory over sin, the establishment of His kingdom, the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, etc?

I'm sure that there are some very technical ways to address this controversy, but I'm going to address the controversy by engaging in some teary-eyed semantics. Specifically, I'd like to point out one key difference between Isaiah 25:8 and Revelation 21:4.

In Isaiah 25:8, the point is simply made that God would "wipe away the tears from all faces." However, in Revelation 21:4, not only will God wipe away the tears, but there will be "no more crying" at all.

You see, there are things that happen to all of us on an individual and even a national basis. There are tragedies that afflict us. There is pain. There is hardship. God promises to be there for us, and to help us rise above the problems of this life, to remove our tears and to give us hope. For the faithful, spiritually-focused child of God, relief is on the way. it not true that more problems will arise in the future that will cause more tears to fall? Absolutely! Whether you apply Isaiah 25 to Israel's return from 70 years of bondage, or to the establishment of Christ's kingdom in the first century, or to some other earthly event where mourning would be turned to joy, the fact is, this moment of triumph didn't equate permanent triumph or across-the-board triumph.

In Revelation 21, God promises not only to wipe away our tears, but to put an end to tears altogether. Taken in context, this point is strengthened even further.

This may be an overly-simplistic approach, but as I was studying in Isaiah this morning, I couldn't help but notice the subtle difference between the two verses. I do believe, despite some of the Old Testament language used in the New Testament, that we as Christians are promised a life after death that is far greater than anything we've ever known or experienced; based on statements in Revelation 21 and in other places, I can't wait to hear the final trumpet blast, to rise to meet Christ in the air, and to enter that heavenly city.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

False Prophecies of the Watchtower Society (3)

Here are the facts that have been established thus far in this series of articles:
  1. The Watchtower Society (the governing body of the Jehovah's Witnesses) claims to be a God-ordained prophet, and the only source of truth and salvation.
  2. The Bible tells us how to determine whether or not the Watchtower Society is a true prophet or a false prophet; a God-ordained entity, or a divinely unauthorized entity that ought to be rejected by God-fearing people. The standard is found in Deuteronomy 18:21-22. If what the prophet says comes to pass, they are a true prophet of God, but if the prophecies and statements fail, they are a false prophet. All false prophets should be ignored/rejected by God's people!
  3. The Watchtower Society has made a number of very detailed prophecies concerning events that were to transpire in 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1975. It is obvious to any honest observer that these prophecies failed. Therefore, we MUST conclude that the Jehovah's Witnesses are wrong for supporting the Watchtower Society, and that they must abandon their organization if they have any respect for God.
  4. Click here to read the other two articles.
Today, I'd like to conclude this short series of articles by addressing some common arguments - or should I say "excuses" - of the Jehovah's Witnesses. In other words, IF (and that's a big if) a Jehovah's Witness will listen to you recite the prophecies of the Watchtower Society and how, based on the facts, they are supporting a false prophet, these are some of the excuses that you will hear...

Some JWs may try to deny that these prophecies were ever made. If they do, you need to remind them that you were quoting from Watchtower publications. You will have an open and shut case if you can find scans or copies of these quotes and show them. That way, there's no denying it.

Another common excuse is that the prophecies are simply misunderstood. They may contend that the prophecies had symbolic or spiritual fulfillment, and were not literal or physical. For example, regarding their famous 1914 prophecy, the statement that "the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished at the end of A.D. 1914" ought to be interpreted spiritually. Jesus DID return and DID set up His kingdom and DID overthrow present governments...on a purely spiritual level. Really? Prove it. The fact is, those prophecies were specific and were stated in physical terms and all the JWs living back then expected a literal, physical application (which is why so many JWs said "goodbye" to the Watchtower Society when the prophecy failed).

Others will argue that these were not actual prophecies, but theories about what might come to pass. This is a common argument regarding the 1975 prophecy and one that the Watchtower Society has used from the moment their little prophecy failed. Notice what the Watchtower said BEFORE and AFTER 1975 (regarding the 1975 prophecy).

Before 1975...
"Are we to assume from this study that the battle of Armageddon will be all over by the autumn of 1975, and the long-looked-for thousand-year reign of Christ will begin by then? Possibly, but we wait to see how closely the seventh thousand-year period of man's existence coincides with the sabbathlike thousand-year reign of Christ...It may involve only a difference of weeks or months, not years." (The Watchtower, Aug. 15, 1968, page 499)
"Yes, the end of this system is so very near. Is that not reason to increase our activity?...Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly, this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world's end." (Kingdom Ministry, May 1974, page 3)
After 1975...
"It may be that some who have been serving God have planned their lives according to the mistaken view of just what was to happen on a certain date or in a certain year. They may have, for this reason, put off or neglected things that they otherwise would have cared for. But they have missed the point of the Bible's warnings concerning the end of this system of things, thinking that Bible chronology reveals the specific date." (Watchtower, July 15, 1976, page 440)
Do you see the pattern? The Watchtower made very detailed predictions concerning events in 1975 and even praised individual members for giving up their homes and normal routines to devote themselves to the "pioneer service." And notice the certainty with which the Watchtower Society prophesied: " may involve only a difference of weeks or months, not years." This was a prophecy! And yet after it failed, did they apologize or admit their error? No! Obviously facing a lot of criticism and pressure from members, the organization reacted by belittling members and acting as if no prophecy had been made.

So it is no surprise that JWs today use this same line of reasoning. They want to act as if these were theories, not prophecies. But you can read the quotes for yourself and see that these were prophetic statements. A year was selected. A time of the year was selected. Events were predicted with certainty. If these weren't prophecies, then what is?

Some Witnesses will extend this reasoning; they will acknowledge that perhaps some mistakes have been made...but no prophet is perfect, right? So why focus on the mistakes when the Watchtower's overall body of work is so strong? Here's how I answer that...

Yes, prophets - even the prophets of the Bible- are flawed like the rest of us. Moses disobeyed God in striking the rock (Num. 20:8-13). Balaam went presumptuously to Balak (Num. 22:20-22). Elijah had an occasion of doubt (1 Kin. 19:1-18). Jonah lacked compassion and mercy (Jonah 1:3; 4:1-11). Peter acted hypocritically in Galatians 2:11-13. HOWEVER, prophets are flawless as God's spokesmen. Read 2 Peter 1:20-21; 1 Cor. 14:37; Gal. 1:12; Jer. 1:9). In other words, prophets, in their personal lives, weren't perfect, but when they spoke as prophets they:
  • Never made false prophecies.
  • Never made incomplete prophecies that had to later be corrected or clarified.
  • Never misunderstood God and made false claims.
  • Never perpetuated falsehood.
So I'm not saying that a prophet has to be perfect as an individual, but I AM saying that when a person claims to be a prophet and yet their statements are false and their prophecies fail, they are proven to be false prophets. Again, Deuteronomy 18:21-22.

It doesn't matter how you spin it, the Watchtower Society is a FALSE prophet and as such does not have the approval or authority of God. Therefore, it is wrong to offer blind allegiance...or any allegiance for that matter to such an organization. If a Jehovah's Witness is honest, and if their interest is the TRUTH, then they must leave the organization and encourage others to do the same.

Has this 3-article series been helpful to you? I hope so. Let me know if you have any questions.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

False Prophecies of the Watchtower Society (2)

In yesterday's article, I emphasized the fact that the Watchtower Society (the governing body of the Jehovah's Witnesses) claims to be a God-ordained prophet and the ONLY source of truth and salvation. But we're told in the scriptures how to determine whether or not the Watchtower Society is indeed ordained by God, or if they are a false prophet. Deuteronomy 18:21-22 indicates that if someone makes claims and prophecies that do not come to pass, they are a false prophet. 

In today's article, let's put the Watchtower Society to the test; let's begin by examining their famous 1914 prophecy:
"Be not surprised, then, when in subsequent chapters we present proofs that the setting up of the Kingdom of God is already begun, that it is pointed out in prophecy as due to begin the exercise of power in A.D. 1878, and that the 'battle of the great day of God Almighty (Rev. 16:14) which will end in A.D. 1914 with the complete overthrow of earth's present rulership, is already commenced." (Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 2, The Time is at Hand, 1889 edition, page 101)
"True, it is expecting great things to claim, as we do, that within the coming twenty-six years all preset governments will be overthrown and dissolved...In view of this strong Bible evidence concerning the Times of the Gentiles, we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished at the end of A.D. 1914." (The Time is at Hand, 1908 edition, page 98)
Then, in December of 1914 (two months after the governments of the earth were supposed to be overthrown), the Watchtower backpedaled, writing, "Even if the time of our change should not come within ten years, what more should we ask? Are we not a blessed, happy people?" (Watchtower, Dec. 15, 1914, page 325).

Just a few years later, more prophecies were made, and these were even more detailed. Concerning events that would allegedly come to pass in the year 1918, the Watchtower wrote the following:
"It was as a picture or parable of what is to happen to Christendom. Until 1878 the nominal church had been in a sense God's sanctuary or Temple; but He was from then on, culminating in 1918, to remove it with a stroke or plague of erroneous doctrines and deeds divinely permitted...Nevertheless, God was to make manifest the profanation which ecclesiasticism had made of the Christian Church, and to cause the church organizations to become to Him as one dead, an unclean thing, not to be touched, or mourned. And the "children of the church" shall perish by the sword of war, revolution and anarchy, and by the Sword of the Spirit be made to see that they have lost their hope of life on the spirit plane--that 'the door is shut...Also, in the year 1918, when God destroys the churches wholesale and the church members by millions, it shall be that any that escape shall come to the works of Pastor Russell to learn the meaning of the downfall of Christianity." (The Finished Mystery, 1917 edition, page 484-485)
 Concerning the year 1925:
"Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the Apostle in Hebrews chapter eleven, to the condition of human perfection...1925 shall mark the resurrection of the faithful worthies of old and the beginning of reconstruction." (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, 1920, page 89-90, 97)
 Concerning 1975:
"According to this trustworthy Bible chronology, six thousand years from man's creation will end in 1975, and the seventh period of a thousand years of human history will begin in the fall of 1975 C.E...It would not be by mere chance or accident but would be according to the loving purpose of Jehovah God for the reign of Jesus Christ, the 'Lord of the Sabbath,' to run parallel to the seventh millennium of man's existence." (Life Everlasting--in Freedom of the Sons of God, 1966, pages 29-30)
"Are we to assume from this study that the battle of Armageddon will be all over by the autumn of 1975, and the long-looked-for thousand-year reign of Christ will begin by then? Possibly, but we wait to see how closely the seventh thousand-year period of man's existence coincides with the sabbathlike thousand-year reign of Christ...It may involve only a difference of weeks or months, not years." (The Watchtower, Aug. 15, 1968, page 499)
"Yes, the end of this system is so very near. Is that not reason to increase our activity?...Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly, this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world's end." (Kingdom Ministry, May 1974, page 3)
We have only considered a handful of the prophetic statements that the Watchtower Society has made over the years, and we have only selected some of their more famous failures, but in reality, all it takes is ONE failed prophecy to identify a false prophet -- we have named four. Prophecies were made concerning 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1975. These were very specific prophecies and there was no confusion as to their meaning then. It was only after the prophecies failed that the Watchtower Society would backpedal, change positions, or claim some kind of "symbolic" fulfillment (as with 1914). In some cases, individual Witnesses even sold property in anticipation of the END and were lauded for their commitment. the Watchtower Society a true prophet or a false prophet?

Comment below...

Click here to proceed to the third and final article in this series.